Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism

These are mostly fine essays illustrating to what degree Barth has been received by the American Evangelical community.

George Harinck gives a fascinating essay on how Dutch and American Neo-Calvinism reacted to Barth. In doing so, he gives new light on Van Til’s own career.

Barth and Van Til

DG Hart has a fun essay on Evangelicalism’s reading of Van Til’s reading of Barth. Van Til’s attack on Barth, at least the later one, was a confessional Presbyterian attack. As such, it was also an attack on Princeton’s modernism. This put neo-Evangelicalism in a tough position. For them, if Van Til offered a good critique of Barth and a defense of inerrancy, fine. If Van Til seemed to be arguing for Presbyterian Confessionalism, then he can take his quarrel elsewhere. (Here Hart explains why the OPC refused to join the NAE, to their everlasting credit). My own concerns with this essay is that I don’t think neo-Evangelicalism was truly enamored with Barth. Certainly not when Carl Henry led the movement. Later neo-evangelicals might have been, but by that time the PCUSA (or what would later become of it post-1967) had already apostasized. Simply tagging them as “Barthians” isn’t entirely accurate.

Barth and Kant

Bruce McCormack responds to Van Til’s reading of Barth. McCormack said Van Til misread Barth’s use of Kant. For Kant, the a priori forms organize our knowledge; they do not determine it (and so it is not true, per Van Til, that a Kantian couldn’t tell the difference from a snowball and an orange). In fact, Kant held to an empiricism as to the phenomenal world.

As McCormack notes, “Kant did not believe that knowledge is simply constructed by the human mind through the use of the categories of understanding. The categories provide the forms of knowing which help us to order sensible experience” (McCormack 369). In this case it’s not too different from Aristotle’s Table of Logic. For Barth, however, Kant ceased to be important after 1924, when Barth discovered the an/enhypostatic distinction.

The one strength in Van Til’s reading, however, is that Barth did admit that Hans urs von Balthasar’s position was similar to his own. If this is true, then it is fatal to Barth’s position. Complicating the matter is that Barth seems to say von Balthasar is correct. I think, however, that Bruce McCormack’s own reading of the two authors (Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology) shows that von Balthasar was wrong, despite Barth’s own views of his own readings.

Theological Issues

Pride of place, not surprisingly, goes to Michael Horton’s essay. Horton correctly reads Barth and focuses on the real issues, and not tired paths like “Did Barth hate the Bible” that we often see in debates with the Torrancian school. Further, Horton highlights the real problem with Barth: his tendency to collapse time into eternity (Horton 125). Barth is an Origenist, in other words. Though to be fair, it’s hard to see how the entire Platonic tradition isn’t prey to this critique. Horton builds on this critique: The Reformed rejected the medieval nature/grace dualism. Barth, himself an Origenist, falls back to it: grace is necessary before the Fall. Grace for Barth is mercy shown to those at fault. If this happens before the Fall, then creation is somehow at fault as well (Horton 133). Creation and the Fall are two aspects of the same event. This is Origenism, pure and unadulterated.

Horton also notes that Barth never actually said “Election constitutes the Trinity.” This is a correct reading, though, tipping my hat to Derrida, I think it is implied in Barth’s theology, pace George Hunsinger. However, I don’t think Horton truly pinpointed Barth’s opposition to the Pactum Salutis. If there is only one mind in the Trinity, as the classical tradition holds, how does it make sense for the Persons of the Trinity to make deals with each other, since they all have the same mind?

Horton rebuts McCormack’s reading of Barth’s objection to “substance” and “essence.” McCormack thinks substantialism implies a “something” behind the entity. When applied to God, this raises the question: so which God is the real God for us? Horton says, by contrast, that a substance is simply thing that can be predicated of (128n72). I think both are correct.

Horton ends with a good observation on Barth’s so-called Christomonism: “When Christology swallows the horizon, Christ is no longer central; he is the whole picture. He is not the mediator…but the Creator simpliciter” (144).

Barth and the Church

The Evangelical group that has been most interested in Barth’s view of the Church is the anabaptistic groups. They fault Barth for either not totally denouncing the “Civil Sphere as a Real Government” (Hauerwas) or not embodying the right practices (various emergent groups). In contrast to this cacophony, Barth appears rather stable. Mind you, I think his ecclesiology ultimately fails at the end of his career when he gives an anemic view of the sacraments.

