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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Theonomy, an Epistemological Matter




Back in March of 2000 Greenville Theological Seminary hosted a conference on the sufficiency of Scripture at which time consideration was given to the subject of Theonomy. The appointed antagonist to the theonomic thesis remarked that the often quipped slogan “either theonomy or autonomy” commits the informal fallacy of a false dichotomy. It was argued that there is another option that is overlooked by theonomists, namely that of general revelation. It was contended that with the passing of the Old Covenant civil magistrates are to govern themselves by the light of nature, or God’s general revelation that is communicated to all men apart from Scripture. I have found this line of reasoning most troublesome on many accounts. At the very least, if general revelation is binding upon civil magistrates then it is because it is God’s law – in which case any possible appeal to general revelation would be theonomic in nature!

Man knows many things through general revelation. He knows God exists and that His wrath abides upon him. Man knows through conscience that it is wrong to murder, just as he knows it is wrong to tell a lie. Consequently, general revelation makes all men culpable before God because through general revelation men have warrant for their true beliefs regarding their sin against the moral law written on their hearts. Notwithstanding, general revelation is as impotent as it is powerful. Although general revelation communicates truth that is known by all men everywhere, leaving them without excuse, it cannot equip or enable men to justify what is known through that revelation. Although all men everywhere know it is wrong to murder, it is impossible to justify that knowledge apart from Scripture. Apart from Scripture man’s formal justification for what he knows reduces to subjectivism and ultimately skepticism. Added to this, civil magistrates are not only to be concerned with a sound justification for their ethical paradigms, they must also concern themselves with a justification to punish certain wrong doings and not others.

Theonomy is concerned with three irreducible questions, which anti-theonomists cannot answer in an epistemologically satisfactory manner:

  • Which sins should civil magistrates punish?
  • What should those punishments be?
  • How does one justify the answers to the first two questions?
If we are left to govern ourselves by general revelation, then civil laws must be ultimately a matter of opinion, yet laws by their very nature are to reflect what ought to be. Moreover, apart from Scripture inductive inference cannot be justified. Therefore, apart from Scripture it cannot be proven that all persons are endowed by nature with the same moral code. Accordingly, it would be tyrannical to impose unjustifiable codes of conduct, let alone sanctions for violations of those codes, with a revelatory authority to appeal to for such impositions.

Finally, if Theonomy ought to be exchanged for general revelation, then the necessary implication is that God’s general revelation has changed over time or else God’s revelation has contradicted itself over time. After all, if general revelation today tells us that rapists are no longer to be put to death, then either general revelation has changed over time or else it contradicted special revelation under Moses! However, if general revelation has not changed over time and God's two forms of revelation have never contradicted themselves, then why discard the Old Testament case laws? In fact, why not rely on the more explicit form of law, which is contained in the only form of revelation to which we may appeal to justify laws in general and ethical laws in particular.

General revelation was never intended to inform mankind of the transgressions that are to fall under the jurisdiction of civil magistrates. Consequently, general revelation under Moses did not inform mankind that convicted rapists should be put to death anymore than it informs mankind today that convicted rapists should live. The role of general revelation has always been complimentary to that of Scripture's revelation, in that general revelation is "general" - for it convicts mankind of sin that violates the moral law; whereas special revelation, as contained in Scripture, informs us of the sins that are punishable by civil magistrates and to what degree.

The non-theonomic thesis cannot justify any civil laws in any concrete fashion let alone the sanctions, if any, that are to accompany sins. At the very least, the non-theonomic thesis cannot prove that it is wrong to employ theonomic laws without implying either that God’s revelation has changed over time or that God’s revelation contradicted itself at least for a time. Consequently, the anti-theonomist’s appeal to general revelation at the expense of written revelation contradicts God’s immutability and truthfulness.

Theonomy is most often construed as harsh. However, apart from theonomy, no argument with defensible premises can be levied to combat too harsh of punishments in a fallen world! For instance, how would the anti-theonomist combat a civil magistrate that determined stealing a loaf of bread was a crime worthy of death? The epistemologically conscious theonomist has an answer for too strict of laws in a fallen world; whereas the anti-theonomist is left to appeal to an idiosyncratic sense of justice, which reduces to subjectivism, arbitrariness and knowledge falsely called.

Ron

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Another Kind of Mutual Indwelling


When we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into his life, death, resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand. In Christ, we are robed in God’s righteousness (Philippians 3:9) and accepted in the beloved (Ephesians 1:6). There is, however, a mutual indwelling between the Son of God and those who are adopted in him; for we are not only in Christ but He resides in us. By our being in Him, we are seen as righteous in the Father’s sight, for he sees the righteousness of his only begotten Son, who is our righteousness. With Christ in us, we are enabled to walk in good works, for which we have been ordained (Ephesians 2:10). The mutual indwelling occurs at the same moment. For there is nobody in Christ who is not indwelt by His Spirit, and there is nobody indwelt by Christ’s Spirit who is not, also, in Christ. Being in union with Christ entails a mutual indwelling, which is the grounds for our forgiveness and Christian life.

