December 31, 2005

Serious Resolutions

Are you ready to hear about all of the silly and superficial resolutions that people will have for the coming new year? Are you ready to see the plastic smiles of the news broadcasters as they bring up possible resolutions? If all of this superficiality sickens you this time of year, try reading Jonathan Edwards' resolutions. You will not see any news broadcaster bring up these kinds of resolutions:

51. Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.

55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

Wouldn't it be great to see these resolutions glowing on a big sign in New York as drunken people watch a ball drop, and who may be kissing people who are more of a priority than God in their lives (i.e. idols)?

December 30, 2005

On Essential Doctrines and the Difference Between Affirmation and Denial

Christianity is a religion of truth, and truth is not less (though it is more) than propositional. There are certain doctrines or teachings (true propositions) in Christianity that are essential and some that are non-essential. As with any worldview, Christianity has certain features without which it would not be what it is. To illustrate the ideas of essential and non-essential, we might consider a square.

A square has four sides, and an object that does not have four sides is not a square. In other words, having four sides is essential to squareness. A square's color may change, but the color is a non-essential quality.

Christians debate about what doctrines are essential and what doctrines are not, but we should all agree that there are essential doctrines because scripture says so. John, speaking by the authority of the Holy Spirit, says:

NKJ 1 John 4:3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

The real humanity of Christ is an example of an essential doctrine of Christianity.

NKJ Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Belief that the God of the bible exists is an obvious essential as well.

NKJ 1 John 2:22 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.

That Jesus is the person identified as Christ is another essential. One might argue that the Trinity is a kind of essential doctrine as well (we see personal distinction in this passage, and the identification of the Son as God in other passages).

I don't wish to make a check list of essentials in this post. I really want to make a distinction between affirmation and denial. A person may be said to not believe something in at least two different senses. 1) Person A may not believe something because he or she is ignorant of the particular subject. The lack of belief here is due to ignorance, not studied disbelief. Or, 2) person B may not believe something because they do not think it is true. This person is not ignorant. They lack belief in a particular subject because they do not think it is true after some reflection. After thinking about it (to whatever extent), they are in denial that the subject or object to be believed corresponds to the facts.

With regard to some essential Christian doctrines, I would say that they may not be believed (i.e. there's room for ignorance), but they must not be denied (in the sense that there's no room for continued rebellion). In effect, I think there is room for ignorance, but not for rebellion on some of these kinds of doctrines. Some who are mentally handicapped may not grasp some essential doctrine, but it does not follow that they are in rebellious denial of it. A new believer in some distant country may not have heard of the doctrine of the Trinity carefully articulated, but they are not denying it in the sense of repudiating it. One might mention the complicated situation of infants as another example to distinguish between mere non-belief and rebellious denial.

A Christian may further argue that there are some essentials that must be believed (God's existence, Jesus' deity etc.) but I would say that all of them, at least, must not be rebelliously denied. As we discuss the differences between essential and non-essential doctrines, let us be careful to distinguish between affirmation and denial. When I was in bible college, I was fond of saying with respect to some essentials that "it may not be believed (or affirmed), but it must not be denied" in conversation. May the readers of this post consider that maxim as well, as we consider different sorts of essential doctrines. Some of them must be believed in order to be saved (first class essentials), but a truly saved person may be ignorant of other essential doctrine (second class essentials), but not to the point of repudiating them as false.

December 25, 2005

Christmas Thoughts

Some people think that the doctrine of the Trinity is the most fascinating and mysterious aspect of Christianity. No other doctrine is thought to boggle the mind as much as God's unity and diversity. While I grant that this doctrine is incomprehensible, I also think that the incarnation is at least as profound.

John 1:14 may be my favorite verse in scripture. It says:

NKJ John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Who is capable of unpacking the theology contained in this one verse?! While remaining what he was (fully God), Christ became what he was not (fully man). Not only that, but the second person of the Triune God will forever be man.

In my opinion, the hypostatic union (the union of humanity and deity in Christ) is the most profound teaching of Christianity. As you meditate on the significance of the incarnation during this Christmas, maybe Michael Card's lyrics to his song To the Mystery will help to fill you with wonder and gratitude. He writes:

When the Father long to show
The love He wanted us to know
He sent His only Son and so
Became a holy embryo

That is the Mystery
More than you can see
Give up on your pondering
And fall down on your knees

A fiction as fantastic and wild
A mother made by her own child
A hopeless babe who cried
Was God Incarnate and man deified

Because the fall did devastate
Creator must now recreate
So to take our sin
Was made like us so we could be like him
Repeat Chorus

May you and your family have a truly blessed Christmas.

