Monday, December 29, 2008

Sunday School Reading - December 28, 2008

Here are some recommended reading materials from our final discussion in the Fall Sunday School quarter. Again, we will be taking a break during the winter quarter and then resuming (for those interested) in April for three months when we will discuss the Holy Spirit's role in redemptive history, eschatology (last things), ecclesiology (church), sacraments, and the relationship between church and culture (including a brief survey of both Prebyterian/Reformed apologetics and ethics as part of the way that the church relates to culture). Also, I wanted to highlight that Christian Book Distributors have a few excellent items for terrific prices and I provided links to some of them at the bottom of this e-mail.

Yesterday we finished examining the order of the application of salvation by looking at adoption, perseverance, assurance, and glorification. Here are our catechism questions:

Q34. What is adoption?
A34. Adoption is an act of God's free grace, wherby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.

Q36. What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?
A36. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God's love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.

Q37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A37. The souls of believers are at their deaths made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.

Q38. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?
A38. At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.

Here are some recommended books on these topics:

Redemption: Accomplished and Applied by John Murray - Continuing to emphasize this book and the one by Hoekema under the application of redemption. Murray deals with all three of these topics. Adoption is chapter 6 in part 2, perseverance is chapter 8, and glorification is chapter 10. I think that you'll find that Murray's discussion of perseverance, in particular, to be very helpful.

Saved by Grace by Anthony Hoekema - Hoekema does not have a chapter devoted to adoption but he does deal with how we are made children of God in two places. He discusses how we are children of God according to spiritual birth under regeneration. He discusses how we are children of God by legal declaration at the end of his chapter on justification (I believe this begins at page 185 but as I do not have the book in front of me now I can't be sure). Perseverance of the saints and assurance of faith are discussed in the last chapter (Hoekema relies heavily on Murray in the beginning of the chapter). Hoekema does not deal with glorification in this work. The reason is because Saved by Grace is the second book in a trilogy. The first is Created in God's Image and the third is The Bible and the Future. Glorification is dealt with in the last volume. For what it's worth while I do have a few minor quibbles with some of the things in both of these other books I think that he is right and helpful far more than I disagree with him and both books are worth checking out.

Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God's Grace by Burk Parsons - This is a very helpful and pastoral book on assurance. It include essays by Parsons, Philip Ryken, Al Mohler, Rick Phillips, Sinclair Ferguson, Joel Beeke, and R.C. Sproul. This is a very encouraging book.

Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption by Joel Beeke - The Puritans are often criticized for not having written much on adoption. Beeke does much in this short book (only 134 pages) to dispel this myth and to set forward what the Puritans had to say on the topic. This is a very rewarding book to read.

The Certainty of Faith by Herman Bavinck - This is a fantastic short book about certainty and assurance. Bavinck is masterful as usual in this volume. I will warn you that it has not been rereleased even with the new interest in Bavinck in English and so it is pretty expensive for a relatively small paperback book.

Also, we've been emphasizing two books on the doctrines of grace throughout this class. The first is Michael Horton's Putting Amazing Back into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel. Horton discusses perseverance of the saints in his chapter entitled "No Lost Causes." He also indirectly discusses glorification in the chapter "A Kingdom of Priests." Richard Phillips addresses perseverance and assurance in the fifth chapter of What's So Great about the Doctrines of Grace?

These topics are also addressed in our systematic theologies. Calvin does not have any chapters devoted to adoption but it does run through his discussion of the Christian life in chapters 6-8 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Glorification is briefly examined in chapters 9-10 of the same. And I had my chapter numbers mixed up in class. Calvin's fantastic discussion of assurance is chapters 13-16 of the Institutes (not 12-14). Herman Bavinck deals with perseverance and assurance along with sanctification in Volume 4 (Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation), chapter 4 of his Reformed Dogmatics. He deals with glorification in chapters 12-14 of the same volume. Adoption is only briefly addressed in Chapter 9 of volume 3 (Sin and Salvation in Christ). Charles Hodge has a long discussion of glorification in Part 4, chapters 1-2 of Systematic Theology volume 3 (warning, large .pdf file) (he does not have chapters dedicated to adoption or perseverance though the latter is dealt with in his writing on sanctification and the law). Adoption, perseverance, and glorification are discussed in chapters 31, 33, and 34-35 respectively in Outlines of Theology (Google books link) by A.A. Hodge. Finally, Robert Lewis Dabney's Systematic Theology includes chapters on perseverance, assurance, death of believers, and the resurrection. He discusses adoption under justification (see the link a few weeks ago). Personally I think you will find Dabney to be incredibly helpful on perseverance and assurance due to his heavy reliance upon the Westminster Confession for both topics.

Here are some articles on these topics that you can read online for free:
"The Doctrine of the Saints' Final Perseverance" by John Gill
"Adoption" by John Murray
"Eternal Security" by A.W. Pink
"Perseverance and Assurance: A Survey and a Proposal" by Thomas Schreiner - Apart from the chapters by Dabney this is the best and most comprehensive thing you can read for free on these doctrines. I normally find Schreiner to be a little frustrating to read but this is an excellent piece. Heads up: it's a .pdf file.
"The Test of Perseverance" by Ligon Duncan
"Faith and Assurance in the Theology of Theodore Beza" by Shane Rosenthal
"Examination for Assurance" by Ligon Duncan

Finally, as promised here are some of those sale items through Christian Book. While often I find that average prices there are higher than those at Monergism books, WTS books, and Amazon I also spot that sometimes CBD offers tremendous sales (for example they recently had the entire 22 volume set of Calvin's Commentaries for $100 and the 10 volume works of B.B. Warfield for $60) and so it's worthwhile to check their bargain sections from time to time. These are just a couple of things that I thought might be worthwhile to point out:
  • Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof - While I have not been including Berkhof's work in the systematic theologies for Sunday School that is not intended as a slight against Berkhof. His volume is helpful though a little dated for a one volume systematic theology. Still, for $13 it is a bargain.
  • Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge - I include this because there are some people who can't stand to read things online. Hodge's work is available in three .pdf files so I would recommend saving the money and just downloading those files so you can search them or printing them and putting them in binders. But if you really love having the book formats then this is the cheapest you'll find it. As a quick warning these books are very tightly bound so you will end up breaking the spine opening them.
  • Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel by Eugene Merrill - While Merrill is not a Reformed or Presbyterian theologian this book is a very helpful apologetic for how the Old Testament presents the history of Israel. It is very interesting in seeing the historical books of the OT in the socio-political context of the day. It is only $8 now (though this is the older edition).
  • Encountering the Old Testament by Bill Arnold and Bryan Beyer - I think it's good to have at least one OT Introduction on your shelves. The Longman-Dillard IOT is better than this. But this is also 60% off and is a huge book for only $20. Worth checking out.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2

Disclaimer: What follows is based on my notes that are a summary of a lecture given by Tremper Longman III at RTS D.C. If you'd like to read more then I recommend getting his commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes is not a book that many turn to in the Christmas season but I think that the message of the book fits well with the Christmas message. There are two voices in the book of Ecclesiastes. The first is that of the narrator. The narrator only speaks at the beginning of the book to introduce the teaching that follows and at the end to summarize it. The other voice is Qohelet (teacher or preacher).

