Knowing Who Christ Is, What He Has Promised, And Expecting This Of Him – The Person & Work of Christ

cross.pngLetter IIn his classic book All of Grace, C.H. Spurgeon makes the statement in regards to Christianity that “Faith is believing that Christ is what He is said to be, and that He will do what He has promised to do, and then to expect this of Him.” If this is accepted as an accurate description of what the Christian faith entails, then the we must analyze what these things are which are to be believed.

If faith is believing that Christ is what he is said to be, it must be determined what Christ is said to be. If faith is believing that Christ will do what He has promised to do, it must be determined what Christ has promised.

Only after this is done may we as Christians move on to the sphere of trusting in or expecting this of Christ; so, it must be determined who Christ was and what he did, does, or will do.

Before any of this may be done it is first necessary to construct some basic context from which we as Christians may view the person and work of Christ. Historic Christianity in such texts as the Athanasian Creed has asserted that Christ is both God and man.

In order to set the context it is necessary to analyze both God and man individually, before proceeding to the Christ who embodies both – or as John Calvin states in the first line of his tremendous Institutes of the Christian Religion, our wisdom “consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

TARDIS small icon

Continue reading

Advertisements

A Continuing Orthodoxy: A [Fairly Short] PCA History

PCA.png

Letter Roots of the PCA

In telling the story of the Presbyterian Church in America there are a number of different places one can start. One could begin with the Reformation. Presbyterianism places itself in the Reformed tradition and thereby traces its roots back to the Reformation in the 16th Century, where the Reformers broke off from the Catholic church in order to work towards a purer theology.

Two of the main groups that would eventually come out of the reforms are the Lutherans and the Anglicans. Some distinctly Presbyterian groups would form in Scots-Irish lands and make the journey to the Americas; meanwhile in England, again seeking doctrinal purity, groups would once again work to reform the church. These groups from England – the Congregational Puritans, Presbyterian Puritans, and Separatists – joined together to form the Congregationalists in the 17th Century America, then divided into Presbyterians and Baptists in the 18th Century.

Once in America the first presbytery was established in 1706. The history of American Presbyterianism is marked by a series of splits and reunions, again with many of them being theological. Colonial era Presbyterianism would split over issues such as what qualified as ‘subscription’ to the confessional standards and over whether the church’s emphasis should be on confessional adherence or the more pietistic Awakening. The more revivalistic group who supported the Awakening were referred to as the New Side, the more strictly orthodox were referred to as the Old Side. These two groups would have many quarrels but would eventually reunite. The church as it was known at this time was the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.

Though they had worked through many of their differences in order to achieve union, the denomination would stay united for less than a century. Another split would come between what were referred to as the New School and the Old School. Revivalism was once again a part of the issue, as well as a more general battle of adherence to conservative reformed orthodoxy that would serve as a precursor to the later schisms that would occur in the wake of modern liberalism. The New School was of a more revivalistic stance whereas the Old School stood for confessional orthodoxy. The Old School and the New School would further split over the issue of slavery, with the Old School emphasizing the spirituality of the church and attempting to the keep the church out of the issue of slavery by focusing on its political aspects over its moral aspects. The Old School and the New School would eventually reunite in 1869, but before this reunion could come about the southern section of the Old School broke off in 1965 to form what would become The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS).

It is from this denomination that the PCA was finally formed.

Breaking from the PCUS

            The break of the PCA from the PCUS is the defining moment of PCA history. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries a way of approaching the Scriptures called ‘theological liberalism’ had been making its way from Germany into the Christian churches of America. By the early 1930’s it had began making its way into the PCUS. Those who aligned themselves with theological liberalism sought to apply the rigid standards of science and rationalism to the Scriptures.

The result of this was often a denial of such key doctrines as the the inerrancy and authority of Scripture and the deity of Christ. These men sought to get their views accepted into the churches by first getting their views accepted into the seminaries and the colleges. Once they had taken the seminaries then they would be the ones educating the ministers, who would then take their teachings into the churches. This agenda didn’t only affect theology, but also replaced what had previously been a focus on evangelism and missions with a focus on the social agenda.

The problem was not with the social reforms in and of themselves, but with the unhinging of the social reforms from the evangelical and missional focus.

As theological liberalism worked its way into the churches, by the time of the 1960’s and 70’s many ministers in the PCUS felt that they could not remain in the denomination. Kennedy Smart noted that “I knew I was denying my Lord and lending my name to actions which denied the Word of God.” He would go on to say that “The Bible was not our authority, but rather, our authority was the humanistic agenda of men whose view of Scripture allowed them to choose for themselves what they wanted to accept as the Word of God.”

They felt that it was no longer possible to remedy the problem through the practice of church discipline in the courts, and so they took the advice of Francis Schaeffer who said that when this happens “you must practice discipline in reverse and leave, but your leaving must be with tears, not with flags flying and bands playing.”

With this reverse discipline in mind many ministers began to meet and discuss how to go about breaking off from the PCUS (with a focus on how to keep their church property in the process).

On December 4, 1973, delegates from 260 churches met in Birmingham, Alabama, to form the National Presbyterian Church, which was soon renamed to the Presbyterian Church in America. Although it had broken off from the PCUS, the PCA saw itself as a “continuing church” of the PCUS. That is to say, the PCA saw itself as the true successor – or at the very least, the spiritual successor – to the PCUS.

The PCUS had wandered from its conservative reformed heritage by way of theological liberalism and those who formed the PCA saw themselves as carrying on that heritage, the heritage that stretched back through the Old School, through the Old Side and the New Side, back to Scotland and England and back to the Reformation. This heritage is pivotal for understanding the theological foci of the PCA.

Thus the Old Side/New Side debates gave the church a dedication to unity in the essentials of the faith and liberty in the non-essentials, noting the need for both experience and orthodoxy in the Christian life. The later split between the New School and the Old School – with the PCA tracing its roots through the Old School – would give it a significant emphasis on the spirituality of the church. These issues come to manifest themselves perennially in the life of the church.

Once the PCA had been formed it continued to grow and it continued to draw in other churches. The initial growth of the denomination was largely through this sort of expansion, of other churches joining the denomination. Thus many conservative presbyterian churches in the south left the PCUS to join the PCA up until 1992 (the PCUS allowed churches to leave with their property up until 1990). Churches didn’t only join from the PCUS. In 1982 the the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) merged with the PCA. This merger brought with it Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary. This provided the PCA with a denominational college and seminary, whereas they had previously utilized more independent schools such as Reformed Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary.

The PCA also invited the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) to join them in merger, and while the OPC voted to accept the invitation to join the PCA the PCA voted against receiving them. By the time the PCA renewed the offer the OPC as a whole no longer desired to join, though some individual congregations left to OPC to join the PCA. These congregations – often called the called “New Life Churches” – brought with them a focus on Sonship Theology. After this initial period of growth through churches joining the PCA from other denominations PCA growth shifted to being largely accomplished through church planting and outreach rather than by transfers of whole churches.

Contemporary PCA History

Since its founding the PCA has been one of the faster-growing denominations in the United States. While it has been steadily growing since its founding the PCA there has been some disunity over the years. Many of the debates which littered the early presbyterian history would make their way into the PCA, along with the some new debates.

Early on the denomination had to deal with the perennially recurring question of subscription. Some wanted a strict subscription, thereby placing the Standards almost above amendment. The alternate view of the Good-Faith subscription was also advocated. The issue was not resolved during the 1st Assembly, and would come up again during the 19th and 26th-29th Assemblies. The first year of the PCA also marked the first conference held by Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). Though the RUF had been founded by Mark Lowrey two years prior it eventually became a full-fledged arm of the PCA.

Many of the other issues facing the PCA during its early years were logistic, along with the aforementioned matters of bringing the RPCES and the attempt to bring the OPC into the denomination. During the 8th General Assembly one of the more significant theological issues came onto the scene, that being the issue of theonomy. Theonomy suggested that all of the Old Testament laws should be applied today. The issue ended up being postponed till the following year and the theonomist eventually left the PCA.

