28 November 2005

Calvin and Proof

A couple of my teachers (whether people or books) have mentioned somewhat offhandedly that they thought that John Calvin belonged to the presuppositional camp of apologetics. They grant that his position is not fully developed, but they insist that there is more continuity between Calvin and Van Til than between Calvin and Warfield. At the time I found such a historical proposition to my liking, but did not consider it of sufficient importance to research it for myself. I put it in the back of my mind for further investigation.
Recently, I read a couple of passages which seem to indicate that the estimate of my teachers is correct.

For example:
"For the truth is vindicated in opposition to every doubt, when, unsupported by foreign aid, it has its sole sufficiency in itself" (Institutes, Book 1, Chapter 8).

In the preceding chapter, Calvin makes the point that there is something about the Scriptures that makes them qualitatively different from all human-originated works of literature. He reminds his readers that it is not necessarily the style or the form that makes the difference. Whatever topic it addresses, it addresses it like no other book does. It speaks with a kind of authority that no other literature has. It speaks with authority from God. It is self-authenticating.

While Calvin protests that this qualitative difference between the Scriptures and other literature is real and observable, he is also clear in the other direction: No one who denies the difference will be able to observe it without the inner work of the Spirit breaking sin's domination over his mind.

"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor 2:14).

He sounds pretty presuppositional to me.

26 November 2005

God is always good.

Last week I wrote briefly on the certainty of God's plan. I brought up Pharaoh and those who crucified Jesus as examples of those who were committed to frustrating God's plan but only served to further it.

These thoughts raise the question of God's relationship to evil, and that is question I am not prepared to answer fully here. I am comfortable with the compatibilist position which says that we can show that absolute divine sovereignty and human responsibility are compatible with each other, though we may not always be able to show "how they are compatible" (D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God [Wheaton, IL: Crossway 2000], p. 52).

While a full-fledged discussion of compatibilism is beyond my purpose here, I would like to point out a Biblical story which shows that God is always good, or that he always does the right thing though we may not understand it. The example that I want to point out is Job. The story, as I understand it, really starts when Job curses the day of his birth (Job 3). Because Job's friends were apparently expecting a confession of sins (5:17, 8:5-6), they jump all over him. They recognize, as later becomes clear in the story, that Job is challenging the unquestionable justice (or unimpeachability) of God's actions (27:2).
While Job's friends understand that God's justice can never be brought into question, they understand his justice as a cosmic gumball machine: You put your quarter in; you get your candy out. In other words, while they rightly said that God's justice is unimpeachable, they wrongly denied that God's justice is incomprehensible. Job, on the other hand, knew very well that God's justice was incomprehensible, but he couldn't help but think that this made his justice also liable to accusation.
In the end they are both working off the same thinking: If God's justice is always good, then it must always make sense to me. Job knew it didn't make sense, so he questioned whether or not it was good. Job's friends knew it was good and therefore assumed that they understood it perfectly in Job's case.
The tension between them is unresolved until, in chapters 38-41, Yahweh steps in. His purpose throughout seems to be to destroy the thinking that both Job and his friends had eventually come to. Imagine the repentance of Job when he realized that in protesting his own innocence he had brought God's into question (40:4-5, 42:1-6). Imagine the shock of his friends when they realized that Job was innocent but had suffered anyway (42:7-8).

They all came to realize a very important truth: We may not always understand it, but God is always good.

24 November 2005

Giving Thanks

Righteousness through faith,
By Jesus' obedience,
Forgiveness of sins,
Holy grace from the Father:
By his Spirit, I give thanks.

22 November 2005

Three Things Everyone Knows

I started a trip through Romans the other day, and I was reminded of three things that Paul says everyone knows.

(1) Everyone knows God (1:21). Now, Paul doesn't mean that they have a personal saving relationship with God; that's clear from the following verses. But neither does he mean that they know that there is a god (whoever he/she/it/they may be). This understanding would go against the grain of what he has just said about God's "eternal power and divine nature" (1:20). Everyone deep down knows that God, the God revealed in the Scriptures, is the only real God.

(2) Everyone knows that the true God ought to be worshipped. This is what is meant by "they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served created things" (1:25). What truth do they exchange? The truth that is made plain to them every day both in nature and in their own conscience: God is glorious! God is eternally powerful! God is God!

(3) Everyone knows that those who reject God "deserve death" (1:32).

All of this knowledge is built-in knowledge. When God made humans in his image, he intended them to have a relationship with him. He built them to recognize who he is (the only true God) and what they owe him (worship and thanks). Unfortunately, these same humans continually "suppress the truth by their wickedness" (1:18). They refuse to think about the truth God built into their human framework. Whenever humans start thinking, instead of thinking the Creator-worshipping thoughts that God built them to think, they think creature-worshipping thoughts, which only bring them into further delusion and wickedness.

Only the gospel can deliver us from our truth-suppressing, ever-descending, futile darkness (1:16).

19 November 2005

God's Plan Cannot Fail

The story of the Ten Plagues is an amazing one in Biblical history. Among many other important theological points, Moses seems to emphasize Yahweh's sovereignty over the heart of Pharoah. Yahweh announces his plan to Moses in Exodus 4:21-23. He will harden Pharoah's heart so that he will refuse to release the Israelites from slavery. Although there is some debate on the grammar, it seems that God is further elaborating on this same plan in Exodus 9:16, when he says, "But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." That Yahweh works out his plan through Pharaoh's stupid, stubborn, and culpable autonomy is seen in the "just as the LORD had said" clauses sprinkled throughout these chapters (Exod 7:13, 7:22, 8:15, 8:19, 9:12, 9:35, and 11:9). That his plan was finally accomplished is seen in the Canaanites' fear of the Israelites in Joshua 2:9-11 (Cf. Exod 15:15-16).

This is only one example in the Scriptures of how God uses even the rebellion of men to accomplish his purposes. The epitome is Christ's crucifixion. It was the nadir of human wickedness to put to death the Lord of Life; the zenith of God's plan to bring life from his death (Acts 2:23, Acts 4:28).

If everything, even those who oppose God, serves to accomplish his plan, then his plan cannot fail (Eph 1:11).


New acquisition:
my fourth mp3 player
in as many months.
My Smaug-sickness celebrates;
That which I possess has me.

14 November 2005


Writes bad poetry
About Starbucks and guitars;
Debater, mentor,
Example, coworker, friend,
I'll miss: KWM.

07 November 2005

Perspicuity of the Scriptures (2)

This post is especially difficult because the subject matter is complex and because I have waited so long to write it that I cannot help but be anticlimactic. A quick note before I start: everything good here I learned from my pastor through a sermon he preached in May.

I would like to suggest that there are five ways to determine whether a doctrine is inescapable or not. These methodologies are interdependent. Some are foundational to others, and I will try to organize them accordingly.

(1) One can know a teaching is inescapable if denying it undermines the Christian view of the Scriptures. This criterion is foundational to all of the following ones, and it is also broader than the others. Take, for example, the historicity of Demas (Col 4:14), one of Paul's associates. It seems that a denial of the historicity of Demas may materially affect no other teaching of the Scriptures, save this: the accuracy and authority of God's written revelation. If the Scriptures are accurate and if words mean anything, then Demas had to be a real person. Many statements in Scripture are so crisp that one cannot deny them without denying the efficacy of language or the accuracy of the Scriptures: these statements are inescapable.

