Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Now Playing: Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life

Next up on my commute "reading" list is Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life. If you can get past the evolutionary psychology, the Jungian readings of the Bible, the obstinate refusal to make any concession to political correctness, and the constant barrage of imperatives, there is some good advice here. Plus, Peterson has a sense of humour.

Perhaps my favourite part so far is this middle-aged reflection at the end of chapter 2:
"In my own periods of darkness, in the underworld of the soul, I find myself frequently overcome and amazed by the ability of people to befriend each other, to love their intimate partners and parents and children, and to do what they must do to keep the machinery of the world running. ... This sort of everyday heroism is the rule, I believe, rather than the exception. Most individuals are dealing with one or more serious health problems while going productively and uncomplainingly about their business. If anyone is fortunate enough to be in a rare period of grace and health, personally, then he or she typically has at least one close family member in crisis. Yet people prevail and continue to do difficult and effortful tasks to hold themselves and their families and society together. To me, this is miraculous--so much so that a dumbfounded gratitude is the only appropriate response. There are so many ways that things can fall apart, or fail to work altogether, and it is always wounded people who are holding it together. They deserve some genuine and heartfelt admiration for that. It's an ongoing miracle of fortitude and perseverance. ... People are so tortured by the limitations and constraint of Being that I am amazed they ever act properly or look beyond themselves at all. ... Some people degenerate into the hell of resentment and the hatred of Being, but most refuse to do so, despite their suffering and disappointments and losses and inadequacies and ugliness, and again that is a miracle for those with the eyes to see it."
(For the humour, consider the true-to-life description of prairie winters at the beginning of chapter 3.)

The Rules:
  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
  2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you.
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).
  8. Tell the truth--or, at least, don't lie.
  9. Assume that the people you are listening to might know something you don't.
  10. Be precise in your speech.
  11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

John Evelyn's Reading Recommendations

In 1704 the 17th-century man of letters, John Evelyn, wrote out a short book of advice for his twenty-two year old grandson, Evelyn's only surviving male descendant and heir to his estate. Memoires for my Grand-Son was preserved in the family library at Wotton until 1926 when it was transcribed and published. (Tragically, the library itself "was sold and dispersed" in the 1970's. I imagine it looked something like the library in Hatfield house, pictured on the right.)

The contents of the Memoires range from detailed lists of tools that need to be oiled and cleaned once a year to an inventory of "Mathematical Instruments" kept in the room next to the library. According to the editor,
"The chief value and interest of the manuscript lies ... in the admirable fussiness which impelled [Evelyn] to give such details of how a country gentleman should conduct his life and affairs. Many of these details throw light into obscure corners of the domestic economy of the late seventeenth century" (xi).

As you might expect, I was especially interested in the section on "Books & Studys for the Improvement of your knowledge." Evelyn begins the section by insisting on life-long learning:
"I thought I had say'd all that was necessary to be don as to your care within dores excepting that of the Library Appartments, which require your especial and constant Inspection, nothing more becoming a person whose Education has been something above that of most ordinary Country Gents who commonly unlearne and abolish all they had learn'd at schole, university, &c., when they come to their Estates, thro' a slothfullnesse and unacountable neglect of Cultivating their knowledge and the noblest facultys of their Intellectual Man, that is, by advancing toward something usefull as well as for merely entertainement of time. In order to this a constant and setl'd method should be resolv'd upon with an unvariable assiduity, and so order'd that none of these opportunitys be lost which do not necessarily require attendance or any publique Employment, there being none either of greate or buisy but leave such vaccuitys and Interstices as may aford a studious person time of improving his knowledge, which otherwise be cast away & utterly lost. My L. Chancellor Bacon has beside his owne example confirm'd what I have said, tho' he was a person in continual employment as a Lawyer, Judge, Privy-Conseller, & in perpetual buisinesse. The like were Raileigh, Selden, Hales, Vaughan, &c., besides forainers <in> aboundance ... Philologers, Noblemen, Souldiers, Advocats, Divines, Physitians, States-men, &c., (I name them promiscuously), to whom the knowing-world is oblidged for the Improvements of the present Age beyond a Thousand which are past." (pp. 38-40)

In today's jargon, Evelyn might say those who aspire to be leaders need a solid grounding in the liberal arts.

