Why I Hate, Detest—Yes, Even Abhor—Libraries

I will make a confession: I hate libraries. Yes, I am a master’s student who has worked in libraries for 6 years; yet I hate them. I don’t hate them for their tranquil silence; for the inconsistent temperature the John Richard Allison library always seems to have; or even for the heretical, destructive, damaging, horrible, and disgusting books that are destroying Christ’s churches. I hate them because of the epistemological skepticism that surges to the surface of my conscious, threatening to submerse me in despair, every time I behold the thousands of volumes related to each topic of study I am presently considering. I am confronted not only with my own inadequacies but with the impossible situation that the present model of academic study presses upon me, my peers, and the future generations that will learn from us. Let me try to explain.

 

The Perpetual motion machine, subject of science fiction and fraud, is perhaps a fitting image of the present trajectory in academic studies. Such a machine is, after all, the source of boundless hope and triumph, yet ultimately a failure and even disaster. The principle of a perpetual motion machine is to have greater energy output than input, allowing such a machine once started to continue forever without stopping. Problems emerge immediately, though, because perfect efficiency is impossible in this world: every operation loses energy in action. Such a machine is thus impossible and an endless source of energy is required to maintain functionality. In the short term, for a regular machine, this is all well and good—unless the energy source runs dry. Despite its impossibility, perpetual motion machines appear here and there in legend and on the internet, but are shown to be hoaxes when their energy source fails.

Academia, in the modern and the post-modern era has, I reckon, set itself up as a perpetual motion machine and, like every other hoax, will sooner or later face the consequences of the second law of thermodynamics. What do I mean? Academia paints a rather utopian vision: as knowledge increases, the bounds of human potential will be explored and surpassed. We will meet some hiccups along the way, of course, but we will perpetually grow in understanding. I believe this ignores, like every perpetual motion machine, the input necessary to continue operations. Contemporary academia presents a situation where the growth in necessary input (individual man hours) for the required output (knowledge) is growing exponentially so that the available stock for input (the sum total of individual and corporately considered man hours) will soon be insufficient, grinding output to a halt (to use a different picture: the bill keeps increasing and the bank account will soon run dry).

 

To show this, we must first consider what I mean by “academia.” By “academia” I mean institutionalized western scholarship—its theory and practice. By institutionalized I mean that scholarship practiced in the school system (of all levels) and its affiliated societies and associations; by western, I limit the scope to the common vision shared by western society (though it spreads abroad); and by scholarship I mean rigorous study in pursuit of knowledge according to institutionalized standards. Academic study is practiced in every possible field, so it is comprehensive in scope, and sets itself to attain either objective (Modernism) or relatively concrete understanding (Post-modernism). The canons of academia demand—even where the possibility of knowledge is denied—rigorous study for the attainment of knowledge. We can summarize a few principles that will help illustrate the inherent dangers in the model:

  1. Ad fontes: one must root claims of knowing in the original sources.
  2. Contextual interpretation: right understanding involves not just knowledge of something, but that something’s contemporary milieu, significance, and historical genesis. Together: all knowledge claims based on secondary experience (i.e., non-empirical) must honor ad fontes to be credible and exhaustive contextual interpretation must be practiced to understand these sources.
  3. Interdisciplinary study: it is not sufficient to exhaust a narrow band of research, but one must factor in the ways in which other fields of study impinge upon the present endeavor.
  4. And contemporaneity: ad fontes alone is not sufficient; to say that one knows an original source, one must be in dialogue with its contemporary and historical interpretation.

 

This does not exhaust “academia” and its standards, but gives enough of a picture to realize the epistemic dilemma. We all need to know something: knowledge lays at the root of our decisions and actions. We cannot practically live without knowledge, and for Christians, knowledge of God and His ways is a vital necessity. The existence and success of the Church depends on knowledge and its availability; in the secular world, the legal system relies on accessible useable knowledge. We need knowledge, yet we are subtly cutting ourselves off from the possibility of knowledge: our proliferation in understanding is leading us ever closer to the edge of skepticism.