(2) One can know a teaching is inescapable if the Scriptures exclude those who deny it from the community of faith. There are numerous examples in the Scriptures of people being excluded from the believing community because they denied something made clear by the apostles or because they taught something the apostles clearly denied. For instance, the Apostle John records in his first letter, "Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist-- he denies the Father and the Son" (1 John 2:22). Many teachings in Scripture have been made so clear that the apostles refuse the name "Christian" to those who deny them: these teachings are inescapable.

(3) One can know a teaching is inescapable if the apostles explicitly attach the teaching to lexical data such as "the gospel," "the faith," or "the truth." 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 outlines a list of such truths including the death and resurrection of Christ. (Notice how this text also falls into the above categories. If one denied that James saw the resurrected Lord, he would be denying a clear statement [see #1]. Also Paul makes clear, "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain" [v. 2]. That is, if one denies these teachings he must be designated an unbeliever [see #2].) Many teachings in Scripture have been made so clear that the apostles tell us that they are part of the gospel: these teachings are inescapable.

(4) One can know a teaching is inescapable if the teaching is essential to the logic of the gospel. Paul seems to be making this type of point when he says in 1 Corinthians 15:13, "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised." Apparently some Corinthians were beginning to doubt or deny the possibility of bodily resurrection. But Paul says "If there is no resurrection, then one of the central truths of the gospel [see #3] cannot be true." This method is obviously related to #1, but it is more specific. The first method relates to the Scriptures universally, the second relates to the message of salvation in particular. Many teachings in Scripture have been made so clear that the apostles used them as foundational truths upon which the message of salvation is built: these teachings are inescapable.

(5) One can know a teaching is inescapable if the teaching has been universally affirmed throughout orthodox Christianity. This method is tricky, but I think it stands if the other four methods are presupposed. History works for us neither as an authority nor an interpreter. She is neither the law nor the judge; she stands only as a witness. So here is how I would explain the role of history: One way we can know that our Teacher is clear on such-and-such is to look back through the corridors of time at those who were likewise committed to the same Teacher (see #1-4). If they have universally understood and submitted to the Teacher in such-and-such a way, then we are probably wise to follow their example. Many teachings in Scripture have been made so clear that true Christians have never strayed from them: these teachings are inescapable.

The benefits of these methods are at least twofold. (1) They reserve the disciple's ultimate allegiance for his self-interpreting Teacher. (2) They mark out for the disciple those whom he may legitimately call co-disciples and also those who would lead him away from his Teacher.

An unfortunate result of a methodological survey like this is that it tends to turn the disciple into a minimalist. The true disciple is not concerned only with what his Teacher makes clear but with every drip of wisdom his Teacher gives. He barrages his Teacher with questions, longing to learn and obey. We should be not satisfied merely with those things that are inescapably clear, and I think I'll direct my attention to that dissatisfaction in my next entry.

01 November 2005

Perspicuity of the Scriptures (1)

The framers of the Westminster Standands and the LBC2 said that when the Scriptures spoke to something "necessary...for salvation," they spoke with such clarity that both educated and uneducated people could understand them by "due use of ordinary means."

The historical reasons for an inclusion of such a statement are easy enough to imagine. On one side, the Catholic church insisted that the magisterium alone, with its thorough knowledge of the Church Fathers and slavish commitment to the establishment, was able to interpret the Scriptures for the common people. The framers of these confessions wanted to declare that the gospel is clear to all and that no hermeneutical oligarchy could legitimately shackle the church. On the other hand, they wanted to shield themselves from the onslaught of the heretics who would say that orthodox Christianity was simply one way of interpreting the Scriptures. These theologians wanted to deny that other viable modes of interpretation were possible. No, these theologians and pastors taught, orthodox Christianity arises inescapably from the Scriptures. Those who twist the Scriptures beyond recognition evidence their own foolishness and earn their own destruction. In this way the doctrine of perspicuity preserves both the sole authority of the Scriptures and a clear perimeter of Christian orthodoxy.

So what is that perimeter? What are the teachings sina qua non Christianity? There are a few complementary ways of arriving at which truths are inescapable and which truths are not quite so clear, and I will explore those methods next.

23 October 2005

"All Creatures of Our God and King"

All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam,
O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
Ye clouds that sail in heav'n along,
O praise Him, Alleluia!
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice,
O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light,
O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye, Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care,
O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him, Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One,
O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

-- St. Francis of Assisi, 1182-1226. Majesty Hymns (Greenville, SC: Majesty Music, 1997): 58.

"On that day HOLY TO THE LORD will be inscribed on the bells of the horses" (Zechariah 14:20).

21 October 2005

Andrew Fuller's Theology of Grace

15 October 2005

Affirmation of an Adolescent with a Hacky Sack, Standing in front of Starbucks in October

"I'm so sweet; I love it."

14 October 2005

Perspicuity of the Scriptures (Intro)

LBC2 1.7 "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them. (2 Peter 3:16; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:130)"

This statement in the Second London Baptist Confession intrigues me. (It comes over directly from the Westminster Confession.) I wish I could ask the pastors and theologians who penned the words a number of questions.

(1) The first question is philosophical or specifically epistemological. The God of the confessions is not a God I can comprehend. How can I be sure that any communication between us can be "plain," or "clear"?

(2) The last two questions are hermeneutical. First, does being "learned" help with understanding those "things in Scripture [which] are not...plain in themselves"? Or in other words what role does external learning have in exegesis?

(3) Second, what constitutes "due use of ordinary means"?

12 October 2005

The Real and Make-believe Errors of John Gill (Part 3 of 3)

As someone has already commented, John Gill's doctrine of eternal justification seems to have lead him into some form of "Calvinistic antinomianism." The problem is that term antinomianism has been abused almost as much as the term legalism. To clear up some of the confusion associated with this error, perhaps it would be helpful to divide the ways John Gill could have been called an antinomian into three categories.

(1) The term antinomianism has been applied to all those who see the Christian believer as free from the Mosaic law-covenant. Since the days of Zwingli, the Reformed tradition has proposed a theological unity of covenants. To use language that they would agree with, the Sinai covenant is an administration of the eternal Covenant of Grace, just like the New Covenant is. When Paul downplays the old covenant, he is generally referring to the legalistic interpretation of the covenant taught by the Judaizers. This understanding gave Zwingli, Calvin, and their followers a Scriptural basis for unity between church and state (on analogy with the theocracy of Israel) and for infant baptism (on analogy with circumcision).
Particular Baptists, while agreeing on the other essentials of the Covenant of Grace, generally defended a discontinuity between the Mosaic law-covenant and the New Covenant. This discontinuity was often in the background when Particular Baptists advocated a strict separation between church and state and adherence to credo-immersion. John Gill did teach this doctrine, but I do not consider it an error.
(Note that there is a strong subtradition of Calvinistic Baptists who do not maintain a discontinuity of covenants. Influential examples include James Petigru Boice and probably Carl F. H. Henry.)

