Friday, March 23, 2012

J.C. Ryle on Sanctification

Here is an excellent quote from J.C. Ryle on sanctification:

“I ask whether it is wise to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required, as many seem to do nowadays in handling the doctrine of sanctification. Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked, and unqualified a way as many do that the holiness of converted people is by faith only, and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it. 
That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness; that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ; that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness; that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy; that the life that we live in the flesh, we must live by faith in the Son of God; that faith purifies the heart; that faith is the victory which overcomes the world; that by faith the elders obtained a good report—all these are truths which no well instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith. The very same apostle who says in one place, “the life that I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,’ says in another place, “I Fight,” “I run,” “I keep under my body”; and in other places, “let us cleanse ourselves,” “Let us labour,” “Let us lay aside every weight.” 
Moreover, the Scriptures nowhere teach us that faith sanctifies us in the same sense and in the same manner that faith justifies us! Justifying faith is a grace that “worketh not,’ but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ (Rom 4:5). Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it worketh by love,” and, like a mainspring, moves the whole inward man” (Gal 5:6)…

Without controversy, in the matter of our justification before God, faith in Christ is the one thing needful. All that simply believe are justified. Righteousness is imputed “to him that worketh not but believeth” (Rom 4:5). It is thoroughly scriptural and right to say, “Faith alone justifies.” But it is not equally scriptural and right to say, “Faith alone sanctifies.” The saying requires very large qualification. Let one fact suffice. We are frequently told that a man is “justified by faith without the deeds of the law” by St. Paul. But not once are we told that we are “sanctified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
I once wrote a post entitled "Sanctification by faith." I stand by what I said. I think that sanctification flows from union with Christ. Christ's grace in us imparts and empowers sanctification. I would also not want what I wrote there to be misconstrued as a denial of real effort in sanctification. We are to work out our salvation. We are to mortify the flesh. The only way to do this is with and through the Holy Spirit and Christ's power operative in us. 

There are two sides to avoid here on sanctification.

On the one hand, we should not have a casual 'let go and let God' where we are not actively fighting sin, seeking God's faith, seeking the empowerment of his grace, and even working at true self-control.

On the other hand, we should not think that sanctification is all up to me. We should not in our efforts of sanctification develop a self-righteous spirit. It is God who works in me to bring to completion the good work that he has begun. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Review: Atheist Delusions

As a pastor, I am often looking for good books to recommend to people. Several years ago, someone approached me looking for a book that would help them when confronted by their atheist friends. A knowledgeable atheist will often bombard Christians with a plethora of so-called "facts" and "history" to prove that Christianity has caused nothing but trouble. When one hears everything from "Christians caused the dark ages" to "Faith and science are opposed" what is a Christian supposed to say in return? Most Christians will recognize something smells rotten in Denmark but they are not equipped to go toe-to-toe with the atheist and dismantle such ahistorical shenanigans piece by piece.

This is where David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies can help. I read this book about a year or two ago and remember thinking "finally" to the question of 'what book to I recommend to help debunk an atheist's jumbled arguments from history'.

From the book, I wrote an earlier post entitled: "Mythbusters: The Christian Dark Ages." It remains the all time highest trafficked post. I encourage you to read it as I run through some of Hart's arguments and supporting documentation that Christians did not cause "Dark Ages." In fact, the Middle Ages were filed with advancements and most scholars in the field recognize this. It really is a naive 'Enlightenment' fantasy to say that Christians held back science and technological advancement. As Hart and others have shown, Christian advanced some thing in various ways. This includes especially medical treatment and care of the poor and needy.

Ironically, today, many of the 'new atheists' are rabid in asserting arguments that are filled with historical fallacies. Edward Gibbon's hostile to Christianity that colored his The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, has long been debunked--but some of the new horseman of the atheist apocalypse aren't always current on scholarship in fields they have no mastery of. Often times, Christians today encounter atheism of a species that bring more heat than actual light--I simply mean that your average coffee shop atheist often (but obvious not always) has a zeal without good knowledge.

