RE: Please show respect (was GEN 1-11: Beyond the concordist debate)

From: Jan de Koning (
Date: Fri May 10 2002 - 22:26:27 EDT

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    At 02:32 PM 10/05/02 -0500, Tom Pearson wrote:
    >At 05:31 PM 5/9/02 -0400, Jan de Koning wrote:
    > >And I don't have enough time to reply to your posting as it deserves. It
    > >does deserve a book, not just a short letter like this will be.
    >Thank you for your thoughtful words in this post, Jan -- your candor and
    >clarity are welcome. And you are too gracious in assuming that my comments
    >deserve more than your response (or even a book!).

    They do, since I want to try to do away with misunderstandings.

    > >I am sorry to hear that. Morality, ethics etc. depends on your basic
    > >beliefs.

    >For what it's worth, there is some current controversy over this point
    >among ethicists, including Christian ethicists. Linda Trinkaus Zagzebski,
    >who writes from an emphatically theist perspective, suggests (in her book
    >*The Virtues of the Mind*) that moral decision-making for the Christian may
    >be rooted in more concrete daily activities, like our many distinctive
    >social practices, rather than in such subjective and ephemeral mental
    >entities, like beliefs. (She also argues that our basic beliefs themselves
    >arise from our social and religious practices, rather than the other way
    >around). The prolific Stanley Hauerwas also tilts strongly in this
    >direction, as does Alasdair MacIntyre -- both of them highly-regarded
    >Christian ethicists. It's an interesting debate. For what it's worth.

    I do not deny these things since they are true. I realize that many
    Christians ( and I mean "true" Christians) do not believe what I said. But
    is not a reason to keep quiet when these controversies come up.

    > >If you leave Christ out of it you depend only on human
    > >understanding. I taught mathematics by the way. I don't say that the
    > >actions of non-believers are worse than the actions of Christians. I only
    > >say, that there is no part of life of which Christ does not say "Mine."
    >You indicate here an issue that continues to chafe me. In our engineering
    >department, just under half of the faculty are either Moslem or Hindu (some
    >of them actively practice their religion). Yet they seem to be able to
    >function as ethically as the professing Christians (two of whom are members
    >of ASA). Again, one of my colleagues, who teaches eastern religions here
    >in this department, is a practicing Buddhist, and is a model of moral
    >rectitude. And, of course, there are the usual number of Christians on our
    >faculty who are complete rascals; their moral demeanor is always under
    >suspicion. What to make of all this? Perhaps that religious beliefs and
    >ethical practices are not so tightly connected as many might think. There
    >was a time when I resisted that conclusion, but it may turn out to be right.

    That is also true to the facts, but is it as it should be? Our whole life
    should be directed by our faith. Therefor faiths which depend on doing
    "good" will most certainly act mostly in a, what they consider, ethical
    way. So do Christians who do think that their salvation depends on doing
    "good." However, that is therefor not the way which it necessarily should
    be. After all sin did come into the world, and Christians are sinners who
    need the death of Christ to be saved, and they should believe that.

    > >I disagree. Since the whole world was condemned because of the sins of
    > >man/men, healing can only come through salvation by Christ. Here again it
    > >is clear that we cannot talk very long, since your very basic background is
    > >humanistic, based on serving man, not God, talking becomes impossible.
    > >Yes, Christians do sin, and do not always (maybe seldom) make the proper
    > >decisions. All of us need to be saved by Christ, not just by some
    > >accounting or engineering methods.
    >I agree completely with your last sentence above. Accounting or
    >engineering methods are for the professional practices of accounting and
    >engineering, and are disconnected from anything related to salvation in
    >Christ. The redemption we have in Christ is the promise we share because
    >of Christ's death and resurrection, and is disconnected from anything
    >related to the standards of accounting or engineering practice.

    I disagree here, but again that would take more than a posting to explain

    > Does this
    >mean that my basic background is humanistic? Well, I *am* a Lutheran, and
    >was a Lutheran pastor for seventeen years before moving into teaching. So
    >maybe I'm guilty as charged.

    Guilty does probably give the wrong impression in this interchange.

    > >These are not just "technical" decisions, not even for you. "Professional
    > >practice" is founded on principles as well. In a so-called Christian
    > >country, basic ethics and practice is usually based on a long history of
    > >Christian ethics in that country. Not everyone may be aware of that, but
    > >history will show that. Also, there are different philosophies about these
    > >things, which would take much time to discuss, and cannot possibly in a
    > >short note written by me.

