Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday School Reading - September 28, 2008

Here are some reading recommendations from this past week. Today we finished the doctrine of revelation and began the doctrine of God. For the first I would recommend you look back on the recommendations from last week (you can click on the tag at the bottom of this post to see all the Sunday School Recommendations). Here are some general recommendations on the doctrine of God.

The Doctrine of God by John Frame - This is the best work that you can find on theology proper (the doctrine of God). This is a very long book (864 pages) but it is also very comprehensive. God has blessed Professor Frame with a great mind and a great skill with words to express his thoughts. As long as this book is, you'll find it to be a very easy read. Professor Frame explains concepts very clearly. I highly recommend this book. I'm also sure that at least one or two copies are available in the church library (note, please do not confuse this with his Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, which is also available in the library, this book is also very good but on a different subject).

The Doctrine of God by Herman Bavinck - This is the next best book on theology proper. This is not an easy book to read. Dr. Bavinck's discussion is highly technical and as he was a Dutch theologian it is a translation that might also add a level of difficulty. If you want to tackle a higher level work you could try this but it will be slow going.

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul - This is a classic work that I'm sure many of you have read or at least heard of. Dr. Sproul does a marvellous job here of building a doctrine of God that emphasizes his otherness and how we respond to it. This book is almost certainly available in the church library.

Doctrine of God by Gerald Bray - This is another volume from the Contours of Christian Theology series that I mentioned last week. Overall this is a good book. There is a lot in here that is easily applicable. It is not as good as the above recommendations. I mainly included it because it is a cheaper option for if you're pressed on money. I would still recommend that you save a bit and get Professor Frame's work.

Second, as a reminder, here are the relevant sections from larger works on systematic theology. The doctrine of God is covered in book 2 of John Calvin's Institutes of Christian Theology (see earlier posts for a recommended translation), volume 2 of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics, Part 1 in volume 1 of Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology (available as a .pdf here), and chapters 1 and 7 in A.A. Hodge's Outlines of Theology (available on google books for free and also at the church bookstore).

Finally, here are some free articles on theology proper:
J. Gresham Machen - "My Idea of God"
Benjamin B. Warfield - "Calvin's Doctrine of God"
John Frame - "God's Spirituality"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Van Til's Introduction to Systematic Theology part 4

It's been a long time but here is the next post on Cornelius Van Til's An Introduction to Systematic Theology. The next three chapters deal with special revelation. The last six chapters are on Van Til's doctrine of God. We'll look at those in two upcoming posts.

Chapters 10-12 – Special Revelation and Scripture

Van Til starts this section by explaining why special revelation is necessary and why general revelation is insufficient. General revelation is not insufficient for its purpose. Everything does truly reveal God through general revelation as Van Til has already argued. The problem is that “in sinning, man as it were, took out his own eyes, so that he could no longer see God in general revelation.” (191) So it is because man is a sinner, and not because he is finite, that special or saving revelation is necessary.

Van Til then points out the flaws of non-Reformed theologies in describing the necessity of special revelation. Arminianism argues that general revelation is somehow unclear and so God is effectively morally obliged to give special revelation. Van Til rejects that anything other than God’s character could possibly oblige him or that any of his works, including his work of general revelation, could be insufficient to accomplish his purposes. Romanism, Neo-orthodoxy, and Lutheranism assert that by general revelation man can come to know God rightly as Creator but cannot know him rightly as Savior apart from special revelation. Van Til also rejects this view and says that because we are sinners we cannot know God rightly as Creator or as Savior. Because we are sinners we can only read nature rightly if we do so in light of Scripture. This leads us to assert that there are really only two classes of people in respect to revelation. There are those who, on account of special revelation, presuppose the self-existent Creator and can therefore read nature rightly and those who refuse to presuppose the self-existent Creator and so cannot ever read the universe rightly. All are either for Christ or against him.

Van Til then describes the modes of special revelation. Van Til thinks that there are three modes of this revelation; theophany, prophecy, and miracle. In each case Van Til also illustrates humanity’s attempts to get at some form of revelation apart from God. Theophany shows that man needs God to be near to him. It shows that man cannot live without God’s presence. Paradise is paradise because God is there. This need is demonstrated as idolatry is sinful man’s search for theophany, for God to be near. True theophany is best realized in the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.

