Monday, December 26, 2011

No True Agnostics or Atheists

The professing agnostic's claim is not that God does not exist but that God's existence is unknown or unknowable. Therefore, the professing agnostic presupposes a god who has at best concealed himself, which is an outright rejection of the God who has revealed himself (and must be known if anything is to be known), making the professing agnostic a non-confessing "atheist."

Lastly, there are no true atheists, though there are people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness and profess what they know is not true. 

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Escondido Theology

The Escondido Theology - A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology By John Frame

Book Description: "This book is a critical analysis of a theological movement John Frame calls The Escondido Theology. The name is chosen because this movement developed mainly among faculty members of Westminster Seminary California
which is located in the city of Escondido, California. Some members of this school of thought, such as Michael Horton, Meredith Kline, and Darryl Hart, are well-known to students of Reformed theology. But these figures have never before been discussed as composing a distinctive school of thought. More often they have been discussed as individual theologians, or simply as representatives of the orthodox Reformed theological tradition. But they are not simply Reformed; they hold views that are quite distinctive, unusual and controversial. In Dr. Frame s view, these positions are not standard Reformed theology. None of their distinctive positions is taught in any of the Reformed confessions. These positions are an idiosyncratic kind of teaching peculiar to the Escondido school. Those who teach them are a faction, even a sect. Taken in the plain sense of the terms, their positions are all unbiblical. Dr. John Frame's The Escondido Theology is a needed corrective to the rapidly growing advocacy and acceptance of a two-kingdom approach to theology and culture. It is not only timely, considering the popularity of Two Kingdom Theology , but also because he is the right individual to address the issues, having previously served as a Professor at both Westminster in Philadelphia and then as a founding faculty member at Escondido. Dr. Frame personally witnessed the inception and development of this doctrinal view in Escondido. Dr. Frame s insight and analysis clearly represents my Christian World and Life View because it is historically rooted in Calvinistic theology."



Dr. John Frame has taken up the theological issue of Two Kingdom Theology and demonstrated his qualifications in addressing this popular view currently being advocated by various Reformed professors at Westminster Seminary in California. Dr. Frame provides critical insight and analysis of each Professor s published views advocating this doctrinal teaching. The tone and attitude of Dr. Frame is distinctively Christian and his response is clearly Reformed. Whether you advocate for or against Two Kingdom Theology, this book must be read prior to making any final determination as to the biblical and Reformed teaching on the subject. --Dr. Kenneth Gary Talbot President, Whitefield Theological Seminary

Frame has lived to see a vocal segment of the robust, rich tradition in which he was educated transformed into a narrow sectarianism that anathematizes other orthodox, Bible-believing Christians; elevates theological and church tradition to near equal status with God s Word; and diminishes that Word as the norm for all of life and thought. This book is the agonizing jeremiad of an older prophet who sadly diagnoses a desiccating illness of a friend and offers a prescription for a wholesome healing. Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin President, Center for Cultural Leadership --Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin President, Center for Cultural Leadership

In these pages John M. Frame clarifies in rather crystal clear terms what many of us have suspected for years: that the Escondido theologians, though claiming the Reformed heritage, are nonetheless out of accord with many of its most fundamental tenets. Broad in treatment, penetrating in scholarly analysis, and avoiding ad hominem, Frame builds a persuasive case the entire Protestant church should take the time to investigate. The sections that scrutinize the two kingdoms perspective of the Escondido teachers show especially the extent to which they have compromised a staple of Calvin s thought: the Lordship of God over all things." Dr. John Barber Pastor, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church --Dr. John Barber Pastor, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church


About the Author

John Frame is presently Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He previously served as a Professor at both Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and then as a founding faculty member at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Robert Letham: Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology

Book Review: Robert Letham, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology

Excerpt from review:

The second insight is Letham’s much-appreciated stress on the soteriological import of the incarnation of the Word of God, reminding us that the very theo-logic of salvation is wrapped up in the mystery of the incarnate God-man. The incarnation shows us in the clearest possible way that God’s redemptive intention is to join us to himself through the life-giving humanity of Jesus Christ. The incarnation, in Letham’s words, “is the indispensable basis for our union with Christ. Since Christ has united himself to us in the incarnation, we can be united to him by the Holy Spirit” (40). When evangelical theology loses sight of the saving significance of the incarnation, it is bound to myopically stress forensic, substitutionary understandings of salvation at the expense of the personal, participatory reality that undergirds them. Marcus Johnson (Ph.D. St. Michaels College, University of Toronto) is assistant professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Created Time?

It is argued from “time to time” that if time was not created then history could never have reached any point in time. In other words, if there has always been time then an infinite amount of time must elapse in order to reach any point in time, which is seemingly impossible to us. Defenders of the Cosmological argument often use this argument to avoid a problem of infinite regress. Apologists who don’t employ Thomistic arguments do so as well.

Although I believe time is part of creation, I think such a defense of the creation of time could possibly undermine God’s infinite attributes, such as omniscience, or at the very least require that we think about omniscience a bit differently. After all, isn’t such a defense for the creation of time predicated upon the premise that nothing infinite can be exhausted by God? Yet wouldn’t that mean God has not thought every number? Does omniscience imply that he has and if so, then can’t God place creation in “the middle” of time, which would imply that infinite time has elapsed?

I don’t believe that time is self-existent nor do I believe it to be a divine attribute. Also, I have no reason to believe that God has eternally willed that he always be accompanied by time (i.e. “prior” to the first day). I believe time is created, but I’m not terribly comfortable with the argument that is used from “time to time."

My books are all in boxes because I'm relocating my study, but if memory serves John Frame in "The Doctrine of God" makes a passing comment on this created-time argument to which I refer and although he finds it somewhat persuasive, I believe he had a reservation or two, maybe that the argument goes beyond the bounds of Scripture alone. If someone reading along can locate the quote, please post what you find.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A most excellent wife...

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. Proverbs 31:10-31

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Federal Vision and Its Use of the Objective (A Road to Rome)

It would seem that Federal Vision has a view of common operations of the Spirit that allows for the non-elect to experience existential union with Christ, which in turn leaves no place to ground assurance of salvation in the experience of the elect who are converted. There becomes no place to ground assurance for the converted if any person with the Spirit can fall away from the faith.

If one can have assurance of final salvation, then those texts pertaining to common operations of the Spirit must imply something less than what FV suggests. If one can know that he will make it to glory in the end, then the assuring witness of the Holy Spirit must not accompany those sorts of operations of the Spirit in the non-elect. Will FV proponents at least agree on that? Will they affirm that the Spirit does not confirm present salvation in those not elected to final salvation since the divine granted assurance of final adoption is predicated upon assurance of present salvation? If so, then what work of the Spirit do they (the FV) suppose is lacking in those of whom such texts speak? Do they have union, just not assurance of union?!