In Him,

December 14, 2005

Plantiga's Humorous View on Fundamentalism

I just read the post Plantiga on Fundamentalism on the A-Team blog. It's a classic quotation. Go and see for yourself :-)

Edwards on Heaven

"Every saint in heaven is as a flower in the garden of God, and holy love is the fragrance and sweet odor that they all send forth, and with which they fill the bowers of that paradise above. Every soul there is as a note in some concert of delightful music, that sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together blend in the most rapturous strains in praising God and the Lamb forever."

The New Dictionary of Thoughts, page 267.

On degrees of blessedness, he said:

"The saints are like so many vessels of different sizes cast into a sea of happiness where every vessel is full: this is eternal life, for a man ever to have his capacity filled."

Works 2:630. Also quoted in John Gerstner's book, Jonathan Edwards: A Mini-Theology (Tyndale, 1987), page 113.

"to pretend to describe the excellence, the greatness or duration of the happiness of heaven by the most artful composition of words would be but to darken and cloud it, to talk of raptures and ecstacies, joy and singing, is but to set forth very low shadows of the reality, and all we can say by our best rhetoric is really and truly, vastly below what is but the bare and naken truth, and if St. Paul who had seen them, thought it but in vain to endeavor to utter it much less shall we pretend to do it, and the Scriptures have gone as high in the descriptions of it as we are able to keep pace with it in our imaginations and conception..."

John Gerstner, Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell (Soli Deo Gloria, 1998), page 12-13. This small book (93 pages total) is well worth getting. For the deepest thinking on the subjects of heaven and hell, one cannot do better than Edwards (not that I agree with all of his views). Most systematic theology texts do not adequately deal with these subjects.

December 9, 2005

Offered and Offerable Distinctions

The following chart was made to help some see a distinction between a classical Calvinistic view and the later strict view of the Protestant Scholastics or High Calvinists. It's purpose is to deal with inhouse debates within Calvinistic circles, not to address non-Calvinistic theology. Since I am a dualist, I maintain that Christ died for all, but especially for the elect. I don't believe that Christ died with an equal intent to save all men (contra Arminianism and free will theology), nor do I believe that Christ intended died to save the elect alone (contra High Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism). My views are grounded in the classical conception of the distinction between God's secret and revealed will. I do not seek to negate the secret by the revealed will (what Arminianism entails), nor do I collapse God's revealed will into the secret (what Higher Calvinism entails). I believe the secret or decretal will of God represents a distinct motive from the revealed or preceptive will of God, and that this volitional or motivational complexity can subsist in a rational, immutable and eternal Trinity as Dabney shows. God loves all men, but he especially loves the elect. Christ died for all men, but he especially dies for his elect. God wants to save all men, but he especially wants to save his elect. This is Calvin's position, and I believe the biblical position. These truths have been obscured by later High Calvinists, so some of us are seeking to restore the older model that has been eclipsed. My friends and I are seeking to restore and uphold the house of classical Calvinism.

This is no easy task when so called "Calvinists" themselves resist it. May the following chart contribute to the restoration of the early view of the Reformers, and to the glory of God:

A few notes on the chart above:

1) Sometimes the advocates of the free offer are misrepresented as if they are saying the gospel is actually offered to all without exception, i.e. to all living human beings on the planet (Sense #1). That's actually a straw man. We would say that the gospel is offerable to all living human beings because of the real sufficiency in Christ's death, and also that God wants or intends it to be offered to them, but not that it actually is offered. We wish to use the term offerable in the sense that Christ's death is able to be applied to them, and that God, in his revealed will as expressed in Matt. 28, wishes to do so. He does not delight in the death of the wicked.

2) When free offer Calvinists use the phrase "all without exception" to argue that God offers Christ to all human beings, they have the second sense in view, i.e. all living human beings who hear the external gospel call. In the second sense used in the chart, all without exception includes all without distiction. There are many kinds and classes of people within the group of those who hear the external call. Some high Calvinists use the expression "all without distinction" to really mean "some of all without distinction." They want to jump from the idea of "all without distinction" or "all kinds" to "the elect from all kinds." This logical leap is unsustainable biblically. When Paul uses "all" in a context that refers to types or kinds, then "all without distinction" includes "all without exception" in the second sense (Sense #2).

3) Some High Calvinists wish to speak only of our responsibility to preach or offer the gospel to all because we are ignorant as to the identity of the elect. This is not sufficient. The bible teaches that God himself is offering Christ to all without exception (Sense #2) through his people, and he knows the identity of his elect ones. The crucial point is that God himself sincerely offers Christ to those he knows to be non-elect. This is what the strict Calvininsts cannot stomach. It's indicative of their decretal illness or mental lopsidedness. Their fevered brains cannot tolerate such an idea. Nevertheless, it is what the scriptures teach, and what Calvin himself echoed.