During the same period of time Reformed Theological Seminary had hired Greg Bahnsen as apologetics professor, who also turned out to be a theonomist and who after a fair amount of controversy ended up being forced to leave the school. The issue of theonomy came before the Assembly once again in 1983 at the 11th General Assembly when a presbytery asked for guidance on how far they could question a theonomist and a small number at the Assembly gave indication that they were in favor of the view.

During the 13th General Assembly questions were raised regarding both the Free Masonry and whether or not women should be ordained as deacons. The former was passed on for further consideration and the latter was ruled against. The 14th General Assembly approved the PCA’s entering into full membership of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), through which the PCA came into relations with the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). The PCA would thereby came to participate in the formation of the World Fellowship of Reformed Churches in 1992 (later World Reformed Fellowship), a group mainly made up of conservative Presbyterian denominations in the Americas.

While the question of the ministry of the Holy Spirit had been present earlier on in the PCA, it came further into view during the 14th Assembly. The issue at stake was primarily a desire to confirm that those speaking in tongues or a prayer language did not identify those with revelation. The issue would come up again in the 16th Assembly, which would finally  conclude that a candidate may hold to the gifts of prophecy and tongues provided that he does not believe they provide any binding special revelation.

With one issue settled another would come up, and during the 17th and 20th Assemblies the question of theonomy was once again brought forward, namely as theonomic elders worked to keep members of their congregations from transferring their membership to other churches; when members would try and transfer the theonomic elders would place them under discipline and refuse to allow them the transfer.

Despite the many disputes that were present in the PCA it continued to grow during this time. During 1992 forty new churches joined the PCA from the PCUSA due to the liberalizing influences in that denomination. While the PCA did have its fair share of disputes these disputes were still disputes within the conservative camp and thus the PCA was still able to draw in those who were seeking refuge from the liberalizing tendencies of the PCUSA.

The issue of subscription which was central to the Old Side/New Side debates and which presented itself at varying points throughout presbyterian came up once again in the early 2000’s. This was first during the 26th and 27th Assemblies, which attempted to settle the question of whether to allow diversity of views on the length of creations days and whether those who held to other-than-24-hour Creation Days would be required to declare exceptions to the Westminster Confession.

The Assembly refrained from making a solid judgement, instead leaving it up to the lower courts to determine if a man’s views are in accord with the constitution. The resulting Report of the Creation Study Committee demonstrated that there have been a plurality of approaches taken by respected reformed and presbyterian theologians over the years. They stated that while they “recognize that a naturalistic worldview and true Christian faith are impossible to reconcile, and gladly take our stand with Biblical supernaturalism” that they were “unable to come to unanimity over the nature and duration of the creation days.” This question of creation would come up again in the 40th and 41st Assemblies, specifically on the question of the historicity of Adam.

While the 26th and 27th Assemblies had discussed how views on creation related to subscription, the 29th General Assembly of 2002 attempted to address the question of subscription as a whole, echoing back more directly to the Old Side/New Side debates. In this discussion four different views of subscription were taken: Dr. Tim Keller presented the System-Subscription View; Dr. Bryan Chapell presented the Good-Faith (or “Vital-to-the System”) Subscription View; TE David Coffin presented the Articles-of-Unity (or “Logically Consistent”) Subscription View; Dr. Joseph Pipa presented the Full Subscription (or “Strict Subscription”) View. Dr. Chapell’s position won out, and the following year the 30th Assembly subsequently approved and enacted a “Good-Faith Subscription” amendment to the Book of Church Order.

This system means that a prospective minister must declare every difference he has and the Presbytery rules on each as to whether it is allowable; it is assumed that the candidate agrees with everything he does not explicitly take exception to. This differs from strict subscription which allows no exceptions on the one hand and the system subscription which doesn’t require exceptions to be stated on the other. The result of this was that a presbytery would be allowed to use their discretion and approve candidates whose stated differences they deemed as not out of accord with any fundamental of the Confession and not striking “at the vitals of religion.”

It was also in the early 2000’s that the denomination saw movements towards racial reconciliation. The 30th Assembly adopted a statement urging racial reconciliation. This statement included a confession of past actions, of the denomination’s “covenantal involvement in these national sins” such that they “publicly repent of our pride, our complacency, and our complicity” and “seek the forgiveness of our brothers and sisters for the reticence of our hearts.” This issue would come up again in the 43rd Assembly and was the central topic of discussion at the 44th Assembly.

In tandem with discussions of racial reconciliation were questions of homosexuality, of the homosexual lifestyle and homosexual marriage. These discussions were spawned in response to laws that had been passed by the U.S. government as well as the military repealing its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Thus the Assembly sent down a statement prohibiting legal recognition of homosexual marriages by presbyteries as well as an overture encouraging PCA members, pastors, churches, and institutions to support adoption of the Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The 30th Assembly also saw the launch of byFaith magazine. byFaith would serve as the PCA’s denominational magazine. The mission of the magazine was to draw readers into the life of the Church by “informing, edifying, and encouraging them with news of God’s Kingdom.”

In the mid-2000’s the denomination would begin to wrestle with the New Perspective on Paul and the incursion of Federal Vision theology into the PCA. In 2006 the Mississippi Valley Presbytery had pushed to distribute its own “Report on the New Perspectives on Paul, the Theology of N. T. Wright, the Theology of Norman Shepherd, and the Theology of the so-called ‘Federal Vision’ in the PCA.” The General Assembly refrained from distributing this report but the following year (2007) the 34th General Assembly approved the creation of an ad interim committee to study “Federal Vision, New Perspective on Paul, and Auburn Avenue Theologies.”

The goal of this committee was to determine whether these views conformed with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards. Those in favor of Federal Vision (Jeff Meyers and Peter Leithart, specifically) saw their system as a way to rid the church of the influences of American revivalism and individualism and return it to the theology of the Reformers, and in 2007 some of the prominent members of PCA – Jeff Meyers and Peter Leithart– had signed the Joint Federal Vision Profession. Those opposed to Federal Vision felt that those such as Meyers and Leithart had gone too far and that their revisions resulted in a heterodox position, if not outright heresy. Critics argued that the Federal Vision system in essence taught baptismal regeneration, denied the dual imputation of Christ’s work, and thereby made sanctification a works-based endeavor.

The investigation found Leithart not guilty of being out of accord with the Standards in his teachings. This was not the end of the matter, however, as an elder of that Presbytery appealed the case to the PCA’s Standing Judicial Committee (SJC), which concluded that the Presbytery had erred and sent the case back to the Presbytery for action. The Presbytery then chose to file charges against Leithart on the grounds that he held views contrary to the Standards.

At the same time the New Perspective on Paul was an attempt to reinterpret the doctrine of justification in the light of Second Temple Judaism. Those opposed to the New Perspective argued that Paul should be interpreted in light of the Old Testament rather than rabbinic writings. They saw the the New Perspective as rejecting the historic Protestant understanding of justification, specifically the forensic and legal aspects of it. All of these developments: the allowance of a multiplicity of views on creation, the allowance of Federal Vision, requiring merely a “good faith” subscription were and are seen by many as evidence of a liberalizing trend in the PCA that is growing in strength.

In 2008 at the 36th Assembly approved the admission of Canadian and American Reformed Churches and the Presbyterian and Reformed Church into the North America Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). The other major issue at the Assembly was the role of women in local church ministries of mercy, a revisiting of the issue as it had been addressed during the 13th Assembly. This issue continued on into the 2009 Assembly, with the basic question being whether women involved in mercy ministry should be designated as “deaconesses” and officially commissioned; Ligon Duncan argued against this proposal while Tim Keller argued in favor of it. The Assembly chose not to allow women the title of deaconess.