I find it most curious why FV has gotten themselves into this obvious bind. What I think FV might have done in part is taken the objective criteria that the church must employ to regard one as God’s child and has collapsed it into the individual’s criteria to judge himself whether he is truly in Christ, leaving the individual needing more for assurance – God’s internal witness of adoption granted by the Spirit to the individual, which FV cannot affirm as something to look to given their view of Spirit-wrought union that can be supposedly received by the non-elect.

Sadly, the truly converted under FV standards is left with zero assurance of salvation (not unlike Rome's doctrine of assurance) because (i) those with the Spirit may fall away and (ii) the objective standard the church must work with to judge one’s salvation status is not enough for someone to gain personal assurance of actual salvation, for the church is to regard closet case unbelievers as saved as long as (for instance) they have received Christian baptism and if old enough have improved upon it with a credible testimony, {which of course may not be denied (i.e. found incongruous) by personal doctrine or lifestyle}. In other words, people who rightly should be on church roles by sound ecclesiastical standards can prove themselves in time as not being truly of us, but given no clear theological distinction between the visible and the invisible church that is consistent with an internal witness by the Spirit of adoption that only comes to the converted, the implications are (i) some people actually lose their salvation and (ii) nobody can know they will arrive at final salvation, which in turn presents another problem for FV, this time regarding salvation by works, the very thing they would like to on...

It seems to me that FV makes persevering faith a work that distinguishes one man from another – i.e., one will persevere if he keeps himself in the faith. In other words, it seems as though FV allows for elect and non-elect persons to receive the same measure of the Spirit and union, which seems to suggest that what distinguishes one man from another must be man, not God. Again, if both receive the Spirit, then man is deciding factor on final adoption, hence the lack of assurance available to those who are actually decreed to final adoption. Under FV, those decreed to final adoption have no more of Christ than those who are supposedly regenerate but not decreed to final adoption.

At the end of the day, collapsing ecclesiology into soteriology like the FV does is in my opinion no worse than Rome’s error of confounding justification with sanctification.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dr. Robert Letham on Union with Christ

Robert Letham's new book, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology can be ordered here.

Also, to get a taste of this subject, listen to Lane Tipton here.

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

A Word or Two About Apologies

A four point household policy on apologies:

1. On the heels of an apology one may not make an excuse.

2. On the heels of an apology one may not seek an apology. It may be sought later, but not immediately after acknowledging one's own guilt for if one is truly sorry, he will be focused on the hurt he or she has caused. Delay also allows time for the first person's humbled state to lead the other person to the same state of contrition. Also, requesting the apology on the heels of asking forgiveness can be occasion for hardening the other person who has not yet owned his or her need to apologize and has not yet internalized the apology that was just given only moments ago.

3. Household members should strive to appreciate that to reject an apology is serious business, for all our apologies to the Lord are meager given who He is, and we are to be mindful that in the Lord's Prayer we are asking to be forgiven in the manner in which we forgive. Accordingly, it should be with fear and trembling that one rejects an apology.

4. There may be no if-then apologies: "If I sinned, then I'm sorry." Such an apology actually implies that one doesn't believe he sinned, and that he or she is not sorry. For had the person thought he sinned, then the apology wouldn't be conditional. And given that the "if-then" in this case really means "if and only if I sinned, then I'm sorry,” then it stands to reason that the person is not sorry at all.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Necessity of the Divine Will (by way of a polemic against man's free will)

Arminians are strange birds at times (but maybe so are we Calvinists). They hold to something that has commonly been referred to as libertarian free will (LFW), which is basically the ability to choose between alternatives with equal ease. It’s also been referred to as the power of contrary choice. They argue (or just assert) that without LFW man cannot be morally accountable for his choices. If they argue, it goes something like this. If man is morally accountable, then he can choose contrary to how he will. Man is morally accountable, therefore, he can  choose contrary to how he will. (Principle of Alternative Possibilities - PAP)

Here is a very user-friendly refutation against LFW:
1. Choices are either caused or uncaused.
2. If a choice is uncaused, then it comes from nothing and is, therefore, morally irrelevant.
3. Choices are morally relevant.
4. Therefore, choices are caused (and, therefore, necessary by definition).
5. The causes of choices are chosen or not chosen.
6. If causes of choices are chosen, then an infinite regress of choices and antecedent-causes precede any choice.
7. An infinite regress of causes and choices is impossible, therefore, the causes of choices are not chosen.
8. Choices are causally necessitated by something not chosen. (4 & 7)
9. LFW is false because choices are caused by something other than the agent's choice.

Now where many Calvinists get a bit uncomfortable is when the tables are turned back on them. Does God have LFW? Well, most Calvinists will say no, God does not have LFW. Yet what they give with one hand, they take away with the other. They don’t want to say that God has LFW, but they don’t want to say that God is unable to choose contrary to how he chooses.  
Again using the proof, though with some modification, let’s see if God could have not chosen to create:

1. Choices are either caused or uncaused.
2. If a choice is uncaused, then it comes from nothing and is, therefore, morally irrelevant.
3. Choices are morally relevant.
4. Therefore, choices are caused (and, therefore, necessary by definition).
5. The causes of choices are chosen or not chosen.
6. If causes of choices are chosen, then an infinite regress of choices and antecedent-causes precede any choice.
7. An infinite regress of causes and choices is impossible, therefore, the causes of choices are not chosen.
8. Choices are causally necessitated by something not chosen. (4 & 7)
9. Creation is caused by choice.
10. Creation is a caused by something causally necessitated and not chosen. (8 & 9)
11. Something caused by something that is causally necessitated would itself be equally causally necessitated (and therefore could not be otherwise by definition).
12. Creation is something
13. Creation could not be otherwise. (10 – 12)

Calvinists will sometimes say things like “If creation was necessary, then creation has claim on God.” That was actually said to me several years ago by John Frame. My reply was simply that creation does not have a claim on God but his eternal intentions do. Why should it seem strange that God cannot act contrary to what he wants most to do? After all, if it is actually true that agent A will do X in state of affairs S, then it is also true that agent A must be inclined to X in S in order for X to obtain, lest pure contingency (i.e. something from nothing) obtains. Yet if it is true that A can refrain from X in S, then it is false that A must be inclined to X in S (for the possibility of of refraining from X implies that A need not be inclined to X); yet the truth of X presupposes that A must be inclined to X in S. Therefore, since inclination is necessary for X, then X is caused.

Calvinists can introduce mystery into the mix along with the creator-creature distinction and even paradox if they like, but nothing can change the fact that LFW is a philosophical surd and no amount of mystery, creator-creature distinction, or paradox (whatever that might mean to someone) can undermine what is patently false. The only thing left to say, as Frame said to me, is "Well, maybe God has an unrevealed attribute that is somewhere between pure contingency and necessity, something like LFW but not really LFW." (I paraphrase but that's pretty close to it.)

Finally, in common parlance someone even like myself might say without contradiction something like "I could have chosen differently," but that simply underscores that the choice in view was made according to liberty, a freedom to choose as as one likes, which is nothing akin to the radical "freedom" that LFW contemplates.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Christian Cruises - What Say You?

