Wednesday, April 16, 2014

O'Reilly, Bloomberg and Saint Paul

"I've always felt there is a battle between good and evil and if there is a heaven you have to earn your way in through your actions on Earth." Bill O’Reilly / Roman Catholic (true to his Catholicism) 

“I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” Michael Bloomberg / Reformed Jew (true to his Judaism)

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Apostle Paul / Follower of Christ (true to the Scriptures) 
I don't typically watch Bill O'Reilly. (I don't typically watch much of anything not having cable television!) However, I made an exception last night from my hotel room because I wanted to hear how O'Reilly handled the topic of the after life.

After putting forth a doctrine of salvation by works, O'Reilly went on to express most ardently that he hopes that justice will prevail at the final judgment. O'Reilly couldn't have been more clear. Bill O'Reilly does not need God's mercy and grace. He, also, hopes others will receive the justice they deserve. (I prayed for this lost soul at various times throughout the day. Many verses came to mind, especially that Christ didn't come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.) Bill O'Reilly is self-righteous and, therefore, on his way to hell.*

I heard the Bloomberg quote on CNBC while driving home. Had I not heard his quote I would not have blogged on this matter.

Bloomberg is a blasphemer. The difference between him and O'Reilly is one of degree. Bloomberg has tried to convince himself (and others) that he has already earned heaven whereas O'Reilly, at best, tries to project that he can and hopefully will merit heaven. That's a distinction without a relevant difference in the grand scheme of things.

I guess it's now time to pray for Michael Bloomberg.

*If we cannot pronounce God's curses based upon His word, then we forgo the right to pronounce God's blessings. When O'Reilly professes that he is saved by God's grace alone, then it can be said that he is on his way to Heaven. It is not biblical to say one can be saved now while they clearly profess that they are trusting in self-merit alone.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Jesus Movies, Images of Christ & the Second Commandment

Most evangelicals have little regard for two of the Ten Commandments. Sabbath keeping has at best been reduced to attending a worship service on Sunday. Attend two services on Sunday and you might be called a legalist or at the other extreme a super-Christian. Whatever you are, it isn’t normal.
Whether one may make an image of God or watch a “Jesus movie” is not even on the average Christian’s radar screen. Of course you may watch a Jesus movie. It’s not just your right; God would have it that way, or so it’s thought. Use the movie as a tool for evangelism! Permissiveness and latitude is always the de facto position. It's commonly thought that either the second commandment has been abrogated with Israel’s expiration (along with Sabbath observance) or it doesn’t apply to images of Jesus under the "dispensation of grace."

Many Christians try to believe that the second commandment has always only been against making an image of God and using it as a worship aid, like Roman Catholicism promotes in practice. (The Eastern Church’s icons are usually up for grabs.) A growing number of Protestants who avoid crucifixes and such will say that the commandment is addressing carved images or possibly God’s divine nature but certainly not Jesus’ human nature acted out in a movie. But, be honest now. Are Christians going to a Jesus movie merely to get a glimpse of the Lord’s humanity, or are they looking to be spiritually edified by a visual depiction of the God-man? If they're looking for spiritual edification, then the accompanying sin is that of false worship through the mediation of an image of Christ, which is forbidden under the second commandment. If the aim is not spiritual edification, then the pursuit is a vain thing and, therefore, forbidden under the third commandment. If the commandment refers only to false gods and not the living God, then the second commandment collapses into the first commandment leaving us with nine commandments, (which although is theoretically possible it would raise a question regarding redundancy over two in light of the remaining eight, very distinct commandments).

What is most times overlooked is that Jesus’ personality is that of the Second Person of the Trinity and not just any human personality. God couldn’t have given the incarnate Christ my personality for instance. No, the incarnate Christ has the personality of the Son. It had to be that way since the Son, the Second Person, became man. Added to this, an actor, no matter how good, cannot help but project his own personality (blended with a scripted personality) onto the screen. He cannot portray the personality of another perfectly - let alone the personality of the Second Person of the Trinity even approximately! Therefore, the actor who would dare play the Christ cannot but project a false image of God even if he sticks to the written script of Scripture. It’s not as though verbal tone and body language do not proceed from personality. In fact, the reverse is true. Reactions of persons convey ideas that are propositional in nature. These picture-words are being passed off as God's communication.

I know how unspiritual it can be to use theological terms, but it’s my Blog. The idea of perichoresis as it relates to the hypostatic union is relevant to this discussion and should inform our thinking on the second commandment as it relates to images of Christ. As Oliver Crisp astutely notes, we can rightly say that the divine nature penetrates the human nature (yet without commingling or confusion of the distinct natures of Christ). Although the two natures of Christ are indeed distinct (i.e., there is no transfer of properties), the divine works of the Second Person, though they do not originate with the human nature, are performed through the human nature by the divine Son. (Again, Crisp.)(Similarly, the three persons of the Trinity although distinct, mutually indwell each other and "share the same divine space." Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, Luke 4:1; the Father indwells the Son, John 14:10, etc.To consider the Son aright, one must consider His relationship to the Father, etc., and the Trinity as a whole.)

