George Marsden delivers the Current Read lecture at Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando, FL) in November of 2014, based on his book, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief (Basic Books, 2014).
George Marsden delivers the Current Read lecture at Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando, FL) in November of 2014, based on his book, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief (Basic Books, 2014).
Guy-Uriel Charles (professor of law at Duke University) calls Michael Paulsen (distinguished university chair and professor of law at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis) ”one of the most brilliant, respected constitutional scholars of our era.”
Charles judges that The Constitution: An Introduction, Paulsen’s new book co-authored with his son and just published by Basic Books, is “perhaps the best, single-volume treatment of the Constitution ever written.”
Steven G. Calabresi, professor of law at Northwestern University, says it’s “the most readable and insightful introduction to the U.S. Constitution since . . . 1840. This book is a must read for anyone trying to learn about the U.S. Constitution.”
Akhil Reed Amar, professor of law and political science at Yale University, calls it “quite simply the best general short introduction to the Constitution ever written.”
Stephen Presser, professor of legal history at Northwestern University, says it is “the best introduction to the United States Constitution available. ”
John Copeland Nagle, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, says ”This is the one book that I recommend to anyone who wants a comprehensive and enjoyable overview of the Constitution, what it means, and why it matters.”
High praise indeed.
In a recent two-part article for Public Discourse (an indispensable online journal about religion, law, and liberty), Dr. Paulsen offers us a crash course—part 1 and part 2—on the real questions about constitutional interpretation that you need to know.
“Ninety-five percent of constitutional law,” he writes, “amounts to deciding how to go about the enterprise of reading and applying the Constitution itself.” He identifies five broad categories of interpretive techniques that courts and commentators employ. Below is an outline of his main points.
1. Arguments from the Straightforward, Natural, Original Linguistic Meaning of the Text
“The Constitution is a written document, written at a particular time, addressed to a particular political community, reflecting certain assumptions, and designed to function as supreme written law on an ongoing basis. The simplest, most straightforward, and most correct way to interpret the Constitution is to read the words and phrases of the document and apply them in accordance with the meaning the words would have had to reasonably informed readers and speakers of the English language at the time the document was adopted.”
2. Arguments from the Structure, Logic, and Relationships Created by the Document as a Whole
“This is really just a slightly more sophisticated or specialized version of reading the text. It simply posits that you should read the whole text, understand the relationship of parts of the text to each other, and attend to the governing structures the document creates.”
3. Arguments from the History, Original Intention, or Purposes behind an Enacted Text
“This technique recognizes that sometimes the text’s meaning is unclear and that evidence of historical understanding can help clear up disagreements. A good constitutional interpreter, however, should recognize that ‘intention’ best functions as evidence of the meaning of the words, not as a substitute for them. Because we have a written constitution, what ultimately counts is the historical meaning of the words the Constitution’s adopters used, not what they necessarily ‘had in mind.'”
4. Arguments from Precedent
“This gives rise to incredible confusion, for the simple reason that the precedents hopelessly contradict one another and frequently contradict the document itself. The problem with many bad Constitutional Law courses is that they are all about the precedents, and not at all about the Constitution. The short answer to the problem of precedent is that some precedents are sound—helpful interpretations of the Constitution that can help resolve doubtful points—and other precedents are unsound, unhelpful misinterpretations of the Constitution’s text, structure, and history. That’s really all there is to it. The sound precedents are useful guides; the unsound ones should be regarded as having no authority or validity whatsoever.”
5. Arguments from Policy, Pragmatism, or Considerations of “Substantive Justice”
“As a technique of constitutional interpretation—of actual textual exegesis—of trying faithfully to ascertain the meanings of the Constitution’s words—policy-driven “interpretation” is, of course, completely illegitimate. . . . Moreover, what one person thinks is good “substantive justice,” another will think a wrongheaded atrocity. . . . Did it ever occur to you that policy differences not actually addressed by the Constitution are to be resolved by democracy—by the institutions of representative government?”
How Do These Principles Fit Together?
Here is Paulsen’s exhortation:
Use these techniques in the order in which I have listed them, in a fairly strict hierarchy, proceeding down the list only to resolve uncertainties that remain at any given level, and never getting down so low as “policy.” Thus, text and structure have priority and primacy; evidence of intention has its limited place; precedent is dangerous and slippery and should never trump the written constitutional text, but might be useful for seeing what someone else has thought about an issue; and policy-driven interpretation is simply a bad joke.
