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!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Taking the Mystery Out of the Incarnation? Not Recommended.

This is interesting . . .

With all due respect to Dr. Moreland, there are some problems here.

First, on the positive side, and in agreement with Dr. Moreland, we must affirm that Scripture's propositions are ultimately logically coherent. No problem there. However, Moreland's exaltation of human reason is unhelpful. To affirm that God is logical is not equal to affirming that we can discover the logic by which God knows the Truth to be coherent. This claim would be the height of arrogance.

Next, the Church Fathers were NOT so committed to logic that they worked for 400 years to give us a non-contradictory result. They were so committed to Scripture that they worked for 400 years to give us a paradoxical result! That is, a result which might appear contradictory to us, and surely defies the limitations of human logic, but is nonetheless true.

During the 400 years prior to Chalcedon, there were plenty of "logical" approaches offered:
Docetism - taught that Christ only appeared to be man
Ebionism - taught that Christ was a holy man who kept the law
Sabellianism - taught that Christ was the Father incarnate, but only temporarily
Paul of Samosata - taught that Christ was a mere man influenced by God
Arianism - taught that Christ was more than man but less than God
Apollinarianism - taught that Christ was a compromise mixture of divinity and humanity
Nestorianism - taught that Christ was two persons, one divine and the other human
Eutychianism - taught that Christ's humanity was simply absorbed into His deity
(See Martin Bleby, The Incarnation of the Son of God, p. 19) 
None of these "logical" approaches were willing to go the whole way and affirm what is undeniably taught in Scripture. Each of them was correctly labeled heresy as a result!

Then there was the Council of Chalcedon, which concluded that Christ was ONE PERSON with TWO NATURES, the one nature divine and the other human, and that these two natures now coexist perfectly (and we might add "unfathomably") in the ONE PERSON. There is a certain logic to this, to be sure, but endless truckloads of mystery as well!

Moreland ignores the fact that there are ways in which the logical faith we profess might appear, to us, to be illogical. He pays no attention to the next obvious question: How can this One Person with two natures be both Creator and creature, omniscient and ignorant, omnipresent and localized, omnipotent and powerless, at the very same time? Any attempt to gut the paradoxicality from the doctrine of the Incarnation is shortsighted and doomed to be unsuccessful. Read over the Definition of Chalcedon once or twice, and see if Moreland's rationalistic assumptions are supported there:
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us. (Definition of Chalcedon, 451 A.D.)
The Church Fathers who arrived at these conclusions were obviously not rationalists trying to explain their statements in a way that could never be perceived as paradoxical. They boldly exalted the Word of God above human logic. Today's apologists ought to do the same, without hesitation.

Moreland seems to be trying to paint Christian faith in a way that will appeal to rationalists. He attempts to convince them of the truth of Christianity while leaving their unchristian presuppositions intact. Instead, he ought to call them to humble themselves in admitting that there are truths which their best logic will never fully grasp. He should counsel them to repent of their rationalism and hold fast to the words of their Creator. This is their only hope, after all.

Bearing in mind that Moreland is a philosopher by trade, I applaud his willingness to go out and act as an apologist for the faith, address difficult questions, engage with those who are hostile to Christianity, and generally promote an orthodox viewpoint. At the same time, he should not allow the pressures of debate to skew his presentation.

In our estimation, the approach taken by Geoffrey Bingham is much wiser, though far less satisfying to the idolization of logic which is ever present in human hearts:

What has always been difficult to understand is how the deity
and the humanity of the Son subsist in the one person Of Jesus
Christ. Understanding is difficult because we have no precedent
in human history, and no parallel in creation. When it comes to
the work of Christ, we must affirm two things clearly:  
(a) all that the Son did upon earth, he did as man. That is– as is
indicated in Acts 10:38, Matthew 12:28 and similar passages–he
was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, and so did the
works given to him to do;
(b) whilst not effecting these works from the resources of his
own deity, he was nevertheless Emmanuel, i.e. ‘God–with–us’, or
‘God–become–man’. We might wish to refer to the  kenosis  of
Philippians 2:5–8 (i.e. his self–emptying), as a setting aside of the
prerogatives and powers of his deity, but these must certainly
have continued as he still had to uphold the creation (Col. 1:17;
Heb. 1:3).  
Since we do not understand how deity and humanity exist
together, we must remain agnostic on that score. We must
emphasise, however, that he was  truly man, and not merely the
appearance (or charade) of a man.
(Things We Firmly Believe, pp. 57-58)
Let us therefore hold fast to the ever-paradoxical Truth of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Let us not attempt to re-frame it in more palatable terms for the sake of impressing logic-worshipers. Let us adore and worship the eternal LOGOS of God, who is beyond us, above us, and--thanks to the incredible Incarnation--WITH US!

Dear friends, have a very Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

An Outline of Biblical Christology

The Lord has graciously allowed me the opportunity to teach a class on the Incarnation. What a grand topic!  The outline below was developed to help view the Incarnation in its wider theological context. You may find it useful for your own edification and Gospel meditation, and perhaps also for study and teaching. 

