Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Calvinism and Art: Investigating Abraham Kuyper's Influence in Shaping Reformed Tradition Engagement of Art and Aesthetics


Abraham Kuyper’s Stone Lectures on Calvinism presented a significant theological reflection and cultural engagement that extrapolates the original vision of Calvinism. Here in a classic six lecture series delivered at Princeton in 1898, Kuyper’s argument presented Calvinism to be understood not as a sectarian classification or denomination but as all encompassing life system that is rooted in a form of religion that is peculiarly its own. Kuyper argues that given the nature in which Calvinism has developed, with its all embracing unity of its principles, Calvinism stands in line with other system of life known as Paganism, Islamism and Romanism. It is within this context and interest of Calvinism as a proposed, distinctive life-system, specifically in providing differentiation and sufficient unity of its principles in relation to Arts, that this investigation was initiated.

The question of theological engagement of Art and Aesthetics in general has become increasingly important to be investigated. In historical development of civilization, Art has shown continuous evidence of expression to religious beliefs and beliefs in general. Aesthetics, as an independent field of philosophical inquiry since Alexander Baumgarten used the term in the 18th century has increasingly evolves into a system that subordinates or predominantly influences the formation of beliefs and values. Despite historical evidences of Art and Aesthetics continuing relationship to religious beliefs; whether in conflict or in support, or in subordination of one to another, insufficient theological reflection has been given to exhaustively understand Art and Aesthetics relationship to theology. With the abandonment of the search for unity of life-system in the way that pre-17th century model of life-system is understood, Art and Aesthetics frequently stated similar claims or authority in influencing value formation and interpretation of reality within a life-system.

The Fifth Lecture: Calvinism and Art

In effort of understanding Kuyper’s reflection in Calvinism and Art, we must firstly be aware of Kuyper’s intention and recognize what limitation his lecture had as result of the starting point that he has chosen. Secondly, we must situated Kuyper’s argument within the historical context of Art and Aesthetics development of his time, and in which characteristics of that development Kuyper responded to elaborate upon possible form of Calvinism’s engagement with Art and Aesthetics.

Kuyper’s extrapolation of Calvin’s position corresponded with the context of polemics of his time

Heslam [1] concluded his analysis of Kuyper’s Calvinism and Art lecture by underlining Kuyper’s main concern, which was to challenge prejudice against Calvinism in matters of Art [2]. Why addressing Calvinism and Art have become important? What drove the need of Kuyper’s defense of Calvinism as a distinctive Life-System, and his possible reason to include Art as one of examples given? The need to address the prejudice that perceived Calvinism and Art as mutually incompatible does exist; as Kuyper’s argument must be understood in the context of the late 18th to the 19th century Europe. To build better understanding of Kuyper’s emphasis, historical contexts of the late 18th to the 19th century Europe must be provided in philosophy, art movement, and theology. In the late 18th to the 19th century Europe discourses regarding Art and Aesthetics rose within Art movements, and were represented by the rise of Romanticism and Realism in rejection to Neoclassicism [3]. From its philosophical constellation, the continuation of rationalists and empiricists’ debate were represented through schools of thought such as British Empiricism, Romanticism, German Idealism, Positivism, Existentialism, and Transcendentalism [4]. From its theological landscape, the post-Enlightment theological response to Kant in Schleiermacher’s On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers attempted a redefinition of the essence of religion in responding to Romanticism [5].

Muller [6] classifies development stages of Protestantism as Initial period of Reformed Theology, Early Orthodoxy, and High Orthodoxy. The first period of Reformed Theology (1523-1564) were situated in the similar timeframe of the Renaissance period (14th-17th century), it was clear that the period was the time of early theological formulation, which in consequence have not produced complete systematic engagement to address polemics in all aspect. The Early Orthodoxy (1562-1640) was especially marked by elaboration, enunciation of presuppositions and premises of Protestant Theology. Although the Early Orthodoxy was situated in the same timeframe of the rise in modern science and rationalism [7], Protestant theology was not affected directly until the late 17th century. The full-fledge discursive and expository development of Protestantism in more dialectical and sophisticated form begun in the time of High Orthodoxy (1640-late 17th century), marked by increasingly advanced dogmatic orientation and the use of philosophical systems in theology. This development brought an end to Protestant orthodoxy and brings the subsequent rise of rationalistic dogmatics of the 18th century. This historical transition of Protestantism from early orthodoxy to the rise of rationalistic dogmatics give us clues in what context did religion or Protestantism and specifically Calvinism was affected by its relation to the philosophical landscape. The necessity of developing a comprehensive polemical establishment for doctrines of Protestant theology has, at some point, affected by and then perceived in the philosophical context around it.

Looking at the context of the ongoing polemics in which Kuyper’s lecture is situated, the challenge to Protestantism and Calvinism specifically is to sufficiently position itself within the ongoing discourse as viable alternative life-system in for the people in contemporary society. To be able to do that Calvinism must be presented in offering a distinctively different position on main polemical areas. In response to Post-Enlightment philosophy, Calvinism differs from Hegelian Idealism or Romanticism. How does Calvinism responded to Romanticism’s understanding of reality as a single, sublime, unified reality that cannot be systematically dissected and understood by discursive reason?

Kuyper’s fifth lecture on Calvinism and Art were addressing prejudices that were logical conclusion resulting from the rise of Romanticism. As what has happened to Pietistic Protestantism transition to rationalistic dogmatics, the response to the rise of rationalism influences in religion was represented in Schleiermacher’s theology. Schleiermacher’s theology can be viewed as a proposition similarly affected by and then perceived in the philosophical context of romanticism that rise to challenge rationalism. Romanticism rejection to reason as access to ultimate reality was characterized with the understanding that the ultimate reality can only be achieved through the process of experiencing. By this definition, the sensory perception capacity, in which Aesthetics hold ground, is elevated, in contrast with rationalistic definition of what is reality. Thus this philosophical context nourished the institutionalism of High Art that elevated Art and Aesthetics significance as a conduit of accessing ultimate reality [8]. With the rise of Art and Aesthetics as predominantly acceptable conduit to transcendental and ultimate reality, the question regarding Calvinism lack of visible influences to Arts and Aesthetics of the time is completely reasonable. If Calvinism claimed to be a Life-system, and provides a completely revelational access to the ultimate reality, the lack of visible influences of Calvinism in the realms of Art, even more, Calvin’s rejection to many forms of ecclesiastical Art in Romanism, must cast doubt to Calvinism credibility as a Life-system in the context of Romantic society [9]. Kuyper’s fifth lecture anticipated such prejudice by his first critical analysis of the democratization of Art, and the ongoing discussion of what became the universal measure of Aesthetics [10]. Raising the ongoing debate of universal measure through Aesthetics, Kuyper set the stage to address the prejudice to Calvinism that is result of such development; questioning to what extend does the present Aesthetical movement consider the religious significance of artistic instinct as a universal human phenomenon [11]. In the second analysis regarding the prejudice, Kuyper resorted to the insights of modern philosophy, again by it contextualizing and extrapolating Calvin’s position on ecclesiastical arts to the philosophical discourses of his time. By drawing from Hegelian aesthetics, Kuyper extrapolates Calvin to establish Calvinism stand on ecclesiastical art and how Aesthetics are viewed. By doing this Kuyper also provided separation between Calvin’s criticism of the abuse of arts, and his ideas about where art should be situated. Again it would be interesting to examine the rise of Arts in Calvin’s time to further investigate the context in which Calvin’s criticism on Art was given. Protestant Reformation was situated at the same historical timeline with the rise of Renaissance period. Because Aesthetics as an independent field of inquiry did not exist during Calvin’s time, these extrapolations are needed.