The divine nature precedes the human nature in the incarnation. The Son of God became man. Accordingly, although the divine nature penetrates the human nature, the reverse is not true. Christ is a human being who came down from heaven.  In the time of Jesus' humiliation, no less than now, this divine penetration resulted in Jesus’ tone of voice and body language. May Jesus be accurately portrayed as effeminate or would his divine nature forbid such a penetration to his human nature? Would He grin or appear disappointed in the same way and over the same things as any mortal actor?

What possibly intrigues me most in all of this is that when I watch a good movie I have no problem suspending my beliefs so that the actor may “become” for me the character. So, Al Pacino becomes The Don and Anthony Hopkins becomes C.S. Lewis. No sin there I trust. Do Christians do the same when watching Jesus movies? I would think not. I certainly hope not! Christians are to be on their guard because they should realize that the actor will not be faithful to the Second Person. We don’t know Jesus’ facial expressions, etc. but such expressions often speak a thousand words. Are those words consistent with the Son of God? More to the point, are they His words? If not, then how are movies such as this not putting words in God’s mouth?

Once again, God’s people put their carnal reasoning and good intentions above the plain word of God. Once again the serpent hisses, “Has God said?” Once again the church falters in disobedience over the latest craze.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

One Size Doesn't Always Fit All

How are we to behave toward (i) un-repented brothers in the church, (ii) profane people, (iii) splendid pagans (i.e. the populace) who live in the neighborhood and (iv) those who preach another gospel?

Imagine a person plotting to commit murder. Would any sane person think that after the murder was committed the killer was no longer guilty of sinful contemplation? Although the intention to act is not typically as consequential as the act itself, the manner of an intention often times determines the degree of punishment that will be inevitably indexed to the act itself.  Was the murder committed in self-defense and not intended, intended but spontaneous, or committed with considerable malice aforethought etc.? It’s easy to see that the intention from which an act proceeds is indeed relevant, and all the more when God judges. That is why premeditated acts may be weighed differently than spontaneous ones that result in the same outcome. At the very least, isn’t an intention to commit a crime still worthy of penalty in cases in which the ultimate act is providentially prevented by something other than the will of the plotter?

Why is it then that those who have plotted to sue out unlawful divorce are not considered throughout the universal church in need of repentance even after the divorce is finalized? Is high-handed, premeditated and unlawful pursuit ever absolved upon culmination, in this case receiving a written bill of divorcement? I should say not. One’s “victory” in gaining an unlawful divorce can never exonerate him. Even after divorce, any guilty party is to repent and seek forgiveness for pursuing divorce.
Now what about unlawful acts that can be undone but should not be? Many sorts of "unlawful" marriages, for instance, ought not to be dissolved though entered into unlawfully. Why are professing Christians after pursuing unlawful marriages to unbelievers not universally deemed candidates by the church for biblical confrontation even after entering into such an unholy alliance? In a biblically informed ecclesiastical setting, one in which elders are doing their job, such an unholy union resulting from considerable deliberation in the face of loving confrontation would result in excommunication.

un-repented brothers in the church

Upon excommunication Scripture is clear that believers are to withdraw themselves from the unrepentant sinner; any contact should be conscious and deliberate, never casual or idle, according to a ministry of focused gospel reconciliation lest the seriousness of ecclesiastical sanction is undermined along with any proper sense of urgency for repentance and restoration. Although the unrepentant sinner is to be regarded as an unbeliever, he is not like the world. Repentance in such cases is not to be seen as bringing forth salvation but rather restoration of a wayward child. Excommunication is for reclaiming a brother. It is not to be seen as evangelism. Accordingly, those brothers from whom we are to withdraw are not to be counted as enemies of Christ but rather lost sheep (not goats) in the need of admonishment. The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly states that “Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren...” Our hope should be that shame would come from God’s mandated avoidance, which in the end might aid in a changed heart and biblical restoration. (2 Thess. 3:6 ff)

There is a difference between a covenant breaker and a heathen. Yet it is wrongly thought that one who is excommunicated is no different than the world and that spending idle time with such a one is acceptable. First off, no time spent should be utterly idle and without Godward purpose. Even rest should be thought of in self-conscious terms of recharging our batteries in order to serve God. In any case, this sort of thinking (that an excommunicated person is no different than the world) makes way for covenant breakers to live comfortably in their sin, without the shame that should accompany their obstinate heart. It is often times out of selfishness or familial convenience that Christians disobey God’s word on this matter and spend unjustifiable amounts of time with wayward friends and family members. What’s worse is when Christians disobey God’s word by spending time with the decidedly unrepentant in the name of “building relationships” so that an occasion might arise to offer, once again, the demands of the gospel.

Yes, Jesus spent time with sinners but it was always on his terms and on his time table. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God. He warned of eternal damnation. Jesus confronted sin and preached righteousness. The relationship building that Jesus was engaged in was saturated with the word. His relationships were always brought in short order to a terminus point, Himself.  Jesus' relationship buidling and ours looks much different I'm afraid.

