Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dr. Wilber Wallis passes to glory

Dr. Wallis was one of the founding members of Covenant Theological Seminary. Here are the details from the Aquila Report.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Van Til's Introduction to Systematic Theology part 2

Here is the second part of my comments on Cornelius Van Til's An Introduction to Systematic Theology.

Chapters 3-5 – Christian Epistemology

Van Til says that the central question regarding Christian Epistemology in Systematic Theology and Apologetics is, “What is the place and function of reason in theology?” Attention here will be focused on chapter 3 as chapters 4 and 5 mainly serve to clarify and build on that. To answer this question Van Til begins with God as the source of all existence. He references God’s ex nihilo creative work and then says that what is true about existence is equally true about meaning. It is the absolute existence of God that determines the derivative existence of creation and so it is the absolute meaning that God has for himself that determines the derivative meaning of every created fact as being for the glory of God. Therefore for our created human minds to truly know any fact means that we must presuppose God’s absolute existence and his plan for the universe. These facts must be related to laws and so the particulars of our existence are known in relation to the universals (such as natural laws, laws of logic, moral laws, laws of mathematics, etc.).

The result of this is that we study the subjects of knowledge (the created facts of the universe) in light of its object (the absolute God). This means that the facts are only understood as they are brought into subordination to God as the ultimate interpreter. All human interpretation is derivative of God’s. So our interpretation is never comprehensive. This means that all mystery in the universe is only in light of our limited ability to interpret the facts. As Van Til says, “We hold that the atom is mysterious for us, but not for God.” (61) It is the comprehensive understanding on the part of God that gives validity to our partial understandings. The fact that we do not comprehend the atom does not mean that our knowledge of it cannot be true in light of general revelation and the mysteriousness that remains should only drive us to worship God. Van Til sums this up by saying:

As Christians, then, we believe that human knowledge of the world and of God is (a) not exhaustive and yet (b) true. We are created in God’s image, and therefore our knowledge cannot be exhaustive; we are created in God’s image, and therefore our knowledge is true. (61)
This understanding is the key to Van Til’s epistemology. As we’ve seen before, Van Til is very focused on preserving the Creator-creature distinction in all areas. God is glorified as Creator and as such he is the ultimate knower, interpreter, and revealer. Human beings are creatures and so can only know as things are revealed and as they think God’s thoughts after him. So because we are creatures we can never interpret and reason as the absolute standard and so our knowledge cannot ever be comprehensive or exhaustive. However because we are creatures that are made in the image of the Creator we can truly know things through the effective revelation of God. In Van Til’s theology it is precisely this Creator-creature distinction that forbids autonomy and comprehensive knowledge on our part that at the same time makes true knowledge possible.

This draws Van Til into a discussion of the noetic (to the mind) effects of sin on our reasoning. He notes that true though not exhaustive knowledge is only possible for the mind that starts with the presupposition of the absolute God. Here he compares three different states of the human mind. The first is the Adamic consciousness. He says that human reason in this case was done in covenant obedience to God rather than in enmity. So Adam had a true conception of the relation of the particulars to the universals in God’s creation.

The second is the unregenerate consciousness, which is man dead in trespasses and sins. Van Til says:

The natural man wants to be something that he cannot be. He wants to be “as God,” himself the judge of good and evil, himself the standard of truth. He sets himself as the ideal of comprehensive knowledge. When he sees that he will never reach this ideal, he concludes that all reality is surrounded by darkness.” (63)
Van Til says that the fallen mind is in “absolute ethical antithesis” to God. So while we see that the unregenerate person may know a lot of things about the world he cannot ever know them truly because he does not know them as he ought to know them. He is basically mistaken in his ideas about natural things because he cannot truly found any universal laws in an absolute and so he is never justified in believing something to be true (as knowledge is defined as justified true belief). Even so, the unbeliever does know something of God and not the bare existence of God but something of his divine character (Rom. 1:18-21). Van Til says that this is because God impresses his presence on man’s attention through nature and man’s own consciousness and therefore the unregenerate man can never escape knowing God. This will come up again in Van Til’s discussion of general revelation.

Finally, Van Til examines the regenerate consciousness. The regenerate man is restored so that like Adam before the fall he recognizes the absolute authority of God and sees himself as derivative. This is only because God has made the regenerate man alive. Van Til also acknowledges the already but not yet present in this restoration as we wait for glorification and the resurrection body (here the teaching of Geerhardus Vos is evident).

Van Til says this allows us to make several conclusions regarding the place of reason in theology:

1. We can only deal with the unregenerate and the regenerate consciousnesses. The Adamic consciousness was a temporary condition in God’s eternal plan that no longer exists after the fall.

2. Because all men are either covenant keepers in Christ or covenant breakers in Adam we cannot speak of human reason in general as it is either submissive to God or in open rebellion against him. We must always be aware of men’s basic alliances.

3. We cannot deal with the unregenerate consciousness on the basis of its own assumption of the right to judge. The Scriptures never appeal to the unregenerate as a qualified judge.

4. While Scripture treats the unregenerate consciousness as blind it still holds the unregenerate responsible for that blindness.

5. “Scripture teaches us to speak and preach to, as well as to reason with, blind men because God, in whose name we speak and reason, can cause the blind to see.” (69) Here we can see the practical concerns behind Van Til’s thought as his concern is how and why to do apologetics and evangelism.

6. After God has changed out minds and brought every thought captive to the obedience of Christ then we must use our reason to receive the revelation God has given of himself in Scripture. This is the only proper place of reason in theology. This means that there is no conflict between reason and faith as faith causes us to reason rightly. So the answer to the question asked at the beginning of the chapter is that faith receives the revelation of God and reason then reinterprets that revelation by thinking God’s thoughts after him and applying God’s revelation to individual situations and circumstances.

