Monday, June 25, 2012

No! to "Hypercalvinism"

This post has been revised.

One measuring stick by which to measure any system of theology is to think of the two concepts of: 1)  God's Will, and 2) Freedom, or History, as ordained by God.

Those who inhabit the so-called "calvinistic" systems have to maintain a Scriptural position which affirms God's decree of history, along with the freedom that he has ordained on the created level, and the divine interaction with that creation in the course of history.

This is affirmed by the Westminster Confession, which states that:

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (WCF 3:1).

We could summarize this by saying that God ordained what comes to pass in history, but God also ordained that the process of history be real.  History is not a vapor that dematerializes before the decree of God, but is the reality -- the real process -- which has been ordained to take place by the decree of God, and by which the ends of his decree are met.

It is only in the process of history that prayers make sense.  It is only in the process of history that God's goodness is manifested to the undeserving.  It is only in the process of history that common grace exists -- even a measure of grace to the non-elect.  It is only within time that the love for sinners leads to the propagation of the gospel.  It is only within time that the moral process of growth, conversion and even apostasy can take place, because all this takes place in the visible church, in process of time.  The visible church is not a mistake.  Prayers that ask for anything besides simply "God's will" are not wrong.  We do not preach the gospel to all, simply because we do not know who the elect are.  The fact that the non-elect reject all natural and special revelation from God does not mean that God's exclusive motive was damnation when he revealed his goodness to them.

There is a mystery here.  God has ordained the ends.  But, he has also ordained the means to his ends.  How can he make an offer of Christ to those whom he does not call, and yet speak of this offer of Christ as a manifestation of his goodness, when he has ordained eternal suffering for those he knows will not accept it?  But he has done all this.  This is a mystery we cannot solve, and it is not a mystery simply because of our creaturehood, but it is a mystery in God, creation and time, all under the sovereign control of God.

When the ultimate ends of God's decree are used to override his expressed motives in Scripture during the execution of the decree, then elements of the moral significance of history simply vanish.  For one thing, "common grace" vanishes.  But, the church of Christ, and all her members, must play their parts in history, with all tribulations, questions, prayers, and joys.  We have to see that the Triune God, in our Lord Jesus Christ, is truly engaged in the history he has ordained.  We have no "platonic," static Greek God, but an active God involved in history.  History is real -- he has ordained it.  And, history moves to his ordained ends.  But, let us not short circuit the process by intellectually or practically denying the fact that God participates in history with us, as it moves to his ordained ends.

How thankful we ought to be that in the simplicity of his offer of his saving goodness, he has called us unto himself!  And, yet we too cannot deny that he is good, and means to be good, even to those who are not made to submit to his call, by the Spirit.  It is because they reject his real and true expression of real goodness to them that they are condemned.  They end up condemned by their response to his common grace -- but that "common grace" was a real offer of grace to them, from God, in history.

We know that the Triune God lisps to us at our level about himself, when he reveals himself as a moral agent as well as a sovereign.  Let us be content with what he lisps to us in our language, and not break the paradigm by beginning to say, "Well, I know how he really is!" by viewing our present reality only through the decree.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sola Scriptura


Recent events, such as occur from time to time in Reformed circles, have to do with some person of note leaving the Reformed fellowship for a church which does not hold to Sola Scriptura.  This always causes a lot of swirl and comment -- and hate.  But, I think that the blog discussions and articles in Reformed circles that mourn, complain about, or hate the persons who do this often display the theological weaknesses that let this kind of thing happen.

I think that the best approach to any serious religious question is to say, "Let's study the Scripture, and let's study History."  This approach is good for anyone, whether they're sure of Sola Scriptura or not.  And, we who claim to believe in Sola Scriptura ought to practice what we preach.  We should stop making Reformed "tradition," or doctrinal hobby-horses, or the pet teachings of favorite personalities the touchstone of Scripture interpretation.  We should study the Scripture, and let Scripture interpret Scripture.

We Reformed can be highly theological, highly confessional, highly technical, and, Yes! highly traditional, and prone not to always rethink our foundations in Scripture.  As a consequence we do not know our Bibles well.

But, only the Scripture is the Word of God.  Only the Scripture compels allegiance.  Only the Scripture teaches and convinces.  This Word should always be in our hearts and mouths, and we must meditate in it day and night.

The Scripture itself is capable of defending its integrity and its teaching in the minds and hearts of those who are sensitive to its teaching by the Spirit.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ashes to Righteousness


When Job and Isaiah saw God, they each gained profound moral insight about Him, and therefore about themselves.  

For Isaiah, it was the dirty mouth speaking from a dirty heart:

For Job it was his presumption that he could understand the ways of God:

In each case, these self-accusations of weakness and depravity are regarded by God to be truth-speaking.  As a consequence, these men are immediately put into greater service to God:  Isaiah as a greater prophet, and Job as priest for his friends who have spoken so brazenly and self-confidently to Job about God's ways.