Unfortunately, many congregations do not practice formal ecclesiastical censure. What is the parishioner to do in such cases? That can be a thorny question to many but I think the answer is clear. The instruction to withdraw from disorderly brethren is given to all in the church, whereas the "keys" are granted only to the elders. So even if the elders don't discharge their ministerial and declarative obligations, parishioners can discharge their own. The charge to avoid disorderly brethren  still stands. There is also a time to withdraw from liberal ministers who refuse to obey God's word on this matter and others.
profane people
There are other sorts of people who are utterly self-indulgent, existential, living without constraint and without natural affection; from such we are to turn away. (2 Timothy 3:5) We are forbidden to cast pearls before swine. Yet we must balance such instruction with the Great Commission, to preach the gospel to every creature. The resolution to this conundrum is that we are not to waste undo time with profane persons. “Preach the word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” but be willing to shake the dust off your sandals should the profane person not respond with interest.  (Matt. 10:14; 2 Timothy 4:2;)

splendid pagans (i.e. the populace) who live in the neighborhood

A Christian’s manner of life is to be consistent with the gospel. Our light is to shine before men. There should be more striving with people and building purposeful relationships in order to win the lost. We need to strive with splendid pagans and be prayerfully purposeful in our pursuit. 

by way of review (the first three groups)

When one who is called a brother has been unambiguously confronted with sin that undermines a credible profession of faith and there is no repentance to be found in him, he is to be avoided until such time he repents. If the person is attending a church that does not have the pastoral fortitude to confront and censure their rebellious members, the instruction to Christians still abides. Individual Christians are to confront in all longsuffering and if necessary avoid such people (whether the church does its job or not).

We are to place mockers of the gospel and those living without constraint in a different category all together. We are to throw them the life line of the gospel then move on if the fish aren’t biting.

We are to be all things to all men so that we might win some. This pertains to the populace.
those who preach another gospel
Finally, there is a fourth category of person - those who would bring another gospel. The short answer is, do not receive such a one into your house or even extend him a greeting. (2 John 1:10)


How often have we seen Christians attend marriages that were entered into unlawfully? How often does this occur under the pretense of wanting to be supportive? It's a terrible thing to rely upon our own understanding and not God's word. Just imagine fathers of sons and daughters refusing to attend a wedding on biblical principle. Imagine if the church marshaled together and obeyed God in faith?

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Adam, Merit & Glory

It is not deducible from Scripture that the prospect of glorification was open to Adam prior to sinning, let alone that Adam was in a position to merit glorification. In fact, a reasonable inference is that covenant of life implies that Adam would have continued in a perpetual state of communion with God had he continued to obey God by faith. Unfortunately, in certain Reformed circles, the latter view is now considered aberrant.

Let’s assume, however, that it was available to Adam to be glorified. To say that he might have merited glorification is most misleading. Would we say that a son who cuts his father’s half-acre field for fifty million dollars “earns the money”? In common parlance we might say “The son earned nothing. He merely received from a generous father that which was not deserved.” We can find even more problems with this novel view when we look more closely at the significant differences between the earthly son who receives a disproportionate reward for completing a task and the alleged prospect of glory that awaited Adam upon the successful completion of a supposed probation period.

1. The blessing of the world to come is of a different order than any blessing that can be obtained in this world, accentuating the folly of referring to the celestial blessing as one that could be earned by a creature. In other words, if it is equivocal to say that a son may “earn” fifty million dollars for cutting grass in less than two hours, how much more confusing is it to suggest that Adam was in a position to have “merited” being like Christ? In some respect it seems heretical.

2. When something is truly earned, it is understood that two parties benefit. The two parties, relative to each other, can be said to be autonomous. Indeed, the earthly father would receive some (although small) benefit from the son’s obedience; whereas God would have received no benefit from Adam’s obedience. Accordingly, it’s a misnomer to say that Adam, being contingent upon God, could have earned something from the hand of God. To suggest that Adam could have earned glory implies that God is wanting of something, like earthly fathers, and that would-be autonomous Adam could have fulfilled that need.

3. The earthly father would not have played a relevant part in causing the obedience of his son; whereas God would have providentially assured Adam’s obedience had Adam obeyed, accentuating the undeserved favor that Adam needed in order not to have fallen and to have remained a covenant-keeper. Therefore, it is misleading to say that Adam could have earned something from God when it would have been God who effectually enabled Adam gladly to do as he ought. To deny this is to affirm that Adam had libertarian freedom prior to the fall, a metaphysical surd indeed.

If one wants to say that Adam would have merited glorification, then it should be underscored that the compact would have been so exceedingly gracious that (a) the merited reward of being like Christ would have been incomprehensibly disproportionate to the work performed; (b) the benefactor of the reward would have received nothing of value in return for the work performed; and (c) the one who would have earned the reward would have done so only because the benefactor providentially caused the beneficiary gladly to will and to do of the benefactor’s good pleasure. Yet when we make all those qualifications, what then does it mean to say that Adam might have “merited” glorification?! Merit becomes a vacuous term!

So, why could the God-man have merited our glorification without contradicting the three points above?

1. By obedience, the Son received back the glory he already had known. (John 17:5) Accordingly, given who the Son is, the reward was not disproportionate, for he was even the one who created heaven.

