Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Legalism (Rom 5-8)


When Adam broke the Law, he brought death -- the curse of that broken Law -- upon all his posterity. None of them have escaped the curse.  No one born of Adam will ever escape it.  It will prosecute their cases unto death -- whether they are in the First Adam, or in the Last Adam, Christ.

When the Law prosecutes its case against a man in the First Adam, the doom is temporal and eternal death.  The smoke of conscious torment will go up forever and ever.

But, when the Law prosecutes its case through the death of the Last Adam, then Christ and all those who are in him endure the eternal penalty (Christ for us) and rise on the other side triumphant, exempt forever from any further prosecution for sin.

The varying relationships to Law reflect the Two Covenants with the Two Men -- Adam and Christ (Rom 5).

God was served in the old way in Adam.  The Law is the "husband" of those in Adam.  Their works, fathered by the law, were holy, just and good -- until sin was brought in.  Sin brought death. Then, the Law -- holy, just and good -- "fathered" the offspring of increasing rebellion in the rebellious offspring of Adam.

But God is served in a new way in Christ.  The resurrected Christ is the "husband" of those in him, powerfully bringing forth in us the fruits of life.  In him we have already triumphed over the death dealt out for our sins, and through the Spirit the dominion of sin is now broken.  We are triumphing over our sins now -- and will triumph fully in the end!  (Rom 7-8).

This transition of headship from Adam to Christ, which is a transition in relationship to the Law of God, is the deliverance from that relationship to the Law that Paul talks so much about.

The benefit of Christ is applied by God retroactively to all believers back to Adam, but the real deliverance from the curse (which did impend over all those ancient saints) did not take place until Christ did his work.  The glory of this work issues in the advent of the Spirit in a new way in the saints of God, glorifying them with the glory of God's grace in life by the Spirit.

So, have we done away with the Moral Law?  Surely, the new husband we have -- the author of the Law -- will bring forth fruits in us by his whole Word and Spirit, which are in accordance with his Law.  The righteousness of the Law will be fulfilled in us who walk in the New Way by the Spirit (Rom 8).

Is it possible for believers to walk in the Old Way?  Actually they cannot, but I think they can try.  However, they will be very unhappy.  They may find themselves more and more depressed and burdened by their sins.  They may wonder if they know the Lord.

But, the calculus of sanctification is not, at root, measured by the degree of conformity to the Law.  It is measured, first of all, by faith in Christ our husband.  Sanctification is a gift to such as these.  It cannot be earned by our works.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Infinitum Capax Finiti (Revised 7 Apr 2010)


See:


and search on 'capax'.

Here's a "fair use" quote of that paragraph in the page (highlights mine):

Richard Muller is a scholar that reformed persons should know. In a recent book by Muller, Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins (1986, Labyrinth Press), his apology for scholastic orthodoxy, Muller makes this insightful remark, which is a good come-back to our Neo-Orthodox friends: "...the dictum finitum non capax infiniti (translated loosely as "the finite mind is unable to comprehend the thought of the infinite") used by later exponents of Reformed doctrine... does not appear to have been used by Calvin himself. Several modern scholars have argued that the phrase is not even a proper description of Calvin's doctrine.... The phrase finitum non capax infiniti is better rendered `the finite is unable to grasp the infinite.' As Oberman argued of Calvin, the inverse, infinitum capax finiti reveals the positive implication of the doctrine. The infinite God grasps finite human nature sola gratia" (p. 21). That's worth re-quoting.

End quote.

So, God the Son has grasped his human nature and

       ... in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;
                                                                   (Col 2:9)

The Works of the Man Christ


Notice how salvation and damnation are works of man -- that is, two men:

Romans 5:15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense [Adam] many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.

Romans 5:18 Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.  19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous.

1 Corinthians 15:21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.

1 Corinthians 15:45 And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 

1 Corinthians 15:47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.  48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly.  49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.

