30 August 2006

Westminster Wednesday: Election Is Not a Cause for Carelessness

Iain Murray brings up an objection that is commonly given to the doctrine of election: If God chooses persons to grace without consideration of their faith and good works and infallibly brings his chosen to eternal bliss, is not then the doctrine of election a cause for carelessness? The Puritans, according to Murray, answer with a resounding “No!”

God has not only ordained the persons who shall be saved, but He also ordained the means—namely faith, sanctification, and holiness. Now the only way any soul may know God’s secret will, namely his election, is by so diligently applying himself to the means of grace and striving after holiness. Only by obedience to the duties of God’s revealed will may anyone know his election. “As Dr. Preston says, if a man does not use those means that may evidence to his soul that he is elected, it is an argument he is not elected. If thou say, if God hath determined it, he will save me, whether I am holy or profane, and therefore I will never hear sermon, never pray in my family, never use holy duties; says Preston, if thou neglect these means, it as an argument thou art not elected…At that very instant wherein God did decree or determine to bring a man to life, at that very instant God did decree that that man would be holy before he died; he shall use all holy and sanctified means conducible to his salvation. Romans 8:29. Whome he did predestinate, them he did predestinate to be conformable to the image of his Son” (Christopher Love, Treatise on Calling & Election, pp. 197–98). So that rather than making men careless nothing could make men more serious and earnest than this doctrine (“The Puritans and the Doctrine of Election,” The Puritan Papers, vol. 1, p. 12).

28 August 2006

Niebuhr’s Presuppositions 2

No Last Judgment?As we discovered Friday, Niebuhr could have been classified as a liberal Trinitarian and a postmillennial universalist. Because I am a firm believer in the Kabbalahic mystery number, 320, I was only able to address his liberal (modernistic) view of Scripture.

By Trinitarian, I mean that Niebuhr would have agreed that, in some sense, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both God and distinct persons from the Father. This relationship was significant for Niebuhr because, if Jesus and God the Father are eternally related to each other as God, then the demands of Christ and the demands of the Creator cannot be in ultimate conflict. For instance, Christ’s command to hate father and mother (Luke 14:26) must be in some way compatible with God’s command to honor father and mother (Exod 20:12) because the Son cannot be in ultimate conflict with the Father.

Niebuhr’s postmillennialism was made clear in his preference for the “Christ Transforming Culture” viewpoint. He believed that Christ’s teachings would eventually prevail in every individual life and in all societies worldwide. Niebuhr claimed Augustine and Calvin as early proponents of his own view, but he faulted them for not taking their philosophy of history far enough. This criticism is where his universalism came into full view. Niebuhr saw Christ transforming all of culture, not through eschatological judgment and establishment of a just kingdom, but through gradual diminution of evil in every person (human and angelic) and in every society. Any judgment is interpreted as remedial, not as penal.

This is not to say Niebuhr did not acknowledge human depravity. He was sympathetic with Calvin and Augustine’s understanding of depravity, but his view of the solution to that problem sharply opposed their own. Eternal punishment was the just solution in Augustine’s and Calvin’s understanding (as much as in Luther’s), but Niebuhr was not satisfied with this solution. Only transformation would do.

25 August 2006

Niebuhr’s Presuppositions 1

“How should a Christian view his obligations to society?” As I said before, we are going to use the seminal work of Richard Niebuhr, The Cross of Christ. Niebuhr’s five classifications are exceptionally valuable for understanding the different ways the church has typically understood its obligation to culture. However, substantially harmful presuppositions often colored Niebuhr’s analysis of church history.

So I’ll get to a description of Niebuhr’s five historical types very soon, but first it will be helpful to understand something of Niebuhr’s background. To state it briefly, Niebuhr is a liberal Trinitarian, and a postmillennial universalist. But I’ll only get to the “liberal” part today.

As far as the Scriptures are concerned, Niebuhr evidently took a basically liberal stance. Instead of submitting to the authoritative truth claims of the Scriptures, Niebuhr believes each author of Scripture was communicating merely his own understanding of his relationship with God or Christ. He does not understand each author to have communicated God’s truth infallibly. This assumption is nowhere more obvious than when Niebuhr places the different authors of Scripture into different historical categories: each contradicting the others. The idea of a revealed, inerrant, coherent book the very words and authority of which originated in the mind of God himself is out of the question.

As a result of his low view of Scripture, Niebuhr lacks attention to how the various groups understood the Scriptures as a whole. He focuses narrowly on the commands of Jesus as they relate to culture, but he does not adequately treat their view of the authority of the Scriptures as a whole. If he would have taken this category into more thorough consideration, he may have placed Luther and Calvin in closer relation to each other, and he would have placed himself in a camp separate from each of them.

