Friday, May 27, 2016

Revelation



"In other words, the religion of the Bible presents itself as distinctively a revealed religion. Or rather, to speak more exactly, it announces itself as a revealed religion, as the only revealed religion; and sets itself as such over against all other religions, which are represented as all products, in a sense in which it is not, of the art and device of man."
-B.B. Warfield

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים, transliterated it reads, bĕrēʾšît bārāʾ ʾĕlōhîm, and translated, it reads, "In the beginning God." The study of Religion in its essence and origin itself leads us to the subject of revelation, and the history of religions is proof that the concept of revelation is not only integral to Christianity and occurs in Holy Scripture but is a necessary correlate of all religion. [Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. I, p.284] There can be no Christian religion without revelation. Moreover, since revelation is supernatural, it follows that the Christian religion is a supernatural religion. Any attempt to deprive Christianity of its supernatural character only results in its eradication. Hence, to deny the supernatural is to deny revelation, and to deny revelation is to deny the truth claims of Christianity. To be a Christian in practice then is to affirm the fact of revelation.

The Hebrew word for revelation is gala. Its most basic meaning is to uncover or remove. It first appears in the Scriptures in 2 Samuel 7:27, "For You, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made a revelation to Your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house’; therefore Your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to You." The phrase "you have made a revelation to your servant" is literally "you have revealed in the ear of your servant." God had just entered into covenant with David and these words are included in David's prayer of response. The idea is that God had made a disclosure to David. The idea of revelation bound up in the act of disclosure. To reveal something is to disclose something. 

Even though this is the first time this word is used in Scripture, it is not the first time God revealed something to man in Scripture. The fact is that from the beginning God was disclosing himself to man. God revealed himself to Adam in the most profound way: "They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden." (Gen. 3:8) The Hebrew word for sound in this instance is kol. This word refers most frequently to sound that is produced by the vocal cords. God reveals himself to Adam by walking in the Garden, that is, walking as his word in the garden. One cannot help but think about how the similarities between this language and the language of John, where "the Word became flesh and lived among us."

 The Scriptures are replete with stories of God revealing himself to men and women over the course of the history of redemption. God revealed himself to Noah, warned of the wrath that was to come, and provided for Noah's deliverance. God selects and reveals himself to Abraham, enters into covenant with him, promises him a son and reveals that he will be a father of many nations. God reveals himself to Moses, commissions him to be his spokesman before Pharaoh, promises to deliver the children of Israel, and finally reveals the Torah, the very law of God itself. God revealed himself to the prophets repeatedly in the Old Testament, promising blessing and cursing, and above all, a coming redeemer.

God revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. John wrote, "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." (Jn. 1:18) Simeon said that the birth of Christ was "A light of revelation to the Gentiles." (Lu. 2:32) God revealed to Peter that he was to preach to Cornelius' household because salvation was coming to the Gentiles. Paul was called up into the third heaven and shown unspeakable mysteries. John was called up in the Spirit on the Lord's day and shown things that would shortly come to pass. The evidence in Scripture is abundant. It seems plain to anyone taking the time to read it, that the Bible is a book of revelation. Moreover, it is clear that the Christian religion is itself a revealed religion. At the most basic level then, to admit that Christian theism is true is to admit that the idea of revelation is indeed not only plausible, not only possible, but in fact undeniable. God has most definitely revealed himself. To be a Christian then is to believe that God is the sort of God who reveals himself.

Even though God has revealed many truths concerning himself, his creation, and his plan, there are nonetheless, things that God, in his wisdom, has not revealed. In De. 29:29, it is written, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law." This text indicates that God has revealed to us that which he wanted us to know. He gave us access to particular truths. On the other hand, the things that God has not revealed to us do not belong to us. They belong to God. In other words, God has established a boundary for human knowledge. We are expected to honor that boundary. When we do so, we display respect and we show God the honor he is due. Jesus himself affirmed the fact that God not only reveals, but he hides things from man. "At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight." (Lu. 10:21) God deliberately hid things from the wise and the intelligent and Jesus responded to this fact with a prayer of thanksgiving. Indeed, this way of thinking is foreign to modern, Western ways of thinking about God. Now that we have a better understanding of the definition and fact of revelation, it is time to get to the specifics of the two types of divine revelation: natural and special.