(2) Antinomianism has been applied to those who teach that God's moral law is not the rule of life for believers. This is the most drastic definition of Antinomianism. Early examples of this error include some of Paul's Corinthian audience and probably John's opponents in his first epistle. Later on in church history, some of Luther's followers deemphasized or denied the fact that "the faith which saves is never alone." Also the Russian Orthodox monk Rasputin is reputed to have said something along the lines of "I will sin more so that God's grace will be greater." John Rippon is right when he calls these "infernal sentiments." Gill forthrightly condemned those who held these views in his day. Moreover he is too voluminous when it comes to "pracitical divinity" to be correctly categorized as this type of antinomian.

(3) Antinomianism has been applied to those who deny that sin has negative effects on the believer, especially as he relates to God. The main perpetrator of this heresy in Gill's day was probably Tobias Crisp (though my information on this is mostly through Rippon). While this category relates closely to the category above, it is not strictly the same type of antinomianism. Apparently based on the teachings associated with eternal justification, Crisp felt that a believer was so secure in his relationship with God that nothing he could do could ever impair or obstruct that relationship in any way. According to Rippon, Gill tried to nuance and correct Crisp's wording, but he did not fundamentally disagree with him.
However Gill did believe that sin does distract the believer from God and that it deadens his sensitivity to God. In his exposition of Hebrews 12:5, Gill is even willing to say that God uses "afflictive providences...by [which] he rebukes his people for their sins." Yet he still mitigates the force of texts which teach the believer's need for daily forgiveness of sin (e.g. Matthew 6:11-12). He understands these texts to refer to the Spirit's work in assuring the conscience that sins have already been forgiven on the basis of the believer's eternal union with Christ. But this text has Jesus teaching his disciples to ask for forgiveness daily. Assurance fits in here, but that is not what the text speaks to directly. The forgiveness here is relational ("Our Father" Matt 6:9); it speaks to progressive growth in our relationship with the holy God who has made us his children. To use modern categories, Gill seems to have emphasized the positional/forensic to the exclusion of the practical/relational.
In sum, to the question of antinomianism in Gill, we can give a resounding sic et non.

05 October 2005

The Real and Make-believe Errors of John Gill (Part 2 of 3)

As I currently understand it, the argument for eternal justification proceeds thus: Election and justification are correlated as aspects of union with Christ (or the federal headship of Christ over the elect). Because union with Christ entails pretemporal election, union with Christ itself is something that is pretemporal, occuring in eternity past. Justification, then, being an aspect of union with Christ, must also be pretemporal. This means that the elect sinner is, in the courtroom of God, declared righteous before conversion. Gill conceded that the sinner does not enjoy his position in Christ until he is converted, but he has the position nonetheless.
This is a real error of John Gill. On the point of eternal justification he is inescapably clear, and, despite his considerable erudition and despite his steadfast defense of other gospel truths, he seems to have ignored or explained away the true force of texts like Romans 1:17, "The righteous shall live by faith." Also the force of Paul's argument in Romans 3:21-31 is that justification is gained for individual through the instrumentality of faith. While Paul's emphasis is disqualifying works from justification, his thought also makes clear that justification is consequent to conversion in a Biblical ordo salutis. Finally the aorist tenses of Romans 8:30 must not be taken to indicate that predestination, calling, justification, and glorification have all occured in the pretemporal past. If this were true, eternal glorification, not simply eternal justification, would need to be posited. While I grant that it sometimes difficult to understand the relationship between the eternal decree of God and the temporal acts of men, the Biblical chronology is clear: calling and conversion precede justification.
The scope of implications for the doctrine of eternal justification are beyond my ability to address systematically, but I have already hinted at one implication to which I now turn. Because, in Gill's mind, God has declared the sinner righteous before conversion, conversion cannot entail trusting Christ in order to be justified. Instead conversion entails trusting Christ that one has already been justified from before the foundation of the world. Therefore, the unconverted cannot be exhorted to trust Christ for salvation. Instead, gospel truth is announced, "Christ infallibly saves those who trust in him." And then it is assumed that the elect among the unconverted will turn to Christ in faith and believe that they have been justified from the foundation of the world. So at least part of the reason Gill refused to address the unconverted freely is his doctrine of eternal justification.

03 October 2005

The Real and Make-believe Errors of John Gill (Part 1 of 3)

Two considerations nuance what I had thought about the preaching of the gospel in the doctrine and practice of John Gill. First Gill did not see himself as some sort of exception to the Great Commission. Like later Calvinists, Andrew Fuller and William Carey, Gill longed for the conversion of the Gentile. He, like they, drew confidence from the fact that God would redeem an innumerable host from the nations. (On this point it is interesting to note that he had a special passion for the salvation of Jews, perhaps springing from his interpretation of Romans 11 and from his familiarity with Hebrew literature.) He also proclaimed and defended the truths of the gospel from press and pulpit. The Trinity, the incarnation, the substitutionary atonement, and free grace were central to his pulpit ministry. However, what Fuller and Carey practiced, which Gill would not, was "the free address to unconverted sinners," as Rippon calls it (p. 71). From what I can gather this means that he would not appeal to an unconverted person to repent and trust Christ for salvation. He may have said, "Christ will surely save all who trust in him," but he would never have told an unbeliever, "Trust in Christ; he will save you." So my first nuance is that Gill may have preached the gospel in some sense, but it really was missing an essential element.
Second the reason Gill refused to address the unconverted freely was not fully developed in my mind. Typically it is assumed that he refused to do so because he believed that the free address is an insult to divine sovereignty and that it is an affront to what God has revealed about the depraved human nature. Perhaps this assumption is true; I have not read enough to show that it is not. But there does seem to be, at least, a secondary reason for his refusal: the doctrine of eternal justification. This real error will have to wait for the second part of this series.

02 October 2005

The Real and Make-believe Errors of John Gill (Intro)

On more than one occasion I have had the opportunity to debate informally the doctrine of election with various friends and acquaintances of the Arminian and so-called Biblicist persuasions. Often those who disdain unconditional election say that it destroys evangelism. At this point in the argument, I have found it helpful to have a person I could point to as an example of someone who has taken my position too far and ignored the Biblical evidence. This tactic is helpful in showing by means of a foil that the traditional Calvinistic system really does pay attention to the text of Scripture and the various emphases of Biblical authors. "There are some who think that God's sovereignty negates our responsibility to preach the gospel," I say, "but that is not real Calvinism. That's Hyper-Calvinism." The unenviable position of historical example has typically fallen to a prolific Particular Baptist of the eighteenth century, John Gill.
Recently I have become slightly more acquainted with Gill's writings and with a glowing biography written by John Rippon, his immediate successor at the church where Gill pastored. My findings, still somewhat unruminated, follow.

18 September 2005

Bookworm Fundamentalist?

"Many young fundamentalists are seeking to distance themselves from their predecessors. The title itself, 'young fundamentalists,' suggests the phobia of being counted with the militant separatists who have borne the fundamentalist title before. Suddenly it is not enough to be described simply as a fundamentalist. They now need an adjective to precede the noun. Deja vu." Chris Anderson, "The Young Fundamentalists, Deja Vu", The Ohio Bible Fellowship Visitor, May 2005.