So, our transformation in soul, and ultimately in body, is due to our union with the Heavenly Man, who took our nature, lived, died under the curse for our sins, triumphed over all curse and death, rose from death immune to it forever, sits at the right hand of God, and reigns till all his enemies are put under his feet.  This Man subdues the cosmos to himself.

This union of the Second Person of the Trinity with our nature, for his glory and our salvation, is a cosmological change.  No, that's not enough.  It's higher than that.  It is not a change that only affects the entire cosmos.  It is a change which affects the one who created the whole cosmos.  The Second Person of the Trinity is now a man -- the God-man -- the theanthropos. Finitum capax infiniti.

One must conclude that the Incarnation of the Son of God, a mystery till it happened, institutes a new and magnificent salvation, promised from the beginning, but infinitely higher than was fully revealed to man and in man at the first creation. Adam was by the original creation the man of dust. Christ is the man from heaven.

Glory be to God.
 

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Is Futurism gnostic?


"Futurism" can be a technical term for classifying certain schools of interpretation of the Apocalypse of John (Book of Revelation).  However, in this post, I use the term "futurism" to refer to the practical effect on the Christian life of eschatologies which focus the attention of the believers on the hope of the resurrection.

Now, Gnosticism historically refers to a very similar set of religions in the Mediterranean world during the very earliest centuries of Christianity.  This movement warred against Christianity, and actually tried to "capture" it.  The Gnostic movements taught that matter was evil and "spirit" was good.  The (creator) god of the Old Testament was bad, because he created matter, or used preexisting matter to make things.  But, the term "gnosticism" has been picked up as a popular term in modern internal controversies about the nature of Christianity.  It is commonly used nowadays as an accusation that someone's Christian spirituality unduly downplays creation, the body, or the physical side of life.

Any glance at the history of Christian spirituality, evangelical or otherwise, certainly shows that there are movements and tendencies which to one degree or another do downplay the legitimacy of the physical side of life.

So, the question in the title to this post, "Is Futurism gnostic?," is meant to address the question whether a primary emphasis of life and thought upon the hope of the resurrection so downplays physical life and development in this age of God's Kingdom, that it can be accused of being "gnostic."  In other words, one could ask, "Is Amillennialism gnostic?", since amillennialism, or moderate "gospel" postmillennialism, does not lay heavy emphasis on the full development of God's Kingdom in this age, but waits for the resurrection.

This has to be the answer:

1)  The resurrection of the body is not "gnostic."  Just the opposite.
2)  The Second Coming means the resurrection of the body.
3)  The Second Coming means that the material and immaterial parts of believing man will then be joined in perfect harmony -- but not before that.

Therefore, an emphasis on resurrection is profoundly anti-gnostic.  This truth taken from Scripture was developed against the real Gnosticism of history by the apostolic fathers.

A wrong concept of how the Kingdom is coming now, in this age -- that is, an overemphasis on the substantial completion of the Kingdom this side of resurrection, is unwittingly "gnostic," because peace is being asserted where there is, and can be, no peace:  The war between the flesh and the Spirit is not ended this side of Resurrection.  In fact, the real enjoyment of the body only begins in resurrection!

Futurism is not gnostic.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Is Postmillennialism "Catholic"?


(I use the term "catholic" to refer to consistency with universally held Christian truth).

Historic Western eschatology has been "amillennial," or perhaps "present-millennial," for a long time -- some say since Augustine.  Since terminology for eschatological positions changes over time, one ought to ask whether the amillennial, or present-millennial, position is really any different from a moderate postmillennialism.  Perhaps it's not. 

This "amillennialism," or whatever it was, did not seem to hinder the establishment of the First Christendom.  No kind of extreme postmillennialism was necessary.

So what do I mean by "extreme" postmillennialism?  I mean any millennialism that focuses primary eschatological attention on glorious spiritual prospects to nations and cultures in this age, rather than primarily focusing such hope on the age to come.  I suggest that the balance is given in this passage:

Luke 18:29-30 So He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life."

There is a reward in this present age.  And, this "many times more" need not always be "spiritualized."  But, this reward is not the final reward of glory.  It is the call of grace in the powers of the age to come which gives life to our calling in the present age.  Our focus is always on that great day which ends this age and introduces this world to glory.