This type of systematic Biblical study highlights the fact that the doctrine of the Incarnation is dependent upon the doctrine of the Trinity; the doctrine of the Cross is dependent upon both the Trinity and the Incarnation; the doctrine of Christ's Final Victory is dependent upon the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Cross. And the doctrines of Salvation, Sanctification, and Glorification are inextricably tied to all of the foregoing. In other words, if Christ was not God and Man, and Suffering and Victorious, we would have no hope. Thank God He IS, and therefore we DO!


      I.        I. Pre-Incarnate Glory
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (Jn 17:5)
a.     Divinity
… the Word was with God, and the Word was God (Jn. 1:1); He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature (Heb. 1:3)
b.    Sonship
… He gave His only Son … (Jn. 3:16)
c.     Work as Creator
For by Him all things were created … all things were created through Him and for Him (Col.1:16)
d.    Revelation as Messiah
Immanuel (Isa. 7:14); A Prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15-19); The seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15)
See also Isa. 9:6; Mic. 5:2; Ps. 45:6-7
    II.        II. Earthly Life (Humiliation)
            He was manifested in the flesh … (I Tim. 3:16); But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman … (Gal. 4:4)
a.     Virgin Birth
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son … (Isa. 7:14, Mt. 1:23); … for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:20); … the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God (Lk 1:35)
b.    Humanity
Since … the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things (Heb. 2:14); And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … (Jn. 1:14); … the man Christ Jesus (I Tim. 2:5)
                                                    i.    Suffering
Despised and rejected … a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3); … He learned obedience through what He suffered (Heb. 5:8)
                                                  ii.    Temptation
… One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15)
c.     Holiness & Sinlessness
 We… have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (Heb. 7:26)
                                                    i.    Innocence from Evil
… who knew no sin (II Cor. 5:21); He had done no violence … there was no deceit in His mouth (Isa. 53:9); … in Him there is no sin (I Jn. 3:5)
                                                  ii.    Practice of Good Works
… how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)
                                                 iii.    Faith & Devotion to the Will of God
In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. (Heb.5:7); … continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly (I Pet. 2:23)
d.    Sacrificial Death
He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26); Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:2)
                                                    i.    Shedding of Blood
… the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood (Acts 20:28)
                                                  ii.    Bearing of Sin, Guilt & Wrath
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree (I Pet. 2:24); … the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isa.53:6)
                                                 iii.    Vicarious, Substitutionary Atonement Accomplished by His death
… who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness (Titus 2:14); It is finished (Jn. 19:30)
   III.        III. Ultimate Glorification (Exaltation)
Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name (Php. 2:9); … that in everything He might be preeminent (Col. 1:18)
a.     Resurrection from the Dead
God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it (Acts 2:24)
b.    Ascension into Heaven
He … was carried up into heaven (Lk. 24:51); … He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight (Acts 1:9)
c.     Enthronement at the Right Hand of the Father
We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven (Heb. 8:1)
When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God (Heb. 10:12)
d.    Intercession & Mediation for Believers
… He is the mediator of a new covenant (Heb. 9:15); … there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (I Tim. 2:5); He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:25)
e.     Second Coming & Final Victory
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.  (Php. 3:20-21)

Saturday, October 06, 2012

St. Bernard (of Clairvaux) Bites the Fins Off of Free Willy

I've been on vacation this week and have finally had time to continue reading through Calvin's Institutes. The section on Total Depravity and the bondage of the will is spectacular. Calvin seems to revel in paradoxes in the Second Book, Chapter Two, Part 5, where he approvingly quotes a passage from St. Bernard of Clairvaux:

Bernard, assenting to Augustine, thus writes: "Among animals, man alone is free, and yet sin intervening, he suffers a kind of violence, but a violence proceeding from his will, not from nature, so that it does not even deprive him of innate liberty," (Bernard, Sermo. super Cantica, 81.) For that which is voluntary is also free. A little after he adds, "Thus, by some means strange and wicked, the will itself, being deteriorated by sin, makes a necessity; but so that the necessity, in as much as it is voluntary, cannot excuse the will, and the will, in as much as it is enticed, cannot exclude the necessity." For this necessity is in a manner voluntary. He afterwards says that "we are under a yoke, but no other yoke than that of voluntary servitude; therefore, in respect of servitude, we are miserable, and in respect of will, inexcusable; because the will, when it was free, made itself the slave of sin." At length he concludes, "Thus the soul, in some strange and evil way, is held under this kind of voluntary, yet sadly free necessity, both bond and free; bond in respect of necessity, free in respect of will: and what is still more strange, and still more miserable, it is guilty because free, and enslaved because guilty, and therefore enslaved because free." My readers hence perceive that the doctrine which I deliver is not new, but the doctrine which of old Augustine delivered with the consent of all the godly, and which was afterwards shut up in the cloisters of monks for almost a thousand years. (bolding and underlining added)

There you have it, folks. Calvin (not to mention Bernard and Augustine) is clearly a friend of the paradoxical, and plainly agrees that the will is both "free" and "bound"--though certainly in different senses. That's THEOparadox approved.