We need knowledge, yet knowledge requires the input of finite man hours. At its worst, the above principles lead to academic individualism—I can only work with someone once I have vetted their work on the above principles. Yet even if we allow corporate work (the ability to trust someone’s expertise in an area (though here we have subverted ad fontes), the required input is growing exponentially to the point where it will soon be greater than available input—making access to knowledge impossible. That is, though there is theoretically a finite amount of historical knowledge, archaeology reveals more every day. Thus, the amount of sources necessary in a field grows yearly. Furthermore, the secondary literature, which the principle of contemporaneity requires one to employ, likewise grows every year on the new and old primary sources. To compound this, the secondary literature on this secondary literature grows every year as well. Lastly, the principle of interdisciplinary study means that at every stage, one is also facing the same proliferation in every other field that is necessarily related to one’s own. Thus, a scholar up-to-date in his own field is quickly beyond his capacity. A new scholar has no hope to catch up. This situation is often acknowledged, but the epistemic ramifications are rarely considered.

One popular response is to go hyper-disciplinary—so restrict the field of study that one is not at risk of this exponential explosion in material. Yet doing so violates all the principles of academics that got us in trouble in the first place: one may be a statue of David scholar, but if he do not avail himself of historical, biblical, art philosophical, and history of statue making scholarship, then his observations are hardly worth anything.

Therefore, the problem is, on the current principle of academics, the input required has outgrown the available input; this is already the case, and it will only get worse. Therefore, “knowledge” produced cannot be knowledge according to the original standards: it is deficient, partial, near sighted knowledge. It is, therefore, impossible in this current epistemic milieu to know anything that is considered by academic study–which is literally everything (even self and personal existence). We live in denial of course, but this is a fundamental epistemic inconsistency.

Consider biblical studies: a pastor has maybe 20 hours a week to write a sermon in which he confidently proclaims a passage of Scripture as God’s word with an application. What is involved here? Theology, the study the God of whom he speaks and the Scriptures from which he reads, provides inexhaustible amounts of study; Hermeneutics, thousands of hours in essays and books; homiletical guides, hundreds of hours of study in preaching presentation and sermon formation; psychology, biology, sociology, and culture studies (necessary for application), provide near unto infinite hours of study. Then there is the Scriptures themselves: languages and translation (nigh unto infinite); text criticism (a few hundred hours); commentaries, essays, and monographs (a few hundred hours). This is just a sampling, yet already a pastor’s 20 hours a week have been consumed. Two options are available, on this model of knowledge: preach what he has, knowing that he may very well be wrong (uncertainty which destroys his very task), or give up all together. Or is there another option? If this dilemma is real, then we need to seriously reconsider the epistemic situation presented by contemporary academia.

Faith Comes Through Hearing, and Hearing through the Word of Christ: The Centrality of Scripture in the Early Presbyterian Missions to Korea (1884-1910)

In this paper, I argue that central to the early Presbyterian Missions to Korea (until 1910) was a high doctrine of Scripture. The stuanch biblicism of these missionaries and the church they founded was one of the defining characteristics, if not the defining characteristic, of Korean Presbyterian Church at this time.

 

You can read or download it here.

Thoughts on Hebrew Poetry

Hebrew poetry, like Hebrew prose, is holographic: it revisits the same idea from different perspectives to communicate the whole picture–this is a feature that makes terseness possible. Its manifestation in poetry is the structural priority of parallelism, in all its various forms. That is, Hebrew poetry achieves a poetic rhythm through a multi-layered paralelism of lines, words, grammar, syntax, and sounds. It introduces ambiguity with terse lines which is disambiugated by the following lines and greater structures (e.g., inclusio, chiasm). “Parallelism, then, consists of a network of equivalences and/or contrast involving many aspects and levels of langauge. Moreover, by means of these linguistic equivalences and contrasts, parallelism calls attention to itself and to the message which it bears” (Berlin, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, 141). Lines that follow clarify, emphasize, and build upon preceding lines to, together, achieve multi-dimensional literary communication, to paint a 3D picture. The preponderance of lexical/semantic parallelism in Hebrew poetry is a gift from God enabling effective translation of Hebrew poetry in to receptor languages.