Barth and Future Issues

There are a few essays summarizing the problems with Barth’s universalistic tendencies. They are fine essays but ultimately don’t advance any new conclusions. I did enjoy the essay on Radical Orthodoxy.


Some essays fell flat but most are quite instructive.

About that Owen quote on private revelations

One of John Owen’s quotes is being memed on Facebook to the effect,

“If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are unnecessary and if they disagree they are false.”

What do continuationists such as myself make of this quote?  Has Owen powerfully refuted me?  Well, only if we are clear about what we mean by “agree” and “contradict.”  Let’s begin with the second half of Owen’s quote.

if they disagree they are false

First of all, what is a contradiction?  A contradiction is when one says A = ~A.  For example, the Bible says don’t murder but I got a private revelation from God saying it’s cool.  That is a contradiction and Owen’s quote holds good in this case.   However, in symbolic logic the proposition A  B is not a contradiction.  It is a conjunction.

The first part of Owen’s quote actually presents a challenge.  Well, it could present a challenge:

(1) If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are unnecessary.

The most obvious rejoinder is, “Is that true?  Says who?”  I think the intent behind Owen’s claim is like the following:

(1*) Scripture is a self-contained totality whose content is synonymous with the term “revelation.”

If (1*) is true, then Owen’s claim obtains and continuationists are in deep error.  That means Revelation {R₁ } does not allow for any difference.  Still, one has to ask if that is indeed the case.  As it stands it is false. See:

(2) God speaks in natural revelation (Ps. 19:1-2).

Whatever else (2) means, it certainly means that there exists a realm of objective knowledge in creation to which we have intellectual access.  (1) and (2) do not contradict.  (1*) and (2) do contradict, but since the latter is in the bible and the former is not, then (1*) is certainly wrong and we can reject it.

But perhaps the cessationist can continue modifying his premise:

(1′) Scripture is the final moment of God’s special revelation, the final moment of God’s speaking-revelation.

Now we are getting somewhere.  (1′) does present a challenge if it obtains. Is it correct?  Only if the term “Revelation” is being used univocally.  Continuationists have never claimed that Revelation is univocal.   Perhaps they are exegetically wrong for thinking that, but that’s a different subject altogether. Owen’s modified claim (1′) only obtains if everyone is using Revelation univocally.

But we can ask if the cessationist is consistent in his use of Revelation.  (1′) seemed to imply that the Bible was the final moment of God’s speaking-revelation.  But what does the Bible say?

“In many and various ways God spoke to the prophets but in these last days he spoke to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1).

(3) Jesus is the final speaking-moment of God’s revelation.

(3) and (1′) contradict.  (1′) therefore fails.  It’s been probably ten years since I’ve read Warfield’s essays on Revelation, but if I recall, the idea of Jesus-as-Revelation appears (as it must, since it is in Scripture) but only as an odd duck.  It presents several problems for the cessationist argument:

(3a) If Jesus is the final moment of Revelation, which would seem to rule out modern-day prophets, then Jesus, revealing God before the writing of the New Testament, would also rule out the New Testament.

Review of Strange Fire

Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a chapter on basic logic in this book.

For the review

Chapter 1 is simply a string of recycled sermon notes on how silly and evil various brands of charismania are. Okay, but anyone can play this game. I agree there are hucksters and there is a special place in hell for them, but this is not an argument. Macarthur does actually get to something like an argument:

Thesis: “It is the elevation of experience over the authority of Scripture that grieves and demeans the Holy Spirit most of all” (Macarthur 17).

I have several observations: 1) it is dangerous to elevate experience over theology, but where is the proof that it grieves the Holy Spirit most of all? How does Macarthur know this? The Scriptures he cites are about the Holy Spirit’s inspiring the Word and the Spirit’s testifying to Christ. Great, but that is immaterial to this thesis. Indeed, is this not Macarthur’s own experience?

2) If this is Macarthur’s thesis, and if he is successful in proving it (I don’t think he can be), then we should note that the truth of continuationism stands or falls independent of this thesis.

Chapter 2

This is a history of the modern Pentecostal movement and most of it, while interesting, is irrelevant to his thesis. Except for one part:

But here is the point to all of this history: if the Holy Spirit intended to recreate the day of Pentecost, is this really how he would do it? (27)

I really don’t know what to say. I suppose some early Pentecostals said something like this.

“Why focus on these two men [Charles Parham and E. W. Kenyon]? The answer is simple. These two men are responsible for the theological foundations upon which the entire charismatic system is built (31)”

At this point I have no idea if this historiography is true. I am not persuaded that one can make a 1:1 connection between the early Pentecostals and Wayne Grudem. Genealogical arguments are always dangerous to make and they rarely deliver on their promises.

