Walter Marshall: Reconciliaton

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In my continuation of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, I look at his chapter on reconciliation and the role it plays in sanctification.

Direction Two: Several endowments and qualifications are necessary to enable us for the immediate practice of the law. Particularly we must have an inclination and propensity of our hearts thereunto; and therefore we must be well persuaded of our reconciliation with God, and of our future enjoyment of the everlasting heavenly happenings, and of sufficient strength both to will and perform all duties acceptably, until we come to the enjoyment of that happiness.

Reconciliation is an often floated word, but seemingly without real understanding of its significance and implications. Simply defined, reconciliation is the bringing together of two or more parties. The idea is that some sort of disunity has taken root and reconciliation is needed for relational restoration.

Reconciliation can be either superficial or profound. If reconciliation is merely saying sorry and no further, then it is incredibly superficial and its lasting effect will be very short lived. If, on the other hand, reconciliation is profound, then it is filled with prayer, confession, repentance, forgiveness, sorrow and pardon for sin, assurance of faith, and complete restoration because it rests upon the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. This kind of reconciliation, which is the heart of the gospel, is eternal.

Augustine believed that reconciliation is impossible if one continues to defend their own sins. Calvin believed reconciliation to be the sum of the gospel message (2 Cor. 5:18-21) and without end.

Moreover, the message of free reconciliation with God is not promulgated for one or two days, but is declared to be perpetual in the Church, (2Co 5: 18, 19). Hence believers have not even to the end of life any other righteousness than that which is there described. Christ ever remains a Mediator to reconcile the Father to us, and there is a perpetual efficacy in his death, viz., ablution, satisfaction, expiation; in short, perfect obedience, by which all our iniquities are covered. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul says not that the beginning of salvation is of grace, but “by grace are ye saved,” “not of works, lest any man should boast,” (Eph 2: 8, 9). – John Calvin, Institutes

Furthermore, we can be assured that the reconciliation we have to God by virtue of Christ’s saving work is quite profound. How do we know this? Reconciliation in Christ allows those who were once God’s enemies (Rom. 5:10) to be adopted into his family (Rom. 8:14), given his inheritance (Rom. 8:17), granted a room in his dwelling place (John 14:2), a seat at his table (Luke 14:1-24), and called by his name (2 Chron. 7:14). This is how we know that the reconciliation Christ affords is deeply and eternally profound.

This kind of profound reconciliation affects man’s entire being. Marshall writes,

God restores His people to holiness, by giving to them ‘a new heart, and a new spirit, and taking away the heart of stone out of their flesh’ (Ezek. 36:26-27); and He circumcises their hearts to love Him with their whole heart and soul.

Justification in Christ leads to complete transformation of heart and spirit. Reconciliation and justification are intimately related, which is why Marshall seeks to impress upon his readers the importance of unfettered security in the gospel.

The second endowment necessary to enable us for the immediate practice of holiness…is that we be well persuaded of our reconciliation with God. We must reckon that the breach of amity, which sin has made between God and us, is made up by a firm reconciliation to His love and favour. And in this I include the great benefit of justification, as the means by which we are reconciled to God, which is described in Scripture, either by forgiving our sins, or by the imputation of righteousness to us (Rom. 4:5-7)…

The amazing and loving reconciliation we have to God through Christ is founded upon God’s love first granted to us. Only then can we be free to love God.

Observe here that we cannot be beforehand with God in loving Him, before we apprehend His love to us.

I love Marshall’s treatment of the doctrine of reconciliation in this chapter. He provides a much needed depth to reconciliation, which is founded on the atoning work of the Savior.

In his next chapter, Marshall addresses fullness and fellowship with Christ.

Walter Marshall: The Law and Sanctification

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Walter Marshall opens his treatment of the doctrine of sanctification in his book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, with this direction:

That we may acceptably perform the duties of holiness and righteousness required in the law, our first work is to learn the powerful and effectual means by which we may attain to so great an end.

Our holiness begins with God’s holiness. God’s holiness is the standard, but to begin the process of holiness one must understand the demands of the Law. But Marshall cautions that understanding the demands of the Law is not to believe that we have any natural ability to satisfy those demands. Marshall writes,

This is an advertisement very needful; because many are apt to skip over the lesson concerning the means as superfluous and useless. When once they know the nature and excellencies of the duties of the law, they account nothing wanting but diligent performances; and they rush blindly on immediate practice, making more haste than good speed.

Marshall teaches that no one has the ability or strength to do what the Law demands. To speak about God’s holiness is to also speak about God’s justice and power. The Law accentuates God’s complete authority and power, and as such shows our dependency upon the Word. For Marshall, sanctification is inseparable from the Word.