During the 39th General Assembly in 2011 another major controversy came before the PCA, this time in the form of the Insider Movement. The Assembly approved the formation of a committee to study the Insider Movements in Islam and Bible translation. The basic issue was and is one where missiologists have suggested Christian converts in circumstances where public baptism and joining a Christian church may subject them to persecution should remain in their non-Christian religions. They further suggested that standard translations of the Bible might confuse non-Christians (for instance, implying that the Father engaged in sexual intercourse with Mary to produce Jesus) and that the notion of God having a son may offend and repel many Muslims from converting to the faith. The PCA’s denominational mission agency – Mission to the World (MTW) – took the position that Christian converts should not continue to practice non-Christian religions but should become part of the Church. They further took the position that Bible translations which remove references to God as “Father” or Jesus as “Son” alter key Christian doctrines (such as that of the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, and the doctrine of Scripture) and are generally out of accord with God’s revealed Word.

Continuing the controversy from 2007, in 2011 the PCA’s Pacific Northwest Presbytery found Peter Leithart not guilty of charges of being out of accord with the Standards in his views associated with Federal Vision. In 2012 a complaint was once again taken to the SJC, which in 2013 denied the complaint thereby affirming the ruling of the Presbytery.  The SJC argued that Leithart’s differences with the Standards were largely semantic and a matter of injudicious use of language and insufficient explanation. The SJC did not endorse Leithart’s views, but simply concluded “that neither the prosecution nor the Complainant proved that TE Leithart’s views, as articulated at the trial or otherwise contained in the Record of the Case, violate the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Standards.”

This was again not the end of the controversy.

Three Presbyteries unanimously voted to overture the General Assembly to take original jurisdiction over the case. Their key claim was that there should be a mistrial because prosecutor TE Jason Stellman – whom the SJC had noted failed prove that Leithart’s views violated the Standards – had actually converted to Roman Catholicism shortly after a negative verdict. They argued that there should be a mistrial due to the conflict of interest present therein. A request for a rehearing was denied, and the Assembly sent the case back to the SJC.

The 41st Assembly in 2013 also saw the questions of the historicity of Adam and Eve and the Insider Movement come up once again, as well as that of paedocommunion in connection with the Federal Vision movement sections of the Pacific Northwest and Central Florida Presbyteries. The central question before the Assembly related to the Insider Movement was the question of “Are Allah of Muslims and Yahweh the same God?” No conclusion was found during that meeting and the topic was referred to further study.

The 43rd Assembly revisited the topic of race relations from 2002, though this time with the goal of achieving some sort of personal repentance and restitution. This resolution was referred to the 44th General Assembly. A key reason for referring the resolution to the 44th Assembly was to give time for lower courts to study and discuss the issues involved. During these discussions the older matter of the spirituality of the church has once again come to the forefront, with many arguing that it is not the place of the church to take action on such matters.2s09lxD.png

The 44th Assembly also instituted a new logo that looks like Boba Fett.

Summary

The PCA has always had a view of itself as the spiritual successor to the conservative Presbyterians of the PCUS, to the Scots-Irish Presbyterians and those seeking to purify the Church of England two centuries prior, and to the reformers who had sought to reform the Catholic church a century prior to that.

In this the PCA has taken special pride in its theological heritage. It has sought to continually uphold the reformed confessional truths found in the Westminster Standards against the ever encroaching tide of liberalism, of heterodoxy, and of heresy. It is for this reason that the PCA can view itself as a continuing church of the PCUS, and it is for this reason that those who hold the Standards and the heritage of the PCA in high regard continue to fight against such aberrations as Federal Vision, the New Perspective on Paul, or creation accounts that cede ground to secularism.

The denomination continues to grow, and as it grows it continues to face new challenges. The denomination began in 1973 with 260 churches, as of 2014 it has 1,831 churches with a total of  358,516 members, 4,556 ministers, and $766,520,059 in disbursements. Although the history of the PCA has been marked by controversy this controversy has largely been controversy within the conservative church as opposed to drifts towards liberalism, which has allowed the PCA to continue to be a denomination which those who flee from liberalism may find a home in. Further, though the PCA has continual debates it has also continued to uphold its dedication to unity in the essentials of the faith and liberty in the non-essentials.

It is this dedication that allows for those with such divergent views to find a home under the same roof, and it is the hope that we can continue to address our concerns with both a Christian love for God’s truth and a Christian charity.

Book Review: Velvet Elvis – By Rob Bell

RobBellVelvetElvis.pngLetter Velvet Elvis is author Rob Bell‘s attempt at bringing Christianity into the modern world. He begins by talking about a painting and noting how if, after this painting had been finished, it would have been a tragedy for the painter to announce that “there was no more need for anyone to paint, because he had just painted the ultimate painting.” He goes on to make the point that we need to be in a constant state of reforming, a constant state of “repainting the Christian faith.” This is because, he says, “the word Christian conjures up all sorts of images that have nothing to do with who Jesus is,” and because while past Christianity might have worked for their parents “or provided meaning when they were growing, but it is no longer relevant. It doesn’t fit. It’s outdated. It doesn’t have anything to say to the world they live in every day. Its not that there isn’t any truth in it… its just that every generation has to ask the difficult questions of what it means to be a Christian here and now…” And so Bell begins his journey into asking questions.

Rather than simply showing the people the correct image of Jesus or educating them on the relevance and applicability of traditional Christianity, Bell suggests that we remold it to suite the present time.

I went into reading this book without a clue who Rob Bell was or what the book might be about, though that the line “You rarely defend things you love” (p27) is in the book was a blatant indication that things were not quite right – after-all, what do you defend if not the things you love?

From reading other reviews it seems that the book is often praised for its fresh approach to Christianity. It is liked because he issues the challenge that one needs to keep digging into the Word, that one needs to continue questioning what is presented to you – on these premises alone one can understand how one can enjoy it on a surface level. Bell wants his readers to question doctrine because while there is truth in the Bible, no dogma can be the full truth, nobody has the be-all end-all absolute truth interpretation of the Word and so he challenges his readers to question those dogmas – the problem here is that that’s almost all he does, challenge the reader to ask questions.

A dichotomy is thus created, for though it is important to ask questions and learn for oneself why the doctrines you follow are as they are, it is equally important to actually arrive at doctrines which you can stand behind. Its important to come to conclusions in your beliefs – you question and look into the Word as Bell suggests to see why you believe what you believe, but this is inane unless you actually come to a conclusion (ie, Bell’s process of questioning provides you with the reasons why you will in turn stand behind your doctrine).

Bell attempts to be tolerant to all peoples and in turn denies this aspect of the purpose in his own statements – you don’t question doctrines in order to be tolerant, you question doctrines in order to see why it is that you defend them (ie, why, when it comes to your belief concerning the truth you are intolerant/inflexible in those beliefs).

One cannot only question, one must arrive at conclusions. Doctrine is not in place as a harsh issuer of intolerance and inquisition, its in place to show where previous individuals have gone through the same process and to show the [educated] conclusions they arrived at – they’re there to give you an informed outline to follow (thus why texts such as The Westminster Standards offers in-text citation of scripture, so you’ll know why they concluded what they did). One cannot be wholly tolerant, as G.K. Chesterton notes “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions” (for elaboration, check out his book Orthodoxy). One cannot perpetually question and seek truth, as Mark Twain notes “there are none but temporary Truth-Seekers; that a permanent one is a human impossibility; that as soon as the Seeker finds what he is thoroughly convinced is the Truth, he seeks no further” (for elaboration, check out What is Man?).

This where Bell fails, he questions but then proceeds to forget the purpose of questioning… he criticizes the idea of standing behind and defending a set of convictions and in doing so fails to realize that the people defending ideas are the ones who used to stand in his place, questioning the dogmas – however unlike Bell this was not just for the sake of questioning them, but for the sake of learning why they should defend them.

