Philosophical (and Theological) Classifications

"Philosophical classifications are not like labels for political parties that people officially join; at best, they point to a salient feature that systems that differ in many other ways have in common. Such groupings fail to rise to the level of natural kinds; they are closer to what Wittgenstein thought of as concepts based upon family resemblances. They should be understood as handy devices for abbreviated referenced rather than as the product of a deep analysis of a philosophical tendency.

Charles Landesman, Skepticism – The Central Issues, 2.

Sanctification and Justification

Why, then, are we justified by faith? Because by faith we grasp Christ’s righteousness, by which alone we are reconciled to God. Yet you could not grasp this without at the same time grasping sanctification also. For he “is given unto us for righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption” [I Cor. 1:30]. Therefore Christ justifies no one whom he does not at the same time sanctify. These benefits are joined together by an everlasting and indissoluble bond, so that those whom he illumines by his wisdom, he redeems; those whom he redeems, he justifies; those whom he justifies, he sanctifies…Thus is is clear how true it is that we are justified not without works yet not through works, since in our sharing in Christ, which justifies us, sanctification is just as much included as righteousness.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, bk III, ch. 16.1

From the commonplace book of Daniel Foucachon

The Unnameable Names of God

How then can we speak of the divine names? How can we do this if the Transcendent surpasses all discourse and all knowledge, if it abides beyond the reach of mind and of being, if it encompasses and circumscribes, embraces and anticipates all thins while itself eluding their grasp and escaping from any perception, imagination, opinion, name, discourse, apprehension, or understanding? How can we enter upon this undertaking if the Godhead is superior to being and is unspeakable and unnameable?

-Pseudo-Dionysius, The Divine Names, 5.

Realizing all this, the theologians praise it by every name–and as the Nameless One…This surely is the wonderful “name which is above every name: and is therefore without a name…And yet on the other hand they give it many names, such as “I am being,” “life,” “light,” “God,” the “truth.” These same wise writers…use names drawn from all the things caused: goo, beautiful, wise, beloved, God of gods, Lord of Lords, Holy of Holies, eternal, existent, Cause of the ages. They call him source of life, wisdom, mind, word, knower, possessor beforehand of all the treasures of knowledge, power, powerful, and King of Kings, ancient of days, the unaging and unchanging, salvation, righteousness and sanctification, redemption, greatest of all and yet the one in the still breeze. They say he is in our minds, in our souls, and in our bodies, in heaven and on earth, that while remaining ever within himself he is is also in and around and above the world, that he is above heaven and above all being, that he is sun, star, and fire, water, wind, and dew, cloud, archetype stone, and rock that he is all, that he is no thing.

-Pseudo-Dionysius, The Divine Names, 6.

Layered Definitions

One undercurrent beneath the Federal Vision business is a hidden difference in epistemological assumptions. The Hellenistic method strips accidents away from the thing, looking for essences. The Hebraic way of definition adds layer upon layer, looking at the thing from as many different angles as possible, and in as many situations as possible. Peter Leithart talks about this latter way of knowing in his book The Kingdom and the Power, and there is also a section on it in Angels in the Architecture.
This leads to an assumption on the part of the former that once you have a “definition,” it is time to stop, and defend that orthodox definition against all comers. We can see this tendency in the definitions of the visible/invisible Church, or with statements about “outward” Christians and Christians “inwardly.” But I have no trouble with these distinctions, as far as they go. Yes, there are Christians outwardly and Christian inwardly. But I then want to take this matter under discussion and look at it from numerous other directions, trying grasp the whole by means of addition. In contrast, the Hellenistic approach to definition (and I am not using this pejoratively; there is an important place for this kind of definition) seeks to understand by means of subtraction. How much can we take away and still have the thing we are talking about? But the temptation is then to disallow other approaches, approaches that may operate with a different set of descriptive rules. The Hebraic way gives us man worshipping, man playing, man eating, man making love, man working, man sleeping, and man writing poems. The Hellenistic way gives us a featherless, bipedal carbon unit.
For the Hellenistic approach, a true Christian is one who is one inwardly, period, stop. And this is true. But I also want to say that we have inward Christians and outward Christians, faithful Christians and adulterous Christians, temporary Christians and Christians forever, slaves and sons, wheat and tares, sons of Hagar and sons of Sarah, washed pigs and washed lambs, fruitless branches and fruitful branches, Christians who die in the wilderness and Christians who die in Canaan, and so on.
Now if someone of the other party thinks that I am essentially doing the same thing he is doing (that is, picking one and one only out of this list in order to make it the “true” definition), he has every right to be concerned. For example, if we are limited to one, then inward/outward is one of the best metaphors. But it is a metaphor, and needs other metaphors. If I were to isolate “fruitless branches and fruitful branches” to the exclusion of all others, and make it “the definition,” then I have become an Arminian. I think that this is what our critics are worried about. But we are not seeking to substitute; we are seeking to layer.

Doug Wilson