Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book Sale

I just wanted to give a heads up that through Friday Reformation Heritage Books is offering God With Us: Knowing the Mystery of Who Jesus Is by Daniel Hyde for 65% off the cover price (only $5 instead of $14). 1100 years ago Anselm wrote a tract called, Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man) asking why the eternal Son of God had to become man to win our salvation. Hyde is trying to ask and answer this same question in this book. You'll find this helpful for its focus on the person of Jesus Christ as he is revealed throughout all of redemptive-history as opposed to just in the Gospels or Paul's writings. You can read Anselm's work on Google Books here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sunday School Reading - November 23, 2008

This week we finished our discussion of Christ's atonement and then turned to his resurrection from the dead. I'll direct you back to last week's post for more reading on the atonement. Below are some recommended readings regarding Christ's resurrection. First the related catechism questions.

Q27. Wherein did Christ's humiliation consist?
A27. Christ's humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.

Q28. Wherein consisteth Christ's exaltation?
A28. Christ's exaltation consisteth in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day.

Here are some book recommendations on the resurrection. Most of these are repeats from last week as I've generally tried to find books that are on Christ's work as a whole to save money but there are a few new ones.

Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul's Soteriology by Richard Gaffin - I have recommended this book before and I'll put the same disclaimer on it that I did then. It is not an easy book to read. The book is essentially an expansion and development of Dr. Gaffin's Ph.D dissertation on the resurrection in Paul's epistles. Accordingly this is a very academic book. It is also a very useful one with Dr. Gaffin's exegesis and exposition of our union with Christ as life-giving Spirit in his resurrection. It's worth reading but be prepared to go through it carefully two or three times.

Justified in Christ: God's Plan for Us in Justification ed. by Scott Oliphint - This is a repeat recommendation from last week. Again, this book is partly a response to the New Perspective on Paul on the topic of justification and salvation. For this week though I have to say that the article in here by Lane Tipton (professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary) is one of the best things you can find on our union with Christ in his resurrection.

The Person and Work of Christ by Benjamin B. Warfield - Again, this is another repeat from last week. Again, Warfield is always worth reading and this is Warfield at his best. There is a paperback copy available from WTS Books for about a dollar cheaper.

The Work of Christ by Robert Letham - And one final repeat from last week. This is a very useful book but probably not as good as Warfield and not as comprehensive on the Resurrection as Gaffin. Still, it's also cheaper and so might fit the budget more easily.

Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael Williams - This is not a book that is really about the resurrection but is rather a biblical theology of Scripture's overall covenantal message. There are two reasons that I have it in here. First, this is the best book that I have read on covenantal theology and biblical theology and would certainly be on a list of books that I think every Christian should read (coming soon!). Second, Dr. Williams (professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary) focuses in the opening on how Christ's resurrection from the dead is the turning point of Scripture's narrative and all of history. To see how the Scriptures place such a high emphasis on the resurrection makes this book invaluable.

Next our systematic theologies. John Calvin deals with the resurrection in Book 2, Chapters 16 and 17 of Institutes of the Christian Religion. Herman Bavinck discusses it in Volume 3 (Sin and Salvation in Christ), Chapter 8 under Christ's exaltation in his Reformed Dogmatics. Charles Hodge addresses the resurrection in Chapter 13, Section 1 in Volume 2 (warning: .pdf file) of his Systematic Theology. A.A. Hodge focuses on the resurrection in its eschatological importance in Chapter 35 of his Outlines of Theology (available online at Google books; it looks like someone bought the copy in the Shady Grove bookstore so it is no longer available there).

Finally, here are some good articles and papers that you can read for free online about the resurrection:
"The Spiritual Resurrection of Believers: A Sermon on Eph. 2:4-5" by Geerhardus Vos
"Resurrection Living" by William Dennison - This is a very good article!
"Declared to be the Son of God by his Resurrection" by Jack Peterson
"The Exaltation of Christ in the Resurrection" by Ligon Duncan - These next few articles are a series of sermons that Dr. Duncan has preached on Easter Sundays at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS.
"Why the Resurrection Matters" by Ligon Duncan
"United to Christ" by Ligon Duncan
"He is Risen" by Ligon Duncan
"Who Raised Jesus from the Dead?" by Richard Phillips - This is an excellent article on the Trinitarian aspect of the resurrection.
"On the Third Day He Rose Again" by Duncan Thomas
"Redemption and Resurrection: An Exercise in biblical-systematic theology" by Richard Gaffin - This appears to be an abridged article expressing many of the same things in the book recommended above. If you only read one of the articles then this should probably be the one.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Canons of Dort - Second Head of Doctrine

As we continue to think about the doctrine of definite atonement I thought that it would be helpful to post the articles of faith from the Second Main Head of Doctrine in the Canons of Dort along with a very brief commentary on them. This is the Head of Doctrine where the Synod addressed the Arminian claim of universal atonement. Please see the below post of Sunday School reading for books and articles that explain why we believe in a definite atonement.

Article 1: God is not only supremely merciful, but also supremely just. His justice requires (as he has revealed himself in the Word) that the sins we have committed against his infinite majesty be punished with both temporal and eternal punishments, of soul as well as body. We cannot escape these punishments unless satisfaction is given to God's justice.

The first article points us back to the doctrine of God. Because he is not made up of a bunch of independent attributes we have to remember that his attributes define one another. His mercy is a loving and just mercy. His justice is a righteous and holy justice. He cannot compromised who he is or act contrary to his nature. So as we stand before him as sinners in Adam we stand guilty and condemned to eternal punishment by God's righteous judgment.

Article 2: Since, however, we ourselves cannot give this satisfaction or deliver ourselves from God's anger, God in his boundless mercy has given us as a guarantee his only begotten Son, who was made to be sin and a curse for us, in our place, on the cross, in order that he might give satisfaction for us.

The problem is that we can never offer anything to God that would fully satisfy his righteous and just anger that burns against us sinners. Left to ourselves our destination is an eternal suffering from the pains of hell. Yet we find that as God is also merciful he has given us his Son who became a curse for us and offered a perfect satisfaction of God's just wrath. Those who are covered by Christ's atoning death no longer need to fear punishment for their sins.

Article 3: This death of God's Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.

The Synod reminds us that God's death is the only sacrifice sufficient to satisfy God's justice. We cannot choose to offer satisfaction by Christ's death or by something else. We cannot even choose to offer satisfaction by Christ's death and or along with something else. Christ's death alone is the satisfaction for sins and his death has such great value and worth that is sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.

