Archive for May 2011

Clark Quick Quote

May 24, 2011

A study of the person of Christ could hardly begin more appropriately than with John 1:1. Echoing the Septuagint, John uses Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning.” Not only is deity asserted in these two words, but also John repeats the idea at the end of the verse: “the Logos was God.”

… If John begins with the first word of Genesis, the second word of Genesis comes in John’s third verse: the Logos created all things. John of course is not the only apostle who tells us this. In Ephesians 3:9, Paul says, “God created all things through Jesus Christ.” Then in Colossians 1:16, 17, Paul not only says that Christ created all things, but more explicitly that Christ “organized the universe.” It should be remembered that ta panta in Greek, though usually translated “all things,” is the regular designation for the universe. Christ, the Logos, the Intelligent Deity, organized the universe.

The doctrine of creation, asserting that the universe is not an everlasting mechanism but a teleological construction of Intelligence, needs great emphasis today because it is so widely denied in the public schools. Purposeless differential equations have replaced an omnipotent and omniscient Mind. Nor does this theology affect the subject of physics only. Its implications are even more easily seen in its effects on morality, extending from Sodom on the Hudson to Gomorra across the Golden Gate. However, before going into these derivative subjects, we must yet awhile continue with the basic theology. For theology is basic.

In The Beginning

Becoming An Atheist

May 20, 2011

There are times when I can’t believe what I’m reading.  It happened this morning while sipping  my first cup coffee as I cruised over to the Greenbaggins blog.  I had made a couple of brief comments in response to an excellent short piece by Reed DePace.  DePace observed:

If God has spoken in any place in His word in error, how do we know He has not spoken in error when His word says we are freely justified in Christ? . . . After all, how can you truly tell when someone who is prone to speak in error is not? This is the fatal conundrum I fear those who are moving away from inerrancy will end up reaping in time to come.

Great point.  If the Scriptures are in error in one place, or even that they may be in error in say the creation account, then they are untrustworthy in every place.  However, it seems to me that those who maintain that the Scriptures contain logical paradoxes insoluble to the human mind logically end in the same place as those who claim that the Bible contains, or may contain, errors.   The reason is simple, while the truthfulness of “we are freely justified in Christ” could be affirmed it would also be theoretically possible to simultaneously affirm that “we are not freely justified in Christ.”  The Christian could never know if he has arrived at the truth, in fact for the Van Tilian he doesn’t know the truth at all but rather an analogy of it.

Well, this morning I came across this amazing comment by a particularly virulent Van Tilian who I’ve known for as long as I’ve had an Internet connection, Vern Crisler.  Crisler writes:

The problem with rationalists is that they believe the rational is the real. They don’t want to admit that there are some realities that go beyond human reasoning. Their “solutions” to the apparent paradoxes of Christian teaching are usually either heretical or philosophically incompetent.

I confess when I read that first sentence I wasn’t really sure if I had read it correctly.  I must have went back to it three or four times just to make sure my eyes weren’t  deceiving me or that perhaps I needed another cup of coffee.  Nope, there it was:  “The problem with rationalists is that they believe the rational is the real.”

Speaking like a philosophically incompetent Crisler doesn’t believe the rational is real.  So when John in his prologue says the Logos was God we can know that God is not real.

Gordon Clark demonstrated years ago that men like Crisler are necessarily skeptics, now it seems Crisler has taken the next logical step. The problem with irrationalists and mystics like Crisler is that they are logically atheists.

The Immeasurable and Comforting Power of Predestination

May 18, 2011

I had reason recently to look briefly into the life of Guido de Brès, the author of the Belgic Confession. De Brès was a Walloon minister (Walloon is a French dialect spoken in a small region of Belgium) who was martyred by the Roman state/church.  According to Wikipedia:

In 1565 De Bres was arrested for his Calvinist beliefs. He was tried before the Spanish Inquisition, received the death penalty and was hanged at Valenciennes. He died a martyr’s death in front of a large crowd after making a final statement of his beliefs. He was pushed off the scaffold by the hangman whilst addressing the crowd. Twelve days before his death he wrote a still-circulating letter to his wife showing his trust in God.