    >I wonder about this particular argument. It seems to me that a good many
    >reputable scholars (Jaroslav Pelikan, W. H. C. Frend, Bart Ehrman, Rodney
    >Stark, Judith Herrin among them) have furnished evidence that, aside from
    >the core proclamation of the Church on the reality of Christ crucified,
    >much of what developed as Christian thought and doctrine was absorbed from
    >the surrounding culture.

    Absolutely, but therefor this type of discussions is necessaary

    > We all know how Greek concepts shaped some
    >central teachings of Christianity (e.g., the Trinity, the two natures of
    >Christ in one person, the soul, etc.). Perhaps it is the Christian
    >community that imbibed ethical principles from its surrounding environment,
    >rather than the other way around?

    Probably true. I am almost sure that it is true for our present
    generation. You mention "soul". I remember a three hour lecture of
    Vollenhoven about "leeb", "ruach", and "nephesh" and its translations into
    Greek. That was an eye opener for me.
    Later, 24 years later, he confessed, that as a young preacher he did not
    dare to preach about texts in which the word "soul" appeared. He was
    convinced that the usual concept of "soul" was of Greek origin. "Nephesh"
    in Gen.1 translated as "living being" and in Gen.2 as "soul" etc. He had
    more examples like that, but since I lost my notes, it would take some time
    to find the examples again. Vollenhoven saw 'man" as a unity, not "body"
    and "soul". There are more conclusions attached to that, though. I only
    want to stress that, especially in philosophy, we took a lot of thoughts
    over from pagan Greeks.

    > >Christianity is more than compassionateness. Of course, we all will
    > >struggle with what Christ would want us to do. And what we must do in His
    > >name, is do the right thing in His name in God's creation. There is no
    > >other possibility for a Christian.
    > >To be honest, I think it is dangerous to the utmost to keep part of your
    > >life outside the rule of Christ.

    >When I learned to drive a car, I learned (in ways that I cannot easily
    >separate) both technical proficiency and driving etiquette -- an ethic of
    >driving, one integrated package. I was not making any effort to keep part
    >of my life outside the rule of Christ; rather, I was drawing on other
    >principles and strategies that are directly involved in learning how to
    >drive a car, and how to drive it well (including *ethically* good
    >driving). There is no effort here to banish Christ, simply to recognize
    >that a great many of our activities --including our professional and
    >technical activities -- are defined by standards that originate within the
    >practice of those activities themselves.

    True again, if it is always correct to do it that way is another question.

    >Jan, you said at the beginning of your remarks:
    > >As I have written in other postings: nothing is outside the rule of
    > >Christ. So, yes, if you do not believe that there is no use of
    > >talking.

    >Perhaps you are right. Perhaps we cannot discuss this fully, since we may
    >be operating inside different parameters (but different Christian
    >parameters, I trust). In an earlier post, you mentioned the work of
    >Kuyper, Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd as being helpful for you.

    Not Dooyeweerd so much, though his basis was the same as that of his
    brother-in-law Vollenhoven. But Dooyeweerd started his professional life
    as a lawyer, which is often clear in his writings, while Vollenhoven
    started as a pastor. In his lectures and writings he tried indeed to stay
    close to Scriptures, which attracted me to him. Unfortunately, as far as I
    know, none of his works are translated in English. I tried to do so once,
    but the Dutch in his writings was very difficult for me to translate. The
    difficulty was not in the English, but in the way he used the Dutch grammar
    (very properly though.) And Kuyper was not always consistent in his
    works. His meditations and his university lectures do not always
    agree. Maybe the closest work that describes his thinking in English is Dr
    H.Evan Runner "The Relation of the Bible to Learning." I do not know if
    the work is still available. If it is, it might be available via the
    Institute of Christian Studies, Toronto. The teacher there closest to
    Vollenhoven's thinking is Bob Sweetman, who teaches history of philosophy.

        I obviously have
    >much to learn about a position that I find intuitively uncongenial, just as
    >you also evidently find my outlook hard to understand. But again, I do
    >appreciate your efforts to point out what might be my blind spots.
    >Tom Pearson

    Indeed, I do find your position very hard to understand, though I agree
    with you that the reason is probably our backgrounds. Still, I do think
    that as Christians we should learn to understand each other better, and try
    to come to more agreement in these matters.


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