I suppose this paragraph warrants an explanation of "Bookworm Fundamentalist." Here is the main reason I feel like "it is not enough to be described simply as a fundamentalist."

Blogger.com represents people of vastly different backgrounds. It strikes me as staggeringly unlikely that a normal passerby in blogdom will see "fundamentalist" and think, "This fellow is willing to do 'battle royal for the gospel.'" I find the exclamation "Egads--A jihadist!" much more probable. As a Baptist I believe in the separation of church and state and in soul liberty. I never want to imply to my readers that I am willing to harm anyone to coerce their compliance to the Christian gospel.

So why have I chosen "bookworm" as my adjective?

(1) Christian Fundamentalism as a movement represents surprisingly diverse points of view. When a Christian happens upon my blog and sees the word "fundamentalist," what comes into his mind? Some may think instinctively of those who call themselves fundamentalists but have a disdain for the exegesis of the Scriptures in the originals languages and for the systematization of the Scriptures into a consistent theology. This seems to be the kind of fundamentalist addressed in Phil Johnson's criticism of our movement. Fundamentalists ought to be ashamed that a movement intended to defend orthodoxy has been so willing to tolerate theological ignorance and aberrance within its ranks. I never want to imply to my readers that I am the kind of fundamentalist who does not "look up the verse."

(2) "Bookworm" is a term of derision employed to remind me to try with all I've got not to take myself too seriously. Kids in my neighborhood use to call me "Housefly" because I liked to stay in the house and read rather than go outside and play. I am fond of the name, but unfortunately "Housefly Fundamentalist" doesn't cut it.

But here's what I don't mean by "bookworm."

(1) I don't mean that I am not militant. Kevin Bauder had a nice working definition of militant on his blog recently. "Militancy is the recognition that Christian fellowship depends upon shared truth. Where the gospel is not shared in its entirety, no Christian fellowship exists at all, and should not be pretended. Among Christians, fellowship is not possible where we do not share aspects of the whole counsel of God (obversely, it does wherever we do share aspects of the whole counsel of God). Militancy is largely the attitude of being willing to state plainly what we do or do not share, where we can or cannot fellowship, and why." Complementarily Dr. McCune has indicated that the word "passionate" may help some people get to the idea behind militant. If this is militant, enlist me today!

(2) I don't mean that I am not concerned about the experiential and practical sides of Christianity. Religious apostasy is not confined to bad theology. It can represent itself both in lack of zeal for God and in lack obedience to his commands.

(3) I don't mean that I am after academic credibility from the outside world. The Scriptures are clear that those who tell themselves that there isn't a God are "fools" (Psalm 14:1), or, to use Greg Bahnsen's rendering, "stupid-heads." The academic community only avoids blithering idiocy when it self-contradictorily and self-deceivingly assumes the Christian worldview. I pray that a day does not come when such fools accept me as wise. For in that day I will have lost my struggle to glory in the Lord alone, and I will have proven myself "disqualified for the prize" (1 Corinthians 9:27).

So I do feel the need to add an adjective, but in doing so I hope that I have not undermined the noun.

14 September 2005

"Enemies of the State?"

Hannah Beech contributed a gripping article in the September 19 issue of Time magazine entitled "Enemies of the State?" The article recounts the story of Li Juan, a rural Chinese woman, who was attacked by government officials recently. The officials, in trying to enforce a "one-child policy," forcefully performed an abortion on Li Juan. Hannah Beech goes on to explain that the Chinese federal government has tried to stop both forced abortion and forced sterilization, but the reform has not reached rural areas like Li Juan's. One brave man, named Chen Guangcheng, who was not allowed by the federal government to study law because he is blind, has gone to the federal courts about these atrocities. Despite violent harrassment from regional goverments, he is continuing to bring the case before Beijing courts. Beech concludes the article with the story of Hu Bingmei who has been permanently disabled by a botched, and forced, sterilization procedure.

A number of things struck me about this article. These regional governments are committing atrocities. It would be difficult to overstate the depth of violent depravity which reigns in the hearts of the people who do these things. Also one cannot write about these events without cheapening, in some way, the pain these women are feeling. I cannot imagine what they are going through. On the other hand, the bravery of Chen is brilliantly admirable. Common grace has made a real hero out of this man. He has been discriminated against; he has been put down by society; but his attitude is not one of self-pity or even one of revenge. He works within the system that unjustly discriminated against him to help alleviate a deeper and more important injustice.

I have not commented much on politics in this blog, and I intend to keep it that way, but I also found it difficult to resist reflection on the way abortion is defended in the West. For instance, the stark evil of these acts serves to point out the real weight of the argument of overpopulation. I am not a sociologist, and I do not pretend to understand the problem of overpopulation, but this is not the answer.

These events also serve to point up the fallacy of the argument that no one should be forced to take care of another person. The argument, as I have heard it, is that the constitution nowhere obligates one individual to care for the life of another. Pregancy would have to be an exception to that rule, pro-choice advocates say. But the Chinese government is only doing under the Communist system what Westerners allow mothers to do under individualistic democracy. The government does not wish to care for the life of the child, so it eliminates the unwanted liability.

In the end the Western reaction to what is happening in China shows a gross inconsistency on our part. When the woman does not want her child, abortion is a choice. When she does want the child, abortion is an atrocity. Is the autonomous will of the individual mother so godlike that it can determine the personhood of her own offspring? If human autonomy is that powerful, then one wonders what objection can be offered against those officials who would choose to eliminate liabilities to the state by murdering other people's children.

01 September 2005

How Diversity Magnifies the Glory of God

The thoughts expressed in these four paragraphs from Let the Nations Be Glad! by John Piper have been prominent in my thoughts for the past few days. In showing the beauty of ethnic diversity, Piper also points out a diversity in beauty which seems to have been neglected in some constructions of the Christian view of beauty.

"1. First, there is a beauty and power of praise that comes from unity in diversity that is greater than that which comes from unity alone. Psalm 96:3-4 connects the evangelizing of the peoples with the quality of praise that God deserves. 'Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.' Notice the word 'for.' The extraordinary greatness of the praise that the Lord should receive is the ground and impetus of our mission to the nations.

"I infer from this that the beauty and power of praise that will come to the Lord from the diversity of the nations are greater than the beauty and power that would come to him if the chorus of the redeemed were culturally uniform. The reason for this can be seen in the analogy of a choir. More depth and beauty is felt from a choir that sings in parts than from a choir that sings only in unison. Unity in diversity is more beautiful and more powerful than the unity of uniformity. This carries over to the untold differences that exist between the peoples of the world. When their diversity unites in worship to God, the beauty of their praise will echo the depth and greatness of God's beauty far more than if the redeemed were from only a few different groups.

"2. Second, the fame and greatness and worth of an object of beauty increases in proportion to the diversity of those who recognize its beauty. If a work of art is regarded as great among a small and likeminded group of people but not by anyone else, the art is probably not truly great. Its qualities are such that it does not appeal to the deep universals in our hearts but only to provincial biases. But if a work of art continues to win more and more admirers not only across cultures but also across decades and centuries, then its greatness is irresistibly manifested.