Specific Criticisms

Bell’s theology is at its foremost man-centered and denies really any sovereignty or legitimacy on God’s part, mentioning at one point that “Jesus is God’s way of refusing to give up on his dream for the world” (p157). This makes the fundamental flaw of assuming he ever considered giving up, of assuming he even had a reason to consider giving up. That he’s “refusing to give” up implies that something is not going according to plan, it implies that something is not in his control, essentially denying many of the essential qualities of God (namely his omnipotence and omniscience).

It should be a requirement that anybody wanting to make an argument or prove a point should first be forced to pass a class in basic logic. The entire first half of Bell’s book thrives on false logic, on implementing equivocation (first with ‘faith'(p19) and then with ‘believers'(p20)), creating straw men and taking versus out of context (p42) and with false analogies (ie, that Christianity is like a painting) in order to basically trick the reader into thinking what he’s saying has some validity.

There is little actual meat in Bell’s book. He has few real conclusions apart from that the Christian faith needs to be “repainted”, that doctrine and theology are “servants” (p25) to men and that men need to mold doctrine and theology to suit their current needs – basically, Christ needs to conform to the current world, even to the point of denying the authority of scripture and question the trinity if need-be (p22).

Of course, its only natural that there is little actual substance to the book. After-all, if there was substance to it then Bell might have to defend his ideas, but that would make him too ‘bricky’, as he puts it (even though Paul compares us to bricks (Eph 2:22) being used to build something).

You don’t have to really believe any certain doctrine according to Bell, you just have to be willing to live like Jesus and play on the trampoline – for him the church is the trampoline and the springs are the doctrines. Of course nobody defends a trampoline as Bell would assert, but people will defend their home, they will defend a Temple – and it is a house and a Temple that God calls the church, not a trampoline. We are compared to bricks being used to build a Temple, set on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone (again, Eph 2:22) – the Bible describes the church just as the brickworld that Bell rallies against. Bell would place the Bible upon a chopping block and cut off anything that anybody might disagree with or that might cause argument, that might cause somebody to have to defend their views.

One final note is his statement of “Hell is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for” (p146) – yet if Christ died for them then they are forgiven and their debt is paid. If they are forgiven and their debt paid then they will not be punished as if they weren’t forgiven or held to the debt as if it weren’t paid, that defeats the whole point. A person cannot say “no, you have not forgiven me”, a person cannot say “no, my debt is not paid”. If you erase a person from a debt to you, even if they don’t accept that you forgave it, you’re not going to make them pay anyway – neither is God. If you forgave a person a trespass against you, even if they don’t accept it, you still forgave them and aren’t going to exact vengeance and justice upon them – neither is God (granted, this is abit of a false analogy in assuming that rejection is even possible). God created everything, God is in control of everything.

I could go on for quite some time giving quotes and rebuttals but I see little point. Suffice to say that it is a sharp departure from any form of orthodox Christianity.

Bell’s error is in his basic premise – Christianity is not comparable to a painting. A painting is meant as a service to its audience, we are meant as servants to God.

 

The Holy Spirit in the Reformed Tradition

sunrisefield.png

Letter WWhat is the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life and Christian theology according the Reformed tradition? If the stereotypes are to be believed, the Holy Spirit doesn’t have much of a place in the Reformed church; the Holy Spirit, it seems, is only for those of a more charismatic or Pentecostal flavor. Perhaps the stereotypes are to be believed, after all, the Westminster Confession of Faith doesn’t even have a section on the Holy Spirit.

So where is the Holy Spirit in the Reformed church?

In his book The Christian Faith Michael Horton makes the point that “in every external work of the Godhead, the Father is always the source, the Son is always the mediator, and the Spirit is always the perfecting agent.” When referring to salvation, it might be said that the Father works in His people through an eternal decree by choosing them in Christ before the foundation of the world; that the Son works in His people by procuring for them a righteous standing before God; that the Spirit works in His people by applying to them that which the work of Christ procured.

The thing here being decreed, procured and applied might simply be called union with Christ, the pivotal element of salvation. There is thus a central theme of the Trinitarian God working out His grace to man: the Father ordains it, the Son procures it, and the Spirit imparts it. Thus once one understands the work of the Father and the Son, it is important to note that without the Spirit applying this work to the individual the endeavor is in vain. But what does that mean, and how does that work?

In light of this Trinitarian nature, the Reformed doctrine of the Spirit can be best seen by first looking at the Holy Spirit as a member of the Triune God, by then looking at salvation in itself, and finally by looking at the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to this salvation. Because we want to be faithful to both the Scriptures and to the historic Christian faith, it is necessary to see what the Scriptures say on the matter, how the historic Christian church has addressed the issue, and how present theologians wrestle with it in the contemporary context.

The Person of the Holy Spirit

Within many Protestant circles the person of the Holy Spirit is often either given so much emphasis so as to overshadow the other members of the Trinity, or else the Spirit is forgotten by the wayside, with the chief focus of Christianity being placed upon the providence of the Father or the atonement of Christ upon the cross. In order to have a balanced theology, it is necessary to focus upon and understand the work of the Trinity in all its parts, neglecting none, for the work of each person of the Trinity is imperative if the Gospel is to have any effect.

As was noted above, it is said in Christian orthodoxy that the Spirit – along with the Father and the Son – is God. Perhaps the place in Scripture where this is most evident is in Matthew 28:19 where the command is given to go and make disciples “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This verse is important because it places the Holy Spirit in the same category as the Father and the Son. Still further, this is not a doctrine that is extrapolated from a single verse standing alone, but rather it can be found throughout Scripture: one may find Scripture that to lie to the Holy Spirit is to lie to God (Acts 5:3-4); that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), which is elsewhere called “the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16); that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son (Gal 4:6); that He is the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-17). Thus it can be seen that the Holy Spirit is one with God.

It is also important to realize in this that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person, and not merely a force. That the Holy Spirit is indeed a person can be realized in passages where the Spirit is said to grieved (Eph 4:30), where He speaks (Heb 3:7), has a will (Acts 15:28), is able to guide us in truth (John 16:13), and where He intercedes for us to the Father (Rom 8:27). This final verse also demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is also a distinct person of the Trinity, given that He intercedes to the Father.

In looking at the person of the Holy Spirit, one may also look at the way the Holy Spirit acts apart from salvation. For instance the Spirit can be seen in creation (Gen 1:2), coming upon individuals in order to have them do something (Jdgs 6:34), inspiring Scripture (Acts 1:16), and even leading Christ into temptation (Mark 1:12). Even just in looking at the person of the Holy Spirit and the way He works outside salvation on can see the theme of the Trinitarian God working out His grace to man, indeed, while any contact that God makes with man is a gracious contact this can be seen most readily in the inspiration of Scripture, by which God has spoken to us. These truths guard against a number of false teachings in the Church. The primary of these are the various heresies surrounding the Trinity, such as modalism, for the Holy Spirit is both truly God and yet a distinct person from the Father and the Son.

Salvation

In speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit as applying the works of the Father and of the Son, it is important to know what the Holy Spirit is applying.

In speaking of salvation, the pattern most often used to describe the process is the ordo salutis. In Protestantism this is laid out as election, predestination, calling, regeneration, conversion (faith and repentance), justification, sanctification, and glorification. Overall, the thing being worked at here might be said to be union with Christ, indeed as A.W.Pink puts it “Our union with Christ is the grand hinge on which everything turns.” Or as it is stated by Sinclair Ferguson “the forgiveness of sins is not received in a vacuum, but in union with Christ.” Michael Horton makes note in turn that “justification is the judicial ground of a union with Christ that also yields renewal and sanctification” such that the Scriptures “call believers to become more and more of what they already are in Christ.”