See my notes on Postmillennialism.

"This Age," and "The Age to Come"


A word search of the New Testament for the term "this age" and "age to come," in English (NKJ), yields a verse list, among which are found:

Mat 12:32 "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

Eph 1:20 ... which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

These passages give an enumeration of the "ages."  There are two.

In the parable of the Wheat and Tares, it is said:

Mat 13:40 "Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.  The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness," etc., "and will cast them into the furnace of fire.  There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Therefore, at the "end of this age" is the Final Judgment, after which the righteous will shine forth as the sun.

Luke 20:34 And Jesus answered and said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage;  nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection."

This age, therefore, is not the age of resurrection, but the age to come is.

This age is dominated by foolishness and blindness:

1 Cor 1:20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

1 Cor 2:6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.

1 Cor 3:18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.
  
2 Cor 4:3-4   But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,  whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

"This world" (age) is the age dominated by the foolishness of worldly wisdom and rebellion against the spiritual truth of the gospel.  This age is the age made foolish by God.

It is also the age in which we fight a battle:

Eph 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

There will be victory in this battle all along.  But, the age of the full manifestation of victory will be the age of resurrection and eternal life!

Mark 10:29-30 So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time -- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions -- and in the age to come, eternal life.

Luke 18:29-30 So He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life."

Heb 6:4-6 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

Passages like these teach the life-style that we should expect in this age -- real victory, but in persecutions, having no visible glory of our own, but overshadowed to worldly eyes by the world's glory.  But, having tasted of the power of the age to come, we persevere unto that age of resurrection and glory when we shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of the Father.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Was the Covenant of Works Gracious?


The Covenant of Works was absolutely gracious.  God can only reach down to us in his condescension, and be the total giver.  But that condescension was intolerant of sin. 

The creation was encompassed in plan by the Covenant of Grace.  It was planned from eternity past, in the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and was ready when Adam fell.

But, though he believed, he still died.  As a result of his sin millions died who did not believe.

Adam and Christ are two heads.  The Apostle takes pains to contrast the effects of the lives of these two Men (Rom 5, I Cor 15).

However much it is the absolute, overriding and vital truth that grace superabounds where sin abounds, and that the Covenant of Grace is the ruling covenant, nevertheless it must be the case that these two Men represent two covenants.

God has mercy upon whom he will.  Not all who are in Adam live.

Restitution of Creation vs. Resurrection of Creation

Thoughts on the Covenant of Works, Trinitarianism, Incarnation and Redemption

Here are some links to a collection of papers, some of which were developed in conjunction with a class on the Covenant of Works.  These papers describe how I believe the doctrine of the Covenant of Works can be exaggerated and improperly construed as a full paradigm for the redeemed life of the human race in the current age.  

In brief, my argument is that the redemption that is in Christ is an infinitely higher destiny for the race than even the fullness of life actually known from Scripture to have been held out before Adam.  These papers therefore discuss the vital differences which I see between an eschatology based on the "Restitution of Creation" and an eschatology based on the "Resurrection of Creation."

My discussion begins by treating what I believe to be the negative ramifications of Herman Bavinck's presentation of the Covenant of Works.  I complain about his exaggeration of the concept beyond the Scriptural data, and his using the spirituality of the original creation as the paradigm for the spirituality of the redeemed life.   He teaches what I call the "restitution of creation."

An entire treatise by Hodnett exists, similarly approving the substance of what Bavinck teaches.  See a link to his treatise contrasting the theology of A. A. van Ruler with the views of Jurgen Moltmann.  Van Ruler's view is quite extreme, and, in my opinion, quite contrary to the tenor of Scripture.  One of the more offensive sub-sections of the treatise is Number 10I have kept this in my possession for non-profit educational purposes only, in case these links disappear from the Internet.  The interesting thing to see in this argument pro van Ruler is that Hodnett accuses Moltmann that his theology isn't Christian -- just as Moltmann has accused van Ruler of the same.  These academic papers reveal that they have "seen a light" that one way or another decisively impacts the shape of Christianity.  This is no minor argument.