Chapter 3

In chapters 3 and 4 JM relies on Edwards’ analysis of revival, and I think it is a good–if incomplete–analysis of any “spiritual” movement.
1. Does the work exalt the true Christ?
2. Does it oppose worldliness?
3. Does it point people to the Scriptures?
4. Does it elevate the truth?
5. Does it produce love for God and others?

It really is a good chapter. He notes (rightly) that the Spirit testifies of Christ, so those who are filled with the Spirit will testify of Christ. Sadly, this is absent from a large part of the Charismatic world.

However, I would say with the apostle Paul, “I would that you all prophesy.” But back to the points above. The logical danger with rhetorical questions is that if the opposition can bite the bullet and the position is logically unchanged, your entire argument, such that it is, evaporates.

Case study: Wayne Grudem.

No one can accuse Wayne Grudem of not exalting Christ. I don’t know him personally, though we did exchange friendly emails some months ago, but I highly doubt he is worldly. Does he point people to the Scriptures? Seriously? As an inerrantist, I am certain Grudem can affirm 3 and 4. 5 is a given.

How would a Word-Faither do? That’s a fair question, but if you lump Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms in the same camp with Copeland and Hinn, you are sinning against your brothers and violating the 9th commandment. Only a party spirit can remain untouched by such a rebuke.

The Missing Case of Martyn Lloyd-Jones

A search engine on Strange Fire lists only seven appearances of Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

p.44 lists MLJ saying that the Spirit exalts Christ. Presumably this is a slam against much of charismatic worship. Fair enough. (I do wonder if the Spirit wants us to worship like Dutch-American amillennialists).

p.261 has MLJ saying the office of prophet has ceased. Okay, he said that. He also said other things, and in any case I don’t think that exegesis stands up to Grudem’s scholarship.

p.117-118 say basically the same thing.
p.312 lists MLJ’s Christian Unity.
p.319 is the index.
p.281 is an endnote for Great Doctrines of the Bible.

And that’s it for MLJ. So what’s the big deal? Well, here is what Macarthur has to say about Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

“He influenced countless preachers (myself included), and he stood steadfastly against the superficial, entertainment-oriented approach to preaching that seemed to dominate the evangelical world then as it does now. Lloyd-Jones still desperately needs to be heard today.”

Again, you might ask, “What’s the big deal? Anybody should say that about MLJ.”Macarthur elsewhere says,

“There is a stream of sound teaching, sound doctrine, sound theology that runs all the way back to the apostles. It runs through Athanasius and Augustine…and runs through the pathway of Charles Spurgeon, and David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and it keeps running.”

Real quick side note: I wish quasi-Reformed people would stop referencing Augustine. Let’s be honest. You don’t know what he teaches. He isn’t an easy writer and his work isn’t systematic. You have to spend about half a decade working through different treatises to get an idea of what he is saying. And to make matters worse, he believed that miracles happen today. Read City of God, Book 22, chapter 8. This is embarrassing.

Well, here is the problem. Macarthur does not allow (de facto) the distinction between continuationism (myself) and charismaticism (insert favorite bad guy). He notes in the Strange Fire conference,

“Number seven, by asserting the gift of healing has continued to be present, the continuationist position affirms the same basic premise that undergirds the fraudulent ministry of charismatic faith healers. If you say the gift of healing is still around, and you say it whimsically, there’s no evidence it’s around, either experimentally or biblically, but if you say it’s still around, then you have just validated healers.

Who would want to do that? Are they not the lowest of the low? Are they not the worst of the worst? They don’t go to hospitals. They prey on the most desperate, the most severely ill, the most hopeless, the most destitute, very often the poorest, telling them lies and getting rich. Who would want to do anything to aid and abet them?”

Said another way:

Premise 1: If continuationists assert “the miraculous,” then they validate faith healers.

Premise 2: They assert the miraculous.

(3)Conclusion: They validate faith healers (Modus Ponens)
Prem. (4): Faith healers are the lowest of the low (agreed)
Prem. (5): If anyone validates them, they, too are the lowest of the low [4, 1]
(6) If person A asserts the miraculous, then he, too, validates faith healers [2, 5]

Of course, I challenge premises 1 and 3. Someone could still say, “Yeah, so. You are the lowest of the low because you believe in the miraculous.” Fair enough. I will now lower the boom.

