Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ron Frost on THE fault-line in Christianity

Dr. Ron Frost (Cor Deo Mentor) spent Monday with my team.
Here are the first two of four sessions for your listening. 

1. Ron's Story (43mins). If you listen to this and it doesn't inspire you then you might not be alive... The story includes an introduction to his approach to Bible reading which he expands on in his book Discover the Power of the Bible.

2. The Faultline. (63mins) In the next session Ron continues his story but turns to Richard Sibbes who led him to uncover a fault-line at the heart of the story of the church, between those who think our problem is law breaking answered by law keeping, and those who think our problem is self-love remedied by receiving the love of Christ. This is the key debate between Augustine and Pelagius, the real issue for Luther at the Reformation as he contended against scholasticism, and the issue that divided the Puritans (Sibbes and John Cotton vs. William Perkins and others)... and the debate is alive and well today. In the final sessions he develops the issue further from his PhD Dissertation from Kings College London (Richard Sibbes’ Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology).


  1. hey bish. thanks for posting these, we (I) must get better at recording staff stuff in london. We just had a quite an unique day with Chris Wright, but my phone was out of juice so couldn’t record it. Still not sent you through Pete Lowman's stuff for that matter. I'll get onto that.

    When Ron came & did this stuff with us, I absolutely loved it, particularly on original sin - not a sexually transmitted disease, but being born apart from the spirit; so the miracle of the incarnation is not even so much the lack of sex (augustine?) but that "the holy spirit will come upon you" (i note charismatics are way more ready to say that our problem is we perish without the spirit - better hermatology -> more appealing evangelism?). Also makes sense of Christ crucified in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…raised imperishable by the spirit of life…even he who now dwells in our mortal bodies, whose love is as strong as death, as unyielding as the grave. So please hear me - I'm a BIG fan of Ron, Peter, Mike, Sibbesy, Glen, all y'all, & I'm loving this conversation. But I want to flag up a small but real concern with the Aristotle bashing (who said “let’s be fair to dead guys”?).

    Now, it may have been that he had a lot of material to get through but when questioned on it Ron didn’t seem to know much of Aristotle's ethics himself. He just knew it was "outside in righteousness". I'd suggest there's actually a lot right with Aristotle - in his ethics, in his politics. (I'd be interested for instance how a conversation with Mike Ramsden would go on Aristotle - he uses Aristotle a ton, but is one of the most affective preachers of the gospel I've ever heard). I'd suggest, for instance, that Luther would thoroughly agree with Aristotle that ethics is not about duties, but virtue: so the good act, what we should do is what the good person would do. I think that's spot on, and indeed isn't it precisely what Luther himself says about good works being 'fitting' to Adam/bishops/christ/brides/queens... wearing crowns doesn't make you royal, it just makes you look like you're playing fancy dress; but once you're royal, the crown & robes entirely befit your status. I'd suggest where they'd disagree is not the analysis of virtue but the order & means of transformation: that you become essentially (ie in essence) virtuous by performing the actions that a good person would do. I.e. by pretending to be what you are not (cf. Vanhoozer on play-acting). That’s the problem, not his analysis of ethics per se. I'm aware I'm dangerously close to the liberal catholic lux mundi position here, that aristotle was as the law to the Jews, a fitting preparation for Christ. I dont believe that, but I dont know what else to say.

    I know you're not saying this, but I'd beware a trend simply to set up the gospel in contrast to Aristotle. "If we define ourselves purely in reaction we'll always end up wrong" (Packer). Luther wasn’t the only one who was against Aristotle; another was Nietzsche. Alasdair MacIntyre (albeit a Roman Catholic) says "ethics will ultimately be a choice between nietzsche & Aristotle…which is why the enlightenment project had to fail". Of course we have something to say there – it's a bit like saying ethics is a choice between law & lawlessness! The glad news of grace is entirely alternative, but doesn’t it fulfil both law & lawlessness? Neither Aristotle nor Nietzsche knew anything of grace, but in the spirit of Mr Westphal, I suggest we should see both of them as 'theologians of original sin'. But of course, I fear I may be wrong.

  2. the Vanhoozer link didnt work for some reason. It's this: Vanhoozer on play-acting

  3. Dear Dave Bish, thanks for posting this. im comparing aristotle's view of gender + theology to luther's and this is great stuff. :) p.s. i still wonder about what this has to do with blue fish.

  4. Chris: I suspect having followed a trail from Reeves (especially on Luther) to Sibbes to Frost to McKnight... my next step probably needs to be Aristotles Ethics and Aquinas Summa Theologica...

    Luther's objection is my main reference point on that, where he says that it's the enemy of grace. Aristotle may get the blame but I guess Aquinas is as much the target...

    To the sources is the way!

  5. @Denise.

    The blog here dates back to 2003 as a blog, but it was my personal website before that... but originally in 1998 it was the Bath CU evangelistic website which was first called "Making Sense" (which had a brown background and an orange fish logo).
    We couldn't decide whether to run Discovering Christianity or Alpha so we wrote our own coursecalled "Without Limits" (with a white background and a blue version of the fish logo). I was the web/publicity guy.
    We ran the course once and then dropped it. We kept the website, renamed as The Blue Fish Project after the design and the film The Blair Witch Project which had been out at the time.
    Never any connection to my name...