Qohelet’s philosophy/theology can be boiled down to “life sucks and then you die.” Qohelet insists that all of life is hebel (meaningless or vanity). He does this for three reasons:
  1. Death (12:1-7) – In this passage Qohelet describes four different categories of people (strong men, male servants, female servants, women of leisure). What they all have in common is that their bodies are slowly shutting down and languishing as they march toward death. For Qohelet the inevitability of death means that all of life is meaningless.
  2. Inability to discern the right time (3:1-12) – This is probably the best known passage from the book of Ecclesiastes. Here Qohelet insists that there is a time for everything under the sun. Yet this passage is not as comforting as people often imagine. Proverbs also insists that there is a right time for everything. Wisdom means knowing how to say or do the right thing at the right time and in the right way. Qohelet asserts that as all things are created by God that he has created a right time for all things under the sun. The problem is that men cannot discern what the right time is; only that there is one.
  3. Injustice (7:15ff.) – Qohelet finally looks at the righteous and the unrighteous person and then the wise and the foolish person. He observes that there is some benefit to being righteous and wise as opposed to unrighteous and foolish. But then Qohelet also observes that both of these eventually die. Therefore he concludes that we ought not to be too righteous or too wise as death remains inevitable.

Throughout the book Qohelet tries to find meaning in different things. He searches for it in wealth, pleasure, wisdom, and work. Yet in all of these Qohelet concludes that life remains meaningless for the reasons above. This is why it is important to note that the narrator closely associates Qohelet with Solomon (though it is uncertain whether or not Qohelet is identified with Solomon). In terms of Biblical history, Solomon was the wisest and richest king that even lived who had the immense work of expanding the kingdom and building the temple and also took great pleasure. The narrator is showing that if even Solomon did not find meaning in these things then you as a reader never will by saying, “Just a little bit more.” Therefore the inevitability of death leaves the reader in despair in light of the curse.

This leads to the narrator’s theology in the epilogue. The narrator’s conclusion tells us that he is giving these teachings to his son as instruction for life (12:8ff.). He tells his son that what Qohelet says is right; life is difficult and then you die so long as you remain under the sun just as Qohelet did. However in the last two verses the narrator gives his son an above the sun perspective. He tells his son to fear God. This takes the son out of being the center of the universe. After that he says, “Keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man.” Once the son fears God he is to maintain the relationship through obedience. Finally he reminds his son that God will bring everything to judgment. These three instructions are tied to the three sections of the Hebrew Bible. The instruction to fear God reminds of the Writings, especially the Psalms and Proverbs. The instruction to keep God’s commandments reminds of the Law of Moses. The reminder of coming judgment reminds of the Prophets. So the narrator tells his son that to escape the despair of Qohelet he must study the Scriptures to have an above the sun theology that counters his under the sun observations.

This becomes clearer in the New Testament. Paul writes to the church in Rome:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Rom. 8:18-25)

The word that Paul uses for “futility” is the Greek equivalent of Qohelet’s “meaningless.” It is the word used to translate hebel in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). So Paul also says that the world is meaningless or futile just as Qohelet does. Paul also ties it to the curse that God placed on creation after the fall. Yet as Paul writes with an above the sun theology he says that God subjected creation to futility in hope. Futility is not the end of the story. The end of the story is redemption from the futility under the sun in Christ’s death and resurrection for the redemption of creation.

Therefore in Philippians 2:5ff. Paul writes that Christ Jesus humbled himself to take the form of man and subject himself to the futility of life. When we look at the narrative of Jesus’ birth we cannot let the choirs of angels distract us from the humble situation where he came into the world. He was born in a stable, not in a palace. He was placed in a manger, not in a soft bed. He was attended by Shepherds, not by nobles. In his incarnation the Son of God subjected himself to a futility that Qohelet and Solomon never could have comprehended. Not only that but his subjection to that futility went all the way to the death on a cross; death being the very thing that leads Qohelet to declare life meaningless. Yet in his resurrection Christ gives the hope of redemption from the meaningless of life so we cannot wallow in an under the sun perspective.

This Christmas and New Year if you read the book of Ecclesiastes I hope that you will pray that the Holy Spirit will use it to break up the idols in your life. We will never find meaning in wisdom, work, pleasure, or wealth. Meaning is only found in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and so we must turn to him in hope even while we suffer under the curse.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas 1

A few quick things for today:

First, here is a helpful post from Craig Blomberg, a New Testament scholar, responding to the recent Newsweek article on gay marriage. It isn't the most carefully prepared response in dealing with the particulars of the article but it is very good on emphasizing the positive side of the biblical case against homosexual marriage.

Second, here is an article from USA Today with an interview with Michael Horton on where Christ is in Christmas.

Third, this is a brief essay I wrote related to Christmas. I'll post something on Ecclesiastes and the Christmas story tomorrow.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
(Mat. 1:1)

I think it safe to assume that if most of us set out to write the greatest story ever told we would not chose to begin it with a genealogy. If you were to write your story about what you’ve seen and heard that Jesus Christ has done and said then you would not begin it by tracing the generations of Jesus. Yet under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the entire New Testament begins with a genealogy of the birth of our Lord. As Christmas approaches we should take time to examine this passage to understand who Jesus is. Matthew did not write this passage as a mere family history. Instead like all genealogies in Scripture there is a theological purpose.

Matthew is writing a covenantal introduction to his description of the person and work of Jesus Christ. In his gospel, Jesus is specifically the promise of the covenant and so in his birth and appearance he comes as the child of covenant promise. In the whole of Matthew Jesus is presented as the reality that the Old Testament foreshadowed. We see this in the constant refrain in the gospel, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet.”

So when Matthew shows us that Jesus Christ is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham he has a theological and covenantal purpose. I think we can see this purpose in a few key passages.

When you days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love away from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever. (1 Chr. 17:11-14)

God’s promise here is that the eternal king of the covenant will be the true son of David. While it was a blessed and glorious kingdom for many years, Solomon’s kingdom was not eternal. Jesus is the truer and greater Solomon. All of the promises of the kingdom given in covenant with David are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

And behold, the word of Yahweh came to [Abram]: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Gen. 15:4-5)

God promises Abraham that the covenant promises will come to be fulfilled in his son. Isaac never truly received all the things promised to his father. Instead Jesus is the truer and greater Isaac. The promises of the covenant are completely and perfectly fulfilled in him to and for his people.

So how should we apply Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ? First we need to respond like David and Abraham. David’s response was a confident prayer on the basis of the covenant promises he received (1 Chr. 17:25). The Bible tells us that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Matthew issues a call to receive Jesus just as he is presented to us, as the promise of the covenant. John Calvin wrote, “This, then, is the true knowledge of Christ, if we receive him as he is offered by the Father: namely: clothed with his gospel.”[1] Calvin reminds us that to know Jesus we must know him as he is revealed in Holy Scripture. Do not receive a Jesus of your own making. Receive Jesus this Christmas season as the covenant promise foretold by the prophets and announced by the apostles through the perfect testifying work of the Holy Spirit.


[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. by John T. McNeil and trans. by Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1960), 3.2.6, 1:548

Sunday School Reading - December 21, 2008

Before getting to reading recommendations for this week I wanted to share a quote from William Willimon's book, Conversations with Barth on Preaching [Nashville: Abingdon, 2006] (HT: Shane Lems). Willimon writes:

The domesticating of revelation… [is] the process of making the gospel respectable. When the gospel is offered to man and he stretches out his hand to receive it and takes it into his hand, an acute danger arises which is greater than the danger that he may not understand it and angrily reject it. The danger is that he may accept it and peacefully and at once make himself its lord and possessor, thus rendering it innocuous, making that which chooses him something which he himself has chosen, which therefore comes to stand as such alongside all the other things that he can also choose, and therefore control. (181)

What Willimon expresses here is the danger of elevating the importance of ourselves in responding to the gospel. It is not just that we may reject the gospel and confirm our condemnation. It is also that we may seek to possess it and then to rule over it rather than to humbly respond in repentance and faith to the message of what God has done to save and gather a people for himself.