Article 4: This death is of such great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered it is--as was necessary to be our Savior--not only a true and perfectly holy man, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Another reason is that this death was accompanied by the experience of God's anger and curse, which we by our sins had fully deserved.

The reason that we know that Christ's death has such a high value as was described in Article 3 is because of who we know and confess Jesus to be. He is the only true and perfect man who is without sin. Of all men who have ever lived Jesus is the only one who never sinned and never deserved to suffer God's wrath. At the same time he is the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal God in his own right. So his death has an infinite value as he alone could bear the entirety of God's wrath for our sins.

Article 5: Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

In this article the Synod affirms the promise of the gospel. We know that anyone who does believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. Roger Nicole said that in the whole history of humankind there has not been a single person who has come to Christ earnestly seeking salvation in him that was turned away. The promise of Almighty God, who cannot lie and in whom there is no shadow of turning, is that all who believe will be saved. Therefore we believe and hold that the gospel must be preached to all people without any discrimination as all are called to believe and repent.

Article 6: However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault.

The universal call does not mean that we believe in universal salvation. There are many who do not obey God's summons in the gospel to believe in the Lord Jesus and repent of their sins. The Synod affirms that the problem is not that Christ's sacrifice was insufficient but rather than they perish because of their own unbelief and refusal to obey the call of the gospel. The sin and punishment of sinners does not take away from the infinite value of Christ's atonement.

Article 7: But all who genuinely believe and are delivered and saved by Christ's death from their sins and from destruction receive this favor solely from God's grace--which he owes to no one--given to them in Christ from eternity.

Here the Synod reaffirms that salvation is a monergistic (one worker) activity. God does not work with those who believe to save them. God effectively saves those who believe. Sinners cannot rightly force God to save them. They can only be saved by him according to the means of salvation that he has revealed in his word. The ones God saves are only the ones that he has chosen in Christ from all eternity (see the First Main Head of Doctrine).

Article 8: For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son's costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God's will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit's other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death); that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.

Here we see the key to the doctrine of definite atonement. Because all those who believe are saved and only those who are chosen believe we must hold that the saving effectiveness of Christ's death, which is a real satisfation of God's justice, efficiently saves and only saves the elect. Again, there is nothing aside from Christ's death that they may plead before the judgment seat of God. The Synod says that Christ's death effectively redeems all those who the Father has given to Christ. Those who are redeemed are certainly cleansed. Those cleansed are preserved. Those preserved are glorified. Christ's death is an efficient and efficacious salvific work. Those for whom he died are saved.

Article 9: This plan, arising out of God's eternal love for his chosen ones, from the beginning of the world to the present time has been powerfully carried out and will also be carried out in the future, the gates of hell seeking vainly to prevail against it. As a result the chosen are gathered into one, all in their own time, and there is always a church of believers founded on Christ's blood, a church which steadfastly loves, persistently worships, and--here and in all eternity--praises him as her Savior who laid down his life for her on the cross, as a bridegroom for his bride.

Again the Synod affirms that Christ's death is the effective salvation for all of God's elect. Throughout history everyone who is saved is saved by Christ dying for them. All the powers of hell may assault them but God powerfully works his purposes in his elect. So therefore all of God's people, both in Old Testament and New Testament times, belong to the church of Christ that he has redeemed with his precious blood.

If you'd like a print version of the Canons of Dort then you can find it in this book; along with the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Ecumenical Creeds. You can read the Canons of Dort online here.

A baptist view of the Lord's Supper?

Lane Keister (a PCA pastor currently serving CRC and an RCA churches in North Dakota) and Doug Wilson (a CREC pastor and Federal Vision proponent from Idaho) have resumed their blog debate over Federal Vision theology. I'm going to going evaluate the whole of either of their positions here and I also don't want to recommend that you run over to Green Baggins (Keister) or Blog and Mablog (Wilson) to check it out, it isn't really worth your time (so I'm not linking to the relevant posts, if you'd really like to read them then just google those blogs or look in my blog list to the left and you can find them).

What caught my attention was a recent statement by Wilson that Reformed believers who reject paedocommunion (the practice of allowing baptized covenant children to come to the Lord's table and partake as soon as they are physically able to receive the bread and wine) are baptistic in their approach to the Lord's Supper. By this he means that those who reject paedocommunion draw the same line with regard to the Lord's Supper that Baptists have drawn with regard to baptism. Wilson does allow that this is not strictly baptistic, as we allow people to approach the Table on the basis of a credible profession of faith and not on requiring some "proof" of regeneration, but does argue that it is still a baptistic view of the Lord's Supper.

The question is whether or not this charge is accurate. I would argue that it should be turned around. One of the (many) problems with a credobaptist approach is that is confuses the sacrament of identification with the covenant people of God with the sacrament of spiritual nourishment for the body. That is to say that baptism and the Lord's Supper do not serve the same purpose in the life of the believer. Baptism is the non-repeated sacrament whereby someone is indentified with Christ and brought into the fellowship of his covenant people. According to Scripture we hold that covenant children are to be given this sacrament. The Lord's Supper is the oft-repeated sacrament whereby the Spirit lifts us up so that we remember what Christ has done for us, are blessed by Christ's fellowship with us, enjoy communion with Christ as the Spirit lifts us up to him, publicly proclaim again the Lord's work on our behalf, and anticipate his coming again and the day when we will feast with him in the Father's house. Credobaptists confuse both the requirement and the purpose of these two sacraments and mix them together so that the Lord's Supper becomes dominant over Biblical baptism.

I would hold that paedocommunionists make the same error in the opposite direction. Like credobaptists they refuse to remember that there are differences in the requirements and purpose of the two sacraments. Instead of the Lord's Supper they make baptism dominant. The Lord's Supper ceases to be the Spiritual nourishment of Christ's body as explained above and becomes another confirmatory seal and obligation just like baptism. To be sure a person's baptism as an infant may be a part of his profession of faith wherein a Session receives him as a communicant member but it is not the whole of that profession of faith in the doctrines of the church. Wilson ought to respect what the church has believed and practiced for two thousand years as delivered to us by the Lord and his Apostles and allow each sacrament to stay in its proper place.