Chapters 4 and 5 involve Van Til providing a critique of the epistemologies of Charles Hodge, Herman Bavinck, and Valentine Hepp. These critiques lead to the same conclusions as Van Til’s positive formulation here in chapter 3 so I will leave you to picking up Van Til’s book and reading these chapters for yourself. In the next post I will deal with Van Til’s thoughts on general revelation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Van Til's Introduction to Systematic Theology part 1

P&R Publishing has been re-releasing the major works of Cornelius Van Til with commentary provided by means of an introduction and explanatory notes from current apologetics faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary. These books should be a great treasure for the church as William Edgar and Scott Oliphint help to explain the historical circumstances of Dr. Van Til’s writing and then to point out and explain key terms that occur in his theology. Dr. Van Til can be very difficult to read at times and so these explanatory notes help to make his works more accessible to the church. Currently P&R has re-released Christian Apologetics (ed. by Dr. Edgar), An Introduction to Systematic Theology (ed. by Dr. Edgar), and The Defense of the Faith (ed. by Dr. Oliphint).

I’m currently reading An Introduction to Systematic Theology and I thought that I would blog through the book. If you follow the link provided then you can browse the table of contents and Dr. Edgar’s introduction for free. I think that Dr. Edgar will do more to convince you of the value of this book than anything I can add so I will simply commend that to you.

It should be noted that this book is not an introduction to systematic theology like the introductions written by Wayne Grudem or Louis Berkhof. Instead as Dr. Edgar notes this is more like a traditional Prolegomena that introduces the first principles of systematic theology with sections on methodology, epistemology, general and special revelation, and theology proper. I’ll blog about these sections in the order that Dr. Van Til deals with them. Also it needs to be said that Dr. Van Til was a professor of apologetics and not systematic theology. Accordingly, this Prolegomena is focused on the importance of a full understanding of these first principles in the course of engaging in apologetics. For a more complete exegetical approach to these same topics I would recommend the first volume of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics or book one of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Chapters 1-2 Methodology

Dr. Van Til writes that the goal and purpose of systematic theology is “to offer an ordered presentation of what the Bible teaches about God.” (15) Here he notes that the study of Christian theology has the goal of gaining knowledge about God. This is not the only goal. We want to know everything that God desires for us to know about anything but the center of theology is the knowledge of God just as the center of our lives ought to be God. Van Til makes two important points here.

First, to say that theology is God-centered does not diminish the importance of the person and work of Christ. Instead Van Til says that after the fall Christ is the only way that we can come to the Father or know the Father. Beyond this, as Christ is the eternal Second Person of the Trinity to know him is in fact to know God. Yet the goal of theology is to know the Triune God fully as he makes himself known to us and therefore it is more appropriate to say that theology is God-centered than to say that it is Christ-centered.

Second, this does not mean that systematic theology is more important or somehow reduces the logical value of other theological disciplines. Van Til notes the value of exegetical theology, biblical theology, systematic theology, apologetics, and practical theology working together for the goal of understanding what the Bible teaches. The value of systematic theology is not that it stands apart or over these other disciplines but rather that it supports them by using the fruits of exegetical and biblical theology to present what the Bible teaches as a unified whole and then giving the platform for apologetics to defend and for practical theology to preach and teach.

Next Van Til sets about answering the question of, “What is the value of systematic theology?” He first says that the question of value first needs to be subject to the question of truth and duty. God commands that we study Scripture and bring its content together into a systematic whole. So the value of the study is found first in obedience to divine command. The result is that we do not become doctrinally one-sided but rather that we are thoroughly equipped to answer all questions of theology on the basis of Scripture’s teaching. This then has value for apologetics as Van Til says, “The fight between Christianity and non-Christianity is, in modern times, no piece-meal affair. It is the life-and-death struggle between two mutally opposed life-and-world views.” (23) So the apologist who will be able to answer all of the attacks of the unbeliever is only the apologist who is thoroughly trained in systematic theology and can remove the foundation of the unbeliever’s position.

This leads into the second chapter and a discussion of the methods of systematic theology. Van Til says that method is never neutral in theology. He writes:
Our presupposition of God as the absolute, self-conscious being, who is the source of all finite being and knowledge makes it imperative that we distinguish the Christian-theistic method from all non-Christian methods. (27)
Here Van Til uses idealism as a negative example. He quotes Charles Hodge who argued that there was both an a priori (“from the former” meaning deductive) and an a posteriori (“from the latter” or inductive) side to Christian theological methods. Van Til cannot leave it at this because idealism (that reality is fundamentally mental in nature) makes the same claim. Yet the problem is that the Christian and the idealist do not mean the same thing by deduction and induction. The idealist can only work deductively by assuming that the temporary state of things has a permanent aspect ultimately meaning that all of his conclusions are inductively reached as he has to look at what he can perceive and then presuppose that what he perceives is eternal. The Christian deductively works from the fact of an absolute, self-conscious God who creates all the things that are to be perceived. Thus inductive reasoning for the Christian arrives back at the same starting point as all the facts that we can sense are created and controlled by the same absolute, self-conscious God.

This leads Van Til to discuss the essential principle of knowledge. The Christian must confess that it is impossible to think of the nonexistence of God. We can think of the nonexistence of the world since there was a time when the world did not exist but we cannot think of a time when an eternal self-sufficient and self-contained being did not exist. Van Til then says we cannot comprehend God in that as he alone is self-contained and self-existent we cannot know him fully as he knows himself and as he knows us. “He was and is the only self-contained whole, the system of absolute truth.” (30) So his knowledge is self-dependent. There is not anything independent of him that he has to investigate or learn.