Lloyd-Jones states,

“Those people who say that [baptism with the Holy Spirit] happens to everybody at regeneration seem to me not only to be denying the New Testament but to be definitely quenching the Spirit” (Joy Unspeakable, p. 141).

“If the apostles were incapable of being true witnesses without unusual power, who are we to claim that we can be witnesses without such power?” (The Sovereign Spirit, p. 46.)

I think it is quite without scriptural warrant to say that all these gifts ended with the apostles or the Apostolic Era. I believe there have been undoubted miracles since then (Joy Unspeakable, p. 246.)

Was it only meant to be true of the early church? … The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary—never! There is no such statement anywhere (The Sovereign Spirit, pp. 31-32.)

“To hold such a view,” he says, “is simply to quench the Spirit” (The Sovereign Spirit, p. 46)

Premise (7) Martyn Lloyd-Jones asserts the miraculous.
Now the Strange Fire Brigade faces a painful difficulty: reject (1)–(6) or accept Premise (8)
(8) Martyn Lloyd-Jones validates faith-healers. [6, 7 MP]


Someone could still respond, “Well, MLJ is not God. He isn’t right on everything.” No he isn’t. He is an amillennialist, for one. But let’s go back to Macarthur’s claim: “anyone holding these views gives credence to faith healers and is the lowest of the low.” He must apply that to MLJ. The logic is impeccable (up to a point, anyway).

In analytic philosophy we call this a “defeater.” It shows his position is either counter to the evidence or it cannot be held simultaneously with the evidence. Either his view of Martyn Lloyd-Jones is wrong and it has to be abandoned (as the evidence makes abundantly clear), or he must give the defeater to his claim that continuationists validate faith healers.

He will do neither.
His position collapses

I do find it interesting, though, that Macarthur didn’t clinch his argument with Revelation 19:10, “The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy.” In fact, the book doesn’t mention this verse at all.

Chapter 4, same contd.

Most of this chapter reads like the tabloids. Interesting, mind you, but not really germane to the thesis, except where noted above.

Chapter 5: Apostles Among Us

Macarthur has a twofold argument: the apostolic office has expired, and if the apostolic office expired, then other gifts may have expired (MacArthur 91). He further argues, “The Charismatic movement operates on the premise that everything that happened in the early church ought to be expected and experienced in the church today” (91). I agree with Macarthur’s definition of apostleship, but I dispute the conclusions he draws from it.

Quoting Sam Storms, he says, “But even he [Storms] acknowledges that ‘since no one today can meet the qualification of having seen the risen Christ with his own eyes, there are no apostles today’” (93). If Storms is correct, and I think he is, and if Macarthur thinks Storms is correct, and I think he does think that, then Macarthur has just contradicted his earlier statement on page 91 that the Charismatic Movement operates on the premise that everything” is in effect today (emphasis original).

We can leave that contradiction aside for the moment. Macarthur’s real target is Peter Wagner. I don’t feel a need to defend Wagner, so I’ll move on.

Macarthur argues that “The New Testament apostles were recognized as the revelatory agents of God, and as such they possessed an unsurpassed level of authority in church history” (94). This is a good statement and I think it lends evidence to the claim that prophetic words of wisdom are not in the same category as Scriptural revelations.

Can Prophecy be fallible?

This is the toughest objection and where Macarthur is initially on stronger ground. Mind you, this objection, if it carries, presents a huge difficulty for continuationism but it does not prove the book’s thesis. Before we answer the question whether prophecy can be fallible, let’s ask if it is always authoritative? Presumably, the cessationist would answer “yes.” We’ll come back to that.

I think both sides are confusing an issue. Divine prophecy itself is always infallible because it comes from God, but does that mean that the prophet is always giving divine prophecy? Could he just be mistaken? Macarthur is quick to respond that false prophets in the Old Testament should die. Well, yes, because their false prophecy almost always involved going after other gods.

Still, the cessationist will urge that the Bible said fallible prophets should die. Okay, let’s reread some of Paul’s statements, like in 1 Corinthians 14: “Earnestly desire to prophecy but if you get it wrong I will kill you.” The text just doesn’t read that way. I think something else is going on.

One more point: if we should always expect prophets to be 100% accurate and if prophets are giving forth potential-Scripture, then why does Paul tell us to test the prophecies (1 Cor. 5:21)? If it is a divinely binding Revelation, you should not test it but obey!

