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Archive for April, 2011

Yesterday I received from a friend a copy of the recently published volume, The Kuyper Center Review. Vol. 2: Revelation and Common Grace, ed. by John Bowlin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011). It’s a volume of 334 pages, which are divided into two sections: I. Philosophy and Revelation, and II. Common Grace and Common Word. These sections together contain seventeen essays (conference papers), including contributions by luminous authors such as Jan Veenhof, Gordon Graham, George Harinck, Henk van den Belt, James Eglinton, Brian Mattson, and Dirk van Keulen. A large number of essays were contributed by doctoral students.

This post is not a review of the book. My reading of it has been far too cursory for that task. Actually, I spent most of my time reading the footnotes and bibliographies accompanying each essay. So on that basis I’ll limit myself to two brief observations, one to puff a particular essay, the other to puzzle over several others.

Here’s the puff: James Eglinton has written a persuasive essay entitled “How Many Herman Bavincks? De Gemeene Genade and the ‘Two Bavincks’ Hypothesis” (279-301). This essay corrects the mistaken yet oft-publicized portrait of an allegedly incoherent Bavinck whose theology contained irreconcilable tensions, forcing us to choose between the “orthodox” Bavinck or the “modernist” Bavinck. This essay will convince you that it just ain’t so.

Here’s the puzzle: I recognize that these essays were conference papers, delivered as part of an ongoing historical-theological conversation. My puzzle is this: how can scholars (in this case, doctoral students) pretend to offer Bavinck’s or Kuyper’s thoughts on “X” without having access to all of Bavinck’s or Kuyper’s writings that deal with “X”?

This phenomenon is appearing more and more in the practice of historical theology today, when it comes to making historical-theological judgments about Bavinck or Kuyper.

Here’s how it works.

A writer makes an assertion about Bavinck’s or Kuyper’s thoughts on “X,” and supports it in one of two ways. (1) By citing only secondary sources (in the form of: so-and-so wrote “P” about Bavinck’s or Kuyper’s thoughts on “X,” so now “X” = “P”). This is equivalent to a highly refined form of academic gossip.

Alternatively, a writer claims support (2) by reporting the limited discussion of “X” available in extant fragmentary English translations of Bavinck or Kuyper. One clever writer even listed in his bibliography numerous fully documented Dutch sources whose English translation he had harvested from secondary literature−leaving the impression that he had either read or cited the original! Seriously, folks, at this point in history, unless one is making a translation correction or an original language comparison, why should an English-languagae bibliography contain an entry for Bavinck’s Gereformeerde Dogmatiek? It’s now available as Reformed Dogmatics.

Anyway, for now let’s chalk it up to the eager enthusiasm of scholars newly acquainted with the treasure we’ve inherited from Bavinck and Kuyper. As more of this legacy becomes available in English, these primary sources will, D.V., spawn fertile and fruitful scholarship capable of engaging Bavinck and Kuyper on their terms, in the broader context of all their writings.

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“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst'” (John 19.28).

Last night’s Scripture readings and sermon set me to thinking.

The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ on the cross are scattered across the pages of the Gospels. The list of seven is a composite arrangement, and the number is symbolic of the perfection of the Savior’s suffering. Here they are:

1. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23.34).
2. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23.43).
3. Woman, behold, your son! . . . Behold, your mother! (John 19.26-27).
4. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27.46; Mark 15.34).
5. I thirst (John 19.28).
6. It is finished (John 19.20).
7. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! (Luke 23.46).

It was #5 that caught my ear, my attention.

You see, the Gospel writer John, who had crafted his narrative in terms of Jesus’ signs and sayings, seems fascinated with water. Jesus’ first miracle turned water into wine. Jesus told his nighttime visitor Nicodemus of the need to be born of water and Spirit in order to enter God’s kingdom.

It is John who tells of an encounter between Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, and a woman from Samaria, a Samaritan (John 4.1-26). They met at a well, she to draw water, he to give it. Scratching her itch to know who he was, Jesus identified himself as the source of living water: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4.13-14).

Again, it is John who tells us of Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem for the Jewish Feast of Booths. On the last day, at the climactic moment of the entire festival week, Jesus stood up to shout, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'” (John 7.37-38). John reminds us that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit who would later be poured out on believers at another feast, the Feast of Pentecost.

And then on the cross, Jesus cries, “I thirst!”

The Living Water suffers thirst.

This, as someone has pointed out, was for Jesus preeminently a spiritual problem. Of course thirst is a natural response. Yet, for Christ, as for every human being, the spiritual is present in the natural, and God demands to be served in the natural functions of life. The natural is immediately related to the spiritual.

