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The Visible and Invisible Part III

Over the last two parts of this three part series, I covered two broad concepts.

First, that God is invisible, and we cannot see Him.

Second, that the second commandment forbids the fashioning of any representation of God.

We can’t see God, and we can’t create images of what we think God looks like.

Now, one objection is that Christ has a body. He has a physical countenance that we will one day gaze upon in adoration and wonder. If Jesus has a body, and we know that He is a man, why can’t we have someone play Him in a movie or musical, or paint a picture of what we think He may have looked like? There are several good reasons why we wouldn’t want to do that (besides the overt prohibition in the second commandment.)

One

When anyone creates an image of a man, and labels it “Jesus,” they are only portraying one aspect of His being. After the incarnation, Christ exists eternally as truly God and truly man. His man-hood is just as central to His existence as His God-hood is. We have already established that God (as He exists as pure spirit) cannot be seen, what cannot be seen cannot be depicted with images. So any and all images that claim to be depicting Christ are only displaying His man-hood. What you get when you try to fashion an image of Christ is only a half Christ. You only get the humanity and not the divinity.

Two

Images of Christ assign false attributes to Christ. Any “image” of Christ is necessarily false. Any depiction of Him is physically inaccurate. There is no denying this. Jesus only has certain physical features, and we will be able to see Him face to face when we die; not before. When Christ is depicted either by an actor, or by the imagination of an artist, you are assigning a false set of physical characteristics to Christ. If you were to add spiritual characteristics to Christ which He did not possess (like, say, arrogance) all of Christendom would be justifiably angry. I don’t see why some think it’s ok to add physical characteristics to Christ and not other characteristics to Him. This is most notably characterized when painters attempt to depict the (invisible) divinity of Christ by adding a halo or something similar around His head. This does nothing but highlight the vanity and futility of trying to depict our Lord.

Three

Images incline us toward worship using said images. The driving factor behind why this is wrong is the fact that Scripture is perfectly sufficient. If we add to it, we really take away from it. The Regulative Principle of Worship states that whatever is not commanded in Scripture (either explicitly, or by good and necessary consequence) is out of bounds. So even if you fail to recognize the forbidden nature of images, you cannot get past the fact that they are not commanded in Scripture. “But I don’t worship the image” is a common rebuttal to this argument. To that, the Reformed answer is that if an image informs or influences worship in any way, it’s a violation of the second commandment.

These are but only three reasons, besides the explicit prohibition in the second commandment, why fashioning or promoting images of God (usually Christ) is impious at best and blasphemous at worst. Even if you’re not convinced at the Reformed understanding of the second commandment, perhaps the implications would be enough to give you pause before sharing, or even creating, images of God.

The Visible and Invisible Part II

It is certain that it forbids making any image of God (for to whom can we liken him? Isaiah 40:15,18), or the image of any creature for a religious use. It is called the changing of the truth of God into a lie (Romans 1:25), for an image is a teacher of lies it insinuates to us that God has a body, whereas he is an infinite spirit, Habakkuk 2:18.

Matthew Henry commentary on Exodus 20:4

This is the second part of three articles, so if you haven’t read Part I, please go back and read that first before you continue with this one.

Last time, I talked about how God is invisible. Not invisible in the way that ultraviolet light is invisible to humans, and “if only” we had eyes like the mantis shrimp we would be able to see God as He exists as pure spirit. No, God is truly invisible, and the only way we can “see” God is by faith, not by sight.

But

As you’ve probably already thought to yourself, “We can see Jesus!” Yes, that’s correct, we can see Jesus. That’s because Jesus, according to His humanity, is just that: human. Jesus is truly man and truly God, a perfect mediator for all of His sheep that His Father gave Him. So why can’t we depict Him? Let’s review the 2nd commandment for the answer to that question, and then we’ll get back to images of Christ in part III

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exodus 20:4‭-‬6 ESV

There are a few common misconceptions that people have when they read this passage.

1. They separate this commandment from the context.
2. They read the single command as two separate parts.
3. They make this commandment attainable.

One
They read this commandment, and interpret it, apart from its context. Let’s not forget exactly where the Israelites were just liberated from: Egypt. One of the most noteworthy things about Egypt is their pantheon of gods and goddesses, all individually represented by some sort of creature (like Ra as a hawk.) Now, once Yahweh gets His people across the Red Sea, one of the first things He does is lay down His law in the form of the 10 commandments. At the preface of the law, God, as if to remind the Israelites, says this,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Exodus 20:2 ESV

Just in case you forgot, oh fickle Israelites, I am the God that saved you. I am the God that brought you out of your bondage. I am the real God, not like all the false deities in Egypt, all the false gods that they paint on their walls and have statues of. I am the God who gives you my law from within a hidden cloud at the top of a mountain that you cannot see. I am the God that cannot be depicted by a hawk or a crocodile or a golden calf. I am the God who demands true and spiritual worship from my people.
I am.

Two
The 2nd commandment here is broken up into 2 parts. Don’t make images, and don’t worship them.

The second half of the commandment here qualifies and defines the first half “You shall not bow down to them or serve them…” Don’t make any images, and don’t bow down to them.

When you take the words “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…” by themselves, you separate them from the second half of the commandment, and from the preceding commandment. It’s already been established who we do bow down to in the first commandment:

“You shall have no other gods before me.”
Exodus 20:3 ESV

The first clause “don’t make images” (paraphrase) obviously refers to making images in the intent of depicting God. If this were a prohibition of any and all image fabrication, the Lord Himself would have been violating His commandment by decreeing the construction of the Ark of the Covenant.

When we let the two clauses of the second commandment work together in unison as a whole. When we see the flow of logic from the first commandment into the second. When we understand how the ancient Israelites would have understood the commandments, the intent is clear. Don’t make any images of God.

Three
In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord took a couple of the commandments as examples and gave us a deeper understanding of the true extent of them. Apparently, one cannot fulfill the sixth commandment by simply living one’s life murder-free. No, to be angry with your brother or sister is enough to violate the sixth. Likewise, the seventh. Some might read the Exodus account and think that they’re doing alright by the seventh commandment because they’ve never committed adultery. But we see that we violate the seventh commandment even when we lust in our hearts after anyone.

I bring those two examples up because I fear that some people are making the second commandment “attainable.” It seems the sentiment is that “as long as I don’t make any false idols and worship them, I’m alright.” We see, though, that the scope of the second commandment reaches much further than this. We see that not only must we refrain from making images of Christ, but we must worship God only in the way that He has prescribed. The second commandment entails pure worship. Something none of us can ever hope to attain.

Any time we weaken or cheapen the law to the point where we can uphold it, we cheapen the perfect active obedience of Christ.

The Visible and Invisible, Part I

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Colossians 1:15 ESV

Let’s talk about the eye for a minute. It’s a pretty amazing product of our Lord’s endless ingenuity.

Firstly, light goes out from a source (the Sun, lightbulb, the screen you’re reading this on) at an approximate speed of 186,000 miles per second. The emitted light then travels through space at this speed until it makes contact with the cornea, which refracts the light onto your lens. The lens then refracts the light to the back of your eye, where it meets the retina. There, a collection of 120 million rod and 6 million cone photoreceptor cells receive this light. They accordingly send electrical impulses through the optic nerve into the occipital lobe in your brain, where those impulses are converted into an image of whatever light hit your retina at the beginning of this process.

Now, we have 3 different types of photoreceptors in our eyes, which means we can see red, green, blue, or any combination thereof. This consists of the entire color spectrum as we know it.

But wait, there’s more.

Humans don’t have the most advanced eye among all of God’s creation. I’m sure you know that already; cats can see better in the dark, eagles can see in great detail at a distance, the giant squid has an eye that weighs over 25 pounds. What if these are not even the most miraculous eyes in the world?

There is a tiny creature that has eyes which contain sixteen photoreceptors (to humans 3.) This range of different cells allow the mantis shrimp to detect different types of UV light, among many other things. Yet not even the miraculous eyes of the mantis shrimp could see God.

There isn’t a creature in this world that has an amazing enough eye to be able to see God. There isn’t a camera with high enough resolution that can find Him among the things of this world. There isn’t a telescope with a far enough reach that can find Him nestled among the cosmos, and it isn’t as if there could hypothetically be a telescope someday that has the capability of seeing God.

With all that being said, there is a way we can see God.

By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.
Hebrews 11:27 ESV

We don’t see God by light waves making contact with our retinas. We see God by faith. Only through the spiritual eyes of faith can we truly see God. Here is John Calvin on the above verse

We hence learn, that the true character of faith is to set God always before our eyes; secondly, that faith beholds higher and more hidden things in God than what our senses can perceive; and thirdly, that a view of God alone is sufficient to strengthen our weakness, so that we may become firmer than rocks to withstand all the assaults of Satan. It hence follows, that the weaker and the less resolute any one is, the less faith he has.
John Calvin Commentary on Hebrews 11:27

And this doesn’t only apply to our time here on Earth. If God is invisible, He shall remain invisible in Glory, for He does not change. We will lay our eyes upon the physical body of our Lord and Savior. We will see Christ Jesus, and our faith will be made sight, but we will still not see God as He exists as most pure, invisible spirit. We don’t get any less of God because we cannot see Him as He exists in the form of invisible spirit, because Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He is God in the flesh. When we get Jesus, we get all of God. When we see Jesus, we see God.

In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
John 14:20‭-‬21 ESV

In part 2, I hope to tie together the concept of the invisibility of God with the reformed understanding of the second commandment.

Assessing the CSB

One of the questions I occasionally get asked is “Which translation of the Bible is the best?” Now, this question is one that doesn’t have an answer. Ideally, people would learn Greek and Hebrew, but that isn’t realistic for everyone.

So we are forced to make a choice, to trust a particular translation committee and the decisions they have made.

Because of that, I encourage Christians to own a couple of different translations and to read through the Bible in each translation over the course of their lives. This helps to mitigate any problems that any particular translation has, by exposing them to other translations that do not have these same problems.

My usual go-to translations are the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the 1984 New International Version (NIV84), 1 and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Recently, Broadman and Holman have revised the HCSB and replaced it with the Christian Standard Bible (CSB).

In order to assess if I should continue to recommend it, I have been working my way through the translation as part of my daily devotional reading. Today I wanted to offer a few thoughts on the translation.

The Good

The CSB has so far proved to be a readable and pleasant translation. Their word choices reflect an appropriate reading level, and they are clearly intended to try to make grammar, idiomatic language, and other features of language accessible to the masses. They work hard to avoid any linguistic challenges that might inhibit someone from reading the Scriptures, which is commendable. They also do a good job of formatting the text to indicate changes in genre between prose and poetry, while at the same time not interrupting the flow of the text unnecessarily. Overall, it is a faithful translation of the Scripture that I would have no hesitancy using or recommending.

The Bad

There are, however, several issues in translation that I want to talk about. These things do not rise to the level of saying not to use this translation, but the reader should be aware of them.

Inconsistency in Translation

Now, anyone who has worked on any kind of translation work —and especially translation from one language group to another, like from Semitic languages to English— understands that there is not usually a simple 1-1 correlation between words. Often a single word in Hebrew has multiple possible translations in English. Because of this, it is important to understand the intended semantic meaning and to translate accordingly. However, we also acknowledge that it is not the concept broadly that are inspired by God, but the very words and word order.

This presents a challenge for the translator, and there is no perfect answer. However, my personal take is that wherever possible, we should seek to represent Hebrew or Greek words with a single English word. This is important linguistically, but also because the flow of ideas throughout the Scriptures is often traced by repeated use of a single word or word group. When we unnecessarily translate a single word in an unjustified plurality of ways, the English reader does not see this movement of thought.

The starkest example of this problem in the CSB is their inconsistent treatment of the Hebrew word מִצְרַ֫יִם. This word is sometimes transliterated by the CSB as Mizraim (Genesis 10:6, 13, 50:11 [as part of a compound word], 1 Chronicles 1:8, 11), but is more often translated as Egypt or Egyptians. It appears as though the distinction they make is that they use the transliteration as Mizraim when it refers to the person from whom the nation was named, and the word Egypt when referring to the nation or peoples that descend from him. In Genesis 50:11, they translate the word in two different ways!

When the Canaanite inhabitants of the land saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a solemn mourning on the part of the Egyptians.” Therefore the place is named Abel-mizraim. It is across the Jordan.

However, they do not follow this principle consistently. They always transliterate the Hebrew word כּוּשׁ as Cush, regardless of if the word refers to a geographical region, or to the person from whom that region was named.

This may not seem like a problem, except that there is a thematic connection between the so-called Table of Nations in Genesis 10, and the biblical theological theme of the Seed of the Serpent and its opposition to the Seed of the Woman. Many of the nations which descend from Noah’s son Ham would become Israel’s greatest and most persistent enemies (Including Egypt, Canaan, Philistia). Similarly, in the line of Shem, we not only have Abraham and thus Israel itself, but we also see that one of the nations descending from Shem was Uz, where Job resides. The conflict between Shem and Ham is used thematically in the text to carry the promise that God would deliver his people from the power of the serpent through the text. The fact that Mizraim where they were just delivered from, and Canaan where they would be soon battling to claim is thematically connected to the fact that Mizraim and Canaan were both descendants of Ham. The fact that just as God’s power delivered them from the land of Mizraim and would soon deliver them into the land of Canaan flows naturally from this connection. The CSB obscures this theological line of development from English readers, which would have been completely clear to the original audience of the text.

Strange Translation Choices

As someone who has made a regular practice of reading multiple translations, there are some things which stick out to me almost instinctively. Once I started digging into some of them, my concerns started to be validated.

The example I want to highlight here is Psalm 8:5. The CSB here translates this way

You made him little less than God and crowned him with glory and honor.

Now, the Hebrew word which stands behind the word God here is elohim. As the reader is probably aware, this word can be variously translated as God, gods, heavenly beings, angels, etc.  Although Michael Heiser goes a little crazy with this concept, the generally refers to spiritual beings which primarily inhabit the spiritual realm. The context has to be our clue. Unfortunately… the context of Psalm 8 doesn’t really give us a lot of help. In the Old Testament, we know that this word refers to the one God of Israel in instances where a singular verb or adjective describes it. That isn’t the case here.

So where else may we go for help?

One place is the Septuagint (LXX). The LXX is a translation of the Old Testament which was produced in Alexandria in the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC. It was produced by Jewish scholars living in Greek-speaking Egypt, who were experts in both Greek and ancient Hebrew. chose to translate this word as angels (ἀγγέλους). There could be three main reasons why this is the case.

  1. The LXX translators were working off a no-longer-extant manuscript which had the Hebrew word for referring to angels
  2. The LXX translators interpreted the word elohim here to refer to angels and were correct
  3. The LXX translators interpret the word elohim here to refer to angels and were not correct

Now, my assumption is that the CSB committee has opted to prefer the Masoretic Text (MT) over the LXX. This is typical, and in general, I favor this approach. After all, it is the Hebrew text which is inspired, not the Greek translation of it. Further, the most common use of elohim in the OT is to refer to the one God of Israel, so absent any contextual reasons not to translate it in another way this is a good decision.

But wait, there’s more.

We also can go to the New Testament text. The author of Hebrews appeals to this text as a prophetic reference to the incarnation of Jesus Christ uses it to justify that Christ was both eternally God, and became human in the incarnation. The CSB renders Hebrews 2:7 this way

You made him lower than the angels  for a short time

The author of Hebrews follows the LXX rendering of the word elohim here as angels (ἀγγέλους). Now, the common understanding is that the author of the book of Hebrews here is using the LXX, and I think that is probably right. 2 This use of the LXX here confirms for us that the proper way to understand elohim in Psalm 8 is as a reference to a plurality of spiritual beings which operate primarily in the spiritual realm, and not as a reference to the one God of Israel.

While I think that this proves that this text was simply translated wrong, and it creates a situation where the Holy Spirit inspired the author of Hebrews to replicate an erroneous translation… it also does theological damage. The point of Hebrews two is to say that Psalm 8 is a prophetic Psalm which points forward to the incarnation. If the CSB understanding of Psalm 8 is correct, instead of understanding that God the Son was for a time made lower than the angels (in his estate of humiliation), it seems to imply a kind of kenotic emptying of God the Son so that he was no longer God but instead was lower than God.

Over Translation

Over translation is something that happens most often when an idiomatic expression is interpreted into a recipient language, rather than actually translated. Sometimes this is necessary, but more often than not it is better to handle this with a foot note.

For example, if I were to say “I’m feeling a bit blue today,” I am using an English idiom to express that I am sad or depressed. If I were translating this to Spanish, I probably wouldn’t translate it directly. I’m guessing since I don’t know Spanish, but most likely the idiom does not carry over.

Similarly, there are expressions in ancient languages which are difficult to translate, and direct translation may cause confusion. The Greek idiom for feeling discouraged is “I am small of heart.” I wouldn’t want someone to send me to a Cardiologist!

However, because we affirm not only that concepts are translated, but the very words and grammar themselves, it is important to attempt to preserve the actual words of Scripture when we translate. This sometimes leads to an unclear and clunky translation. 3

The primary example and one that is commonly understood is found in Genesis 4:1

The man was intimate with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. She said, “I have had a male child with the LORD’s help.”

The word in Hebrew is יָדַע and it refers to a familiar knowledge of a person or thing. Here, it is used idiomatically to refer to the sexual union between a man his wife. So, what has happened here is the translators have interpreted the word and then translated the concept that they believe (correctly) stands behind that word. However, the word in Hebrew is used intentionally. There are Hebrew words which indicate sexual union that could have been used. Instead, Moses, inspired by the Holy Spirit, used a word that refers to the intimate personal knowledge that a man has with his wife during the sexual union.

While this may seem nit-picky, we’re talking about the word of God here. Idioms are difficult to translate, and while I can respect the desire not to confuse readers… I think it is much more theologically consistent with the commitment to verbal plenary inspiration which they affirm in the preface to the translation. 4

Only Begotten?

Now, this is actually the most significant, but it probably takes up too much time for an already too long article.

The CSB follows the standard modern understanding of the Greek word μονογενής, which has historically been understood to refer to the eternal generation of the Son in the Gospel of John. Rather than translate this as “Only begotten”, they preserve the modern rendering of “one and only.”

This is based on a faulty understanding of the etymology of μονογενής and has been a significant cause of the degredation of the orthodox understanding of the Trinity by many modern evangelicals. 5

Wrapping it All Up

As I said in my opening thoughts, I think that overall the CSB is a decent translation. Although I think the issues I have pointed out (there are others, but this is a blog article… not a dissertation) are significant and bear addressing in future revisions, they do not rise to the level of distorting the text or failing to be a proper translation. I do, however, think that the ESV and NASB still do a better job on the whole, and would thus recommend using those translations over the CSB as a primary option.

Notes:

  1. It can sometimes be difficult to find the 1984 edition. The 2011 edition is not terrible, but it has a tendency to flatten out gendered language, which less accurately represents the original text.
  2. Although it is possible that the author of Hebrews had a Hebrew text in front of him which had the Hebrew word for angels in this passage, it is so unlikely that it is barely worth noting
  3. Incidentally this is one of the critiques I have of the NASB
  4. The merits of [the Formal Equivalence] approach include its consistency with the conviction that the Holy Spirit did inspire the very words of Scripture in the original manuscripts. (vii)
  5. See Irons, Charles Lee. “A Lexical Defense of the Johannine “Only Begotten”.” Retrieving Eternal Generation. Ed. Fred Sanders and Scott Swain. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017. 98-116.

A Consequence of Denying Simplicity

One of the hot topics among Reformed theologians over the past couple years has been the subject of Divine Simplicity. Simplicity, in its…well…simplest form posits that God is not composed of parts. That is to say, God’s love is not somehow distinct from His justice, mercy, aseity, omniscience, and so forth. One could not isolate just the sovereignty of God in such a way as to separate it from His infinity, goodness, and all the rest. The famous distillations of simplicity are “All that is in God is God,” or “God is his attributes.” Westminster’s phrasing is “…without body, parts, or passions…” (WCF 2.1). Of course Westminster is also addressing God as being spirit and impassible in that phrase, but we still see the language of “without parts.”

Now, people hearing about simplicity for the first time often have a negative reaction. Seeing as we can list God’s attributes, simplicity seems to deny that these distinctions have any real meaning. It butts against people’s sensibilities and seems to make God into a sort of abstract, nebulous force.

In an attempt to make the doctrine more understandable to the average person, I’d like to present an implication of denying simplicity. By doing so, hopefully it makes the concept more intuitive, and one that people first interacting with more academic and formal terminology will have an easier time digesting.

We all (hopefully) affirm that God is perfect in each of His attributes. God’s love is perfect love, God’s knowledge is perfect knowledge, etc. Therefore, if we deny simplicity, we imply that there can be such a thing as perfect love that is not identical with God himself. Saying that a part of God is not identical with God means that, theoretically, perfect knowledge could exist without it being God. In denying simplicity, the implication is that there could be a being with omnipotence that is not God.

Simplicity should make complete sense for those who affirm the creator/creature distinction. Since God is perfect in all of His attributes, perfect love, perfect power, perfect knowledge, perfect [insert attribute here] are all things that belong on the “creator” side. And insofar as no creature can attain perfection in any attribute, we can treat perfection in any attribute as being identical with the creator.

One common objection to simplicity is that love is not identical with power, for example. Simplicity, objectors say, treats these attributes as if they are identical. In response to that, we should recall that often our language for God is accommodated language. We speak of God’s mercy, justice, and love as if they are separate things, but really God’s character manifests itself as justice for the unbeliever and mercy towards the believer. They are different experiences of the same God.

Mark Jones, in God Is, embraces the objection wholeheartedly:

“[W]hen we speak of his attributes, we must keep in mind that because his essence remains undivided, his goodness is his power. Or, God’s love is his power is his eternity is his immutability is his omniscience is his goodness, and so forth. In other words, there is technically no such thing as attributes (plural) but only God’s simple, undivided essence,” (32-33, emphasis mine).

Let us give thanks that no one else but God can offer us perfect love, perfect wisdom, perfect justice, and consequently a perfect salvation.

 

Divine Omnipresence

God is not diffused throughout creation as though he is partly here and partly there, but rather he is completely here, and completely there at the same time and with no loss to himself. – Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 60–61

It sounds simple enough to assent to the fact that God is everywhere, but what does that mean? Is God stretched out over creation so that those in Asia are experiencing a different “part” of God than those in North America? Is God simply taking up all the “empty” space in His universe? I’ll attempt to answer those questions and go into a little more depth on the topic of Divine Immensity, or Omnipresence.

First of all, God is a simple being. Meaning that He is not composed of parts. Wherever God is present, all of God is present. Not in His totality (as if He could be contained to a certain area) but in His “is-ness.” His state of being that is totally and unequivocally God. God is no “more” or “less” present in any one location compared to any other location.

God is incorporeal, meaning that He does not have a body. When I am sitting in my car, all of me is contained within the confines of my car, and there is nothing that makes up me that is outside of the car. With God, this is not so, because God is most pure spirit, and is not confined by anything. God does not take up space as we do, it is not as if God has the same type of existence as we do, only that He is infinitely bigger or more stretched out than we are. He exists in a completely different way than we do.

Usually, when speaking of God’s Immensity, we qualify it in 2 different ways: intensive and extensive.

Intensive

God is present, in all the quality of His eternal being, down to the most minute and finite parts of who you are. There are no secrets before the Almighty, the notion of privacy is a fiction when we are talking about God. He knows you better than you do, and He sustains you down to the smallest fraction of your being, down to even more finite measurements than any quantum calculations have dreamt of. Our God is not only infinitely large, He goes down to the infinitely small, always sustaining all things.

Extensive

God is present, in all the quality of His eternal being, far beyond the vastest reaches of the universe, and farther than man can imagine. From the churning depths of the Pillars of Creation to the countless nuclear explosions and fissions within imploding and expanding stars and supernovas, to the invisible, mysterious, consuming existence at the center of a black hole, God is wholly and completely there, ordering all things and sustaining all things. (Colossians 1:17)

He is no less at the center of your being that He is at the center of a supermassive black hole, and He sustains the prior no more so than the latter.

It should go without saying that He is and will be present in Heaven, with the radiance of His manifest love and pleasure shining down on all those who are in Christ, but the converse of that means that God also is present in His fullness in Hell, forever sustaining the eternally damned so that His manifest wrath and holy anger can be justly poured out on all those who are not in Christ.

So nothing, not even death, can separate anyone from the sustaining presence of God. This does not mean that we should celebrate death (even though it is through death we experience the manifest fullness of unity with Christ). Death is still a terrible thing that stands as a reminder before us of the consequences of sin and rebellion before a holy, eternal, and immense God.

Forever and Ever, Amen

That he is self-existent; he has his being of himself, and has no dependence upon any other: the greatest and best man in the world must say, By the grace of God I am what I am; but God says absolutely-and it is more than any creature, man or angel, can say-I am that I am. Being self-existent, he cannot but be self-sufficient, and therefore all-sufficient, and the inexhaustible fountain of being and bliss. – Matthew Henry, Commentary on Exodus 3

It is not a particularly reformed distinctive to confess that God is eternal, all orthodox Christians through the passing of the ages have agreed that our God is eternal. It is one of the more explicit things about God that we find in the Scriptures. How we define that as compared to some, however, is where a few of the boundaries are set.

Some seek to define God’s eternality as simply an endless succession of moments; never-ending, and with no beginning. They say that God experiences time as we do, only that He experiences it in an infinitely greater and more innumerable way. This is not how classical Christian Theism, and the Reformed Confessions use the word eternal.

The best way that we can say what we know about God is to define what we deny about His existence. From this idea, words like immortal (not mortal,) immutable (not mutable,) invisible (not visible,) and incomprehensible (not comprehensible) work their way into the common vernacular of theology. This is not by accident, theologians have long struggled to define exactly who God is, and sometimes you can accomplish more by saying what God is not.

So when we use a word like eternal, it is best understood by what it is not.

Before I can say what God is not, I would try to quickly define what time is. What exactly is time? We rarely think about it unless we are short of it. Time is simply a way of measuring motion between a beginning point and an end point. How did someone decide exactly the rhythm your second hand on your watch would have? Firstly, they measured the amount of time it takes for the Earth to complete one orbit around the Sun, but instead of saying one orbit is 31,536,000 little bits of time, we split that up into rotations of the planet. So there are 365 rotations in one orbit, and divide that rotation up into consecutively smaller bits, slap some labels on, like minute and year, and violà. You have our time measurement system as we know it today. The one thing consistent about what all of those measurements have in common is that they are signifying change.

So when we say that God is eternal, we don’t mean that God has experienced infinitely more moments than we have, for, to experience time, one has to experience change. Where there is no change, there is no time, and the Lord our God never changes. He is the one who is known as the I Am. Not the I was, or the I am becoming. He simply is.

So God is not eternal because He simply lives for infinitely longer than we do, He is eternal because He exists outside of temporal constraints altogether. His existing is not coming and going, as ours is, but it is a single standing limitless unmoving instant of existence. He doesn’t have a life through which He is passing, but He is the life by which He is living. God does not fit into a category of things which are eternal, He is eternality itself.

The Perpiscuity of Scripture

The amount is, that the light of the truth revealed in God’s word, is so distinct that the very first sight of it illuminates the mind.

John Calvin Commentary on Psalm 119:130

Sometimes the Bible is confusing. Sometimes it’s very confusing. There are some passages of the Bible with very little consensus as to the meaning, and some passages where the possible meanings are hotly debated and disputed.

But not all of Scripture.

Just as there are some areas of confusion, there are likewise many areas of crystal clarity. There are many passages where the meaning is right in front of our faces, explained so clearly that even a child could understand.

When we realize that not all parts of Scripture are as plain or clear as other parts, we have to ask how those two ends of the spectrum come together to form one seamless systematic, by which the Bible in its entirety can be understood. It is important that these sometimes seeming contradictions be reconciled, because we believe in and confess a God who is without contradiction. A God who is without contradiction does not inspire a work that contains contradictions.

The way that the Church and it’s scholars have historically dealt with the mixture of clarity contained in the Bible is known as the Analogy of Faith. The Analogy of Faith basically states that we interpret the unclear passages by the clear passages. We interpret the concealed by the revealed.

What sort of practical application does this have for the layman? This principle is a comfort to the saints, in that we know the Bible we read on a regular basis can be understood when taken in it’s entire context. There is sufficient clarity for salvation contained in the Scriptures, and it can be grasped by all who read it’s pages.

The faith (the whole body of teaching) can be apprehended by all of God’s saints.

Inspiration, Authorial Intent, and Death of the Author

When approaching systematic theology, the inevitable first topic is hermeneutics. One’s hermeneutical approach lays the groundwork for how every other topic is addressed. It provides the methodology for reading the text of scripture and the means for drawing conclusions about any of the topics that follow it.

Now, when one sets out to determine what a text means, it is often first set in the surrounding context, not only of the surrounding text but of the time, place, author, etc. And here is where hermeneutics, as it relates to the bible, takes a turn from hermeneutics dealing with other texts. This is primarily because the Bible is inspired, and our theology of inspiration affirms a dual-authorship of the biblical texts.

Inspiration

The typical way to express a Reformed view of inspiration is by the phrase verbal plenary inspiration, meaning that the entire (hence plenary) Bible is the word of God (hence verbal) but spoken through the background, grammar, style, etc. of the human authors (in contradistinction to a dictation theory).

As it is the word of God, we affirm that the Bible is infallible and inerrant, and thus does not contradict itself. We affirm that, while a story may be recounted in different ways depending on the book, this is not because the authors disagree on the facts, but because the authors had different backgrounds, audiences, and focuses.

Comparable to the Reformed view of compatibilism as it pertains to predestination and free will, we could say that inspiration works by God’s words and the human author’s words speaking simultaneously. God’s will is done and man’s will is done in such a way that the same actions occur and the same words result.

This is, however, where I think the greater hermeneutical difficulties can come in.

Authorial Intent

One of the primary questions that children are taught to ask in English class is “what did the author mean by this?” It aims at understanding not only the vocabulary but the history and personality of the author to decipher how different literary features may be interpreted.

In theological circles, however, I find that the search for authorial intent can be expanded in such a way that it forgets God’s authorship. For example, a common test case for hermeneutics is the comparison of Hosea 11:1 with Matthew 2:14. In a recent discussion I had with someone about Dispensational hermeneutics, the issue arose about whether Hosea 11:1 was about Christ. Clearly, when Hosea was writing, he was writing about Israel. I don’t think Hosea necessarily knew that his words would be applied to Christ when he first wrote them. But Matthew 2:15 definitely makes it clear that Hosea 11:1 was about Christ, even though Hosea didn’t know it at the time.

The search for authorial intent can chase down one leg of the hermeneutical discussion, but to the detriment of the fact that God is also the author of Hosea 11:1 and he may have had a different intent with those words than Hosea. Similar to how Joseph’s brothers are responsible for their actions despite God’s good intentions for them, Hosea intended to write about Israel, but God’s intention for his words extended to Christ as well.

The biblical authors likely didn’t have systematic theologies in mind when they were writing their letters or historical accounts. But God’s authorship enables a book like Acts to be mined for the truth about God’s attributes, proper ecclesiological structure, spiritual gifts, etc. Luke was writing a historical narrative, but Acts serves systematic purposes as well.

Death of the Author

With the former being said, we do not wish to fall too far in the other direction. Death of the Author is the literary theory that essentially removes the author from the equation and allows the reader to interpret the text largely unguided. Once the author completes the text, it is released upon the world for the audience to make of it what they wish. It frees the audience to read into the text whatever meaning they wish.

This pitfall of hermeneutics is often seen when prophetic writings are directly connected to modern events (Jeremiah 29:11 and 2 Chronicles 7:14 being common examples). But it’s also seen when a text is read and each person provides “what it means to them,” with no regard for the author’s context. The focus is wholly placed on the fact that the Bible is inspired and therefore has meaning for us, but leaves out completely any biblical constraints as to what that meaning is.

God’s inspiration does not eliminate the surrounding context of the author. That is to say, God’s inspiration does not grant us the right to read the Bible as though the human authorship doesn’t matter. The historical events surrounding the scriptures still give insight as to what they mean.

Conclusion

As we take our hermeneutics into the rest of scripture and theology, let us remember these potential pitfalls. Since God is the author of scripture, he can superintend texts to point beyond their immediate historical context into a greater meaning and application. He can inspire texts to communicate truth beyond the human author’s awareness. But since scripture has a human author, we constrain our interpretation from drifting into total subjectivism by being mindful of what the human author first wrote the text to mean. And we are further constrained by the remembrance that the Bible will never be contradictory because God is perfect and his word reflects that.

The Object of Worship

It concerns us to be right, not only in the object of our worship, but in the manner of it and it is this which Christ here instructs us in. – Matthew Henry, Commentary on John 4:24

I was raised in a fairly eclectic Church environment. The earliest memories I have of Church are in a fairly large Church in Omaha, NE. After that, we attended a mixed bag of denominations, ranging through E-Free, Methodist, Church of Christ, Pseudo-Pentecostal, General Baptist, Bapticostal, and Lutheran. Through that gamut of theological stances and viewpoints, I never really had a concrete definition in my mind of what worship really is, and what the intention of it is.

When I was a kid, I was bored at the more liturgical, traditional modes of worship. When I was in basic training, I used Sunday morning as a weekly naptime. When I was a young Christian I loved all the modern songs that worked their way into worship. When I became more theologically inclined, I started furrowing my brow at the songs I heard incorporated into Lord’s Day worship. All of this before I became a Calvinist, let alone confessionally Reformed.

I once attended a Church that would replace a few words of a secular song and sing it Sunday morning, with the electric guitar and trap set and everything. Not that you could hear yourself sing, but it never sat right with me to be singing worldly songs to the Lord of Glory. My pastor even once said, “Jesus did not die for music.” “Well, no” I replied to myself, “but shouldn’t worship be reverent? I think, even then, I had the underpinnings of what true worship was supposed to look like.

I was right, though. Worship is supposed to be reverent, and the reason why the worship seemed ill-fitting in the house of God is that one of the intentions of my old church was to get people in the doors with a flashy service (by their own admission.) They weren’t solely preoccupied with refracting the glory of God in holy adoration. When we have our eyes fixed on something other than the true object of our worship (God,) and instead try to fill pews with popular music and dazzling lights, we lose the true essence of why we are gathered together in the first place.

Worship is not about us, it is about God.

God Has Spoken

Here let us abide here we are safe if we stir a step further, we are in danger of being either entangled or seduced. – Matthew Henry, Commentary on Jude 1:3

God has spoken.

This statement brings great comfort to God’s children. Our Lord and Creator, the one who holds the universe in His hands; the Almighty, who is actively causing all things to exist at every second, and without whom nothing would exist, apart from whom nothing does exist. Our God has spoken to us.

Not only has God given us His written word, but He has given us the Word Himself

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – John 1:1, ESV

The Father decreed in eternity past that He would send His Son for our iniquity. Jesus Christ, the eternal Logos, the Word of God came to the Earth and took on the flesh of His own creation to die once and for all, for the sins of the elect. There is only one Word that has been made flesh, and there is only one word that has been given to God’s people as a rule of faith and obedience: the Holy Scriptures, contained in the 66 books of the Bible.

There is a certain finality with how the Word made flesh was and is the continual revelation of God to man, and there is also a finality with how the written word of God is a special revelation of God to man. There are no other words-made-flesh, Jesus is the only one. Just as there is only one written word of God.

I am not saying that God never uses extraordinary means to communicate to His creation. He is God, He does as He pleases, but what I am saying is betrayed in the word “extraordinary.” God has revealed how He works ordinarily in the Church and among His people. He has given us a word that we can rely on, and now that the word has been given, He works through that word to edify and build His Church.

So we don’t reject modern-day prophesies just to be contrarian, or because we don’t like them, we reject modern-day prophesy (remember, prophets claim to speak directly on behalf of God; that is the definition I am using) because God has spoken, and speaks using his word.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16‭-‬17, ESV

No Less Days, to Sing God’s Praise

God is best known in not knowing him. – Augustine of Hippo 1

Every time I write an article about theology proper, I think “Man, I should have started out with this one.” There are so many doctrines that define how we interact and understand other doctrines. Take divine simplicity, for example. Once you understand that God is identical with His attributes, it informs the way we think about His omnipotence or omnibenevolence. Or take immutability, and understand how knowing that God does not change informs how we understand impassibility or eternality. This seems especially true when contemplating the doctrine of incomprehensibility. When you understand that God cannot ever be fully comprehended (think of a similar word, apprehended) it informs how we study theology and meditate on the infinite, majestic, unfathomable beauty of our glorious Lord.

Let me start out by saying this; confessing that God is incomprehensible is not confessing that He is unknowable. In common use these words are effectively synonymous, we may use them interchangeably with the same relative meaning, but in theology, these words have different denotative uses. After all, God is not unknowable. Paul admonishes the Church in Ephesus to grow in the knowledge of God (Ephesians 3:19). We can know true things about God.

We can know and confess that God is good, but we can never comprehend the depths of His goodness

We can know and confess that God is powerful, but we can never comprehend the reaches of His power.

We can know and confess that God is eternal, but we can never comprehend the vastness of His existence.

We can know and confess that God is justice, but we can never comprehend His hatred for sin and His perfection in delivering justice.

When we say that God is incomprehensible, we don’t mean that we could measure His greatness if only we had enough measuring tape. Our inadequacy in comprehending God is not quantitative as if we could someday (even in glory) reach the final piece of knowledge about God, it is qualitative because finite creatures can never truly apprehend infinity.

The only being that can truly comprehend God is God. We know that God is infinite, so it takes an infinite knowledge to comprehend infinitude. When we say that God is all knowing, do we usually think of Him knowing Himself? Or do our minds drift toward our world? I know that when I speak of God’s omniscience, I tend to think of things and happenings in our world, the created order. Does it take an infinite knowledge to comprehend the finite, though? After all, there are only so many knowable things in our world. Even though they may be vast, they are finite. Could we not imagine, hypothetically, a supercomputer so large that it knows every single knowable thing in this universe? I think we have to say that it is hypothetically possible. Now, is it hypothetically possible for a supercomputer of the same size to find the last number? The number at which point you can stop counting because you’ve counted them all? No, not at all, because numbers go on for infinity.

There is always one more. I use that example to try to shine a tiny shred of light on just how unfathomable the Almighty is. If we can’t even find the end of a sequence of 10 repeating digits, how can we imagine to find the end of the LORD? For God to know all things in the world is more of an auxiliary feature in His omniscience, the true object of His omniscience is Himself.

So, confessing the doctrine of incomprehensibility is less a statement about our knowledge and the lack thereof (even though that is included), and more a statement about who God is and His unfathomable depths of perfect abundant being

After explaining the doctrine, I’d like to say how this should impact us. When the Bible speaks of the incomprehensibility of God, the goal is not to elicit a frustrated cry from us or cause despair because we can never comprehend the Lord we love. The response should be reverent awe and worship, knowing that, in the words of the classic hymn, “When we’ve been there, ten thousand years, bright shining as the Sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we first begun.”

Notes:

  1. On Order, II.16

The Holy Spirit in the Order and Purpose of Worship

I play drums.

For many of my teen years, this meant playing with a variety of youth groups, filling in at friends’ churches, playing at youth camps, and so on. This exposed me to a whole host of different leadership styles and approaches to service planning. Even at that point, in my less theologically developed times, one of the phrases that frequently struck me as strange was when we’d practice and plan up to a certain point and then the leader would proclaim“then we’ll leave room for the Spirit to move.”

To be clear, I don’t deny that the Spirit works in ways that creatures are unable to plan or predict. Far be it from me to restrict God’s timing and capabilities. That being said, in these situations, I often felt that the implication was that the Spirit DOESN’T work through planning; that there was something inherently more spiritual about leaving certain things like song duration up to the feelings of the leader at the moment. 

I don’t want this to devolve into a rant about common pitfalls or excesses in the Non-Denominational/Charismatic realm of Christianity. Instead, I’d like to focus more on putting forth a positive case for why the Holy Spirit is present in the ordering of worship services and how the order points us towards the purpose of worship.

Order

As a starting point, we affirm that one of the Holy Spirit’s roles in our present lives is to “guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13, ESV) It is also important to consider that the Bible explicitly commands decency and order in the worship service. But all things should be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). Earlier in the same chapter, Paul concludes his discussion of tongues with this

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. – 1 Corinthians 14:23-25, ESV

From this passage, we can see that an aspect of Paul’s thought on the order of worship is its appearance to unbelievers.

Paul then turns to the second line of thinking. “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33, ESV) At this point, we now have two reasons for the proper ordering of worship: clarity for unbelievers and reflection of God’s character. Rather than despising order as some sort of limit on the Holy Spirit’s ability and power, let us instead view the order as both honoring who God is and removing unnecessary hindrance towards unbelievers or outsiders who may be present.

Purpose

Order is not an end in itself. Continuing, Paul instruct us, “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:12, ESV) As our ordered worship builds up the church both in personal growth and in numerical growth, it manifests the Spirit, which was the intent in the first place. Furthermore, Hebrews 12:28-29 tells us

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

In speaking with the Samaritan woman, Jesus says, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”(John 4:23-24, ESV) God is seeking a people who worship in Spirit and Truth, a people who give thanks for what He has done in Christ, and a people who manifest the Spirit in the growth of the church. More than just being a place for the Spirit to move, the worship service is a place for a fully Trinitarian theology to be displayed and communicated to the congregation.

Having come to the conviction that order of service matters, there are a few matters of application that I think we can make. To start, I think we should make a priority of being on time (dare I say early?) to church. If God is present in all stages of a given service, we are doing ourselves a disservice when we miss parts of it. Additionally, I think it shows respect to our elders and pastors who put time and effort into the selection of music, the wording of the prayers, and the content of the message. What are we communicating if we make it a habit of missing the first song every week?

Secondly, I think James K. A. Smith struck an interesting note when he talked about our tendency to think of humans as merely “brains on a stick” (see You Are What You Love, 101-102). I’ve often seen a tendency for people to feel that if they miss the music, prayer, and sacraments, but still hear the sermon,they “got it” for the week. This reduces the service to merely being an information transfer surrounded by some songs and a small snack. While the sermon is important, it is not the only means of grace present on a given Sunday. Further, this de-values the participatory aspects of a service thus making Sunday a one-way-street where the word is proclaimed to the people but no response is necessary.

Let us then recall that Paup commands us to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1, ESV) Worship is a whole-body commitment. This is our spiritual worship. God desires people who worship in Spirit and Truth. To return to the opening anecdote, I think it’s clear that far from needing space allocated in portions of the worship service, the Holy Spirit is at the center of both our ordering and our purpose.

Bread, Wine and the Imputation of Christ

This is going to be another foray into speculative theology. In other words, I am not willing to bet the farm on how accurate my thinking is, and I am certainly willing to be corrected.

Reformed sacramentology has long been a fascination of mine. On the one hand, we reject the Roman Catholic conception of transubstantiation as well as the Lutheran concept of physical presence. On the other hand, we reject the bare symbolism typically, though I think erroneously, associated with Zwinglianism. The Westminster Confession states the position this way:

Worthy receivers outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses. – Westminster Confession of Faith, 29.7

While it is crucial to understand the nature of the bread and wine as they relate to the body and blood of Christ, I do not think we should stop there? How do we better understand the benefits associated with the elements? Central to Reformation soteriology is the doctrine of union with Christ (especially as understood in section 19 here), and I think our right understanding of the benefits of the Supper should likewise rest on this doctrine. Building off of a previous article, I think the wine, as it is sacramentally linked to the blood of our Savior, is tied to His resurrection life. We really do receive the life of Christ – and all its benefits – in the wine when we drink it in faith. Hypothetically, can we consider the active obedience of Christ to have been imputed to us through the participation in the element of wine? Is this one of the means by which we, with Paul, can say that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20b)?

In the same manner, perhaps we receive the death of Christ – with all that means – in the bread when we eat it in faith. Here, we think back to some of the sacrifices of the temple and tabernacle services. 1 Corinthians 10:16 and 18 say, “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?… Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” The people were receiving benefits promised in the sacrifices when they ate of them. As we understand the ties of the sacrificial system to the imputation of guilt and punishment to the substitute, can we read that an eating of the bread represents the imputation of our sins to Christ? Is this one of the ways that we can confess “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20a)?

Salvation and the Fourth Commandment

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15, ESV)

At church this past Sunday, I noticed something that had previously never dawned on me. Every Sunday for years, our minister would read one of three passages before calling us to confess our sins. He rotates between the Ten Commandments as given in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 and Christ’s two-fold summary of the Law. I have literally heard these passages hundreds of times each, so it is with a mixture of shame and awe that I finally saw something so obvious.

If we look back at the Ten Commandments as given in Exodus 20, God explains the law of the Sabbath using the creation of the universe. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, thereby blessing and making it holy (Exodus 20:11). But in the second giving of the Law, God does something different, rooting the necessity of the Sabbath in His accomplishing salvation for His people. The Sabbath in the original Mosaic conception had a redemptive-historical aspect that I had been missing: the people were to use this day, every week, to remember the salvation of their God. In Exodus, the Sabbath command points to the God enjoyed with and for man’s sake (Mark 2:27). In Deuteronomy, the Sabbath command given to Moses points back to the rest God had won in rescuing them from Egypt. But there is something that is further revealed a short time later. It also prefigured what we see in both Joshua 21:44 and 1 Kings 5:4: God had given the people rest on every side. The Mosaic Sabbath given at Sinai was pointing forward to the rest that remained.

The book of Hebrews makes this forward-looking aspect even more clear and pushes it out even further. Hebrews 3:7-4:11 makes some fascinating connections with our salvation. In Hebrews 4:8-9, we are told that Joshua had not actually given the promised rest, but that it still remained and further exhorts us to strive to enter that rest. The “rest” the Israelites were enjoying, resulting from the defeat of the Canaanites, was not consummate rest, but a foretaste of it. Verse 1 also holds out to us this promise of consummate rest in Christ, saying, “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” From this promise of consummate rest, we can see that the purpose of the Sabbath remains for us as well. We are pilgrims on the way to the new heavens and new earth. Rephrasing Deuteronomy 5, “You shall remember that you were a slave to sin, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a pierced side and outstretched arms. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”

Arts and Aesthetics

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.” (Exodus 31:1-11, ESV)

A few years ago, I put together this lesson for our college bible study and recently recycled it for a Sunday School class. The reaction I received was pretty positive overall, so I thought it might be worthwhile to share it here.

Art Done Right – Foundations for Thinking

If we were to go back and read through some of the preceding chapters, we would know that Moses has been given all of these divine blueprints for the design of the Tabernacle. Calvin says:

Although God had omitted nothing which related to the form of the tabernacle, but had accurately prescribed every thing that was to be done, still the actual difficulty of the work might have overwhelmed both Moses and the whole people with despair; for this was no ordinary work, or one on which the most skillful artificers might exercise their ingenuity, but a marvelous structure, the pattern of which had been shewn on the Mount, so that it might seem incredible that any mortals should be able by their art to compass what God had commanded. Besides, they had been entirely engaged in servile tasks in Egypt, such as would extinguish all intellectual vigor, and prevent them from aspiring to any liberal arts. (Calvin’s Commentaries, Exodus 31)

In addition to what Calvin mentions, these were a people living in a wilderness, dwelling in tents. It was into this setting that we see the first person described in the Bible as having been “filled with the Spirit.” Prior to the moment, Bezalel is someone previously unknown to us. But here Moses describes him as a virtual master of all crafts, a Da Vinci of his time. The Spirit empowered Bezalel to “devise artistic designs,” to be divinely creative. The Spirit gave him “ability” or talent. God filled Bezalel “with intelligence,” so that not only could Bezalel be inspired with the artistic designs, but he could work out the technical details of the divine blueprints Moses was handing him. Bezalel was given knowledge, that is an understanding of everything that was going to be involved in the building of the Tabernacle. He was called to deal with various species of wood, cast bronze, smith silver and gold, even hammer gold over wood  without damaging the underlying engraving work. He had to know the natural objects he would be representing: almonds, flowers, pomegranates, and such. He even had to know something about the supernatural cherubim, mighty angelic beings who minister in the immediate presence of God. Finally, we see that Bezalel was filled with “all craftsmanship.” Even with the gifts of ability, talent and knowledge, Bezalel would need a tremendous amount of patience, commitment to perfection, and attention to detail. He had to be a true craftsman, sticking to the project until it was done right. But God added something else to make this task manageable for even such a gifted artist: God “inspired him to teach.” (Exodus 35:34)

With the case of Bezalel providing a solid foundation for a Biblical idea of artistic gifting, it can easily be extended into other endeavours. Again, Calvin tells us:

Still, although the call of Bezaleel was special, because, as I have just said, God entrusted to him an unusual and by no means ordinary work, we gather that no one excels even in the most despised and humble handicraft, except in so far as God’s Spirit works in him. For, although “there are diversities of gifts,” still it is the same Spirit from whom they all flow, (1 Corinthians 12:4;) and also as God has seen fit to distribute and measure them out to every man. Nor is this only the case with respect to the spiritual gifts which follow regeneration, but in all the branches of knowledge which come into use in common life. It is, therefore, a false division, when ungodly men ascribe all the means of our support partly to nature and God’s blessing, and partly to the industry of man, since man’s industry itself is a blessing from God. The poets are more correct who acknowledge that all which is suggested by nature comes from God; that all the arts emanate from Him, and therefore ought to be accounted divine inventions (Commentaries, Exodus 31).

The creating God who made us in His image has made us as creative beings. While Bezalel’s gifts and abilities focused on the visual arts, we should not forget that music is spoken of time and time again. It is no accident that God inspired an entire book of the Bible as a divine hymnal for the Israelite worshipers. Several times, we see singers appointed for worship. Not only singing, but instrumental music is exalted in Israel. In 1 Chronicles 23:5, we see that David assigns 4,000 to “offer praises to the Lord with the instruments that [he] made for praise.” The musicians weren’t only to play, but to “make melody” and “play skillfully” (Psalm 33:2-3). The music was to be beautiful. In the same manner, we should remember that most of the Bible is narrative. It is a story. Being people of the Word, we must also recognize and uphold excellence in word-craft and storytelling.

Art Gone Wrong – Developing an Aesthetic

Bezalel’s art would ultimately be employed in the sanctuary for God’s glorious worship. As we see the work done in chapters 36-39, culminating with the erecting of the tabernacle in chapter 40, Bezalel’s work was blessed by the Lord descending and dwelling in the tent of meeting. But we have something happen in chapter 32. I do not think it is an accident that immediately after the account of Bezalel’s gifting in Exodus 31, we discover Israel’s idolatry with the golden calf. In fact, I think the work of the golden calf is specifically set in contrast with the fashioning of the tabernacle. One is God-honoring work, another is despised by Him.

As we consider the golden calf, I think we can actually begin working toward a Biblically-defined aesthetic. In that vein, let me present a couple of historical virtues that should provide some guidance to us: truth, goodness, and beauty.

First, “good” art must be truthful. Aaron brought forth the golden calf and declared, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4). The work p All art tells a story. The largely post-modern idea that the interpreter (viewer or listener) is master of the artist’s message is false. This is a complicated idea that I’ll boil down to a short sentence or two, but we believe that there is no such thing as a self-existent (or “brute”) fact. All of creation is contingent upon God’s upholding it (Hebrews 1:3) and is designed to demonstrate His existence and attributes (Romans 1:19-20). God is the only One who is self-existent; He is the Divine Interpreter, and all facts must be interpreted in light of His revelation (both natural and special). In His upholding work, God provides our framework for interpretation. For example, something cannot be self-contradictory and still true. The Christian aesthetic must uphold the truth.

A Christian aesthetic must also uphold goodness. It cannot attempt to call evil “good” or good “evil.” In this, the visual arts are far easier to get a grip on because we can look back to God’s creative work at the beginning of history; He punctuated each creative act with a declaration of goodness. We can also say that, even if we don’t specifically understand His divine providences, all of His works are good. Anything that contradicts the goodness of His work or His character goes against a Christian aesthetic. Blasphemy, by definition, contradicts this virtue. For example, years ago, an “artist” put a crucifix upside down into a jar of urine. This should revolt us. Writing in general (and storytelling in particular) inevitably shapes the readers. We even tend to gravitate toward stories that tell of a hero’s journey, stories that extol virtue and expose evil. The most meaningful and memorable stories may portray noble self-sacrifice, the fight against evil, and the victory of the crushing of the serpent’s head. Clever writers can weave their worldview, whether good or ill, through their stories, subtly bringing their readers into alignment with their own thinking. Even though it may be more difficult, I believe that we can find guidelines inside of music. Please understand that I know nothing of musical theory and that my actual musical ability is pretty much limited to the operation of my car radio, but I do think that certain things can be nailed down. For example, does the music glorify the chaos God commanded us to take dominion over? Or does it serve to extend the boundaries of the Garden/City of God?

The most complicated of the categories that I think we should look at is beauty. Again, we must root our aesthetic in the character and works of God. Beauty, by the necessity of who God is, must itself be true and good. But our surface perception of it may provoke different attitudes within us: joy, awe, terror, sorrow, etc. Because of that, I do believe that we do a great deal of injustice if we limit beauty to “prettiness.” Instead, I think we can look judge beauty by the fitness to the story being told. All God’s works are done perfectly, skillfully and intentionally. Again, we know that the musicians playing in the temple service appointed by David were to play skillfully. A writer may tell a wonderful story in a terrible way, having no mastery of the written word. A sloppy painting or marred drawing is less beautiful than one skillfully done. Again, Bezalel’s story of craftsmanship speaks volumes. It calls us to excellence in whatever craft we pursue.

Lordship Salvation Is Not The Gospel

It is entirely by the intervention of Christ’s righteousness that we obtain justification before God. This is equivalent to saying that man is not just in himself, but that the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation, while he is strictly deserving of punishment. – John Calvin

At the very outset, I would like to explain exactly what I mean by the claim in the title.

Here is what I am not saying.

  • I am not saying that you can accept Christ as Savior and reject Him as Lord.
  • I am not saying that Christ is not the Lord of all creation.
  • I am not saying that a believer mustn’t repent.
  • I am not affirming legalism.
  • I am not affirming antinomianism.

Generally, there is lots of confusion when someone says they are against Lordship Salvation. I admit if you had never heard of the controversy before you might be taken aback because it sounds like I’m denying the Lordship of Christ, or denying the role of Christ as Lord in the life of the believer. Truth be told I wish there was another title associated with the controversy. One that wouldn’t cause so much undue anxiety, but we are stuck with the branding as it sits.

So, let’s examine a quick breakdown of the different sides of the debate.

Lordship Salvation — Anywhere between the view that repentance is collapsed into faith and the view that repentance precedes faith. Also, that Christ is Savior to no one who rejects Him as Lord.

Free Grace Movement — A one-time profession of faith “punches your ticket” to the kingdom, regardless of how you live after the fact.

Reformed Theology — God gives the elect sinner the gift of faith, from which and through which all the benefits of Christ are given to the believer. This includes sanctification (including repentance) which necessarily grows out of true faith.

All 3 of these positions deny the others when it comes to the nature of faith, repentance, and justification. That is normally the extent of the formal disagreement between them, although the implications of the disagreements leak over into other areas of theology and practice.

So which is consistent with our New Testament understanding of Sola Fide? We are saved by faith alone. The Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide states that faith, and nothing other than faith,  is the instrumental means of the justification of the elect sinner in the eyes of God. 1

Not faith and anything.
Not faith and merit.
Not faith and repentance.
Not faith and good works.

Faith plus nothing recieves eternal life in Christ Jesus.

All of the spiritual walk proceeds from and flows through faith. Because faith is the alone instrument through which we apprehend Christ and all that comes with Him. It is through faith alone that we have the whole Christ. For how can a sinner, dead in their trespasses repent without the Holy Spirit present within them? It is through faith and in union with Christ that we are given the blessed Paraclete, not before. Mixing repentance and faith tarnishes the pure gem of Sola Fide and adds something to the equation in our justification.

Let’s walk through the Reformed Ordo Salutis (order of salvation)

Dead in sin

The elect sinner is dead in their trespasses and sins, utterly incapable of doing any pleasing thing before the Father. Utterly incapable of taking even the smallest step towards Christ. They love their sin and are at enmity with God.

Effectual Calling

The Father sends the Holy Spirit to bring to life the dead sinner, through the mediation of Christ Jesus on their behalf. He takes away their heart of stone and gives them a heart of flesh; renews their wills and draws them toward Christ. They come freely to Christ, being made willing by His grace.

Faith

The elect person who has been effectually called and brought to new life is immediately given the gift of faith, whereby they receive all of Christ. This is eternal life, union with Christ, given freely by the grace of the Father to those entirely undeserving, and giving no aid or help to this grace. Faith is received entirely passively by the recipient, who accepts, receives, and rests with open hands in the overwhelming free grace of God. All of this wrought by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer.

Union with Christ

It is only from this point forward that the believer now, through the working of the Holy Spirit within them is stricken by the beauty of Christ and the filthiness of their sin. They immediately and necessarily, upon reception of faith, turn from their sin and toward Christ. This is not any prerequisite to justification, it is an outflowing (you could say an overflowing) of union with Christ. From this reality, we walk with Christ as Simul Justus Et Peccator (simultaneously justified and sinner) and even though the elect will never fall away, they may for a time fall into seasons of darkness.

Justification

The believer, now apprehended wholly unto Christ, and who now has Christ apprehended wholly unto themselves is made right before the perfect, holy standard of the Father as Christ’s active and inactive obedience is imputed to the believer by the Holy Spirit, and the believer’s sin is pardoned before the Father. The only instrument by which this justification is worked is the free gift of faith.


Repentance cannot precede faith, for true repentance (not simply an unholy fear of God’s punishment) proceeds from the Holy Spirit. How could an unbeliever, who is at enmity with God, turn from their sin without the benefits of Christ enabling them to do so? Repentance is not part of faith because it is by faith alone we are justified. Faith can be the only instrumental cause of our justification, not faith mixed with X or faith plus Y.

Justification precedes repentance because justification is a reality which comes simultaneously with faith and union with Christ. Repentance is an outflowing of union with Christ, it is not something that we do (even as a gift of God) to produce or elicit justification.

Any Ordo Salutis which mixes faith and repentance, or has repentance preceding faith is utterly foreign to the New Testament and the Reformed Confessions. At the point of faith we receive all of Christ’s benefits, but so much more than that is the fact that we get all of Christ Himself.

Notes:

  1. Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 33. What is justification? A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone. (Emphasis mine)

Gardening God’s Way

Recently I was pondering the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. The first group never had any growth and the last group had great growth with little complication. But the middle two groups were intriguing to me because they had temporary growth for different reasons.

Group two, “fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away (5-6).” Jesus’ explanation of this group is that “this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away (20-21).”

Group three, “fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them (7).” For this group, Jesus says “this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful (22).”

What struck me is how the pastoral approaches to the two groups are essentially opposites: one needs something added, while the other needs something removed.

