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!

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.

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Victorious Christian LIfe: What Happens When Jesus Conquers Us

I was recently privileged to deliver the Sunday morning message at my church

Text: Acts 20:17-38 (Paul's Farewell to the Ephesian Elders)
Title: The Victorious Christian LIfe: What Happens When Jesus Conquers Us
Theme: Christ's victory in us will be seen in our deeds, words, values and motivations.

It's not the best sermon I've ever heard, but God blessed it and you may find it encouraging.

Listen to the message here.


Bonus "Two for One" Deal:
Dr. James Anderson preaches from the same passage here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Donald Grey Barnhouse Preaching the Gospel

It's always good to hear the Gospel. Rest in God's amazing grace today.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Response to Those Who Deny the Historicity of Adam

It’s clear that the Biblical writers not only held, but also purposefully wrote into the Scriptures, a non-negotiable belief in a literal individual named Adam who was the head of the human race (federally and physically). Any attempt to deny this is a direct assault on the Gospel, which includes the belief that all mankind is under a curse resulting from the disobedience of that literal individual named Adam. It is also an insult to the Holy Spirit, Who inspired the words of the apostles and prophets. Did He lead them to write things untrue? Non-factual? Errant? God forbid we should even entertain such a thought.

I’m sure I don’t believe EVERYTHING that Luke and Paul believed (in fact it’s not even possible that they believed exactly the same things). But when it comes to the matters about which the Holy Spirit of God (an inerrant witness!) led them to write, I can only bow my intellect before HIS perfect and pure wisdom. There they certainly agreed, and there I must agree. The sophistry of Peter Enns and his many disciples is a path leading directly away from the cross. I would urge any of those walking on it to repent and turn back to the God who breathed out His infallible Words through fallible men. Just as Jesus was fully God and fully man yet sinless, Scripture itself is fully divine and fully human yet inerrant. To deny this is blasphemy.

Any gospel divorced from historical accuracy is not the Biblical Gospel. The idea that one can “believe” in Scripture without believing in the historical reliability of Scripture is a postmodern fantasy that will drift away like paper and fire when the next big philosophical shift hits Western society (will it be post-postmodernism or neo-postmodernism? Or a move back to some form of modernism?). Either way, whoever has bought a ticket on the train of humanity’s best philosophy is going to get a bumpy ride when REALITY comes to light. Because REALITY comports with the Word of God. All men are like grass . . . but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Therefore, let us reject modernism and postmodernism and whatever comes next, along with all human philosophy. Why? Because God has graciously told us that the very first and very best mere-human-being He made fell into sin – mind, body and soul. We are the sad progeny of that individual, following pitiably in his accursed footsteps (and thought patterns). This is why we are called to trust the testimony of God in all respects and to test everything by it. Ironically, the denial of Adam’s existence is just a furtherance of the disaster he started.

HT: to Jeff at for inspiring this polemic.