With that, on to Sunday School recommendations. There are a few books in the church library that you may want to check out that I did not recommend below. This is mainly because I don't think that they're the best books on these topics but that said, you should still find some of them useful and it is cheaper than buying new books so you might want to look at Five Views on Sanctification, Sanctification by A.W. Pink, and Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free by F.F. Bruce. Under book recommendations I've included several books on justification but not on sanctification. This is partly because the above are available in the library and also because I don't think you'll find anything better than Murray's work on the topic. Please see the free articles to read online also. Before moving on to the rest of our book recommendations here are our Catechism questions for this week:

Q32. What benefits to they that are effectually called partake of in this life?
A32. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.

Q33. What is justification?
A33. Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

Q35. What is sanctification?
A35. Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

Here are a couple of book recommendations on the double graces of justification and sanctification:

Redemption: Accomplished and Applied by John Murray - I'm continuing to focus on this and the Hoekema book as the best two on the order of the application of salvation. For this week read the two chapters in Murray on Justification and Sanctification (chapters 5 and 7). Please note that Murray follows the order in the Westminster Standards and so discusses adoption in between the double graces. I don't think that there's anything wrong with this as justification, definitive sanctification, and adoption are all simultaneous benefits of union with Christ. We addressed sanctification before adoption because I think that Calvin's focus on the duplex gratia is very helpful.

Saved by Grace by Anthony Hoekema - Again, this is following along with both of these books. Read the chapters by Hoekema on Justification and Sanctification. Both chapters are helpful though you'll notice that most of Hoekema's discussion on sanctification is following Murray's.

The Doctrine of Justification by Faith by John Owen - Here is a classic work on justification. If you've ever read Owen then you know that he was very technical and his works are not easy to read through. This is certainly true about this book as well. That said, this is one of the easiest places to move into Owen (except for maybe The Death of Death in the Death of Christ) as all of the Greek and Latin quotations have been translated and Carl Trueman (one of the foremost scholars on Owen) has provided a helpful introductory essay.

Justification by Francis Turretin - Being that this is one of the fundamental doctrines coming out of the Protestant Reformation (as Martin Luther wrote, the church stands or falls on the doctrine of justification) sometimes the classics are the best. This is a short book (only 144 pages) by one of Calvin's successors (Turretin was Pastor in Geneva for nearly forty years in addition to teaching theology in the pastor's academy founded by Calvin though Calvin died before Turretin's birth) translated by James Dennison (who also translated Turretin's three volume Institutes of Eclentic Theology). Turretin answers 10 key questions on the doctrine of justification by faith in this work.

Justified in Christ: God's Plan for us in Justification ed. by Scott Oliphint - I'm just mentioning this work again in case anyone bought in on a previous recommendation. Richard Gaffin's article (the first following Sinclair Ferguson's introduction) deals with justification as a manifestation in history of the last judgment. This is not an easy article to read but it is helpful.

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine by John Fesko - This book was just published this year and is the definitive work currently out there on the doctrine of justification and includes sections addressing the errors in the New Perspective on Paul and Federal Vision theologies. Fesko is Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS Atlanta and Pastor of an OPC church in Georgia. This is a well written book that reflects both of those roles. The best thing about this book is that by the author's own admission there is nothing new in it!

As I mentioned, the duplex gratia and union with Christ form the heart of Book 3 in John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. See especially chapters 1-5. To see Calvin's pastoral heart in action we have to realize that Calvin believes that only right knowledge and doctrine lead to a right and pious life so go on to read chapters 6-10. Herman Bavinck addresses both of these doctrines in Chapters 3-4 of volume 4 (Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation) of Reformed Dogmatics. If you have Bavinck's work then it's very helpful how he ties together sanctification and perseverance/assurance in chapter 4. Charles Hodge writes about justification and sanctification in Volume 3 (warning .pdf file), Chapters 17-18 of his Systematic Theology. His son, A.A. Hodge, deals with them in chapters 30 and 32 respectively of his Outlines of Theology (Google Books link). A.A. Hodge actually believed in eternal justification (like Abraham Kuyper) so I do not recommend following him in that particular point. If you'd like to know why then just send me an e-mail. Robert Lewis Dabney writes about justification and sanctification in his Systematic Theology.

Finally, here are some articles and essays that you can read online for free regarding these doctrines:
"The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of its History in the Church and of its Exposition from Scripture" by James Buchanan - Note that this is a book by Buchanan that has been made available as a large .pdf file.
"Definitive Sanctification" by John Murray - If you only read one of these articles then make sure it's this one.
"The Doctrine of Justification" by A.W. Pink
"The Doctrine of Sanctification" by A.W. Pink
"Sola Fide: The Reformed Doctrine of Justification" by J.I. Packer
"The Importance of Justification" by R.C. Sproul
"Justification: Still the Radical Truth" by Ligon Duncan
"Does Justification Still Matter?" by Michael Horton
"The Indicative and the Imperative: A Reformation View of Sanctification" by Michael Horton
"Putting Sin to Death" by Ligon Duncan
"Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection" by Sinclair Ferguson
"Sanctification" by B.B. Warfield

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Canons of Dort - 3rd and 4th Heads of Doctrine - 2

Here is part two of yesterday's analysis of the 3rd and 4th heads of doctrine in the Canons of Dort.

Article 10. The fact that others who are called through the ministry of the gospel do come and are brought to conversion must not be credited to man, as though one distinguishes himself by free choice from others who are furnished with equal or sufficient grace for faith and conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains). No, it must be credited to God: just as from eternity he chose his own in Christ, so within time he effectively calls them, grants them faith and repentance, and, having rescued them from the dominion of darkness, brings them into the kingdom of his Son, in order that they may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called them out of darkness into this marvelous light, and may boast not in themselves, but in the Lord, as apostolic words frequently testify in Scripture.

Having established that all responsibility for rejecting the gospel is attributed to human sin and that sinful men are incapable of coming to salvation on their own the Synod turns to ask how is it that sinners can be converted to the gospel. Because of human depravity the credit for those who do come to embrace the gospel must not go to them but must go entirely to God who effectively calls those whom he has elected from all eternity so that all righteous response to the gospel on man's part is the work of God and they must boast only in him.

Article 11. Moreover, when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds.

So we hold that those who do come to saving faith in Christ do so because God providentially causes them to hear the gospel preached and works in them to cause them to respond. The way he does this is by making those who are dead alive in Christ. He makes sinful men into new men with new desires and new works. So what God makes new cannot help but to produce new fruit.

Article 12. And this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures, which God works in us without our help. But this certainly does not happen only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a way of working that, after God has done his work, it remains in man's power whether or not to be reborn or converted. Rather, it is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead, as Scripture (inspired by the author of this work) teaches. As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only activated and motivated by God but in being activated by God is also itself active. For this reason, man himself, by that grace which he has received, is also rightly said to believe and to repent.

This work of God within us is what the Scriptures call regeneration or God's making us alive. This does not happen through the outward proclamation of the gospel or by human works of apologetics. Regeneration is not our work; it is the work of the Spirit. This work of making the dead alive is equivalent to God's work of creation. Bringing life out of death is the same as bringing the things that are out of nothing. So the will of new creatures is motivated by the things of God because it is the restored and renewed creation of God that is not marred by the sin of the old.