Ron

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Is Faith "Belief?"

In Chapter 14 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, saving faith is distinguished from believing. Through the grace of faith, the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls (paragraph 14.1). “By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the word…” (14.2.). The Confession does not teach that by this faith a Christian is enabled to have faith, for that would be unintelligible. Rather, the Confession teaches that by this faith – saving faith – God enables his elect to believe. In other words, by distinguishing faith and belief the Confession teaches that God effects the grace of faith by the Spirit of Christ in the hearts of His elect, whereby those with true faith, when confronted with the propositions of Scripture whereby they are understood, exercise this faith unto “obedience to the commands...” and many other “acts” of faith such as “accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life…” Notwithstanding, these “acts” of faith - even the principle act of faith - are not to be confused with the essence of faith, for as we have shown – by faith one believes, which in its principle act is accepting, receiving and resting upon Christ alone for the whole of salvation. So, when a person is converted he is granted the gift of faith. In time that faith will grow to believe in x,y and z, and not just a, b, and c.

{In the like manner, repentance in the Westminster standards is distinguished from the acts of repentance. "Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ. By it [i.e. By repentance], a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments." In other words, by the grace of repentance, men repent. Accordingly, like faith, repentance can also be granted to infants prior to their having the ability to exercise their wills in response to the warnings of God.}

Because faith is distinguished from believing in the Confession’s chapter on saving faith, it is most reasonable to read 11.1 of the same Confession with that in mind. “Those who God effectually calls, He also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness in to them…nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness…” In other words, it is most reasonable to interpret the Confession as not defining "faith itself" as “the act of believing" (let in contradicts chapter 14!), but rather again distinguishing faith from the act of believing, just as it distinguishes faith from "evangelical obedience." In other words, the Confession teaches that God does not credit either (a) faith, (b) the act of believing, or (c) any other evangelical obedience to the sinner when he is pardoned, accepted and accounted as righteous.

Given such a distinction between faith and belief, it is easy to understand how a regenerate infant who is united to Christ can be justified by grace through faith alone – apart from understanding, believing and willfully embracing gospel propositions. However, if justification is through faith alone and the three “classic” elements of faith are necessary conditions for justification, then infants (and those incapable of being called) cannot be pardoned for their sin! However, if infants can be justified, yet cannot have faith, then justification is by regeneration alone, apart from faith. At the very least, those who wish to maintain both that God may be merciful to infants and that justification is through a cognizant-faith alone have some theological reconciling to do. The simply solution is that those three elements (even if they are in some sense redundant or even tautological) pertain to belief and not to faith narrowly considered in seed form. After all, what about one who comes to Christ and then slips into a coma? He isn't believing in Christ (nor likely assenting, etc. to anything for that matter), but certainly he possesses the irrevocable gift of faith (though not being exercised). We must keep in mind that we are saved through faith so that our salvation might be of grace. Faith is the immediate result of regeneration, even prior to it being exercised by believing in Christ! Again, "by this faith one believes."

Now someone might say, isn't faith "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen - and isn't 'conviction' the very heart of assenus (or the "emotional element of faith)?" Well, one good question deserves another. Is the essence of "love" laying down one's life for his friends, or is laying down one's life for his friends a demonstration or evidence of love?



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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Prayer in Light of Causality and Sufficient Conditions...



If I were to stand before a child and yell in an angry voice the child would most likely cry and become afraid. Given such a state of affairs it could be rationally inferred that I would have caused the non-volitional action and emotion of another. In the like manner, the actions of one person can even cause another person’s will to be inclined to choose contrary to how he would.

It is often said by Calvinists that prayer cannot change things (or cause things to occur) but rather that prayer can only change the person praying, bringing him into submission to what God has decreed. Those who say such things are willing to call prayer a “means” to an end, yet they deny the causal “power” of prayer. They are reluctant, in other words, to say that prayer can actually cause things to occur (or cause things not to occur). Yet these same Calvinists are quick to maintain that had the gunman been wrestled to the ground the innocent person would not have been killed. What distinction are they drawing between "means" and "cause" after all?

Obviously we cannot know with certainty anything that is inferred by inductive inference. Consequently, we cannot know with the highest degree of warrant that one actually caused a child to cry; for such is believed by inference not deduction and certainly not by revelation. How much more the case with prayer given that it is increasingly more difficult to duplicate states of affairs in order to rationally infer seemingly causal relationships between prayer and what might be inferred to be a necessary consequence of prayer! Notwithstanding, the question is not whether we can know that prayer causes some things to occur (or not to occur) but rather whether prayer can indeed change things. In other words, the question is not whether we can know whether prayer actually changed a course of events but rather whether prayer can effect change.