2. Even when we “glorify” God, we are not bringing glory to him per se, but rather a magnanimous God is showing forth his glory in us. Accordingly, strictly speaking, Adam himself was not, nor could he have been, in position to glorify God. Therefore, Adam was not in a position to earn anything from God. Yet Adam was in a position but by no worthiness of his own (of course), to show forth God’s glory but only by God’s determination and grace.

The Father, however, did receive something through the Son’s work on behalf of his people. The Father was truly glorified through the glorification of the Son. (John 17:1) The difference is that the Father was glorified through the work of the Son that was performed not only for, through and to God but, also, by him in the person of Christ. God being a non-contingent sovereign being can receive glory through who he is and what he’s done.

3. The Son being the creator and sustainer of all things was the source of his own willing and doing of his Father’s good pleasure, unlike created beings – even those created upright.

With respect to the claim of glorification upon perfect obedience:

It is with hesitance I dignify the notion that Adam could have merited anything before God. For one reason the idea presupposes the inference that it was available to Adam to enter into glory, whether by grace or merit.

Here is a rough argument for the meritorious view:

p1. Jesus after a finite amount of time on earth entered into glory
p2. The compact with Adam paralleled that of Jesus with respect to the hope of glory
C. Adam after a finite amount of time on earth would have entered into glory

The minor premise needs to be shown from Scripture, not just assumed. Given the implied parallel in p2, why not also assume a parallel with respect to the possibility of sin? Why, in other words, should we not conclude that Jesus could have sinned given that Adam could, if it were indeed true that Adam could have obtained glory just as Christ could? (I address Hodge’s argument here: Also, given the parallel in p2, why not also assume that Adam would have obtained eternal life for those he represented, as did Jesus? (G.K. Beale in his N.T. Biblical Theology offers the most persuasive exegetical case I've seen for p2; yet it remains an inference that although is "good" is not "necessary" but to make it dogma is to exceed the principle of Sola Scriptura.)

The response I have received in the past is much along the lines of: “God promises ‘eternal life’ to those who perfectly fulfill its precepts (Lev. 18:5; Matt. 19:16-7; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12; etc.)”The problem with such a line of reasoning is that none of the proof-texts imply that Adam (or any other non-divine person) would have been glorified by keeping the law. Life is indeed a sufficient condition for the guarantee of future glorification in the days of redemption, but we know that by divine revelation - not speculation! With respect to Adam we have no such revelation. In fact, all we know is that the life Adam enjoyed was not a sufficient condition for glorification since he indeed fell! Under the gospel we have a golden chain of redemption, which culminates in the glorified state. In the garden there was no golden chain of redemption but rather life was offered upon perpetual obedience. As long as Adam would obey, he’d live. Adam had life (even life eternal in some respect) until he would fall. Eternity is not timeless; so Adam was (in time) a partaker of eternal life, just as believers are now. [Note: The ontology of Adam and that of one born from above are of course different but the point still stands.] If Adam had obeyed forever, he would have continue to live eternally. The merit advocate’s task is to prove that Adam, after a time, would have lived forever in a different, glorified state. Yet all that Scripture reveals is that glorification is an additional blessing to our new life, having been raised in Christ. I want to see where Scripture reveals that glorification was offered as an increase in blessing upon Adam’s perfect obedience apart from union with Christ, the God-man.

What a great salvation we have in Christ! We have more than was ever available to Adam, which has teleological implications that I would think pertain to supra-infra discussions. It would seem, in other words, that the prospect of glory for Adam is critical to a infralapsarian position. (The supra position as it has been traditionally formed (Beza) is problematic to me as well. Yet in later times supras such as Clark and Reymond placed in the first position the election of some sinful men unto salvation, which I find closer to the telos that Scripture puts forth. Finally, given a multi-faceted decree in which some ends are means to other ends, it's somewhat a fools game to try speculate the teleological order of it. I think Frame hints at this notion with softer words in DKG.)

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Total Depravity - Implicitly Denied

With Augustine I think we must maintain that all the “good” unregenerate man does is merely the result of one lust restraining another. Man’s so-called good, not wrought in regeneration, suits him for depraved and sinful reasons. The miserly man does not spend his money on licentious living, but the reason for such respectable refrain is a sinful lust for money if not also an insatiable desire for self-respect and the respect of others. (Maybe splendid pagans aren’t so really splendid after all.)

God’s common goodness restrains fallen man through the providential employment of man’s sinful passions in conjunction with man being created in God’s likeness. Accordingly, I for one will not say that Hitler’s judgement won’t be less severe than splendid popes or sacrificial nuns. How could I possibly know? {This might serve as a fair reminder for Christians to consider the impetus for their own works of charity, without getting into a morbid introspection, of course. But prayerful introspection here and there, which although has fallen out of fashion along with the Puritans among the self-appointed keepers of the Reformed confessions, is always under good regulation.}

When we say that man “can always do worse” or that “Hitler didn’t kill his mother,” we must also maintain, over-and-above the sinful reasons for sinners not wanting to do worse, that man is unable to do other than what God has decreed. So, in another sense man actually is as bad as he can be - both in a metaphysical and decreetive sense. But, how often is that qualification made when discussing total depravity? How often is it taught that the unregenerate man is not worse than he might be only because he desires these sins more than those sins? Where's the accent, on "common grace" and how wonderful it is that the "unchurched" do such wonderful things? Or is it on the evil intentions of the ungodly neighbor who poses as good? The end result is that grace is not so amazing anymore. I think in some respect grace was more amazing 150 years ago among Arminians than it is in many Reformed churches today..