Formal Criticisms

The first and most obvious criticism is Macarthur’s oscillating thesis. From earlier in the book he appeared to attack the elevation of experience over theology, which thesis is independent of whether the gifts continue today. So even if his thesis is successful, he has not disproven continuing gifts. Much of the book, however, is either a running catalogue of charismatic abuses or it is a comparison of all forms of Charismatic theology with cults like Mormonism.

Misleading Statements and Inaccuracies

Macarthur’s account suffers from a number of either misleading statements or theological inaccuracies. These errors aren’t serious enough to refute the whole book, but they are worth pointing out. I think at best they show that Macarthur’s arguments aren’t serious enough to fully take down the continuationist thesis.

The Canon

What makes a book canonical? Or rather, what gives it apostolic authority? Macarthur answers, “If a book or epistle claiming to speak with prophetic authority was written by an apostles or under apostolic oversight, it was recognized as inspired and authoritative” (95). Please note that Macarthur gives at least two necessary conditions for canonicity: 1) prophetic authority AND 2) apostolic connection. (1) is the issue under question, which makes (2) the clincher. Here is the problem: who wrote Hebrews? This is where Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists have a field day with us, and who can fault them?

On another point, if the canon is “closed” today, then how do you know it is closed? Mind you, I think the canon is closed for all functional purposes, but I don’t see how you can have fully epistemic confidence it is closed. Which book of the Bible says it is closed? Revelation 22 doesn’t count, because it’s just talking about Revelation (and this is a bigger problem if you accept an early date for Revelation). If you can’t prove the canon is closed from Scripture alone, which is impossible to prove, then you can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that people are adding to the canon.

Theological inaccuracies

Macarthur defines sola scriptura as “the only divinely revealed word and therefore the believer’s true authority for sound doctrine and righteous living” (214). This is a half-truth. For the Reformers, Scripture was first of all the norm that normed lesser norms. It is not the only source of truth, but the final source of truth.

Leaps in Logic

Speaking of the charismatic movement, he writes, “The entire movement is nothing more than a sham religion run by counterfeit ministers” (113). Yikes. The entire movement? How do you get from cases like Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn and then derive a universal statement from them? This would fell a freshman logic class.

And then we have basic, old-fashioned “begging the question.” He writes, “It is also important to remember that Paul wrote these words [1 Thess. 5:20-22] at a time when the revelatory gift of prophecy was still active” (126). He is using this to explain away Paul’s command not to despise prophetic utterances, but he is assuming the very thing he is trying to prove.

Factual Inaccuracies

Speaking of miracles and healings, Macarthur asserts (not argues!) “Such biblical-quality healing miracles are not being performed today” (175). So what of sane, sober accounts where people were healed? Macarthur, like David Hume, would simply say that’s not possible. Don’t let facts get in the way of theory.  Remember, this was Hume’s specific argument.

Scriptural Contradictions

Macarthur: “There is no warrant anywhere in Scripture for Christians to listen to fresh revelations from God beyond what he has already given us in his written word” (115).
The Apostle Paul: “especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1); “desire earnestly to prophesy” (v. 39).

Cessationism and the missing premise:

Cessationists use “revelation” in an equivocal sense. This is a problem when we examine practices in the 1st century church. Paul tells the church to prophesy (and one can find numerous other examples). How does the cessationist respond?

First, let’s look at the argument:

1: God’s speaking is what constitutes revelation, and revelation was eventually codified in the canon.
This seems to entail the following:

2: The canon is closed (let’s leave aside messy issues like who had the authority to close the canon and how do you know).

I think Ephesians 2:20 affords the cessationist another premise:

3. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Assuming apostles means those associated in one way or another with Jesus’s ministry, I think we can safely affirm (and this would be the position of many continuationists) that apostles aren’t around today. Therefore,

3.1. Prophets aren’t around, either.

The Continuationist Responds,

Is (P1) true? I agree with the first half if it is phrased like this: God reveals himself and this usually happens by speech or in words (whether internal or external). The second half of P1 is unproven.

What about P2? Practically, we have to assume that the canon is closed, but we have no evidence from God that it is. Honestly, how do you know the canon is closed? I think wiser Protestants were right to say that the Canon is “a fallible collection of infallible books” and leave it at that.

As to P3, my question is: are all acts of “prophesying” in the New Testament establishing the foundation of the church? Are Phillip’s daughters part of that foundation? When Paul acknowledges different men are prophesying is that, too, part of the foundation? Maybe, but we have no evidence that such is what Paul meant.