For the second group, their downfall was due to a lack of soil and poor root growth. I see this often in people who had a conversion experience in a camp environment or something similar but had no support system outside of that. When this person fails to get connected in a local church and to pastors or peers who can help, the shallow roots of the conversion experience quickly die off. The “treatment” for this person is to receive the nourishment and “fertilization” that helps establish strong roots. Discipleship, the means of grace, prayer, etc. all serve as means to add rich soil to a struggling sapling.

For the third group on the other hand, their downfall was caused by the surrounding thorns that chocked off the growth. This situation is something I’ve seen in those who, while being the model church attendee and youth group know-it-all are surrounded by bad influences at school or work. The “treatment” for this person is to remove those thorns that choke off the growth. They need to see that the surrounding influences are inhibiting their growth and how their attempts to appease both God and the world will ultimately lead to destruction.

We could possibly generalize these scenarios into spiritual nourishment (group two) and practical holiness (group three). In group settings, it is important to take a holistic approach that addresses both groups. A focus on spiritual nourishment to the neglect of practical application can leave at risk those who frequently cave to worldly pressures. A focus on practical holiness to the neglect of spiritual nourishment leaves at risk those whose roots are shallow and need a firmer foundation. The former can end in a sort of antinomianism where those surrounded by worldly pressure are not called to resist and cut off those temptations. The latter ends in a sort of legalism where the focus is only on lifestyle and action but leaves out the gospel foundations for the practice.

In our discipleship, leadership, and preaching, let us seek to present an all-encompassing message. Let us present a Christ who provides not only spiritual nourishment for those whose soil is shallow but also the strength to resist and persevere for those who are surrounded by the thorns of temptation.

Keep it Simple

Though we can not comprehend Him as He is, we must be careful not to fancy Him to be what He is not. – Stephen Charnock

One of the most oft-quoted verses about the nature of God is that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) We hear it quoted endlessly in popular Christianity. There have been songs sung, books written, movies made, and endless conversations had about how God is love. It seems, even to the exclusion of other attributes of God we see clearly in Scripture. Modern popular Christianity has so emphasized God’s love that they have forgotten about His holiness, wrath, impassibility, simplicity, aseity, and many others. They have replaced the classical Christian perspective with a watered down, weak, soft version of what is revealed in Scripture. They have taken the God from whom the Earth and sky will flee (Revelation 20:11) and replaced Him with a god who wants to be everyone’s friend, and is never wrathful or angry.

Why this departure from a balanced, Biblical view of God? I think one of the major contributing factors is a wholesale abandonment of sound theology proper. Theology proper is a sub-discipline of the greater theological system (known as systematic theology,) and is primarily concerned with the attributes of God. 1 In abandoning theology proper, modern popular Christianity has filled the gap with emotionalism, letting their emotions drive how they see God and how they read the Bible instead of letting the Bible inform how they see the world and how they see God. When we sacrifice God’s simplicity and impassibility all in the name of “love” what we end up with is a god who is able to change, a god who is subject to his universe instead of His universe being subject to Him. A god who has fits of rage and bouts of sadness. A god who changes his mind with the seasons, and thus cannot truly be trusted to live up to his promises, for his reliability is in question.

The vital importance of us confessing an unchanging God lies in the fact that we are changing. Mankind is so fickle and capricious, our promises are fallible and our word is breakable. We cannot depend on the reliability of man. How much, then, do we need a God who is good to His word, a God whose promises we can trust, and a God whose law we know will stand in utter perfection. We cannot have a god that is like us (changing and emotive) how can we rest and trust in a god who may change and rescind his promises at a moment’s notice? One of the greatest comforts of the Christian faith is that we worship a God who does not change, and whose Word is true yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

What does this have to do with the modern church emphasizing God’s love over all else? When we confess that God is simple, that means He is identical with His attributes, that God is not made up of parts. His goodness is His mercy is His justice is His love is His eternity is His omnipresence. Because God is not a composite being, a sum of a certain number of attributes. There is nothing you can take away from God, and there is nothing you can add to God to make Him “more.” If I get in an accident tomorrow and lose an appendage, I’m still me and I’m still human because I am not identical with my attributes. God’s simplicity is intrinsically intertwined with His impassibility and aseity. The only way we can confess an unchanging God is to confess a simple, impassible God.
So if you hear teaching that God is love, but that He isn’t wrath, or if you hear that God “became” this or that, or that He gains anything from His creatures, just remember that to be able to rely on the unchanging nature of God, we must confess the simple, impassible, a se nature of God.

Notes:

  1. For a more in-depth study on this subject, I recommend All That Is In God by James Dolezal.

And all these things…

A quick glance through any number of the recently published works of major Christian organizations, Christian media outlets and blogs, Facebook and Twitter debates between Christians, and you will find that seemingly everyone is on fire for social justice, whether advocating for this position or against that one. I certainly wouldn’t suggest that the people engaged in such debates are ever doing so from ill-will or bad motives, but many of these debates result in a tremendous amount of heat and very little light. Nor will I suggest that these debates or concerns have no place in Christian discussion. They most certainly do and are extremely important. It is precisely here that understanding the fact that the Ten Commandments were given to a people already saved out of slavery is critical.

First, contrary to liberalism (as described by Dr. Machen in Christianity and Liberalism), we need Christ for more than an example. We need to be saved by God. We cannot save ourselves by our social virtue. We cannot save ourselves either by flipping the tables of the money-changers or by playing the good Samaritan. We cannot find a savior in political parties or movements. No, God must reach from His infinite life across the absolute deadness of our sinful estate. Corpses cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps before an infinitely holy God. Again, the Ten Commandments were given to a people who had been rescued by God. As Dr. Michael Horton would remind us, the indicative (who we are declared to be) precedes the imperative (what we are commanded to do).

Second, the Ten Commandments are given to a people who have been saved. We have always been obligated to obey God because we were created by Him and for Him. But now, we are doubly obligated because we have been re-created in Christ. In our former state, we could not obey because we were slaves to sin. We were saved in order to obey. The imperative does follow the indicative. We are not saved in order that we can continue to live hellish lives. We are called to holiness.

The reason why so many of these debates on social justice result in more heat than light is that we are prone to put the imperative before the indicative or falsely accuse others of doing so when they make us uncomfortable. Yes, alarm bells should be clanging in your ears when you see someone declare a particular social problem to be “a gospel issue.” In the same way, we cannot ignore the calls to the obedience resulting from the accomplished salvation we have in Christ. While we can never reverse the indicative and the imperative without endangering the Gospel and our very souls, we can honestly rejoice in knowing that getting them in the correct order means we will get both salvation and the blessings of obedience.

Our Transfiguration

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18 ESV)

Numerous popular theologians have said that the transfiguration was an example of Christ’s divinity being revealed in its own refulgence, if even for a brief moment. A few years ago, I probably would have agreed. But a growing unease with this perspective has given way to a firm, “No.” My unease began as I better came to understand Chalcedonian Christology, 1 but that wasn’t the decisive factor for me. I suppose I could make some qualifications within my understanding of the hypostatic union that would have allowed me to continue to hold to that school of thought. Instead, it was my growth in two other theological loci: eschatology and pneumatology.

One of the key passages for me is 1 John 3:2, which says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” I believe John’s linking the beatific vision with our glorification is done with the transfiguration in view, just as Peter does in his second epistle. While there is some related debate regarding 2 Peter 1:4’s phrase “partakers of the divine nature,” I do not think we can affirm theosis as understood by the Eastern Orthodox (and some Roman Catholics). We cannot take either 1 John 3:2 or 2 Peter 1:4 to mean that we become God. Rather, it is the fullness of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, Paul can speak to the gift of the Holy Spirit this way: “In [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).” The word translated by the ESV as “guarantee” could also be rendered as down payment, indicating that the fulfillment will be of the same kind as what we receive in this life, but in full measure. Christ, on earth, was the Man of the Spirit par excellence. That same indwelling of the Spirit —and, through the Spirit, Christ and the Father (John 14:23)— is our eschatological goal. Christ’s transfiguration was not a revelation of His deity, but of His glorified humanity. It also reveals what we will become. Because of the work of the Spirit, Jesus can pray that we will be glorified and still affirm that we have already received glory (John 17:22, 24). Even now, we are “seated with him in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:6)”.

Notes:

  1. Though not the focus of this particular article, it is important to note that this common conception of the Transfiguration is, in fact, typically related to an ancient heresy called Eutychianism. Eutychianism holds that the attributes of the divine nature are communicated to the other nature, resulting in a Christ who was not both fully human and fully divine, but a sort of hybrid, a tertium quid. Christ’s humanity is divinized. Chalcedon specifically denied this, saying that “the distinction of natures [is] by no means taken away by the unity, but rather the property of each nature [is] preserved, and [concurs] in one Person and Subsistence.”

Don’t Fear The Reaper

Living in Orlando has many benefits. One of the most well-known is its proximity to basically every major brand of theme park. They remain a key attraction to visitors without completely losing the interest of the local crowd. Around this time every year, the park trots out their Halloween theme, with Universal Studios, in particular, setting up for Halloween Horror Nights.

For those who aren’t familiar, Universal sets up several different haunted houses and scare zones with specific themes like Stranger Things, Halloween (the movie), Saw, etc. After making it through the frequently hour-plus long lines, you’re guided along a wandering path through zombies, aliens, serial killers, and the like. The houses are generally aimed at producing as many jump-scare moments as possible, with crevices in every corner for actors to hide in, thick curtains dividing sections to block the guests ahead from view, and enough space between the scare actors to keep guests on their toes and never quite sure when the next person is going to jump out. But, for legal reasons I’m sure, one other key element is that they can never touch you.

As we made our annual trek down to Universal and through the houses, I started to realize something. While almost anyone will flinch by natural reflex when a person jumps out and screams, the lack of danger tends to take a bit of the bite out of the scare factor. Natural reflexes still make me flinch, but I generally didn’t feel actual fear. And it was in that moment that I recalled Hebrews 13:6: “So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me (ESV)?”

As Christians, we do not have to walk in fear. Ultimately, whatever comes across our path, God is greater. His hold on us is sufficient to carry us through life’s circumstances.

Life is not guaranteed to be easy. And much like my flinches, we are not stoics that are devoid of emotional reaction. But in the same way that the actors in the houses are not allowed to make physical contact, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39-40, ESV).”

Walking through the dark corridors of the haunted house, I was reminded of the sheep led through the valley of the shadow of death. With God as our shepherd, we fear no evil.  His rod and staff, our divine protection, comfort us.

Death has lost its sting. The haunted house has lost its hauntedness.

In a time of year so focused on fear and scaring, let us remember that “perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18, ESV).”

Baptism now saves you… or “What’s the deal with 1 Peter 3:21?”

Common in Reformed circles, in my experience, is a strange phenomenon. If you ask a group of Reformed believers: “Does baptism save a person?” The answer will almost always be a resounding, and at times unnecessarily aggressive “No!

If placed in the form of a true/false question we see something like this: “True or False: ‘Baptism now saves you’?”

The results do not change.

The problem with this is that the phrase “Baptism now saves you” is virtually a quotation from the oft-misunderstood 1 Peter 3:21.

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:21-22, ESV)

Now, this passage can be a little bit confusing because of the presence of multiple subordinate and parenthetical clauses. I find it helpful to rearrange the clauses in order to make the line of argumentation clearer. Here is how I would render it:

Corresponding to [the Flood], baptism now saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.

When ordered this way it becomes clear that this is actually the same theology that Paul is presenting in Romans 6

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5, ESV)

Although Paul is applying this reality to sanctification, and Peter to justification, we see that the contours are the same. Because baptism is the initiatory sign of our covenant membership and union with Christ, it signifies all that entails. John Calvin obliquely notes the same connection in his commentary on the passage:

It has already been said that the design of this clause is to shew that we ought not to be led away by wicked examples from the fear of God, and the right way of salvation, and to mix with the world. This is made evident in baptism, in which we are buried together with Christ, so that, being dead to the world, and to the flesh, we may live to God. On this account, he says that our baptism is an antitype (ἀντίτυπον) to the baptism of Noah…

Meredith Kline has also been immensely helpful for me in this.

The salvation figured forth in baptism is that accomplished in the judgment of Christ, which issued in his resurrection. The motif of ordeal by combat is introduced by the allusion to Christ’s subjugation of angels, authorities, and powers. Thus the total context of Peter’s thought concerning baptism supports the conclusion we have drawn from his comparison of baptism to the deluge, namely, that he conceived of this sacrament as a sign of judicial ordeal. 1

What Kline brings to the forefront here is the missing piece of the puzzle for most people. The appeal to a clean conscience is not OUR appeal. It is Christ’s appeal. Christ underwent our judgment, was punished for it, and then vindicated (justified) by God, as demonstrated in the resurrection. Because of his perfect obedience to the Covenant of Works, he was able to pass under the flaming sword (Genesis 3:24) on our behalf and regain access to the Tree of Life, not only for himself but also for all his posterity. Noah was not saved by the waters of the flood but safely passed through them. In a sense, Baptism signifies that Christ was judged on our behalf, buried, and raised to new life. When we receive that sign and join it with faith, we receive the reality which is signified by it. Namely, we receive the right to pass through judgment and be vindicated on the other side. That is what justification is. Justification is not some future event where we stand before the throne of God and are declared to be innocent, but the future judgment brought forward in time to the present and applied to us now. Baptism signifies this passing through judgment, safely to the other side.

Jesus Christ, who has gone before us into heaven, makes continual intercession on of his covenant people (Hebrews 7:25). This intercession is the appeal for a good conscience. Thus, we are saved by Baptism… which is just to say that we are saved by the death and resurrection of Christ, and his ongoing appeal to God on our behalf, which Baptism signifies sacramentally… and the Flood signified typologically.

Calvin explains it this way

But we must notice what follows, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ By these words he teaches us that we are not to cleave to the element of water, and that what is thereby typified flows from Christ alone, and is to be sought from him. Moreover, by referring to the resurrection, he has regard to the doctrine which he had taught before, that Christ was vivified by the Spirit; for the resurrection was victory over death and the completion of our salvation. We hence learn that the death of Christ is not excluded, but is included in his resurrection. We then cannot otherwise derive benefit from baptism, than by having all our thoughts fixed on the death and the resurrection of Christ. (Bold emphasis mine)

The Reformed can thus answer the question “Does baptism save you?” with a resounding “Yes!” as long as we understand what that means. Baptism saves us not because it regenerates us (contra Roman Catholicism, pace Lutheranism), not because through it we appeal to God (contra Anabaptist theology), and not because it represents that we already have a clean conscience (contra Arminian Evangelicalism, pace some Particular Baptist theology), but because

Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s. (Westminster Shorter Catechism, answer 94)

Notes:

  1. Meredith Kline, By Oath Consigned (Logos Edition), 67

The Living God

But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation. (Jeremiah 10:10 ESV)

What does it mean exactly when we say that the God we worship is the living God, or when the Bible describes Yahweh as the living God? What sort of implications are wrapped up in this, seemingly redundant, title? Isn’t it assumed that God is alive? Or is that all it means? Let’s explore a little bit into what we mean when we say that we worship the only living and true God.

Oftentimes it seems in the Scriptures when anyone invokes this particular title of God, it is to stress a contrast between the lifeless, useless, idolatrous, false gods of the pagan nations and the one true God.

David invokes this title when he challenges Goliath and rebukes him for defying the armies of the living God. (1 Samuel 17:26, ESV)

After Daniel is delivered from the mouths of lions, King Darius uses this title in his decree that all people are to tremble and fear this God who shuts the mouths of lions. (Daniel 6:26) Joshua uses this title of God in his admonition to Israel that the Lord would drive out all the gentile nations before them, and then cuts off the waters of the Jordan River as a sign of this promise. (Joshua 3:10) This God is the one who commands the waters and strikes fear into the hearts of the nations. The living God who condescends to our level and makes covenants with us, from no other motivation than His good pleasure.

Hezekiah’s prayer (recorded in both 2 Kings 19:16 and Isaiah 37:17) is begun with a beautiful address to God.

O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.

Setting up the framework in which he uses the title “the living God” admonishing the Lord to not let the mockery of Sennacherib go unpunished.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God.

In the New Testament, it seems the same meaning is carried over from the Old. The title is largely used to contrast the living God of Israel against the false gods or to stress Christ’s divinity.

In the Gospels, it is used most often in Matthew (the Gospel to the Jews) where it occurs three times as compared to the other Gospels’ one. Peter calls Christ the Son of the living God, (Matthew 16:16) Jesus explains the resurrection to the Sadducees, (Matthew 22:32) and, lastly, the high priest ironically adjures Christ to provide testimony by invoking the title He claims as God alone. (Matthew 26:63)

In Acts, we see Paul rebuking the Lycaonian crowd for praising Paul and Barnabas as gods after Paul healed a man crippled from birth.

Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. (Acts 14:15, ESV)

All through the Epistles, we see beautiful expressions of the true width and breadth of this title. As believers, we are described as sons of the living God, (Romans 9:26) we have the Spirit of the living God written on our hearts, (2 Corinthians 3:3) we are temples of the living God, (2 Corinthians 6:16) our consciences are purified from dead works to serve the living God, (Hebrews 9:14) we are born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God, (1 Peter 1:23) so not only do we worship the living God, but we have His living, abiding Word. Finally, we see in Revelation that the seal given the servants God is the seal of the living God (Revelation 7:2-3)

In closing, what should come to mind when we see the title “the living God” is the fact that the God we worship, the God of Israel, the God who is I Am, the God of the Bible, the God who created the Heavens and the Earth is the one only living and true God, who is utterly infinite in His being and utterly infinite in His perfection. It may sound redundant to say that God is “utterly infinite,” but when describing God, words often fail us. Would God be worth worshipping we could capture Him with our feeble words?

Vain and useless idols are dead, useless, inert, mute, blind, and dumb. The Lord our God is alive.

The Life is in the Blood

Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:13-14)

Let me preface this by saying that I am engaging in speculative theology here. I am certainly liable to be, and perhaps am, wrong. Nevertheless, I do think the ideas here are probably worth thinking through.

Throughout scripture, blood is immensely important; but even that is an understatement. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” But even in pagan thought, blood had tremendous significance. Many pagan religions believed that living bodies were a kind of storehouse of energy and that drinking the blood of something (or someone) that has just been killed would give the recipient some of the victim’s energy and power. The healthier, younger, purer or stronger the animal, the more of this energy could be gained for the blood drinker. In more familiar terms, these religions held to a form of spiritual vampirism: draining the life out of one person or animal for the benefit of another person. In fact, I don’t think its a stretch to think that the modern concepts of vampirism arose from these pagan practices.

You are the sons of the Lord your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead” (Deuteronomy 14:1)

While the original context of the Torah’s prohibition of cutting oneself was probably specifically addressing necromancy, it was not limited to it but addressing the whole of the pagan sacrificial system. In the account of Elijah at Mount Carmel, we catch a glimpse at a corollary of this pagan blood theology at work. Since Baal was heedless of the prophets’ bloodless calls in the morning, they begin to cut themselves. In spilling their own blood, they were offering their power to Baal. 1 Kings 18:28 says that this “was their custom,” suggesting that such bloodletting rites were often a part of the summoning of demonic powers. They spent the entire morning working themselves into a frenzy, maximizing the energy in their blood, and now pouring it out to a Baal who doesn’t pay attention. Later, this bloodletting ritual resurfaces in Mark 5 with the Gerasene demoniac. Where the “raving” of the prophets in 1 Kings 18 had not called the fire of Baal to consume the sacrifice, the demoniac’s possession did consume him and, whether by his own volition or not, he continually offered up his life to them.

1 Corinthians 10:14-22 expands upon this concept, drawing the antithesis between the cup of demons and the cup of the Lord. In the Lord’s supper, the wine is a real covenantal “participation in the blood of Christ.” The bread is a real covenantal “participation” in the flesh of Christ and, unless we partake of Him, we remain dead. A believer cannot participate in the blood offered up to demons; the source of our “power” in the blood of Christ is irreconcilable with the counterfeit of demons. Partaking of the demonic cup is exactly the same as Lot’s wife longing for Sodom or the worker who sets his hand to the plow and turns back. It is impossible to restore such men to repentance (Heb 6:4-6). As Paul is pointing out, it is not that “food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything,” but rather the covenantal nature of sacrifices. Eating those sacrifices as sacrifices is forbidden. This is part of the idea behind the apostolic prohibition against blood and things strangled. (Acts 15:20)

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:53-55)

Satan’s method is rarely to invent some new falsehood but to twist something true. The existence of the counterfeit presupposes the existence of the genuine. The life is indeed in the blood. There is one sacrifice, one loaf, one cup. We, as sons of God, must not cut ourselves because the Son of God was cut for us. We cannot mark ourselves up for the dead because Christ rose from the dead. And we are filled with the power of the Son, even to life everlasting, by drinking His blood and eating His flesh.

Gregory Hates Facebook Debates

Back in September, the inaugural Paideia Center reading groups began. For those who are unfamiliar, this is a project championed primarily by Reformed Theological Seminary and involves groups around the country reading classic works on a given topic and having monthly discussion groups as well as an annual conference. This year —conspicuously timed given recent theological controversies— the focus is on knowing the Triune God. The fall semester book for this topic is Gregory of Nazianzus’ On God and Christ.

This book is really a collection of 5 orations, with the first two focusing on the “On God” portion, the next two focusing on Christ, and the final covering the Holy Spirit. Oration 27, the first on the book, largely focuses on Gregory’s opponents, the Eunomians. As a prelude to his later theological writings, he addresses issues like who should do theology, when/how it should be done, what topics are permissible, and so on.

Section III starts off as follows

Not to everyone, my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God; not to every one; the Subject is not so cheap and low; and I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits. 1

He expounds upon the “who”, saying it should be limited to those who “have been examined, and are passed masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are being purified.” In later sections, he clarifies that there is a difference between theology in the formal sense, and meditation on the Word and on God, which is the calling of all believers at all times.

On the “when”, he says “…when we are free from all external defilement or disturbance, and when that which rules within us is not confused with vexatious or erring images…” Returning to the “who”, he would limit theology to those “to whom the subject is of real concern, and not they who make it a matter of pleasant gossip, like any other thing, after the races, or the theat[er], or a concert, or a dinner, or still lower employments.” Section IV defines the “what” as “matters within our reach, and to such an extent as the mental power and grasp of our audience may extend.”

Section V contains this whirlwind of metaphors

Let us not think so nor yet, like hot tempered and hard mouthed horses, throwing off our rider Reason, and casting away Reverence, that keeps us within due limits, run far away from the turning point, but let us philosophize within our proper bounds, and not be carried away into Egypt, nor be swept down into Assyria (Daniel 3:12), nor sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, by which I mean before any kind of audience, strangers or kindred, hostile or friendly, kindly or the reverse, who watch what we do with over great care, and would like the spark of what is wrong in us to become a flame, and secretly kindle and fan it and raise it to heaven with their breath and make it higher than the Babylonian flame which burnt up everything around it.

After reading this oration, I came to one earth-shattering conclusion: Gregory would’ve hated social media. The internet age and our ability to interact with those from every time zone instantaneously have greatly reduced our sense of propriety, reverence, and formality when it comes to theology. Any random person with an internet connection can hop online and start debates about baptism, Bible translations, or whatever hot-button topic they wish. Someone who heard the term sola scriptura a week ago can end up interacting with seminary professors and doctoral candidates. Trolls create Twitter accounts and use Bible verses out of context as gotcha moments towards pastors.

We —speaking in broad generalities— have reduced theology to the level of entertainment like “races, or the theat[er], or a concert, or a dinner…” Rather than being captivated by God and drawn upwards in reverence, we are drawn downwards into endless threads of 280 character quips about social justice, Marian dogmas, and apologetic methodology. We take weighty topics and use them as punchlines.  We interact with the lowest common denominator of our opponent to score imaginary points with our side.

Gregory would have us flee from that.  He would instead have us reclaim reverence and propriety.  He’d have us consider the time and place of our discussions; consider our audience; consider our conversation partner.

We ought to consider how different the pixels on the screen are from an actual face-to-face conversation.  We should consider how different those conversations may be if we knew the person as a friend first before debating them.  We should consider how the separation may embolden us to say things we wouldn’t say in person.  With Google at our fingertips, we should remember that expertise and maturity require more than the Wikipedia summary or a couple of articles.

This isn’t a discussion about the latest blockbuster movie or a difference of musical taste.  This is the divine.  We are discussing a God that sees our interactions and knows not only the right answers but right behavior.  Let all who strive to engage with the deeper theological topics and discussion remember that.

Notes:

  1. All quotes are taken from this translation: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310227.htm

The Witness of The Word

The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both. – John Calvin

The Holy Scriptures are not only true —and necessarily so— but they are the primary means by which the Church teaches, rebukes, corrects, and trains the members of the Body of Christ in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)

Let’s see what some of those look like in Scripture.

  • Jesus teaches with the Word to better explain God’s Law and to announce the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:17-48)
  • When Jesus overturned the tables at the temple, He applied the Word to rebuke the money changers. (Matthew 21:12‭-‬13)
  • Philip uses the Scriptures to teach the Ethiopian eunuch about the Gospel (Acts 8: 34-35)
  • Paul exhorts the Ephesian elders to be charitable in all things and help the weak, while he stressed the importance of cheerful giving, with the words of Christ (Acts 20:33-35)
  • Jesus speaks through John to commend the Church in Ephesus for their endurance, then again to rebuke them for the abandonment of the love they had at first. (Revelation 2:2-3)

So we see Jesus, Paul, and Phillip applying the Word of God to different people in different circumstances to accomplish different things. The Bible spans a wide swath of topics and has sufficient wisdom to speak into any given situation. Whatever your need is, the Word of God can effectively and sufficiently address it.

After examining the Scriptural examples, how is the Word applied to the Church today, and how does the Word witness to the Saints?

The Word of God witnesses to the Saints when we read and study it, when the Holy Spirit applies the truths contained therein to our consciences, and when He enables us to understand those truths. He also enables our desire to know, believe, and diligently obey the will of the Father as revealed in the Word. (WCF 1:5-6) He enables these things by the means of meditation, self-application, self-denial, and prayer.

The Word of God also witnesses to the Saints by means of public reading but especially preaching. (WLC Q155) The Holy Spirit uses these conduits of His Word as effectual means of His enlightening, convicting, and humbling the Church of the truths in Scripture. He uses the preached Word to drive churchgoers out of themselves and draw them closer to Christ, conforming them to Christ’s image and subduing them to His will. The applied Word of God is also a bastion of strength against temptations and corruptions, only in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, the beautiful benefits of being built up in grace, having our hearts established in holiness, and resting in the comfort of Christ through faith unto salvation are ours by the applying work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those sitting under the preached Word.

So when you’re sitting in a pew on Sunday, remember and give thanks to God for all the beauty and riches that are ours by the command of the Father, in Christ Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit when we sit under the faithful preaching of God’s holy, perfect Word.

The Blessing of a Boring Testimony

I’d like to start by clarifying that this idea isn’t original to me. I received a lot of inspiration for this from Joe Thorn on the Reformed Pubcast in the episode where he was discussing his testimony. 1 His testimony itself is quite interesting, but the part that stuck with me is how he described people getting too interested in the nitty-gritty details of his pre-Christian time. People got so absorbed in all the bad that they seemed to miss the goodness of his conversion. And it was in that context that he described a “boring” testimony as being so full of God’s grace.

This was quite a perspective shift for me. Having grown up in youth groups, youth camps, campus ministries, etc., I realized that I had become a person who idolized the “really bad guy turned good” stories. I was jealous of the people who seemed to have a more engaging testimony than me. I felt like no one wanted to hear about just another guy who’d grown up with Christian parents and likely became a Christian at a very young age. As a by-product of that mindset, I focused too much on who had done the most drugs, gotten into the toughest gangs, or had made all sorts of other mistakes. But that phrase and the conversation as a whole helped me to remember that those things are, well, bad.

Now that doesn’t seem like a particularly insightful realization. But for myself —and I expect many who grew up in similar backgrounds— it had become an almost forgotten fact. Those who grew up in largely safe, Christian environments can become strangely fascinated by all the bad stuff that they’ve never experienced. But in the process, they miss how good it is to be kept away from those kinds of experiences. A boring testimony is a blessing because it shows God’s preservation. A boring testimony means we can look back and see where it would have been so easy to go wrong and how we narrowly avoided terrible pain and consequences. A boring testimony shows that God’s means don’t have to include rock bottom. God can use the seemingly mundane to bring children into His fold.

This revealed to me a lack of trust in God’s saving power. I began to recognize in myself a belief that somehow the more “exciting” testimonies were better for attracting new converts. Especially for those who grew up outside of a Reformed context, it’s easy to forget that our efforts do not actually save anyone. Our stories do not have to be exciting to be used by God to bring people in. We don’t have to look for the former drug dealers as some sort of spectacle for curious onlookers. We can rejoice instead that, whatever our history is, God can use it to save.

As I get older and get closer to the time where I may become a parent myself, I also start to realize that a boring testimony is exactly what we want for our children. I pray that God can spare them from the evil that is so widely accessible. And I hope that when I do have kids, they can look back and appreciate their own stories. These stories that may not have the drama or action that they hear from others, but they instead show God’s hand in protection and preservation.

Let us not elevate or demean anyone because of an artificial ranking system imposed on people’s histories. Let us instead rejoice in the work that God has done in bringing people to Himself out from every upbringing and every backstory.

Praise God that His grace shows no favoritism.

Notes:

  1. http://reformedpubcast.com/episode-109/ around the 29-minute mark

Is The Bible Reliable?

The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid. – Martin Luther

If you’re ever at a loss of words when trying to articulate any given theological topic, I find the best place to turn is to the historic Reformed Confessions. The men who penned the words in the Confessions agonized for countless hours over how to communicate the truths found in Holy Scripture in the most accurate and concise way. That’s why, when I look to where I can find the best statement on the authority of Scripture, the Westminster Confession of Faith is the first place I turn. Here is Chapter 1, Section 4

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

The authority of Scripture does not depend on any man, nor does the Bible get its authority from the Church, but instead its authority comes from the true fountainhead of truth and authority: The Living God, the One who authored it. This is why we believe the Bible, not because it is beneficial to follow the instructions contained therein (although it is,) nor because our tradition says we should believe it, but because it is the breathed out Word of God.

But how do we know the Bible is the Word of God? Easy enough answer: because it claims to be the Word of God. Before you say “that’s circular reasoning,” let me ask you this. If you authenticate X with Y, which is the higher authority? Y is, because it is what you used to grant the authenticity of X. If we truly believe the Bible is the highest authority, we cannot use external sources to authenticate it, otherwise what we used as an authenticating tool has surpassed the authority of Scripture.

Now, that sounds nice, but how does it work out practically?

The Bible is true because God is the standard of truth, and because God testifies to us through the Bible. We know that God is perfect (Psalm 18:30), never lies (Titus 1:2), and that He breathed out Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) thus there are no lies in Scripture. It is entirely true.

The Bible is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. Our moral standard, the laws of nature, and the existence of the universe itself all point to the one Living God. If the Bible were in error about the nature of God and the world, God would be made a liar, and the world would succumb to chaos.

The truth of Scripture is the only lens through which the world we live in makes sense.

The condition of man. The nature of the world. The testimony of God contained therein. All of these irrefutably point to the Holy Bible as the absolute truth given to man from God. So not only is the Bible reliable, it is essentially and necessarily so.

“Have I been with you so long…”

One of the trips I remember taking with my parents was to Crater of Diamonds in Arkansas. Where most of the world’s diamonds are mined deep out of the earth, here, in a little spot just outside of Murfreesboro, these precious gems are scattered about in a simple plowed field and can be found with a minimal bit of digging (and a bit of God’s good providence!). I didn’t find any diamonds that day, but I found tons of amethyst, garnet, and quartz.

One of the recent “hot button” topics in recent Reformed theology has been the doctrine of divine simplicity, spurred in part by James Dolezal’s excellent book, All That is in God. But, what is divine simplicity? In barest terms, it means that God is not composed of parts. When we discuss the various attributes of God, we have to see that we are not describing different parts of God, but the simple, undivided, and singular divine nature. As an example, when God executes judgment on the wicked, it is perfectly consistent with the same divine nature as when He has mercy. We are not seeing “two sides” of God. It is crucial to understand that this simplicity means that God’s character is perfectly self-consistent.

At first blush, this doctrine seems to be arcane and irrelevant, better suited to those who study in ivory towers than to those who sit in church pews. But as we plow this field —understanding even a little— profound truths, like diamonds, begin to glimmer all around us.

First, Christians often have this vision of a wrathful Father  —burning with a sort of “Let-me-at-them!” ferocity— being held at bay by the merciful Son. The Father, ready to smite all humanity, is reluctantly swayed by His Son’s pleading. Philip made this kind of mistake once, saying, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (John 14:8) Jesus’s answer is precisely the remedy we need: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9a). In Christ, all of God’s attributes are put on display, united with His humanity, and culminating with the glory of the cross itself. AW Tozer said, “When God justifies a sinner, everything in God is on the sinner’s side. All the attributes of God are on the sinner’s side. It isn’t that mercy is pleading for the sinner and justice is trying to beat him to death. All of God does all that God does.” 1 Even one of the more quoted verses in the Bible shows how wrongheaded this thinking is: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Second, the simplicity of God also fences us against the mistake of ranking God’s attributes one above another. Gregory of Nyssa said, “For all the divine attributes, whether named or conceived, are of like rank one with another.” As Michael Horton notes, “There is a caution here against the tendency of hyper-Calvinism to rank God’s sovereignty and justice over his love and of Arminianism to reverse the order. This comes perilously close to idolatry by worshiping an attribute of God rather than God himself.” This is precisely the error people make when they say, “Well, my god is a god of…” Without simplicity hedging us in, we begin to remake God after our own image rather than worshiping and serving God as His is.

Finally, we better understand the Christian life and the singular fruit of the Spirit. In God Is, Mark Jones notes that Galatians 5:22 says love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are said to be a singular fruit, not multiple fruits. When we manifest the fruit of the Spirit, we in some limited sense model God’s simplicity. Quoting Jonathan Edwards, Jones explains, “All the graces of Christianity always go together, so that where there is one, there are all; and when one is wanting, all are wanting….”

Let us, then, pursue the simple God and model the simple fruit in our lives.

Notes:

  1. Attributes of God, 71

Why I’m no longer a Theistic Evolutionist (5)

In the past series of posts, I’ve gone into detail concerning my primary reason for rejecting Theistic Evolution (TE), namely that TE fundamentally denies the core historicity of the Genesis creation accounts. While TE may be subjected to a variety of philosophical and theological critiques, the one that really caused me to reconsider my position was how TE was forcing me to read Genesis. As I’ve noted, the most promising way for me to have my Genesis cake and eat it too was to adopt John Walton’s “functional only” thesis of the Genesis creation accounts, where I wouldn’t have to worry about any conflict between Genesis and contemporary evolutionary theory. However, as I’ve argued, Walton’s position does not actually eliminate the material claims of the Genesis creation accounts. Neither could I simply appeal to divine accommodation to reconcile evolution and Genesis, since that would entail that God actually inspired falsehoods in scripture, which is contrary to both the inerrancy of scripture and the nature of God himself. “God is not man, that he should lie” (Numbers 23:19, ESV). The conclusion I ultimately came to was that the creation accounts in Genesis are, in fact, making material claims about the world and that I needed to take those claims seriously.

However, an important point I’d like to reiterate is that by “taking the material claims of Genesis seriously,” I am not advocating for a naïve, wooden literalism that strips the Genesis creation accounts out of their Ancient Near Eastern context and ignores their cultural setting. Far from it! Recall that in my opening post, I defined the “historicity” of the Genesis creation accounts to mean that they are referring to real events in the real past as opposed to a purely mythical or imagined past. On this point, even scholars such as John Walton agree. However, those “real events” can readily be understood to be woven into a complex theological tapestry that we see on full literary display in the creation accounts in Genesis. Moreover, as Christians living in light of the cross, we understand the opening chapters of Genesis to have a far deeper significance than merely recounting natural history. We understand Genesis to be speaking of Christ. As J. V. Fesko reminds us, “Primarily, Genesis 1–3 is not about science, or the history of the world, but is the entry point to the person and work of Christ.”[1] Fesko concludes, “Genesis 1–3 should not be interpreted in isolation, but in the light of the New Testament, in the light of Christ. Genesis 1–3 sets forth the theological significance of the failed work of the first Adam, which serves as the entry point for the successful work of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.”[2] Indeed, what I am arguing for is a position on the Genesis creation accounts that, first and foremost, recognizes their deep theological and Christological themes, while at the same time acknowledging that material claims about the world are being made which undergird these themes.

Additionally, neither am I advocating for some simplistic, mechanical form of inerrancy that obliterates the particularities of the human author. To the contrary, a faithful and informed doctrine of the inspiration of scripture takes into account the particularities of the human authors. Article VIII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy clarifies, “We affirm that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared,” and further, “We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.[3] As Matthew Barrett concludes, “The Bible is far from monotonous; it is a majestic mosaic.”[4] Given this recognition, we would not expect the creation accounts to be speaking in contemporary “scientific” terms that would have been utterly alien to the Ancient Near East. We would also expect the authors of the Genesis creation accounts, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to be speaking in ways that are consistent with an ancient cultural understanding of the world. But, and I cannot emphasize this enough, this does not, therefore, entail that the Genesis creation accounts are propounding actual errors about the natural world. Something can be consistent with an ancient view of the cosmos without actually claiming we ought to believe the particularities of that ancient view. For example, if I said “the sun rises in the east,” that is consistent with a geocentric view of the cosmos, but it doesn’t actually teach a geocentric view. As we all know quite well, it is equally consistent with a heliocentric view of the cosmos. But regardless, I am actually making a material claim about the nature of the sun in relation to the earth (namely, it appears to physically rise in the east). As I’ve argued, I think something very similar is occurring in the creation accounts in Genesis.

In the end, the most important factor that made me rethink my commitment to TE was one of the guiding principles of inerrancy, namely that the scriptures are inerrant with respect to what they are claiming to be true.[5] I take Kevin Vanhoozer’s definition of inerrancy to be especially helpful in this regard. Vanhoozer writes,

[T]o say that Scripture is inerrant is to confess faith that the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm (when they make affirmations), and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly (when right readers read rightly).[6]

Thus, if the Genesis accounts are, in any sense, making claims about natural history, then we need to recognize that they are making truth claims about natural history. To be sure, those claims are set within rich, theologically robust creation narratives that are clearly not merely interested in telling us “what happened” in material terms. But neither are they skipping over material claims entirely. Following Vanhoozer’s definition, if the author(s) of the Genesis creation accounts are affirming things about the physical world, then they are speaking the truth. As faithful students of scripture, it is therefore incumbent upon us to put in the hard work of understanding how those claims are situated within the narrative itself, and further, how we are to understand those claims today. From my perspective, TE simply cannot do so faithfully and consistently. This fact encapsulates the reason why my commitment to TE changed. It changed when Genesis became neither a puzzle to be solved nor an obstacle to overcome, but a foundation upon which to stand.

In closing, for those who currently hold to the TE position on creation and who are also committed to the authority of scripture (as I was), I would encourage you to seriously consider the implications the position has for reading the Genesis creation accounts and whether or not that squares with Genesis making actual material claims. And for those who are critical of TE, lobbing accusations of heresy or claiming they “don’t take the Bible seriously” are profoundly unhelpful. Many TE’s in my acquaintance work very hard to take both the Bible seriously and the science seriously. In my personal experience, I was frequently charged with “heresy” and it was even suggested on a few occasions that I wasn’t really a Christian because I believed in evolution. This was completely absurd and only served to eliminate any possibility of fruitful dialogue. Instead of derailing the conversation with these sorts of accusations, bring the conversation back to scripture and gently press for consistency on the issue of Genesis making material claims about the natural world and how we can best take those claims seriously as faithful interpreters of scripture. This, I firmly believe, is a far more promising avenue to fruitful dialogue.

Soli Deo gloria.

References

[1] J. V. Fesko, Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis with the Christ of Eschatology (Fearn, UK: Mentor, 2007), 30.

[2] Ibid, 31.

[3] Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article VIII, http://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/ICBI_1.pdf.

[4] Matthew Barrett, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 237.

[5] Ibid, 266.

[6] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Augustinian Inerrancy: Literal Meaning, Literal Truth, and Literate Interpretation in the Economy of Biblical Discourse,” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, eds. J. Merrick and Stephen M. Garrett (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 207.

Why I’m no longer a Theistic Evolutionist (4)

As I’ve highlighted previously, the Genesis creation accounts are rich and complex, providing us with a wealth of theological insight. However, it also seems apparent that they are making real, concrete claims about history. And those claims include material claims. But what, exactly, are these material claims? I’m going to suggest that, minimally, the Genesis creation accounts are making three material claims about the natural world: (1) distinct plant and animal kinds were specially created by God at different times (Gen 1:11, 20, 24), (2) an original human pair was directly created by God as uniquely bearing God’s image (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:7, 22), and (3) God’s special creative activity during the creation week has now ceased (Gen. 2:1). I’m by no means suggesting that this is all the creation accounts are claiming, merely a minimal starting point from which to operate.

If the Genesis creation accounts are indeed making these sorts of material claims, then any Theistic Evolutionist (TE) who views Genesis as authoritative must either find a way to make these compatible with evolution or find some way to cordon them off as relics of an ancient cultural milieu.[1] For taken together, they present a considerable challenge to the contemporary evolutionary understanding of life. More specifically, the accounts rule out universal common descent of animals and humans since Genesis claims that animals were created in distinct groupings according to their “kind” (Hebrew, mîn) at different points, and most importantly, that humans were specially created by God’s direct creative activity.[2] Further, since the text indicates that God’s special creative activity is complete, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished…” (Genesis 2:1, ESV), then this special, miraculous creative process is no longer continued. However, in contemporary evolutionary theory, creative development is ongoing. The evolutionary process has not stopped, and it will continue to operate so long as biological organisms exist.[3] This is extremely difficult to square with the completed creative activity indicated in the Genesis creation accounts.[4]

As I’ve already discussed at length, one of the most promising ways to make the Genesis creation accounts compatible with evolution is to adopt Walton’s proposal that they aren’t actually making material claims, only functional ones. However, as I’ve argued, this isn’t a viable position. What, then, is a TE supposed to do with these highly problematic material claims? One TE interpretive strategy that addresses this issue I’ll briefly discuss here is the concept of “divine accommodation.” Essentially, this is the position that God, in the act of inspiring divine truth to the authors of scripture, did so in a manner that was accommodated to their level of understanding, so it could be comprehended by both the authors and the recipients. This notion of “accommodation” is, on one level, a sound hermeneutical principle. For it recognizes the fact that God did not reveal himself in incomprehensible language or nonsensical ahistorical concepts, but at a level that can be understood and comprehended by human minds. For instance, John Calvin argues, “For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to ‘lisp’ in speaking to us? Thus, such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness.”[5] As historical theologian Richard Muller notes, “The Reformers and their scholastic followers all recognized that God must in some way condescend or accommodate himself to human ways of knowing in order to reveal himself. This accommodatio occurs in the use of human words and concepts for the communication of the law and gospel, but it in no way implies the loss of truth or the lessening of scriptural authority.”[6]

However, what some TE’s do with the principle of accommodation is argue that God inspired the author(s) of Genesis and accommodated to their level of Ancient Near Eastern conceptual understanding in such a way that he inspired them to describe the creation of the world in terminology that reflects ancient understandings of the cosmos, understandings which are, in actuality, false. This is the position opted for by TE’s such as Denis Lamoureux, who argues that “In disclosing spiritual truths, the Holy Spirit descended to the level of the writers and employed their geology, astronomy, and biology as a vessel. In other words, He accommodated.”[7] Lamoureux goes on to suggest that “it is necessary for modern readers of God’s Word to separate the Message of Faith from the incidental ancient science, and not to conflate these together.”[8] This, he insists, does not threaten the authority of scripture since “inerrancy and infallibility rest in the spiritual truths of Scripture instead of its views on the structure and operation of the physical world.”[9] Current BioLogos president Deborah Haarsma takes a similar stance toward divine accommodation and the creation accounts, stating that “God could have chosen to explain to the Israelites that their physical picture was mistaken, that the sky is actually a gaseous atmosphere covering a spherical earth. Instead, God chose a better approach: He accommodated his message to their understanding in order to make the intended message very clear.”[10] Thus, for those TE’s employing the principle of accommodation, all one need do is sift the false, ancient material claims from the timeless theological truths God intended to convey in the creation accounts.[11]

However, the fundamental difficulty with this position is that it forces one to assert that God inspired false claims about the world in scripture. It is one thing to acknowledge that the ancient authors of Genesis would have known nothing about contemporary cosmology or biology, and so God did not inspire them in terms that would have only made sense after the 20th century. It is quite another to claim that God not only accommodated to their level of understanding but also inspired them to write falsehoods. For example, if I told my daughter that she was going in for surgery, I would explain it to her in simple terms that she would understand and be familiar with. I might say something like “you are going to take a long nap while the doctors take what’s making you sick out of you so that you can feel better.” But if I said something along the lines of “the doctors are going to take you to an enchanted forest where elves and unicorns are going to use their magic wands to make you feel better,” that wouldn’t merely be accommodating to my daughter’s level of knowledge and conceptual understanding, I would be simply lying to her. Similarly, in the Genesis creation accounts, what we see are depictions of events that aren’t inconsistent with an ancient understanding of the cosmos, but nevertheless do not teach this understanding. Take, for example, the depiction of an event in Genesis 1 such as the creation of the rāqî‘a or “expanse.” This isn’t inconsistent with an ancient understanding of a solid sky holding up a heavenly sea.[12] But notice the text is not actually making the claim that we should believe that there is a solid sky holding up a heavenly sea. If the ancient author had this understanding of the world in mind, then we can understand God’s accommodation to the author’s level of comprehension by not attempting to explain the world in modern scientific terms that would have been nonsensical to ancient ears.[13] However, neither are we forced to conclude that God inspired the author to compose falsehoods about the world due to the constraints of ancient cosmological conceptions.

Despite their best efforts, TE’s who opt for the “accommodation” strategy to explain how the Genesis creation accounts are giving timeless theological truths mixed with contextual, false claims about the natural world simply cannot maintain a consistent account of biblical authority and inerrancy. Again, those TE’s who do not have a robust notion of inerrancy may have no problem saying that scripture teaches false things about the world. However, for those TE’s who do profess that the scriptures are authoritative and inerrant, appealing to accommodation in this manner to explain the material claims in Genesis that conflict with evolution should be cause for significant concern.[14]

In the next post, I’ll wrap up this series by giving some of my concluding thoughts and offering a suggestion for how to best engage in dialogue with advocates of TE.

References

[1] These claims will not be problematic for a TE who doesn’t view Genesis as authoritative or who has a view of scripture which allows actual errors to be claimed by the text. However, for many TE’s, including the BioLogos organization, this is not an option. From the BioLogos website: “We fully affirm that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God.” See https://biologos.org/common-questions/christianity-and-science/biologos-id-creationism. Accessed August 5, 2018.

[2] One possible objection, from a TE perspective, is that it could be argued that the Genesis creation accounts are just speaking generally of the evolutionary process. I see three problems with this approach. First, by adopting this stance, the TE has committed to allowing the creation accounts to be making material claims and must now shoulder the intellectual burden of ensuring that Genesis does not contradict evolutionary theory. Second, the repeated references to God specifically creating varieties of animals “after their kind” either directly contradicts evolutionary theory or demands a very loose interpretation. Third, the direct de novo (new) creation of Adam from the dust and Eve from Adam’s side requires that a TE who wants to square evolution with Genesis must minimally reject universal common descent at this point, which makes the “TE” label somewhat disingenuous.

[3] See Stephanie Keep, “Misconception Monday: Can Evolution Stop?,” https://ncse.com/blog/2015/02/misconception-monday-can-evolution-stop-0016202. Accessed August 3, 2018.

[4] For the purpose of clarity, by “special creative activity” I mean God’s creative activity that goes beyond the activity of God, at all times, upholding the world ex nihilo (out of nothing). The creative activity I have in mind is miraculous creative activity, which Thomas Aquinas clarifies in the following way: “Things that are at times divinely accomplished, apart from the generally established order in things, are customarily called miracle.” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, III.101.1.

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.13.1.

[6] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 19.

[7] Denis O. Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008), 146.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, 146–147.

[10] Deborah B. Haarsma, “Evolutionary Creation,” in Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, ed. J. B. Stump (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 130.

[11] Instead of “naïve literalism,” which is what TE’s like Lamoureux are trying to avoid, what we have instead is what may be termed “naïve accommodationism,” where anything remotely repugnant to contemporary scientific understandings of the world are categorized as being “accommodated” to ancient conceptual understandings.

[12] For the sake of argument, I have simply granted the premise that the Ancient Near Eastern cultures in which the Genesis creation accounts were originally composed did indeed possess a somewhat united view that a solid sky held up a heavenly sea. However, it is not at all apparent that this is the case. The noted Old Testament scholar Othmar Keel argues that many contemporary representations of the Ancient Near Eastern world “err in portraying the upper regions too concretely, as if they were well understood by the men of that time as was the earthly environment” and that “A wide variety of diverse uncoordinated notions regarding the cosmic structure were advanced from several points of departure.” See Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1997), 37, 57. See also G. K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 193218. Regardless, even if this is exactly what the author of the Genesis creation accounts had in mind, it in no way necessitates the idea that God inspired falsehoods about the nature of the world because of the human limitations of the author.

[13] Additionally, using terminology that would echo the surrounding cultures’ cosmology would heighten the polemical effect of demonstrating the superiority of the God of Israel over other “gods” and powers.

[14] Having spoken with Lamoureux personally, I am utterly convinced that he is fully and completely committed to the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture. Nevertheless, his position on accommodation leaves him in an inconsistent position, in my perspective.

Why I’m no longer a Theistic Evolutionist (3)

In the previous post, I argued that Walton’s “functional only” proposal concerning the Genesis creation accounts was not a viable option. What did this mean for me? It meant that I could no longer wave away the Genesis creation accounts as being merely interested in the way the world functions. Walton’s “functional only” proposal had been an incredibly attractive option for me since it allowed me to accept Genesis as completely true and allow for evolution to be the means by which God created. To quote BioLogos senior editor Jim Stump, “Reading Walton’s book helped me become a biblically fulfilled evolutionary creationist.”[1] However, the more I studied Walton’s position, the less plausible it became. Ultimately, I had to come face to face with a fundamental question: are the Genesis creation accounts, on any level, giving a material account of natural history?[2] Or, phrased more plainly, are the Genesis creation accounts telling us anything that’s true about the physical origins of the world? Working through Walton’s arguments and carefully reading the creation accounts, I came to the conclusion that Genesis is indeed making material claims about the origins of the world.  And as a person committed to the authority and inerrancy of scripture, I realized I needed to take those claims seriously. I could no longer constrain Genesis to a safe, cultural box where it wouldn’t risk making material claims that could conflict with contemporary understandings of evolution.  While I’ve focused primarily on Walton’s view of Genesis and why I can no longer accept it, the core of my conclusions about the creation accounts centers on the issue of whether or not actual claims are being made about the natural world. This question applies equally to any view of Genesis that seeks to downplay or eliminate the material claims being made by the text.

However, this is not to say that Genesis is giving a straightforward natural history of the world that we can easily understand in contemporary “scientific” terms. The Genesis creation accounts are clearly saturated with the Ancient Near Eastern context in which they were authored and disseminated, and a faithful and informed reading of scripture demands we carefully take that cultural context into account.[3] Further, Genesis is interested in far more than merely recounting physical events. Many commentators have drawn attention to the polemical elements in the Genesis creation accounts against rival Ancient Near Eastern cosmologies, where the God of Israel is demonstrated to be superior to the sun and the moon as well as the great sea monsters, all seen as both deities and rivals to the gods in surrounding cultures.[4] Additionally, other Old Testament scholars have argued that the creation week, culminating in a Sabbath rest, can be seen as theologically echoing the creation of the world as a temple for the Creator to rest in on the seventh day.[5] The Genesis creation accounts are conceptually rich and theologically complex, and as Gordon Wenham notes, possess both narrative and poetic elements while not simply being either straightforward Hebrew narrative or poetry.[6] I make no attempt here to claim exactly how the creation accounts in Genesis ought to be read or which genre best characterizes them. However, what I do want to draw out is that while the Genesis creation accounts are not merely giving a straightforward, material account of origins, they are not providing us with less than a material account of origins. That is, while there is clearly far more going on in Genesis than the physical elements of a natural history, claims about natural history are nevertheless being made. Even Walton, although maintaining that the primary significance of the Genesis creation accounts are theological, argues that “The accounts in Genesis 1–11 can be affirmed as having real events as their referents, but the events themselves (yes, they happened) find their significance in the interpretation that they are given in the biblical text.”[7] This point is made eloquently by the great German scholar Gerhard von Rad in his magisterial commentary on Genesis, where he has no patience for sweeping the claims of the creation accounts under a purely mythical rug. Von Rad writes,

“Anyone who expounds Gen., ch. 1, must understand one thing: this chapter is Priestly doctrine—indeed, it contains the essence of Priestly knowledge in a most concentrated form… Nothing is here by chance; everything must be considered carefully, deliberately, and precisely. It is false, therefore, to reckon here even occasionally with archaic and half-mythological rudiments, which one considers venerable, to be sure, but theologically and conceptually less binding. What is said here is intended to hold true entirely and exactly as it stands. There is no trace of the hymnic element in the language, nor is anything said that needs to be understood symbolically or whose deeper meaning has to be deciphered… These sentences cannot be easily overinterpreted theologically!”[8]

While asserting that the knowledge that Genesis 1 offers about the origin of the world “is largely obsolete today,” Von Rad nevertheless argues that there was a great deal of knowledge being propounded in the opening chapter of Genesis.[9] He concludes, “But this knowledge does not come under discussion here for its own sake; it is there, rather, as an aid towards making detailed statements about God’s creation. Faith and the scientific picture of the world are so closely integrated here that the very material knowledge of the world makes it possible to speak of God!”[10]

In the next post, I’ll lay out in more detail what I take the “material” claims of Genesis to be, and further, whether or not the principle of “divine accommodation” permits us to sidestep them to allow for a contemporary understanding of biological evolution.

References

[1] Jim Stump, “How Walton’s Lost World Opened up a New World for Me,” https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/how-waltons-lost-world-opened-up-a-new-world-for-me. Accessed August 1, 2018.

[2] By “natural history,” I mean an account of events that are to be understood as having actually occurred in the natural world as a matter of historical fact. I avoid the term “science” here because that can lead to confusion and anachronisms. Further, the term “natural history,” as I use it, encompasses the core sense of “recounting events in the natural world” that allows for Genesis to express that natural history in phenomenological and Ancient Near Eastern cultural terms.

[3] I take the section of exposition from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to be helpful here: “Although Holy Scripture is nowhere culture-bound in the sense that its teaching lacks universal validity, it is sometimes culturally conditioned by the customs and conventional views of a particular period, so that the application of its principles today calls for a different sort of action.” See http://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/ICBI_1.pdf

[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 9. See also John D. Currid, Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013).

[5] G. K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 161192; Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 7292; Gordon J. Wenham, “Genesis 111 as Protohistory,” in Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters, ed. Charles Halton (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 81. However, the exact degree to which the creation reflects temple imagery is debatable, and highly dependent on the level of comparison one draws with other Ancient Near Eastern cultures. See Kenneth D. Keathley and Mark F. Rooker, “What Is the Temple Inauguration Theory?,” in 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution, ed. Benjamin L. Merkle (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), 137–146.

[6] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 9.

[7] Tremper Longman III and John Walton, The Lost World of the Flood (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 17.

[8] Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, rev. ed., trans. John H. Marks (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972), 47–48.

[9] Ibid, 48.

[10] Ibid.

Why I’m no longer a Theistic Evolutionist (2)

The most obvious challenge to Theistic Evolution (TE), from a Christian perspective, is that evolutionary theory seems to glaringly conflict with the unique, successive special creation events depicted in Genesis 1–2. Any TE who views scripture as in any sense authoritative must deal with this issue. How did I handle it? As a TE, I argued that the reason why we don’t need to worry about any “conflict” between the Genesis creation accounts and the process of evolution is because Genesis is providing us with a functional and theological account of creation, not one that is interested in telling us “what really happened” in material terms. By “functional,” I meant that the Genesis creation accounts are telling us how the world functions in relation to God and humanity, not detailing the specific way in which God actually created the world or the material properties of the world. I argued that Genesis is really just telling us that God is the creator of all things, God is distinct from his creation, humans are uniquely made in God’s image, and that creation is very good and ordered to a particular purpose. Like many other TE’s, I adopted this view from Old Testament scholar John Walton, which he most clearly articulates in his 2009 book The Lost World of Genesis One.[1] As Walton argues, “Genesis 1 is not an account of material origins but an account of functional origins, specifically focusing on the functioning of the cosmos as God’s temple.”[2] It’s an especially attractive view for TE’s since it allows one to essentially not worry about the tension between science and the text because, lo and behold, the text isn’t making material or “scientific” claims.[3] No muss, no fuss. Or so I thought.

Despite defending this view for a long time, Walton’s “functional only” thesis concerning the creation accounts has become untenable to me.[4] I continue to maintain that the Genesis creation accounts are certainly not interested in giving us a contemporary “scientific” account of origins in the way that we would understand science today since that would be an absurdly anachronistic and eisegetical reading of the text that strips Genesis out of its historical context. However, I can no longer accept that the functional aspect of the creation accounts exhausts their content. In other words, while I think scholars like Walton are correct that the Genesis creation accounts clearly involve and perhaps even prioritize the functional aspect of creation, there unavoidably seems to be a material aspect to the accounts as well. While I’m not going to attempt to offer a full critique of Walton’s position here, the primary issue I have with Walton is that his dichotomy between “functional” origins and “material” origins strikes me as far too simplistic and even false.