Jesus’ cry, “I thirst,” is an achievement, a redemptive accomplishment. Two clues in the text show this. (1) He uttered this cry once he knew “all was now finished.” And (2) he uttered this cry “to fulfill the Scripture.” Even at this moment of intense distress preceding his death, Jesus was dying as he had lived: submitting himself fully and willingly, thoroughly and fatally, to Scripture. The Savior’s living and dying were so punctiliously Scriptural!

With this saying, Jesus is busy working. Indeed, people are being saved by the active suffering of their Mediator! Even − especially − when he thirsts!

Tomorrow the sun will rise, and the grave will open. What was parched will become quenched, the barren will become fertile. Weeping will turn to dancing, and sorrow to joy. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

(With assistance from “Christ Adapting Himself to His Death,” Christ Crucified, by K. Schilder, translated by Henry Zylstra [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1940], chapter 18, 427-446.)

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“Who is Jesus Christ?” remains the perennial touchstone question for both the church and the world. Hence the timeliness of the theme of the recent Gospel Coalition conference: preaching Jesus Christ and the gospel from the Old Testament.

The identity of Jesus Christ lies at the heart of the church’s understanding of his cosmic sovereignty and rule today.

Over at The Sword and the Ploughshare, Brad Littlejohn has published a post entitled, “Is Christ Divided? Christology and the Two Kingdoms,” available here

With considerably more depth and detail, Littlejohn analyzes the same issue identified in our most recent installment of an extended review of the NL2K debate. That issue is Christology. Some of Littlejohn’s concluding observations follow below. You will not want to miss his final three sentences!

Enjoy!

[As Richard Hooker {?} insisted], the second person of the Trinity, by virtue of his divinity derived from the Father, is creator and ruler of all things.  However, there is an important corollary:

“As the consubstantiall word of God, he had with God before the beginning of the world that glorie which as man he requesteth to have.  Father glorifie they Sonne now with that glorie which with thee I enjoyed before the world was, for there is no necessitie that all things spoken of Christ should agree unto him either as God or else as man, but some things as he is the consubstantiall word of God, some thinges as he is that word incarnate.  The workes of supreme Dominion which have been since the first begining wrought by the power of the Sonne of God are now most truly and properly the workes of the Sonne of man.  The word made flesh doth sitt for ever and raigne as Soveraigne Lord over all.  Dominion belongeth unto the Kingly office of Christ as propitiation and mediation unto his priestly, instruction unto his pastoral or propheticall office.”

Although there may well be “no necessitie” that the two dominions should be united, the Father’s gracious glorification and exaltation of the Son ensures that they are.  All that the Son worked as God he works now also as man–the two natures are united in one agency, one dominion, a dominion over not only the Church, but all creation, following 1 Cor. 15:20-28.

This is stated even more clearly back in Hooker’s Christological discussion in Bk. 5, which he is clearly drawing on at this point:

“that deitie of Christ which before our Lordes incarnation wrought all thinges without man doth now worke nothinge wherein the nature which it hath assumed is either absent from it or idle.  Christ as man hath all power both in heaven and earth given him.  He hath as man not as God only supreme dominion over quicke and dead.  For so much his ascension into heaven and his session at the right hand of God doe importe….Session at the right hand of God is the actual exercise of that regencie and dominino wherein the manhood of Christ is joyned and matchet with the deitie of the Sonne of God….This government [over all creation] therefore he exerciseth both as God and as man, as God by essentiall presence with all thinges, as man by cooperation with that which essentiallie is present.”

And so he says again, contra [Thomas] Cartwright, “And yet the dominion wherunto he was in his humane nature lifted up is not without divine power exercised.  It is by divine power that the Sonne of man, who sitteth in heaven doth work as King and Lord upon us which are on earth.”

The basis of all worldly government, then, is not merely from God the Creator, but now also through the God-man, the redeemer, who as man sits on the throne at the right hand of God, as redeemer of the world exercises his rule over creation.  One therefore simply cannot say that Christ rules over creation as God and over redemption as man; or over creation as God merely and over redemption as God-man.  All that the Son has and does by virtue of divinity, his humanity is made sharer in, and all that Jesus Christ has and does by virtue of his humanity, the divinity is made sharer in.  This is the orthodox doctrine of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ.  One cannot say then that as divine Son, the Word exercises a dominion in which the man Christ Jesus has no part, or that as redeeming man, Christ exercises an office in which the divine Son has no part.  Rather, all things on heaven and earth are made subject to the Word made flesh (italics added, NDK).