I found the above mention letter from De Brès to his wife and thought I would reprint it here. While there are a number of passages that stand out I thought this one was exemplary:

I pray you, my dearly beloved, to console yourself with meditation on these things. Consider the honour that God has done you, in giving you a husband who was not only a minister of the Son of God, but so esteemed of God that he allowed him to have the crown of martyrs. It is an honour the like of which God has never even given to the angels.

What a privilege.

De Brès wrote this letter to his wife on April 12, 1567. He was hung on May 31, 1567.

Letter of Comfort from Guido de Brès to His Wife

The grace and mercy of our good God and heavenly Father, and the love of His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, be with you, my dearly beloved.

Catherine Ramon, my dear and beloved wife and sister in our Lord Jesus Christ: your anguish and sadness disturbs somewhat my joy and the happiness of my heart, so I am writing this for the consolation of both of us, and especially for your consolation, since you have always loved me with an ardent affection, and because it pleases the Lord to separate us from each other. I feel your sorrow over this separation more keenly than mine. I pray you not to be troubled too much over this, for fear of offending God. You knew when you married me that you were taking a mortal husband, who was uncertain of life, and yet it has pleased God to permit us to live together for seven years, giving us five children. If the Lord had wished us to live together longer, he would have provided the way. But it did not please him to do this and may his will be done.

Now remember that I did not fall into the hands of my enemies by mere chance, but through the providence of my God who controls and governs all things, the least as well as the greatest. This is shown by the words of Christ, “Be not afraid. Your very hairs are numbered. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall to the ground without the will of your Father. Then fear nothing. You are more excellent than many sparrows.” These words of divine wisdom say that God knows the number of my hairs. How then can harm come to me without the command and providence of God? It could not happen, unless one should say that God is no longer God. This is why the Prophet says that there is no affliction in the city that the Lord has not willed.

Many saintly persons who were before us consoled themselves in their afflictions and tribulations with this doctrine. Joseph, having been sold by his brothers and taken into Egypt, says, “You did a wicked deed, but God has turned it to your good. God sent me into Egypt before you for your profit.” (Genesis 50). David also experienced this when Shimei cursed him. So too in the case of Job and many others.

And that is why the Evangelists write so carefully of the sufferings and of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, adding, “And this was done that that which was written of Him might be accomplished.” The same should be said of all the members of Christ. (more…)

The Strange Fruit of Common Grace

May 12, 2011

The Acton Institute is a Roman Catholic ecumenical think tank that purportedly is “dedicated to the study of free-market economics informed by religious faith and moral absolutes.”  While “free-market Roman Catholic” is as oxymoronic as “ecumenical think tank,” the Acton Institute is run by a former  “faith healer” and homosexual activist turned Catholic priest (re-closeted), Robert Sirico.  Admittedly the idea of an in-the-closet homosexual priest is hardly shocking, what is perhaps more shocking is that the Acton Institute is reportedly “funded by Michigan-based Dutch Calvinist business entrepreneurs.”  My how far Dutch Calvinism has fallen.

Today the  Roman Catholic ecumenist Acton Institute has “partnered” with Kuyper College to “translate Abraham Kuyper’s seminal three-volume work on common grace (De gemeene gratie).”

Now you might be wondering why would a Roman Catholic think tank be partnering with anyone to translate Kuyper’s work on common grace?  According to the Acton Institute:

Common Grace is the capstone of Kuyper’s constructive public theology and the best available platform to draw evangelicals back to first principles and to orient their social thought.

There is little doubt that the Acton Institute plans to draw evangelicals back but it’s not to their first principles.  The irony is that Kuyper first developed his novel doctrine of common grace as a means to justify his own coalition building with Roman Catholics in Holland during his bid to become Prime Minister.  As Herman Hanko explains:

Kuyper’s major writing in this period [prior to his involvement in politics] was a book with the title Dat God’s Genade Particulier Is, translated into English under the title “Particular Grace.” (The translation is by Mr. Marvin Kamps, and is published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association.) In this book Kuyper argued against the universalism of the modernists in the Reformed Churches and defended particularism in all areas of salvation, especially in the atoning work of Christ.. The interesting part of this book, as far as we are concerned, is Kuyper’s repudiation of the gracious and well-meant offer of the gospel. In fact, the texts commonly quoted in support of the offer of the gospel (II Peter 3:9, I Tim. 2:4, etc.) were all explained by Kuyper in a particularist way as referring to the elect only. Kuyper was, at this stage in his life, soundly Reformed.