Those of you who are curious about the New Perspective on Paul or Federal Vision Theology and how it relates to our Confessions and Scripture should look at the statements put out by the General Assemblies of the PCA (PCA GA Ad Interim Committee Report) and the OPC (Report of the Committee to Study the Doctrine of Justification). I would also highly recommend John Fesko's book, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Van Til's Intro To Systematic Theology Part 5

Chapters 13-14 – Incomprehensibility of God

The last six chapters of Cornelius Van Til’s An Introduction to Systematic Theology deal with the doctrine of God. The first two of these chapters both focus on the incomprehensibility of God. We’ll look at those two chapters in this post.

Normally the doctrine of God is not addressed in theological Prolegomena (first principles). That is usually saved for a later volume on God and creation. Van Til believes that there are enormous apologetic benefits to having a proper doctrine of God and since the primary thrust of his Introduction is apologetic he addresses it here. Van Til wants to put forth a positive doctrine of God even though he begins with the incomprehensibility of God. So he says that the goal of his work in this doctrine is going to explain and apply the fourth question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable; in his being wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
Van Til then goes into a brief survey of the history of philosophy when it comes to God. He notes that all non-Reformed/Calvinist philosophies about God always begin with man. This is done one of two ways. There are those, like Aristotle and Aquinas, who seek to build a doctrine of God by saying that his incomprehensibility means that we cannot know what God really is but we can know what he is not. This means that God is the opposite of what we are and know. Second, there are those, like Kant, who try to reason from man to God. Van Til argues that both of these cannot logically reach the transcendent God of Christianity described in the Westminster Shorter Catechism and revealed in his word but can only find an immanent God who is ultimately like creatures. One tries to define God only in terms of how he is different from man. The other tries to define him only in terms of how he is like man. Neither can reason to an absolute, self-existent God.

In contrast, Van Til argues that our doctrine of God must begin with God’s revelatory statements about himself. He says that human reason could never get to God apart from a self-conscious relationship to supernatural revelation. Van Til summarizes this as follows:

Thus the Reformed Christian has an effective answer for the modern man. His answer is that the capacities of the human mind would have no opportunity for their exercise except upon the presupposition that the most absolute God does exist and that all things in this world are revelational of him. We grant that it is only by the frank acceptance of the Scriptures as the infallible revelation of God that man can know this. But this only shows that unless one thus accepts the Scripture, there is no place for the exercise of reason. The most absolute God of the confession can only be presupposed. He cannot be proved to exist in the way that the idea of proof is taken by the Romanist-Arminian apologetics. But so far from this fact being unfortunate, it is the one thing that saves the idea of the reasonableness of the Christian religion. (267)
Because of this we find that the incomprehensibility of God does not make him completely unknowable but means that we cannot comprehend him exhaustively and that our knowledge of him is dependent upon his revelation. So to say that God is incomprehensible ultimately presupposes that his revelation is comprehensible. Otherwise we would not have anyway to know that there was an incomprehensible God. Without that revelation, then, God would not be incomprehensible but inapprehensible. Because God has revealed himself, and has done so in an absolute and authoritative way, we can know that God is and can know something of what he is.

So how is it that we can know God even though we do not know him exhaustively? First, Van Til says that everything that man knows is already known to and interpreted by God. So man at each point is dependent upon divine revelation to interpret any fact rightly. Yet that revelation results in real knowledge and because God is an effective communicator, it results in real knowledge that is understandable to man. “All revelation is anthropomorphic.” (270) Second, Van Til argues that we do not know God according to his essence the way that he knows himself but we know himself in relationship with him and that relationship is covenantal. So Van Til argues that all of our knowledge of God is covenantal knowledge as it presupposes that the transcendent God has come near to his creation. Third, this is closely related to the absolute distinction between Creator and creatures. We cannot ever know as God knows as God’s knowledge is an attribute of being God. We are not God and so we do not know the same way that he does. God knows the way he does because he is the way he is. We know only on the basis of prior revelation of God. Fourth, this is the only doctrine that makes knowledge possible for man. Man is mutable and so is always subject to change. He cannot find in himself the basis for timeless logic. If a fact is not timeless then it cannot be true and cannot be known. Our knowledge depends on the incomprehensibility of God. (Note: the rest of this chapter is a long discourse on the difference between Van Til and Clark on epistemology. This difference is rooted in the third point in this paragraph. Because this is a highly technical discussion I will not go through Van Til’s critique of Clark here.)

Chapter 14 is about the apologetic value of the incomprehensibility of God. Van Til starts by going back to where philosophy independent of revelation leaves us. Here we are stuck trying to define God apart from how he has described himself to us. We also are still reliant upon point four above where our knowledge depends on God’s incomprehensibility. Here Van Til discusses rationalism and irrationalism. Rationally, the non-Christian is aware that logically he must know something in exhaustive detail in order to understand and legislate reality. Yet he also knows that he cannot know anything in exhaustive detail and so he is forced to confess that chance must rule all things. This is irrationalism. Because man cannot live in an irrational universe he is driven back to rationalism. Van Til argues that the unbeliever constantly and unavoidably moves back and forth between these two positions because he refuses to presuppose the God of Christianity which is the only true standard of rationality.

With this in mind, Van Til believes that the incomprehensibility of God, rooted as it is in God as absolute and self-existent, is the ultimate theodicy and apologetic for the Christian. This means that there is no power that is against God or that can thwart God’s will. To admit that there was such a power would be to allow chance and revert to irrationalism again. Thus Van Til argues that we should not tone down our claims that God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass but instead we should proclaim it even louder. Here Van Til spends a great deal of time arguing with J. Oliver Buswell Jr. and others. Instead of dealing with those arguments in detail I will only summarize the main reasons that Van Til believes that we need to emphasize God’s sovereignty.

