Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Augustine on Free Will and Irresistible Grace

"Who am I, and what am I? What evil has not been in my deeds, or if not in my deeds, my words, or if not in my words, my will? But You, Lord, are good and merciful, and Your right hand has respected the depth of my death and, from the bottom of my heart, has emptied that abyss of corruption. And Your whole gift to me was not to will what I willed, and to will what You willed. But where was my free will through all those years, and out of what low and deep recess was my free will called forth in a moment so I could submit my neck to Your easy yoke, and my shoulders to Your light burden, Christ Jesus, my Helper and my Redeemer? How sweet it suddenly became to me, to lack the "sweetness" of those follies, and what I was afraid to be separated from was now a joy to part with! You cast them forth from me, You who are the true and highest sweetness. You cast them forth and entered in their place Yourself, You who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, brighter than all light, but more hidden than all depths, higher than all honor, but not to the lofty in their own conceits. Now my soul was free from the biting cares of seeking and getting, weltering in filth, and scratching off the itch of lust. And my infant tongue spoke freely to You, my brightness and my riches and my health, Lord my God."
The Confessions of Saint Augustine, published by Whitaker House, 1996, pp. 213-214 (emphasis mine)

Here Augustine describes his conversion in terms that reveal his firm belief in total depravity. He views his own sinfulness as an evil nature resulting in a bondage of the will. He recognizes that his faith was initiated by God's effectual calling rather than his own free will, which was trapped in a "low and deep recess" prior to the divine call. He posits a paradoxical "free will" which is limited by the boundaries of the sinful nature and in need of awakening by God's grace. And because of these things, Augustine gives all the glory to God.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Guest Blogger: The Real Meaning of Christmas

I'm girl whom God loves. I'm here to tell you about the meaning of Christmas. It's about something that happened long ago... there was no room at the inn, so Jesus was born in a stable. Some shepherds in a nearby field were watching their sheep. An angel came to them, saying: "Glory to God in the highest." The angel told them, "the Son of David is lying in a manger." They were scared. The angel said: "Fear not!" Wise men came later. They brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. What would a baby do with gold? I don't know. The Bible doesn't tell us.In this Christmas season, remember the real reason! What is the real reason? Jesus! So, when you open your presents and set up your tree, remember the real meaning of  Christmas.  {The meaning of Christmas told in the story above} It's about  Jesus  coming to save us. "For God  so loved the world  that he gave his  only son, that  whoever  believes in him  shall not perish, but have  everlasting life" ~ John 3:16.                                                                                                                                                   "Bye - Bye"            

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Incarnation Mysteries: He Humbled Himself

. . . although He existed in the form of God,
He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied Himself,
taking the form of a bond-servant,
and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:6-8 

Some have called the incarnation the most paradoxical of all Christian doctrines, and this could be true. The incarnation forms the necessary link between an incalculable and transcendent Trinity on the one hand, and an ultra-ironic and concretely historic Cross on the other. Who can fathom what took place as God the Son humbled Himself to become the fully-human-and-completely-divine Son of God? In His Person He draws together the realms of eternity and the world of men, and he affects both by His mediating work. He is perfect God and perfect Man - as perfect in the limitations of His humanity as He is perfect in the superlatives of His deity. He is God and He is man. He is the Mediator between God and man.

In a short essay, entitled The Excellency of Christ, Jonathan Edwards noted:

"There is a conjunction of such excellencies in Christ, as, in our manner of conceiving, are very diverse from one another. . . . There do meet in Jesus Christ infinite highness and infinite condescension. . . . He is so high, that he is infinitely above any need of us; above our reach, that we cannot be profitable to him. . . . Our understandings, if we stretch them ever so far, cannot reach up to his divine glory. . . . And yet he is one of infinite condescension. . . . Such a conjunction of infinite highness and low condescension, in the same person, is admirable."

The following list of incarnation mysteries is offered as a seed bed for thoughtful reflection on the incarnated Son, Who stands at the exact center of the Father's eternal plan . . . at the focal point of human history . . . and at the eternal epicenter of redemption.

Consider . . .

The Creator became a creature . . .
The Eternal One entered time . . .
The pure One encountered a world saturated with sin . . .
The One Who cannot sin appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh . . .
The One Who cannot be tempted by evil faced the fiercest temptations possible . . .
The Immortal God took on a mortally vulnerable body . . .
The Self-sufficient One became dependent . . .
The Righteous Judge placed Himself under the faulty dictates of human justice . . .
The Sovereign Lord submitted to imperfect human authorities . . .
The omnipresent One placed Himself within finite space . . .
The Almighty lived within natural human limitations . . .
The omniscient mind of God was hidden within a human being's ignorance
The All-knowing One experienced the process of learning . . .
The changeless, immutable One experienced the process of maturing . . .
The eternally joyful One became a man of sorrows . . .
The Great Intercessor became a man of prayer . . .
The Maker of Law was born under law . . .
The Owner of everything made Himself poor . . .
The Supreme Master became a suffering servant . . .
The Invisible One was seen and touched . . .
The One Who is Forever Blessed would become a curse for us . . .
The Living God would die for us . . .