Sadly, this is nearly the exact opposite of the order in which the modern Supreme Court uses these methods. The justices frequently start with policy, discuss endless precedents, and on rare occasions—when these prove unsatisfying—actually get to the text.
Finally, Paulsen addresses two clean-up issues.
Who Gets to Interpret the Constitution?
The wrong answer is “the Supreme Court.”
The right answer is that the Constitution does not specify a single authoritative constitutional interpreter, and that this is a singular, defining feature of its text and structure. . . . The correct answer to the question of who gets to interpret the Constitution is “everyone.” The framers of the Constitution quite sensibly considered the power of constitutional interpretation—the power to interpret all the other powers, and all the rights of the people—to be far too important a matter to vest in a single set of hands.
What Do We Do with Ambiguity?
Where the Constitution does not supply an answer, the Constitution does not supply an answer, and We the People get to do what we want, operating through the institutions of representative government created by the Constitution’s structure.
Duane Litfin writes that the slogan “All truth is God’s truth” became popular because it “encapsulated a set of convictions that are vital for the Christian’s intellectual task. These ideas lie embedded in the sloan as entailments, necessary implications. To embrace the slogan was to embrace these implications. My purpose here is to surface these entailments so that, even if we may allow an overworked catchphrase to rest in peace, we will not lose the truths it was designed to express.”
Here is his outline:
—Duane Litfin, Conceiving the Christian College (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 86-95.
If a football coach were making his player run wind sprints in a particularly hard practice, no one would upbraid him for making his players run from the thirty-yard line to the forty-yard line and then, mindlessly, pointlessly, back again. If he were confronted, he would point out that the issue was discipline and not the particular piece of ground the players were covering. In fact the ground covered in the subsequent game is not important in itself either but is related to a higher end.
We tend to think of our students’ minds as finite shoeboxes, and we then think we must take special care not to put anything in there if we do not want it to remain there for life. But the brain is more like a muscle. A student who learns one language, such as Latin, is not stuck with his shoebox three-quarters full, with no room for Spanish. Rather the student has a mind that has been stretched and exercised in such a way that subsequent learning is much easier, not much harder.
Now of course this kind of mental discipline could be acquired by requiring of the students the intellectual equivalent of running back and forth. While a football coach might be able to get away with this, because everyone understands the point, we should not attempt it in the classroom—although mental wind sprints that had no point in themselves would still be better than simple laziness. The reason this approach would not work in the classroom is that the human mind is inescapably teleological; it wants to know why it is learning something. Latin has the advantage of providing the grist for the mill of the mind, while also providing great practical advantages. To return to our metaphor of football, the study of Latin is therefore simultaneously an exercise to prepare for the game and part of the game.”
—Douglas Wilson, The Case for Classical Christian Education (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 140-141.
Update: A comment from reader Ben Wheaton:
I disagree. Any language will have the same mental benefits as Latin. So why learn, as a primary part of the curriculum, a dead language, when living languages like Spanish and French not only have the same effects, but also are useful in the modern world to communicate with others?
By all means, learn more than one language; by all means, even, learn Latin–but don’t start with it. And don’t elevate it above modern languages as somehow superior. It isn’t.
I am currently engaged in completing a graduate degree in Medieval History. During the course of my research, I had to read a number of articles in Italian. I never learned Italian formally, but I can manage pretty well because I know French and Latin. But you know what? French was immeasurably more useful than Latin in understanding Italian, because French and Italian are much more similar to each other than Latin is to either of them. Neither are inflected; Latin is. Both depend on word order for meaning; Latin generally doesn’t. Do you want to learn Spanish? Learn Spanish. Then, if you’re up for it, learn French (Spanish is a wonderful base for learning French). Then, if you’re up for an ancient language, why not Greek? Or Hebrew? Or, for something exotic, Malay?
Of course, for most people, learning just one other language is plenty; even then, most English-speakers forget their foreign language training. Why? Because English is the international language.
I’ll close this little rant with a wonderful quote from (who else?) Winston Churchill:
[B]y being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that. But I was taught English. We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. Mr. Somervell—a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great—was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing—namely, to write mere English. He knew how to do it. He taught it as no one else has ever taught it. Not only did we learn English parsing thoroughly, but we also practised continually English analysis. . . Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence — which is a noble thing. And when in after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had to come down again to common English, to earn their living or make their way, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage. Naturally I am biased in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for would be not knowing English. I would whip them hard for that.