Prophecy is how God overcomes the noetic (to the mind) effects of sin. It shows us that man is lost without God’s interpretation of reality. Sin causes us to interpret general revelation falsely. Prophecy is the special revelation of God’s own interpretation of nature. False prophecy is man seeking after an authoritative interpretation of reality apart from God.

Miracle reveals that God is working in creation for the salvation of man and the cosmos. It shows that without God’s saving power man and nature would remain in the ruin that sin has left us in. All of Christ’s miracles illustrate the central miracle of God’s redemptive work. Van Til describes that miracle as follows:

In miracle God destroys the power of sin upon the soul of man, upon the body of man, and upon nature as the home of man. By miracle God actually reveals his redeeming work in process of fulfillment. Sin brought every sphere of human life in subjection to misery and death; by miracle God brings all these spheres of life back to health. Through the central miracle of the person and work of Christ, the human soul is brought into favor with the living God. Hence in performing his miracles Christ constantly points out that they are symbolical of what he came to do for the souls of men. (220)
This leads Van Til into his discussion of Scripture. He starts by discussing several attributes of Scripture. The necessity of Scripture is again because we are sinners. It is not enough for God to just do redemptive works and leave it to us to interpret those works. As sinners we would interpret those works falsely. We need God’s special revelation to interpret his saving work. The authority of Scripture is the absolute authority of God over his creation. Man must place his own thought in captive obedience to the words of God in Scripture. The perspicuity of Scripture means that we do not need additional human interpreters between Scripture and those to whom Scripture comes. This is closely tied to the first two attributes as allowing for fallible human interpretation would eliminate the authority and necessity of Scripture. The sufficiency of Scripture means that no additional standard or interpretation is needed beyond what God has given in Scripture. We need not be wiser than God’s word.

The last chapter on special revelation deals with the inspiration of Scripture. Here Van Til borrows most of his material from the work of B.B. Warfield (see Benjamin B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible). Van Til first summarizes Dr. Warfield’s arguments for the inspiration of the Old Testament (OT) scriptures:
  1. The OT organs of revelation are commanded to write down the revelation they receive (Ex. 17:14).
  2. We cannot make distinctions within the OT about what is the word of the prophet, the written word of the prophet, and the word of Yahweh. Instead it is all called the word of Yahweh as a summary.
  3. The OT canon was recognized by Christ to be authoritative and considered to be the product of a single primary Author.

Van Til then turns to Dr. Warfield’s arguments for the inspiration of the New Testament (NT) scriptures:

  1. The NT organs of revelation are conscious that their written words have the same authority as the OT scriptures and their spoken word as the apostles of Jesus Christ.
  2. Peter compares Paul’s epistles to have them on a level with the OT Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:15-16).
  3. Paul sets up his own epistles as a standard of truth (1 Cor. 14:37).

Van Til also summarizes Dr. Warfield’s arguments for verbal inspiration:

  1. Moses and the prophets speak of verbal revelation that is given them from Yahweh (Ex. 3:4; 5:1; Jer. 1:9; Ezek. 3:4, 10-11).
  2. Paul says that the things he writes and speaks are the teachings of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13) and the NT writers quote the OT as the very words of God.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A lying prophet and the true Word of Yahweh

A friend recently brought up the question of what is going on in 1 Kings 13. This is a very odd passage in a lot of ways. We have a supposed prophet of God who lies to a man of God and that lie ultimately leads to the death of the man of God. Yet the lying prophet is not condemned in the account. Why is this?

You can view the passage here if you want to follow along. First, we need to keep in mind that the chapters breakdowns are not inspired but are the work of an interpreter and it seems to me that 1 Kings 13 should be read in the light of 1 Kings 12:25-33. Those verses form a prologue to this section as they reveal the disobedience of Jeroboam as ruler of the northern kingdom (also see the covenant God makes with Jeroboam in 1 Kings 11:26-40). The epilogue to this section is 1 Kings 13:33-34 where the author tells us that Jeroboam and his priests refused to heed the warning in this account.

With that prologue and epilogue in mind the chapter breaks down into four scenes with two parallel tracks going along. I’m not sure how to do two columns in this format so I’ll place them one after the other. Just keep in mind that these are parallels and so scenes 3 and 4 are following the pattern and echoing the content of scenes 1 and 2 (verse numbers in parentheses).