This is a book that I would recommend to a knowledge high-schooler and definitely to a college student at a secular college or university. It is not so much an apologetics book in the traditional sense nor is it strictly a history book, although part 2 takes on the atheist rewritting of Christianity's history. 

The book takes on modernity as a failed project, as a surprising number of the new atheists are pointed out about being a bit naive when it comes to philosophical commitments. 

The book also makes positive arguments. We need to retain Christianity if we are going to retain any notion of humanity and ethics. Secularism's promise to the contrary has turned into a grand failure. Christianity has done for the West, and the world, something that was never found in paganism: it dignified the human being and individual. Secularism and enlightenment thinking has lived on borrowed capital but that capital is slipping fast as Christian moorings are lost.

Hart is not naive to argue that everything good that happened in the West is from Christianity and everything bad is unrelated. He is more interested in showing how Christianity and Christian beliefs actually changed the moral landscape, which of course brought secondary effects on history [although not necessarily direct cause and effect]. Listen to him in his own words:
[U]nless Christian apologists are eager to credit for much that is not creditable, and to argue that their faith made straight the way for all the large political movements of Western history, including the horrid ones, they should venture claims regard the inevitable political and economic consequences of Christian beliefs only tentatively and, as it were, in sotto voce. 
What interests me--and what I take to be genuinely demonstrable and important--is the particular ensemble of moral and imaginative values engendered in numberless consciences by Christian beliefs. That such values had political and social consequences I certainly do not deny; I feel fairly safe in saying, for instance, that abolitionism--as a purely moral cause--could not easily have arisen in any non-Christian culture of which I am aware. That is quite different, however, from claiming that Christianity ineluctably or uniquely must give rise to, say, democracy or capitalism or empirical science. It is to say, rather, that the Christian account of reality introduced into our world an understanding of the divine, the cosmic, and the human that had no exact or even proximate equivalent elsewhere and that made possible a moral vision of the human person that has haunted us ever since, century upon century. (Hart, p.202-203).
This leaves Hart's work as an interesting mix of history, theology and apologetics. But Hart brings his argument together in a way that is rather effective. His approach to the atheism is fresh. Hart himself is both winsome and engaging in his arguments yet he does not suffer fools gladly.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommended for college students, people interested in apologetics, history and Christian theology. Very useful for anyone in regular dialogue with non-Christians particular ardent atheists.

Other recommended reading:
Alistair McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism.
Tim Keller's The Reason for God.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Christ as Revelation

In two previous posts we looked at the attributes of special revelation (God's Word) and the attributes of general revelation. While it was not an exhaustive discussion, we argued that God's revelation is necessary, authoritative, perspicuous, and sufficient. These attributes make a healthy acronym NAPS.

In this post we want to argue that Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and the climax of God's revelation to us is also a revelation of God that is necessary, authoritative, perspicuous, and sufficient.

Two verses to begin:
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
Hebrews 1:1-2 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 
Necessity of Christ. Once God determined to redeem a people unto Himself and that this redemption would be a revelation of Himself and His character it was necessary for Christ to come. No one has ever seen God, nor will anyone ever see God fully as he is. While we can know God, we will never come to know God has he knows himself. The finite cannot contain the infinite.

Once God determined to reveal himself it was necessary for the Son to come because the Son is the eternal Word (John 1:1). The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's nature. (Heb. 1:3). Or as Col. 1:15 says "the image of the invisible God"--which I take to be referring to the Son's pre-incarnate being not merely his role after the incarnation (although it applies to his incarnation as well).

What we are saying is this: it had to be the Son who came to reveal God the way that he did. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit could not simply draw straws, as it were, or play "einee-minee-minee-moe" to determine which person of the Trinity would become incarnate. No--man was made in the image of God--and only the one who was the eternal image of the Father-- the eternal Son--could condescend into the created image of God, humanity.

If God's revelation was going to come to a climax that would entail a true revelation of His being then it would have to be the Son who came. His revelation is superior and the eschatological 'last days' of God's redemptive history. If history was going to move to this climax, as God planned, then it was necessary that God's self-revelation exceed all prior revelations given in the written Word. The only way for this was for the eternal Word of be made flesh.