But Kuyper underwent a change. He came out with a three-volume work entitled Gemeene Gratie or, General Grace. In this work, Kuyper, without ever repudiating his rejection of the free offer of the gospel, now, strangely, steered the church in the direction of another aspect of common grace, namely, a grace given to all men that restrained sin and produced in the unregenerate the ability to do good works.

This change in Kuyper’s thinking came about because Kuyper committed the grievous sin of resigning from the active ministry of the Word in order to enter politics. He formed a political party, ran for and won a place in the Lower Chamber and became the head of his party. He aspired, however, to the office of prime minister, but could not get sufficient members of his party elected to the Lower Chamber to thrust him into the prime minister’s office. And so he formed a coalition with the Roman Catholic party to secure enough votes to gain the prime minister’s seat.  Dr. Abraham Kuyper and Common Grace (11)

I think it’s fair to say that with the Acton Institute now involved in translating Kuyper’s Common Grace we have an excellent example of the old adage turnabout is fair play.

Janus Alive and Well: Dr. R. Scott Clark and the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel

May 2, 2011

Dr. R. Scott Clark is a professor of theological and church history at Westminster Seminary California and is viewed by many as the standard bearer of Reformed confessionalism.  Besides being a recognized opponent of the Federal Vision and New Perspectives theology, Clark is also a devoted follower of the late Cornelius Van Til, and, not surprisingly, is an unapologetic defender of logical paradox in Scripture.  Along these lines Clark repeatedly challenged me to read his contribution to the festschrift for Robert Strimple, The Pattern of Sound Doctrine where he defends the so-called “well meant” or “free offer” of the Gospel.  Clark complained on his website; “do the opponents of the Free Offer ever read anything but their own in-house stuff?”1  Well, I certainly do, but I was hard pressed to believe Clark could bring anything new to the table not already covered by men like John Murray or Cornelius Van Til, not to mention John Frame, David Bahnsen, David Byron, James Anderson, along with a whole host of other lesser defenders of biblical paradox.

So I purchased the Strimple festschrift.  Surprisingly in his piece, “Janus, The Well Meant Offer of the Gospel, and Westminster Theology,” Clark does not even try to distance himself from the title “Janus” given to defenders of the “well meant offer” by the late Herman Hoeksema.  According to Hoeksema:

Janus was a Roman idol, distinguished by the remarkable feature of having two faces and looking in two opposite directions. And in this respect there is a marked similarity between old Janus and the first point [of the “Three Points of Common Grace” adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924]. The latter is also two-faced and casts wistful looks in opposite directions. And the same may be asserted of the attempts at explanation of the first point that are offered by the leaders of the Christian Reformed Churches. Only, while the two faces of old heathen Janus bore a perfect resemblance to each other, the Janus of 1924 has the distinction of showing two totally different faces. One of his faces reminds you of Augustine, Calvin, Gomarus; but the other shows the unmistakable features of Pelagius, Arminius, Episcopius. And your troubles begin when you would inquire of this two-faced oracle, what may be the exact meaning of the first point. For, then this modern Janus begins to revolve, alternately showing you one face and the other, till you hardly know whether you are dealing with Calvin or Arminius. 2

For Hoeksema those who defend of the “well meant offer” are two-faced in that they seek to maintain conflicting aspects of two contradictory and mutually exclusive systems of salvation.  While at times “well meant offer” defenders appear to be Calvinistic in their belief in God’s sovereign election and particular atonement, they also maintain a belief in the universal desire of God for the salvation of those God predestined to perdition; the reprobate.  It is this combination of particularism and pluralism, or simply Calvinism and Arminianism, that make up the two faces of Janus.

Oddly, in addition to not distancing himself from Hoeksema’s charge, Clark does not even define what is meant by the well meant offer, sometimes called the “free offer,” until his concluding paragraphs and along the way seems to confuse it with the general call of the Gospel. I don’t know if this was intentional, but reading the piece some might conclude that opponents of the well meant offer are also opposed to the free and promiscuous preaching of the Gospel offer and this is simply false.

