Lost Virtue of Happiness

Moreland, J. P. and Issler, Klaus.  The Lost Virtue of Happiness (Navpress).

Far from being a self-help book, Moreland and Klauss (MK) define happiness in terms of its more ancient setting: a happy life is one that allows me to pursue virtue. In Christian terms, a happy life is a disciplined life that allows me to pursue the Kingdom of God.

Today happiness is defined as “good feeling” (MK 16). If happiness is defined as my good feelings, and if the goal of happiness is to pursue my good feelings, then everything has to center around…me! This creates what sociologists call “the empty self.”

Further, the empty self is what we project outwards to others. MK also have interesting suggestions on how the empty self leads to loneliness–and they posit solitude as the correction to loneliness.

Unlike other spiritual disciplines books, this offers a number of practical suggestions for enabling the “disciplined life.” Of course, the reader won’t accept every suggestion (and in fact, I disagree with a few of them). Nevertheless, most are quite helpful and have further enriched my own prayer life.

Of Particular help:

studying: the mind works from whole to part to whole. Moreland suggests–and this is something I’ve been doing for about a decade–to study the table of contents before you read a difficult book. If it is well-organized, the book won’t be that difficult.

increasing prayer time: It’s hard to kneel down a pray for a good, cold hour. However, Moreland suggests a number of strategies that can enrich and eventually lengthen prayer time. Instead of “dive-bomber prayers,” he urges “pressure cooker prayers.” Instead of saying, “Dear Jesus, please be with Suzy today,” we can keep coming back to the Lord in 2 or 3 minute increments and lifting Suzy up, often bolstered by Psalms, and “wrestling with the Lord in prayer” over Suzy. After a while, we realize we have been often in prayer, even working with God.

Calm down: Moreland has a controversial, yet probably workable suggestion on anxiety. He has noted that neuroscience is seeing that the heart has its own “system.” He recommends breathing techniques that will calm the heart. This is fine as long as we don’t say “thus saith the Lord.”

Deliverance ministries: MK are correct that demons cannot possess believers. Let that be said loud and clear. However, demons can attack and afflict believers. This isn’t that startling a statement. If you are attacking satanic strongholds and winning victories for the kingdom, do you really expect Satan to stand idly by? How will a demon attack you? As Paul says, by letting sinful passions “gain a foothold.”

Evaluation:
I recommend it for intermediate believers who already have a strong foundation in the spiritual disciplines.

Love your God (Moreland)

Moreland, J. P. Love your God with all Your Mind (Navpress).

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Many have rightly hailed this book as a game-changer. Unfortunately, not enough have. It’s hard to put this book’s importance into words. It changed my life in college. Enough with the praise; let’s begin.

Moreland’s thesis is developing a Christian mind is part of the essence of Christian discipleship (Moreland 43). Further, since the mind is a faculty of the soul (72, more on that later), one cannot develop one’s soul in relation to God without taking the mind into account. Yet Moreland is not encouraging us to become arcane theology wonks. He places the life of the mind within cultivating a framework of virtue (104-112). Virtue is elsewhere explicated as “the good life,” the life lived in accordance with God’s design (35). A virtuous life is a free life: freedom is the power to do what one ought to do. Finally, a virtuous life is a communal life.

Indeed, for example, it is this communal aspect of the virtuous life that Aristotle sought (170). It is a view of friendship that is formed around a common vision and shared goods (shades of Augustine!). Rather, New Testament fellowship–koinonia–is commitment to, and participation in, advancing the Kingdom from the body of Christ. What relevance, then, to the life of the mind? New Testament fellowship should be guided by the good life as revealed in the gospel, which includes a life of epistemic virtue. We are to build each other up in this.

Notae bene

Theology and Worship: God is a maximally perfect being. He is not just a perfect God, but perfect in all possible worlds. From this Moreland develops his theology of worship. While not Reformed, he anticipates some like an RPW. I disagree with his “testimony” time after the sermon, but mainly because this almost always kills the flow and narrative of worship (have you ever been to the last night of summer camp in youth group? Then you know of what I speak).

Interestingly, Moreland also accepts rule by elders, if not by synod.

Ethics: happiness, following the ancients and utilizing the New Testament, is a life of virtue whic includes suffering (35).

Philosophy and the Soul: we must remember that both ancient man and the Christian tradition defined the mind (as well as the spirit) as a faculty of the soul (Moreland 70-73). While it is a true statement that the soul has contact with God, yet it is the mind that is the vehicle for the soul’s making contact with God. On the other hand, the spirit is the faculty of the soul that relates to God (Romans 8:16 and maybe Eph. 4:23).

