Thursday, November 24, 2011

My Field Trip to the Evangelical Theological Society Meeting part five

All of our audio for the 2011 Word of Truth Conference is up, with the exception of the panel discussion, which we will have soon.


At the beginning of the session on Thursday, November 17, with Bauder and Mohler, Andy Naselli said he wanted to bring in Carl Trueman, because Trueman would come with no holds barred without fear to question the other two major points of view.  One would think that they would like a challenge to their positions, and so one would also figure that they would welcome my analysis as well.  The practice of separation is about God, and hopefully we would all want to please Him with our practice.

David Naugle

The first session I attended was Wednesday the 16th, a symposium on doing the right thing, hosted by John Stonestreet and the Charles Colson Center for Christian Worldview.  The first speech came from David Naugle, head of the philosophy department at Dallas Baptist University.  I enjoyed his presentation, which began in its introduction with the idea of being "gollumized," referring to character in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series.  The point of being "gollumized" refers to Gollum allowing what he loved to disfigure him.  His obsession changed him.

Naugle argued that what we worship, we become.  Idolatry is not wood and stone alone, but thoughts.  When we worship false gods, we become like them.  The cure is found in a reordered love.  Vice is a disordered life and virtue comes from reordered loves.  He spoke of intellectual virtue, physical virtue, and moral virtue.  Intellectual virtue is developing holy habits of mind.  Physical virtue is in contrast to the gnostics---matter matters.  Moral virtues are cultivated according to Scripture.  God is honored and glorified and we are benefactors.  We experience ourselves as moral agents and our actions create the social structures.  This is in contrast with Carl Sagan, "nature is the whole show"---it is more than sheer neurons and habitualization.

He referenced Aristotle's, "do but take pleasure in the good thing," and contrasted it with Kant's "chaste out of sheer duty."   He spoke of how the world lost its story and that we need the recovery of the lost story from creation to consummation.

The other three present, Stonestreet, Michael Miller, and Scott Rae stood and commented on Naugle's speech, and a few asked questions.  I recognize that Naugle is not a separatist and a new-evanglical, as would be most of the people in the entire conference, but what he said in this session was true.  It got me thinking about something a little differently than I had before, that is, our loves change us into what those loves are.

Michael Miller

Michael Miller works for a think tank, the Acton Institute.  I'd never heard of him, but I noticed that he is on the panel of Colson's Doing the Right Thing, which argues for morality from the point of natural law.  I stopped by their exhibit and talked to their representative there and he gave me a copy of it.  I haven't watched it yet.  Colson and his group are concerned about the complete lack of ethics and morality in the state universities, so they decided to make their argument from natural law so that his series could be shown at Harvard.  I don't think it will work, because it doesn't rely on Scripture to make the point---and the problem is not intellectual but volitional.  People do what they want to do because they want to do it.

Miller is energetic and entertaining as a speaker.  He started with some commentary in which he talked about doing something he never does, that is, watching three television programs on the plane on the way out.  He gave his take on each, ending with Glee, saying that Jesus wouldn't watch it.   In a later session, Naugle said he thought Jesus would watch Glee, but with some sort of discernment (Miller is nodding his head "no" violently).  Miller had stopped watching television many years ago, seeing it as a complete waste of time, but the plane ride gave him an opportunity for a sampling of popular culture.

The speech was called "Men Without Chests Revisited:  Educating for Moral Imagination," named after a chapter in C. S. Lewis' book, The Abolition of Man.  Lewis was referenced several times.  Naugle had just left The Kilns, the C. S. Lewis house, having been its scholar-in-residence.  The idea of Lewis, as reported by Miller, seemed very similar to the theme of Jonathan Edward's Treatise on the Religious Affections.   Men are without chests because they are acting according to their desires instead of their affections.  Affections begin with the mind and end in the heart, but men without chests act according to sheer desire.

Miller contended that our culture has lost its moral imagination by destroying the channels through which it flows, namely the arts, music, literature, painting, sculpture, and architecture.  He believes that we could recover those channels, however, and he offered steps by which he believed that could be accomplished through various means.  Among those, he proposed the recovery of objective beauty, the resensitizing of ourselves to good and evil, the recovery of authentic subjectivity, the rehabilitation of both reason and the heart, and the recapturing of the channels of communication.  He believes, as do I, that we are corrupting our imaginations by means of vulgarity and banality.