Although He "emptied" and "humbled" Himself in this way, He never ceased in His perfections - human or divine. His divine attributes were not removed, but covered over and veiled by human characteristics. While in many ways His glorious power was hidden, His love and grace and wisdom and goodness and justice were only magnified by the incarnation - yet they were magnified in a way that is forever hidden from the hard-hearted and indelibly revealed to those who trust in Him.

The many paradoxes of Christ's Person are unbelievable to the unbelieving, yet they are the very means by which God effectually calls sinners to choose Him.

"Let the consideration of this wonderful meeting of diverse excellencies in Christ induce you to accept him, and close with him as your Savior. As all manner of excellencies meet in him, so there are occurring in him all manner of arguments and motives, to move you to choose him for your Savior, and every thing that tends to encourage poor sinners to come and put their trust in him. His fullness and all-sufficiency as a Savior gloriously appear in that variety of excellencies that has been spoken of." (Edwards, The Excellency of Christ)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The THEOparadox Team Has its First Fight

A snowball fight . . . JibJab style!


Those "Holidays" are called CHRIST-MAS and New Year's, by the way.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Milestone

One and a half years ago, I performed a Google search for the term, "Theoparadox." No results were returned, so I decided it would be the perfect name for a new blog.

Since then, I have periodically used Google to trace the spread of the term from its humble roots. Today, for the first time, Google's auto-complete suggested Theoparadox as a search term . . .

Perhaps someday we'll see "Theoparadox" as an entry in the dictionary?

Soli Deo Gloria.

Incarnation Mysteries: The Virgin Birth

The virgin birth is the ultimate impossibility. As a rule, conception never takes place apart from the physical union of two cells, which are provided by physically male and female humans. In the incarnation, God's Spirit conceived Christ in Mary's womb without the presence of a male cell.

Luke 1:34-37 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.  . . . For nothing will be impossible with God."

Consider Mary's statement, "from this time on all generations will count me blessed." (Luke 1:48). These were the words of a young, unmarried pregnant woman, from a poor Galilean village, with no "proof" of her extravagant claim. Normally, such women might be called many things, none of which are remotely similar to "blessed." She would likely have been cast aside and forgotten by her contemporaries rather than remembered with joy and admiration by God-honoring people in every future generation.

Consider also that the angel called this baby a "holy child." Children conceived outside of wedlock have been given various unfortunate labels, but this One would be called the Son of God.

Leave it to God to bring His ultimate blessing and fulfillment of prophecy through such apparently ignominious circumstances! Leave it to God to draw such a history-breaking event out of common insignificance and obscurity! Leave it to God to unveil His purity to the world through the false appearance of immorality! Leave it to God to reveal His miraculous plan to humble, unnoticed servants rather than the religious elite in Jerusalem! Leave it to God to do such seemingly illogical things for His own glory!

He continues to use humble, obscure, overlooked, God-centered, love-motivated, grateful, trusting servants to fulfill His will in our day - as the way is prepared for the second advent of the Son of God.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tullian Tchividjian on Pelagius, Jonathan Edwards, Free Will and the Gospel

Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Dr. Billy Graham, is pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida church founded by Dr. D. James Kennedy). Back in 2001, Tchividjian wrote a 5-page article titled, Reflections on Jonathan Edwards' View of Free Will. In the article, he shows how the unwillingness to accept a paradox led Pelagius into heresy, while thoughtful examination of the same paradox led Edwards to a satisfactory explanation of it. Edwards achieved this by skillfully distinguishing between two different types of "ability" to choose, and thereby showing man's will is (paradoxically) both free and bound by sin. Here's an excerpt from Tchividjian's essay . . .

“Natural Inability” and “Moral Inability”
We remember that what plagued Pelagius was the paradox of human responsibility to follow God’s holy commands and human inability. According to Pelagius, the fact that God commands us to obey him implies that we are able to obey him. If inability reigns, then God would be unjust to command our obedience. This problem, as we have seen, eventually led Pelagius to deny the universality of sin. He was unable to deal with the paradox. Edwards’ contribution to this issue is perhaps his most profound. Edwards distinguished between what he referred to as “natural inability” and “moral inability”. “We are said to be naturally unable to do a thing, when we can’t do it if we will, because what is most commonly called nature doesn’t allow it… Moral inability consists in the opposition or want of inclination”.4 In other words, I am said to be naturally unable to do a thing, no matter how hard I desire it, if nature doesn’t allow it, such as flying or walking on water. In this sense, we are all naturally able to do what is right. After all, we have all of the natural capacities to understand the law of God. We have a mouth that is physically capable of uttering praises to God. We have a will that enables us to choose to do what we want to do. Original sin does not eradicate our humanity or ability to make choices. The natural ability remains intact. God has endowed us with the natural ability to do what he requires of us. What we lack, however, is the moral ability. What was lost in the fall is the want or inclination to do that which is righteous. We have no desire to obey God. We have, in fact, no desire for God at all. Fallen man has the natural ability to choose God but he lacks the moral ability to do so. For this reason, God can justly command our obedience (because we have the necessary faculties of choice), and at the same time hold us responsible for the choices we make. A.W. Pink says, “By nature [man] possesses natural ability but lacks moral and spiritual ability. The fact that he does not possess the latter does not destroy his responsibility, because his responsibility rests upon the fact that he does possess the former”.5 Without a righteous inclination to do good, no one can choose good. Our decisions follow our inclinations. Sin has rendered us hopeless, according to Edwards, but this is precisely what makes the gospel so great.