  1. Man’s deeds and thoughts only have significance because they take place within the context of an all-inclusive and all-controlling plan of God. Apart from this man’s thoughts and deeds take place in a void and because man is finite they have no real meaning or significance.
  2. God has decreed whatsoever comes to pass on the basis of his own person and not according to some impersonal nature. Therefore we know that no matter what occurs it is ultimately good on the basis of God’s plan and God’s character. God’s will, God’s nature, and God’s freedom cannot ever be in conflict with each other. God is good and all his works are necessarily good thus all that he wills according to his own freedom to will that which his nature desires is also good. Therefore his plan is necessarily good though we may not understand it perfectly now. This calls for faith.
  3. This also confesses the limits of our knowledge. Because God has told us in his word that he is omniscient we can say and know that he is omniscient. But this does not mean that we truly know or understand what it is to be all-knowing. God can and does comprehend that even though we do not. Similarly we know that God is eternal and we can echo his word in describing him that way. Yet when God says that he is eternal and we say God is eternal it is clear that God knows everything that it means to be eternal but we do not. Yet it is precisely because God is omniscient, eternal, and free that we can presuppose things are knowable to man. Only the Christian system allows for real human knowledge.
  4. We must emphasize these difficult but essential doctrines of Christianity in apologetics because it is impossible to win anyone to the Christian position if we choose not to distinguish the Christian position from that of its opponents. Both Romanists and Arminians given in to secular epistemologies when they hold that the relationship between God and the human mind is like that of a teacher and a pupil. The teacher may know more than the pupil but there is at least the idea that the pupil is capable of eventually knowing as much as the teacher. There is not any proposition that the teacher can set forth that will not eventually become clear to the pupil. Thus in these systems man is not really dependent on God. Instead the Christian position is that even if God were to make all the revelational propositions that he will ever make to man about himself even then man will not have the same content in his mind about God that God has about himself unless man were also divine. The finite cannot experience the experience of the infinite. Instead we insist that God is ultimate and man’s knowledge is at every point dependent upon God’s.

Van Til then turns to what he calls the irrationalism of the neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner. Barth and Brunner sought to show that the “wholly other” (divine and timeless) was completely separate from the “wholly revealed” (things that are). In doing this Van Til says that they deny the revelational character of all reality. Barth often spoke about the “actuality of the book.” In this he wanted to say that the Bible, belonging to what was wholly revealed, was actually there as a revelation of the wholly other. Yet the problem is that our rational minds can only encounter the book through an irrational and subjective encounter. In other words the book does not really provide us with a consistent view of life and the world but instead we can read the book to find the words of God in back of and behind the words in the book and thus we make ourselves the test of all things.

In contrast to this subjective confusion, the Reformed faith asserts that rather than interpret the book in light of ourselves we interpret ourselves in light of the book. The Bible tells us who and what we are. We do not tell the Bible what it is. Thus the apologetic requirement is to assert plainly that unless non-Christians interpret facts as what the Bible says they are then they cannot know the facts at all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sunday School Reading - November 16, 2008

Here are some reading recommendations from this past Sunday. This week we discussed the atonement as the first part of our look at the fourfold work of Christ. Next week we will look at the resurrection and then the ascension and Pentecost if we have time. Please see the post below this on the threefold office of Christ for what will hopefully be a helpful connection between the person and work of Christ. First, just one catechism question for this week since we dealt with Christ's offices in the last post:
Q27. Wherein did Christ's humiliation consist?
A27. Christ's humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the dross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.

Redemption: Accomplished and Applied by John Murray - As I mentioned on Sunday, this is my favorite book outside of the Bible. This would be the number two book on my list of things that every Christian should read. It is a fantastic work. I will admit that Professor Murray is not always the easiest to read. He is somewhat technical at times but still I think that this book is more worth reading on the accomplishment and application of Christ's work than any other. The first part deals exclusively with Christ's atonement and is a large source of much of our discussion on Sunday. As I mentioned, there are two copies of this available in the church library (look for the brown and yellow cover) but I do think that this one is worth having.

The Work of Christ by Robert Letham - Bob Letham is a former OPC pastor and current teacher of theology in Wales. This book is a good, orthodox introduction to the work of Christ that is built around the threefold office of Christ. It's worth reading but I don't think it's as good as the Murray book above or the Warfield book below.

The Person and Work of Christ by Benjamin B. Warfield - I recommended this book last week as well. If you want to get a good introduction to both sides of our doctrine of Christ then this is the book to get. For what it's worth, John Murray himself said, "There is no subject on which Warfield's master mind showed its depth and comprehension better than on that of the person and work of Christ." As I've said a few times, Warfield is always worth reading though not always easy to read. He writes like the masterful turn-of-the-century theologian that he was. I'm not sure if this is in the church library or not. Note that though I have a link to Monergism Books up that features a hard cover copy there is a paperback option available through WTS Books for about a dollar cheaper.

Justified in Christ: God's Plan for us in Justification ed. by Scott Oliphint - Please see the post I have outlining this anthology. This is a good book but it is written on a high scholarly level. It is largely setting forth the Reformed and Presbyterian doctrine of justification against the New Perspective on Paul. Worth reading but go slow as some of these articles take quite a bit to work through. John Murray's work on the imputation of Adam's sin at the end is worth the price of the book though that might be the most difficult thing to read that Professor Murray wrote.

The atonement is also dealt with in the systematic theologies that we have been referencing. John Calvin closes Book 2 (Of the Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ) of his Institutes of the Christian Religion on this topic in Chapters 15-17. Herman Bavinck discusses the atonement under Christ's humiliation in Volume 3 (Sin and Salvation in Christ), Chapter 7 of his Reformed Dogmatics. Charles Hodge spends a great deal of Volume 2 (warning, .pdf file) of his Systematic Theology on these topics. He deals with Christ's work as Mediator in Chapter 4. He deals with Christ's work as Prophet and Priest in Chapters 5-6. Chapter 7 is an explanation of the satisfaction made by Christ (atonement), Chapter 8 asks who Christ died for (definite atonement), and Chapter 9 examines various theories on the atonement. A.A. Hodge writes on the atonement in Chapters 21-23 of Outlines of Theology (available at the Shady Grove bookstore and also for free on Google Books).

Limited/definite/particular atonement is also addressed in the two books we have discussed on the doctrines of grace (TULIP). I did not recommend any books that focus solely on limited atonement (though they are out there) simply because I think that the topic is best dealt with in terms of understanding all that Christ did in his death on the cross and that you will find Murray, Warfield, Letham, Bavinck, and both Hodges (I do think it clear that Calvin believed in limited atonement though he does not deal with it explicitly since it was not a controversy in his day) all to be incredibly helpful on this. Michael Horton appropriate titles the chapter dealing with limited atonement in Putting Amazing Back Into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel "Mission Accomplished." I think that Horton is very helpful here. Richard Phillips addresses definite atonement in chapter 3 of What's So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? and I think you will find that to also be very good.