In summary, Gordon Clark is right when he says, "An immediate point, touching on both epistemology and theology, that will commend this hypothesis to those who are religiously inclined, is the impossibility of knowing God otherwise than by revelation." This means that God can only be known by revelation. Moreover, only God can initiate that revelation. We would not know enough to even ask for more knowledge if God had not taken the initiative to reveal himself in the first place. This is the truly biblical and therefore, the truly Christian position regardless of what others, to include evangelicals claim about knowing God.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Is Christian Belief Accessible to the Unregenerate Mind?



The question is usually framed a little differently in apologetic or philosophical parlance. Is Christian belief rational? While many apologists would contend that such a question is best asked of the apologist, or the Christian philosopher, I think it’s best asked of the Christian theologian. Then again, I am a wee bit biased. The task of Christian theology never really ends. It never ends because it must constantly respond to old ideas packaged in new wrappings that continue their age-old objective of contradicting Christ. And the question before us today is no different. Some would say that I am being a bit sarcastic for framing the title the way I have and I suppose there might be a degree of truth in that.

In a recent debate between Sye Bruggencate and Eric Hernandez, Eric made the following claim: “Faith is a confidence based on knowledge.” Now, the debate concerns apologetic method, and in particular, evidentialist vs. presuppositional methodologies in Christian apologetics. To be sure, Eric’s description of faith is what I want to zero in on because I think it is here that most of our differences reside. Regarding Eric’s understanding of faith, and that of most evidentialists, this is exactly what Wolfhart Pannenberg would say about faith as well. Faith is limited to that historical evidence that is accessible to reason. Many of these modern apologists seem oblivious to the fact that their understanding of faith is informed by the enlightenment move rather than by Scripture. Rather than challenge the methods introduced by the historical-critical method, theologians retreated into mythology and bowed to the majesty of human reason. It all began with John Locke. Evangelicalism had accepted the scientific method without question and the historical critical model that she brought with her. Christianity bragged that science was her best friend and there was nothing to fear: science would only always join Christianity in lock-step (pun intended) and proclaim her undying loyalty. Everything was going just swimmingly until Robert and Susannah Darwin decided that four children were not enough. Enter their fifth child, Charles.

It was like a bad dream. The Christian family had an informant among them. It would be men like Charles Darwin who would redefine science, Christianity’s bedfellow, only to have that friendship shattered by the most brutal betrayal of all time. Since the theologians had built their theology upon the assumptions of the principle of inference and scientific method, they were impotent against the attacks that science would unleash against them. Human knowledge would come through the senses. The role of the human mind would be paramount in discovering truth, in attaining true knowledge, in achieving rational thought altogether. Since the Christian theologians were committed to the inductive principle, they reasoned that the truth of Christianity could be arrived at the same as any other truth. After all, all truth is God’s truth and if induction works everywhere else based on natural law, why shouldn’t it work here as well? Now, revelation must submit to reason for its rite of passage. Even the Christian canon, Scripture, would have to give way to the canons of human reason. The final authority for how faith would be defined and even what we believe about the nature of Scripture would have to pass the tests of autonomous human reason. And so it remains true today of evidential apologetics as Eric Hernandez so aptly demonstrates.

