What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it — the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind.
All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.
This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort — the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates — in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.
Preliminarily, I should address an antecedent issue. Although I will express my opinion, you of course have to come to your own conclusions. Having a good conscience about the text doesn’t require agreement with others; it requires being faithful to pursue truth at all costs to the best of your abilities. To be sure, you want to seek the counsel and input of various experts. But when the day is done, you have to stand before God and tell him how you see your views as in harmony with Holy Writ. In other words, I never want you to feel any kind of intimidation or pressure from me or anyone else about your handling of the text. I do of course want you to feel a great duty (as you always have) to the Lord in the handling of his word. At bottom, all of us have to give an account of ourselves to the Lord, and any human loyalties will have no standing before him.
This is a guest post from blog friend and fellow Tyndale alumni, Greg Armstrong.
Does Calvin deny free will? That’s a question I’ve always thought could be given a quick and simple response: Yes. This was obviously the case, since don’t we all know that Calvin was a determinist? For the longest time I thought these questions were like asking whether Ockham was a nominalist or Aquinas was an Aristotelian.
In the couple years when I would have regarded myself as a strong Calvinist I didn’t have time for Calvinists who would say that Calvin or Calvinism affirms free will but just defines it differently than the libertarian. I still somewhat agree with that mindset: that we should not simply redefine terms so that we can say we also affirm them. Where I now disagree on this issue is over how we should answer the initial questions on Calvin’s view of free will and determinism. Calvin does not deny free will; nor is he a determinist.
What got me interested in exploring Calvin’s Institutes in recent months in more depth was my studying of Aquinas and Thomistic metaphysics. Arvin Vos’ book, Aquinas, Calvin, and Contemporary Protestant Thought: a Critique of Protestant Views of the Thought of Thomas Aquinas, was the real catalyst for getting into Calvin. Vos explains that, contrary to a common misperception, Calvin’s anti-Scholastic and anti-Sophistic emphases in his thought were not directed against Aquinas. Actually, it would appear that Calvin had minimal knowledge of Aquinas’ thought and possibly did not study Aquinas’ texts firsthand. Rather, his response to Scholasticism was a response to his contemporaries and the later Scholastics, who rightly deserved repudiation by Calvin, who castigated them for their hypocrisy (i.e. using their theology to rationalize abuses) and for their heresy. In the Institutes, Calvin typically characterizes their theological method as excessively speculative and concerned with controversies over the trivial minutiae of precise philosophical distinctions. Now, I think Calvin was justified in his rejecting people who would obsess over unimportant issues and would draw distinctions to justify sinful behaviour. But I also think Calvin took this too far because it resulted in him avoiding drawing what are really important distinctions. His understanding of Aristotelian psychology (i.e. human faculties and operation) is also mistaken in some important places (cf. Institutes, bk.1, ch.15.6-7; bk.2, ch.2.3). For example, he thinks that the Aristotelian distinction between vegetative, sensitive, and rational souls means that humans have multiple souls (1.15.6).
Given Calvin’s tendency to avoid many of the Scholastic discussions of philosophical distinctions, I thought I should try to read Calvin more charitably knowing better the context of abuses in which he was responding. That is, I should make a point of trying to understand his own usage of terminology and try to import as little as possible and recognize that his terms might be imprecise and ambiguous. And assuming Calvin’s minimal direct study of Aquinas’ thought, I realized I shouldn’t read his reactions to Scholasticism as a reaction that necessary related in any way to Aquinas. On reading him in this light, I came to find that Calvin really did not deny a traditional concept of free will, nor was he a determinist.
One of the most troublesome issues in the Institutes for libertarians is Calvin’s frequent use of the term “necessity.” For example, Calvin speaks of divine “determination” and that everything is subject to the “necessity” of the divine will—even to the point that Calvin appears to explicitly deny all “contingency” and only affirm that things ‘appear to be contingent to us’ (1.16.6-9). But Calvin does not, in fact, deny real contingency, nor is he affirming necessitarianism. At least in many instances, when Calvin says “contingency” he really means “chance”—that is, an occurrence that results without God’s deciding that it would result in that way and causing it do so. Calvin’s concern is to safeguard God’s ultimate primacy as First Cause of all things; and in extension of this, to safeguard God’s providence over all things, both universally and particularly. Calvin also speaks of “the necessity of [God’s] own plan” (1.16.9) by which he means to counteract the notion “that the plan of God does not stand firm and sure” (1.17.12) and to affirm that God cannot fail in bringing about whatever God wills to bring about: “whatever God has determined must necessarily so take place, even though it is neither unconditionally, nor of its own peculiar nature, necessary” (1.16.9). Another way of saying this is that Calvin wants to safeguard the infallibility of God’s will and that the divine decree extends to all things in all their particularity. (more…)
At a conference this year, Tim Keller gave a talk on how to get lay people involved in evangelism. Keller advises that you start with 1-4, move to 5-7, and then if people are still interested, move on to 8-10. But, the only way to get people to 8-10 is to put a lot of work into steps 1-4. This is some of the most practical and helpful advice that I’ve come across. (HT: Salternite)
Here they are:
Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way)
Ask friends about their faith – and just listen!