23 August 2006

Westminster Wednesday: Election Is in Relation to Christ

Iain Murray won the honor of having his essay on election first in a collection of essays on Puritans. In quoting Thomas Goodwin at length, he highlights the precious link between the doctrine of election and the gospel itself.

Election is in relation to Christ. Now this truth lay at the very heart of their doctrine of election and determined every other part of gospel truth. God, says the apostle Paul, “hath chosen us in Him [in Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). “His first choice of us was a founding us on Christ,” comments Goodwin on this verse, “and in and together with choosing us, a setting us into him, so as then to be represented by him. So that now we are to run the same fortune, if I may so spek, with Christ himself for ever, our persons being made mystically one with his, and he a Common Person to us in election. Other men, as likewise the angels that fell, were ordained to be in themselves,—to stand or fall by themselves…But we were considered in Christ from the first, and therefore, though we fall, we shall rise again in him and by him for he is a Common Person for us, and to stand for us, and is for ever to look to us, to bring us to all that God ordained us unto and so this foundation remains sure. We are chosen in Christ, and therefore are in as sure a condition, as for final perishing, as Christ himself…Remember election is unto this great privilege, to be in Christ, and one with him (of all the highest, and fundamental to all other)” (Goodwin’s Works, 1:76–77, Nichols).

It is not until we understand this point that we will see why the Puritans regarded a denial of the doctrine of election as an overthrow of the whole nature of the gospel. The great glory of the New Covenant is that God should carry out both His part and ours, and He does this by committing the elect to the care of Christ, by whom they are given all saving graces. (Iain Murray, Puritan Papers, vol. 1, pp 8–9).

21 August 2006

The One Book Meme

Gaah! Bothersome memes--I've been tagged. Book links provided in association with Amazon.

1. One book that changed your life: Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper (my first Piper book)

2. One book that you've read more than once: Pleasures of God, John Piper

3. One book you'd want on a desert island: The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Is it ok if I bring both volumes and a magnifying glass?)

4. One book that made you laugh: Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

5. One book that made you cry: The Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien

6. One book you wish had been written: Why I Became a Baptist, John Calvin--I suppose that would have been about as likely as Why I Became a Dispensationalist, Greg L. Bahnsen. *sigh*

7. One book you wish had never been written: What Love is This?, Dave Hunt.

8. One book you're currently reading: A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

9. One book you've been meaning to read: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J. K. Rowling

10. Tag 5 others: Kevin, JMC and the Crew, Mo, Jay, and Peter.

17 August 2006

I'm On Vacation; Limited Internet Access

That is all.

11 August 2006

How Not to Do Exegesis

I saw this on AWAD and thought of you. Unfortunately, far too many conservative Christians think that this is the way to discern biblically God's will for their lives.

bibliomancy (BIB-lee-o-man-see) noun

Divination by interpreting a passage picked at random from a book, especially from a religious book such as the Bible. [From Greek biblio- (book) + -mancy (divination).]

If you are having a hard time deciding between turning groupie and following your favorite band around or to stay put in your accounting job, help is at hand. Try bibliomancy. Here's the step-by-step method:

1. Pick a book you trust a lot.
2. Put it on its spine, and let it fall open.
3. With your eyes closed, trace your finger to a passage.
4. Interpret the passage as your lifemap to the future.

You could even add more randomness to the process. To do that at the macro level, visit a library and pick a book at random from the shelves. At the micro level, instead of interpreting a passage, pick a single word and let it point you to your path.

09 August 2006

Westminster Wednesday: Concerning the Sabbath

Isn't every day the Lord's?Something I have been meaning to comment on regarding the Westminster Confession is the prescription of Sabbath observance:

WCF 21.8 This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
Evidently, the English Puritans held this understanding in opposition to the European Reformed tradition. For instance, Calvin's Geneva Catechism sings a slightly a different tune:
168. Does He thus forbid us all work one day a week?
This commandment has a particular reason, for the observance of rest is part of the ceremonies of the ancient Law, which was abolished at the coming of Jesus Christ. (See the rest of this section of the catechism here.)

My own understanding of the relationship between the Law and the believer differs in some ways from Calvin's, but on this point I am much closer to agreeing with Calvin than with the English Puritans.

03 August 2006

Pure Fallacy

I received this in my email box today. I have not researched this issue, nor do I intend to, but this seemed to me like blatant propaganda to unreasoning readers. It seems like a good example of how not to win a debate. It is targeted to eBay customers from the eBay CEO.

As you know, I almost never reach out to you personally with a request to get involved in a debate in the U.S. Congress. However, today I feel I must.

Right now, the telephone and cable companies in control of Internet access are trying to use their enormous political muscle to dramatically change the Internet. It might be hard to believe, but lawmakers in Washington are seriously debating whether consumers should be free to use the Internet as they want in the future.

Join me by clicking here -- http://www.ebaymainstreet.com/netneutrality -- to send a message to your representatives in Congress.