Moreland then outlines the five states of the soul (sensation, thought, belief, act of will, and desire). What’s interesting about that is the above states of the soul cannot be reduced to purely physical categories. This means the soul/mind is not reducible to the brain, which means scientific naturalism is false. This is also what R. L. Dabney meant by “connative” powers (I think; see Dabney Discussions II: 240, 243, III: 281; The Sensualistic Philosophy, chs. 1-2).
Not only does the soul have the aforementioned five states, it also has capacities or hierarchies. Without getting too technical, understanding the soul’s capacities is key in the abortion debate.

Moreland further gives some practical lessons in logic and analytical reading. That, too, changed my life. Few things are more beautiful than a well-time modus ponens.

Conclusion

This is a book to be savored, meditated upon. I’ve bought it several times and whenever I see it at used book sales, I buy it to give it away. It is that important. Don’t stop here, though. Immediately transition to Kingdom Triangle.

A Patristics Primer

I spent the past few days on Facebook debating soon-to-be-Socinians in the CBMW on why you shouldn’t tinker with the Trinity.  Some friends have asked me for a primer on basic Patristics texts.  This is more or less an impossible request but I can start to lay the groundwork.  If you devote at least a good six months to working through these issues, you will begin to see why tinkering with the Trinity must end badly.

Primary Sources

Hilary of Poitiers, “De Synodis.”  St Hilary explains how the early Fathers had to break the back of certain categories before they became acceptable.

Athanasius.  Contra Arianos.  This work is very difficult to read but it is his best work.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Christ: Five Theological Orations.  The best thing ever written on Trinitarianism.

Gregory of Nyssa.  “Great Catechism” and “On Not Three Gods.”  Advances the argument that the Trinity is one mind, will, power, and energy of operation.  This is why Gospel Coalition types won’t engage me when I ask them how many minds are in the Trinity.

Basil.  On The Holy Spirit.

Pseudo-Dionysius.  The Divine Names.

Basic Trinitarianism

Letham, Robert.  The Holy Trinity.  Letham has a number of blind-spots but he covers the material better than any.

Lacugna, Catherine.  God for Us.  She is a liberal Jesuit and that comes out in her writing, but she does a fine job on the Cappadocians.

Torrance, Thomas.  The Trinitarian Faith and One Being: Three persons.  The two best texts by a modern on the Trinity.  Torrance has few equals.  And no, his so-called “neo-orthodoxy” does not come out in this.

Intermediate Issues

McGuckin, John.  Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy.  Excellent survey of Cyril’s thought and he makes the argument that Chalcedon, far from being a Western council, specifically made Cyril the standard for Christology.

———–.  St Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography.  Just fun.

Beeley, Christopher.  The Unity of Christ and In Your Light We See Light.

Advanced Issues

Barnes, Michel.  The Power of God.  Explores Gregory of Nyssa’s use of “dynamis” in Christology.

Farrell, Joseph.  God, History, and Dialectic.  Be careful but some good analysis.

Photios.  Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps the Filioque can be salvaged, but not by positing the Father-Son as a single cause.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology, vol. 1.

Philosophical Foundations.

Perl, Eric.  Theophany: Dionysius’s Philosophy.

Gould and Davis (eds).  Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of JP Moreland.   Some outstanding essays on what it means for universals to be exemplified.

Maximus the Confessor.  The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.

Moreland, J. P. Universals.

Cooper, John. Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting.

Morris, Thomas.  The Logic of God Incarnate.  This is tough and I am not sure I agree with all of his conclusions, but it is an important study nonetheless.

Plantinga, Alvin.  Does God have a Nature?  Yeah, yeah, classical theism and all.  Plantinga’s arguments can’t simply be brushed aside.

Some brief notes on nominalism

Nominalism seeks the simplest explanation in ontology.  One of their confusions regarding realism, though, is that they think universals have spatial location.  But as B. Russell pointed out, the universal “being north of” is not spatial.

The austere nominalist is committed to just one ontological category, particulars.  Austere nominalism runs into problems when it gets to the category of abstract particulars, such as “courage is a virtue.”

Metalinguistic Nominalism

Not universals; just linguistic expressions about nonlinguistic objects.  One of the difficulties, though, is it is forced to rely on type/token distinctions, which start to look like universals. It’s not hard to see connections with postmodernism.

Trope Theory

By far the most interesting.  Concrete particulars have colors, etc., but those attributes are just particulars.  So, if two objects have the color “red,” does that mean they share the universal “redness”?  Not necessarily.  Rather, they have the set of resembling trope red.  But isn’t a set a universal?  Not exactly.  Sets have clear-cut identity conditions.  Universals do not.  Sets are identical just in case all members are identical.  Set, α, is identical with set ,β , when the members of each set are identical with one another.