See:

42:1 Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’
5 I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.”
And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.
So, repenting in dust and ashes at the vision of God is the act of persons whom God calls righteous.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

"According To Its Kind"


Genesis 1 (NKJV)

A lot of time in protological controversy is spent in discussion whether the 'day' of Genesis 1 is a 24-hour 'day'.  Another aspect of that discussion must be to consider the repeated statement that all plants, beasts and men, reproduce "according to their kind."

This process of reproduction only "in kind" is a fundamental thought of the passage, and is a repeated statement of the fixity of species.

Evolutionary conceptions can find no place here.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Special Creation of Adam and Eve - Is That All?


The current move in some quarters of the church is to make the special creation of Adam (from dust) and Eve (from Adam) into the touchstone of creationism in the church.  But, this point is actually the point of last resort, before entire capitulation to the idea of organic evolution.  The Scripture says much more.

In the Nicene Creed or Apostles' Creed, God the Father is called the "Creator (or Maker) of Heaven and Earth."  This includes the angelic realm as well as the cosmos visible to us.  The concept of "creation" means the creation of things we see from nothing (Heb 11:1-3).  Regardless of the notions of origin that have been hypothesized by believers (the Gap Theory, the Day-Age Theory, etc.) nothing explains away the Biblical testimony that the Universe is a "made" thing.  According to Scripture, what we see did not come about through natural law (even under the guidance of providence) after having been supposedly "created" as a ball of fire in the distant past.  That is not the Biblical doctrine of creation.

The believers need to understand that it is Creation of what we see, and not simply the hand of Providence governing natural law, which is critical.  Therefore, permitting the doctrine of creation to be reduced to a big-bang + providence (and evolution), and only letting the special creation of Adam be the essential remnant of the doctrine of creation, is the last straw before creation ceases to be a fundamental point of orthodoxy in the church.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Gospel Reductionism

This post has been retitled and the language of the text has been improved.

Paul the apostle describes the accusatory function of the Law of God in Chapter 3 of his Epistle to the Romans.  I have reproduced the whole section at the bottom of this blog post, marked with a *.

Here is an extract of that long passage:  Underlines and things in square brackets in the following quotation are marks of emphasis added by me:

Now we know that whatever the law [of God] says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
The apostle means that the righteousness described in the Law of God -- a righteousness we should seek to live by -- nevertheless shows us to be sinners before God, and so we must receive grace another way than through our own obedience.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, ... even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For ... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  ... . Where is boasting [in our actions] then? It is excluded. ... Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. ... Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.      (Romans 3:19-31)
What Paul is asserting here is that the Gospel brings us to Christ the Savior in order to have our sins forgiven because we trust in him instead of in the things that we do.  But in order to turn our hearts to faith in Christ, the Gospel must teach the Law of God as his righteous demand, in order that we may know we are sinners.  It is a standard of righteousness which none of us can meet.  The Gospel is therefore good news for real sinners, who receive forgiveness and salvation by faith alone in Christ.  And, since our hearts' desire as believers in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is to walk in his steps and imitate his righteousness, it follows that we must be taught his righteous ways, so that we can begin to practice the Law of Love by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

I say all this in view of the common propensity to use the word "gospel" to describe the positive demeanor of church ministry, while at the same time underplaying the teaching of the Law and the need for repentance.  Instead, everything becomes "gospel."  The "gospel" is expected to do all things without the assistance of the Law -- because we don't want to be legalists.  Therefore, there is a preaching of goodness, peace and acceptance in Christ, yet without sufficient recognition of the need for the corresponding preaching of Biblical standards and the need for a life of repentance and spiritual warfare against our sins. We need the combined ministry of Law and Gospel, where we find that as sinners who confess their sins, we are not only safe as we believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, but we are also empowered by his Holy Spirit and instructed how to act more like him.

To reduce the preaching of the church to a weakened "gospel," without sufficient ministry of the Law for repentance and instruction will therefore weaken the gospel testimony of the church, will be less likely to lead to conversion of heart, and will not sufficiently teach the believers what righteousness before God looks like, so that they can identify their real sins and idols and fight against them.  Instead, there will be a "gospel reductionism" in which the church is welcoming to all kinds of broken people, as she should be, but people do not get better.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

* Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.  (Rom 3:19-31).

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Nature and Grace (Updated 9/10/16)


I am not a philosopher, so if I misstate some philosophical points below, you can correct me in the comments.  This post contains theses for disputation.

Somewhere in time past theological and philosophical analysts began to study the knowledge obtainable from the logical use of the mind and the observation of nature, and the relationship that this kind of knowledge has to knowledge gained in Christian revelation.  This is the analysis of the relationship between "nature" (or, "natural law") and "grace."

Generally speaking, before the Enlightenment (when the mind of man became the measure of all), it had been put forth, especially effectively by Aquinas, that grace completes nature.  That is, nature can take us a really long way in the knowledge of divine things, but the uppermost echelons of revealed knowledge available to us (the Trinity; the Nature of Christ as the God-Man; the Way of Salvation), could only be reached by revelation (grace) and were not accessible to knowledge which came by nature.