Thus, union with Christ is the pivotal part of what salvation is, for it is in being unified with Christ that we are saved. It is into union with and conformity to Christ that we are elected and predestined (Rom 8:29), which we are called into, by which we are justified by having Christ’s righteousness be credited as ours, it is this conformity and this temporal realizing of our union with Christ which constitutes our sanctification, and it is the consummation of this union which is our glorification. Thus, salvation might be said to be the total work – from our election to our glorification – of the Trinitarian God in bringing us into union with Christ.

As has been stated, union with Christ is the pivotal element of this salvation but it is also made up of many facets (such can be seen through the ordo salutis). Yet even beyond the many facets of the ordo salutis, salvation can be seen in a number of different lights. For instance, on the one hand salvation is legal standing; because of our union with Christ, God does see our own debt but rather sees the credit of Christ accounted to us.

On another hand salvation is a relational standing; we are placed into communion and fellowship with God – and thereby into the relationship of the Father and the Son – through our union with Christ. In yet another, the union itself is a corporate one, for it is the church as a group that makes up the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27), not any one individual. While it is always important to keep the communal aspect of salvation in view that we might not slip into individualism, it is also important to note that the focus is still a personal one, for the believer can be saved without the church as a visible institution.

With this corporate aspect, it is found that God only decrees his election upon a certain group of people, that is, those who believe upon His Son as their Savior (John 3:16). Yet those who believe are those who are decreed by God the Father as His elect, indeed in Acts 13:48 it is read that “when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Therefore while all have sinned and are justly deserving condemnation (Rom 3:23), God only chooses some in his mercy to receive this salvation, as is stated by John Owen:

Christ did not die for any upon condition, if they do believe; but he died for all God’s elect, that they should believe, and believing have eternal life. Faith itself is among the principal effects and fruits of the death of Christ… Salvation, indeed, is bestowed conditionally; but faith, which is the condition, is absolutely procured.

Given that none are deserving of this salvation, it is still only through the utmost grace of the Trinitarian God that it is dispensed. Salvation is the sinners escape from the just condemnation of their sins, and this is accomplished according to the decree of the Father and made possible by the sacrifice of the Son who is able to fully satisfy the debt owed by us and bring us into the fellowship of the Trinity; yet as John Calvin notes in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, to communicate the blessing of Christ to us he must dwell in us such that “teachers would cry aloud to no purpose, did not Christ, the internal teacher, by means of his Spirit, draw to himself those who are given to him of the Father.” Thus, for all of the realized and actual effects of salvation upon the sinner, one must speak of the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit and Salvation

In following with the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism, as the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is given to the elect of mankind so that through faith they are made to share in Christ. As was stated above, the Father is the source of this grace, the Son the mediator, and the Spirit the perfecting agent; or similarly, that the Father ordains it, the Son procures it, and the Spirit secures or applies it.

For the purposes of analyzing the work of the Holy Spirit directly related to the individual, the sections of the ordo salutis in view are conversion through glorification: as is stated by Calvin “For the Spirit does not merely originate faith, but gradually increases it, until by its means He conducts us into the heavenly kingdom.” Thus, salvation for the purposes here begins with the conversion of the sinner to faith in Christ. ‘Conversion’ here is perhaps a poor term to refer to the originating of faith and repentance – indeed, many Christians are raised in the faith of Jesus Christ, and therefore they have no marked point of conversion. Regardless, whether faith is brought about from childhood or whether the individual comes to it later in life, this faith is a work of the Holy Spirit. We are saved through faith (Eph 2:8), and this faith – as noted by Calvin – originates in the Holy Spirit. Or as it is stated in the Westminster Confession: “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts…” Or as is stated in Scripture “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor 12:3). In this faith we share with Christ in his death and resurrection (Col 2:12) and are placed into union with Him.

While the Holy Spirit is active in bringing us into this union with Christ, the instrument for bringing about this union is the proclamation of the Gospel. This is perhaps made most apparent in Romans 10:14-15 where Paul asks:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

Thus the proclamation of the gospel is the instrument which the Holy Spirit uses to bring the elect into faith in Christ. This faith is accompanied by repentance, thus we are called to “Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). It is important to note here, however, that it is not the faith nor the repentance in and of themselves which truly save us, but rather it is the object of our faith, hence: “It is not the quality of faith itself, but of the person it apprehends, that makes it the sufficient means of receiving both our justification and sanctification.” It is also important – as was mentioned earlier – that this faith is given only to the elect, and does depend for its application upon the will of man, indeed: “It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom 9:16). It is because of this truth that John Owen can say that while salvation is bestowed conditionally, faith – which is the condition – is absolutely procured. The will of man is fallen and must be changed in order to produce faith; free will is properly the will that has been freed from its state of sin to be able to choose the things of God, thus “by his grace alone, [God] enables [man] freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good.”

By sharing in this union which we are brought into by the Holy Spirit, we are justified. Yet we are not merely given a legal pardon through our union with Christ, only to be left in the reality of our sins. Rather “God does what he declares. When he pronounces someone righteous in Christ, he immediately begins also to conform that person to Christ.”

The Father declares us righteous due to our union with Christ, and we are brought into this union by the Spirit, yet even further than this the Spirit works to actually conform us to that image of Christ and to rid our selves of the pollution and corruption of sin. That is, we are sanctified. This is just as much wrought in man as the other areas of salvation, as is stated by the Westminster Divines, by the indwelling of the Word and the Spirit “the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they are more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces…”

The Westminster Confession here introduces two different aspects of sanctification, dying to sin and living to Christ, and in this we can see the more day-to-day out-workings of our union with Christ. These two facets can be seen in Scripture in such verses as Galatians 5:24 that “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” and in Colossians 1:10-11 that we are “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Yet even these good works are not fully our own, for we were “created in Christ Jesus, for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10) so much that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

So God will bring this good work to completion, and the works that we do have been prepared for us beforehand. In becoming more and more who we are in Christ, in being unified with him and being conformed to his image, we put to death sin and walk in holiness, and both of these are worked in us through the workings of the Holy Spirit, not of our own will or our own strength. Because it is the work of the Holy Spirit and not our own we can have assurance that we will persevere and not fall away from the faith; indeed, He who began a good work will finish it, and again “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Because it is the work of the Triune God we can be sure that it will not fail and we will be brought into glorification: the Father has not failed in his decree, the Son has not failed in his work on the cross but was raised from the dead for the remission of sins, and so the Holy Spirit has not and will not fail in his work of applying these benefits to the sinners and of brining them into the union of Christ into which they are predestined.

The Holy Spirit’s Work in Salvation Defending Against Heresy

Because of these truths of Scripture a great number of heresies and false teachings are guarded against, many of which are still present in the contemporary context. Because faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the will of man, the false teaching of Arminianism is guarded against. Because salvation is brought about by faith through the working of the Spirit and not by the good works of the individual (which are themselves also fruit of the Spirit), the false teaching of legalism is guarded against, that we must perfectly live up a given set of laws – indeed, Christ did this because we could not. Because the Holy Spirit is actively at work in those to whom he brings faith, the false teaching of antinomianism is guarded against, claiming that it doesn’t matter what the Christian does and opening up the possibility of being a carnal Christian. Similarly, because it is the work of God, the false teaching that one can lose their salvation after acquiring it is guarded against, for as has been stated none will pluck us out of His hand.

Regarding the contemporary context, perhaps the greatest heresy which is guarded against by the truths of the Holy Spirit is the great pessimism that comes with postmodernism. Pessimism, for one, that we as Christians can truly change; pessimism, for the second, as to whether we can even know God at all. Again, because salvation is the work of God, and because the real sanctification of the individual is a part of this salvation, we can be assured that we will truly be changed, that we are not left in total depravity throughout our mortal lives. Because it is the Holy Spirit – God himself – who has inspired Scripture and has decided in his grace to communicate with man, we can be assured that we can indeed know God in our finite way as much as God chooses to reveal himself. Furthermore, because the Spirit has inspired the Scriptures we can rest assured that the truth of them is not founded in any individual, which thereby guards against the great subjectivism of postmodernism; because this is the only Word which the Spirit is inspired, the pluralism of the contemporary world is also guarded against.