According to the evidentialists, the Christian faith is not a faith that serves as the necessary precondition for knowledge. The regenerate and unregenerate mind alike is of the same structure and capable of making the same evaluation of truth-claims. This is a faith that is limited by autonomous human reason. Our faith can go no further than our knowledge can take us. And since that knowledge can never attain certainty, and could be wrong at any point along the way, our faith is always subject to revision, perhaps even a radical revision depending on how human knowledge goes. And since we cannot gain certainty in this arena, then the theological concept of the certainty of faith collapses within the evidentialist scheme. The evidentialist way of defending the Christian faith actually reduces it to a naturalistic exercise and in the end, unwittingly destroys Christianity by destroying its most basic claims about the nature of human beings: without Christ, we are dead in trespasses and sins.

However, Henriette and Jan Fredik Kuijper would contribute to this conversation by way of their son, Abraham. It was Abraham Kuyper’s observations of the movements taking place within evangelicalism that should grab our attention. Kuyper rejected the speculations of rationalism and of enlightenment philosophy, holding fast to his reformed Dutch theology, and more specifically, to a distinctly biblical epistemology. Kuyper pointed out that it was devastating to the Christian faith to ignore the noetic effects of sin on the unregenerate mind. Nothing is more fundamental to Christianity than that we are utterly hopeless and helpless without the work of Christ. And that work must be supernaturally applied to our person, indeed, our minds, through the agency of the Holy Spirit. It is through that work alone that men come into the true knowledge of God, of Christ, of God’s revelation of Scripture. Kuyper argues that God as revealed in Scripture is known by us, not as a conclusion of an argument but as a primary truth immediately apprehended as the result of spiritual communication to the human consciousness. Kuyper saw knowledge as an entire noetic structure while the evidentialist take the inductivist approach. The evidentialists unwittingly place themselves in a no-win situation, supposing that such evidence and arguments constituted conclusive arguments for the truth of Christianity. [Faith and Rationality]


Is Christian belief rational? If by rational you mean, does it meet the rational criteria demanded by the unregenerate mind, the answer is no. For the pagans, blasphemers, God-haters, and the lawless, Christian belief is not rational. How do I know this? For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1:18) According to Paul, Christian belief is moria, or moronic, to those who are unregenerate. This raises the question, why are we attempting to make Christian belief rational to someone who’s very state does not possess the necessary structure to make it so? Why then do we engage the unbeliever at all? We engage because we love to obey God and God commands us to engage. So, doesn’t God use imperfect declarations of his truth, even poor arguments to win men to himself? I suppose he can and does. But that misses the point. When I engage the unbeliever, my goal should be to follow God’s method, to honor His truth, to stay true to His message, not to see results. So the idea that it works is no excuse to slack in this area. Christian belief is rational to the truly rational mind: the mind of God.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Biblical Complementarianism: When can a Woman Teach Men?

 
Recently, I listened to the back and forth between Aimee, Todd, and Carl over at The Mortification of Spin, on the issue of women teaching men. From my perspective, the conversation began at the wrong end of the stick as so many issues do these days. The end of this particular stick is the structure in which the teaching itself took place. This led the group to spend most of its time focusing on women either teaching men in Sunday School or outside the formal worship service. The purpose of this post is to try and provide some clarity around how the Bible directs us to think regarding this subject. And the best place to start, the right end of the stick that is, is the Bible itself. So, to the Bible I shall turn.

One text that is often employed to support or justify women teaching mixed audiences is located in Acts 18:26 where Pricilla and Aquila pulled Apollos aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. The problem with this text is that it is not very precise. One could say that Priscilla and Aquila pulled Apollos aside and taught him but that actually what is likely is that they both pulled him aside while it was Aquila who did the instructing. In fact, it is very likely and extremely reasonable to think that this is exactly what happened. At best, Acts 18:26 is an extremely weak example of mixed teaching outside the formal worship setting. If one is going to advocate for women teaching mixed audiences, this is not the text you would want to make your case.

