Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Turretin on the Uses of Natural Theology

Some have imbibed the attitude of being seemingly allergic to any notion of natural theology (or common grace). Hesitant to afford the denomination of "revelation" to anything apart from Scripture, these people eschew the biblically-sound fact that all truth that can be properly called truth is either of the character of natural or special revelation, the former disposed to matters of the created order, the latter to matters of redemption.

Reformed Orthodoxy recognized the importance of natural theology, and Francis Turretin sheds light on its uses:

"Natural theology is useful to men, for we acknowledge its various ends and uses: (1) as a witness of the goodness of God towards sinners unworthy even of these remains of light (Acts 14:16, 17; Jn. 1:5); (2) as a bond of external discipline among men to prevent the world from becoming utterly corrupt (Rom. 2:14, 15); (3) as a subjective condition in man for the admission of the light of grace because God does not appeal to brutes and stocks, but to rational creatures; (4) as an incitement to the search for this more illustrious revelation (Acts 14:27); (5) to render men inexcusable (Rom. 1:20) both in this life, in the judgment of an accusing conscience (Rom. 2:15) and, in the future life, in the judgment which God shall judge concerning the secrets of men (Rom. 2:16)" (Institutes, I.1.4.4)

Item 1 speaks of what is commonly called "common grace." Through the motions of divine providence, God reveals Himself to every human being as the first cause of every creaturely benefit that he or she enjoys.

Item 2 refers to the subjection of every man to God's moral law (natural law implanted in every human heart) by which he discerns God's valuation of good and evil in various contexts and situations, inclined by conscience to choose the former and shun the latter. Though the depravity of man is such that the world is evidence of man having chosen evil most of the time, still it is not as debauched and sinfully convoluted as it can possibly be. Natural law maintains order in society inasmuch as man submits to it, directed and ordered by divine providence.

Item 3 makes much of the fact that man is man because man thinks, and is truly man when he thinks God's thoughts after Him. The intellectual faculties of man were created by God to be the means by which he apprehends God's truth as displayed in nature and salvation.

Item 4 builds on item 3 in that, seeing the wonders of God within himself and in the wonders of creation all around him through reason, man is then moved to seek the means by which he can be made right with God through faith.

Item 5 builds on item 4 in that men do not naturally go the extra mile from natural revelation to special revelation, and that this failure expresses itself continually, temporally, in a nagging conscience (the law accusing), and terminally, in the eschatological eventuality of hell.

VoV: Humility in Service


I humble myself for faculties misused,
  opportunities neglected,
  words ill-advised,
I repent of my folly and inconsiderate ways,
  my broken resolutions, untrue service,
  my backsliding steps,
  my vain thoughts.
O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus' blood
  and let no evil result from my fretful temper,
   unseemly behaviour, provoking pettiness.
If by unkindness I have wounded or hurt another,
  do thou pour in the balm of heavenly consolation;
If I have turned coldly from need, misery, grief,
  do not in just anger forsake me:
If I have withheld relief from penury and pain,
  do not withhold thy gracious bounty from me.
If I have shunned those who have offended me,
  keep open the door of thy heart to my need.

Fill me with an over-flowing ocean of compassion,
  the reign of love my motive,
  the law of love my rule.

O thou God of all grace, make me more thankful,
   more humble;
Inspire me with a deep sense of my unworthiness
  arising from
   the depravity of my nature, my omitted duties,
   my unimproved advantages, thy commands
    violated by me.
With all my calls to gratitude and joy
   may I remember
    that I have reason for sorrow
     and humiliation;
O give me repentance unto life;
Cement my oneness with my blessed Lord,
  that faith may adhere to him more immovably,
  that love may entwine itself round him
   more tightly,
  that his Spirit may pervade every fibre
   of my being.
Then send me out to make him known
   to my fellow-men.

— The Valley of Vision, Edited by Arthur Bennett (Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Juicing and Natural Theology

I've been juicing for the past 2 weeks or so now, and I must say that it certainly feels good to be doing this little extra thing for my health.

The "rule" is that beetroot, apple, and carrot should be the staple of the concoction, upon which one can add all sorts of other fruits and vegetables. I've been juicing bell pepper, bitter gourd, cucumber, cabbage, onion, garlic, unripe mango, potato, etc.

The star of the show is beetroot. This dark purple root crop has all sorts of "magical" properties. Read about them and be enticed here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Coolest of the Reformed Cats

Notice the prominent foreheads? A chief requirement of Reformed coolness.

Turretin was probably wearing a wig or decided on the "heavy metal" look—still within the bounds of cool. LOL.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Westminster Wednesday: Turretin on the Priority of Justification in Mystical Union

Firstly, I must say that I have benefited immensely from the conversations on the doctrine of union with Christ that have ensued over the Net in the course of the past few weeks (which actually has spanned many years already). I am grateful for the contributions of great Reformed minds on both fronts, especially those whom I have had closer contact with, such as Dr. R. Scott Clark, Jared Oliphint and, just recently, Ptr. Rob Edwards (the latter two from WTS, the former from WSC).