Calvin emphasizes two key distinctions:
1. The will of fallen man is bound by sin, but not in such a way that he acts involuntarily. Though he does not have "free will," he is free enough to act voluntarily.
2. Fallen man sins of necessity (he cannot keep himself from sinning), but he does not sin by compulsion (i.e., nothing outside of himself "forces" him to sin). His motivation for sinning lies within himself, thus he is fully responsible.

This section of the Institutes is, of course, merely a subpoint and summary of the larger argument, and is designed to show that Calvin's position has firm historical precedent. Reading through Calvin's thoughts on the subject of human freedom, it is clear that his primary and overarching concern is exactly that of Augustine: to affirm absolutely and unequivocally that every good thing is from God alone, and all evil is only from the creature. It is this driving axiom that leads both to conclude that man cannot of his own "free will" choose what is pleasing to God, and that he cannot even of his own "free will" think right thoughts about the subject. The basic principle, that all good is from God alone, seems to me to be so obvious and foundational in Christian theology that one wonders how any believer can think of challenging it. What value can there possibly be in saying that the good choice of embracing the Gospel somehow originates within the sinner himself? As the saying goes, "you can't squeeze blood out of a turnip."

Surely man's rejection of the Gospel comes from himself. But let all the glory for everything good remain with the only One who is worthy of it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Biblical Ordo Salutis for Biblical Calvinists

Calvinists are well known for their desire to order things. They are characterized by a love of explaining the sequence in which events occur. There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, much is right with it, and perhaps this is part of the reason so many of us love history (besides the fact that history serves as one of the great confirmations for our Scripture-saturated doctrine--where better to provide examples of Total Depravity, for example?). Some Reformed theologians have even attempted to reach back into the pre-historic depths of eternity to logically "order" the divine decrees hidden in the heart and mind of a timeless and incomprehensible God. That doesn't seem wise or even possible.

The folly of attempting to chronologically arrange events that took place in eternity should be obvious (notice that even this way of attempting to say it is paradoxical--can we accurately say that "events" take place in eternity without thereby viewing eternity as just another form of time as we know it?). Nevertheless, the general ordering of events related to the conversion of souls (that is, an ordo salutis or "order of salvation")  is both wise and useful. 

Why is an ordo salutis wise and a sequence of decrees impossible? Simply because conversion occurs in the lives of human beings and in time, while the divine decrees are relegated to pre-creation and hidden in the secret and eternal counsels of God.

With all of that said, the following is an attempt to articulate a Biblical ordo salutis. May the contemplation of these truths lead to greater joy, delight and exaltation of our great and gracious and glorious God in the hearts of His saints! This is no mere theological exercise, but a call to worship God alone.


1. Election (before Creation)
Election is God's PLAN from before time to accomplish Justification, Redemption, Reconciliation, Adoption, Sonship, Sanctification, Forgiveness and Mercy in Christ for the benefit of His chosen ones. God hasn't revealed much about what He did before the world began, but He has made it abundantly clear that He elected His chosen ones to salvation at that "time."

2. Atonement (AD 33)
The Gospel is God's ACCOMPLISHMENT and OFFER of Justification, Reconciliation, Redemption, Adoption, Sonship, Sanctification, Forgiveness and Mercy in Christ. At this point the plan has been accomplished in Christ, and an infinite provision has been made, but it is not yet fulfilled in or applied to the unconverted elect. The atoning work of Christ is sufficient ground for all of the benefits of the Gospel to be sincerely offered to all people, and it is the basis of the believer's salvation.

3. Regeneration & Conversion (when the Gospel is heard and received by faith)
Regeneration is God's ACT of uniting the elect to Christ through the gift of Repentance and Faith, bringing forensic Justification, applied Redemption, positional Reconciliation, legal Adoption & Sonship, definitive Sanctification, confirmed Forgiveness and saving Mercy to the elect. At this point all the benefits of Christ's sacrifice are received by the believer objectively, by faith, but they are not yet subjectively experienced in their fullness.

4. Discipleship (earthly life following conversion)
The Christian life is the believer's ongoing EXPERIENCE of received Justification, celebrated Redemption, enjoyed Reconciliation, recognized Adoption & Sonship, progressive Sanctification, accepted Forgiveness and received Mercy in Christ. At this point the believer actively and outwardly responds to God's Word and work within, living as God's instrument of righteousness and grace in this world.
5. Glorification (upon seeing the Lord face to face, i.e. at death or the Lord's return)
Glorification is the CONSUMMATION and completion of the believer's experience of Justification, Redemption, Reconciliation, Adoption, Sonship, Sanctification, Forgiveness and Mercy in Christ. At some point in future, all of the pieces will come together in the believer's experience of a glorified resurrection body. Thus we shall delight in and serve the Lord with all of our heart, mind, soul and body forever.