The way of attaining to godliness is so far from being known without learning out of the Holy Scriptures that, when it is here plainly revealed, we cannot learn it so easily as the duties of the law, which was known in part by the light of nature, and therefore the more easily assented to.

Marshall’s foundation for understanding sanctification is the Word. The Law establishes God’s high demands and man’s utter inability to satisfy those demands.

In my next post we will see how Marshall connects reconciliation with God to sanctification.

The Brilliance of Walter Marshall

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A number of months ago I sought the advice of a seminary professor in order to gain deeper knowledge on the doctrine of sanctification. His recommendation was to read The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by Walter Marshall (1628-1680).

Marshall’s work is quite excellent at systematically showing how sanctification is inseparable from the person and work of Christ. For example, Marshall writes, “Beware also of trusting on faith itself, as a work of righteousness, instead of trusting on Christ by faith.” This quote, as simple as it is, is a great example of how he applies every nuance of sanctification back to Christ.

My plan is to devote subsequent posts to the further expounding of Marshall’s thoughts. I found this book to be quite refreshing and a worthy recommendation. If you’re interested in increasing your understanding of sanctification, then this book is for you.

Reformed University Fellowship: Faithful to the Kingdom

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We are the Church going to the campus with the message of Jesus Christ. As a ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America, RUF holds to the convictions of historic Christianity which motivate our hearts for God and love for the university. These convictions include the need for new life in Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, and the mission of the Church to reach and equip all people with the message of the gospel.

– RUF Mission Statement

 This past week I had the honor and privilege of attending the Florida Statewide RUF meeting in Orlando, Florida. The opportunity to hear testimonies by our campus ministers concerning the work of the gospel was both encouraging and inspiring. One pastor after another shared stories of God’s grace and provision, ministry challenges and triumphs, and faithful family support. I was so glad to spend the day with these men and pray for them as they serve our university campuses.

I really believe that RUF has its sights set on the most unnoticed mission field: the university campus. Needless to say, our RUF pastors and interns need our support if they are to continue the good work God has given them.

  1. Prayer.

RUF pastors are really local missionaries. Their mission to reach college students with the gospel must be supported by consistent prayer in our churches. Pastors should regularly lead their congregations in prayer for RUF. Some churches utilize teams that pray for the needs in a church. Perhaps including our RUF pastors on these prayer lists would be a good thing. And pray not only for our pastors, but also for their families, interns, the students under their care, and those students who have yet to connect. Pray for college administration and faculty that is supportive of such ministry.

2. Financial support.

Just like overseas missionaries, RUF pastors must raise financial support. They are supported, in part, by their Presbytery, but that’s a small fraction of what is required. Typically, the largest percentage of financial support comes from individual donors. Churches, particularly those in the PCA, should have a vested interest in RUF. In fact, I think every PCA church should extend some financial assistance above and beyond what the Presbytery grants.

3. Relationship with the local church.

RUF pastors are ordained teaching elders who have been examined and approved by their Presbytery to preach in our churches. Inviting an RUF pastor to provide a testimony is great, but inviting them to preach is even better. A thirty minute sermon provides far more opportunity to share what God is doing than a five minute testimony.

Likewise, many RUF pastors provide weekly lunches or dinners for their students. Churches can foster relationship by providing (and serving) these meals. Students love to see the local church take genuine interest in them.

It is also vital that the church youth pastor and RUF campus minister develop a relationship. This would ease transition for a graduating high school senior into RUF life.

4. RUF growth.

As great as it is to see RUF’s ministry on university campuses in Florida, some campuses remain untouched. There is a need to increase RUF throughout the country. Please pray that God would provide the means for RUF to further grow throughout the United States, and perhaps even to college campuses abroad. I guess in some respects I’m praying for an RUF movement in our midst.

A Distinction Worth Recognizing

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“…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” – Romans 1:25

I was driving recently, turned on the radio, and heard a song by Coldplay entitled, “Beautiful World”. There isn’t much to the song lyrically. The chorus is simply,

And we live in a beautiful world (yeah we do yeah we do)
We live in a beautiful world.

Not to theologize Coldplay, and depending upon the perspective from which you consider “the world,” it’s true, we do live in a beautiful world – at least from a creation standpoint. A drive along the Amalfi coast in Italy, a walk on the beaches of the Carribean, or an extended gaze across the Grand Canyon and it’s easy to see that we do live in a beautifully created world. Creation is stunning and evokes awe and wonder. We can feel refreshed and even inspired by creation. When we stand still in the darkness of a star-filled night and look up, we can come to the realization that we are very small in contrast to the vastness of the universe.