First, for Walton’s proposal to work (especially for TE’s), the creation accounts in Genesis cannot be making any real, concrete claims about the material nature of the creation of the natural world, only functional ones (or risk conflicting with contemporary evolutionary models).[5]  However, the text of Genesis 1 itself significantly problematizes this view. Genesis 1 speaks of a tangible distinction between light and dark (1:4), an expanse that physically separates the waters (1:6–7), water moving to a physical location and land appearing that is described as dry (1:9), plants and trees that are specified as seed and fruit-bearing (1:11–12), a distinction in brightness between the sun and moon (1:16), just to name a few. Walton himself admits that the creation of the “firmament” or “expanse” on the second day of creation “has a potentially material component” as well as a functional one, however Walton rejects this idea because “we then find ourselves with the problem of trying to explain the material creation of something that does not exist.”[6] Walton is referring here to the issue of translating the Hebrew word rāqî‘a as “firmament” or “expanse” and whether that implies a solid dome holding up a heavenly sea. But even leaving that particular exegetical issue aside, notice that the key reason Walton rejects a material understanding of the creation of the firmament/expanse on the second day is not because the text itself specifies a functional understanding only, but rather because of what he considers to be the absurd consequences of a material understanding of the rāqî‘a. This may or may not be a valid concern.[7] However, the key element to realize is that Walton’s reasoning here does not stem from textual considerations, thereby undermining his proposal that the text itself supports a purely functional understanding of the creation accounts to the exclusion of a material one. Moreover, since the 2009 publication of The Lost World of Genesis 1, Walton has changed his opinion on the identification of the rāqî‘a as a solid dome or sky. In a more recent work (2015), Walton says that “further reflection and more recent research” has led him to conclude that rāqî‘a most likely refers to “the space created by the separating of the waters” and that this space is “a living space for all creatures,” which comports quite well with the interpretation that the rāqî‘a is simply an ancient phenomenological description of the sky (where “phenomenological” simply means a first-person description of how the author would have seen and experienced the object in question).[8] As Vern Poythress notes, the “material” aspects of an object involve not only its material composition, but also its physical appearance, and “Walton has given no evidence that Genesis 1 implies nothing about physical appearance.”[9]

Second, Walton slips between arguing that (1) the Genesis creation accounts are not giving a material account of origins and (2) the Genesis creation accounts do not prioritize a material account of origins. These are two fundamentally different claims. The creation accounts can readily be understood to be speaking of both function and materials, where the material aspect is not prioritized or emphasized over the functional aspect. But this is quite different than saying they don’t speak to the material aspect at all. For example, Walton argues that “To the author and audience of Genesis, material origins were simply not a priority” and “there wouldn’t have been any need to stress a material creation.”[10] But saying it’s “not a priority” and there was no need “to stress” the material aspect is not saying it’s absent. Additionally, in his other works, Walton allows materiality to be a part of the creation accounts.[11] Speaking of the conceptual world of the Old Testament, Walton emphasizes that “it is important to realize that their cosmic geography was predominantly metaphysical and only secondarily physical/material.”[12] Further, Walton comments that “The Hebrew term used for ‘sky’ (rāqî‘a) is of unspecified material.”[13] Again, speaking of the physical/material aspect of creation as “secondary” is still claiming a material aspect, which Walton affirms by speaking of the “material” of the sky. In short, Walton runs afoul of his own dichotomy between “material” and “functional” aspects of the creation accounts. This difficulty arises because a hard and fast distinction between them cannot be sustained on the basis of the text.[14] C. John Collins, responding to Walton’s position, similarly questions whether “material” vs. “functional” actually provides a meaningful antithesis.[15] Collins argues, “Without question the nature of Gen. 1… means that it will use imagistic and phenomenological language to focus on functions and relations more than on the inner workings of the material components, but that hardly requires that it deny any interest in the material. After all, it is things with material existence that perform the functions.”[16] Indeed, as John Currid concludes, “To interpret Genesis 1 as merely about functions and not about origins is a failure to account for some of the very prominent features of the narrative.”[17] Interestingly, Walton himself seems to have shown some movement on this issue. In his most recent book (2018), co-authored with Tremper Longman III, Walton offers an analysis of the ways in which Genesis 111 reports events in terms of “metaphysical” and “empirical.”[18] Walton writes,

“Events found in Genesis 111 concern what can be called cosmic events, which means that they are located much more towards the metaphysical end of the spectrum. But unlike what we call myth in the ancient world, which we consider as having no empirical aspect and therefore located at the far end of the metaphysical side of the spectrum, Genesis 1–11 retains some empirical aspects.”[19]

While the issue is not framed in terms of “functional” and “material” here, Walton nevertheless agrees that Genesis 111 contains some “empirical” aspects or, in other words, physical and tangible aspects which are in principle observable and open to experience through the senses. Walton contrasts this with “metaphysical” aspects, which he understands as essentially “spiritual.”[20] However, by claiming that Genesis 111 retains elements that are empirical, Walton has therefore allowed for Genesis 1–11 to be making material claims. Walton again stresses that “the metaphysical remains more important than the empirical,” but as we’ve seen with the functional vs. material dichotomy, claiming that the metaphysical is more important clearly doesn’t eliminate the empirical element.[21] In sum, Walton has not offered a good case that the “material” elements in the Genesis creation accounts are absent in such a way that material claims about the natural world are not being made, nor has he demonstrated that functional aspects of creation are elevated to the exclusion of the material. To the contrary, both functional and material aspects appear to be intertwined throughout the creation accounts.

In the next post, I’ll discuss in more detail what the implications of Genesis making actual, material claims about the natural world were for me as a TE.

References

[1] This is not to say that all TE’s adopt John Walton’s “functionalist” account of the Genesis creation accounts. Merely that it has become an incredibly popular view among many TE’s (particularly through the work of the BioLogos organization) since it so readily removes the perceived tension between evolution and the order of creation described in Genesis. There are a variety of views TE’s may adopt on the creation accounts. For example, some TE’s prefer a “framework” view of creation, in which the days of creation are literary devices to explain the creation of the world in theological terms. However, Walton argues that the framework hypothesis doesn’t go far enough (Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 111). The framework view leaves the question of material origins open in such a way that Genesis can still potentially conflict with evolution, and thereby be unsatisfying for TE’s. For a clear, succinct description of the “framework” view, see https://www.opc.org/GA/creation.html#Framework. Regardless of which position is taken, any TE who wants to maintain the authority of scripture must find a way to remove the conflict between Genesis and evolution, whether that comes in the form of a particular interpretation of Genesis or a qualification on what is understood by “biblical authority.”

[2] John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 92.

[3] It is worth emphasizing here that Walton himself is not advocating TE, nor is his functional understanding of Genesis merely an attempt to make Genesis fit with evolutionary theory. However, Walton does contend that “In the interpretation of the text that I have offered, very little found in evolutionary theory would be objectionable.” (Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 169).  It is this quality that makes his view so attractive to many TE’s.

[4] While Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One obviously focuses on his proposal that Genesis 1 is only interested in giving a functional account of creation, Walton also extends his claims about “the functional interests of the text” into the second creation account in Genesis 2. See John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 89.

[5] Walton is quite clear, “the Genesis account should not be considered both material and functional because the analysis of the text fails to support the material aspects.” See John Walton, “Material or Function in Genesis 1? John Walton Responds (Part 2),” https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/material-or-function-in-genesis-1-john-walton-responds-part-2. Accessed August 1, 2018.

[6] Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 93.

[7] Walton’s incredulity depends a great deal on the idea that many Ancient Near Eastern cultures understood there to be a solid “dome” holding up a heavenly sea of water, possibly made of crystal. For Walton, since no such “dome” exists, it would be foolish to think that we should believe that Genesis is making a material claim here. However, the text never specifies that the rāqî‘a is made of crystal, it just says God made it and it separates the waters. Even if there was an ANE concept of a hard dome holding up a heavenly ocean, this is not actually what the text is claiming that we ought to believe. Additionally, several commentators disagree with Walton here and argue that the text readily lends itself to speaking figuratively of the atmosphere and giving an ancient phenomenological description of the sky and the clouds. See C. John Collins, Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2006), 45–46; Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 20.

[8] Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, 37. Walton still argues that we should not think of the rāqî‘a in “material” terms, but again for the reason that it would be absurd to posit that God created a “solid sky” (Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, 213n3). However, contrary to Walton, this is not what the text is actually claiming we ought to believe.

[9] Vern S. Poythress, “Response to John Walton on Genesis,” https://frame-poythress.org/response-to-john-walton-on-genesis/. Accessed July 24, 2018. Walton acknowledges that it’s impossible to completely avoid “material” language in Genesis 1 because “some level of material language is necessary to describe the functions of the cosmos” (John Walton, “Rejoinder to Vern Poythress,” https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/rejoinder-to-vern-poythress. Accessed July 31, 2018). However, the challenge for Walton’s perspective is how to make the material language in the creation accounts not actually make any real material claims, which remains fundamentally problematic for Walton since the text appears to do precisely that. Indeed, I take the need for there to be “some level of material language” to describe functions to be indicative of the problematic nature of Walton’s dichotomy between the two.

[10] Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 95.

[11] This was pointed out by David Buller in the BioLogos companion blog series to Walton’s book. See David Buller, “Creation is the Temple Where God Rests,” https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/creation-is-the-temple-where-god-rests. Accessed July 25, 2018.

[12] John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 167.

[13] Ibid, 169.

[14] To avoid a potential misunderstanding, Walton is not suggesting that God did not create the material world. Walton clarifies, “Viewing Genesis 1 as an account of functional origins of the cosmos as temple does not in any way suggest or imply that God was uninvolved in material origins—it only contends that Genesis 1 is not that story” (Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 95). However, as we’ve seen, it’s not apparent that Walton is correct that Genesis 1 is not telling a story of material origins.

[15] C. John Collins, “Response to John Walton,” in Reading Genesis 1–2: An Evangelical Conversation, ed. J. Daryl Charles (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013), 180.

[16] Ibid.

[17] John D. Currid, “Theistic Evolution Is Incompatible with the Teachings of the Old Testament,” in Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, eds. J. P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann K. Gauger, and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 851.

[18] Tremper Longman III and John Walton, The Lost World of the Flood (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 19.

[19] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[20] Ibid, 18.

[21] Ibid, 19.

Why I’m no longer a Theistic Evolutionist (1)

Over the past several years, I have been a vocal proponent of the theological perspective on creation known as “Theistic Evolution.” For those who are unfamiliar with the idea, Theistic Evolution (hereafter, TE) is simply the theological position that God used (and indeed, is still using) the process of evolution to create the diversity of life we currently observe on earth. While many TE’s prefer the term “Evolutionary Creation” since it emphasizes that evolution is simply the means by which God created and that it speaks to the fact that God is personally involved in creation through evolutionary means, they essentially amount to the same thing and I will continue to use the term “Theistic Evolution” (TE) for consistency.[1] By “evolution” most TE’s mean what is referred to as the “modern synthesis” in the scientific literature, which is the theory that all living species are descendants of other species through an evolutionary process of gradual biological transformation driven by genetic mutations and natural selection.[2] Key elements of this theory are (1) the notion of common descent, where all biological organisms (including humans) are genetically related to each other and can trace their ancestry back to a universal common ancestor, and (2) that the purely natural mechanisms of natural selection and genetic mutation are sufficient to generate the staggering amount of biological diversity and complexity we observe currently and in the fossil record.[3] It is this definition of “evolution” that I mean whenever I refer to it through the remainder of these posts.

Naturally, TE rejects the idea that God specially and supernaturally created different kinds of plants and animals at intermittent periods in the manner described in Genesis 1–2, and instead contends that “the gradual process of evolution was crafted and governed by God to create the diversity of all life on earth.”[4] To be clear, TE flatly rejects naturalism and strongly affirms that God is the creator of all things. On the TE perspective, the evolutionary process is just one of the many natural processes God creates and sustains. While the vast majority of TE’s affirm that God can and does intervene miraculously in the natural world at certain points, the evolutionary process is not one of those instances.[5] A common TE argument is that the natural, fully sufficient process of evolution demonstrates God’s wisdom in creating a system which does not require any supernatural intervention or “tinkering” from the outside.[6]

This is a view that I was comfortable with for a very long time. However, after a great deal of thought and reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that TE is no longer a tenable theological position to hold. In this series of posts, I will outline in some detail my primary reason for rejecting TE, namely that TE fundamentally denies the core historicity of the Genesis creation accounts. The term “historicity” is notoriously contentious, so for my purposes here, I am using the term to capture the commonsense idea of referring to real events in the real past as opposed to a purely mythical or imagined past. As a caveat, I am well aware that TE covers a broad spectrum, and some of my criticisms may not touch on every particular aspect of all forms of TE. Additionally, in large part due to the “big tent” nature of TE, not everyone will hold the same views on biblical authority that I do. In the interest of full transparency, I am coming from a reformed theological perspective. Further, I hold to the complete infallibility and inerrancy of scripture, and affirm along with the Westminster Confession of Faith that “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined… can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”[7] However, even if you disagree with my theological perspective, as someone who has spent a long time in TE circles and having advocated for TE on both a scholarly and popular level, it is my hope that some may find the conclusions I’ve come to helpful and thought-provoking.

References

[1] Currently, the largest and most influential Christian organization promoting and defending the TE perspective on creation is the BioLogos organization. According to their website, “BioLogos invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.” BioLogos much prefers the term “Evolutionary Creation,” and the current BioLogos president Deborah Haarsma specifies that “Evolutionary Creation is a subset of TE that emphasizes that the creator is the personal God revealed in the Bible and incarnated in Jesus Christ.” See Deborah B. Haarsma, “Evolutionary Creation,” in Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, ed. J. B. Stump (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 125n5. See also https://biologos.org/common-questions/christianity-and-science/biologos-id-creationism.

[2] Another term for this theory is “Neo-Darwinism,” which simply specifies the Darwinian concept of evolutionary change driven by natural selection that is augmented with Mendelian genetics. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Darwinism.

[3] There is some current debate about whether these are the sole mechanisms of evolutionary change, stemming from the growing realization in the scientific community that the standard neo-Darwinian mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection are inadequate for generating the complex information required for large-scale evolutionary change. However, in spite of this, most TE’s in principle maintain that even though we may not have all the answers now, a fully natural explanation for the evolutionary process will be forthcoming.

[4] Haarsma, “Evolutionary Creation,” 125.

[5] Ibid, 133.

[6] For instance, Denis O. Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008), 103.

[7] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. 1, Art. X, “Of the Holy Scripture,”  https://reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/. Accessed July 31, 2018.

Why I’m no longer a Theistic Evolutionist (Introduction)

I am very pleased to bring to you a series of posts by a good friend of mine named Chris Lilley.

I met Chris while we were students at Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minnesota. Both of us were students in the Biblical and Theological Studies program, and Chris was a year behind me. I never had a class with Chris, but we had some interactions outside of class, and we had many shared friends.

After I graduated, I ran into Chris one day in the campus coffee shop and found out that he had been accepted to and was planning on attending Princeton Theological Seminary. I expressed some trepidation to him regarding the school and its liberal theology and encouraged him to be cautious and hold fast once he was there.

Over the next several years, while I was attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I had some cursory interactions with him on Facebook. Unsurprisingly, he began to embrace theological liberalism and many of the positions that attended that school of thinking.

When he came to mind, I would say a quick prayer that God would direct him back to the Scriptures.

After we both graduated, we began to chat on a more regular basis. He was studying Thomas Aquinas for his doctoral work, and I had begun to fully embrace Confessional Reformed Theology. When he had questions about the currents of predestination present in Aquinas or encountered a sticky question butting up against Reformed doctrines he would reach out to me. I would answer his question, point him to the Scriptures, and pray that God would bring him back to the fold.

Then, things started happening.

Over the next few years, Chris began to ask me more and more questions about the Scriptures and about Reformed theology. Through his studies of Aquinas, he began to accept a doctrine of strict sovereignty. Through his reading of Scripture, he began to be shown the doctrine of God’s unilateral salvation. It wasn’t long before he began to see how those two things collated in the so-called Doctrines of Grace (TULIP). I don’t think that it was any one moment in time, but one day Chris messaged me and said: “I think I’m ready to start calling myself Reformed.”

Slowly at first, and then more rapidly, Chris would tell me how the Scriptures seemed to be a new book to him. It was alive. Rather than standing over it in critical judgment (the hermeneutical method of Princeton Theological Seminary), he began to see that the Scriptures judged him.

That is what brings us to here. About six months ago Chris and I began having conversations about Theistic Evolution. I would tell him that I thought that the Gospel fell apart if Adam wasn’t a historical de novo creation of God. He would tell me he wasn’t sure that was necessary. I would tell him that I thought that Genesis couldn’t support the “ensouled anthropoid” thesis. He would tell me he thought it probably could.

We would talk. I would point him to the Scripture. I would pray. He would pray.

Now, I want to make one thing clear: Although I think that Theistic Evolution does violence to the text of Scripture and that the salvation we have in Christ cannot function the way Scripture describes it if Theistic Evolution is true… There are plenty of Theistic Evolutionists whom I believe to have a genuine saving faith in Christ. I don’t think that believing that Adam was the process of guided evolution and divine ensoulment renders you outside the faith. I just think it is an inconsistency that is yet to be reconciled. In my experience, it is, unfortunately, the case that usually this reconciliation is a rock that shipwrecks someone’s trust in the Bible, and shortly thereafter shipwrecks someone’s faith in the God of the Bible. However, that is not always the case.

That brings us to a new series that I am pleased to publish. I think the title says it all. Over the next several weeks, Chris will be publishing his thoughts on the subject of Theistic Evolution, and why he no longer can hold to that view.

Papacy, Prosperity, and Catholic Answers Live

As of late, I have added the popular Roman Catholic call-in show Catholic Answers Live to my podcast retinue. The reasons are plenty, but the two primary reasons are 1) it is good to get a theology you are critical of directly from a reputable source (rather than just reading critical treatments) and 2) it is good to know what is going on in the contemporary world of a theology you are critical of.

Catholic Answers Live provides both those sources. But I was listening and heard something that I just could not pass up a chance to take a swing at. I played this clip of Jimmy Akin for my wife and her jaw literally dropped open. Give it a listen.

If you’re one of those people who is listening, and hasn’t donated… please do so, because you are taking in God’s word through the ministry of Catholic Answers, and Paul indicates that people who receive God’s word need to support the teaching of it. That’s what we’re here, that’s what we’re doing. He also indicates that you will get an eternal reward for supporting the preaching of God’s word. And an eternal reward means an infinite one because you will be able to enjoy that reward for all of eternity, which is infinite. So by making a finite investment right now, you can get an infinite return on that investment in heaven.

There are three main problems that I identified in this quick clip.

  1. Catholic Answers Live is considered a ministry or apostolate
  2. Catholic Answers Live twists the Scripture to obtain funds
  3. Catholic Answers Live promises eternal rewards for supporting them

Catholic Answers Live is considered a ministry or an apostolate

In Roman Catholic Parlance, and apostolate is the term often applied to those working in full-time Christian endeavors who are not ordained as members of the clergy. However, this is not just seen as something that an individual does as part of their Christian life, but as a formal ministry. The Second Vatican Council issued the decree known as Apostolicam Actuositateand stated

Since, in our own times, new problems are arising and very serious errors are circulating that tend to undermine the foundations of religion, the moral order, and human society itself, this sacred synod earnestly exhorts laymen—each according to his own gifts of intelligence and learning—to be more diligent in doing what they can to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church

Thus, while not a part of the clerical ministry of the Church, Catholic Answers Live, and similar apostolates, is considered an actual extension of the ministry of the Church at large. I won’t belabor the point, but things like podcasts and blogs are not ministries. As Reformed Christians, we do not believe that we have the liberty to invent things on God’s behalf and then claim that they are God’s activity in the world. While blogs and podcasts are definitely an active part of how individual Christians are proclaiming the Gospel and spreading God’s word, it is not a function of the Church. This kind of mission creep has led to all kinds of problems involving parachurch organizations, extra-ecclesiastical creedal statements, and a general watering down and minimization of the necessity of the need for precise theological formulation.

Catholic Answers Live twists the Scriptures to obtain funds

Now, here is where we start to get into the clearest and more egregious problems. In this clip, Jimmy Akin claims that when you listen to Catholic Answers Live you are taking in God’s word, and are obligated to support that. While this would be true if we were talking about the actual God-ordained ministry of the Church, and a faithful preaching of the Scriptures… that is not what we are talking about. But, even if we grant Catholic Answers Live somehow constitutes the spreading of God’s word, does God’s word really say that we reap an eternal reward for supporting that? Well, since Akin doesn’t tell us what passage he is referring to (if he even was referring to a passage… the term “God’s word” in Catholic theology doesn’t always refer to the Scripture) it is hard to tell. The closest thing I can imagine is Paul’s admonitions to support the work of ministry (which in Paul’s teaching is restricted to the official God-ordained ministry of the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers). But, is it true that your support for such a ministry somehow obtains you an eternal and infinite reward? Absolutely not. Of course, on Roman Catholic theology, this isn’t the case and temporal actions can earn you an eternal reward. However, even apart from the general twisting of the Scriptures that Papists must do to get there… nowhere in Paul is the reward for supporting the ministry connected to the act of support itself… but to the blessings of having the Word proclaimed to you.

Catholic Answers Live promises eternal rewards for supporting them

This covers largely the same ground as above, so I won’t belabor the point. I have remarked in the past that Pelagianism, Roman Catholicism, and the Prosperity Gospel Heresy are all species of the same genus. Where Pelagianism promises you eternal rewards for law keeping, and the Prosperity Gospel promises you temporal rewards for activating your faith… Roman Catholicism apparently offers you some flavor of eternal temporal rewards. Akin literally and explicitly tells you that if you donate to their ministry, you will earn an eternal reward that has infinite value because you can enjoy it forever. Just like the fact that Jesus isn’t enough to cover our sins in Pelagianism… and fellowship with Christ is not a sufficient reward in the Prosperity Gospel… in the flavor of Roman Catholicism that Akin is peddling you not only have to earn your own eternal rewards, but you also need more for the enjoyment of eternal life than union with Christ.

I don’t need to belabor these points, they are painfully clear. I do want to underscore here that this isn’t some strange variation of Roman Catholic thinking… this is just plain old traditional vanilla papistry. Do the right thing, for the right people, and you’ll get something shiny.

Papal Soteriology is fundamentally an exchange of goods and services, not a gracious Savior rescuing his people.

A Concise Theology of Work

Work tends to be something we do absent-mindedly. Maybe you are currently working at your dream job and enjoy waking up each morning to get at it, but for the rest of us, work tends to be something we do out of necessity, not desire.

This is especially true in the secular world and can be evidenced by the old adage, “I’m just workin’ for the weekend.” In other words, “I am only doing this because it is a means to do what I really want to do, which is to spend time pursuing pleasure.”

Sadly, this attitude is easily adopted by those within the church too. I’m no exception. As a married seminary student, work tends to be a means by which I pay tuition, so I can eventually get to the place where I am being paid for what I desire to do – which is pastor a church. Thus, it is tempting for me in this stage of life to view work as a necessary evil. Or at the very least, as annoying and time-consuming.

But as a Christian, this is an unacceptable attitude towards work. Work is not a necessary evil or even a result of the Fall. Adam was given the command to tend the Garden and to act as a priest, expanding God’s dominion from the Garden of Eden to the ends of the earth. Thus, a view of work that considers it a result of sin falls short of a Biblical worldview.

So then, what is the Biblical attitude towards work? That’s what I desire to lay out briefly for you today.

This past Sunday I had the privilege of visiting a Reformed Baptist church in Kentucky and during the evening service, the text was Colossians 3:23-24. I am indebted to pastor Tim Yoak for sparking the idea for this article. Much of what follows stemmed from my meditation and reflection on his sermon. Let’s look at it in its entirety:

Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ. – Colossians 3:23-24, CSB

 Here are three observations from the passage that will give us a concise theology of work.

Our Work Must Come from the Depth of Our Being

In the context, Paul is discussing Christian conduct in the day-to-day affairs of life. He addresses husbands and wives in verses 18 and 19, children in verse 20, Fathers in verse 21, and slaves in verse 22. Our verses of consideration come on the heels of Paul’s instruction for slaves when he encourages them to be submissive to their masters and not people-pleasers.

He says that whatever they do, they are to do, “from the heart,” or as another translation renders it, “heartily.” While these are acceptable translations of the Greek phrase ἐκ ψυχῆς (ek psychē), I think a little of the force is lost by these renderings. Literally translated, the phrase says, “out of the soul,” or, “from the soul.”

So what Paul is saying here is that when we work, we are to do it from our very soul, from the depth of our being! Our work should arise from the core of our essence.

I don’t think many of us can truly say that we mop floors, flip burgers, or sit at an office desk with energy that arises from the center of our being. But that’s what Paul commands believers to do! When we work, it should be fueled by an energy that comes from the heart!

Our Work Must Be Done for the Lord

Not only should our work come from our souls, but it should be done for the Lord. It’s easy to throw around verses like this and 1 Corinthians 10:31 (do all for the glory of God), but to practically live out verses that command us to do mundane, everyday tasks not for ourselves but for God is a real challenge.

This challenge can come in one of two ways when it comes to work. One, it can come in the form of vanity. We can get caught up in the desire to please men rather than God. That means we are only working for a promotion, or a raise, or for a chance to build our resume for a better position elsewhere. We forget that we are called to work not for our own glory, but for God’s.

Or second, it can come in the form of apathy. We hate our job and choose to do the least we can without getting fired. We shirk responsibilities, cut corners, or work with a negative attitude. Different symptoms, same root: a failure to remember that our work is not for our own glory, but for God’s.

Our Work Will be Rewarded

Finally, the last bit of verse 24 reminds us that our work will be rewarded. I think there are two main takeaways from this fact. First, it reminds us that God is watching our work. Understanding that we live all of life coram Deo (in the presence of God), even our work life, has a sobering effect that should bring about a change of behavior. Second, it reminds us that God is faithful. Even if you are laboring at a job you dislike and want to quit, but you work at it from your soul for the glory of God, he will see it and you will be rewarded for it. If not in this life, then in the next.

Keep laboring, brothers and sisters. From the depth of your being to the glory of God, submit your vocation to his will.

The Unashamed Savior

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying… ‘Behold, I and the children God has given me.’” – Hebrews 2:10-11, 13, ESV

Recently, I heard a comment from Carl Trueman on Mortification of Spin that caught my attention because it captured in a few words a thought that has been in my mind for a few years. Paraphrasing a book by Philip Rieff, Dr. Trueman said that sixty years ago, people did not go to church to be made happy; they went to church to have their misery explained to them. But something changed. The American churches of the 1940’s and 50’s shifted toward the now pervasive theology of Norman Vincent Peale. By becoming enslaved to man’s “power of positive thinking,” God was made small enough to fit, like a genie in a lamp, into the new religion of American prosperity. This “god” could be invoked when our happiness or prosperous condition was threatened and put safely back on the shelf when the ship was righted.

But is this the God of the Bible? Is this Christianity?

The above passage from Hebrews seems to paint a different picture. Having broken in, like a firefighter into a burning home, and suffering the very fires that would consume us, Christ proudly presents Himself to the Father with those whom He has rescued. But Christ does not present us to the Father with the smell of the smoke and death on us, but as clothed with His own beauty. But this beauty looks different than what the world expects. It is a beauty of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Our union to the suffering Savior does not end suffering in this life, but suffering now has a purpose. Our suffering consumes the bonds that held us when we were put into the fire (Daniel 3:25). These sufferings are a part of our transformation into the image of the One who suffered for us. And He is not ashamed to call us brothers.

Turning on the Temple

The Bible reading plan I am following lands me in the prophets each Friday and this morning found me in Ezekiel 8. In it, God takes Ezekiel on a journey through the streets of Jerusalem, where the iniquity of God’s people is on full display.

Ezekiel sees the elders of Israel bowing down to idols and the women weeping to the false god Tammuz. As Ezekiel witnesses their sinful acts, God declares to him ominously that, “You will see even more detestable acts than these.” (Ezekiel 8:13, CSB)

Finally, God brings Ezekiel to the inner court of the temple, where he finds the following scene:

So he brought me to the inner court of the Lord’s house, and there were about twenty-five men at the entrance of the Lord’s temple, between the portico and the altar, with their backs to the Lord’s temple and their faces turned to the east. – Ezekiel 8:16, CSB

I want us to take a moment to evaluate the scene. In a vision, Ezekiel is taken on a tour of Jerusalem. God carries him through the streets and buildings where he witnesses detestable acts of rebellion by the people of Israel, who are high-handedly sinning against the God that saved them out of Egypt.

As Ezekiel witnesses each act, God announces that there is yet more evil to be seen. That is when God takes Ezekiel to the temple, the heart of both the city of Jerusalem and the Old Covenant. The temple was where God dwelt with his people, the place where his glory chose to abide. It was the place where heaven met earth.

And the men have their backs to it.

Why?

The end of verse 16 gives us the answer: “They were bowing to the east in worship of the sun.” (Ezekiel 8:16, CSB)

The men of Israel are at the entrance of the place where God has chosen to meet with them, and their backs are turned because they are too busy worshipping the sun!

In true fallen human fashion, they have chosen to worship the creation rather than the Creator and are doing so in the shadow of the temple — in other words, in the shadow of the presence of God.

It is easy to denounce these men for their utter pagan foolishness, but I am afraid that this scene is all too familiar in our own lives. Although we might not be outside of churches worshipping the sun, we give our worship to the creation in other ways.

Any time we sin and as a result give our hearts to something other than God, we are choosing to worship the creation. In other words, any time we choose to sin we are, in effect, turning our backs to the temple.

When we give in to sin, we are actively turning away from God and towards something that has been created by God and choosing to worship it rather than the LORD. We are turning our backs to the temple.

The men who were engaging in sun-worship, as well as the rest of the nation, experienced the judgment of the Lord. God declared later that he would, “Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, as well as the children and older women.” (Ezekiel 9:6, CSB)

Such goes the way of those who choose to break covenant with Yahweh. And if those under the Old Covenant administration experienced such harsh judgment, who are we to think that we will fare better when we rebel against God? When the men who were worshipping the sun turned their backs to the temple, they were turning them to a mere shadow of what was to come. But when we as Christians sin, we are turning our backs to the true temple, Jesus Christ. So then, as Hebrews tells us, “How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God?” (Hebrews 10:29, CSB)

Therefore, what are we to do? We all sin daily and are so often guilty of turning our backs on God. How do we keep ourselves from high-handed sin against our Savior and thus, from the chastisement of the LORD?

Simply put, we bask in his glory. Rather than turning our backs on Jesus, we should gaze at him in all of his splendor and beauty, seeing him for the treasure that he is. It is through this gazing that we are changed. 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that, “We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” (CSB)

Don’t turn your back on the temple, friends. Instead, embrace the true temple for what he truly is: the perfect Son of God that can save you from your sin!

Keeping the Trinity One — Some Thoughts on Peter Leithart’s “Keeping the Trinity Personal”

I woke up Friday morning to a somewhat desperate message on Facebook asking “Have you read Leithart’s article?” With an accompanying link. I glimpsed at the article and added it to my OneNote folder to read later. I did my morning Bible reading and got ready for work.

Throughout the day, I got no fewer than 20 messages asking “Have you read Leithart’s article?” Having read it first last night, and then again this morning, I can see why people want me to weigh in.

Leithart is what is sometimes called a Divine Personalist, which is a position that stands in contradistinction with the position known as Classical Theism. Defining these terms would be a task for separate posts, but for now, a simple explanation will do.

Classical Theism —a position which I claim for myself— holds various specific propositions about God to be true. Germane to this discussion, we hold that God is simple (not composed of parts), infinite (there is no beginning or end, or constraints to anything that is God), Eternal (God is not subject to time, and thus there is no succession of moments for God) immutable (there is no potentiality for change in God, and thus no actuality of change in God), and impassible (Since there is no potentiality for change, God is not subject to passions or changing states of emotion). There is a, sometimes over, emphasis on the singular divine nature in Classical Theism as it tends to begin reasoning related to God with the divine nature and then work to the plurality of the divine persons. Also key to the position is the distinction between Archetypal knowledge (God’s perfect and complete knowledge of himself) and ectypal knowledge (Finite and created knowledge which God grants to creatures by means of self-disclosure) and the related doctrine of Divine Accommodation.

Divine Personalism, on the other hand, tends to begin its reasoning with the plurality of persons. It is related to and often combined with Theistic Mutalism, which affirms a type of change which the divine persons volitionally subject themselves to in relation to creatures. It also tends to affirm a form of equivocity between Archetypal knowledge and ectypal knowledge, which will become important later in this article.

There are several features in Leithart’s article that are concerning to me. Some are technical, others are theological, some may even be a little bit nit-picky… but all of them together paint a picture that I find objectionable.

I understand that this is not an academic article. I understand that this is a blog post, but never the less it is extremely frustrating when someone cites, quotes, or paraphrases someone else and does not provide proper citations. I don’t want to impute motives, but the effect that comes about is that Leithart makes it impossible to verify what is being said, observe the context of the quotes provided, or assess his summary of the position he is critiquing. He essentially leaves you to simply take his word for it that he is accurately representing their position.

The problem with that… he’s not.

This debate implicates longer-standing disputes about the meaning of person in Trinitarian theology. For some, a divine Person is, in the words of Stephen Holmes, professor of systematic theology at the University of St Andrews, an “instantiation of the divine nature.” To say that the triune Persons are “persons” doesn’t imply that they’re personal or have personality in anything like the common modern sense of the word. Holmes puts it starkly. For Augustine and the Cappadocian fathers of the Eastern church, “all that is truly ‘personal’ (knowledge, volition, action … ) [is located] in the ineffable divine nature, not severally in the [Persons].”

There are several things left out of the articulation of Classical Theism here that are significant to the discussion at hand. It may be the case that Holmes says that each person is an instantiation of the divine nature. However, it is impossible to know if that statement is intended to mean for Holmes that the word persons doesn’t imply that they’re personal or have personality. In fact, unless I have badly misread Holmes in the past, those are propositions he would deny on their face. Further, Leithart’s citation of the patristic witness here is an accurate citation, but it does not actually represent the implication he attributes to it.

For the Patristics, Holmes, and the Athanasian Creed… what is being communicated is that although each person is fully and truly the divine nature and thus is fully and truly all that God is (that is to say that they are fully and truly every divine attribute), it is not the case that the omnipotence of the Son is a separate or numerically plural omnipotence. For, if there were two omnipotences, there would necessarily be two Gods. Further, the concept of two omnipotences is incoherent since the presence of a plurality of omnipotences would constrain each other and thus no longer be considered omnipotence.

The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Spirit is eternal.

And yet there are not three eternal beings; there is but one eternal being. So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings; there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.

Similarly, the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, the Holy Spirit is almighty. Yet there are not three almighty beings; there is but one almighty being. – Athanasian Creed 1

Now, the English has been smoothed out a little bit, which actually obscures the meaning a little. What the Creed literally says in Latin is

The Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, the Holy Spirit is omnipotent. Yet there are not three omnipotents; there is but one omnipotent

What the creed is getting at is that everything that each of the persons is, is because they are a complete subsistence of the singular and indivisible divine nature. I might quibble with the language of “instantiation” used by Holmes… who knows since Leithart provides zero context or citation… but the point being made is solid. The Father’s attribute of “omnipotent” is one and the same as the Son’s attribute of “omnipotent.” The Son’s person is not separate from his essence, and neither is the Father’s… thus the Son’s essence is not separate from the Father’s essence, and vise versa. Logically this means that the Father’s person is not separate from the Son’s person, although we affirm they are distinct. Rather the Son is interior to the Father, and so also the Father is interior to the Son. This point is made well by Leithart late in the article… but he seemingly misses the theological importance of it.

To carry this to the alleged problem he is identifying though, he argues that to say that “all that is truly ‘personal’ (knowledge, volition, action … ) [is located] in the ineffable divine nature, not severally in the [Persons]” basically results in a form of unitarianism in which there is only one person. However, this simply is not the case.

Personal is an attribute, and like all of the other attributes of God, there is only one of it. To say that there are two attributes of “personal” is to say that there are two divine natures… which would be manifest tritheism. Augustine and the Cappadocians are simply speaking in the same way that the Athanasian Creed does 2. Leithart seems to take exception to the idea that there is only one volition in the Trinity… which makes sense since the primary critique of EFS (which he appears to be at least obliquely defending in this article) is that there is a plurality of wills in the Trinity… and volition and will are synonyms.

If we were to take the attribute of Personal and map it to the logic and language of the Athanasian Creed we would have a statement like the following

The Father is personal, the Son is personal, the Holy Spirit is personal. Yet there are not three personals; there is but one personal.

Simply put, there is a single divine nature and any subsistence of that divine nature bears the attribute of personal, which is one and the same shared attribute that the other subsistences bear via the single divine nature.

Does Leithart really want to advocate that there is a plurality of attributes? Does he really want to say in contrast to the Nicene Creed that there is more than one Lord since the Lordship of the Father is separate from the Lordship of the Son is separate from the Lordship of the Spirit?

Another issue I want to point out is the implicit passibility and confusion regarding the incarnation which Leithart demonstrates toward the end of the article.

As is common among Personalists / Theistic Mutualists, there is an implicit (or often explicit) denial of divine immutability and impassibility which comes to pass. Leithart waxes poetic, but this denial is clear as day if you know how to look for it.

He poses the question:

Do all of Jesus’ actions and doings show the Father? It doesn’t seem so. Jesus’ weakness doesn’t seem very Godlike. He gets hungry and thirsty: Does the Father? He sleeps: Do we see the Father when we catch Jesus napping? Jesus bleeds: Does the Father have veins and arteries?

He seems to answer the question in a way that a classical theist would… but undercuts his statement by calling it into question in the next breath.

Augustine distinguished “form of a servant” statements (what is true of Jesus in his humanity) from statements about the “form of God” (what is true of Jesus as eternal Son). It’s a serviceable distinction, though even here we should pause to consider what kind of almighty, needless, un-sleeping God is capable of entering so fully into our frailty.

However, he continues and asks a series of similar questions:

Not all questions about Jesus and his Father are so absurdly easy to answer. Jesus mourns (John 11:35); does the Father? He gets angry (Mark 3:5); does God really get angry? Out of compassion, Jesus heals (Matt. 9:36; 4:14); does the Father experience compassion (whatever divine “experience” might be)? Does the Father respond to human misery? Do we see the Father when we see Jesus dying on a Roman cross?

What Leithart is doing here, is calling into question the distinction between Christ’s human and divine nature. No longer are we to see that Christ takes on the form of a servant in order that he might subject himself to our common infirmities. Instead, he takes on the form of a servant in order that he might somehow express divine realities in creaturely ways. Christ’s weeping is a reflection of some kind of divine weeping. Christ’s anger is a creaturely version of the Father’s divine anger. Christ’s misery and suffering on the cross is a human version of… what? 3

Lest anyone think I am reading into Leithart’s words here, he goes on to make it explicit.

We might think that sorrow, anger, compassion, and responsiveness to injustice and misery belong on the “form of a servant” side of Augustine’s ledger. Jesus experiences those things because he’s human. But that can’t be right. If Jesus sorrows, grieves, shows anger, and feels compassion, and yet the Father does nothing like that, if Jesus’ character is nothing like the Father’s, then we wonder what Jesus means when he says, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”

Now, I don’t want to turn this blog article into a dissertation… but again Leithart misses a critical component of Classical Theism.

No classical theist would say that the language of emotion, grief, wrath, suffering, etc… which is frequently applied to God in the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms, is simply empty words which find no reality in God. However, we would argue, which the majority witness of the Church, that these words are applied analogically. Meaning that there is a point of contact between what we mean when we say God is angry, and what we mean when we say a human is angry. However, that point of contact is finite and God is infinite. Thus, with Aquinas and others, we affirm that whatever similarity there is, there is an infinite dissimilarity. That is simply to say that whatever finite true thing we can say about God when we use the language of emotion… there are infinitely more true things about God in relation to that concept that we can never know or speak.

Leithart goes on to say “Much of what we might think is the ‘form of a servant’ actually shows Jesus in the ‘form of God.'” He continues by saying:

If we see the Father (not the ineffable divine nature) when we see Jesus, then the Father must be the kind of being for whom we could draw up a character sketch, with likes and dislikes, the kind of God who responds with outrage at injustice, pity at suffering, and saving action for the distressed. If we see the Father when we see Jesus, the Father is a person in the personalist sense of the word.

This functional denial of the Archetypal / ectypal distinction in Leithart leaves us with a God who responds with outrage… pity… saving action. He is a God who can be moved by us and thus changed by us. This is part and parcel of the theistic mutualist movement, and combined with the plurality of will that Leithart seems to introduce by his denial of the unity of will above… we are left with three divine persons who have three distinct wills… and who are moved by their creatures… if you take what he says about the Father being seen in the suffering of Jesus on the cross and extend that logic here… we also have three suffering gods… this is starting to look more like a Percy Jackson book than the Holy Scriptures.

Now, I would be remiss to ignore that Leithart appears to reject some of these implications later in the article. He seems to want to maintain the Archetypal / ectypal distinction between divine “pity, anger, compassion and sorry” and creaturely passions, and instead treat them as some kind of divine passions. He also explicitly affirms that the Father, Son, and Spirit are homoousios the same substance.

However, I will simply close my post by repeating his words.

These are internal contradictions, perhaps, albeit happy ones.


I commend to my readers All That Is in God by James Dolezal for a popular analysis of Theistic Mutalism and related errors.

Notes:

  1. Cited from the UCRNA website
  2. Which makes sense since the Athanasian Creed is theological descended from Augustinian Triadology… not Athanasian Triadology
  3. Much more could be said about Leithart’s misunderstanding of the communicatio idiomatum in the Hypostatic Union, but this article is already far longer than it should be.

Jephthah’s Not-As-Rash-As-You-Thought Vow

As I have commented in the past, simply reading the Bible slowly, carefully, and with the intent to retain meaning, has tremendous benefits. Often times a text that seemed like a difficult text, or was confusing, becomes clear by simply reading the whole chapter or book in which it exists.

Similarly, reading the whole Bible slowly, carefully, and with the intent to retain meaning often yields similar results. To demonstrate this, I want to talk about the case of one of the judges of Israel: Jephthah.

Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” – Judges 11:29–31, ESV

Jephthah, so the account goes, was about to go into battle with the Ammonites and decided to get a little bit of help from the Lord. He vowed to offer whatever came out of his house first when he returned from victory to the LORD as a burnt offering.

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” – Judges 11:34–35, ESV

When he arrived home, his daughter greeted him, meaning that he would be required according to his vow to sacrifice her as a burnt offering in exchange for what the LORD had done.

And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. – Judges 11:36–39a, ESV

Ever the dutiful daughter, she submits herself to her father’s foolish decision, agrees to be party to his sinful Molechian sacrifice, and only asks that she be allowed to mourn her virginity. After two months, she returns and is ostensibly sacrificed to the LORD.

Or was she?

My first real interaction with this passage was in an online debating forum called debate.org. I had engaged in a debate which sought to defend the Bible from critique. One of the features that my interlocutor pointed out was this text, and how it was contrary to the established Levitical and Deuteronomistic law which forbade human sacrifice. I set out to harmonize the text, and I think I did a fair job. There are a number of features in the text which can be used to prove that Jephthah was operating outside of God’s law and that God was not consenting to the sacrifice. 1

However, as I was doing some basic research for that interaction I came across a remarkably common view that rather than sacrifice his daughter, instead, he dedicated her to religious life. This was usually explained by the fact that she mourned her virginity, which seems a silly thing to do since your life will be over. I never gave this much thought and dismissed it out of hand.

However, I came across something in my daily reading that caused me to rethink this.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the LORD involving the valuation of persons, then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford.

“If the vow is an animal that may be offered as an offering to the LORD, all of it that he gives to the LORD is holy. He shall not exchange it or make a substitute for it, good for bad, or bad for good; and if he does in fact substitute one animal for another, then both it and the substitute shall be holy. And if it is any unclean animal that may not be offered as an offering to the LORD, then he shall stand the animal before the priest, and the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall be. But if he wishes to redeem it, he shall add a fifth to the valuation. – Leviticus 27:1–13.

When I read this, it jumped off the page to me. Suddenly, the missing piece of the Jephthah puzzle was found.

Now, I fully acknowledge two facts:

  1. Reliable commentators are split on this, and Matthew Henry is correct in stating that there is no religious law in all of the Old Testament which commends celibacy or virginity. Further, Jephthah seems to be a pretty well off individual, and the valuation to redeem her should have been easily affordable. These two things mitigate against my view.
  2. This is unlikely to convince a hardened skeptic who is using this passage against you (as if it is actually possible to use Scripture against the elect!), but that is unsurprising since they are not interested in seeking the truth, but in suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.

However, I have a tough time thinking that anyone who was familiar with the Levitical code could have read this passage and not seen the parallels. In fact, I looked at several cross-reference resources, and many of them make exactly this connection.

As far as I can tell, Jephthah swore a vow to dedicate whatever came from his house as a burnt offering. 2 The Hebrew text is ambiguous as to whether he expected this to be an animal or a person 3, but give the drastic opposition to human sacrifice in the Levitical code it seems unlikely that Jephthah would be bargaining with Yahweh, by offering him something that Yahweh has repeatedly stated that he hates. 4 I conclude from this that he expected it to be an animal that wandered out when he returned. However, when he was greeted by his only daughter, he remembered that the Levitical code allows for a man to vow his child to the LORD, and knowing that he could not offer her as a burnt offering, he instead fulfilled his vow by devoting her to the LORD’s service. 5

This, in my view, makes much better sense of the passage. 6


See also: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/rethinking-jephthah-foolish-vow/

Notes:

  1. Namely, the Spirit of the LORD had already come upon Jephthah and thus his victory over the Ammonites had already been secured, but Jephthah simply made an extraneous and unnecessary vow. The LORD did not reward his vow since he had already intended to deliver victory over the Ammonites.
  2. If the context tells us anything, this may have actually been a prophetic vow since it was made under the influence of the Holy Spirit!
  3. Hebrew lacks a neuter grammatical gender
  4. Especially since the immediately preceding pericope is a demonstration of Jephthah’s shrewd bargaining skills.
  5. Grammatically it is unclear if Leviticus 27:28 and 27:29 are a single command, with 29 being further explanation of 28 or if 29 constitutes a distinct command. I take the latter view and justify with the explanatory clause clarifying “devoted” in vs 28 from “devoted to destruction” in vs 29.
  6. There may also be some fruit to be harvested in looking at the escalating sacrifices made by Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson which in many ways parallel Abraham and ultimately Christ. Gideon gives up his family, Jephthah gives us his only child, Samson gives up his very life.

Doctrine and Doxology

Good theology leads to worship when we fully realize more truth about God.

These days, a lot of my theological study gets smashed into a day that is already full of work and grading and spending time with my wife and children.

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to spend eight hours in a car in one day. Four hours one direction and four hours back home. Some people would probably view this as an annoyance, but I love long drives. Especially now with the explosion of podcasts, I found this last trip to be a wonderful opportunity to get some serious theological learning on!

It was great to jump into the deep end, but I also made sure to keep some time open at the end, sans audio, so that I could have time to do some actual reflection and prayer on what I’d been learning. What stood out to me most at the end of the day was how often I had been drawn to worship. How often I would thank God for the way that he created things, or thank God for the way that he chose to do things, or thank God for the way for who he is. As things clicked and as I realized how coherent and wise God is… there’s just so much peace and joy in that.

And this worship was in the face of complex, head-on-table stuff. This is on stuff that our old nature would perhaps declare boring and overly technical, nitpicky type stuff. On the surface, it would seem that you can’t get more nitpicky than the debate of supralapsarianism versus infralapsarianism. But I believe that this is one possible sign of growing sanctification. God changes our desires and rightly orders them to be attracted to learning more about him no matter how minute and finely-tuned.

As examples, I wanted to share a few of those worshipful reflections. These topics all come from the episodes of the Reformed Brotherhood podcast that I was listening to on that trip.

Infralapsarianism

Praise God that we do not serve an arbitrary God or a cruel God, but a sovereign God who did create a wise and righteous plan for his creation. Praise God that we have a loving God who sent his son to save us from our fall, who is a God who saves, who is the God who judges wisely and fairly.

Sabbatarianism

Praise God that we serve a God who knows what’s best for us because he created us. He knows how we function most properly and has ordained the means by which we can function most properly. He’s written it into the heart of man in such a way that even the unbeliever feels the rightness of having time off every 7th Day.

Christology

Praise God that we have a savior who, through his incarnation and through the continuation of that incarnation and the hypostatic union, is able to properly intercede and mediate on our behalf to God! Also, the fact that Christ’s physical body is in heaven in some way (though hard for us to understand) gives us assurance of our own Resurrection. There is in the existence of heaven a characteristic that allows for fleshly creatures to exist there. It is not just a blissful nothingness or an ethereal happiness, but it is in some way a place where our physical bodies will be able to exist.

A Call to Keep the Sabbath

I’m a Calvinist. A “new” Calvinist, I guess you could say. I wasn’t raised a Calvinist – I didn’t know what the doctrines of grace were and I couldn’t tell the difference between a sola and a Solo cup. But during my four years attending Bible college (one which leaned Calvinistic but rejected the doctrine of definite atonement) I was, like many of you reading this I’m sure, swept into the so-called “young, restless, reformed” movement and introduced to the 5 points.

After some initial hesitation, the Word of God assisted by authors like John Piper and Michael Horton led me to embrace the doctrines of grace wholeheartedly (although it took me a while to come around to the L). And just like that, I was…Reformed.

I went through a cage stage, as a lot of us tend to do. I was zealous for the doctrines of grace and strained more than my fair share of friendships over God’s sovereignty. And I proudly told anybody that would care to listen that I was, you guessed it, Reformed.

I went on like this for the better part of two years, accepting the five points of Calvinism but still ignorant of the rest of the Reformed faith. Little did I know, I had only touched the tip of the iceberg when it came to Reformed theology, somewhere I fear many other so-called “young, restless, reformed” folks have ended up.

But then something happened. I started to hear about something called covenant theology —something spoken of negatively at my dispensational Bible college— and I started reading up on it. Books like Christ of the Covenants by O Palmer Robertson and Introduction to Covenant Theology by Michael Horton introduced me to the topic. I began to wrestle with how Scripture was put together and started wondering what the place of God’s Law was in the life of the believer. I was excited, somewhat confused, and trying to find answers. Was there more to Reformed theology than Calvinism? It appeared that there was!

And then, suddenly, it clicked. I won’t go into the details, but last year everything fell into place and I discovered the richness of the Reformed faith. I discovered authors like Nehemiah Coxe and the contemporary Richard Barcellos and before I knew it, I considered myself a 1689 Baptist (so close, right Presbyterians?).

Except there was this one thing.

The Sabbath.

I found out Reformed people —confessionally Reformed people— keep the Sabbath.

Wait.

What?

I could dig total depravity and I could groove on unconditional election. But keeping the Sabbath? Setting aside an entire day of rest to the Lord? Come on! We aren’t Old Covenant Israel! Right?

I quietly sat the issue aside and focused on studying up on the covenant of works. I picked up Richard Barcellos’ Getting the Garden Right —which I thought was mostly a defense of the covenant of works— and discovered that the bulk of the book was dedicated to defending the perpetuity of the fourth commandment. And guess what?

It blew me away.

I’m not writing to flesh out a defense of the perpetuity of the fourth commandment. I won’t go into the specifics of how I became convinced that the Lord’s Day should be observed each week. But I do want to go into detail on the importance of this doctrine to the Reformed faith. I am writing to those of you who think Calvinism is all there is to Reformed theology, to those of you just beginning your journey into the depth of the Reformed faith. I’m tempted to go into a greater emphasis on the importance of confessional Reformed Christianity (which, I think, is the truest form of Reformed Christianity), but I will settle for calling your attention to the importance of the Sabbath to the Christian life.

Listen to the words of Walter Chantry on the Sabbath. Pay attention to the absolute seriousness he places on this matter:

Whether or not people keep the Sabbath holy is not an incidental or insignificant matter. When God issued this fourth commandment he understood humanity much better than we do. Failure to practise [sic] this moral law is a root cause of moral decline, social disorder and widespread human suffering. No successful recovery of mankind can be devised without the inclusion of the fourth commandment in the remedy. 1

He declares that humanity cannot be recovered unless people keep the Sabbath. Not just Christians, mind you, but people. If this is true, why is the American church as a whole neglecting this commandment? Why has there been an absolute rejection of the fourth commandment in so much of evangelical Christianity? Should Christians not be at the forefront of the keeping of this law? If the issue is as serious as Chantry says it is (which, I believe, it is), then the answer is a resounding yes.

Think about it. Chantry says elsewhere in his work that we should just imagine what the church would look like if Christians dedicated 52 Sundays a year to knowing the Lord better. 52 days a year devoted entirely to knowing the Lord better! Instead of the usual practice of 52 Sundays a year in which we eagerly watch the clock as the sermon winds down ever closer to NFL kickoff. Imagine the growth that individuals, families, and churches would experience if they observed the one day God has set aside for Himself!

Joseph A. Pipa, Jr., in his immensely helpful book The Lord’s Day, quotes Dabney, who says:

the practical need for a Sabbath is the same in all ages. When it is made to appear that this day is the bulwark of practical religion in the world, that its proper observance everywhere goes hand in hand with piety and the true worship of God; that where there is no Sabbath there is no Christianity. 2

Most evangelical Christians would chafe at Dabney’s last assertion. But history is on the side of the Sabbatarian. As Pipa notes earlier in the book, “Sabbath observance has been the practice and conviction of most Christians from the Reformation until fifty to seventy-five years ago” 3

But I don’t hear anyone addressing this glaring historical and theological inconsistency. Why has the modern church so hastily thrown away this command? How come Sabbath observance is all but completely absent from your average evangelical church today? I can’t answer that question. But I can (and I will) call on my Reformed brothers and sisters to champion the cause of the fourth commandment.

It is up to us, whose historic confessions of faith contain the doctrine itself with instruction on how to observe it, to call the church back to Scripture. Let us be as evangelistic and zealous for the fourth commandment as we are about God’s sovereignty over salvation. Let us not settle with the tip of the iceberg of Reformed theology and let us not lose our newfound Calvinist brethren to a less-than-full-bodied Reformed faith. Let us faithfully rest each Sunday and show our brothers and sisters in Christ the fruit of a day set aside to the Lord each week. For the sake of the vibrancy of the church, let us fight for the fourth commandment.

Listen carefully to the observation of Pipa as the call to reform rattles in your ears:

Is it not possible that one reason for the spiritual weakness of the church is her failure to honour God on the Lord’s day? Is it not possible that one reason our churches are not more effective in reaching the lost is because we are not practising the Sabbath-keeping that brings us victory? Could this be true of us as individuals as well? Is it not possible that you continue to fall under the dominion of some particular sin because you have refused to sanctify God’s day in your heart? We lack victory because we have failed to recognize and utilize one of the God-given means of victory, while those who keep the Sabbath have victory” 4

Keep the Sabbath. For your personal growth in holiness, for the health of your local church, and for the health of the church as a whole. Be true to historic Reformed Christianity and do not settle for just the five points. And call others to do the same. A call to keep the Sabbath is a call to glorify God the way the Bible commands.

If you are interested in learning more about the perpetuity of the fourth commandment and the practicality of keeping the Sabbath, I recommend the following list of resources to get you started.

  • A Case for Sabbath Observance by Tom Hicks
  • Getting the Garden Right by Richard Barcellos
  • The Lord’s Day by Joseph A. Pipa, Jr.
  • Call the Sabbath a Delight by Walter Chantry

Notes:

  1. Call the Sabbath a Delight 12, emphasis mine
  2. The Lord’s Day, 36
  3. Ibid 23
  4. Ibid, 13

Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Arminianism… Oh My!

There are a few terms that get thrown around (wrongly) in Reformed conversations, and as a result, we often bear false witness against our brothers unintentionally (or intentionally!). As Reformed Christians (or any Christians really), we ought to be concerned for God’s Law, and the 9th commandment exhorts us to speak truthfully, particularly as it relates to our neighbors.

What I find though, is that these terms are usually misapplied out of confusion over what they actually mean. This is sometimes exacerbated by the fact that popular Reformed teachers sometimes use them to describe the practical or logical implications of other positions, particularly the Arminian position.

I wanted to make a brief post to serve as a reference in the future, of exactly what these terms mean and where they came from. I’ll give a summary and quick comparison at the end of the post.

Pelagianism

Pelagius was a British monk who clashed with Augustine of Hippo during the 5th century. He was what is historically known as a rigorist, meaning that he believed that the Church had grown lax in relation to moral virtue and obedience to God’s Law (he was probably right). However, the theological solution to this was deeply misguided.

Pelagius argued, from the book of Romans no less, that humans did not inherit any of the guilt or corruption of Adam’s first transgression. There was no fundamental change to nature or moral status of Adam’s progeny, and they merely sinned as a matter of following the bad example set before them (initially by Adam, and subsequently by other humans).

This led him to a position where he believed that humans began their lives in a state of moral uprightness and that they could merit salvation unaided by grace. While it is a little unclear in Pelagius’ writings what exactly it is that grace does for humans, it appears that the death of Christ served as a sort of moral example and grace was helpful for righteous living, but not ultimately necessary.

Semi-Pelagianism

Augustine was a well-known figure in both the Western and Eastern Churches. Although there is some debate regarding how much of Augustine’s theology was adopted initially in the East, it is clear in the West that he won the day. Pelagius was soundly defeated, and by the close of the controversy, no one wanted to hold or be associated with his view.

However, there were some who desired to hold a mediate position between Augustine (who affirmed the total depravity of the human person), and Pelagius. This position would become the dominant view in the Roman Catholic Church of the Medieval period, and would ultimately be dogmatized by the Papacy in the Canons of Trent, and remains the official dogmatic position of Rome to this day.

This view holds that although all humans who descend from Adam by ordinary generation inherit the consequent corruption (but not necessarily the guilt), this corruption does not extend to the whole man. There remains a part of the human person who is not corrupt.

Soteriology, the result of this is that Semi-Pelagians hold that the human person must choose to follow God by engaging the unfallen faculty which remains within them. As a result, God will extend grace to further sanctify that person. The person now further engages their will (which is now more sanctified) to follow God, and God responds with further grace, creating a positive feedback cycle that will result in final justification and glorification.

Arminianism

In the era following work of John Calvin in Geneva and the surrounding cantons, there arose a group known as the Remonstrants. This group, which was comprised of the followers of Jacob Arminius and was located in the Netherlands, rejected certain vital doctrines of the Reformed movements. Namely, they believed that salvation was genuinely open to all persons and that God’s election of individuals was determined by means of prescience.

One doctrine that they did not reject, which will be surprising to many, is Total Depravity. Jacob Arminius, the Arminian Remonstrants, and those following after them (eg John Wesley) believed that all persons descending from Adam by ordinary generation inherited a corruption which was extended throughout the whole man (although, not necessarily the guilt of Adam’s first transgression). However, they also believed that God has extended prevenient or preparatory grace to all men such that this total depravity was in part reversed. To those who engage their restored faculty to follow Christ God extends saving grace.

Apt and Inapt Comparisons

I rarely see Arminians called full on Pelagians, and when I do it is usually a matter of inflammatory rhetoric… or just plain sloppy language.

However, I commonly see them accused of Semi-Pelagianism. This is still not usually correct, but it is a much closer comparison. Arminianism holds that humans are in the same state as Semi-Pelagianism does. That is, all humans are in a state where there is an unfallen faculty by which the human person can engage their will to follow Christ. Where they disagree, however, is the cause of that unfallen faculty. As noted above, Arminians believe that this faculty remains intact because God has restored it in all humans, and the act of will is a response to God’s grace. Semi-Pelagians on the other hand, believe that this faculty remains intact because the corruption of Adam’s nature, and the subsequent inheritance of that nature, was not complete. The human person must choose to follow God apart from any specific extension of grace on God’s part, and God then responds to that grace. This is what most popular Reformed teachers are referring to when they compare Arminians and Semi-Pelagians to each other, noting that although the way that the two positions arrive at their conclusion is different… the concluding position is the same: All humans choose to follow —or reject— God by means of some unfallen faculty.