Several important theological values drive this ordo salutis:
  • From start to finish, salvation is God's sole work
  • Beginning with conversion, each step involves the believer in a deeper experience of God's work
  • Beginning with discipleship, each step involves the believer in a greater participation in God's work
  • Christ's finished work is the sole basis of conversion, discipleship and glorification
  • The Holy Spirit monergistically grants faith to the elect at the point of conversion
  • Faith brings the believer into union with Christ
  • All of the benefits of salvation are received in Christ Himself, by faith alone, and through the Spirit
  • In the objective sense, the various aspects of salvation (justification, reconciliation, definitive sanctification, etc.) are all received concurrently
  • Forensic aspects of conversion (e.g. legal Justification) and experiential aspects of discipleship (e.g. progressive Sanctification) are necessarily distinct from one another (this is usually expressed as a strict separation between "justification" and "sanctification")
  • In salvation, the forensic is the ground of the experiential, the unconditional is the guarantee of the conditional, divine action is the source of human activity, the instantaneous leads to the progressive, and the objective is the basis of the subjective

Some Calvinists insist that regeneration precedes conversion. It should be noted that this does not necessarily imply chronological precedence, but a precedence in the logical ordering of events. They ask: "Logically, how can a radically depraved sinner believe the Gospel without first being regenerated by the Holy Spirit?" However, there is no Biblical or logical need to assume that regeneration takes place either before or after conversion. Why shouldn't regeneration take place at the precise moment of conversion (chronologically) and in conjunction with conversion (logically)? Faith does not arise from man's "free will" (rather, it frees his bound will!); it is graciously given by the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion. Faith need not precede union with Christ, and union with Christ need not precede faith, but conversion and regeneration happen simultaneously as the Holy Spirit gives both Christ and faith (or faith IN Christ) to a sinner via Effectual Calling. Right along with faith comes the believer's union with Christ, and vice versa. Our faith is quite literally "in Him." In this union with Christ the believer objectively possesses all of the benefits of salvation. As the believer abides in Christ, he subjectively and progressively experiences those benefits. This is discipleship. At the moment of glorification, the believer's subjective and progressive experience of salvation becomes immutable, eternal and complete. In the resurrection body, glorification is comprehensive.


Think of that wondrous, manifold gift which God planned to give you from eternity past, provided for you in the sacrifice of His Son, imparted to you by irresistible grace, continues to work in you by sanctifying grace, and promises to complete through your ultimate glorification in Christ! We are a blessed people indeed! We have been brought from death to life!

If you have a theological mind and Reformed convictions, please evaluate this ordo salutis and feel free to offer any thoughtful critique. If there are important points I have missed here, feel free to address them.

More importantly, preach the Gospel to yourself and others today. Live the Gospel by the grace He gives. And thank Him for it.
Grateful acknowledgement is made to David Ponter for numerous suggestions which contributed to the improvement of this essay.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Pharaoh and Conviction of Sin

Exodus 10:16-17 Then Pharaoh hurriedly called for Moses and Aaron, and he said, "I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the LORD your God only to remove this death from me."

This was Pharaoh's response to the plague of locusts that had eaten up all of the greenery in the land. It was the 8th plague, yet Pharaoh casually discounted his track record of inconstancy and stubbornness by saying he needed to be forgiven "just this once." He asked for the external plague to be removed, but desired no inner transformation. Although he appeared to humble himself, he clearly didn't see himself as a sinner in need of continual forgiveness, or a man of deeply flawed character who had offended the One holy God by his thoughts, words and deeds. He supposed there could be a quick fix for his "little" problem. He viewed the death of the vegetation in his land - the outward issue - as a huge matter, but he saw his own sin - the heart issue - as a small one. 

The true conversion of lost sinners, and any genuine repentance in saved ones, is characterized by a deep awareness of personal sinfulness - of having offended God and become worthy of His just displeasure, judgment and wrath. It is more than a consciousness of having sinned. More than an acknowledgement of mistakes. More than just admitting to a bad habit. Accepting full responsibility for and ownership of one's SIN, as an ingrained character trait and a chosen lifestyle, is essential. We must acknowledge our SIN, as a poison that courses through the whole system of our soul. We must confess our SIN, as a terrifying slavery of the mind and conscience that cannot be escaped in any natural way. We must recognize our SIN, as that which requires a supernatural intervention - an intervention without which our sin would most assuredly lead to a destruction worse than physical death.

Before grace can do its miraculous and restoring work, the ground must be prepared by conviction. The fallow ground that has not been broken by a firm knowledge of personal total depravity will not grow the seeds of grace that are sown in it. Pharaoh had little room for grace because he had very little conviction of sin.

The person who knows he is a sinner can be blessed with forgiveness and sanctification in Christ. But the person who doesn't know he is a sinner has no "need" for the work of Christ. Therefore, struggling saint, let your neediness confirm your assurance!