Based on these analyses above regarding where Kuyper’s fifth lecture on Calvinism and Art, situated in various polemical discourses, how did the fundamental differentiation of Calvinism engagement with Art as presented by Kuyper, provided sufficient framework to differentiate Calvinistic Aesthetics? This paper proposes an analysis of probable emphasis:
1. The focus upon Arts and Aesthetics not as an independent and/or alternative access to ultimate reality and independent construction of human beliefs but as partial response in analogy to the ultimate reality and in articulating such belief.
This principle can be extracted both in Kuyper’s argument on democratization of Art [12]; Art, Religion and Symbolism. What can be drawn from both discussions is the emphasis of Calvinistic concerns of how Arts and Aesthetics in general, which at its very substance possess the ability at some point to cease to be an expression or response in encounter with essential religious reality [13]. This ability enables purely sensory perception constructs a partial reality that is centered not upon purer essence of religion but its external symbolism. By doing so external symbolism may evolve to the point where increasingly religious reality is understood not from the doctrinal substance but from wider and arbitrary response to the symbol, not returning to the essence that it ought to represent. So the issue is not a rejection to arts or aesthetics in general, but what purpose and proportion in engagement of reality does it misrepresent or undermine.
2. Art and Aesthetics as inseparably religious universal phenomenon that represents lower stage of religious reality.
Kuyper’s argument in answering Romanism presents several possible differences. He began with elaboration on art as a universal human phenomenon, and how that universal phenomenon seemed to be inseparably religious at the point of its highest historical development. Heslam [14] argues in his analysis that Kuyper’s perspective on relationship between art, religion, and symbolism can be found in his doctrine of Sphere-Sovereignty. Following this doctrinal principle, art and religion occupy their own autonomous spheres, so for the healthy development of each, it is necessary that both are free from interference from the other, a freedom that is undermined by religious symbolism, and subordination of the art sphere under the tutelage of the Church. Heslam suggested that Kuyper saw this shifting position as significant contribution from Calvinism to the development of the arts. Can it then be characterized that Kuyper’s support for independence of Art sphere from religious symbolism indirectly resulted in secularization? I would argue that while Kuyper’s acceptance of art as a universal phenomenon, with certain autonomy in forms of spheres, resulted in similar appearance of freedom in human reasoning and experience that can be found in Enlightment’s, it proposed a completely different form of freedom. But what seemed to be similar liberation of arts and aesthetics from the tutelage of the Church, as resulted also from both idealism and empiricism, is based not in Enlightment’s conviction but constructed on Calvin’s doctrine of common grace. This paper propose that we may trace Kuyper’s chosen arguments not only to his doctrine of sphere-sovereignty, but to what is distinctly Calvinistic foundation, in the doctrine of common grace [15] and the creator-creature distinction [16]. Kuyper stated:
“Art also is no side-shoot on a principal branch, but an independent branch that grows from the trunk of our life itself, even though it is far more nearly allied to Religion than to our thinking or to our ethical being.” -Lectures on Calvinism p.150
“Thus also no unity in the revelation of art is conceivable, except by the art-inspiration of an Eternal Beautiful, which flows from the fountain of the Infinite. Hence no characteristic all-embracing art-style can arise except as a consequence of the peculiar impulse from the Infinite that operates in our inmost being. And since this is the very privilege of Religion, over intellect, morality and art, that she alone effects the communion with the Infinite, in our self-consciousness, the call for a secular, all-embracing art-style, independent of any religious principle, is simply absurd.” -Lectures on Calvinism p.151
Heslam stated that in his rejection to symbolism Kuyper put forward his agreement to Hegel’s position that it was only in its lower, sensual stages of development that religion needed the support of art in order to liberate human spirit [17]. Eduard von Hartmann [18] also quoted by Kuyper to be compared with his extrapolation of Calvin’s position [19]. The implication that can be drawn from Kuyper’s order of argument was that Art is understood as common grace, a given nature. As it should be accepted as common grace, it can only be situated under the same starting point of understanding reality, not autonomous in terms of human reasoning towards ultimate reality, but an independent sphere free from symbolism of religion. The distinction between autonomous reasoning and independent sphere is clear. Independent sphere is a freedom based on acknowledgment of Common Grace; a common unity that made each particularity possible to be known by itself, inseparable from its relationship with the other, but such unity is not based upon human construction or achieved through any autonomous reasoning or experience. Sphere-sovereignty in arts should then be understood as an extension in understanding of God’s sovereignty, that if Calvinism insisted in no other possible beginning point but an Absolute Person of God, then it resulted in two consequences, first, it is inconsistent to upheld one sphere dominion on all others without denying the existence of common grace and the sovereignty and centrality of the absolute person of God above all spheres. Thus it is also at the same time inconsistent to hold a position of any spheres or realms autonomy, or any possibility of secularization. Following this principle above any political or ecclesiastical control which subjected all spheres into constraints created in the context of fallen human knowledge, even in religious institutions, cannot escape the possibility of distortion. Even more, the subjection of all under one that is not absolute tends to eliminate antithetical arguments that are needed to sustain it. This posits the need for sphere freedom that differentiates Calvinism from Romanism.