On the basis of God’s self-knowledge Van Til can now turn to human knowledge. The unbeliever must always assume that he knows things univocally, meaning that his own mind is the ultimate interpreter of reality. Van Til says that the Christian instead realizes that he knows only analogically, or that he is only the re-interpreter of reality since God alone is the univocal interpreter. Van Til explains the distinction this way:

Christians believe in two levels of existence, the level of God’s existence as self-contained and the level of man’s existence as derived from the level of God’s existence. For this reason, Christians must also believe in two levels of knowledge, the level of God’s knowledge, which is absolutely comprehensive and self-contained, and the level of man’s knowledge, which is not comprehensive but is derivative and reinterpretative. (32)
Here those who are somewhat familiar with the Clark-Van Til controversy may recognize elements of their disagreement. Van Til calls all knowledge that is not comprehensive analogical. By this he means that it is a reinterpretation of knowing as God knows and only God knows things perfectly as only he knows facts in their relation to all other facts. So for Van Til to truly know something requires knowing it comprehensively, which in turn requires omniscience. Van Til’s goal in this argument is to preserve the Creator-creature distinction in all facets of life. He does not want to say that we cannot truly know anything though so he wants to say that believing knowledge is analogical and so we know things only in terms of how we interpret them based on God’s revelation.

I think we have to critique Van Til here a bit. To only know something analogically is not to know it at all on the basis of his own definition of knowledge as comprehensive. This would mean that humans cannot ever really know anything. Instead of saying human knowledge is analogical it seems better to say that it is revelational. This means that what we know is what God reveals to us by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit through general and special revelation. So we can truly know that Christ died for our sins and rose for our justification, not because we interpret the relevant facts given to us analogically, but because God, who knows all things comprehensively, revealed this to us in Scripture and by the work of the Spirit. This allows for true creaturely knowledge as we know that God cannot lie in his revelatory activity and also preserves the Creator-creature distinction as we do not know univocally as God does.

Van Til then says that the conscious acknowledgement of the existence of God is required for the knowledge of every single fact in the universe. It is the fact that God exists and that he has created everything including the mind of man and whatever the mind of man knows that makes all other knowledge possible. So God is not only necessary for theology but for all the sciences. Similarly, every fact that is observed by any of the sciences is actually revelation of God and proves the existence of God and the truth of Scriptures. Every fact must be expressive of the plan of the absolute God or no fact can prove or disprove anything as there is not any relation between facts (by fact Van Til means anything that can be known).

So Van Til says that we have only two possible methodologies for investigation. One presupposes an absolute and self-contained God who has created all things. All facts as they appear are a part of his creation plan and so presuppose God and that plan. They are unintelligible apart from God. So the Christian sees facts as created by the will of God and in accordance with the nature of God. The other denies the existence of this God and treats facts as if they are self-contained and can be examined to arrive at some sort of independent universal law.

Therefore, Van Til says that in discussions with unbelievers we must be careful not to give in to their presuppositions and pretend as if any fact means the same thing to both. This is ultimately true without regard to the details of how the non-theistic system is built. Van Til writes:
A rationalistic method, that is, a method in which the a priori predominates, is in itself no worse than an exclusively empirical or a posteriori method. Both are equally unacceptable if they do not have the Christian conception of the a priori and a posteriori. So, also, no combination of rational and empirical aspects will produce a method that is better than either a rationalistic or an empirical method. If we add ever so many zeros to zero, we have zero still. (44)
Ultimately this means that we are obligated to accept the Christian method of presupposing the absolute God in order to proceed to any knowledge of facts. All non-Christian systems are equally false and equally incoherent because they do not begin with this presupposition. The unbeliever will fight this presupposition as much as possible. But the unbeliever remains created in God’s image and surrounded by a world that manifests God’s power and divinity in every fact. So their resistance to the knowledge of God, whose image-bearers they are, is an ethical resistance.

God restrains this resistance through his common grace. Van Til reminds us again that this is all the plan of God:

We have to speak as if sin would have destroyed the work of God. That was certainly its ethical intent. But we know that this was not an ultimate metaphysical possibility, for it was already, from all eternity, a part of the plan of God that sin should be defeated through the work of Christ. (48)
So the sinner continues to know God (Rom. 1:18-21) even though he tries to suppress this knowledge. He knows this even as he is created in God’s image to think rationally just as God is ultimate rationality. So, as an example, theoretically the unbeliever holds to the law of non-contradiction. Yet the unbeliever claims the right to determine for himself what is and is not contradictory. This is irrational as a finite creature cannot be the ultimate judge of anything. So Van Til wants to show that all non-Christian thinking is rational because of being created in the image of God in God’s world but is irrational in rejecting the existence of God and claiming to the be ultimate authority. This will lead into Van Til’s discussion on epistemology in the next three chapters.

Some things from around the web

Here is an interview with Professor John Frame from RTS Orlando on the Problem of Evil from the Between Two Worlds blog.

This site from John Dyer seeks to help recommend the best commentaries available on each book of the Bible. Looks pretty useful!

Here is a great quote from Herman Bavinck on the relationship between church and society. You can read more from Bavinck on this at the Feeding on Christ blog.
So that everything may revive and may become again what it ought to be and can be, the Gospel tests all things--all circumstances and relationships--against the will of God, just as in the days of Moses and the prophets, of Christ and the apostles. It considers everything from a moral point of view, from the angle in which all those circumstances and relationships are connected with moral principles that God has instituted for all of life. Precisely because the Gospel only opposes sin, it opposes it only and everywhere in the heart and in the head, in the eye and in the hand, in family and in society, in science and art, in government and subjects, in rich and poor, for all sin is unrighteousness, trespassing of God's law, and corruption of nature. But by liberating all social circumstances and relationships from sin, the Gospel tries to restore them all according to the will of God and make them fulfill their own nature.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Justified in Christ

Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us in Justification is a collection of essays written by members of the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. K. Scott Oliphint, Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology, serves as the editor. The book is largely meant to be a response to the teachings of the New Perspective of Paul on the matter of justification by faith. There are implications here for Federal Vision theology as well but it seems to me that the book is more focused on the former. I thought I would give a quick article-by-article overview for this anthology.