Authoritative. The revelation of the Son is authoritative. Jesus says "if you have seen me you have seen the Father" (John 14:9). According to John 5:19-24, 14:10, the Son can do nothing on his own but speaks and acts wit the authority of the Father. He is an absolutely authoritative in his revelation (1) by virtue of his own person, being truly God; (2) by virtue of his communion and union with the Father and (3) by virtue of being the eternal Word.

Perspicuity. Christ's revelation of God is clear. He has truly made God known. Those who reject Christ do not reject him on the basis not having enough evidence, they reject him because their hearts suppress the evidence. Just to give you an idea of how clear the revelation of God is in the Son consider 1 John 1:1-3:
1 John 1:1-3 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
The revelation is clear and coupled with redemption provides a basis for real fellowship and communion with God.

Not only is Jesus clear in and of himself, He is a clear revelation of the Father. The Son has made the Father known (Jn. 1:18). 

Moses may had been graced to see the 'back' of God on Mt. Sinai. But the climax of God's revelation is not the 'face of God' because no man can see God and live. However, God condescends in the Son so that there is a complete and completely clear revelation of God in the Son. The Son was seen, touch and heard. To look upon his human face was to look upon the face of God. Even more in his resurrected and exalted state the glory of God shines out through Christ but in a manner that does not eradicate humanity and all creation.

Sufficient. The revelation of Christ is sufficient. It is all we need. The revelation is a true revelation but it is not an exhaustive revelation. As we mentioned, we will never see and know God as God sees and knows himself. This will always be impossible for us to have this complete of a knowledge of God. But we can have real knowledge of God and true knowledge of God.

God stoops to our level and sends the Son to reveal. The revelation is sufficient. We can, in the Son, know what we need to know, although we always know it was creatures. 

Other point concerning the sufficiency of the revelation is that there is not ongoing revelations of Christ, at least in this age. We have sufficient knowledge of him. We got what we needed to see Him and worship Him.

Rather than looking for new revelations and ongoing divine speaking, we should rest in what has been giving. It is sufficient and we should rejoice in the clarity of what has been giving. God has so made himself known to us that He gave his Son. More than that the Son died in order to bring people to God so that they could know God. 
John 17:3 And this is eternal life, uthat they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Miserable Sinner Christianity

For those who don't follow [shame on you ;)], here's a good quote from B.B. Warfield worth republishing here:

"It belongs to the very essence of the type of Christianity propagated by the Reformation that the believer should feel himself continuously unworthy of the grace by which he lives. At the center of this type of Christianity lies the contrast of sin and grace; and about this center everything else revolves. This is in large part the meaning of the emphasis put in this type of Christianity on justification by faith. It is its conviction that there is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ's sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only "when we believe." It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior may be. It is always on His "blood and righteousness" alone that we can rest. There is never anything that we are or have or do that can take His place, or that can take a place along with Him. We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace. Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just "miserable sinners": "miserable sinners" saved by grace to be sure, but "miserable sinners" still, deserving in ourselves nothing but everlasting wrath. That is the attitude which the Reformers took, and that is the attitude which the Protestant world has learned from the Reformers to take, toward the relation of believers to Christ." --B.B. Warfield

Friday, March 16, 2012

First Adam, Second Adam & Covenant Theology

Yesterday I posted on covenant theology and what would have happened if Adam had obeyed. I'd like to follow that up and try to convey things a little better here. Here's what I believe with regard to Adam's probation in the garden. 

This is not so much an exegetical defense, although I think it can be defended on the basis of exegesis and sound Biblical theology. Rather it is a statement of belief with some redemptive historical argumentation. I think the text will bear the weight of what I am saying, but I will let the reader be the judge.

As for myself, I can only say, I did not grow up with this understanding or covenant theology. It was Paul's first Adam/Second Adam that convinced me Covenant theology is the best understanding. Admittedly some articulations of covenant theology can be rooted more in systematic theology but I am convinced the best presentations come from a strong Biblical theology, like that of Geerhardus Vos.

I believer it is profitable to think about what would Adam have secured had he obeyed and vanquished Satan from the garden.  Or even: would there have been a point where he secured anything? The issue for me, as I see it, is: would the probation have gone on indefinitely where Adam always had the potential to fall or would Adam have secured a final state at some point once Satan was vanquished and the garden brought under dominion?