The Greatness of the Gospel
“For Edwards, the greatness of the gospel is visible only when viewed against the backdrop of the greatness of the ruin into which we have been plunged by the fall. The greatness of the disease requires the greatness of the remedy”.6 As someone once said, “The worst word about us as sinners is not the last word”. It was the gospel that Edwards was interested in, not some theoretical debate. He knew that what made good news good was that it was preceded by bad news. Our fallen nature due to sin is bad news. Our natural inclination to sin is bad news. Our inability to incline ourselves godward is bad news. Our self-destruction as a result of our sin is bad news. The grace of God in redeeming man from this desperate state and changing his nature so that he will be free to serve God is not just good news, its great news.

4 Edwards, Freedom of the Will, pg.159 as quoted in Sproul, Willing to Believe, pg.162
5 A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984) pg. 154
6 R.C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will (Grand Rapids, MI: 1997) pg. 148

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Great Article from James Anderson

Two weeks ago, James Anderson posted a great article on his site, Analogical Thoughts. He examines the claim, made by some non-Calvinist Christians, that Calvinism undermines assurance of salvation. Anderson compares the possibilities for assurance within the framework of Calvinism to those found in Arminianism. That part is quite good by itself, but then he makes an interesting and unexpected tie-in with the doctrine of inerrancy. It's well worth taking the time to read.


"I’m pretty sure that by now I’ve heard all the major objections to Calvinism. Some of them deserve to be taken seriously, although none are weighty enough to overturn the balance (or rather imbalance) of biblical evidence. Other objections, however, I find hard to credit at all. An example of the latter is the claim that the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election undermines assurance of salvation."

"God’s secret will is nothing other than what God from eternity has infallibly ordained will take place in history. But then it follows that God’s secret will is, by definition, being progressively revealed moment by moment — and can therefore be known as easily as any historical fact."

"On the Calvinist view, only the elect come to saving faith in Christ (leaving aside exceptional cases, such as those dying in infancy). It therefore follows that if a person — let’s call him Sam — has a saving faith in Christ then he must be elect. So the question of whether or not Sam is elect translates immediately into the question of whether or not Sam has saving faith in Christ. Answer the latter and you’ve immediately answered the former."

"So the Reformed doctrine of perseverance has this crucial implication: if I have saving faith today then I will also have saving faith on my final day — and thus be eternally saved. So if I’m justified in believing (on the basis of the biblical tests) that I have saving faith today, then I’m also justified in believing that I will be finally saved. In other words, I have an assurance of salvation worth having!"

"Consequently it seems clear to me that it isn’t Calvinism that undermines the doctrine of assurance; on the contrary, it’s Arminianism. Calvinism alone has the theological capital to fund the assurance that Christ has indeed prepared a place for us."

Bonus Video: Jadon Lavik singing "Blessed Assurance." Whether you're a Calvinist, Arminian or other, I pray you have it!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Armed with the Balance of Truth

THEOparadox Advisor Tony Hayling has been doing a wonderful series on the book of Hebrews at his site, Agonizomai. Below, I've extracted a quote in which Tony points out the great paradox of chapter 4, where we are given a dual exhortation to "rest" and to "strive." 

"After having established that no one can enter God’s rest apart from being found obedient through faith, the writer immediately exhorts the Hebrews to strive to enter that rest! What can striving and resting have to do with each other? And this is the wonder of the gospel. To the fallen mind it is full of apparent contradiction. To the regenerate person it is full of truth and light. We may not be able, as saints, to reconcile in our minds all of God’s antinomies (a J.I. Packer term) - but we are willing to believe that they can be reconciled and that, on that Day, they shall be. So the person of faith does not know everything. On the contrary, he knows that he knows nothing - and it is this humility of mind that enables him to receive what he previously would not, and to strive to be found under the authority and guidance of God." 

Note: Recipients of our t-shirts usually don't get arms, but in this case I've added prosthetics so Tony can operate his sound equipment. He records almost all of his blog posts and makes them available using a handy media  player embedded on the site.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

PARADOX FILES, Vol. 11 - Louis Berkhof

Louis Berkhof posthumously wins one of our famous t-shirts for the THEOparadoxical thinking exhibited in his defense of the doctrine of common grace. Berkhof sees God's Being as infinite and supra-logical, and therefore capable of more deeply complex intentions than many would typically ascribe to Him.

Although some will argue that the Scriptures make no distinction between "common" and "special" grace, these designations are nothing more than a helpful way of describing God's mercy toward all mankind, in contrast with His sovereign election of some (both of which are clearly taught in the Scriptures). We can think of "common grace" as that kindness which God extends to all people everywhere - even those who never believe. All sinners who continue to live on earth receive air, water, food, sunshine and a host of other little enjoyments each day. If God's kindness and love were restricted to the elect alone, the reprobate could not be held guilty for failing to give thanks to God for His Providential bounty. But as it stands, all men are guilty of aggravated sin by exalting God's good gifts above God Himself, and loving the effects of divine love rather than the Cause Himself. Unregenerate men take these gifts as deserved quantities, while the righteous feel ever so unworthy to receive them, seeing their own natural sinfulness clearly. The saints wonder how it can be that God should so favor them as to provide even one more breath - let alone fellowship with Christ and eternal life in the joy of their Lord.