But as much as creation can evoke awe and wonder, it contains no divinely redemptive qualities. It offers no spirit to give us meaning and purpose. It is entirely non-salvific. It pursues no relationship and contains no authority. It possesses no convictions or knowledge. Creation, according to scripture, is God’s handiwork (Psalm 8:3, 19:1, 90:2). Scripture instructs us not to worship the sun, moon, and stars, but instead to worship the Creator who fashioned the universe (Deuteronomy 4:19). So, there is a distinction between the Creator and creation, and the two should not be confused.

This distinction is not new to Christian thought. Richard Pratt, John Frame, Cornelius Van Til, and Herman Bavinck are just a few of the many Christian thinkers who have appealed to this biblical distinction in their writings. The Creator-creature distinction is, to quote Richard Pratt, basically this, “On the one hand there is the One who created, and on the other hand, there is that which he created.” It’s really that simple. God is the Creator and everything else is his creation.

If the distinction that God is the Creator and everything else is the creation is confused, then it leads to pantheism (as well as deism and panentheism, but that’s for another time). Pantheism is the view that the world is God and God is the world. So, the world is divine, perhaps with a lower degree of divinity, but divine nonetheless. The problem is that isn’t a biblical teaching. Scripture doesn’t teach degrees of divinity. Instead, it teaches that God is divine and creation is non-divine.

So, as far as Christian thought and apologetics is concerned, creation should be enjoyed and protected, but never worshiped. Instead, all praise, honor and glory should be given to God for gracing us with this beautifully created world.

Ludwig Feuerbach’s, Das Wesen des Christentums (1841)

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I recently read Ludwig Feuerbach’s Das Wesen des Christentums, translated as The Essence of Christianity. He was not completely unknown to me as I have read portions of his works in the past. Feuerbach, who was influenced by Hegel (though I wouldn’t classify his philosophy as Hegelian by any means) espouses a negative view of Christianity which is why, in part, I was so fascinated to read this work. When one like Feuerbach, who is noted for his opposition to Christianity, writes on its essence I am immediately intrigued to see how he wages his case.

The Essence of Christianity, which is arguably his greatest work, is divided into two sections: first, The True or Anthropological Essence of Religion, and second, The False or Theological Essence of Religion. Following these two main chapters is an appendix with further thoughts on a variety topics. I will not be able to address everything Feuerbach writes, but there are some main points to his philosophy worth noting.

  1. Man has made God in his own image.

According to Feuerbach, God is not real but a concept created in man’s image and possesses all the best traits innate to humanity. For example, if traits like love, honesty, integrity, wisdom and so forth are innately human characteristics, then we naturally want to create a God that has all of those traits as well. So, God is really no more than a reflection of us.

Feuerbach writes,

You believe in love as a divine attribute because you yourself love, and believe that God is a wise and benevolent being because you know nothing better in yourself than wisdom and benevolence. You believe that God exists, that therefore he is a subject or an essence – whatever exists is also an essence, whether it is defined as a substance, a person, or in any other way – because you yourself exist, are yourself an essence. You know no higher human good than to love, to be wise and good. Equally, you know no other happiness than to exist, to be a being, for your consciousness of good and happiness derives itself from your consciousness of being and existing yourself. God to you exists, is a being for the same reason that he is to you a wise, blissful, and benevolent being.

So, for Feuerbach, man is the starting point. Notice that the ground for justifying his points is the person (you believe in ______ because you yourself are ______). He uses this kind of argumentation throughout his book, but it’s tremendously weak. Just because there may be some commonality in attributes between God and man doesn’t disprove God’s existence. Likewise, there are human characteristics that are not so virtuous that God neither possesses nor delights in.

There’s no doubt that the Bible teaches that God created man in his image. The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes this image as “knowledge, righteousness and holiness,” but we don’t possess those the same way God does. God’s attributes are completely sinless and pure, while ours is affected by sin. We also know that God possesses both incommunicable attributes (omniscience, omnipresence, aseity, etc.) and communicable attributes (love, jealousy, anger, etc.). But none of those attributes are applied to humanity in a manner that would make us God.

2. Essence and knowledge are related.

Feuerbach struggles with the concept of total depravity and how that relates to knowledge of the holy. He finds it irrational that we would be called to know holiness apart from being innately holy ourselves.

Feuerbach articulates it in this manner,

Religion further denies goodness as a quality of man’s being; man is wicked, corrupt, and incapable of good; but, in contrast, God is only good – the good being. It is demanded of man to conceive the good as God, but does this not make goodness an essential determination of man? If I am absolutely, i.e., by nature wicked and unholy, how can holiness and goodness be the objects of my thought – no matter whether these objects are given to me internally or externally? If my heart is wicked, my understanding corrupt, how can I perceive and feel the holy to be holy, the good to be good?