Article 13. In this life believers cannot fully understand the way this work occurs; meanwhile, they rest content with knowing and experiencing that by this grace of God they do believe with the heart and love their Savior.

In this article the Synod references John 3. Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Spirit's work of new birth is a mysterious one that cannot be explained just like how the wind blows where it will and no one can see why it blows one way and not another. So God's people cannot explain why God chooses to regenerate one and not another or even entirely how the new birth happens but they can be confident on the basis of the effects of the Spirit's work that it has taken place.

Article 14. In this way, therefore, faith is a gift of God, not in the sense that it is offered by God for man to choose, but that it is in actual fact bestowed on man, breathed and infused into him. Nor is it a gift in the sense that God bestows only the potential to believe, but then awaits assent--the act of believing--from man's choice; rather, it is a gift in the sense that he who works both willing and acting and, indeed, works all things in all people produces in man both the will to believe and the belief itself.

On this basis we see that faith is not of men but is of God. The very faith that embraces the gospel does not belong naturally to man but is the Spiritual work of God within man. Faith is not something given to man for him to choose what to place it in but faith is given that embraces Christ as he is offered in the gospel. Regeneration makes men both willing and able to believe so that they cannot, will not, and would not do otherwise.

Article 15. God does not owe this grace to anyone. For what could God owe to one who has nothing to give that can be paid back? Indeed, what could God owe to one who has nothing of his own to give but sin and falsehood? Therefore the person who receives this grace owes and gives eternal thanks to God alone; the person who does not receive it either does not care at all about these spiritual things and is satisfied with himself in his condition, or else in self-assurance foolishly boasts about having something which he lacks. Furthermore, following the example of the apostles, we are to think and to speak in the most favorable way about those who outwardly profess their faith and better their lives, for the inner chambers of the heart are unknown to us. But for others who have not yet been called, we are to pray to the God who calls things that do not exist as though they did. In no way, however, are we to pride ourselves as better than they, as though we had distinguished ourselves from them.

The Synod goes on to argue that God does not owe the grace of regeneration to any man. Because of sin we cannot ever purchase anything from God. Instead we have to recognize that if we are regenerate then we have nothing to boast in and no one to praise except for Jesus Christ. Furthermore, because regeneration is the work of God we find that we are not able to judge whether or not an other is a true or false believer. Instead God alone judges the heart and so we can only pray for them and speak favorably of them when they do profess faith. Finally, we cannot claim to be in anyway better than the unregenerate for anything within ourselves because that work belongs to God alone and does not spring from anything within us.

Article 16. However, just as by the fall man did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will, and just as sin, which has spread through the whole human race, did not abolish the nature of the human race but distorted and spiritually killed it, so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and--in a manner at once pleasing and powerful--bends it back. As a result, a ready and sincere obedience of the Spirit now begins to prevail where before the rebellion and resistance of the flesh were completely dominant. It is in this that the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consists. Thus, if the marvelous Maker of every good thing were not dealing with us, man would have no hope of getting up from his fall by his free choice, by which he plunged himself into ruin when still standing upright.

The Synod now wants to clarify what does not happen when God works his grace of regeneration. Sin did not completely abolish human will be instead made it depraved and opposed to God. Similarly regeneration does not abolish the human will but instead makes it holy and restores human will in the image of God. So new men are obedient in the Spirit and it is in that obedience that they have true freedom of their wills. Therefore it is the gracious work of the Spirit which not only renews the creation but also guarantees its consummation and continual perfection as wills are restored to a higher state than even Adam possessed as he was made holy and good.

Article 17. Just as the almighty work of God by which he brings forth and sustains our natural life does not rule out but requires the use of means, by which God, according to his infinite wisdom and goodness, has wished to exercise his power, so also the aforementioned supernatural work of God by which he regenerates us in no way rules out or cancels the use of the gospel, which God in his great wisdom has appointed to be the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul. For this reason, the apostles and the teachers who followed them taught the people in a godly manner about this grace of God, to give him the glory and to humble all pride, and yet did not neglect meanwhile to keep the people, by means of the holy admonitions of the gospel, under the administration of the Word, the sacraments, and discipline. So even today it is out of the question that the teachers or those taught in the church should presume to test God by separating what he in his good pleasure has wished to be closely joined together. For grace is bestowed through admonitions, and the more readily we perform our duty, the more lustrous the benefit of God working in us usually is and the better his work advances. To him alone, both for the means and for their saving fruit and effectiveness, all glory is owed forever. Amen.

Further clarifying how this work of regeneration occurs the Synod teaches that just as God uses means in sustaining our natural lives (such as food, rain, sunshine, etc.) he also uses means in ushering us into the new Spiritual life. These outward means are the preaching of the gospel. Therefore the Synod concludes that this understanding of God's effectual call and his irresistible grace does not make the preaching of the gospel and the outward call superflous or unnecessary. Instead the usefulness of the outward call is confirmed in God's work. It is because he has ordained and appointed the means of grace in the preaching of the word, the adminstration of the sacraments, and the use of discipline in the church that he brings men to salvation. Thus though salvation is God's work alone he still sees fit to bestow the grace of his gospel through outward admonitions to repent and believe the gospel. It is true that saving faith is the means through which God saves us. Yet as that saving faith is the gift of God we must recognize that all of the praise and glory of salvation goes to God alone.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Canons of Dort - 3rd and 4th Heads of Doctrine - 1

I wanted to follow up on my earlier post that surveyed the Second Head of Doctrine in the Canons of Dort in light of the doctrine of definite atonement. These two heads of doctrine survey human corruption, conversion to the gospel, and the way that one moves from one to the other. In other words the Synod of Dort addresses what we today call total depravity and irresistible grace in this section. This is just a very brief survey of what our confession says on this topic.

Article 1. Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished in his mind with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual, in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil's instigation and by his own free will, he deprived himself of these outstanding gifts. Rather, in their place he brought upon himself blindness, terrible darkness, futility, and distortion of judgment in his mind; perversity, defiance, and hardness in his heart and will; and finally impurity in all his emotions.

Here the Synod simply affirms their belief that creation as completed by God at the end of the sixth day was "very good" just as Scripture tells us. With that we can say that man as created was both holy and good. So the fall and consequent depravity of man cannot be blamed on the Creator for any deficiency in his creation but instead is attributed wholly to man who sinned out of his own free will and brought the estate of sin and misery upon himself.

Article 2. Man brought forth children of the same nature as himself after the fall. That is to say, being corrupt he brought forth corrupt children. The corruption spread, by God's just judgment, from Adam to all his descendants-- except for Christ alone--not by way of imitation (as in former times the Pelagians would have it) but by way of the propagation of his perverted nature.

In the second article we read that all of Adam's descendents were infected with the same depravity that Adam brought upon himself in his original sin. The Westminster Standards also affirm this by saying that the covenant made with Adam was made with him for him and all his descendents so that all mankind sinned in him and fell with him. So through the one sin of Adam we see that sin, condemnation, and death spread to all men. So men are not totally depraved on the basis of their own sins but rather because of their solidarity with Adam in his original sin and their own sins are the outworking of that depravity.

Article 3. Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.

On this basis the Synod concludes that no one is able to save his or her self. All are born in sin and so cannot work any good or righteousness that will justify them to God apart from the saving work of the Holy Spirit. Even more, no one can even truly bend their will toward the righteousness that God requires so long as they are dead in their sins.

Article 4. There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him--so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.

