Friday, October 28, 2011

The Underdog Scales and Plumbs

Simplicity has often been associated with humility, and this is not without viable cause. However, in the area of the Scriptures and its study, this same criterion has paved the way for much disguised pride.

There is overweening hubris in the distaste for deep, theological reflection. The proud man contents himself with the simplicity of "moralistic, therapeutic, deistic" chaff, whereas the Underdog, with profound affection for God and His revelation, seeks to scale the heights and plumb the depths of the wheat of His Word.

Francis Turretin observes:

For we unhesitatingly confess that the Scriptures have their adyta ("heights") and bathe ("depths") which we cannot enter or sound and which God so ordered on purpose to excite the study of believers and increase their diligence; to humble the pride of man and to remove from them the contempt which might arise from too great plainness. (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, I.2.7.4)

So humility, in fact, is not manifest in the resignation to ignorance but in the passionate pursuit of the knowledge of God, which gives us an antithesis: the proud stupid and the humble knowledgeable.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Westminster Wednesday: Luther's Underdogism

Martin Luther first made mention of the theology of the cross (theologia crucis) in the Heidelberg Disputation. In it, he listed the following theses:

1. The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.

2. Much less can human works, which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end.

3. Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.

4. Although the works of God always seem unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.

5. The works of men are thus not mortal sins (we speak of works that apparently are good), as though they were crimes.

6. The works of God (those he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless.

7. The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they would not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.

8. By so much more are the works of man mortal sins when they are done without fear and in unadulterated, evil self-security.

9. To say that works without Christ are dead, but not mortal, appears to constitute a perilous surrender of the fear of God.

10. Indeed, it is very difficult to see how a work can be dead and at the same time not a harmful and mortal sin.

11. Arrogance cannot be avoided or true hope be present unless the judgment of condemnation is feared in every work.

12. In the sight of God sins are then truly venial when they are feared by men to be mortal.

13. Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do, it commits a mortal sin.

14. Free will, after the fall, has power to do good only in a passive capacity, but it can do evil in an active capacity.

15. Nor could the free will endure in a state of innocence, much less do good, in an active capacity, but only in a passive capacity.

16. The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty.

17. Nor does speaking in this manner give cause for despair, but for arousing the desire to humble oneself and seek the grace of Christ.

18. It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.

19.That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things that have actually happened.

20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the things what it actually is.

22. That wisdom that sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.

23. The law brings the wrath of God, kills, reviles, accuses, judges, and condemns everything that is not in Christ.

24. Yet that wisdom is not of itself evil, nor is the law to be evaded; but without the theology of the cross man misuses the best in the worst manner.

25. He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.

26. The law says "Do this", and it is never done. Grace says, "believe in this" and everything is already done.

27.Actually one should call the work of Christ an acting work and our work an accomplished work, and thus an accomplished work pleasing to God by the grace of the acting work.

28. The love of God does not find, but creates, what is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through what is pleasing to it.

Carl Trueman offers some edifying insights on the foregoing, which I see as the theology of the cross speaking to the three main legs of philosophy, namely: metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.

Monday, October 24, 2011

To the 2-Yr. Old Chinese Girl Left Without a Neighbor

I didn't watch the video. I couldn't bear the heartache. My knowledge of the incident is second-hand, delivered by this blog post by my pastor.

At any rate, I dedicate this Neal Morse song to her, and to all the little children who have been left without a neighbor.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani's Epistle

A letter, translated from Farsi, sent by Yousef Nadarkhani to his flock:

Dear brothers and sisters, Salam

In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I am continuously seeking grace and mercy to you, that you remember me and those who are bearing efforts for his name in your prayers. Your loyalty to God is the cause of my strength and encouragement. For I know well that you will be rewarded; as it's stated: blessed is the one who has faith, for what has been said to him by God, will be carried out. As we believe, heaven and earth will fade but his word will still remain.

Dear beloved ones, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of a few verses, although you might know them, So that in everything, you give more effort than the past, both to prove your election, and for the sake of Gospel that is to be preached to the entire world as well.

I know that not all of us are granted to keep this word, but to those who are granted this power and this revelation, I announce the same as Jude, earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Westminster Wednesday: Refreshment for the Weary

The Lord's Day assembly is the day, the place and time, when the Christian hears from the Lord, "You are in My favor, My child. My Son, your Lord and Savior, has satisfied My covenant requirements. Be comforted, and live in the benefits that He has purchased for you through His fulfillment of the mission that I had placed upon Him. Walk in My ways for therein is life, and life truly."

Sadly, one would be hard-pressed to find such an announcement coming from the pulpits of most churches today.