In sum, what I tend to read in the majority of discourses on total depravity is not what the doctrine actually means but what it does not mean. This is most unfortunate. I can't even say that an apology is being made for the truth of man's corruption through the fall - for an apology would first presuppose an acknowledgment of the true doctrine. This accommodation is no less than a semi-Pelagian understanding of the fall, if not worse, which would be much worse - Pelagian-humanism 

The profound truth of this doctrine is the very backdrop for the glory of God's saving grace in Christ; yet it is scarcely taught by those who profess the Reformed faith. What is too often missed is that this is no mild antithesis that exists between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. It is a deep seated enmity inflicted by no other than God Himself.

Because we're more concerned these days with the cash value of things than the principle of the matter, let me close by saying with the hope of enticing some that total depravity has far reaching implications in pastoral ministry and evangelism, but that's for another day I suppose.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sundry Matters - LFW, Omniscience, Temptation & Permissive Sin

More and more people who consider themselves consistently Reformed Christians defend the tenets of libertarian free will (LFW), while not claiming the label “libertarian” for themselves. Nonetheless, they argue for the power of contrary choice, even while claiming it is compatible with divine omniscience. What is even worse is that if one dare defend the necessity of the will (especially in the context of the prelapsarian state), which is the only option aside from pure contingency, it is often alleged that he has denied the Reformed confessions while making God out to be the “the author of sin”, a term that is rarely defined by those who employ it most.

I will not provide here a refutation of LFW, nor will I go into any great detail regarding how it is incompatible with God’s omniscience. I have done that most extensively elsewhere on this Blog. I will, however, provide several quotations from past and present theologians that clearly indicate that this is not a new thought, that LFW is incompatible with divine omniscience. That is to say, LFW logically leads to Open Theism, which is simply a resurrection of sixteenth century Socinianism with respect to God’s knowledge. What this means is that the most distinguishing factor of Arminian theology, if taken to its logical end, leads to a rank heresy, the denial of God’s exhaustive omniscience.

“Ironically, the openness critique at this point strongly resembles the long-standing kind of criticism that many Calvinists have given to the classical Arminian model…Open Theists and these Calvinists agree... that classical Arminianism is seriously flawed in at least two of its major tenets: namely, that… exhaustive divine foreknowledge is compatible with libertarian freedom....” Bruce A. Ware (p. 41 God’s Lesser Glory)

“Hence, the Arminian should be driven by consistency to the conclusion of the Socinian, limiting God’s knowledge.” R.L. Dabney (p. 220 Systematic Theology)

“If [liberty of indifference] be the true theory of the will, God could not execute his decree without violating the liberty of the agent, and certain foreknowledge would be impossible.” A.A. Hodge (p. 210 Outlines of Theology)

“Libertarianism is inconsistent, not only with God’s foreordination of all things, but also with his knowledge of future events.” John Frame (p. 143 The Doctrine of God)

“Moreover, not only are such contingencies not knowable to God, but also such ‘future, free contingencies’ do not and cannot even exist because they do not exist in God’s mind as an aspect of the universe whose every event he certainly decreed, creatively caused and completely and providentially governs.” Robert L. Reymond (p. 189 A New Systematic Theology Of The Christian Faith)

“Actions that are in no way determined by God, directly or indirectly, but are wholly dependent on the arbitrary will of man, can hardly be the object of divine foreknowledge.” L. Berkhof (p. 68 Systematic Theology)

“But God’s omniscience is limited by what is knowable. If Jones is indeterministically free, then it is not knowable, either to God or to us or to any other observer, what Jones will do when, in a given set of circumstances, he is confronted with a choice.” Paul Helm (p. 61 The Providence of God)

“To suppose the future volitions of moral agents not to be necessary events; or, which is the same thing, events which it is not impossible but that they may not come to pass; and yet to suppose that God certainly knows them, and knows all things, is to suppose God’s knowledge to be inconsistent with itself. For to say, that God certainly, and without all conjecture, knows that a thing will infallibly be, which at the same time he knows to be so contingent that it may possibly not be, is to suppose his knowledge inconsistent with itself; or that one thing that he knows, is utterly inconsistent with another that he knows. It is the same thing as to say, he now knows a proposition to be of certain infallible truth, which he knows to be of contingent uncertain truth." Jonathan Edwards (p. 137 Freedom of the Will)

The libertarian who wants to hold onto the orthodoxy of divine omniscience asserts that Corey will choose x, not necessarily but contingently. Of course a contingent x, by definition, truly might not occur. Accordingly, all Arminians are left with God knowing that x might not occur while knowing it will occur – but these are contradictory truths and, therefore, impossible for God to know; if x will occur, then it is philosophically false that it might occur. Consequently, God would have to know contradictory truths given LFW. He would have to know contingently true, conditional propositions about creaturely free actions couched in the subjunctive mood; such as, if Corey were in state of affairs y, he would freely choose x. Such an alleged truth cannot come from God’s necessary knowledge since the truth would be contingently true, making its truth-maker itself, nothing or some unknown entity residing outside of God and his control.