When I read this I was reminded of the apostle Paul’s statement in Romans 7:8, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” This text states that though there is nothing good in us, there is the capacity to desire to do what is right. In order for Feuerbach to understand how this coalesces there must be clarity concerning sin (particularly concerning its guilt and pollution), the work of the Holy Spirit, and how God’s law is already imprinted on our heart (Romans 1:18-20).

But to return to Feuerbach’s assertion for a moment that one cannot be expected to know holiness and be incapable of good, again, that doesn’t disprove God’s existence. There are many unfathomable truths in Scripture, but that doesn’t make them any less true. God’s existence is not dependent upon our comprehension.

3. Feuerbach’s case for Atheism.

As I have already stated, Feuerbach is an atheist. It seems that what drives his atheism is simply empirical evidence. An atheist might say, “Show me tangible evidence that God exists and I will believe.” But, as with the other points, there are weaknesses in this argument.

Feuerbach writes,

The existence of God must therefore be in space – in general, a qualitative, sensational existence. But God is not seen, not heard, not perceived by the senses. He does not exist for me, if I do not exist for him; if I do not believe in a God, there is no God for me. If I am not devoutly disposed, if I do not raise myself above the life of the senses, he has no place in my consciousness. Thus he exists only in so far as he is felt, thought, believed in; – the addition “for me” is unnecessary. His existence therefore is a real one, yet at the same time not a real one; – a spiritual existence, says the theologian. But spiritual existence is only an existence in thought, in feeling, in belief; so that his existence is a medium between sensational existence and conceptional existence, a medium full of contradiction. Or: he is a sensational existence, to which however all the conditions of sensational existence are wanting: – consequently an existence at once sensational and not sensational, an existence which contradicts the idea of the sensational, or only a vague existence in general, which is fundamentally a sensational one, but which, in order that this may not become evident, is divested of all the predicates of a real, sensational existence. But such an “existence in general” is self-contradictory. To existence belongs full, definite reality.

A necessary consequence of this contradiction is Atheism. The existence of God is essentially an empirical existence, without having its distinctive marks; it is in itself a matter of experience, and yet in reality no object of experience. It calls upon man to seek it in Reality: it impregnates his mind with sensational conceptions and pretensions; hence, when these are not fulfilled – when, on the contrary, he finds experience in contradiction with these conceptions, he is perfectly justified in denying that existence.

Feuerbach states his position very clearly. There is no need for me to further expound on his atheistic view. So, instead I will proceed to explain, with as much succinctness as possible, why his argument (like the others already mentioned) is extremely weak.

First, the theism/atheism discussion is much more than about one issue: whether or not God exists. There are many sub-issues that need to be explored, addressed and considered. This issue is far more profound than simply God’s empirical existence. As a theist, I believe that the Bible teaches there is a start point and an end point to this discussion.

My starting point comes from Colossians 1:15-17,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

My end point, or conclusion, comes from 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 (cf. Psalm 14:1),

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Now, to go from the starting point to the conclusion a series of small steps, or sub-discussions, must take place. The goal for the theist is to present that everything the Bible says about God is true. That is far greater than an empirical argument – that is a transcendental argument. To say it another way, the goal is not merely to show God’s existence but to show he is the source of all meaning.

Second, Feuerbach presupposes God’s existence. When Feuerbach writes, “He does not exist for me, if I do not exist for him; if I do not believe in a God, there is no God for me,” even that does not disprove God’s existence. So, if there is no God for Feuerbach does that mean that God may still be possible for others? Is Feuerbach speaking only for himself? Regardless of the answer to that, the fact remains that Feuerbach presupposes the existence of God in his refutation.

4. Contradiction in the Trinity.

Given what has already been explored in Feuerbach’s thought, it is no wonder that his view concerning the Trinity is simply wrong.

Feuerbach writes,

RELIGION gives reality or objectivity not only to the human or divine nature in general as a personal being; it further gives reality to the fundamental determinations or fundamental distinctions of that nature as persons. The Trinity is therefore originally nothing else than the sum of the essential fundamental distinctions which man perceives in the human nature. According as the mode of conceiving this nature varies, so also the fundamental determinations on which the Trinity is founded vary. But these distinctions, perceived in one and the same human nature, are hypostasised as substances, as divine persons. And herein, namely, that these different determinations are in God, hypostases, subjects, is supposed to lie the distinction between these determinations as they are in God, and as they exist in man, – in accordance with the law already enunciated, that only in the idea of personality does the human personality transfer and make objective its own qualities. But the personality exists only in the imagination – the fundamental determinations are therefore only for the imagination hypostases, persons; for reason, for thought, they are mere relations or determinations. The idea of the Trinity contains in itself the contradiction of polytheism and monotheism, of imagination and reason, of fiction and reality. Imagination gives the Trinity, reason the Unity of the parsons. According to reason, the things distinguished are only distinctions according to imagination, the distinctions are things distinguished, which therefore do away with the unity of the divine being. To the reason, the divine persons are phantoms, to the imagination realities. The idea of the Trinity demands that man should think the opposite of what he imagines, and imagine the opposite of what he thinks, – that he should think phantoms realities.

