June 30, 2005

Jay Adams on Discernment: Continuum Versus Antithesis

Jay E. Adams, in his book A Call to Discernment: Distinguishing Truth from Error in Today's Church, has an interesting section on the need to think antithetically. There's a need to think in contrasts. I heard John MacArthur quote from this book in a sermon a long time ago, so I ended up buying the book. Here is an excerpt from the section on Continuum Versus Antithesis:
With church discipline in ruins, the line between the church and the world smudged, and the church's shift of concern toward friendship with the world well established, the biblical concept of antithesis all but vanished. People who study the Bible in depth develop antithetical mindsets: They think in terms of contrasts or opposites. From Genesis to Revelation God's thoughts and ways are set over against all others. The Bible does not teach that there are numerous ways to please God, each of which is as good as the next. Nor does it teach that various opinions are more or less God's ways. What it teaches - everywhere - is that any thought or way that is not wholly God's is altogether wrong and must be rejected. According to the Bible, a miss is as good as a mile. There is only one God, and there is only one way of life - His!

People today don't like to hear such things - even people within the church. Why? Because they have a different mindset. Many of them have not known the Bible from childhood or ever made an intensive study of it later on, so their mindset is unbiblical. Modern mentality, even in the church (too often taught by the church and Christian schools), is a continuum mentality: Truth and values are not absolute but relative. Such thinking predominates in our culture. Stop and reflect for a moment: What kind of mindset do you have? Do you think in terms of absolutes? Or is life a series of value judgments that vary according to the situation?

According to continuum thinking, the mode of thinking taught outside the church (and largely within), every idea is a shade of gray. There is no right and wrong or true and false, but only shades of right and wrong or true and false spread along a continuum. The poles of this continuum are extended so far out toward the wings that for all practical purposes they are unattainable and therefore worthless. Nothing, then, is wholly right or wrong. All is relative; most of it is subjective.

That is one reason why biblical preaching, with its sharp antithesis, rubs many people the wrong way: It is hard for modern minds to accept. For a long time now educational institutions, newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, etc. have inculcated continuum thinking. Antithetical thinking is dismissed as fanatical or worse. Consequently, when Christians (all of whom have been affected by their environment) hear antithetical views expressed, they sound discordant. And indeed they are! Because anything goes, discernment is not placed at a premium. The word selected to describe racism was discrimination. Prior to that it was a compliment to call a person discriminating. If the true cannot be distinguished from the false, the right from the wrong, the good from the bad, then discernment is not only unattainable but it is unnecessary, and its pursuit is foolishness. Discernment thrives in an atmosphere of absolutes, among people whose minds have been molded to think antithetically.

In the Bible, where antithesis is so important, discernment - the ability to distinguish God's thoughts and God's ways from all others - is essential. Indeed, God says that "the wise in heart will be called discerning" (Proverbs 16:21).

From the Garden of Eden with its two trees (one allowed, one forbidden) to the eternal destiny of the human being in heaven or in hell, the Bible sets forth two, and only two, ways: God's way, and all others. Accordingly, people are said to be saved or lost. They belong to God's people or the world. There was Gerizim, the mount of blessing, and Ebal, the mount of cursing. There is the narrow way and the wide way, leading either to eternal life or to destruction. There are those who are against and those who are with us, those within and those without. There is life and death, truth and falsehood, good and bad, light and darkness, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, love and hatred, spiritual wisdom and the wisdom of the world. Christ is said to be the way, the truth, and the life, and no one may come to the Father but by Him. His is the only name under the sky by which one may be saved.

Not only will you find such antithetical teaching, and much more, on nearly every page of the Bible, but even the construction of the Hebrew language itself seems designed to teach antithesis. Much scriptural poetry, many proverbs, and even some narrative is antithetical in structure.

Perhaps you have wondered about the principle underlying the clean/unclean distinctions of the Old Testament. Various rationales have been given for some of these distinctions, yet many seem to be purely arbitrary. May I suggest that all problems of arbitrariness are resolved when you see the clean/unclean system as a means of alerting the Jew to the fact that all day long, every day, in whatever he does, he must consciously choose God's way. Choices about food, clothing, farming techniques, justice, health care, holidays, and methods of worship were made either God's way or some other way. In other words, the clean/unclean system was designed to develop in God's people an antithetical mentality. Forbidding the mixing of materials in clothing, for example, doesn't seem so arbitrary after all when considered in the light of the biblical concern to create an antithetical posture toward life.

But with pastors and people alike growing up in an environment that stresses continuum thinking, antithesis is dulled as more and more people attempt to integrate sociology, psychology, and business management principles with Scripture. Teachers in Christian colleges now consider it "one of the key tasks of Christian higher education" to "seek to integrate his [the professor's] faith with his learning." The key task, you see, no longer is to distinguish God's ways from others but to find places of agreement "to the extent to which it is possible." There is a great difference between the two mentalities. According to the one, the task is to find out how one's faith integrates with what he has learned from the world. According to the one, the task is to find out how one's faith integrates with what he has learned from the world. According to the other, the key task is to determine in what ways a Christian may keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27) in both thought and life. He is to remember in all he does that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4).