For more, see my series on the Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Are You an Arminian?

While I was browsing Roger Olson's Arminian blog tonight, my daughter asked me if he is an "Arminian." I said "yes," not sure exactly where this conversation might be going. 

"What are you?" she asked. 

"Not an Arminian . . ." was my somewhat evasive answer. 

My son chimed in with with the inevitable, "He's a Calvinist." 

My daughter added, "He's a Calvinist and a Hobbinist."


It's better than a Leginian.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Stupid Reactions of an Idolatrous Heart - #5,683

I hear a great sermon by a great preacher who is used of God to show me the glories of Christ (and my need for Christ). I am confronted and deeply affected. Then I say to myself, "I need to get a lot more of this preacher . . ." and I prepare to start downloading all of his sermons I can find.

Do you see the problem here?

I don't need more of this preacher! I need more of Christ! But I am too easily distracted from Him, and too quick to depend on the arm of flesh . . .

HE is the point! HE is the ONE! HE is God incarnate and the one who became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God IN HIM. HE is the one who accomplished all that must be done for us to be saved. HE is the one who shed His blood, HE is the one who was raised from the dead for us, HE is the one who intercedes effectually, HE is the one who stands at the right hand of God, HE is the one who will return in a magnificence and splendor that will overthrow every evil in this world . . . not some preacher!

The preacher is not Christ. No man will ever be Christ for me but Christ Himself. The best I can do is become like Him by being with Him, and then lead others to Him by living for Him and abiding in Him and being changed by Him so that I am conformed to Him.

Christ is all, and is over all, and in all, and through all. Let a preacher, a disciple-maker or a friend play his limited part. But let Christ alone be magnified as a result.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Quick Scrawl on Assurance

Just a few thoughts attempting to encapsulate the Bible's overall teaching about assurance.

1. There are both true and false believers in the visible church
2. Some false believers have a false assurance
3. Some true believers lack assurance
4. True believers CAN have full assurance in Christ from “day 1″ of their conversion.
5. We can’t tell FOR CERTAIN whether a fellow professing Christian is a true or false believer
6. We must test ourselves to be sure we aren’t self-deceived.
7. We must encourage and provoke our brothers so that if they are self-deceived it will come to light and they can repent unto true belief and thus gain assurance.

I believe there is Scriptural support for each statement. But is anything missing or misguided in my list?


Monday, April 16, 2012

Pride, Humility, Truth, Mercy

In some ways, nothing is more humbling than reality itself. A proud man must in some measure be deluded about his own nature, the nature of God, the nature of sin, or the nature of truth itself. Nevertheless, merely knowing the facts about everything would most likely serve to ENHANCE a person's pride! This reveals the practical invincibility of this foundational vice: it is immune to the light that should rightly vanquish it. Knowledge puffs up the very soul that ought to be humbled by it.

So, what can possibly slay the self-regenerating root of pride? Only this: experiencing the mercy of God. The soul that experiences utter dependence on God's sheer kindness - and finds itself undeservedly shielded from His wrath - has a genuine hope of being freed from the straitjacket of pride. The person who daily and gratefully receives the gift of grace is being taught real humility. This person is the one who can benefit from a wider knowledge of the truth and the reality of things.

The very skies and fields and trees look different when once you have found yourself flat on your back, defeated and desperate, and then have felt the extended hand of healing mercy laying gentle on your shoulder. God gives grace to the humble, indeed, but it is all by grace He makes us humble.

"Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble."
- Daniel 4:37

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Anselm on Man's Inexcusable Inability

Anselm (1033-1109) has been dubbed "the second Augustine." The excerpt below is from his famous work, Cur Deus Homo (Latin for Why the God-Man?), which discusses the incarnation and atonement of Christ. You may read the entire work here. Throughout the book, Anselm converses with "Boso." I am not sure if "Boso" was a real person or just a literary device intended to give the book a more conversational tone.
CHAPTER XXIV.How, as long as man does not restore what he owes God, he cannot be happy, nor is he excused by want of power.
Anselm.. If a man is called unjust who does not pay his fellow-man a debt, much more is he unjust who does not restore what he owes God.
Boso. If he can pay and yet does not, he is certainly unjust. But if he be not able, wherein is he unjust?
Anselm.. Indeed, if the origin of his inability were not in himself, there might be some excuse for him. But if in this very impotence lies the fault, as it does not lessen the sin, neither does it excuse him from paying what is due. Suppose one should assign his slave a certain piece of work, and should command him not to throw himself into a ditch, which he points out to him and from which he could not extricate himself; and suppose that the slave, despising his master's command and warning, throws himself into the ditch before pointed out, so as to be utterly unable to accomplish the work assigned; think you that his inability will at all excuse him for not doing his appointed work?
Boso. By no means, but will rather increase his crime, since he brought his inability upon himself. For doubly has he sinned, in not doing what he was commanded to do and in doing what he was forewarned not to do.
Anselm.. Just so inexcusable is man, who has voluntarily brought upon himself a debt which he cannot pay, and by his own fault disabled himself, so that he can neither escape his previous obligation not to sin, nor pay the debt which be has incurred by sin. For his very inability is guilt, because he ought not to have it; nay, he ought to be free from it; for as it is a crime not to have what he ought, it is also a crime to have what he ought not. Therefore, as it is a crime in man not to have that power which he received to avoid sin, it is also a crime to have that inability by which he can neither do right and avoid sin, nor restore the debt which he owes on account of his sin. For it is by his own free action that he loses that power, and falls into this inability. For not to have the power which one ought to have, is the same thing as to have the inability which one ought not to have. Therefore man's inability to restore what he owes to God, an inability brought upon himself for that very purpose, does not excuse man from paying; for the result of sin cannot excuse the sin itself.
(Underlining has been added for emphasis) 

