Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

John Calvin On Natural Law

Among many other important points, Stephen J. Grabill, in his well-needed book, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics, makes clear Calvin’s support of the existence and knowability of natural law. One such text is from the Reformer’s commentary on that great Psalm ode to the law, Psalm 119:

[Psalm 119:]52.I called to mind thy judgments of old, O Jehovah! In this psalm, the judgments of God are generally taken for his statutes and decrees, that is, his righteousness. … In this place, in consequence of the qualifying phrase, of old, it is more probable that they refer to the examples by which God has made himself known as the righteous Judge of the world. Why does he say that the law of God has been from everlasting? This may to some extent be accounted for from the righteousness here mentioned not being of recent growth, but truly everlasting, because the written law is just an attestation of the law of nature, through means of which God recalls to our memory that which he has previously engraved on our hearts.  [Grabill, 73]

The last phrase, of course, alludes to Romans 2:15 as it has been commonly interpreted, as a reference to the knowledge of right and wrong that God has provided to all people.

This element of Calvin’s teaching is very relevant for the current church, at least in my opinion. It shows that one of the biggest sources of the Reformed tradition was in continuity with the natural law tradition, and that Karl Barth and the Barthians have radically departed from the Reformed tradition on this matter. It also, hopefully, will make it easier for many who have great love for the Reformer to begin to appreciate the expansive and foundational natural law tradition, with its careful analysis of the human person and all the variegated moral situations he can find himself in. Perhaps, through that, the Reformed church might once again be able to reclaim their part in that ongoing project, a project which has untold riches of wisdom on many important contemporary issues, if only we would look.

Bahnsen On The Newness Of The New Covenant

Here’s Greg Bahnsen’s take:

Dispensationalists will say that, in the end, salvation in the Old Covenant was by the grace of God through faith. However, they also say that, hypothetically, salvation was offered to men on the basis of their keeping the law perfectly — that God extended an invitation to legalism — in the Old Covenant. By contrast, they say, the New Covenant knows no legalism, even hypothetically; salvation is purely by grace without any consideration of works whatsoever. This viewpoint displays a very disturbing and unbiblical understanding of God’s character and sovereignty. According to Covenant theology, salvation has never been by works, even hypothetically; it has always been proclaimed on the basis of God’s grace. And this grace has always called for the response of faithful obedience on the part of God’s people — in both of Old and New Testaments. Thus dispensationalists have misconstrued God’s work of salvation and (again) the newness of the New Covenant.

The Calvinist International

My friends Steven Wedgeworth and Peter Escalante have created a new web presence which I want to direct our readers to. I can’t really summarize the purpose of the site as well as Escalante himself has done here (do read it), except to say that it’s about fostering a kind of Calvinism that is learned and very much “in the real world”, intentionally avoiding escapist mentalities. In other words, it’s trying to bring back the old school.


(As a post-script, I want to note that I discussed the concept that the title of their site expresses, some time ago.)

Patrick’s Day

In honour of the day, I wanted to post an old essay I wrote about Saint Patrick’s confession, but I couldn’t find it. So, in lieu of that, here are some links relevant in some way to the day:

Patrick’s Confession — this is thought to be an authentic document written by Patrick. It is interesting how little has changed in terms of “church politics” since his day. I guess that just proves we’re all sinners after all. And his renowned trinitarianism shows through very clearly as well. There’s also a detectable typology throughout: he continually depicts himself as a new apostle Paul. An interesting read.

An assortment of legends about Saint Patrick — these are basically discounted by critical scholars. This is perhaps with good reason. I have not studied them closely. However, I would note that critical scholars often approach such stories with naturalistic assumptions. In recent days Craig Keener has published two massive volumes defending the historicity and reality of New Testament miracles, including providing many examples throughout history of testimony to miraculous events. Thus, as always, interested readers should keep their own critical faculties intact.

The biology behind getting drunk.

Shepherds we shall be… — just because (language warning).


The Consensus – An Interlude

There are a number of posts from my old blog, RearViewMirror, that I would like to keep in circulation, so I will repost them here. This is an interlude to the series I did on the Reformed history of interpreting Genesis 1. It’s quite an eye-opening series.