It is certainly the case that in the Old Testament, sacred times, places, objects and actions are inextricably part of the revelation, and foundational to life with God. It is important to remember that these times, places, objects, people, and actions express the covenant relationship between the Lord and his people. They are expressions of covenant holiness: they are sacred because they are aspects of the covenant.
The moral dimension of sacredness in the Old Testament means that when God’s people turn away from him, the sacred things have no positive value and indeed become a snare. The danger is to turn away from God, but to continue to trust in the sacred times, places, objects, people or actions when these things no longer express covenant relationship with God…
There are two major sins in the Old Testament, both of which have to do with the use of sacred objects, places, times and people.
One sin is to follow other gods, to trust their prophets, to engage in their worship, to worship their idols and to trust in them and serve them.
The other sin is to use the sacred objects, places, times and people given by God, but to turn away from God, whose covenant they represent.
The first sin is that of idolatry, and the second that of false security, holding the form but not the power of godliness.
—Peter Adam, Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality, New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. D. A. Carson (Apollos/IVP, 2004), 152.
Here is Albert Mohler’s list for Preaching Magazine. (I’ll update the post if the article appears online.)
John Jefferson Davis:
Christ is in fact present to the believer and to the church in a threefold way, despite the fact that Christ’s glorified, molecular body is not present on earth but is now invisible in heaven.
Christ is really within the believer by the Holy Spirit, who extends Christ’s self and presence into the believer’s heart (“Christ in you, the hope of glory” [Col 1:27]);
Christ is really among the believing assembly gathered as a church in worship, by virtue of his name and Spirit (1 Cor 5:4; the name and Spirit as extensions of Christ’s self);
and the believer is really present to the heavenly, ascended Christ, being seated with Christ in heavenly realms (Eph 2:6)—the Spirit connecting the believer with Christ and extending the believer’s spirit and self to Christ’s self (1 Cor 6:17).
The Holy Spirit connects us with Christ and lifts us into the presence of the ascended Lord, with whom we are in union from the time of our conversion, being incorporated into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13), who continues to abide in us as an ontological reality.
Davis adds in a footnote:
Christ as to his molecular body is located in heaven, but Christ’s extended self, as extended by means of his name (1 Cor 5:4; his Skype icon) and Spirit, is also simultaneously and really located in the midst of the worshiping assembly, and also within the heart of the believer:
Christ above us, in heaven;
Christ among us, in worship;
Christ within us in the heart, by his Spirit and promise.
—John Jefferson Davis, Meditation and Communion with God: Contemplating Scripture in an Age of Distraction (IVP, 2012), 114.
From Donald S. Whitney’s excellent book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (NavPress, 2014), 56-68.
Meditation is not folding your arms, leaning back in your chair, and staring at the ceiling. That’s daydreaming, not meditation. Daydreaming isn’t always a waste of time; it can be a much-needed, well-deserved respite for the mind as important as relaxation often is for the body. Our gracious Father is not always goading us to “produce,” and, as I’ve written elsewhere, it is possible to daydream, to “Do Nothing—and Do It to the Glory of God.”
As opposed to daydreaming wherein you let your mind wander, with meditation you focus your thoughts. You give your attention to the verse, phrase, word, or teaching of Scripture you have chosen. Instead of mental aimlessness, in meditation your mind is on a track—it’s going somewhere; it has direction. The direction your mind takes is determined by the method of meditation you choose.
Here are seventeen methods of meditating on Scripture. I use all of them some of the time and none of them all the time. Why do I present so many? Because you’ll likely resonate with some of these methods more than others, while the inclinations of someone else might be just the opposite of yours. And like me, you’ll probably want some variety.
Here are the methods he presents. See the book for an explanation of each.
Russell Moore, citing the Pew Center’s report on America’s Changing Religious Landscape, observes that “the number of Americans who identify as Christians has reached an all-time low, and is falling. I think this is perhaps bad news for America, but it is good news for the church.”
Bible Belt near-Christianity is teetering. I say let it fall. For much of the twentieth century, especially in the South and parts of the Midwest, one had to at least claim to be a Christian to be “normal.” During the Cold War, that meant distinguishing oneself from atheistic Communism. At other times, it has meant seeing churchgoing as a way to be seen as a good parent, a good neighbor, and a regular person. It took courage to be an atheist, because explicit unbelief meant social marginalization. Rising rates of secularization, along with individualism, means that those days are over—and good riddance to them.