In those disciplines for which God did not give us special revelation (while always being careful to discern good from evil at all levels, including the presuppositional) the Christian may learn from the world. But his task is not to integrate. Rather, his task is to discover God's truth in what he is doing. His task is to discover how to properly draw the antithesis in reference to his work. He must refine and remold all "learning" according to his fundamental Christian presuppositions and biblical beliefs. He may not merely integrate "learning" as it stands. This is true even of methods, because methods are means committed to the ends of a system. Methods, therefore, must always be considered in the context of the systems they serve. But, in all of this, the important thing to see is that the Christian's task - in whatever he does - is to be sure he is going God's way, a way that is always in antithesis to the world's way ("My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways" - Isaiah 55:8); he must recognize God's stake in all of life.

That is why the psalmist in Psalm 1:1,2 was concerned, at the very beginning of the psalter, to set forth the two ways: God's and all others, distinguishing them sharply as he knew how. (He did not try to integrate them!)

The book of Proverbs, at the outset and throughout, does the same thing. The modern educational emphasis on integration is at odds with the educational thrust found in these two biblical textbooks. The biblical axiom is that "the fear of the Lord [belief in and submission to Him] is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). But this way of thinking is contrary to modern thought, even in the church. In the Bible, Christ and the apostles warn against wolves who attack the flock and urge alertness on the part of elders and pastors who are to protect God's flock (Matthew 7:15). Paul warned the Ephesian elders, "I know that after my departure savage wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among yourselves men will arise speaking distorted things to drag away disciples to follow them" (Acts 20:29,30). The note of antithesis and the need for discrimination is struck in that warning. Christ and the apostles were not constantly involved in controversy and beaten and stoned and killed because they sought agreement with the world and attempted integration wherever possible. They suffered because of the firm, antithetical stand they took for truth over against the world's deceptions. In contrast, today the shift against antithetical thinking and toward humanistic thinking has contributed much to the softness of the church and her frightful lack of discernment.
Jay Adams, A Call to Discernment: Distinguishing Truth from Error in Today's Church (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1987), 29–34.

June 29, 2005

Faith as the Gift of God

Here's another online interaction. The words of the other person are in blue:

"The reason I say that there is nothing I can contribute or do be saved is I can’t have saving faith on my own. God first must regenerate one and then give them the faith to believe. I don’t consider believing faith something I do, but the ability to do so as a gift from God. Yes I do believe, but it is God working in me that allows me to do so. I take no credit for this. Thus I say there is nothing I can do to become saved."

I understand your underlying concern. You are concerned with protecting the biblical doctrine of God's sovereignty in salvation, and that man cannot boast of anything. However, there is some wobbling in what you say above. You say, "I don’t consider believing faith something I do, but the ability to do so as a gift from God." You then go on to say, "Yes I do believe, but it is God working in me that allows me to do so." These two statements are incompatible. The last quote represents sound biblical doctrine. We do believe, but only because God grants us a new heart with the moral ability to believe. Old affections and allegiances are dropped for the sake of our love for Christ. We long for him and pant for him as a deer pants for the water brooks. Nevertheless, it is our act of coming to him empty handed. WE BELIEVE. It is our act. The faith that we excersize is an act of our will, but our will is not acting autonomously or with libertarian freedom. We act according to our nature and affections. There's a difference between free agency and free will.

In your concern to guard against the errors of free will theology, you seem to have extracted the will of man out of the act of believing in one of your comments. That's a serious mistake, and it undermines human responsibility. This statement is not biblical:

"I don’t consider believing faith something I do, but the ability to do so as a gift from God."

It confuses what God does with the act of faith. You correct it later by saying that faith is not something that God does. That's true. We should not confuse the act of God in regeneration with the act of man in believing. In initial regeneration, we are passive. In believing unto justification and salvation, we are active. Salvation is a broad term and properly describes what happens at conversion and what follows. In other words, the bible uses the term salvation in a way that necessarily includes the act of man in believing. Salvation is NOT mere regeneration. Regeneration necessarily leads to salvation because we immediately believe unto justification. Salvation is justification, sanctification and glorification. Regeneration is God's act, but salvation is a term that describes the events that follow from regeneration, i.e. justification and the rest. Rome confuses justification and sanctification, while some confuse justification or conversion and regeneration. We need to be more careful in our distinctions. Justification describes something that God does as a result of our act of believing into Christ.

If we extract the will of man out of the act of believing, then we undermine human responsibility. In affirming the involvement of man's will in the act of believing, we are NOT saying that it is the will of man acting autonomously, or apart from God's enabling power. It's all of grace, but God works graciously in man in such a way that man believes WILLINGLY or VOLUNTARILY. We choose to believe. That's why it is said to be commanded of us. It's our responsibility. Believing is something that we do.