"Thus, when Paul says, 'Praise the Lord all you nations, and let all the peoples extol him' (Rom. 15:11, author's translation), he is saying that there is something about God that is so universally praiseworthy and so profoundly beautiful and so comprehensively worthy and so deeply satisfying that God will find passionate admireres in every diverse people group in the world. His true greatness will be manifest in the breadth of the diversity of those who perceive and cherish his beauty. His excellence will be shown to be higher and deeper than the parochial preferences that make us happy most of the time. His appeal will be to the deepest, highest, largest capacities of the human soul. Thus the diversity of the source of admiration will testify to his incomparable glory" (p. 198-199).

After reading through these paragraphs again, I am also delighted to see the balance Piper strikes here. He implies throughout a diversity in Christian beauty, but he does not allow that beauty is altogether a personal or cultural matter. The beauty of God is the objective standard; God appeals to the "deepest, highest, largest capacities of the human soul," while Mona Lisa may only appeal to the Western version of such capacities. God is what beauty is, and he has implanted "deep universals" in our constitution as image-bearers whereby we inevitably recognize this beauty at some level (though in our pervasive depravity we suppress and hate this beauty if left to ourselves).

25 August 2005


the Man wakes to see
what he has no hands to change;
he smiles not to weep.

22 August 2005

The Quotable Westerholm

This weekend I finished the book which will serve as my introduction to the last two and a half decades of Pauline studies: Perspectives Old and New on Paul by Stephen Westerholm. Westerholm defends what seems to me to be basically the "Modified Lutheran" view as presented by Douglas Moo in Five Views on Law and Gospel.

Each of the three parts were helpful. In the first part, Westerholm summarizes Paul as he was interpreted by Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Wesley. While one might be surprised at how much each of these four theologians thinks like a twentieth-century evangelical, Westerholm brings a wealth of reading from primary sources to the table and does not hesitate to point out those elements which would not fit so well into the schema of modern Western Bible-believers.

In the second part, Westerholm brings his readers up to date on the current conversation. He makes an admirable effort to present each scholar on his own terms and in ways that each would approve. His bibliography and clarity are both great assets in this section.

In the third section, the author presents the "Lutheran" Paul from the Scriptures, showing the flaws of the New Perspective and nuancing the traditional "Lutheran" perspective to better fit the Scriptural data.

Three quotes from this third section are especially memorable; each highlights the error of a central pillar in the New Perspective platform, namely that Judaism is a religion of grace or a bastion of "good Protestant doctrine."

"The most important and salutary emphasis of the new perpective on Paul is the insistence that Judaism was not 'legalistic': Jews did not think they 'earned' salvation; they acknowledged God's goodness in granting Israel his covenant and strove to respond to that goodness by fulfilling its requirements. Admittedly, refutations of 'Lutheran' readings of Judaisim as a relgion of works-righteousness at times owe more of their terminology to 'Lutheranism' itself than to Jewish ways of seeing things. Judaism did not, after all, distinguish grace or faith from works done in obedience to God, nor did it thematically attribute salvation, the election of Israel, or the granting of the covenant to God's unmerited favor. To say that salvation in Judaism was 'by grace' and imply that 'works' (in the 'Lutheran' sense) were excluded is simply not true to Judaism; nor should one expect that a Judaism that did not see humanity as fundamentally 'lost' nor requiring the death of God's Son for its redemption would construe the relation between divine grace and human works in the same way Paul did" (pp. 443-44).

"We may say that in a literature that does not see grace and works opposed in any way, one should not expect direct declarations that salvation, or even election, is simply a matter of grace.... Here Sanders's polemical purposes have surely imposed a 'Lutheran' construction on the texts: neither the 'total' gratuity of the election, nor, indeed, any exclusion of human contributions is in view" (p. 348).

"The position of Judaism on the relation between grace and works as Sanders himself portrays it seems to differ little from that of Pelagius, against whom Augustine railed, or that of the sixteenth-century church, upon which Luther called down heaven's thunder" (p. 351).

Westerholm has done his homework, and this volume provides a good springboard from which to dive into the rest of the conversation.

17 August 2005


Life before coffee:
I ruin my English muffins,

09 August 2005

"Shall Never Lose Its Power"

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel's veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, as vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb! Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more.

E'er since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

Then, in a nobler sweeter song
I'll sing Thy power to save,
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave.

-- William Cowper, 1731-1800. Psalms and Hymns of Reformed Worship (London: Wakeman Trust, 1991): 248.

We sang this hymn during our communion service recently, and I couldn't help but exult in the power of the Christ's death to reach its goal in me and in the human race. The final glorification of all the elect of every nation and through every age has been secured by the dying (and now living!) Lamb.

"Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand" (Isaiah 53:10).

05 August 2005

Certainty, Humility, and the Follower of Christ

In "Post-Conservatives, Foundationalism, and Theological Truth: a Critical Evaluation" (JETS 48 [June 2005]: 351-63), R. Scott Smith, on the apologetics faculty at Biola University, critiqued the recent works of Nancey Murphy (Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary). Murphy has written a number of books which claim that the philosophical framework known as foundationalism, which Modernism and Evangelicalism presupposed, is fundamentally flawed. In defending foundationalism, R. Scott Smith critiques Murphy in ways I could only dream to do. His writing is clear, especially for the complexity of the topic, and his knowledge of the subject at hand incomparably outdistances my own.

However, in the opening paragraphs of his article he makes a concession which concerns me. Nancey Murphy claims that foundationalists have always required certainty for the basic (i.e. foundational) truths upon which all knowledge rests. But Smith responds "foundationalism need not require certainty" ("Post-Conservatives," p. 351). Now I am thoroughly unconcerned about the state of foundationalism as a philosophical movement, but Smith is not merely a foundationalist: he is a Christian. Yet as a Christian, he claims that the entire Christian faith "could be wrong. For example, it is possible that I am just a brain in a vat, and these sentences are just the result of the stimulation of 'my' brain by a mad scientist" ("Post-Conservatives," p. 363).

While I appreciate the damaging blows Smith deals to the post-conservative Christian philosophy of Nancey Murphy, here are my immediate concerns with his concession:

  • The inerrancy of Scriptures has been brought into question. The Scriptures' teaching on its own truthfulness excludes the possibility of error. The Scriptures do not present themselves as a set of documents whose propositions must be tested by external criteria in order to be accepted. The Scripture establishes itself as the criterion by which all other propositions are to be tested (see e.g. Acts 17:11).

  • The sovereignty of God over the realm of possibilities has been seriously compromised. The underlying assumption behind the "brain in a vat" scenario is that human imagination, not the Divine person and character, determines what is possible and what is not. Biblical theism concludes otherwise (e.g. cf. Matthew 19:26 with Hebrews 6:18).

  • The possibility of assurance of salvation has been obliterated. While assurance of salvation comes through various means, it rests on the basis of the truthfulness of God's promise. That is why the Westminster Confession said that "an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation" belongs to Christians (18:2). However, if it is possible (however improbable) that I am only a "brain in a vat," then the very foundations of Christian assurance are hollow and brittle; instead of "an anchor for the soul, firm and secure" (Hebrews 6:13-20).