Additionally, there are some Semi-Pelagian implications which flow from the Prescience View of Election. Namely, that God elects based on his foreknowledge of which humans will respond to the Gospel, and then determines to grant those humans special grace in order to bring about that response. The issue, however, is that God is considering them apart from his gracious acts, and thus the decision to follow him that he is foreknowing, is a decision that is unaided by his grace.

Summary

Next time you want to call someone (historically or contemporarily) a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian, think through these categories.

Pelagianism: Man does not inherit any guilt or corruption from Adam, and each human is born in the exact same condition that Adam was prior to the Fall. Man can not only begin the process of salvation but can complete it entirely unaided by God’s grace.

Semi-Pelagianism: Man inherits the corruption (but not necessarily the guilt) of Adam’s fall, however, this fall is not total and there remains a faculty in humans which is the same as Adam’s prior to the Fall. Man must begin the process of salvation unaided by God’s grace, but God’s grace is necessary to complete it.

Arminianism: Man inherits the corruption (but not necessarily the guilt) of Adam’s fall, and this corruption extends throughout the whole man. There is no unfallen faculty within humans. However, God extends prevenient or preparatory grace to all men and restores some faculty in all to a state of spiritual integrity. Man is then free to respond to this grace, or reject it. God must begin the process of salvation, and man must respond in faith to grace. God’s grace is necessary throughout the entire process of salvation, which cannot be initiated or completed without it. Likewise, although man does not initiate the process of salvation, it cannot be completed without man’s contribution.

Calvinism: Man inherits both the corruption and guilt of Adam’s fall, and this corruption extends throughout the whole man. God extends saving grace only to specific persons, initiating and completing the entire process of salvation, in which Man is a passive recipient.

O Death, Where is your Victory?

There are some questions that, when you first come across them, seem to put up devastating roadblocks against the Christian faith. I was asked one such question recently. I could tell that for this person, something that they had never before given a second thought was now front and center in their concerns. They asked me, “if Jesus conquered death, why do people still die?”

We had been discussing the specifics of the atonement; how Christ’s one-time sacrifice paid the ransom for all our sins.

If Jesus died to pay the price for our sins, and it worked, those sins are paid for, then why do we still have to pay the penalty of death?

The answer is… that we don’t. We don’t pay the penalty of death.

Confused? So was he.

People still die, obviously. And we know that death is indeed a negative consequence of the fall and original sin. It’s a continued consequence for all mankind, who share in and continue Adam’s sin.

But you, Christian reader, and I will die (unless Christ blesses us with his return before then! Maranatha!). Our future death is inevitable, despite the fact that we have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and united to Christ our Lord, and thus all our sins were laid upon Jesus on the cross. He took the punishment of hell that we deserve. All of it.

Christ took 100% of the eternal punishment that we owe.

Therefore, if we still die, we MUST say that we do not die as a punishment for our sins.

Yes, death is a consequence of sin. That’s the reason death exists. But for us, our death is not a punishment for the sins we commit. Instead, we die because we are human beings. Christ, for his purposes, chose to distinguish between his victory on the cross and a coming final victory at his return. In this meantime, sins are still committed, even by Christians. Disease is still spread, even among Christians. Death still happens, even among Christians. We die because we are human beings in mortal bodies, and human beings die.

But in fact, God uses the continuation of death for the good of his elect! Louis Berkhof writes:

The very thought of death, bereavements through death, the feeling that sicknesses and sufferings are harbingers of death, and the consciousness of the approach of death, — all have a very beneficial effect on the people of God. They serve to humble the proud, to mortify carnality, to check worldliness and to foster spiritual-mindedness. In the mystical union with their Lord believers are made to share the experiences of Christ. Just as He entered upon His glory by the pathway of sufferings and death, they too can enter upon their eternal reward only through sanctification. Death is often the supreme test of the strength of the faith that is in them, and frequently calls forth striking manifestations of the consciousness of victory in the very hour of seeming defeat, I Pet. 4:12,13. 1

So for the Christian, there is no penalty in death, and thus, there is no fear in death. Death is significant. Thus it can work effectively as a tool God uses to sanctify us for future glory, but death itself becomes merely a transition point. It is a laying down of our earthly body for a time. Our souls rise up to heaven. Berkhof’s previous paragraph is not finished:

Death is not the end for believers, but the beginning of a perfect life. They enter death with the assurance that its sting has been removed, I Cor. 15:55, and that it is for them the gateway of heaven.

For the Christian, physical death remains. However there is no, nor will there ever be, spiritual death. No lake of fire. No eternal punishment. No second death.

Our consciousness will forever continue, and each future stage will only get better!

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 2

Notes:

  1. Systematic Theology
  2. Hebrews 2:8-15

William Lane Craig – Theopaschitism (6)

As we have seen previously, William Lane Craig holds to a view which he calls Neo-ApollinarianismAlthough he claims that this is only a proposal, and thus claims a sort of theological immunity regarding its heretical implications, I don’t believe we should let him off the hook quite so easily.

To briefly review, Neo-Apollinarianism is a slight modification on the classical heresy named after Apollinaris, Apollinarianism. The primary difference rests in the fact that Craig, contra Apollinaris, does not hold to a view in which natures exist. This view is called realism, which postulates that underlying every concrete entity lies a metaphysical substance called nature. These natures determine what kind of hypostasis or person a given entity is. This is what explains the fact that two humans are actually two of the same kind rather than two similar things of a slightly different kind.

Craig, on the other hand, holds to a view which is classically known as nominalismAlthough there are some variations, his view is not different in the most important ways, but he prefers to call it Anti-Realism. In his view, there is no underlying metaphysical substance, and instead, we categorize things exclusively by the properties they bear. Thus, what the Son takes on in the incarnation is not a second metaphysical substance, but a set of additional properties (which include a physical body, among other things).

Craig disagrees with Apollinaris on a number of points, but the point that I want to focus on today was that Christ lacked a distinct human rational soul. This is point two of his proposed Neo-Apollinarianism. Craig (and Moreland) write “We postulate with Apollinarius [sic] that the Logos was the rational soul of Jesus of Nazareth.” 1 For Craig, the Logos possesses a certain set of properties, and some of these properties it shares in common with human creatures. Thus, by adding the properties of a human creature that the Logos does not possess to himself, he constitutes a hypostasis that is both fully divine (ie, possessing all of the properties of an entity in the category of divine, or for Craig, is a component of the Godhead) and fully human (ie, possessing all of the properties of an entity in the category of human). Now, I will write about this at a future time, but this results in a sort of Monophysitism, which is also heretical. However, I want to focus on a different implication.

The Passible Logos

There is a third component to Craig’s Neo-Apollinarianism, which is not often discussed. He writes “We postulate that the divine aspects of Jesus’ personality were largely subliminal during his state of humiliation.” 2 You see, traditional Reformed Christology accounts for the apparent limitations that are displayed during Christ’s incarnate ministry by agreeing with the Councils that Christ is a single person who possesses two minds. This intellectual capacity, along with some other spiritual faculties, is contained within the human rational soul. Since there is this duality in Christ, we are able to say, using the language and logic of Chalcedon, that the Son knew all things according to divine nature (Omnisciently), but did not have knowledge of all things according to human nature. Craig, however, cannot hold to this as there is no distinct human rational soul of Jesus. Beyond the logic of Chalcedon, this view was further affirmed at the Third Council of Constantinople, which Craig simply dismisses without much in the way of argumentation. 3

However, this leads to a position in which Christ suffers as God on the cross. The logic is relatively simple. If we affirm that Christ suffered both physically and spiritually (or even mentally) during the crucifixion, then it is unavoidable on Craig’s view that the Son suffered according to divinity. The reason for this is easy to see… there is no distinct human rational soul in which the Son could suffer. The human soul of Jesus is the Logos. Craig is literally saying that it was the eternal divine Logos which suffered on the cross, and explicitly not the Son according to a second distinct human nature.

Further, since the Logos is a component part of the divine nature, then God himself suffers. Remember, for Craig, only the Trinity as a whole is, properly speaking, God. Each person simply constitutes a part of that whole. If I injure a part of my body, say my foot, then it is proper to say that Tony —as a single being— am injured. Thus Craig is forced by his own distorted theology to say that when Jesus dies on the cross, the Trinity dies on the cross. When the Son suffers spiritual pain on the cross, the Godhead suffers spiritual pain on the cross. Although, this should not surprise us greatly since Craig believes that a God who suffers is “greater if He is not impassible,” since “impassibility is actually a weakness.” 4

At this point, Craig has rejected elements of the Nicene Creed as “a vestige of the primitive Logos Christology.” 5 He has embraced the worst elements of the theology of Apollinaris which was rejected at the Council of Constantinople. He has articulated an ontology which results in an error denied at the Council of Chalcedon and rejects the logic employed to maintain two distinct natures in Christ. He has rejected divine impassibility and argued that the Godhead suffers, and thus rejected the fifth ecumenical council, and he has dismissed the conclusions of the sixth ecumenical council. What early Christian heresy is there left for him to embrace at this point?

Bibliography

Craig, William Lane. #213 Divine Impassibility and the Crucifixion. May 16, 2011. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/question-answer/P110/divine-impassibility-and-the-crucifixion (accessed April 14, 2018).

—. #27 Is God the Father Causally Prior to the Son? October 22, 2007. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/question-answer/P20/is-god-the-father-causally-prior-to-the-son (accessed April 14, 2018).

Moreland, JP, and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christain Worldview. 2nd Edition. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

 

Notes:

  1. Moreland and Craig 2017, 605. Emphasis mine
  2. Moreland and Craig 2017, 607.
  3. Moreland and Craig 2017, 608.
  4. Craig 2011
  5. Craig 2007

Divine Simplicity: A Shibboleth for Our Age

There are some sounds in any language that some non-native speakers struggle with. In fact, more often than not… they never quite get it. Often times, the language-learner simply substitutes a similar sound. A classic, albeit stereotypical, example of this phenomena is found in the many caricatures of native speakers of Asian languages substituting /l/ sounds for /r/ sounds and vice versa. Any seminary student who has struggled to properly pronounce the Hebrew Resh knows exactly what I’m saying.

This phenomenon plays a central role in what I want to talk about today. But first, let’s look at some Scripture.

A Shibboleth for an Ancient Age

In the twelfth chapter of Judges, we come upon a strange account. The men of Ephraim were upset with Judge Jephthah for not calling them to battle against the Ammonites. Because of this slight, the Ephraimites and the Gileadites went to war. When we come to verse six we see something interesting:

they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell. 1

In this period in history, there were very few distinguishing markers between various groups in Canaan. People looked the same, they wore the same clothes, they ate the same foods. For the most part, an Ephraimite would have been indistinguishable from a Gileadite. This posed a problem for the Gileadite army. How could they tell if someone fleeing from the region of Ephraim was an Ephraimite (as opposed to a Levite or some other tribal identification)?

They came up with an ingenious solution. Apparently, there was a difference in the regional dialects which made it so the Ephraimites could not pronounce the Hebrew consonant Shin (Roughly equivalent to the English sound /sh/). So when they asked the person in question to say the word Shibboleth the respondent replied with the closest dialectical substitute which was the Hebrew consonant Sin (Roughly equivalent to the English sound /s/).

This dialectical distinction enabled the Gileadites to determine who was who, despite many other outward similarities.

A Shibboleth for a Patristic Age

Theological phrases and slogans often serve the same purpose. Nowhere in the history of the Church do we see this more clearly than in the conflict between the Pro-Nicene party and the Arian contingency of the 4th century.

Both the Pro-Nicene and Arian parties could cite scripture in support of their position. The liturgy and piety of the two groups were virtually indistinguishable. It was impossible to tell them apart without some kind of specific delineating factor. Unfortunately, this factor did not exist.

That is… until the Church invented one.

The Church realized that in order to distinguish the Arians from within their midst, they had to formulate a Creed which they could not affirm. This was difficult and took many attempts, but ultimately it was accomplished with the advent of the Greek word homoousious (Which means “Of the same substance”). With this word, placed within the Creed of Nicaea and later the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, even those who were not theologically trained could easily identify those who were faithfully following the Apostolic teaching regarding the full equality and divinity of the Son with the Father.

A Shibboleth for a Reformation Age

A similar effect took hold in the Protestant Reformation. Although there were many controversies that distinguished the Papal Church from the Protestants, the issue of the exclusive magisterial authority of Scripture was the formal dispute.

Both the Papists and the Protestants used the concept (although not formally sloganized until later) of Sola Scriptura as a Shibboleth of identity.

And this Shibboleth was not taken lightly. Like the Shibboleth/Sibboleth difference in the book of Judges, mispronouncing your bibliology could cost you your life. The issue was life and death because the men of the day understood that this was a matter of spiritual life or death. They took it seriously because it was serious.

Shibboleth for Our Age

The Visible Church of our age has spent the last 100 years or so defending central tenets of the Reformation from those within our midst. Men like RC Sproul and W Robert Godfrey gathered for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. Michael Horton and many others stood for the doctrine of Justification sola fide against the encroachment of the New Perspective on Paul, the Shepherd Controversy, and the Federal Vision. Men like John MacArthur (even though I think he overcorrected in significant ways) fought against the Antinomianism of Zane Hodges and the so-called Free Grace movement.

Our age, no less than those which preceded it, has been marked by controversy and a need to defend the Gospel from those who would seek to undermine it.

But many have lost sight of an even more foundational systematic truth.

In his recent book All That is In God, baptist scholar James Dolezal details the departure from the classical theism of our Reformed forefathers by many prominent evangelical and Reformed thinkers. Confessional men like Scott Oliphint and John Frame have opened the door for God to change, thereby denying the divine immutability that the author of Hebrews grounds our assurance in. Evangelicals like William Lane Craig and JP Moreland reject the divine simplicity that men like Athanasius and the Cappadocians utilized to establish the biblical nature of the concept of homoousios. We are renegotiating who and what the very God who justifies us is.

Moreover, and perhaps most significantly, men like Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem have articulated views which make the Son an eternal servant of the Father, instead of a consubstantial and conglorious equal… and have compared the Holy Spirit to the procreated offspring that results from the sexual union of a man and wife instead of the personal bond of love which is the ontological ground for the unity between Father and Son rather than the effect caused by it.

These compromises in the area of Theology Proper must not be tolerated. They strike at the very vitals of the Christian religion. If we abandon these truths, we have abandoned Christianity.

That is why we must make Theology Proper, and specifically the doctrine of divine simplicity, a Shibboleth for this age.

Now, the question always comes… are you saying that Bruce Ware isn’t saved? Are you saying that John Frame isn’t a Christian? Are you condemning Wayne Grudem and Scott Oliphint to hell?

I am not saying any of those things. It is above my pay grade (or any one person’s pay grade) to make those kinds of assessments. The Church, not I, holds the power of the keys.

What I am saying is that someone who says Sibboleth instead of Shibboleth is speaking a different dialect. They are speaking the language of those who reside outside the faith. The words that they are saying are heresy. There is no avoiding this conclusion. Could such a person be a regenerate Christian with terrible theology? Perhaps. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ, not by a proper articulation of theology proper. However, when someone speaks the language of the Ephraimites we should not immediately assume that they are actually just confused or misunderstood Gileadites. This is especially true of those who have dedicated their lives to studying the Scriptures. Could this person be among the elect, whom God will in some future point correct theologically? Definitely (and that is my daily prayer for these men)!

However, we must not act like this central issue is no big deal. For many (including the men mentioned here), this may be a matter of spiritual life and death. We do them no favors by refusing to confront this error in the strongest terms. We do not show them love by allowing their heretical statements to stand unchallenged. We are commanded to save some by snatching them out of the fire, and sometimes the process of snatching causes some theological bruises which manifest in our egos and relationships. We must, at times, take drastic action and make strong statements for the sake of men who have wandered astray. We do this out of love and concern, not malice or pride. We snatch them out of the fire because we were first snatched by Christ.

Notes:

  1. Judges 12:6

Our True Hero

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. 1

Humanity is always in search of heroes. Every culture invents heroes who can help them make sense of the world around them and offer some glimmer of hope of wrongs made right. The ancients had Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Heracles and Hektor, Romulus and Remus. We have Superman and the other comic book heroes, but Superman is, in the final analysis, no help. All of the heroes created by popular culture, both past and present, rescue us from our situation, but fail to rescue us from ourselves. The problems “out there” get resolved, only to leave us relatively unchanged. It is no different than treating the symptoms of cancer but leaving the tumor itself unchecked, destroying us from the inside out. As the woman who suffered for twelve years, both from her condition and her doctors, we have spent all that we have but come away with nothing. 2 Or, as is often the case, we are made even worse. We muster up a happy face while we hide our hemorrhaging souls.

Christ’s rescue of His people stands in stark contrast to our pop culture heroes. He doesn’t always rescue us from our situation. The salvation He offers is different. As He hung on the cross, others mocked Him saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him.” 3 Instead, we often find ourselves in the same place as Job, crying out in brokenness, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” 4 In the ultimate delay of gratification, we both weep and rejoice with him saying, “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” 5 The martyred saints of the Most High are even now under His eternal altar, crying out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 6

Our hope, then, is far different than that of the world. But what we sometimes miss in the midst of our pain is that death is necessary for resurrection. We miss the fact that God collects our tears. We miss that our Savior’s path to victory lay through misery, pain, and sorrows; our union with Christ means that our victory too will often lay along the same path. Our comfort then is not in a rescue from our current trials, but that Jesus, as the Man of Sorrows, truly shares in our hurts and cares. The aspect we often miss about our union with Christ is that while we receive the benefits of Christ, He really and truly receives into Himself all the hurts and cares we experience. Every tear we shed in our sorrow touches His face. Every cry of anguish we utter escapes His lips as well. Even now, as He stands in the heavenly Holy of Holies, Christ is interceding for us before the Father, perfectly identifying Himself with His people. “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” 7

Notes:

  1. Hebrews 2:14-18, ESV
  2. Matthew 9:20
  3. Matthew 27:42, ESV
  4. Job 13:15, ESV
  5. Job 19:26, ESV
  6. Revelation 6:10, ESV
  7. Exodus 2:24, ESV

Tragedy in the Cosmos: A Plurality of Will within The Godhead.

Reflecting on the idea of Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS) the thought struck me: What if there was a plurality of will within the Godhead? What if the Son did willingly submit to the Father from all eternity, as has been asserted by those who argue for EFS?

I argue that the potential exists for the headline of this post: Tragedy in the Cosmos: A Plurality of Will within the Godhead. If the will of God is diverse, and the Son “willingly” submits to the Father from all eternity, then the logical flow of thought demands that it could theoretically go the other way. Therefore, the potential for a cosmic coup d’état exists in the God of the universe. If one has the ability to subordinate themselves to the other, then they can likewise attempt to overthrow and supplant the other. This is nothing short of a tragedy that demands the attention of those who profess to worship the Triune God.

You see, this potential does not exist with the orthodox understanding of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. In fact, as Thomas Aquinas rightly recognized, there is no potential within God as He is “Pure Act.” The Three Persons of the One God are simple, without division, composition, or change. Rather, all Three of the Persons are coeternal… coequal… very God of very God. They are unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity, and as such, they are together to be worshiped. If this language sounds familiar, it should, it is codified in the Athanasian Creed.

You see, to subordinate the Son to the Father is not simply the loss of one piece of the theological system, it fractures the Rock of our Salvation, it compromises the unity of the Divine Essense, and it weakens the assurance of the Saints to rest in the security of their God.

As Anselm of Canterbury argued: God is that than to which nothing greater can be thought, and a subordinate Savior is not great. It is the weakening of the Cornerstone of the Church that has stood from all eternity in everlasting Glory!

2 Chronicles 30, The Regulative Principle of Worship, and the Intercession of Christ

I was reading 2 Chronicles 30 the other day, and something jumped out at me that was a real eye-opener.

Hezekiah, as many of the kings of Judah were, was a Reformer of sorts. At the beginning of the divided kingdom, one of the typological features which pointed to the remnant nature of Christ’s Church was that those who were under Jeroboam’s rule in the northern kingdom of Israel would return to the temple in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. This pilgrimage would mark them off as faithful covenant members because they return to the place where the LORD’s name dwelt. To put it in Reformed terms, they would return to Jerusalem to participate in the substance of the covenant, whereas their fellow Israelites would only participate in some of the outward administration of the covenant.

Hezekiah at the beginning of 2 Chronicles 30 issues a summons to all the faithful in both Israel and Judah to celebrate the Passover. And in an event that points to the ingrafting of the Gentiles from the nations, many from Israel as well as from the tribes of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) would answer the summons.

However, the text tells us that many (the majority) who came did not properly sanctify themselves. Not only the Priests had to engage in specifically prescribed rituals to consecrate themselves, but the people also had to purify themselves.

Further, the whole nation had not properly observed the Passover for some time.

So, overall, what we see is a picture of a gathered body of saints who had not been worshiping according to all the regulations which the LORD had imposed.

However, something interesting occurs. Rather than rush out of the Temple and destroy the people, as the LORD had in the affair of Nadab and Abihu or the Korahite Rebellion… Hezekiah intercedes for them.

May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness. -2 Chronicles 30:18-19, ESV

What is perhaps more amazing, is that the LORD hears and answers Hezekiah’s prayer.

And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people. – 2 Chronicles 30:20, ESV

This got me thinking. I’ve long struggled with how to think about people who regularly violate the Regulative Principle of Worship, but do so out of a sincere desire to worship the LORD. These violations can come in two forms. First, there are those who reject the Regulative Principle altogether. This might take the form of a High Liturgy Anglican who begins their worship service with a procession. It might take the form of a Seeker Sensitive Evangelical who attempts to create an air of holiness by utilizing a fog machine. It might also take the form of someone who upholds the Regulative Principle but misunderstands it. It might take the form of (from an Exclusive Psalmody perspective) a Particular Baptist who sings hymns. It might take the form of (from a Hymnody perspective) a Presbyterian who doesn’t sing hymns.

Often people who hold the Regulative Principle take the approach, that any worship that does not conform to the prescriptions of God is offering strange fire (Referring to the affair of Nadab and Abihu) that is detestable to God. They treat those who disagree as though God is not actually pleased with their worship. But is this true?

I don’t think it is. Chapter 16 of the Westminster Confession of Faith has some interesting insight that I think helps us understand this. Article 6 reads:

Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.

You see, there is never a good work in this life… worship or otherwise… that is properly conformed to God’s law. And as Question 14 of the Shorter Catechism states, anything that has a want of conformity to God’s law, is sin. So, our worship, even when offered according to the Regulative Principle, is still “accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.”

However, the beauty is that God looks upon our imperfect worship “in his Son” and accepts it just as he accepts us, despite those weaknesses and imperfections. Just as God heard and answered Hezekiah’s prayer to pardon those who “set his heart to seek God,” so also because of their union with Christ, God accepts and rewards good works and worship “which is sincere.”

What a joyful thing it is that the reality which Hezekiah’s intercession foreshadowed has come and that in him, we are accepted by the Father. Our faulty good works and worship, if offered sincerely, is accepted and rewarded by the Father, because of what Christ has done, and because of what he is doing. Although Christ’s work of atonement was finished on the cross, he continues to live to make intercession for us. 1 2

It is for this reason that we can confidently approach God’s throne. Not because of our conformity to his law, but because of our faithful high priest who makes intercession for us.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV

Notes:

  1. Hebrews 7:25
  2. This is not, of course, an excuse for licentiousness. Out of gratitude for what Christ has done and is doing, we should always seek to obey his law. Even though he accepts our imperfect worship, we should always be striving for greater conformity to his will. See Romans 6:1-11

A Plea Concerning Billy Graham’s Passing

I don’t know much about Billy Graham. I grew up in what you would call a “conservative evangelical” home but I had little to no interest in preaching or famous evangelists. So while Mr. Graham was busy preaching revivals, I hardly batted an eye.

Flash forward to 2018 and I’m a senior at Bible college. I spend my days going to Bible and theology classes and in my free time, I read more books about Bible and theology and blog about Bible and theology. I still don’t know much about Billy Graham.

But on Wednesday of this week, I heard the news that he had passed away. And I was saddened because even though I don’t know much about him, I know that many souls were brought to Christ through his ministry. There is no denying the impact he has had on eternity and (more temporally speaking) on American evangelicalism as a whole. Because of that massive influence, everybody has an opinion on Billy Graham.

Lately, those opinions have been coming out of the woodwork. They’ve been all over social media and it seems that some of us Christians have taken the news of this man’s death as an opportunity to offer our opinions. Whether they are criticizing his revival techniques, his ecumenical policies, or his belief in the exclusivity (or lack thereof) of Christ, it seems as if everybody has something to say.

However, it is my plea as a fellow believer in Christ, who cares deeply about proper theology and a right understanding of the Bible, that we stop offering commentary on the theology and practice of Billy Graham. At least for the moment.

A member of the body of Christ has died and is now present with the Lord. A giant of the faith has passed away and left behind a legacy of Gospel-preaching and Gospel-worthy living. Can we, at least for a few days, take a moment to celebrate the life of Graham rather than debate the finer points of his theology and practice?

There will be a time to discuss these things. They are important and are by no means irrelevant. But now is not that time. Now is the time to, “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) and mourn the loss of a man God used in big ways.

So I beg of you before you send out a tweet bashing some aspect of Graham’s theology or philosophy of ministry, think twice. Take some time to feel compassion for Graham’s family or a few moments to thank God for all of the good work he did for the sake of the Gospel. Maybe even say a prayer or two for his loved ones. But don’t waste your time writing something negative and insensitive.

Save the debates for later, please.

By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed

Murder is a terrible thing. It destroys more than just the lives of those who are killed. On Wednesday, February 14th, 2018, Nikolas Cruz 1 walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and murdered 17 people.

I will acknowledge from the onset of this short reflection, that I am reticent to even write this post. It seems almost crass to speak of anything besides mourning when the memories of gunshots and blood are still in the minds of children. However, the world around us doesn’t seem to care about decorum and grieving. They are seemingly happy to immediately turn from grief to outrage and to move from mourning to political posturing. Unfortunately, it is sometimes our task to respond, even when the timing feels inappropriate.

Even while then gunman was still at large, Twitter and Facebook were already trending with cries for tighter gun control laws. It seems that people were quickly willing to shift the blame away from the individual who was at that moment still fleeing from the law having murdered 17 people. While the gunpowder from his rampage was still in the air, people were already decrying the NRA, President Trump, and a host of others. Rather than blame the man who had just ended the lives of 17 people, they were happy to blame almost anyone else.

As Christians, we do not have the liberty to ignore sin. While I’m sure that there is a complex web of sin and negligence that attended this man’s evil plot, we must never forget that this man’s evil plot was this man’s evil plot. President Trump did not convince him to walk into a school and execute 17 people. The NRA did not participate in some grand conspiracy to arm him for this wickedness.

As Christians, we do not have the liberty to look at this tragedy through a lens besides what the Bible gives us.

Murder is A Violation of God’s Moral Law

The sixth commandment reads

You shall not murder. 2

The command is simple. Taking the life of another human being, without just cause, is a violation of God’s eternal moral command. It is an affront to the very nature of creation, which was called into being by the eternally good Father, through the eternally good Son, by the perfecting work of the eternally good Spirit. Murder is one of the gravest sins that a person can commit.

A simple look at the cross-references on the sixth commandment reveals that this prohibition predates the giving of the Sinai Covenant by hundreds of years. The first recorded sin after the expulsion from God’s garden temple in the land of Eden was murder. 3 Although there was all manner of wickedness both in thought and deed before the flood 4, it was murderous violence that brought about God’s determination to “make an end to all flesh.” 5 It is no coincidence that after the Flood, one of the first prohibitions that God gives to the remaining humans was a prohibition against murder. It is in this prohibition that God explains why the unjust taking of a human life is so heinous a sin.

Murder Is an Affront to the Image of God in Man

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. 6

While all sin is a rebellion against God and an affront to his nature, murder is a direct assault against the created image of God in man. In essence, it is man’s ultimate attempt to kill God and become a god in his own right. In taking life, we attempt to usurp a prerogative that only God rightfully has. 7 When we murder, we set ourselves up as our own deities and violate the very essence of what it means to be human. We have, in effect, rejected the very image of God that we bear in order to reforge ourselves in our own image.

For this reason, the punishment for murder must be death.

Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. 8

Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. 9

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. 10

Murder Must be Properly Punished

A person who has been proven to be guilty of murder 11 must be put to death.

Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death. And you shall accept no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the high priest. You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 12

There is to be no quarter for those who murder. There is to be no civil forgiveness for those who murder. 13 There is to be no parole or plea agreement for those who murder. The blood of those who are slain corrupt the very land that those who survive dwell in, and the only remedy for that corruption is the death of the murderer. It is a wicked thing to allow those who sin against the image of God in this way to continue to draw breath. The only debt to society that a murderer has, is the forfeiture of his or her own life.

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 14

It is the responsibility of our government to put to death those who take upon themselves the prerogative of killing. The sword which the government bears is not a tool of rehabilitation. The sword that the government bears is a tool to carry out the temporal consequences of God’s wrath upon sin. In the case of murderers, this is a sword which is to be used to kill the man killer. This is a sword which is to be used to draw the blood of the one who drew blood. Our government is derelict in its responsibility to accomplish this task, and as Christians, we are not honoring God by pleading for temporal mercy in the case of murderers. Every time our government offers a murderer a plea bargain it spits in God’s face. Every time it releases a murderer back into the community, it eschews its God-ordained responsibility to execute the manslayer. Every time it turns a blind eye to justice for the purpose of political or ideological expediency, it garners upon itself further corruption and judgment by God.

The terrifying part is that in the United States… we are the government. The citizens of the nation are the government which is allowing murderers to go free. We the people are the ones who are accepting a ransom for the blood of the innocent. We are the ones who allow the man killer to return to the land.

As I said previously, we as Christians do not have the liberty to look at the world through any lens but the one that the Spirit gives us in the revealed word of God. We must not tolerate this refusal to enact justice any longer. We don’t have a gun problem in the United States… we have a sin problem. Not just the sin of murder, but the sin of refusing to punish murderers.

Notes:

  1. As of 7:42 AM on 2/17/2018 Cruz has not been convicted or pleaded guilty of the crime. He has, however, stated that he would be willing to plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty. This is sufficient grounds to not indicate that he is only alleged to have committed this crime but to treat him as though he is guilty of it.
  2. Exodus 20:13, ESV
  3. Genesis 4:8
  4. Genesis 6:5
  5. Genesis 6:11-14, ESV
  6. Genesis 9:6, ESV
  7. 1 Samuel 2:6–8, John 10:18
  8. Exodus 21:12
  9. Leviticus 24:17
  10. Romans 1:29-32
  11. There are evidentiary standards that the Bible requires for proper conviction of any crime, and it is a matter of debate as to whether or not the current United States justice system is able to meet those evidentiary standards.
  12. Numbers 35:31–33, ESV
  13. This is in no sense to say that a person who commits the sin of murder cannot be forgiven by God, because of the death of Christ on their behalf.
  14. Romans 13:2-4, ESV

When the Rooster Crows

For the past few months, my pastor has been working through the Gospel of Mark in a series entitled The King and His Cross. This past Lord’s Day, we were in Mark 14. The message covered almost the entire chapter and what stood out to me most was a tiny, off-the-cuff comment my pastor made about Peter’s denial of Jesus.

He extrapolated that Peter, after his denial of Christ and subsequent restoration by Jesus, never heard the crow of the rooster the same way again. He surmised that every time Peter heard the accusatory crow of that barn animal, his bitter denial of Christ flashed to the forefront of his mind.

Now, this thought was made in passing and was by no means the main point of the sermon (or the passage, for that matter), but it got me thinking. What rooster crows are there in my life? What triggers do I have that remind me of past sin? What outside stimuli do I encounter that conjure up past failures? And furthermore, what is my response when I am overwhelmed by the guilt they make me feel? How do I handle past failures? And how do I try to handle them rightly? We are going to examine that today.

I think we all have rooster crows in our lives. All of us have sinned in myriad ways and there are some of us that have dabbled more heavily in sin than others… especially those who were not saved until much later in life. So we all, from time to time, are reminded of the more shameful moments in our past. Moments when we did not walk in a way that was “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27, ESV)

Maybe a particular song comes on the radio that recalls a failure from high school. Maybe a remark made by a friend conjures up mistakes you made in other relationships. Or maybe it is only a flash of memory in your brain, brought on by nothing more than your sensitive conscience or Satan’s wiles. Whatever it may be, there are times the rooster crows in our heads and accuses us of our sin.

For me, the rooster tends to crow late at night when I cannot sleep. I rehearse past situations in which I handled things incorrectly. Sins I have committed against other people scroll through my brain in a condemning list. Ways I have not sanctified the Lord in my heart shout at me and I hear the voice of the Accuser demand that I pay for my wrongdoing.

Have you ever been there? Helpless, alone, guilty, and with no way of defending yourself because the accusations are true? The rooster crows and it crows rightly. What is your response?

Oftentimes, my response is to wallow. I allow the train of condemning thoughts to roll through my imagination and sometimes I even try to stop it with more sin. How foolish! Yet I dig my own wells and try to find relief in other places. Maybe you respond in a similar fashion and try to drown the cry of the rooster with things of the world.

But Christian, this is not the way God wants us to handle the crow of the rooster. This is not the proper way we deal with the Accuser’s claims. Handling the guilt of past sin in this way is playing right into the hands of the Accuser himself.

Today, I want to give you three ways you can properly deal with the rooster when he makes his accusatory crow.

Agree with him

Most of the time, when the rooster crows, he isn’t crowing for no reason. Maybe he’s crowing about a sin you committed earlier that day, or maybe he’s crowing because of something that happened years ago, but the fact of the matter is this: you sinned and you (rightly) feel guilty because of it.

But if that sin has been properly dealt with —and by that I mean if you have repented and confessed to the Lord and made things right with any offended parties— you have no reason to feel guilty about it anymore. Before He died for us, Christ knew of every sin we would ever commit, so “much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10, ESV)

So go ahead and agree with the Accuser that you sinned, but respond with the fact that your sin is paid for and you no longer owe the debt you racked up because of it!

Cry Out to God

When you are reminded of your sin and God’s holiness, you’re in the right place. Whether it’s a sensitive conscience that’s making the rooster crow, the wiles of Satan, or sometimes even the Holy Spirit Himself who is pricking your heart – you’re right where God wants you to be. He wants you to see your sin for what it is and His holiness for what it is. So cry out with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24, ESV)

Run to the Cross

This is the most important thing to do when the rooster crows. You have agreed that you have sinned, you have cried out for deliverance from God, now run to the place where God dealt with your sin and cling to it for forgiveness. Claim the truth of 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV). How is he faithful and just to do this? Because, “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14, ESV)

Christ died for you and paid for those sins you’re feeling guilty about. If they’ve been dealt with properly, you have no reason to let the rooster crow incessantly. Allow the blood of Jesus to silence his cry and rest in the grace of your savior.

Review of “Retrieving Eternal Generation” edited by Fred Sanders and Scott Swain (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

The doctrine of eternal generation is absolutely vital to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Without it, we are left not with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… but with three nameless, faceless, and relationless divine persons. However, in recent years this doctrine has come under attack.

On the other side of the equation, some have taken the eternal sonship of the Son, and turned it into an eternal role of submission. This too will not stand.

In Retrieving Eternal Generation, Fred Sanders and Scott Swain have assembled a forceful chorus in support of this doctrine. With scholars from a wide range of traditions, this book seeks to bring back to the front of the Christian mind this ancient doctrine.

As most edited collections of essays of this sort do, this book starts with the Biblical data, proceeds to the historical testimony, and finishes with essays regarding modern constructive and systematic theology. Also like most edited collections of this sort, it suffers from a general lack of cohesion. The essays are disparate and essentially unrelated apart from the central theme. However, as each essay stands on its own this is not too great of a concern.

Particularly useful, in my estimation, were the exegetical essays by Matthew Emerson (Ch 2 – Wisdom in Proverbs 8), Charles Lee Irons (Ch 5 – A defense of Monogenes as “Only Begotten), and Madison Pierce (Ch 6 – The enigmatic citation of Psalm 2 in Hebrews 1).

Unfortunately, I found that the historical essays in part 2 lacked the same impact that the exegetical essays in part 1 possessed, and the Philosophical and Theological essays in part 3 seemed almost to be an afterthought.

Overall, this is a solid entry on an important topic in our modern theological landscape. It is worth the read, however, I don’t see this being a volume that has any long-standing impact. I hope it prompts further discussion and research but lacks any substantive academic punch necessary for significant theological dialog.


Please Note: The publisher has provided me with an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Review of “Learning to Love the Psalms” by W Robert Godfrey (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2017)

The Psalms are commonly known as the Hymnbook of the Bible. Beyond a notebook of praise, it also contains some of the most well known and well-loved prayers in Scripture. However, in modern times many evangelicals —even those who would be counted among the so-called New Calvinists— are simply unfamiliar with this deep treasure trove.

In Learning to Love the Psalms, W Robert Godfrey takes us on a tour through this sometimes foreign land. After a brief introductory chapter, Godfrey begins to unpack representative Psalms to not only teach us how to read the Psalms but indeed how to love the Psalms.

Although I found this book to be a bit superficial for my tastes, I would be remiss not to acknowledge that for its intended audience the book is just right. This is not a book of deep exegetical insight, and nothing in its pages is likely to amaze the reader. However, Godfrey’s own love for the Psalms shines through each chapter.

This is a great book for someone who is looking to dive deeper into the piety of classical Reformed thought, and I can say that in my own devotional time, incorporating the Psalms on a regular basis has enriched my communion with God.

This book would also make a great book for a worship minister or leader in your congregation, or as a small group bible study supplement. Although not directly related, Ligonier also offers a lecture series where Godfrey covers much of the same ground. They are not designed to as a pair, but they function quite nicely as such.


Please note: The publisher has provided a copy of this book for review purposes.

Review of “God Is” by Mark Jones (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017)

The true and living God is too much for us to bear, to handle, to conceive, to adore, to know, to trust, to understand, and to worship. The Incomprehensible One is simply too much for us in every conceivable way.

That is how Mark Jones starts out his book on the attributes of God. God Is is an entry in what appears to be a resurgence in interest in the theological discipline known as Theology Proper. This discipline generally covers the attributes of God (that which is common among the three persons of the Trinity), the Trinity, and occasionally the unique person of the Father (as a companion to Christology and Pneumatology). Jones intentionally positions his book, as the subtitle suggests, as a guide which serves to drive Christians to further devotion as they ponder the attributes of God.

Similar to his former book, Knowing Christ, this work contains short chapters that are oriented toward piety. Less technical than Knowing ChristGod Is includes in each chapter a brief description of the titular attribute, an explanation of how it is that the God-man reveals this attribute to us, and how the Christian ought to apply this doctrine to their life. The length of the chapters makes this perfect for a small group study, or just as a theological addition to one’s devotional reading.

Jones covers familiar ground with attributes like Divine SimplicityInfinity, and the Omni- attributes. But he also topics that do not fit into the traditional systematic treatments (eg YahwehBlessed, and Anthropomorphic). What is different from many other treatments of this topic in modern theology is the Christological approach. Committed to the thesis that the one who is “too much for us in every way” is revealed to us “through Christ, who makes the attributes of God more delightful to us,” he carefully explains in each chapter exactly how Scripture accomplishes this.

Overall, this was a solid entry in the field and I greatly enjoyed the read. It is not overly technical, and some who are familiar with Jones’s other work may be disappointed at how cursory the book seems. However, this is to misunderstand the audience and intended aim. While this is a book which covers the subject of Systematic Theology, it is intended to increase devotion. 1 This book fulfills that purpose handily.


Please note: The publisher has provided a copy of this book for review purposes.

Notes:

  1. These two things are, of course, not contradictory.

Calvin and Henry on Hebrews… contra Eternal Functional Subordination

This year, I have decided to do a deep dive read of the book of Hebrews. It is such a fountain of Christology, Soteriology, and Covenant Theology that it is in many ways the central cog upon which Reformed theology turns.

As part of that deep dive, I am not only reading Hebrews repeatedly but have also decided to read various commentaries alongside it. First, up for me are John Calvin and Matthew Henry.

Chapter 1, in many ways, is a Christological treatise. The author speaks of the glory of Christ in both his natural and mediatorial senses. That is, he speaks of the glory of Christ as God, as well as the glory of Christ as the exalted man.

In my reading of Calvin and Henry, two phrases stuck out in relation to the recent Eternal Functional Subordination controversy that just had to be repeated.

Henry commenting on Hebrews 1:10

The Lord Christ had the original right to govern the world, because he made the world in the beginning. His right, as Mediator, was by commission from the Father. His right, as God with the Father, was absolute, resulting from his creating power. 1

The EFS advocates (eg Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, Doug Wilson) commonly point to passages which speak of Christ as subordinate to the Father and argue that that is a voluntary submission that happens not only during Christ’s incarnate humiliation but in eternity past as a function of his natural relation to the Father. Henry here makes a clear distinction here between the commissioning (sending) of the Son as Mediator and his utter equality with the Father as God. His right to govern the world is on the same exact basis as the Father’s right to govern the world, and that basis is that they together created the world.

Similarly, Calvin commenting on Hebrews 1:9:

But as Christ recieved this unction when in the flesh, he is said to have been anointed by his God; for it would be inconsistent to suppose him inferior to God, except in his human nature. 2

Calvin is making a similar point to Henry. Just as EFS advocates will often point to the “sending” (commissioning) passages to support the idea that the Son is a voluntary servant of the Father eternally, they will also point to the various references to Christ being anointed or appointed to a particular task or office. Calvin here rejects that interpretation and instead argues that the anointing of Christ was according to his human nature since it would be inconsistent to think of him as inferior (here he means subordinate as well as naturally inferior) to God (the Father). His anointing was as the Mediator, that is to say, his anointing is as the second Adam, not as the second person of the Godhead.

Notes:

  1. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2381. Emphasis mine.
  2. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, translated by John Owen (not that John Owen!). Emphasis Mine

The Only Reason Not to Play the Lottery: A Rejoinder to John Piper and Brandon Takacs

Recently on the Two Thieves Podcast, cohost Brandon Takacs (flying solo… not easy to do. Well done Brandon) approached a 2016 article by John Piper. The article is self-explanatorily titled Seven Reasons Not to Play the Lottery.

I think that Takacs did a great job questioning some of the assumptions of the article, but missed a significant argument. He missed this argument because Piper missed this argument. While I agree with many of Takacs’s questions about some of the strong and unsupported assertions Piper made, I think that there is a straightforward argument to be made against participating in state-sponsored lotteries.

Now, I want to make a brief disclaimer. I think that there are cogent and biblical arguments to be made against all forms of gambling. Some of the argument I am about to advance applies to other forms of gambling, but not to all. I am really only responding to state-sponsored lotteries (Powerball, Scratch Off Tickets, Etc).

The Lottery is a Tax on People Who Don’t Understand Math… and Taxation is Theft

We need to talk a little bit about how these kinds of state-sponsored lotteries work. It isn’t magic, and the money has to come from somewhere. Furthermore, the State would not be doing this if it was not in some sense generating revenue for them.

When you purchase your lottery ticket, your money goes into a bank account. This bank account gathers interest, which the State keeps. This is how they generate revenue. When someone (or multiple persons) wins, the State pays out the funds (some or all) that were originally deposited by the purchase of lottery tickets. So, the money you win is the money that someone else paid. 1

This is important. You are not playing against the State, you are playing against other lottery players. When you win, you do not take money from the State, you take it from other lottery players.

In other words, when you purchase a lottery ticket, you are purchasing a chance to take the wealth of another person, without giving them anything in return. I’m not sure what else to call that but theft.

Lotteries only Work if People Don’t Really Understand the Odds

Now, I’ll acknowledge there is something exciting about a chance to win something. And usually, the bigger the prize, or the higher the stakes, the greater the thrill. While Piper seems to think that this is inherently sinful, I agree with Takacs that, at the very least, this is an unproven assertion. When I play a video game that has no save feature, so if I lose I have to start over (instead of at some later save point), the stakes are higher, and so every battle or puzzle has a greater thrill. The stakes are higher, but it is not sinful to enjoy these higher stakes. In the case of the lottery, many people will only play when the jackpot becomes a certain level because that is when it becomes thrilling.

However, if people really understood what kind of chance they were purchasing, I’m not sure they would play. Yes, it is true that once in a while someone beats the odds, and wins… that does not mean that any one person actually has a chance of winning. This is a common misunderstanding of statistics and one we intuitively understand in other areas. Allow me to demonstrate.

When I leave my house, there is a statistical chance that I will be struck by lightning and die. However, I recognize that the statistical chance is so low, that it does not warrant staying in my home at all times. Yes, it is true that once in a while someone beats the odds —so to speak— it does not follow that I should behave as though this is going to (or that it was even a realistic possibility) happen to me. We recognize that these chance occurrences happen at random 2 and that the presence of a minuscule possibility of them happening to us in any meaningful sense does not change that.

When we buy a lottery ticket because “it could happen to me” or “someone has to win,” (which, incidentally isn’t true… there is no statistical guarantee that anyone will ever win, but there is a statistical guarantee that many people will lose) it is like refusing to leave your house because “I could get struck by lightning” or “someone is going to get struck by lightning today.”

According to the official website of Powerball, the odds of matching every number and winning the total Jackpot is 1 in 292,201,338. That is less likely than being attacked by a shark (1 in 8,000,000), being struck by lightning (1 in 700,000), or even being killed by a meteorite (1 in 1,600,000).

If you don’t understand this, you are being deceived. Either by the State (which is common, the State often presents the lottery as a way to fulfill your dreams. Even by secular thinkers, this is often criticized) or by yourself. Yes, it is true that someone wins sometimes… but someone also gets struck by lightning sometimes, or attacked by a shark, or struck by a meteorite.

If we applied the same logic to playing the lottery that we do to going out of the house or swimming in the ocean, no one would play.

When You Win the Lottery, You are Stealing from the Uninformed, and usually the Poor

Now, if it were the case that every single person who was playing the lottery understood the nearly unfathomable odds, agreed to the risk, and still consented to play… you might be able to argue that this was not theft. It is probably still coveting since your fundamental goal in playing the lottery is to take the wealth of another person… but it probably wouldn’t be theft.

However, only a fool or a liar would claim that everyone actually understands the odds. As I demonstrated above, in ordinary circumstances when we are talking about statistically insurmountable odds like the chances of winning the state lottery… people live their lives as though it is not possible for it to happen to them. People play the lottery because they think they might win… and that is because they are deceived into thinking that they might.

What’s worse than that, it is usually the poor and uneducated who most frequently participate in the lottery. According to an opinion piece published in the International Business Times, “Playing the lottery is practically a religion among poor people in the United States. It is yet another corrosive addiction that preys upon the greed and hopeless dreams of those trapped in poverty.” The author quotes a study done by Wired Magazine which indicates that in households making less than $12,400 annually, on average spend 5% of their income on the lottery (that is 2.5 weeks of pay if they are full-time employees). What that means, is that you are not only stealing from deceived people, but you are stealing from poverty-stricken people who are being deceived by the State. You are purchasing a chance to take someone else’s money because they have been deceived into thinking that they might have a chance of taking yours. In point of fact, no one person actually has a chance of taking anything. The only entity involved who is guaranteed to profit is the State.

What Does Scripture Say? 3

I don’t have to go into an in-depth scriptural argument to justify why it is wrong to steal from poor people. So I’ll just quote a few key passages.

  • You shall not steal. 4
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s. 5
  • If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. 6
  • If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother 7
  • Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. 8
  • Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool. Desire without knowledge is not goodand whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way. 9
  • The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: “It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses.” 10
  • The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. 11
  • Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation. 12

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has published a helpful article on this subject as well. The Westminster Larger Catechism also speaks to this issue in question 142.

Notes:

  1. This is a general description of the process, there are obviously variations.
  2. Humanly speaking. All things happen according to the decrees of God, which is his eternal purpose whereby he has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
  3. All citations are from the ESV
  4. Exodus 20:5
  5. Exodus 20:17
  6. Leviticus 25:25
  7. Deuteronomy 15:7
  8. Proverbs 14:31
  9. Proverbs 19:1-2
  10. Isaiah 3:14
  11. Ezekiel 22:29
  12. Luke 20:46-47

Post Tenebras Lux: In Honor of RC Sproul

ἔσχατος ἐχθρὸς καταργεῖται ὁ θάνατος
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
– 1 Corinthians 15:26

As I’m sure you have heard by now, the esteemed Reformed teacher, pastor, and theologian, RC Sproul, died this past Thursday (December 14, 2017). There are many moving tributes and comments flooding the internet right now, and rightfully so. I didn’t want to just add my voice to that chorus, but it felt remiss not to make a few comments about a man whose ministry has shaped me and most of my audience in ways that are almost unimaginable.

I honestly cannot remember my first exposure to Sproul’s teaching. I know that I used to hear him on the local Christian radio, but he was just one voice among many. Although the airwaves in my town were dominated by the likes of Greg Laurie, James MacDonald, Chuck Swindoll, and other Arminian preachers, I remember fondly hearing the strong voice of Dr. Sproul. Although I didn’t know it at the time, his views on providence, holiness, and the necessity for precise theology was a boon to my soul.

When I got to college and began to study theology and biblical studies, I began to have categories for these distinctions. Although still not following Dr. Sproul’s teachings in any serious way, I began to look back and understand why it was that his characteristically raspy voice sounded so clarion clear amidst a chorus of decisional regeneration.

I began listening to podcasts shortly after I graduated from college. Renewing Your Mind was one of the first shows I subscribed to. Having listened for years now, I have heard most of his famous lecture series many times over. Particularly impacting on me was his discussion of the various views on the Millennium. I remember distinctly a feeling of freedom listening to it the first time. This giant of the faith, a man who was a teacher of thousands and millions… had the humility to acknowledge that he really wasn’t sure. He had a position, but he was able to recognize the difficulties and limitations of that stance. Eschatology was one area myself that I had not deeply studied at the time, and couldn’t make heads or tales of the debate. Not only did Dr. Sproul help clear up the contours of the positions, but he gave me permission to be tentative. That was game changing for me.

This was characteristic of Dr. Sproul as a public figure. Although he was a stalwart and fierce defender of the faith, he was a defender of the faith because of what Christ had done for him. The humility and grace that Christ exercised in his humiliation were on full display in the life of Robert Charles Sproul. We would all do well to emulate his faithful obedience. This blog, especially in recent history, has engaged in a lot of polemics. Sometimes it has even been a polemic against Dr. Sproul! However, it is not uncommon for me to sit back from a post I’ve written and think about what Dr. Sproul would say to me if he read this. The same man who looked at a crowd and asked “What’s wrong with you people?!?” also wrote children’s books. The man who often remarked about marrying his childhood sweetheart was not afraid to take someone to the mat in order to protect and promote the glory of God.

When I write a post, I often ask, what would Dr. Sproul say to me if he read this? Would he be proud of me? Would he be disappointed? Would he laugh and pat me on the back and say “You get ’em Arsenal!”

I hope that he would be proud. Just as Paul was a man whom we should emulate, Robert Charles Sproul is a faithful servant of Christ who we would all do well to follow after. In this age, he followed Christ, and he has gone before us in the age to come and has received his reward.

In a beautiful and bittersweet turn of providence, Renewing Your Mind was broadcasting the Eschatology portion of his Systematic Theology series this past week. As I read of the news of Dr. Sproul’s hospitalization and began to understand that he probably wasn’t going to wake up, I listened to a man who was my teacher for over a decade tell me that he wasn’t sure when Christ was going to return in relation to the Millennium. I listened to him teach me again about the final judgment, the nature of hell… and I marveled at God’s providence as he taught me about the believer’s final and blessed hope in Christ the morning after he entered that blessed hope. I never met Dr. Sproul, but I have to believe that when Jesus greeted him that he smiled and said “Robert my child, welcome home. Wait until you see what episode airs tomorrow!” Even in death, Dr. Sproul continues to teach us, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. His legacy lives on in the lives of the Reformed community, let us always remember the gift he has given us and the gift that he was to us.

requiescat in pace, soli Deo gloria!
Robert Charles Sproul 1939-2017

Socinianism, Divine Simplicity, and the Eternal Functional Subordination Controversy

Broadly speaking, the Reformation can be categorized under two headings.

The first and the one that most of us are familiar with is the Magisterial Reformation.  The Magisterial Reformation saw itself in continuity with Catholic Christianity and only sought to reform the doctrinal deviations which crept into the Roman Catholic Church through the medieval period. Due to the desire to remain in continuity with the Catholic tradition, it affirmed the conciliar consensus on subjects like the Trinity and the Hypostatic Union. It also affirmed the conciliar consensus on the denial of Pelagianism which was rejected at the first council of Ephesus in AD 431 and saw this as one of the primary departures from the historic faith which Rome was guilty of.

The second category is what is known as the Radical Reformation. Rather than being any sort of unified movement, the various groups of the Radical Reformation sought to reevaluate everything, including doctrines like the Trinity and Hypostatic Union. Due to this reevaluation, some groups came to unorthodox or heretical conclusions. One such group was called the Socinians. Originating in Poland, and named after the Italian Fausto Sozzini, the Socinians ultimately ended up rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, and a much of what we call Theology Proper.

I write all this to comment on an interesting statement I encountered while reading volume one of Geerhardus Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics.

18. What is God’s simplicity?

That attribute of God whereby He is free of all composition and distinction. God is free:

a) Of logical composition; in Him there is no distinction between genus and species.
b) Of natural composition; in Him there is no distinction between substance and form.
c) Of supernatural composition; in Him there is no distinction between slumbering capacity and action. Proof texts: 1 John 1:5; 4:8; Amos 4:2; 6:8.

The Socinians and Vossius deny this attribute in order better to escape the Trinity, that is, the oneness of the three Persons. 1

There has been a bit of a dustup in the past week or so regarding James Dolezal’s book, All that is in God. Dolezal’s book represents a retrieval of the classical theism presented in the Westminster Confession of Faith and London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689). Some, primarily John Frame, have responded that Dolezal’s book, and by extension the Confessional Statements referenced, relies too much on Reformed Scholastic methods and conclusions. Instead, so goes the argument, we must preserve the biblical language which mitigates against the divine immutability and simplicity presented in these confessional statements. 2 With (nonsensical) phrases like “God is not only simple, but in his own way, highly complex,” Frame pushes against the Scholastic consensus (and thus the Westminster Consensus) on attributes like simplicity and mutability.

Men more competent than I have responded to the theological issues in Frame’s review, 3 so I will not belabor that point. However, I wanted to offer a thought on a particular statement by Frame, and then reflect on how it relates to the Vos quote above, and the recent EFS controversy.

Dolezal thinks that “theistic mutualism” (TM) is very common among evangelical writers today and in the recent past. He cites as examples Donald MacLeod (21), James Oliver Buswell (23), Ronald Nash (23), Donald Carson (24), Bruce Ware (24), James I. Packer (31), Alvin Plantinga (68), John Feinberg, J. P. Moreland, William Lane Craig (69), Kevin Vanhoozer (72), Rob Lister (92), Scott Oliphint (93), and, yes, John Frame (71-73, 92-95). Wayne Grudem joins the group later for his adherence to “eternal functional subordination” in the Trinity (132-33). This group brings together many of the most important thinkers in evangelicalism today, and I am honored to be included in it, though I do not agree with all of them on everything. Dolezal, I think, should be more respectful of this group than he is. Is it not even a little bit daunting to stand against such a consensus?

This is indeed a formidable consensus, however, what other thinkers could we add to this group. Among modern figures we could add the likes of Rob Bell, Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, and others that I’m sure Frame would not be so happy to be listed alongside. But pertinent to the Vos quote above, we could also add Sozzini and his followers.

What I find most interesting however is the link between a denial of divine simplicity, and an unfortunate (and hopefully only implicit and accidental) denial of the Trinity. As Dolezal recently commented, 4 during the formative years of Trinitarian theology, a denial of divine simplicity was seen as a more grave error than a denial of any particular Trinitarian formula. The reason being is that if we deny divine simplicity we lose monotheism. Regardless of how we believe the three persons relate to each other, if they are not unified by a single indivisible divine nature, then we are polytheists in some form or another.

The Socinians understood this, and if Vos here is correct they intentionally rejected the doctrine of divine simplicity in order to justify their denial of the Trinity. What is unfortunate, however, is that many (several in the “formidable consensus Frame boasts of) commit exactly the opposite error. They reject divine simplicity in order to attempt to preserve the threeness of God, however in doing so they lose the oneness.

This is the error of the EFS advocates, who —both implicitly and explicitly at times— affirm a plurality of wills in the Trinity. This is true of men like William Lane Craig who render the persons to be component parts of the whole and no one person to be the fullness of the divine nature. One could go down the list and draw similar conclusions about many of the men represented above.

Divine simplicity, divine immutability, and the orthodox understanding of the Trinity… they all go together. If you reject immutability (as Frame, Craig, and Oliphint explicitly do) then you necessarily reject simplicity (as Craig explicitly does, and as Grudem, Ware, Frame, and Oliphint implicitly do). And if you reject simplicity, as the Socinians recognized and utilized, you undercut the doctrine of the Trinity (as all of the above unfortunately do).

All of these issues are connected. They are what happens when we abandon the faithful Catholic witness of the historic Church. When we reevaluate things that have been faithfully and biblically taught for 2000 years, things don’t go well.

The moral of the story gang is this: Don’t be a Socinian. The Holy Spirit has been working in the Church since Pentecost, there is no reason to act as though he hasn’t.


Vos, Geerhardus. 2012-2014. Reformed Dogmatics. Edited by Richard Jr Gaffin. Translated by Richard Jr Gaffin. Vol. 1. 5 vols. Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press.

 

Notes:

  1. Vos 2012-2014, 9.
  2. This is a baffling development, given that Frame is ostensibly a confessional Presbyterian.
  3. See responses by Mark Jones and Keith Mathison.
  4. Unfortunately, Dolezal has appeared on several podcasts and I cannot find which one his quote comes from. I will update this post if I come across it.

5 Reasons not to Use Images of Jesus

As we come into the season which is commonly known as Advent, which leads up to the day when millions of Christians around the world celebrate the incarnation of the Son, we are often faced with various images which purport to be more or less faithful representations of Jesus Christ. The historic Reformed position since has always been that any image of any person of the Godhead, including the Son according to humanity, is inherently a violation of the 2nd commandment, regardless of its use. Additionally, I have made the argument that even if the 2nd commandment was only forbidding the use of such images in worship, that to possess an image that you believe to faithfully represent God (Jesus particularly), and not use that in reverent devotion is a violation of the 3rd commandment.

Let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that the Reformed are wrong. That it is not sinful to possess or use images of Jesus according to humanity. Are there still good reasons to forsake the use of such images? I think that there are. I think you’ll see a theme present itself.

The Image is a Cheap Substitute

One of the hopes of the Christian faith is that we will someday see Christ. This event is often called the beatific vision and refers to that time when we will see the risen and glorified Christ in the final eschatological glorification. The Apostle John writes:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

-1 John 3:2 (ESV)

When we make images of Christ now, we are in some sense trying to propel ourselves forward to this time. Rather than wait in patient and hopeful expectation, we make cheap knock-offs to satisfy our desire. We often hear saints, especially as they approach death, say that they long to see Jesus. This is a good and godly desire that we all have, but it is not one that we fulfill on our own terms. The fact that Jesus is hidden from our sight until a time that God chooses points to his sovereignty. When we make images of Christ, we seek to rob him in a small way of that sovereignty by giving ourselves something that is pleasant to the eye, and useful for making one wise.