A more extreme presentation of the Covenant of Works as the paradigm for the redeemed race is seen in this seemingly well-intended (and hopefully accurate) description of Rousas Rushdoony's "Gospel of Restitution."  (You will have to view this page with Internet Explorer.)  The particular page linked to in this paragraph was taken from the Internet, but I cannot find it any more, so I cannot give the link.   The page is contained in this web site, and is used for non-profit educational purposes only.

Here is a brief presentation of my views on Incarnation, Covenants, and Eschatology.   This presents what I call the "resurrection of creation," by emphasizing the necessity of a redemptive-historical approach to the covenants in order to maintain a proper doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

My paper on distinguishing the varieties of postmillennialism shows the difference between a postmillennialism based on restitution of creation, and a postmillennialism based on the resurrection of creation.

A final review.

I hope at some future time to be able to consolidate the arguments into a single, longer paper.  I have one started, but it is not ready for the web site yet.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What is "Covenant"?


We ought to know that a peculiar significance attaches to the term "covenant."  This is because, in the abstract, the term "covenant" can refer a business deal, or to a relationship that involves calculation of what the two parties to the covenant owe each other.

It's clear, then, that the term "covenant" can be used very legalistically.  In fact, one could clearly say that the Medievalism in theology against which the Reformation rebelled was a form of "covenant theology" which was zealous to describe the relationship between God and Man in terms of "calculations of merit" which involved internal and external attitudes and good works.  You obey the rules and you get salvation.  This is also seen in the "neonomianism" of the (post)-Puritan era, which, though ostensibly evangelical, makes faith a work.  It also reappears again in some of the "exegesis" of the "New Perspective on Paul."

Even in orthodox Reformed Theology it has often been the case that the gospel is presented in covenantal terms borrowed from "calculation."  God the Father provides us salvation in Christ.  To get it we "owe" him faith.  Now our system certainly does not consider faith to be a work, but one ought to ask whether describing the gospel in this manner is the best tactic for representing the Scripture truth that our doctrinal standards really do teach.  Faith, after all, is a gift of God, not a work we give to God.

A. A. Hodge will even describe the "plan of salvation" as a "Law."  The Moral Law requires works for blessing, and the Gospel requires faith for blessing.  The gospel is presented as a Law.  One thinks of the "Four Spiritual Laws," which were used in my own conversion.

But to preach the gospel is to offer the gift of Christ.  It is an invitation to believe -- to receive.  And, yes, it is a command, but the whole tenor of the command and invitation to believe is at root entirely other than the threat that comes from the Law.  "Turn or burn" is true, but the invitation to faith is still that.

These observations ought to draw us back to Scripture, to try to see what God meant by "keeping covenant."  There must be more to a divine covenant than a legal contract.

This is why it is entirely appropriate, in my opinion, to see writings in the current scene which probe the idea of using "covenant" as a word to describe aspects of mystical union with Christ, or even aspects of the eternal relationship between the Divine Persons.  In the latter case, if use of the term "covenant" is appropriate at all, then it cannot refer to a relationship contingent on behavior, but to an eternal and essential relationship.

Some may feel that the word "covenant" is itself inappropriate for describing intra-Trinitarian relationships.  Certainly this would be the case if "covenant" refers to a relationship contingent on behavior -- a deal.  But, if "covenant" can legitimately be used to refer to the essential intra-Trinitarian relationships, then the "covenant," as used between God and Man, also takes on a new and different lustre from any legalistic conception of its meaning.