The only way the cessationist can salvage this position is to add another premise:

P4: Paul’s command to prophesy only functioned until the canon was closed.

The main problem with that statement is there isn’t a single verse that says


Not all of the book is bad. The sections on the Holy Spirit and Sanctification were quite good. Unfortunately, Macarthur engages in huge leaps of logic, misleading statements, and unfocused arguments. I think this is the end of cessationism.

On Orthodox Bridge’s Recent Switch

Since this blog is less polemical as my other ones, I try not to attack other traditions.  And this post isn’t an “attack.”  It is a critical observation, though.  A very critical one.

As readers know from past experience, I was very harsh with the old website Orthodox Bridge.  They deserved it.  They deserved it because they advertised their site as a “bridge” for Reformed and Orthodox to meet and understand each other’s tradition.

What actually happened was that Reformed were supposed to comment on how ignorant they were of EO and start getting a conversion story ready.  When I started pointing out that the High Reformed Theology never believed what they said it believed, they got mad

But still, the site had a wide readership but not a wide interaction.  If you go back and read the old posts (or better, don’t; just look at the number of comments) you will find a common theme.  Where I am allowed to comment, the comments will range from 50-300 (and most of them aren’t even by me, since I was usually outnumbered 10:1.   By the end of those conversations I would be “banned” or blocked.

And then the next 5 posts would have about 8 comments total.  I was the only reason that site was remotely interesting.

Now Ancient Faith is hosting that site.  I’m not sure if that is a good or bad move.  Mind you, at the end of the day I don’t really care. The good news for the site is that Ancient Faith is a top-notch media outlet and it will get more viewers.  And admittedly, the new look is aesthetically pleasing.

The problem is that the site is aimed to bridge the gap for Reformed readers.  How many Reformed readers go to Ancient Faith?  Well, a few certainly do.  But how many Reformed readers who are sympathetic to both Geneva and where Orthodox come from and wouldn’t mind clearing up some straw men?   Very few.

But they were never welcome in the first place.



Thomas Reid on Freedom

William Rowe gives a fantastic discussion on how British philosophers from Locke to Reid dealt with the problems of free agency and determinism. Regardless of whether one is a free will theist or a determinist, Rowe nicely clarifies what each thinker believed on these subjects.

Rowe begins with Locke’s Volitional Theory of Action. Actions are of two sorts: thoughts and motions of the body. The action is preceded by a certain act of will. S is free with respect to action A just in case it is in S’s power to do A if S should will to do A and in S’s power to refrain from doing A if S should will to refrain (78).

Necessary agent: a person’s actions are determined by the cause preceding those actions. This does not conflict with Lockean freedom, for Lockean freedom does not require that given the causes we could have acted differently–only that we act.

Problem for Locke: what determines the will on a given occasion to suspend some desire that is otherwise strong enough to move the will towards some other action (Rowe 10)?

Rowe offers a devastating counter-factual scenario: if I inject you with a drug so you can’t move your legs, then on Locke’s view you aren’t sitting freely. But if instead I hook your brain to a machine where I take away your *capacity* to will otherwise, on Locke’s account it would seem that this is a “free action,” since nothing is “making me” sit down.

Agent or Event Causation:

Point of clarification: thoughts and bodily motions that are actions are caused by volitions, and the volitions themselves, although not caused by other events, are caused by the person whose volitions they are (31). The person is the cause of the volition. his is substance causation. It is not reducible to causation by events. FWA (free will advocate) do not deny that events cause actions, pace Jonathan Edwards, but that these events have a prior cause in agents.

Event causation: roughly a physical event. Rowe argues that a necessitarian cannot consistently see herself as an agent cause of some of her actions (64). Something cannot cause me to be the agent-cause of an action. Being caused to cause A implies that, given the cause, one lacked the power not to cause A (67).

Reid’s View of Causation and Active Power

Reid’s Three Conditions
1. An agent must have the power to bring about the act of will.
2. The power to refrain from bringing about the act of will.
3. Exert her power to bring about or refrain.

Reid’s most controversial point: every event has an agent cause (quoted in Rowe 55-56). Rowe is a good enough philosopher that he sees where Reid’s argument could go, though Reid himself didn’t make much of it. If every event has an agent cause, then at the root of the universe’s existence is a Personal Agent.

Reid’s Conception of Freedom

negative thesis: if an action of ours is free, then our decision to do that action cannot have been causally necessitated by any prior events internal or external (Rowe 75-76)

positive thesis: free acts of will are caused by the agent whose acts they are (76).  