Why then would so many people who call themselves “Reformed” hold to a theory of the will that if consistently maintained would lead to a denial of God's omniscience? My guess is that they would like to protect God from being the “author of sin”, but in doing so they would have God not be God.

God is often pleased to lead his people into temptation:
The Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” What does such a petition presuppose? It presupposes “that the most wise, righteous, and gracious God, for divers holy and just ends, may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptations.” (Westminster Larger Catechism: answer 195)

God tempts no man:
Certainly the Catechism does not contradict Scripture where it states: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” James 1:13, 14

The biblical balance:
We must do justice to both truths. Although God is not a tempter, he nonetheless, according to the counsel of his own will, sovereignly upholds, directs and disposes all creatures, actions and things, to the end that even his people may be assaulted, foiled and even led captive by temptations, precisely as God has determined, for his own glory and our profit. Matthew 4:1 couldn't be more explicit: "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil." (I'm thankful for Lisa bringing this to my attention.)

Does God merely "permit" sin?

"[Permits] is the preferred term in Arminian theology, in which it amounts to a denial that God causes sin. For the Arminian, God does not cause sin; he only permits it. Reformed theologians have also used the term, but they have insisted that God permission of sin is no less efficacious than his ordination of good." John Frame (p. 177 The Doctrine of God)

"But it is a quite frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing but the author of them." John Calvin (p. 176 Concerning the Eternal Predestination)

“By calling it permissive… we mean that they are such acts as He efficiently brings about by simply leaving the spontaneity of other free agents, as upheld by His providence, to work of itself under incitements, occasions, bounds and limitations, which His wisdom and power throw around.” R.L. Dabney (p. 214 Systematic Theology)

John Frame dissents from the Arminian view, which is that God does not cause sin and that he only permits it. Rather, Frame acknowledges that God’s ordination of sin is as equally efficacious as his ordination of good. As for Dabney, he is pleased to acknowledge that the incitements of sin (which are no less than the provocations or urgings) come from God’s providential wisdom and power, which he is pleased to “throw around.” Many today (those whom I call the “keepers of the Confession”) would hold Calvin in contempt of the Westminster standards, even if he merely meant by “author” the determiner or author of history, within which sin abounds. However, when people have not internalized their doctrine, any theological statement that does not use the precise language of the Confession is considered ipso facto unorthodox theology, regardless of content or intent, which is all too rarely lost on the "keepers of the Confession." Did not the Divines, after all, have to in some measure deviate from biblical language in order to exegete biblical meaning? To merely parrot the same words as what is contained in a passage or doctrinal statement conveys no understanding of the meaning of what is under consideration. If I want someone to explain to me the book of Job, the last think I want is only to be read the book of Job.

“And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.’” Job 2:6
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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Scripturalism, Skepticism and Knowledge of Personal Salvation

Scripturalism does not allow one to know he is saved. It only allows one to know propositions contained in, or deducible from, Scripture. Scripturalists, also, contend that they cannot know that the Bible in their hands is not chocked full of errors due to a factory defect or, say, a cunningly devised scheme. This, of course, presents no problem for knowing propositions contained in Scripture because Scripture transcends a publisher’s printing of a "Bible." Scripture is, also, more reliable than a newspaper’s reporting of the outcome of a sporting event. Scripture is infallible; the daily rag is not. Now indeed, Scripture, as the Confession teaches, is not to be received on the authority of man or the Church (or Zondervan for that matter) but upon God, the author of Scripture. Given the self-attesting authority of God’s word, man can be fully persuaded and assured of its truth by the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word, in our hearts. (WCF 1.5)

If there were false statements in a publication that is called “The Bible,” we can expect that God would not persuade men they were true, let alone that they were Scripture. Moreover, as Gordon Clark intimated (and Ronald Nash concurred), Scripture is not ink on a page, let alone sounds in the air, but God’s living revelation to man. As such, Bible translations may theoretically contain propositions that are false, even heretical, which would both imply and corroborate that the propositions contained therein must be considered on their own merit and received not because they are bound in a book that bears a particular title but only if they have the fingerprint of God upon them. In this sense, strictly speaking, we cannot know that verses such as 1 John 5:13 are true simply because they are recorded in a “Bible” translation: “These, things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” That verse, like all verses, is a proposition that awaits divine confirmation of its truth yet it does not gain its authority upon that confirmation.