Taken from here
This means, too, that God did not create a separation between "secular" and "sacred," as many Christians today often do. Christians were meant to participate alongside non-Christians in every aspect of life. Reformed theology has no place for "Christian cruises" and "Christian media," "Christian books" and "Christian music." There is no "full-time Christian ministry" and "secular work," but vocations or callings for everyone. In creation, too, there is the gift of "common grace." "The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike," Jesus told the disciples. Michael Horton, 1993
Taken from  here
I’m so excited to share this news with you: on January 30, 2012, the White Horse Inn is setting sail on our very first conference at sea! This Caribbean cruise will be unlike anything you have ever experienced and now is your chance to join us for what we’re calling “Conversations for a Modern Reformation.” White Horse Inn, 2011

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Two non-theonomic reviews of David VanDrunen's "A Biblical Case for Natural Law"

Nelson D. Kloosterman’s review of A Biblical Case for Natural Law, by David VanDrunen

John Frame’s review of the same.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Radical 2 Kingdom & The "General Equity" of the Law

The Westminster standards teach that the general equity of the civil code given to ancient Israel is still binding upon civil magistrates today. When it comes to the execution of blasphemers radical 2 Kingdom (R2K) proponents will assert that the general equity for the death penalty under Moses is now excommunication from the church. A popular proponent of the R2K movement posted me a while back saying:

"Since you continue to insist on general equity, what is the general equity of executing blasphemers (Deut, 7 Deut; 13)? I haven’t heard where you go with that or how it might apply to the Christian magistrates treatment of Mormons and Jews. I believe that the general equity is excommunication."
It’s hard to imagine that such thinking has received a place within the Reformed community and even on some Reformed sessions.

That the church has a responsibility to deal with sin does not imply that the state does not. In fact, it is a common fallacy to argue for a repeal of directives that pertain to the state from directives that pertain to the church. One could just as well argue that the state should not discipline professing-Christian rapists because the church should censure them. It's rather apparent, is it not (?), that under the guise of preserving the general equity of civil sanctions, R2K proponents would prefer to see them replaced without remainder.

Maybe R2K proponents would like to distinguish for the rest of us how their view of applying the general equity of the civil case laws differs from an outright abrogation of those laws. If their view of "general equity" is for all intents and purposes no different than abrogation, then why should their interpretation of " general equity" seam plausible and confessional? The church doesn't need the "general equity" of the civil case laws to know it should censure blasphemers. Consequently, since the church apart from the case laws already has exhaustive instructions on spiritual matters pertaining to censure - how can it be maintained that the case laws are not indeed abrogated given that they are rendered useless under such an R2K interpretation of the Westminster standards? If the case laws no longer apply to the civil magistrates and are no longer to resemble the original penal sanctions in any respect, how can it be maintained that they are to be preserved in their general equity? R2K is not an affirmation of the preservation of the general equity of the civil case laws but a blatant denial of it.

It is simply arbitrary (and hazardous) to operate under the principle that one is not accountable to the state because he is accountable to the church. There was excommunication under the older economy, a “cutting off” (an exile of sorts), that was not accompanied by OT execution. Yet in God’s wisdom both were operative, presumably with distinct purposes. Accordingly, it seems a bit dubious that excommunication is equitable to execution, if for no other reason than the translation does not preserve the general equity of the civil sanction! The two aren’t even close to being equitable because, at the very least, repentance lifts the penalty of excommunication, which was not the case for capital crimes under the older economy.

Let’s not pretend any longer, shall we? By collapsing execution into excommunication the general equity of the sanction is not preserved but rather obliterated. But R2K proponents cannot admit that because in their autonomous thinking and quest for civil pluralism they also fancy themselves as the keepers of the Confession, while too often being historically inaccurate and theologically incorrect.

Now I have not argued here that public blasphemy is a crime punishable by death (though I am certain it is). The point I am making here is not that blasphemers should be put to death (for treason in God’s universe), but that it is a farce (and serious falsehood) to suggest that one may harmoniously affirm R2K and the Westminster standards. It is one thing to take exception to the Westminster standards and quite another thing to promote a misinterpretation of those standards. My Baptist and Arminian brethren do so all the time, take exception to the Reformed standards. However, their practice pales insignificant to those who would take exception to the Confession while claiming they don’t.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Letham Messages

Here is a link to select sermons and lectures by Dr. Robert Letham.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jonathan Edwards, A Gross Misrepresentation

In Jonathan Edwards: Philosophical Theologian, edited by Paul Helm and Oliver Crisp we find the following quote:

On Edwards understanding, a conditional analysis is in the offering here. “I can A” is always “I can A, if I choose,” which in turn goes to “If I choose to A, I will A.” So to say I can lift this rock is to say that if I choose or will to lift it, I will lift it. So far, so good, perhaps. But if responsible freedom belongs to the operations of will as well as to overt action it must also be the case that I can choose to A, and – to turn Edwards’s own argument against him – there the analysis clearly doesn’t work. We get, “If I choose to choose to lift this rock, then I will choose to lift it,” which is completely implausible, and leads to a regress. We can improve things somewhat if we ignore Edwards’ failure to distinguish choice from prevailing desire, so that “I can choose to lift this rock” becomes, “If my strongest desire is to lift this rock, then I will choose to do so.” But this really isn’t plausible either. For one thing, there are many situations in which we think the exercise is actually impaired by the strongest desire – for example, when the agent suffers addiction or psychological compulsion, or is affected by post-hypnotic suggestion. Such cases deserve special treatment, but surely if determinism were true we should not consider the freedom of such agents to be impaired, since certainly their decisions would be different if they were not afflicted by compelling motives. So it doesn’t work in this case to submit the concept of freedom to conditional analysis. And why should it, after all? This analysis treats the will as thought it were imprisoned in the natural order – as thought its operations were no more spontaneous, and finally of no greater moral interest, than those of our house pets. Why should we expect this to be our concept of freedom, if the phenomenology of willing is entirely opposite?
I'll interact with the post in small bites. 

What, then, shall we say about the formula according to which such freedom comes to nothing more than the ability to act differently if we please, or if we will? On Edwards understanding, a conditional analysis is in the offering here. “I can A” is always “I can A, if I choose,”

Edwards does not utter a word such as “can” without enormous qualification, for one reason because of the vulgar-language baggage that comes with such a word. These qualifications that are embedded throughout Edwards’s writings are a deterrent for most people to try to muscle through Edwards’s view of the will, or any other treatment of his, which spanned a vast multitude of subjects. But in any case, given such a broad-brush portrayal of Edwards view of the will in light of conditional analysis, it can safely be said that “I can A, if I choose” can only mean for Edwards that “I can A, only if my strongest inclination at the moment of choice is to A.” Also, “I can” must presuppose no external prohibitor, for “can” in this discussion is not a matter of natural ability (a common use of the term, hence Edwards’s qualifications) but rather must be thought of as metaphysical claim that also implies “I cannot A, unless I’m inclined to A.” (I can grab a taco, only if my strongest inclination at the moment of choice is to grab a taco.)