In contrasting Reidian freedom with Lockean freedom, Reid never says that an agent must have been able to do otherwise if he had willed to do otherwise.

What is the difference between the power to will to refrain from doing A (Locke) and the power not to will do to A (Reid)?  

For Reid the power to will is the power to cause the act of will.  

For Reid, the power to refrain from an action =/= the power not to will

Locke gives a scenario of a man locked in his room.  He wills to stay in his room but he doesn’t know it is locked.  For Locke, the person acts voluntarily but not freely.  But here is the problem for Locke:  the locked door causally necessitates his staying in the room, it does not causally necessitate his voluntary action of staying in the room.

volition (for Reid): an act of the mind, a determination of the mind or will to do or not do something (87).  

Reid’s Arguments for Libertarian Freedom

Basic argument (95):
1. Certain actions are in our power.
2. Bringing about these actions requires that we will them.
3. Actions that are in our power depend upon the determinations of our will.
4. If actions that are in our power depend upon the determination of our will, then the determinations of our will are sometimes in our power.
5. The determinations of our will are sometimes in our power.


This book, while technical at times, is a fine addition and even introduction to the free will debate.

Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition

Was Hegel a Hermetic occultist? Maybe. Glen Magee takes us on a tour of Hegel’s writings, but unlike other Hegel scholars, Magee places Hegel against the occultic backdrop of his homeland and upbringing. This allows Magee to take seriously the Hermetic references Hegel makes.

But before we can answer that question, we must define Hermeticism. It is a broad tradition of thought that grew out of the writings of Hermes and was expanded and further developed through the infusion of other traditions: alchemy, Kabbalism, mysticism, etc (Magee 1). Magee argues that there are striking similarities and correspondences between Hegel’s thought and theosophic hermeticism: Masonic subtext of initiatory mysticism in Phenomenology, A Boehmian subtext to the Preface of Phenomenology, Kabbalism in his doctrine of Objective Spirit, and Alchemical images in Phil. of Right.

Hegel’s journals included diagrams which could only be found in hermetic grimoires. Later in life he began to publicly identify with occultic figures (4). Hegel knew that men like Boehme and others were tagged as hermetics and if he publicly identified with their teachings, he knew he would be seen as a hermeticist.

Magee, following Dame Frances Yates, gives a brilliant overview of Hermetic history in the Renaissance.


While we have no evidence that Hegel was a Masonic initiate, he collaborated with Masons, wrote Masonic poetry to Masons, and otherwise breathed the hermetic and theosophic air of Swabia.

Whatever else one may think about Freemasonry, and regardless of which conspiracies are true (and no doubt they all are), Freemasonry became a repository for hermetic ideas (53). Unlike their Scottish counterparts, German lodges “were teeming with magical, theosophical, mystical ideas” (56).

We know that Hegel was influenced by Lessing’s play Nathan the Wise (55) and Lessing was a Mason.

Mythology of Reason

Hegel thought a completed philosophy should be accessible to all, albeit in different degrees.

Memory as Occultic Practice

“Philosophy establishes nothing new; what we have brought forth by our reflection is what everyone already took for granted without reflection” (Hegel, EL, 22, quoted in Magee 85).

Hegel acknowledges he is within the mystical tradition (EL, 82).

Memory mediates a society’s passing down of Absolute Spirit (Magee 87).
Magee posits the Mythology of Reason as the key to unlocking Hegel (88).
Speculative Philosophy holds up a mirror (speculum) to the Idea itself: it allows the Idea to comprehend itself (88). In fact, following the Kabbalist tradition, the “mirror” allows one to behold the deeper essence of Spirit (120).
Hegel’s thought seeks to unify conceptual thinking with mythopoetic thinking (91).

Hegel’s Magic Words are the categories of his philosophy. Our access to recollection/Memory is through Imagination (93). Hegel does not seek to tell us what “Substance” or “Absolute” is; it seeks to bring it into being.

This brings us back to the Hermetic Art of Memory. “Imagination” is to evoke from memory the Perennial Philosophy. In other words, to echo Jung, it draws out from within the unconscious.

Kant and the Triads

Hegel said Kant rediscovered (wiedergefundne) the teaching about triads, the triadic form (100, PG 29, 37), thus implying it is a perennial idea. Most importantly, Hegel says Kant rediscovered it, not that it derives from Kant.