Spurgeon said that "faith is the gift of God, but it is also the act of the renewed man." He's right. He was expressing that faith is something that we do, but not without the assistence of God in granting new affections that begin in resting in Christ alone for our righteousness. I hope that helps to clarify my concern. We should hold divine sovereignty and human responsibility as EQUALLY important. It is not one or the other, but both that need to be wholeheartedly affirmed. An attack on either is an attack on biblical truth and the gospel, no matter how well intentioned the person is. The Arminian's intention and concern is for human responsibility. That's a good concern, but not good if other scriptural truths are warped or minimized. The same goes with Hyper-Calvinism. They undermine human responsibility for the sake of divine sovereignty. Their concern and intention is good, but not when it warps and minimizes other crucial doctrines in the bible. Let's adhere to the entirety of what God has to say, and not favor some truth to the expense of other truths.

June 28, 2005

Paradox and Mystery

"It is a sacred duty for any thinking person to try to eliminate paradox." C. F. D. Moule
—quoted in The Logic of God Incarnate by Thomas Morris

I do not explain—I only state it; and this is all we can do with a large proportion of all the facts and truths that we know. There is a point, easily reached, where the simplest facts end in mystery, even as they begin in it; just as each day lies between two nights.—R. Turnbull The New Dictionary of Thoughts

God hides himself for many reasons, but I cannot help but think that God hides himself behind seeming contradictions so that some will stumble in their arrogance. Those who love God are willing to wait on him in order to gain coherence and understanding. They walk slowly with him, and watch closely how the lamp of his word lights their feet and path. They may not be able to see ahead how a particular issue is resolved conceptually, but they see enough to walk ahead on revealed principles of scripture. They accept mysteries and pass through experiences of paradox as they walk with God.

I think there is a difference or distinction between paradox and mystery, however, that needs to be clarified. Let me start by saying that all paradoxes are mysteries, but not all mysteries are paradoxes. A paradox is a seeming contradiction. A mystery is a hidden truth of some sort, or some truth unable to be grasped by a finite mind. I think paradoxes are person relative (while mysteries are not), and that the person experiencing paradox does not yet know if the tension is due to an actual contradiction or merely a seeming contradiction.

I am inclined to think that we should not be content with paradoxes in the long term, but we can be content with mystery. Let me explain what I mean. I think that one must pass through the experience of paradox in order to come to God, or to draw near to him so to speak. There will be things that seem to contradict, but really do not. For example, one might think the Trinity doctrine seems contradictory, but believe it anyway because the bible teaches it. They should believe it because the bible teaches it. However, they should progress in the pursuit of intellectual virtue to resolve the tension for themselves, and then for others eventually. They can come to see the distinction of senses between oneness and threeness in the terms (God is one in terms of essence, but three in terms of persons). Once the distinction is understood, there is no more logical tension, even though the Trinity doctrine remains incomprehensible. It remains a mystery, but no longer a paradox for one who comes to understand the careful biblical distinctions.

Bad theology is the inability to make these careful distinctions, and pride tends to carry the person into a lopsided view. Bad theologians cling desperately to false dilemmas and bad logic to sustain their cherished system. They may even appeal to context when they are only imposing their system onto the text of scripture. We ought to loosely hold our system in comparison to our allegiance to scripture. We ought to let the word of God thoroughly insult, rebuke, correct, instruct, encourage, and tweak our understanding. A constant bowing to the God of the word is the heart of true discipleship. I will work to know what the bible says, and then wait on God to give me the discernment to get coherence according to his own good timing. We ought to strive for coherence and consistency, but only in complete submission to the totality of the word of God.

For example, the idea of complex motives in God may bother us, but God through R. L. Dabney can give us a rational massage to understand the coherence of it, and thus soothe the Charlie Horse between our ears. The concept of the Trinity is still a mystery to me (i.e. it is incomprehensible), but it is no longer the paradox that it once was to me. The concept of complex motives or volitions in God is no longer a paradox to me, but it is still a mystery.

I have used the analogy of train tracks before. We may be truly submitting to scripture and holding two parallel truths as a result. We look down at our feet and see that we are on track. When we look ahead we experience paradox. The tracks appear to clash like this /\ and we cannot see how the tracks resolve. However, when we faithfully and humbly wait on God to take us further down the tracks, the tensions disappear gradually . Other people may be in difference places on the track, and hence they are experiencing different paradoxes. The tracks, at different points, seem to be in tension depending on where one is at in their journey with God. With the above careful qualifications in mind, I think I would agree with C. F. D. Moule when he said, "It is a sacred duty for any thinking person to try to eliminate paradox." The goal is to keep moving along the tracks. It is not that we are trying to eliminate mystery, for that would be to deny God's incomprehensibility and his right to keep secrets. Rather, we strive for intellectual virtue and coherence as we continually submit to the sacred word. In making careful distinctions, we can fulfill the biblical mandate to silence the ignorance of foolish men, and bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ by rational thinking.

I hope that is clear and I hope you all can see the difference. Bad theology is rash theology because it is unwilling to wait on God to illuminate the totality of what he has revealed. Bad theology clings to one truth at the expense of another, and thus warps the biblical picture of God in the name of "logic" that is really unsound logic. Arminianism, Neo-Socinianism (Open Theism) and Hyper-Calvinism are all examples of this. This perverse use of "logic" is what should be associated with rationalism, but not what it means to be rational. There is an inability to distinguish between senses in their case. They seem at times to think that the Law of Noncontradiction is that A cannot be non-A at the same time. That is NOT the law. The law says that A cannot be non-A at the same time and in the same sense. That is a crucial qualification.