Track 1

Scene 1

1. Jeroboam standing by the altar (1)
2. Calling against the altar (2)
3. “Thus says Yahweh” and quotation (2)
4. Sign: the altar will be torn down (4)
5. The altar torn down (5)
6. Three-fold repetition of “by the way” (9-10)

Scene 2

7. Introduction of the “old prophet” (11)
8. Old prophet hears about the man of God (11)
9. Old prophet commands his sons to saddle his donkey (13)
10. Old prophet goes and finds the man of God (14)
11. Old prophet persuades the man of God to return (15ff.)
12. Old prophet’s speech to the man of God (15-18)

Track 2

Scene 3

1. Old prophet and man of God sitting by the table (20)
2. Calling against the man of God (21)
3. “Thus says Yahweh” and quotation (21)
4. Sign: the man of God will not be buried with his ancestors (22)
5. The man of God’s body thrown down (24)
6. Three-fold repetition of “by the way” (24-25a)

Scene 4

7. Reintroduction of the old prophet (25b)
8. Old prophet hears about the man of God (26)
9. Old prophet commands his sons to saddle his donkey (27)
10. Old prophet goes and finds the man of God (28)
11. Old prophet returns with the man of God’s corpse (29)
12. Old prophet’s speech to his sons (31-32)

When viewed this way we see that the purpose of emphasizes the necessity of obedience to the word of Yahweh. This fits with the whole pattern of Kings. Kings is a Deuteronomistic history where what happens to Israel and Judah is a direct fulfillment of God’s covenant curses for their disobedience to the covenant. So the word of Yahweh promising blessing and cursing and the fulfillment of the prophetic word carries great weight in the writer’s account. This is particularly evident in this passage. We’ll take some time to analyze each of these scenes.

Scene 1 – This scene sets the conflict in the chapter. The man of God and the word of Yahweh are set against Jeroboam and his altar (signifying all of his false worship practices). This first scene also serves to identify the man of God with Jeroboam. The writer tells us that just as the man of God had a word from Yahweh for Jeroboam he also has a word from Yahweh for himself. The narrator then shows us that the disobedience of the man of God is a possibility even as the man firmly rejects Jeroboam’s offer.

Scene 2 – This scene introduces a third major character in the old prophet from Bethel. The writer clearly tells us that the old prophet lied to the man of God in telling him to come back to his house, eat bread, and drink water (v. 18). These three things are the three that the word of Yahweh to the man of God specifically forbade. Without the writer’s insertion that the old prophet lied we would be left to wonder along with the man of God whether or not an angel actually had brought a message from Yahweh to the old prophet. Instead we have a narrative perspective tells us this is another temptation for the man of God to disobey the word of Yahweh. In Kings, Jeroboam has received multiple warnings from Yahweh to be obedient and has had multiple opportunities to disobey. The same is now true about the man of God in 1 Kings 13. He has repeated the word of Yahweh twice directly, twice indirectly, and now disobeys the command word-for-word (19). So now we are to wonder what will happen to this disobedient representative of God.

Scene 3 – This parallel section of the story now has the man of God in the position of being the subject of an oracle of divine judgment, further driving home the comparisons between the man of God and Jeroboam. The introduction of the lion and the donkey drives the action in this scene. After the man of God is killed the donkey stands beside his corpse just like Jeroboam stood beside the altar. The thrown down body of the man of God now echoes the torn down altar. The narrator is subtly calling Jeroboam an ass. Just like the donkey could not stop the lion, Jeroboam is helpless and dumb to stop Yahweh’s judgment and must stand by and await his fate. So at present the lion does not eat the donkey and Yahweh leaves Jeroboam on his throne. But the presence of the lion by the corpse and the donkey points to the pending judgment that is coming on Jeroboam.

Scene 4 – This scene should draw our attention to the significance of the lion. Several times in Kings, lions represent God’s judgment on those disobedient to his word (1 Kings 20:36; 2 Kings 27:25). In both of these passages, the focus is judgment upon the northern kingdom rather than the southern. So the lion here represents the promise of Yahweh’s judgment upon the sinful northern kingdom of Jeroboam (remember that the refrain for the later kings in the north is that they walk in the way of Jeroboam who made Israel sin). So this passage does not make us wonder if Yahweh will judge Jeroboam but instead tells us that Yahweh has judged Jeroboam and now comes to carry out his sentence.