In Arminianism, common and special grace are both denied. Such distinctions are unnecessary if there is no sovereign election. Arminians posit a universal "prevenient grace," which essentially means that God gives every person an equal opportunity to make a free will choice for or against Christ. In this way, they preserve the foundation of salvation as grounded in divine grace and initiated by God, while denying that God is ultimately decisive in the matter. Prevenient grace simply makes it possible for man to choose what he wants, and it portrays God as "offering" salvation in the hope that some will respond without His special intervention. While this ascribes a certain attractive sense of humanistic "fairness" to God, it has the negative side effect of placing man's will above that of the Creator. It also gives me the right to boast against non-believers, since I wisely responded to the prevenient grace and they did not. Calvinists note that God is neither required nor obligated to save any sinner, that He would remain just if He never offered any opportunities for salvation, and therefore He has the right to sovereignly intervene where and as He chooses. Yet the Calvinist does not leave the non-elect beyond the glow of God's mercy, which is over all His works and abounds too much to be escaped entirely - even by those who are fleeing from Him.

Interestingly, the denial of common grace is a defining mark of hyper-Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinists emphasize God's hatred of the non-elect, and deny any sense of God's love or grace toward the reprobate. These matters must be sorted out with Scriptural reasoning, and with a healthy sense of paradox in view, for the same God who "hated" Esau also allowed him a place to live in safety, command over an army of 400 men, and resources he himself described as "plenty." (Gen. 33:9). Did Esau deserve these things? No? Then they were certainly given as gifts of grace - undeserved! How can these things be? Without further adieu, let's hear Mr. Berkhof's defense of the more moderate, Biblically balanced perspective which is set forth in classical Calvinism . . .

"Another objection to the doctrine of common grace is that it presupposes a certain favorable disposition in God even to reprobate sinners, while we have no right to assume such a disposition in God. This stricture takes its starting point in the eternal counsel of God, in His election and reprobation. Along the line of His election God reveals His love, grace, mercy, and long-suffering, leading to salvation; and in the historical realization of his reprobation He gives expression only to His aversion, disfavor, hatred, and wrath, leading to destruction. But this looks like a rationalistic over-simplification of the inner life of God, which does not take sufficient account of His self-revelation. In speaking on this subject we ought to be very careful and allow ourselves to be guided by the explicit statements of Scripture rather than by our bold inferences from the secret counsel of God. There is far more in God than we can reduce to our logical categories. Are the elect in this life the objects of God’s’ love only, and never in any sense the objects of His wrath? Is Moses thinking of the reprobate when he says: “For we are consumed in thine anger, and in thy wrath are we troubled”? Ps. 90:7. Does not the statement of Jesus that the wrath of God abides on them that obey not the Son imply that it is removed from the others when, and not until, they submit to the beneficent rule of Christ? John 3:36. And does not Paul say to the Ephesians that they “were by nature children of wrath even as the rest”? Eph. 2:3 . Evidently the elect can not be regarded as always and exclusively the objects of God’s love. And if they who are the objects of God’s redeeming love can also in some sense of the word be regarded as the objects of His wrath, why should it be impossible that they who are the objects of His wrath should also in some sense share His divine favor? A father who is also a judge may loathe the son that is brought before him as a criminal, and feel constrained to visit his judicial wrath upon him, but may yet pity him and show him acts of kindness while he is under condemnation. Why should this be impossible in God? General Washington hated the traitor that was brought before him and condemned him to death, but at the same time showed him compassion by serving him with the dainties from his own table. Cannot God have compassion even on the condemned sinner, and bestow favors upon him? The answer need not be uncertain, since the Bible clearly teaches that He showers untold blessings upon all men and also clearly indicates that these are the expression of a favorable disposition in God, which falls short, however, of the positive volition to pardon their sin, to lift their sentence, and to grant them salvation. The following passages clearly point to such a favorable disposition: Prov. 1:24; Isa. 1:18; Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11 ; Matt. 5:43-45; 23:37; Mark 10:21 ; Luke 6:35: Rom. 2:4; I Tim. 2:4. If such passages do not testify to a favorable disposition in God, it would seem that language has lost its meaning, and that God’s’ revelation is not dependable on this subject."

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1960), 445-446.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Recovering Orthodox Epistemology - An Open Letter to Conservative Evangelicals

Following the well-worn path taken by so many heretics of the past, the Emergent church has over-emphasized certain truths at the expense of others, even to the point of foolishly imagining that Truth itself is relatively irrelevant. Many conservative, Bible-believing Christians have rightly taken a stand against this absurdity. We have pointed out the errors of men like Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt and Rob Bell, to name a few. But are we ourselves in danger of over-emphasizing certain truths to the neglect of their balancing counterparts?