So this appears to give the trope nominalist an edge over the realist, except for one problem.  Take the referents

“Being a unicorn”

And

“Being a griffin.”

Since there are no such things as unicorns or griffins, they must belong to the set, null.  As Loux points out, “given the identity conditions for sets, there is just one null set,” which would mean both propositions are in fact identical.  But this is clearly false (91-92), as any schoolchild knows.

Other problems with trope nominalism (cf Moreland):

  • membership in a set of tropes is arbitrary (Moreland doesn’t expound)
  • Two red balls (A and B) resemble each other because they have red₁ and red₂ constituents.
    • The copula “is” in question is neither of predication or identity, but set membership.
    • Rejoinder:  why red and not green?  Red tropes resemble each other in a different way than green tropes?  Why?
  • If two tropes, Red and Sweet, are in the same location, how are they not identical on the Trope Nominalist view.

A Tale of Two Metaphysics

To wax hippie and postmodern for a moment, this is a “journey” of a post, more than a philosophical one.  Every year I go back and forth between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy.  This seems to correlate with my reading of Barth.

Ultimately, I don’t care which school is right.  They are tools, not goals.  Which one advances the kingdom better?  Which one gives a better picture of God (oops, Wittgensteinian slip)?

And I don’t have a good answer. But maybe I can point out strengths and weaknesses and show where the church can be spiritually bettered.

Continental Philosophy

To navigate modern discussions, you have to deal with Hegel.  Plain and simple.  This doesn’t mean you are a “liberal” or a “pantheist.”  It just means you are doing responsible scholarship. And it means you have to engage a certain vocabulary (the “Other,” “positing,” etc).  Nothing wrong with that but not necessarily easy.

One of the advantages is that Continental Philosophy seems to merge easily with other disciplines, like literature.  This gives it an immediate relevance that analytic philosophy seems to lack.  On the other hand, I am not always sure I know what they are saying.30665548

Analytic Philosophy

Analytic philosophy is clear, precise, and similar to doing mental exercise. I just feel sharper when I am done reading guys like Plantinga.  And I didn’t always know that analytic philosophy of today is not the same thing as of earlier generations.  Earlier analytic models thought reality (or clarity or meaning) was obtainable simply by asking the question, “Well what do you mean by that?”  Ask it enough and you arrive at meaning (or get punched in the face).

The more dangerous implication is that things are truly knowable only in the abstract and not in systems of relations.  This is deleterious for Christian theism.

But even guys like Ayer realized that was a dead-end.

After the Plantinga revolution, Christian philosophers started using many of the tools of analytic philosophy, without necessarily committing themselves to earlier conclusions–and the results are often amazing.  See especially Plantinga’s Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil.

One of the problems, though, is that analytic guys are perceived (whether this is fair or not) as having a “take-it-or-leave-it” approach to the history of doctrine.  I will come back to that point.

Biola and Calvin College:  Can They Meet?

I single out Biola and Calvin as two respective representatives of the above tradition.  Biola boasts of luminaries like JP Moreland and William L. Craig.  The “Calvin tradition” is represented by James K. A. Smith.  And both streams have done outstanding work. Even more, analytic guys like Moreland are able to tie philosophical analysis in with the “spiritual disciplines” movement, Renovare.  Here is great promise but also great danger.

Renovare

This is the brainchild of Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline.  On a practical level, much of it is quite good.  The idea that bodily disciplines break bad habits is just good, practical psychology (I got accused by a powerful Gnostic Magus on Puritanboard of denying the gospel for that sentence).

But…there is almost zero discernment in these guys.  They will take handfuls of Pentecostal, Quaker, Catholic, and Reformed spirituality and just mix ’em together.

Nevertheless…My prayer life improved from following Moreland’s advice.

Calvin Cultural Liturgies

James K. A. Smith has found himself the sparring partner of what is known as the “Biola School.”  Smith’s thesis–which I think is fundamentally correct–is that we aren’t simply “brains on a stick.”  We are embodied and liturgies, to be effective, must engage the whole person.  (I also got accused of denying the gospel on Puritanboard for that statement.  )

We will come back to that statement.

Smith, however, takes his apologetic in a different realm.  While I agree with Smith that “postmodernism” doesn’t just mean “Denying absolute truth” (what does that statement even mean?), I fear that Smith’s cultural applications do not escape the worst of postmodern, low-brow culture. Further, Smith is weak on the doctrine of the soul (in some of his cultural liturgies books he uses “brain” when he should be saying “mind”).

Is that evident at Calvin College?  Rumors abound that Calvin is gutting some of its biblical language programs, and Calvin has invited homosexual speakers in the past.  Make fun of Vineyard and Biola all you want, but I don’t think that has happened.