This is balanced by an understanding of common grace. The Synod reminds us that Scripture teaches that it is not true on this basis that people have no knowledge of God or his moral demands (Ps. 19; Rom. 1:18ff.). Yet God's common grace in his general revelatory activity is not sufficient to bring depraved people who are dead in their sins to salvation. Instead in their depravity sinful men distort the truth of that revelation and confirm their condemnation before God.

Article 5. In this respect, what is true of the light of nature is true also of the Ten Commandments given by God through Moses specifically to the Jews. For man cannot obtain saving grace through the Decalogue, because, although it does expose the magnitude of his sin and increasingly convict him of his guilt, yet it does not offer a remedy or enable him to escape from his misery, and, indeed, weakened as it is by the flesh, leaves the offender under the curse.

Here the Canons teach that though God's revelatory activity goes beyond nature to the special revelation of his law in the Decalogue even that is not sufficient to save sinful man. The law does more than nature in that it exposes the depth of our depravity and does even more to convict us as guilty before God but it does not give us the remedy to our dead estate and so leaves us under God's curse.

Article 6. What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law can do, God accomplishes by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word or the ministry of reconciliation. This is the gospel about the Messiah, through which it has pleased God to save believers, in both the Old and the New Testament.

Therefore we know that since the revelation in nature and the law are not sufficient to rescue us from our depraved condition we need still further revelation in the gospel. It is the in the gospel, through the work of the Holy Spirit in the means of grace, that God gives the good news of Christ wherein God has placed the promise of salvation.

Article 7. In the Old Testament, God revealed this secret of his will to a small number; in the New Testament (now without any distinction between peoples) he discloses it to a large number. The reason for this difference must not be ascribed to the greater worth of one nation over another, or to a better use of the light of nature, but to the free good pleasure and undeserved love of God. Therefore, those who receive so much grace, beyond and in spite of all they deserve, ought to acknowledge it with humble and thankful hearts; on the other hand, with the apostle they ought to adore (but certainly not inquisitively search into) the severity and justice of God's judgments on the others, who do not receive this grace.

Now the Synod begins to ask how the gospel has been revealed. During the Old Testament period God only revealed this to the people of Israel but now he discloses it to all tribes, tongues, and nations through the apostolic ministry. When one hears the gospel and another does not this does not mean that the one has greater value than the other but rather only speaks of God's free and electing love and his sovereign choice to reveal himself to whom he wills.

Article 8. Nevertheless, all who are called through the gospel are called seriously. For seriously and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should come to him. Seriously he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.

At the same time the Synod affirms the free and universal offer of the gospel. All who hear the message of the gospel are seriously and honestly called to respond in faith and repentance. The promise of salvation in the gospel to those who respond is a true and not a deceitful promise.

Article 9. The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life's cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13).

Thus the Synod states that all responsibility for destruction because of rejecting the gospel lies with men and not with God. The gospel contains all of the promises of God and the power to fulfill those promises. So those who refuse the gospel are responsible for their own destruction. The seed is good it is the soil that is bad.

Since there are too many headings to address in one post there will be a follow up with Articles 10-17 tomorrow.

Some things from around the web

Here are just a few things that I've seen online recently that bear bringing up.

First, the new issue of the Themelios Journal (General Editor is D.A. Carson) has now been posted. Usually theological academic journals are a mixed bag with a number of articles that you can skim and then a couple that are worth reading carefully. This edition looks like just about everything is worth taking time to read. There are articles from Carl Trueman, Tim Keller, James Hamilton, and Philip Ryken. I will warn you that like most journals this is primarily written for academics and theological students and so you should not expect anything in here to be light and easy reading. That said there are always a large number of book reviews in this journal and that can be quite helpful. In particular I wanted to highlight a review of Andreas Kostenberger's Quo Vadis Evangelicalism. This book is available on the Shady Grove bookstore table (I have not read it but David Roach from SBTS gives a good summary).

Second, as a follow up to Wednesday's post about reading John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion with the bloggers at Reformation 21, according to this post you can e-mail them to get a reading schedule. If you want to read the Institutes but not follow along with the Ref21 group then here is a link to a reading schedule provided by RTS (warning, .pdf file). Note that the link through the Ref21 post goes to a high cost for the Institutes. It is $20 more than you need to pay. If you need to pick up a copy then use the link to Monergism Books that I've provided (this is also $5 lower than the WTS Books price).

Third, by now many of you have probably heard of or seen the new edition of Newsweek that argues a biblical case for homosexual marriage. Carl Trueman (Church history and historic theology at WTS) has written a brief essay responding to the article. I think that you'll find it helpful.

Finally, one of the topics that never seems to be settled is the relationship of the church and culture. We will be discussing this in the Spring Sunday School quarter when we resume our study of Presbyterian theology. In the meantime, here is an essay from Ron Gleason on the topic. If you're interested in studying this then there are a number of books that you can look at:
  • Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper - This is probably the single best work that you can pick up on the topic. Kuyper was both a professor of Systematic Theology in the Netherlands for many years and also was elected and served one term as the Prime Minister of that country. This book is a compilation of the Stone Lectures that Kuyper gave at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1898. You can also find this work in downloadable and printable form online for free.
  • How Then Shall We Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture by Francis Schaeffer - This is one of the best known books on how to live the Christian worldview in culture that is opposed to Christ. I would still recommend that you read Kuyper but that is not in anyway intended to be a slight against Schaeffer on this topic.
  • Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson - I had very mixed feelings when I read this book. Carson is quite helpful in dealing with many of the problems in Richard Neibuhr's well-known Christ and Culture. You should certainly just read Carson's summary and improvement on Neibuhr rather than wasting your money there. On the other hand, I felt like Carson never really set forth a conclusion and the end of the book does leave the reader hanging a bit. It's still good and worth reading but you'd be better off reading Kuyper instead. The chapter where Carson deals with Kuyper and Dabney (commending both even in their differences) is helpful as many Reformed theologians ignore Dabney on this subject and only read Kuyper. Even though Dabney never experienced the success of Kuyper and was wrong on the issue of slavery in the South (no doubt a major case of how the church is to interact with culture) both he and Thornwell have a number of very helpful points on this subject and Carson does bring that up (another reason I hope to post something on Dabney soon).
  • Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch - I have to admit that I haven't read this book. I recommend it because it is highly acclaimed by a number of theologians that I trust. There is a review of it by William Edgar (Apologetics at WTS) in the Themelios link above.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Company through Calvin's Institutes

Anyone who's read here at all has probably caught onto the fact that I think that all believers ought to read John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Now there's a new opportunity to do so. The normal contributors over at the Reformation21 blog will be blogging through the Institutes starting in January with daily posts on their reading. This is a great chance to simply read through Calvin in small chunks and also have some outstanding theologians commenting on the sections and giving insights into Calvin's ideas and theology.

The bloggers who should be helping out on this include Derek Thomas (Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS Jackson), Iain Campbell (A Scottish Presbyterian Pastor), Ligon Duncan (Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS Jackson), Sinclair Ferguson (PCA Pastor and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at WTS), and Paul Helm (A Calvinist Theologian in England).

If you don't already have a copy of the Institutes then you can pick them up from Monergism Books at the link above. You can also read online (or download them as a .pdf file) from CCEL but they do not have the MacNeill/Battles edition available that way. That edition is certainly the easiest to read in the English.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday School Reading - December 14, 2008

Here are the reading sections from this week's Sunday School. This week we continued to look at the order of the application of salvation and studied effectual calling, regeneration, and faith and repentance. Also, I put a link to the book on hell from Robert Peterson below in case anyone wants to continue to study that topic from our discussion yesterday. There is only one new recommendation in this post as I think that the books we've already mentioned are very helpful in covering these topics so I'll just direct you toward them and then link to a couple of articles that can be found online.