The Image is a False One

No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, the image that we create and put in front of us is necessarily a false one. The Gospels give us no visual detail related to what the Son looked like as an incarnate man. Even if we attempt to extrapolate the basic features of a 1st-century Jewish man, we are still guessing. It is notoriously difficult to accurately portray any given population group from antiquity, so to try to produce an average or particular person absent specific visual data (paintings, sculptures, etc) or visual descriptions is a fool’s errand. This may not be entirely problematic when painting an image of someone, but we are talking about God. Falsely representing God is a grave sin and one that is directly connected to idolatry in the Old Testament.  Even well-meaning attempts that fall short should be avoided, and by definition, any image we make of Jesus falls short.

The Image Leads to Christological Error

This is a bit technical, but there was a heresy in the Early Church which taught that Jesus was not a single person who was a union of two natures, but a union of two persons. This error, which was called Nestorianism, was guilty of dividing the Son up such that he was practically two Sons. Throughout the ages, the moniker Nestorianism has been applied to any Christological position which inappropriately divides up the natures of Christ such that the unity is lost. Fundamentally, Nestorius and his followers taught that Jesus was a person who was specially graced by a radical and unprecedented union with the Logos.

Fundamentally the error of Nestorianism confuses the miracle that took place in the incarnation. Christianity affirms that the miracle of Christ’s birth was that God became a man. However, when we paint an image of Christ, we only paint a picture of a man. The fact that the imaged man is also God cannot be portrayed visually. This subtle division of Christ’s humanity from his divinity leads to the destruction of the unity of natures. Rather than imaging the God-man, we are often somehow imaging a man who is especially graced by God.  A man who is empowered to do mighty deeds. A man who is serving God’s people as God’s representative. A man who dies on a cross, and is raised again. While all of these statements are true, they are incomplete. Unless we keep in our minds that that man is also fully God, we have lost the true biblical Christ, and thus lost the true biblical Gospel. Images of a man that we claim to be Christ lead us to unintentionally miss this point.

Now, this point is often dismissed by those claiming to be Reformed who wish to use images (RC Sproul for example). However, it is not as though this is a new argument. In a sermon delivered on May 23, 1555, John Calvin says this:

Behold, they paint and portray Jesus Christ, who (as we know) is not only man, but also God manifested in the flesh: and what a representation is that? He is God’s eternal Son in whom dwells the fullness of the God head, yea even substantially. Seeing it is said, substantially, should we have portraitures and images whereby only the flesh may be represented? Is it not a wiping away of that which is chiefest in our Lord Jesus Christ, that is to wit, of his divine Majesty? Yes: and therefore whensoever a Crucifix stands mopping & mowing in the Church, it is all one as if the Devil had defaced the son of God. 1

Images Incline Us to Worship Using Images

All of the above arguments in some sense flow from the fact that the image created, no matter how accurate it may or may not be, is false. It is a construct of human imagination. The human mind is a powerful thing, and of all animals, we are in many senses uniquely visual. That is not to say we have the best vision, but our memories and thinking are often inexorably tied to visual information.

I can recall with great accuracy, and sometimes involuntarily, visual events of significant importance. I can remember the color and texture of the shirt my wife was wearing the first time I saw her, despite not having seen that shirt for several years. I can recall the look on my mother’s face as I stepped behind the podium to deliver the funeral sermon and eulogy for my father.

Even more than that, we are able to take images that we have retained in our minds, and fuse them together to create entirely new images. If I tell you to imagine an elephant wearing blue jeans and a bow tie, you are probably able to do that and were you to somehow compare the images we’ve created in our mind’s eye, they would probably be very similar.

However, we are forbidden to worship using images of any kind. So what happens when you are at Church on Sunday morning worshiping God, and suddenly an image from a movie you saw which included an actor pretending to be Jesus comes to the front of your consciousness? You are worshiping using that image, and most likely the harder you try to banish it from your thoughts the more present it will be. What happens when you are praying with your son or daughter, and the cartoon Jesus from whatever visual children’s bible you read from is the default image they have? Your kids are now praying to cartoon Jesus.

Images Undermine the Sufficiency of Scripture

We live in a day and age in which we are often told that sermons are an outdated mode of communication, and some people are visual learners. Some people just don’t learn from books, so the argument goes. However, we as Reformed Christians believe that the written word of God is a sufficient rule to direct us how to glorify and enjoy God.

I’ve said it in a kind of flippant way in the past, but I’m being 100% serious now. God did not inspire a picture book. He did not give us images to accompany his written revelation. If we really believe that the Bible is sufficient, then why do we need images? If the verbal revelation given in Scripture, accompanied by the verbal exposition of that revelation, is enough, then why do we hear arguments from all quarters of evangelicals (Reformed included) that say that we must have picture books for the children? The reason is that those people don’t actually believe that the word of God is sufficient. I know that they SAY that it is, but the arguments used to support the use of images say something different.

The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way:

Q. But may not images be permitted in churches
in place of books for the unlearned?

A. No, we should not try to be wiser than God.
God wants the Christian community instructed

by the living preaching of his Word— 2
not by idols that cannot even talk. 3

Q & A 98

Conclusion

Now, I’m convinced that the use of images of any person of the Godhead is a violation of both the 2nd and the 3rd commandments. However, I recognize that many are not. My hope is that the above arguments will give those who are not convinced pause. Even if it is not sinful, consider the prudence in the act. Is it wise to use such an image? My contention is that even if it is not sinful, it is unprofitable and unwise.

Notes:

  1. Eric Parker, https://calvinistinternational.com/2016/01/07/calvins-take-images-jesus/
  2. Romans 10:14-15, 17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19
  3.  Jeremiah 10:8; Habakkuk 2:18-20

Psalm 1: Some Reflections

So, I’ve been using ScriptureTyper.com to memorize passages, and I really cannot recommend it enough. One of the first passages I memorized was Psalm 1, and I wanted to share some of my reflections.

1:1 – Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

There are real and concrete blessings, both temporal and eternal, that are found in abstaining from the sinful desires of the flesh. This isn’t really speaking so much about the company we keep, that is to say, it isn’t saying avoid men who are described as wicked, sinners, or scoffers. Moreso, it is saying that the pattern of our life should not be the same as the pattern of theirs. While I think that this Psalm Christologically points us to the only man whose life truly was not marked by these things, it also calls us to a standard of living which emulates his own.

1:2 – but his delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night.

The way given to us by God to walk not in the counsel of the wicked is to take the counsel of the LORD seriously. We do this by meditating on his law, which is profitable for teaching, correction, rebuke, and for equipping us for righteousness. We should meditate on it day and night, which means it should be in our hearts, minds, and on our lips.

1:3 – He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers.

When our lives are marked out by the fact that we walk in the counsel of the LORD, rather than the counsel of the wicked, what we find is that that counsel is made effective to give us life (by the power of God’s Spirit working in us). In due time we will bear fruit, just as a tree which has the proper nourishment and hydration will bear fruit. When we do as the LORD commands, we will prosper. This may not be a temporal prosperity, although it often is.

1:4 – The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

It strikes me that the word wind is also the same word used of the Spirit. The wicked, that is, those who walk in the counsel of the wicked rather than in the counsel of the LORD, are the worthless leftovers of the harvest. They bear no fruit, and they are nothing but withered leaves. The wind drives them away, just as someday the Spirit of judgment will look upon their fruitless lives and drive them away.

1:5 – Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

In the last day, when all stand before God’s judgment, those who may be described as wicked will fall. Just as the autumn wind drives the withered and dead leaves off of the tree to rot under the snow or be burned, God’s judgment will destroy those who have not born fruit according to the law of the LORD. God’s people will be a congregation of those who are righteous, who have been confirmed to the image of his glorious Son, not those who persist in their fallen estate because of their stubborn refusal to submit to God’s commands.

1:6 – for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

In the final judgment, God will look upon the way of the righteous, and he will know it. That is, he will be intimately acquainted with their pattern of life, and the good works they have done will be accepted by him and will bring him pleasure. They will not be why he accepts them, but he knows their way nonetheless. This is contrasted with the way of the wicked, which not only will lead to the perishing of the wicked, but itself will perish. Their sinful acts will be no more, their pattern of life itself will be forgotten as they are cast away from the presence of the LORD and out of the congregation of his people.

Still Opposing EFS: Divine Will

Last week, I discussed how even though there is a single nature, each person is that nature in a way proper to their person. Even though this is the case, because of the doctrine of divine simplicity we must maintain that each person is the entirety of the divine nature, albeit in a peculiar way. To divide up the divine nature among the three persons would be to divide up God, which is really a species of tritheism.

This view is seen in contradistinction to the view held by EFS advocates, that introduces the attribute of “submissive” or “authority” into specific persons of the Trinity in order to distinguish them. Most explicitly, this view is articulated by Douglas Wilson, but is also shared by Bruce Ware when he argues that the Father is a supreme authority over the Son and Spirit.

This week, I want to address a common objection to the orthodox view. That objection, to summarize, is that if we fail to affirm in some sense that the Father and Son have different wills, that we destroy the distinction between the persons. This is also sometimes applied to the pactum salutis, which is not possible —so says the EFS advocate— without a plurality of wills. This critique, as we will see, falls far short of the mark.

Recall how we learned last week that although the divine nature is one and indivisible, that each person is (or participates in, or expresses, or exists as) the divine nature in a way that is proper to their person.

The Father is the fullness of the divine nature in a way that is proper to his person, relative to being the Father of the Son and the personal origin of the Spirit. The Son is the fullness of the divine nature in a way that is proper to his person, relative to being the Son of the Father, and the mediate origin of the Spirit. The Spirit is the fullness of the divine nature in a way that is proper to his person, relative to being the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

The same logic which allows us to affirm these premises, allows us to say the same thing about the divine will. So while we affirm with the historic Church that there is a single divine will in the Godhead, we also affirm that each person wills in accord with their peculiar hypostatic relations. So the Father wills as Father. The Son wills as Son. The Spirit wills as Spirit. This should not surprise us given the doctrine of divine simplicity.

Augustine articulated it thus: It is not different for God to be great, than it is for God to be.

That is to say, God, if he is God, must also be great, for to be and to be great are not distinct things for God. So also, we can say that whatever it is that God wills, he wills necessarily. Just as you could take most attributes in a human person, and remove one (or several) of them and still have a human (as well as that human). You could do the same thing with a human will. I am willing to write this blog post, but I could be willing to do something else right now (eating breakfast for example… mmmmm…. donuts). If I were willing to do something else, I would still be human, and I would still be the particular human I am. However, for God, it is not so. His will is not distinct from his essence. If God were to will something other than what he wills, would be for God to be something other than what he is. 1 Since the divine will is a feature of the divine nature, it is found in each person in a peculiar way which is proper to their hypostatic relations, that is, relative to the other persons.

This reveals yet another way that the EFS advocate introduces additional natures into the Godhead. Just as Doug Wilson introduces “authority” into the essence of the Father, and “submission” into the essence of the Son (and by implication the Spirit), so also do the EFS crowd unintentionally introduce “Wills to submit to the Father” and “Wills to rule over the Son” into the respective natures of the Son and Father. 2 For them, the relationship between the persons of the Trinity is an act of the will by each distinct persons. What they do not realize, at least I hope they don’t realize, is that since the will is a feature of nature, by making the relationship between persons a function of the will they have made it a function of diverse natures.

So, what we see happening is a two-fold natural division of the persons. They implicitly divide the persons by dividing their wills. The Son submits to the Father, willingly. That is, the Son engages his will to submit to the Father. Then, because they understand (or at least they seem to understand) that from an orthodox position, the will is a feature of the nature of a person, they are forced to speak in terms which articulate a difference of natures. Thus we are left with Doug Wilson’s statement that “[The Son’s] existence is obedience” and “The Father’s existence is authority.”

Notes:

  1. I understand that this raises questions regarding the necessary nature of creation, for if God wills to create he does so necessarily. Scholars such as Jonathan Edwards have affirmed that creation is a necessary entailment of God’s nature, but I would disagree. Explaining exactly how that is the case is the subject of a doctoral dissertation, rather than a blog post, so I digress.
  2. So also introducing “Wills to rule over the Spirit” into the essence of both the Father and Son, and “Wills to submit to the Father and Son” into the essence of the Spirit, further establishing the tritheistic division of natures in the EFS Trinity.

Still Opposing EFS: Divine Simplicity

Well, I am not usually one to be behind the curve, I’m kind of an early adopter. But, while the rest of the Reformed world seems to have moved on to fighting over John Piper and Justification (See here and here), I’m over here still trying to keep up the fight against EFS.

One of the main issues in this debate is the concept of divine simplicity, and how it relates to the will of God. Divine Simplicity is a central doctrine within Christianity and, as James Dolezal has recently commented, contrary to popular belief it was the doctrine of divine simplicity that gave rise to the doctrine of the Trinity, not the other way around. Divine Simplicity is literally the reason that we believe that the Father, Son, and Spirit are one God and not three.

Even so, it is a theological concept that is often not understood, and even less often adequately explained. This is because it is incredibly difficult to describe. Sure, we can say “God is without parts,” but what does that even mean? There is nothing in this world that we have experience with that is not composed of parts. Even the immaterial aspect of human existence is composed of parts. So just as there is no analog for a single nature subsisting in three persons, or a single person in whom two full natures subsist, there is no created analog for a truly simple entity (even the angels are not simple in this sense, presumably having will, intellect, etc).

I stalled out on my reading of On the Trinity by Augustine, but before I did I came across a phrase that has kind of haunted me. It has frequently crossed my mind, and I have struggled to get my head around it. However, I think that it has become for me the key to not only understanding but also explaining divine simplicity.

Augustine uses the phrase, or variations of it, in several places. He explains that “to be, and to be great, are not different things for God.” He also uses it with other attributes (wise, just, etc). What I think he is getting at is that for God, greatness (or wisdom, or justice, etc) is a necessary attribute. Whatever God is, he is necessarily. Another way of explaining that, is that there is nothing that God is, which he could not be, and still be God.

To elucidate that, consider humans as the counterexample. I am a blogger. However, you could take away that attribute and I would still be who and what I am. Although being a blogger is a part of my identity, it is not a necessary part. That is a rather shallow example. However, you could start to look at ontological attributes and more core identity traits. I am an academic and an intellectual, however, if I were to suffer some kind of traumatic brain injury and my intelligence lost I would still be both human, and the particular human I am. There is very little of our human existence that is necessary in order for us to remain both human and the particular human we are. The technical term for these non-necessary attributes is accidental.

This is not so in God. For God, no attribute is accidental. If any single attribute were to be removed, whatever we would be left with would cease to be God. So, as Augustine said, to be and to be great are not different things for God.

So how does that help us in understanding the error of the EFS position? I’m glad you asked!

In the Trinity, there is a single essence, or nature, or substance. Another way to think about this, and a translation that actually gets closer to the original Greek terms used in the patristic era, is existence. God is a single existence (compared to multiple humans, who have multiple existences that are independent of one another). This is why we sometimes use the term being (I have some concerns about the term, which is why I avoid it). Look at the word, it is the participial form of “be.” Like the word running, or acting, or blogging, when we add -ing to the end of a word, we are indicating that it is an ongoing action. So the word being means that something exists, in an ongoing way. This is the is-ness of a thing.

This single existence is fully participated in and shared by each person of the Trinity. The Father is not a portion of the divine existence, he fully is everything it means to exist as God, so also the Son and the Spirit. Despite popular attempts to visually communicate this, we must not think of the divine nature as being portioned out between the persons of the Trinity. The Son is not conceptually smaller than the divine nature. The Spirit is not the portion of the divine existence which exists outside the Father and the Son.

What distinguishes them is not what essential attributes they possess, but how they related to each other. This way of relating to each other also entails that each is the fullness of the divine nature in a way that is unique to and appropriate for their relations. The Father is the fullness of the divine nature in a way that is proper to his person, relative to being the Father of the Son and the personal origin of the Spirit. The Son is the fullness of the divine nature in a way that is proper to his person, relative to being the Son of the Father, and the mediate origin of the Spirit. 1 The Spirit is the fullness of the divine nature in a way that is proper to his person, relative to being the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

This understanding, that the hypostatic relations are what distinguish the persons, is vital to all of Christian theology. If we get this wrong, we get everything wrong. Contrary to the EFS position, which introduces additional essential attributes into each person of the Trinity and uses those to distinguish the persons, historic Christian orthodoxy only distinguishes the persons by how they relate to each other. Any other method of differentiating the persons invariably deviates into some form of Trinitarian heresy.

In the next post, I’ll show how this relates to the central question in the EFS debate about the divine will (wills?).

Notes:

  1. I affirm, with the early Church, that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, through the Son. This is consistent with the Filioque clause and was a common articulation in the early church, although I believe it was ecclesiastical malpractice to insert the clause into the Nicene Creed. Furthermore, I believe that this position is consistent with article 2.3 of the Westminster Confession of Faith

Deceptive Dust – A Response to Paul Zahl

For anyone who has followed my writing for any amount of time, it is clear that my blog is intimately tied up with the saga of Tullian Tchividjian. Things have been relatively quiet over the past year or so on this front, but it seems like Tullian has finally decided to restore himself to Christian ministry. He has recently launched Tullian.net, which so far has been more of the same antinomian drivel from Tullian, and features a couple of articles which amount to stroking Tullian on the back and pretending everything is going to be okay.

Paul Zahl (Which come on, that’s just fun to say), recently added to the mix with an article called Dust became Mercy: A Word about my friend Tullian. Zahl opens with a discussion of a Twilight Zone in which a condemned criminal magically spreads a handful of dust through the town which acts as a contagion and spreads forgiveness. He likens Tullian’s downfall and life to that dust, with the implication that Tullian will now spread forgiveness.

I’m not going to respond to the article point by point, but let me take my own example from popular culture. Spoiler Alert.

Who is the Better Doctor?

On April 23, 1997, the Episode Real Life aired on Star Trek: Voyager. The episode centers around the holographic Doctor. This doctor serves a common Star Trek trope of the character learning how to be human (compare with Mister Spock from the Original Series, Lt. Commander Data from the Next Generation, and in some ways Constable Odo from Deep Space Nine. We don’t talk about Star Trek: Enterprise on this blog… if I pretend it never happened, my childhood can’t be ruined). In an attempt to further understand what it is like to be human, the Doctor creates a fictional family on the ship’s holodeck (a three-dimensional holographic simulation). He invites some of his friends over for dinner, and they note that his family is too perfect. After some adjustments, the Doctor returns to a family full of conflict, difficulty, and pain. Toward the end of the scene, the Doctor’s holographic daughter suffers an injury which will ultimately prove fatal. Another common trope is that when someone is dying, you tell them that everything is going to be fine. Reversing the expectation, when his now blind daughter with irreparable brain hemorrhages asks “Daddy, am I going to die?” In what I think is the climax of the episode, and one that causes me to cry real tears which match the Doctor’s holographic ones, chokes out “You’re too sick to get better.”

Let me put this bluntly. Paul Zahl is lying to everyone around him, to himself, and most destructively… to Tullian and his family. He is the lying doctor telling the patient who is moments from death that it is going to be just fine.

Ask yourself, who is the better doctor? The one who lies to the dying patient, or the one who comforts them with the truth? The one who tells the patient the cancer isn’t a big deal or the one who cuts the cancer out?

I have said it before, I would rejoice with the angels in heaven at the repentance of Tullian Tchividjian. I would welcome him as a brother with open arms. But contrary to whatever Paul Zahl claims, I love Tullian too much to lie to him about something much more harmful than a head injury.

Tullian Tchividjian is, by all outward appearances, an unrepentant and recalcitrant sinner who is still attempting to paint himself as the humble prodigal son. Let me provide three points of evidence to establish that claim.

Ongoing Adultery

Tullian is living in unrepentant adultery due to his remarriage to Stacie Phillips. I would not advocate further compounding his sin (or hers) by divorcing her, but I cannot believe that Tullian is repentant for a sin that he will not even acknowledge was a sin. Furthermore, as a husband, he is supposed to love his wife as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25). What did that look like in the case of Kim? Tullian sinned against her, and then when he got caught he threw her out to the crowd as a distraction. Fathers are to love their children and not provoke them to wrath (Ephesians 6:4). Cheating on their mother, publicly humiliating her and them, and then moving on with life as though it didn’t happen is the opposite of that.

Abandoning Church Discipline

Tullian is, despite Zahl’s words to the contrary, a fugitive from Church Discipline. Zahl claims that Tullian has “been ‘under supervision’ (and I mean, pastorally) the whole time.” This is demonstrably untrue. When Tullian resigned from Coral Ridge, he almost immediately began a relationship with Willow Creek. For a few months he was on staff, and when the news broke that he had hidden additional affairs prior to Kim’s affair, his employment was terminated. From that point forward, Tullian dropped off the map. Having spoken with Kevin Labby (pastor at Willow Creek), and the Stated Clerk of the South Florida Presbytery, neither of them was aware of any congregational affiliation on Tullian’s part. In fact, Tullian was assigned membership under a session in the South Florida Presbytery, who after a year of trying to reach Tullian (unsuccessfully) removed him from their membership roles. Even Tullian’s new Pastor indicates that Tullian, after his adulterous remarriage, lived in Texas “under the supervision of a few seasoned saints.” A repentant sinner flees to the Church, not away from it. I’ve said it before, opting out of Church Discipline is opting out of the Church.

Failure to Seek Reconciliation

This is the one I want to spend the most time with. I reached out to Kevin this morning when I read this and I asked him a very specific question. I asked Kevin (who has become a dear friend through all of this) “Has [Tullian] ever reached out to you to seek to repent and reconcile with you or your congregation?” Sadly, his response was “We haven’t heard from him.” Take a look at Matthew Chapter 5.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. – Matthew 5:23-26, ESV

This is a passage that is often misinterpreted. Tullian is quick to flash his “I hurt a lot of people” card. He uses it as a way to appear repentant, to divert from the fact that he is clinging to his public platform for dear life. But let’s take a look. Christ here says that if you are on your way to worship God, and you remember that your brother has something against you, that you should stop what you are doing and go be reconciled to your brother. Kevin got dragged through the mud, and I think that lots of the concerns regarding Kevin’s course of action with Tullian were warranted, but he and his whole congregation were used by Tullian. Willow Creek is a pretty big church, there are lots of brothers and sisters in that congregation that have something against Tullian. Legitimate harm was done to them, and Tullian acknowledges this. But he has not, since he was terminated, attempted to reconcile with Kevin or the other saints at Willow Creek. This is yet another way that Tullian has revealed the callousness of his own soul. He has, self-admittedly, left a trail of emotional carnage everywhere he has gone. He talks about how sorry he is, but at least in this one very concrete way… he has opted to do nothing about it. Every week when he brings his gift to the altar of God’s grace, he is doing so in disobedience. Every time he takes communion, he fails to properly discern the body because he refuses to seek reconciliation with it.

A Plea to Tullian

Tullian, you know how to get ahold of me. Please, seek reconciliation and true repentance, not this saccharine substitute of your own making. The good news is that it isn’t too late for you. You can still be reconciled to God and to his people, but not if you continue to live apart from God’s covenant promises by justifying your self with your pithy turns of phrase. I said long ago that I pray for you daily, and I still do. Please reach out to me, or Kevin, or Chris Rosebrough. Seek the actual reconciliation that comes through God’s people and his discipline. Shut your website down today, and seek to be restored to real genuine fellowship with God and his family.

A Review of “Calvinist” by Les Lanphere

Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to the Reformed Movie Cast. I’m your host Tony, and this isn’t a podcast…

If you don’t get that joke, head over to ReformedPubcast.com, subscribe to the feed, and enjoy the history of a Reformed movement as it unfolds one RSS entry at a time.

Les Lanphere, co-host of the meteoric podcast the Reformed Pubcast, co-founder of the Reformed Pub Facebook group (which now boasts nearly 20,000 members, with over 400,000 engagements per month) has recently finished production on his first film. Calvinist is a documentary which covers the rise of the so-called New Calvinism.

I really can’t say enough good things about this movie. In terms of production quality, it rivals anything you’re going to find on Netflix. Lanphere spent a year traveling the country interviewing the likes of RC Sproul, Ligon Duncan, James White, Michael Horton, and many more.

Rooting the rise of this movement in a dissatisfaction among millennial and gen-x evangelicals, who predominantly came to faith under the church growth and seeker movement, he chronicles the development of Reformed theology through popular (Ligonier Ministries) and academic (Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology) ministries. Teaching us (that is, Young, Restless, and Reformed Calvinists) our own family history through engaging interviews, graphics, and theological explanations… this film will leave you inspired to jump back into the deep end of the theological pool.

Along the way, Lanphere also explains the central tenets of the Reformation, the acronym TULIP, and gives a crash course on the historical developments which brought about the rediscovery of the apostolic Gospel in the Reformation.

It isn’t all fun and games though. Les also covers the difficult and painful reality of the rise and fall of Mark Driscoll. Presenting Driscoll as the historical force that he was, but not excusing him in any way, the film ultimately allows the viewer to decide for themselves what to think about the cautionary tale of Mars Hill Church. Additionally, Les approaches the sensitive issue of race relations and the Reformed tradition. Interviewing prominent voices in the Reformed Hip Hop movement, as well as other experts in the areas of anthropology, Les allows the black community to speak with its own voice in a way that is not frequently done well.

No matter if you are a Calvinist who wants to get in touch with their roots or a curious Christian from another tradition who wants to understand the tradition of God’s glory better, this movie is for you.

The film releases on October 2nd and will be available on Blu-ray, DVD, and via digital download. Head over to Calvinistmovie.com to pre-order your copy now.

Five Thoughts after Five Years of Marriage

My wife and I recently celebrated five years of marriage, and I wanted to offer some reflections that I had.

Marriage is Hard

I often hear it said that the first year of marriage is the hardest. To be honest, my wife and I haven’t found that to be the case. We chalk it up to good pre-marital counseling. However, that doesn’t mean that everything has been easy. In the span of our first five years, we have moved across state lines 3 times. We lived with my wife’s parents for 9 months. Both of us have lost jobs. We lived in separate states for 3 months. Add to that the day to day stresses of life and regular marital conflicts, and it quickly becomes clear that you can’t coast.

There are lots of reasons for this, but namely… we are both sinners, and our lives are inextricably bound to each other. Every decision is actually two decisions. Every mistake is actually two mistakes. Marriage is a commitment to complexity, and that complexity makes life more complicated.

Marriage takes Work

Because marriage is hard, it is necessary to be constantly diligent. This may take the form of remembering to pick up after yourself, or it may be something more significant like choosing to work a job that you don’t love in order to provide for your family. In our marriage, we have both made sacrifices to pursue the vocation that we believe that God has called us to in this season.

Whatever it is, it is work. It requires effort. Remembering birthdays, anniversaries, other special events… all takes effort.

Marriage is a Blessing from God

God didn’t have to order human relationships the way he did. It is conceivable that he could have done it a different way. But he did not. Instead, he recognized that it was not good for the man to be alone, and he created a suitable complement for him. As much as it is the case that life is simpler without a spouse, it is also often much less robust. In my experience, the highs are much higher when I experience them with my wife. The lows are just as low, but there is someone to support me in them. Even the mundane happenstance of everyday life seems to be more flavorful when I have my constant companion to taste them with.

Beyond that, the Bible is clear that marriage is an institution which is intended by God to reflect the mystery of Christ’s union with the Church. Every time that I honor and care for my wife, I’m preaching Jesus to the world. Every time that my wife loves and submits to my leadership, she is demonstrating the joyful obedience that the Lord calls the Church to embody. There isn’t a greater blessing in this life than preaching the Gospel, and together with my wife, our very life together does just that.

Marriage is Fun

This one is pretty straightforward. I have a blast with my wife, almost every day. Last night, we laid in bed with the lights off talking about theology. Last week we explored a centuries-old soldier’s cemetery in our region. The phrase friends with benefits has been used to describe casual sexual interactions between friends. If you ask me, marriage is the real friends with benefits arrangement. I always have someone to hang out with, and never have to worry that I’ll be left out of the loop.

Marriage is not Everything

Although I think marriage is something that every Christian should desire and pursue, it isn’t the only relationship. One of the sacrifices my wife and I have had to make is that God has moved us to a region and church that lacks a vibrant community of Christians our age. We have really felt the lack of those friendships. God has sustained us, and we are thankful, but the absence of those relationships has brought to the fore how important other relationships are.

Just as God ordained marriage, he has also ordained other relationships. Men leave and cleave, but that doesn’t mean that they no longer have a family of origin. God focuses our relational capital on our marriage (and subsequently children Deo volente), but that does not mean that he doesn’t desire us to have other holy interactions and friendships.

The Arsenal Statement

Last week, a prestigious gathering of evangelical pastors, seminary professors, housewives, book writers, women’s studies professors, and recording artists attached their name to the Nashville Statement. This has had no small amount of controversy, and I even added my own concerns to the fray.

This week, I would like to release what I’m calling the Arsenal Statement. In times like these, Christians need to speak with a single, clear, and prophetic voice which declares God’s truth boldly to the dark culture we find ourselves in. It is a series of 10 articles which represent the totality of the Christian ethic. Its drafters were a special fellowship of three Authors who speak with a unanimity which is unrivaled. It will offend Liberals just as much as the Nashville Statement did.

Article I

You shall have no other gods before me.

Article II

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Article III

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Article IV

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Article V

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Article VI

You shall not murder.

Article VII

You shall not commit adultery.

Article VIII

You shall not steal.

Article IX

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Article X

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

God the Son was Born of the Theotokos

Protestants often instinctively bristle up when hearing the claim that the title of Theotokos (God-bearer, Mother of God) is applied to Mary. Although this is understandable given the abuses of the Roman Catholic and, to a lesser degree, Eastern Orthodox Churches, it is vital that we understand the stakes of the argument. Since most of the arguments for denying the Theotokos are based on misunderstandings or misconceptions, I want to try to elucidate a few of those today. This isn’t’ a new issue, and I’m certainly not the first to write about it.

Theotokos Doesn’t Mean God Started With Mary

The most common reason to argue against the use of the Theotokos is that it seems somehow to imply that the Godhead began to exist in Mary’s womb. Simply put, this is not what anyone in the world actually means when they use this term. Ironically, those who reject the Theotokos typically deny with vehemence the charge of Nestorianism, but their primary concern and objection start in the exact same place. Although I will acknowledge that the brevity of speech used to say that Mary gave birth to God, or that God was carried in the womb of a virgin, is a truncated statement, it does not follow that the statement is untrue. When we affirm that Mary is the Theotokos we are not articulating in any way that the divine nature came to be through Mary.

Theotokos Isn’t a Title of Authority or Veneration

Another common objection to the use of the term theotokos is that it gives Mary some kind of special place of honor, or that it somehow gives her authority over God. This again is an understandable concern. Contrary to the above issue, both Rome and Constantinople have turned the term into a title, rather than a description. Originally, the phrase “mother of God” or “God-bearer” was simply descriptive. It indicated that the one whom Mary gave birth to was indeed “one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 This fact was what was disputed at the first Council of Ephesus. It was not until much later in history that this fact was used to elevate Mary in any significant way. 2

Theotokos Is Really about Jesus

When we affirm that Mary is the Mother of God, we aren’t really saying something about Mary, but about Jesus. The concern that Nestorius had was that if we said that Mary was the God-bearer, then we were saying that God had a beginning. As I mentioned above, it is somewhat ironic that people who deny the charge of Nestorianism raise the same objection that Nestorius did. Another unfortunate corollary is that they often propose the same solution. Nestorius preferred the term Christotokos, or Christ-bearer. Taken at face value this isn’t so bad. However, it quickly began to mean that the person whom Mary bore was not the divine Logos, but instead was a man who was specially graced by the Logos. Modern opponents who object to the use of theotokos often insist that it was only Jesus who was born of Mary, or worse that it was only his human nature that was born of Mary. While both of these are true, what is often missed is the subtle Christological issues that this kind of speaking can lead to. If we are not careful, we end up speaking in ways that are strikingly similar to Nestorius, and after a while, those patterns of speech shape our patterns of thought. When we speak of a human nature being born, rather than a person who is a human nature or has a human nature, we subtly begin to treat that nature as though it was a person. Jesus becomes, then, no longer a unity of two natures subsisting in a single person… but instead a unity of two persons who has a single appearance (prosopon). This is exactly the error which Nestorius is purported to have made. 3

To Deny that Mary is Theotokos, is to Deny that Christ is Theos

To wrap this all up, I have a very simple question. I want you to think about Jesus as a child. (Don’t picture him!) Think about him coming to Mary to ask her something. He opens his mouth. What does he call her? Do you think he calls her mother, or do you think he calls her something else. Now, that single person who called Mary mother… is he God? When you understand the answer to that question is and must be yes, then you understand the importance of this term. To deny that Mary is the Mother of God, is to deny that the son of Mary is God.

Notes:

  1. Chalcedonian Definition
  2. It is true that there were pockets of Marian veneration in the Church before and around the time of Ephesus, and although it was a concern which prompted Nestorius’s response, it was not in any real sense the focus of his objection. That said, the Marian veneration during this era does not appear to be anything close to the Mariolatry that we would later see from the Roman and Eastern Churches.
  3. There is some dispute as to whether or not Nestorius actually held this.

The Westminster Statement (or Why the Nashville Statement is Unnecessary)

What is the Nashville Statement

Yesterday (August 29, 2017) the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood issued a document called the Nashville Statement. This document contained a preamble, fourteen articles (consisting of both affirmations and denials), and comes with an initial list of over 150 signatories that reads like a who’s who list of the biggest names in conservative Christianity. This statement is similar in its format and intention as the Christology Statement that Ligonier Ministries released in 2016 (and subsequently revised in 2017).

The following morning, Dr. R Albert Mohler discussed the Nashville Statement (of which he is one of the signatories) on his podcast. One of the main themes of Dr. Mohler’s discussion was that in unclear times such as this, the Church must speak with clarity on controversial subjects (with the implication that the Church has not already spoken with clarity). While I don’t disagree with him in principle, there are several elements of this motivation that I find questionable.

Unlike my concerns with the Ligonier Christology Statement, I don’t have any theological concerns or critiques to make about the Nashville Statement itself. Apart from the fact that it comes in the backdrop of the Eternal Functional Subordination of the Son theology which is prominent within CBMW, the individual articles are reasonable expressions of the orthodox biblical teaching on human sexuality and gender.

However, I have two main concerns with this statement. First, does CBMW, or even the collection of signatories, represent the Church speaking? Second, the related axes of whether or not the Nashville Statement is clear and whether or not the Church has not already spoken clearly.

The Nashville Statement is not the Church Speaking

As I also remarked in my comments on the Christology Statement. A parachurch organization is not a Church. It does not speak with the authority of the Church, and it cannot fulfill the obligations of the Church. The same is true when speaking of a non-ecclesiastical coalition of Christians, even Christians who are leaders in the Church. To put it bluntly, CBMW isn’t a Church, and the more than 150 signatories are not a Church.

The prescribed vehicle for the Church to speak is the pulpit. The prescribed time for the Church to speak is the Lord’s Day. The prescribed representative to speak on behalf of the Church is the ordained Elders who are tasked with speaking from the pulpit on the Lord’s Day. This may seem pedantic, but the fact of the matter is that the only time that the Church speaks prophetically (that is, when she speaks the words of God, on behalf of God, in the presence of God, and with God’s authority), is when the Scriptures are exposited and preached in the gathering of God’s people. To issue a statement like the Nashville Statement in such a way is not only not to speak as the Church, but in point of fact undercuts the authoritative speech of the Church on such subjects.

The Nashville Statement does not Speak Clearly from the Scriptures

One thing that is conspicuously missing from the Nashville Statement is any sort of Biblical proof-texting. As I said, I think the theological veracity of the 14 articles is just fine. However, due to the lack of any scriptural support, it lacks any sort of scriptural clarity. Christians are not only to speak clearly but to speak clearly from scripture. There are all sorts of allusions to the Bible, and all sorts of discussion about the image of God and God’s design for creation, however apart from actual biblical citations this statement carries no authority whatsoever for anyone. I don’t want to speculate about the reasons for leaving out scriptural citations, but their absence certainly is felt. Why should I take the statements expressed in this statement over any other private opinions of men? Apart from explicit scriptural proof, there is no reason to. Why should we expect the unregenerate world to listen to what these men have to say if they are not explicitly grounded in the transcended word of God?

The Church has already Clearly Said Everything the Nashville Statement Says

Nothing that is said in the Nashville Statement is new. The Church has been teaching the same thing on the same subjects for millennia. There is not a single signatory who would deny that statement. Why are we reinventing the wheel and allowing nonauthoritative, nonecclesiastical, and piecemeal collection of Christians (many of whom we would disagree with on significant theological subjects) determine and pronounce what the Christian Church believes… when we already have authoritative confessional documents which more clearly say the same thing.

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, my contention is that given the existence of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Nashville Statement is unnecessary. While it is true that the Nashville Statement contains more specificity than the Westminster Confession does, particularly in relation to issues of Biology and Transgenderism, the fact remains that the positive statements regarding human anthropology directly address these issues, albeit broadly.

Rather than produce a redundant and non-authoritative statement, why not simply do what Christians have been doing for thousands of years. Exposit the scripture, exposit our subordinate standards, and apply the theological truths contained therein to the congregation by the vibrant preaching of the word by those whom God gave to the Church to train and equip them for every good work?

As I commented in my post on the Ligonier Christology statement, I doubt very much that any of the signatories intend to supplant or replace the authority of the Church or the authoritative documents of the Church with this statement. However, in practice that is exactly what happens. When I was in seminary, we didn’t read the Westminster Confession on the nature and authority of Scripture… we read the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. There are congregations out there who don’t read the Nicene Creed together on the Lord’s Day, but they do recite the Ligonier Christology Statement. My fear is that rather than turning to our time-tested ecclesiastical formulations on human sexuality (or even updating and expanding them), people will turn to the Nashville Statement instead.

Review of “Biblical Doctrine” by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017)

John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue have put together a mostly solid lay-level systematic theology. While over 1,000 pages, the work is very approachable, making few assumptions about the theological education of the reader. As a lay-oriented work, the depth may not suit the needs of a seminarian, possibly even frustrating such a reader by devoting more length to basic concepts they already firmly understand. This is not a criticism, as MacArthur hits his targeted audience extremely well. He also chooses and introduces theological vocabulary carefully, avoiding both pretense and confusion; where possible, he uses non-technical language. In its organization as a book, the topics are well selected and appropriately sub-divided. Other reviewers may have quibbles about subjects missed or topics that could have been left out or folded into another section, but the approach taken seemed well paced and, for the most part, both logically divided and organically connected. Negatively, however, it does not use endnotes and is only very lightly footnoted; the work misses the opportunity to provide the reader for more in-depth study on a given topic or broaden their reading with outside resources. While he does provide a general bibliography in the back of the book, the reader is not provided with much motivation to seek the insights these works may contain.

On the core essentials of the Christian faith, MacArthur’s work is solid. His theology proper, bibliology, anthropology, hamartiology, and soteriology are, with a notable few exceptions, to be generally commended. He avoids some of the pitfalls common to explaining the of the Trinity and the Incarnation, affirming accepted orthodoxy and not wandering off into the analogies that often plague lay-oriented works. One of the exceptions I would mention occurs in his discussion of bibliology: “In Scripture, the person of God and the Word of God are everywhere interrelated, so much so that whatever is true about the character of God is true about the nature of God’s Word.”[note]70[/note] Addressing it charitably, this statement is highly problematic and could be readily misunderstood and misapplied. In an additional oddity, Table 2.1 “Symbols for the Bible” found on the following page, Jesus Christ is named a symbol, with the corresponding reality being named “personification of the Word.” [note]71[/note] Again, this is highly problematic. Both the Scriptures and the Eternal Son may indeed be named as the Word of God; however, they are not the Word of God in the same way. One could certainly find some other faults of varying degrees, but such mistakes are notable because they are few.

I must admit having read this book with some trepidation, knowing that my own beliefs in covenant theology and amillennial eschatology would strongly conflict with MacArthur’s dispensationalism. Indeed, my largest disagreements evolve out of those two loci. For example, he misrepresents covenant theology’s conception of the relationship between Israel and the Church as “replacement theology.” While I think he does an admirable job of explaining, in broad strokes, his dispensational premillennialism, I simply disagree with him. On a positive note, the only faults I would find with his doctrine of “personal eschatology” are rooted in his dispensational “cosmic eschatology,” specifically in the resurrection and final judgment. His ecclesiology is also negatively impacted by his dispensationalism and, of course, his rejection of the organic continuity of the New Covenant church and Israel. An odd inconsistency in his ecclesiology is found in the sub-section titled “A Promise of Success”: “Jesus has promised success to the church… even the threat of death cannot overpower his church.” Frankly, MacArthur leaves this passage unreconciled with his broader eschatology.

Though I have been relatively heavy-handed in the above criticisms of the work, this systematic theology is a worthwhile contribution. While I obviously cannot recommend it without reservation, MacArthur and Mayhue’s work in the essentials of Christianity is solid overall. So, perhaps you can just skip the chapter titled “The Future.”


Please note: The publisher has provided a copy of this book for review purposes.

Leviticus 15:16-24, Temple Prostitution, and the Regulative Principle

16 “If a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water and be unclean until the evening. 17 And every garment and every skin on which the semen comes shall be washed with water and be unclean until the evening. 18 If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe themselves in water and be unclean until the evening.

19 “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. 20 And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. 21 And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 22 And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 23 Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. 24 And if any man lies with her and her menstrual impurity comes upon him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean. 1

Strangers in a Strange Land

Often we read Leviticus and feel like we are wandering in a strange land. There are purity laws which seem arbitrary at times, or even seem to be offensive to our modern sensibilities. What’s worse is we often have these oft-misunderstood passages thrown at us by skeptical interlocutors and don’t know exactly what to do with them.

One such passage is a section out of Leviticus 15. Verses 19-24 are sometimes used to “demonstrate” that the Old Testament is inherently sexist or that the Jews believed that menstrual blood was somehow sinful. This, of course, ignores the fact that immediately prior the man’s semen was given basically the same status.

Sometimes this section is used to demonstrate that sex is seen as inherently negative in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and giants of the faith like Augustine and Jerome certainly haven’t helped to overcome this improper understanding. A broader reading of the Scriptures of a whole demonstrate that this isn’t the case, but if that is true then what is the deal with this strange passage?

Clean or Unclean

Now, it should be said that in the Old Testament there is a difference between Unclean (ritual impurity) and Sinful (moral impurity). I won’t go into that distinction here, but a good commentary on Leviticus or Deuteronomy should cover that.

However, I wanted to point out something else that struck me while I was reading. This is a bit of speculation, but I don’t think it is too far off.

In this passage what we see are three elements:

  • The sexual discharge of a man renders him and everything it comes into contact with unclean
  • The sexual discharge (in the ancient mind, menstrual blood was often associated with sexual discharge and was seen as the female equivalent to semen) of a woman renders her and everything it comes into contact with unclean
  • The sexual act, even in proper marital contexts, renders both parties unclean

Why might this be?

Well, in many ancient cultures, including Egyptian culture and the cultures of Canaan, temple prostitution was common. Sexual discharges —both semen and menstrual blood— were often used in pagan rituals. In many cases, potions or ointments were made of each and were believed to give those who used them special powers or connections with the gods. In one fell swoop, God eliminates all these detestable practices. Not only does he say that these practices garner no merit or favor with him, but he excludes them from use in worship altogether. It is not only ineffective to worship by means of sex, or by using sexual discharge… it is impossible.

We Must only Worship the way God Commands

Like all other aspects of our worship, we do not get to choose how best to engage. God determines how he will be worshiped, and we are obligated to worship him exactly as he commands. Rather than worship according to the vulgar patterns of our culture around us (for the ancient Israelites, and for many New Testament Gentiles, temple prostitution and fertility rites were the poison of the day), we are to worship in ways that are regulated by the commands of God which are given in the Scripture.

Review of “Know Why You Believe” by K Scott Oliphint (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

In a culture where the Christian Worldview is constantly under attack, it is important to be able to give an answer for the hope that we have within us. 1. Sadly, many people that have grown up in broad evangelical churches have not been taught how to address even some of the most basic questions that unbelievers have about the Christian Faith or why anybody would believe in a book written 2000 years ago. These Christians, along with unbelievers seeking to understand Christianity, are the target audience for Know Why You Believe by K Scott Oliphint.

Know Why You Believe, along with the other books in Zondervan’s KNOW Series, is targeted towards the casual layperson seeking to get an overview of the subject and pointing them towards more in-depth resources for further study. Oliphint also includes questions for reflection at the end of each chapter that challenge the reader to respond to why they do or do not believe in the topic under consideration.

After a brief introduction, Oliphint begins to lay a foundation for the Christian Faith by examining why we should believe in the Bible, God, Jesus, miracles, the resurrection, salvation, and life after death. He then closes the book by considering common objections to Christianity by considering modern science, the presence of evil in the world, and the plurality of other religions in the world. In exploring each of these topics Oliphint interacts with quotes from notable skeptics such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Bertrand Russell, David Hume and others while also providing support for Christianity with quotes from notable theologians such as John Calvin, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, and Herman Bavinck. Oliphint is more than capable of presenting a logical and coherent case for Christianity, as would be expected of a professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, yet he does so in a way that is confident and approachable. He builds this case from a Reformed perspective without using some of the jargon that more advanced readers would be familiar with, but which might only serve to confuse those who are just being introduced to apologetics.

Oliphint accomplishes what he sets out to do in providing an entry level and affordable overview of apologetics for the layperson and points those that are interested in studying deeper towards resources that can expand their knowledge. I would recommend the book as one to work through with high school students preparing to go to college, as a gift for skeptical friends who don’t understand why Christians believe, or for anyone looking to solidify and reaffirm the core tenets of orthodox Christianity.


Please note: The publisher has provided a copy of this book for review purposes.

So You’ve Got an Extra Hour…

For those of you who haven’t heard, a major force —perhaps the major force— in the world of Reformed podcasting is taking a break. The Reformed Pubcast, a podcast hosted by Les Lanphere and Tanner Barfield, is “going on an indefinite hiatus.” Now, I have on good authority, ie Les and Tanner, that the intent is for the show to return at some point in the future.

However, for the time being… many of you may find yourself with an extra hour or so in your weekly podcast line up. I figured this was a good time to give you some ideas of how to fill that hour. I’m going to focus on shows that are not already widely known… so of course, you should listen to White Horse Inn, Renewing Your Mind, and the Dividing Line… but you probably already are.


The Reformed Brotherhood – Full disclaimer… this is my podcast. I co-host it with my brother-in-law Jesse Schwamb, and each week we try to tackle a theological topic in about an hour, hoping to put some practical feet on the subject. You can subscribe on iTunes, through RSS, or listen on the website.

The Reformed Outlook – Full disclaimer… this is a podcast hosted by my friend Matt Butts. It is also a partner member of the Society of Reformed Podcasters. Each week Matt has a guest host and they discuss a subject that is near to the guest host. The Reformed Outlook is conversational, and not overly technical, and is a great addition to any lineup. You can subscribe on iTunes, through RSS, or listen on the website.

Fast God Stuff – The full disclaimers will end soon… I promise. Fast God Stuff is hosted by Jesse Schwamb and Conrad Tolosa, a former member of the Christian Pop-Punk Band Ghoti Hook. It is also a partner member of the Society of Reformed Podcasters. Fast God Stuff seeks to make theology fast, easy, and fun so we can love God and others more. Each episode is a 30 minute blitz on a given practical subject, and has a 15 second Fast God Stuff summary for each topic. You can listen on iTunes, through RSS, or listen on the website.

Five for Fruit – Last full disclaimer… Five for Fruit is the fourth and final member of the Society of Reformed Podcasters on the list. Hosted by Cary Gephart, the show is a five minute telling of a given theological topic. Packed with information in short segments, it makes a great listen while you walk to the bus stop. You can listen on iTunes, through RSS, or listen on the website.

Mortification of Spin – This show is hosted by Carl Trueman, Todd Pruitt, and Aimee Byrd and is a podcast of the Alliance of Confessional Evangelicals. The topics they cover are varied, but they are always on point. You can listen on iTunes, through RSS, or listen on the website.

Theology on the Go – Each week, host Jonathan Masters has a 30 minute conversation with an expert in a given theological subject. This show is on the technical end, but is also approachable with a little effort by the listener. You can listen on iTunes, through RSS, or listen on their website.

Two Thieves Podcast – Two theives is hosted by Justin Lockheart and Brandon Takacs and is a great hour long show which covers a host of theological topics. You can listen on iTunes, through RSS, or listen on their website.

The Collective Cast – The podcasting arm of the Reformed Collective is hosted by Jason Hinrichs and Josh Sommer. This follows a typical two host occasional guest format, but is engaging and funny in a way that many shows are not. You can listen on iTunes, through RSS, or listen on their website.

Thinking Fellows – This is a Lutheran Podcast, but is still very edifying. The content tends to be more serial than episodic, so you may have to listen to the backlog when you start, but it is well worth it. You can listen on iTunes, through RSS, or listen on their website.

 

William Lane Craig – The Duplicitous Langage of Proposal (5.5)

Recently, Dr. Craig spoke on his podcast about his Christological Position. This was in response to an article forwarded to him from Richard Bushey titled Does William Lane Craig Have An Orthodox Christology?

Some have asked me why this series has stalled out, wondering if I am done with my critique. I am not, but given that the second edition of Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview is due to be released soon, and my understanding is that it contains some new content regarding abstract objects that may be pertinent to the critique, I have decided to wait until then to continue my series.

However, this recent podcast episode does have a few things that I wanted to respond to.

First, it is notable that the only thing that Craig actually does in this episode is to restate his position. That does not resolve any of the concerns or objections that I have lodged. In fact, some of what he says actually reinforces them. He makes the comparison between Christ’s human consciousness and his divine subconsciousness with an iceberg where there is a visible mass above the water with an unseen mass below the water. As I noted previously, an unintended entailment of Craig’s position that natures are only collections of attributes, and not some concrete object, is that the combination of two sets of attributes results in results “in a tertium quid, that is a new third kind of nature that is neither human nor divine.” Craig’s use of this iceberg analogy lends support to this, since even though there is a seen portion of the iceberg and an unseen portion of the iceberg, there is still only a single iceberg. The human (visible) part of the Christological iceberg is not a distinct nature from the divine (invisible) part of the Christological iceberg.

Second, Craig makes a big deal out of the fact that Neo-Apollinarianism is only a proposal. He seems to imply that it is a proposal that he does not himself believe. I find this difficult to believe. Although I understand that at times philosophers put forward theoretical views to be tested and critiqued by other philosophers, to sort of test the waters, this does not seem to be the case in my estimation.

In a 2010 debate with Yusuf Ismail, Dr. Craig responds to Ismail’s claim that the hypostatic union is incoherent. He responds (starting at 6:54) by presenting his Neo-Apollinarian proposal, using the analogy of the popular movie Avatar to explain the incarnation. After explaining the concept present in Avatar he says “In exactly the same way, Christ has both a divine nature and a human nature, and these two natures have different powers.” (9:36) He then goes on later to say “I think [Neo-Apollinarianism] makes perfect sense of the incarnation, and there is nothing [illogcal] or incoherent about it.” (10:05)

It seems to me these statements are much less tentative than Craig wants to make them appear in this episode of Reasonable Faith. Are we to believe that he would say of a view that he doesn’t actually hold that it “makes perfect sense of the incarnation”?

Statements like this are simply duplicitous and are a way of dancing around the objections people have. If I were to say “My proposal is that Craig is an idiot heretic.” Craig and his supporters would not accept “It’s only a proposal” as a legitimate way to dismiss their critiques.

The fact that Craig couches his thoughts in the philosophical language of “possibility,” “proposal,” or “model” does not change the fact that he is advocating this model for Christian belief. Even if it did, Craig is saying that it is possible that although the Scriptures teach that Jesus “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” (Hebrews 2:17b, ESV, emphasis added), that in a fundamental way he actually didn’t become at all like us. My mind is created, finite, and knows external facts because they are impressed upon me. Christ’s mind so says Craig, is uncreated, infinite, and knows all facts as a result of his knowledge of himself.

Brothers and sisters, don’t be fooled by Dr. Craig’s disingenuous language. If he doesn’t believe Neo-Apollinarianism to be true, let him explicitly state that. If he is unwilling to do that, then I fail to see how a model that he says “makes perfect sense of the incarnation” should not be considered to be his belief simply because he says “it is only a proposal.”

The Scriptures teach us that “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking!’” (Proverbs 26:18-19, ESV) Well, I say “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘It was only a proposal!’”

Bibliography

  • Bavinck, Herman. 2004. God and Creation. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Vol. 2. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker.
  • Bushey, Richard. 2015. Does William Lane Craig Have an Orthodox Christology? July 14. Accessed July 10, 2017. https://thereforegodexists.com/does-william-lane-craig-have-an-orthodox-christology/.
  • Craig, William Lane, and Kevin Harris. 2017. Does Dr. Craig Have an Orthodox Christology. July 9. Accessed July 10, 2017. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/does-dr-craig-have-an-orthodox-christology.
  • Craig, William Lane, and Yusuf Ismail. 2010. Identifying Jesus: Is He Man, or both Man and God? Capetown. Accessed July 10, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfiD6Zr4q50.
Note: I have been unable to find a complete audio or video recording of the referenced debate with Yusuf Ismail, but would much rather link to a complete version. If you know where a complete audio or video recording, or a transcript of the debate, is available, please let me know so I can update this post.

Review of “Rediscovering the Holy Spirit” by Michael Horton (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

When I heard that Michael Horton was publishing a book-length treatment of Pneumatology, I did a little happy dance. This is a subject that is so often neglected, that it is to the shame and detriment of the Church. This book, however, is an absolute game changer.

I say with absolute confidence that this book ranks in my top five books of all time.

What Horton has accomplished, drawing from a vast array of classical and contemporary sources, in this book is breathtaking at times. In essence, this book is a systematic theology with each chapter drawing out the role of the Third Person of the Trinity through a given topic. Beginning with the vivifying and ordering activity of the Spirit in Creation, and culminating with the Spirit’s role in giving life and structure to the Church, Horton masterfully demonstrates how the inseparable operations fully involve the Spirit.

Perhaps most applicable to our time is the way that Horton destroys the faulty and interrelated concepts of Lordship Salvation and the idea of a second baptism in the Holy Spirit (distinct from water baptism). Demonstrating both exegetically and systematically that water baptism and baptism in the Spirit are inexorably linked, he forcefully proves that you cannot have Christ as Savior without having him as Lord. Flipping the argument which Lordship advocates put forward, he proves that Christ only saves those who acknowledge his sovereignty, and baptism by water and Spirit are the sign and guarantee of his Lordship.

Additionally, by making a compelling positive case that the Spirit is the gift of our salvation, as well as the one who gives us the ultimate gift of union with Christ, he redirects all questions concerning the so-called charismatic gifts to the role of secondary question, and thus places it within its proper realm of significance.

This is a technical book, and in terms of his other writings is in the same range of difficulty as the Christian Faith. However, like the Christian Faith, it is written in such a way that the educated layperson —with some effort and guidance— will find it worthwhile to struggle through.

I really cannot recommend this book strongly enough. Pneumatology is an area which is sorely lacking in the theological diet of most Christians, and this book is a feast of epic proportions. I came to the end of the book and wanted more. Like a good meal, it satisfied my appetite but left me longing for more of the rich nourishment it provided. My youth pastor used to say “If you read one book this year, read the bible. If you read two books this year, read this one.” I will add “If you read three books this year, read this one twice.”


PLEASE NOTE: THE PUBLISHER HAS PROVIDED ME WITH A COPY OF THIS BOOK FOR REVIEW PURPOSES.

Anthropological Manichaeism

Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is good… Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place. – Pope Francis[note]https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/pope-francis-stirs-debate-yet-again-with-interview-with-an-atheist-italian-journalist/2013/10/01/9e7a6790-2acb-11e3-97a3-ff2758228523_story.html?utm_term=.a303745ba42e[/note]

Last week, an evil and cowardly man attacked a concert venue full of women and children. This man believes that he was earning for himself a one-way ticket to paradise, complete with a harem of spotless virgins. The surprise that he will face when he realizes that instantaneous pain of the suicide bomb he used to commit this heinous act will never end is certainly a worthy topic of theological reflection, but that is not the purpose of today’s post.

Instead, I would like to turn our attention to another phenomenon I have observed during this era of terrorism. It is a theological error that I have dubbed Anthropological Manichaeism.

Manichaeism

Manichaeism, most widely known among Christians because of the association with Augustine of Hippo and his brief time as a Manichaean, is an ancient theological error. In this error, the universe is governed by two ultimate principles. I’m not sure it is quite accurate to call them gods because in my understanding they are not personal entities. Either way, these two principles are locked in a constant struggle for dominance. The good principle is associated with the immaterial, while the evil principle is associated with matter.

Augustine was drawn to this system because of his observation of the world. He looked at suffering and needed an answer for why it exists. Manichaeism gave him this answer, at least temporarily.

It is often said that every human is born Pelagians. Pelagianism is another theological system associated with the Bishop of Hippo, as he was the greatest opponent of the wicked theology. Pelagianism asserts that man is untouched by the Fall of Adam, that apart from a bad example to follow we are basically good. This is indeed the default position of most naturalists.

Trying to Balance out the Evil

However, as I’ve watched the news I have noticed that there is often an attempt to call out “the good” or “the positive” amidst these terrible acts. You see, atheists have to deal with the problem of evil as well. They look around at the world and see suffering, and have to account for it. However, as naturalists, they often deny the existence of anything but the material world. As a result, they seem to construct a system where the Manichaean struggle of two ultimate principles of good and evil exist within us. We must strive for the good to overcome the evil. For every suicide bomber, so argues the news, there is someone willing to rush toward the explosion to help the wounded.

Now, I don’t deny that this is true. We often see acts of heroism, even from those who are not Christians. There are a variety of ways to explain this, and that I will leave for another day. However, what is undeniable is that the solution to evil is not inside of us. While it may be true that not every human is capable of the disgusting evil we see from ISIS fighters, it is also true that every human is capable of the disgusting evil of lying to their parents… or stealing from their employer.

There are objective gradations of evil, but all of us to some degree are rotten from the inside out. While this corruption may not always work its way to the surface in the form of an idolistic crusade in the name of a demon and his prophet, it manifests itself with every lustful glance and selfish thought.

The “Good” inside Us Will Never Be Enough

What the world needs is not for us to choose the good that is within us. It is not sufficient, as Papa Franky said in my introductory thought, to simply choose good as we conceive it… for our hearts are desperately wicked. What the world needs is not for humans to save it. It needs the Creator to redeem and restore it.