Another text that may seem to indicate that the Bible teaches us that women can preach to mixed audiences is Acts 21:9. Phillip the Evangelist had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. The actual word used in this case is the participle, and so it should read, “who prophesied.” Indeed, use of the present participle prophēteuousai in 21:9 suggests that an ongoing ministry rather than an office is in view here. [Peterson] Bruce tells us, “The daughters lived to a great age, and were highly esteemed as informants on persons and events belonging to the early years of Judaean Christianity.” [Bruce, The Book of Acts] Calvin contends that Luke called attention to this fact in order to point out the importance of Phillip and surely he is correct. The prophesying virgins were important to Luke for historical reasons. It is readily acknowledged that prophecy accompanied the ushering in of the New Covenant and especially the New Community, it is also admitted that this phenomenon was only temporal and specifically for that end. In addition, to declare something is not the same as teaching. Second, there is nothing here to suggest that Phillip’s daughters were teaching men. Finally, the book of Acts reflects a period of transition from the inception of the Church and moving toward the completion of divine revelation. We should not read ourselves into the stories. It follows that if the gift of prophecy was temporary as the revelation was coming to completion, it is a moot point to attempt to use this situation to support women preaching and/or teaching gender-mixed audiences. In conclusion we would say that Acts 21:9 does not seem to offer good support for the idea that women can teach mixed audiences.

If Acts 18:26 and 21:9 do not support the argument for women teaching men, then perhaps 1 Corinthians 11:5 provides what the other texts do not. First of all, this text is not dealing with prophecy as its main subject. The issue here concerned the cultural issue of women’s attire in the public square and Roman law. The wearing of appropriate head covering (such as a hood) denoted respect and respectability. Within the semiotic clothing code of first-century Roman society (see above on Roland Barthes) “a veil or hood constituted a warning: it signified that the wearer was a respectable woman and that no man dare approach her,” i.e., as one potentially or actually sexually “available” (my italics). [Thiselton] It seems rather obvious that Paul is not concerned with women prophesying to mixed audiences, but is instead dealing with an issue specific to the Corinthian culture and to Roman law. The context of 1 Corinthians 11:1-17 has nothing in its immediate context touching on our question. This makes 1 Cor. 11:5 a very poor candidate in the argument for women teachers of men.

Now, I wish to my original point that the MoS team focused on the wrong end of the stick. In her follow post to this discussion, Aimee Byrd jumps on the idea that women are only forbidden to teach men within the structure of the formal worship service and that when it comes to Sunday School, all bets are off. Is she right or is has she found a loophole? Is Aimee genuinely seeking to understand Scripture from a neutral position or is she allowing her own desires to drive how she handles the issue? Aimee asks the question, “While I don’t think all Sunday schools in every church need to have the same set-up, the way that we present it does matter. So that raises a lot of questions. Is a Sunday school class equivalent to a worship service?” Well, before we answer Aimee’s question, we should turn to Paul’s instructions and the text in question to determine if Paul was a strict in his instructions as Aimee and others seem to think he was.

Paul says that a woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. And in parallel to this, he says not only are the women to learn with entire submissiveness, but they are also not permitted to rule or to teach men. Nearly all scholars admit that this prohibition is confined to the public square. Women are not to teach men in the gatherings. Anytime the church is gathered together is what Paul has in mind. Admittedly, I was appalled to hear some on the MoS team considering that if the church gathered together “informally” on a day other than the first day of the week, then this would provide the sort of support their argument needs to carry the day. Two exceptions seem to surface on the MoS prodcast: A woman may be able to teach men in a Sunday School class and a woman may be allowed to teach men in any setting outside the formal, weekly, worship service. However, I would suggest that Paul did not have in mind some formal, once-a-week gathering when he issued his instructions. The fact that he referenced the creation account seems to indicate as much. Paul would surely have considered his instructions to apply to any sort of collection of the body under any circumstances. To argue that it only applies to a formal, weekly worship service is somewhat anachronistic from my perspective. While there is a difference between a husband and a wife team, in the privacy of their own home, providing instructions to Apollos, as the husband surely led in that teaching, and worship gathering, there is little difference between a worship gathering on Sunday morning and a worship gathering on Friday night. Additionally, a group is a group is a group. The size of the group and the day of its meeting cannot be counted as criteria for when a woman may be able to lead the teaching and when she may not. There is simply no biblical precedent for such a position.