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Our Skewed Moral Self-Perception

We tend to minimize the significance of our evil deeds, as if they are somehow unreflective of our true character; and at the same time we maximize the significance of our slightest good intention, as if it was sufficient by itself to validate our character as genuinely virtuous.

In reality our hearts are corrupt. This corruption displays itself in our darkest intentions even as it taints our most virtuous deeds. So the real situation is exactly opposite to our perception if we are operating under the default assumption of our own basic goodness.

Christ remedies this situation by showing us an accurate picture of our evil character, leading us to repentance, filling us with His own goodness and displaying His great virtue through corrupted vessels like us.

Therefore let us give Him every ounce of glory rather than trying to take credit for the miracle of our sanctification.

Is this my living room . . . or is it M.C. Escher's?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Island of Biblical Orthodoxy

I have been listening to an RTS course on early Church History. As the emergence of orthodox belief was being discussed, I began to imagine that Biblical Orthodoxy is something like an island rising from the midst of a murky ocean. This ocean represents all merely human thought. Within the dark waters lie the swirling deceptions of fallen humanity's vain philosophies. On every side, Biblical Orthodoxy is surrounded by a sea of errors, heresies, and falsehoods. False faith and false religion cast up their foam on its stony shores. The water is of varying depths, and in some places it is even quite shallow, as mankind has found some aspects of truth through the agency of creation and conscience, along with empirical study and the residual light of reason. Still, the loftiest plateaus of fallen humanity's thought are all below the water line. Only on the island of Biblical Orthodoxy is there saving, soul-altering truth. This island of safety is in plain sight, though none ever come to it unless they have been led. At the center of the island is the fiery volcanic Source of all reality. Truth arises red hot, glowing and untouchable; all-consuming! Like flowing lava, Truth is the outflow of God's self-revelation. As the Truth has interacted with man's watery philosophies, it has shown itself to be solid, unyielding, immovable and unconquerable. The closer we come to its source, the more lucid and dangerous and untouchable and captivating we find it to be. Though we may dive to the utter depths of human philosophy, we find the molten fountain of divine mystery completely impenetrable. We cannot reach down to its deep Source. We cannot explore its hidden recesses.

Thus we find God's Truth in God's Word, like solid lava: firm, reliable, unmoving and open to investigation. And at the very same time we find the God of Truth unsearchably deep and incomprehensible, self-revealing yet uncontainable, bright with mercy yet untouchable. He overflows with flaming streams of glory even as He lays down the enduring bedrock of Truth.

The paradoxes of molten magma show mere seawater to be a common and unimposing thing. Remember this the next time you are bowled over by a thunderous wave at the seashore. And be glad it was not a fierce blast of liquified stone that swept over.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Defense of Moderate Calvinism