The mere fact that He has chosen to reveal himself is in itself gracious, and because He is God he will not fail in this endeavor and we can truly know him. Not only has God given us is Word in the form of the Holy Scriptures, but the Holy Spirit himself works in us to have faith and knowledge of this.

The Practical Effects of Spirit’s Work & Salvation

Just as these truths regarding the Holy Spirit and salvation guard against a number of false teachings within the church, so they are also of great practical benefit to the believer. As Horton claims “the gospel is the answer not only to our guilt and condemnation but to our corruption and slavery to sin.” Freedom from guilt and slavery to sin are in themselves supremely practical things; no longer must we dwell in the shame of our sin but we can look with joy upon the grace that has been decreed for us by the Father, wrought for us by Christ, and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, we are truly enabled and made by the Holy Spirit to be free from the tyranny of sin in our lives. This union with Christ is incredibly comforting and liberating, as John Bunyan put it upon realizing this truth: “Now did my chains fall off my legs; indeed I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away…”

A personal, practical, and real change is brought about in the believer’s life due to these truths, and because we do not have to rely upon our own strength but may see ourselves joined with Christ we may be kept from despair. Because the Holy Spirit is God he will not fail, and because he will not fail we will without a doubt be changed, that we will be graciously saved according to the decree of the Father that was worked out by the Son and is being applied by the Spirit.

In the same way that these truths affect our own personal assurance and growth, they also affect that of our ministry. We are called to preach the word, and the word is an instrument for the bringing of faith, yet because faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit in the believer we can be assured that so long as we faithfully proclaim the gospel of Christ that the Holy Spirit will do His gracious work. Thus it does not rest upon us in our own power of person, on our own eloquence, or on our own power of reason, to convince people to believe the gospel. A great weight is therefore taken off of the minister and they are able to distinguish their actual mission from the perversion that tends to turn the church into a cult of personality.

Just as we can have hope for real change in our lives, we can call our congregations to this change. We can hold them accountable for their sins when they fall into the habit of the carnal Christian and assure them that the Holy Spirit will work in them for their sanctification. The Trinitarian God is working out His grace to man: the Father has ordained it, the Son has procured it, and the Spirit is actively imparting it for our salvation.

Sovereignty and Contingency in Christianity

waiting1Few themes have been discussed as frequently throughout history as that of fate and free will. The topic in itself seems innocent enough, yet whenever it is discussed all of the rest of philosophy and theology inevitably gets pulled up into it. It is caught up in questions of ethics, of the relation between God and evil, of human responsibility, of salvation and of the sovereignty of God – questions of whether mankind has some semblance of control over his destiny or is merely a machine.

When discussed in the context of Christianity, the discussion often turns to the question of divine foreknowledge, on which there is no shortage of views (some of the more common being open-theism, simple-foreknowledge, Molinism, and the Reformed view).

As we wade through these views it must be noted that each argument accounts for certain aspects while neglecting others. Thus:

  • the Open-Theist claims the issue is over the content of reality but allows for some determined events; yet having any determined events at all falls into the same inability to explain the interaction between freedom and foreknowledge that plagues every view.
  • the Simple-Foreknowledge view – where God elects those he foreknew – only succeeds in making election and predestination meaningless and redundant when placed beside of foreknowledge; that is, election and predestination become words without content.
  • Molinism, rather than having God as puppet-master, makes him the great manipulator, rigging circumstances and the environment so that people will do as he wills; while this may help answer logical problems, it fails to address the moral dynamic of the dilemma.
  • the Reformed view is often the most honest in addressing its own deficiency, with authors such as Paul Helm stating that “we cannot at present see how these parts cohere, that we cannot demonstrate their consistency.” Yet even Helm requires the individual to redefine their view of the will before presenting the mystery; that is, Helm answers the question, but does so by changing what the words in play mean (and thereby bordering on the fallacy of equivocation).

Regardless of whether one goes down the road of the Arminian or that of the Calvinist, the Molinist or the Open-Theist, eventually a certain impassible fog will be reached that the thinker will be forced to resign to mystery.

However, rather than find that each road has its own fog at some point in the distance, would we be justified in simply marking the mystery at the outset? As G.K. Chesterton says, the Christian “has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.”

Before resigning ourselves to mystery, however, we must take into account a variety of factors, factors such as the limits of reason, the notions of divine foreknowledge and free will, and the impact of Scripture on the topic. Objections to the position as well as its practical out-workings must also be addressed.

The topic can be narrowed before proceeding. So while it is necessary to discuss the human will, the related question of whether man may freely choose good or evil is a matter of election, which is a distinct discussion (for even if man possesses an innate bias towards the things which are evil, this does not necessarily suppose that his choices are all determined or causally necessary – rather, he may in this instance be freely and contingently choosing between things which are evil; this biased yet contingent freedom would still offer up the philosophical problems offered in the discussion of foreknowledge and preserve God’s sovereignty in salvation).

Indeed, it is not necessary for us to consider the fallen will of man at all – in appealing to the Garden we do away with the problem of the fallen will altogether. Thus it can be found for one in the writings of Augustine: “For it was by the evil use of his free will that man destroyed both it and himself.” Anthony Hoekema reflects this saying: “Though man had been created with true freedom, they lost that freedom when they fell into sin.” It is with the free will as present in the Garden which must be contended, regardless of what sort of will is present today.

It will suffice to say that it was present once, for if such a free will ever was present then the same issues arise as if it were present today.

With the scope narrowed one may begin to consider the will in itself, but in doing so one must take into account the limits of reason. We must ask whether our faculty of reason even has the capability of answering this question sufficiently; as C.H. Spurgeon wrote in regards to fore-ordination and human responsibility, “it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other.” The solution from the Reformed perspective is a theory called compatibilism. This is accomplished through defining ‘free will’ not in the manner of libertarian free will but rather in offering a view similar to what James Smith calls ‘positive free will’, this is a ‘free will’ where “freedom isn’t just the ability to choose, but the ability to choose well, to choose rightly.” However, this in itself does not liberate the Reformed perspective from its difficulties, for supposing that Adam had the ability to choose either rightly or wrongly it must still be explained how he came to choose wrongly, especially if God is the ultimate cause of his actions. Furthermore, this only succeeds in taking a dilemma between the interaction of sovereignty and free will and moving it back, making it into a dilemma between sovereignty and responsibility.

As noted, the Reformed tradition has the advantage of acknowledging this relationship as one of the mysteries of God. Yet, the simple-foreknowledge position also acknowledges mystery in its system. As Roger Olson states: “Arminians know that their belief in libertarian freedom is a mystery.” The Reformed tradition acknowledges a mystery between sovereignty and responsibility, the Arminian tradition acknowledges a mystery within libertarian freedom itself. Olson acknowledges both of these mysteries, but prefers his own because he feels it saves God from being the author of evil. One position he rejects, however, is the position that the will is determined but free, for this “begs further explanation.”

From the outside it might be contended that both the Reformed and Arminian options “beg further explanation.” Perhaps it should be stated that the relationship between divine sovereignty and free will is the mystery. G.K. Chesterton has already been quoted as sharing a view similar to this; Jerry Bridges puts forth the same idea, stating that “while the Bible asserts both God’s sovereignty and people’s freedom and moral responsibility, it never attempts to explain their relationship.” Such a placement of the mystery may also be seen by Anthony Hoekema, who states “To be a creature means that I cannot move a finger or utter a word apart from God; to be a person means that when my fingers are moved, I move them, and that when words are uttered from my lips, I utter them,” and goes on to say that “denial of either side of this paradox will fail to do justice to the biblical picture.”

Regardless of which road one goes down eventually an impassible fog is reached that is deemed a mystery, the goal therefore may be to state the mystery at the outset.