Finally, here are some free articles that you can read on the atonement (there are a lot of these since this is obviously such a crucial doctrine):
"Atonement" by B.B. Warfield
"The Atonement" by Lorraine Boettner
"Not Faith, but Christ" by Horatius Bonar - This article is a great reminder that we are not saved by faith but rather by grace working through faith in Christ. Bonar draws our attention away from ourselves and our "work" in believing and points us back to the cross of Jesus Christ where our salvation was truly accomplished. Bonar was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor and hymn writer and I think that you'll find this article to be truly a blessing in meditating on our Lord and Savior.
"Christ Our Penal Substitute" by Robert L. Dabney
"Three Articles on Atonement" by J. Gresham Machen
"Arminianism and the Atonement" by John Murray
"The Atonement" by John Murray - This appears to be a summary of what is contained in the book by Murray recommended above
"The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" by John Owen - This book by Owen is spectacular. Be sure to read James Packer's introduction.
"The Satisfaction of Christ: Studies in the Atonement" by A.W. Pink
"The Love of God and the Intent of the Atonement" by D.A. Carson
"The Judicial and Substitutionary Nature of Salvation" by Greg Bahnsen
"Penal Substitution" by Greg Bahnsen
"Limited Atonement" Part 1 and Part 2 by Greg Bahnsen - While there were some problems with some aspects of Dr. Bahnsen's theology when it comes to theonomy it should be noted that he may very well only be matched by John Calvin and the like when it came to his polemics (defense of the faith against aberrant or heretical theologies). Gary North rightly said after Dr. Bahnsen was suddenly called to glory when he was only in his 40's, "Now that Greg is dead everyone will want to debate him." Very few were interested in engaging Dr. Bahnsen in debate because God had blessed him with such an incredible intellect and wit. You will find that this argument shows why four-point Calvinism simply cannot stand.
"The Case for Definite Atonement" by Roger Nicole - Dr. Nicole is one of the best people you will read when it comes to the doctrines of grace (if only he could be brought around on baptism now!). This is a clear positive (as opposed to polemical like the Bahnsen articles) formulation of definite atonement.
"Covenant, Universal Call, and Definite Atonement" by Roger Nicole - Here Dr. Nicole deals with the objection that believing in definite atonement means that we cannot believe in a universal offer of the gospel. I think that you'll find this article to be very helpful on that front.

Finally, I would strongly recommend that you look at the Canons of Dort Second Main Head of Doctrine and Rejection of Errors on the subject of the extent of Christ's atonement.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Threefold Office of Christ

The Westminster Shorter Catechism follows after John Calvin in making a connection between Christ’s person and Christ’s work by discussing his threefold office. The Catechism says:

Q23. What offices doth Christ execute as our Redeemer?
A23. Christ, as our Redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.
It is important for us to think about the offices of Christ as it helps us to keep his person and work together in our minds. He is not the Christ except as he is the perfect Prophet, Priest, and King and the work that he does is in faithfully executing those three offices. Therefore we need to examine each of these offices in terms of who our Lord is and the work that he has accomplished and still does.

Q24. How doth Christ execute the office of a prophet?
A24. Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in revealing to us, by his Word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation.
When the Samaritan woman expresses her expectation that the Christ would come to teach all things (John 4:25) she shows knowledge of the prophetic announcement of the Christ who is sent as a witness and a messenger from the Father (Isa. 9:6; 28:29; 55:4). The writer of Hebrews also picks up on Christ as Prophet:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:1-2)
The writer here says that a new era of revelation has dawned. In the past God spoke to his people by his prophets and other means of revelation. In the present he has now spoken to them by his only Son who brings the fullness of God’s revelation of salvation. Calvin reminds us that this revelation is also linked to the revelatory work of the Spirit of Christ (Isa. 61:1-2; cf. Luke 4:18). Christ’s prophetic work continues as the Spirit illumines the word of Christ and the word is preached to Christ’s people. So because the whole of doctrine is revealed to us by Christ the Prophet we know that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Col. 2:3). As we consider Christ as prophet we are reminded that his Word contains all the things that are necessary for faith and godliness.

Q25. How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?
A25. Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us.
Calvin notes that because God’s righteous wrath is set against sinners for Christ to be a Mediator between us and God he first had to come forward as a sacrifice. Our own prayers are not acceptable to God until God’s wrath against us is removed. God’s wrath cannot be removed until the penalty for our sins has been paid and God’s justice has been satisfied. So we now know that Christ has appeared to put away sin by offering up himself as a sacrifice (Heb. 9:26b). So Christ’s perfect sacrifice answers both of our problems. As he has taken our sin on himself (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24) the penalty is paid and we are now reconciled to God.

Yet we know that Christ’s priestly work is not finished now that he has ascended into heaven. In fact we find that it is precisely as he has ascended into heaven that he is the perfect Mediator and Intercessor on behalf of his people. Now in heaven he always lives to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25; Rom. 8:34) and he secures our eternal redemption (Heb. 9:11-12).

Q26. How doth Christ execute the office of a King?
A26. Christ executeth the office of a King, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.
Calvin begins his discussion of Christ’s kingly office by reminding us that it is spiritual in nature and thus is in force for all of eternity. God promises that in his Son he will protect and defend his church (Ps. 89:35-37) and that no enemies may overthrow his Son who is King over the church (Ps. 110:1). Further this spiritual kingship draws the attention of his people to the kingdom that is not of this world (John 18:36) where they are promised eternal life and eternal blessing in the enjoyment of God.

Yet we also know that even as we wait for the consummation of Christ’s spiritual kingdom we enjoy some of the benefits of the kingdom even while we live in this life. As Christ exercises his heavenly rule in the present in anticipation of the great Day of the Lord we can be confident in victory against the spiritual powers that oppose us by Christ’s Spirit (Eph. 6:10ff). Finally, we know that all the glory will go to the King and to the Father. At that last day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord to the glory of God (Phil. 2:10-11). Yet Christ also rules for the good of his people. He is the good and perfect King. Calvin writes: “The Father has given all power to the Son that he may by the Son’s hand govern, nourish, and sustain us, keep us in his care, and help up.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion ed. by John T. McNeill and trans. by Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vol. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960) 1:500)

Herman Bavinck helpfully reminds us that Christ did not take up these offices at the time of his incarnation or resurrection but that as the work of redemption is a Trinitarian work that begins immediately after the fall Christ was active as prophet, priest, and king in the Old Testament. Furthermore, we need to remember that though we can distinguish the offices we cannot separate his work and limit to a single office. When the Prophet speaks he does so as the One with the authority of the King and his prayer is that of the Priest. After his exaltation he teaches his church by Word and Spirit, rules the church by the same, and intercedes in the same as a prophetic and priestly expression of his royal will. Thus Bavinck says that Christ “does not just perform prophetic, priestly, and kingly activities but is himself, in his whole person, prophet, priest, and king.” Further:

Therefore Christ, both as the Son and as the image of God, for himself and also as our mediator and savior, had to bear all three offices. He had to be a prophet to know and disclose the truth of God; a priest, to devote himself to God and, in our place, to offer himself up to God; a king, to govern and protect us according to God’s will. To teach, to reconcile, and to lead; to instruct, to acquire, and to apply salvation; wisdom, righteousness, and redemption; truth, love, and power – all three are essential to the completeness of our salvation. In Christ’s God-to-humanity relation, he is a prophet; in his humanity-to-God relation he is a priest; in his headship over all humanity he is a king. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, ed. by John Bolt and trans. by John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006) 367-8)
So we see that the threefold office of Christ is essential to his person and work on behalf of his people. The Heidelberg Catechism affirms this:

Q31. Why is he called “Christ,” meaning “anointed”?
A31. Because he has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief prophet and teacher who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance; our only high priest who has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body, and who continually pleads our cause with the Father; and our eternal king, who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.
Further, the Catechism reminds us that all believers have a priestly, prophetic, and kingly office as they are brought into union with Christ by the Spirit through faith and that this is the promise of their eternal reward:

Q32. But why are you called a Christian?
A32. Because by faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing. I am anointed to confess his name, to present myself as a living sacrifice of thanks, to strive with a good conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity.

If you would like to do some more study on this then I recommend John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapters 15-16, Derek Thomas' essay on these chapters in The Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes, and pages 364-8 in Volume 3 of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Finding the Will of God

I recently finished reading Bruce Waltke’s Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? This book was recommended by Howard Griffith, professor of systematic theology at RTS D.C. So far I haven’t ever been disappointed by anything that Dr. Griffith has recommended to me so I picked it up on a recent trip up to Westminster Theological Seminary.

After reading it I can safely say that if I were to make a list of books that I think every Christian should read then this would definitely be on there. When it comes to “finding God’s will” Christians tend to vacillate between two positions. Waltke argues that many Christians engage in Christianized forms of pagan divination to find God’s will. Waltke argues that the two big problems with this is that it engages in practices that God’s word specifically condemns and that it refuses to acknowledge that God is a loving Father. If we truly believe that God is a perfectly loving Father then why live and act as if he hides his will from us and we have to jump through hoops to find out what it is? Shouldn’t we believe that our heavenly Father desires to communicate clearly with us?

On the other hand, Waltke also critiques the tendency of many Reformed believers who speak of God’s will only in terms of God’s decree and not in terms of something that can be known for making big decisions in life. Waltke believes that it is possible to find and know the will of God for what college to go to, what major to pursue, what job to take, who to marry, and other important decisions in life. He outlines six principles for discerning (at this point Waltke has dispensed with the phrase “finding God’s will”) the will of God for our lives:

  1. Read your Bible – The order of these strategies is very important to Waltke and he notes that whenever we want to know God’s will we must begin with his verbal revelation in Scripture. Whenever we need to make a major decision we should begin with God’s word and not with our own personal experience.
  2. Develop a heart for God – Waltke reminds us that the heart of the law is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” He says that the foundation of God’s will for us in Scripture is that we become holy and that we love God. This means a change in our perspective and our desires as God sanctifies us. Waltke argues from Scripture that as we are changed into people who love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength that we will have desires that correlate with Scripture, with offering our bodies as living sacrifices, with faith, and with prayer. This means that one of the ways to know what God’s will is to examine our sanctified desires as they have been given to us by God.
  3. Seek wise counsel – Waltke writes that when we seek counsel we must be careful to go only to those who are spiritually mature because those are the believers who are going to be familiar with Scripture. He advises praying for that person before going to them so that God will work in them to prepare them to give godly advice.
  4. Look for God’s providence – Waltke argues that this is an application of what we believe about God’s sovereignty in his creation. Nothing ever happens by chance but everything is according to God’s design. Sometimes we desire to do things that are not forbidden in Scripture and are confirmed by the assembly of God’s people but it just ends up being impossible to carry out. Waltke says that this may be God providentially revealing his will to us. Waltke argues that when this happens we ought to attribute it to the overall plan of a God who loves us and knows best.
  5. Does this make sense? – Waltke notes that God created men and women with faculties of reason. Reason is to be used thinking God’s thoughts after him. Often God guides us simply by letting us think through the situation and reason to the proper conclusion. Waltke gives a few principles for using reason to make decisions. First, reason should never lead to a conclusion that is contrary to Scripture. Second, reason should take into account the gifts that God has given us. Third, reason should take into account the abilities that God has given us. Fourth, reason should take our circumstances into account. Finally, we should reason to a decision in terms of an overall plan and not just flying randomly from one choice to another.
  6. Divine intervention – Waltke is very careful to clarify what he wants to say here. He notes that miracles are not the normal way that God works and that we should remember that Acts is telling a story of what God did to establish the church and not revealing how God works in his normal providence. Yet we should also remember that our God is a God who can and does work miracles and he may change our situation to reveal his will. We need to be careful not to always wait for a miracle before acting but we must also be willing to follow God’s direction when he does work this way.

There are a few minor quibbles that I have with the book. For example, in the chapter on divine intervention Waltke uses Peter’s vision in Acts 10 as an example. I don’t think that Waltke interprets the passage in context and stretches it a bit to make his point. I do think that his argument in this section is valid but that there are better passages that he could use to make it. A bigger one is when Waltke critiques the practice of casting lots (and similar modern practices) and in the course argues that the disciples’ decision to appoint Matthias to Judas Iscariot’s place by casting lots was wrong. Waltke says that this is confirmed as Matthias never really comes up again in the New Testament. I think that this is a pretty bad interpretation of Acts 1. I do agree with him about casting lots but again, this passage in Acts is misinterpreted to support the argument.

Those differences aside, I still maintain that this book will be immensely valuable for Christians to read in learning how to make decisions according to God’s guidance and will for his children. I highly encourage all believers to pick up and read this book.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Well, I had hoped to have the essay on the three-fold office of Christ up over the holiday weekend but unfortunately Verizon has let us down and our internet has had little to no connectivity for over a week now so I wasn't really able to do anything from home. I'll try and post it as soon as we're back up and running there. In the meantime I thought that I would put a few miscellaneous things up.