While on the tracks of God's word, we can say "Here I stand, so help me God. Unless I am persuaded by sacred scripture and by evident reason, I can do no other." This may sound too rationalistic to some, but not to me. The pursuit of the above view of coherence and virtue seems to be an aspect of loving God with all of our minds. Revelation properly understood will never conflict with reason rightly applied. Faith preceeds understanding, but faith is not antithetical to reason.

Consider the illustration again:

Tracks of Truth === Person A === Person B === Sanctification

Person A may be a genuine believer, and yet fear that the Trinity is contradictory. They are experiencing paradox, but they still cling to the doctrine(s). Being humble, Person A studies what the bible says, what church history has taught, seeks wise counsel, waits on God and prays. Person A comes to learn careful biblical and historical distinctions, and thus learns that the doctrine is not a contradiction, even though they have not comprehended the Trinity. Apprehension (partial knowledge) is gained, but not comprehension (a full knowledge or understanding). The paradox is removed, but the mystery remains. Person A progresses virtuously to the state of Person B in the train track illustration above, and thus draws near to God, achieving sanctification.

Paul, as he drew near to God, wrote this:

NKJ 2Co 6:8 by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

Prima facie it seems contradictory, but once you enter into it existentially and understand the distinction of senses, it is not contradictory at all. It is coherent and full of wonder!

Augustine, in prayer and in the contemplation of his Confessions, says things like this that truly reflect the wonder of good theology:
CHAPTER IV 4. What, therefore, is my God? What, I ask, but the Lord God? "For who is Lord but the Lord himself, or who is God besides our God?" Most high, most excellent, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful and most just; most secret and most truly present; most beautiful and most strong; stable, yet not supported; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, yet bringing old age upon the proud, and they know it not; always working, ever at rest; gathering, yet needing nothing; sustaining, pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and developing; seeking, and yet possessing all things. Thou dost love, but without passion; art jealous, yet free from care; dost repent without remorse; art angry, yet remainest serene. Thou changest thy ways, leaving thy plans unchanged; thou recoverest what thou hast never really lost. Thou art never in need but still thou dost rejoice at thy gains; art never greedy, yet demandest dividends. Men pay more than is required so that thou dost become a debtor; yet who can possess anything at all which is not already thine? Thou owest men nothing, yet payest out to them as if in debt to thy creature, and when thou dost cancel debts thou losest nothing thereby. Yet, O my God, my life, my holy Joy, what is this that I have said? What can any man say when he speaks of thee? But woe to them that keep silence--since even those who say most are dumb.

CHAPTER XXXVII 52. For then also thou shalt so rest in us as now thou workest in us; and, thus, that will be thy rest through us, as these are thy works through us. But thou, O Lord, workest evermore and art always at rest. Thou seest not in time, thou movest not in time, thou restest not in time. And yet thou makest all those things which are seen in time--indeed, the very times themselves--and everything that proceeds in and from time.
CHAPTER XXXVIII 53. We can see all those things which thou hast made because they are--but they are because thou seest them. And we see with our eyes that they are, and we see with our minds that they are good. But thou sawest them as made when thou sawest that they would be made. And now, in this present time, we have been moved to do well, now that our heart has been quickened by thy Spirit; but in the former time, having forsaken thee, we were moved to do evil. But thou, O the one good God, hast never ceased to do good! And we have accomplished certain good works by thy good gifts, and even though they are not eternal, still we hope, after these things here, to find our rest in thy great sanctification. But thou art the Good, and needest no rest, and art always at rest, because thou thyself art thy own rest. What man will teach men to understand this? And what angel will teach the angels? Or what angels will teach men? We must ask it of thee; we must seek it in thee; we must knock for it at thy door. Only thus shall we receive; only thus shall we find; only thus shall thy door be opened.

It seems to me that such language is produced from a healthy theological mind that has existentially passed through paradox, to marvel at the remaining mysteries in order to worship God. This is our goal in seeking intellectual virtue.

Some Wisdom from Charles Hodge (1797–1878) on the Double-Payment Argument

§ 2. Proof of the Augustinian Doctrine.
If the Atonement be limited in Design, it must be restricted in the Offer.