I believer it is the latter. I believe the continuity points between 1st/2nd Adam warrant the assertions that: what the Second Adam secured had to have been offered to the First Adam.

Of course, the Second Adam has the added task of redeeming from the curse of sin that the first Adam offered.

The first Adam was told to subdue the earth and he could have done that as God's viceregent. I think then, like we see Christ do (1 Cor. 15:28), the first Adam would have handed that kingdom over to the Father had he accomplished his task. He was charged with acting as son and executing God's reign. Of course, we all agree the first Adam fails and is rightly cursed.

In the last post I noted, Adam's body was not the same body he had in the garden pre-fall', what I meant was Paul's contrast between the natural body and the spiritual body in 1 Cor. 15:44-4  [granted 'spiritual' does not mean non-corporeal like the heretics say, I would highlight Richard Gaffin's articulation that spiritual should be a reference to the Holy Spirit]. There is continuity of person and corporeal nature between the 'natural body' and the resurrection 'spiritual body.'

Adam was created though in a natural body that is righteous and holy but still subpar to the resurrection body.

What I mean was that Adam was created in one kind of flesh with one kind of glory [like Paul says]. In his pre-fall state though the body was susceptible to sin--it could really fall away. Adam was not given what Hebrews calls 'indestructible life.' His life was vulnerable to the curse of death. In the final state our life is not. The final state of the new creation is an advancement.

The Second Adam of course actually obeyed, and he was really granted something--resurrection life. You see, as I would see it, Christ did enter the world in Adam's first state--innocence, without sin, with real righteousness and holiness. But he really did have to merit the eschatological state--the indestructible resurrection body--first he merited for himself in his humanity and second by extension for his people in union with Him because he is a covenant head, like Adam was. 

So the resurrection doesn't just bring Jesus back to life but it takes him forward to the life of new creation. Why? Because he obeyed the Father perfectly and secured it as a corporate head for his people. Adam of course never did this because he failed. I believe the offer was there though to Adam.

Reading redemptive history backwards because of the continuity points between the First and Second Adam, I think we can (and should) argue that had Adam obeyed, crushed the serpent and subdued the earth, the probation would not have been perpetual but he would have entered a new state of exaltation.

See Adam never humbled himself and submitted to God but instead raised himself up becoming the judge of good and evil --so God cursed him. Christ, however, as the Second Adam did humble himself and so God did raise him up in the final human state, not merely a pre-fall state.

Jesus' obedience was real human obedience offered on our behalf. Jesus' obedience was 'adamic' obedience, representative for a people. That should say something. It helps us answer an admittedly hypothetical 'what if Adam had obeyed?' The 'what if' is important because we are seeking to answer: what really was offered to Adam in the covenant?  

I think the Covenant offers Adam a real reward if he obeys. One of the reasons is because Christ as Second Adam fulfills the covenant of works. So because he obeyed he actually does merit resurrection and exaltation. He is crowned with glory and honor that far exceeds his first sinless state. He is given dominion over all things and the final end is crushing that.

So Christ fulfills Ps.8 but while Adam was God's image in the garden he never actually exercised that so he didn't accomplish what God had for him especially in Ps. 8:2, 6.

If Adam had, I think he would have been glorified. Why? Because look at what happens to Christ when he fulfills his role as Second Adam where the first failed. Christ really gets a reward and its one he secures as the new Adam. The same original covenantal condition apply but this time the 'adam' is victorious.

One other line of argumentation that I think gets to the crux of the matter is: new creation is not the same as original creation. It shares continuity: bodily, physical, humanity as holy and righteous. But there is discontinuity: for man, our righteousness is so secured that we can never fall away--just as Christ's body can never be vulnerable to death again. New creation is an advanced step beyond creation.

As God's representative and because of the continuity of the Covenants between the two Adams, I would argue that had the first Adam obeyed, he would have secured 'new creation' the final state for all of God's creation. He would have prosecuted God's rule over all creation, subduing the earth as God's image.