Women are instructed to teach, but it is the older women who are instructed to teach the younger women. (Titus 2:3-4) And they were to teach the younger women specifically, to love their husbands, their children, to be sensible, pure, not lazy in managing the home, kind, and to be subject to their husbands. All this was so that the Word of God would not be blasphemed. Now, compare and contrast these instructions with what young women are being taught in Western, American culture. I think we all have to ask the question just how much of my thinking on this issue is infected with the disease of American individualism.


It is my conclusion that the Mortification of Spin podcast on this question very likely introduces more confusion than necessary. It raises more questions than it answers. And the reason it does so is that it grabs the wrong end of the stick. It begins with the presupposition that Paul had in mind a 21st-century structure and arbitrarily imposes certain principles that likely did not exist in Paul’s mind as he penned his letter to young Timothy. It assumes that Paul would have made a distinction between the “weekly gathering” and other gatherings. It assumes Paul may have even made a difference between the “weekly gathering” and the number of people gathering, for example, small groups. It assumes Paul would have looked at these differently. We must understand the there is nothing special about a weekly gathering on a particular day or a particular number. What makes the gathering special are the i) participants, ii) the exhortation from Scripture, iii) the communion of those saints in fellowship together in the name of Christ. And I would suggest that every time we gather together, even the fewest of us, for the purpose of exhortation and fellowship, that Paul’s instructions must govern the gathering. In other words, sorry Aimee, Todd, and Carl: as much as I love your work and agree with almost all that you say, I think to one degree or another, you got it wrong on this one.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Divine Sovereignty and Why It Matters

For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me. (Isa. 46:9)
This post attempts to answer the question, why it is important for Christians to have a firm understanding of divine sovereignty? There are three basic elements that deserve most of our focus where this doctrine is concerned: 1) what is the definition of divine sovereignty? 2) why is it important? 3) what are the implications of this doctrine for practical Christian living (Christian praxis)? Contrary to what many modern pastors would have you believe, theology matters. Why does it matter? It matters because you live what you believe every day. Therefore, if your belief is in error, your behavior will be as well. It really is that simple. Your love for others is based on a belief. Your church attendance is based on a belief. You will vote or not vote, and do so in a certain way because you have formed a certain belief about it. Theology matters! It matters a lot. Think about this: the idea that theology doesn’t matter is a belief. In other words, to say we should not take a theological position on a particular position is to take a theological position on a position. The claim that theology does not matter is a self-refuting position that should be abandoned by any serious thinker.

What does Christian theism mean when it makes the claim that God is absolutely sovereign over all the affairs of humanity? In order to answer this question, we must turn to the only source at our disposal for such an inquiry: divine Scripture. There is no other source for how one should understand and define the concept of divine sovereignty than the Christian Scriptures. When Moses asked God who it was that spoke to Him from the burning bush, God said, ʾehĕye   ʾăšer   ʾehĕye, I am who I am. I think John Frame is right to point out that this exchange took place within the context of God’s promise to deliver Israel from the most dominating government of that time. Surely it points to the Lordship of God as the all-controlling one. In fact, not only did God demonstrate his control over Pharoah and this government, He demonstrated His control over nature in the plagues He brought upon the Egyptians for their sinful rebellion against God’s right to be acknowledged and worshipped. Ps. 93:1 says the LORD reigns. The first words of Scripture, “In the beginning, God created,” testify to God’s absolute sovereign control over all of creation. When we say that God is absolutely sovereign, we are saying that God is the self-sufficient, independent being. He relies on no one or nothing for anything and all things rely on Him. All things are dependent on God for their existence.

When Christian theism affirms divine sovereignty, it is affirming the view that God is in complete control of all that has happened, is happening, or ever will happen. Christian theism is affirming that God does not depend on anyone or anything to carry out His divine plan.