If the justification of placing the mystery at the point suggested is to be addressed, the nature of the human understanding of the will must be addressed. In order to address the human understanding of the will it is necessary first to address human understanding in itself. It is noted by G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy that “It is always perilous to the mind to reckon up the mind,” and again that “The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything.”

One begins to see an initial problem at the very outset of analyzing the will. This problem is brought up by John Kemeny in stating that humans “are part of the universe about which we make predictions.” Not only is there the problem of the mind attempting to reckon up itself, and the problem of being part of the system which is being analyzed, but there are further problems in the very nature of the analysis.

From what very little may be said of the mind, it may be asserted that it is the nature of the mind in analysis to look for causal connections, indeed, logic and science can operate by no other method – but when this is the method it cannot help but lead to determinism. The idea is put forth by such thinkers as Paul Roubiczek, who states “[Determinism] is the natural outcome of the scientific method; it is bound to work in the direction of establishing causality,” and again that “As the method is designed to disclose necessity, freedom can never be proved in this way.” That is to say, reason and the scientific method must necessarily look for causes, and can only operate in the language of cause and effect, therefore they are incompetent to discuss something that is posited as having no set cause (free will).

Not only can the mind only search for causality, but as David Hunt has noted, we lack “an adequate theory of causation… we don’t really understand what is going on when one thing causes another.” F.H. Jacobi offers the most concise statement, simply that “Every avenue of demonstration ends up in fatalism.” 

However, while thinkers such as Roubiczek appeal to experience to solve the problem that reason cannot solve, Jacobi appeals to revelation, stating: “every proof presupposes something already proven, the principle of which is Revelation.” It is held that the mind is distinctly unqualified for rationalizing the advanced and technical causalities (or lack thereof) of its own nature, because not only does this amount to attempting to measure the system of measuring, but also because the process itself is built on seeking necessity and causality and is therefore supremely ill-equipped for analyzing something deemed contingent.

There is in fact no shortage of precedent for placing these things outside the nature of human reason. The writings of Immanuel Kant provide one sort of justification for this limit to human reason, stating that the conflict of these dogmatic doctrines are such that “no one assertion can establish superiority over another” due to each having “grounds that are just as valid and necessary.” This dynamic is pointed out by Ronald Nash in his book The Word of God and the Mind of Man, stating “[According to Kant] all who attempt to extend reason beyond its limits become involved in absurdities and contradictions and become prone to the disease of skepticism.”

One need not share Kant’s system as a whole to recognize his argument when it comes to the antinomies he presents, one of which is causality versus freedom. H.G. Wells attempted to account for this discrepancy in his essay The Scepticism of the Instrument, by positing that “various terms in our reasoning lie, as it were, at different levels and in different planes.” The comparison made by Wells was one between the world of an atom and the world humans normally experience, where the rules of the different worlds cannot be made to coincide. Here, he said, the instrument – the mind – fails. Yet where Kant posited that the answer cannot be known at all, and Wells explained it through analogy to science, the Christian may take the view that such truths are revelational, and “the revelation of God in Christ would not have been guaranteed to those who followed unless He completed it in an adequate medium of transmission.” Both the Arminian and the Calvinist recognize limits to knowledge when they acknowledge mysteries in their systems, the point here is simply to place the mystery at the beginning rather than within the woodworks of a grand system.

One may turn from looking at the mind of man to looking at divine foreknowledge and the mind of God, yet difficulties will still be found. Just as Chesterton wrote that the mind cannot look at its own light, Cornelius Van Til points out that as one doesn’t use a candle to discover the light of the sun, but the reverse, so “we cannot subject the authoritative pronouncements of Scripture about reality to the scrutiny of reason” for “it is reason itself that learns its proper function from Scripture.” And again, “man’s mind is derivative. As such it is naturally in contact with God’s revelation. It is surrounded by nothing but revelation.”

Divine foreknowledge, therefore, like the nature of the free will, seem outside the scrutiny of reason. Rather, the mind of man must rely on revelation across the board in this area of knowledge – as it is said by Jonathan Edwards “Revelation not only gives us the foundation and first principles of all learning, but it gives us the end.”

It has been posited thus far that the mind is not qualified to analyze itself without falling into contradiction, both because it is its own light and because it is part of the system it is analyzing, as well as the point that the mind in its mechanisms is only capable of searching out causality, which inevitably leads its workings in the direction of determinism.

Furthermore it has been posited that not only can the mind not reckon up itself, but there are also limits or bounds to what it can reckon outside of itself without ending in contradiction. The workings of the divine mind are noted as being one of these areas outside the limits of reason, for just as the mind cannot analyze its own light, neither can it analyze the light that supplies its light.

This leaves the thinker with only revelation to depend on, with experience potentially acting as a route of verification. For Roubiczek, as mentioned above, this is one avenue which is available, fortheories prove to be of no excuse; in spite of them, responsibility remains; we still feel responsible and insist that man ought to feel responsible.” It is this feeling which must be accounted for in his system, and thereby brings him to the notion of free will. The end point of this train of thought is that the thinker is not justified in moving down any of the roads presented to him and is therefore justified in declaring the mystery outright.

With this justification established one other point must be made regarding arguments for and against free will or determinism. When divine foreknowledge is brought into discussion, the first question inevitably tends to be what effect this has on free will, for if God knows what we are going to do, then how can we be free in doing it?

This objection as regards foreknowledge in particular may be met, even if one cannot explain the relationship between sovereignty and freedom or the nature of freedom in and of itself. One way in which this may be accomplished is the route taken by Augustine, stating that “For when He has foreknowledge of our will, it is going to be the will that He has foreknown,” and continuing “Nor can it be a will if it is not in our power. Therefore, God also has knowledge of our power over it.” Thus it might be properly said along with A.W. Pink that “It is persons God is said to ‘foreknow,’ not the actions of those person.” Although he does technically know the actions as well, that is secondary to his knowledge of humans as willed people.

Another way in which this objection might be met is by pointing out the tautology of it. People hear that “what will be will be” and in turn believe that this truism demonstrates some fact or fatalism. As A.J. Ayer points out “It does not follow, however, that the event is necessitated in any but this purely verbal way.” The recognition of this tautology does not prove any real fatalism, for it may be stated just as easily that our actions “too, indeed, are what they are and their consequences will be what they will be.” According to Ayer this sort of ‘fate’ is reduced to the triviality of ‘if a statement is true it is true’.

A truism proves nothing, especially one which may be stated both ways; what will be will be, and our actions will have their effects.

The position presented has no problem dealing with the above objection, nor is it toppled into the same corner as Reformed positions often are of implicating God in evil. To borrow a term from H.G. Wells, on the one plane the position may appeal to the freedom of the will as the source of evil, that is, something within man rather than something distinctly put there by God. On the other plane the position may appeal to the same sort of presupposition that is used by Reformed theologians such as Jonathan Edwards or Gordon Clark.

This sort of apologetic makes the goodness or evilness of an act dependent not upon the cause but upon the nature of the act. Thus Edwards states that “to have a virtuous heart, is to have a heart that favors virtue,” or “that which makes vice hateful, is its hateful nature.” This view is compatible with the view presented, for as was noted towards the beginning, even if man possesses an innate bias towards the things which are evil this does not necessarily suppose that his choices are all determined or causally necessary; he may be freely willing between evil things.

Apart from discussing the acts of men, it also discusses the acts of God. According to Scripture, God cannot sin. This is true on the one hand because the “law that defines sin envisages human conditions and has no relevance to a sovereign Creator” and on the other hand because “whatever God does is just and right. It is just and right simply in virtue of the fact that he does it.” As is echoed in Van Til, “God makes the facts what they are to be.”

Good and evil are defined as what they are in relation to God. There is no standard of good and evil above God, just as there is not scale of being to which God belongs – God is the ultimate. Things are good or evil, sinful or not, because He deems them as such, and being the Creator He has full rights over all of creation to do with as He wills.