In Christ's work there is not merely restoration and removal of the curse there is advancement. As someone put to me: "History has progressed, developed, and consummated, not merely brought everything back to the way it was in the garden. A project has been completed; history has been brought from A to B." 

I agree! I am just applying this to what was offered to Adam if he had obeyed. I believe it was Vos who liked to say 'eschatology precedes soteriology'.

Admittedly, we are asking some "what if" questions. It was not God's plan or intent in his ultimate Sovereign will. But I believe the first Adam and Second Adam parallels should guide our thinking here. 

At the end of the day a believer admits and rejoices that we enter heaven, the resurrection and the new creation on the merits of the Second Adam who secured both our redemption and the kingdom on our behalf. And for that we are to be eternally grateful. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Covenant of Works & Eschatological Probation

Does the covenant of works entail only a loss for disobedience or does it simultaneously include a reward offered to Adam had he obeyed?

Jamin Hubner has a blog post up over at his apologetics blog on the Covenant of Works. He argues that the covenant of works only entails a loss of eternal life for Adam's disobedience.
You’ll often hear it said by many Reformed theologians, there’s a covenant of works, and a covenant of grace, and these two covenants compromise the core of “covenant theology.” Law is associated with one, gospel with another. There’s a principle of works given by God (the conditional “do this and live”), and a principle of grace (the unconditional “you will live because of what I’ve done”). And in Eden and at Sinai, there was law and the “works principle,” while with Abraham and the New Covenant there is grace and the gospel principle. 
It sounds so neat and clean. But, for a great portion, it is so wrong. It reads back into Genesis something that just isn’t there. The principle given by God was not “do this and live” but “do this and die,” or to put it another way, “don’t do this and live.” You might think that’s a matter of semantics or word games, but it is actually a theological difference that makes all the difference in the world as to how we understand redemptive history. Let’s again summarize the reality. 
The default condition in the Garden was life. There was nothing to be earned. There was no “probationary period” where if Adam passed a test he would earn eternal life. He had eternal life. (But it could be lost.) There was no “do this and live principle” given by God. There was only obvious commands to do what human beings were made to do (e.g., procreate and tend the soil) and one simple prohibition. All was life and perfect, and there was the possibility of falling from that status if positive action was taken in the wrong direction.
I disagree. On the one hand Adam was created in more than just innocency--he was holy and righteous. On the other hand the protological state in the garden was not the final eschatological state. Adam was not created in a state of glorified eternal life--the kind that the work of Christ offers.

