Resources

Books and Things

By P. Andrew Sandlin
November 01, 2000
  1. Virginia Postrel's The Future and Its Enemies (Touchstone Books: New York, 1998) redraws the socio-political boundaries by creating new categories of classification. Postrel, editor of the preeminent libertarian magazine Reason, furnishes a profound tool for socio-political analysis. She suggests that the categories of Right and Left are gradually becoming obsolete. They are being replaced by what she terms the visions of stasis and dynamism. Stasists, in simple terms, fear and oppose progress. They come in two forms. First, there are the reactionaries, who look longingly at the recent past and oppose any change that would threaten it. This would include the Russell Kirk-type conservatives as well as the Southern Agrarians, who want to stay close to the land and oppose effects of free-market progress that threaten an agrarian society. Then there are the technocrats, liberal statists who do not oppose progress as such, but want to harness it by means of the state.

    Dynamists, by contrast, support the spontaneous progress of individuals, what Mises would have termed "human action." While they endorse great respect for the past, dynamists do not idealize it, knowing, among other things, that the past itself constituted a particular point of progress. Further, dynamists resist technocrats' commitment to statist centralization. Dynamists believe that individuals, by means of experiment and trial and error, discover the most effective ways of dealing with life and its problems.

    What Postrel terms the dynamist division harmonizes remarkably with Christian postmillennialism. Christian postmillennialists believe in the gradual progress of the kingdom of God. Unlike pagan classicists, we do not support a static world. Our faith propels us to progress in every area of life: family, church, knowledge, technology, and so forth.
  2. Robert Nisbet has arguably been the leading conservative sociologist of the past century. His principal concern was with the issue of community, how men create it and live in it. His seminal work is The Social Philosophers: Community and Conflict in Western Thought (Thomas Y. Crowell: New York, 1973). In this wide-ranging and deeply learned book, Nisbet describes the six main types of community that man has forged: the military community, the political community, the religious community, the revolutionary community, the ecological community, and the plural community. He documents how destructive the military community is to the life of most other communities except, of course, the revolutionary and political communities. Revolutionary communities, in fact (and one thinks immediately of the French and Russian Revolutions) unite the military and political communities they incorporate into the state the leading characteristics of the military community, i.e., the militarization of all of life. Nisbet rightly suggests that the religious community is the most fundamental and far-reaching of all human communities. He correctly recognizes that the Renaissance weakened the bonds of the religious (specifically Christian) community, which was later virtually destroyed at least in its wide, social aspects by the political community. A brief note such as this cannot do justice to this profound work. Please get it and read it.
  3. Richard B. Gaffin's Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul's Soteriology (Presbyterian and Reformed: Phillipsburg, NJ [1978], 1987) relies heavily on the "redemptive-historical" method popularized by Geerhardus Vos of Princeton Theological Seminary (1893-1932) and presents a carefully researched exegetical case for rethinking the role of Christ's resurrection and Pauline soteriology. Gaffin is convinced that Reformed theology until Vos emphasized the role of the death of Christ in individual soteriology (one's salvation) to the relative neglect of the doctrine of Christ's resurrection. More fundamentally, Gaffin insists that the marked emphasis of the Reformed on the ordo salutis (order of the individual's salvation) greatly misses the mark of Paul's theology and teaching. Gaffin presents a tight exegetical case that Paul's overwhelming concern was to communicate to his hearers and readers the efficacy of Christ's great redemptive complex particularly His death and resurrection. The whole notion of the ordo salutis the precise sequence of and relationship between justification, regeneration, sanctification, adoption, and so forth were not the forefront of Pauline theology. Gaffin rightly recognizes (as has Alister McGrath) that the doctrine of justification by faith, so critical to Reformation soteriology, was not at the center of Pauline preaching and soteriology. Rather, justification was one crucial soteriological facet resulting from union with the resurrected Christ. It is the latter, according to Gaffin, on which Pauline soteriology hinges:

    Not justification by faith, but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps most prominently) is the central motif of Paul's applied soteriology (132).


    In Gaffin's thesis, Paul does not see the traditional facets of the ordo salutis (regeneration, justification, sanctification, and so on) as separate, sequential facts, but as different facets of a single resurrection-soteriology. It is union with Christ, not the ordo salutis, that is important to Paul.