Second, what God controls, God controls efficaciously. John Frame says it well when he writes, “To say that God’s controlling power is efficacious is simply to say that it always accomplishes its purpose. God never fails to accomplish what he sets out to do. Creatures may oppose him, to be sure, but they cannot prevail.” [Frame, The Doctrine of God] The prophet Isaiah said it like this, “My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” (Isa. 46:10) There is nothing that can stand between God and His purpose. This verb is translated in LXX by bouleuō or a compound over seventy times, “to give counsel, deliberate, purpose, determine.” [Theological Workbook of the OT] The only way that God can make such bold proclamations about his purpose, or what he has determined, is if he is absolutely sovereign. God’s sovereignty is efficacious to the point that God says that even the bird that flies in from the east does so because God brought it to pass and the man that comes from a far country only does so because God wills it.

Another example of what Christian theism means by divine sovereignty is found in Romans 9:21, “Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” And then again in Eph. 1:11, “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” So when we say that God is sovereign, we are not saying that God is just a great big overseer in the sky watching men exercise their free-will with His permission. This is essentially what theologians call general sovereignty. This view claims that God has limited what he can do and control. This is not what we mean when we say that God is sovereign. The references above would indicate that God’s control is not general. To say that even the birds are directed by God is clearly pointing to God’s specific control over the smallest events. That is what we mean when we say that God is sovereign.

The reason the doctrine of divine sovereignty is important is because it is clearly taught in Scripture. Daniel 4:35 says that God does according to His will. Job 42:2 informs us that no purpose of God can be thwarted. Ps. 115:3 tells us that God does whatever he pleases. Eph. 1:11 is especially helpful in understanding divine sovereignty. God is said to be working all things according to the counsel of his will. “For God to guarantee that his decree will be accomplished means that on at least some occasions libertarian free will must be overridden. If not, there is no guarantee with libertarian freedom that God’s ends will be achieved.” [Feinberg, No One Like Him] There are multiple examples that could be offered to show that apparent acts of freedom could not have been truly outside the sovereign control of God. The numerous events of the crucifixion of Christ would clearly place divine sovereignty in conflict with libertarian freedom. There could be no guarantee of redemption if libertarian freedom is true. If God is not sovereign, it is possible that the death of Christ on the cross could have failed to convert a single soul. After all, libertarian freedom places salvation not in the control of God but, for the most part, in the control of man. Finally, a failure to understand the sovereignty of God is a failure to know God properly. “A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology, but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse.” [Tozer, A Knowledge of the Holy]

When we fail to understand divine sovereignty, we inevitably get our roles mixed up with God’s role. We witness all sorts of gimmicks, programs, methods, etc. in churches the world over. We believe that converting souls and persuading men to believe is really our responsibility. We believe that men can see and believe the gospel within their own natural abilities. We think that if we can introduce the right kind of music, create the right sort of programs, put together the perfect youth program, preach certain kinds of sermons, make just the right arguments, offer up just the right evidence, we will succeed in growing our churches. If we would just invest a little energy in accessing Scripture and seeking to understand the kind of God it is that is revealed there, we might spare ourselves a lot of time and resources.

If libertarian free-will is true, then divine freedom is false. If God is not absolutely free, it necessarily follows that God is not sovereign. If God is not sovereign, then chance rules the day. And if chance rules the day, then God cannot be trusted to deliver on a single thing he has promised to do. And if God cannot be trusted to deliver on his promises, he is just another god unworthy of worship and devotion. By now you should feel the nearness of the Greek gods in this scenario of sovereignty. A deficient understanding of sovereignty, when taken to its logical end, produces a god much like that of the Greek pantheon. If this is true, then it seems that it matters a great deal what we believe about divine sovereignty.

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. (Ps. 115:3)





The Bully Pulpit and a Culture of Intimidation

On the one side, we have the Christian community, and on the other side, we have the pagan community. The Christian community is made...