Feuerbach views the Trinity as a contradiction, even stating that it is both polytheistic (which it is not) and monotheistic. So, the essential characteristics of the Trinity, according to Feuerbach, are transfers of human personality. The persons of the Trinity are the sum of what is perceived in human nature.

Of course, none of what Feuerbach writes has any Scriptural justification. He dives into this discussion of theism and attempts to do so using a non-theistic epistemology. The persons of the Trinity are not parts of God. Jesus is not half-man, half-God. The substance of the Trinity is not founded upon human rationality, imagination, personality or anything else Feuerbach posits.

5. Contradiction in the Sacraments.

Feuerbach makes the assertion that the Sacraments lead to superstition and immorality. He writes,

But though the Lord’s Supper, or a sacrament in general, is nothing without a certain state of mind, without faith, nevertheless religion presents the sacrament at the same time as something in itself real, external, distinct from the human being, so that in the religious consciousness the true thing, which is faith, is made only a collateral thing, a condition, and the imaginary thing becomes the principal thing. And the necessary, immanent consequences and effects of this religious materialism, of this subordination of the human to the supposed divine, of the subjective to the supposed objective, of truth to imagination, of morality to religion, – the necessary consequences are superstition and immorality: superstition, because a thing has attributed to it an effect which does not lie in its nature, because a thing is held up as not being what it in truth is, because a mere conception passes for objective reality; immorality, because necessarily, in feeling, the holiness of the action as such is separated from morality, the partaking of the sacrament, even apart from the state of mind, becomes a holy and saving act.

So, according to Feuerbach, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in his body and blood he was leading others to both superstition and immorality. It is superstitious because, if I understand Feuerbach correctly, bread and wine do not contain the effects of the gospel (I am being simplistic here), and it is immoral because it leads to a false sense of holiness.

Undergirding all of Feuerbach’s points, and this one is no different from the others, is the notion that divine authoritarianism ultimately injures our freedom of thought. In order to maintain freedom from such authoritarianism, Feuerbach resorts to self-extrapolation as a means of refuting God’s existence. And such a course is neither wise nor intelligent.

Confession, Clarity, and Challenge

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(c) Palace of Westminster; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Palace of Westminster; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Assertion of Liberty of Conscience By the Independents at the Westminster Assembly of Divines. Painted by John Rogers Herbert, R.A. (1810-1890)

Comprehending Scripture can be challenging. There are scores of books, hundreds of chapters and thousands of verses in the Bible. Inevitably, within its pages, there will arise certain texts, particularly at first glance, that are perplexing, or even seemingly contradictory, and will leave us unsure how to think of it. This happens to all who read Scripture, from the most notable theologian to the newest believer. The Westminster Confession of Faith makes this consoling admission the following way:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. – Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7

The authors of the Confession acknowledge that some texts are difficult to understand and this has Biblical support. Peter writes,

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. – 2 Peter 3:15-16

So, even Peter admits that some of what Paul writes is difficult. This shouldn’t dissuade us from being faithful students of Scripture. Some Christians understand Scripture better than others. We know that God gives people certain gifts and abilities, but not every Christian is called to be a teacher (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Having said that, after the Confession acknowledges that certain texts are difficult to understand there is a keen reminder: Scripture is the best and only interpreter of Scripture. When we come across a text that is difficult to understand, the best source to find that understanding is somewhere else in Scripture. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek the guidance of well-read believers, theologians and commentaries for they should point us to other places in Scripture.

In addition to this, there are many places in Scripture that clearly state what is necessary to be known for salvation. We should not think that the gospel cannot be clearly known through Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16).

This is great news for those who affirm both that Scripture is God-breathed and its authority, necessity, sufficiency and perspicuity. But what about those who deny such attributes? Is it possible to repudiate, say, Scripture’s inerrancy and do as the Confession says, let Scripture interpret Scripture? No, because if Scripture is not propositionally true then there is nowhere else to go in Scripture for interpretation.

John Frame writes the following in his Systematic Theology,

The importance of propositional truth in Scripture cannot be denied. Since its seventeenth-century beginnings, liberal theology has denied the possibility of “propositional revelation,” revelation in which God reveals words and sentences that agree with reality. The older liberalism (through the time of Wilhelm Herrmann and Adolf von Harnack) simply denied the divine authority of Scripture, treating the Bible as a collection of merely human religious writings. Thus, these thinkers were able to maintain the autonomy of their own thought, denying the need to place their scholarship under the authority of God’s Word. The neoorthodoxy of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner said much about the authority of the Word, but they conceived of God’s Word as a kind of gracious divine power that did not convey any propositional truth. So the neoorthodox, like the older liberals, justified autonomous human thought and acknowledged the freedom of Bible critics from any divine constraints.