First, here are the relevant catechism questions:

Q30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A30. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.
Q31. What is effectual calling?
A31. Effectual calling is the work of God's Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

Redemption: Accomplished and Applied by John Murray - I'll continue to recommend Professor Murray and Dr. Hoekema's works throughout our discussion of the ordo salutis. For this week see the chapters on effectual calling, regeneration, and faith and repentance (Chapters 2-4 of Pat 2). Since most of our discussion is modelled on this book the general order of our discussion will follow Murray's with the exception that we looked at Union with Christ (the second to last chapter in Murray's work) before all of the other benefits.

Saved By Grace by Anthony Hoekema - The relevant chapters in Hoekema are on the universal offer of the gospel, effectual calling, regeneration, conversion, faith, and repentance. I don't have the book in front of me right now but I believe that those are chapters 5-9. His chapters on calling and regeneration are particularly helpful.

Saved By Grace: The Holy Spirit's Work in Calling and Regeneration by Herman Bavinck - This is the only new book that I will recommend this week. This book is a great introduction to the Dutch theologian's work (including his fantastic Reformed Dogmatics - arguably the greatest systematic theology work written since Calvin's Institutes and some would argue even including those). In RD Bavinck notes that "God's effectual call is so powerful that it cannot be conquered yet so loving so as to exclude all force." That is probably the most helpful one sentence summary of irresistable grace that you will ever find. I highly recommend picking up and reading this book and then going on to study the larger corpus of his work that is now available in English.

Second, this week under effectual calling and regeneration we presented the Reformed doctrine of irresistable grace. Referring back to our two books on the doctrine of grace this is covered by Horton in Putting Amazing Back Into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel in his chapter titled "Intoxicating Grace." Richard Phillips explains this doctrine in chapter 4 of his What's So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? While on the whole I prefer Dr. Horton's book as it is more comprehensive I do think that Reverend Phillips is more helpful on this particular subject.

Third, these topics are also covered in the systematic theologies that I've been recommending as we go. Calvin addresses them in Book 3, Chapters 1-4 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin is very helpful in how closely and clearly he ties these benefits to our union with Christ. In addition to the book recommended above, these topics are discussed in Chapters 1-2 of Part in in Volume 4 (Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation) of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics. Charles Hodge deals with these topics in Volume 3, Part 3, Chapters 15-16 of his Systematic Theology (warning, .pdf file). A.A. Hodge develops these doctrines in Chapters 25 (Effectual Calling), 26 (Regeneration), 27 (Faith), and 29 (Repentance) of his Outlines of Theology (google books link). Finally, I want to continue to recommend Robert Lewis Dabney's Systematic Theology to you (I still hope to post something on the life and theology of Dabney but in the meantime you might want to see Sean Michael Lucas' biography on him: Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life). Dabney writes on Faith, Effectual Calling, and Repentance.

Finally, here are some articles that you can read online for free related to these topics (there are a lot of them because I did not recommend many books):
"Decisional Regeneration" by James Adams
"A Practical View of Regeneration" by Archibald Alexander - Alexander was an early American Presbyterian and the first Professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Both of these articles by him are helpful.
"Sinners Welcome to Come to Jesus Christ" by Archibald Alexander - I find this sermon particularly encouraging.
"The Marks of Saving Faith" by Jonathan Dickinson
"Of Regeneration" by John Gill
"Of Effectual Calling" by John Gill
"Of Conversion" by John Gill
"Of Efficacious Grace" by John Gill - If you read these articles by Gill you should tackle them in that order as all but the last are from his Book of Divinity.
"Whosoever Will May Come" by Herman Hoeksema - This outlines the universal offer of the Gospel
"Irresistible Grace" by John Murray
"Regeneration or the New Birth" by A.W. Pink
"Studies on Saving Faith" by A.W. Pink
"Regeneration" by Robert Reymond
"New Birth" by Sinclair Ferguson
"Not Faith, But Christ" by Horatius Bonar - This sermon is very helpful for understanding how faith radically looks away from itself and wholly receives and rests upon Christ.
"Judgments, A Call to Repentance" by James Henley Thornwell - Thornwell is arguably the greatest theologian from the Southern Presbyterian church (even better known than Dabney). This was a sermon that he preached before the State Legistlature of South Carolina.
"The Conviction of Sin" by Robert Murray M'Cheyne
"Regeneration: The Key to Believing the Truth" by Gordon Clark

Finally, there are two books that Robert Peterson (Systematic Theology, Covenant Theological Seminary) has worked on concerning the Biblical doctrine of hell. The first is Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment. This book is simply a presentation of what the Scriptures say about hell and then a refutation of alternative views. The second is a book that Dr. Peterson co-edited with Christopher Morgan called, Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment. This book has a number of essays from scholars such as Peterson, Morgan, G.K. Beale, Daniel Block, Sinclair Ferguson, Albert Mohler, Douglas Moo, J.I. Packer, and Robert Yarbrough. I haven't read this book but I'll probably pick it up as it looks very interesting.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Van Til's Introduction to Systematic Theology part 5

In order to finish this someday (and hopefully one soon as Defense of the Faith and Christian Apologetics continue to creep higher on my too read and comment on list) here is the next section of discussion on Van Til's Introduction to Systematic Theology. I'm going to just do one chapter at a time from here on out so that it will be in more manageable blocks. There are three chapters after this on God's incommunicable attributes and names, the Trinity, and God's communicable attributes.

Chapter 15 – Innate and Acquired Knowledge of God

This brief chapter examines how it is that we come to know God. This is built upon the same principles that Van Til examined under Christian epistemology. In spite of himself, man must recognize that he has the knowledge of God within him. God’s general revelation is constantly before the sinner no matter how much he tries to suppress it and keep it down. God does not create the mind of man as a tabula rasa (empty slate). Adam immediately reacted ethically to the innate knowledge of God and fallen man cannot stop reacting ethically to that knowledge.

Van Til then questions what it means for man to have an innate knowledge of God. He critiques Bavinck here. Bavinck occasionally suggests that innate knowledge really means a capacity for knowledge. That capacity implies that when a man sees the light of the sun he must know that there is a God and that there is a difference between good and evil. Van Til argues that this does not give a complete picture. It does not have any regard for the reaction of man to that revelation and does not give any content to good or to evil. It is not enough for man to know that God is but he must also worship God as Creator.

Van Til therefore turns to discuss the common theological proofs and their value in witness and apologetics. He argues that “there is no essential difference between witnessing and proving.” (317) The Christian witness is his apologetic and the Christian must always go forward secure in the knowledge that he has the truth and that his opponents trust in a lie. Yet these proofs often betray that principle as they seek to find agreement with the unbeliever and to proceed from there. Van Til does not believe that this agreement is possible (though he does believe that there are points of contact to open discussions). So it is not enough to move forward on the basis of innate knowledge of God and assume that there are general principles upon which Christians and non-Christians are agreed. There are no such general principles because the worldviews and presuppositions behind how both come to a conclusion are so different. In making this case Van Til is simply applying the doctrine of total depravity to apologetics. Fallen man is also depraved in his thinking and though God’s revelatory activity means that he knows there is a God it also illustrates his sin as he rejects that conclusion and flees to other presuppositions for the things that are.