“I can A, if I choose,” which in turn goes to “If I choose to A, I will A.” So to say I can lift this rock is to say that if I choose or will to lift it, I will lift it. So far, so good, perhaps.

Given the terms being employed, the statement, again - if it is to reflect Edwards’s thought, must mean “If my strongest inclination at the moment of choice is to lift the rock, then I will lift the rock.” It is most equivocal to use “will” in two different ways in the same sentence, and to equate “choose” with “will”, especially without explication, is hazardous. It’s doubly criminal to do so when trying to critique another person’s view, especially one who was hyper-careful in this regard.

But if responsible freedom belongs to the operations of will as well as to overt action it must also be the case that I can choose to A, and – to turn Edwards’s own argument against him – there the analysis clearly doesn’t work. We get, “If I choose to choose to lift this rock, then I will choose to lift it,” which is completely implausible, and leads to a regress.

The interpretation of Edwards that leads to “If I choose to choose to lift this rock, then I will choose to lift it,” is based upon a gross imprecision having to do with the tagging of terms. Anyone even half-way acquainted with Edwards appreciates that he denies that one ever chooses his inclinations, and that his argument against such an Arminian implication took the form of a  reductio that led his opponent into that very problem of regress. So only a reckless (or malicious) interpretation of Edwards can construe that Edwards's arguments implied such a thing. In fact had his arguments been so blatantly flawed, one would expect such gross inconsistency to have been observed and exposed even moments after he penned such notions. But the reason that didn't happen is not because the philosophers of his day didn't see the inconsistency; rather, the inconsistency was not there to be seen, for the inconsistency is based upon a formulation that is not Edwards's. At the very least, I know of no person who claims to be Edwardsian that holds to that supposed formulation of Edwards's view of the will, which in turn leads to inconsistency. The contributors for JEPT have erected a classic straw man by employing equivocal terms, and then knocked it down. Again though, given the terms being employed, the statement, if it is to reflect Edwards’s thought at all, may only be taken to mean, “If my strongest desire / inclination at the moment of choice is to lift the rock, then I will lift the rock,” which does not imply a position that under analysis implies regress, let alone an internal contradiction within Edwards's own view.

We can improve things somewhat if we ignore Edwards’ failure to distinguish choice from prevailing desire, so that “I can choose to lift this rock” becomes, “If my strongest desire is to lift this rock, then I will choose to do so.”

Edwards’s failure to distinguish choice from prevailing desire?! Is there anyone in the history of the world who spent more time defining and distinguishing ideas such as desire and choice? Not only did Edwards do so; he did so ad nauseum.

But this really isn’t plausible either. For one thing, there are many situations in which we think the exercise is actually impaired by the strongest desire – for example, when the agent suffers addiction or psychological compulsion, or is affected by post-hypnotic suggestion.

That remark is even more obviously confused. Granting any one or combination of such effects on inclination, the simple response is that when one’s inclination is altered, the consequent-action still follows an antecedental inclination. Indeed, the inclination that might have otherwise been present apart from such factors is no longer present, but that does not undermine the plausibility of the thesis as it narrowly pertains to the mechanics of the will. It can only lend implausibilty to the question of responsibility, though it doesn't. 

Now we’ll turn to the driving emotive force behind the attempt to make much out of impaired thinking. 

Such cases deserve special treatment, but surely if determinism were true we should not consider the freedom of such agents to be impaired, since certainly their decisions would be different if they were not afflicted by compelling motives.

Determinism does not rule out an impaired mind, let alone inclinations that can be altered to something other than what they might have been apart from alteration.

So it doesn’t work in this case to submit the concept of freedom to conditional analysis. And why should it, after all? This analysis treats the will as thought it were imprisoned in the natural order – as thought its operations were no more spontaneous, and finally of no greater moral interest, than those of our house pets. Why should we expect this to be our concept of freedom, if the phenomenology of willing is entirely opposite?

Spontaneity, properly understood, is not undermined by conditional analysis that is true to the position in question. Emotive phrases such as “imprisoned in the natural order” have little value in a discussion such as this, but I suppose they can be deemed necessary when there's not much more to be said. Regarding mind-alteration as it applies to moral responsibility, maybe the contributors hadn't considered that responsibility need not imply potential for guilt, though it usually does.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Trinity & Paradox

It has been rightly argued by some that we can distill these claims from the Athanasian creed:

1. The Father is God.
2. The Son is God.
3. The Spirit is God.
4. The Father is not the Son.
5. The Father is not the Spirit.
6. The Son is not the Spirit.
7. There is only one God.

An apparent contradiction in view is:
A. f = g (premise)
B. s = g (premise)
C. f ≠ s (premise)
D. f = s (from 1, 2, by transitivity of identity)
Contradiction or Paradox? 
It seems to me that these conundrums can be dealt with in many ways by adding additional biblically informed propositions to the incomplete ones. Simply replace some of the abbreviated premises with premises that contain more biblical truth and paradox disappears, yet without being able to uncover the mysteries of the Trinity. (i.e. The solution is rational but ought not to be considered rationalistic.)

Equivocal terms lead to unreliable conclusions:

It should be noted up front that there is a semantic difference between is and =, for x is y does not imply y is x; yet x = y is equivalent to y = x. (Please don't read on without digesting that.) The leap from what x is (found in 1-7) to what x equals (the complaint in the "apparent contradiction" i.e., A-D) is fallacious, which I trust will become apparent.

Points 1-7 (which utilize "is") imply that three distinct persons all share in the one divine nature and occupy what can be called "the same divine space".  So far, so good. Points A-D that follow (which utilize "=" instead of "is") leads to confusion (and supposed paradox). Points 1-7 and A-D must be nuanced, for 1-7 does not imply the conclusion of A-D, which is not only an apparent contradictory but rather a real contradictory.

First, with respect to the confusing four points (A-D), the only way Jesus equals God is if Jesus and God are numerically identical - exactly the same without remainder. Yet God can mean Trinity, which Jesus is not. God can also mean the person of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus is not. Finally, God can mean the person of the Father, which Jesus is not. Accordingly, to say that "Jesus equals God" and the "Father equals God" is equivocal at best and if taken literally leads to modalism because identity is transitive, which would mean that Jesus and the Father are the same person.

With respect to points 1-7, indeed, we should rightly say that Jesus is God because Jesus shares the divine essence: he is very God of very God, but that is not what is implied in points A-D when things such as "Jesus = God" are stated. In other words, if what is meant by "Jesus is God" is that that Jesus equals God, then of course that would be incorrect. But that is not what is typically meant by "Jesus is God", which makes reference to his divine nature, one in being with the Father.

Jesus is a specific person. Accordingly, if Jesus equals God, then God must equal Jesus and, therefore, must be a specific person (the same as Jesus), which would preclude any other person from sharing in the divine nature such as the Father, which in turn would undermine the doctrine of the Trinity. So yes, Jesus is God because Jesus is divine, but Jesus and God are not synonymous terms - for if they were synonymous terms, then "Jesus is God" could be equated to "God is Jesus". (In simple terms of analogy, Jim is human does not imply Jim = human.)