I recently asked Phil Johnson a few pointed questions about the mysteries and paradoxes of the Bible:

"Don't we have to admit . . . that there are some things revealed in the Bible which man's creaturely and fallen mind can't quite comprehend? That is to say, in at least some cases, the logic which reconciles two apparently contradictory truths is with God alone? Who's to say God has given us ALL of His logical tools? . . . can't there be aspects of logic that remain incomprehensible to us?"

Phil responded:

"Yes, of course. But in light of what neo-orthodoxy and postmodernism have done with statements like those, it behooves us to be clearer than ever about what we affirm and what we deny regarding the inscrutability of God." (the rest of Phil's answer is here)

While I can appreciate this kind of caution, I want to be sure I don't surrender one drop of God's actual incomprehensibility, one finely braided strand of real paradox, or one iota of genuine mystery, by way of over reaction.

There is a real danger that our response to postmodern heresy might result in the loss of precious theology and a repeat of the tragic mistakes made by the rigid fundamentalism which stood as a reaction to the rampant liberalism of the early 20th century. If we really believe Truth is absolute, shouldn't we be striving for the pure balance of that Truth, rather than reacting against heterodox fallacies? Shouldn't theology be based more on the Word of God than on our zeal to quash the errors of heretics? The Word of God by itself, taken in balance and taught with conviction, will effectively destroy heresy.

That's why Paul, after writing one of the New Testament's most soteriologically comprehensive and Gospel-saturated passages, penned these words:
Titus 3:8-9 This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.
It's essential that we reiterate and properly define not only the central truths of the Gospel, but also the more delicate theological concepts that have been co-opted by the Emergents - the garnishes, if you will - and refuse to allow them to rob us of anything God has revealed about Himself. Rather than running from the concepts they over-emphasize, we should demolish their false ideas by recovering orthodox, Biblical perspectives on those very issues, and serve them up with the steam still rising from the plate.
Many of us are rightly affirming the absolute nature of Truth, the validity of logic, the meaningful use of language and the certainty we can have. That's good. But the balances to these important realities must also be affirmed, or we may find that we have rolled up one side of the hill and then down the other side. Consider the following Biblical concepts which have been accepted by orthodox theologians throughout the centuries . . .

1. Divine Incomprehensibility - God is knowable only as far as He as revealed Himself, and He is immensely infinite beyond our imagination. The unrevealed aspects are consistent with the revealed, because God is eternally consistent with Himself. So, we can KNOW GOD and KNOW ABOUT Him, but not comprehensively.

2. Mystery - The unrevealed aspects of God's ways are unknowable apart from revelation and leave us with unanswered (and unanswerable) questions. These questions do not NEED to be answered, or God would have answered them. We do still believe in the virgin birth, correct?

3. Paradox (or what some insist on calling "antinomy" - thank you, Dr. Packer) - At whatever point the Bible appears undeniably to teach two or more opposing propositions, we must accept all of them entirely, even in cases where no mortal has ever succeeded in reconciling them. Especially in those cases. Scripture teaches us that Christ is fully human, and it also teaches us that Christ is fully divine. Is this not an apparent contradiction which we must nonetheless embrace? We must view even the most apparently irreconcilable contradictions as resolvable using information contained within the realm of genuine mystery. Hence, nothing can be paradoxical to God, Who is omniscient. If we had sufficient information, we would have no paradoxes.

4. The Necessity and Limitation of Logic - Logic is the God-ordained ground of communication between God and human beings, and the format by which He conveys propositions. In God, logic is perfect and infinite. In man, it is marred and error prone. Truth is coherent, but we're not coherent enough to fully receive it. Rather than making logic invalid, these facts call us to ground more certainty in revelation than in our logic, and more faith in God's Word than in our own thoughts, and to stake our very lives on His Word.

The Emergents confuse incomprehensibility with agnosticism, while they make mystery into an excuse for doubting divinely revealed propositions, and they pervert paradox by denying the very ground on which it is created: an a priori commitment to absolute, logically consistent Truth. Their doubting is not any kind of "epistemological humility"- it's intellectual (and spiritual) suicide. Finally, Emergents repudiate logic while simultaneously angling the conclusions of their own humanistic reason against the Scriptures. It's an epistemological potluck on the village green, complete with half-baked chicken, stale heresy-crackers and the moldy rolls of relativism. I've also heard the salad isn't too fresh.

Theological problems are only one side of the threat posed by the Emerging Church. The other is a matter of lifestyle. Emergents are more winsome than we are, less rigid, less prone to legalism, better at speaking the language of people in today's Western culture, less likely to be mired in man-made religious traditions, and they're probably more active in works of mercy and acts of kindness than most traditional Evangelicals. Heresy with a sense of charity is always more attractive than a frosty-frozen orthodoxy which portrays itself as eminently righteous - and righteously indifferent. If we're not living the Christian life, we're partly responsible for the success of liberalism.
Titus 3:14 Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.
Ultimately, however, the emergence and success of postmodern philosophy is part of a horrific judgment which God has unleashed, as He gives a sinful world over to its own cravings and allows it to suppress the priceless Truth in unrighteousness. As this progresses, let us not be outdone when it comes to practicing the New Testament ethics of compassion, grace, generosity and good works. And let us not be outmaneuvered in the battle for a Biblically faithful, balanced epistemology that is glorious enough to include difficult paradoxes, unanswered questions, and a God big enough to be mysterious - and infinitely greater in wisdom than His most ingenious creatures. In short, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Friends, I plead with you not to surrender one tiny inch of ground to the Emerging church, theologically or morally. Let's love God and neighbor, glory in His mysterious mercy, and prove by our example that the Gospel is true!
Titus 3:3-7 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Jonathan Edwards on the Trinity