The phone and cable companies now control more than 95% of all Internet access. These large corporations are spending millions of dollars to promote legislation that would allow them to divide the Internet into a two-tiered system.

The top tier would be a "Pay-to-Play" high-speed toll-road restricted to only the largest companies that can afford to pay high fees for preferential access to the Net.

The bottom tier -- the slow lane -- would be what is left for everyone else. If the fast lane is the information "super-highway," the slow lane will operate more like a dirt road.

Today's Internet is an incredible open marketplace for goods, services, information and ideas. We can't give that up. A two-lane system will restrict innovation because start-ups and small companies -- the companies that can't afford the high fees -- will be unable to succeed, and we'll lose out on the jobs, creativity and inspiration that come with them.

The power belongs with Internet users, not the big phone and cable companies. Let's use that power to send as many messages as possible to our elected officials in Washington. Please join me by clicking here right now to send a message to your representatives in Congress before it is too late. You can make the difference.

Thank you for reading this note. I hope you'll make your voice heard today.

I have little interest in either the success of eBay or the success of cable and phone companies. Here's my beef:

(1) It uses ad hominem argumentation. "Big...companies" and "large corporations" need not be a term of slander, but it certainly carries bad connotations in this letter. Interestingly the ad hominem assumes that big companies are inherently bad and the enemy of the consumer.

(2) It makes no attempt to present the reasoning behind the other side of the issue in a way that the other side would agree with. Doesn't somebody's child depend on the money mommy makes at the phone company? Doesn't somebody want to put their kid through school on hard-earned money made at the phone company? No, of course not. They're all greedy scoundrels.

(3) It makes no attempt to make eBay's motives clear. Apparently the phone companies are greedy scoundrels, and eBay is our best friend looking out solely for our interests. Who knew? Why don't they "reach out to [me] personally" a little more often, if we're such good friends?

(4) It makes no attempt to explain in numerical or even practical terms the differences between the two services. It only serves to incite disdain for large companies who are forcing the reader onto a "dirt road" while they ride happily on the "super highway." Rhetoric like this may have its place in argumentation, but it must be grounded in stated facts. Otherwise it is simply loaded language.

(5) It makes way too many assumptions. (a) The letter assumes, without argumentation, that it is not the right of phone and cable service providers to provide services as they please for their own prosperity as companies.

(b) It assumes, without argumentation, that it is the right of the government to stop a company from offering its service to whom it pleases and in the manner it pleases for its own prosperity.

(c) It assumes, without argumentation, that it is my right to have the same type of internet access that rich companies do regardless of how much either of us are able to pay for the service.

(d) It assumes, as I have mentioned, that large companies are evil. (By the way, last I heard eBay was not a "start-up" or "small company.") The phrase, "large corporations" hints at monopoly and unfair business practices without having the guts to make the accusation and without presenting the evidence to substantiate it. The letter slanders large companies for trying to do the same thing eBay is supposed to be trying to do (and which they are probably trying to do illegitimately by pulling this very stunt): make money.

So don't be an unreasoning reader. Research the issue if you will; think about it if you will; give your support if you will. But don't do it because of this letter. The sole value of this letter is practice in identifying logical fallacies and unsubstantiated assumptions.

01 August 2006

To Church and Society

you MUST stop.Unfortunately, I've been experiencing some technical difficulties getting this post up, but now it's working.

The believer’s life is full of musts. Obligations to one’s spouse, children, church, school, work, extended family, and friends deplete most of his time. Most Christians find it helpful in fulfilling obligations consistently, contentedly, and correctly to understand the purpose (or theological framework) behind the obligations. It’s a lot easier to do the “got-to’s” right and with a good attitude when we understand something of the purpose behind the obligation. Even if the task is sheer obedience to the commands of our Creator and Redeemer, at least we know that much, and knowing that much helps. For instance, it is helpful, as the Christian husband walks out to the dumpster with trash bag in hand, to think about why it is theologically important to fulfill this obligatory waste disposal. It is helpful for him to think about how Christ created the earth to reflect the order which inheres in his being, about how he created humans to tend the earth, and how Christ himself became a man “not...to be served, but to serve” (Matt 20:28). Theological framework helps Christians fulfill daily obligations.

Bringing up this discussion is not meant to cheapen theology or make it ho-hum or blah. Instead, I feel that a theology’s depth is demonstrated in part by its ability to reach into all of life. Christian theology satisfies the rigor of the class room and debate hall, yes. But it also satisfies the demands of the marketplace and the home. It is the only worldview deep enough to pervade all of life.

So bringing up this discussion is meant to relate the Christian’s obligations to the church and to society by means of a theological framework. My method will be to survey the various theological frameworks which have been proposed (as they are summarized by the seminal work of H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture).

I plan to evaluate the basic viability of each framework and endeavor to take the most Biblical answer and modify or augment it with any unaddressed Biblical concerns.