Jesus does not equal God, for the Father and the Holy Spirit are also God yet are different persons than Jesus. There is more than one God-person in the Godhead, all of whom mutually indwell the other two. There is only one triune-God, that in three persons and oneness of being lives in perfect harmony.

More on the equally ultimate, unity and diversity:

The Father is God just as the Son is God, but an essential property of the Father’s *person* (not to be confused with the ontological essence), which merely is to say it can only be predicated to the person of the Father, is his relationship to the Son and the Holy Spirit. Being distinct persons, there are differences between the members of the Holy Trinity. The Father is not God apart from his intra-Trinitarian relationships. That to say, the Father is not God apart from being a member of the Trinity. These Trinitarian relationships are essential properties of personhood, not essence (lest Father is Son). If we cannot distinguish properties in this way, we cannot distinguish persons. Accordingly,  f does not equal s because neither f nor s have the same intra-Trinitarian relationship with the other two divine persons in the Godhead. So, as we fill in what it means for f and s to be g, we do so not in a vacuum but with other biblical propositions in view, informing us of g as it pertains f and s. Indeed, it is true that f is g and s is g, and if that was the end of the story we might be in trouble. Without further elaboration, f is  g plus s is g is consistent with  modalism, so we needn’t be surprised that such constructs, though true, must be interpreted through a biblical lens in order to avoid heresy.

Although I don’t deny the prima facie intuitive notions surrounding 1-7 that can lead to a conundrum, it can be maintained on the consistency of God and his desire to communicate to his people that those intuitive notions that appear logically problematic can disappear when we presuppose additional revelation, which is not to say that mysteries can be solved. Logic cannot solve true mysteries, but biblically informed logical pursuit can demonstrate that certain doctrines are not actually seemingly-contradictory.  It’s when we think intuitively, which is to say apart from Scripture, we can get in trouble. As I've noted elsewhere, that's an insight of Van Til's apologetic but not one that I think he carried into this thinking on paradox. (For instance, when we use only experience unaided by revelation we can think one essence necessarily implies one person; when we presuppose Scripture we can know that proposition is false.)

Finally, the original formulation if it is interpreted as allowing for f=s, (which is prior to the intra-Trinitarian elaboration that forbids such an interpretation), ends up implying that the sending of the Son was arbitrary, which means the Son could have sent the Father. The arbitrariness is not demanded by the original construct (1-7), rather it comes as a result of an interpretation of the original construct that does not consider other biblical truths, such as each divine person in his intra-Trinitarian relationship with the other two divine persons. In other words, without, for instance, an elaboration of how the Son relates to the Father, 1-7 might be wrongly inferred as implying an apparent contradiction, leaving it open that the Son could have sent the Father. In the final analyses, the original construct of 1-7 is true and it is fine as far as it goes; I believe it is most suitable for a creed, but it is not a full blown theology of the Trinity, which a creed ought not to be.

Finally, regarding the arbitrariness noted above (an idea I gleaned from Robert Letham's writings), there is good reason to believe that there is an actual appropriateness that the Son was sent in the incarnation and not the Holy Spirit, but the first construct is void of such implication.We may learn of the ontological relationship through the economic activity, as Dr. Letham rightly pointed out in his review of Dr. Robert Reymond’s Systematic Theology. So for example (and as Dr. Letham has written here) the submission to Father by the Son reveals something of who the Son is prior to his incarnation, which is consistent with the turning over of the kingdom to the Father by the Son in the eschatological consummation.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

More on Paradox

If God is good, then he cannot ordain evil. God ordains evil and is good. Therefore, I have to accept "by faith" that although what appears contradictory is not. I'm to believe what appears to me to be defeated. Some Reformed Christians actually say that we are to think that way. We are to believe what we think looks false.

Greg Bahnsen had a response to that problem had by so many, which is commonly called the problem of evil. His answer was simply that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil he ordains. With Bahnsen, I find that response sufficient to remedy any apparent contradiction between God’s goodness and his determination of all things including evil, but I don’t find the additional premise to be a stroke of genius by any stretch. The apparent problem had by so many is that they judge goodness by carnal standards, forgetting that God defines goodness and what is acceptable behavior for himself. (Note: That God defines goodness does not imply that goodness is arbitrary.)

That God’s goodness and his sovereign determination of evil appears contradictory to some hardly implies that it should appear contradictory to all. It’s simply too grand a claim to suggest that if some perceive contradictions then others should.

One might even expect to have a better chance of alleviating apparent contradictions by beginning with a simple presupposition that says there need not be any apparent contradictions. The belief in apparent contradiction can make one not only lazy but also very unjustified in his theology, just like by not believing that the inverse operation of subtraction is always addition can make a child think his wrong answers could be correct though they don't check out just right by performing the inverse operation. The less partisan will find the analogy acceptable, whereas those who blindly follow Van Til will no doubt throw the rationalistic flag at this juncture. Notwithstanding, the point that can be received by the less fearful who are brave enough to be their own man is simply that once we become committed to our ability by grace to alleviate apparent contradictions within God’s word, we might end up working a bit harder at resolving them rather than letting the axiom of apparent contradiction cause us to accept things as true that really appear false to us.  Now of course this comes at a price. There must be a willingness to accept the label rationalistic, but what’s the alternative, believing in something that appears false yet while hoping it is not?

Now some might say that we have reason to believe what appears false and that reason is the church teaches it, which reduces the belief to an inference short of knowledge if that's all the belief is based upon. There is a subtle distinction that must be teased out from such a theory. It pertains to the difference between a justification for believing something is true and a justification of the facts themselves that are believed to be true. I can believe a doctrine is true because the church teaches it, but it’s quite another thing to know those teachings are true. Such a justification of the truth of the church's teachings can only come from God. This is not to say that the God does not speak through the church, for he does. Notwithstanding, if one is basing a theological propositional belief on something other than God's testimony, then such a belief can hardly account as knowledge of the truth.

How can we know truth while it appears false? What would be the warrant for believing what appears to be a defeated proposition? If one says God's say-so, then why if I'm to believe what appears false ought I not disbelieve what appears true?

Not only do the following passages teach that we’re to hear from God and not men on these matters, the Confession's addresses cited below, in concert with Scripture, commend such a practice. (Matt. 16:13-17; John 4:39-42; Galatians 1:11, 12; I Thess. 2:13;  WCF 1.5 and 1.10; WCF 14.2) Note well that Paul when battling the Judaizers did not even cite the apostles but rather Christ alone in his defense of the gospel he knew to be true, for he did not receive it by man but from God.

In a nutshell, contradictions take the form of p = ~p, so if a doctrine is to appear contradictory it must appear to take that form. Until one shows how any Christian doctrine appears to take that form, he fails to show that any doctrine actually appears contradictory. But it gets much worse than that. Until one shows that any doctrine takes a contradictory form, he fails to show how it appears contradictory even to himself! Consequently, not only have these people failed to show that Christian doctrines are apparently contradictory, a universal claim of theirs that applies to every person – they even fail to show that they appear contradictory to them personally.