There is still another ground on which it is urged that Augustinians cannot consistently preach the gospel to every creature. Augustinians teach, it is urged, that the work of Christ is a satisfaction to divine justice. From this it follows that justice cannot condemn those for whose sins it has been satisfied. It cannot demand that satisfaction twice, first from the substitute and then from the sinner himself. This would be manifestly unjust, far worse than demanding no punishment at all. From this it is inferred that the satisfaction or righteousness of Christ, if the ground on which a sinner may be forgiven, is the ground on which he must be forgiven. It is not the ground on which he may be forgiven, unless it is the ground on which he must be forgiven. If the atonement be limited in design it must be limited in its nature, and if limited in its nature it must be limited in its offer. This objection again arises from confounding a pecuniary and a judicial satisfaction between which Augustinians are so careful to discriminate. This distinction has already been presented on a previous page (470). There is no grace in accepting a pecuniary satisfaction. It cannot be refused. It ipso facto liberates. The moment the debt is paid the debtor is free; and that without any condition. Nothing of this is true in the case of judicial satisfaction. If a substitute be provided and accepted it is a matter of grace. His satisfaction does not ipso facto liberate. It may accrue to the benefit of those for whom it is made at once or at a remote period; completely or gradually; on conditions or unconditionally; or it may never benefit them at all unless the condition on which its application is suspended be performed. These facts are universally admitted by those who hold that the work of Christ was a true and perfect satisfaction to divine justice. The application of its benefits is determined by the covenant between the Father and the Son. Those for whom it was specially rendered are not justified from eternity; they are not born in a justified state; they are by nature, or birth, the children of wrath even as others. To be the children of wrath is to be justly exposed to divine wrath. They remain in this state of exposure until they believe, and should they die (unless in infancy) before they believe they would inevitably perish notwithstanding the satisfaction made for their sins. It is the stipulations of the covenant which forbid such a result. Such being the nature of the judicial satisfaction rendered by Christ to the law, under which all men are placed, it may be sincerely offered to all men with the assurance that if they believe it shall accrue to their salvation. His work being specially designed for the salvation of his own people, renders, through the conditions of the covenant, that event certain; but this is perfectly consistent with its being made the ground of the general offer of the gospel. Lutherans and Reformed agree entirely, as before stated, in their views of the nature of the satisfaction of Christ, and consequently, so far as that point is concerned, there is the same foundation for the general offer of the gospel according to either scheme. What the Reformed or Augustinians hold about election does not affect the nature of the atonement. That remains the same whether designed for the elect or for all mankind. It does not derive its nature from the secret purpose of God as to its application.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 2:557–558.

The Sufficiency of Christ's Satisfaction

I was questioned in another forum about my views on the sufficiency of Christ's death. I will put the questioners words in blue.

I heard it explained that Christ's death was sufficient for all if only they would believe and efficient for those who actually do believe. What do you think of that position?

The death of Christ is sufficient for the sins of any human being whether they believe or not. Medicine is sufficient to help someone whether they take it or not. The sufficiency of Christ's death is not a hypothetical sufficiency, but a real sufficiency applicable (able to be applied) to all men. Some say that the death is hypothetically sufficient to save all men in another logically possible world if they believe, but not in this world. The reason why one usually says that is because of commercial ideas. They think of Christ's death in literal payment terms. It's so much suffering (money) for so much sin (debt). They literalize the commercial metaphors.

Think about it this way: If God had hypothetically chosen to save ten more people than actually will be saved, would the death of Christ be any different? NO! What if ten thousand? Would the death be the same? Yes! What he accomplished remains the same, but it only savingly benefits those who believe, or who appropriate the provision through faith. The quality of what Christ did on the cross is related to the kind of person he is. The Godman rendered to God the Father a satisfaction of infinite value. The is the Anselmian answer to the question, Cur Deus Homo?...or Why the Godman? The incarnation of the second person of the Trinity was necessary in order to make the kind of satisfaction he made. No mere creature could do what he did. He bore the curse that was due to all men upon himself when he died. The curse of death was the same for all, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

To say that he bore the curse for the sins of the world is not to say that the world possesses the benefit of it. The application of what he did is conditioned upon the instrumentality of faith. It avails no one unless they believe. His death does not ipso facto (or by the very fact of the thing itself) liberate people when he died. Even those who are the elect MUST appropriate what he did by faith or suffer hell fire themselves. The only reason why the elect appropriate it is because the Holy Spirit efficaciously moves their hearts via regeneration to love God and embrace Christ by faith.

We need to make the biblical distinction between what is provisional and what is possessed. If we confuse the the two, then we end up saying the elect were justified at the time of the cross at least. Some move justification back into eternity. If what Christ did on the cross ipso facto liberates and the legal representation is limited, then those who are legally represented are set free when he dies. The legally represented ones have no basis for abiding under the wrath of God. Their sins are literally and actually paid for prior to their appropriation by faith. Is this what the bible teaches? NO! The bible says that all are under God's wrath before they believe. Their sins are still on them and in them, and thus they are children of wrath. That's the biblical doctrine. Therefore, by the one death of one man, many will be (not are) made righteous (through faith). We are not made righteous when he died, but only after we believe and are imputed with the merits of Christ.

It sounds like you are saying that Christ paid for all the sins of some of the people who are in hell also paying for their sins there. My apologiies if I have miss read you , please let me know. I am having a hard time comprehending how to apply Christ's work on the cross to people in hell.

Christ paid for the sins of the whole world. That's what the bible says. Even John the Baptist said,

NKJ John 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

This does not mean that people are saved merely by the death that he died. The expiation or taking away only avails for those who apply the hand of faith to the sacrifice, even though it's intrinsic value removes the legal barriers in case anyone believes. Atonement only occurs when the hand of faith is placed upon the sacrificial offering. The elect alone are made to place the hand of faith upon the sacrificial offering of Christ, and herein is the limitation. It's not the death itself that is limited, for it's a death worthy of the sins of a million worlds. The limitation is seen in the efficacious application by the Spirit (and it accords to the decretive will).