4) God is able to do this because he has expiated the sins of the world in the death of his Son. He comes to the entire world seeking complete reconciliation through his Son. He sent his Son to satisfy all of the claims of the law against all sinners. Christ suffered a morally equivalent death that every single human sinner deserves. For this reason, his death is said to be sufficient for all. If he did not undertake the curse that was due every sinner, it could not be said that his death is sufficient for those that were not legally represented. A limited imputation view (Christ suffered for the elect alone) is incompatible with the classical view on unlimited sufficiency. Some high Calvininsts honor the "sufficient for all" formula with their lips, but their hearts are far from it. They can only speak of a mere sufficiency, but not an ordained sufficiency. In effect, Christ's death is really only sufficient for the elect, in their view. For more on this distinction, see Davenant's Sufficiency Distinctions.

5) All human beings are naturally or constitutionally able to believe, but they lack moral ability to do so. They have a will that makes choices (natural ability), but their won't power (perverted affections) or bondage to sin makes them unable to believe (moral inability). Being pervasively depraved (in mind, will and emotions), they don't want to believe, nevertheless they are responsible before God. Only those who hear the external call are responsible to believe the gospel command, but all men are responsible to God's moral law (Incidently, I'm not saying that obeying gospel commands is the same as obedience to the moral law). If humans do not respond in faith or trust in Christ through the gospel, their guilt is compounded and/or aggravated because of God's great benevolence and sacrifice in sending his Son to die for their salvation. Also, since all the other gifts of common grace are given with a view to their repenting or salvation (see Rom. 2:4), the wrath of God builds up against them.

6) All men are redeemed or objectively reconciled in Christ since he's the last Adam who died in the place of all men, but not all men are in him by faith. The legal barriers that stand in the way of God freely forgiving any man have been removed. No man must of necessity be damned, for there is a real remedy available for him in Christ's death. It is applicable to all men, for Christ died a morally equivalent death that all men deserve, and only a Godman could do this. His redemption is applied when we trust in him, for then we are really united to him. Prior to that, we all stand under God's wrath, even the elect who do not yet believe. Though Christ dies for a man, it does not follow that he is thereby liberated by that fact alone. It is the entire work of the Trinity that secures our salvation, and not the death of the Son by itself. The Holy Spirit must apply the work of the Son through faith, and he will do this in accord with the special decree of the Father. The promise is conditional, not absolute. Men must believe in order to be united to Christ and receive his eternally saving benefits. Only the elect are granted moral ability to believe, and thus they are especially redeemed (not that others can't be spoken of as redeemed in another sense). There is a limitation or definite number of people that God has determined to save. These are his elect ones. This special decree is made manifest in the application of the benefits of Christ's death to the elect alone through the instrumentality of faith, and not apart from that condition. Thus, there is a limitation in the decree and application, not that there is a limitation in curse bearing in Christ's death. He takes the curse due every man when he hangs upon the tree, but no man eternally benefits until they look with the eyes of faith to the remedy.

7) The aggravated guilt on the part of the non-elect, who heard the external gospel call but rejected it, underscores the fact of the real sufficiency available to them in Christ's satisfaction. The sufficient food of Christ's flesh is set before them in the proclamation of the gospel feast, but they refuse to eat and to taste that the Lord is good for them, thus they deserve a severer punishment, as the scriptures say. This aggravated guilt could not be the case if the Lord's death was not really sufficient for them, which is what is entailed by a limited imputation view of the Owenists. A rational person would not be aggravated by those who reject what is not applicable to them. The applicability and real availability of the satisfaction is what triggers God's severity against gospel rejectors. Their damnation is surely just.

A printable version of this post can be found here: Offered and Offerable

J. C. Ryle (1816–1900) on John 6:32 and Christ's Redemption

KJV John 6:32 "Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven."
The expression, "giveth you," must not be supposed to imply actual reception on the part of the Jews. It rather means "giving" in the sense of "offering" for acceptance a thing which those to whom it is offered may not receive.—It is a very remarkable saying, and one of those which seems to me to prove unanswerably that Christ is God's gift to the whole world,—that His redemption was made for all mankind,—that He died for all,—and is offered to all. It is like the famous texts, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son" (John iii. 16); and, "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." (1 John v. 11.) It is a gift no doubt which is utterly thrown away, like many other gifts of God to man, and is profitable to none but those that believe. But that God nevertheless does in a certain sense actually "give" His Son, as the true bread from heaven, even to the wicked and unbelieving, appears to me incontrovertibly proved by the words before us. It is a remarkable fact that Erskine, the famous Scotch seceder, based his right to offer Christ to all, on these very words, and defended himself before the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland on the strength of them. He asked the Moderator to tell him what Christ meant when He said, "My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven,"—and got no answer. The truth is, I venture to think, that the text cannot be answered by the advocates of an extreme view of particular redemption. Fairly interpreted, the words mean that in some sense or another the Father does actually "give" the Son to those who are not believers. They warrant preachers and teachers in making a wide, broad, full, free, unlimited offer of Christ to all mankind without exception.