This principle of Anthropological Manichaeism is pervasive, and as Christians, we must recognize that it is not the Gospel. There is no spark of the divine inside us, there is no untainted root from which to fight the darkness without. The only hope we have of overcoming evil is to be transformed by the Spirit of the One who succumbed to the intentions of evil men according to the intentions of his holy Father.

William Lane Craig – Neo-Apollinarianism (5)

In the previous entries in this series, we have seen how Dr. Craig’s denial of realism (a position he calls anti-realism, rather than nominalism) has led him down the path of partialism (in which the three persons are not properly unified) and unitarianism (in which he implicitly treats the Trinity as though it were a hypostasis, and that hypostasis is the one true God, with the three Persons simply being a component of that single divine hypostasis). Up until now, these issues have been implicit and only come by way of deduction from his arguments. Another way to say that is that he would deny the implications, even though I think they are logically inescapable given his prior theological commitments. We shall see that this is again the case as we turn to the Neo-Apollinarianism that Dr. Craig proposes.

Today that changes. As we turn the corner from Triadology to Christology, we see a shocking thing happen. Craig actually names his Christological model after someone whom the Church declared to be a heretic, naming it Neo-Apollinarianism. This model, as we shall see, doesn’t actually modify the arch-heretic’s understanding of the incarnation, but instead modifies the anthropology of the infamous Apollinaris.

Nothing New about Neo-Apollinarianism

Apollinaris, more or less, posited that a human nature is composed of three parts. The body, the spirit, and the mind (he would call this last component a rational soul). Thus, in an ordinary human person, there would be these three components. However, in the incarnation what we see is that the divine Logos (the second person of the Trinity) assumed a human body and spirit but not a human mind. Instead, the divine Logos, as a divine mind, served as the mind of the incarnate Christ. The result of this was a partial incarnation, which resulted in a God/man hybrid. This view was rebutted by Gregory of Nazianzus in a position that is sometimes called the assumptus.

For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. (Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101 in NPNF2.7)

Apollinaris, so argued the Nazianzen, postulated a Christ who could save our human bodies and spirits, because he united those to his divine nature and thus atoned for and restored them to their original integrity. However, our minds were not assumed, and thus his atonement could not heal them.

That brings us to Craig.

Now, it should be said that he presents a full constructive account of this position in Philosophical Foundations for the Christian Worldview, which I do not currently have access to right now. I have read the section several times and will be citing instead a brief response to a question on his website. The second edition of the book will be released soon and I will be reviewing all the applicable sections to see if there has been any notable change in his theology in these areas.

Craig essentially (pardon the pun) postulates that Apollinaris held an incorrect anthropology. From what I can tell he believes the heretic was wrong in primarily that he was a realist. So, applying his anti-realism to the problem he comes up with a solution which he calls Neo-Apollinarianism. Or so he thinks.

Remember, for Craig such a thing as a nature doesn’t actually exist. Instead, what exists is discrete collections of attributes. So the Logos has a set of natures which he eternally was, and the incarnation is simply the taking on of another set of attributes. This has problems, but not necessarily heretical problems.

However, when we observe how Craig applies this, it takes a dangerous course.

Neo-Apollinarianism Renders Christ’s Humanity Incomplete

Craig postulates that the divine Logos had all the attributes sufficient for human personhood, except a body. Thus, in the incarnation, the only thing which was assumed was a human body, and instead of a human mind the Logos takes up residence. This move is where the model gains the name Neo-Apollinarianism. Christ did not take a human soul, a human mind, a human spirit. He only took the additional physical attributes that a human person has, without taking any immaterial attributes that a human person has.

This results in a single person who is a single set of attributes. Some of those attributes are the attributes which the Logos had eternally, and some of them are the attributes which he gained by taking on a body. In a word, this is a monophysite Christology which is a blending of two natures, rather than a union without confusion. This Neo-Apollinarianism results in a tertium quid, that is a new third kind of nature that is neither human nor divine. This, incidentally, was also a position rejected as heretical (also called Eutychianism). However, because of Craig’s definition of what a nature is, he would still explicitly maintain that Christ is two natures.

However, the other import of this is not as implicit.

It seems you’re not familiar with my proposed neo-Apollinarian Christology in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. It was crafted precisely because I think the usual model tends to Nestorianism for the reasons you mention. On the traditional model the human soul of Christ is not a person, which I find baffling. On my model the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the soul of Jesus Christ. By taking on a human body the Logos completed the human nature of Christ, making him a body/soul composite. So Christ has two complete natures, divine and human. (Craig 2011)

Three major issues to point out:

  • He has appropriated the name of the same heresy that I am accusing him of. He is not shy about the harmony of his view with Apollinarianism
  • He thinks the “usual model” is Nestorian. He thinks this because he believes that a soul is a person. I won’t be deep diving his anthropology more than this article. However, this in concert with his faulty ontology is the core causes of his Christology and Triadological errors.
  • Jesus Christ has no human soul. “The Logos […] is the soul of Jesus Christ.

So, while Apollinaris argued that the Logos was the mind (rational soul) of Christ, Neo-Apollinarianism argues that the entire immaterial component of Christ is the Logos. What was assumed in the incarnation was a body. This results in a Christ that, contrary to Scripture (Heb 2:17), is very much unlike us. His mind is infinite, my mind is finite. His spirit is eternal, my spirit is created. His will is immutable, my will is mutable. Only if, as the Chalcedonian Definition argues, Christ takes on a complete human nature can this be resolved. Christ must take on a finite human mind, a created human spirit, and a mutable human will in order to be our great High Priest.

I will close with the remainder of the Nazianzen’s statement.

If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole.  Let them not, then, begrudge us our complete salvation, or clothe the Saviour only with bones and nerves and the portraiture of humanity. (Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101 in NPNF2.7)

Bibliography

  • Bavinck, Herman. God and Creation. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Vol. 2. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.
  • Craig, William Lane. Christological Conundrums. July 3, 2011. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/christological-conundrums (accessed May 6, 2017).
  • Gregory of Nazianzus. Epistle 101.

Review of “Practicing the Power” by Sam Storms (Grand Raids: Zondervan, 2017)

Having come from a general evangelical background into Reformed thought, I had the same kind of hangover that most do. I was dispensational and charismatic… two things I was being told were unacceptable for a Reformed man. It was Sam Storms’ book Kingdom Come which helped me to see the logic of Amillennialism. My move toward cessationism was instinctual, and it wasn’t until later that I had exegesis to undergird that move.

Matt Chandler was also instrumental in my move to Reformed theology, so when I saw his endorsement of Sam Storms’ recent book Practicing the Power I jumped at the opportunity to review it. I eagerly awaited the arrival of my copy, and when it arrived I was dismayed to see that a book which purported to be full of “practical steps to understanding and exercising spiritual gifts in a way that remains grounded in the Word and centered in the gospel” was also endorsed by the cultish huckster Mike Bickle.

However, I trust Dr. Storms so I jumped into the text.

Storms opens the book by lamenting how often he has been told that the goal of a local church which is committed to both the authority of Scripture and the operation of all the spiritual gifts is a dream. He proceeds to set the stage for who his target audience is. To be blunt, I’m not the target audience. Storms is up front about the fact that he is not intending to mount a positive argument for the continuation of the charismatic gifts, and points to previous works in which he does to fill that need. Instead, this book is for those who already affirm the ongoing operation of these gifts and are looking for guidance on how to implement them in the context of their local congregation. Since my audience is probably not described by that, a word of warning. This book will frustrate you. I will go into the details further on, but it is difficult to step back on this subject and suspend belief.

However, it isn’t fair to critique a book for what it was never intended to be. Tim Challies offered a review of this book which does delve into some critique on this level, to which Storms offered a rejoinder.

In the first chapter, which I found to be the most frustrating, Storms continues to set the stage. He presents a typical  email that he states he receives on “almost a daily basis.” (Storms 2017, 19) The email is a request for practical advice on how to implement the gifts in his local congregation. He then describes who this book is for. He lists several characteristics, and while most of them simply felt like descriptions of average Christians, a few were almost hyper-specific. Most frustrating of all was the final description.

You are weary of the weekly, often monotonous and traditional routine in church life that rarely challenges your daily existence and puts teenagers to sleep and offends the non-Christian who dares to visit your services. Put simply, there is no real power to speak of in what occurs on a Sunday morning, and you dread the lifeless ritual that passes for worship. (Storms 2017, 23)

Storms sets up a drastic straw man and winds up for the swing. While I’m sure there are some congregations which fit this description, the clear majority of cessationist churches I know do not. God has given us a divinely inspired rhythm and commanded us to worship him in a routine and orderly fashion. But beyond that, by way of critique, all that Dr. Storms is doing here in any of these descriptions is setting up an emotional argument. We shouldn’t make theological decisions regarding how we are to worship based on our desires and feelings, but based on the Word of God and what it commands. This is hardly something that I think Dr. Storms would disagree with, yet this blatant emotional appeal exists. He moves on to describe the difficult cost one must pay to accomplish this, which involves being on the receiving end of personal attacks (both human and probably demonic), people leaving your church, and being willing to set aside preconceived notions and experiences regarding the charismatic. He closes by discussing the manipulation factor. He speaks both against the manipulation of people that is a plague in the charismatic movement, but he also speaks against the idea that we can manipulate God.

The next two chapters serve as an exhortation to desire the gifts and to ask for them. I really appreciate that prayer is made central in the preparatory phase, however when he begins to discuss the role of faith he goes off the rails. The central abuse of the charismatic movement is that it often takes the person who is desperately seeking a miracle and makes them the reason why the miracle does not occur. Usually taking the form of questioning if they have enough faith, they are either explicitly told… or simply conclude on their own… that their current state is a result of their sin, and the fact that God is not fixing it is a result of their lack of faith. While It is true that Storms softens this, his answer is not that God’s sovereignty determines this (exclusively). He leaves the door open that it might be the faith of the person suffering which causes the miracle to fail. I appreciate what he is trying to do, but the central abuse of the charismatic system is left essentially unchecked here.

I won’t detail the remaining chapters, but I found them to be shallow and although there are scriptural citations throughout, there was a relative lack of depth of exegesis which was disappointing. I understand that this is a popular level book, but it left the impression that most of what he was saying was not derived from Scripture, but instead, Scripture was being used as a supporting edifice. One common theme in addition to the superficial use of Scripture was the mechanical nature of his proposal. He describes concrete steps, which gives a formulaic impression. This seems to be at odds with his desire for non-monotonous worship.

He closes with a story, again with the emotional appeals. The story contains the account of not-her-real-name-Julie. The letter was written by Julie’s husband who tells her medical history. Julie had been having severe back pain which was revealed to be an annular disk tear by MRI (ie something that doesn’t just get better on its own). After praying after a Sunday morning service the back pain went away. Oh, and Julie’s husband is a physician so you know it must be true. I am not claiming that this account is made up. However, this is the emotional appeal that Dr. Storms makes as the coup de grâce of his book. What I immediately noticed was missing, as it is in every account of miraculous healing I have ever encountered… medical evidence. A person with lower back pain who has a diagnosed and radiologically verified injury… who suddenly stops feeling pain… in some cases that is a sign that the problem has become worse. Her healing should have prompted a repeat MRI. I’m not expecting this woman’s medical records to be published in the book, but if we are going to claim that she is healed, and there would have been routine verification from a medical perspective, then to not include it is to simply leave the door open for skeptics, myself included. I know that this book isn’t written for skeptics, but it was still frustrating.

Finally, he offers an appendix at the end of the book which is an argument against cessationism. This was an ongoing frustration throughout the book. In his introduction, he is clear that this book is not a positive case for continuationism. But he takes what amount to rabbit punches at the cessationist position. He references arguments, serious exegetical and published arguments, against the continuation of the gifts, and often swats them away like they are annoying gnats. I can fully appreciate that the subject of his book is not a positive argument for continuationism and not a negative argument against cessationism… but to bring up an argument and then treat it as silly is simply bad writing. It uses the fact that you rhetorically dismiss the position to imply that the position is weak and not worth your time.

At the end of the day, with all due respect to Dr. Storms, this book simply falls short of all its stated goals. Although he claims he doesn’t want to support the idea of manipulating God, his book is full of step by step instructions that should lead to a robust operation of the Holy Spirit in your church. Although he claims he wants to curb the abuses of the more extreme charismatics, and I completely believe he does, he still roots the lack of miracles in the lack of faith of the one needing a miracle.

 


Please Note: The publisher has provided me with a copy of this book for review purposes.

William Lane Craig – Unitarianism (4)

Last time, we talked about how Dr. Craig’s position of anti-realism undermines the fundamental unity of the Godhead. It does this by functionally denying that such natures exist are a thing considered differently than persons. Where classic orthodox trinitarianism relies on the idea that natures, or ousiai, exist and that persons, or hypostases, are more-or-less instances of a given category of ousiai… Craig denies this to be the case. This denial of realism (he hesitates to call it nominalism, but I do not see a substantive difference) ends up in a position which renders the Trinity to be a subsistent thing, and each person to be a discrete component part of that subsistent thing. We called this error Partialism but in point of fact, it is simply a unique species of tritheism which denies the fundamental unity of the divine persons (or in this case, replaces the fundamental unity with something insufficient to render the persons united). However, as I mentioned, Dr. Craig seems to recognize that this is a potential problem, and in order to avoid falling into that ditch, he pushes back to the other side and falls into the ditch of unitarianism.

While it may seem like an unlikely course of events that Dr. Craig unwittingly affirms both tritheism and Unitarianism, in my experience, this is often the case. There is a kind of schizophrenic quality to heresy that often results in a person affirming ostensibly opposite positions. As I said in the introduction to this series, Dr. Craig’s primary systematic presentation is found in Philosophical Foundations for the Christian Worldview. Both of these views are present in his chapter regarding the Trinity, so as strange as it seems, it appears to be the case.

Unitarianism Hypostatizes the Trinity

In the case of Dr. Craig here, what we see is an erroneous consideration of the Trinity as a subsistent thing… as a hypostasis. This hypostatization of the Trinity results in a form of unitarianism which shares many features with classic modalism.

Remember, in our discussion of Dr. Craig’s anti-realism, Dr. Craig denies that there is such a thing as a nature. Although the language is inconsistent in my opinion, this pushes him to consider the Trinity to be “the only instance of the divine nature.” (Moreland and Craig 2003)

Now, in order to understand why this is a problem, we have to go back to what the definition of a hypostasis is. Fundamentally, a hypostasis is an instance of the divine nature.

[H]ypostasis (an individual subsistence with its own characteristics) was the right word for distinguishing the three persons from the one essence. Although a bearer of a shared essence, a hypostasis is a distinct entity with its own attributes as well.” (Horton 2011, 97)

Dr. Craig himself seems to recognize that this is the classic definition as well.

Even if we think of the universal as the primary reality, still it is undeniable that there are three exemplifications of that reality who, in the one case, are three distinct men, as is obvious from the fact that one man can cease to exist without the others’ ceasing to do so. Similarly, even if the one divine nature is the primary reality, still it is undeniably exemplified by three hypostaseis, who should each be an instance of deity. (Moreland and Craig 2003)

Explaining a passage out of Gregory of Nyssa, he recognizes that the Cappadocian is articulating that each hypostasis is an instance of the divine nature. So, when he argues that the Trinity is not only an instance of the divine nature… but is in fact “the sole instance of the divine nature.” (Moreland and Craig 2003, emphasis mine) he is actually saying, whether he intends to or not, that the Trinity is not only a hypostasis/person… but is the only hypostasis/person. The other three are simply component parts of that single person… analogous to how a cat’s skeleton is a component part of that single cat. Since there is only one thing in all of existence that actually qualifies to be called “God”, this results in the error of unitarianism.

Unitarianism Demotes the Persons to Sub Divine

I won’t belabor the point. This is not orthodox trinitarianism. Dr. Craig has argued that each person is not the fullness of deity explicitly, and now by way of implication he has argued that each person is not in fact actually a distinct person. Rather than maintain that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity… he has instead articulated that we worship one God in unity, and unity in disunity. While he asserts a single God (the Trinity) he renders each person to be less than the one God. While he argues that each is a part of the one God, he undermines and denies the way that God is actually one.

More could be said regarding Dr. Craig’s trinitarian theology, and perhaps we will return at a future point. However, enough time has been spent for now. In the coming posts, we will turn our attention to Dr. Craig’s Christology, and how the mistakes he has made in this area of Systematic Theology spiral out to Christological heresy as well.

Bibliography

  • Bavinck, Herman. God and Creation. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Vol. 2. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.
  • Horton, Michael. Pilgrim Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
  • Chap. 29 in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, by JP Moreland, & William Lane Craig. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003.

Review of “Evangelical, Sacramental, & Pentecostal” by Gordon Smith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017)

What are the true marks of the Church? The Reformers, broadly speaking, argued for three basic marks. The Gospel would be preached, the sacraments would be properly administered, and church discipline would be justly executed.

In the recently published Evangelical, Sacramental, & Pentecostal, by Gordon Smith, we see an argument for three different marks. These marks do not constitute a true church, as the ones offered by the Reformers. Rather they mark off, says Smith, what makes a church healthy and vibrant. He frames this discussion by intending to answer two questions:

How do we become partakers, entering into the grace of the risen and ascended Christ? How and by what means are heaven and earth transcended and the grace of the crucified and ascended Christ made available and appropriated by the church and by the individual Christian?

This book suffers from many difficulties and shortcomings. Primarily, it has a poorly defined thesis, which results in a failure to properly prove said thesis. Additionally, the Smith has a tendency to use poorly defined terms in his arguments. For example, the term evangelical appears to simply mean “an emphasis on Scripture.” Sacramental similarly appears to mean “believes God uses sacraments.” The converse is true with the term pentecostal, which doesn’t refer to Pentecostalism as a specific movement, but does seem to include necessarily the belief in the continuation of the charismatic gifts. Because of these poor definitions, the actual outflows of his argument are unclear.

In at least one place, Smith communicates something that is unclear at best, and at worst is blatantly false.

“And yet for many years the Evangelical Theological Society only had one criterion for membership, that one affirmed the inerrancy of Scripture. (52)”

I’m not sure when exactly it was added, but the ETS also includes an affirmation of Trinitarian orthodoxy in its doctrinal basis, which every member is required to reaffirm annually upon renewing membership. Additionally, a full member must possess an advanced theological degree, and associate members must be endorsed by a full member. I’m not sure when (if it indeed was not a part of the original requirement) the Trinitarian doctrine was added, but as far as I’m aware the requirements regarding a degree were part of the original constitution.

At the end of the day, this book could be summarized by simply saying “our worship should look like the Church in acts.” The merits of this statement are beyond the scope of this review, but I found it difficult to agree on the necessity of his book when the conclusion is such a basic statement. Rather than spend time arguing for this statement (which seems to me to be quite different than the questions laid out in his introduction), instead he invested an inordinate time formulating extremely broad definitions of the words in his title. Apart from the emphasis on the charismatic gifts, he simply seems to be saying that we as Christians should worship according to word, sacrament, and spirit. Furthermore, he draws from an apparent dichotomy that he sees in Christians who refuse to be sacramental because they are evangelical, or refuse to be evangelical because they are pentecostal. I find it hard to believe that this is a rejection of more than just the terms in the vast majority of cases, and thus the onus of his book rests on superfluous grounds.

I will end by saying a few positive things about the book. This probably sounds like a joke, but the brevity of the book was refreshing. Far too often large volumes are produced which seem to be enlarged by needless repetition or overly complex language. This book suffers from neither of those things. Additionally, the chapter on the Pentecostal Principle (97-124) serves as a reasonable short argument for the continuation of the charismatic gifts and includes a good —albeit surface level— summary of the Filioque controversy. The book utilizes endnotes, which is ordinarily a negative thing for me. However, the nature of this book is such that there are a limited number of citations in the first place, so the choice to use endnotes was appropriate.


Bibliography


Please Note: The publisher has provided me with a copy of this book for review purposes.

Review of “The Triune God” by Fred Sanders (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016)

I was recently forwarded a copy of the newest entry in Zondervan’s New Studies in Dogmatics series. The Triune God by Fred Sanders is an important contribution to the study of Trinitarian theology that couldn’t have come at better time.

Sanders lays out in the introduction to this volume, the idea that most Trinitarian studies have a common problem. They spend way too much time looking at the historical development of the dogma, and not enough time exploring the Scriptural foundations. He then proceeds to explain the basic structure of his book, works in reverse of the traditional order.

He begins with the liturgical and doxological practices of the Church by orienting the reader to his study with the Gloria Patri as a scaffolding. This not only sets the tone and stage for the book, it helps the reader understand up front what the stakes are. This is not just an arcane study of some bit of difficult theology, this is the very worship and life of the Christian Church. He then proceeds in chapter two to explain the proper context for understanding what the Scriptures, particularly the New Testament, mean by mystery. That is, something that has always been true, was obscured in the past and is now revealed. In this chapter, he also engages some of the Modern era’s most prominent Trinitarian theologians. Chapters three and four engage the biblical data by first establishing that the missions (ie the economic ministries of the Son and Spirit in redemption) are themselves revelatory, and then exploring that revelation with a discussion of the Incarnation and Pentecost as the foci of revelation. Chapter five then explores what these communicative missions reveal about the ontological processions (ie the relationships of origin and identity the Son and Spirit share in relation to the Father). Sanders brilliantly demonstrates how the ontological realities of Generation and Procession not only inform our understanding of the missions of the Son and Spirit (respectively), but are themselves the grounding of the missions in eternity past. Chapters six through eight then lay a foundation for how exegesis must be done in light of Scripture being the self-revelation of the Triune God, and then exploring first the New Testament revelation and then the Old Testament foreshadowing of that revelation. Finally, he closes this volume with a set of eleven theses regarding Trinitarian revelation.

I cannot commend this book to my readers enough. Sanders is, in my opinion, the single most important evangelical Trinitarian theologian doing systematic and dogmatic theology today. My readers may be off-put by the fact that he is not a Reformed writer, but I often found myself forgetting that as I read this book. Sanders fluidly makes use of authors from various traditions and is not ashamed to make use of Reformed writers if they are appropriate sources (which he frequently finds them to be). Additionally, he interacts with modern Trinitarian thinkers that many in my audience probably have not (Rahner, Barth, Wiles). He is appropriately critical but also commends some of the valuable insights these figures have brought to the table of Trinitarian theology.

Sanders self-consciously avoids an in-depth discussion of the historical development of Trinitarian dogma. While I view it as a strength of the book, I can also see how it may be a liability. For those who are looking for a general systematic overview of the doctrine, this may not be the place to go. Sanders foregoes the usual introductory remarks defining terms like Hypostasis and Ousia, and this may be a gap in some reader’s knowledge. Additionally, he manages to avoid the Filioque controversy altogether. I am unsure if it was intentional on the part of the editors of the series, but the previously released volume, the Holy Spirit by Christopher Holmes, may as well have been titled the Filioque as the book is almost entirely devoted to the discussion this aspect of the procession of the Holy Spirit. Because of this, I would recommend the two volumes be read together. Finally, the closing chapter is worth the cost of the book alone. These serve as helpful guideposts for those engaging in Trinitarian theology.

Finally, although he does not address it directly in this volume (this may have been intentional, or merely a matter of timing), this book serves as a useful foundation for those combating the error of Eternal Functional Submission. There is nothing that I recall that directly spoke to these issues, but the book carefully and clearly presents the reality of the unity of nature in the midst of divine processions, something that EFS advocates cannot properly account for. As is usually the case, it is better to understand the truth well, and by properly understanding what is true you will be able to better discern out what is false.

This book makes an important addition to the library of any pastor or scholar. It is probably more technical than the average layperson can benefit from, however it may be useful for a focused study to be guided by someone with theological training. Additionally, if combined with the aforementioned Pneumatology volume and the presumed forthcoming Christology and Theology Proper volumes, it would make an excellent text for a comprehensive look at the theology of the divine Persons.


Bibliography


Please Note: The Publisher has provided me with a copy of this book for review purposes.

William Lane Craig – Partialism (3)

In the last post, we discussed how Dr. Craig’s self-described anti-realism flows contrary to the metaphysical assumptions which undergird the Church’s historical articulation of the doctrines of the Trinity (Nicaea 325 and Constantinople 381) and the Hypostatic Union (Chalcedon 451). This leads him to argue that the Trinity itself is the only “instance of the Divine Nature.” (Moreland and Craig 2003) I argued that this leads Dr. Craig to the error of Tritheism. Specifically, he commits a variant of this error called Partialism. Today we will be discussing how his commitment to anti-realism forces him to make this mistake.

The Stakes of the Issue

In the second episode of Dr. Craig’s first Defenders class, he makes a strong claim about the importance of having right Christian doctrine. He says “Christ cannot be separated from truths about Christ. Someone may claim to say, ‘Yes, I believe in Jesus. Oh, Jesus is Lord!’ He may have a wonderful spiritual experience of Jesus. But if they don’t have right doctrine, that experience is spurious. The Scripture says that you cannot separate Christ from the fundamental truths about Christ.” (Craig, Introduction to Christian Doctrine 2007)  Did you catch that? A person may have some kind of experience of Jesus, but if that experience is combined with false doctrine, the experience is spurious.

Spurious is a word that is not commonly used, so I think it bears defining:

Outwardly similar or corresponding to something without having its genuine qualities (Merriam-Webster 2017)

Something that is spurious appears to be genuine but is in fact not. So what Dr. Craig is saying here is that even if a person appears to have genuine Christian faith, even if their own subjective experience tells them that they are a Christian, that if their doctrine is not correct that their experience is not genuine. This is important, as one of the primary reactions I get when I speak critically of Dr. Craig is to point to his character and service as evidence that my critique is unjustified. However, Dr. Craig himself points out that a person’s doctrine, while not everything, potentially invalidates their experience and the outward appearances of Christianity.

As I noted in my introductory post, Dr. Craig has become something of a renewed interest among young Reformed Christians. Is what Dr. Craig is saying is true, his model may be leading people away from a genuine experience with the risen Christ, and toward a spurious experience of a false Jesus.

Anti-Realism and Partialism

Historically, what has served to unify the three persons of the Trinity such that they are a single God rather than three Gods or gods, is that they share a single and simple divine nature. This can unify the three persons not because they are each a part of that divine nature, as Dr. Craig ultimately argues. Rather, it unifies them because they each are full expressions of that divine nature. Because they share this single and simple divine nature, they mutually indwell each other in what we call perichoresis. As we have seen, Dr. Craig denies that such a single and simple nature exists at all. This causes him to render each person of the Trinity to be simply a part or portion of the divine nature. You couldn’t construct a better definition of partialism if you tried.

After making the stunning claim that no one person of the Trinity is the fullness of divinity, and may only be described as divine, he goes on to ask the following question:

So if the persons of the Trinity are not divine in virtue of being instances of the divine nature, in virtue of what are they divine? (Moreland and Craig 2003)

Craig answers the question with an analogy. The analogy is that even though a Cat’s skeleton is not the entirety of an instance of the Cat nature, only the whole Cat is, it is nevertheless a feline skeleton. While he makes it clear that he is speaking analogically and not univocally, he goes on to say

This suggests that we could think of the persons of the Trinity as divine because they are parts of the Trinity, that is, parts of God. (Moreland and Craig 2003)

So it is not a matter of drawing an implication of partialism from his work when I say that Craig argues that each person of the Trinity is only a part of God and not the fullness of deity. Although he couches this in the language of “suggesting,” he is advocating this model. He goes on to flesh out some more of the implications, which he believes are benefits.

Far from downgrading the divinity of the persons, such an account can be very illuminating of their contribution to the divine nature. For parts can possess properties which the whole does not, and the whole can have a property because some part has it. (Moreland and Craig 2003)

So not only are the persons not the fullness of deity, they can actually possess individual properties which the whole —and presumably the other persons— do not. He concludes this section by saying, “the point is that if we think of the divinity of the persons in terms of a part/whole relation to the Trinity that God is, then their deity seems in no way diminished because they are not instances of the divine nature.” (Moreland and Craig 2003) For Craig, each person constitutes a part of the Godhead, rather than the fullness of it. Thus his view is properly called partialism.

We will discuss next week how Dr. Craig’s way of grounding the unity causes problems, but at this point, I think it is sufficient to note a few things.

  • No one person of the Trinity, even the Father, is the fullness of the divine nature. They are, at most, parts of the divine nature.
  • Each person may possess properties that the whole does not, and the whole may possess properties that no individual person has.
  • The fundamental unity which the persons share is not because of a shared single and simple nature, but because they exist in a relationship in virtue of being parts in a common whole.

Partialism is not Historic Christianity

Although Dr. Craig claims that his view has precedent in the early Church, he is mistaken.[1] The idea that Son or Spirit is not the fullness of deity is certainly a view that was prominent among early Christian heretics, the idea that the Father is not is essentially unheard of. In some ways, Craig’s view here bears more in common with Mormonism than it does with orthodox Christianity. For Dr. Craig, the rejection of a concrete actual nature which is common among the three, and of which each is a complete instantiation of, has led him to deny fundamental Christian truths. Namely, that the Father is the fullness of deity, that the Son is the fullness of deity, and that the Holy Spirit is the fullness of deity. In addition, rather than ground the unity of the Trinity in the fact that each person is the fullness of the divine nature, and shares that fullness completely with the other two… he has reduced —despite his claims to the contrary— each person to the status of incomplete deity and rendered their unity incomplete. Their unity is accidental to their person, and we could conceive of the Father without the Son. That is the result of Partialism, that a part is a self-contained.

My assessment is that Dr. Craig realizes these potential pitfalls, and in his attempt to correct for them he has committed a dual error. When considering the persons distinctly, he has committed the tritheistic error of Partialism and rendered each person to be less than God. However, when considering the Triune God, he has treated the Trinity as a subsistent thing and thus expressed a flavor of Unitarianism. Attempting to flee the ditch on the Tritheism side of the road, he has overcorrected and flung himself into the ditch of Unitarianism.

To that subject, we will turn next week.

Bibliography

  • Bavinck, Herman. God and Creation. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Vol. 2. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.
  • Craig, William Lane. Introduction to Christian Doctrine. 2007. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-1-podcast/transcript/s01-02 (accessed March 4, 2017).
  • Hillary of Poitiers. On the Trinity. Vol. 9, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, edited by W Sanday, translated by EW Watson, & L Pullan. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004.
  • Merriam-Webster. Spurious. 2017. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spurious (accessed March 4, 2017).
  • Chap. 29 in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, by J P Moreland, & William Lane Craig. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003.

Notes

[1] Dr. Craig cites Hillary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, 7.2 as saying “Each divine person is in the Unity, yet no person is the one God.” However, this quote comes in a section where Hillary affirms both that the Son is the fullness of the divine nature, and that the Father is the fullness of the divine nature. Hillary here is arguing against a group of adoptionists who claim that the Son is God because of adoption, “though neither Godhead nor Sonship be His by nature.” His opponents had claimed that the Son did not possess the fullness of the divine nature. However, his response is not to argue that the Son is a part of the divine nature or a part of the Trinity, but to reference the argument in the previous book which unequivocally proved that the Father and Son have the same nature. His thesis in book 6 is “I must show from them that true God, the Son of God, is not of a different, an alien nature from that of the Father, but possesses the same Divinity while having a distinct existence through a true birth.” (On the Trinity, 6.8) Which he claims, in the very section Dr. Craig cites, he has succeeded in proving. Furthermore, Dr. Craig also references On the Trinity 7.32 in support of his argument, even though Hillary directly contradicts what Dr. Craig has argued regarding perichoresis and mutual indwelling. It is unclear to me at this point what the quoted statement means, but whatever it means… Hillary is certainly not saying that the Father, Son, or Spirit are not each the fullness of the divine nature.

William Lane Craig – Anti-Realism (2)

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I have embarked on a project to assess and critique the Trinitarian and Christological theology of William Lane Craig. The errors, in my opinion, are grave enough to render him a teacher that Reformed Christians should not emulate, even in part. In today’s post, we will discuss Dr. Craig’s Metaphysic of Anti-Realism and observe the deficiencies it produces further down in his system.

I have already received some feedback regarding my approach that I want to briefly address. As I noted previously, I am restricting myself to Dr. Craig’s popular sources. Primarily, Dr. Craig’s two podcasts, the articles available on his website, and his book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (which he co-authored with JP Moreland). Some have commented that I should spend time approaching and digesting his academic work as well. I don’t disagree with them, but I am sticking with the popular sources for two primary reasons.

First, Dr. Craig has positioned himself as an academic who also provides content for popular audiences. Although his popular audiences are probably more sophisticated than average popular readers, it seems unlikely that Dr. Craig expects everyone reading his articles to also read his academic and technical work. My ultimate critique, spoiler alert, is that he is presenting an errant theology to popular audiences that do not have the theological or philosophical acumen to understand where his errors lay. As such, I seek to demonstrate that within his popular presentation there are substantial errors.

Secondly, I’m not a philosopher. Dr. Craig is a high level, academic philosopher. I am not qualified or competent to engage in a full-scale critique of his academic work. Beyond that, I simply do not have the time, money, or desire, to engage in the level of research that would require. The popular sources I am working with are the ones that I have been engaging with for the better part of seven years and am already conversant with. So, while it is true that I am engaging in research, I am researching sources and content that I have already spent time working with in the past.

With that out of the way, I want to discuss a major component of Dr. Craig’s articulation, and one that I think drives most mistakes that he runs into further down in the system. Dr. Craig calls this component Anti-Realism.

Realism and Anti-Realism

As Herman Bavinck observes in the quote I have chosen as a theme for this study, there are two broad philosophical systems in the realm of metaphysics. It would take another post, but the classical position which undergirds historic Nicene Trinitarianism (and Chalcedonian Christology) is called Realism. This position, at least as the Cappadocian and other Pro-Nicene Fathers held it, argues that reality exists in two categories. There are ousiai[1]  which are the fundamental realities which unify different kinds of things. For example, all humans share a common type of ousia which explains the common features of all humans. This is related to, although modified by the Church, classic Platonic philosophy with its concept of the Ideal Forms. The second category is that of hypostases[2] which are the individual instances of a given genre of ousia. So while both Bavinck and Berkhof have the same kind of ousia, they are distinct hypostases of that nature. There are some considerations to be had regarding Trinitarianism and how this functions that will come in a later post.

The contrasting position is called Nominalism which argues that these abstract or metaphysical universals do not exist. There are no fundamental categories below individual instances. We name (hence the term nominalism) hypostases by observing their attributes. These attributes are what place a given hypostasis in a given category.

Now, Dr. Craig does not prefer the term nominalism and instead prefers to refer to his position as anti-realism. However, it does not appear that this choice of terms is a result of any philosophical objections or differences, but because of the negative association, the term nominalism has in other sectors. (Craig 2015)

As I mentioned earlier, Nicene Trinitarianism and Chalcedonian Christology is built upon a foundation of metaphysical realism (also sometimes called Substance Metaphysics). It would take a much broader study, but the Nicene and Chalcedonian fathers developed their theology not because of a philosophical commitment to Platonism or Neoplatonism (although the influence of those systems was used providentially by God to bring about the end result). Instead, they saw the language of Scripture to be most amenable to these concepts. Phrases like “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature[3]”, (Heb 1:3a, ESV) “though he was in the form of God”, (Phil 2:6b, ESV) or “you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4b, ESV) drove them to understand that the substance metaphysics of Plato was (broadly speaking) also the metaphysics of the Scriptures. Dr. Craig rejects this foundational aspect of classical Trinitarianism and Christology. There is no divine nature, there is no human nature. There are only attributes and the persons who have them.

How Anti-Realism Distorts the Trinity

This leads Dr. Craig, through a series of complicated mistakes that I will not recount here, to conclude that “The Trinity is the sole instance of the divine nature, and therefore there is but one God.” (Moreland and Craig 2003) What Dr. Craig seems to mean by this is that the only thing in all of existence that has all the requisite attributes to be identified as God is the Trinity qua Trinity. How he accounts for the distinct persons properly being called God (or described as divine) will come in a later post.

In the coming weeks, I will explain how this radically distorts Dr. Craig’s ideas about the unity of the Trinity, the distinction between Christ’s two natures, and how a series of over-corrections lead Dr. Craig down a theological path that we must not follow. But for now, I think it suffices to say that the error of anti-realism, does exactly as Bavinck suggests… it leads Dr. Craig to a kind of tritheism which destroys the unity of the divine persons. That is the subject to which we will turn next week.

Bibliography

  • Bavinck, Herman. God and Creation. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Vol. 2. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.
  • Craig, William Lane. Nominalism and Natural Law. 08 30, 2015. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/nominalism-and-natural-law (accessed 02 25, 2017).
  • Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
  • Chap. 29 in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, by JP Moreland, & William Lane Craig. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003.
  • Shedd, William GT. Dogmatic Theology. 3rd. Edited by Alan Gomes. Phillipsburg: P&R, 2003.

Notes

[1] “God is one in respect to essence, denoted by the Greek terms ousia, physis, and to on; the Latin terms essentia, substantia, natura, ens, and res; and the English terms essence, substance, nature, and being.” (Shedd 2003, 231)

[2] “The Greek trinitarians denominated a divine person hypostasis, to hypokeimenon, or prosōpon. […] The Latin trinitarians employed the word persona. Sometimes substantia was employed. […] The English terms are hypostasis, subsistence, distinction, person, relation, and mode.” (Shedd 2003, 234)

[3] There is some discussion here as to whether ὑπόστασις hupóstasis is properly understood in context as a reference to person or nature, but for our purposes that discussion is not relevant. See Horton 2011, 278-287, Shedd 2003, 230-234, or Bavinck 2004, 296-304 for more on the linguistic development of these terms.

Patripassianism in an Unexpected Place

There has been a trend I’ve noticed lately going on in the Reformed world. Someone will post a quote that appears to be heterodox or heretical, and then everyone will gasp when it is revealed that the source is actually a well respected and orthodox figure. Usually, a conversation will ensue which clarifies what the author meant, or broader context will reveal that the quote, when placed in that context, is actually orthodox. This can sometimes be helpful as a way to remove the favorable bias we have for authors within our tradition (or disfavorable bias for authors outside our tradition). This can include seemingly obvious errors like Patripassianism.

A similar quote came to me that I wanted to address. I’ll leave the big reveal of who the author is until the end of the post.

Clearly, the unity of the divine Trinity remains unbroken throughout the passion. Even while the Father is angry with the Mediator, the Son is still the beloved and still fully involved in all the external acts (the opera ad extra) of the Trinity. Just as it was true in his infancy he was still the eternal Logos, performing all his cosmic functions as the one in whom all things consist (Col. 1:17), so in the darkness and desolation of Golgotha he was still carrying the universe on his shoulders (Heb. 1:3). But this very fact of the trinitarian unity has profound implications for the traditional Christian doctrine of divine impassibility. If it is true at the human level that where on member of the church suffers all other members suffer with her, must the same not be true of the Trinity? The Son, we remember, is one and the same in substance (homoousias) with the Father. ‘They’ are not only generically identical, but numerically one. It is the one only and eternal God who is enfleshed in Jesus, the son of Mary of Nazareth; and though the Father is not the divine person who suffers on the cross, he is one with the sufferer, and must therefore suffer with him, though in his own way.

Honestly, I’m not sure where to start with this. The author is going along just fine with his discussion regarding the fact that what the Son does qua humanity (infancy, suffering on the cross) in no way causes him to cease operating qua divinity (performing all his cosmic functions). This is excellent Christology that properly distinguishes without confusion the fact that the Son operates in different ways according to each nature. (See WCF 8.7)

However, after his citation of Hebrews 1:3 he goes completely off the rails. It may be the case that the trinitarian unity has implications for the traditional Christian doctrine of divine impassibility, but the first error he makes is that the examples he gave above (with the exception of the Father being angry with the Mediator, but loving the Son… which itself is a strange and unclear way of phrasing things) are not examples of this trinitarian unity. They are examples of the hypostatic unity that the Son possesses in his person. So what follows after that statement does not clearly relate to what precedes it.

The author here argues that because of the singularity of substance which the Father and Son share, that the Father must share somehow in the suffering of the Son. The Father is “one with the sufferer, and must therefore suffer with him…” The problem, and this is a fundamental misstep that is frankly shocking coming from a published Reformed author, is that the sufferer suffers according to humanity and not according to divinity. The Father is united with the Son by way of a singular shared indivisible divine nature. So unless the Son is suffering according to divinity then the author’s argument does not follow. In this way, unfortunately, the author’s excellent Christological statements at the beginning of the passage are negated. While he seemingly maintained the unity of the Son’s natures without dividing them in the beginning, he reveals at the end of this passage that he has implicitly collapsed them together. This results here, in a kind of reverse Eutychianism where the divine attribute of impassibility is swallowed up in the passibility of the human nature. However, if we maintain the proper distinction between what the Son does qua humanity (suffers) and what he does qua divinity (remains impassible) then suffering takes place in the human nature, not in the divine. That is not to say that the human nature is the subject of the suffering, the singular person of the Son is. But the suffering is localized and restricted to the human nature, it does not extend to the divine nature.

Our author continues to describe perichoresis in a further section and continues to root his argument in the unity of the persons. However, the author seems to think that perichoresis is somehow different than the fact of the shared divine nature, which is odd to me.

There is more that can be said, but I think the point has been made.

This quote, unfortunately, comes from Donald Macleod. He is an eminent Scottish theologian who has written extensively on the atonement and is the author of Person of Christ in the IVP Contours of Christian Theology series. I suspect this is the origin of the quote. I have not, at this point, been unable to verify that, but I will update this post with a full citation once I have it.

Update: Thank you to Chris Lilley for providing me with a citation. The quote is found in Christ Crucified (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), 50. Having read the entire section which is titled Does the Father, too, suffer loss? there does not appear to be any charitable way to read this which does not result in the error of Patripassianism.


More Resources

Please also see the Reformed Brotherhood – Episode 19

William Lane Craig – Introduction (1)

Recently, I have noticed a flare-up of interest in philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig among young Reformed Christians in various circles I run in. I have been investigating Dr. Craig’s apologetics and theology on and off for close to seven years now. Because of what I have identified as serious errors in Dr. Craig’s positions on the Trinity and the Incarnation, I think that this is a dangerous development among young Christian thinkers.

I’m not opposed to appropriating good aspects of someone’s thoughts while leaving behind the problems. However, we are not talking about auxiliary doctrines or matters of indifference. Instead, we are talking about core and foundational doctrines which impact every other area of doctrine. It is not the case that our Trinitarian theology is separate from our apologetic. It is not the case that our doctrine of Scripture does not affect our soteriology.

Critiquing William Lane Craig

Dr. Craig is a high level, technical, and academic philosopher. It would be presumptuous of me, despite some philosophical training, to assume I understand all the nuances of his writing. However, it is reasonable to think that we should be able to read what a man has written and assess his theology on that basis. As such, I am starting on a project to describe and critique Dr. Craig’s positions regarding the Trinity and the Incarnation. My goal is to publish weekly, but because of the gravity of what I believe the conclusions are I want to ensure that I am taking the appropriate time to properly understand what is being said, and properly critique and respond to it.

William Lane Craig’s Writing and Teaching

If this were an academic paper, it would be ideal to assess and critique based on academic resources. However, this is a series of blog posts, and my concern is not so much with those who are interacting with Dr. Craig academically. Rather, I am concerned with those who are interacting with Dr. Craig popularly. As such I am restricting most of my inquiry to popular resources. While there are a variety of resources that fit into this category, I will be focusing on the ones which are most commonly used, and through which Craig most prolifically spreads his theology. Those resources are:

  1. Defenders – This is a podcast which is the audio recordings of a Sunday school theology class that Dr. Craig teaches at his home church. I do not know if this is an ongoing class, or if they republish the lectures on an ongoing basis (or a mixture of the two).
  2. Reasonable Faith Podcast – Dr. Craig has a brief podcast where he discusses various topics with his co-host Kevin Harris. This usually involves discussions of apologetic topics, but he does occasionally speak about his Trinitarian and Incarnation theology.
  3. Reasonable Faith Website – Dr. Craig responds to questions and writes articles. This is Dr. Craig’s internet footprint and serves as a stable and extensive representation of his popular presentations.
  4. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview – This book, authored with JP Moreland, serves as the systematic presentation of Dr. Craig’s theology.

Bibliography

Series

Review of “A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament” edited by Michael Kruger (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016)

Today I will be reviewing the second installment of a two-part Biblical Theology collection published by Crossway. A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament is a collection of essays written by the past and present members of the faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary. It shares many traits in common with the Old Testament volume so I would encourage you to check out my review before proceeding here.

In the introductory essay by editor Michael Kruger, he identifies several features of this collection of essays which are of note. First, it is accessible. By this, he means that it does not require a technical knowledge to make use of this volume. Issues like dating are generally left to an appendix, there is a general lack of discussion regarding Greek, and there is a premium placed on more applicable aspects of the text. Second, it is theological. “Because this volume is designed primarily to help pastors and Bible study leaders prepare their sermons or lessons, a higher priority is placed on exploring the message of each New Testament book.” (loc 437) That is one of the primary strengths of this book, is that a pastor can simply read through an essay regarding the book he is working on and already have a good idea of the main themes and structure of the book. When he then goes to more technical commentaries, he already has the foundational aspects of the whole book in mind. Thirdly, it is redemptive-historical. Now, this is a term that can mean different things to different people. What is meant in this volume is that the authors of each essay are intentionally showing “how each book contributes to the fulfillment of God’s salvific plan. In particular, such an approach would focus on how Old Testament history, types, and shadows all find their fulfillment in the person and work of Christ.” (loc 475) Finally, it is Reformed. This was a breath of fresh air for me. It is not the case that there is an absence of good Reformed commentaries, but the fact is that when writing an essay, to properly source your thoughts one often must look outside the Reformed tradition. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but when preparing for a sermon it can be cumbersome to sift through the chaff to find that kernel of wheat. Knowing that these essays were prepared by men who have studied and been approved for Gospel ministry in a Reformed context is incredibly helpful. Fourthly, it is multiauthored. Kruger offers some commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach, but I will leave the reader to his thoughts on that. Finally, he notes that it is pastoral. “As noted above, the real purpose of this volume is to help Bible study leaders, pastors, and Christian leaders to teach and apply the Word of God to their respective audiences.” (loc 549)

Rather than spend time exploring the specifics of each essay, or even the specific of any one essay, I will make some brief comments. Each essay is valuable in its own right, and I would commend this work as an addition to the library of any pastor or biblical student. Not only that, but it is approachable enough that any adult Christian reader would benefit from a run through this and the accompanying Old Testament volume. The varied style of each essay, although basically structurally the same, I found to be somewhat distracting. This is mostly a reader preference, and not necessarily a weakness of the book, but it is important to know this going into the text. For those who may find this problematic, I would suggest not reading the book sequentially, as I did for review purposes. That isn’t really the intention of the book anyway, so that isn’t an issue. That said, the essays were all excellent, and I particularly enjoyed the essay on Hebrews by Simon Kistemaker.


Bibliography


Please Note: The publisher has provided me with an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

By the Washing of Regeneration

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, ESV)

This coming Sunday, I have been asked to provide pulpit supply for my pastor who is taking some time to visit his brand new, and very first, grandson. The text I selected was Titus 3:1-7, and in particular, a section in the middle jumped out at me. One phrase caught my attention.

by the washing of regeneration

Paul, writing to one of his successors Titus, is concluding the letter with some instructions. Immediately before this passage, he exhorted the people to obey the governing authorities, to be ready to do good works, and to be charitable all people. (1-2)

Then he grounds his command in the fact that we were once sinners who also needed God to show us kindness and charity. (3)

That brings us to our passage. While we were still in the state described in verse 3, the loving-kindness of the Father appeared. That loving-kindness was Jesus. (John 3:16, Rom 5:8) Contrary to Roman Catholic thought, the Father saved us “not because of works done by us in righteousness.” (3:5a) Rather he saved us “according to his own mercy. (3:5b)

In the second half of verse 5, we come to the contentious phrase which is the subject of our inquiry today.

by the washing of regeneration

This passage has been interpreted variously throughout Church history. Some see it as an obvious reference to the rite of baptism. They use this passage to demonstrate that the washing (baptism) is effectual to bring about regeneration. They read the phrase as though it said something to the effect of “the regenerating washing.” This position the prevailing view among Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and some Anglicans. However, even among early church commentators who affirmed Baptismal Regeneration, this interpretation was not universal.

Strange! How were we drowned in wickedness, so that we could not be purified, but needed a new birth? For this is implied by “Regeneration.” For as when a house is in a ruinous state no one places props under it, nor makes any addition to the old building, but pulls it down to its foundations, and rebuilds it anew; so in our case, God has not repaired us, but has made us anew. For this is “the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” He has made us new men. How? “By His Spirit” (John Chrysostom, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. James Tweed and Philip Schaff, vol. 13 (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 538.)

It is interesting to note here, that Chrysostom literally says “we were baptized (βεβαπτισμένοι) in wickedness.” It seems like if he was going to make the point that baptism regenerates us, that this would be a perfect intro. We once were baptized in wickedness, and we are now baptized in righteousness. However, he does not do so. Rather, he points out here that we cannot be purified, but rather we must be entirely rebuilt. That certainly does not sound like an infusion of grace that transforms us such that we are inherently just. I digress.

The Baptismal Regeneration reading is not justified. Rather, we should read the passage such that regeneration itself is the washing. Grammatically, the phrase λουτροῦ παλιγγενεσίας simply does not bear out the adjectival reading above. Rather, the second noun in the construction is better seen as the means or agent of the first. Thus it is better understood as something closer to “the regeneration which washes” or “the washing which comes about because of regeneration.” We see this clearly when we observe the following phrase which is joined with the coordinating conjunction καὶ.

and the renewal of the Holy Spirit

The phrase ἀνακαινώσεως πνεύματος ἁγίου is parallel to λουτροῦ παλιγγενεσίας and thus we may draw a reasonable conclusion that the construction is also parallel. It is evident that the phrase “Holy Spirit” does not describe the word “renewal.” If we take the Baptismal Regeneration view above, and λουτροῦ παλιγγενεσίας means “regenerative washing,” then this phrase here must mean something like “Holy Spirit inducing renewal.” Now, while it is true that those holding to Baptismal Regeneration would agree that baptism indeed brings about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I am not aware of a single commentator here that uses this passage to support that. Rather they are of one voice in recognizing that this is telling us that the Holy Spirit brings about renewal. However, the same construct used immediately prior, says the Baptismal Regeneration Advocate, says that washing brings about regeneration. Why the discrepancy?

Instead, we ought to read this passage as though identical constructions function identically. In fact, the two constructions are referring to the same thing. The regeneration which washes is, in fact, an act of the Holy Spirit who renews. The washing described in the first phrase is the renewal described in the second.

If “through” (dia) were used before “renewal,” thus rendering “through the washing of rebirth and through renewal of the Holy Spirit,” it would describe two events instead of one. Simply stated, the text indicates that “washing” is an activity of the Holy Spirit and that this washing involves “rebirth” (palingenesias) and “renewal” (anakainoseos). (Thomas Lea and Hayne Griffin, New American Commentary, vol. 34 (Nashville: B&H, 1992), 323.)

What Paul here is describing is the regeneration and conversion of a Christian. He goes on to say that the purpose of the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit by which we were saved is “so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (7) He also notes that the Holy Spirit who brings about this regeneration and renewal is “poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (6) This act is an act of the triune God from start to finish.

I would be remiss if I failed to note that this is not precisely the same as what is advocated by many in the Reformed tradition. Both Matthew Henry and John Calvin associate the phrase “washing of regeneration” with baptism. Henry does so more strongly than Calvin, but it is important to note that both draw the conclusion that the combination of phrases “washing of regeneration” and “renewal of the Holy Spirit” deny Baptismal Regeneration. What they are saying is not all that far off from what I’m saying. Rather than understand this passage as advocating Baptismal Regeneration, instead what we see is that the sign (baptism, here called the washing of regeneration) is here directly associated with that which is signified (regeneration itself here called the renewal of the Holy Spirit). While I disagree with them that baptism is in view here, I fully affirm the theology they are putting forward.


You can listen to the sermon via Pippa.

Augustine and Divine Processions

This year, as part of my devotional studies, I am working my way through Augustine’s magisterial volume On the Trinity.[1] I am hoping to provide some reflection and analysis here as I work through it.

Today, I was reading 2.1.4 and 2.1.5 today (99-100) and came upon something I think is a very fruitful discussion. Augustine, toward the beginning of this chapter, discussed that there is a particular rule which was informally utilized by various commentators and theologians. Roughly speaking, the rule was that if the text speaks of the Son as less than the Father, it is referring to the “form of a servant” IE according to humanity. If the text speaks of the Son as equal to the Father, it is a reference to the “form of God” IE according to divinity.

He also points out that some unclear passages which speak of the Son in a way that refers to the fact that the Son is from the Father, and do not fit either of the above two categories.

There are, however, some statements in the divine utterances of such a kind that it is uncertain which rule should be applied to them; should it be the one by which we take the Son as less than the Father in the created nature he took on, or the one by which we take him as equal to the Father, while still deriving from him his being God from God, light from light? (2.1.2)

He uses these passages to ground the eternal processions of the Son and Holy Spirit.[2]  Of particular note is John 5:26 and 5:19.

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (5:26, ESV)

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.(5:19, ESV)

Augustine brilliantly uses the latter to show that the external works of the Trinity are one. I will leave that discussion for a later post. But the former is a verse that has always puzzled me. The verse is arguably talking about the divine attribute of aseity, but how can in-him-self-ness be granted to you? Doesn’t that defeat the whole point of aseity?

Augustine explains

So the reason for these statements can only be that the life of the Son is unchanging like the Father’s, and yet it is from the Father (2.1.3)

The Son is indeed a se, but his aseity is from the very nature which comes from the Father. That is, since the Son’s personal origin is that he is begotten of the Father, he gets everything he has and is from the Father. That is why the Nicene Creed, which Augustine is referencing here, says that the Son is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” It is also the reason that the Athanasian Creed indicates that although each person considered as a person is a given attribute —Aseity, Omnipotence, etc.— that there is only one attribute shared among the persons.

Therefore, just as He gave the Son life (Jn 5:26) means nothing else than “He begot the Son who is his life… (2.1.4)

Understanding this is vital for the Reformed to, because this theology would develop into a doctrine in Roman Catholic thought —especially under Aquinas— where the nature of the Son is actually communicated to the Son by the Father such that it is practically a second numerical nature. Calvin, however, would postulate a different formula which better retains the numerical singularity of the divine nature.[3] Some accuse Calvin of implicitly denying eternal generation —and consequently of eternal procession— but in actuality, this is simply a proper recovery of what Augustine is saying here.

Augustine then takes this same approach and applies it to the procession of the Holy Spirit.

And just as the Son is not made less than the Father by his saying, The Son cannot do anything of himself except what he sees the Father doing (Jn 5:19) […] so her it does not make the Holy Spirit less to say of him, He will not speak from himself but whatever he hears he will speak (Jn 16:13). This is said in virtue of his proceeding from the Father. (2.1.5)

While I doubt that this kind of sophisticated reasoning will do much to convince the hardened Jehovah’s Witness… or EFS advocate for that matter… it goes a long way to demonstrate —using Scripture— that these eternal processions exist.


For a very helpful modern treatment of the subject, see Holmes, Christopher. The Holy Spirit. New Studies in Dogmatics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. Holmes devotes 4 chapters —two each— specifically to the procession of the Holy Spirit as it is developed by Augustine and Aquinas in their commentaries and sermons on the Gospel of John.


[1] I am working from Augustine of Hippo. The Works of Saint Augustine. Edited by John Rotelle. Translated by Edmund Hill. Vol. 5. Hyde Park: New City, 1991. All citations will follow the numbering and pagination scheme for that version.

[2] Processions refer to the two relationships of origin which the Son and Spirit have with the Father. It is an unfortunate quirk of theological linguistics that the term Processions (plural) is used to describe these relationships while the term Procession (singular) is also used to describe the unique relationship of origin which the Spirit has with the Father (and or through the Son)

[3] Dr. K Scott Oliphint offers an excellent lecture regarding this that is available at the Reformed Forum site.

Jory Micah – Thesis (2)

Charlatan: Noun – a person who pretends or claims to have more knowledge or skill than he or she possesses; quack.

Today I want to take a look at Jory’s Master’s thesis. It is currently available on her website, but I have also uploaded it to Archive.org in case she decides to remove the thesis from her website at some future point. Before we get started, I want you to remember that one of Jory’s fundamental aims is for women to be given the exact same opportunities as men regarding the Church. For those of you who are reading this and think I maybe should have gone easier on her because she is a woman… remember that she wants me to treat her the same as a man.

Remember, in my last post, I discussed her educational background. I feel that it is important since she often presents herself as and is considered credible because of this academic pedigree. She presents her thesis as a summary of her views, and uses it as a launching off point for her “ministry.” I don’t think I’ve been oblique about this, but let me state this in no uncertain terms.

Jory Micah is a charlatan who preys on the uneducated (particularly uneducated women). She teaches doctrine that is gravely in error, and in some instances rises to the level of heresy. She outwardly claims to be pro-life, but she has repeatedly advocated for pro-choice ideology, which makes her de facto pro-abortion. She is dangerous, and needs to be exposed for the charlatan that she is. She has repeatedly advocated the use of feminine pronouns in reference to the Persons of the Trinity. She has repeatedly argued that the Bible is simply a cultural artifact reflecting the human failings of the first century. She has repeatedly argued that the Scriptures we have are a corrupted version of what was originally taught. She has repeatedly argued that God’s Law, as delivered in the Pentateuch, reflects a corrupt and oppressive patriarchy.

There are two aspects I want to address regarding Jory’s thesis. I’m going to bypass the usual mechanical critiques of citations and structure, I would rather focus on the substance of the essay.

In her thesis, she makes an incredibly strong claim. Remember, this was —as the cover of the thesis itself states— submitted “In partial fulfillment of the Master of Christian Doctrine and History Degree” (Emphasis mine) which was actually a degree in Biblical Studies with an emphasis on Christian Doctrine and History. This is a thesis which should demonstrate that she possesses a Master of Arts level expertise in Biblical Studies, particularly in the subject of Christian Doctrine and History. As such, it is entirely appropriate to assess it to determine if it accomplishes that task. Furthermore, as highlighted in the previous post, a graduate of this program should be able to

  • Explain historical and cultural backgrounds of the biblical books and how the leading biblical themes relate to each other in the unfolding of salvation history.
  • Apply sound interpretive and hermeneutical methods to the Bible including the proper use of resources such as lexicons, concordances, dictionaries and commentaries in the broader context of spiritual development, preaching and teaching.
  • Articulate major doctrines, historical perspectives and theological issues, including those related to spiritual renewal as these bear on Christian life and mission.
  • Understand and respond to contemporary issues, particularly in relation to how, with a global perspective, the Church is able to influence societies with a Christian worldview.
  • Express a breadth of knowledge of biblical and theological issues in ways supported by informed scholarship and sound reasoning.

Strong Claims, Weak Evidence

As stated, Jory’s thesis makes incredibly strong claims. She concludes the introduction of the essay with the following statement.