    The redemptive-historical method often sees the Old Testament and its application today in an exclusive matrix of Christ's redemptive complex. While, to be sure, all revelation is to be read in terms of the entire canon, the redemptive-historical method seems to transform the Old Testament into a Christological-typological prelude to New Testament revelation, not permitting the Old Testament to stand as a binding revelation in its own right. This is a grievous error.

    Nonetheless, the redemptive-historical method can be credited with turning renewed attention to the great redemptive acts of history on which all existential salvation must be erected. After all, the fundamental issue of Biblical soteriological investigation today is how the great redemptive events two thousand years ago become efficacious in the modern world. Gaffin's thesis answers this question most persuasively. For a fuller evaluation, see  http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/redemptive_historical_interpretation.htm.
  4. Ramsay MacMullen's Christianizing the Roman Empire (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984) attempts to answer one basic question: "How did the church [of the patristic era] come to prevail over all rival cults, so as to become the dominant presence among religions of the [Roman] Empire?" (72). His main answer, which is as unsettling to many modern orthodox Christians as it is to anti-supernaturalistic liberals, is that evidence of clearly supernatural and miraculous acts by God persuaded large numbers of pagans to become Christians. Justin, Tertullian, and Cyprian all gave evidence of widely attested power of God in the performance of exorcisms (27). What is particularly fascinating about this is that each of them challenges skeptics to examine the witnesses, for all too many had observed these exorcisms for them to be simply the fabrication of Christians. MacMullen states: "[T]he unique force of Christian wonder-working that does indeed need emphasis lies in the fact that it destroys belief as well as creating it that is, if you credited it, you had then to credit the view that went with it, denying the character of God to all other divine powers whatsoever" (108-109, emphasis in original). Throughout his work, MacMullen notes that one unique fact of Christianity was its exclusivism: It did not offer a new god to the ones pagans already embraced; it demanded the renunciation of all gods in favor of the One True God. The widely attested miracles of that God contributed mightily to the Christianization of the Roman Empire.
  5. Covenant Media Press, 4425 Jefferson Avenue, Suite 108, Texarkana, AK 71854, (800) 553-3938, www.cmfnow.com has recently released two fine books on eschatology: Greg L. Bahnsen's collections of essays, Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism, and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.'s Perilous Times: a Study on Eschatological Evil. The late Greg L. Bahnsen, as well as Gentry, both employ the preterist approach to eschatology, that is, the idea that a great many of the New Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. Both works are uncompromisingly postmillennial and herald a new wave of victorious eschatology vanquishing the pessimistic eschatologies that dominated the twentieth century.
  6. Jaroslav Pelikan's Developmentof Christian Doctrine: A Historical Prolegomena (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1969) is in many ways an introduction to his five-volume magnum opus, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Pelikan is probably the leading church historian of the twentieth century. He first discusses "The Problem of Doctrinal Development." Many Christians simply do not recognize that while the Bible itself has not changed, the church's beliefs about the Bible have developed organically over time. Pelikan, interacting with John Henry Newman's An Essay in the Development of Doctrine, lays excellent groundwork in showing what doctrinal development is all about. In part 2, "Doctrinal Development of Patristic Theology," he addresses the development of doctrines such as Original Sin, Mariology, and the Filioque. Like all of Pelikan's works, it bears the marks of profound thought, impeccable documentation, and cogent argument.
  7. Theodore Letis' The Ecclesiastical Text: Text Criticism, Biblical Authority, and the Popular Mind (Philadelphia and Edinburgh: The Institute for Renaissance and Reformation Biblical Studies, 1997, 6417 North Fairhill, Philadelphia, PA 12126) gathers the author's previously published scholarly essays arguing for the priority of the Textus Receptus of the Bible. Letis stands within the stream of nineteenth-century Anglican luminary John William Burgon and twentieth-century Van Tilian Reformed textual critic Edward F. Hills. Like his forebears, Letis holds that an ecclesiastical consensus should be given heavy (perhaps the heaviest) weight in assessing different manuscript traditions. Letis is the preeminent scholarly defender of the Textus Receptus today, and his work deserves careful examination.

Topics: Culture

P. Andrew Sandlin

P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author.  He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California.  He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation.  He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).

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