At times, old historical writings get the reputation of being impenetrable. This may be due to historical differences, the foreign style of writing, a poor translation (or lack of any translation), or the overwhelming options for historical writings. This is quite unfortunate, as these writings are rich with insight and continue to be relevant for the present.
John Calvin’s A Little Book on the Christian Life (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2017; source: publisher) is a simple remedy to these types of concerns. Extracted from the Institutes of the Christian Religion, this little work has continued to be published as a standalone work since Calvin’s lifetime. Through the editorial and translation work of Burk Parsons and Aaron Denlinger, we have a very readable translation of this short but perceptive work on the Christian life (the previous English translation was less than acceptable).
I’m pleased to announce that The Biblical Accommodation Debate in Germany: Interpretation and the Enlightenment will be published by Palgrave Macmillan. Since the days of the Enlightenment, one of the most significant aspects of interpreting the Bible has been the question of how God accommodated his revelation to humanity. Since God is infinite and humans are finite, God had to somehow communicate with his creatures in a way they could understand. Ever since the time of Augustine, accommodation has been a crucial doctrine for interpreters of the Bible who also seek to understand the Bible’s authority, and it remains so today. However, the contemporary discussion of the doctrine is hampered by an ignorance of its history and how a seventy-five-year debate reshaped accommodation for the modern era. My book aims to redress this misunderstanding.
In this book I set out to fill a lacuna in the history of biblical interpretation. To date, there is no work on the doctrine of accommodation during the Enlightenment. Given that eighteenth-century Germany witnessed the greatest concentrated discussion of accommodation, all in the context of historical criticism, this void in the history of biblical interpretation is quite unfortunate. My book meets this need by examining the accommodation debate of 1761–1835 in conjunction with the German Enlightenment and the rise of historical criticism.
When hearing the word “prophet,” there are a wide range of responses. What may come to mind are images of a spiritual leader with the gift to see into the future. Another common reaction may be to think of the Old Testament prophets who condemned the wrong-doings of ancient Israel and exhorted them to follow after God. In a different direction, the term may be taken negatively, as charlatans who deceive others with their claims of supernatural power.
Jon Balserak approaches the subject of prophet in conjunction with John Calvin in John Calvin as Sixteenth-Century Prophet (Oxford University Press, 2014; source: publisher). I looked forward to reviewing the work after benefiting greatly from Balserak’s earlier work Divinity Compromised: A Study of Divine Accommodation in the Thought of John Calvin, a comprehensive assessment of Calvin’s doctrine of accommodation. In the present volume, Balserak addresses Calvin in the role of a prophet, particularly, Calvin’s own self-identification as a prophet.
Our reading of the past can often be obscured by various factors. We all come with presuppositions and theological convictions. Other times our methodology causes us to arrive at conclusions different than others. The list goes on. Timothy J. Wengert advances a more simple reason why we misinterpret history.
For Wengert, our misunderstanding of someone like Martin Luther is due to the simple fact that we are not reading his writings. Our preconceptions of what Luther should say, or our assumptions of what he said, replace the act of reading his works and discovering what he actually said.
Summer is always a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. Here is my top ten reading list for this summer.
1. Tim Townsend, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis
The work is an account of an army chaplain commissioned to minister to the Nazis held at Nuremberg. Sure to be thought-provoking.
Steven Nadler’s piece at the New York Times, Judging Spinoza, is an interesting take on the modern reception of Spinoza. In his post he recounts his role as part of an advisory committee, sanctioned by the Portuguese-Jewish community of Amsterdam, to discuss lifting the original 1656 ban against Spinoza, ordered by that same Portuguese-Jewish community. Though an admirer of Spinoza’s philosophy, Nadler ultimately advised to maintain the ban.
While we don’t agree on the merits of Spinoza’s scholarship, I appreciate Nadler’s honest depiction of Spinoza’s ban. Rather than skirting the issue, Nadler comes out and states the actual basis for the ban. He writes,
Cocceius vs. the Cartesio-Cocceians? Probably not the first face-off that would come to mind when thinking about Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669). The more natural pairing would be Cocceius vs. Voetius. But today I want to take a moment to examine a phenomenon that occurs throughout history; namely, the discontinuity between teacher and disciple.
By the 1640s, a cohort of orthodox Calvinists gained the moniker “Voetians,” named after their leader Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676). Over the years they also gained a reputation for affirming a scholastic form of Calvinism and combating heterodoxy in all forms. Cartesianism became a repeated target for the Voetians, claiming that Cartesian skepticism elevated reason over revelation.
It has been a week since I have successfully defended my dissertation. Currently, I am making some revisions before I submit the final copy. The project itself examined the accommodation debate of 1761-1835. Graham A. Cole, speaking to the history of biblical interpretation, writes, “one of the most fertile ideas generated in such discussion is the idea of divine accommodation” (Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?, 63). Urging for a renewal of the doctrine of accommodation D. A. Carson states that a “restatement of that doctrine would be salutary today” (The Gagging of God,130).
The doctrine of accommodation contends that a chasm exists between God and his creation. Despite being created in his image, man is bound by his limited mental capacity. Thus, the dilemma: how does God communicate his religion of truth to humankind which lacks comprehension?