Here is my response to Jamin, that I sent as a comment:
I've appreciated your blog for a while now, always from a distance. I found out about you through James White's ministry at AOM. 
Just a comment about your recent post on covenant theology on the 'works principle'. 
You write: "Greg Nichols making similar challenges in the second appendix to his fabulous work, Covenant Theology, though in much more thorough terms. I’d like to quote so much, but I only have time to mention one phrase that seems particularly noteworthy: “The focus of the prohibition [tree in garden] is not on what Adam stood to gain, but rather on what he stood to lose. That seems to be missed. That doctrine paints Adam as a man with everything to gain and little to lose” (351). Exactly. The opposite is true: Adam had little to gain and everything to lose. And if we dig deeper into these types of differences, it seems that our entire approach as Reformed theologians towards the covenant in the Garden is backwards. This is being missed." 
I agree with you that Adam had everything to lose. He was created as "upright and righteous" 1689 LBC ch.VI or "in knowledge, righteousness and holiness" (WSC #17).
So yes he had everything to lose. 
I believe many (most?) covenant theologians believe that Adam was also given the genuine offer of perfection in an eschatological state or glorification. He did indeed have much to gain: namely the eschatological state.  While Adam's original state of holiness and righteousness went beyond mere innocency, he was also not secured in this perfected state as we will be in the final state. 
Covenant theology does tend to hold that if Adam had obeyed he would not have been on infinite probation but secured something. Of course, this is something that Christ secures for us in not just in redeeming us but securing it by his perfect obedience: he gives us an eschatological state from which we can never fall which is like the Garden but also exceeds Adam's original state. 
I would quote WCF 7.2 "The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience." 
So for example Turretin: "“The tree of life served as a sacrament and symbol of the immortality which would have been bestowed upon Adam if he had persevered in his first state . . . With respect to the future life, it was a declarative and sealing sign of the happy life to be passed in paradise and to be changed afterwards into a heavenly life, if he had continued upright. ” (Institutes, vol. 1, 581)." 
Or Gerhardus Vos: "“The tree was associated with the higher, the unchangeable, the eternal life to be secured by obedience throughout Adam’s probation (or time of testing). After man should have been made sure of the attainment of the highest life, the tree would appropriately have been the sacramental means for communicating the highest life . . . After the fall, God attributes to man the inclination of snatching the fruit against the divine purpose. But this very desire implies the understanding that it somehow was the specific life-sacrament for the time after the probation (Biblical Theology, 28)." 
Nehemiah Coxe says the same things in Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ pp.45-46. p.45 "This was called the tree of life because it was instituted by God for a sign and pledge of that eternal life which Adam would have obtained by his own personal and perfect obedience to the law of God if he had continued in it." 
To put it another way, the protological state prior to the fall was not the eschatological state. Yes Adam had everything to lose in the fall, but the probation was real, not merely to see if he'd fall but to see if he'd obey and thereby obtain the eschatological state the covenant offers. 
For these reasons I don't think you can say that Adam had eternal life in the garden--if by eternal life we mean what the Bible means: the eschatological state of glorification which by its very nature guarantees the impossibility of loss or falling from it. 
I don't think holding to this view of things will lead to baptismal regeneration, eternal justification, etc. I haven't exhaustively documented it here but I am pretty sure this is pretty standard in covenant theology with wide representation (Turretin, Vos, and Coxe as I noted). Of course, I don't want to absolutize the words of men, I am just point out the history. 
In terms of a Biblical exegesis to defend it, I am a bit pressed for time in this already long comment. 
I would point you towards the exegesis of the defenders of the view but would also point to four Biblical theological thoughts:
(1) The relationship between First Adam and his obedience and the Second Adam and his obedience.
(2) The nature of Sonship. Sonship, it seems, has to 'learn obedience' in order to secure the eschatological state (drawing implications and theology from [unincluded] exegesis of Heb. 5:7-9). [I presuppose things that I think can be defended and drawn out exegetically from this passage which is mainly about Christ])
(3) The presence of the tree of life in the final state (cf. Revelation; see also how Vos, Turretin and Coxe explain this)
(4) The nature of glorification-- the situation in the garden is not the eschatological state. The resurrection body is not the body that Adam was created in--indeed this is important because Jesus entered the world in the pre-fall condition that Adam had and he still had to secure the eschatological state for himself and his children.  
I hope you will consider these thoughts in the gracious spirit which I offer them. Thank you for your blog and the chance to interact with it. If you don't mind, I may publish these comments on my blog. For the record, I am a believer in covenant theology who is also a baptist, although I also graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philly, I currently serve as a pastor in the Mt. Pocono Pa. 
Blessings to you in the Lord,
Tim Bertolet 
(I changed some of my original wording above to correct some atrocious grammatical errors in the copy I sent to him.)

It is not as if all Adam had in the garden was things to lose. As part of his probation, he had things to gain--namely the eschatological end. When Adam fails, Christ must do two things: (1) redeem the creation from the curse; (2) usher creation and humanity to that eschatological end for which the world was created. When we say "for which is was created" we mean not the state that it was created in, but rather the goal that was offered to it in its prefall state.

Thankfully it is the eternal Son who steps into creation, offers obediences as the true and perfect Son, and ushers creation to this end so that the children can share in the glory. This is 'the end for which God created the world.'

Soli Deo Gloria.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Attributes of General Revelation

Previously in this post, we briefly articulated four of the central attributes or characteristics of Scripture as God's Word. Scripture is what theologians sometimes call "special revelation." In the writings of Scripture, God-breathed out what the prophets and writers should say so that the words were fully by men but fully the product of God's divine hand. The interpretations did not come about by men but by the Holy Spirit. 