Within the first and second century, it is clear that females occupied every office of leadership within the Christian Church. Their ministry was vital in its foundations and remains strategically needed within the continuous growth of Christianity today(5, Bold and Italics original)

This is the thesis of the essay. This is the statement which Mrs. Micah intends to demonstrate, and by proving plans to show that she possesses a Masters level expertise in the subject.

Let’s break this down into a few component parts.

  1. “Within the first and second century” – mechanical issues aside (it should be “first and second centuries”), this means that she will prove that by the year 199 that the following state of affairs is evident.
  2. “It is clear” – This should be manifestly obvious to anyone reading the accounts
  3. “Females occupied every office of leadership” – This means, at a minimum, she should prove that there were female Presbyters/Bishops (Pastors who teach doctrine and govern the Church), female Deacons (people who tend to the physical needs of the Church), and Apostles (those commissioned directly by Jesus to build and establish the Church)
  4. “Within the Christian Church” – The persons she points to should not be part of heretical or offshoot groups
  5. “Their ministry was vital” – This presupposes that 1-4 here is correct

Now, my expertise is in the area of Christian History, incidentally the same area of competence that she submitted this paper to demonstrate her mastery. The first part of her thesis is clearly a historical claim. She is making a statement about something that happened in history. The second part is a more subjective statement, and for the sake of this assessment, I will forgo substantial critique. However, I will note, that if the first part of her thesis (the historical reality of women in every office of leadership) fails, the second part also fails.

Can Jory’s essay support the weight of this strong claim? Just a few sentences later we see that not even she thinks it can.

There is a substantial amount of evidence, which strongly suggests that the establishment and growth of the Christian Church is largely due to first and second century women who were quick to take headship roles, even in the face of ongoing persecution.

Now, this may just be a stylistic choice… but we went from “Within the first and second century, it is clear that females occupied every office” to “there is a substantial amount of evidence which suggests” with literally two sentences intervening. You cannot argue that something is clear, and then say that the evidence only suggests it.

To prove her thesis, she breaks the paper into two chapters. The first is a historical discussion regarding the role of women in the Early Church. It spans pages 7-19. Remember, the foundation of her thesis statement was that it is clear that women occupied every office in the first and second centuries. This section is where she will need to prove it.

However, even a cursory glance demonstrates that she did not do that. Jory does not interact with a single second-century primary source. It is not only that she does not interact with the right second century sources… she does not interact with any at all. The closest Mrs. Micah comes is referencing a few scholars interacting with Tertullian’s objection to Christian women marrying outside the faith. In fact, the point she is making is that Tertullian reflects a growing oppression of women, but since Tertullian’s writing ministry reached its zenith around the turn of the 3rd century, this serves to prove the converse of her thesis.

Furthermore, neither the terms Bishop, Elder, Presbyter, or any of the other equivalent terms appear in her thesis. How can she hope to prove that women occupied every office if the most important ordinary office is not even mentioned in the paper?

So, right off the bat, we can say unequivocally that Jory did not prove her thesis. The second section of her paper is more or less an attempt to undercut complementarian exegesis regarding Paul’s letters. Although I’m sure there is lots of content to critique, I instead want to focus on a more serious issue in the essay.

F for Effort

While this is not a universal reality, it is a reasonable description regarding the differences between the different levels of education. In undergraduate (Associate and Bachelor) programs, you are expected to be consuming and summarizing secondary sources. As a graduate student (Master) you are expected to be analyzing and critiquing secondary sources, as well as synthesizing primary sources. At a post-graduate (Doctorate) level, you are expected to become a secondary source yourself.

The way this usually manifests is that undergraduate papers are typically summaries of secondary sources, with a very shallow synthesis or application as part of the conclusion. Graduate papers, especially theses and dissertations, are expected to use evidence to make an argument. This is one of the hardest things that Seminarians have to get used to when they start their program (I got my first grade lower than a B+ in my first semester of Seminary for this very reason). Another common difference is the depth of research. Graduate students are expected to thoroughly source their research and should be able to recognize which statements require the support of a reliable source and which ones can be made without a citation. A persistent flaw in Jory’s thesis is that she makes sweeping statements without any real support. For example, page 8 contains the following statement

In other words, houses and perhaps some other secretive spots, such as catacombs, were the only places Christians could worship and fellowship together.

The idea that the only places they could worship were houses and secretive spots is a statement that should require justification. Jory provides a source, but the citation only demonstrates that they met in catacombs, not that these were the only places they could meet. This kind of citation practice usually happens because someone wrote a sentence first, and later hunted around to add sources. Was I a professor grading such a paper, that is what I would assume to be the case. Furthermore, the idea that Christians sometimes met in catacombs is common enough knowledge that her anticipated audience (her peers enrolled in a Master level program in Christian History) would reasonably be expected to know that.

It is understandable in the first semester, a Graduate or Seminary student might not have this mastered… but by the time someone gets to the point where they are submitting a thesis, this should no longer be the case.

Jory’s thesis is little more than a long undergraduate paper in this regard. A simple comparison between the sources she cites and her content should suffice to demonstrate this.

On page 16, Jory engages in a discussion regarding Phoebe. Phoebe is of particular importance because the term διακονος is applied to her in Romans 16:1. Of Phoebe, Jory says this

The role of Phoebe in the early Christian Church has been long debated.  Due to the Apostle Paul’s terminology in Rom. 16:2, some scholars have gathered Phoebe to be a deaconess.  Their findings, however, are based on mistranslation of the Greek time era for which the word deaconess came into existence.  The word deaconess was not created within the Greek language until the third to fourth century and was used to describe females who functioned with much less authority than first-century male diaconates.  Those who have tried to discredit the authority of Phoebe in the early Church have been doing so by explaining that original biblical text entitles her a deaconess, as defined in the third to fourth century.   Those who have under-qualified Phoebe as a deaconess have done irresponsible research since the term did not exist in her lifetime.(16)

At the end of the sentence, Jory provides the following citation.

Caroline F. Whelan, “Amica Pauli: The Role of Phoebe in the Early Church,” JSNT 49 [1993]: 67.

With the accompanying full citation in her Bibliography

Whelan, Caroline F. “Amica Pauli: The Role of Phoebe in the Early Church.”  Journal for the Study of the New Testament 49 [March 1993]: 67-85

This article is available for free. Let’s take a quick look at how the two compare

The role of Phoebe in the early church long has been the subject of debate. The lack of understanding concerning Phoebe’s role often reflects our lack of understanding of the terminology used by Paul to describe her-διακονος and προσταις-both of which have been largely misunderstood and hence mistranslated. In discussions of Rom. 16.2, for example, διακονος is frequently taken as synonymous with the later office of deaconess (third to fourth century) which, in comparison to the first-century male diaconate, had a very limited function.  In fact, the English translation Of διακονος as deaconess is not only misleading in its connotations, but it is also linguistically incorrect. In the first three centuries CE there was no Greek word for deaconess.

The two paragraphs are identical in content, follow practically the same order, and the first sentence is nearly verbatim. While it may not fit the technical definition of plagiarism, it certainly is nothing more than a summary of another person’s work. Furthermore, the footnote placement makes it appear as though the citation belongs with only the final sentence, rather than the entire paragraph.

This pattern becomes even more apparent when one observes the overall structure of Jory’s second chapter and the overall fabric of another article that Jory makes use of.

The beginning of Jory’s second chapter is a summary of the women who served in leadership roles in the Biblical accounts. The first is Apphia, and like the previous example, the entire paragraph is a summary of a section in an article by Wendy Cotter. Again, the points made, and even the order that they are made in are virtually identical. She then proceeds to discuss Chloe, Prisca, Euodia and Syntyche, Phoebe, and finally Junia. Although she draws on the work of Keith Gerberding, the vast majority of citations in this section are from the previously cited Cotter article.

I wonder what happens if we go back to that article and observe the structure used there.

Cotter begins by talking about Chloe, moves on to Prisca, then discusses Euodia and Syntyche, closes her discussion with a conversation regarding Phoebe. Same outline. It seems as though this section of Jory’s thesis is actually just a summary of the work of Cotter. Let’s compare some specifics.

Paul addresses the two women as if they were part of a team of male and female evangelists, in which he was involved. While it is obvious in the text that the two women are disputing over something and Paul hopes they will make peace, he sings their praises as those who have worked side by side with him. (Jory)

Paul joins both in his praise, “They have labored side by side with me, Clement and the rest of the fellow workers whose names are written in the book of life” (Phil 4:3). Paul’s description suggests that Euodia and Syntyche belonged to a team of men and women evangelizers. (Cotter)

Again, it may not technically rise to the plane of plagiarism, but it definitely something that should not have been acceptable in a master level program.

I could continue, but I think I’ve made my point. Jory’s thesis just does not deliver. It does not prove the point she claims it will, nor does it meet the standards of academic writing for a program of her level.

This post started out with the definition of the word charlatan. A charlatan is someone who pretends they are something they are not, especially regarding skills or knowledge. It is evident from this very cursory look at this thesis demonstrates that she is a charlatan. She presents herself as an academic expert in respect to Christian history, but the simple errors found in this thesis show that this simply is not the case.

Amazing Resource – Reformed Books Online

I wanted to share with my readers an amazing resource that I have known about for quite some time, but am just starting to dig into. The website Reformed Books Online is a website which has a collection of links to thousands of resources.

Our purpose is to promote historic, reformed Christianity by providing in one location a collection of the best theological literature from 1800 to today available for free on the internet.  Select works from the reformation and puritan periods are included as well.

Most recently a collection of over 2,200 commentaries has been added and curated which includes every commentary which was recommended by Charles Spurgeon (including his own notes), every Reformed or Puritan commentary that the editors could find in English, every major Early and Medieval Church commentary that has been translated into English, and “every Bible commentary before 1875 that a Bible-believer would be interested in.”

Having recently given a lecture on how the advent of the digital age has made it possible to do the things that Christians have always done, in a new way… this collection demonstrates shows that technology can open horizons that previous generations could not have dreamed of.

Jory Micah – Education (1)

Charlatan: Noun – a person who pretends or claims to have more knowledge or skill than he or she possesses; quack.

Jory Micah, for those who don’t know, is something of a viral phenomenon sweeping the internet by storm. She is a rabid egalitarian who considers herself to be something of a prophetess heralding the Church to include women in every aspect of Church leadership, including —and perhaps most of all— ordained office.

On her website, Breaking the Glass Steeple, she says the following

My top mission is to help women shake off the chains of limitation and the shackles of oppression that the Christian Church has wrapped around them in the name of incorrect biblical interpretation and stale religion.

According to her website, she has an earned Associate of Arts in Practical Theology from Christ for the Nations Bible Institute (CFNI), a Bachelor of Science in Church Ministries from Southwestern AG University (SAGU). She also earned a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies (and this is important, with an emphasis on Christian Doctrine and History) from Regent University (RU).

Something that gives Jory an air of credibility is her curriculum vitae, although no formal CV is available. So, having recently encountered someone who pointed to her education as a reason why she should have a hearing, I decided to dig a little.

In this first post, I want to take a look at her degree programs.

While I want to make it clear that I don’t think that unaccredited programs are not valuable, nor do I think that accreditation is a litmus test for the validity of an educational program, I do think that a lack of accreditation or a questionable accreditation status represents a problem.

Christ for the Nation Institute

It is hard to find information regarding the formal accreditation status of CFNI, their website did not have a statement that I could find regarding accreditation. Some sources state that they hold accreditation under the International Christian Accrediting Association (ICAA). However, the ICAA website does not list them as a member school. Furthermore, an archived version of their website states

After considerable prayer and consideration, the Board of Directors of Christ For The Nations has made the decision not to pursue accreditation of the academic programs at CFNI.

Given the absence of other evidence, I am forced to the conclusion that CFNI held no accredited status at the time of Jory’s program. Regarding her course of study, I do not know what year she graduated, but the current APT (Associate of Practical Theology) course requirements are incredibly vague.

The current program is 78 credit hours. 8 of these are “Student Ministry” hours, which are simply credits given for serving at a local church. An additional 8 are “Tuesday Night Encounter” which is described as follows

This Tuesday evening chapel service offers guest speakers an opportunity to teach on contemporary theological issues offering insight and practical application within the church.

There are 16 credits in “Lectures in Practical Theology” which the school describes as follows

One of the dynamic programs offered at CFNI, guest speakers come from around the globe come to teach on contemporary theological issues within the church. Each speaker teaches a one-week module – daily lectures in specific areas of contemporary theology.

There are 6 credits in a summer outreach or internship (i.e., a short-term missions project).

There are also 20 credits in “Required Foundational Courses,” but no description of what those are. The remaining courses are 20 credits in electives in the area of Bible, Theology, and Practical Ministry.

If I’m doing my math correct, which I may not be… math is not my strong suit, nearly a third of that program is spent on internships or chapel. There is nothing wrong with internships, but they do not provide an academic basis for further studies. They are intended to give you practical skills, not an intellectual foundation. Unfortunately, nothing is available from what I could find regarding what other courses were required, but there does appear to be an array of the kinds of courses one would expect (Intro to Bible, various courses on specific books, Church History Survey, etc.a large). A significant portion of the degree (about a 5th) was a rotation of guest speakers. Guest speakers are not necessarily bad, but the question must be asked as to what kind of consistency and academic foundation can be set in that context. From where I sit, the answer is “not much.” Simply put, one of the reasons that an established faculty is part of any accreditation process is because a foundation which is not shifting is part of what makes an education successful. Knowing that, relatively speaking, the set of professors that are teaching this year’s class are the same set of professors teaching next years class allows a school to have lasting and consistent standards. CFNI has, as part of its intentional structure, a shifting foundation.

Southwestern Assemblies of God University

In lieu of accreditation, CFNI has an articulation agreement with various schools in the region. Among these schools is SAGU, where Jory went to pursue her Bachelor of Science in Church Ministries. All of the schools which CFNI has partnerships with through this articulation agreement are accredited and seem to have a similar kind of small Bible School feel. What is important about this, however, is that Jory was not able to choose any other schools. That is the difficulty with an unaccredited institution.

I was unable to find anything specific about what this program requires, and the SAGU website does not appear to have a BS in Church Ministry program any longer. However, their catalog seems to indicate that their BS programs are around 125 credit hours.

Regent University

It is important to note that the Regent University which Jory attended is not the Regent College (and Divinity School) in Vancouver. Regent University is a school located in Virginia Beach. Regent has an archive of academic catalogs, and given that she submitted her thesis in 2010, I am referring to the 2010/2011 catalog.

According to that catalog, graduates of Jory’s program should be able to do the following

  • Explain historical and cultural backgrounds of the biblical books and how the leading biblical themes relate to each other in the unfolding of salvation history.
  • Apply sound interpretive and hermeneutical methods to the Bible including the proper use of resources such as lexicons, concordances, dictionaries and commentaries in the broader context of spiritual development, preaching and teaching.
  • Articulate major doctrines, historical perspectives and theological issues, including those related to spiritual renewal as these bear on Christian life and mission.
  • Understand and respond to contemporary issues, particularly in relation to how, with a global perspective, the Church is able to influence societies with a Christian worldview.
  • Express a breadth of knowledge of biblical and theological issues in ways supported by informed scholarship and sound reasoning.

These outcomes will become important in a future post when we take a look at some troubling features of her thesis.

Regent University is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, an accrediting organization that has certified many schools, including Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (my alma mater), Westminster Theological Seminary, Westminster Seminary California, and Reformed Theological Seminary.


The point of this post is not so much to try to undercut the programs or institutions from which she graduated. There are all sorts of purposes for educational institutions, and these different purposes lend themselves to different arrangements and educational standards. However, remember that one of the ways that she propagates her teaching is by acting as though she is an academic. As we will see next time when we take a look at her thesis, she believes that she has a solid historical and theological basis for what she teaches, and this basis is grounded in the fact that she has studied these subjects.

My Heart Transplant

Most people don’t know this about me, but I was born with a hereditary heart defect that I wasn’t aware of until I was in my teens. This heart defect was such that it affected and effected every aspect of my life, and eventually would have killed me. However, someone gave their life for me to receive a new heart.

19 years ago, when I was 14 years old, I received a heart transplant. Someone who didn’t suffer from the same condition I did, died. Because they died, I received a new heart.

Some of you may have gathered, that I’m not talking about a new organ.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezek 36:26, ESV)

On the morning of January 23rd, 1998, I had no idea that my life was going to change forever. I woke up like any other morning. I went to school like any other morning. And that evening, I attended a youth rally called Acquire the Fire.

I had been active in the confirmation program at a local Lutheran Church and was learning about the Bible and God, but it was not made real to me until that evening, and even then I didn’t realize it.

Stealing a play right out of Finney’s playbook, Ron Luce played me like a fiddle. He hyped my emotions up, the music swelled, and like clockwork, I hit my knees. Hundreds of others just like me made their way to the floor. I’m sure not all of them were false converts, but I’m also sure most of them were. One of the kids from my youth group who “came to faith” at the same time as I did is now an avowed atheist who rails against the what he believes are deceptive and oppressive Christian practices.

However, I woke up the next morning, and something was different. I opened my eyes, and my first desire was to read the Bible. I remember a few days later swearing, and the words tasted unnatural and bitter in my mouth. I saw a cute girl walk past me at school, and I found myself ashamed of the thoughts which came to mind. To put it in the lines of a dc Talk song which was already beginning to influence me

What’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a Savior

About a week later, I found myself praying and asking God what was happening. I felt a distinct impression, although not in a mystical or charismatic sense, that I had made a commitment to serve the Lord… I had chosen to follow him. However, more than that, he had selected me for his service, he had chosen first to love me.

You see, on a Roman cross, nearly 2000 years ago… God in the flesh died on the cross, in my place. He became my sin, though he knew no sin so that I might become the righteousness of God. Just as it was promised (Jer 23:5), Yahweh Tsidkenu, the LORD is my righteousness.

19 years ago, God took my broken, sinful, heart of stone… and he ripped it out. This heart that would only bring me death is no more. He replaced it with a heart of flesh that loves and desires to serve the LORD.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17, ESV)

Soli Deo gloria!

Calvinist – The Trailer

My good friend Les Lanphere (Co-host of the Reformed Pubcast, founder of the Reformed Pub Facebook group) has been diligently working on a documentary film called Calvinist. The film, as I understand it, is a look at the rise of the New Calvinism (broadly speaking) and how it has effected and affected a whole generation of Christians.

The trailer was just released, so check it out.

An Open Letter to Donald J Trump

Dear Mr. President,

Today you took the oath of office. Upon taking that oath, you became the 45th man to hold the highest executive office of these United States of America. During your campaign, you made many claims as to what you intended to accomplish during your time as our President. You have many people who have and will give you advice.

Among those people, you have surrounded yourself with “spiritual advisers.” Some of them are Christians, some of them are not. Some of them who claim to be Christians, are not. However, I would be surprised if any of those Christian advisers have told you what God has to say about you. Did you know that the Bible talks about you?

I’m not talking about some nonsense reading of Isaiah 45, or a misuse of a particular translation which says “the trump will sound.” Instead, Paul tells Christians about the role of authorities:

For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Rom 13:1b-2, ESV)

You see, no one before your election could have known that you were God’s candidate. Those who claim to have known that are self-deluded liars. However, we now know that the secret will of the Lord was to bring you to power. We know that because you won the election. And as Paul tells us, anyone in a position of authority was placed there by God. The reason may be to bless a nation, as we see with King David in the Old Testament nation of Israel. Or it may be to punish a country for their arrogance, as we see with King Saul. Although it is true that God uses means, and he used your particular personality (as flawed as it is) to bring you to the office, you must never forget that it was God who placed you there. We see from the unfortunate arrogance of Belshazzar of Babylon (Dan 5) or Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:20-23) that God does not look kindly on those who refuse to recognize that their authority ultimately comes from him.

Nevertheless, Paul has more to say:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom 13:3-4, ESV)

You see, God expects you to rule as an agent of justice. One who upholds the moral law which God wrote on each of our hearts. He expects you to advocate for the cause of the widows and orphans, and those who are impoverished. He expects you to punish evil doers. This Judeo-Christian ethic, which not only our nation but all of western civilization is predicated upon, is enshrined in much of our laws. It is the foundation of our constitution and our democracy, which you swore to “preserve, protect, and defend.”

Among these injustices are the suppression of the free exercise of religion promised in our bill of rights, the restrictions that have begun to encroach on our freedom of expression and association, and many other things that challenge the founding ideals of liberty and justice for all persons under God. Chief among these —and the main reason you garnered the evangelical vote— is the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent children who you so aptly described as being ripped apart in their mother’s wombs. You promised us that you would do everything possible to end the barbaric and self-interested practice of infanticide, and we expect you to follow through. If you act according to God’s laws in ruling our country, we not only desire to be loyal to you, but we are obligated.

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Rom 13:5-7, ESV)

You see, it is true that Paul commands us to submit to our governing authorities, but that instruction is contingent upon those governing authorities fulfilling their obligation to be a terror to those who do evil, but not to those who do good. Those who do wrong should rightly fear your exercise of the sword. Those who do good should have nothing to fear from you. However, for far too long our government has been a terror to those who do good and has called what is wicked to be righteous. If you follow in this pattern, it is not us who will overthrow you, but God himself. Just as he brought you to power in the providence of his secret will, he will likewise cast you from that same office.

Mr. President, I want to close this letter by offering you my sincere congratulations, and affirming my commitment to pray for you. Of course, I will pray for wisdom and prudence as you shoulder a tremendous burden. However, more than that I will pray for your salvation. I know you claim to be a Christian, but you sir, are not. You have said you do not seek God’s forgiveness because you do not need it. That could not be further from the truth. You have surrounded yourself with spiritual yes men, and Paula White is the worst. I will pray that God will convict you of your sins and that he will regenerate your heart. After all, Paul did not only command us to obey you but to pray for you as well.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4, ESV)

With that closing thought, may God bless you personally with a regenerate heart, may God bless your presidency with prosperity and honor, and may God bless these United States of America with liberty and justice for all.

The 3rd Commandment and Images of Christ

In the Reformed tradition, both English/Puritan[1] and Continental[2], the second commandment is understood as prohibiting all images of Christ regardless of their intended use. However, a common objection is made that this goes beyond the boundaries of Scriptural prohibition, which only excludes the use of images for the purpose of worship. While this is exegetically unsound, for the sake of this post let’s grant the point.

The Westminster Larger Catechism provides an expanded explanation of not only the sins forbidden in the 3rd commandment, but also of the duties required.

Q. 111. Which is the third commandment?
A. The third commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Q. 112. What is required in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment requires, that the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing; by an holy profession, and answerable conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves, and others.

According to the English/Puritan tradition, as related in the Westminster Larger Catechism, the third commandment obliges us to only use the things regarding God in a holy and reverent way. This applies not only to his name but to any other way he has revealed himself. Thus, if we have an image of Christ which we purport to be accurate in any way, we are to meditate on that image to the glory of God. In short, we are required to use that image in worship. However, as the objection states, there is a prohibition of the utilization of any image in worship. This is uncontroversial among those claiming to be Reformed.

Q. 113. What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful; and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful; murmuring and quarreling at, curious prying into, and misapplying of God’s decrees and providences; misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the word, or any part of it, to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or any wise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways; making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends; being ashamed of it, or a shame to it, by unconformable, unwise, unfruitful, and offensive walking, or backsliding from it.

The sins forbidden in the second commandment are the flip side of the duties required. If the duties compel us to use what God has revealed in a holy and reverent way, to the glory of God —that is to use what God has revealed to worship him— then we are obligated to worship using any accurate image of God we have. We are forbidden to use such an image in a vain or irreverent way. This excludes any image that is not attempting to portray Christ in an accurate biblical way. It excludes any art which defames or demeans Christ. But it also prohibits any images which are not used to worship and glorify Christ. As stated above, it is uncontroversial among the Reformed that we are not to use images of Christ in worship, and according to this understanding… we are unable to not use images of Christ in worship if they existed.

The question sometimes comes up: What about images of Christ that are used for instructional reasons?

This is a reasonable question. Indeed instructing in the faith is an activity which glorifies God, but strictly speaking may not be worship. The Heidelberg Catechism addresses this in Q&A 98

Q. But may not images be permitted in churches
in place of books for the unlearned?

A. No, we should not try to be wiser than God.
God wants the Christian community instructed by the living preaching of his Word—
not by idols that cannot even talk.

This, to me, seems to be a conclusive argument against the production and use of images of Christ in any fashion. Let me summarize the four main points.

  1. If we have an accurate image of Christ, we are obligated to use that image in worship, to fail to do so would violate the 3rd commandment.
  2. We are forbidden to use any images in worship, to do so would constitute a violation of the 2nd commandment.
  3. If we have an inaccurate image which we purport to be of Christ, we are obligated to use it in worship, to fail to do so would violate the 3rd commandment.
  4. If we use an inaccurate image which we purport to be of Christ, we are worshiping a false idol, to do so would violate both the 2nd and 3rd commandments.

  1. WLC Q&A 109
  2. HC Q&A 96-98

Review of “Saving Calvinism” by Oliver Crisp (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016)

I recently received a copy of Oliver Crisp‘s new book, Saving Calvinism. The book is a work of analytic theology, with a dash of historical theology mixed in, and stands in continuity with his previous work Deviant Calvinism. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014)

The basic thesis of the book is that Calvinism —or Reformed theology, he distinguishes the two in the introduction but indicates that he will be using them interchangeably in a sort of colloquial sense— often falls victim to what he sees as legitimate critiques regarding its doctrine of God and soteriology. However, so says Crisp, the Reformed tradition has resources within it which serve to answer those critiques, but due to the rise of the New Calvinism (which he identifies primarily as those who affirm TULIP, but not much else), are not usually recognized as Calvinism.

This thesis very similar to the core argument of Deviant Calvinism which argued that several wings of the Reformed tradition exist which were deviant, but were none-the-less Calvinistic.

The basic structure of each chapter follows the same pattern. Crisp describes the dominant Reformed position, summarizes the common critique, and our author reaches into a corner of Reformed history to explain how a given form of Calvinism can address the critique. This pattern is effective if someone accepts his premise that this fringe position reflects a legitimate form of Reformed thought.

However, that is where the work often fails. Although Crisp does demonstrate, usually, that the given position falls within the history of the Reformed camp, this usually is only due to its origin. One of his more outrageous examples is that he considers Arminianism a form of deviant Calvinism because Arminius came out of the Reformed tradition. Crisp applies this same line of thinking to figures like Karl Barth and Friedrich Schleiermacher. This sort of reverse genetic fallacy is only a very superficial form of historical rooting, and having read Crisp in other areas, he is capable of a better argument.

Overall, the general aims of Crisp’s project are commendable. He believes that Calvinism has been artificially restricted to the so-called five points, and wants people to return to the broader tradition. He also desires to see the tradition rooted in Confessionalism, about which I certainly cannot complain. However, his conclusions seem suspicious to me. In both this work and Deviant Calvinism he seems too particularly (forgive the pun) focused on the Particularism of the majority report. This focus takes the form of arguing that Universalism and Reformed soteriology are compatible, undercutting the traditional doctrines of penal substitution and limited atonement, and a favorable disposition toward Karl Barth.

Additionally, and this is more a result of the analytical method than Crisp himself, he tends to phrase everything in overly tentative ways. “It may be the case that…” is a common phrase, and serves to introduce a theology that the majority of Reformed thinkers reject, in a way that cannot be disproven. For example, he says that it may be the case that God has provided a way for those dying to be presented the Gospel immediately by God and to repent in a way that is not outwardly visible to human observers, thereby allowing the doctrine of Predestination to be compatible with Universalism. Sure, it may be the case, but as Crisp himself even says, we have no good reason to think that it is. In this way, he is very similar to Barth in that he seems to be arguing for a position without actually arguing for it. It is difficult to see how, given this phrasing, we could rule any position out.

Finally, understanding that this is not a work of systematic theology, Crisp engages in surprisingly little exegetical work. In chapter 6 he provides only a few example passages and even comments that this is not a sufficient exegetical basis to form an argument, but then proceeds to form an argument. Combined with the slippery “It may be the case” methodology above, it makes for a book that leaves the reader grasping for something concrete.


Please Note: The publisher has provided a copy of this book for review purposes.

Dear Elias Sutton

This post was originally published about a year ago. On the anniversary of little Elias’s death, take some time to pray for Tedd, Kylie, and their children.


This letter will probably never be read by you, I don’t think we’ll have the internet in heaven. Why would we need it?

A month ago you came into this world. I wish I could say that it was under the normal circumstances. As soon as you were born, people were praying for you. Your tiny life affected so many. Two days later, you went home to be with Jesus.

Many would look at the friendship I have with your father and scoff. How could two men on opposite coasts, who have never met each other, consider each other friends? The unity of Christ’s body, and the fellowship of the Spirit, that’s how. I’m sure you know all about that, though… much better than I. Oh how I long to be with you in his presence, to rejoice with you in endless praise as we gaze together upon our common Savior!

I am so proud of your mother and father as they grieve your death. I cannot imagine the pain they are feeling, but I am continually encouraged by their faith as they trust in our Lord. They are steadfast in their faith, and it is a beautiful thing. Even in their grief, they praise our Lord. Even as they mourn, they point to his grace. Through their tears, they continue to proclaim his name.

You see, they recognize that the promise which our Father made to your father is not just for him. It is for him and for his children (Acts 2:39, Isa 54:13). Covenant faithfulness has always been a family affair. From Adam to Seth, from Seth to his line… the seed of the Woman has never been about an individual decision. While your parents were unable to apply the covenant sign and seal of baptism, we trust in the Lord that all elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit (WCF 10.3).

Even the very name that your parents chose for you testifies to their faith in this truth. Elias, you see, means Yahweh is my God. From before you were born your parents intended to raise you in the ways of God, and trusted that when you were old, you would not depart from the faith once delivered to the saints (Prov 22:6). God has given his Church one heart, for our own good, and for the good of our children. He is our God, and we are his people. (Jer 32:38-39)

For those of us on earth, it seems like a long time before we will be able to meet you, to embrace you, to smile as you tell us all about your time with the Lord. However, for you, it will be like the blink of an eye. What are 50-60 short years in light of eternity? Our life here is like a vapor (Jas 4:14), but our life in Christ will be everlasting (John 3:16).

Sweet baby Elias, even though I never knew you hear in this age, I long for the day when I will see you in the next.

With all my affection in Christ,

-Tony

Reflections on Erasures

As I noted in my article regarding Tullian’s Current Membership Status, I will be offering some reflections. Many would look at a simple act of declaring a person to be no longer a member of a local church to be something of a non-issue, that could not be further from the truth.

I’ll again here quote from the PCA‘s Book of Church Order for reference:

When a member of a particular church has willfully neglected the church for a period of one year, or has made it known that he has no intention of fulfilling the church vows, then the Session, continuing to exercise pastoral discipline (BCO 27-1a and 27-4) in the spirit of Galatians 6:1, shall remind the member, if possible both in person and in writing, of the declarations and promises by which he entered into a solemn covenant with God and His Church (BCO 57-5, nos. 3-5), and warn him that, if he persists, his name shall be erased from the roll.

If after diligently pursuing such pastoral discipline, and after further inquiry and due delay, the Session is of the judgment that the member will not fulfill his membership obligations in this or any other branch of the Visible Church (cf. BCO 2-2), then the Session shall erase his name from the roll. This erasure is an act of pastoral discipline (BCO 27-1a) without process. The Session shall notify the person, if possible, whose name has been removed.

Notwithstanding the above, if a member thus warned makes a written request for process (i.e., BCO Chapters 31-33, 35-36), the Session shall grant such a request. Further, if the Session determines that any offense of such a member is of the nature that process is necessary, the Session may institute such process.


A quick excursus. Many of my readers have noted that some of these terms are confusing. I think that is because there is a general lack of awareness of Presbyterian Polity, even among the Young, Reformed, Restless / New Calvinism crowd. Presbyterianism functions generally by the presence of a regional Church called a Presbytery. This Presbytery is composed in its membership of the ordained teaching elders of the local congregations in the region. The teaching elders, along with ruling elders (usually lay persons who are ordained by the Session which they are being elected or appointed to), of each congregation make up what is called the Session. This session is comparable to an elder board in Baptist and Evangelical churches.


The first thing to recognize in reference to this action taken by the Session of which Tullian was a member is that this is not a neutral action. It is formal church discipline. Neglecting to attend the Lord’s Day service, especially on a repeated basis, is a sin. The action which the Session takes to “remind the member […] of the declarations and promises by which he entered a solemn covenant” is essentially the equivalent of step one or two of the Matthew 18 process. The Session is attempting to confront this member with their sin and call them to repentance and returned participation and fellowship with the Church.

Once the Session has made these attempts, they make a judgement. They are not required to make this judgement, but if they do make the judgement that the member is neglecting his vows to faithfully attend to the Lord’s Day, “in this or any other branch of the Visible Church” then the session erases the member’s name from the membership rolls.

This is significant for two reasons. First, Tullian’s session made the determination that Tullian was not attending worship in any local congregation on a regular basis. This may not be true, but since Tullian refused contact with the Session they were forced to come to this conclusion. Had they been made aware of a difference set of circumstances (Either by Tullian, by a direct acquaintance of Tullian’s, or by word of mouth) they would not have taken this action. There are provisions in the BCO to transfer membership without this kind of erasure. Second, this is essentially a form of excommunication. Tullian, by severing himself from the Visible Church has excommunicated himself. The Session’s judgement and action here is a confirmation of that self-imposed excommunication. Dr. Rev. Glen Clary, Teaching Elder at Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC) says this:

Even though erasure is not exactly the same as excommunication, the effect is the same as if it were. The man was removed from the membership of the church of Christ. Unless he has obtained membership in another visible church, he is to be regarded as “a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17). I.e. he should not be regarded as a “brother in Christ.”

I called for Tullian’s excommunication recently and a little over a year ago, although this is a sad result and I would have much preferred that Tullian repent and be restored… excommuncation, or in this case erasure confirming a self-imposed excommunication, exists both for the good of the wayward individual, but also to protect the peace and purity of God’s Church. At this point, as Dr. Clary notes, we are not to regard Tullian as a Christian. The Session which was responsible for his soul (Heb 13:17) has assessed Tullian’s fruit, and based on his refusal to submit to church discipline and willful abandonment of the responsibilities to his local church —which he solemnly vowed to uphold— has determined that he is not a Christian. This spiritual reality which the Church has recognized (not determined, Tullian did that) is made visible by removing him from membership in the Visible Church.

Now, what of this talk of “process.” The PCA BCO uses the term “process” to speak of formal disciplinary action. Essentially, and in most cases, this takes the form of a trial. Erasure of this type is no less discipline, but it does not require any sort of public trial. The final clause of the final paragraph indicates that the Session could have taken this action through process if they so desired, and Tullian could have responded to the notification that his name was being erased by requesting process.

Now, I want to say this clearly: I have not been in contact with the leadership of the Session of which Tullian was subject. I do not know their reasoning for taking the approach they did, and I in no way want to question their judgement. Without knowing what their reasoning was, I simply am not in a position to speculate or assess it.

However, if I were on the Session making this decision, I would have advocated for this discipline to take place with process, and here is why:

First, Tullian is guilty of far more than just not being faithful to his membership vows. During his time under this Session’s jurisdiction —at least from what I can tell, it isn’t clear when he was removed from the membership rolls, but it probably was not prior to August of 2016— he lied publicly to the entire nation, he continued to teach —both in non-elder capacities at conferences and events, and at least once in an elder capacity on the Lord’s Day— he divorced his wife without biblical grounds, and he remarried. He did all of these things without any real indication of repentance at this point. The divorce and remarriage in itself is worthy of excommunication. Churches like Spring Hills would be less likely to have him teach (or offer him a job) if he had been excommunicated. Non-denominational church members have a tendency to move from church to church, and many non-denominational churches don’t do membership at all. Leaving a church is no big deal, getting kicked out of a church is. Furthermore, publishers like David C Cook would face more pressure not to publish Tullian or give him a platform to propagate his theological error. As it stands, they are currently publishing a book in which he makes the destruction that his lust, manipulation, lies, and arrogance wrought to be a good thing.

Second, as you can see from previous posts —which was operating on information from persons within the South Florida and Central Florida Presbyteries— it was unclear exactly where Tullian’s membership was. For nearly a year it was assumed that his membership was at Willow Creek, then for a brief time it was assumed it remained with the South Florida Presbytery. One of the hallmarks of Presbyterianism is its desire to do everything decently and in good order. I can understand why there might be a desire to not make this public, no congregation wants that kind of attention. However, a public action with process also comes with a kind of clarity and transparency that was lacking in this situation. Again, I don’t want to cast aspersions on the Session which made the decisions they did, I have no idea why they chose the course of action they did and they probably had good reasons that I am not privy to. However, where they to have pursued this with process, it would have been clear where his membership resided.

Finally, as we have seen in the past, Tullian is a master manipulator. He twists narratives to fit his needs. This often takes the form of bald faced lies, but also takes the form of subtle shifts in the story which paints him in a different light. I can imagine at least three ways he could do so as things went. Perhaps he didn’t know where his membership lay. Perhaps he did respond to them and tell them where he was going to church. Maybe he has actually been attending the church and the leadership is lying. At this point, he could say just about anything and there is no public counter narrative. However, discipline with process would involve evidence, public statements by the Session, witnesses, and ultimately a formal judgement by not just the Session involved, but likely the Presbytery as a whole. This would include the Session at Coral Ridge PCA which is constituted by men Tullian served with, as well as men whom Tullian was an Elder over.


Please also see a helpful article published in the Ordained Servant, which is a publication of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. While there are differences between the OPC and PCA, in my study the way they treat erasure and excommunication has not proven to be substantially different.

Peter II Stazen, “Unbiblical Erasures,” Ordained Servant 4, no. 3 (1995): 67–70.


For a thorough timeline of events regarding Tullian Tchividjian’s history, please see Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian SituationBy linking to this site I am not endorsing the site as a whole, nor testifying to the veracity of the information present. However, the timeline presented does appear to be accurate to the best of my knowledge and research.

Advent Series – WCF 8.5-6 (4)

Every year during the season of Advent I do a four part series in to match up with the four Sunday’s of Advent. In 2014 we explored the various heresies which facilitated the controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries. In 2015 we took an in depth look at the Niceno-Constantinopolitian Creed. This year, we will take a look at the eight clauses of chapter eight of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Each week we will tackle two clauses.


5. The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience, and sacrifice of himself, which he, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.

This section teaches us three important truths. First, that it was both the active and passive righteousness of which satisfies God. It is not just that Christ died, but that he lived perfectly. Second, we see that the work of the Holy Spirit is central in Christ’s ministry. The perfect obedience and sacrifice which he gave to the Father to satisfy justice, was given through the Holy Spirit. Finally, the benefit which Christ purchased for us is not just that we are no longer at war with God, but we have become his sons and daughters. This section also notes that only those whom the Father has appointed to be the Son’s had the benefit purchased on their behalf, affirming the doctrine of Particular Atonement.

6. Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and forever.

All saints throughout history were saved by this sacrifice, even though it happened in a point in time. These benefits were displayed to the saints by means of the promises given, types demonstrated, and through the sacrificial system which prefigures Christ.

Tullian’s Current Membership Status

After my recent Open Letter to the South Florida Presbytery, and a Call to Repentance by many of Tullian‘s former confidants, I began to receive emails and messages asking what Tullian’s current status was. Did I know where he held membership? Was he going to be excommunicated?

In order to begin to seek answers to these questions, I reached out to the Stated Clerk of the South Florida Presbytery and asked him to read my recent letter. He graciously responded to my email and provided me with the following information. I will, at a later point, be offering some thoughts. However, in order to avoid confusion I will simply be providing the information he provided to me regarding Tullian’s current status. The following is a summary of the information that the Stated Clerk provided to me (Posted with permission):

Tullian was deposed by South Florida Presbytery and therefore no longer an ordained Teaching Elder of the PCA. According to the policies outlined in the Book of Church Order, his membership was assigned to a church in South Florida Presbytery. The Session was was asked to transfer Tullian’s membership to Willow Creek, located in Winter Spring Florida, under the jurisdiction of the Central Florida Presbytery. However before the transfer was completed, Tullian left Willow Creek. The church where Tullian’s membership remained, in the South Florida Presbytery, attempted to contact him unsuccessfully and eventually followed Chapter 38, Paragraph 4 of the PCA Book of Church Order and removed Tullian from their membership rolls.

For reference, the Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America, states the following in Chapter 38, Paragraph 4:

When a member of a particular church has willfully neglected the church for a period of one year, or has made it known that he has no intention of fulfilling the church vows, then the Session, continuing to exercise pastoral discipline (BCO 27-1a and 27-4) in the spirit of Galatians 6:1, shall remind the member, if possible both in person and in writing, of the declarations and promises by which he entered into a solemn covenant with God and His Church (BCO 57-5, nos. 3-5), and warn him that, if he persists, his name shall be erased from the roll.

If after diligently pursuing such pastoral discipline, and after further inquiry and due delay, the Session is of the judgment that the member will not fulfill his membership obligations in this or any other branch of the Visible Church (cf. BCO 2-2), then the Session shall erase his name from the roll. This erasure is an act of pastoral discipline (BCO 27-1a) without process. The Session shall notify the person, if possible, whose name has been removed.

Notwithstanding the above, if a member thus warned makes a written request for process (i.e., BCO Chapters 31-33, 35-36), the Session shall grant such a request. Further, if the Session determines that any offense of such a member is of the nature that process is necessary, the Session may institute such process.


As stated above, I will forego any extensive comments to a later post. However, at this point I will simply note that currently Tullian is no longer a member in congregation, session, or presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America. Furthermore, he neglected attendance or communication with his church of membership for at least a year.


For a thorough timeline of events regarding Tullian Tchividjian’s history, please see Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian SituationBy linking to this site I am not endorsing the site as a whole, nor testifying to the veracity of the information present. However, the timeline presented does appear to be accurate to the best of my knowledge and research.

A Response to a Call to Repentance

On Monday, several pastors and other prominent figures— who have been involved in events surrounding Tullian Tchividjian— issued a call to repentance. This statement has been received with —from what I can tell— three basic responses.

  1. Approval – There are those who see this and applaud it. They believe this to be an appropriate step taken by men and women who were involved in counseling and disciplining Tullian.
  2. Dissatisfaction – There are those who do not think the statement is strong enough, are disappointed that certain names are missing, or are frustrated that this statement did not come sooner.
  3. Disapproval – There are those who think this is an inappropriate thing to do, and view it as a kind of public shaming and think that it should be handled privately under the auspices of the local church.

I think, upon reflection, that I probably hover somewhere between Approval and Dissatisfaction, leaning heavily on the Approval side. As one might surmise from my call to excommunicate him, that I think things are further along on the Matthew 18 process than the words of the letter indicate. As I understand it, the signatories of the letter appear to be at step three, publicly calling for repentance in the presence of the whole Church. Since I have been doing that for over a year now it is understandable that we’re at different places on the path, and I think that’s just fine.

I wanted to highlight a few reasons why I think that those in the third category are wrong, and a few things that those in the second category should consider.

First, when this all broke, there were a group of men and women who rallied behind Tullian. The defended him against claims (like the ones that I made) that he did not appear to be adequately repentant. They cited his willingness to submit to church discipline, his general avoidance of the spotlight, and their personal interactions with him as the evidence that he was truly repentant. Many of those people (although not all) are signatories of this letter. This is a very public statement which clearly says that their conclusions were wrong. Now, we can go back and forth about whether or not they should have been able to see through Tullian’s lies, and that may be a worthwhile discussion. However, the fact of the matter is that at this point, they are saying in no uncertain terms that Tullian was not repentant, and that he is in danger of damnation if he does not repent. Phrases like “impenitently used his public platform,” “for the sake of his eternal soul,” and “repent of his wickedness” are strong phrases that were intentionally and carefully selected.

Second, related to the first, Tullian has continued to forward the narrative that he has a group of advisers who are working with him, and know everything. Tullian recently stated

I am very grateful for the small group of wise and godly people who are (and have been) walking through this meticulously with me. I am fully accountable to them and there is nothing that they do not know.

Now, for some of us who have been attentive, and have had communications with people directly involved in the situation, it was clear that the original group which stood behind him was falling away as the realized the reality represented in the letter published on Monday. However, many people reading Tullian’s statement assumed that figures like Kevin Labby, Chris Rosebrough, and Elyse Fitzpatrick were among that group. That is simply not the case, and this letter makes that clear. In fact, no one that I have talked to who is close to the situation has any idea who Tullian is talking about, and given his past track record of deception, partial disclosure, and narrative management… I doubt that there is a group of people to whom he is fully accountable to, or who know everything about Tullian’s past and present.

Third, this is a clear and appropriate instance of men and women taking Matthew 18 seriously. These people went to Tullian privately, and he refused to repent. They are now bringing it before the whole Church publicly. Tullian, from what anyone can tell, has not submitted himself to a local church, and thus there is no local church court to which these people can go. A public call to repentance, with a clear statement of what the first step toward repentance looks like, and a clear implication of what the consequences of refusal are is exactly what step three in the Matthew 18 process should look like.

Finally, these men and women are saying in no uncertain terms that they no longer consider Tullian to be repentant, and no longer are willing to publicly —or ostensibly privately— support him without repentance. They are saying that Tullian is not accountable to them, nor are they accountable for Tullian. Rather, they are publicly stating that Tullian is accountable to the local church in which he retains membership (which has been verified by multiple sources in a position to know is a congregation in Miami under the jurisdiction of the South Florida Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America), and directing him to go there for discipline and accountability. One of the criticisms that some leveled in the beginning of all this is that Tullian had an accountability group from all over the country, rather than the God ordained accountability of the local Church. This is an affirmation of that fact.

Ultimately, as I said, I resonate with those who would like to see more. A stronger statement, more names, more rebuke, more… however, I would also point to the strengths of this statement and ask those who are in the Dissatisfied group to consider what I’ve said. The people who signed this list, although not explicitly in the letter, have come to terms that they erred in their judgement. When I make a mistake, I really hate to publicize that mistake… but that is what they have done here. They have done it not to save face… this actually does the opposite and reveals that they were wrong about Tullian. Instead, they have voluntarily revealed that fact in the most public of ways… because they care about Tullian and want to see him repent and be reconciled to the Church, and to God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. You may wish they made a stronger statement, but you can’t argue with their intentions.


For a thorough timeline of events regarding Tullian Tchividjian’s history, please see Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian SituationBy linking to this site I am not endorsing the site as a whole, nor testifying to the veracity of the information present. However, the timeline presented does appear to be accurate to the best of my knowledge and research.

A Call to Repentance

The following letter was posted to the websites of Pastor Kevin LabbyPastor Chris Rosebrough, Paul David Tripp, and Elyse Fitzpatrick. Let us all pray that this represents the beginning of what will ultimately be Tullian’s repentance.


Dear Friends:

We join with others in expressing our shared grief regarding these latest allegations, as well as our thankfulness for the courageous women who came forward to tell their stories. We join our prayers together that they will receive the care and support that they need to heal and move forward in their lives.

In the wake of the initial revelation in June of 2015 that Tullian Tchividjian had engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship, a group of pastors and friends reached out to him in accordance with scripture’s clear admonition in Galatians 6:1–2:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

In the months that followed, we were encouraged that Tullian seemed committed to walking a path of healing and renewal through repentance under the authority of his church of membership. However, later disclosures, and these most recent allegations, cast grave doubts over the sincerity of this commitment.

Inasmuch as Tullian Tchividjian has habitually and impenitently used his public platform, his family’s good name, and the name of Christ for his own selfish ends, we believe that he has disqualified himself from any form of public vocational ministry.

For the sake of his eternal soul, we implore Tullian Tchividjian to repent of his wickedness and demonstrate his repentance by submitting himself to the leadership of his church of membership, pursuing forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation with those whom he has sinned against.

We send our plea to Tullian in a spirit of gentleness and with broken hearts.

May Christ have mercy.

Pastor R.J. Grunewald
Pastor Kevin Labby
Pastor Matt Popovits
Pastor Donovan Riley
Pastor Chris Rosebrough
Paul David Tripp
Mrs. Elyse Fitzpatrick
Mrs. Kimm Crandall


It should also be noted that Pastor Scotty Smith’s name was originally listed among the signatories on some posts, but has since been removed. The version I have posted was originally posted on http://kevinlabby.com


For a thorough timeline of events regarding Tullian Tchividjian’s history, please see Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian SituationBy linking to this site I am not endorsing the site as a whole, nor testifying to the veracity of the information present. However, the timeline presented does appear to be accurate to the best of my knowledge and research.

Tony and the Athanasian Creed (3)

As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, there have been some who have accused me of trintarian heresy —not just error or heterodoxy, but damnable heresy— as a result of some concern (note that I did not say objections) I have expressed regarding the Athanasian Creed and its use in Reformed theology. While I cannot address everything in the depth I would like to in blog posts, I would like to provide some explanation. These posts are not intended to be comprehensive, rather they are intended to be short introductory reference posts for me to refer to rather than rehearsing things each time the issue comes up.

If you are planning on quoting me in these posts, please also provide a link to the article for context. One of the concerns I have is that those who have unjustly opposed me (there are those who have been mature and have had adult discussions and have still come away with concerns regarding my position, that is not who I intend to refer to) will use these posts to cherry pick quotes out of context. I began with what I think are the least controversial and complex reasons, and then proceeded to the more controversial and complex ones.


Today will close out this brief series, and I hope that it has helped to clarify where my concerns and questions regarding the Athanasian Creed lay. To conclude, I want to bring this full circle to a few things I said in the previous two posts.

As imperfect and growing creatures, we must always be testing our theology and ideas against the truth of Scripture. Additionally, we must recognize that when we interpret Scripture, that we are interpreting Scripture. We are imperfect interpreters, and for this reason God has given us the wise counsel of others. We would do well to take advantage of this blessing which God has given us in order to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith.” (Eph 4:11-13, ESV) As such, I reached out to a man I deeply respect and from whom I have learned more than I can recount.

Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is an expert in patristic theology, especially in the area of Trinitarian and Christological development in the concilliar period (4th through 6th centuries). More than that, he was my professor during seminary and taught me almost everything I know about the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, and the patristic era. Even more than that, he is a mentor and friend.

I reached out to him to make sure I wasn’t crazy, and he graciously took time to read my posts and offer some clarification for me. With his permission, I want to offer some excerpts from his emails.

Your main point is exactly right, but it should apply to even the Nicene Creed. Nothing outside of Scripture is INHERENTLY authoritative. (Emphasis his)

As I said in my first post, the authority of the Athanasian Creed can only ever be a ministerial authority. That is, it can only ever have an authority that is derived from the Scriptures (the only magisterial authority Protestants recognize). Insofar as it agrees with Scripture, it is absolutely authoritative. Insofar as it disagrees with Scripture, it must be abandoned. Don here agrees with that point, and I think a good argument can be made that even the authors of the Nicene Creed would have agreed with that point.

Regarding the second blog, in short, what you think the Athanasian Creed may be saying (and which you correctly find acceptable) is what the Athanasian Creed IS saying. (Emphasis his)

In my second post, I argued that if the Athanasian Creed was saying what the Nicene Creed was saying, then I affirm it. I also noted that I believe that it is saying what the Nicene Creed is saying, but simply cannot have the same kind of certainty with the Athanasian Creed as we can with the Nicene Creed. I still think that is the case to a certain extent, since we have no knowledge of who composed it, or when it was composed. However Don helped me clarify a few things that I was lacking a full view of.

Jerome’s and Augustine’s problems with the Greeks had to do with the fact that they did not realize the Greeks had changed the way they used the word hypostasis. If Athanasius had been around to respond to them, he could have easily cleared up the whole problem, just as he had cleared it up at Alexandria in 362 when he “canonized” the new use of hypostasis.

But the point is that after the year 381, you get this kind of confusion only when Latins read what the Greeks write. When Latins write on their own (as in the Athanasian Creed), they have clear distinctions which govern their use of the terms, distinctions that go back to Tertullian. And when Greeks write on their own, they NOW have clear distinctions, forged by Athanasius (and to a lesser degree, the Cappadocians). So each side knows what it means, but the Latins don’t know what the Greeks now mean, because they confuse that with what the Greeks would have meant if they had been using the same word 100 years earlier.

Don explains that works of Latin theology were internally consistent, and works of Greek theology were internally consistent. The only time there was confusion was when Latin theologians (like Jerome and Augustine) read Greek theology. I think by extension that we may see some of these same kinds of problems when Greek theology was translated into Latin, but he did not confirm that. I think that a flaw in some of my thinking was that although I was vigorously arguing that the Athanasian Creed was written in Latin, in my mind I was still treating it as though it was translated from a Greek original. Had that been the case, I think my concerns probably still hold some force.

Bottom line: Your concerns about the Athanasian Creed are not justified, in my opinion. It is saying what you think it needs to say, not what you fear it might be saying. And you are right about what it needs to say, so there is no problem here with your Trinitarian orthodoxy.

Don, as an expert in the field —linguistically, theologically, and historically— has no concerns regarding the nature of the theology in the Athanasian Creed. He does say, in a subsequent email, that the approach of the Athanasian Creed in describing the Trinity is different from the approach of the Nicene Creed. “Instead of describing persons in relationship to one another, it describes the association between each person and the essence. In that way, it is too much like the later Western language for my taste, but it isn’t wrong per se.” This was a sort of follow-up to an earlier statement “that modalism lurks in the background of all discussions of the Trinity.” He didn’t say it, but I think that this especially is the case in western (Latin) Christianity. Fred Sanders observes something similar in an article he wrote discussing the two Creeds.

I am happy to take the correction of my friend and mentor, although he and I are in agreement that in terms of authority in the Church, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed are not on the same level in regards to “normative value.” That said, I still believe that because of the uncertain origin and —in my estimate— inappropriate anathema statements, that we as Reformed Protestant would do well to make our appeal to document with a verified composition, ecclesiastical and ecumenical origins, and a greater level of normative value.

I will note that Don here also explicitly affirms that my Trinitarian theology is fully within the scope of Christian orthodox belief (he is making this assessment not just on these posts, but on a three-year academic relationship and ongoing conversations).

That is not to say that the Athanasian Creed does not have a tremendous teaching value. In fact given what Don says above regarding the meaning of the Athanasian Creed, I think that it is one of the clearest articulations of Divine Simplicity we find in the early Church, and serves as a tremendous tool in refuting the error of those who affirm the Eternal Functional Submission of the Son (and Spirit).

I appreciate everyone who has taken time to read my work, and hope that this settles the issue. I also want to say a special thank you to Don for taking time to correspond with me on this subject.


I would highly encourage my readers to check out some of Don’s published writings. I’ve listed them below starting with the most accessible, proceeding to the more technical:

Additionally, Don has authored a book, which takes a different approach on language studies, that I would highly recommend for anyone going into seminary. Greek operates differently than English, and understanding the underlying structures and concepts of Greek and Latin before starting to memorize forms and paradigms will pay dividends.

He also has written a number of articles, most interesting to my audience may be an article submitted to Participatio in which he discusses the concept of extra nos justification in the work of Cyril of Alexandria.

Advent Series – WCF 8.3-4 (3)

Every year during the season of Advent I do a four part series in to match up with the four Sunday’s of Advent. In 2014 we explored the various heresies which facilitated the controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries. In 2015 we took an in depth look at the Niceno-Constantinopolitian Creed. This year, we will take a look at the eight clauses of chapter eight of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Each week we will tackle two clauses.


3. The Lord Jesus, in his human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure, having in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell; to the end that, being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, he might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a mediator, and surety. Which office he took not unto himself, but was thereunto called by his Father, who put all power and judgment into his hand, and gave him commandment to execute the same.

Although Christ never sinned, he was sanctified according to his human nature just as we will be, by union with God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. For us, our indwelling is finite, because we are finite. However, for the Son who is infinite, his union with the Spirit is likewise infinite. It is only through this infinite union that he can fulfill his role as both Mediator, and Guarantor, of the Covenant of Grace. This office was appointed to him by his Father, not by his own human will. All the authority we see Christ execute as a human, he executes because it was given to him by his Father.

4. This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which that he might discharge, he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfill it; endured most grievous torments immediately in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered, with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.

Although he was appointed by his Father, the Son also executed this office by his own will, since they share a singular will. While on earth, Christ merited a perfect active righteousness by positively fulfilling every command of the law. He also merited a perfect passive righteousness by suffering physically and spiritually. He really bodily endured suffering, died, was buried, and rose again. He really bodily was taken to heaven and reigns in power with is Father. He really bodily will return to judge all rational creatures in the end times. This article affirms the historical nature of the Gospel accounts of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and looks forward to the historical nature of his return. This excludes all forms of Full Preterism which denies a future advent of the Lord, as well as all forms of Liberalism which deny a historical bodily resurrection. It also excludes any form of Gnosticism or Docetism which deny a historical bodily incarnation or death.

Another Open Letter to the South Florida Presbytery

On September 1st, 2015, I issued an open letter to the Ruling Elders of the South Florida Presbytery. That letter was a strong call to action based on the activities of Tullian Tchividjian. A few days later I published something of a retraction as new information came to light. Well, more new information has come to light.

In a pair heart breaking posts by a woman named Rachel, one of the women which Tullian identified, groomed, manipulated, and ultimately committed adultery with, details her account of her relationship with him.

It is clear from the timeline of the account that the repentance which Tullian demonstrated was illusory at best. Not only was the South Florida Presbytery fooled, but the Session of Willow Creek was also fooled. Willow Creek, through their Sr Pastor Kevin Labby, has issued a statement indicating that Tullian should not be engaging in “any form of public or vocational ministry.” This includes his repeated speaking engagements at Spring Hills Church, guest posts on public blogs, guest interviews on podcasts, or the forthcoming book which is rumored to have been previewed on the expastors website previously linked.

I am in 100% agreement with Kevin Labby that Tullian should “immediately return to his church of membership, submit to its leadership, and pursue healing and renewal through repentance in the context of his local church.” It is unclear exactly where that is, but from what I can understand regarding PCA polity and the chain of events that happened between August of last year and today, his membership still rests with the South Florida Presbytery.

Tullian has repeatedly demonstrated that he is not repentant, and at this point continues to live in unrepentant sin. His divorce did not occur according to Biblical standards as understood by the Presbyterian Church in America. His remarriage was not approved, as far as I can tell or imagine, by the South Florida Presbytery.[1] This is a direct act of disobedience, and his remarriage to Stacie Tchividjian (Phillips) represents a state of ongoing and unrepentant adultery.

I am urging you brothers, for the sake of Tullian, his family, the congregations at both Coral Ridge PCA and Willow Creek PCA, and for the peace and purity of Christ’s Church at large, to issue a statement which directs Tullian to take heed of Kevin Labby’s admonishment within a defined set of time, with the penalty of excommunication for refusal. This is your biblical obligation according to Matthew 18.


  1. http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/divorce-remarriage.pdf – p252

For a thorough timeline of events regarding Tullian Tchividjian’s history, please see Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian SituationBy linking to this site I am not endorsing the site as a whole, nor testifying to the veracity of the information present. However, the timeline presented does appear to be accurate to the best of my knowledge and research.