Those in hell are suffering everlasting death because they did not appropriate the promise or provision. If they would have believed, then Christ's death could have in fact covered their penal obligations. Christ took the curse of the sins of the whole world. This only troubles those people who confuse the provision with what is possessed. They are confusing the 'already-not yet' aspect of redemption. If one says that Christ paid for the sins of the whole world, then they think that the whole world is then ipso facto liberated, i.e. pure universalism follows. It is only some Calvinists who have swallowed the arguments of John Owen who think this way. It's built on a number of problematic assumptions, not least of which is a commercial view of the satisfaction. If one pushes the commercial analogy so far as to literalize it, then the paying of a debt liberates the debtee. There is NOTHING further required. If you owe a bank a thousand dollars and I come and pay that debt for you, then the bank cannot come after you. The debt is paid. (See Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology for more on this). We can push the payment metaphors of the bible too far. We should be thinking primarily in terms of penal satisfaction. You have a moral obligation. You are a criminal. You owe God a death. You have sinned against him. It's not money that you owe him, but a death. You have offended a righteous God by your criminal behavior. The soul that sins shall die. God sends his Son to die the death deserved by all the criminals, but makes the obtaining of the benefit conditional. It's not a meritorious condition because it's all of grace, so it is a nonmeritorios condition or instrumental cause. The instrumental cause or condition is trust or faith in Christ. Once one believes into him, they are legally credited with what he did. Apart from the fulfillment of that instrumental condition, they are not legally credited, and thus they abide under God's wrath.

NKJ Ephesians 2:3 among whom also we all (those who now believe) once conducted ourselves (prior to faith) in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath (we owed God death because our sins were on us), just as the others (all those who are still unbelieving and lost).

In conclusion I would just remind you to not confuse what is provisional and what is possessed. Christ's death is the univeral provision for any man and this is why we can indescriminately offer Christ to all men, but they are not possessed of his benefits unless they believe. Anyone at all who does not believe, whether elect or not, is a child of wrath and owes God death. They are criminals.

June 27, 2005

The Dark Background

Update on 2-28-10: When this was originally posted, the background color of my blog was black.

Incidently, I decided on the dark background and white text because it symbolically represents illumination at night :-) I am a night owl and do most of my reading and thinking at night. I only hope it is not difficult for anyone's eyes.

NKJ Psalm 119:148 My eyes are awake through the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word.

I enjoy the quiet. Everyone is asleep and the noise is minimal. I recall a passage in C. S. Lewis' book The Screwtape Letters where one of the demons, Wormwood perhaps, sings for joy at the thought of all the chaotic noise. Can you imagine in the premodern days when the stars were out and the technological noises of today did not exist?! In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, there is ALOT of noise and light pollution. It tends to ruin opportunities for quiet meditation and reflection on God's greatness. Due to all the lights, one can't look up at the sky and marvel at all the stars bearing witness to God's glory. The noise and other distractions draw our attention away from transcendent ponderings, and bring our minds to the horizontal and secular. I do not mean to make a strong sacred/secular dichotomy here, but I trust that the reader gets my point. The transcendent is crowded out by noises and diversions. Thomas Morris remarks in his book Making Sense of it All:

How do people manage to ignore the deepest and most important questions of life and death? Why don’t people worry more about what this life, with all its problems, is all about? To these questions Pascal has an intriguing answer. People manage to put on the blinders, to avert their gaze from these ultimate issues, and to avoid facing their utter hopelessness by means of diversion.

I would encourage people to pick up Pascal's book Pensees and consider what he has to say about diversion. What I have said above is that there is a sense in which modernity, with all of it's glittering distractions, crowds out the transcendent by means of noises and lights. I find the night time to be best for me to engage in theological reflection. I guess that is also the case because I work in the evenings at UPS :-)

For an interesting read on diversion and the Christian life, go here:

Stereoscopic Calvinism

Shortly after my conversion, I became a Calvinist through reading a study bible that had some notes by Matthew Henry, and also by listening to John MacArthur preach through Romans 9. I was not aware that what I believed was called Calvinism, but I understood my own moral inability and something of God's sovereignty. I started reading the bible with a greater understanding of God's secret will (sometimes called the decretive will). God's complete sovereignty seemed to pervade every page of the bible. I was being trained by preachers and by books to think of God as much bigger than I ever imagined. I read books by R. C. Sproul that broadened my theological horizons. Discerning the sovereignty of God in scripture and in my own life brought comfort, excitement, godly fear and zeal for this truth. I was suspicious of anyone who seemed to threaten this sovereign perspective on God.