The only contradictions I’m finding are in their reasoning. They assert apparent contradiction and fail to demonstrate any.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Christian Paradox

Also, check TurretinFan on this matter.

Many well meaning Christians, even Reformed Christians, believe that many Bible doctrines must be embraced though they are seemingly contradictory. These Christians believe that many mysteries of the faith (if not all things ultimately) are really paradoxes, antinomies or apparent contradictions, same thing for our purposes. These apparent contradictions, though said not to be real, appear to imply a false orthodox proposition, since contradictions always contain a false proposition. For example, if God is one, then it would seem that God cannot be comprised of three persons who are all God, for one is not three. Consequently, one of the two orthodox horns appears false. Either there are three Gods or God is not one; yet since the Trinity is an orthodox doctrine, the antinomy must be embraced. Christianity ends up being apparently contradictory but not really. In other words, Christianity appears contradictory but it really isn't. Professing atheists have a field day with such lobs. Rather than the Christian’s apologetic appearing as aspirin tablets at the top of the knees low and away, we end up lobbing watermelons in the wheelhouse when we speak that way.

Does anybody really believe that we are to embrace as true both x and ~x at the same time, in the same sense? At the very least, I would hope that no Christian believes that we are to accept as true something that is actually false. But what about this – Are we to believe certain doctrines that appear false? Many Christians say “yes”. Some even say “YES!” It is believed by more than a few that some if not all doctrines must(!) appear contradictory - if we’re to remain humble and not let logic cloud our biblical reasoning. Accordingly, not only are we to accept doctrines that at first glance appear paradoxical to the rational mind, we simply cannot get around being subject to apparent contradictions. In other words, given our finitude and God’s infinitude, it is alleged that certain doctrines, even all doctrines, will always appear contradictory because of the “Creator-creature” distinction, a distinction I embrace with all my orthodox heart,soul and mind yet without letting it lead me down a dead end alley of skepiticism.

In order for two or more propositions to appear contradictory, I would think, in my creaturely finitude, that they must actually appear to take the form of a contradiction. After all, these supposed paradoxes are not claimed to be apparently consistent but rather apparently contradictory. So ask yourself, what is a set of propositions that looks like a contradiction and sounds like a contradiction but is not a contradiction? Clarkians will answer “A Van Tillian musing, of course!”

If the apparent contradiction imbedded in a particular doctrine cannot be made to disappear, then what  rational hope is there that the apparent contradiction is not a real contradiction? How can an actual contradiction be distinguished from an apparent one if the apparent seems actual from a creaturely perspective? After all, is there an acid test to distinguish real contradictions from ones that aren’t real but look real?

Until one reconciles an apparent contradiction, I don’t think he has any business embracing both horns of the supposed contradiction. (I appreciate that there are transition periods in one’s thinking but we’re not to live in a perpetual state of transition over any given doctrine. We are to prayerfully wrestle with things and press on.) Now then, let’s say one embraces Jesus’ humanity, which entails a localized body, yet also embraces the real presence of the mass. He would embrace what appears to him to be an apparent contradiction, which in this case would be a real contradiction. He would embrace something he thinks appears false, and in this case is actually false. Not good.

Now let’s move to two orthodox horns of what is a conundrum for some. Let’s say one embraces a Reformed view of God’s foreordination of all things along with human moral accountability, yet finds those concepts contradictory. If those concepts are truly contradictory then one of the premises must be false. If one is willing to accept what appears false, then why not the real presence? What would be the basis of accepting one false looking doctrine over another? To simply say that we’re to embrace the seemingly false doctrines the Bible teaches and leave the other false interpretations alone isn’t a workable principle. It's a recipe for arbitrariness and inconsistency.

Moreover, I find it highly improper to call any particular pair of doctrines an “apparent contradiction” because of the universality of the claim. It’s not only an unjustified claim; it’s a false claim too. What is seemingly contradictory to one person can be perfectly harmonious to another since apparent contradictions are not objectively contradictory but rather only perceived as such. Actual contradictions are universal, whether anyone appreciates them or not; yet apparent contradictions are subjective and only apply to those who think, for example, that the eternal decree an human responsibility are seemingly incompatible. Accordingly, it’s simply a misnomer to call any particular doctrine an apparent contradiction because of the idiosyncratic nature of each person’s level of confusion. I find it even a bit arrogant when one asserts that this or that doctrine is paradoxical since the who would voice such a claim would be setting himself up as the measure of another man's capacities, as if he were saying, “I perceive these doctrines as seemingly contradictory, therefore they are apparently contradictory (to all humans), but of course these parallel lines meet in the mind of God.” Now that might be a big pill for some people to swallow, but certainly such people are not saying anything like: “I don’t believe these doctrines need to appear contradictory (if they are indeed orthodox doctrines), but at the moment I’m still working through some things and I believe they might not be contradictory to others. The problem must be with me.”

Some helpful hints moving forward

If someone wants to assert a paradox, it might be helpful to identify the contradictory premises and show why either must be false. As soon as he shows how either one must be false, then should abandon that one. If he can’t show that one must be false then he hasn’t come across an apparent contradiction, now has he? Confusion does not imply contradiction.

So for example, how would one go about proving that the existence of Paris does not conflict with the existence of New York to one who thinks it appears that these two cities cannot exist in harmony? It would be helpful for the one who thinks there is a conflict to put forth his perception of the conflict. The confused one should explain what he thinks is the contradictory nature of the supposed paradox. I’ve been waiting for years to hear why it is seemingly contradictory that God’s foreordination of my actions, which proceed from my intentions, somehow alleviates my responsibility for my actions. God has a morally sufficient reason for the good and evil he determines, and I am responsible for what I do. These two propositions aren’t on a collision course; they’re simply on different tracks. Accordingly, there's not a whole lot to be reconciled.

True humility (coupled with half a sense) appreciates that to embrace something that appears false is not spiritual but in fact foolish. Only someone who is confused would say it looks false but I must embrace it out of humble obedience to God. Whereas one with more understanding will say it looks false so I must be missing something either in my overall theology or on this particular point. I either need to change some governing presupposition(s) or else get a better handle on this new item of consideration.