Tony and the Athanasian Creed (2)

Hilary of PoitiersAs I mentioned briefly in a previous post, there have been some who have accused me of trintarian heresy —not just error or heterodoxy, but damnable heresy— as a result of some concern (note that I did not say objections) I have expressed regarding the Athanasian Creed and its use in Reformed theology. While I cannot address everything in the depth I would like to in blog posts, I would like to provide some explanation. These posts are not intended to be comprehensive, rather they are intended to be short introductory reference posts for me to refer to rather than rehearsing things each time the issue comes up.

If you are planning on quoting me in these posts, please also provide a link to the article for context. One of the concerns I have is that those who have unjustly opposed me (there are those who have been mature and have had adult discussions and have still come away with concerns regarding my position, that is not who I intend to refer to) will use these posts to cherry pick quotes out of context. I began with what I think are the least controversial and complex reasons, and will now proceed to the more controversial and complex ones.


This post will be much more technical, so please bear with me. The trinitarian terms enjoyed a development which begins before the rise of Christianity and continued well into the 5th century (and in many ways, continues today). Of particular note is the development of the terms ousia and hypostasis. Originally, in their use in Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy the terms shared a broad overlapping semantic range. This use was adopted by early Christians as they sought to explain how God the Father, and Jesus Christ, were both to be said to be the one God. This is why we see in the original creed put forth at the Council of Nicaea in 325 that it was said that anyone who claimed that “[the Son] is of another substance” or “[the Son] is of another essence” are “condemned by the holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.” The first clause says hypostasis and the second says ousia.

In the way that we use the word hypostasis now, it would be heretical to say that the Father and Son are the same hypostasis. That is because in the time intervening the Councils of Nicaea and the Constantinople (381) there was significant development in how these terms were used. Michael Horton in the Christian Faith and Pilgrim Theology has an excellent discussion of this development. I would encourage you to check out the details (278 – 282 and 94 – 97 respectively). This development happened primarily in the Greek speaking portion of the Church and was lead by the Cappadocian Fathers.

Ultimately, and this is important, the word ousia came to refer to the way that God is unified, to the way that God is one. The word hypostasis came to refer to the way that God is three, to the way that the divine persons are diverse. In the Latin speaking west there were various translations which were used to refer to these concepts. Ousia was often translated as substantia or essentiaHypostasis on the other hand was more difficult to translate, and was variously translated as persona or substantia depending on the context.[1] As you can see, the word substantia was used in reference to both terms, which as you can imagine gave rise to all kinds of confusion in the west. The Reformers, seeing this confusion, coined a new Latin term, subsistentia, to stand in for hypostasis which we translate as subsistence.

Before we can get to the Athanasian Creed, we have to talk a little about Calvin and Jerome.

Calvin, in his section on the Trinity in Institutes of the Christian Religion makes a very interesting comment. As a brief aside, one of my readers reminded me that Calvin himself refused to sign the Athanasian Creed as a symbol of orthodoxy due to the anathema clauses I discussed in the previous post. He argued that there may be various ways to correctly articulate the Trinity, and to force someone to hold to one extra biblical way as opposed to another was unacceptable. This is not unlike the argument I have made.

In I.xiii.5 Calvin notes that Jerome “says it is profane to affirm that there are three substances in God.” Now, without understanding the linguistic issues I discussed above, we might readily agree with this. However, Calvin is not commending Jerome for his insight, he is chastising him for his error. Jerome, you see, is confused about the word hypostasis. Jerome thinks it is a reference to the way that God is one, but it is in fact a reference to the way that the persons are diverse. Calvin goes on to say “Then how greatly is Jerome perplexed with the word Hypostasis! He suspects some lurking poison, when it is said that there are three Hypostases in God.”

Jerome reads the translations of the Greek theologians and believes that they are saying that there are three ousia in God, because he doesn’t understand the distinction between hypostasis and ousia that was developed by the Cappadocians.

Why am I talking about Jerome? Well, Jerome was writing toward the end of the 4th century through the beginning of the 5th century. Calvin also notes that Augustine is not as confused as Jerome was, but he was indeed still not clear. The point is that Latin theologians from this era struggled to understand the primarily Greek theology of the Trinity which was the official orthodoxy of the Church, as defined by the Nicene Creed.

As I discussed in the previous post, we don’t know much about the author of the Athanasian Creed. You know what we do know though? He was a Latin writer, who was writing sometime during the beginning to middle part of the 5th century. In terms of theological acumen, we can assume his understanding of things is closer to Jerome or Augustine, than it is to Basil or Hillary.

Lets get to the actual creed now.

There are two areas of the creed that I think may be effected by this.

The first is found near the beginning of the creed.

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons (personas); nor dividing the Essence (substantiam). For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead (divinitas) of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one.

I’ve included some of the key Latin terms. One of the things that happens, is that the translators try to help you by interpreting some of these terms. Because of this they do not translate things as literally as they could. I will provide a more literal translation.

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons (personas); nor dividing the Substance (substantiam). For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Divinty (divinitas) of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one.

Now, this section can go one of two ways, we can read the Latin personas as a straight forward translation of the Greek hypostasis, and the Latin substantiam as a straight forward translation of the Greek ousia. If this is what is going on, then this is a perfectly orthodox and quite good summary of the theology of the Nicene Creed. However, the phrasing of the last sentence may mitigate against this. The translators believe that divinitas is a reference to the single divine nature which they share, which is why they translate it as Godhead. Again, if this is correct then we have no problems. However, if instead the term refers to an attribute or characteristic, then we run into issues. If the author is confused, as Jerome and Augustine were, about the use of the term hypostasis then the Creed becomes quite problematic. Note, there was a perfectly good word (essentiawhich does not run into this equivocation problem, but the author opted for the more equivocal word.[2]

That brings us to the second potentially concerning part of the Creed.

Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal.

The Creed goes on to include other similar listings. Assuming this is an articulation that correctly understands the hypostasis / ousia distinction, this is a beautiful articulation of the doctrine of divine simplicity. The point is relatively straight foward, albeit infinitely complicated. The divine nature which the Father possesses, is one and the same divine nature which the Son and Spirit possess. Thus the “uncreatedness” of the Father, or the “unlimitedness” of the Son, or the “eternality” of the Spirit… are one and the same with the “uncreatedness”, “unlimitedness”, or “eternality” of the other persons. Another way to say this is exactly what was said in the previous section. The divinity of the persons is one. The Creed goes on to say “So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.”

Now, if this is what the Creed is affirming, I fully agree. This is what I mean when I say that I affirm the substance of the Creed, but I am not sure if I affirm the form (language) of the Creed.

The problem is that the author here is saying that there is one substantia in the Trinity. Which is true. However, we have seen that Latin theologians may be thinking that this means that there is one hypostasis in the Trinity. The author here basically is saying that when we apply an attribute to the persons of the Trinity as person, that we are speaking truth. However, we must acknowledge that those persons have that attribute because of a shared underlying reality. The nature of what that underlying reality is what is in question here. If the author is clear about the hypostasis / ousia distinction then we have no problem. If, however, like Jerome and Augustine and many other Latin theologians… this Latin theologian is not clear about that distinction, then we may have a problem. What about the adjective “hypostatic?” Can you substitute that into his formula?

The Father is hypostatic, the Son likewise, and the Spirit likewise… but there is only one hypostasis.

This gets to the fundamental issue… that is a sentence that we could very easily see Jerome write. If we could easily see Jerome write it… then it is also the case that another Latin theologian like the author of the Athanasian Creed may fall under the same confusion. Had the author of the Athanasian Creed used the unequivocal term essentia we would not be having this discussion… but he didn’t.

I noted above that I think these sections may be effected by this confusion. I simply don’t know. And I don’t think that we can know. When we read Jerome, we can look at what he says in other places and come to a conclusion that although he was a little confused, he is still orthodox. We can come to these conclusions with even more certainty with Augustine. We have other writing by these men (and most other Latin theologians) to give us context and clarify their meaning. We simply do not have this with the author of the Athanasian Creed. For centuries people believed this was written by Athanasius, so they assumed he meant the same thing that the Cappadocians meant, (ironically, this wouldn’t have been a great assumption anyway depending on when he wrote… he used the word hypostasis the way it was used in the anathemas discussed above, as a synonym for ousia until it was decided at a synod in 367 that the Eastern Church would use the word hypostasis to refer to the diversity, and ousia to refer to the unity), however this was a faulty assumption. The author shares more in common with Jerome than he does with Athanasius, with Augustine than he does with Basil. Linguistically, we are on solid ground to assume that he shared some of the same linguistic confusion that Jerome and Augustine did.

So, when I say that I affirm the substance of the Creed insofar as it is the same substance as the Nicene Creed (381), I say so cautiously because I’m not sure we can know if it does affirm the same substance. We can assume it does, and I’m okay with that. However, I would much rather appeal to a Creed which we do know the substance of, and which does have ecumenical origins and authority. In general, I’m a cautious theologian, and this is a reflection of this.

As I close, I want you to imagine a scenario. I recognize that it is an unlikely scenario, but just stick with me for a second.

Imagine we discovered a document which was written by a modalist. Someone who affirms that there is distinction between what we see as the Father, Son, and Spirit. Someone who would refer to that distinction as three personae. This person would say that while it is true that the Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, and the Spirit is eternal, that these three personae are only one eternal substantia. Now, imagine that in this same document, it is revealed that this modalist is also the author of the Athanasian Creed. That would be a devastating blow to the consistency and history of the Church’s confession.

Now, as I said, I recognize that this is a remote scenario. However, because we don’t know anything about who the author is, and do not know anything more than the latest possible date it could have been written… we cannot with certainty rule out this possibility.

I don’t think that a modalist wrote the Athanasian Creed,[3] and I think that the substance of the Creed is indeed orthodox. And I affirm that substance. However, because of the uncertainty… I have concerns. These concerns lead me to rely more on the Nicene Creed and Chalcedonian Definition.


  1. See Shedd, William. Dogmatic Theology. Third Edition. Edited by Alan Gomes. Phillipsburg: P&R, 2003, 229-235 for a more detailed linguistic and lexical discussion of these terms.
  2. Shedd notes on 231 that the reformers and protestant scholastics preferred the word essentia rather than substatia, because even when we get to the Reformation the word substantia “logically implies accidents or unessential properties.” This is exactly the confusion which was happening in the 4th and 5th century among Latin theologians, so it is clear that this issue was not fully resolved by the time of the writing of the Athanasian Creed.
  3. It should be noted that I think in general there is a tendency to overemphasis the unity of the Godhead over the diversity of the persons in Western Christianity. This tendency lends itself to a modalistic confusion. We may feel as though modalism, also known as Sabellianism, is gone, however it “has remained a recurring challenge throughout church history.” (Horton, Pilgrim Theology, 95) The tendency to treat the divine nature as “some subsistent thing that stands behind or above the person and so leads to tetratheism or Seballianism” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:299) is real, and we must be aware of it if we are to properly safeguard ourselves against it.

Advent Series – WCF 8.1-2 (2)

Every year during the season of Advent I do a four part series in to match up with the four Sunday’s of Advent. In 2014 we explored the various heresies which facilitated the controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries. In 2015 we took an in depth look at the Niceno-Constantinopolitian Creed. This year, we will take a look at the eight clauses of chapter eight of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Each week we will tackle two clauses.


1. It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Savior of his church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom he did from all eternity give a people, to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.

This clause roots the incarnation not in a reaction to sin, but as part of God’s eternal purpose. God did not discover the sin of Adam and formulate a plan, but eternally intended his Son to serve as a mediator between himself and his people. This eternal appointment of the Lord Jesus is called the Covenant of Redemption, and should not be understood as an obeyed command by the Son, but as a mutual agreement between two (actually three, but not explicitly so here) Persons of equal nature, authority, and standing. The Son joyfully serves as the Mediator, and as a reward for his faithful service he receives from the Father a people to be his very own. These are the people who would be the beneficiaries of, and only intended recipients of, the atonement.

2. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

As was alluded to by the apposition in the first article, the second article makes explicit that this Mediator who was appointed by the Father is a single Person. That Person is the second Person of the Trinity, God the Son. the Son is fully and truly God, not only of the same kind of nature… but of one singular nature with the Father. This Son truly took on our nature, along with all its natural limitations and weaknesses, however he did not sin. Because he shares a single nature with the Father, Arianism is excluded. Because he took on all of our essential properties, Apollinarianism is excluded. This second article is essentially a restatement and reaffirmation of the Chalcedonian Definition and refutes both Nestorianism and Eutychainism. Furthermore, the historical reality of the virgin conception is affirmed, excluding various liberal errors.

Tullian, Revelations, and Disgust

Recently, the Christian Post remarked on Tullian’s new marriage and return to preaching. The article, titled Tullian Tchividjian Emerges From Scandal With New Wife, Preaches Sermon on God’s Redemption, deserves a whole post to discuss it, and that will certainly happen, look for that in the week to come.

However, another set of blog posts by Nate Sparks deserves a repost here. Full disclosure, I do not know much about Nate Sparks, and a quick perusal of his post would indicate that he and I would find ourselves at odds in reference to many different subjects.

However, I have had enough exposure to people close to the situation to detect an air of truth about it. I cannot, and am not, testify to the complete veracity, but I submit it here for your consideration.

The first article, titled Do Unto Others…, follows the story of Lisa (not her real name) as she was targeted, groomed, and ultimately taken advantage of, by Tullian.

He insisted she call him if she needed anything at any time. Tullian often confided in her about how depressed he was feeling and seemed open and honest about his failings and insecurities.  He was not perfect, but she believed him to be largely the victim of circumstances beyond his control.

The second article, titled Master of Manipulation, follows a similar line of approach and traces the story of Kara. Of particular importance is this:

One of the more interesting things I learned from Kara was that Tullian targeted men, as well as women, for abuse.  Tullian had groomed several men to essentially function as his “yes men,” to never question him and to meet his emotional needs whenever he needed someone to reinforce his own opinions.  In much the same way as the women, these men were often persons with deep wells of pain related to abuse at the hands of loved ones, friends, and the church.

Some readers may remember, that after an article explaining Why I Care about Tullian Teaching, I temporarily removed all Tullian content from my site. The reason being, Tullian had reached out to me directly via Twitter to discuss my article. I did not share the content of any of those messages at the time, but I feel it is appropriate given Nate’s discussion to do so at this point. Our conversation was not extensive, and was mostly oriented toward trying to coordinate a time to chat on the phone. Once the second wave of news broke, which lead to his termination from Willow Creek and the dissolution of Liberate, the following exchange took place.

tullian-convo

It should be said, that at the beginning of the interactions Tullian requested that “our conversation (or the specifics of it) to be between you and me and off the record.” I have up until this point respected the agreement we had, but given this new information I feel that it is appropriate to release the above image. The interactions we had, which I will note were largely superficial and related to trying to coordinate schedules, took place of the course of a week. It seemed strange to me at the time that Tullian was saying I was “proving to be a dear friend.” It made me a little uneasy, but as you can see above, our interactions had already created something of a loyalty to him. When my pastor and family advised me to leave Tullian’s care to the people directly in his life, and to not muddy the situation with my thoughts, I must admit that I was disappointed. Even though I ultimately heeded his advice, I didn’t want to.

I cannot say that Tullian was engaging in the kind of behavior that Nate explains toward me, but looking back I would not be surprised if that was the case.


For a thorough timeline of events regarding Tullian Tchividjian’s history, please see Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian SituationBy linking to this site I am not endorsing the site as a whole, nor testifying to the veracity of the information present. However, the timeline presented does appear to be accurate to the best of my knowledge and research.

Red and Yellow, Black and White, They are Precious…

Recently, I have begun listening to a variety of podcasts while at the office. I primarily work a desk job and this allows me to listen to while I check emails and take care of paperwork. One of the shows that I recommend is the Confessional Collective. This podcast has been particularly impactful in my life recently because I have been attending a non-confessional Baptist church as a confessional Presbyterian.

In episodes 8 and 18, Aaron Carr (the host) interviewed Cameron Triggs (Epiphany Church, Camden) and Jemar Tisby (Reformed African-American Network, RAAN) respectively. The interviews with these two men about the confessions from an African-American perspective have been enlightening to me. One thing that came up was the Reformed heritage and how men like RL Dabney (A Defense of Virginia and the South) had defended American slavery.

I had not previously thought through many of these cultural issues from the historically Reformed perspective. How hard it must be for our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ to be asked to read men like Dabney. This leads us to all sorts of question that must ask ourselves, as a primarily white tradition:

  • Do we dismiss their feelings, hurts, and thoughts because they are things that we don’t feel, hurt, or think about?
  • How are we reaching our black brothers and sisters with our tradition?
  • Are we quick to think that our black brothers and sisters are not as theologically astute as we are?

These questions stem from a systemic pride that has been built up in America about the differences between the African-American community and the white evangelical community. We need to actively look to break down these walls, welcome all who come to our churches, no matter what their cultural backgrounds are, and to preach the Gospel to all.


Post Script

Recently, Jemar Tisby commented on the election of Donald Trump on Pass the Mic and this has been responded to by James White on the Dividing Line. I highly recommend listening to both. Tisby lays out some really good information about what our black brothers and sisters in Christ are going through in light of the recent election, where, White lays out a good analysis of some of the more objective aspects and worrisome portions of Tisby’s comments. That being said, I would like to see both men sit down on either of their programs and talk through this issue together.

Tony and the Athanasian Creed (1)

As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, there have been some who have accused me of trintarian heresy —not just error or heterodoxy, but damnable heresy— as a result of some concern (note that I did not say objections) I have expressed regarding the Athanasian Creed and its use in Reformed theology. While I cannot address everything in the depth I would like to in blog posts, I would like to provide some explanation. These posts are not intended to be comprehensive, rather they are intended to be short introductory reference posts for me to refer to rather than rehearsing things each time the issue comes up.

If you are planning on quoting me in these posts, please also provide a link to the article for context. One of the concerns I have is that those who have unjustly opposed me (there are those who have been mature and have had adult discussions and have still come away with concerns regarding my position, that is not who I intend to refer to) will use these posts to cherry pick quotes out of context. I will begin with what I think are the least controversial and complex reasons, and proceed to the more controversial and complex ones.


Now, there are several things that I have brought up regarding the Athanasian Creed that give me pause. However, before we get into that I want to make sure one thing is clear. I fully affirm the historic Nicene position on the Trinity. For reasons that will become clear in a later post, I must qualify my affirmation of the Athanasian Creed by saying that insofar as it agrees in substance with the Nicene Creed, I affirm the Athanasian Creed —not altogether different as I would say that insofar as the Nicene Creed, or the Westminster Standards for that matter, agree in substance with the Scriptures, I affirm them— completely. I affirm that there is one God, and that this one God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three are genuinely distinct hypostases who fully and completely share a single simple ousia. Because these three share a single simple ousia they only way that they are different from —and distinguishable from— each other is by their hypostatic relations. Furthermore, the attributes they are in reference to their divine nature are not separate from each other. The omnipotence of the Father is the very same omnipotence which we see in the Son and Spirit, albeit hypostatized in a mode proper to each person in relation to the other two. Additionally, I fully affirm that the external operations of the Trinity are indivisible. When any one person acts toward creation (or in creating), the other two act in a way proper to their person in relation to the other two.


The first concern I have in reference to the Athanasian Creed, or more specifically the way that I have seen it used among my Reformed brothers (and sisters, although I have never had a woman confront me on this issue…), is its use as an authoritative and ecumenical creed on par with the Nicene Creed or Chalcedonian Definition. This concern is two-fold.

First, I affirm the Westminster Standards. The Westminster Standards are very clear that nothing apart from Scripture, not even the Standards themselves, can be used as a rule of faith.

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. – WCF 1.10

All synods or councils, since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both. – WCF 31.3

As a brief aside, it is very interesting to note that the Westminster Confession is itself a revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles, which were the confessional standard of the Church of England at the time. Article 8 of the Thirty-Nine Articles confessionally obligated the reception of the Nicene Creed, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, even if still doing so only because they agree in substance with the Scripture. However, when revising the Thirty-Nine Articles, rather than repeat this clause, the Westminster Divines opted to replace it with 1.10 above. I don’t have the time in my life now to thoroughly investigate it, and perhaps someday that will make an interesting doctoral dissertation. However, it seems reasonable to me to hypothesize that this was a self-conscious move to do exactly what article 1.10 says, to return the final adjudication of religious matters and controversies to the Scriptures. It is also interesting to note that modern Anglicanism has revised the 39 articles to include only the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds in article 8.

That said, when interacting with my detractors, it has been said that I am a heretic because I reject the Athanasian Creed. Putting aside the fact that I don’t actually reject the Athanasian Creed for a moment. How is this not making the Athanasian Creed a rule of faith? I am being condemned as non-Christian, and in some cases as unsaved, because I have expressed some concerns relating —primarily— to the language used in the Athanasian Creed.

That brings me to the second part of my concern in this regard. The Athanasian Creed, long thought to be written by Athanasius himself in the intervening years after the Council of Nicaea, was actually written in Latin by an unknown individual, probably after the Council of Chalcedon. Carl Trueman notes in the Creedal Imperative that the Athanasian Creed “is not an ecumenical creed in the sense of having been produced and ratified by an ecumenical council.”[1] Instead, the Athanasian Creed was the product of an individual. Of particular note, and the reason my interlocutors appear to be comfortable —and in some instances almost gleeful— to condemn me to eternal hellfire, is the anathema clauses. The first appears in the very opening of the clause:

Whoever desires to be saved should above all hold to the catholic faith. Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally.

Like many other Creeds, it closes with a similar anathema:

This is the catholic faith: one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully.

Now, I have little objection to such an anathema in an ecumenical creed which is a product of an ecclesiastical council. The power of the keys was given to the Church, not to individual Christians. Furthermore, the Athanasian Creed does not appear to be attached to anyone with any ecclesiastical authority, at least we don’t know if it was or not. Had it been written by Athanasius, it would at least have the ecclesiastical authority of an ordained elder, but as it stands we really have no idea who wrote it. All we know is that it was written in Latin, by someone, probably in the 400s. My assessment based on the theology presented is that it was written after the resolution of the Eutychian controversy at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

However, I have significant concern with an individual of unknown ecclesiastical status, pronouncing anathema over another (without rooting that anathema in a previously ratified ecumenical council). In many ways, the Athanasian Creed is a perfect example of a person elevating their own theological formulation over other Christians, and binding their conscience by it. While I affirm that the Church possesses the power of the keys, an individual does not… especially not an individual who may or may not hold ecclesiastical office. This person has made their summary of the faith, a rule of faith. Now, if their summary agrees in substance with the Scriptures, this is not a problem… I will discuss that in a future post (or maybe a couple).

Now, more could be said about this, and it behooves me to note that other Reformed confessional traditions, most notably the Belgic Confession, include the Athanasian Creed in their confessions as something which must be received. I have a theory about this, and may write on it in a future post. However, I will note that this difference between the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession is one of the primary reasons that I affirm the Westminster tradition, rather than the Continental. It seems to me that the Westminster tradition, at least in this area, more closely and accurately reflects the principle of Sola Scriptura which is central to Reformed thought. The concern I have with my interlocutors (most of whom are Westminsterians) is exactly the issue I have here. Just as they are making the Athanasian Creed a rule of faith by which to measure my orthodoxy (and condemn me, ironically in contradiction to the Westminster Confession), so also do I think that the enshrinement of the Athanasian Creed —or the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed for that matter— as an arbiter of orthodoxy, is a violation of the principle of Sola Scriptura.


  1. Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 102.

Review of “The Voices of the New Testament” by Derek Tidball (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016)

I was recently forwarded a new book published by InterVarsity Press. The Voices of the New Testament by Derek Tidball is an innovative new approach to Biblical Theology.

In this book, Tidball sets up a panel discussion of sorts between the various New Testament authors. He then explores various themes by presenting the dialog that would occur if such a panel were possible. In addition to the various NT authors, he includes a fictional “Chair” character who serves to introduce and summarize the topics, as well as to guide the discussion. He also includes a fictional “Observer” who does not participate in the discussion but serves to bring modern insights for the reader’s benefit.

Each discussion typically starts with a question from the Chair and then proceeds in a somewhat predictable pattern. A given speaker (typically, but not always, a Gospel writer) will present their view, and then the various epistle writers (including the Hebraist) will comment on how they expanded the theme.

Among its strengths is that the conversations unfold in an organic fashion. Tidball works hard to make the dialog conversational and approachable. However, this can also be a liability for the book. As you might expect, the speakers fall into predictable roles. It is also clear that Tidball is not a writer who is used to writing dialog, as the basic voice of each conversant is the same. He does attempt to bring in some of the classic characteristics of each speaker (eg Mark starts his first contribution by saying he would like to boldly jump in), these often feel a bit forced. The impression I got when first reading was that this seemed like an advanced version of a youth group or summer camp skit.

That said, I think this would make an excellent contribution to an upper aged high-school discussion group, or a freshman intro to the New Testament course. While I think the average adult reader will probably feel a bit silly reading the imagined conversations, the book serves its purpose in making what can be a dry and stuffy discipline (ie tracing the theological themes of the NT through each writer) more approachable and digestible.


Please Note: The publisher has provided me with a copy of this book for review purposes.

Advent Series – WCF Chapter 8: Of Christ the Mediator (1)

Every year during the season of Advent I do a four part series in to match up with the four Sunday’s of Advent. In 2014 we explored the various heresies which facilitated the controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries. In 2015 we took an in depth look at the Niceno-Constantinopolitian Creed. This year, we will take a look at the eight clauses of chapter eight of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Each week we will tackle two clauses.


1. It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Savior of his church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom he did from all eternity give a people, to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.

2. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

3. The Lord Jesus, in his human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure, having in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell; to the end that, being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, he might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a mediator, and surety. Which office he took not unto himself, but was thereunto called by his Father, who put all power and judgment into his hand, and gave him commandment to execute the same.

4. This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which that he might discharge, he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfill it; endured most grievous torments immediately in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered, with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.

5. The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience, and sacrifice of himself, which he, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.

6. Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and forever.

7. Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.

8. To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey, and governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner, and ways, as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.

Follow Up on JD Hall

I have had many people ask me if I plan on responding to JD Hall’s coverage of my recent post. He addressed what I had to say on a recent episode of the Polemics Report.

The answer is no.

I don’t find these kind of ongoing battles between those under the covenant administration of Christ’s Church to be fruitful, and for my part I simply am not interested in it.

I said what I have to say, and JD responded. For what it is worth, I appreciated that JD took time to interact with my writing, even though I obviously disagree with his assessment and analysis and would have preferred a different outcome. I would encourage you to give my post a read, and give JD’s response a listen. I would also encourage you to listen to the response by Jeff Durbin and James White regarding the allegations of a Tattoo and Booze Fundraiser at Apologia. I’m happy to put our arguments out there, present the evidence, and let you as the observer decide. Ultimately the Lord will decide between us.

I won’t speak for JD —why would I?— but I desire to live at peace with my brothers and sisters in Christ, even if I feel the need (as JD often does as well) to call them to reflect on their behavior and repent.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

A Short Word of Encouragement

Recently, I have been thinking through a lot of epistemological and existential questions. How can we have certainty? How can we have knowledge? What is knowledge? Does it exist outside of our minds? If it does and assuming it is contingent upon God, how would I know this? Must I just believe? Is that my only answer?

As these things have been ravaging my mind there is something that was given to me that has brought me comfort and much peace.

The Lord’s Supper

While receiving the Lord’s Supper, I thought back to Christ’s words at the Last Supper. Christ says of the supper, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me … this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20, ESV) and “drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:27-28, ESV).

The bread… his body… given… broken… for me.

Why would someone do that for me? Why would anyone give their body for something as wretched as I? Why would he have his body broken for someone who would spit upon this truth?

The cup… poured out… the New Covenant… in his blood… for the forgiveness of sins.

Why would he allow someone such as myself —a doubter— into his presence? Why would he renew his promises to me, a sinner?

It is in these words, through this supper —this communion— with the Church and with Christ himself, that I confess and ask, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24, ESV). I may have my doubts. I may have my confusion, but I have an all-powerful and all-knowing God, who has promised to save me. Who reminds me and nourishes me in these promises through this bread and wine, through his body and blood.

May my experience bring you encouragement and please share how you have seen the Lord’s promises given to you and how they have affected your life!

Slander, Accusation, and Truth

Alright everyone, lets take a step into the personal world of Tony Arsenal here for a moment.

I want to first say, that I was hesitant to make this post, but at the behest of several men who have been involved in this issue I am acquiescing to their judgement. In the relatively recent past, it has become vogue in some circles to accuse me of Tritheistic Heresy. This stems from some concerns I have regarding the language of the Athanasian Creed that I have voiced (I will address and explore that in another post at a future date). For now, I will simply say that I fully affirm the substance of the Nicene Creed, and insofar as the Athanasian Creed affirms the same substance, I also affirm the substance of the Athanasian Creed. That substance is that there is one God, the Father, who with his Son (who is also the one God) and Spirit (who is also the one God) is to be worshiped and glorified. These three are distinct in person (hypostasis), but share a single and simple nature (ousia).

That said, I have made repeated efforts to reach out to these men who have made these accusations, usually to be met with silence. I am also well aware that they frequently speak about this to each other, behind my back.

These accusations are 100% false, and have been demonstrated to be false in a variety of forums. Several people who originally believed the accusations, after in-depth conversations, have acknowledged that although they disagree with particular ways I phrase things, that my trinitarian theology is orthodox.

On October 24th, 2016, after having privately called me “Tritheist Tony” to another member of the Reformed Pub Admin team, I sent the following message to Christopher Klinger.

christoppher-klinger

I will continue to add screen shots of these conversations as they occur. As is abundantly clear, I desire nothing but reconciliation with these men who have slandered me with false allegations of heresy. I have attempted to resolve this by offering to discuss this both privately and publicly.

SBLGNT, Robinson/Pierpont, and the Majority Text

One thing that I commonly hear repeated in discussions between Textus Receptus and Critical Text advocates is the idea that modern text critics always, or nearly always, favor the readings found in the oldest manuscripts as opposed to the readings found in the majority text.

Now, it’s not an exact study, but this generally means that the Robinson/Pierpont text represents the majority text while Critical Texts represent a different reading.

I contacted Michael Holmes, who is arguably an heir of Bruce Metzger, and the publisher of the recent Society of Biblical Literature Greek New Testament. He is also a friend and was my Greek professor in college.

The SBLGNT apparatus is slightly different from other critical apparatuses in that rather than explain which manuscripts contain which readings, it instead shows which major Critical Texts contain which readings. The four major Critical Texts he compares are Westcott-Hort, Tregelles, NA28/27, and Robinson/Pierpont. Generally speaking, the RP favors the majority/Byzantine text type. The WH, Treg, and NA28/27 tend to favor the Alexandrian text type. For this reason, the RP tends to be closer to the TR while the other three usually depart from the TR.

Back to the original claim. The original claim is that modern Text Critics always, or nearly always, favor the oldest texts. This is the case, so says the TR advocate, even when there is a vast majority of readings in the manuscript traditions which differ.

However, as is always the case with sweeping statements, a single exception disproves a universal claim. While it is true that the careful TR advocate will not claim this as a universal fact, I have far too often interacted with TR advocates who are not quite so careful.

Back to Dr. Holmes and the SBLGNT. Because of his unique apparatus, it is quite easy to see instances where Holmes chooses the same reading as the Robinson/Pierpont do, as opposed to WH, Treg, and NA28/27. There are 56 such instances.

Now, I know that this doesn’t prove conclusively that Holmes ever favors the Majority/Byzantine text-type over the Alexandrian (which presumably represents the earliest manuscripts in most cases) it does serve as a handy response to the sweeping claims of the TR advocate. If Holmes and RP chose the Byzantine, then Holmes —IE a modern text critic in the tradition of Metzger— has chosen the Byzantine text-type over the Alexandrian. If Holmes and RP chose the Alexandrian text-type, then WH, Treg, and NA28/27 —IE modern text critics in the tradition of Metzger— have chosen the Byzantine text-type over the Alexandrian. In either case, it disproves the sweeping claim.

Although most of the instances consist of a single word, of particular importance is Romans 16:24 where WH, Treg, and NA28/27 omit the verse entirely while Holmes and RP include it. According to Bruce Metzger.

The earliest and best witnesses omit v. 24. 1

So here we have an explicit instance of a modern Text Critic (Holmes) siding with the Majority/Byzantine text as opposed to simply siding with the earliest witnesses.

Beyond that, there are also a number of cases where one of the three critical texts agree with RP against the other two, and 46 instances where Holmes prefers a reading that all four other editions reject.

This conclusively disproves the claim that modern Text Critics always opt for the oldest reading, even in the face of overwhelming numbers of manuscripts in the Byzantine text type.

Notes:

  1. Roger Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006), 324.

Tullian Tchividjian Returns to Teaching

I have written in the past about the unfortunate saga of Tullian Tchividjian. A more detailed timeline is available in my recent post regarding his alleged remarriage. I have also been asked multiple times why I care so much, which I have also discussed in detail.

Recently, a sermon by Tullian was forwarded to me. He preached on October 30th at Spring Hills Community Church in Santa Rosa California. This not the first time he has spoken there, but to my knowledge this is the first time he has delivered a sermon from the pulpit on the Lord’s Day.

In the past, I have been critical of Tullian teaching, and the response was that events like Christ Hold Fast, or even his previous engagements at Spring Hills were not teaching in the sense of things restricted to the office of Elder, something we were told unequivocally that he would not be doing.

However, this is drastically different. Tullian is opening and expositing the scriptures, from the pulpit, on the Lord’s Day, during the gathering of the saints. I don’t know what Spring Hills’ practice is regarding the Lord’s Supper, but I have no reason to think that had it been a Sunday in which they normally administer the sacrament, that it would have been business as usual.

Tullian has clearly begun to think of himself as someone who can teach in an Elder capacity. I commented recently that his post on Expastors was likely intended to be a sneak peak of his rumored forthcoming book. Similarly, I would be utterly unsurprised if we saw a formal call to pastoral ministry come from Spring Hills. Furthermore, Tullian’s public person Facebook page has an updated profile picture (probably from his preaching engagement), and the cover image is a quote from his sermon at Spring Hills. It appears that Tullian (or his publicity firm) has begun to rebuild and rebrand him.

The worst part of all, the sermon was fantastic (apart from what I think was just a slip of the tongue when he actually said that God loves us because we are bad). Tullian’s ability to exposit the Scripture or present a compelling message was never in question. What is, is his right to do so in the Lord’s house, and to lead God’s people.

If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. (Titus 1:6-7, ESV)

Tullian is not above reproach, he is living in unrepentant adultery due to his unbiblical divorce and remarriage, and since he has not as of yet submitted himself to membership under a local session of Elders he is guilty of the charge of insubordination.

Tullian, I know you’ve blocked me on twitter, and I can understand why you are angry with me. But I’m begging you brother, you were ready to dialog with me and consider what I had to say once, before you entrench yourself further in sin and set yourself up as an elder at a new church consider what you’re doing. You are subjecting yourself to greater judgement, both by God and by God’s people… and that is the last thing you need.


For a thorough timeline of events regarding Tullian Tchividjian’s history, please see Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian SituationBy linking to this site I am not endorsing the site as a whole, nor testifying to the veracity of the information present. However, the timeline presented does appear to be accurate to the best of my knowledge and research.

Looking to Jesus as our Example: A Word Study

“We are to be an example of Christ!” some exclaim. Sure,  Christians are to be following Christ’s example – no reasonable Christian would deny such a thing. Quite often, Jesus had compassion (and currently still does). However, what does compassion look like? What exactly is compassion? According to the Gospels, compassion is having such a deep sympathy for someone that action follows to improve the situation.

A quick read over of the four Gospels reveals an attribute of Jesus – compassion. Compassion is certainly manifested through what Jesus did while physically on this Earth. Ironically, compassion is hardly mentioned in the New Testament! In the New Testament, the lemma for compassion —splagchnizomai (σπλαγχνίζομαι )— is only used 12 times in the Greek New Testament. The only use of splanchnizomai within the New Testament is in the Synoptic Gospels, where Christ’s earthly ministry was recorded. That means, out of those 12 times, there are bound to be repeats.

A majority of the time, when splanchnizomai and Jesus are together, compassion precedes the action.

In Matt 9:36, “He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” (NASB)

Immediately after this, He informed His disciples about the spiritual harvest of souls to prepare the disciples on the work that is to come.

He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. (Matt. 14:14, NASB; par. Mark 6:34)

In Luke 7:13, Jesus raised a widow’s son after “He felt compassion for her, and said to her, ‘Do not weep.'” (NASB)

Not only did Jesus have compassion, but when He told crowds His parables, the moral characters of the stories emulated Him. An example would be Matt 18:27, the parable of the unforgiving servant. The lord of the slave in this parable “felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.” (NASB) Another well-known parable on compassion would be the Parable of the Good Samaritan. When the man was laying on the side of the road, passed by, this Samaritan “felt compassion.” This led the Samaritan to clean the man, bandage him, and to give him lodging until he was better. One final example would be the Parable of the Prodigal Son. When the son was returning back to his father, the father saw him, he had compassion for him, and ran to him to embrace him.

Compassion to Jesus was not only work, it was something internal, it was feeling, emotion. An example of this would be when Jesus fed the 4,000. He says, “I feel compassion for the people.” (Mark 8:2, NASB, emphasis mine) Sure, works followed His compassion, but that does not change the fact that He feels compassion. Plus, His compassion is always present with Him. As Jesus was getting ready to enter Jerusalem before His crucifixion, there were two blind men waiting outside. When they told Jesus that they want their eyes to be opened, he was “moved with compassion.” (Matt 20:34, NASB, emphasis mine)

There is just one more instance that should be covered. In Mark 9:14-29, Mark records the account of a miraculous resurrection.

Jesus and His disciples are returning back from the mountain and they come upon the scene of a large crowd and scribes arguing over a demon possessed boy. After describing the situation with the boy, the father pleads with the Lord to take pity and help. After this plea, the Lord casts out the demon out of the boy and he is healed! In this case, instead of the Lord doing the initiating, the father did by making his plea to take pity on the boy. There is no apparent reason as to why the Lord was not first moved with compassion and having the man ask for pity. As stated before, Christ is filled with compassion always —He is compassion— but maybe He had the man ask so that he could be moved to a humble state of submission and to realize that He is the Great Physician.

It is important to note that this is the only instance that someone pleaded for Jesus’ compassion. It is not like Christ was slow to act, it happened according to His will. This is a powerful testimony of Jesus though because that means in all those other instances, Jesus was the initiator, He felt compassion then did the work. This goes to show that He will not fail to show compassion when people need it most.

Now that compassion has been looked at in the Gospels, what all does this mean for the Christian? For starters, action always follows compassion. This is not to say that we “by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God.” (WCF 16.5) However, works coming from compassion is a sure sign of faith. (WCF 16.2) This is a way Christians can fulfill one of the greatest commandments, to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, NASB). Secondly, Christians should not forget to teach others about compassion. As important as it is to know compassion and show compassion, it is important to teach others about compassion so that they may understand compassion more, so that they can exhibit Christ. Thirdly, Christians should always be in the state of compassion. Having a bad day does not negate the continual compassion that should be showing. Christ did not stop showing compassion when He was handed over to the authorities to be abused and to die on the cross for sin, He even showed compassion then. Lastly, Christians should always remember to cry out to God when in need of compassion. God answers all cries, all groans, all prayers. They should be confident in the fact that God will show compassion when it is needed. In the end, compassion is so much more than a few simple actions to do, it is a constant state of being.

The Lord Will Repay – JD Hall

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. (1 Tim 4:14, ESV)

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I don’t ever mention someone in a post without praying for them by name. There are two individuals who I pray for daily: Mark Driscoll and Tullian Tchividjian. The reason I pray for these people daily is because I care for them and am concerned for their salvation.

Today, I’m going to add a third person to my list: JD Hall.

Now, unlike Mark and Tullian, JD is not a man of major influence. He is a man of significant influence in his small circles, but as far as national influence he is relatively unknown. JD is pastor of a church in Montana, hosted a podcast which was associated with a discernment blog called Pulpit & Pen, and still is a contributor to a podcast and blog called the Polemics Report.

JD is an angry man, and he lashes out against those who disagree with him. He is not above utilizing lies and deception to make his point, and once he has a target he relentlessly pursues that target with seemingly no limits to his aggression.

I don’t want to belabor the point or rehearse things too much, but here are two brief examples:

  • Lisa Cooper, wife of well known blogger and podcaster Jordan Cooper, once commented on a citation on JD’s blog that seemed unclear to her, and it resulted in a character attack which culminated with JD telling Jordan to get his wife under control.
  • An individual from Apologia Church offered his professional services at a discounted rate to a very small group of his friends. He happened to be a tattoo artist, and JD misconstrued this as though the church was hosting some kind of tattoo fundraiser. Furthermore, an owner of a local Pub offered to donate his proceeds of a particular beer sampler to the upcoming church plant Apologia was sponsoring, and this was not only also construed as a Beer Fundraiser, but was somehow connected to the tattoo instance to paint a picture that has been repeatedly disproved.

Recently, an episode of the Polemics Report sparked a Facebook discussion. I haven’t listened to the episode, and the content of the episode isn’t really important to this post. The title of the episode was Apologia Radio Goes After Dr. MacArthur. This sparked a conversation on Scott Lyons Facebook page. In response to a comment which accused JD of legalism —a sound accusation—and JD responded in a typical JD way.

Talk to Thad Pinch about legalism. Oh, you can’t. He’s in rehab.

Thad is an unfortunate case, and I don’t want to get into too many details beyond what is publicly and widely known. Thad comes from a background of drug addiction which he has been very public to discuss. Recently Thad had returned to that lifestyle which resulted in several deleterious effects, including the destruction of his marriage (due to repeated adultery) and excommunication from Apologia Church.

Thad has sought treatment in rehab for his addiction, likely with the help and direction of the leadership of Apologia (although that is speculation). Rather than celebrate that Thad is getting help, he decided to use this painful situation as a weapon.

When he was called out on it, rather than repent or acknowledge that he acted inappropriately, he instead continued to forward the false narrative of Apologia advocating that beer be purchased to support the church.

You think asking people to buy booze to support the church is encouraging responsibility?

Concerning the booze fundraiser, this occurred on the tail end of the ReformCon conference, at a pub, in which beer flights were offered in exchange for giving money for a church project.

While what he says about beer flights is true, and while ReformdCon was a conference put on by Apologia, the beer flight situation was not connected with ReformdCon apart from the fact that those gathering and participating were also ReformedCon attendees. The event in question took place after the conference ended. A private individual who owned a local bar made use of their property and services to raise funds. That’s it.

JD later accused Tanner Barfield, one of the hosts of the Reformed Pubcast (full disclosure, I am an admin in the Reformed Pub Facebook group, so I am not neutral on this part) of “throwing alcohol at the weaker brother.” The conversation escalated quickly from there.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29, ESV)

I think that that’s enough to make my point. If you are a person under the influence of JD, you need to recognize who you are following. JD is a mean and spiteful man, who has done great harm to the body of Christ with his lies and venom. He is a discernment blogger/podcaster who lacks any sort of discernment. His breed of pharisaical judgement is not befitting of any man in ministry. His temperament and character is literally a list of ways to violate Paul’s qualifications for elders.

For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent (pugnatious, contentious, ready to fight) or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. (Titus 1:7-8, ESV)

Not above reproach… check.
Arrogant… check.
Quick-tempered… check.
Contentious… check.
Not a lover of good… check.
Not self-controlled… check.
Not disciplined… check.

To those who have been the target of his sinful attacks… be assured that the Lord is jealous for the unity of his church, and JD will answer for his work of tearing it apart. Just as Paul encouraged Timothy that God would repay Alexander the coppersmith, so also will JD be held to account. Do not take things into your own hands, do not retaliate, do not sink to his level.

To JD… You probably won’t read this, but if you do know that I’m praying for you. This has to stop, for Christ’s sake, and for his body… and for you.

Culture of Death

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1 Corinthians 15:26

I have been fascinated by Halloween and the supposed culture of death and destruction. Part of my fascination has been because of my Independent Fundamental Baptist background. I always viewed Halloween from an outsider perspective, and from seeing Halloween as a culture holiday of nearly total participation of Western culture. I do not intend to look at the merits of Halloween, the usage of Halloween by Christians, or even the history of Halloween, but instead I want to look at something that it emphasizes and what it tells us about Western culture. I want to look at how we, in the West, look at Death.

Analysis

Throughout scripture death is seen (primarily) as a negative. It is a separation and a curse (Gen 3, Eph 2, etc). For the Westerner, death is the end, it is a stage of life, but the end of it.

I am currently living in Japan, and I have noticed how they approached and viewed death. They typically avoid speaking about death because death does not come as an end. As a primarily Shinto/Buddhist country, death is seen as a place where your ancestors continue in the afterlife and are never totally away from you. They are not gone, but in a different plane of existence. This is why they take such good care of their elderly and view them so highly. This view of death not as an end but as a continuation of life is completely different from how the West views death.

This has made me ever the more curious about how Americans have viewed death. In the West, death is an end, and it is terrifying because it is the end. Because of this the West has pushed death to the outskirts of society. Specifically, Americans are completely shocked anytime there is a death that it makes national news. Deaths are typically curated and taken care of the in the back of clean, white hospitals, not on the street, not in homes, and not where people see it happen.

This fear of death fascinates me because our culture in all other aspects seems to glorify death and gore (see TV shows like the Walking Dead and video games like Gears of War). I believe, that these views of death, seeing it as cheap, and easily come about for entertainment purposes, is because it is become so removed from American culture. We do not see death as something that is difficult or costs much, but as something that done quickly, easily and then move on.

I am not a psychologist, but I am curious, if this has anything to do with the PTSD epidemic in Western militaries, suicide among young people, abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and the rise of mass shootings in the United States. We have so washed and cleaned up death, because of our cultural fear of it, that it is causing us to destroy ourselves.

A Response

How should we as Christians respond to the American view of death? Big picture answer, we need to confront it with the gospel. We need to preach the Gospel to all those who have bought the lies about how death is viewed in the West. According to the Gospel, we (as baptized believers) have already died with Christ (Col 3:3). We no longer need to fear death for Christ is putting it under his subjugation and has already defeated it. We have hope in death (1 Thess 4:13-14) for in Christ we shall never die (John 11:25-26). Death for the believer is but a “light momentary affliction” (2 Cor 4:17-18, ESV) and because of all of this “we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:8, ESV). Much more could be said about the victory of Christ over death, but we need to look at how to address death in American culture.

  1. We need to remove ourselves from viewing death as Americans do. Instead, we need to view death in light of how Christ and scripture down, post-justification. We need to make sure that we are addressing things of the world, as believers of Christ, not as a westerner. This will involve spending a lot of time in scripture understanding exactly how scripture views death.
  2. We need to talk to people openly and frankly about death. We need to ask people how they view death and why they view death the way they do. This will better help us better share the gospel with them, when we know what aspect of death is most troubling for them.
  3. We need to put ourselves in situations that would be usually uncomfortable for us. We need to move out of our comfort zones and address death head on. For example, this be when a friend’s relative dies, and we want to just say, “I’m sorry,” but instead, we need to address this head one, find out how they are doing, and how they are approaching the death of their loved ones.

What other responses to our culture’s view of death can you think of?

An Interaction with “Closer to the Edge” by 30 Seconds to Mars

Content Warning: The music videos referenced and linked in this post may contain profanity.


Music has always been a powerful influencer in mankind throughout human history. This fact has been recognized by people throughout the ages. Music has been used in almost every situation: times of happiness, times of sadness, times of war, and times of peace. People listen to music for learning, for entertainment, and for many people it is extremely important and dear to their hearts. As Friedrich Nietzsche has famously wrote in Twilight of the Idols:

Without music, life would be an error. (3)

This is the view of many people throughout the world, and it reminds me of the music video to Closer to the Edge by 30 Seconds to Mars.

Breakdown

At the beginning of the music video, the fans of Thirty Seconds to Mars (known as the Echelon or Believers, see 2:41-42 in the video) describe their take on the music of Thirty Seconds to Mars. Most of the following footage is from their live performances on their “Into the Wild Tour” in 2010. Each of these fan interviews were taken while on this tour. The interviews become more interesting from a Christian perspective as we approach the 1:42 mark of the video. There is a young girl who states that she is looking for peace:

I just wish there’s no such thing as fighting. That the world could just be like perfect and everybody could get along, but obviously that can’t happen.

Now, the theme building throughout this music video (and many of their other videos– I recommend looking at Do or Die for similar content and message) is that their music is the answer to this desire that this girl has.

At 2:12-2:14, there is a clear sense of community and peace that the young girl is looking for. Jared Leto (the lead singer) raises his hands in a symbol with his pointer fingers parallel and pointing to the sky. As the Echelon all respond in kind, the little white letters show up in the bottom right stating, “Welcome to the Family.”

This is also clearly shown in a shot at 3:14, where on the screen, Leto is silhouetted by the lights behind him as he stands as if he were on a cross and the words YES THIS IS A CULT flashes on the screen (3:11-3:15).

The end of the video has a few quotes from the fans that are also telling as to how the band and the fans view themselves.

Everyone is just going crazy these days. It’s like the end of the world.

Some people believe in god, I believe in music. You know, some people pray, I turn up the radio.

Music makes the world go round and for me, if it wasn’t around right now, i wouldn’t be around right now, music IS EV-RY-THING to me. It’s all I can say.

I don’t plan on doing a full analysis of the video for Do or Die because of its extreme similarity but I do want to post some quotes from the music video that clearly show this same theme. (Note: listening to the stories these people have can be extremely saddening). Make special note as these fans meet Leto in the credits. Also, I love this song more…

If I wouldn’t have my music, I would’ve be even alive.

Music is my drugs, my addiction, I need music.

It’s the life.

Sometimes you don’t have anything else, except your dreams.

Without faith, without belief, we are nothing.

Make the best out of every day, because tomorrow the world could be totally different.

I believe in music. It’s everything to me.

Dreams are something you hold on to.

It’s hard but you move on and you get stronger. The one thing that has never left me is music. You just turn on a song and you forget all about what’s going on in your life.

Jared, Tomo, Shannon, they’re all my heroes and without them I don’t know where I’d be today.

I am the echelon.

Music is one of the most important things in my life.

It makes me, braver. It makes me more, stronger. It makes me, happier.

Analysis

It is clear from these videos that 30 Seconds to Mars is attempting to set themselves up with their fans as a cult. Not a traditional one, mind you, but a cult of music (hey, if Pythagoras can have one about math why not music, right?). Why are they building this, self-proclaimed, cult? Why do they hold to this music as penultimate?

Paul tells us that:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Rom 1:19-22, ESV)

God is a God of song (seriously, entire books of the Bible are music; e.g. Psalms, Song of Solomon, Job, etc.). We are to declare the glory of God in song. When we listen to music, we are listening to “things that have been made” by God to bring Him glory. The instrument, the voice, and songs have been given to us a gift from God (under common grace), so that we are drawn to it when it is done well.

The question must be asked, what are these fans and musicians all searching for? They are drawn to the beauty of the music. They are drawn to the philosophical and spiritual meanings within the music. They are drawn towards the community that they find within the Echelon. It is in all of these things that the gospel speaks.

Most of these Believers are young people who are looking for direction. They have “clearly perceived … his invisible attributes.” They have since “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man…” How do we respond to this music? We need to share the gospel with these people. They are hurting. They are seeking something, anything to find fulfillment, where the gospel of Christ is the only answer that will ever fulfill them. Christ is the only answer.

Comment Regarding Tullian

I received the following comment on an unrelated post. The commentator, named Stephen, was so intent on communicating it to me that he actually tracked down another post that had open comments.

The purpose of this post is to give him a place to interact with me without derailing another very well written post.

Had to come here since you closed comments on the Tullian article. You, sir, as many other PCA members and elders – ruling and teaching – are a Pharisee. Why would you publish such a thing about another Christian? Why do you care so much? Last time I read the Word, everyone that God has used to advance His kingdom is a deep sinner in dire need of His grace. All with major sins just as you and me…and Tullian. The PCA has major issues with extending grace and mercy. – Stephen

I have to say that it seems inconsistent to blast me as judgmental and legalistic with your own brand of legalistic judgment.

Tullian abandoned church discipline, lied to his pastor and all of us, and fled to another region where he sinfully remarried. You have to completely ignore the Lord’s instructions in Matthew 18 to continue to count him among the Church. I would direct you to my article Church Discipline and Exclusion for the biblical support for my position.

Tullian doesn’t need your indulgences and pseudo love, he needs the Gospel and he can never receive that if he refuses to acknowledge his sin. People like you who continue to stroke his ego and pat him on the back are only further entrenching him in his sin.


Prediction: The article he wrote on Expastors.com titled the Freedom in Losing it All is a sneek peak of the content of the book he is rumored to be working on. The title of that post is either the title of the book, the subtitle, or a chapter within the book. It appears that Warren Throckmorton has obtained an early draft of the Expastors.com article which confirms this suspicion.

This is a book about sin and grace, desperation and deliverance. This is a book about brokenness and the glorious fact that God’s grace runs downhill and meets us at the bottom in ways that we simply cannot know or experience when we’re at the top. This is a book about finding grace in a hopeless place.


For a thorough timeline of events regarding Tullian Tchividjian’s history, please see Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian SituationBy linking to this site I am not endorsing the site as a whole, nor testifying to the veracity of the information present. However, the timeline presented does appear to be accurate to the best of my knowledge and research.

13th: A Movie Review

What is the 13th documentary? It is a Netflix documentary about the creation and fallout of the 13th Amendment to the United States constitution, by Ava DuVernay. The 13th Amendment states:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.[1]

Purpose 

13th begins with asking the question, “if we are the land of the free, why do we have the largest incarceration rate in the world? Why is the land of the free the land of the prisoner?” The purpose then of this documentary is to show the shift in American culture from racial slavery in the first half of the 1800s, to the mass incarceration of the 1970s through the present. It looks to highlight the prison boom directly after the enactment of the 13th amendment, specifically with the phrase “except as a punishment for crime.” DuVernay shows us how through the years African-Americans have been classified as criminals and that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the same way that calling someone a name repeatedly, they begin to wonder if they are what they are being called. There are many, after the civil rights movement began, who came to believe that the problem of race was fixed in the United States, but DuVernay demonstrates that this is not the case, rather, the problem has just morphed. Racism has changed in form over time and will continue to change, but the substance remains as long as it is financially profitable to continue. Racism was an economical issue during the 1800s and it is still economical today. Although, not quoted by DuVernay, we see that the Bible speaks specifically to this, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils (1 Tim 6:10, ESV).

Critique

Much of what DuVernay is attempting to prove is true. The militarization of police, the incarceration industrial complex, and the attack on poor segments of our society are all well shown and proven in this documentary. The part where this documentary lacks the most is in attempting to prove too much. There are many extra questions that a viewer can come up with just asking for more information, more statistics, and many other various aspects of this complex issue. DuVernay does not have the time to really address all of these complexities.

DuVernay has done a great job of researching and acquiring source material from all sides of the issue. Yes, she definitely has a single side which she is attempting to prove, but she does show how both parties (ie Democrat and Republican) have failed and made the situation worse and worse. From Nixon’s rhetorical war on drugs, to Reagan’s literal war on drugs, to Clinton’s Three Strikes and Mandatory Minimum policies, all have failed. She also shows how many in the African-American community had bought into many of these policies as they were happening. This balance is one of the greatest strengths of 13th.

Conclusion

The obvious criticality of this movie at this time with all of the shootings, “blackVsBlue,” #BlackLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter, is showing that this is a huge part of our culture as Western (American) Christians. As Christians, as Western Reformed Christians, we need to realize that this cultural problem is also our problem. We need to help this situation in our culture, because Christ has called us to change the culture. How? Through the preaching of the Word, praying for our culture, the sharing of sacraments, and through worship of Christ. How this looks for you personally, I cannot say, you may march in a movement, you may post a blog, chat with a friend, vlog, etc. I don’t know, but for the sake of the Gospel, we need to become all things to all men (1 Cor 9:19-23) and, for those of us, who are white western Christians, we need to adhere to a modified version of Paul’s words and “to the [African-Americans], we become an [African-American], that we may win some.” It is only the gospel that can change the world and only the gospel that can mend all these broken hearts.

I want to post some quotes from some people on an online forum that had some great insights (Note: these were written before this movie was released).

All lives do matter. But I think the point is that if say for instance during the holocaust, if people created a Jews lives matter movement, would people say ‘all lives matter, why just talk about Jews?’ All lives do matter, but we aren’t talking about all people, we are focusing on one specific group.

We sign petitions to stop the killing of Christians in other countries. That is one specific group. If people tried to come in and say all people matter in other countries, not just Christians, then we would humbly tell them that all people do, but we are talking about Christians.” — Robert Zamzow

[Once] you understand the systematic nature of racism, you’ll understand why blacks lives matter AND need special attention. They matter BECAUSE all lives matter, yet they have not been given the same protections and status. For this reason, we must highlight the oppressed, and say #BlackLivesMatter.

This is not to support everything or even most of what that movement includes, any more than professing Christianity is to endorse any and all that has been waged under that label throughout history. Faithfulness to Christ simply demands that we help the stranger, widow, orphan, and all the oppressed, including ones in prison. If we could provide a strictly biblical version of the movement and get Christians on board with it, we could address the social problem and separate the radical leftist elements of it at the same time.” — Dr. Joel McDurmon[2]


  1. https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/13thamendment.html
  2. Conversation took place in a discussion thread on the Reformed Pub Facebook group

 

Thoughts on Trump

Ok, in general I don’t post political thoughts on this blog, and in many ways this isn’t a political post. Recently, recordings of the GOP Nominee saying some absolutely vile things has surfaced. It baffles me, but this seems to have been a catalyst which has lead many evangelicals to reconsider their previous stances. Wayne Grudem, for example, has pulled down a previous article in which he made a consequentialist argument for voting for Mr Trump. He subsequently withdrew his support and endorsement of Mr Trump. In fact, just about all of the arguments I’ve seen in favor Mr Trump have been consequentialist.

I’m wondering what has actually changed though. The things that Trump has said are vile, sexist, and mysogynistic. It is clear that Trump thinks that because he is rich, famous, and powerful, that he can use and abuse those who cannot provide anything for him beyond carnal gratification. This is who he is, and frankly his comments –which are over a decade old– are a perfect reflection of who he is: A vile, sexist, mysogynistic, and ultimately immoral man.

But what does that change in terms of the consequentialist argument. We knew that he was all of those things before, and the consequentialist argument unfolds exactly the same way. Is the fact that we have evidence to demonstrate what we all already knew somehow going to change who we think Trump will appoint to the Supreme Court, or what executive orders he will strike down or enact.

No. The fact is that many evangelicals were happy to vote for a man who they suspected to be vile, sexist, and mysogynistic if it accomplished the effect that they wanted. I’m not here to stand in judgement over them for that, that isn’t my place. However, many of those same evangelicals are now no longer happy to vote for that exact same person. These comments are not a new revelation of his character&#