Scripture describes another form of God's revelation and that is God's revelation in creation. God speaks in creation so that He is plainly made known and revealed.

Psalm 19:1-4 ESV The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
Romans 1:19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 
This is important because they really is a clear revelation of God in creation. On the one hand it is in all created things so that we might sufficiently and clearly see his glory, eternal power and divine nature. On the other hand, man himself is made in God's image (even with his sin) so that he has a conscious and bears the marks of God. It is "clearly perceived."

The problem with general revelation is not the content--contra Barth and others--there is a real and clear revelation of God. God has supernaturally made his creation to communicate to us who He is. It speaks just as much as special revelation in Scripture speaks. It is so clear that a person who has never heard the gospel, when they stand before God at the judgment will be guilty and be able to offer no excuse to Him.

The problem with general revelation is that the receiver of it (you and I) take what God gives us and we suppress it, reject it and rebel against it. In sin we deny all that it screaming forth all around us.
Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they obecame futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Humanity always takes the clear revelation and because it stairs us in the face we need to do something with it. So we make idols and false beliefs. All forms of unbelief takes the revelation of God (general and/or special) and has "do" something with to deny and suppress it. Our hearts are idol factories twisting the good revelation God has giving us so that our hearts become and stay darkened.

Cornelius Van Til used this understanding of Romans 1 to formulate his apologetic method. In an essay entitled "Nature and Scripture" in the book The Infallible Word, he applied the acronym NAPS to general revelation. Reading his essay first introduced me to this way of thinking. The thought that guides Van Til's thinking is that "God's revelation in nature was from the outset of history meant to be taken conjointly with God's supernatural communication" (p277). Revelation from God comes in a covenant character and so in creation prior to the fall we see the covenantal character.

Necessity: God did not create man in a state of independence but in a state of dependence. Adam in the garden was established as God's image and that entailed being a covenant bearer as God's vice regent. This into the position man was created man was given revelation that was absolutely necessary for his role. (1) He bore moral and regal qualities of God to exercise in the garden; (2) He was given given all creation as a display of God's glory.

This "necessity" was a consequent necessity in that once God determined to create, he could do no less than determine that it be necessary for his creation to display His glory. As the highest of all being, God cannot but glorify himself in all his actions. The structure and order of creation is a necessary reveal of God so that mankind is properly established in the garden.

Van Til also states that part of the necessity of general revelation is that it necessarily reveals the curse of God for sin in its post fall state. The creation groans await its redemption, thus imply that he clearly displays (reveals) the need of redemptive grace. Since God truly cursed creation it is necessary that the curse be proclaimed by the groaning of the creation.

Authority: Natural revelation is authoritative in that it tells us truth of God. In the pre-fall state, Adam without corrupt and with moral perfection and righteousness could understand and know God through what was made. Adam would have learned obedience in the garden by heeding the proscription against eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Adam's conscious in the garden would have also been a revelation of God. He was made to bear God's image. Created in a state of morality and as a moral being, the position in which he was created--in covenant--was binding to him, authoritative. As Van Til describes it "The mark of God's ownership was from the beginning writ large upon all the facts of the universe. Man was to cultivate the garden of the Lord and gladly pay tribute to the Lord of the manor" (p.273). In this way the revelation in the garden was authoritative.

Perpescuity: The revelation was clear. Note Romans 1:20 "his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world." The creation clearly displays who God is and something about his attributes.

Again, after the fall the problem is not with the creation that is sending the message and speaking, the problem is with those are listening to it. Consider how many people can see all the wonder, majesty and power of creation and still walk away denying a god exists or even suggesting we can never be certain.

We should point out that creation does not simply point out that there is 'a god'--as if it proves mere theism. Creation points to the God of the Bible. How? Creation was made subservient to a God who established a covenant order and hierarchy. It revealed the Covenant God. God set up Adam as his image in His creation. So in the garden man did not just see a non-desrcript presentation 'there is a god' but rather a descriptive 'this is who God is.'

Sufficiency: Here Van Til demurs a bit. General revelation is not sufficient in and of itself. It was never meant to function without Scripture. This is true is a post fall context where a person cannot get saved without coming to the light through the special revelation of God's Word and the illumination of that revelation by the Holy Spirit.