The second implication is in the context of Romanticism. Kuyper’s argument presents examples that acknowledge of Art as an instrument of religious potential, and having universal implications, but denying its claim as an autonomous agent of reaching noumenal reality. It repositioned arts and aesthetics not under the tutelage of the Church as practiced in the exclusivity or superiority of religious symbolism, but acknowledging its position as common ground from which the sense of divinity that is embedded within man may be articulated as part of the process of knowing, responding and confirming.
3. Art and Aesthetics simultaneously presents objective reality and able to transcends analogically to metaphysical reality.
Through Kuyper’s formulation we discover a deliberate tension in understanding of aesthetics between Idealism and Empiricism. Kuyper stated:
“...the forms and relations exhibited by nature are and ever must remain the fundamental forms and relations of all actual reality, and an art which does not watch the forms and motions of nature nor listen to its sounds, but arbitrarily likes to hover over it, deteriorates into a wild play of fantasy. But on the other hand, all idealistic interpretation of art should be justified in opposition to the purely empirical, as often as the empirical confines its task to mere imitation.” -Lectures on Calvinism p.154
Situated in the context of aesthetic discussion of objective and subjective beauty. Kuyper’s position in aesthetics insist that beauty have an objective reality, opposing the notion of Kantian idealism that extend the artistic role of going beyond imitating nature or mimesis but a freedom of creating a new reality [20]. If we try to understand art not as mimesis but as creation, as we can understand it in Idealism, we must also understand the logical conclusion of giving arts and aesthetics the ability to create autonomously. Heslam described the result in his book Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism as:
”The divine world became more human and immediate, and the beautiful, although it still preserved its former transcendental nature [21], acquired a new character that allowed it to be equated with art.”
What might be Kuyper’s objection with Idealism position of art as creation in relation to Calvinism? Kant’s formulation introduced the notion that the human mind constructs the categories of space and time, in which the aesthetic reality can be known, this can be seen as a starting point of differentiation. The way it may be understood, the attempt of integrating noumenal and phenomenal reality in Idealism above would posit a contradiction to Calvinistic principle of Creator-Creator distinction [22] and how Calvin understood the relationship of the natural man, reality and God [23]. If the notion of art as creation is interpreted in the context of idealism, then autonomous reconstruction of transcendental divine reality in human terms is possible. Further investigation may be conducted to probe deeper on this argument above on how the understanding ‘art as creation’ in the context of the autonomous reasoning that characterized idealism may contribute to our discussion of Calvinism engagement with arts.

Kuyper’s objection to an empiricist view of art and aesthetics may be understood in his opposition to a form of artistic positivism, in which the factual and material phenomenon is considered able to separate or eliminate from itself any metaphysical relevance [24]. While deriving from an opposite principles to idealism. Kuyper saw the emphasis on objective reality to the extent of gaining independence in all phenomena of its metaphysical implications achieved similar autonomous alternative access to reality, by denying noumenal reality existence [25].
4. Art and Aesthetics in common grace and sphere sovereignty as instrument of worldview which is held in tension with epistemological antithesis.
Heslam’s argues that in his lecture at Princeton Kuyper did not address adequately the central tension between his view of antithesis and corresponding isolation on the one hand, and common grace and corresponding engagement and accommodation on the other [26]. So is it possible to discover how art and aesthetics engagement in Calvinism, in consistency to the antithesis presented in Kuyper’s other lectures? Can Kuyper’s lectures on Calvinism, although unresolved on this side of the argument, provide sufficient understanding on how this can be conducted?

As Kuyper chose to emphasize the idea of Common Grace in his address regarding art, the underlying antithesis and differentiation between Calvinism positions may not be as clear as it could be in practical implications. What Kuyper seemed to achieve is to demonstrate how different theological and philosophical presuppositions unavoidably resulted in differences, not necessarily in its superficial appearances, but in producing various logical conclusion of a different structure that is rooted in a completely distinct life-system. So while Kuyper’s argument may not produce clear proposition of what aesthetics principles or artistic characteristics can be categorized as distinctively Calvinistic, his argument rejected such categorization and in return proposed a different set of questions that he conclude is needed, and to examine differences from this new foundation. This new foundation is rooted in constructing a Calvinistic worldview with established epistemological, axiological distinction.
Arguments from where Kuyper build and identify his position to idealism and empiricism may be understood as case-based rejection to the theological assumption behind the Kantian noumena/phenomena divide. Heslam stated that Kuyper believed that by regarding God’s glory as manifest in both spiritual and material phenomena, the antithesis between idealism and empiricism falls away [27]. In responding to Romanticism and Romanism arguments were built by balancing theological considerations of both too high and too low view of art and aesthetics. In presenting this tension Kuyper stated how arts acted as an antidote and provided higher aspirations of the soul in the cold irreligious and practical age [28]. Through examples presented Kuyper positioned Romanticism view of art and aesthetics as too high view of arts and aesthetics, while religious symbolism presented in Romanism is regarded in its excessive ecclesiastical forms, too low view of art and aesthetics, subjecting it purely as and instrument of purpose with no significance outside its religious tutelage. It can be said that Kuyper read Calvin correctly in constructing his position. While Calvin stated that only the area of the visible creations offers permissible subjects suitable for the imitation of reality, for which the fine arts serve as an instrument of expression [29]. Calvin also referred to simple enjoyment that can also serve memory of education, things, themes that are profane by virtue, in such that they did not represent divine goal or strengthening of faith, but represents human culture, history, reality and in result bring edification.

Kuyper insisted in his argument regarding the impossibility of art and aesthetics to be absolutely independent from any religious principle. In the whole argument presented in Calvinism and Art, and in the context of common grace and sphere-sovereignty, Kuyper was shifting the antithesis presented in the challenge of Romanism, Idealism and Romanticism from the realm of evidential and religious phenomena to the question of epistemological antithesis. What Kuyper did was to propose a different perspective to romanticism interpretation to the historical phenomena, and to demonstrate how this significant differentiation is resulted from epistemological difference.

Similarity in Reformed Tradition engagement of Arts and Aesthetics

How would Kuyper’s contribution in presenting his argument on Calvinism and Art be measured? Previously given example from present writers such as Nicholas Wolterstorff present some comparison to other Reformed Tradition engagement in the context of art and aesthetics. Covolo [30], in his article that examined Herman Bavinck’s Theological Aesthetics, presents similar argument regarding the tension between empirically-based aesthetics and more transcendent spiritual aesthetics from above in Bavinck [31]. Bavinck, a Dutch Reformed theologian contemporary to Kuyper, also rejected all attempts to reduce the dynamic of beauty to its empirical aspects; he also believes that the distinct perception of beauty is an objective, fundamental element that is distinctly human. Covolo pointed out important Protestantism distinction that Bavinck took opposite to Romanism in the discontinuity between divine beauty (along with truth and goodness) and creation’s beauty. So here it can be stated that Beauty (and in wider sense the discussion of human capacity in arts and aesthetics) is again confirmed in the context of communicable attributes (or inherently given by God in human constitution) and at the same time maintain both qualitative and quantitative distinction that is inseparable (creator-creature distinction). Bavinck responded to Schelling’s [32] elevation of Art as the complete revelation of the absolute, the perfect manifestation of the divine idea, as Pantheistic [33], a contradiction to Calvinism as it elevates art as human origin metaphysical answer that rejected the creator-creature distinction.