It is not that Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project is wrong.  I think much of it is quite insightful and I eagerly await his volume on Augustine, but I am nervous where the applications are going.

To be fair to Smith, though, and to Continental Philosophy, they have been more attentive to the history of philosophy (and perhaps, history of doctrine)

Possible Overlap

I do see some areas of overlap with Smith and Moreland

  1. Both believe in Jesus’s Kingdom Power for today
  2. Both believe in the body’s importance in spiritual disciplines

What should we do?

In the end, I side with Moreland.  We need analytic philosophy’s discipline and precision.  While both Smith and Moreland believe in Kingdom Power and bodily disciplines, the latter’s “cultural” applications are far more responsible.

Mind in a physical world

Kim, Jaegwon, Mind in a Physical World.

This is one of the texts that JP Moreland uses in his Philosophy of Mind class.  Before I review the book and talk about why it is so important, perhaps some introductory remarks on the nature of the debate and terminology is in order.

Why it matters:  Until a few hundred years ago, even skeptics and atheists believed in a soul and a mind that wasn’t the same thing as the brain.  Now, the fashionable thing in academia is to either identify the brain with the mind or say that the mind is in some way “triggered” by physical events.  Neither of these latter two options are acceptable for Christians.

Dualism: in this context dualism simply means that the mind/soul and the body aren’t the same thing.  It doesn’t have the negative Kuyperian connotations that the body is bad.

Hard Physicalism:  This is the view that the mind and brain are the same thing.  Fewer scholars hold this view today since it is very untenable.

Weak Physicalism:  This view hesitates to say that the mind and brain are the same thing.  Rather, it says that all mental events have at their base a physical response.  Weak Physicalism means that the old-school hard scientism views lost the debate.  It also means, unfortunately for presuppositionalists, that the old Bahnsenian canard, “Have you ever stubbed your two on a law of logic?” simply doesn’t work any more.  Weak Physicalists, like Christian dualists, admit the existence of mental properties.

Where the Debate is Now:  There is a problem in philosophy of mind called “supervenience.”  On one level it seems commonsensical and one is hard-pressed to deny it.  On the other hand, it spells a number of insurmountable problems for physicalism.

The Review

Jaegwon Kim offers a weak physicalist discussion of supervenience and the difficulties it presents for current alternatives to Mind-Body dualism.  There is some technical language but it is kept at a minimum.  Of primary importance is Kim’s remarkably lucid discussion of “supervenience.”  

Supervenience tries to explain how mental properties and physical kinds, not tokens, are related. Mental properties supervene on physical properties: For any property M, if anything has M at time t, then there exists a physical base (subvenient) property P such that it has P at t, and necessarily anything that has P at  a time has M at that time (Kim 9).  This means “every mental property has a physical base that guarantees its instantiation” (10). Thus, mental properties supervene on physical properties.  The takeaway is that mental properties must always have a physical base.  This is an improvement on older materialist models which said mental properties were physical properties.  

Kim’s Larger Argument

P1: Either mind-body supervenience holds, or it fails.
P2: If M-B sup. fails, there is no way of understanding mental causation.
P3: Suppose M causes M* to be instantiated.
P4: M* necessarily has at least a physical base P*.
P5: M* is instantiated b/c M caused M*, but also because P* must be the subvenient base of M*.
P6: M caused M* by causing P*.
P7: Yet M also has a physical supervenient base P.
P8: P caused P*, and M supervenes on P and M* and M* supervenes on P*.
P9: The M-M* and M-P* causal relations are only apparent, and P really, really causes P*.
P10: If M-B sup. fails, then mental causation is incoherent.  If it holds, then it is also incoherent.

Supervenience presents a number of problems for physicalism, however.  What happens if mental property M causes another mental property M* to be instantiated? For example, my having the state “anger” causes me to have the mental state depression/fear/whatever.  This means that, if supervenience holds, M* must also have a physical property P* as its physical base.  Two problems immediately arise:

* It appears that a mental property (M) is causing a physical base (P*) which then launches M*.  Yet reductionists hold that all things have a physical cause.  But this raises the problem:

* So what causes M*?  It seems we have multiple causes, overdetermination.

Kim restates the problem:   if mental properties are physically irreducible and remain outside the physical domain, then, given that the physical domain is causally closed, how can they exercise causal powers (Kim 58)?

Conclusion

In terms of an introductory text, albeit a rigorous one, I highly recommend this book.  Admittedly, Kim doesn’t solve the problem (cf. p. 58), nor does he pretend to.  He introduces the reader to the relevant terminology and explains why certain moves available to physicalists cannot work.