What I did not know for a long time (about 12 or 13 years) was that I was neglecting significant passages of scripture that bring balance to this issue. I had been reading the bible with one eyeball so to speak. My decretive eye was very strong and seemed to focus on the passages that confirmed my decretal bent. It was not until conversations with friends on the subject of Hyper-Calvinism that I began to become more epistemologically self-aware. I had only reacted against Arminianism and similar theologies, but I never reacted against the errors of Hyper-Calvinism. I was not really aware of what Hyper-Calvinism was until I studied it a few years ago. Phil Johnson has observed what is perhaps the major problem with Hyper-Calvinism. He said that "in all their discussion of "the will of God," hyper-Calvinists routinely obscure any distinction between God's will as reflected in His commands and His will as reflected in his eternal decrees. Yet that distinction is an essential part of historic Reformed theology." Hyper-Calvinists read the bible with one eyeball. They see the decretive/secret will of God so plainly, and they get confused when one affirms the biblical teaching with regard to God's will as reflected in his commands. This is called the preceptive or revealed will of God. Arminians make a similar error, and only see the biblical teaching on the revealed will of God. They fear coming to Hyper-Calvinist conclusions about God and the biblical teaching, and rightly so. R. L. Dabney describes both sides of the imbalance when he said:

"Say that God has no secret decretive will, and He wishes just what He commands and nothing more, and we represent Him as a Being whose desires are perpetually crossed and baffled: yeah, trampled on; the most harassed, embarrassed, and impotent Being in the universe. Deny the other part of our distinction (he means the preceptive will here), and you represent God as acquiescing in all the iniquities done on earth and in hell."

Both of these theological systems, Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism, represent a myopic or cycloptic way of reading the bible. It makes them dizzy to consider opening the closed eye in order to look at things stereoscopically. They suspiciously peer at anyone who tries to open their other eyelid. Those looking stereoscopically at scripture are viewed as holding a contradictory position. The bifocal or dualistic theologian, who wholeheartedly affirms the secret/revealed will of God distinction, gets hit from both sides.

In studying the errors of Hyper-Calvinism, I finally came to a better grasp of volitional complexity in God. My preceptive eye was growing dim from lack of use. I was suffering from a decretal bent of mind, and this was impacting my Christian life and hermeneutical responsibilities. I was not representing God to the world as I should have. My heart was growing cold toward people, and I tended to take a passive 'let go and let God' view of things. I was not zealous for human responsibility, nor was I properly understanding the heart of God toward all lost sinners. God is compassionate and loving toward those he has not elected to everlasting life. Affirming this is no threat to Calvinistic teaching. It is not contradictory, but only appears to be to those looking through one hermeneutical eyeball.

Consider the following passages regarding God's will:

NKJ Mar 3:35 "For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother."

NKJ Luk 7:30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.

NKJ Rom 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

NKJ Eph 6:6 not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,

NKJ Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

NKJ 1Th 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality;

NKJ 1Th 5:18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

NKJ Heb 10:36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:

NKJ 1Pe 2:15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men --

NKJ 1Pe 4:2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

NKJ 1Jo 2:17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

NKJ Rom 2:18 and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law,

NKJ Eph 5:17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

NKJ Joh 7:17 "If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.

NKJ Psa 51:6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

NKJ 1Jo 5:14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.

I believe that all of these passages refer to the will of God in the revealed or preceptive sense. These passages do not contradict those that affirm that the will of God is always accomplished. They just refer to God's will in a different sense. If we learn to distinguish between the biblical senses of words and ideas, then we can learn to look at God stereoscopically and draw near to God. If we relax and allow the bible to affirm what it affirms without imposing our systems on it, then we will come to know God in truth. God may hide himself behind seeming contradictions, but he is not contradictory. He is complex, but not inconsistent with himself.

Look again at the picture of John Calvin above and let your eyes relax. Look at is as you would with a magic eye picture or stereogram. Eventually, you will get a 3D effect because your eyes are both open and relaxed. You will know you are getting the effect when it appears as if three pictures of John Calvin are there. This serves to illustrate the hermeneutical point about God's will, but it also applies to many other areas of theology. We tend to autonomously impose our systems upon the text of scripture and not allow it to correct us. The truth is in a stereocopic Calvinism, and not in a monofocal Hyperism or Arminianism. I will say more on this in the future. Those interested in more on this may click the links on the right side of this page. Listen to Curt Daniel's audio lectures on The History and Theology of Calvinism, and read R. L. Dabney's God's Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy. These resources are very good. That Dabney article can be found here: God's Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy

June 26, 2005

More Meditations on Meditation

I decided to check other quotation books in my library for more quotes dealing with meditation. The following quotes are insightful:

"Meditation is the best beginning of prayer, and prayer is the best conclusion of meditation." - George Swinnock from A Puritan Golden Treasury

"The end of study is information, and the end of meditation is practice, or a work upon the affections. Study is like a winter sun, that shines, but warms not: but meditation is like a blowing upon the fire, where we do not mind the blaze, but the heat. The end of study is to hoard up truth; but of meditation to lay it forth in conference or holy conversation." - Thomas Manton from A Puritan Golden Treasury

"Singing God's praise is a work of the most meditation of any we perform in public. It keeps the heart longest upon the thing spoken. Prayer and hearing pass quick from one sentence to another; this sticks long upon it." - John Lightfoot from A Puritan Golden Treasury