Consisting of an Inquiry into the Nature and Essence of the Most Excellent
and Glorious Godhead, and the Relation of the Persons thereof to One Another, 
Taken up for Explanatory Reflection by one of the most Brilliant 
and Profound Theologians in History
"The Best of Human Reason Perplexed by Divine Perfection"

This post wouldn't be complete without a Puritan-style title, for it features one of the greatest of their line. Following a complex essay on the nature of the Trinity, written in his characteristic, mind-bendingly logical style, Edwards concludes thus:

"But I don't pretend fully to explain how these things are and I am sensible a hundred other objections may be made and puzzling doubts and questions raised that I can't solve. I am far from pretending to explaining the Trinity so as to render it no longer a mystery. I think it to be the highest and deepest of all divine mysteries still, notwithstanding anything that I have said or conceived about it. I don't intend to explain the Trinity. But Scripture with reason may lead to say something further of it than has been wont to be said, tho there are still left many things pertaining to it incomprehensible. It seems to me that what I have here supposed concerning the Trinity is exceeding analogous to the Gospel scheme and agreeable to the tenour of the whole New Testament and abundantly illustrative of Gospel doctrines, as might be particularly shewn, would it not exceedingly lengthen out this discourse."

(from Edwards' Essay on the Trinity, as reproduced in Jonathan Edwards: Representative Selections, with Introduction, Bibliography, and Notes, Revised Edition, by Clarence H. Faust and Thomas H. Johnston, New York: Hill and Wang, 1935 & 1962, page 381)

Note the principles of Edwards' theological method:

1. Edwards accepted the fact that there are theological mysteries that cannot be fully explained.
2. Edwards acknowledged, even after extensive study and attempts to harmonize, that there were not only a few things, but "many things ... incomprehensible," pertaining to the Trinity.
3. Edwards recognized there were logical holes in his presentation, and admitted that his own reasoning was not sufficient to fill in these logical holes.
4. Edwards nonetheless accepted "Scripture and reason" as the guiding principles of his theological inquiry.
5. Edwards tested his reasoning by comparing it to the "Gospel scheme" and evaluating its agreeableness to the "whole tenour of the New Testament." He practiced Gospel-centered, Biblical reasoning within the accepted mystery of the Biblical revelation.
6. Edwards stood by the doctrine of the Trinity, not because he could present it in a perfectly coherent fashion, but on the firmer ground of Biblical revelation taken as far as reason could go with it.
7. Edwards wisely chose not to remove any part of the doctrine in order to make it fit within the bounds of his own intellectual capacities.

It is instructive to note that, in Edwards, the affirmation of mystery did not lead to a repudiation of logic, or the slightest mitigation of logical inquiry. Rather, Edwards humbly acknowledged the limitations of human reason while upholding the supreme reasonableness of the Scriptures themselves.

Let us likewise affirm the mysteries of Scripture, and both the necessity and limitations of human reason, in all our study of the Truth of God.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Improbability of God - A Response to Dawkins' Argument

I received this note from my friend, Chris DeVidal . . .

Found this on, website for Edgar Andrews' new book. Edgar is a Christian apologist and brilliant scientist with more letters behind his name than in his name.

He says, "The argument for the improbability of God, as advanced by Dawkins, seems to boil down to the following reasoning: (1) By common consent, the world is a highly improbable and complex system; (2) if God created the world He must be more complex than the world He created; therefore (3) God is less probable than the world; indeed, He is fantastically improbable; so (4) God probably doesn’t exist."

Since this world is so very complex, atheists rejoice in its rare existence (and in a way, I think they are right in rejoicing).

Since I personally know this God and know that He exists, and I know of His immense complexity (with all of its corresponding apparent paradoxes), and since this apparently means the probability of such a God existing is so very, very, very slight, all the more so I REJOICE in the rarity and preciousness and holiness (other-ness) of this God!!

Truly, there is NONE like Him!

Thank you Dawkins. Romans 8:28 :-)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Flip Side of Grace

Ten years ago, I heard someone say, "Thanks is the only thing you can give to God that He didn't give you first." At the time, I thought that was fairly profound. But then I made a discovery.

The Greek word for "grace" is also the word for "thanks" (Greek CHARIS). Some related Greek words are EUCHARISTIA (thankfulness, the giving of thanks - 15 occurrences in the NT), EUCHARISTEO (to be grateful, feel thankful - 39 occurrences in the NT), and EUCHARISTOS (thankful, mindful of favors - one occurrence). Notice that each of these words contains the root, CHARIS (this word is translated 130 times in the NASB as "grace," and 11 times as some form of  "thank-").