As it can be observed, Bavinck position also represents an engagement between Protestant theology, philosophy and specifically aesthetics in response to the context of late 18th to the 19th century Europe. Similar with Kuyper, the rise of Art to an elevated position of accessing noumenal reality must be addressed firstly by any other competing life-system, at the level of recognizing the framework of presuppositions that support its new elevated position. Not until the mid 20th century further elaboration based upon this understanding of presuppositions were then presented in theological aesthetics works of Rookmaaker [34], Schaeffer [35], Wolterstorff [36] and Dyrness [37].

Kuyper’s contribution was not to identify or define specific constraints of Calvinism engagement with Aesthetics. His contribution was clarifying a starting point from where an engagement of theological aesthetics and polemics should be drawn. The lecture manages to demonstrate that any life-system, including Calvinism, can not afford to allow any engagement without first examine the epistemological root and underlying presuppositions. It is an absolute necessity to have the ability of finding tension between antithesis and engagement, failure to clearly defined these distinctiveness before any engagement or interpretation of phenomenon can be seen as the subordination of any life-system to other life-system that has been used to construe the point of engagement. To the present Post-modern engagement between Aesthetics and Theology, where the question of life-system, meaning and value has again subjected to previously known presuppositions, albeit in more popularized and vulgarized variants that draw from the roots of Enlightment, the increasing inability to examine polemics from both its underlying presuppositions and historical evolvement seems to suggest an increasing dissolution of Calvinism as a distinct life-system that Kuyper presented.