As Ptr. Edwards noted on a comment on a blog post of mine, my use of the terms "unionism" or "unionist" may not be quite the best denomination of the view that does not see the priority of justification in the ordo salutis, a view which he espouses. His sentiment arises from the fact that the view does not in fact consider union with Christ as the overarching doctrine upon which every other doctrine has its foundation. To this I offer my apology, as it was not my intention to imply that the aforementioned assumption was the ground of my coining of the term. I merely wanted an easy name for the view. So perhaps I may now safely use the terms without fear of incurring ire.

The comment by Ptr. Edwards on my blog was prompted by my having replied to a blog post by Dr. D. G. Hart on this issue of union with Christ in which I stated that the "unionist" may have the inclination of esteeming biblical theology over systematic theology, hence the adoption of the "unionist" view. I admit the hasty generalization of the statement. However, it does appear that the "major players" in Reformed orthodoxy did hold to the priority of justification on the issue of union with Christ, specifically mystical/existential union.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Westminster Wednesday: More on "Unionism"

In this article, Dr. John V. Fesko reviews two books that deal with the doctrine of union with Christ and its relation to John Calvin's theology. He gives approval to J. Todd Billings' Calvin, Participation, and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ, while hesitant to afford the same to Mark A. Garcia's Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin's Theology.

While acknowledging the scholarship of both volumes, the ahistoricity of Garcia's work lends Fesko to wonder about whether the Gaffin "school of thought" (upon which Garcia's position bases heavily), as pertaining to these issues of the ordo salutis, justification, sanctification, and how they integrate with union with Christ, is something that is destined to replace the orthodox, Reformed understanding of the said concepts. He rightly comments that "Time will tell whether the Gaffin-school reading of Calvin that Garcia has put forth will endure scrutiny. It does appear, however, that Billings's reading of Calvin is a more accurate portrait. Others have arrived at similar conclusions."

Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. responds in this article.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Isaiah 40 and Divine Simplicity

Today's Lord's Day sermon on Isaiah 40 almost brought tears to my eyes (I was holding it in). Hearing the Gospel preached through a narrative of God's incomprehensible power and grace, as manifested in nature and redemption, inevitably moved me, and I noticed that my pastor's voice cracked at times (he was moved too!).

I was extremely pleased that today's sermon was, in a way, a reinforcement of this very profitable and philosophically technical (hence, profitable!) Reformed Forum presentation on the doctrine of divine simplicity that I got into yesterday (Dr. James Dolezal rocked!):

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Triumvirate

I am seething with excitement as I am now in possession of what could arguably be considered as the three most important literary works of the Reformed tradition outside of the creeds and confessions. I am referring to John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, Francis Turretin's 3-volume Institutes of Elenctic Theology, and Herman Bavinck's 4-volume Reformed Dogmatics.

The former two I acquired myself through Amazon, and they have been my most expensive book purchases. What has raised my joy, even beyond belief, is that the latter was given to me—for free! That's right. Bavinck's RD would have been the most costly for me to acquire and yet I now have it sitting on my shelf, a testament to the mysterious ways that are often the hallmark of God's providence.

This is how it happened. It was a Saturday, and you could imagine my glee when my order of Turretin's Institutes finally arrived. It kickstarted one of the best Saturdays I've ever had. I was so inspired that my thoughts of yesterday, about street children and how they reminded me of my love for my kids and God's love for the undeserving elect, were effortlessly drawn out from me and down into blog writing.

After posting the blog entry entitled, "The Analogy of Poor Street Kids," it didn't take a long while before a Facebook friend of mine "liked" on the post. It was a Reformed Filipino doctor from the U.S. whom I've known to be an "appreciator" of my blog and posts. He commented on my FB post about the blog entry, stating how much he liked my choice of words. I would've been stuffed full by the compliment, but then I received a PM (private message). He was offering to buy me any book that I wished!

Let me tell you about Filipino coyness and courtesy in situations like this—the first instinct would be to politely demur. That is what I did, not in flat out refusal, but with a bit of wit and humor-laced ascertaining of whether my friend was sure. After determining that he was intent on being generous, founded on his desire to be a blessing to myself and to those in the Philippines whom he considers as his siblings in the Reformed faith, I replied and posted an Amazon link to Bavinck's RD.

I waited for his reply, expecting rejection, as the 4-volume magnum opus was worth no loose change. And then it came. He said that he was very pleased with my choice since it was the same book that he was currently reading. I was floored! Is this really happening? I immediately told my wife and she was embarrassed for me. LOL! My friend immediately made the order at Amazon, selecting expedited shipping. After a little over a week, Bavinck's RD was mine!