In conclusion, we’ll summarize the message of 1 Kings 12:25-13:34 in its original context and then draw out some implications for God’s people today. First, the focus of the passage is Yahweh’s judgment on Jeroboam for leading Israel into sin with his religious reforms. The man of God represents Jeroboam. He is given chances to obey or disobey and ultimately chooses disobedience to the word of Yahweh. This means that Yahweh’s judgment is carried out against him just as it is being carried out against Jeroboam. Second, the passage warns of the consequences of disobeying God’s word. The ultimate end will always be destruction. The faithful man of God becomes unfaithful and is cast down. Jeroboam, who was once a favored instrument of Yahweh, has become disobedient and will also be cast down. The wicked king ultimately remains unmoved by the events in this chapter and so confirms Yahweh’s judgment on him (1 Kings 13:33-34). Finally, the passage instructs the reader that there is not any excuse for disobedience to the word of Yahweh, not even a lying prophet. When Yahweh has spoken his people are to respond in faith and obedience or to suffer judgment.

There are a number of implications that we could draw from this as God’s people today. I’m just going to focus on one because this post is already so long. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6-9)

The certainty of God’s word in the book of Kings is echoed throughout the rest of Scripture. Obedience to the commands of God always means life and disobedience always means death. This has been true ever since the Garden of Eden. 1 Kings 13 dealt with God’s national judgment on Israel for their disobedience to the covenant. Yet the gospel also points us to the covenant of grace and the promise of redemption. The divine command is to repent and believe the gospel. Obedience means justification unto eternal life but disobedience means condemnation unto eternal judgment (John 3:16-21). Paul warns his readers that they must be obedient to the word of the covenant, to the gospel, that has been committed to them by the apostles of Jesus Christ and must not turn aside to a new or different gospel. No angel and no true minister of the word will ever preach a different gospel then what is contained in Scripture. Like the man of God, we are warned to live according to what God has spoken and not according to the words of men or angels. This should instruct us to constantly search the Scriptures to make sure that we dwell in the word and that we seek out and believe the good news contained in it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More from the ESV Study Bible

There is a lot more to see and preview from the ESV Study Bible this morning. First, Robert Yarbrough wrote the notes on the Johannine Epistles and has a commentary on John's letters coming out shortly. Collin Hanson interviewed him for Christianity Today. Crossway has now made the Introduction and notes on the entire book of 1 John from the ESV Study Bible available to preview online (HT: Justin Taylor)

Also, Barry Webb, Chair of Old Testament at Moore Theological College in Australia, wrote the notes on Esther in the ESV Study Bible. Crossway has also made the Introduction and notes for the entire book of Esther available online. The Sola Panel has an interview with Dr. Webb.

Those of you who sat in on my Old Testament Biblical Theology Sunday school class in the Spring might remember that I mentioned Dr. Webb's book on the Five Scrolls several times. This book, Five Festal Garments: Christian Reflections on the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiates, and Esther, is the best book that I have found dealing with these short books from the Writings section of the Old Testament. Dr. Webb addresses each book by first expositing it, then dealing with it in its Old Testament context, and then showing how it applies to God's people today after the advent of Christ. It's a very short book but much cheaper than buying multiple commentaries to aid you in studying these important books!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sunday School Reading - September 21, 2008

Here are some additional reading recommendations from our discussion yesterday where we moved from General Revelation to Special Revelation and an analysis of the attributes of Scripture as they are articulated by the Westminster Confession of Faith. I'm going to try to follow up on a great suggestion in last week's comments to note what books recommended here are available in the church library but until I can get a hold of a catalog I'll just wait to edit these posts with that information. Also, please note that there is a tag for "Sunday School Reading" at the bottom of this post that you can click on to see all of the posts that are recommending reading for our discussions.

First, a quick reminder of our catechism questions for this week:
Q2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A2. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

Q3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A3. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

With that, here are some recommended books and articles from our discussion on Sunday morning:

Thy Word is Truth: Some Thoughts on the Biblical Doctrine of Inspiration by E.J. Young - This book by Dr. Young is the best book that you will find on the Biblical doctrine of Scripture. If you only pick up one book on this list then this is the one that you should get. It is available for 40% off at the link provided.

"The Concept and Importance of Canonicity" by Greg Bahnsen - I will recommend a few other articles that can be read and printed for free from the internet below but this one needs to be brought up early. Dr. Bahnsen's work here is the best thing that you will read on the Canon. I highly recommend taking the time to print and read this article carefully.

A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture in a Confused World by Mark Thompson - This is written on an academic level so it is not an easy or quick read but requires getting out the pencil and/or highlighter and going through. That said, this is a compeling and well-formulated argument for the clarity of Scripture as we articulated it yesterday.