Parallelism occurs on level of the line, between lines (colon), and macro level (strophe, stanza). Line-level parallelisms involve the correspondence and contrast of morphology, lexica, sounds, and syntactic positions. Hebrew poetry, on this level, employs assonacnce (instead of rhyme), root-based and phonetic word play, syntactical shuffling (often Chiasmus), and the alternation of verbal forms. On the level of the colon, Hebrew poetry is often juxtaposed (asyndeton), with less coordination than prose, yet at times has more subordination (especially the use of כי  ki) than either English poetry or Hebrew prose. At the macro level, the strophe and stanza is mainly used for progression (1 –> 2 –> 3: e.g., Deut 32) or holographic description (1a – 1b – 1c: Hab. 3 [here there is also progression, but the emphasis is on the multiperspectival presentation of a single event (he, you, me), Yahweh’s salvific act through Chaldea]). Because there is infinite potential for parallel relationships, understanding Hebrew poetry is not contingent on the production of a taxonomy of possible relations and uses but learning the ground rules, understanding what Hebrew poetry does, and being alert for these features as you read.

Prevenient Grace Book Description

If a plant grows with shallow roots, the storms of a season will wither away and uproot it; like a house built on sand, a poor foundation will doom its fate. But this isn’t a book on botany, nor on architecture; foundations, good roots, are essential to thought structures as well as material structures. In theology, a bad foundation will produce results as catastrophic as bad roots or shifting sand. How we think about God and His work in the world will profoundly affect how we live and work out our Christian faith. This book evolved from the conviction that a prominent theological system rests on a fragile foundation. It is written as a small contribution towards refounding our understanding of God’s relationship with the world and our salvation on His Word.

The theology in question is Arminianism; the foundation is prevenient grace. Deep within Evangelical Arminianism lies the essential doctrine that God has acted in the life of all human beings, giving them enabling grace enough to respond or reject His offer of salvation. The contention of this book is that this doctrine has no biblical grounds and is rationally unfounded and that Arminianism itself stands or falls on this doctrine.

 

In order to establish the necessary groundwork for analyzing prevenient grace, I present in the first chapter a biblical theology and then systematic synthesis of the doctrine of total depravity. Then, after defining the doctrine of prevenient grace in Chapter 2, I consider every available argument in favour of prevenient grace, beginning with the biblical texts used to defend it in Chapter 3 and then the philosophical and theological arguments in Chapters 4 and 5. With the arguments for the doctrine considered, I then present theological, philosophical, and biblical arguments against the doctrine in Chapters 6-8. The weight of this offensive critique lies in the presentation of the case for the doctrines of unconditional election and the effectual call in Chapters 7 & 8.

 

The desired audience for the book is undergraduate students, lay theologians, and pastors, but the argument and analysis within will make it useful to the graduate student and scholar. To make it accessible to those just entering the debate over God’s sovereignty in salvation, frequent use is made of in-text and footnote definitions for technical terms, with a glossary of all obscure terms in the appendices.

 

Prevenient Grace is available on paperback or kindle through Amazon.

Book Published!

For a while I have been posting content from various book projects I have been working on; finally, by God’s grace, the first if finished and available for purchase! Prevenient Grace: An Investigation into Arminianism is now available through my create space page (https://www.createspace.com/5777742), amazon.com–soon international amazon sites–and will be available in the next 24 hours on kindle. For a preview of its contents, see the page https://allforthegloryofhiskingdom.wordpress.com/publishing?iframe=true&theme_preview=true