Therefore, Van Til agrees with Bavinck that no one, not even the Christian, can read nature rightly apart from the light of Scripture. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is that the Christian knows and accepts this truth. The Christian believes that he would interpret nature wrongly apart from Scripture and the Holy Spirit. So for the Christian to appeal to the unbeliever that nature proves the existence of God means that he must do so on the clear understanding that he is interpreting nature in light of Scripture.

This leads Van Til to conclude that, “The innate and the acquired knowledge of God may, accordingly, be said to be correlative to one another.” The innate knowledge of God does not save because total depravity means we interpret the facts and revelation wrongly. Fallen men can only acquire knowledge of God from the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture. Acquired knowledge of God through Scripture then leads to right interpreting of the innate knowledge of God.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Derek Kidner has gone to be with the Lord

Derek Kidner, an ordained Priest in the Anglican church and the former Warden of the Tyndale House, was called to glory last week. Justin Taylor reports that the memorial service was held this past Friday. You can also see a list of Kidner's other positions there.

Personally I am in the course of writing a paper on Proverbs 3:1-12 for a class on the Old Testament Wisdom Literature. Kidner's commentary on Proverbs is a great resource and for the price it is a fantastic work for you to pick up. His commentaries on the Psalms are similarly valuable. Please take a moment today to thank God for how he has blessed the church through this teacher and writer and to pray for Derek Kidner's family as they wait to join him in glory.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
“O death, where is your victory?
"O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:53-57)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sunday School Reading - December 7, 2008

Here is some recommended reading from this week's Sunday School class. This week we discussed the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, focusing first on his person and then beginning our discussion on the application of redemption. I recommended a number of books on the Holy Spirit last week (including two that you can borrow from the church library). I'll only mention two of those books again this week. Also, I'm only going to recommend two books on the ordo salutis (order of salvation) and refer to the relevant sections over the next few weeks. I will mention papers and books on the specific parts of the application of redemption but I think that either of those books will be a sufficient introduction (though this week I do not have any additional books as I think that the works by Murray and Hoekema are great on this topic and it is heavily covered by Calvin, Bavinck, and A.A. Hodge).

Here are the catechism questions for this week. First on the Holy Spirit and then on the application of redemption:

Q4. What is God?
A4. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

Q5. Are there more Gods than one?
A5. There is but one only, the living and true God.

Q6. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A6. There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

Q29. How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?
A29. We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.

Q30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A30. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.

Here are some book recommendations:

The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson - I mentioned this book last week and I want to reiterate that this is the best book that I have found on the Holy Spirit. Dr. Ferguson is both academic and pastoral and this book addresses a number of topics including the person and activity of the Holy Spirit, the meaning and nature of the Pentecost event, the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation (ordo salutis), and the gifts of the Spirit.

Father, Son, and Spirit: The Trinity in John's Gospel by Andreas Kostenberger and Scott Swain - This is another book that I have recommended before and want to bring back up. The main reason that I recommend this one here is because of the high value of Kostenberger and Swain's work on the Upper Room discourse where we get the most detailed doctrine about the Holy Spirit from the teaching of Christ.

Redemption: Accomplished and Applied by John Murray - I keep bringing this book up and now we want to focus on the second half of the book (the application of redemption). I will list this book and the below book every week from here through the end of the fall quarter (December). In particular this week you want to look at Part 2, Chapters 1 and 9 (the order of application and union with Christ) regarding our class this week.

Saved By Grace by Anthony Hoekema - This is the other great book that is also used in Systematic classes that deal with soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). Hoekema focuses in particularly on the application of redemption (or the second half of Murray's work). I do think that Murray's book is better but this book by Hoekema is also very good and to be honest is easier to read. For this week you probably want to read the first four chapters (through union with Christ). I will give that Hoekema's discussion of Union with Christ is probably better than Murray's on this particular point.

Justified in Christ: God's Plan for us in Justification ed. by Scott Oliphint - Another book that I have recommended in that past. I want to recommend this book here in particular for Lane Tipton's article on union with the resurrected Christ (the second article in the book). This is just a fantastic article. I could not find the article online to save you the cost of the whole book.

Next we see that these topics are all covered in the recommended systematic theologies. As we noted, Calvin orients all of the benefits of salvation as being given in union with Christ and the whole of book 3 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion are based on this. In particular you want to look at Chapter 1 of that book. Herman Bavinck writes about the activity of the Holy Spirit in Volume 4 (Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation) of Reformed Dogmatics. From here on out all of our recommendations in Bavinck will be from this volume. That said, for this week he writes about the person of the Holy Spirit in Volume 2 (God and Creation), Chapter 8, and union with Christ Volume 3 (Sin and Salvation in Christ), Part IV. A.A. Hodge deals with Union with Christ in Chapter 28 of his Outlines of Theology (available free at Google books).

Finally, here are some articles that you can read online on these topics:
"The Spirit of God in the Old Testament" by B.B. Warfield
"The Holy Spirit" by Charles Hodge
"The Holy Spirit" by Edwin Palmer
"The Divinity of the Holy Spirit and of the Son" by Robert Lewis Dabney - Note that this is Chapter 15 of Dabney's excellent Systematic Theology. I've mentioned before that when reading Dabney we do have to remember that he was certainly guilty of a very visible sin in his support of slavery in the southern States. That said he was a great theologian who was blessed with an outstanding mind and understanding of the Scriptures and his support of slavery reminds us that we all will have errors in our interpretations of Scriptures (this is why we say that the church in Confessional, not in the since that we hold to the Confessions above Scripture, but in that we hold to the church's public confession of what Scripture teaches above our own private interpretation). Both men belong particularly to our heritage as Southern Presbyterians. I do think that anyone who wanted to purchase his Systematic Theology or print it from where it is available online would be quite blessed in reading it - in many places I find him much more consistent than either of the Hodges who are better known and read. His collected writings are available in the church library. Perhaps I will put a post up on Dabney in the future.
"A More Perfect Union: Justification and Union with Christ" by John V. Fesko - I will be recommending Dr. Fesko's new book on Justification when we discuss that doctrine. He is outstanding on this topic.
"Union with Christ" by Michael Horton
"In Christ, With Christ" by Herman Ridderbos - This is an excerpt from his book on Paul's theology.
"Union to Christ" by Robert Lewis Dabney - This is also taken from his Systematic Theology.

Review of Christless Christianity

I'll put up recommended reading from this week's Sunday School in a little while but here is a review of Michael Horton's Christless Christianity. This book is also available at the Shady Grove bookstore.

While it probably is a little tacky to have a quote in a review almost as long as the review itself these paragraphs provide an excellent summary of Michael Horton’s focus in Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church:

Imagine two scenarios of church life. In the first, God gathers his people together in a covenantal event to judge and to justify, to kill and to make alive. The emphasis is on God’s work for us – the Father’s gracious plan, the Son’s saving life, death, and resurrection, and the Spirit’s work of bringing life to the valley of dry bones through the proclamation of Christ. The preaching focuses on God’s work in the history of redemption from Genesis through Revelation, and sinners are swept into this unfolding drama. Trained and ordained to mine the riches of Scripture for the benefit of God’s people, ministers try to push their own agendas, opinions, and personalities to the background so that God’s Word will be clearly proclaimed. In this preaching, the people once again are simply receivers – recipients of grace. Similarly, in baptism, they do not baptize themselves; they are baptized. In the Lord’s Supper, they do not prepare and cook the meal; they do not contribute to the fare; but they are guests who simply enjoy the bread of heaven. As this gospel creates, deepens, and inflames faith, a profound sense of praise and thanksgiving fills hearts, leading to good works among the saints and in the world throughout the week. . . .