[1] Heslam, P.S., Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994)
[2] Heslam argues that by allowing what he perceived as prejudice against Calvinism to dominate his argument, Kuyper forfeited the opportunity to present a vision for renewal of the arts along Calvinistic lines.
[3]Shelley, James, in his writing "The Concept of the Aesthetic", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) described the polemics between British Empiricism and Rationalism this way: “Rationalism about beauty is the view that judgments of beauty are judgments of reason, i.e., that we judge things to be beautiful by reasoning it out, where reasoning it out typically involves inferring from principles or applying concepts. At the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, rationalism about beauty had achieved dominance on the continent, and was being pushed to new extremes by “les géomètres,” a group of literary theorists who aimed to bring to literary criticism the mathematical rigor that Descartes had brought to was against this, and against more moderate forms of rationalism about beauty, that mainly British philosophers working mainly within an empiricist framework began to develop theories of taste.”
[4] This ongoing debate between rationalism and empiricism focus at to what extent are we dependent upon sense experience in our effort to gain knowledge. Rationalists claim that there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge can be gained independently of sense experience. Empiricists claim that sense experience is the ultimate source of all our concepts and knowledge.
[5] Grenz, S. & Colson, R.E., 20th Century Theology (Inter-Varsity Press, 1992) described Schleiermacher’s theology as in part an attempt to answer Kant’s critique of religion while accepting the limitation he placed on reason.
[6] Muller, R.A., Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, (Baker Publishing Group, 2003)
[7] The same historical timeframe represents significant advancement in realms of philosophical enquiry that fueled scientific revolution and the age of Enlightment. Francis Bacon (1561 -1626) initiated the rise of Empiricism, while Rene Descartes (1596-1650) is a major figure in Continental Rationalism.
[8] Wolterstorff, N., Art in Action, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980.) Wolterstorff described a phenomenon that he named as institution of High Art. The institution of High Art can be understood as a process in which the arts are increasingly reserved as the ultimate perceptual contemplation, elevating it to a form of aesthetics exaltation that ultimately lead to the mysticism and the religion of the aesthetic. This process is well situated and fueled with the various responses to ongoing debate between rationalism and empiricism, and later expression in romanticism.
[9] Schleiermacher’s redefinition of true religion as the ‘sense’ and ‘taste for the infinite’ in Protestant theology, his agreement to Romantic thinkers rejection of reason as adequate access of ultimate reality, and his redefinition of doctrine as the result of reflection on religious feeling would arguably put Calvinism and its current emphasis of polemical and doctrinal engagements in odds with arts and aesthetics, which has been the bastion of Romanticism.
[10] Wolterstorff in his book Art in Action, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980.) provided an argument that support an argument that the culmination of Romanticism in Art that supported such growth in the institution of high art moved from elevating art and aesthetics as perceptual contemplation to religious feeling. Thus religion of aesthetics replaced previous doctrines based upon external, revelational truth of God and took the Romantic approach of rooting religion in the inner world of the human spirit, so that it is a person's feeling or sensibility about spiritual matters that comprises religion. Wolterstorff stated: “Thus work of art becomes surrogate gods, taking the place of God the creator; aesthetic contemplation takes the place of religious adoration; and the artist becomes one who in agony of creation brings forth objects in absorbed contemplation of which we experience what is of ultimate significance in human life. The artist becomes the maker of the gods, we their worshippers. When the secular religions of political revolution and of technological aggrandizement fail their devotees, when they threaten to devour them, then over and over the cultural elite among modern secular Western men turn to the religion of aestheticism.” Art in Action, p.50
[11] Kuyper’s extrapolation of Calvin’s position is acceptable. As Calvin did not think of fine arts as having value of free arts, Calvin’s understanding of art was even further away from the polemical discussion of taste and Kant’s disinterested contemplation of the 18th century aesthetics. Calvin understood art as means which are so considerably vast to translate culture, an imitation of reality for which it serve as instrument of expression. To the extent that artistic creation has no direct moral or intellectual utility, Calvin recognizes the legitimacy of artistic enjoyment as conversational pleasure. Calvin’s objection reflected concerns of possibility of perversion in opposition to principles of decency, austerity, moderation, usefulness and piety.
[12] Kuyper’s argument in the democratization of art seems to indicate his support to the process as a positive relief from materialism and rationalism, and that through that process it gave voice to ordinary life and reality of common people. However, Kuyper identified the danger of vulgarization that comes along with the process. Heslam stated in Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994) that Kuyper made connection between democratization of art and the ‘atrophy’ caused by the dominating influences of money (materialism) and of barren intellectualism (rationalism). So it can be concluded that Kuyper identified the democratization of art as a response to the domination of materialism and rationalism and extrapolates to one of its logical conclusion, of art being the instrument where relief is sought. Kuyper saw this possibility to the extend that art positioned itself as replacement of religion. I believe that Kuyper was sensitive to these developments of new trends and tensions in the school of thoughts that permeates the more popular level of the society. This alternative access of religious expression through art is supported with romanticism appointment to art and aesthetics to represent the search of noumenal reality, also by the rise of Protestant theologians such as Schleiermacher and Ritschl, who elevate the immanence of God in religious feeling as the foundation of theology.
[13] “Art becomes a cosmos of more and more consciously grasped independent values which exist in their own right...Art takes over the function of a this-worldly salvation, no matter how this may be interpreted."-Max Weber quoted in Wolterstorff., N., Art in Action, p.49
[14] Heslam, P.S., Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994).p.209
[15] Van Til., C., The Defense of the Faith (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1955) p.151-178 Cornelius Van Til in his writings regarding Common Grace and Scholasticism raised the way Kuyper adhered to Calvin’s Common Grace. Van Til explained that Common Grace is the way that every man has the sense of deity within, a revelation within man that is meditated through the constitution of man himself, thus the knowledge of God is inherent in man. This can be understood as innate knowledge based upon the Scripture’s revelation of man created in the image of God; Calvinistic understanding is in contrast to innate ideas in idealist philosophy that is based on the idea of the autonomy of man. Kuyper’s suggested that Calvinism presented a distinctive break from the tutelage of the Church (in Romanism) in sphere of the arts. By presenting art as a virtue of common grace, Kuyper is suggesting a position different from Romanism, Empiricism and Idealism. It differs with Romanism in treating arts as an independent sphere from subordination of religion, but with unavoidably religious potential as an expression that responded to the revelation within man himself and nature. It also differs from Romanism as consequence of different position on how sin affected human knowledge, where distinctly Calvinistic view will look at religious symbolism not as neutral expression but potentially a shift where vitality of religion and artistic forms of worship can be a negative relationship to each other. It differs from idealism and empiricism in understanding the extent of freedom possible to human reasoning and the starting point from which ultimate reality can be known. Van Til explain that as metaphysically speaking all man have something in common of knowing God, thus there can never be an absolute separation between God and man, as such in Calvinism autonomous human reasoning towards ultimate reality and God cannot even exist.
[16] If there can never be an absolute separation between God and man, does that mean that the innate knowledge that is part of man’s constitution have the possibility of knowing, within every human, of finding that unity and ultimate reality? Here I believe the different understanding of Creator-Creature Distinction underlies the different position taken.
[17] Ibid.,p.203., Heslam explained that Kuyper was referring to Hegel’s Encyklopadie der Philosophischen Wissenschaften in Grundrisee (Berlin, 1845)
[18] Hartmann’s position is stated as: “The more religion progress towards maturity the more it will free itself from the bonds of arts, because art is unable to express the essence of religion.”
[19] Calvin, Institutes, I.xi.13., quoted in Heslam., P.S., Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994).p.204
Calvin stated: “religion was still flourishing, and a purer doctrine thriving, Christian churches were commonly empty of images. It was when the purity of the ministry had somewhat degenerated that they were first introduced for the adornment of the churches.”
[20] Houlgate, Stephen, "Hegel's Aesthetics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = . Accessed 10th of December 2011
Houlgate stated: “Kant also maintained that our experience of beauty is an experience of freedom. He argued, however, that beauty is not itself an objective property of things. When we judge that a natural object or a work of art is beautiful, on Kant's view, we are indeed making a judgment about an object, but we are asserting that the object has a certain effect on us (and that it should have the same effect on all who view it). The effect produced by the “beautiful” object is to set our understanding and imagination in “free play” with one another, and it is the pleasure generated by this free play that leads us to judge the object to be beautiful.”
[21] Ibid.
Stephen Holgate explanation that differentiate Kant and Hegel’s position regarding objective beauty, give us further context of Idealism as Kuyper must have contemplated in relation to his construction of Calvinism’s response to it. In this article above Houlgate stated that Hegel, against Kant’s rejection to objective beauty, agrees that beauty is an objective property of things. Here we can see that Kuyper agree with Hegel against Kant in principle of objective beauty. However, Holgate stated that Hegel’s understands beauty as the direct sensuous manifestation of freedom, not merely the appearance or imitation of freedom. That true beauty is understood as direct sensuous expression of the freedom of spirit, it must be produced by free spirit for free spirit. Nature is capable of a formal beauty, but true beauty is found in works of art that are freely created by human beings, making it reach what it means to be free spirit.
Holgate continues that Hegel understand Beauty, not just a matter of form; but also content. This is at odds with those modern artists and art-theorists who insist that art can embrace any content we like and, indeed, can dispense with content altogether. The content that Hegel claims is central and indispensable to genuine beauty (and therefore genuine art) is the freedom and richness of spirit. To put it another way, that content is the Idea, or absolute reason, as self-knowing spirit.
Holgate stated: “Since the Idea is pictured in religion as “God,” the content of truly beautiful art is in one respect the divine. Yet, as we have seen above, Hegel argues that the Idea (or “God”) comes to consciousness of itself only in and through finite human beings. The content of beautiful art must thus be the divine in human form or the divine within humanity itself (as well as purely human freedom).”
Here is where it can be stated that Kuyper in the context of Calvinism would disagree with Hegel. As similar with Kant, while the transcendental and metaphysical nature of aesthetics was maintained, it was at the expense of God as the ultimate starting point of this objectivity. To equate God as the ‘Idea’ and that it comes to consciousness of itself in and through finite human beings would be to arrive in the same logical conclusion of autonomous reason, and the possibility of human being to reach ultimate reality in a purely human freedom.
[22] It can be stated that Creator-Creature distinction that is rooted in Calvin’s theology provided clear differentiation from where Kuyper built his arguments. The strong emphasis of Calvinistic position is that unless this distinction is made basic to all that man knows about anything, then whatever man knows is untrue. To accept the possibility of natural man, to build any assumptions that he himself and the facts about him are not created, is to begin from an ultimate starting point that is basically false. How would this significantly differ from Romanism, for example? As argued in the introduction, to posit Calvinism as a Life-System with clear distinction from Paganism, Romanism and Islamism Kuyper must provide sufficient evidence. Kuyper’s argument on Religion and Symbolism seemed to be pointed at both answering the accusation from Romanism regarding Calvinism hostility to Arts and at the same time clarify a basic differentiation of Calvinism from the closest Life-System (Romanism) within Christianity itself. Kuyper’s specific examples in relation to Romanism, if succeeded in providing adequate response to Romanism challenges regarding Ecclesiastical Art, Symbolism in religion, will provide more clues of what differences in theology were articulated through Romanism and Calvinism engagement with art.
[23] Cornelius Van Til in his explanation about differentiation between Reformed and Romanist apologetics in Reformed Apologetics: defending the faith, Torch and Trumpet (The Outlook) 1951, April-May issue, Volume 1, No. 1, suggested that the reason why the one type of apologetics does and the other does not wish to make the Creator-creature distinction basic at the outset of all predication is to be found in the differing conceptions of sin. These different conceptions of Sin lead to significant difference on how human knowledge and human mind as the beginning point interpretation of reality can be accepted. Romanism, through Aquinas, support the basic assumption that in spite of sin man in his nature still have the ability to first know much about himself and the universe and afterward ask whether God exists and Christianity is true. Calvin’s position assumes that as consequence of sin nothing can be known by man about himself or the universe unless God exists and Christianity is true. If this understanding of theological differences is true, it can be stated that the idea of autonomous reasoning and human freedom can possibly be derived as a logical conclusion from Romanism position but would be a logical contradiction from Calvinism. This different position is reflected in Kuyper’s arguments against Romanism.
[24] Lectures on Calvinism p.154-155 “And this is what Calvin asserted: viz., that the arts exhibit gifts which God has placed at our disposal, now that, as the sad consequence of sin, the real beautiful has fled from us. Your decision here depends entirely upon your interpretation of the world. If you are considering the world as the realization of the absolute good, then there is none higher, and art can have no other vocation than to copy nature. If, as the pantheist teaches, the world proceeds, by slow processes, from the incomplete to perfection, then art becomes the prophecy of a further phase of life to come. But if you confess that the world once was beautiful, but by the curse has become undone, and by a final catastrophe is to pass to its full state of glory, excelling even the beautiful of paradise, then art has the mystical task of reminding us in its productions of the beautiful that was lost and of anticipating its perfect coming luster. Now this last-mentioned instance is the Calvinistic confession.”
[25] Ibid., p. 156.,
“ reveals to us a higher reality than is offered by this sinful world. “
Positivism can be defined as a philosophical system recognizing only that which can be scientifically verified or which is capable of logical or mathematical proof, and therefore rejecting metaphysics and theism. Positivism was part of the philosophical discourses of Kuyper’s time. If we look at more recent works to better understand what alternatives were available between Idealism and Empiricism, and various discourses from which Kuyper must differentiate Calvinism position on art, it is not a suprise that Kuyper also included Positivism, albeit in not in its complete argument. Wolterstorff term ‘analogy’ is in essence similar to what Kuyper was saying in his lecture:
“That is one pole: Art is an expression of self on analogy to the creative self-expression of God the Creator. The other pole is the insistence that the work of art is first of all not an imitation of nature, nor a bearer of a message, but a new reality.” Wolterstorff, N., Art in Action P.53
[26] Heslam, P.S., Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994).p.222
[27] Ibid., p.213
[28] Lectures on Calvinism p.143
[29] Calvin, Institutes, I.xi.12., quoted in Selderhuis., H.J. (Ed.)., The Calvin Handbook, (Eerdmans, 2009)
[30] Covolo, R.S., Herman Bavinck’s Theological Aesthetics: A Synchronic and Diachronic Analysis, accessed 10th of December, 2011
[31] Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) was a Dutch Reformed theologian and churchman, contemporary to Abraham Kuyper.
[32] Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775 -1854), quoted in Covolo, R.S., Herman Bavinck’s Theological Aesthetics: A Synchronic and Diachronic Analysis
[33] Levine, Michael, "Pantheism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = . Accessed 10th of December 2011
Pantheism is a metaphysical and religious position. Broadly defined it is the view that (1) “God is everything and everything is God … the world is either identical with God or in some way a self-expression of his nature” (Owen 1971: 74). Similarly, it is the view that (2) everything that exists constitutes a “unity” and this all-inclusive unity is in some sense divine (MacIntyre 1967: 34). A slightly more specific definition is given by Owen (1971: 65) who says (3) “‘Pantheism’ … signifies the belief that every existing entity is, only one Being; and that all other forms of reality are either modes (or appearances) of it or identical with it.” Even with these definitions there is dispute as to just how pantheism is to be understood and who is and is not a pantheist. Aside from Spinoza, other possible pantheists include some of the Presocratics; Plato; Lao Tzu; Plotinus; Schelling; Hegel; Bruno, Eriugena and Tillich. Possible pantheists among literary figures include Emerson, Walt Whitman, D.H. Lawrence, and Robinson Jeffers. Beethoven (Crabbe 1982) and Martha Graham (Kisselgoff 1987) have also been thought to be pantheistic in some of their work — if not pantheists.
[34] Rookmaaker, H. R.: Modern Art and The Death of Culture, (Crossway Books 1994)
[35] Schaeffer,F.A., Escape From Reason: A Penetrating Analysis Of Trends In Modern Thought, (InterVarsity Press January 1977)
[36] Wolterstorff, N., Art in Action, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980.)
[37] Dyrness, W.A., Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Engaging Culture) (Baker Academic 2001)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Is Our God Analog or Digital?