The God-Breathed Scripture by E.J. Young - This is a briefer version of what Dr. Young argues in his longer Thy Word is Truth. It is based on a series of lectures that Dr. Young gave in 1966. It is a good short treatment of a Biblical doctrine of Scripture if you need to save the money and get something much cheaper but I would recommend getting the longer version above.

The Revelation of God by Peter Jensen - The books in this series ("Contours of Christian Theology") are generally good introductions to different doctrines in Scripture from a Reformed (though not necessarily strictly Presbyterian) perspective. They tend to be written from a good balance of an academic and pastoral perspective and so many of the doctrines are treated in terms of how they are articulated from Scripture, how they have been disputed in history, and why it is important for God's people today. I hesitate to recommend this book since I haven't read it but Peter Jensen has a pretty good reputation and it is a helpful series.

Also, because I do want to point you to relevant sections in longer Systematic Theologies, chapters 6-10 of Book 1 in John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, Part 4 of Volume 1 (Prolegomena) of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3, Chapter 20, Section 1 of Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology (available online, warning, .pdf file), and Chapters 4-6 of A.A. Hodge's Outlines of Theology (available at the Grove Bookstore at church and also viewable in its entirety online at Google Books) deal with the doctrine of Scripture and special revelation.

Finally, here are a few things that are available online so that you can try to save some money:
Benjamin B. Warfield - "The Biblical Idea of Revelation"
Benjamin B. Warfield - "The Divine Origin of the Bible"
Benjamin B. Warfield - "The Formation of the New Testament Canon"
Loraine Boettner - "The Inspiration of Scripture"

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sunday School Reading - September 14, 2008

Here are some reading recommendations from yesterday's Sunday School class starting our study on Presbyterian theology. Again, remember that what we did yesterday really only relates to the first question from the Shorter Catechism but I do recommend taking some time to think about the question and study the Scripture proofs listed.
Q1. What is the chief end of man?
A1. Man's chief end is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31), and to enjoy him forever (Ps. 73:25-26).

Reading for "Why Study Theology?" and "Characteristics of Presbyterian Theology":

On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories by Sean Michael Lucas - Those of you who have gone through the Inquirer's class in the last two years probably already have a copy of this but this is a fantastic brief introduction to Presbyterianism and helps to explain the importance of studying it.

Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ by Stephen Nichols - The main reason that I recommend this book is because I think that object lessons in the danger of false views of Christ are very valuable in reminding us why we must be built up on our most holy faith and why we need to contend earnestly for it. Here Dr. Nichols surveys the major American views on Jesus and shows why they are not Biblical views and helps to reveal where the errors rose from. This is a very interesting and sobering book.

A Scottish Christian Heritage by Iain Murray - I'm largely going to recommend a number of church history books and biographies of major figures for this week because I think we can glean a lot about our basic practices and beliefs from these kinds of books. This book in particular covers a number of major figures in the Scottish Free Church (such as John Knox, Robert Bruce, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, Horatio and Andrew Bonar, and others), which was the biggest European influence on American Presbyterianism. Beyond this I will say that everything I've read by Iain Murray has been well worth my time. His books are not simple histories or biographies but are always instructive.

The Legacy of John Calvin: His Influence on the Modern World by David Hall - I mainly included this book because I think we need to have something about Calvin on this list. This book is helpful because it focuses on the influence of Calvin's theology and work rather than just a biography of his life.

Seeking a Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterianism by D.G. Hart and John Muether - This is a good summary of the history of Presbyterian beliefs and practices in America from the first Presbytery meeting in 1706 until the tri-centinnial of that in 2006.

John Williamson Nevin: High Church Calvinist by D.G. Hart - Nevin, along with Philip Schaeff, was one of the two main proponents of the Mercersburg theology. There were some problems with that theology in general but still his writings on the revivalism of the Second Great Awakening (particularly regarding Charles Finney) and on the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper are quite useful.

Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life by Sean Michael Lucas - R.L. Dabney lived and taught in the 19th century and was one of the two most influential figures in the Southern Presbyterian church (along with James Henley Thornwell). As such, he has particular importance for us as the PCA split from this church in 1973. Dr. Lucas is very fair in dealing with Dr. Dabney's many contributions to the church and our theology while also recognizing the sin in his views on slavery.