In the second scenario, the church is its own subculture, an alternative community not only for weekly dying and rising in Christ but for one’s entire circle of friends, electricians, and neighbors. In this scenario, the people assume that they come to church primarily to do something. The emphasis is on their work for God. The preaching concentrates on principles and steps to living a better life, with a constant stream of exhortations: Be more committed. Read your Bible more. Pray more. Witness more. Give more. Get involved in this cause or that movement to save the world. (189-90)

Horton’s argument is that most evangelical churches in the United States no longer follow the first scenario but are patterned after the second. One of his points is that America has moved from Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” and her legalistic frown to Al Franken’s “Stuart Smalley” and his reassurance that you are liked and you can do it yourself. Yet the problem is that both are legalism and neither conveys the true gospel. The second may be legalism with a smile but the message remains the same.

He surveys a number of different teachers and movements to show all the ways that the American church has traveled to get to this point. On one hand we have George Barna’s therapeutic deism. On the other we see Joel Osteen’s new Gnosticism. Men like Brian McLaren have turned the gospel from good news to good advice. In all of this false teachers and false prophets promise you that you can have your own personal Jesus; not the one who died on a cross for your sins and rose for your justification two thousand years ago but one who acts like a Santa Claus and rewards you if you’ll just be good.

In all of this Horton argues that this is just the same old Pelagian heresy that the church has fought since the time of Augustine but repackaged and relabeled in terms friendly to the average independent American. This is not a gospel that tells you what God has done to save you and how he calls you to worship where he serves us through his means of grace and only then sends us out to do good works on the basis of God’s saving work. Instead this is a gospel that promises you just need to try your best and God wants to bless you if you can just do a little more to make it possible for him to do so. There is no total depravity in this message. This is rather a celebration of the human spirit and power.

I think that this is a book that Christians need to pick up and read. The warnings in this book are important in drawing our attention away from ourselves and placing it back on Jesus and what he has accomplished. It should warn the church of many current tracks that are just the old liberalism from the 18th and 19th centuries revisited. One negative to this book is that it is intentionally polemic. Horton self-consciously writes to deal with problems that he sees in the church. He does offer some brief solutions and remedies but this book is not intended to be a positive statement of what the church is (fortunately Horton promises that book will be coming soon). So be prepared to mourn after reading this and to repent of the ways that we also turn the gospel from good news to good advice. Then let’s look for ways that we can move the church back to proclaiming the good news of what God has done and what he promises for the future.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Books I think every Christian should read

With the holidays coming up I thought that I would put together a list of books that I find to be invaluable and written on a level where every Christian should be able to get through them at some point in their lives. I'll put three disclaimers on this:
  1. First, I chose books that I think would be readable for high schoolers and beyond. Sometimes there are some better books on the same subject that are written at a higher academic level (particularly in apologetics) or are just plain longer and more comprehensive. These books are chosen just to be an introduction to the Christian faith and some aspects of it or the Christian life.
  2. Second, I reserve the right to modify and add to this list at any time based on future reading when I find better things. :-)
  3. Third, most of these links are to books from Monergism because when you buy through them I earn credit toward free books that may someday also go on this list. You don't have to purchase there as sometimes WTS Books and Amazon are cheaper. I do find that Monergism is usually competitive or cheapest and they offer $3.99 shipping on all orders (and free shipping on orders over $50 through Christmas).
Hopefully this gives you some gift ideas or maybe some things to use gift cards or Christmas money on!

The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction by Sinclair Ferguson - You need to read this book and then you need to read it again. Sinclair Ferguson argues that Christian doctrine matters for Christian living and the whole book expresses what Christian doctrine is and shows how it affects Christian life. Andrea and I are going through this book in our family devotions and both of us are finding it very helpful. Dr. Ferguson writes with the heart of a pastor and the mind of a highly trained theologian. The chapters are very short and pointed making the book easy to read and follow. If there was one book that I would want to see given to every new believer or new communicant (aside from the Westminster Standards of course) then it would be this one.

Redemption: Accomplished and Applied by John Murray - This book should be the follow-up to Ferguson's book. Ferguson gives the big picture overview of the whole of Christian doctrine and its import on Christian living. Murray then focuses on Christ's work as being the actual atonement for our sins and the order of salvation as we partake of the redemption purchased by Christ. Murray has a very formal writing style and so this book is not as easy to read as Ferguson's book. That said, I do think that even a high school student who is willing to take the time to read carefully and to think about what is said can make it through this book. I don't think that you can finish reading this without being led to glorify God again for his saving work in your life. This is my favorite book outside of Scripture.

Far as the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael Williams - As Reformed and Presbyterian believers we hold that the Bible is not a theology text book but it tells a story. Specifically it is redemptive history as it tells us the work of God in history to redeem a people for himself. This book by Dr. Williams is the best book that I have found in telling that story and surveying the history of God's saving activities throughout all of Scripture. Williams' book is well written; both clear and focused in its subject material. Again, I think that this forms an excellent follow up to the books by Ferguson and Murray and builds on the material there well (I should note that Dr. Williams was a student of Professor Murray's at WTS and now teaches systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary so I would hope his work follows and builds on Murray's!).

Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? by Bruce Waltke - If you follow the book reviews label at the bottom of this post you can see my full review of this book. All Christians should desire to know what God's will is for their life. Dr. Waltke explains how you can know the will of God and be confident that your life decisions are according to that will. This book is a wonderful application of the theology set forth in the books listed above. It would also make a great gift for students in high school who are choosing a college, college students choosing a career, and older Christians who are looking at big decisions in the future.

Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction by John Frame - To be honest I really stuggled over which book to recommend on the subject of apologetics as there are several good introductions and primers written from a Reformed perspective. I eventually settled on this because Professor Frame has been blessed with a great mind to understand truth and Scripture and apply it to apologetics and also with incredible skill as a communicator. You will struggle to find anyone who can express his thoughts in spoken or written form as well as Frame. This book is a great introduction to Reformed Christian apologetics. Though this is my highest recommendation I will say that I just recently read The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith by Scott Oliphint and it comes right behind Frame's book. I may put another post up soon with general recommendations for apologetics as introductions, intermediate, and advanced works.

Biblical Christian Ethics by David Jones - To be perfectly honest I had a really hard time choosing a book on ethics to recommend though sadly not for the same reason that I had a hard time choosing a book on apologetics. In my expericence books on ethics tend to be very mixed bags because they tend to be very long or to leave important concepts or subjects out. For example, I think the best Reformed book on ethics is John Murray's Principles of Conduct but the book is dated (it was written in the 50's and so has nothing on abortion or cloning) and rather difficult to read (Murray was not as good of a communicator as Frame). Right behind that is John Frame's The Doctrine of the Christian Life but this book is 1,104 pages long and correspondingly expensive (I should place a disclaimer on here that I disagree with John Frame on the Second Commandment and the regulative principle of worship and images of Christ). This book by Jones is a little old but it's still a good introduction to Reformed ethics. You might need to supplement this with Murray and Frame later but it will give you the concepts and framework you need to biblically think through ethical issues.

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin - Often Calvin is construed as being difficult to read, complicated, heady, and not easily applicable to the Christian life. Anyone who has read his Institutes knows that this is far from the truth. Calvin was first and foremost a pastor. This work comes from a pastor's heart and summarizes and presents the Biblical doctrines that believers need to know in their Christian walk. If you only read one systematic theology in your whole life then you need to read this. Make sure you get this edition as Ford Battles' translation is by far the easiest to read in English.