Following are excerpts of some excellent thoughts that were recently shared by David Ponter in a thread on Terry Tiessen's blog. David does a nice job of laying out the Moderate Calvinist reasoning here. We recognize that there are various types of Calvinists in the world. My convictions are decidedly moderate, but I have found immense value in learning from higher and lower Calvinists, too. I've even found the occasional hyper-Calvinist or Arminian whose Biblical admonitions stir my heart and lead me to Christ. I try not to pick (too many) fights. However, if you want to know what makes us Moderate Calvinists tick, the following is a great summary. David writes:
If I may, you say: 
"I also agree that “four point” Calvinism is incoherent. In the three middle points of TULIP, we find the economy of the Trinity in salvation summed up – the Father elects, the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit efficaciously applies the Son’s work. To assert that the Father has chosen particular people from before he created the world and that the Holy Spirit effects salvation in the hearts and lives of these people, but then to suggest that the Son died with the intention of saving everyone (not just those whom the Father gave to him [Jn 17:9]) seriously disrupts the unity of purpose within the Trinity." 
David: That seems to be a common objection to moderate-classic Calvinism, but it flows from a misunderstanding. If you lock your thinking into 5 points or 4 points then such misreading may result. The error lies in thinking that TULIP mirrors the 5 points of Dort. The L in Tulip focuses on a negation: “Christ did not die for such and such,” or “he only died for such and such.” In Dort, however, the focus is only on efficacy: Christ especually died for such and such. Dort makes no pronouncement against any other sense in which it may be said that Christ died for all. Indeed, quite a few of the delegates held to a classic Augustinian and medieval position that Christ died for all men as to the satisfaction, sustaining a universal sufficiency, but for the elect as to efficacy and intent to actually save. When folk are locked into 5 or 4 point thinking, this classic-moderate view of Calvinism looks contradictory, as it appears that 4 point Calvinism denies that Christ died for any one especially and effectually. Classic-moderate Calvinism held that the extent of the satisfaction is universal, but the intent to apply is limited to the elect. 
The other problem comes from the fact that 5 point thinking argues that the classic position posits conflict within the Trinity. This would be a strange thing for any Banner of Truth or John Murray Type calvinist to claim, as its “in kind” the very objection the Hoeksemians urged against the free offer and God’s revealed desire that all men be saved. The standard hyper objection is how could the Father desire the salvation of all, when the Son only died to make salvation possible for the elect alone, etc. The evangelical Calvinist response is to rightly posit the twofold aspect of God’s will. By secret will and intention, The whole Trinity determines to save the elect alone. By revealed will intention, the whole Trinity, however, also desires the salvation of all men, and that a way of salvation be made possible for all. Of course, under the terms of 5 point TULIP thinking that last idea is problematic. And so in the same way, the classic-moderate Calvinist says that God by secret intention designed the effectual and unconditional salvation of the elect, and also the whole Trinity by revealed will intention, also designed that the satisfaction of Christ truly be of such a nature that it is a universally sufficient satisfaction for all, thereby properly grounding the offer. 
Or stated another way, Curt Daniel sums up the answer to your objection: 
“Then there is the argument from the Trinity. It is argued that if Christ died for all men equally, then there would be conflict within the Trinity. The Father chose only some and the Spirit regenerates only some, so how could the Son die for all men in general? Actually, this argument needs refinement. There are general and particular aspects about the work of each member of the Trinity. The Father loves all men as creatures, but gives special love only to the elect. The Spirit calls all men, but efficaciously calls only the elect. Similarly, the Son died for all men, but died in a special manner for the elect. We must keep the balance with each of these. If, on the one hand, we believe only in a strictly Limited Atonement, then we can easily back into a strictly particular work of the Father and the Spirit. The result is Hyper-Calvinism, rejecting both Common Grace and the universal Free Offer of the Gospel. On the other hand, if the atonement is strictly universal, then there would be disparity. The tendency would be towards Arminianism – the result would be to reject election and the special calling of the Spirit.” Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism (Good Books, 2003), 371.

Let us try this question: “for whose sins was Christ punished?” 
The standard TULIP answer is: “for the sins of the elect alone.” 
The classic-moderate Calvinist answer is: “for the sins of all men, all mankind.” 
Once we have that question on the table, we can being to identify the proper entailments. In terms of the TULIP position, the very nature of the satisfaction is limited, as well as its intent. So extent and intent are coterminous. 
In classic-moderate Calvinism, the extent is unlimited and universal, but the intent (to effectually apply) is limited. 
Dort only affirms this proposition against the Arminians: there is an effectual intent to apply the satisfaction which is limited to the elect. This proposition is affirmed by all classic-moderate Calvinists of all wings,whether Davenantian, or Amyraldian, Baxterian, or the Calamy variety; all forms of what literature calls hypothetical universalism. The same statement, tho understood as having different consequences and connections, is also understood by TULIP proponents. 
Further, a limited satisfaction for the sins of the elect only, cannot ground a universal sufficiency. It can only ground a hypothetical sufficiency. As Owen, Witsius, Turretin and co, note, on the terms of limited satisfaction, it can only be said that the satisfaction is of such an infinite internal or intrinsic value, that had God elected more, it *would* *have* *been* sufficient for them too. When the classic proponents of limited satisfaction (Owen, et al) define the sufficiency of the death of Christ, they can only do so by using ‘conditional contrary-to-fact subjunctives.’ “If Paul had been paying attention, he would have seen the speeding car…” The meaning is, he didnt see the speeding car. With me so far? 
The classic-moderate Calvinist says that the satisfaction is actually sufficient for all exactly because Christ was punished for all human sin, the sins of all. He sustained a perfect satisfaction for the sins of all mankind. Thus extent is universal. However, contrary to Arminianism, intent is limited. Dort itself does not speak to the extent question, it is neutral. It only speaks to the intent question. The modern TULIP, however, speaks to extent as well as intent: as did Owen and others of that school within the broader Reformed movements.
The standard TULIP answer to the question above is to reply: If it were the case that Christ was punished for the sins of all men, then all men must be saved, because God cannot demand a second punishment for sin from the person for whom Christ has already suffered. This argument dates back to Perkins (at least), but was made popular by Owen; the double payment argument which under-girds his famous trilemma: ‘Christ either suffered for all the sins of some men, all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men…’ etc. The double payment argument, however, has been refuted by men like Polhil down to C Hodge and Dabney and Shedd. 
Historically, in terms of those first and second generation Reformers which we can access in extant translations, in all of them, with one or two possible exception, affirmed an unlimited satisfaction for all human sin. Names such as Musculus, Luther, Bullinger, Zwingli, Gualther, Cranmer, Ridley, even Calvin. I know this will touch some buttons for you, but it is actually not that hard to document:
Did you notice the implicit, yet Biblically grounded, paradoxes in David's argument? Notice, also, that affirming these Moderate Calvinist paradoxes has a long and prestigious precedent in the history of Reformed theology. High Calvinists are true Calvinists . . . but so are moderates. Studying the differences can be very beneficial, providing one is not pugnacious or arrogant about his own conclusions.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Rationalism is Idolatry