  • In the end everything we know about Biblical Christianity rests on the Authority's (i.e. the Triune God as revealed in the Protestant Canon) inability to err. Unfortunately for both Murphy and Smith (on this point they seem to be agreed), this inability means that traditional Christian theism lacks "epistemic humility" ("Post-Conservatives," p. 363). That is, Christians have had the arrogance to claim that they actually know something for sure.

    Now I grant that Smith's article was not about the need for epistemic humility, or humility in what we know; therefore, I should not expect to find any sort of defense of this definition of humility. Nevertheless it seems that the Biblical picture would indicate that certainty and humility are not mutually exclusive. Instead I would contend from the following points that certainty is a necessary part of Biblical humility:

  • In the same sentence Jesus calls himself humble and asks people to follow him as the way of salvation (Matthew 11:28-29; see also his exclusivistic claims in John 14:6).

  • Jesus taught those who would follow him to combine certainty and humility. We can dare to be meek only because we know beyond all doubt that the meek "will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5).

  • Christians throughout church history have evidenced obedience to this call to humility and certainty. While the world screamed with torch in hand that God is neither good nor powerful, humble Christians submitted to the stake and sang through the flames (see the certainty implied in Jesus' promises, Matthew 5:11-12).

  • Also, imagine the opposite of humility with certainty. What kind of humility is it which dares to remark glibly "Yes, yes, but you could be wrong," to the Creator of all that is and Determiner of all which can be?

  • I grant that Christians can be and have been some of the most arrogant people in the world. But we must not allow our feelings of guilt in this matter to lead us to allow the world to press us into its mold of thinking. Unbelievers, with their disdain for anyone who claims to know something for sure (Proverbs 1:7), do not define humility; the Scriptures define humility. The Scriptures call everyone to abandon making much of self (who certainly is not worthwhile), and to make much of God (who certainly is worthwhile). "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:31). This is the start of Biblical humility.

    01 August 2005

    9 Reasons God Will Establish His Kingdom

    All the pleasures of God are leading irrevocably to the establishment of a kingdom where disobedience and unbelief will be no more. God will reign in righteousness and justice and peace, and all of life will be the obedience of faith and joy.

    1. God's pleasure in his Son is leading to the kingdom of obedience because God wills to conform all its inhabitants to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).
    2. God's pleasure in his sovereign freedom is leading to the kingdom of obedience because he will omnipotently cause us to walk in his statutes and observe all his ordinances (Ezekiel 36:27).
    3. God's pleasure in creation is leading to the kingdom of obedience because creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; creation itself will mirror the majesty of God perfectly when the world is filled with righteousness and faith (Romans 8:19-22).
    4. God's pleasure in his fame is leading to the kingdom of obedience because he has an awesome passion to remove the reproach of his name that comes from our transgression (Isaiah 48:9-11; Ezekiel 36:22-23).
    5. God's pleasure in election is leading to the kingdom of obedience because he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world "that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Ephesians 1:4).
    6. God's pleasure in bruising the Son is leading to the kingdom of obedience because Christ died for the church "that he might sanctify her...and present the church to himself in glory without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Ephesians 5:25-27; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 10:10).
    7. God's pleasure in those who hope in his love is leading to the kingdom of obedience, because the internal light of hope shines brightest in the external rays of righteousness and love (Colossians 1:4-5; Hebrews 10:34-36).
    8. God's pleasure in the prayers of the upright is leading to the kingdom of obedience because the sum of every prayer is "Hollowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9-10).
    9. And as we will see in the last chapter, God's pleasure in concealing himself from the wise and revealing himself to infants is leading to the kingdom of obedience, because only the childlike turn knowledge into the grace of obedience rather than a ground for boasting (Luke 10:17-24).

    The above paragraph and bullets are from John Piper's Pleasures of God (p. 258; I added the last reference from his discussion in the chapter).

    27 July 2005

    Reformed Baptist?

    Although it was not necessarily my intent to make a series of blogs explaining the "About Me" section of my profile, I suppose it makes sense for those who know me to ask why I consider myself a part of the groups I have identified. The point of consideration today is whether or not I can really call myself a Reformed Baptist.

    Wikipedia's article on Reformed Baptists specificies basically two points which make a Baptist belong to the Reformed category:

    (1) Agreement with the 1689 Baptist Confession especially with respect to the five points of Calvinism.

    (2) Adherence "to the classic Reformed contrast between the Covenant of Works in Adam and the Covenant of Grace in Christ (the last Adam) - and the Elect in Him as His seed. This eternal Covenant of Grace is progressively revealed through the historic Biblical covenants." However in as far as Baptists have traditionally modified this framework to some extent, variation on this point is allowable.

    The second of these two heads deserves an entry of its own, but I will plead the fifth until then.

    On the first point the most controversial issue within Calvinistic circles is the point that has been unfortunately called "Limited Atonement." I prefer "particular" or "definite" atonement because I acknowledge that Christ's atoning sacrifice was unlimited in nature, and infinite in virtue. I doubt any Bible-believer would deny that.

    On the other hand I wonder if the pastors who wrote the 1689 Confession did not have a point when they said:

    8.5--The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him. (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:14; Romans 3:25, 26; John 17:2; Hebrews 9:15.)

    8.8--To all those for whom Christ hath obtained eternal redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same, making intercession for them; uniting them to himself by his Spirit, revealing unto them, in and by his Word, the mystery of salvation, persuading them to believe and obey, governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit, and overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation; and all of free and absolute grace, without any condition foreseen in them to procure it. (John 6:37; John 10:15, 16; John 17:9; Romans 5:10; John 17:6; Ephesians 1:9; 1 John 5:20; Romans 8:9, 14; Psalms 110:1 ; 1 Corinthians 15:25, 26; John 3:8; Ephesians 1:8.)
    I find the wording "procured reconciliation" delightfully wise and apt. With one graceful step it avoids two dark chasms on either side.

    First, it avoids the error that Christ's death was only about possibilities. It affirms that something actually happened at the cross; it denies that the transaction merely made it possible for God to save people. Christ procured reconciliation. He did that which would make application of eternal redemption certain and effective.

    Second, it avoids the error that Christ's death rendered all the elect already reconciled. It affirms that those whom the Father had given Christ are children of wrath until the point at which Christ certainly and effectively applies eternal redemption to them; it denies that the elect have been freed from the responsibility to believe.

    Notice the fact that the atonement's relationship to the unelect is left completely unstated under these two heads. All that is said is that Jesus' death "procured reconciliation" and that he "doth certainly and effectively apply" eternal redemption to those for whom he has procured it. That is why I find no difficulty affirming these statements while at the same time affirming that Christ's death made salvation available to everyone.

    Grudem makes some apt observations on this point:
    "The sentence, 'Christ died for all people,' is true if it means 'Christ died to make salvation available to all people' or if it means, 'Christ died to bring the free offer of the gospel to all people.' In fact, this is the kind of language the Scripture itself uses in passages like John 6:51, 1 Timothy 2:6, and 1 John 2:2. It really seems to be only nit-picking that creates controversies and useless disputes when Reformed people insist on being such purists in their speech that they object anytime someone says that 'Christ died for all people'" (Systematic Theology, p. 601–2).