Electronic systems are usually grouped into two basic categories: analogs or digitals. The analog systems are those with the capability of working based on smooth transition of values, while the counterparts are based on rigid transition of two states – basically on and off. It is of the common knowledge that analog systems proceeded their digital brothers and sisters, which came as a result of technical adjustments with the principles of computer. Hence, it implies that life is originally an analog-based system and nothing is too rigid as to define it as exactly 0 or 1.

However, deriving the basic principle from the Bible, we could actually say that God tends to be more digital than this life ever is. In the beginning of this world, Adam and Eve were created and sinned against God. God was very much consistent by putting them under punishment, because sins have to be judged and punished. Therefore, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden respectively. And throughout the Bible, we could infer that sin is sin and righteousness is righteousness. There is no such thing defined as so-called half-sin or half-righteousness. Wrong is wrong and right is right in other words. This is why; I think God is pretty much digital.

In His digital decree, the sinful men were punished under His divine wrath, against which not even one being could stand. The punishment is certainly just and based on His divine and consistent characters. Forgiveness could not come without any just punishment. This is the very first principle we could derive from the Bible. However, if we later compare the first sin with the proceeding sins, we could actually conclude that the ones committed later are more terrible, crueler, more savage, and more prominent than its origin. How could then God took the first sin so seriously and so strictly? Isn’t it just about taking merely food from the garden and unconsciously they took it from the wrong source?

Talking about sin is not similar to talking about consumer-goods bargaining. It is obvious that sin has a deeper meaning than just taking food from an illegal source. It is deeper in the heart that the Bible has warned us profoundly to take care of it (Proverbs 4:23). This is the reason why the Israelites take this heart-problem so seriously. Talking about whether it is digital or analog to sin against God, perhaps we should go a little bit further to conscience examination. It is exactly coherent with what Jesus has said during His earthly ministry that sins originate from the heart (Matthew 7:21).

This is why we are more concerned about what is inside. It is then not really relevant to talk about whether God is analog or digital, because in the level of heart, everything becomes much more digital; it is whether your heart is or is not directed towards God.