"What is the reason there is so much preaching and so little practice? For want of meditation. . . . Constant thoughts are operative, and musing make the fire burn. Green wood is not kindled by a flash or spark, but by constant blowing." - Thomas Manton from A Puritan Golden Treasury

"There are two things that make meditation hard. The one is, because men are not used thereunto....and another is, because they do not love God enough. Everything is hard at the first: writing is hard at the first. There is nothing not hard to those that are unwilling. There is nothing hard to those that love, love makes all things easy. Is it a hard thing for a lover to think or meditate on the person loved?" - William Bridge from A Puritan Golden Treasury

"The sweet spices of divine works must be beaten to powder by meditation, and then laid up in the cabinet of our memories." - Abraham Wright from A Puritan Golden Treasury

"I will conclude with that excellent saying of Bernard: "Lord, I will never come away from Thee without Thee." Let this be a Christians resolution, not to leave off his meditations of God till he find something of God in him." - Thomas Manton from A Puritan Golden Treasury

"To believe a thing is to see the cool crystal water sparkling in the cup. But to meditate on it is to drink of it. Reading gathers the clusters; but contemplation squeezes forth their generous juice." - C. H. Spurgeon from Spurgeon At His Best

"I would to God that after every sermon all my hearers, young and old, had a quarter of an hour alone! A night of wakeful thought over it would be better still." - C. H. Spurgeon from Spurgeon At His Best
"Faith gathers the handfuls of sacred corn from which contemplation threshes out the ears and prepares soul-sustaining bread." - C. H. Spurgeon from Quoting Spurgeon

"Love to God will induce meditation. Neglect of meditation argues want of love." - C. H. Spurgeon from Quoting Spurgeon

"True fathers in grace meditate upon Christ; they feed upon Scripture, press the juice of it, and inwardly enjoy the flavor of it." - C. H. Spurgeon from Quoting Spurgeon

"Meditation and careful thought exercise us and strengthen the soul for the reception of the yet more lofty truths. . . .Our Lord wishes us to be good slingers, and he puts up some precious truth in a lofty place where we cannot get it down except by slinging at it; and, at last, we hit the mark and find food for our souls. Then have we the double benefit of learning the art of meditation and partaking of the sweet truth which it has brought within our reach. We must meditate, brothers. These grapes will yield no wine till we tread upon them. These olives must be put under the wheel, and pressed again and again, that the oil may flow therefrom." - C. H. Spurgeon from Quoting Spurgeon

June 25, 2005

A Meditation on Meditation and It's Importance

I thought I would begin blogging with reflections on the nature and importance of meditation. Some of the most pleasurable experiences in my Christian life have been those times when I reflected and meditated on God's thoughts. As the Psalmist said:

NKJ Psalm 139:17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!

After gaining and discerning wisdom in Christ after my conversion, I am content to live a quiet life of contemplation and meditation on divine things. When I come to the end of my days, I only hope that I have lived a life of pleasurable divine meditation unto Christlikeness to the glory of the Father. This is the goal of my "Theological Meditations."

"Meditation is a particular way of receiving the revealed and dynamic Word of God into the heart from the mind so as to direct the will in the way of God's guidance. It is related to, but not identical with, either intellectual study or prayer." Peter Toon, From Mind to Heart

Meditation is "that ordinance of Christ, and obedience or duty of a Christian, whereby he acts his spirit into a right pondering of either heavenly and spiritual things, or any other things, in a holy manner, unto spiritual and holy ends and improvements only." from Nathanael Ranew's Solitude Improved by Divine Meditation

"Sometimes the most blessed God himself is the high subject of his meditating; and what transcendencies of thoughts, what raptures, what instances of highest soul transportings hath he this way recorded for us, purposely to put us upon pursuit of the like glimpses and tastes, by suitable first breathings and pantings after sweetest communion with him!" from Nathanael Ranew's Solitude Improved by Divine Meditation

"By meditation I can converse with God, solace myself on the bosom of the Savior, bathe myself in the rivers of divine pleasure, tread the paths of my rest, and view the mansions of eternity." - Anon. Taken from The New Dictionary of Thoughts

"No soul can preserve the bloom and delicacy of its existence without lonely musings and silent prayer, and the greatness of this necessity is in proportion to the greatness of evil." - Farrar. Taken from The New Dictionary of Thoughts

"It is not hasty reading, but seriously meditating upon holy and heavenly truths that makes them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee's touching on the flowers that gathers the honey, but her abiding for a time upon them, and drawing out the sweet. It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most on divine truth, that will prove the choicest, wisest, strongest Christian." - Joseph Hall. Taken from The New Dictionary of Thoughts

"It is not the number of books you read, nor the variety of sermons you hear, nor the amount of religious conversation in which you mix, but it is the frequency and earnestness with which you meditate on these things till the truth in them becomes your own and part of your being, that ensures your growth." - F. W. Robertson Taken from The New Dictionary of Thoughts

"Meditation is that exercise of the mind by which it recalls a known truth, as some kind of creatures do their food, to be ruminated upon till all the valuable parts be extracted." - George Horne Taken from The New Dictionary of Thoughts