Thus we may see many times in Scripture God effectively causing individuals to sin – ie, Exodus 9:12 where he hardens Pharaoh’s heart or Acts 4:27-28 where it is said that Herod and Pilate acted on their own wills but in doing so acted as God’s will had decided beforehand. God’s action in ordaining the actions of people is seen all throughout the Old Testament, such as Deuteronomy 20:4 or Judges 12:3 where it is said that the Lord fights the enemies of his people and gives his people victory. How else could God giving victory work out in practice other than God directly controlling the individuals involved in the battle, either causing his people to fight exceptionally well or the enemy to fight poorly.

God’s will is thus seen as the overarching force throughout the entirety of both the Old and New Testaments, and yet God is not culpable in any sin, for the chief reason that it is God that defines what it is to sin. Yet it is this notion which is so offensive to the unbelieving mind, and thus might be seen as the original sin – that is, man attempting to decide for himself what is good and what is evil; yet that standard is not up to man.

Still, the Reformed apologetic presented here still seems troubled, for if the will of God is compatible with doing anything and everything, then the goodness seems arbitrary – if something is compatible with everything then it lacks distinction. This sort of Reformed apologetic also falls into the hole of affirming that the present state of affairs is the best of all possible worlds, simply on account that it is the way that God made it.

Yet this notion not only fails to do justice to human experience with sin in the world, but it also fails to even account for the biblical datum. It fails to account for the fact that the world is ‘cursed’ in Genesis 3:17, that it is said to be “subjected to futility” in Romans 8:20, or the very fact that Christ needed to be sent; none of this makes any sort of sense if the world has been perfect or the best possible world at any point post-fall. If one looks to Augustine he notes that God has arranged His designs such that “the good will of the Omnipotent might not be made void by the evil will of man, but might be fulfilled in spite of it.” This position clearly acknowledges God’s will being accomplished in spite of the will of man, a state which would not be necessary if the will of man was exactly what God willed it to be.

Placing the mystery between free will and sovereignty provides an explanation other than that the entire drama of human history is nothing more than a marionette show where the puppet-master deems some actions of the marionettes good and others evil – the Reformed apologetic may free God from technically being implicated in evil, but it also reduces the relationship between God and the world to something similar to a child arbitrarily deeming one of his toys the good guy and another the bad guy. It is only if some part is truly played by the humans this problem is avoided.

A final defense for this position – or any position positing an unqualified free will – might be made against the traditional Reformed perspective as seen in Jonathan Edwards that “the will itself is not an agent that has a will; the power of choosing itself has not a power of choosing.” It is held that the individual cannot choose differently than what their will is biased towards, for that would be to will otherwise than one wills, and therefore end in contradiction. Firstly, it must be remembered that the mind cannot reckon up itself, and that it may only work causally, and is therefore inept to discover any contingency in the will to begin with. Secondly, one might also look to the consciousness as a sort of template to work off of. For just as the individual is conscious, so is the individual aware of that consciousness – there is, as it were, a consciousness behind the consciousness. So too, perhaps, might there be a will behind the will. It will be agreed with the Reformers that “people cannot want to want God,” but as has already been discussed the fallen will does not of necessity lack contingency.

It was noted in the introduction that it is not necessary in discussing the matter of God’s foreknowledge to bring election into the matter, for in dealing with God’s foreknowledge versus the freedom of the will one need only account for the initial state of the Garden, in which election was not necessary. It is held that if God’s foreknowledge and sovereignty were compatible with the truly free will of Adam, then it is also compatible with any sort of fallen or pseudo-free will which might be posited to humanity today (that is, a will which is inherently biased away from God); bias towards evil does not negate contingency in and of itself, for it does not of necessity determine how that will is used, only that it is not used for the glory of God.

It is with this view of the will in mind that the discussion may be turned towards matters of election and the practicalities of the view being held, for even if for theoretical purposes the discussion need only deal with the fall, for practical purposes it must move beyond that in order to bring relevance to the everyday life of the Christian.

As regards the salvation of men, the typical Reformed perspective is maintained. As it is stated by A.W. Pink, God “‘foreknows’ because He has elected.” Or as it is stated by the Westminster Divines “Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners… not for anything wrought in them, or done by them.” Or most pointedly, as it is put by Paul in Romans 9:16: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” This is compatible with a will which is biased-but-contingent, for all that is maintained is that the fallen will cannot work for the glory of God unless God renews that will to a place where it is biased but contingent towards the things of God rather than away from; thus, the will is seen as freely determining between the things of God rather than mechanically responding to individual impulses as they are supplies by God.

Perhaps the most practical aspect of this position as it relates to the average believer is that it is free to give the believer the assurance that “all things work together for good to those who love God” and it might be said along with Augustine that God’s will shall be accomplished in spite of humanity, rather than that God’s will shall be fulfilled because he is the cause of all that is perceived as being wrong with the world but on the grand and secret scale isn’t ultimately wrong because it’s the way God planned it.

Furthermore, this position does not ask the believer to seek out one certain ‘will of God’ for their lives or force them to wonder whether any one action (assuming the action isn’t sinful) is in line with the specific will of God; rather than seek out some specific will, it simply asks that the believer to do whatever they do for the glory of God. Thus when the believer pursues a certain course of action and that course of action turns out badly, they may not accuse God of having led them poorly, or be accused of having discerned God’s will poorly, for on this position the will of God for man is general rather than specific. Man may still make mistakes while being within the will of God, for it is not necessarily a specific course of actions that is being called for, but only a heart that glorifies God in whatever it does.

This means that it is not as cut and dry as ‘God called me to do this or He did not’. God calls us to glorify him, the manner of which is left primarily up to man. Were the calling of the ministry as cut and dry as ‘God called me to do this specific thing’ then statements such as James’ warning about becoming teachers would be to no point, for then James would be warning them to consider whether or not to follow the will of God – but surely the will of God should be followed without question were it so specific. It is therefore maintained that people are within the will of God so long as they are doing whatever they do for the glory of God, but sinful humanity being what it is, even if one is within the general will of God the endeavor may be prone to setbacks; though with Augustine, God will work in spite of humanity.

Although there are many different perspectives on the doctrine of divine foreknowledge and how it relates to humanity, none manage to account for all the facts and each must appeal to some sort of mystery. The position has been maintained that one is justified in declaring this mystery at the outset, rather than following the thought of any particular view only to push the mystery deeper into the folds of the system.

This has been shown by analyzing the limits and inadequacies of the human mind, both in reckoning up itself and in reckoning up the things of God, and its distinct inability to seek out something contingent. It has been shown that this position is not without adherents; bits of it can be found in Chesterton, Hoekema and Augustine.

It has finally been shown its ability to meet the common objections to the doctrine of foreknowledge as well as those of fatalism, and also to be practically applicable for the believer in that it does not back them into the corner of concluding that regardless of the state of the world that this is the best possible world and allows them to avoid the pitfalls of trying to discern some specific will for their life apart from simply glorifying God, which as the Westminster Divines state “is the chief and highest end of man.”

That a strict system is not arrived at should not discourage the believer. Individuals naturally desire to reduce mystery to a system, for systems give them control whereas mysteries force them to trust – as Dr. Larry Crabb notes, with a system “we’re in danger of placing more faith in a manageable plan with predictable results than in God.” It is again with this in mind that is asserted that one might simply declare the mystery at the outset. This is not to say that no area of theology can be explored, that no answers or truths can be attained; truths are posited: the truth that God knows the future exhaustively, that he is completely sovereign, but also that man is fallen but free – not free to love God unless God renews him, but free from necessity, contingently free to choose either how to sin or how to glorify God. This freedom must be taken as a first principle or not at all, and it is held that objections against it as a first principle fail to deliver for the reasons stated above – that is, simply, the mind is insufficient to make the judgment against free will, but experience asserts its presence in spite of all ‘rationality’.