General revelation is not sufficient for all things in a comprehensive sense. However it is sufficient in the purpose for which it was created. Van Til notes it was historically sufficient. It was sufficient to give Adam what he needed to know in a prefall state--this is who God is and this is humanity's relation to him. It is sufficient in a postfall state to render all people everywhere without excuse.

Conclusion: The basic point is that we need to maintain that the creation displays the glory of God. It truly reveals God. It also lays the foundation for our understanding of redemptive grace.

The problem is that you and I in our sins do not listen to or respond to all that creation tells us. It goes to illustrate the depths of our rebellion and condemnation. Our hearts are so foolish and dark that we take the plain and obvious and make up false theologies and idolatries with it--all because our heart does not want to yield what the creation is calling out.

Thankfully as a Christian, you are regenerated. This means, next time you see something in God's creation, like for example a sunset, you have been equipped to recognize that this calls forth the glory of God to you. Rejoice and Worship.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Attributes of Scripture

Commonly there are four attributes described about special revelation. I always remembered them by the helpful acronym NAPS. We say Scripture is necessary, authoritative, perspicuous and sufficient.

Necessary: If we are going to know anything about God, He must reveal Himself to us. Calvin famously remarked that when God speaks, he condescends to us and lisps baby talk. For me to know anything about God, He must speak to me. Therefore we say that the Bible is necessary.

Authoritative: Because God is the ultimate author of Scripture, the Word of God is 'God-breathed'. Because it is God's Word, it is authoritative. He bears the authority of the author because He is the one who has spoken it, ordaining that it should be our guide and authority in all matters of faith and practice. As authoritative, it is our ground because God is revealing to us what He wants us to know.

Perspicuous: This means that the basic doctrines and teachings of Scripture are clearly expressed. This is not to deny that certain passages are hard (2 Peter 3:15-16). Neither does this mean that we will necessarily come to understand all the things in Scripture. But what it does mean is that the basic message is easily discernible. It is true that we cannot discern it without the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). Because of our hardness of heart, we suppress the truth of God when we encounter it. But despite the problem that resides in us, the basic message in and of itself is sufficiently clear. God spoke in plain language. There are not tricks or confusion, nor do we need a magisterium, committee, or publication to understand what is in the Word of God.

Perspicuity is a sometimes a forgotten doctrine, especially when we consider the issues of hermeneutics and post-modern literary theory. Nevertheless the Word of God is basically clear in the core things we need to know. Thus it is sufficient and clear enough to hold us accountable if we reject it. A person will not be able to stand before God at the judgment and claim 'I read it but I couldn't see it was from you.' The reality the person say and had all the evidence and clarity in front of them, their heart suppressed the truth and rejected it.

Sufficiency: The Scriptures are sufficient. God has given us what we need to know and all we need to know in and for this life. The sufficiency relates to the doctrines and teachings in the Word of God. It does not mean Scripture tells us everything. For example, Scripture does not tell me how to repair my car. But Scripture is sufficient to make we wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15).

This also means that our doctrine can be derived from Scripture. We do not need philosophy to come to the aid of our theology. This is not to denigrate philosophy but it is to say that a Christian does not need to be a philosopher to understand the things of God (one potential danger of philosophy is the use of human wisdom to get to God or to understand God's revelation--and to the extent that this detracts from God's wisdom in the cross the two agendas can be antithetical-1 Cor. 1:18-31).

Sufficiency is another doctrine that gets short shrift. Today the church often lacks a practical reliance on the Word of God as sufficient for ministry and transformation. The reality is that the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God as His Sword. How often do we run the risk of trying to do things under our own strength and our own ability rather than letting the Word of God lose and trusting its sufficiency.

So next time you are thinking about the attributes of Scripture think about NAPS. We are grateful for the Word of God that God has blessed the church with so that we might know him. He has given us revelation in His Word. It truly is a precious treasure.

Hopefully in follow up post will talk about how God's two other means of revealing Himself (general revelation and Christ the Logos) also share these characteristics of necessary, authoritative, perspicuous and sufficient.

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...