So, while the thought that we can give God something He didn't give us first is pithy-sounding, it is in reality nothing more than a religious cloak placed on the proud affirmation of a race that desperately wants to take credit for the genius of its majestic Creator. Even gratitude doesn't start with us; it's just the flip side of grace. Every grace package comes with a thankful response inside, like a self-addressed, postage-paid "business reply" card. We can't take any credit for it, but when we send it back we are telling God we received His gift. And we're requesting a lifetime subscription. Everything's paid for already - even the thankful attitude. Like faith and joy and love, it doesn't originate with us.

Every good thing that is given to us, as well as every evil thing that is used for our good (per Romans 8:28), is a gift of grace. Gratitude is the response of a heart that knows this. It is grace received and acknowledged, to the glory of God. For from Him, and to Him, and through Him are ALL THINGS.

There's nothing you or I can give to God, which He did not first give to us. Nothing.

You and I probably have a pile of those reply cards stashed away somewhere (try looking under your favorite collection of bitter complaints, they might be buried underneath). Let's drop those cards in the mail.

O Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Meet Dr. Andreas Kostenberger

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of meeting the esteemed Dr. Andreas Kostenberger, professor of New Testament and Director of Ph.D Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (located in Wake Forest, NC). Dr. Kostenberger happened to be visiting my pastor, and the two of them graciously allowed me the opportunity for some theological discourse over a cup of coffee. It was a joy to discuss some of our shared values: inerrancy, orthodoxy, love for family and devotion to Christ. Of course, I had to go to the farthest reaches of my Biblical and theological knowledge in order to engage in a relevant conversation with a scholar of his caliber, but Kostenberger's gracious attitude went a long way toward filling in the knowledge gap. Here is his academic credential: Mag. et Dr. rer. soc. oec., Vienna University of Economics; M.Div., Columbia Biblical University; Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. That's "smart" with a capital S.

Dr. Kostenberger is not a "speculative" theologian with a focus on philosophical systematics. He's a solid textual and exegetical thinking machine with a deep insight into Biblical cultures, history and hermeneutics. In this sense, his works are intended to offer more of a concrete, foundationally grounded exegesis than a philosophical theology. His scholarship "in the trenches" of the text would form the solid base that underlies a "bigger picture" approach, such as that taken by men like J.I. Packer or John Piper. Without excellent, conservative scholarship of this type, there could be no basis for a THEOparadox (other than pure, simplistic Biblicism, I suppose).

Here is a short video of Dr. Kostenberger talking about his new commentary on the Johannine literature. 

Here is Dr. Kostenberger teaching about qualifications for ministry and the importance of family relationships at a conference. It's a great message for anyone considering going into the ministry, or any position of leadership in a local church.

Dr. Kostenberger's website: Biblical Foundations
Dr. Kostenberger's blog:       Biblical Foundations Blog
NOTE: They are currently giving away several copies of the commentary on John, for ministry-minded people who will use the book in ministry.
Dr. Kostenberger's many publications can be found here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I ran across a great article by Nathan Tiemeyer, a pastor who writes at a team blog called Every Square Inch. The article, which addresses the topic of divine mystery, is reprinted below. "Every Square Inch" is based on this Abraham Kuyper quote:
There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, "This is  mine! This belongs to me!"
That's a comprehensive view of the Lordship and sovereignty of Christ, and of His relevance in regard to EVERYTHING else. Kuyper would not have been overstating the case if he had mentioned sub-atomic particles and quarks as well. When it comes to ownership of knowledge, we often forget that Jesus Christ has absolute authority over every bit of Fact and Truth that exists, and He is not required to share ANY of it. We forfeited the privilege of possessing real knowledge when we traded THE TRUTH OF GOD for a lie back in the garden. We traded it for the mere "knowledge of good and evil," and the only way back to the knowledge of God is through His sovereign work of grace. Although original sin and total depravity don't seem fair to us, we need to look no further than our own lives in order to prove them. You and I have lost our moral rights completely, and must now rely entirely on the grace and mercy of the Supreme God. Ironically, that's a wonderful position to be in, for the particular kind of knowledge God is most pleased to bestow on sinners is the knowledge of Himself - not just the facts, but also a relational reality. Such mercy is entirely undeserved, and is a precious gift - as is the next breath you and I will take, should God allow. 

Although He makes us His friends and reveals Himself to us through the brilliant, soft gleam of creation and the more explicit  floodlight of His Word, there remain vast recesses of God's nature and essence about which even the most theologically astute person is totally unaware. The best theologian can't even think of the questions or articulate the categories or conceive of the possibilities in God's infinite depths. At the same time, even a child can know with certainty that those unrevealed areas do not in any way contradict the broad attributes He has revealed about Himself: That He is love, that He is just, that He is holy, that He is eternal, that He is pure, that He is good, that He is kind, that He is wrathful against sin, that He is truthful, that He is triune, that He is almighty, that He is unchanging in His essence, that He is judge, that He is merciful, that He is sovereign, that He is the Source of all that is good and noble and right and true. In the physical world, the interplay of light and shadow enhance beauty. Dark and light sharpen contrast, deepen clarity, and establish focus.

The article below is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the role of mystery in our understanding of God and His ways. Although many in our day have abused the truths of divine incomprehensibility and the human limits of epistemology, Tiemeyer presents a well balanced and theologically grounded case for mystery, based in part on a very well thought out overview of the book of Job. Enjoy these words of wisdom. 