First, we've been mentioning the Westminster Shorter Catechism regularly in Sunday School (and reading recommendations for that) and our course of study is generally following the order of doctrines in WSC. I hope that people will take the time to think about trying to memorize the Shorter Catechism and even start to catechize children (the PCA has produced two catechisms for young children based on WSC but changed so that younger children can memorize and understand them: First Catechism: Teaching Children Bible Truths and Catechism for Young Children). Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary California, has a good essay on why we should memorize the Catechism. His conclusion:

Reformed catechesis, however, is not mere obligation. It is a joy and a gift from our covenant Lord. If we do make catechesis a regular part of the religious life of our children, if we make regular use of the ordinary means of grace (Shorter Catechism 88), if we pray and read with our children, we may expect them to make a credible profession of faith in the congregation. Watching our children make profession and come to the table of the Lord, these are the answers to the prayers of all Reformed parents. May God grant us such graces.

Second, Tim Keller's new book, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, is now available. I haven't read Reverend Keller's book (and to be honest with all I do have to read and to but and read it isn't on my Amazon wish list at the moment) but it does bring up an interesting passage of Scripture in the parable of the prodigal son. The question that comes up is, "Where do we see Jesus in this parable?" We know that all of his parables reveal something about him but this is an odd one. Some suggest that Jesus is found in the person of the father who receives the prodigal back. Some think that Jesus is seen in the prodigal himself as he humbles himself and identifies with sinners. I think that Jesus is only seen here when we realize that he removes himself from the parable and puts the Pharisees in his place so that we can only see him by their negative example.

Now it is true that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Heb. 1:1-3) and also true that Jesus humbles himself from his glory to be found in the form of a servant (Phil. 2:1-13). This isn't what Jesus is revealing to us in this parable though. God the Father is the one who is revealed in the person of the father in the parable. Jesus also cannot be seen in the person of the prodigal as the story focuses on his sin and repentance; neither of which are things that Jesus did. So where do we find Jesus in the parable?

I think that the answer is in backing up and looking at the story in context. The beginning of the passage provides this context: "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.' So he told them this parable" (Luke 15:1-3). Tax collectors and sinners are gathering around Jesus and he receives them. The Pharisees and scribes object to this behavior and question why Jesus would associate himself with sinners. Jesus tells a trio of parables to explain why he welcomes the tax collectors and sinners.

The first parable is that of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7). When a man who has a hundred sheep loses one he immediately leaves the other ninety-nine and goes to seek after the lost. When he finds that lost sheep he brings it back and rejoices with his friends because he has recovered what was lost. It is easy for us to see Jesus as the shepherd in this parable who goes and finds sinners and brings them to repentance and Jesus confirms this reading by saying, "there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." The second parable is that of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). A woman who has ten coins loses one and then lights and lamp and sweeps the house diligently until she finds it. After she recovers what was lost she calls her friends and rejoices over that coin that was lost and now is found. Again we can easily see Jesus in the woman who searches diligently for what was lost as he finds sinners and brings them to repentance. Again Jesus confirms this, saying, "there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

This brings us to the third parable, that of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32). A son is lost but no one goes to find him. Eventually the son repents of his sinful life and returns to his father who welcomes him and throws a banquet and a party to celebrate the recovery of his son. But no one in this parable left to find what was lost or diligently sought after what was missing until it was found. What jumps out at us in contrast to the first two parables is the lack of the shepherd or the woman. Instead we find the older brother who not only does not seek out his younger brother but is furious that the father would show grace to the prodigal when he returns! Clearly the older brother in the story reveals the Pharisees and scribes who not only did not seek out the tax collectors and sinners to bring them back to God but grumble against Jesus when he does the same. They despise the tax collectors and sinners and are furious that Jesus would eat with them.

But suppose that the older brother had known that his father longed to restore his younger son and desired to return to fellowship with him. If that older brother desired to please and honor his father then wouldn't he have immediately left all that he had in his father's house and gone to look diligently for his brother until he could restore him to his father? So we are meant to see Jesus in the negative example of the older brother. Jesus knows that the heart of the Father is to rejoice in the repentance of sinners. So he leaves the glory that he has had from all eternity with the Father and humbles himself to the death of the cross so that he can bring those lost sinners to the household of the Father. He is the one who goes and seeks until he finds what is lost and brings it back to the rightful place. He is the good older brother who seeks out the prodigal and brings him back. Ed Clowney (see Chapter 3) helps us to meditate on how the heart of our Savior is revealed to us in this parable:

We do not understand this parable if we forget who told it, and why. Jesus Christ is our older Brother, the firstborn of the Father. He is the seeking Shepherd who goes out to find the lost; he is the Resurrection and the Life who can give life to the dead; he is the Heir of the Father’s house. To him the Father can truly say, “Son, all that I have is yours.” He who is the Son became a Servant that we might be made the sons and daughters of God. This parable is incomplete if we forget that our older brother is not a Pharisee but Jesus. He does not merely welcome us home as the brother did not; he comes to find us in the pigpen, puts his arms around us, and says, “Come home!”

Indeed, if we forget Jesus, we do not grasp the full measure of the Father’s love. The heavenly Father is not permissive toward sin. He is a holy God; the penalty of sin must be paid. The glory of amazing grace is that Jesus can welcome sinners because he died for them. Jesus not only comes to the feast, eating with redeemed publicans and sinners; he spreads the feast, for he calls us to the table of his broken body and shed blood.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Some things from Shady Grove

I just wanted to highlight a couple of things available from Shady Grove PCA. First, here is a link to the October edition of "The Light" (warning, .pdf file), the church's monthly newsletter. Included in this issue are essays by me on why we need to study doctrine, by Pastor Baile on Psalm 10, a book review by congregant Dave Zauche, and an essay on adoption and foster care by congregant Dave Hawes. The November edition is not yet up on the website but for those of you who attend SGPCA I would encourage you to grab and read your copy as there are several essays in there about how Christians should think about socio-political issues.

Also, in light of the election I wanted to link to the sermons page as Pastor Roberts' recent sermon on Christ's kingship in Psalm 2 is very relevant and should be thought through. Also note that you can subscribe to the SGPCA podcasts through iTunes and automatically download all sermons. Enjoy.

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2)

Q&A with Dr. Horton hosted by... the Washington Post?