It can be said that one event is caused by another when one event is either logically or temporally prior as well as a sufficient condition for another event. As we’ve seen on a previous entry, sufficient conditions are not always causes since logical conditions (whether sufficient or necessary) are only concerned with states of affairs and not order, whether logical or temporal. With that in mind, is it not true that prayer precedes future events and that it is biblical to maintain that prayer can bring to pass deliverance (Philippians 1:19)?

If we are to maintain that causality is in view whenever a sufficient condition that is introduced into a relevant state of affairs is logically or temporally prior to a consequent of that same sufficient condition and state of affairs, then we must also maintain that God ordains prayer to change the apparent direction of things. Prayer stands in stark contrast to other causes of change since with prayer the immediate effect of the action is upon God not men. Effectual prayer, as a cause, immediately precedes God’s action of acting due to prayer. Effectual prayer does not immediately act upon the person for whom the prayer is offered. Rather, when effectual prayer is offered God, the mediator of prayer, in turn acts upon a state of affairs causing men to act. Therefore, it can be properly maintained that prayer often "moves" the hand of God but always according to God’s will, which precedes and transcends prayer. Prayer changes things indeed. God has entered into time and has seen fit to allow prayer to change the direction things were previously going. God is sometimes pleased not to act unless his action is beseeched.{Maybe we should consider how men are culpable for not praying, since we know that men are often culpable for not physically preventing certain acts.}

Lastly, with respect to normal providence without prayer, we need to be careful not to take God out of the equation. It is God who ultimately causes the reaction to any action. He is the one who gives intelligiblilty to sequence. It seems to me that those who claim that prayer doesn't change things are most likely leaning toward a view of autonomous providence with respect to natural causality. Something to think about.

Ron

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Yeah for Jimmy (and Lisa)



Our newest member of the family made it through the night without soiling his space. Jimmy's faithful master, Lisa, was able to get a good night's sleep for a change, as was I. My love for Jimmy is certainly conditional - but now that he has met one of the "necessary pre-conditions" for my good favor, my love might soon "obtain." There's little grace bestowed in this relationship but Jimmy is somehow meriting his way into my heart, kinda-sorta.

Ron

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Insight Brings Great Hope



The Phillies are off to an 0-2 start this year. No worries though - manager Charlie Manuel has profound insights into the situation: "It's hard because how you start is how you start... We could have won, but ended up losing. 0-2 is 0-2..."

Not one contradictory statement! But the "could have won" statement might indicate that Manuel is not Reformed in his theology.

Ron

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

More Confusion over the "Covenant of Grace" and "Conditions and Causes"




In the article here, Michael Horton makes two statements that trouble me:

"God did not make the covenant of Grace with the Elect, but with believers and their children."

"Faithfulness in the Christian life is in no way a condition of justification. Sinners are justified 'apart from works,' without any reference whatsoever to their regeneration or new life."

Regarding the first quote, does Professor Horton appreciate that he has taken exception to Q & A #31 of the Westminster Larger Catechism?

Question 31: With whom was the covenant of grace made?

Answer: The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.

Regarding the second quote, Professor Horton, like so many others in the Reformed tradition, does not allow for a distinction between a cause and a necessary condition. {Sadly, such a lack of appreciation actually caused an unnecessary church split in my own denomination!} In fact he seems to underscore this problem by rightly stating: "But if they are not regenerated and therefore bear fruit, they have not been justified." Professor Horton is correct here in that if one does not bear fruit, then he is not justified. But this is to say (applying modus tollens) that if one is not not-justified (i.e. is justified), then he will not not-bear-fruit (i.e. will bear fruit) - which is to say, fruit is a necessary condition for justification(!) - which is the very thing Dr. Horton denies when he writes: "Faithfulness in the Christian life is in no way a condition of justification." Again, Professor Horton is thinking in causal terms, which must not be confused with terms for condition that contemplate states of affairs and not logical priority.

p1. If no fruit, then no justification is present
p2. ~ no justification is present (i.e. negation of no justification... --> justification is present)
Therefore: ~ no fruit (i.e. negation of no fruit --> fruit is present)

In any true if-then proposition, the consequent is always a necessary condition for the antecedent (and the antecedent is a sufficient condition for the consequent). Notwithstanding, the necessary condition for the antecedent need not be a cause: If faith, then justification; but it can be: If justification, then faith. {In passing we might note that this distinction gets to the heart of why presuppositional apologists must concern themselves with necessary pre-conditions as opposed to mere necessary conditions for intelligible experience.}

Finally, I would think that Professor Horton is lamenting over Protestants who believe that works are a cause, therefore, a pre-condition for justification. If so, then who are these Protestants who believe that good works precede and cause justification? I'm not sure what all the problems are about.

Ron

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