The last number of posts have dealt with the question of Charles Spurgeon’s old-earth theology, and how he doesn’t break with the Reformed mainstream by holding it, because there was no consensus among the Reformed on the issue. In fact, there has been no consensus on the issue of creation days at all in church history. I have one more post about this, that will account for the rise of young earth creationism in evangelical circles, but before I post it, I wanted to share a number of quotes by noteworthy Reformed and conservative evangelical theologians on this issue. You’ll notice that I include voices from past and present, and across disciplines–so you’ve got historians, biblical theologians (Old and New Testament), and systematicians. You also see the various views represented, like the framework, day age, day of unspecified duration, and analogical days view. It’s not exhaustive, there are a number of theologians who have written major works on this, that I’ve left out. I title this as a consensus, and do so facetiously for obvious reasons. Be warned, this post is very long!

So, here’s the list (I particularly recommend those by James Montgomery Boice, Ernest Kevan, Graeme Goldsworthy, Bob Godfrey, and R. C. Sproul):

T. Desmond Alexander (Union Theological Seminary, Belfast), from his “Introduction to Genesis” in the ESV Study Bible (pp. 43-44): “Faithful interpreters have offered arguments for taking the creation week of Genesis 1 as a regular week with ordinary days (the “calendar day” reading); or as a sequence of geological ages (the “day-age” reading); or as God’s “workdays,” analogous to a human workweek (the “analogical days” view); or as a literary device to portray the creation week as if it were a workweek, but without concern for temporal sequence (the “literary framework” view). Some have suggested that Genesis 1:2, “the earth was without form and void,” describes a condition that resulted from Satan’s primeval rebellion, which preceded the creation week (the “gap theory”). There have been other readings as well, but these five are the most common. None of these views requires denying that Genesis 1 is historical, so long as the discussion in the section on Genesis and History is kept in mind. Each of these readings can be squared with other biblical passages that reflect on creation.”

Oswald T. Allis (former founding OT professor of Westminster Seminary) from his God Spake By Moses (pp. 159): “We may well hesitate to assert that the days of Genesis i must be taken literally as days of twenty-four hours. But we should not hesitate to assert that infinite time and endless process are no adequate substitute for or explanation of that fiat creation by an omnipotent God of which this sublime chapter speaks so clearly and emphatically. It is equally true that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years” and that “a thousand years are as one day.”

Edgar Andrews, is Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London, apologist who debated Richard Dawkins, and author of Who Made God? published by Evangelical Press. This quote comes from an interview he did with Tim Challies after the book came out: “I really don’t like terms such as “young earth”, “old earth” and “Intelligent Design” (with ID in capitals!) because when you look more closely they are actually very ill-defined. I therefore don’t apply any of these labels to myself. My own non-negotiable position is that (1) the early chapters of Genesis are historical not mythological; they describe things that actually happened; and (2) the universe and all that it contains was created ex nihilo by God, who continues to sustain it. Beyond that I have my own theories (for example, that ‘Big Bang’ cosmology is consistent with a historical view of Genesis One) but respect the views of those who differ from me.”

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), important medieval theologian, indicates a “framework” pattern in his Summa Theologiae: “The first part, then, is distinguished on the first day, and adorned on the fourth, the middle part distinguished on the middle day, and adorned on the fifth, and the third part distinguished on the third day, and adorned on the sixth. (Q 74, Ar. 1).”


What Is Faith?

Some challenging words from John Piper:

Princeton’s Theological Commons

Princeton Theological Seminary has kindly made available a veritable Kuwaiti oil-field of online theological resources with their “Theological Commons.” Huzzah has become so cliche, but I’ll go with it anyway.

HT: Justin Taylor

John Piper And The Meaning Of Tornadoes

Here we go again:

“We do not ascribe such independent power to Mother Nature or to the devil. God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.”

With this affirmation of God’s sovereignty, John Piper launches into another round of attempting to explain disasters and why God would do/allow such things. This in turn reminds me of a quote I posted here a while ago:

“After Job is hit by calamities, his theological friends come, offering interpretations which render these calamities meaningful. The greatness of Job is not so much to protest his innocence as to insist on the meaninglessness of his calamities. When God finally appears, he affirms Job’s position against the theological defenders of the faith.”

Piper, as well as some of critics who offer alternate explanations, is playing the role of the “theological friend” trying to find meaning in this cruel and seemingly random event. At least one observer points out that Piper is trying to offer completely contradictory reasons at the same time.

There’s a great temptation to go into all kinds of abstract discussion about why disasters befall us – especially in the YouTube age where we all have front row seats to every awful event. Is this type of thing profitable? Should we look at a massive impersonal event as divine punishment and/or testing when it chews up hundreds or thousands of lives in an indifferent fashion?