1. Introduction by Sinclair Ferguson – Normally I would not comment on this but as the Introduction runs for seventeen pages it is pretty lengthy and informative. Most importantly, the introduction sets the stage for the goal of the book as every author does not spend much time trying to describe exactly what the New Perspective on Paul (or occasionally, Federal Vision theology) teaches and so Pastor Ferguson’s introduction gives the reader some background to help place the deeper articles that follow into the current context. Pastor Ferguson is a clear writer and so I think the introduction is very important and helpful to the anthology as a whole.
2. “Justification and Eschatology” by Richard Gaffin – This essay is a summary of material from Dr. Gaffin’s book, By Faith Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation. Dr. Gaffin can be difficult to read at times as he has a very formal writing style and is very selective in his choice of vocabulary. Still, there is a lot to learn from this essay about Paul’s views on justification and taking the time to understand it will be very rewarding.
3. “Union with Christ and Justification” by Lane Tipton – This was one of my two favorite essays in the book. Dr. Tipton shows six key ways that the Bible teaches the forensic import of our union with the resurrected Christ for our justification. The essay is very well-organized and reads easily. There is a lot here that is very important in light of the current justification controversies.
4. “Calvin’s Development of the Doctrine of Forensic Justification: Calvin and the Early Lutherans on the Relationship of Justification and Renewal” by Peter Lillback – The title really sums up the subject of this essay. It is interesting for the historical context but I’m not sure that it’s all that helpful for the present debate aside from providing some additional context to how Calvin, Luther, and Melanchthon approached the doctrine of justification in Paul given the New Perspective's rejection of their views on Paul. Dr. Lillback tries to show that the Lutheran understanding of justification does not reduce to psychological guilt and that Calvin was even further from this view of Paul's teaching.
5. “John Owen on Justification” by Carl Trueman – Dr. Trueman is one of the most knowledgeable scholars on John Owen's theology. He is very helpful in understanding and explaining Owen’s views. That said, this essay did not really seem to move the case against the New Perspective forward in the anthology. The section explaining Owen’s rejection of eternal justification was interesting as Owen is often misunderstood by proponents of that doctrine who claim him for their side.
6. “The Active Obedience of Christ and the Theology of the Westminster Standards: A Historical Investigation” by Jeffrey Jue – This was a very informative essay explaining what the Westminster divines believed about the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to believers. I think that this essay is very relevant to the current debate over Federal Vision theology. Dr. Jue explains the views of the delegates who rejected the idea that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to his people and then explains the response of the majority of the delegates. This essay should also be helpful as questions are raised over whether or not a rejection of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience should be allowed as an exception to the Westminster Standards. It would have probably been good to put this essay before the one on John Owen as it provides the context for Dr. Trueman’s work.
7. “Justification and Violence: Reflections on Atonement and Contemporary Apologetics” by William Edgar – This essay by Dr. Edgar was a very good inclusion in this anthology. Dr. Edgar is usually very good on cultural application of Reformed apologetics and he does not disappoint here. Given the tendency of some proponents of New Perspective theology, such as N.T. Wright, toward issues of social justice Dr. Edgar shows that it is only by holding to a true Biblical understanding of justification that we have a response to violence and social injustice in the world. A very good essay.
8. “Covenant Faith” by K. Scott Oliphint – This was my other favorite essay in the book along with Dr. Tipton’s. Dr. Oliphint makes the case that human beings are always in a covenant relationship with God and that all knowledge requires covenant faith. So even unbelievers have faith in the sense that they know God (Rom. 1). In the course of the essay Dr. Oliphint evaluates parts of the epistemologies of Abraham Kuyper, Cornelius Van Til, Alvin Plantinga, and Thomas Reed. He then shows that the unbeliever lives in rebellion against God and the covenant even as he must have faith to know anything. So saving and justifying faith is not an addition to original faith but instead makes that faith obedient to the demands of God’s covenant.
9. “The Pastoral Implications of the Doctrine of Justification” by J. Stafford Carson – The last essay in the book is a reminder that the Reformed doctrine of justification is extremely practical in pastoral ministry and that it can only be given up at a high cost to the sheep. So Dr. Carson gives a number of reasons why this doctrine needs to be taught comprehensively from the pulpit.
10. The Imputation of Adam’s Sin by John Murray – The last thing in this book is a reprint of this short book by Professor Murray. I will note that Professor Murray can be difficult to read in his simplest writings and that this is on a whole probably the most complicated of any of his books. But it is also extremely valuable for those who want to understand what the Bible has to say about our justification in Christ. I highly recommend it with a pencil and a highlighter and prepare to read sections two or three times.

This was a very good book on a whole. The essays by Lane Tipton, William Edgar, Scott Oliphint, and Stafford Carson in particular were excellent and very helpful. I also think that all of these essays should be very accessible to the lay reader who does not have a great background in theology. Some of the others were far more technical and may need some additional explanation or reading. Reading this book will not give a sufficient background on all the teachings of the New Perspective on Paul or Federal Vision theologies. It will, however, help to ground the believer so that he understands what the Scriptures teach about justification so that he can learn to spot the errors in both and other mistaken views on justification.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Really good post on Richard Dawkins from the guys over at Creed or Chaos. Note the bolded section at the end.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Resurrection and Eschatology

This isn’t meant to be a full-blown review or response to any of the essays in Resurrection and Eschatology: Theology in Service of the Church: Essays in Honor of Richard B. Gaffin Jr. Instead this is my very brief opinion on each essay. I may have later posts interacting more completely with some of these articles.

