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."