Another example might be helpful. One might reason from common experience that persons have a beginning, but since the Second Person of the Trinity had no beginning, the eternal sonship of the Second Person is an apparent contradiction. Yet such a paradox disappears when we let God define for us the realm of possibility as it relates to persons, finitude and being. In other words, these propositions are seemingly contradictory to the carnal mind that is not subject to the word of God, but when we let God’s word inform our thinking the propositions do not appear at odds with each other in the least. With that example in mind, the astute reader might find a terrible irony in all of this. It seems to me that Van Tillians are to get their framework for the possible realm from Scripture, and if we begin with Scripture to inform our thinking on what defines reality etc., apparent contradictions, which always incorporate autonomous thought, go away. When Scripture informs us of truth and the realm of possibility, we get a whole host of new propositions to play with, which is something CVT grasped well yet did not incorporate into his thinking in the realm of paradox. With Scripture as our presupposition, we begin to see that three persons and one being (descriptive of God) is as coherent as one person and one being (descriptive of man). The latter in one sense is more common to our experience, but the former is no less revealed to our minds. (It can even be argued that the latter is more common to our experience given that we are bombarded with the one and the many every moment of every day.) Since both are revealed truths, we don’t have a contradiction of x and ~x, but rather we find a harmonious x and y. If we’re talking about x and y, then there was no apparent contradiction between two x’s to begin with but rather only imprecise terminology that needed to be fleshed out a bit more. It’s the person who reasons apart from Scripture that finds himself with x and ~x. It’s only when we think in terms of necessarily one being = one person, which is not a revealed truth, do we run into problems with the Trinity in this regard.

Does all that make me a non-Van Tillian? Well, what are the essential properties one must maintain to be called a Van Tillian, or a Calvinist for that matter? Regarding the former, is it enought to believe that the Triune God is the necessary precondition for intelligible experience, and that Scripture is the justification of all knowledge, and to predicate against God one must presuppose that a common creator provides a fruitful connection between my mind and the external, mind-independent world? Is it enough to believe that formally the believer and unbeliever have much in common but in principle they disagree on everything? Does one need to embrace Calvin’s Geneva to be a Calvinist? I remember Greg Bahnsen while lecturing on the Westminster Confession saying that God’s determination of creaturely choices and man’s responsibility are not seemingly contradictory doctrines but only mysterious. Was he not Van Tillian? Regarding the problem of evil, Bahnsen noted that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil he ordains. To put it in Gordon Clark’s terms, God is not answerable to anyone but himself.

Finally, nobody is saying that Christian doctrine can be exhausted in our finitude. All that is being said is that seemingly logical contradictions can be removed from doctrines that are pure. If I cannot relieve the tension, then I’ll be constrained either to change my overall theology or dig harder to learn why a new proposition that confronts my old thinking is not at odds with my existing theology. That’s how I became a Calvinistic paedobaptist. It is just not available to earnest Christians to embrace what appears to be contradictory, which is not to say we can exhaust the depths of the doctrines we know in part, or that mystery must be denied. It’s not to raise logic above God’s word, nor is it to be too rational (whatever that means). When did irrationality become a virtue?

Indeed, there are many Christian tenets that remain mysterious to my mind, but I am unaware of any antinomies contained therein. Nor do I believe that because I’m incapable in my finitude of plumbing the depths of any proposition that I’m consigned to a world of incompatible propositions. Biblical faith does not call us to embrace what appears to be false, which is why I can reject the alleged transubstantiation of the mass in good conscience.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Camping Prediction More Probable Than Those of Most Evangelicals

Harold Camping's prediction of a May 21 judgment day is more likely to come true than the predictions of most evangelical pastors. If Camping is right, then he made a lucky guess and consequently optimistic Amillenialism is based upon faulty exegesis, an unlikely scenario. On the other hand, all dispensational pastors are definitely wrong on their general description of the end times. Even if we allow dispensationalists to pick every date from now until the end of the age as their prediction for a pre-tribulation rapture, they’d still be wrong. No one will be left behind.

The ramifications are striking. Dispensationalists are wrong about a doctrine that is often more thoroughly explicated in their respective church covenants than the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, or the Holy Trinity for that matter. At the very least, I hope that all Reformed Christians believe it is more probable that (i) Jesus will return on May 21, 2011 than (ii) he will return in stages and unbelievers will occupy pilotless air craft. The former is highly unlikely whereas the latter is an absurd impossibility.

Obviously Camping is a heretic - given his ecclesiology if nothing else, but let's not lose perspective, shall we? Most of evangelicalism is confused on this matter of Jesus’ return, yet are sensible enough not to make date-predictions. Notwithstanding, their general predictions of how things will unfold are more disturbing than Camping’s predictions, at least for me. Camping has excommunicated himself from the Christian church, so his exegesis (or in this case his numerology) is of little or no concern to me. I am exceedingly more concerned about evangelicals like John MacArthur, for instance, who refuse to renounce such silly rapture teachings that bring reproach upon Christ’s church from the inside. Indeed, Camping is an embarrassment but not to the church, for Camping is not a member of the body of Christ. He's a fringe-fanatic and nothing more.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

More on Merit

Condign merit presupposes that the recipient of reward has claim upon it rooted in pure justice, which is not a factor in congruous merit, which presupposes that the giver of reward finds it appropriate or fitting to bestow reward upon a recipient. The latter entails a magnanimous posture of the giver, whereas the former entails moral obligation toward the recipient that is predicated upon actions that have intrinsic value worthy of honor and reward. Regarding what is known as the Covenant of Life, Reformed folk should appreciate that both condign merit and congruous merit have no biblical support.
Many Reformed thinkers posit a form of ex pacto merit, a reward that is due not out of what is fitting to bestow or out of intrinsic value of good performed that warrants reward but because of contractual terms. In other words, ex pacto merit implies meritorious reward that is due a recipient because the terms of a compact sanction blessings in exchange for something done. Specifically, an increasingly popular idea is that Adam would have merited a confirmation in righteousness, translating him into a glorified state, had he obeyed the terms of the Covenant of Life for the entire alleged probation period. Not only is that view widely held in Reformed circles, it is also thought that to deny it is to undermine the gospel.
Ex pacto merit is best considered from at least two vantage points. First, was there an offer of confirmation in righteousness in the prelapsarian covenant? And secondly, if Adam was offered a glorified state as part of the terms of that covenant, would it be equivocal to say he was in a position to have merited the outcome, eternal glory?

Regarding the first question, an affirmative answer is not deducible from Scripture. By drawing analogies to the Second Adam who entered into glory upon completion of his earthly work, it is often presupposed that Adam could have earned an eternal state, but that of course entails question-begging as it pertains to God’s covenant with Adam, as opposed to deducing an answer from premises found in Scripture. Such a notion of merit implicitly denies Sola Scriptura (and the laws of deduction). Turning to the second question, allowing for a moment the speculative notion that Adam was offered confirmation in righteousness and resultant glory (as opposed to
perpetual communion with God without any prospect of ontological transformation), if one agrees that there is no place for condign merit, then he should agree that it would be equivocal at best to say that Adam could have “merited” glory. Even had the terms of the covenant prescribed such an outcome as wonderful as eternal glory, it is nonsensical that one can “merit” reward from another who receives zero benefit from the one being rewarded. Mustn't on some level the one issuing reward (in this case God) receive benefit from the one being rewarded if we're to call the outcome "merited" and not unmeritied favor bestowed? After all, when God discharges the wages of sin, it is because he is justly offended, is it not? Shouldn't the reverse hold true? If one is it to earn a reward from God, shouldn't God owe a debt that is a matter of justice deserved and not merely a matter of contractual terms that are not an essential property of God? At the very least, wasn't the entering into covenant a matter of divine condescension? Is God lacking in something that Adam could have filled-up? Secondly, I find it even more absurd to think that a creature could by good works merit something from God when such good works would require God to effect in the creature those works necessary to obtain the reward. What is it after all to merit something based upon a performance that requires the one who is to issue the reward to bring to pass the performance of the performer?! Yes, you have heard right, libertarian freedom is a metaphysical surd even for the prelapsarian era, something that escapes too many Reformed folk, even seminary professors. Wouldn't Adam even prior to the fall have owed his willing and doing of God's good pleasure to God alone? Or was Arminianism true before the fall and just not after? In the third case, in common parlance when one merits something the reward received is in accordance with the magnitude of work performed. So, in sum, how can good works for a finite period of time that are efficaciously wrought in man by God’s determination and providence (no less) wherein God gets nothing in return be the grounds for meriting such a disproportionate reward, relative to the work performed, such as an eternal state of not being able to sin, a state of non posse peccare?