For all the time that conservatives and Christians spend accusing the mainstream media of having a liberal bias we should point out when they do something helpful. The Washington Post recently hosted an online question and answer session with Dr. Michael Horton, the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California and host of the Whitehorse Inn. Based on the questions asked and Dr. Horton's answers the Washington Post just hosted a gospel presentation on its website! The discussion was partly inspired by and related to Dr. Horton's new book, Christless Christianity (this is the cheapest that I have found the book). I'm expecting my copy to arrive anyday now and I will try to post a review after I finish reading it.

For now, go check out the the interview at the Washington Post website!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sunday School Reading - November 2, 2008

Here is some recommended further reading for Sunday School this past week. Yesterday we finished the doctrine of man (talking about the third and fourth stages of humanity) and opened our discussion of the doctrine of Christ by focusing on his person. First, here are the applicable catechism questions:

Q20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A20. God having, out of his mere pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.

Q21. Who is the Redeemer of God's elect?
A21. The only Redeemer of God's elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in distinct natures, and one person, forever.

Q22. How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
A22. Christ, the Son of God, became man by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.
Here are some quick book recommendations on anthropology:

Human Nature in its Fourfold State by Thomas Boston - Boston was a Puritan Calvinist and this book was a compilation of a number of sermons and essays that he wrote on the fourfold state of man. You may want to Google this book as it may be available in the common domain. Also available online here.

Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul's Soteriology by Richard Gaffin - This is probably the best book available that focuses on our discussion of the third and fourth stages of humanity. The contrast that we drew between flesh and Spirit is available in a number of places (see below) but is usually a portion of a discussion in larger books on Paul's theology or systematic theology. Dr. Gaffin focuses in on what it means to be raised with Christ in our present and future existence on the basis of several key passages in Paul's letters. This is not an easy book to read. Dr. Gaffin is a fantastic exegete, expositor, speaker, and theologian but he is not a great writer. You'll probably find yourself re-reading large sections to clarify Dr. Gaffin's argument. I don't say this to discourage anyone from investing in this book but just to warn that it is a project.

Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free by F.F. Bruce - I need to put a disclaimer on this one. While this is a helpful book it is not the best book on Paul's theology by a long shot. Herman Ridderbos' Paul: An Outline of his Theology is the best book you can find on a systematic approach to Paul's letters. If you're going to buy a book on Paul then that is the one that you need to get (and this is a fantastic book!). The reason I include Bruce here is because it is available in the church library. Regarding our discussion on Sunday, the chapters on "Flesh vs. Spirit" and "The life to come" are the relevant sections.

Here are some book recommendations on the person of Christ:

The Lord of Glory: A Study of the Designations of our Lord in the New Testament with Especial Reference to His Deity by B.B. Warfield - Anything by Warfield is worth the time to read. This book is an excellent Biblical argument for the deity of Christ. Also, Warfield's complete works (10 volumes) are available in the church library. I cannot remember if this is included in one of the two volumes on Christ off the top of my head but there should be other relevant articles by Warfield on this subject in there.

For Us and for Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church by Stephen Nichols - This is not really a systematic focus on the person of Christ but a historical one on how the church settled on the confessional statements that it adopted regarding Christ. This book is available from the church bookstore, which is part of why I mention it.

The Person of Christ by Donald MacLeod - Here is another title from the Contours of Christian Theology series. This book is a great readable summary on the doctrine of Christ. If you want a "one stop shop" on Christ's person that isn't too difficult to read then this is probably the book that you want to get. I don't think that it's the best work on the subject but it certainly is better than merely sufficient.

The Person and Work of Christ by B.B. Warfield - Here is my recommendation on the person of Christ if you want to work a little harder at reading but get a great reward from it. Again, anything by Warfield is worth your time and this in particular is quite good. I will recommend it again next time when we start to go through the work of Christ.

Here is a list of where Reformed systematic theologies address the person of Christ (for the doctrine of man see the previous reading recommendations). Calvin writes about the person of Christ the Mediator in Book 2, Chapters 12-14 of Institutes of the Christian Religion. Herman Bavinck addresses this in Volume 3 (Sin and Salvation in Christ), Part 2, Chapter 6 of Reformed Dogmatics. Charles Hodge outlines this doctrine in Volume 2, Part 3, Chapter 3 of his Systematic Theology. Finally A.A. Hodge discusses this in Chapter 20 of his Outlines of Theology.

Here are some articles that you can read online for free on these topics:
"Definitive Sanctification" by John Murray - This article highlights what we said about the work of the Holy Spirit in the third state of man.
"The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" by John Owen - Available in its entirety free online, this should be a must-read for all Christians. In addition, James Packer's introduction is one of the greatest things that you will ever read outside of Scripture.
"The Emotional Life of Our Lord" by B.B. Warfield
"Salvation by Christ's Incarnation" by Gary Johnson
"The Person of Christ" by B.B. Warfield
"The Deity of Christ" by Douglas Moo - Warning, large .pdf file
"The Divinity of Christ" by Ligon Duncan
"On the Deity of Christ" by J. Gresham Machen
"The Divine and Human Nature of Christ" by Herman Bavinck - If you only read one of these articles on the person of Christ read this one.
"Resurrection and Redemption: How Eschatology and the Gospel Relate" by Richard Gaffin

Finally, two quick housekeeping notes. First, one of the things regarding the doctrine of Christ that we are not going to focus on in Sunday School is the threefold office of Christ as our Redeemer because we are limited in time. I will put a post up on that this week or next with some recommended reading on the topic (although Calvin and the Catechism are all you really need). Second, since I pumped up J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism as a recommendation to read for part of a "modern Reformation" I thought that I would point out that it is available online for free through the link provided.

Election Day (not predestination this time)

I apologize that I wasn't able to get reading recommendations for Sunday School up yesterday. I'll work on posting that later today. But quickly this morning I wanted to highlight a post from Al Mohler encouraging Christians to pray about the results of today. I think that this post is quite good and Dr. Mohler asks us to pray for ten things today:
  1. That God will bless America with leaders better than it deserves.
  2. That God will protect America from idolatrous trust in political leaders.
  3. That Christians will vote according to conscience but not expecting laws to change people.
  4. That Americans will vote to protect the unborn who cannot protect themselves.
  5. That God will move the conscience of our nation to his law.
  6. That God will protect the candidates and their families.
  7. That the election will be conducted justly and without rancor.
  8. That Americans and particularly Christians will accept the results with respect and kindness.
  9. That this election will lead to greater opportunities to preach the gospel.
  10. That the church will be strengthened.

Read the whole thing.