I would tell you who this guy is, but I don't think that that would be his wish (never met anyone who wanted to be on the Santa Claus side of a gift—LOL).

I wrote this post for the same reason I love theological books—gratitude.

Devotion to God is predicated on the gratitude that the knowledge of Him and His ways fosters. Doctrine defines doxology.

Given that the Holy Spirit checks my motives when, left to myself, I would fall headlong into fits of unfounded pride, my desire for knowledge is my desire for godliness.

Thank you, brother!

Thank You, my Covenant Lord!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Paul Helm on Philosophical Theology

I'm currently going through Francis Turretin's Institiutes of Elenctic Theology and am now on the part wherein Turretin explains the valid use of reason in the engagement of theology (in Volume 1). He makes the case that reason's relationship to theology (or philosophy to theology) is not one wherein the former is principial to the latter, but precisely the other way around.

Philosophical thought bows its head to theology in matters wherein finite reason reaches its limits in terms of doctrines of Scripture that fall into the category of incomprehensible (mysteries).

It is noteworthy that Turretin, while in no way speaking of it as salvific on its own, claims natural theology as being precursory to supernatural theology, in that by virtue of being endowed with the Imago Dei and the testimony of the created order, man knows of God, and this by virtue of reason.

In this interview, Paul Helm agrees with Turretin:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Triperspectivalism and the Heretical Fringe

I decided to inform myself about John Frame's triperspectivalism using his own primer found here.

The impression that I got is that his method seeks to find a Trinitarian imprint to everything in reality. I would certainly agree with the premise that all of creation is indelibly marked with Trinitarianism in that the One-and-the-Many, evidenced in the universal-particulars relationship found in every created object, is a creaturely analogization of the mystery of God as being One and Three Persons. However, the aspect of Frame's take on this that rubs me wrong is that (based on my understanding of his proposition) if the complete picture view of truth (exhaustive) is only available to God, then the ectypal truth available to the creature (man) must consist in "perspectives" that cannot claim to be the single body of ectypal truth delivered to man, but that the various perspectives contribute to the apprehension of this true ectypal corpus.

In other words, my particular take on truth is always incomplete and necessitates that I engage the truth perspectives of others in order to progressively arrive at complete ectypal veracity. The implications on the Reformed creeds and confessions cannot be missed. Frame states,

"So I think that perspectivalism is an encouragement to the unity of the church. Sometimes our divisions of theology and practice are differences of perspective, of balance, rather than differences over the essentials of faith. So perspectivalism will help us better to appreciate one another, and to appreciate the diversity of God's work among us."

What I hear him saying is that the Reformed consensus is just a perspective among others, and that we would do well perhaps to hearken to the likes of Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Rob Bell, etc. in order to progressively arrive at unified Christian truth. But then how would error be spotted? The determination of heterodoxy must necessarily be predicated on a perspective as being the only perspective. If he claims this as "the essentials," then by what overarching perspectival standard did he arrive at this delimiting conclusion?

His threefold division of normative (God's revelation), situational (objects, the created order), and existential (man in interaction with the former two) is well and good, in my opinion, but then the permutation of this triperspectivalism, as applied by him, into multiperspectives that are each given credence does give rise to a pluralism that is dangerous and precisely what the Reformed creeds and confessions were meant to curb.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Westminster Wednesday: What Is the Most Satanic Philosophy?

According to Cornelius Van Til, it is Karl Barth's:

"Total depravity. That means the whole glass is poisoned. It's not as poisoned as it could be, but it's all poisoned. The faculties of soul are all turned against God by nature. All are poisoned by sin. Wherever there is evidence of God, which is everywhere, man will deny it. You see, God must reach down and save dead men in their trespasses and sins. You do not heal a dead man. You resurrect him. Man is not sick, not drowning, but dead. Dead is dead. You can't throw him a rope. A dead man can't grab anything. Your mother is dead without Christ. Your culture is dead without Christ. This is the problem with Karl Barth, there's no space-and-time redemption by Christ. There's no change of the unbeliever to believer. There's no challenge to the natural man. That's why Barth is poison. Water and sulfuric acid look the same, right? If you drink sulfuric acid, it will kill you. Barth has placed sulfuric acid in our water bottles and told us it is water. Barth has created the systematically most satanic philosophy ever devised by the mind of man. Salvation is like cleaning a bad tooth. It's no good if your dentist tells you your tooth is okay when it's rotten. The dentist has to go down, drill out the decay and replace it with gold. This is what salvation is." (Van Til Made Me Reformed by Eric H. Sigward, emphasis mine)

For Van Til's essay in the Westminster Theological Journal entitled, "Has Karl Barth Become Orthodox?", click here.

For a PDF copy, email me.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Limitations Limit the Battles

In no way of the same stock as Frank Turk's inane tirades against apologists, Carl Trueman offers valuable limiting points regarding theological controversy and its engagement:
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