J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought by Stephen Nichols - Dr. Machen is arguably the most important figure in the history of American Presbyterianism. He was the leading founder of both Westminster Theological Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and his views were heavily borrowed and recited during the foundation of the Presbyterian Church in America. Carl Trueman calls his book Christianity and Liberalism "the single most important book ever written by a Westminster professor." It is widely considered to be one of the most important books of the 20th century. He was regularly published in the New York Times and testified before Congress about the founding of a federal Department of Education. While there are more comprehensive biographies of Dr. Machen available (particularly one by his friend and colleague, Ned Stonehouse), I recommend this one because Dr. Nichols takes the time to summarize the major writings of Gresham Machen.

Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman by John Muether - Dr. Van Til was one of the founding members of Westminster Theological Seminary and probably the most influential apologist since John Calvin. Virtually all of modern Presbyterian Apologetics and Epistemology are either based on Dr. Van Til's writing and teaching or are a response to it. This particular biography is also very helpful in understanding the state of orthodox Presbyterianism in the 20th century as Dr. Van Til was involved in a number of theological debates and controversies with men such as R.B. Kuiper, Louis Berkouwer, Karl Barth, and Gordon Clark.

The Life of John Murray by Iain Murray - Along with Cornelius Van Til, John Murray was considered one of the two pillars of Westminster Theological Seminary through the 1960's when he retired and returned home to Scotland. I will quote from Professor Murray's works a lot in our study and this is the only biography that I'm aware of on him.

Reading for General Revelation:

I'm going to refrain from recommending a lot here because I'm going to recommend several things next week on a doctrine of revelation in general. Instead I would recommend reading the first five chapters from Book I of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. These chapters are probably the best five summary points on a Christian doctrine of general revelation that you can ever read. Scott Oliphint's contribution to A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes (ed. David Hall and Peter Lillback) is a great summary and explanation of those chapters though I do recommend reading Calvin before reading any commentaries on him. Often people expect Calvin to be very difficult to read but he is remarkably clear and cogent in his writings and often very stirring (not at all the dry and harsh demeanor that we expect from general preconceptions of the Geneva Reformer). The MacNeil and Battles English edition of the Institutes is without doubt the easiest to read.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Robert Murray M'Cheyne

Robert Murray M'Cheyne was a Scottish minister at St. Peter's in Dundee during the first half of the nineteenth century. Iain Murray has a chapter focusing on him in his book on Scottish Presbyterianism. You can also read a biography about Pastor M'Cheyne by his friend and fellow minister, Andrew Bonar. Here is an excerpt from a letter that Pastor M'Cheyne wrote to a "soul seeking Jesus:" (HT: Martin Downes)
If you did not know your body was dangerously ill, you would never have sent for your physician; and so you will never go to Christ, the heavenly Physician, unless you feel that your soul is sick unto death. Oh, pray for deep discoveries or your real state by nature and practice!

Pray to see yourself exactly as God sees you; pray to know the worth of your soul. Have you seen yourself vile, as Job saw himself? (Job xi. 3, 5, xiii. 5, 6); undone, as Isaiah saw himself? (Isa vi. 1, 5). Have you experienced anything like Ps. li.?

Perhaps you will ask, Why do you wish me to have such a discovery of my lost condition? I answer, that you may never look into your poor guilty soul to recommend you to God; and that you may joyfully accept of the Lord Jesus Christ, who obeyed and died for sinners.

You will never stand righteous before God in yourself. You are welcome this day to stand righteous before God in Jesus.

Monday, September 8, 2008

More from the ESV Study Bible

Crossway has made an introductory essay by Vern Poythress on the history of salvation available to read online (HT: Justin Taylor).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Van Til's Introduction to Systematic Theology part 3

Here is the next part of blogging through Cornelius Van Til's Introduction to Systematic Theology. I hope to have the next few chapters, on special revelation and scripture, up tomorrow.

Chapters 6-9 – General Revelation

These four chapters on general revelation are further divided into eighteen sections. The major division is between general revelation before the fall and general revelation after the fall. Van Til makes this distinction because the effects of sin affect both the natural created order in revealing and human beings in receiving that revelation. Beyond this, Van Til notes that there are three sources of general revelation and three objects of general revelation. So he argues that there is antelapsarian and post-lapsarian general revelation that comes about and through nature, man himself, and God. In chapter 6 Van Til deals with general revelation before the fall and in the next three chapters he addresses general revelation after the fall with the object of revelation examined from each of these three perspectives. I’m going to try to be brief here and just get at the focus of each section.