There were about 40 people in the room, and I looked to my right for this session and there was Kevin Bauder, sitting almost all alone on the speaker's far left.  From reading him, I knew that he would appreciate what Miller was saying.  However, I didn't see how that evangelicalism itself would.  After the morning, I went to the front to talk to Miller.  I asked him if he got wide reception in evangelicalism, because I didn't see acceptance of what he taught there.  At that point, he told me that he didn't think so, but he needed to offer me a disclaimer---he wasn't evangelical, but a Roman Catholic.  I knew nothing of Miller at the time, but hearing that wasn't entirely strange, because I've noticed evangelicals ejecting to Catholicism for many reasons, including the silliness of evangelicalism.  However, I thought it strange (perhaps I shouldn't have) that ETS would bring in a Roman Catholic for a presentation.

I told Miller that he sounded dogmatic in what he said.  He wondered what I meant.  It seems to be offensive to be called dogmatic in an evangelical setting.  However, he spoke with great dogmatism, so I asked him if he thought that a violation of what he said would be a "sin."  He asked if I could give him an example, so I said, "What's right behind you."  He said, "Oh, that's just ugly."  I was referring to the modern art on the wall right behind him.  "But," I said, "isn't that art immoral, at least according to what you presented?"  You could tell his wheels were turning.  I mentioned Roger Scruton, and was surprised he had never read him, because many of Scruton's concepts were in what Miller taught.  And I asked if he knew of Jonathan Edwards' Treatise, and he did not know of it.  Too bad.

Robert George

The next speech was via skype with Robert George, a professor at Princeton.  George has done a lot of work in the realm of morality, having written a book on it in 1994.   It was interesting watching him, because he sat there at a conference table in a multimedia room at Princeton with an overcoat and fedora draped over the table right behind him.  He had no notes sitting in front of him, but substantive material flowed from him without hesitation.  Several people, including Colson later, talked about the devastation of an age of relativism, but George said we don't live in an age of relativity, but an age of selective relativity.  In truth, students today on college campuses are absolutists.  They have great conviction about what they want for themselves.  They are relative about morals when they aren't self-serving.  There was some trouble with skype and so this speech was cut short.


Naugle came on again to talk about popular culture.  Scott Rae from Talbot School of Theology spoke about bioethics.  The time ended with a challenge from Charles Colson by phone over speaker, which was really mainly a glorified advertisement for his DVD project, one which he and two of these speakers, George and Miller, are prominent.  Colson is an interesting speaker with his White House background, passion, and intelligence, but his solutions ring hollow in light of his personal compromise.

That afternoon was the first plenary session in the main room in the Marriott.  Kelly Kapic, a theology professor at Covenant College, spoke.  I don't have much to say about that one.  In the afternoon, I was looking forward to hearing Craig Blomberg, Walter Kaiser, and Wayne Grudem, speak on various aspects of Theology of Work and Economics, but when I arrived the small room was so packed that there wasn't even standing room.  I decided to go home and go evangelizing with our teens.  When I walked out of the small room, I overheard someone say that this was something that happened commonly at ETS, that is, putting several big names in one little room.  The next day I heard Walter Kaiser, but I'll write about that in my next post.


Jon Gleason said...

Kent, natural law does "work" to an extent. Romans 1-2 talks about it in general terms.

It will never bring true righteousness, but it certainly can bring conviction of sin. As a result, some will be "chaste out of sheer duty," which will do them little good spiritually, but will make society a better place and in general make their temporal lives better also.

By God's grace, some may see their need of a Saviour and come to Christ as a result, also.

The power to save is in the Word, but the natural law approach as a starting point is not without merit or Scriptural basis.

I'm not endorsing what Colson is doing, but simply discussing the narrow question of whether the natural law approach "works".

Who would have guessed that Kent Brandenburg was a pragmatist? :)

Kent Brandenburg said...


I think the problem with a natural law approach is that natural law is already working. It "works," for sure, but they already have it. They need Scripture, and if we give them natural law because they don't like Scripture, then we already know, it would seem, how it's going to work out.

That's funny on pragmatism, mainly how that pragmatism really doesn't work, which is why we shouldn't do it.