Regarding the proposition “R.A. knows he has savingly believed in Jesus,” that too is a proposition that exists in the mind of God, just like 1 John 5:13 does. (I couldn’t otherwise know that the proposition existed if it did not first exist in God’s mind.) It’s noteworthy that neither proposition in and of itself, whether written or not, is any more persuasive than the other. One proposition may come with more authority (depending on whether I am saved) and is certainly more universally able to be known; yet notwithstanding the persuasive power that must accompany the knowledge of either proposition rests solely on the Holy Spirit sovereignly working in conjunction with the truth of the proposition. Now of course God knows whether the personal proposition is true, just like he knows whether 1 John 5:13 is true. The only question is whether God ever bears witness to one’s personal salvation based upon promises contained in Scripture. I guess one’s answer to that question would at least in part depend upon what he thought of Romans 8:16: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” At any rate, if God were to persuade a person that an affirming proposition as it pertains to personal salvation is in fact true, then the subject would have an illumination of the truth of a personal application of a revelatory promise of God - that whosoever believes… shall be saved. This assurance of salvation, as the Confession teaches, is not a “bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.” WCF 18.2  Accordingly, the justification for the true belief of personal salvation is no mere inductive inference but as the Confession states it is according to “the testimony of the Spirit.” {That the Spirit justifies to the spirit in men that they are saved does not logically imply that the Spirit testifies that necessarily water caused salt to dissolve in water yesterday (assuming no accidental necessity); nor does it deny it; and certainly it does not imply that salt will necessarily dissolve in water tomorrow, or always. Again, nor does it deny it. So, from a Confessional standpoint we must draw a sharp distinction between inductive inference and the Spirit’s testimony that one is saved. No more, no less. I digress.}

There is, I think, a common lapse in thinking that occurs in discussions such as these. For instance, Scripturalists wrongly think that (a) as long as there is the possibility of substituting an imposter person for the real one, there is no chance of knowing that the person in front of us is who we think. I’ve even heard it said that (b) since we can be (have been?) wrong about another person’s salvation one therefore cannot know whether he himself is saved. Regarding (a), the Scripturalist needs to demonstrate that the justification for believing that we see x when x is actually and truly before us cannot be equally robust as the justification for believing Scripture aright upon the testimony of God himself. Or was seeing the resurrected Christ, or the miracles he performed, any less revelational or useful in bringing about epistemic certainty than the scriptural propositional-interpretation of what those sightings implied? Doesn't God testify not only to his Word but to all his works, whether creation, providence or miracles that he has performed? (All of this, by the way, has nothing to do with induction and asserting the consequent, as too often some Scripturalists complain.)

Scripturalists must show,

p: it is false that one can be as justified in believing he knows any non-Scriptural true proposition than believing he can know the most difficult proposition from Scripture, that p*

This line of reasoning, of course, is not to assume a position by definition (that one can know he sees x) and then argue for it fallaciously from silence. Not at all, but rather it presupposes a burden of proof.

Was it impossible in the realm of ordinary providence that those who believed they saw Jesus after the resurrection actually knew it was Jesus? Were the "eyewitnesses" to the risen Christ not capable of knowing it was Christ? Surely they were culpable for what they witnessed. Should Thomas have kept on not believing that he knew he touched Jesus after he had touched Jesus? Or, did he not know at all that he touched Jesus and, therefore, should have remained skeptical? Or maybe he knew only way after the fact, when it became a proposition of Scripture that he had touched Jesus. In the like manner, do the heavens declare the glory of God only after learning they do from special revelation? If so, then it would not be the heavens that declare God's glory. Wouldn't it have been ill advisable for the saints under both economies to affirm miracles they couldn't have known happened? Isn't that what Rome requires of its subjects, to believe that which cannot be known?

Regarding (b), there is no basis to believe that one ever knows the state of another’s soul. Consequently, being wrong on that front, even if one thought he knew he was right, is not analogous to the matter at hand. Moreover, the "certainty" one can have of his own salvation when not saved is a matter of self-deception that can easily be fleshed out from above {under “Regarding (a)”}. Stated positively, one’s justification when knowledge obtains can entail a more robust justification for holding any false belief, especially for a Sripturalist-internalist-infallibilist! So, I must disagree with Clark when he writes “So long as substitution is possible, certainty is impossible.” I'm afraid what Clark has done is not limit man in his finitude but God in his power to communicate. What’s worse, when this sort of limitation is applied by Scripturalists to man's knowledge of his own salvation (I don't say Clark does this) it is in the face of Scripture, which teaches one can know he has eternal life.

Finally, it’s interesting that Clark, for whom I have respect, been amused by and even profited from, when engaging George Mavrodes on revelation and epistemology referenced Romans 8:16 as a proof-text to defend the Reformed and biblical position that we know the word of God by the persuasive power of the Holy Spirit. The thing I find strange is that Romans 8:16 discloses the means by which we can know we are sons of God in Christ, one of the very things Scripturalists deny we can know.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sanctification and Moralism

