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.