One thinks of the marriage covenant, and the spiritual implications of it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Kingdom of the New Covenant


Within the Reformed heritage we have the unique opportunity to bring together in a unified vision all the covenants of Scripture, in such manner that the whole inscripturated Word remains accessible and edifying in the most direct manner for the whole church of God.  This point of view was certainly recognized by Calvin, when he claimed that the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament was a difference of administration more than it was a difference of covenant.  This same Calvin, however, went on to make the central covenant the New Covenant, as the title (by Calvin) of Institutes, Book II, Chapter VII makes clear:  "The Law was given, not to restrain the folk of the old covenant under itself, but to foster hope of salvation in Christ until his coming."  See materials in http://www.christocentry.net/Notes on Calvin's Institutes".  See also, in that place, a discussion of Calvin's teaching in Chapter XI of Book II ("The differences between the two testaments").  Calvin thus recognizes "progress" in the historic covenantal dispensations from the beginning of the inscripturated history until the end.  Christ is the axis of the covenant theology.

In later times, Calvin's implicit redemptive historicism has been explicitly developed by others.  It has now become a commonplace to explain the sequence of divine revelations and covenants in Scripture as each being part and parcel of a single big picture that has developed through time, as sequentially recorded in the inscripturated history.  This approach, called "Biblical Theology," emphasizes the development and progress of divine revelation, rather than just noting "differences" seen in the different portions of the Old and New Testaments.  This redemptive historical approach is not even limited to the Reformed.

All this material native to the Reformed movement helps us to focus our attention on the forward motion of revelation, on the "age to come," on the hope of resurrection, the first-fruits of which we experience now in our own souls, in Christ, though not yet in the body.

The Kingdom of God now manifest on earth is the Kingdom manifested in the souls of the believers, in the Church, and in the total life of the kingdoms of this earth insofar as they are permeated by the Gospel.  But, the Kingdom of God will ultimately be a Kingdom of total resurrection, in both soul and body.  This is our hope and heart's desire.

But, this view has competition.  It seems to me that there is also a strong movement among us which focuses on restitution of creation in this present age at the cost of primary emphasis on the hope of resurrection.

Now, it's certainly a fact that creation is restored in many ways, and the world is blessed by the present Kingdom of Christ.  But, the resurrection of creation in Christ is much, much more than the restitution of creation in this age.  Christ must be seen, and death must be banished.  Only this can satisfy our hearts.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christian Cultural Engagement


Here are a couple of alternatives to evaluate, when considering the degree to which Christians should be engaged with the world culture:

1) Do we merge with the world (as Christians), considering our surrounding world culture to be our own, and bring Christianizing influences to bear within it? In other words, is our degree of separation from the world reduced to the ethical, doctrinal (and individual) minimum, consistent with personal purity? Do we become part of the world mix, hopefully with power to change the mix? Or,

2) Do we create a distinct counter-culture, in, but not of, the surrounding culture, which, to be sure, brings Christianizing influences to bear within that surrounding culture, but yet truly bears a unique corporate testimony intentionally separate from the world?

It seems to me that these two contrasting approaches to engagement with the world culture are visibly and actively present in different Reformed "schools of thought" which speak to us today.  As a result there is confusion among us, brought about by our lack of clear discernment of the options.  As a consequence we Reformed folk find ourselves unwittingly led hither and yon with different visions of what our engagement with the world should be.

There are famous books on this subject, such as Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture, but I do not see that these kinds of writings have brought about resolution of the issues among the Reformed.

We need to re-think these things for ourselves in the light of Scripture.  We need to ask, "What is the 'look and feel' of the true eschatology of the Scripture, as its interpretation is controlled by the teaching of the New Testament."  We need to ask, "How is the Kingdom coming now."

As an amillennialist coming to terms with postmillennialism, I have to remind folks that the First Christendom was brought into being by God through amillennialists who had their eyes focused on Resurrection, Judgment Day and the Eternal State.  How can we expect to be used by God to "bring in the Kingdom" by focusing on our prospects here and now?  There is a law of unintended consequences here -- big time. 

We need to understand the real significance of the teaching of the Epistle to the Romans, Chapters 6-8, and especially the significance of that phrase in Rom 7:6, which states "having [already] died [in Christ] ... ."  It is only when our feet, and future prospects, are planted firmly in Heaven that we can reach down and bring some Heaven into this world.  It is only as a people whose eyes are focused on resurrection that we may manifest the first-fruits of the Resurrection now.