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(The following was written by H. van den Belt, and appeared on 4 April 2011 in Reformatorisch Dagblad. Translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman.)

In The Netherlands thousands of animals are killed each year by ritual slaughter. The carotid artery is slit while the animal is still conscious. The Animal Rights Party is protesting this practice and wants the practice banned. [The Dutch name is Partij voor de Dieren, or Party for the Animals, but the English service of Radio Netherlands Worldwide uses the title Animal Rights Party.] According to party leader Marianne Thieme, freedom of religion ends at the point where animal suffering begins.

The leader of the Animal Rights Party has a point. Unnecessary animal suffering should be prevented. She gives her cause an ideological cast, however, and for that reason orthodox Christians should be very alert.

Of course freedom of religion is not without limits. Child sacrifice is prohibited. Nevertheless, something is getting twisted when centuries-old liberties are set aside because people today find certain religious customs indecent or inhumane.

The fight against ritual slaughtering is not isolated. An organization of Dutch physicians seeks to discourage circumcising baby boys because the practice supposedly conflicts with the principle of bodily integrity. Several critics even call circumcision genital mutilation, as though the issue involved female circumcision. It is dangerous when society begins to dominate the consciences of believers on the basis of vague ideas about common decency. In that context it is especially the religious motives that become the focal point. You never hear anything about attacking bodily integrity when girls have their ears pierced.

Animal skins

The question of ritual slaughtering is complicated by the tension between unnecessary animal suffering and kosher eating. It is a pressing question how the freedom for ritual slaughter belongs to the freedom of religion, and whether animal suffering is a serious enough reason to restrict that freedom.

Some Christians have a quick reply: Christ has fulfilled the ceremonial law and therefore ritual slaughtering is wrong. But that is a mistake. Ritual slaughtering did not originate in the Old Testament sacrificial service. According to Judaism there are no longer any animal sacrifices because there is no longer any temple. The method of slaughtering animals does not fall under the laws for sacrifice, but under the food laws; the meat must be kosher.

Immediately after humanity’s fall into sin, God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins. No sacrifice was needed to cover their nakedness. Apparently animals were permitted to be killed on behalf of human beings. After the flood God said that the animals could be used for food as well. The Bible nowhere explains how these animals were to be slaughtered.

Deuteronomy 12:21 says that the Israelites may eat in their homes those animals that were suitable for the sacrificial service, animals such as goats and cattle. They were to slaughter those animals as Moses had commanded them. They did not need to be ritually clean for that slaughter, unlike when they ate sacrificial meat. When slaughtered at home, the meat of an ox or a sheep was like that of a gazelle or a deer. It was only the eating of the blood that was forbidden, for that is the soul. They were to pour out the blood on the ground like water.

Judaism bases the existence of an oral Torah on the comment “as Moses commanded.” Apparently Moses had commanded other things that are not included in the Torah. That would not involve any substantive expansion of the law, but an application of the law in practical situations. This oral tradition was later written down in the Mishnah.

According to the Mishnah, for the shechita or ritual slaughter the butcher must sever the carotid artery and the windpipe without anesthesia with a single cut. Before the slaughter the animal must be able to walk a few steps. For that reason anesthesia is not permitted. For then the meat would not be kosher.

Islam is also familiar with a kind of ritual slaughter. The term halal above foreign butcher shops signifies that the meat is ritually clean. Meat is halal only if the animal was butchered according to the rules. Only a Muslim may perform the slaughter; he must say a prayer in connection with the slaughter; and he must look in the direction of Mecca. It is not entirely clear whether animal anesthesia is forbidden in Islam. In foreign countries Islamic butchers sometimes use electric shock.

Until 1975 Islamic butchering was not permitted in The Netherlands. Many Muslims evaded the prohibition by illegally slaughtering animals in sheds behind their stores. For that reason in 1975 the government permitted non-anesthetized halal slaughter in Islamic butcher shops. Equality of rights between Jews and Muslims played an important role in this change.

Unnecessary pain

In recent years doubts have risen about the welfare of animals who are slaughtered ritually. If this form of slaughter unnecessarily intensifies and lengthens the suffering of these animals, there is much to be said in favor of a comprehensive prohibition. For animal suffering should be prevented as much as possible.