Part One: Studies in Biblical and Systematic theology
1. “The Function of Romans 7:13-25 in Paul’s Argument for the Law’s Impotence and the Spirit’s Power, and Its Bearing on the Identity of the Schizophrenic ‘I’” by Dennis Johnson – This article is another argument that the “I” in the second half of Romans 7 refers to pre-conversion Paul. The first third or so of the article is at least a better argument then Douglas Moo puts forth in his commentary on Romans (NICNT) but then the latter section just becomes a repeat of that. It isn’t very convincing. Also, I found it ironic that a collection of essays written in honor of Dr. Gaffin begins with an essay disagreeing with Dr. Gaffin’s instructor. This was a rather disappointing way to start the book.
2. “Psalm 110: An Exegetical and Canonical Approach” by Bruce Waltke –It seems to me that as Psalm 110 is probably one of the most oft-studied Psalms (especially given that it is the OT passage most quoted in the NT and therefore explored in studies on those passages as well) it’s hard to say anything about the Psalm that hasn’t already been said many times. Still, Dr. Waltke had a lot in here that I didn’t know and some very helpful thoughts on the structure of the Psalm, which, though not original, strong supported his interpretation. The conclusion of the essay was a little weak but still more than worth the read for the exegesis and exposition.
3. “The Quest for Wisdom” by Vern S. Poythress – This was an insightful and interesting essay. Dr. Poythress explores the ways that human beings seek after wisdom and argues that only the Biblical approach actually delivers. Not as good as Dr. Waltke’s essay but I still enjoyed it.
4. “Biblical-Theological Ruminations on Psalm 1” by D.A. Carson – There were a few interesting exegetical and expositional notes at the beginning of this essay but the last three quarters probably could have been written in a paragraph instead. Dr. Carson simply argues that we need to have a hermeneutic for interpreting the OT that is sensitive to everything the NT writers say about the old. He just spends a lot of time making that point.
5. “A Specific Problem Confronting the Authority of the Bible: Should the New Testament’s Claim that the Prophet ‘Isaiah’ Wrote the Whole Book of Isaiah Be Taken at Face Value?” by G.K. Beale – Beale ably argues for the authorship of all of Isaiah by the prophet Isaiah. He does this on the basis of Second Temple, older Jewish, early Christian, and of course NT writings. I think he shows well the importance of this matter for our understanding of the Bible as a divine work.
6. “Christology in Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-4: An Exercise in Biblico-Systematic Theology” by Lane Tipton – This is the first of two articles by Dr. Tipton that I’ve read recently and I really enjoyed and took a lot out of both of them. Dr. Tipton seems to be a very well-organized writer and his essays read very smoothly. This essay examines two important Christological passages. Dr. Tipton modifies William Lane’s chiastic reading of Hebrews 1:1-4 (his commentary on Hebrews, WBC) to try to clear it up but it still seems to me that the passage just isn’t a chiasm. Still, I think Dr. Tipton ably gets at the meaning and intent of the passage. His exposition of and understanding of the structure of Col. 1:15-20 is fantastic and very helpful. He closes with some conclusions on how we are to understand the two natures in the one person of Christ and then looks at some implications for incarnational analogies regarding the Spirit’s work of inspiration. One of my favorite essays in the book.
7. “God’s Speech in These Last Days: The New Testament Canon as an Eschatological Phenomenon” by C.E. Hill – I believe that Dr. Hill is updating and furthering the arguments made by Herman Ridderbos in his short book, Redemptive History and New Testament Scriptures. This was a really helpful essay that I took a lot out of and a good inter-canonical argument for the NT canon. It was a really long article (longest in the book) and was slow working through it though.
8. “The First and Last Son: Christology and Sonship in Pauline Soteriology” by David Garner –Solid but not ground-breaking. It’s a good summary of some other things that are out there by Ridderbos and Gaffin himself.