Even Hutcheson, the Scotch divine, though a strong advocate of particular redemption, remarks,—"Even such as are, at present, but carnal and unsound, are not secluded from the offer of Christ; but upon right terms may expect that He will be gifted to them.
Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 3:364.

December 6, 2005

The Truth Doesn't Change

Many people, including some Christians, think that the truth changes. They may even rashly think or say that everything changes. Both of these ideas are totally false, self-referentially absurd, and anti-Christian. Let's quickly dismiss the foolish idea that everything changes. One could refute it by submitting various counter-factuals, or things that do not change. Or, one could be like David and cut off the head of this stupid Goliath with his own sword. If one asserts the proposition "everything changes," then one may ask if that principle itself changes. If X stands for the principle that everything changes, then one may ask if X itself changes?

There are only three options: 1) Everything changes 2) Some things change and 3) Nothing changes. Anyone in their right mind knows that #2 is the case in reality. If one believes #1 is the case, then they have to believe that the proposition or principle of #1 itself changes. If the principle itself changes, then it would have to be false and change into the position of either #2 or #3.

Related to this idea is the notion that the truth itself changes. Some people may think that the truth changes because everything in nature seems to change. I've heard illustrations concerning weather patterns, colors and other things that seem to be relative. These people fail to properly understand the propositional element to truth (truth is not less than the propositional, but it is more than merely propositional), and what is actually being asserted in any given case. Consider a color illustration for an example.

Here's a picture of a dragon. Suppose I utter the proposition, "the dragon is red." Someone might say that this is relative and illustrates that the truth changes, because the color of the dragon may change under different lighting conditions, or to those color-blind. What they fail to understand is the true nature of the proposition. As I said, I was the one uttering the proposition. The proposition can be clarified by saying, "Tony said the dragon is red." Now, I am not saying that everyone sees the dragon as red when I utter the proposition, so the redness is person sensitive. The proposition is actually, "Tony is being appeared to redly when viewing this dragon." Not only that, one needs to further clarify the proposition because it is time sensitive when uttered. I am typing this at 6:30 am on December 6th, 2005. The true nature of the proposition is this, "Tony is being appeared to redly when viewing this dragon at 6:30am on December 6th, 2005." We might even clarify the location by saying, "Tony is being appeared to redly when viewing this dragon on his computer at 6:30am on December 6th, 2005 in his bedroom in Irving, Texas."

No one in their right mind communicates this way in everday life. We just say "the dragon is red" because we know our listeners automatically understand (at least the sane ones) most of the contextual elements involved. They understand what is being said without all the other tedious details, so we leave them out. But, if we are dealing with people who think the truth changes, then we need to bring out that which is normally understood in order to get to the nature of the truth claim. If we say, "it's raining," we normally mean something like, "it appears to me that it is raining at time (T) in place (P)."

Just because it may not rain at other times, or that I may see the dragon differently in different contexts, it does not follow that the truth has changed. If I turn color-blind tommorrow, it's still true that the dragon appeared redly to me at 6:30am on the given date, and in the given location.

Christians should be the last people to think that the truth changes, or that everything changes. Christianity not only teaches that the truth doesn't change, but that the truth is eternal. Since God exists and is a maximally perfect being possessing all great-making properties (which necessarily includes exhaustive knowledge), it follows that he knows all true propositions. Among the true propositions that God knows eternally is that the dragon would appear redly to Tony in the given place and at the given time. Not only should Christians not think that the truth changes, but they are bound to believe it is eternal! Any other position is self-referentially absurd.

December 2, 2005

Upcoming Frame Books

I just read an interview that Marco Gonzalez from Reformation Theology did with John Frame. In this interview, John Frame gives some information about his upcoming books. I've known that the Doctrine of the Christian Life would soon be available because of conversations I've had with Keith Plummer. If you don't already own Frame's The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God and The Doctrine of God, then consider getting them. They are well worth reading. Here's a few details about Frame's upcoming books as reported on Reformation Theology:

9. What works can we expect from you in the future?

I have completed Doctrine of the Christian Life, the third volume of my Theology of Lordship series. I expect that book to be published in two volumes by P&R. At least the first volume should be available in 2006. Also in 2006 P&R is planning to publish my Salvation Belongs to the Lord, a mini-systematic theology. Now I’m working on Doctrine of the Word of God, the last volume planned for the Lordship series. That will take a lot of time to research and write. Don’t expect it before maybe three or four years.