Therefore, to ensure that there can be no confusion, and in the words of John Murray, the well-meant offer is the belief that God “expresses an ardent desire for the fulfillment of certain things [i.e., the salvation of the reprobate] which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass.”3  Or, more simply, the well-meant offer has to do with God’s imagined favorable disposition toward the reprobate, since both sides agree that God sincerely desires the salvation of all the elect and accomplishes this very thing throughout history and through the “foolishness of the Gospel.” As Paul said in Romans, “the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Consequently, both sides of the well-meant offer divide (with the exception of those rightly called “hyper-Calvinists,” most notably “hardshell” or Primitive Baptists) believe that the Gospel should be preached universally to all men without distinction and that all who come under its preaching have a responsibility and a duty to repent and believe.

Well, to my surprise Clark does bring something new to the table and rests his belief in the contradictory truths of the well meant offer, along with his belief in a whole host of other logical paradoxes that he says are laced throughout Scripture, on what he claims is the traditional Reformed understanding of the archetype/ectype distinction dating back to Calvin and Luther.  Clark writes:

…the reason the well-meant offer has not been more persuasive is that its critics have not understood or sympathized with the fundamental assumption on which the doctrine…was premised: the distinction between theology as God knows it (theologia archetypa) and theology as it is revealed to and done by us (theologia ectypa).4

Clark’s main argument is that since theology as God knows it (theologia archetypa) differs from theology as we know and do it (theologia ectypa) we should expect to find any number of impenetrable paradoxes in Scripture and in our subsequent theology.

What should be noted is that Clark firmly rests his understanding of the archetype/ectype distinction primarily in the area epistemology (the study of knowledge) as opposed to being or ontology (the study of being) .  This is important, because the distinction Clark draws, and the one he claims is central to the traditional Reformed understanding, is not merely a difference in the mode or process (or, simply, the “how” of God’s knowing), but rather it is rooted in the propositions known; the objects of knowledge themselves.  Clark makes the error common to virtually all Van Tilians in that he conflates epistemology with ontology and ends up confusing the two.  This makes sense since Van Til also extends his understanding of the Creator/creature distinction well beyond the limits of ontology and into the realm of epistemology.

Commenting on the well known illustration Van Til used for his students in order to picture his understanding of the Creator/creature distinction where he would draw a large circle above a smaller one connected by two vertical lines, Dr. E. Calvin Beisner observers:

What are we supposed to think the two circles represent? Knowledge content (that is, truths known), or knowledge mode (that is, the processes by which truths are known)? If the latter, then an overlap of the circles would indeed seem to imply a denial of the Creator/creature distinction. But if the former, it would not, at least not in the judgment of Reformed theologians who don’t subscribe to Van Til’s idiosyncratic development of that distinction.

It is clear why overlap or intersection would deny the archetypal/ectypal (and hence the Creator/creature) distinction if what the circles represent is ontology, but it is not clear that it would do so if what the circles represent is epistemology, for then it must be asked whether, in epistemology, they represent truths known or the process (mode, manner, way) by which truths are known. If the latter, then the overlap would indeed jeopardize the Creator/creature distinction, since only God knows all things by knowing Himself, and hence the assertion that the creature knows things by the same mode God does would imply that the creature is God. But if the former — if the circles represent truths known (the content, not the mode, of knowledge) — then the overlap would not jeopardize the distinction, and indeed the lack of overlap would imply precisely the skepticism [Gordon] Clark said Van Til’s language implied, and that indeed some of Van Til’s language at least colorably could be understood to imply (e.g., Van Til’s denial that God’s knowledge and man’s “coincide at any single point”).5

Besides claiming that critics of the well-meant offer “have not understood or sympathized” with the archetype/ectype distinction, it is important to recognize that Clark is not simply referring to the fact that God’s knowledge is intuitive, immediate and exhaustive whereas ours is derivative, successive and limited.  Nor is he simply enforcing the idea that God is omniscient and His knowledge is therefore immutable and comprehensive in every detail and implication, whereas ours is only partial and subject to error and revision.  Rather, for Clark the archetype/ectype distinction provides a complete break between the content of God’s knowledge and knowledge possible to man. Clark argues: (more…)

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