But clearly in the Bible God reveals himself not only through personal confrontations and events in history, but also through words, which he speaks directly to his people (Ex. 20:1–17; Deut. 4:12; Matt. 3:17; 17:5) and through prophets who bear his full authority (Deut. 18:17–22;782 Jer. 1:10–12; John 16:13; 1 Cor. 14:37). [H]e also provides written words given by the Spirit. These words are among those that have the quality of divine truth. Is the Bible inerrant, then? Certainly, if inerrant means “true” in the propositional sense.

So, the dilemma for liberal theologians is multi-faceted. If Scripture is errant then it can never be used to make an appeal for anything. How will we know whether the Scripture in question is propositionally true or not? What portions of the Bible are errant? Should we trust Moses but not Paul? Can we trust the major prophets but not the minor prophets? Or perhaps we can trust Romans up to the eighth chapter but nothing beyond that?

Furthermore, if the Bible is errant then how can Jesus be quoted for anything? Scripture says that Jesus is the Word in the flesh (John 1:14), but maybe not. Perhaps that’s a part of the errant section of Scripture. Jesus said that the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), but maybe not. So, liberal theology cannot logically say that Scripture contains propositional errors and contradictions and then make appeals to it. It’s a fallacy. It’s inconsistent.

This is why there must be unwavering commitment to Scripture’s inerrancy, infallibility and inspiration. And not only should there be such commitment, but there should also be clarity as to what each of those attributes means.

A Compelling Vision for The Great Commission

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Pictured: Femø Kirke; Femø, Lolland, Denmark

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:16-20 ESV

Never has Christianity had, nor will there ever be, a visionary like Jesus. Perhaps pastors and theologians like to think of themselves as visionaries, but the truth is even on our best day we pale in comparison to the Christ. When we return to the Scriptures we glean afresh the Savior’s heart and vision for the gospel’s advancement. Thus, it gives us energy and impassions us to unashamedly spread the gospel by commending Jesus as the only answer for life everlasting.

Reading Matthew 28:16-20 in context we see something very important that I think should fuel our understanding of the Great Commission. Jesus is speaking to the eleven disciples from Galilee (v.16). At first glance it may seem like verse 16 is merely setting the stage for verse 18, but I don’t think verse 16 should be treated so casually. Here’s why:

First, Jesus calls the eleven together (Matthias has not yet replaced Judas). These disciples spent the last three years with Jesus hearing his sermons, receiving his teaching, witnessing his miracles, and preparing to be the first missionaries. What were some of the things Jesus taught his disciples?

  1. To deny self and to follow Jesus with singular loyalty.
  2. To hate sin and love holiness.
  3. To love the lost and the nations and to have a passion for evangelism.
  4. To “adorn” Christ’s gospel with good deeds of love, justice, and mercy.
  5. To live by faith in Christ and the gospel.
  6. To rejoice that Christ gives new life.
  7. To love and serve one another for in this people will know they are Christ’s disciples.
  8. To hope in Christ for future glory and grace.

Now the disciples’ task is to make disciples of the other nations (v.19). In other words, Jesus is telling his disciples to replicate the teaching they received and teach it to others. This is how disciples (which means learners) are multiplied. But, as with the original disciples, this is not a quick endeavor. Making disciples takes years. This isn’t something that happens in a few short weeks. This is why it is critical to be patient with our missionaries today. If they are making disciples, then we cannot expect this work to be quick. So missions is primarily a disciple-making endeavor, and as such it requires patience and prayer. Jesus says, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (v.20) That takes time.

Second, Jesus is speaking to them in Galilee which is situated in northern Israel and where he lived most of his life. Why is this significant? According to John 1:29-42, Jesus ministered in Jerusalem and Judea after his baptism. Upon hearing of John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus then returns to Galilee to enter a new phase of ministry (Matthew 4:12). When Jesus returns to Galilee he settles in the small fishing village of Capernaum. This was to fulfill a prophecy that though God raised up the Assyrians to overtake the Northern Kingdom, a “Son of David” would restore the nation and deliver the people (Isaiah 9:1-7; cf. Matthew 4:13-16). The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the redeemer and deliverer, would originate from the very place God had promised. This means that as we consider the purpose of the Great Commission, which is to make disciples, we should also consider the source which is Jesus himself – the Son of David. So, when Jesus says, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (v.18) it means that only Jesus could command us to offer eternal life in his name.