The scientific arm of the Animal Rights Party (the Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation) used an undercover camera to make a movie about the ritual slaughtering occurring in various slaughter houses. The movie, available on YouTube under the title “Ritual Slaughter,” shows how sheep and chickens are killed without anesthesia and hung up to bleed out. It is not pleasant. A lot of blood is flowing and some animals continue to writhe long after they’ve been hung up.

In 2008 the University of Wageningen published a bibliographical study at the request of the Minister of Agriculture at that time, entitled “Ritual Slaughtering and Animal Welfare.” The study concluded that non-anesthetized ritual slaughtering is detrimental for the welfare of the animal for several reasons. Confinement produces significant stress, the arterial cut itself can cause severe pain, and the brains of non-anesthetized animals are more active than those of anesthetized animals.

The Wageningen report is not based on the authors’ own scientific research. It is a summary of extant literature. One of the most important sources for the report is an article of Stuart D. Rosen, who has performed physiological research. In the international scientific journal, Veterinary Record, he concluded that the Jewish shechita is a painless and effective method of slaughter.

It is very difficult to measure animal pain. If the shechita is performed properly, the blood pressure in the animal’s brain falls immediately and the animal becomes immediately unconscious. Of course it is very troubling to watch an animal writhing as it is dying, but that phenomenon should not be interpreted to mean that the animal is suffering pain. A slaughtered chicken can still walk a few steps after its head is severed, but the head will not feel that sensation any longer. On the other hand, an animal can appear to be unconscious and still feel pain, just like someone who is in a coma can be conscious of things without being able to respond to them.

Of course the plea for anesthetizing is understandable. If an animal is no longer writhing, a person feels better at that point, but whether the same is true of the animal remains the question. Animal anesthesia may not serve simply to reduce butterflies in the human stomach.

Without doubt one thing or another goes wrong when animals are being slaughtered. Rather than a comprehensive prohibition, it would be better to permit ritual slaughter under strict conditions and to monitor the implementation of those standards. Even the Wageningen report indicates that the Jewish method of slaughter is regulated by more prescriptions than the Islamic method. The Jewish butcher receives special training, the knife must be surgically sharp, and the tiniest little flaw makes it unusable. Islamic butchers also use a shorter knife. Perhaps Islam can learn some lessons here from Judaism.

“The Eternal Jew”

As long as so much uncertainty surrounds the matter of animal welfare, it is too strong a measure to ban ritual slaughter and thereby to restrict the freedom of religion. Ritual slaughter goes back to a centuries-old tradition. This method of slaughter seeks to express precisely this truth, that the life of each animal is valuable and each animal deserves respect. A person may not simply kill an animal, since there are strict rules governing that. These prescriptions presuppose a relationship between a person and an animal. The blood that flows is costly blood.

That understanding is far removed from many Westerners, who get their meat from the supermarket, whether or not it is weighed and packaged behind the counter. In farming communities people occasionally slaughter a calf for themselves. Occasionally several families will divide and process the meat of a cow. At that point you know in principle exactly what kind of animal you’ll be eating. Here there is a relationship between people and animals.

In many slaughter houses the slaughtering process is highly mechanized. No human hand needs to touch the animal. Perhaps ordinary slaughtering appears less offensive, but it is rather ironic that a centuries-old tradition that clearly expresses the connection between people and animals is now being discredited.

Because anesthetized ritual slaughter is not by definition forbidden in Islam, a prohibition against non-anesthetized ritual slaughter would affect the Jewish community in The Netherlands the most. Advocates of the ban are actually suggesting that orthodox Jews should then simply become vegetarians. That is going rather far. Not without reason the Council of State has therefore responded very critically to the concept legislation of the Animal Rights Party. The impact on animal welfare, according to the Council, is not of such a nature as to warrant a comprehensive ban on non-anesthetized ritual slaughter.

In addition there is the painful fact that in the long history of antisemitism, ritual slaughter has often been used as an argument for inciting hatred of Jews. In the 1940 movie, The Eternal Jew, there is a scene where a cow is slaughtered in a gruesome way, designed to show how beastly the Jews were in contrast to the humane Germans.

Diet

When eating meat, a Christian should not forget that human beings were created as vegetarians and that on the new earth animals will no longer be slaughtered for human consumption. Anyone who really understands that every piece of meat at one point required the letting of blood, will have to adjust their diet accordingly.

Many political parties are very agitated about the hundreds of animals that are ritually slaughtered in The Netherlands every day. In The Netherlands on every working day, hundreds of children are also killed in their mother’s wombs.

The poet of the Proverbs looks rather prophetic when he said in one and the same breath: “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel” (Proverbs 12:10).

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