As a quick reminder, Van Til definition of knowledge is comprehensive knowledge. This means that to know a fact requires knowing the meaning of that fact in the eternal plan of God. Since only God knows this plan only God knows comprehensively and therefore only God truly knows anything independently. At the same time, Van Til does argue that creatures have true real knowledge. Accordingly this knowledge is dependent on God’s revelation therefore revelation is necessary for any creaturely knowledge.

Antelapsarian revelation about nature from nature – Van Til’s centers this revelation in the particulars of natural phenomenon as revelatory of universals. As he has argued earlier in the book, it is irrational to hold to a universal apart from an absolute, self-existent Creator. So Van Til says that understanding of nature through observation of phenomena can only be reached through Christian presuppositions as all non-Christian views reduce to either empiricism or irrationalism, both of which lead to skepticism.

Postlapsarian revelation about nature from nature – Van Til draws a distinction between natural and general revelation. He says that general revelation is available to all people though unbelievers suppress it in unrighteousness. Natural revelation describes where that revelation is held. On the basis of Paul’s argument in Romans 1:18-31 Van Til says that natural revelation places several moral imperatives on men. (1) Man ought to think of God as the Creator. (2) Man ought to believe in the providence of God. (3) Man ought to think of God’s non-saving grace and that evil is only through man. (4) Logic ought to have driven man to see the truth of original tradition of perfect creation and then fall. (5) Men should have concluded that there was somewhere evidence of God’s special grace. (6) Men ought to know that their failure to serve the Creator would be condemnation to eternal punishment. Van Til does distinguish that man’s failure to interpret natural revelation rightly is not itself the condemnation but confirms the condemnation of being sinners in Adam.

Antelapsarian revelation about nature from self – Van Til argues that all knowledge of nature is necessarily anthropomorphic as our minds assign human traits to non-human things. Again, this requires the presupposition of an absolute Creator who has made man in his image to think his thoughts after him. Van Til points out that if we follow Descartes and make the self the ultimate starting point of this reasoning then we fall back into skepticism because we cannot ground any universals. It is only by presupposing an intelligent Creator that we can know anything of nature from the study of self.

Postlapsarian revelation about nature from self – Van Til wants to stress that man’s reasoning about nature from the self after the fall is always ultimately false because it sets man himself up as the ultimate interpreter rather than being derivative of God. Here he follows Calvin who acknowledges that fallen man may know something more about the natural realm than he does about God but that he does not know nature rightly because he only knows it in rebellion in the context of a system of unbelief.

Antelapsarian revelation about nature from God – Van Til here bases his argument on the fact that even in the Garden man was not meant to reason about nature apart from divine revelation. Adam knew not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil because of God’s word rather than because of his autonomous study of that tree in comparison to other trees. Van Til says that the foundational fact about nature is given to us in Genesis 1:1 as nature is the creation of God.

Postlapsarian revelation about nature from God – Because of the noetic effects of sin Van Til says that man should never reason about nature apart from God’s special revelation in Scripture. This helps to explain the above point about unbelievers’ knowledge of the natural realm as that knowledge is built on “borrowed capital.” In other words any real knowledge they have is only by taking it from the Christian worldview and therefore revealing unbelieving rationalism in trying to interpret nature and irrationalism in trying to do so while rejecting God.

Antelapsarian revelation about self from nature – Van Til says that this is the reverse of revelation about nature from the self (so man sees things in himself that correspond to traits he sees in nature). It must be held that Van Til is still dealing with general revelation before the fall here as after the fall this kind of revelation would not tell man about the immortality of the body or about sin after decay is introduced into the natural order.

Postlapsarian revelation about self from nature – Because man know longer reasons in terms of “cosmic history” what he can know about himself from nature is limited. Van Til illustrates by pointing to Plato’s attempts to explain immortality. Because Plato does not start with the cosmos created without sin and death he cannot explain how either the body or soul of man might be immortal as everything in nature dies. So while man might learn much about himself from nature if he sees both as sustained by the providence of God in rejecting God as the ultimate he rejects any real knowledge of himself from nature.

Antelapsarian revelation about self from self –Before the entrance of sin man knew himself to be derivative and to be created to think God’s thoughts after him in interpreting things about himself. In other words he knew himself to be a creature in the image of God.