The Christian rationalist is at heart an idolater who, like the idolatrous Israelites of old, tries to reduce the glorious and incomprehensible God to a format he can handle and control. Abandoning ourselves to the true and living God - a God whose ways we often do not understand and whose very nature and Being transcend our finite capacities - is an act of faith on the intellectual level as well as the spiritual, moral, social and volitional levels.

Just after sunrise on Fishweir Creek near the St. Johns River in Jacksonville

Monday, March 12, 2012

Do You LIVE the Free Offer of the Gospel?

Tonight I enjoyed seeing the Wissmann Family in concert at my church. Look them up and see them if you have the opportunity! They preached the Gospel. For real.

As I listened to the Wissmann's speak and sing about the Great Commission , I was challenged with a question that suddenly sprang into my mind: you believe in the free offer of the Gospel; but do you LIVE the free offer of the Gospel? Does your life prove it?

The Wissmann's in Concert at Lakeside Community Church in Middleburg, Florida

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Vintage Defense of THEOparadox

I recently re-read some comments on an old thread from another blog where my belief about Biblical paradox was directly (and somewhat harshly) challenged (and I was "named"). I had responded with a brief defense of my convictions. It's been a few years now, and re-reading my response to the criticism encouraged me. I hope it encourages you, too. Here it is:

I am a simple, Calvinistic Christian with a relentless commitment to the absolute authority, complete inerrancy and full sufficiency of the Bible. Coupled with this (and flowing from it), I affirm the total, pervasive depravity of fallen human beings – including some significant intellectual limitations. Biblically, I find no evidence to suggest that man’s mental faculties are on a par with God’s. Logically, pervasive depravity would imply that our mental faculties are seriously messed up.
That’s pretty much it. I do not love paradoxes, though I do appreciate what we can learn by studying them. And it’s not a worship of paradox that drives me. It’s a tremendous awe of the glorious wonders of the God Who saves sinners. That, to me, is a supreme paradox. I can explain it with words, but I still don’t understand it (in other words, deeply, at the heart level, I’m still saying “God, WHY? WHY would you choose me?).
I embrace paradoxes in order to solve them, if possible. When they can’t be solved without breaking Scripture, I leave them unsolved and confess the weakness of all human thought. I affirm the existence of Biblical paradoxes in a spirit of intellectual honesty – because any thinking Christian will encounter, and have to work through, apparent contradictions in the Scriptures. On philosophical matters, where there is no revelation from God, I choose to leave all arguments at the level of theory, and refuse to go beyond what is written, and I stake my soul on the Word of God alone. Wherever there are unknowns, there can be the appearance of contradiction without the reality of contradiction. That much should be logically obvious, without need of defense. So, unless we think God has exhaustively revealed Himself, apparent (not real) contradiction is a possibility that should be considered. One ought to say “I don’t know” more often than one does – especially if one maintains Scripture is the most reliable epistemic source in the universe. So I will not acceept any person’s explanation-of-Scripture as being of equal weight with Scripture. Rather, I assign varying degrees of Scriptural warrant to any explanation offered. The more Scripturally grounded an explanation is, the more likely it is true. But I will not make man’s thoughts equivalent to God’s Word. I also refuse to take anything away from the Word of God. There are plenty of ways to twist Scripture in order to create an apparent coherence that will suit man’s mind, but I reject all degradations of God’s Word. Man is deceived and stupid – and even Christians are coming out of the fog created by their sin – so it’s ludicrous to say that we can reconcile everything in our tiny, cluttered brains. Man’s mind trying to grapple with God’s thoughts is like a guy on a child’s tricycle competing at the Daytona Speedway. He’s there, and he’s participating, but he’s missing a few gears. He can take a try at the high sides, but he’s liable to tip.
So, what’s left? Only this: a tireless effort to rationally explain the coherence of Scripture, but NEVER at the expense of Scripture. I believe and trust the whole Bible, but I distrust man’s mind. I trust in Christ, not my understanding of Christ. I cling to the Word, not my theological system. I make my boast in the cross, not man’s ability to make sense of the cross. God’s Word is true, all men are liars. Period.