For Adam to have performed sufficient works in order to have been confirmed in righteousness he would have needed that which only God could have supplied; the reward would have been greater than the work performed; and the work would have been of no benefit to the one bestowing the reward. Now if one is willing to admit all that, then he should also acknowledge that to call such work “meritorious” is to make "merit" a vacuous term. I'd simply prefer to consider such pure condescension on God’s part as unmerited favor toward a creature. Yet aside from tagging speculative ideas with inappropriate and misleading terms, it is an even greater monstrosity to pass such musings off as the Reformed position, let alone essential to the gospel.

Finally, it's interesting to me that the infralapsarian position seems to require such a prelapsarian compact, for in the infralapsarian construct creation must exceed redemption in glory and grandeur. That is not to say that I am pleased with the framing of the supra-infra debate. I am not, if for no other reason than God's purposes are multi-faceted and not just linear. Yet with that said I find the teleological supra schema of Hoeksema, Clark and Reymond most attractive in what it it aims to put forth (as opposed to Beza's construct for instance). For in the contemporary supra-schema, God's choice to redeem presupposes men as fallen. Damnation becomes not an end in itself but justice that presupposes sin, a very biblical concept indeed. Of course the infra position is simply a denial of true Calvinism.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Women Worship Leaders - Just a Few Thoughts

May women lead in worship?

The answer to such a question should be obvious, but unfortunately the church has been influenced by the world and consequently the answer to what should be an easy question is no longer obvious to so many Christians.

Worship is often led by women even in churches that believe only men may be elders. Such a worship practice if consistent with the unique teaching role of elders presupposes that worship is not to be accompanied by biblical instruction. In other words, if women may lead worship yet not teach the congregation, then worship may be void of biblical instruction. Yet then how can women lead God’s people in biblical worship that engages the emotions through the mind? Is to lead worship simply a matter of hitting the right note? No, and women “worship leaders” appreciate that much, which is why they so often step out of their God-given comfort zone in order to exhort in their leading. Accordingly, when women lead in worship any adherence to the unique teaching role given to men is undermined.

The elders, if they do their job, will protect the congregation, including their women, from such an unnatural, demeaning practice. Yes, demeaning. It’s demeaning for a woman to do man’s calling, just like it would be demeaning for a man to submit to his wife in all things. Gender confusion is always ugly.

It is the pastor, in the representative service of the Lord, who is ultimately responsible for leading congregational worship on earth. The pastor who operates in the name of Christ is the worship leader. It's an indicative. It comes with the job. A worship leader should be prepared to exegete hymns and Psalms for the congregation, which a woman simply may not do even if she can. A great worship leader can be tone deaf but that is because he is not merely to lead the music but rather is to direct the hearts and minds of the congregants to the triune God who receives congregational worship in Christ.

The answer to the question should be obvious. Women may not lead worship because women may not lead God’s people. Let's be loving to our sisters in Christ and in humble obedience lead them out of such roles.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Manhattan Declaration (a *very* few thoughts)

I noticed that Turretin Fan had provided a link to this post of mine on the Manhattan Declaration.  When I clicked on the link from Turretin Fan's site I learned that it was a broken link. The broken link was due to my taking the post down shortly after having put it up. It was my intention then to modify the post, which I never ended up doing. What is below is the original. The post is old and in some respect yesterday's paper yet with abiding principles. Other responses to the declaration, including this one, can be found here. These include responses by Al Mohler, Alistair Begg and R.C. Sproul.

I was recently asked my opinion on the recent "Manhattan Declaration".

My "off the top of my head" response:

It is my understanding that individual Trinitarians have joined together across denominational lines to "affirm [their] right - and more importantly, to embrace [their] obligation - to speak and act in defense of these truths." (Emphasis theirs!)

I am grateful that men and woman are willing to speak their minds in times such as these. Notwithstanding, two less sanguine thoughts come to mind.

1. Now of course, I do believe that every Christian has a right to speak out against oppressive government. I also believe that individual Christians have the liberty to unite on such matters. However, I find it troubling when such people imply that it is obligatory for the Christian to speak out on these or any other particular political matter. One man's Christian liberty should not bind another man's conscience.

2. What we have here are three branches of Christendom: Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Evangelical. Why aren't all these branches "evangelical"? Well, I would suppose it is because they do not all affirm the gospel message of how a man can have peace with God and avoid an eternity in hell. Given the blurring of that truth, I choose to exercise my Christian liberty, which I find personally obligatory in my own conscience, not to participate in defending those truths in that unified manner; though I respect the liberty of those who feel led to do so. Fair enough?

Sundry observations:

1. I so appreciate the wisdom of the Divines. The Westminster standards teach that the organized church is not to intermeddle with civil affairs that concern the commonwealth unless dire circumstances prevail. I don't know whether the Manhattan Declaration has underscored the point, but they might do well to make clear that their declaration carries no ecclesiastical power and that the organized church's mission is first and foremost the gospel, which in turn will transform the world. (Of course most evangelicals are so rapture-ready that they have no expectation that Jesus will make all his enemies his footstool.)

2. It's interesting to me that there are some who disagreed with the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) dialogue and associated pronouncements yet have participated in the Manhattan Declaration. I think that is fine because ECT implicitly denied the gospel by affirming Rome's magical view of water baptism, whereas this new document does not try to bridge theological incongruities. For that we can be grateful, but I am still not comfortable with what is implied (and can be inferred) when such communions put aside their differences for some other cause, which all to often is seen as a "greater cause".

3. We may not let doctrinal purity be an excuse for us to do nothing!

4. Finally, doctrinal differences aside, I find it a bit passing strange that Rome can remain so vocal on the abortion front without giving equal time to the public acknowledgement of their abuses in the area of child molestation. May they be pleased to sound both trumpets.

5. "It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty." That statement is very problematic. The gospel is not being proclaimed in the declaration, nor can it be because two of those communions are on a collision course where the gospel is concerned and the third group (Eastern Orthodoxy) hasn't been on the road course in about fifteen hundred years.

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