Part 2: Studies in Historical and Polemical Theology
9. “’The Infallible Rule of Interpretation of Scripture’: The Hermeneutical Crisis and the Westminster Standards” by Peter Lillback – This essay was actually put out in the context of the Peter Enns reports from WTS. It’s a solid essay that needed to be written addressing hermeneutics in light of Incarnation and Inspiration.
10. “Reason, History, and Revelation: Biblical Theology and the Enlightenment” by William Dennison – This essay is actually the third in a three part series that was originally published in the Kerux Theological Journal (all are available online). The articles were a defense of Biblical Theology in the line of Geerhardus Vos’ work. This particular essay deals with the relation of Biblical Theology as a discipline and the enlightenment thought of Johann Gabler. A good historical essay if you’re not familiar with Gabler’s importance.
11. “’Something Much Too Plain to Say’: A Systematic Theological Apologetic by K. Scott Oliphint – I really need to get some more books by Dr. Oliphint when I get the chance. Every time I read something by him I get a lot out of it and really enjoy it. This essay is a response to an anthology on the “impossibility of God” that was recently released and so is an apologetic. It’s a great response with fantastic implications for the problems with neo-orthodoxy and eternal justification. I will say that it would probably help if you’re somewhat familiar with the philosophical idea of modalities and have done some reading on metaphysics. Dr. Oliphint does a good job of explaining his terms in footnotes for people who don’t have philosophical training but in my experience modalities is always a confusing subject when people are first introduced to it.
12. “Geerhardus Vos and Culture” by William Edgar – I think that this was probably my second favorite article in the book (behind the one by Dr. Oliphint). Dr. Edgar examines the implications that Dr. Vos’ work has for culture and comes up with what I think is a very biblical understanding of the relationship between Christ and culture. In doing so he has some fantastic quotes from Vos’ The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church, which just happens to be one of my favorite books.
13. “A Millennial Genealogy: Joseph Mede, Jonathan Edwards, and Old Princeton” by Jeffrey Jue – I didn’t really take a lot out of this article but I do think that it’s helpful for those interested in understanding the historical debate about millennial views and for people who are interested in Edwards’ millennial views but don’t want to suffer through the Banner of Trust double column Works of Edwards. Dr. Jue’s explanation of Dr. Warfield’s work on eschatology is quite helpful too.
14. “Christ and the Spirit: The Meaning and Promise of a Reformed Idea” by Mark Garcia – I thought this was a good article but it was really tedious to read. Mark Garcia is a fantastic scholar on Calvin and other Reformed theologians but he’s not the best of writers. Still, if you take the time you can get some helpful summaries of union with Christ in reformed theology.
15. “On the Antiquity of Biblical Theology” by J.V. Fesko – This article was really similar to William Dennison’s. Both spend a good deal of time on the similarities and differences between Johann Gabler and Geerhardus Vos. Dr. Fesko does take the time to go farther back and show how Biblical Theological methods were employed in the early church.
16. “Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Ambiguous and Somewhat Precarious’ Doctrine of Justification?” by Jeffrey Waddington – This is a defense of Edwards’ orthodoxy on justification in light of recent accusations of strange formulation of the doctrine in Edwards’ preaching and writing. Again, interesting for those who are interested in Edwards in general.

Part 3: Studies in Pastoral Theology
17. “Oliver Bowles on the Life and Ministry of the Evangelical Pastor” trans. by Jonathan Rockey and Philip Ryken – I won’t really comment on this but it was an interesting read.
18. “Calvin’s Theology of Certainty” by David McWilliams – This is a very pastoral examination of what Calvin writes about assurance of salvation. I think that this is one of the most valuable topics in Institutes and that McWilliams is very helpful in summarizing it.
19. “Calvin on Baptism: Baptismal Regeneration or the Duplex Loquendi Modus” by James Cassidy – This was a great article in light of the Federal Vision controversy that claims fidelity with Calvin when it comes to the sacraments. Very helpful stuff in here and I highly recommend it.

I won’t comment much on the three sermons included as the last three articles. They’re all solid but obviously not meant to be academic like the other essays in the book. On the whole I really enjoyed this book. The good essays were really good. The not-so-good weren’t so bad that you couldn’t move past them and onto the next one. I think that there’s a lot of good in this anthology in terms of modern controversies and understanding what historical reformed doctrines mean for those controversies. All things considered, I liked this better than the festschrift for Dr. Roberston.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Theodicy, further reading

To read more on a Christian answer to the problem of evil I particularly recommend John Frame's Apologetics to the Glory of God and Greg Bahnsen's Always Ready. Professor Frame deals with all of these unbiblical theodicies and more and then shows in detail how Scripture gives us a new past, present, and future perspective on evil and promises faith to overcome doubt. Dr. Bahnsen works logically through the syllogism to show that the problem of evil is not a problem for the believer but for the unbeliever and then shows the sin of unbelief in God's goodness. You can find links for both of these books in the Apologetics recommendations below.

Theodicy, Part 3

This puts us in a better position to try to resolve the problem in the syllogism above since we have refuted some unbiblical solutions. First let’s look back at the problem:

1. God is completely good.
2. God is completely powerful.
3. Evil exists (or happens).
4. Therefore, God must not be completely good or completely powerful.

The problem with the conclusion in point four above is that is does not really take the premises in points 1 and 2 seriously. It assumes that those premises are inherently contradictory with point 3 but neglects to find a conclusion that is truly built upon all of the premises. If the Christian truly presupposes the first point as the Bible commands us to do then we cannot doubt God’s goodness. If the Christian truly presupposes the second point as the Bible commands then we cannot doubt God’s power. So when we observe evil events in the world we must evaluate them on the basis of the first two premises. This means that we have to believe that there is a morally God reason for God to allow evil to exist or happen. If God is truly good and powerful, as he must be to be God, then any evil we find must be compatible with God’s goodness and power. So we should change our syllogism to show the following:

1. God is completely good.
2. God is completely powerful.
3. Evil exists (or happens).
4. Therefore, God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil that exists.

When we take all of the premises seriously then we find that there is no real or apparent logical contradiction that exists. The only possible problem comes from a human assumption of omniscience that claims that there is never a morally sufficient reason for evil. As no human being possesses the knowledge necessary to make this claim we are obligated to come to the above conclusion in point four. This certainty of God’s righteousness and then human faith is exactly what the Bible commands (Job 38-42; Eze. 18:25; Mat. 20:1-16; Rom 9:14-15, 19-21).

So we see that the Bible demands that we believe that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil that exists but it does not tell us what the reason is. The problem of evil is ultimately not a logical problem but is a personal expression of a lack of faith in God’s goodness and power. This goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat of one tree in the whole garden. Satan challenged the trustworthiness and goodness of God and Adam and Eve chose their own autonomy over God’s word. This is the original sin that caused all of humanity that followed to become sinners under God’s condemnation. Every time that a human being refuses to trust God’s good word they perpetuate the sin that plagues all of creation until the revelation of Jesus Christ. The answer to the problem of evil is repentance of sins and faith in the Lord Jesus who conquered sin and death in his crucifixion and resurrection.