What happened when Jesus was asked questions along these lines? Asked about a blind man and whether he or his parents sinned, we all know Jesus said,

“[T]his happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me.”

That’s all the “meaning” there is in disaster. If Job says suffering is meaningless, and Ecclesiastes says pretty much everything short of obeying God is meaningless, here Jesus ascribes meaning only in the sense that suffering is an opportunity to do good – i.e.: it has no meaning in the category that most people want it to have meaning (ethical behaviour of victim).

To John Piper’s credit, the end of his tornado post does have a link to a Christian relief organization and suggestion that readers could help out, the problem is that almost everything he wrote before that was superfluous.

What Is Anabaptism, Really?

Scot McKnight has an interesting post up today on what an Anabaptist is. He takes his definition from Harold Bender, who along with other figures like Ebehard Arnold, sparked what we might call today the truly neo-Anabaptist movement. I want to quickly discuss the three main aspects of the Anabaptist vision, to show what I think are some problems with using these as distinctive marks of Anabaptist churches.

Bender is famous for three features of the Anabaptist Vision:

1. The essence of Christianity, or the Christian life, is discipleship — a committed following of Christ in all areas of life. The word on the street in the 16th Century, and this word repeated often enough by bitter enemies of the Anabaptists, was that they were consistent and devout Christians. If Luther’s word was “faith,” the word for the Anabaptists was “follow.” The inner conversion was to lead to external transformation.

2. A new conception of the church as a brotherhood of fellowship. The ruling image of a church among the Catholics and Reformers was more national and institutional and sacramental, while the ruling image for the Anabaptists was fellowship or family. Joining was voluntary; the requirement was conversion; the commitment was to holy living and fellowship with one another. Thus, the Anabaptist separated from the “world” to form a society of the faithful. This view of the church led to economic availability and liability for one another.

3. A new ethic of love and peaceful nonresistance. Apart from rare exceptions like Balthasar Hubmaier and the nutcases around Thomas Müntzer, the Anabaptists lived a life shaped by love and nonviolence. They refused to coerce anyone.

Thus, for Bender, the focus was on discipleship not sacraments or the inner enjoyment of justification. The church was not an institution or a place for Word-proclamation in emphasis but instead a brotherhood of love. In addition, against Catholics and Calvinists who believed in social reform, like the Lutherans the Anabaptists were less optimistic about social transformation. But, unlike the Lutherans who split life into the secular and sacred, the Anabaptists wanted a radical commitment that meant the creation of an alternative Christian society.

I’d like to juxtapose these summaries with some excerpts from Calvin’s commentaries, to suggest that, perhaps, these are not really distinctly Anabaptist sentiments. (more…)

On Being An Individual

In Christian circles, one could be forgiven for thinking, being an individual has fallen on hard times. Or at least, anything that might be stuck with the label “individualism” is seen as axiomatically negative.

For me, this is somewhat troubling. I am an introvert, and so appreciate times of solitude to be able to work through personal and theological issues, and just exist in God’s presence. Of course, I am also a social animal, and so need time with others. But I don’t think I would be lying if I said a substantial amount of my personality has been forged in decisions I have made alone, at a desk, reading a book. I don’t deny the massive influences that parents and friends (and other media) have had on me, and truthfully, reading books is just another way of communicating with people. But, nevertheless, I don’t think I would be wrong to say that much of my character has been formed in moments of solitude, either in prayer or in study.

There are many complaints that could be made about our present socio-cultural order, and perhaps it is true that it is afflicted by a negative kind of individualism. Certainly there is something of an epidemic of loneliness. And no doubt that has something to do with our political and economic order, which prizes what people are in themselves, what they can contribute as skilled individuals to the marketplace of trade, and not what their hereditary connections are, or who they spend their leisure time with. Nevertheless, I have a hard time thinking that this economic and political order, itself, is a negative thing. I am obviously laying my political cards on the table here, but that is where I stand at the moment.

It seems to me what our society (and the church, which is not really something totally separate from society) needs is not anti-individualism, but an individualism coram deo. What it needs are spiritual practices that allow people to strip away all their secondary layers before their Creator, and truly wrestle, in the light of the Word, with their weakness, their doubts, and their sins, and then through that struggle, bring something of value back to the world. What our culture does not need is more “community”, where community is a way to hide from our selves in the pleasantries of potlucks, board games, and church programs, or for those not Christian, in clubs, bars, and the types of activities that go on there.

These are not formalized or well-refined thoughts, and I offer them in the spirit of a suggestion, not a proclamation per se. I would be curious to hear what others think here.