But this has one further important implication, particularly for us today. We are the other nations. Typically, when we think of missions we think of going to other countries. What we rarely do is think of our country as the other nations where the gospel must continue to go forth and be cultivated. Let me offer a quick disclaimer: I am NOT saying that we should not send missionaries to other countries. Although the Great Commission is a specific call to Jesus’ eleven disciples, I also believe that this is a general call for all believers. However, if we are intent on reaching the nations and neglect our own, then we have a short-sighted view of what the commission involves. Likewise, at least in my community, I have the nations just outside my doorstep. Within a quarter mile of my home there are people of various nationalities. Is it possible for you to be a missionary in your community or is that title reserved only for those who travel overseas? I think a hometown missionary is just as vital to the advancement of the gospel as those who receive the call to move thousands of miles away. Unless you live in Galilee (which needs missionaries as well), you are part of the other nations.

This is why I think Jesus has such a remarkable and compelling understanding of the advancement of the gospel. It’s his world. He created it. Our calling as his disciples is to commend Jesus through the gospel and be willing to take the time to patiently disciple others. Soli Deo Gloria.

Kierkegaard’s Practice in Christianity: No. III

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As I culminate my book study of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard’s Practice in Christianity, I have grown to really appreciate his philosophy. That is not to say I agree with him at every point, or that I concur with all of his theological conclusions. However, woven into his philosophy are personal conflicts he was experiencing and that adds intrigue to his writing. It is apparent from the opening pages that Kierkegaard’s mission is to offend complacent Christians who have been drawn into spiritual deadness by the Lutheran Church in Denmark. The question Kierkegaard is asking is: How does genuine, earnest faith in Christ take root and grow when church appears to be saturated in dead formalism?

The question is an interesting one. Recall from previous posts that the Danish Lutheran Church was spiritually corrupt and that was added to the fact that Hegel’s philosophy (all reality is thought or mind) was influencing Danish culture. Kierkegaard, frustrated with both Hegel and the Church, sought to show that though true doctrine is taught, there must also be teaching on choosing what is good. So, Kierkegaard sets out to speak to both issues while also commending Christ. The method Kierkegaard uses to achieve this is quite unique.

John Frame writes,

Kierkegaard’s thought is very different from anything that has come before. He does not line up philosophical treatises on the traditional topics of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, nor does he present systematic views on theological matters such as divine attributes, the Trinity, Christ, atonement, and the sacraments. Rather, he meditates on dread, anxiety, despair, choice, decision, stages of life, communication, and many other subjects that have become part of philosophy in later eras. These have implications both for philosophy and for theology, but those implications have to be teased out from between the lines of Kierkegaard’s writing, rather than read off the surface of it. – A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, p. 313

Kierkegaard’s philosophy is so tied to the issues, both personal and social, he was battling. In some ways, Kierkegaard reminds me of Friedrich Nietzsche. Both were extreme nominalists and both had grave concerns with traditional religion, but their conclusions were polar opposites. Whereas Nietzsche proclaimed God was dead and asserted the ludicrousness of man’s quest for the meaning of life, Kierkegaard held no such view. Kierkegaard believed deeply in the person and work of Christ and Scriptural integrity.

Kierkegaard writes,

Lord Jesus Christ, there is so much to draw us back: empty achievements, meaningless pleasures, unworthy concerns. There is so much to scare us back: a pride that is too cowardly to let itself be helped, a cowardly timidity that shirks to its own ruin, an anxiety of sin that shuns the purity of holiness as illness shuns the remedy. But you are still the strongest – so draw us, and even more strongly, to yourself. We call you our Savior and Redeemer, and you came to earth in order to free us from the chains in which we were bound or in which we had bound ourselves and in order to rescue the redeemed. This was your task, which you have completed and which you will complete until the end of time, for just as you yourself have said it, so will you do it: lifted up from the earth, you will draw all to yourself. – Practice in Christianity p.151

And this was Kierkegaard’s mission: to find genuine faith and growth in the Gospel in the midst of stale religiosity. I do not think that Kierkegaard was anti-church, but what he was longing for was a church that would be so much more for those whom Christ had drawn to himself. He loathed the routine of the religious life as dictated by the church and wanted to replace it with real substance and growth in grace.

Kierkegaard is a challenging, yet enjoyable read. This will not be the last of his works on my reading list.

Is The Bible Reliable?

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I have been invited to speak to a group of Reformed University Fellowship students at the University of North Florida on the topic: Is The Bible Reliable? This post will present a portion of my talk on this subject which is influenced greatly by John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Word of God and Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited.

I don’t think the students are asking can we trust how the Bible contains sixty-six books (canonical) or can we trust the translations we have (hermeneutical), but instead, “how can I trust that what the Bible says is true and trust it with my life?” This, in my mind, is a theological question that ultimately leads to further questions of sanctification. Granted, these questions are related to each other, but I think the essence of the question is one of trustworthiness of Scripture as it is applied to life.