The danger in this synthesis of nature and grace is that the boundary between the two can move.  As time wore on, the boundary between nature and grace moved to include more under nature and less under grace.  Finally, in the eyes of many who saw the supreme doctrines mentioned above as useless or wrong, the mind of man took over, and nature ruled.  Grace appeared to die.  There was nothing left for grace to provide to human knowledge.

One can speculate that this process was due to the sin of man, and that the relationship between nature and grace could supposedly have been kept clear if the sinful kinds of thinking, theologizing and philosophizing had been kept out of the process.  But, this still leaves open the question where the boundary between nature and grace lies.  Things can remain unstable.

We do note in this situation, as it was left by Aquinas, that though grace is seen as supreme, nature is actually the foundation.  This is why nature is always eating away at grace.  It isn't simply that man is a sinner, and therefore always makes mistakes in locating the boundary between nature and grace.  The mistake is that nature -- the knowledge supposedly accessible to all -- is made the foundation of knowledge.  This is close to the doctrine of the Enlightenment, which hypothesized that Nature (natural law) is the foundation of all -- period.  This, I think, is why science (nature) rules in many intellectual circles. For the poor believers struggling under this load so-called science is always eating away at God's Word.

But look at the doctrine of creation.  It is impossible to conceive of the process of creation as entirely natural.  It is impossible to have overall scientific or natural knowledge of the universe as it is being created, because of the miraculous content, and yet that finished creation is supposedly made the ground of natural knowledge (and the testimony to God which is created within it is rejected).  But, the fact that the creation was made under circumstances inaccessible to the human mind implies that nature does not precede and underlie grace.  Natural understanding does not come first.  It is the other way around.  Grace underlies and explains nature.  This changes everything.  The Word of God (grace) rules nature.  The arguments from "nature" which contradict the Word of God are false arguments, prima facie.  Nature is understood in terms given by the Word of God, not the other way around.

Therefore, we must not say that the Book of Nature is a revelation of God accessible under common grace to the mind of the common man, speaking to the common man as clearly about God and nature as the Book of God speaks to the minds of believing men, in the subject matter that they share.  This makes nature superior to grace, and reinstitutes the degenerative process of harm that has been caused by this.

Actually, the Book of Nature first and fundamentally tells men what the Book of God says it tells men -- namely, that God is the creator, sustainer, and giver of all good, in sovereign control of his cosmos, that the creation which is seen and denied by the common eye is testimony to his creative power, and that things in natural revelation only actually work the way that it is said that they work by special revelation.

The idea that the Word of God can be forcefully interpreted against its own claims and intent by the Word of Nature is simply a hoax, perpetrated by a long run of success in the hard sciences, which has supplied the courage to many philosophical "men of science" to proclaim their rule over all things.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Evolution Among the Public


One can examine this link for a discussion of belief (or not) in human evolution among the American public:

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/01/survey-nearly-half-of-americans-subscribe-to-creationist-view-of-human-origins/?hpt=hp_t2

One can see from this, if these statistics are accurate and meaningfully interpreted, that the body of folks who disbelieve in human evolution is not small, and is even surprisingly large (25%) among those who seldom or never attend church.

------- The article linked to above follows here -------


Survey: Nearly half of Americans subscribe to creationist view of human origins

By Dan Merica, CNN

(CNN) – Forty-six percent of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form at one point within the past 10,000 years, according to a survey released by Gallup on Friday.

That number has remained unchanged for the past 30 years, since 1982, when Gallup first asked the question on creationism versus evolution. Thirty years ago, 44% of the people who responded said they believed that God created humans as we know them today - only a 2-point difference from 2012.

"Despite the many changes that have taken place in American society and culture over the past 30 years, including new discoveries in biological and social science, there has been virtually no sustained change in Americans' views of the origin of the human species since 1982," wrote Gallup's Frank Newport. "All in all, there is no evidence in this trend of a substantial movement toward a secular viewpoint on human origins."

The second most common view is that humans evolved with God's guidance - a view held by 32% of respondents. The view that humans evolved with no guidance from God was held by 15% of respondents.

Survey: U.S. Protestant pastors reject evolution, split on Earth's age

Not surprisingly, more religious Americans are more likely to be creationists.

Nearly 70% of respondents who attend church every week said that God created humans in their present form, compared with 25% of people who seldom or never attend church.

Among the seldom church-goers, 38% believe that humans evolved with no guidance from God.

The numbers also showed a tendency to follow party lines, with nearly 60% of Republicans identifying as creationists, while 41% of Democrats hold the same beliefs.

Republicans also seem to be more black-and-white about their beliefs, with only 5% responding that humans evolved with some help from God. That number is much lower than the 19% of both independents and Democrats.

According to Newport, a belief in creationism is bucking the majority opinion in the scientific community - that humans evolved over millions of years.

"It would be hard to dispute that most scientists who study humans agree that the species evolved over millions of years, and that relatively few scientists believe that humans began in their current form only 10,000 years ago without the benefit of evolution," writes Newport. "Thus, almost half of Americans today hold a belief ... that is at odds with the preponderance of the scientific literature."

The USA Today/Gallup telephone poll was conducted May 10-13 with a random sample of 1,012 American adults. The sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
- Dan Merica