However, in the context of practical life, it seems that God reminds us to be in the analog mode. Jesus indeed rebuked the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20) as they are more concerned about what is outside (fulfilling the law) and not inside (seeking a pure heart). It might seem a bit digital here, that Jesus was talking about doing good or bad, right or wrong. But, Paul brilliantly combined and concluded everything in a life consists of both analog and digital modes (Rome 12:1-2). It is evident that we should strive (as in an analog process) for being as good as possible, while thinking of perfect righteousness as the end goal (differentiating good or bad rigidly). So, is God analog or digital?

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Nature of Justifying Faith

By David M. VanDrunen

The claim that justification comes sola fide was central to the debates of the Reformation. When the matter of sola fide is raised, however, attention tends to focus on the first of these words: alone. We remember that the reformers taught that justification is by faith alone while Roman Catholics countered that justification is by faith and good works. Thus, it may seem, both sides affirmed the importance of faith, but disagreed simply on whether anything had to be added to faith in order to secure justification. This is true in a sense-both sides did speak of the necessity of faith-but it can also be misleading. It is potentially misleading because the reformers and Roman Catholics disagreed about more than whether justification was by faith alone. They also had different understandings of the nature and definition of faith. In other words, the Reformation diverged from Rome not only in affirming that faith alone justifies but also in defining the faith that justifies in the way that it did.

This dispute is much more than an historical curiosity. Christians today who continue to affirm that faith alone justifies surely must take care to speak about this faith accurately. If we are to make such lofty claims for faith we ought to be sure to understand what it is. And disagreements about the character of justifying faith remain alive. Despite some development in Roman Catholic teaching on faith that may seem to bring it closer to the Reformation's understanding, fundamental differences still remain between them. In addition, in some contemporary controversies over the doctrine of justification in Protestant circles, certain writers have suggested an understanding of faith that also diverges from historic Reformation teaching. In this article, then, we will examine these different conceptions of faith and reflect upon the biblical teaching.

Different Definitions of Faith

The Roman Catholic tradition tends to emphasize faith as an intellectual act, that is, as a way of knowing. Often Roman Catholic theology distinguishes faith from reason. Reason is taken as a way of knowing that depends not upon supernatural revelation but upon what the human mind can know by its own intrinsic powers. Through reason, a person can gain true knowledge of many things about this world and even about God. Some things cannot be known by reason, however, according to traditional Roman teaching. By faith, then, a person comes to know things not by virtue of the natural light of reason but by divine revelation. Such knowledge rests upon the authority of God alone as he speaks in the Scriptures and especially in the church. Faith informs people of some things that can also be known by reason, but also of many things that are beyond the competence of reason. Some recent Roman Catholic theology, under the direction of the Second Vatican Council, has attempted to broaden this understanding of faith as a mode of knowledge, but this intellectual emphasis still remains.

For Rome, then, this faith as a mode of knowledge was deemed necessary, but insufficient, for justification. To faith must be added charity, or love. Faith that is "informed" by charity justifies while faith that lacks charity-a dead faith-cannot justify. This dead faith fails to justify not because there is something wrong with this faith in itself, but because the essential accompanying element of charity is absent. We will return momentarily to explore the significance of this fact.

In the light of this theological background, the reformers felt it was necessary not merely to insist that faith alone justifies but also to offer a different definition of justifying faith that better captures biblical teaching. They did not deny that there was an intellectual aspect of true faith. Faith certainly involves knowledge. But they were also convinced that faith is something more than this and, in fact, that this something more stands at the heart of what faith is. Three Latin terms often used to describe this enriched conception of justifying faith are notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Notitia refers to an intellectual understanding about Christ and his gospel. Assensus refers to an intellectual assent to the truth of what is proclaimed in the gospel. But beyond these crucial intellectual acts is fiducia, an act not of the intellect but of the will, which may be described simply as trust. Much more than being a mode of knowledge, faith involves a sincere trust in Christ and his gospel for salvation.

Question and Answer 86 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism provides a concise and helpful statement of this insight. In response to the question of what faith in Jesus Christ is, the catechism answers: "Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel." Not only must the mind grasp the things about Christ and his gospel, but also the heart must rest upon him as the perfect Savior from sins. This character of justifying faith as trust in Christ has prompted some theologians to speak of faith as "extraspective." The term introspective is familiar to most people: it refers to looking within oneself. Something that is extraspective, then, concerns looking outside oneself. That is precisely what faith as trust does: it looks outside of oneself (thereby forsaking all self-confidence) and rests upon another, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has done all things necessary for our salvation.

In light of this enriched understanding of faith, some important differences between Rome and the Reformation become entirely understandable. Because Rome tended to understand faith as a mode of knowledge, it naturally juxtaposed faith with reason. For Rome, faith and reason are two ways of knowing. In contrast, Protestant theology has much more commonly juxtaposed faith with works. Because the heart of faith is not knowledge but extraspective trust, faith is most importantly to be distinguished from those good works that one might perform in order to merit salvation. From this perspective, faith is not a way of knowing to be distinguished from reason, but a means for attaining eternal life to be distinguished from good works. Whereas good works seek a self-achieved eternal life before God, faith forsakes all self-achievement and rests entirely upon Christ, who has achieved eternal life for us. This is why, for justification, faith must be alone. If justification required faith to be supplemented by any good works of our own then faith would no longer be what it is, a forsaking of confidence in one's good works and complete confidence in the work of Christ.

This also helps to explain the different understandings of what a dead faith is. For Rome, as previously noted, faith is dead when it is not formed by charity, but this does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong with the faith itself. For the Reformation understanding of faith, on the other hand, faith is dead when it merely knows but does not trust. This is an important difference. The reformers recognized that dead faith entails a defect in faith itself. Dead faith is not simply faith that lacks love or some other accompanying virtue, but a "faith" that is itself not at all true faith. Without that extraspective trust that rests upon Christ alone, "faith" that merely knows facts is unable to justify.

Before we turn to reflect upon biblical teaching about the nature of faith, it may be helpful to note another view of faith that has become popular among some people recently and also differs from historic Protestant teaching. This view, which has circulated among some associated with the so-called New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision circles, seeks to understand faith as encompassing the broader idea of faithfulness. Faith, in this view, involves not merely trust in Christ but also the range of obedient good works that faithfulness entails. Whereas the Reformation insisted that good works must flow from faith as its fruit, while distinguishing them clearly, this other view sees both trust in Christ and covenant obedience as parts of a broader faith (or faithfulness) that justifies.

Biblical Teaching on the Nature of Faith

The idea that faith entails extraspective trust in Christ can be seen in any number of biblical passages. It is important to remember that when Scripture refers to faith it does not always have exactly the same meaning of faith in mind. For instance, occasionally Scripture speaks of faith in terms of a general belief in the truth of God's Word (sometimes called fides generalis). Paul, for example, says in Acts 24:14: "I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the prophets." Also, the same New Testament Greek word that is translated "faith," pistis, can also mean "faithfulness." And thus we can find examples of Scripture using pistis in this way (e.g., Matt. 23:23). But what is critical to note is that in contexts in which Scripture teaches about salvation in general and justification in particular it consistently uses the term faith to describe the extraspective trust in Christ described above. This is what theology refers to as a saving, justifying faith.