Theodicy, Part 2

It is one thing to show that the unbelieving worldviews are logically self-contradictory but we still need to show that the Christian worldview does not contradict itself. Before presenting the Biblical answer to this objection I think that it’s important to note what the Bible does not say though they are common answers that Christians give to this objection:

1. That evil is unreal.
a. Even St. Augustine describe evil as a privation or as non-being (C.S. Lewis used similar language). Augustine then went on to say that God is only responsible for being and not for non-being. So evil is really non-being.
b. The first problem with this is that it does not answer the objection, it just pushes the question back a step. Instead of, “How can an all-good and all-powerful God allow evil?” the question becomes, “How can an all-good and all-powerful God allow such a terrible and painful illusion of evil?”
c. The second problem is that the Bible explicitly denies this answer. We know that God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11) and so in the Biblical world-view God is sovereign over all events; both good and evil.

2. That God is not all-powerful.
a. Rabbi Kushner suggests this answer in his book, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? The objection basically says that God has not overcome evil because he cannot but he does try his best and so dispenses with the second premise.
b. The outcome of this answer is just as bad as allowing the objection to stand and refute Christianity. This gives up all hope that evil will ever be overcome and the intellectual satisfaction of answering the objection will quickly disappear in light of the possibility that evil may actually triumph over God.
c. This is again clearly against the Biblical teaching that God is omniscient (Ps. 139; Heb. 4:11-13; Is. 46:10; 1 John 3:20), omnipotent (Ps. 115:3; Is. 14:24, 27; 46:10; 55:11; Luke 18:27), and sovereign (Rom. 11:33-36; 1 Tim. 6:15-16).

3. That this is the best possible world.
a. G.W. Leibniz and others have argued that this world, despite the evil in it, is still the best possible world that God could have made. So he argues that certain evils are necessary to obtain certain goods (for example, we cannot have compassion on those who suffer without suffering).
b. The problem is that this fails to recognize God’s immutability (that he does not change). He is eternal and so has pre-existence over his creation. God has always been compassionate even without anyone to show compassion to. Compassion is an attribute of his being and so is his from eternity. Eden did not contain any evil or sin but certainly was not an imperfect world. The new heavens and the new earth will also be perfect without any evil. So this does not really answer the objection.
c. A similar argument is made by C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain. He suggests that human beings require laws in order to live happy and productive lives and that a stable environment with these laws makes evil necessary. A universe with regular laws means that gravity will not be repealed to keep me from fall down the stairs and suffering the pain from that.
d. The problem with this argument is that it is not a sufficient answer to the objection. God placed Adam in a stable environment without any evil in it. There will not be evil in the new heavens and the new earth but this does not mean that that will be an unstable environment. Most importantly, this does not answer the problem that the human heart is itself a source of evil rather than merely a sufferer of evil.

4. That human beings possess libertarian free will.
a. This claim (closely related to Arminianism and Open Theism) says that evil came about by the free choice of rational creatures (whether Satan, Adam, or “everyman”) and that that choice was not foreordained by God.
b. Libertarian free will further claims that human beings can choose between alternatives with perfect ease and without any controlling factors. There are a number of Biblical problems with this view. (1) The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over individual human decisions (Ps. 139:13-16). (2) There are not any instances where Scripture teaches libertarian free will. (3) Scripture grounds human responsibility in their standing as God’s creatures. We are responsible to God for our actions because he created us and has the right to evaluate our conduct and decisions and not because we possess libertarian free will. (4) Scripture teaches that all men sin because they are sinners. Our desires are fallen and we choose according to those fallen desires. (5) Scripture teaches that in the new heavens and the new earth we will not have the ability to sin. This is because we will not have the desire to sin. If we do not possess libertarian free will in the perfect state then why should we expect it in a less perfect one? (6) Scripture judges people for sins that are explicitly not committed out of libertarian freedom. For example, Christ’s death on the cross was fore-ordained before the creation of the world but Judas is still guilty for his betrayal and the Jewish religious leaders are still guilty for crucifying him. (7) God is not free in the libertarian sense because he cannot act against his holy character (for example, he cannot lie and cannot sin). Why presume that human beings are more free than God?
c. The Bible does not ever resort to the free will defense in any passage that discusses the problem of evil (cf. Job, Ps. 37, 73). Instead Paul traces disbelief (which is sin) to “God’s purposes in election” (Rom. 9:11).

5. That evil builds character.
a. John Hick calls this the “soul-making” theodicy. The idea is that man is created in a state of spiritual immaturity and in order to become mature he must experience various pains and sufferings.
b. It is true that the Bible says that suffering sometimes has a beneficial effect (Heb. 12; James 1). God does discipline us in order to teach us godliness.This does not mean that we can form an answer to the problem of evil from these passages. Adam was created good and his suffering was a result of his sin not his need to grow. Also, not all suffering results in spiritual improvement. Finally, the primary cause of spiritual growth and sanctification is not suffering but God’s grace in regeneration.

Theodicy, Part 1

Related to the post on recommended reading in apologetics from a few weeks ago, here are a few thoughts on the problem of evil. I think that this, in some form or another, is probably the objection that is most often raised by unbelievers in evangelical and apologetical conversations.

First, we must emphasize that the problem of evil is a real problem that must be dealt with by the Christian in giving a reason for the hope that is within them (1 Pet. 3:15) and in earnestly contending for the faith that has been delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3-4). The problem of evil is raised as a charge that there is logical inconsistency in the Christian worldview. If Christianity is logical incoherent then there is not any amount of positive evidence that can be raised to save it. Internal inconsistency means that we would have no intellectual grounds for believing the Gospel. So we must answer this objection to show that Christianity is internally consistent.

This is the way that the problem is usually phrased as a syllogism:
1. God is completely good.
2. God is completely powerful.
3. Evil exists (or happens).
4. Therefore, God must not be completely good or completely powerful.