J. Gresham Machen observed:

Whatever the solution there may be, one thing is clear. There must be somewhere groups of redeemed men and women who can gather together humbly in the name of Christ, to give thanks to Him for his unspeakable gift and to worship the Father through Him. Such groups alone can satisfy the needs of the soul. At the present time, there is one longing of the human heart which is often forgotten — it is the deep, pathetic longing of the Christian for fellowship with his brethren. One hears much, it is true, about Christian union and harmony and co-operation. But the union that is meant is often a union with the world against the Lord, or at best a forced union of machinery and tyrannical committees. How different is the true unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! Sometimes, it is true, the longing for Christian fellowship is satisfied. There are congregations, even in the present age of conflict, that are really gathered around the table of the crucified Lord; there are pastors that are pastors indeed. But such congregations, in many cities, are difficult to find. Weary with the conflicts of the world, one goes into the Church to seek refreshment for the soul. And what does one find? Alas, too often, one finds only the turmoil of the world. The preacher comes forward, not out of a secret place of meditation and power, not with the authority of God's Word permeating his message, not with human wisdom pushed far into the background by the glory of the Cross, but with human opinions about the social problems of the hour or easy solutions of the vast problem of sin. Such is the sermon. And then perhaps the service is closed by one of those hymns breathing out the angry passions of 1861, which are to be found in the back part of the hymnals. Thus the warfare of the world has entered even into the house of God. And sad indeed is the heart of the man who has come seeking peace.

Is there no refuge from strife? Is there no place of refreshing where a man can prepare for the battle of life? Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus' name, to forget for the moment all those things that divide nation from nation and race from race, to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling problems of industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the Cross? If there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive the weary world. (Christianity and Liberalism [1923], 180-81)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Priests of Success Don't Sleep

"It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep" (Psalm 127:2).

Modernism and the industrial revolution have left us not only with conveniences that have made life much easier but, as I've argued elsewhere, an unthinking breed of men. Another offshoot of this is the undue quality of virtue that has been stamped upon workaholism. Wide-eyed adulation is heaped upon the man (or woman) who can work long hours, who has the mettle to forego personal relationships and amusements, all on the altar of the workbench.

Enter SAP India CEO, Ranjan Das. By all accounts, the SAP India head honcho was a health nut. He ate right, exercised regularly, and was even an avid marathoner. But at the unripe, young age of 42, Das drops dead of a massive heart attack. The reason? Sleep deprivation!

Ranjan Das was a poster boy for modernism and industry. He was one of its priests, and he sacrificed his life for sacred success.

I don't know about you, but that's certainly no way to live! Nor die.

John Calvin has some words to say on the matter:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Moses the Meekest

"Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth." (Numbers 12:3)

It does seem oxymoronic for Moses to refer to himself as the humblest human being in the world. But there is more here than meets the eye.

Firstly, Moses does seem to be possessed of an inherently underdog nature. Reared in the royal courts of Pharaoh, Moses could've lived life in the lap of luxury. He had the American dream down. But when he saw a fellow Israelite being bullied by an Egyptian, he didn't think pragmatically, counting his set life as a deterrent to doing the noble thing. He shed Egyptian blood and left easy street for a life of obscurity in the desert, becoming a good son-in-law in the tending of sheep. Imagine the lowliness of mind and self-estimation required for such a transition!

Also, Moses appears to have been afflicted with stuttering. As a stutterer myself, I know firsthand how humbling that can be!

Secondly—and this is perhaps the weightier point in the understanding of the passage—"meek" here can mean "miserable" or "burdened." God's call upon him signaled the beginning of a life of carrying the burden of the people of God. So when Moses refers to himself as the meekest man on the planet, what he's really saying is that his role in redemptive history is such that the weight of care and trouble that this mandate brings far exceeds that of anyone else's "stresses." Considering the fact that Moses is a type or shadow of Christ, it does make perfect sense.

A fuller discussion here and here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Van Til on Driscoll

Mark Driscoll's rejection of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son of God (declared in ecumenical creeds and Reformed confessions) is discussed here (Part 1), here (Part 2), here (Part 3), and here (Part 4).

It appears Cornelius Van Til was on the mark once again when he said:

It is sometimes contended that ministers need not be trained in systematic theology if only they know their Bibles. But "Bible-trained" instead of systematically trained preachers frequently preach error. They may mean ever so well and be ever so true to the gospel on certain points; nevertheless, they often preach error. There are many "orthodox" preachers today whose study of Scripture has been so limited to what it says about soteriology that they could not protect the fold of God against heresies on the person of Christ. Oftentimes they themselves even entertain definitely heretical notions on the person of Christ, though perfectly unaware of the fact. (An Introduction to Systematic Theology [New Jersey: P & R, 2007], ed. William Edgar, 22)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Westminster Wednesday: Some Big Van Tillian Words

(Bahnsen = Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1998).

Frame = John M. Frame, Cornelius Van Til: an Analysis of His Thought (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1995).

VT= Van Til

Absolute Personality: VT's basic characterization of God. Unlike any non-Christian view, the biblical God is both absolute (a se, self-existent, selfsufficient, self-contained) and personal (thinking, speaking, acting, loving, judging). See Frame, 51ff.