In Defense of Mystery
By Nathan Tiemeyer

Left to my own devices, I don’t care a great deal for genuine mystery. In saying that, I don’t at all mean that I dislike, say, mystery as a method of story-telling. I’m a devoted fan of the TV show Lost, for example. That show’s ability to keep me and every other viewer constantly wondering is part of its enormous appeal. No, what I mean is that I’m not naturally given to embracing things in my real life circumstances that I can’t completely get my mind around. I’m often frustrated by—and sometimes even fearful of—things I don’t fully understand. My guess is that I’m far from alone in feeling this way.

This natural inclination, however, is somewhat at odds a biblical notion of the Christian faith. What I mean is that the Bible’s presentation of God and his interaction with creation (including and especially human beings) includes no small measure of the utterly mysterious. An obvious example: at some level, almost every Christian (let alone those outside the faith) wrestles with the question of how evil can exist along with a God who is both all-powerful and completely good. Or consider a related question recently discussed on this blog: how can God be both completely sovereign over our lives and yet we retain the ability to make meaningful choices, choices for which we are justly held fully responsible? Or how can God be both one God and three distinct persons, equal in power and glory? How can Jesus Christ be both fully God and fully man? How can the Bible be mediated through sinful and limited human authors—to the point that their distinct perspectives shine through their individual contributions—and remain ultimately the unified work of God himself, unadulterated and authoritative?

It’s certainly true that Christians are often willing to give up one or more of the beliefs listed above in order to relieve the tension of the apparent mysteries involved. But none of these difficult-to-reconcile statements are easily dismissed if we approach the Bible seriously. In fact, I would feel quite confident in arguing that each one of them enjoys the support of passage after passage within the Scriptures. (Unless we take their human authors to be bumbling idiots, relentlessly blind to the potentially knotty implications of what they assert, this is surely significant.) And in any case, I don’t think any Christian can give them all up and stay within the pale, so to speak.

So it seems that we need to come to terms with the mysterious. Interestingly, the same Bible that presents us with so many difficulties also provides the means to come to some manner of terms with them. For just one example, consider the conclusion to the book of Job. To summarize the plot: Job, a genuinely upright man becomes the focal point of a wager or contest between God and Satan. In the course of this contest, God gives Satan permission (!) to inflict Job with nearly incomprehensible suffering, including the loss of his family, his wealth, and his physical well-being. After a period of silent misery, Job begins a long lament, which includes defending himself against his friends’ belief that his own sin is the cause of his suffering. Finally, his understandable dismay at his predicament leads Job to openly charge God with injustice while defending his own integrity. His last extended discourse begins with these words: “As God lives, who has taken away my right…” (27:2, italics mine. I owe this observation to D. A. Carson's How Long O Lord, 166).

It is extremely important to note how God responds to this. Chapter 38 begins, “Then the Lord answered Job out the whirlwind and said….” Interestingly, what follows is not a direct explanation and defense of God’s conduct (or lack thereof) in regard to Job’s circumstances. Rather, God proceeds to ask Job a series of questions, including:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone…? (38:4-7)

Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this. Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great. (38:17-121)

Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, “Here we are?” Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind? (38:35-36)

God then concludes his initial response with this pointed question: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it” (40:2). Job’s reply—noteworthy for its marked changed in tone—is to confess, “Behold I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (40:4-5).

But God is not done. He launches into another series of questions with the following words: “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you will make it known to me. Will you put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (41:7-8). God then proceeds to asks Job if he can tame the great Behemoth and Leviathan. Job’s final reply is again worthy of mention:

I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (42:2-6).

Note that in all of this God never directly answers Job's charge and the implied question behind it (how can this be?). But he does answer. His point is not to assert, “I’ll do whatever I want regardless of whether it is just or unjust.” Rather—and this is crucial—it is along the following lines: if Job cannot understand and/or accomplish these ways and deeds of God, then it stands to reason that God might be capable of other things which Job cannot completely fathom, namely, bringing about Job’s suffering without sacrificing his just character. In other words, Job should not expect to understand all God’s dealings because he is Job—a finite, mortal man—and not God. Judging from Job’s brief replies to the Lord’s questioning, this is a fact that he indeed comes to grasp very well.

Please don’t misunderstand my point in relating all of this. I don’t suggest that any time we run up against something difficult to grasp, we should immediately retreat to throwing up our hands and proclaiming God and his ways to be an incomprehensible mystery. He has, after all, revealed to us a great deal of truth, truth available for us to carefully mine. We should do that as far as we're able. In fact, the church has a long history of sustained reflection on each of the doctrines mentioned above, which has done much to further, if not completely satisfy, our understanding of them.

But eventually, we'll run up against that which we won't fully understand. And what I do want us to consider is this: if God is really the God the Bible clearly describes him to be, if he really does have all that knowledge, wisdom, and power, wouldn’t it make sense for his being and ways to provide us with a substantial element of mystery? Even further, might it be somewhat alarming if they didn’t? Is a God completely or even largely comprehensible to human beings--we who have such a sterling record of understanding and wisdom--really God at all?

It’s something to think about at least. Maybe mystery isn’t such a bad thing after all.