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Friday, January 11, 2008

Resurrection or Conversion?

What is the main focus of Paul’s soteriology, redemption-accomplished or applied? Well, is it the gospel or conversion? Coming at this from a slightly different angle – Who is the central Actor in the drama of redemption, the Holy Spirit or the Christ whom the Holy Spirit reveals?

Clearly the gospel is the central theme of the New Testament and consequently Paul’s theology. In particular, that Christ is raised from the dead, with all its implications, is the primary message of Paul. Naturally, therefore, when it comes to the application of redemption, Paul doesn’t abandon his teaching on the resurrection in order to preach conversion. Rather, Paul turns our attention to the reality of the believer’s existential union with the resurrected and ascended Crucified One. {Unless there is serious error that must be corrected, Paul’s emphasis is not on how one appropriates Christ but rather on the ramifications of being in Christ already.}

Not justification through faith alone (through an alien righteousness) but intimate union with Christ, which envelopes the glorious reality of justification, is Paul’s message to the church. Properly understood, it is all the benefits in this life that proceed from effectual calling, as identified in a sound formulation of the ordo salutis, Paul has in view when he expounds redemption-applied; not in some atomistic, compartmentalized sense but in all its fullness, occurring all at once through one baptism into Christ. The picture Paul paints is as poetic as it is profound. Notwithstanding, certainly Paul distinguishes (for instance) sanctification from justification but he never separates the two from union with the resurrected and ascended Christ. It is because of this, I believe, that Paul does not detract from the eschatological implications and sheer profundity of the believer’s participation in the first resurrection and age to come. It’s not that Paul was not a systematic theologian. He was. Yet Paul had a more pressing message to deliver, from which other theological intricacies can (and should) be derived, but never at the expense of laying hold of the already-not yet reality in Christ that is so prominent in Paul’s soteriology.

Paul’s soteriology is eschatological in nature, for when was the new age inaugurated but at the resurrection. Accordingly, when one is united to Christ by the instrument of faith, he is united with the firstborn from the dead, thereby entering into the new creation – Christ’s body, the church. When the many brothers are raised in Christ (separated by time in a single harvest), they are made partakers of the new age not only in and through but with Christ their brother, Lord and forerunner. Accordingly, Paul does not see glorification as the only aspect of the believer’s eschatological-salvation. Rather, Paul sees the entire process of salvation (and it is a process!), as entering into and living within the already inaugurated age that awaits its final consummation in Christ, the first fruits of those who are asleep.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Bridging The Gap A Bit

Romans 1: 18-21 teaches many things including all men know God through revelation. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

Although man knows God by general revelation – apart from special revelation man is ill-equipped to articulate the justification of his true belief in God, which is God’s general revelation of Himself to man’s mind. Although man knows many things such as: he ought to reason according to the law of contradiction; his rational mind corresponds to the external, mind-independent world; he ought not to murder; and he is under God’s wrath; apart from special revelation man, unaided by Scripture, is unable to offer a justification for what he knows. It is not that he won’t; he can’t. This is what I suspect Van Til meant when he would say that unbelievers know and do not know at the same time. Unbelievers know but unaided by special revelation their epistemological creed must reduce to skepticism and knowledge falsely called.

Colossians 2:3 declares that "All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Christ." Now how can we reconcile the apostle’s two points, that all men know God and yet estranged from Christ there is no knowledge to be obtained? The answer should be apparent. Apart from having the mind of Christ, one is reduced to foolishness, which Romans one makes clear. One cannot justify anything he knows apart from Christ's word. As Dr. Bahnsen would say, Christ is not just the way back to the Father; He's the way back to the Father's world! So Van Til is right in that man knows (in one sense) without knowing (in another sense). {Interestingly enough, several years ago Alvin Plantinga said to me that Van Til believed that unbelievers do not know anything - just another example of one not going to the original sources!}

How can I justify that I exist? Prior to conversion I knew I existed but apart from an appeal to Scripture I would not have been able to deduce or argue with justifiable premises my existence. I would have known but not known (that I new). For the believer, the Spirit of God bears witness with the believer's spirit that he is a child of God. (Romans 8:16) Accordingly, since Scripture teaches that God only adopts in Christ existing beings, I can know I exist since I know I am adopted. To deny this is to deny God's special revelation in Scripture, the law of contradiction, which is an attribute of God who has revealed Himself, and God's infallible witness to me. My knowledge of my existence comes by an immediate revelation from God. Although this revelation is not found in Scripture, there is no way of justifying my knowledge of this truth apart from Scripture. (That is not to say that I cannot know I am adopted without having the philosophical acumen to justify that knowledge.) In this sense, not all knowledge is revealed in Scripture or deducible from Scripture alone. However, all knowledge is revealed by God’s revelation or deducible from revelation. If nothing else, Scripture is a necessary condition for the justification of all knowledge, which Clark and Van Til agreed upon.

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