David Hume expresses the conclusion: “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 88)

The first thing that we should note here is a presupposition, or an unargued assumption, on the part of the objector. The one who raises this objection assumes that evil exists, that is to say, he assumes that there is such a thing that can objectively be called evil. We will be brief here but it needs to be pointed out that the unbelieving worldview here presumes something that is impossible according to its own principles that deny God’s existence. In other words, without the first two premises being true there is no contradiction with the introduction of the third premise. So we ought to ask the unbeliever how they know that there is such a thing as evil. Common answers include that morality is derived from sense experience (empiricism or logical positivism) or that morality is culturally or personally subjective. I won’t go into this now but none of these answers allow for an absolute moral standard. So we must insist, in order for there to be a problem of evil the unbeliever must presuppose exactly what he seeks to deny. So the problem of evil shows an absolute internal inconsistency in all unbelieving worldviews.

More on the ESV Study Bible

Two new things from the ESV Study Bible today. First, here you can look at the Introduction to Ezekiel and also view the notes and diagrams on the first two chapters. Second, Crossway has started a blog about the Study Bible with various interviews with contributors or reviewers. You can view that here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday School Reading - August 10, 2008

Here is some recommended further reading on Apologetics from Sunday School on August 10, 2008, dealing with chapters 3-5 in Tim Keller's The Reason for God.

Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction by John M. Frame - If you do not have a good book with instructions for presuppositional apologetics then this is where you should start to compliment Pastor Keller's book, which, as I said on Sunday, is really an apologetic rather than a book on apologetics. Professor Frame has a number of arguments in here after giving some opening principles for apologetics that you can try to become familiar with and have in mind to adopt based on specific conversations. Professor Frame is a fantastic writer and makes difficult concepts very clear and understandable for those who are not very familiar with technical philosophical and theological language.

Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith by Greg L. Bahnsen - Dr. Bahnsen was probably one of the best apologists that God has yet blessed his church with. This is my favorite book on apologetical instruction. Dr. Bahnsen does not include a lot of specific arguments here but this book will still be helpful for giving Biblical principles for defending the faith and also includes some basic instructions in formal logic.

The Defense of the Faith by Cornelius Van Til, 4th edition ed. by K. Scott Oliphint - This is really the classic treatment of Presuppositional apologetics. This edition includes footnotes by Dr. Oliphint, Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary. Dr. Van Til's work can be heavy and difficult to read but Dr. Oliphint's notes help to explain some of the terminology and key ideas in Dr. Van Til's thought.

The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith by K. Scott Oliphint - This book is another basic introduction to presuppositional apologetics. I don't think that it is quite as comprehensive as John Frame's introduction to apologetics but it is very helpful for understanding what Scripture teaches us about why and how to do apologetics. Dr. Oliphint is also a clear writer and you should find this book to have a lot of helpful exposition in it.

Reason and Revelation: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics ed. by K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton - This anthology has a number of essays making the case that Scripture is the only foundation for epistemology. These essays tend to be somewhat more technical so it would be helpful to have some familiar with philosophical and theological language about epistemology before starting with this.

The Great Debate: Does God Exist - This is a cd/dvd of 1985 debate between Dr. Greg Bahnsen and Dr. Gordon Stein about the existence of God. This can be very helpful in seeing a more formal debate about Christianity.

Also, here are a few articles online that you can read for free on apologetics and some of the issues that we discussed:
"Evangelism and Apologetics" by Greg Bahnsen
"The Encounter of Jerusalem with Athens" by Greg Bahnsen (an Apendix in Always Ready)
"The Problem of Knowing the 'Super-Natural'" by Greg Bahnsen (also in Always Ready)
"How do we know God?" by Gordon Clark
"Science and Truth" by Gordon Clark
"Why Study Logic?" by John Robbins
"Unbelievers and the Knowledge of God: Biblical Warrant for a Presuppositional Apologetic" by K. Scott Oliphint
"Why I Believe in God" by Cornelius Van Til

More from the ESV Study Bible

Justin Taylor lets us know that Crossway has now put the notes up from the ESV Study Bible from the entire book of Jonah. Dr. Mark Futato from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando contributed the notes on Jonah. James Grant interviews Dr. Futato over on his blog.

If you head over to www.esvstudybible.org you can also look at the Introductions to Luke, Revelation, and Psalms.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Monk into Hall of Fame

This week saw two Redskins from our last Super Bowl teams inducted into the Hall of Fame. Both Darrell Green and Art Monk are known to be professing Christians and both expressed their Christian faith in their inductions. Monk’s in particular was a powerful expression of humility and faith in God. This is from the end of the speech:
So I am very grateful to receive this honor, and I can stand here before you and say, “Hey, look at me, look at what I did.” But if I’m going to boast, I’m going to boast today in the Lord, for it’s because of him that I’m here and I give him thanks and glory and honor for all that he has done for me.
You can read a transcript of the whole speech along with some thoughts from fellow Redskins fan C.J. Mahaney here:



I have a couple of things in mind in starting this blog.

1. From the title is should be evident that I'll mainly be putting theological things up here. This will include brief essays, book reviews/recommendations, and quotes in order to obey Jude's command to earnestly contend for the faith that has been delivered once for all to the saints. This will take up the majority of blog posts.

2. I will also use this blog in connection with Sunday School and Bible Study lessons to give recommendations for further reading and give links on whereh to find articles and books that correspond to the subject talked about that week. This will first come up in a few days as I sub for a friend teaching a series on Apologetics based on Tim Keller's book, The Reason for God.

3. Finally I'll try to post links to things that I find interesting or informative on there. I'll endeavor to check sources for what gets posted before putting it up.