The other component to this question, I believe, has to do with exclusivity in an age where relativism rules. The question two or three decades ago centered more on what is truth and how can I know it? Today the question is more centered on what right does one have to claim that their truth is supreme over someone else’s truth? And it is this thought that leads us toward “truth is whatever it means to you.” This is undoubtedly part of today’s culture, but the defense of Scripture’s trustworthiness is not compromised in the least.

Scripture is self-authenticating. That sounds circular in its reasoning, but that is common when foundational authorities are authenticated. For example, when the Lord says in Genesis 22:16, “I swear by myself,” it indicates that the Lord cannot swear by any higher being. The promise he makes he authenticates by himself. Likewise, Scripture has similar characteristics. Frame writes the following,

The main difference between this book and other books on the doctrines of revelation and Scripture is that I am trying here, above all else, to be ruthlessly consistent with Scripture’s own view of itself. In that regard, I’m interested in not only defending what Scripture says about Scripture, but defending it by means of the Bible’s own worldview, its own epistemology, and its own values. That there is a circularity here I do not doubt. I am defending the Bible by the Bible. Circularity of a kind is unavoidable when one seeks to defend an ultimate standard of truth, for one’s defense must itself be accountable to that standard. Of course, I will not hesitate to bring extra-biblical considerations to bear on the argument when such considerations are acceptable within a biblical epistemology. But ultimately I trust the Holy Spirit to bring persuasion to the readers of this book. God’s communication with human beings, we will see, is supernatural all the way through. – The Doctrine of the Word of God p.7

So, Frame believes that the Bible must be defended by the Bible. The other critical point to remember is the role of the Holy Spirit. Some people read Scripture as a collection of fables and others read it as the inspired Word of God. How do these differences exist? How are some enlightened to the Word and others not? It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that people come to know the Word as being from the Lord.

Kruger writes,

The canon, as God’s Word, is not just true, but the criterion of truth. It is an ultimate authority. So, how do we offer an account of how we know that an ultimate authority is, in fact, the ultimate authority? If we try to validate an ultimate authority by appealing to some other authority, then we have just shown that it is not really the ultimate authority. Thus, for ultimate authorities to be ultimate authorities, they have to be the standard for their own authentication. You cannot account for them without using them. – Canon Revisited p.91

We see here that Kruger is in agreement with Frame concerning how ultimate authority is to be validated. Hence, the Word of God is authenticated by itself.

Frame provides an excellent synopsis on how Scripture’s self-authentication is to be understood. Frame writes,

Subjectively, it works like this. When someone believes God’s Word with true faith, he or she does not accept it through autonomous reasoning, through the consensus of scholars, or through an independent examination of evidences. We do not believe God because we have subjected God to our tests and the tests of others. Rather, God’s Word is the foundation of our thought. God’s Word is the ultimate criterion of truth and right. It is the judge of what reasoning is valid and sound. The ultimate test of a scholar is whether his work agrees with Scripture. And Scripture determines what evidences are to be believed. – The Doctrine of the Word of God p.300

So again, by God’s power and enabling though the Spirit, we come to apprehend the Word as the foundation of our thought. This is not accomplished by our own insight and reasoning.

This is not to say that we cannot see the truth of the Word as we live our lives. The Word can and should be applied both situationally and existentially in the believer’s life, but this should not be confused with authentication. How I apply Scripture to my life is not the gauge by which I will determine its authenticity. Instead, as the Word has already become the foundation for my thoughts, I can then apply it to my life with full trust and confidence. But even this does not mean we are free of challenges.

Frame writes,

It is God himself who enables us to accept his Word as our foundation, our presupposition. To say this is not to deny that Scripture presents problems to us. Often, it is not easy to know what Scripture is saying, or to answer the objections that arise in our hearts. So there is much in the Bible of which we do not have assurance, even when we seek to trust God’s Word as our presupposition. But the Christian life is a journey, a movement from faith to more faith (with, to be sure, ups and downs along the way). This is a journey both toward better understanding and toward overcoming our unbelief (Mark 9:24). The latter process is called sanctification. The former process is also related to sanctification: our level of understanding is related to our level of trust and obedience. But our lack of understanding is also related to our finitude, our inability to resolve all the questions that the phenomena of Scripture pose to us. – The Doctrine of the Word of God p.300

And it is here, the journey as Frame calls it, that I hope to spend more time with these students. It is important to hear their stories and to be candid that the Christian life is filled with all kinds of challenges. I agree with Frame that it is a question of sanctification. My hope is that their trust and obedience to the Word would increase. It’s an important conversation to have and I’m blessed with the opportunity.