Next, Evelyn lists the kind of subjects a country gentleman should make the object of his study:
"Among these studys & Facultys most necessary for you, I think, would be more than a superficial Tincture of the Laws, Civile, Municipal; History, both in generall and particular by a judiciously chosen Method, Antient, Modern, Greeke, Roman, and from the decline of those Empires to our owne times, accompanyd with Chronologies, Geography, &c. And for the most usefull diversions assistant to innumerable subjects both speculative, but above all practicall, Mathematicks, which ... sharpens and settles the Judgement. ... But to be accomplisht, above all, Algebra. These well studied will furnish also innumerable other knowledges, accompanyd with such Treatises as every day occurr, relating to modern History and Arts, Travelles, discoverys, Transactions Philosoph:, &c., beside the most select pieces of all kinds which your library will afford you, poetical, political, Military, All the Classics, &c., and other noble entertaiments both pleasant and profitable, whilst your maine study should be such as we have recommended to us by the most grave and wisest Ancestors. ... One would not be notoriously Ignorant of anything belonging humanity, or laudably Entertaining at home in private and abroade or in Company, without ostentation." (41-43)
Evelyn commends the practice of keeping a commonplace book, both as an aid to memory and as  preparation for writing:
"In order to all this and all your other studys either by booke or conversation, A well digested Adversaria as to common places should by no meanes be neglected, in which to write down and note what you find most important & usefull in your Readings & not trust altogether to your owne Memory, so in a little time you will find your papers furnish <you> with materialls of all subjects; short notes and Referrences are sufficient for this unlesse wher you meete with some Remarkable passages which may require a larger transcription. From such a Magazine one is inabled to speake or write upon any occasion, & it would not be amisse to pitch upon some usefull subject to exercise your style in & to publish some Fruits of your studys, which cannot be don without Collections, no man being able to build anything whatever without the help <of> others which may stand or last longer <than> the Cobwebs spun out of the bowels of an Insect. But with this Advice, that, when once one has written what is of such intrinsical value as to gaine universal applause, To adventure out againe without extraordinary caution." (43-45)

Last, but not least, Evelyn states that Sundays and Holy days should be devoted to the study of Theology: 
"If now I have reserved that of Theology to the last place, it is not out of forgetfullnesse or that it ought not to have been the very first of all Recommended, but because all the studys hitherto mention'd are to be subservient to This, which, being of all others the most necessary and sublime, ought never to be omitted, That you may be able to give an Account of your Faith & choise of your Religion upon principles solid & rational, and not because it is your Country's profession onely. For this end, therefore, have your first & chiefe recourse to the Divine Revelation, The Holy Scriptures, handed downe to the world by those Holy and Inspired men, the prophets, Apostles and Successors. ... This to be the Employment of Sundays & Holy-days (as they call them) especially, & of every weekday, morning or Evening, after your privat prayers, in which, however short your leasure may be, consistent with other necessary buisinesse you may by degrees arive to a greate deale of the most Excellent knowledge of that unum necessarium in comparison of which all other is unprofitable. Let your choise (after competent acquaintance with the Scriptures, that sourse & perennial fountaine) be the most genuine and antient of those who immediatly writ after the Apostolic age and so downe to the present; nor let the Volumes of the Fathers, Councils, and Controvertists, afright you, these being so very few after the first foure Centurys (and they no way insuperable) which you have not sufficiently supplyd by many excellent Epitomisers of all that is considerable in them." (45-48)
Evelyn was evidently describing his own practice. Toward the conclusion of the Memoires, Evelyn explains that "Most of the devotional papers, books and sermons, were the tiresome [i.e., tiring] exercise of Sundays & Holydays, which in time swell'd into such bulk." (65)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Wesley Hill, Modern Marcionism and Torah Ethics

In a recent column in First Things, Wesley Hill calls out Andy Stanley for stating that the gospel “is completely detached … from everything that came before,” that Christians “are not accountable to the Ten Commandments,” and that “The Old Testament was not the go-to source regarding any behavior for the church.”