    This provides a perfect rubric with which to explain Peter's observation that libertine false teachers are "denying the Master that bought them" (2 Peter 2:1). BDAG is helpful on the meaning of "bought" in this context. It means "to secure the rights to someone by paying a price" (p. 14). Jesus, by making salvation available to all people without exception, secured for himself the rights to the obedience of faith by all people without exception. Peter is shocked at the wickedness of these men. Jesus died to secure the rights to their obedience and they dare flout his authority and deny the faith!

    Therefore, while the atonement "procures reconciliation" and Jesus "certainly and effectively" applies eternal redemption to those whom the Father has given him, he stands in burning condemnation of those who do not accept the free offer of salvation, those who refuse to yield obedience to the Master who bought them.

    Unfortunately some in the reformed tradition do not appreciate this condemning aspect of the atonement. Perhaps there are good reasons for doing so. My point is that these reasons were not sufficiently important for these pastors to voice in the 1689 Confession.

    Therefore as far as the first point goes, I have no problem with being called a “Reformed Baptist.”

    (I have used language in this entry that is similar to that of Andrew Fuller and William Carey, but I have not researched the views of these men enough to know if I agree with them fully on this point. I also would grant that Christ has the rights to the obedience of the unelect by virtue of his role in their creation, but a reference to creation seems foreign to the context of 2 Peter 2.)

    24 July 2005

    Revised Dispensationalist?

    I put Revised Dispensationalist in my description without explaining it partly because I view the blog as a place for that stage of the writing process that requires little or no research. However one of my professors saw my profile and asked me about the name, so I explain.

    The generation of dispensationalists that includes Ryrie, McClain, Pentecost and others has been given different names. It would be appropriate to call them traditional because they represent the dispensational tradition over against the foundational modifications that the progressive dispensationalists are making (See Three Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999]). However, this appellation may overlook some healthy improvements Ryrie and the others have made to the dispensationalism that they inherited from Scofield and the rest (Herbert W. Bateman IV, “Dispensationalism Yesterday and Today,” in Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism, pp. 23–34). These improvements include: clarification on the definition of a dispensation (Dispensationalism, rev. and exp. [Chicago: Moody Press, 1999], p. 23), clarification on the salvation of OT saints (Ibid., p. 107), and systematization and centralization of the mediatorial Kingdom of God as God’s overarching goal for history (Alva J. McClain, Greatness of the Kingdom [Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1974]). Improvements like these continue to be made in articles like “Were Old Testament Believers Indwelt by the Spirit?” (Robert V. McCabe, DBSJ 9 [2004]: 215–264) and “Dispensationalism, the Church, and the New Covenant” (R. Bruce Compton, DBSJ 8 [2003]: 3–48). Most if not all of these refinements can be traced to one seminal clarification issued by Ryrie: a crisp summarization of the movement under a set of sina qua non; that is, for the first time a dispensationalist made clear what was essential to dispensationalism. Ryrie summarizes the three distinctive teachings, “The essence of dispensationalism, then, is (1) the distinction between Israel and the church. This grows out of the dispensationalist’s (2) consistent employment of normal or plain or historical-grammatical interpretation, and (3) it reflects an understanding of the basic purpose of God in all His dealings with mankind as that of glorifying Himself through salvation and other purposes as well” (Dispensationalism, p. 41). The vast influence of this definition caused some early progressive dispensationalists to call the dispensationalism of Ryrie’s generation “essentialist” (Craig A. Blaising, “Dispensationalism: the Search for Definition,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992], pp. 28–29). However, this term gave the unfortunate impression that the progressives were “non-essentialist.” That is, the term unfairly implied that there was nothing which distinguished Progressive dispensationalism from any other tradition, nothing indispensable to the position itself. Since that time the term “revised” has been used to describe the dispensationalists of the Ryrie, McClain or Pentecost sort (Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993], pp. 31–32). This term grants that these men were not the same at all points with their predecessors but that a great degree of historical and conceptual continuity was still patent. The changes had been made to the dispensational superstructure, not to the foundation. The points of difference are revisions, not reinventions. Admittedly this nomenclature has not been adopted universally by those who hold this position. Rolland D. McCune uses the phrase “revised dispensationalism” to describe progressive dispensationalists (Promise Unfulfilled [Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2004], p. 265). While he makes clear from context that the changes the progressives made were fundamental to dispensationalism itself, if this trend continues the label will no longer be useful for my purposes and another will need to be used.

    18 July 2005

    God of Wonders

    Great God of wonders, all Thy ways
    Display the attributes divine;
    But countless acts of pardoning grace
    Beyond Thine other wonders shine:

    Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
    Or who has grace so rich and free?

    Such dire offences to forgive,
    Such guilty, daring worms to spare;
    This is Thy grand prerogative,
    And in the honour none shall share:

    Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
    Or who has grace so rich and free?

    In wonder lost, with trembling joy,
    We take the pardon of our God,
    Pardon for sins of deepest dye,
    A pardon bought with Jesus’ blood:

    Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
    Or who has grace so rich and free?

    O may this strange, this wondrous grace,
    This matchless miracle of love,
    Fill the wide earth with grateful praise
    And all the angelic choirs above:

    Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
    Or who has grace so rich and free?
    -- Samuel Davies (1723-1761). Psalms and Hymns of Reformed Worship (Wakeman Trust, 1991): 173.

    See also another version of the same hymn.

    14 July 2005

    God Is What His Attributes Are

    One of the most profound statements to come from the mouth of Dr. Rolland McCune is the proposition that "God is what his attributes are."

    In this statement there are a number of implications for God's unity, aseity, knowability, incomprehensibility, and other areas of theology proper. However, I want to key in on what this proposition implies about the attributes of God.

    As McCune points out, especially with respect to apologetics, the attributes of God are not human rubrics which we use to catalog and categorize our understanding of God. Humans do not by observation of God arrive at an abstract concept which constitutes a divine attribute.

    The reason that this construction does not work might become clear through an illustration: Sally Mae comes to faith in Christ. She knows that God loves her because God saved her. Now say Sally Mae meets Richard, a particularly nitpicky and nasal unbeliever. She tells him of God's love for her, but he asks, in his annoyingly arrogant way: "How do you know that your salvation means God loves you?" She might say, "It is certainly not hateful for God to save me."
    In which case he could opine, being completely obtuse, "I think that's exactly what it is. I mean, I liked you a whole bunch before you became so goody-goody. I think you have a lot less fun this way. You're missing the best part of your life; you're throwing your youth away for some crazy who lived two thousands of years ago. I think God's coming into your life and messing everything up is just plain hatred."
    Then she might say, "Well it is rather like the way my parents treated me. I mean I know I wanted to do some things, but they--" but then she might catch herself and think of how the analogy would fail at so many points.
    Sally Mae is beginning to realize her problem. She was assuming a definition of love which her jerk-of-a-friend Richard was unwilling to allow as a given in their conversation.

    Pausing the story for a moment, I hope it has become clear why God's attributes must not be the inductive results of observation of God's actions. If definitions of God's attributes are left absolutely to human observers, then the definitions will become as different as the observers. If the human mind is the precondition for knowledge, knowledge is impossible because there is no guarantee that all human minds will be the same.