Again, this means some bad things for the American social compact. In the Bible Belt of, say, the 1940s, there were people who didn’t, for example, divorce, even though they wanted out of their marriages. In many of these cases, the motive wasn’t obedience to Jesus’ command on marriage but instead because they knew that a divorce would marginalize them from their communities. In that sense, their “traditional family values” were motivated by the same thing that motivated the religious leaders who rejected Jesus—fear of being “put out of the synagogue.” Now, to be sure, that kept some children in intact families. But that’s hardly revival.
Secularization in America means that we have fewer incognito atheists. Those who don’t believe can say so—and still find spouses, get jobs, volunteer with the PTA, and even run for office. This is good news because the kind of “Christianity” that is a means to an end—even if that end is “traditional family values”—is what J. Gresham Machen rightly called “liberalism,” and it is an entirely different religion from the apostolic faith handed down by Jesus Christ.
Read the whole thing here.
My dear friends,
By now, you’ve heard that I am engaged to be married. I understand that you may be in a state of shock at this news. Based on the response of some who have learned about this development in recent weeks, they may sooner have expected the earth and the sun to collide!
Well, no one could have been more caught off guard by this turn of events than I. In recent years, I have found myself in the most settled, contented, healthy, fruitful place of life and ministry ever. I did not have the slightest inkling that He was about to call me to step out into a whole new realm of faith and service.
Enter the God of love, mystery, and surprises!
In the days ahead, I am eager to share that story with you, my beloved friends and partners in ministry. Here’s a bit of background and update for starters . . .
You can read the whole thing here, including a video message from Nancy.
Amen to John Piper’s words:
The news of Nancy DeMoss and Robert Wolgemuth’s engagement is like hearing that a veteran, highly skilled mountain climbing guide (Nancy) is about to switch to tandem hang gliding over the Rockies. Nancy has given thousands the best glimpses from the highest peaks of singleness. Now she will see it all from a different angle. I am eager to hear the reports (so are thousands).
From Bill Watterson’s commencement address—“Some Thoughts on the Real World by One Who Glimpsed It and Fled“—delivered at Kenyon College, Gambier Ohio, on May 20, 1990.
If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood. I’ve found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness.
We’re not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery-it recharges by running.
You may be surprised to find how quickly daily routine and the demands of “just getting by”: absorb your waking hours. You may be surprised matters of habit rather than thought and inquiry. You may be surprised to find how quickly you start to see your life in terms of other people’s expectations rather than issues. You may be surprised to find out how quickly reading a good book sounds like a luxury.
At school, new ideas are thrust at you every day. Out in the world, you’ll have to find the inner motivation to search for new ideas on your own. With any luck at all, you’ll never need to take an idea and squeeze a punchline out of it, but as bright, creative people, you’ll be called upon to generate ideas and solutions all your lives. Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.
For me, it’s been liberating to put myself in the mind of a fictitious six year-old each day, and rediscover my own curiosity. I’ve been amazed at how one ideas leads to others if I allow my mind to play and wander. I know a lot about dinosaurs now, and the information has helped me out of quite a few deadlines.
A playful mind is inquisitive, and learning is fun. If you indulge your natural curiosity and retain a sense of fun in new experience, I think you’ll find it functions as a sort of shock absorber for the bumpy road ahead.
Peter Adam, seeking to show that the shape of Evangelical and Reformed spirituality corresponds to revelation, both in content and in form:
—Peter Adam, Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality, New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. D. A. Carson (Apollos/IVP, 2004), 39-40.
My FAQ summary of J. Budziszewski, “The Roots of Law,” Religion and Liberty 11 (September-October 2001): 8-10.
What is the root of the enacted law?
The moral law.
What is the root of the moral law?
The design of the created order.
What is the root of the created order?
What is the enacted law severed from the moral law?
What is ethics severed from the moral law?
What is the creation severed from the Creator?
John Updike, who reviewed “nearly every major writer of the 20th century and some 19th-century authors,” once offered some guidance on book reviews in the foreword to his 1975 collection of essays, Picked-Up Pieces:
1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.
2. Give him enough direct quotation—at least one extended passage—of the book’s prose so the review’s reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.
3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.
4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants’ revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)
5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author’s ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it’s his and not yours?
To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser.
Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like.
Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind.
Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author “in his place,” making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers.
Review the book, not the reputation.
Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast.
Better to praise and share than blame and ban.
The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.
A conversation with Collin Hansen about his provocative and practical new book, Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church (foreword by Tim Keller):