From Hill’s perspective, Stanley’s comments amount to a new Christian Marcionism not by denying the inspiration of the Old Testament, but by declaring that it has been superseded by the New Testament, and by implying that the Old Testament is irrelevant for Christian ethics.

To Stanley’s claim that the “apostolic decree” in Acts 15 “was a general call to avoid immoral behavior[,] but not immoral behavior as defined by the Old Testament,” Hill responds:
“New Testament scholars such as Markus Bockmuehl have demonstrated that the rules for Gentile converts outlined in Acts 15 themselves go back to the Old Testament’s guidelines for Gentile sojourners in Israel.” 
To be fair, some of the quotations from Andy Stanley’s sermon remind me of things I tell my students: It is true that Paul seldom refers directly to the Old Testament when he gives ethical instruction. You won't find the apostle trying to persuade his audience to agree with him by appealing to the authority of the Law of Moses as a legal code. And if Christians are "not under law, but under grace," then that law must include the Ten Commandments as well. Stanley is on to something.

I also agree with Stanley that the way the prohibitions in the apostolic decree are authorized is significant. In an essay on “Torah Ethics in Acts,” I wrote:
“Despite the absence of chapter and verse references, Luke’s readers would have connected the prohibitions against things defiled by idols, blood, what is strangled and sexual immorality (15:20) to the Torah. … Nevertheless, the four requirements of the decree are not authorized by Moses. While they are connected to the law of Moses (15:21), James formulates the terms of the decree as his judgement (15:19). In the letter the “apostles and elders” send to the Gentiles, the requirements are authorized by the Holy Spirit and the Jerusalem apostles and elders, not Moses (15:28, cf. 16:4).” (p. 85)
But Paul’s insistence that believers are free from the law, and the fact that the apostles and elders in Acts 15 do not appeal directly to the law when they issue ethical requirements does not mean that the Torah was no longer viewed as a divinely-inspired guide for human behaviour. Surely it was. In Torah Ethics and Early Christian Identity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), Susan Wendel and I asked contributors to consider not if, but how the Law of Moses continued to inform Christian ethical thinking even for those who, like Paul, did not think Torah observance was essential for salvation.

Hill's column demonstrates that the answer to this question can have important practical consequences.

In my essay on Acts, I concluded,
“[A]lthough Luke did not think that Gentile Christ-believers encounter the Torah in the context of God’s covenant with Israel, he presumably took for granted that the law—and controversy stories about the law in Luke’s Gospel—remains authoritative and relevant for Gentile Christ-believers when it is read as prophecy and applied by analogy.” (p. 91) (For what it means to read law as prophecy, you will need to read the essay itself.)

In Luke's writings, the Mosaic law continues to function authoritatively, but it is not the go-to source for Christian ethics--that honour goes to Jesus:
“The law in Luke’s writings plays a supporting role behind Luke’s overwhelming interest in Jesus. While Luke does not think they conflict, it is the example of Jesus, much more than the demands of Torah, that serves as the primary paradigm for the main characters in Acts, and hence for Luke’s Gentile readers.” (p. 91)
In this context, I would want to stress the absence of conflict. As Hill puts it, "One cannot pit Paul's sexual ethics against the Ten Commandments, from which they stemmed."

Wesley Hill,  "Andy Stanley's Modern Marcionism," First Things (5.11.18)
Miller, David M. “Reading Law as Prophecy: Torah Ethics in Acts.” Pages 75–91 in Torah Ethics and Early Christian Identity. Edited by Susan J. Wendel and David M. Miller. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

Wendel, Susan J., and David M. Miller, eds. Torah Ethics and Early Christian Identity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.