Notes on First Principles

I am slowly working through Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae. As I do so, I will share quotes that I find intriguing and may want to reference later. I am reading this Latin edition and using Alfred J. Freddoso’s new English translation as needed.

In I, Q1, A6, Aquinas addresses the question of whether sacred doctrine is wisdom–utrum sit sapientia. Thomas affirms, but my interest is less in that as in the statements he makes regarding first principles:

Continue reading Notes on First Principles

Disagreement

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Disagreements are no more unnegotiable natural forces than deliveries of the mistaken conscience are. They are openings for those who share a common faith to explore and resolve important tensions within the context of communion.

This kind of proposal is, of course, easy to mishear. It can be taken to mean that parties to disagreements must be less than wholly convinced of their position, ready to make room for possible accommodation. When really serious issues are at stake and talk of a status stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae begins to rumble like thunder, urging the search for resolution can seem like an invitation to capitulate, to concede essential points before beginning. It can seem as though Scripture is deemed to be inconclusive and ambiguous, so that either side is free to concede the possible right of the other’s interpretation. It can seem as though what is needed is an indefinite irresolution about everything important, in which there is no need for, and no possibility of, a decisive closure. But that is all a trick of the light. None of this is implied in the search for agreement. The only thing I concede in committing myself to such a process is that if I could discuss the matter through with an opponent sincerely committed to the church’s authorities, Scripture chief among them, the Holy Spirit would open up perspectives that are not immediately apparent, and that patient and scrupulous pursuit of these could lead at least to giving the problem a different shape—a shape I presume will be compatible with, though not precisely identical to, the views I now hold, but which may also be compatible with some of the views my opponent now holds, even if I cannot yet see how. I do not have to think I may be mistaken about the cardinal points of which I am convinced. The only thing I have to think … is that there are things still to be learned by one who is determined to be taught by Scripture how to read the age in which we live.

– Oliver O’Donovan, A Conversation Waiting to Begin, 32–33. Thanks to a friend for pointing out this quote to me.

Or as Jordan Peterson has put it, more succinctly:

Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

It’s Hard to Be Good

And so it is hard to be good: for surely hard it is in each instance to find the mean, just as to find the mean point or centre of a circle is not what any man can do, but only he who knows how: just so to be angry, to give money, and be expensive, is what any man can do, and easy: but to do these to the right person, in due proportion, at the right time, with a right object, and in the right manner, this is not as before what any man can do, nor is it easy; and for this cause goodness is rare, and praiseworthy, and noble.

– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 2.9, https://bit.ly/3ipS0qd

On Becoming Presbyterian

During seminary I became convinced of infant baptism. This might come as a surprise to some folks, since I have been somewhat discreet on social media about this development. This is mainly because I was still a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an active member at a Baptist church as I wrestled with this issue, and I did not want to appear divisive. But as of last October my wife and I joined a Presbyterian church here in Louisville, last December I graduated from Southern, and this May I came under care of the Ohio River Valley Presbytery in the PCA and began a one-year pastoral internship. So it now seems appropriate to write about this topic.

This post is a semi-autobiographical account of how I came to change my mind on this issue. Initially, the need for a post like this was impressed on me after a couple different people I know, upon hearing that Ivy and I have become Presbyterian, wondered if we had gone liberal. This is understandable, since the PCUSA is the largest Presbyterian denomination in America. But the notion that I have drifted leftward is mistaken. After graduating seminary, I am even more, not less, convinced of issues like the inerrancy of Scripture, male-only eldership, and the sinfulness of homosexuality. I am currently a candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which is a theologically and morally conservative Presbyterian denomination. Nothing on that front has changed.

More generally though, I wanted to write this post so that family and friends can have a better idea of what exactly has changed in my views and how that change came about. Continue reading On Becoming Presbyterian

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father

George Whitefield is a well-known figure who has been assessed from a number of different vantage points. Recent scholarship assesses the supposed impact he had upon commerce, the development of the “religious celebrity” persona, and in fostering conditions that would lead to the American Revolution. Thomas Kidd comes at Whitefield from another angle in his George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father: while not discounting the arguments of other approaches wholesale, he thinks that these “do not really focus on Whitefield’s primary significance or the way he viewed himself.”[1] Kidd argues that “George Whitefield was the key figure in the first generation of Anglo-American evangelical Christianity,” and his biography seeks to place him “fully in the dynamic, fractious milieu of the early evangelical movement.”[2] Eschewing both naive hagiography and cynical contempt, Kidd presents a balanced view of Whitefield both in his strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. Continue reading George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father

Reformation Worship Blurb

Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey’s Reformation Worship fills a big gap among Reformed evangelicals, among whom I number myself. We don’t know how to do liturgy well. If I could snap my fingers, I would make every seminary student read this.

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The Brothers Karamazov: 17 Quotes

dostoevsky

This summer I read through Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky is one of my favorite authors, and this is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s a classic for a reason: in this book there meets together beauty and ugliness, grandeur and the mundane, good and evil, death and life, suffering and salvation. It functions as a compelling apologetic for the Christian faith in a secular age.

I wanted to share seventeen memorable quotes from the book. There are massive limits to what I’m doing here. It’s a novel, after all. These brief excerpts cannot capture the impact of a whole chapter or section or how masterfully Dostoevsky develops a theme, image, or character through the whole book.

Nevertheless, there are lots of great quotes to be found. Here are seventeen that stood out to me: Continue reading The Brothers Karamazov: 17 Quotes