Sanctification is too often only thought of in terms of that process whereby a converted sinner is gradually transformed in mind and affections  according to the preceptive-will of God and consequently into the image of Christ.  At best, too often sanctification is merely seen in terms of becoming truly Christ-like, and if truly Christ-like then truly human (since Christ is the perfect image of God in man). Yet when speaking of sanctification the New Testament speaks more in terms of a one-time break with sin, a definitive act of sanctification.  In this light, sanctification is more akin to effectual calling, justification and adoption - a one-time act never to be repeated or undone.  Indeed, that God will complete a progressive sanctifying work in all his children should be  a source of confidence and joy for every believer.  Notwithstanding, we should expect that the degree of understanding of God’s finished work of definitive sanctification in the life of the believer will, to some extent, influence the attainment of progressive sanctification in the experience of the believer.  After all, to think Christ’s thoughts after him, as we walk in him, includes thinking true thoughts about God’s work of definitive sanctification. Moreover, to think wrongly about sanctification is to “obey” in our sanctification not according to the truth of our sanctification.
At the very heart of sanctification is life from the dead. The believer is delivered once and for all from the bondage of sin and raised to walk in newness of life. In that great familiar hymn, Charles Wesley put it this way: Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature's night; thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee...”  

Is it not true that he that is dead is freed from sin? Hasn’t the believer truly died with Christ? Accordingly, as dead and raised in union with Christ, isn’t the believer freed from sin and, therefore, no longer under its bondage and dominion? Isn’t it true that the believer has been crucified with Christ and it is no longer the believer who lives but Christ who lives in and through the believer?  Isn’t the very imperative not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies premised upon the incongruity of what the contrary contemplates, sin having reign over the believer’s body? Doesn’t the incongruity presuppose the reality of resurrected life in union with Christ?  Sure, sin indwells every believer, but the truth of the matter is the believer is no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit; so it is as the Westminster Divines rightly wrote, “…the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.” Indwelling sin is not enslaving sin, for the Christian is a slave to Christ.

Falling into the error of perfectionism is hardly a danger in Reformed circles, but what is at risk is building a doctrine of sanctification upon personal experience, observation and Christian testimony. I fear that sentimental fundamentalism along with moralism has made its way into Reformed churches.  “Being saved” is understood primarily in terms of justification, which is all that God does; and we must do the rest. After being justified, the believer must respond by living a moral life in gratitude for God’s saving work in Christ, or so it is often told without remainder.  To whip up devotion to God and his ways by exciting gratitude for Christ’s atoning work on the cross, (even pity for the Savior in Romanist and many Fundamentalist circles), is often what is preached as the impetus for living the Christian life. Obligation to obey because of the Savior's sin bearing, life giving death upon the cross is all we have to move us. The very fact that every believer is a new creation in Christ and as such actually desires to run in the ways of the Lord is not a reality that is preached - if it is not also denied, at least implicitly. Devotion ends up becoming a work of the flesh, a dead moralism as it were. It even can become that which ultimately must cause one to differ from another, as there is little expectation that the Spirit will cause every believer both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure as he so determines.  God actually inclining the wills of his subjects so that they desire to participate in his foreordination of good works in the orbit of family, work, community and church is no longer in view. Sadly, it's exchanged for man, in the flesh, determining the good works that God has somehow mysteriously foreordained man to walk in through obligation, not sovereign transformation. In the end, it is we who determine our sanctification, and lip-service is given to biblical Calvinism as it relates to the divine initiative and subduing grace.

When sheep are taught over and over again that they are slaves to sin and under its bondage, as little children they lose the joy of salvation and begin to believe there is no hope other than through the arm of the flesh. Moralism and legalism begin to set in, and eventually the weary are tempted to give up. This is not good news. The self-effort and "good works" that once plagued the new convert, having been a source of robbing him of the joy, wonder, awe and sheer profundity of his justification through faith alone, becomes an hindrance to enjoying and participating in God’s saving work in sanctification. Justification and sanctification have been rent asunder as God is portrayed as being operative in the former, leaving the latter a matter of self-effort alone - a kind of saved by grace, kept by works - a despairing thought indeed. Have I gone too far? Well, note well that if God does not take the divine initiative of causing the believer both to will and do of his good pleasure and, also, fulfill his promise of completing a work of grace until the day of Jesus Christ, then the Christian is as alone in his sanctification as he possibly can be. What must be grasped is that anything short of pure Reformed theology in this regard is not the teaching of biblical sanctification. The message of grace should be so abundant - appear so one sided, that onlookers will mistake the truth for license to sin! "Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"

So, where do we go from here? Well, I think these are some starting points that the Christian church might begin to regain in emphasis as opposed to what is widely found in the evangelical church today…
1. More preaching and teaching on union with Christ in election, incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and ascension must take center stage.
2. A realized eschatology – (e.g. God made us alive with Christ; God raised us with Christ; God seated us in heavenly places with Christ -> i.e. “we have been saved”)
3. The divine intention to sum up all things (in heaven and earth) in Christ (i.e. the eschatological and cosmic dimensions of God’s plan for the ages…)
4. Salvation, not merely justification and conversion
5. Ministers must preach to the church, those in union with in Christ, not the supposed lost that might be members or attending.
6. Inauguration & consummation (i.e. already not yet paradigm)
7. The relationship of the imperative to the indicative must be regained, with the indicative taking priority and laying the foundation for the imperative. (e.g. Behave this way, because you are this person in Christ; the unity of the Spirit exists, therefore, maintain it… as opposed to: create peace because Jesus died for you…)

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