Hegel saw Hermetism and Alchemy as manifestations of a collective subconscious and that is how he could take them seriously (Magee 103).

The Divine Triangle

A triangle of Triangles, where each center was also a perimeter. The triangle also has planetary and alchemical symbols. Then there is a letter Hegel wrote to the magician Windischmann on the latter’s mental torments (116). Magee argues that the triangle represents a turning point, a “nocturnal contraction of his essence.”

Aristotle had made a connection between aether and pneuma (Generation of Animals 736b29-737a1). The element in the stars is aether. Insofar as we are capable of receiving that form, we have astral substance.
Hegel drew upon the implicit Hermetic and Boehmian influences of his upbringing in writing PG. We can see a Hermetic Structure:
A = A; All is one (hen kai pan). This is the mystical doctrine of “coincidence of opposites).

Alchemical Elements

Hegel floods his works with alchemical references like “the foaming chalice.” This allows Hegel to identify Spirit with the Infinite, thus avoiding a bad infinity (147). At the end of this Grail Quest Hegel has claimed to attain “Absolute Knowing.”

Hegel holds that the Infinite and the Eternal must be knowable (152).

Moments of the Absolute:

1.Categories of the real and categories of Human Thought
2. The Totality of Conditions is itself the Unconditioned.
3. This is the ding-an-sich.
4. If we can know the totality of conditions, then we can know the thing in itself.
5. The finite things that appear to us are manifestations of the Infinite.

“Mutating the categories”

Magee suggests that these categories–based on certain passages–correspond to Minds (EL, sec. 24 passim). Hegel refers to Logic as “the realm of shades” (Science of Logic, III:47). Could we then read these “minds” as “hypostases”? In any case, is Hegel seeing them as Archetypes, or perhaps shadow-archetypes?

As they stand, these categories/ideas are empty and abstract. Hegel’s concept of the Ungrund corresponds to the ancient idea of aether. It is an ultimate, dynamic ground of all being. It is God as unrealized. This is Pure Indeterminacy.

Hegel sees “Essence” as the abstract caput mortuum (165). It is the negated definition of the Absolute Idea. It “dies” and “falls away,” yet it is the material used for further stages in the dialectic. Thus, there is a parallel between dialectic and alchemical transmutation.

The Kabaalah

We can take our earlier identification of Ungrund = aether and add a new term:

Undgrund = aether = En Sof.

It is from En Sof that the flame begins.

En Sof can parallel Ayin (or Nothing). So Absolute Infinite = Absolute Nothing. This is the primal unity that transcends subject-object distinctions. It’s telos is to develop into a true Subject.

Ayin is to become Ani (Hebr. “I”)

The Sepiroth in Kabbalah delineates the stages of God’s self-realization (169).

The Four Elements

When Hegel speaks of the square he generally has in mind the four elements (192). The triangle is the symbolic form of spirit, the square of nature. Hegel is saying that man’s consciousness exists within these four elements. And by Hegel’s time, Magee notes, the “four elements/square” had become so connected with alchemy that one couldn’t dissociate the images (193). Further, magicians and alchemists routinely made tables where the elements of one sphere corresponded to the elements of another. Hegel makes such an association in Phil. Nature, sec. 280).


Is Hegel a Hermetic? While we don’t have any journal that says, “Today I embraced Hermeticism,” we can see that he came from an occultic background, utilized occultic symbols, identified with occultic figures in public at the end of his career, and otherwise followed the same Occultic path.

Rights talk

From Wolterstorff’s Until Justice and Peace Embrace

Initial claim:

(P1) Justice is the enjoyment of one’s rights.

Calvin spoke of a “mutual communication” in society: “each is to contribute what he or she can to the enrichment of the common life” (Wolterstorff 78, quoting Calvin, Comm. Harmony of the Evangelists, 1:103).

Discussion of Rights

  1. Right to protection
  2. Right to freedom
  3. Right to participate in government
  4. Right to sustenance

Classic Liberalism: do your own thing but do not interfere, positively or negatively, with your neighbor.

Sustenance Rights are basic rights–they are necessary for life (82).

Wolterstorff defines “right” as a “morally legitimate claim [to]…the actual enjoyment of a good that is socially guaranteed against ordinary, serious, and remedial threats (82).

  1. A right places an obligation on others, a responsibility–and that is necessary to what it means to be human.
  2. A right is the claim to the actual enjoyment of the good in question.
  3. It is socially guaranteed.
    1. This means that rights always involve social structures.