Listen to your friends problems – maybe offer to pray for them
Share your problems with others – testify to how your faith helps you
Give them a book to read
Share your story
Answer objections and questions
Invite them to a church event
Offer to read the Bible with them
Take them to an explore course
Is there anything that you’d add to or take away from Keller’s list?
I found this video of Perry Noble a few years ago. This encapsulates much of what I hate about some big evangelical churches with their big mega pastors and sometimes, their big mega egos. (Note the qualifications).
Here’s the deal. If you don’t know your people; if you don’t visit them in their homes, see them in their workplaces, and grieve with them in hospitals, you are not a pastor.
Perry Noble is not a pastor.
You can call him whatever you want. Visionary. Executive. Communicator. Abbess. Whatever. Just please don’t call him a pastor.
Before pastors started reading Fast Company to learn how to fulfill their vocations, they used to read works like Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor.
Now, Richard Baxter was a pastor.
Here’s Baxter on the pastor’s duty to visit his people:
We spend Monday and Tuesday, from morning almost to night, in the work, taking about fifteen or sixteen families in a week, that we may go through the parish, in which there are upwards of eight hundred families, in a year, and I cannot say yet that one family hath refused to come to me, and but few persons excused themselves , and shifted it off.
Baxter was also a mega church pastor, and yet found the time to visit 15 or 16 families a week. And that’s not including his grueling preaching load. What I want to know is, what does Perry Noble do all week? 40 hours of vision casting?
And I find more outward signs of success with most that do come, than from all my public preaching to them. If you say, it is not so in most places, I answer, I wish that the blame of this may not lie much with ourselves. If, however, some refuse your help, that will not excuse you from not affording it to them that would accept of it.
This should help those more pragmatically minded pastors who want to see measurable results. If you know anything about Baxter’s story, you’ll know that his remarkable ministry changed the religious flavor of his town for good. Nominalism turned to zeal as regular townsfolk became ablaze with the gospel.
How? Baxter attributed this remarkable makeover to the Spirit working through diligent and loving visitation. Pastors would do well to take heed.
Brethren, do I now invite you to this work, without the authority of God, without the consent of all antiquity, without the consent of the Reformed divines, or without the conviction of your own consciences? See what the Westminster assembly speak occasionally in the directory, about the visitation of the sick: ‘It is the duty of the minister not only to teach the people committed to his charge in public, but privately, and particularly to admonish, exhort, reprove, and comfort them upon all seasonable occasions, so far as his time, strength, and personal safety will permit. He is to admonish them in time of health to prepare for death. And for that purpose, they are often to confer with their minister about the estate of their souls,’ etc.
I wish Perry Noble and others would be more conversant with the Christian tradition when it comes to pastoring. As Baxter says, he has the authority of God, antiquity, and the Reformed divines on his side.
And now for Baxter’s finishing blow. Prepare yourself for some puritanical heat.
Read this over again, and consider it. Hearken to God, if you would have peace with God. Harken to conscience, if you would have peace of conscience. I am resolved to deal plainly with you, though I should displease you. It is an unlikely thing that there should be a heart sincerely devoted to God in that man, who, after advertisements and exhortations, will not resolve on so clear and great a duty. I cannot conceive that he who hath one spark of saving grace, and so hath that love to God, and delight to do his will, which is in all the sanctified, could possibly be drawn to oppose or refuse such a work as this; except under the power of such a temptation as Peter was, when he denied Christ, or when he dissuaded him from suffering, and heard a half excommunication, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offense unto me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.’ You have put your hand to the plough; you are doubly devoted to him, as Christians, and as pators; and dare you, after this, draw back, and refuse to do his work?
To make up for my inadequate posting, I’ve decided to put up a cool tune I just came across. Hipsters beware, I like the Lumineers. Consider the coolness quotient diminished. And for the rest of you, who like me might own a pair of slacks from Old Navy, enjoy.
Can someone please tell me the difference between RL Dabney and NT Wright on imputation here?
It may be said, without affecting excessive subtlety of definition, that by imputation of Christ’s righteousness, we only mean that Christ’s righteousness is so accounted to the sinner, as that he receives thereupon the legal consequences to which it entitles. . . . All are agreed that, when the Bible says, ‘the iniquity of us all was laid on Christ,’ or that ‘He bare our sins,’ or ‘was made sin for us,’ it is only our guilt and not our moral attribute of sinfulness which was imputed. So it seems to me far more reasonable and scriptural to suppose that, in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, it is not the attribute of righteousness in Christ which is imputed, but that which is the exact counterpart of guilt – the title to acquittal (Lectures in Systematic Theology, Lecture LIV).
I would be happy to think of Paul thinking something which, in my view, he never explicitly says anywhere: that the verdict “in the right,” “righteous,” which God issues over Jesus at his resurrection, becomes the verdict God issues over us when we believe – in other words, that we are incorporated into the “rightous-verdict,” perhaps even the “righteous-ness” of Jesus himself.” “Justification: Yesterday, Today, and Forever.” JETS (March 2011): 63.
Ummm … so is Dabney denying the gospel here? Hello? *Crickets*