Ad hominem: Argument that exposes deficiencies in the arguer rather than deficiencies in the proposition under discussion. Thus, a logical fallacy. But often ad hominem argument is appropriate. See Bahnsen, 116ff, 468, 492, Frame, 153.

All-conditioner: VT's characterization of God in "Why I Believe in God" (see Bahnsen, 121-143). God is the one who ultimately influences all reality, including our own thinking and reasoning about him.

Analogy, analogical reasoning: (1) (Aquinas) Thinking in language that is neither literally true (univocal), nor unrelated to the subject matter (equivocal), but which bears a genuine resemblance to that subject matter. (2) (VT) Thinking in subjection to God's revelation and therefore thinking God's thoughts after him.

Antithesis: The opposition between Christian and non-Christian thought. See Frame, 187ff.

Apologetics: That branch of theology that gives reasons for our hope. VT saw it as involving proof, defense, and offense.

A priori: Knowledge acquired prior to experience, used to interpret and evaluate experience. Contrasted with a posteriori knowledge, knowledge arising out of experience. See Bahnsen, 107n, 177.

Authority of the expert: Submission to the knowledge of someone better informed, rather than absolute submission to God as the very criterion of truth. To VT, this is the only kind of authority the unbeliever will accept.

Autonomy: The attempt to live apart from any law external to the self. To VT, this is the paradigm attitude of unbelief. See Bahnsen 109, n.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Pagan Roots of Homosexuality

First order of business: definition of terms.

What is paganism?

"I would suggest that the essence of paganism can be usefully described as monism, the belief that one principle defines and unites all of reality. Thus all is one, humanity is one divine reality, and all religions are ultimately many expressions of the one monistic truth. At the heart of this theoretical religious paganism lies a particular and powerful mystical experience of oneness. Indeed, it is often claimed in today’s syncretistic age that at the core of all religions, beyond and behind their distinctive doctrines, is the same mystical encounter." (Peter Jones, Androgyny: The Pagan Sexual Ideal, JETS 43/3 [September 2000], 446)

What is the historical association of paganism and homosexuality?

"Throughout time and across space, the pagan cultus consistently, though not exclusively, holds out as its sexual representative the emasculated, androgynous priest." (ibid., 448)

Pagan religion, with virtual unanimity, "believed that homosexuals 'were vocationally mediums.' They also, with a certain logical consistency, held that heterosexual intercourse impaired the mediumistic talent" (ibid., 454).

However, "this is not to suggest some scarlet, conspiratorial thread connecting the dots. The connection is logical, theological, and inevitable. A monistic view of existence will work itself out in all the domains of human life, and especially in the domain of sexuality" (ibid., 457).

What is the religious significance between paganism and homosexuality?

"Therefore homosexuals are—though some unconsciously or only partially—true pagan monists, who have succeeded in translating spiritual theory into physical reality." (ibid., 462)
"The physico-theological mechanism seems to function as follows: androgynous persons, whether homosexual or bi-sexual, are able to express within themselves both sexual roles and identities. In the sex act they engage both as male and female, equally as penetrator and penetrated, the 'hard' and the 'soft'—and thus taste in some form or other both physical and spiritual androgyny." (ibid., 463)

Read the whole article here.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs Was Both Right and Wrong

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it." (Steve Jobs, Commencement Address at Stanford University [June 12, 2005])

The statement above by the late, great Steve Jobs is both true and false.

It is true in the sense that physical death was never part of man's telos as indicated by the fact that the everlasting life that is the heritage of the saints is a physical life to be lived out in a physical New Earth, and arguably, the damned shall be tormented in hell in a state of physicality as well.

But it is also false in the sense intimated by Paul in the following verses:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better (Philippians 1:21-23).

Steve Jobs had the best medical treatment that money could buy, and yet here we are now mourning his passing.

The message that is crystal clear is that not a single one of us holds our lives in our own hands, in an ultimate sense, regardless of the size of our pocketbooks. This is cause for fear and consternation on the part of the rebel, but comfort and solace for the humble in Christ:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:28-31).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Westminster Wednesday: G. I. Williamson on the Offices in the Church

After meticulous consideration, he favors the 3-office view.

I want to begin this article by frankly admitting that I've long hesitated on this issue. The fact that Paul only speaks of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 has always seemed to me to have some weight in favor of the two-office view. At the same time, however, I've always thought that 1 Timothy 5:17 clearly proves that—in the established churches of the Apostolic age—there was a marked division of labor among those who were called elders. All elders ruled, but there were some elders who, in addition to ruling, were especially marked out to "labor in word and doctrine" and this undeniable fact always seemed to me to lend some weight to the arguments of those in favor of the three-office view.

I've read just about everything that I could put my hands on to resolve my hesitation, but never seemed to quite get beyond a two and-a-half-office view. But then one day it 'hit' me. Now I wonder why I never thought of it before. I'm even more astonished that no one else seems to have thought of it either (at least I am not aware of any, and I've been looking into this issue for the past 40 years). So here I am tentatively setting forth what seems to me to be the amazingly simple solution to this difficulty.
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