Postlapsarian revelation about self from self – Van Til goes back to the first five chapters of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion here. Calvin says that there are two things that man needs to have, knowledge of self and knowledge of God. Yet these two are closely related because it means knowledge of God as ultimate and knowledge of self as derivative. Van Til and Calvin both hold that the problem is that fallen man seeks to make himself ultimate. In doing so man eliminates knowledge of himself and knowledge of God and his purposes are ultimately self-frustrating. This is because if man truly knew God as absolute then he would know that God could never be replaced on his throne. Similarly if he truly knew himself as derivative then he would know that he could never be an ultimate standard. Yet because he suppresses the knowledge of God’s eternal power and godhead he seeks to elevate himself to a position that he cannot ever hold. So man’s moral rebellion means that he cannot know himself or God rightly. Knowing God rightly would mean knowing that God cannot ever be anything but God and that man cannot ever become God. So long as man seeks to be the ultimate standard he cannot ever know himself rightly through study of self.

Antelapsarian revelation about self from God – Van Til again centers this revelation in the prohibition from eating of the Tree of Knowledge. Because man received this command from God he knew that his authority was derivative and subject to that of the Creator.

Postlapsarian revelation about self from God – Van Til again reminds the reader that every fact is meaningless apart from God. This includes every fact about man that presupposes the absolute, self-existent Creator. Therefore God cannot ever be avoided by man but his person confronts man in every fact. So Van Til writes:

But a God who can thus escape to the moon or to Jupiter is not inconveniencing the atheist at all. On the contrary, he shows himself to be so finite, so insignificant, that the atheist can cover the whole earth without being confronted by him. This is the exact reverse of the teaching of Calvin, based on Paul, that God is divinity and power, being always and everywhere so present that he who says there is no God is a fool. The foolishness of the denial of the Creator lies precisely in the fact that this Creator confronts man in every fact so that no fact has any meaning for man except it be seen as God’s creation. (174)
Antelapsarian revelation about God from nature – Before the fall, Van Til argues that man would have rightly reasoned from nature to nature’s God. This is because man rightly knew that God was the Creator and was absolute whereas all created things were derivative. After the fall natural theology is flawed as it makes either man or another creature ultimate.

Postlapsarian revelation about God from nature – Here again it needs to be understood that man cannot know God from nature by reasoning univocally. This would only lead to an immanent God and not the absolute and self-existent God of Scripture. It would reduce God to being like natural things rather than saying that natural things are made to reveal something about God. This means that the natural things are derivative and not ultimate. So we ought to realize that nature could not exist outside of God and that words like being have no meaning unless they are understood in God as the ultimate being.

Antelapsarian revelation about God from self – Van Til says that this extends from natural theology. Natural theology is limited in what it can learn of God because all other creatures are impersonal and are not made in God’s image. As human beings are created in the image of God they are personal and so general revelation of God from the self gives greater real knowledge of God than revelation from nature.

Postlapsarian revelation about God from self – Similar to the revelation of God from nature, this means seeing that words such as being, cause, and purpose do not have any meaning apart from God as ultimate. So men as beings point to God as the only independent being. A cause or a purpose for men means that God must have caused men and given them a purpose. Van Til asserts that any human rationality presupposes God as ultimately rational. So everything that man knows about himself reveals something about God as ultimate.

Antelapsarian revelation about God from God – Van Til’s key thought on this is that whatever was not already revealed to man of God as absolute is revealed to him directly by God. So God’s revelation of himself was revelation of himself as the absolute and self-existent Creator.

Postlapsarian revelation about God from God – Van Til will largely take this subject up in his discussion of special revelation. He does this because the original loving communication from God to man in theophany necessarily stopped after the fall. When God spoke directly to men after the fall it was for the purpose of judgment on sin or mercy in the removal of sin. So only the tradition of the original direct revelation of God to man remained until God’s special revelation of his saving purposes came.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A few things from around the web

I'm still working on the next few posts on Van Til (hopefully I'll get them all up this week) but for now here a few things from the weekend:

A very good post from Al Mohler on the announcement of the pregnancy of Sarah Palin's daughter. (HT: Al Mohler)

The folks at Crossway have now made the introductory notes and the notes on the first chapter of Ephesians from the ESV Study Bible available to view online. (HT: Justin Taylor)

Here are some thoughts on the importance of the nomination of Sarah Palin from J.D. Wetterling (a ruling elder in the PCA). (HT: Dominic Aquila)