    So instead, Dr. McCune says, "God is what his attributes are." To apply the proposition to our story, “God is what love is.” God is the only adequate and accurate definition of love. There may be many ideas of what love is, but only one idea is the correct one: God. Any idea which falls short of this Personal Absolute standard is either dead wrong or right only in an analogous way (more about that in a future entry). Only to the extent we know him do we know what real love is.

    This is not to say that we do not know God by what he does. Priority is what I am getting at. God's actions are the divine manifestations of his attributes. God's attributes are not the human abstractions of his actions.

    So returning to our story:
    Sally Mae repeats, "'Just plain hatred,' huh?" With a wry, but humble smile, Sally Mae asks, "How do you know it's hatred?"
    Richard furrows his brow, "I just said--because your life is a wreck now."
    She responds, "Well, how do you know wrecking my life is hatred?"
    Now on the defensive, Richard uses his nasal-spray and clears his throat, "Um...well, it just seems like a mean, hateful thing to do."
    At this point Sally Mae shows Richard that it is not a healthy thing to think that you can just make up what "love" and "hate" are. She can remind him how little his girlfriend would appreciate it if he got to define what love is. She can tenderly show him how silly it is to call people bad names without even knowing what the names mean. She can "gently instruct" him about how the definition of love and hatred may be found in God and "hope that God will grant him repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth."

    27 June 2005

    Why do I admire Benjamin Keach?

    I admire Benjamin Keach because he was a coauthor of the 1689 Baptist confession which expresses the backbone of the Particular Baptist faith (to which I find myself a happy, if nuanced, adherent). I admire him because he was tenaciously abandoned to the dictates of Christ over his conscience and over his mind. I admire him because, though he was unwilling to bend against persecution, he was easily bent by the teaching of the Scriptures. Though he had already written and published Arminian teachings, Keach was willing to retract his statements, admit his errors, and proclaim the truth shamelessly. I suppose I admire Benjamin Keach because he is an ordinary man with an enormous God. Once he had seen through the gospel the glory of God in the face of Christ, he wouldn't let go of him for the world.

    08 June 2005

    Theology and Variegated Nomenclature

    Because minds greater and more focused than my own have seen value in reducing argumentation to writing as a means to finding holes in argumentation, I am going to make some sort of effort to record a thought today. My stupidity will have fewer hiding places on a page than in my head. Perhaps in spare moments I will continue this practice; hardwiring my mind to a keyboard again would be good for me.

    Today I was wondering about the source of theological terminology. A professor taught in class today that union with Christ appears to be used differently in different contexts. Sometimes it is a reference to union to the saving work of Christ and experienced by both OT and NT believers. In other contexts union with Christ refers to a work of the Spirit (namely Spirit Baptism, 1 Cor 12:13), which exclusively introduces believers into the body of Christ or the NT universal church.
    The methodology implicit in this definition of union with Christ seems to be that the lexical data en Christo refer to the theological concept of union with Christ. Because en Christo is used in different ways by NT authors, the NT concept of union with Christ is "variegated" (to use a word I recently had the pleasure of meeting through a mutual friend).

    My take is this: I come to a theological category (like union with Christ) through exegetical study of certain detailed passages (in this instance, Romans 5-8). Basically when the Biblical author seems to be purposefully explaining himself, when he is consciously explaining a concept, I try to articulate (if only mentally) the concept that he is trying to get at. Then, when I see similar lexical data in other passages, I try to see if the author is indeed referring to the same concept or if he is simply using the same words to describe something else. And, when I see disparate lexical data, I sometimes think, "Isn't that basically the same thing as such-and-such, which is expressed otherwise elsewhere?"

    The difference I am describing may be subtle, so I will try to put it as bluntly as I can: Does our theological terminology tie itself directly to Biblical usage of terms or does theological terminology express conceptual links across disparate or similar Biblical term usage?

    Unfortunately stating it like this seems to erect a straw man against which Carson's "technical term" fallacy provides cheap kerosene and matches. The Bible is not a textbook of theology; Biblical authors are free to use terms in different ways at different times. One cannot export the meaning of a certain word from one Biblical text and import that meaning into another Biblical text without contextual (as well as lexical) warrant. But these things are evident to people who use either methodologies. Carson's argument against abusing technical terms pertains to one's work in exegesis (i.e. finding the meaning of a text) not in theology (relating the meaning to a category).

    So the correct theological methodology is still under debate. Should we have theological terms that are variegated to reflect the variety of uses of similar terminology in the Biblical text? Or should we have theological terms that remain relatively static in meaning but reflect only a small portion of similar Biblical terms? That is, the Biblical text is evidently variegated in its use of terminology; should the categories of systematic theology reflect this variety?

    I think that this difference in methodology plays itself out most clearly in the debate about the logical relationship between regeneration and conversion in a theological ordo salutis, though I would be hard pressed to say methodology settles the issue. If one prefers the view that conversion precedes regeneration he generally points to all of the passages which use the lexical data translated "life" or being spiritually "raised from the dead." He then proceeds to show quite convincingly that these passages present life as a consequence of conversion. Then, if he is Calvinistic, he finds a Biblical set of terms which are more uniformly applied like those of illumination. He notes that illumination is always used in the Biblical text as a prerequisite to conversion and places God's sovereign, gracious, efficacious work in salvation under this rubric. On his methodology, he has won the battle: the Bible does use "life" language to refer to a consequence of salvation, but it never uses "turn the light on" language in that way. Therefore, we should say that "turn the light on" precedes conversion, but "new life" does not.

    Unfortunately the victory is never appreciated by those who use the other methodology. They see passages which clearly indicate that we are dead in our sins; that is, that all of our proclivities and activities are always God-hatingly evil. Only a change in who we are can produce the ability to believe genuinely and perseveringly. From especially clear Biblical texts, theological terminology arises. Usually those who embrace these theological concepts are willing to agree that other Biblical texts use the same terminology in different ways, so the argument that "life" language sometimes refers to the consequences of conversion does not deter them. Only when it can be established that the Biblical author is alluding to the same theological concept (Biblical terminology or not) will those with this methodology modify their understanding of the theological concept. Otherwise, the Biblical author is "simply not addressing this issue in that passage." He divorces similar lexical data on conceptual grounds. Yet on the same grounds he agrees with the other position that illumination refers to God’s prior work in salvation. Although the Biblical authors use different language, they express the same thing: “God turning the light on” is essentially the same thing as receiving “new life.” Or “Illumination is regeneration of the mind.”

    In the end I suppose I am spring-loaded to the second methodology because of my understanding of the purpose of systematic theology. If the terms of systematic theology are as variegated as the terms in the Biblical texts have we made any progress in a systematic understanding of the Scriptures? It seems to me that part of the task of systematic theology is to bring together texts of disparate language and say that they are talking about basically the same thing and to take texts of similar language and say that they are talking about basically different things. In order to do this it is necessary to put names on our things, and we get our names from especially clear, extended, or otherwise well-known texts. But our names have to stay still and behave if they are going to be good names.

    Well, there goes some perfectly good reading time. See my first post.

    07 June 2005


    Unfortunate is
    That blogging never helps me.
    Arrogant chatty,
    One who writes before he reads;
    Starving fatlings try to feed.