A first point that may strike readers as patently obvious is that Scripture emphasizes again and again that true faith is faith in Christ. But however obvious this may seem to Bible-reading Christians, it is not a truth that should be quickly passed over. It is not uncommon to hear unbelievers in times of anxiety or crisis saying things such as "you gotta have faith." Yes, but faith in what? Biblical, justifying faith is not some general virtue by which someone retains a positive attitude in the face of uncertain circumstances but a very specific trust in something. Or, much better, trust in someone. Justifying faith does indeed believe all things written in the Law and the Prophets, as Paul states of himself in Acts 24, but even more importantly it rests in Christ himself and the promises offered in his gospel. Whosoever "believes in him" will not perish but receive eternal life (John 3:16); everyone "who believes in him" receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43); the righteousness of God comes "through faith in Jesus Christ" (Rom. 3:22).

This Christ-centered, gospel-centered faith is, in Scripture, a faith of trust, of confidence in the face of every earthly reason to doubt. Readers familiar with Paul know that Romans and Galatians are his two letters that deal most extensively with justification, and in both of these letters he looks back to Habakkuk 2:4 as a central statement of the doctrine of faith that he teaches: "the righteous will live by faith." The Hebrew word translated "faith" in Habakkuk 2:4 does not necessarily mean trust and, in fact, often means something different from this. But the context in which the prophet makes this statement indicates why Paul saw this verse as expressing his gospel so clearly. In contrast to their Chaldean enemies threatening to engulf them, who are proud (1:8), rude (1:10), puffed up (2:4), and who make their own might their god (1:11), God's people are called to live by faith. Not self-sufficient and self-absorbed, they are to find their confidence outside of themselves-even when the figs, vines, olive trees, and fields fail to yield their produce, even when the flocks and herds are missing from the fold (3:17). Israel had no earthly reason to be confident, yet the Lord was their strength (3:19). Here is faith, an extraspective trust in the face of overwhelming earthly odds against them.

And so Paul finds Habakkuk's brief statement about faith a marvelous summary of his gospel in Romans and Galatians. We may note how Paul describes this faith that justifies toward the end of Romans 4, in the midst of his larger discussion of justification by faith, and see how beautifully it corresponds to the sort of faith that Habakkuk commended many centuries before. In Romans 4:18-21, Paul writes concerning Abraham:
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

Like the Israelites in Habakkuk's time, Abraham had no earthly reason to be confident about his future. He was almost 100 years old and his wife was barren-their medical odds of conceiving were zero. But Abraham was not looking to his own efforts or to earthly odds, but to God and his promises. This is indeed faith constituted by extraspective trust. Abraham was not deterred by "distrust" (the opposite of faith), but was "fully convinced" that God would do what he promised. What he could not do himself, God would do for him. This is the faith that justifies, as Paul explains in the very next verse: "That is why his faith was counted to him as righteousness."

One matter that is important to note here is that faith, as extraspective trust, is different from every other righteous action that we perform. Unlike love, joy, patience, goodness, and all the other biblical virtues, faith looks outside of itself in order to rest upon and receive the work of another. Nothing else does this. That is why Scripture, and Paul especially, so emphatically and persistently draw such a sharp contrast between faith and works. Working-that is, fulfilling God's law and earning everlasting life by one's own accomplishments-and believing-that is, trusting in another to fulfill God's law and earn everlasting life on our behalf-are two distinctive ways that one might be justified by God. Earlier in Romans 4 Paul crisply spells out this contrast. "Now to the one who works," he writes in verse 4, "his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due." But, he continues in verse 5, "to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." The very next verse speaks of God imputing righteousness apart from works, and Romans 5:16-19 explains that the righteousness that one receives by faith is a free gift consisting of Christ's righteousness and obedience. Thus, here again is faith: not working or obeying the law so as to earn a reward, but believing in another and receiving from him that obedience that could never be self-attained.

It may be striking to realize just how often Paul makes this explicit contrast between faith and works, or faith and the law-at least a dozen times even by a conservative estimate. In one of these passages, Galatians 3:11-12, Paul uses the very Habakkuk 2:4 passage considered above to make this contrast. He writes: "Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith.' But the law is not of faith, rather 'The one who does them shall live by them.'" That Paul distinguishes justifying faith from the demands of the law, from all of those things that a person would have to obey perfectly in order to earn justification oneself, is eminently clear here: the law is not of faith! Faith alone, Habakkuk's extraspective trust in the face of earthly adversity alone, not obedience to the law, is the means by which justification comes to sinners. Let one more familiar example from Paul suffice: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).

Faith is trust. Faith is not one good work among others, but that which stands in sharp distinction from all good works in that it rests upon and receives the good works of another. Therefore, contrary to the claims of some contemporary writers, faith is not faithfulness. Faithfulness, and all other good works, will flow from faith as we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit. But for justification, God's declaration that we are righteous before him, one must make a choice: faith or works. Therefore only by faith alone will a sinner be justified.

By Faith, Therefore By Grace

One final point may help to put this discussion of the nature of faith in perspective. As we have considered the nature of faith as extraspective trust in Christ, perhaps it has struck you how amazingly appropriate faith is as the only means by which we are justified. Faith was not some arbitrary condition for justification that God decided to impose. It is not as though kindness or patience could have substituted just as well for faith had God decided to make one of these the only instrument of justification. No, God declared that justification of sinners would come by faith because faith is exactly the right choice for the job. Because it looks outside of itself and rests upon the work of another, faith is supremely compatible with a salvation that is gracious, that is, not self-achieved.

Paul makes precisely this point in Romans 4:16: "That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring-not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all." Because this is a justification by faith, explains Paul, it is a promise that comes by grace. Is it conceivable that one could be justified by obedience to the law and still, somehow, preserve the gracious character of salvation? Paul denies this very thing: "You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace" (Gal. 5:4).


From the Reformation to the present day, the battle for a biblical doctrine of justification has turned upon an understanding of sola fide. Justification comes by faith alone, but this is not just any faith. Justifying faith, unlike any other virtue, and in defiance of every earthly discouragement, turns away from itself, places its confidence in the victorious work of Jesus Christ, and receives his perfect righteousness as an imputed gift. By this faith, and no other-by this faith, and not love, faithfulness, or any other noble deed-the sinner stands justified before God. The gospel message continues to be: forsake all confidence in yourself and trust wholly in Christ.