Saturday, July 30, 2016
Christianity can be shown to be, not “just as good as” or even “better than” the non-Christian position, but the only position that does not make nonsense of human experience. – C. Van Til
I thought I would take some time to share my theological and philosophical reflections lately as I continue to explore the wonderful phenomenon of how humans experience knowledge. Unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic, you acknowledge that human beings are able to know and function within this state of affairs we call reality. Oh my, I have lumped epistemology and metaphysics together in the same sentence. What will the academic philosopher think of me now? Frankly, prof., I don’t really give a darn. All in good jest of course. I want to turn your attentions to Romans 1, a chapter that I believe serves as a basic foundation for a distinctly Christian epistemology. In this chapter we not only touch on modern controversies of epistemology, but also on some of the modern moral controversies of human sexuality; controversies which stem, as we shall discover, from man’s unethical approach to how he interprets himself, his experience of the world, and yes, his experience of God.
As he lays the foundation for what he is about to discuss with the Roman Christians, the apostle Paul tells them that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He then informs these ancient Christians, and us I might add, that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteous of men, who by the way, are suppressing the truth in unrighteous. Now, there is no question about the fact that God is revealing his wrath. That is clear enough. But why is this happening? Paul uses a very interesting Greek word to draw his inference. Please remember, this inference is the revealed truth God. God is revealing these things through Paul. What Paul writes, God speaks. The Greek word dioti is an adverbial causal conjunction. It modifies the verb apokalupto. Paul is about to tell us why God is revealing his wrath from heaven. Dioti is a marker of a causal connection between the idea in v. 18 and what is about to follow in v. 19. The reason is linked to man’s knowledge of God. Paul says that that which is known about God is evident within them. These are they who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. And who does that? All unregenerate men do that until the glorious light of the gospel is used to open their eyes and that work is only performed by the Holy Spirit. This knowledge of God is evident within them for God made it evident within them. When God makes knowledge evident within someone, I would say we are safe to assume that they know. They are in possession of knowledge. They know and experience the truth of God’s existence.
After clearly point out that men are in possession of the truth of God, and that these men willingly suppress that truth, Paul goes on to expand on his indictment. And make no mistake about it, this is an indictment. Paul elaborates on this fact by saying that God’s invisible attributes, his eternal power, and his divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made. Therefore, they are without excuse. Notice that Paul did not say that men ought to infer God from what was made. Paul said that men do actually see clearly and understand something about God’s attributes, his eternal power, and his divine nature through what has been made. The experience of being created in God’s image as well as the experience of God’s created order ensure that all men everywhere know God; they possess the truth about God by way of their experience of these things. And this experience is impossible to avoid. It is the experience of reality, God’s created world.
After expanding his indictment, Paul feels the need to elaborate even further. He says that even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God nor did they given thanks. Instead, they went down a different path. They became, humanity became mataioo in their dialogismos. They become utterly worthless in their reasoning, in their cognitive faculties. Man possesses the truth about God. He knows God. He understands enough about God to render him without a defense for this behavior. There is no excuse for men to reject belief in God. There is no excuse for men to refuse to give God thanks in all things. None! This behavior is condemned by God as idolatry. The traded to image of God for a different kind of image. Rather than accepting the truth that humanity is creating in the image of God and owes God all that he is, they, we, exchanged that image for a variety of different ones. In modern culture, we have exchanged the image of God for evolutionary theory. Paul has told us the wrath of God is being revealed. Now he is about to tell us how that wrath is being revealed.
Paul uses the Greek conjunction, dio, to tell us how God is pouring his wrath out on the earth. We saw a hint above when Paul references the complete uselessness of unregenerate cognitive faculties. Now he tells us, using this little word which is a logical inferential. It is the conclusion of his indictment. For this reason, God gave them over to the lusts of their own hearts. How is God’s wrath revealed from heaven? First, God gave them over to degrading passions. Atimia is a Greek word that has a sense of a state of dishonor or disrespect. The Greek word, Pathos employed by Paul in this instance, carries the sense of a strong desire. In other words, God’s wrath is revealed in the shameful, dishonorable, and disrespectful strong desires of humanity. This behavior is evidence of the wrath of God. And it is brought about because humanity experiences God in everything they do and refuses to interpret that experience righteously, giving thanks to God for all they are. But that is not all. Not only is humanity suffering from shameful strong desires because of its obstinate behavior, there is more.
God not only gave humanity over to degrading passions, he also gave them over to a depraved mind. Here the Greek word is adokimos, and it means unqualified, worthless, base. God has given unregenerate men over to a mind that is worthless. The word for mind carries the sense of intellectual perception, understanding, you know, the cognitive faculties of human beings. In this context it means a mindset, a way of thinking, an attitude, an outlook, or, a worldview. Unregenerate men display the wrath of God upon the human race by way of embracing a worthless, unqualified, base worldview. The thought-pattern of unregenerate humanity is debased.
In summary then, we observe the revealed wrath of God on humanity in the form of unregenerate men having sank into the moral confusion of even the most basic of human behaviors, sexuality. We witness the degrading passions of homosexuality not only being freely expressed in our culture, but we also observe a frightening dogmatic insistence on celebrating such behavior. Moreover, we observe an irrational and extreme hostility toward those who disagree with these practices. Second, the wrath of God is also revealed in the expression of an anti-God, anti-Christian worldview that reduces not only to moral confusion but also to an irrationalism that only be made sense of in the Christian worldview. We murder innocent babies in the womb. We celebrate perverted sexual promiscuity. We affirm men who want to be classified as women. We are forcing our young girls to share bathrooms and shower facilities with the opposite sex. And somehow, this is supposed to be progress? What we see in American culture in particular is the clear revelation of the wrath of God in the immoral sexual perversion of homosexuality along with the absolute abandonment of anything remotely resembling a worldview or mindset that makes sense. In closing, man knows God exists. Man understand something about God within God’s created order. This knowledge comes to him. Man is the passive recipient. This knowledge is unavoidable. But man forces his own interpretation on things. He rejects the Creator, exchanges God for anything but God, to include evolutionary theory. He interprets everything apart from God refusing to acknowledge or thank God in any way. God reveals his wrath by turning men over to degrading passions and lusts as well as depraved minds. Man’s desires and cognitive faculties are spiraling downward without restraint. And in it Christians are instructed to interpret this phenomenon as the revelation of the wrath of God.
This condition makes one wonder why God stopped to save any of us. Why do that? The purpose of God’s electing and saving grace is located in God. Indeed, the mystery of the loving-kindness and grace of God is above and beyond anything we could ever hope to understand.
Friday, July 29, 2016
In my last blog post entitled “God’s View of Sin,” a commenter took exception with my view endorsing a penal-substitutionary model of the atonement. His claim is very clear and very basic: “that no component of PST exists in any form, kerygmatic or written, until the reformation is a good indication that no one even conceived of it until then.” Now, it seems to me that this statement is filled with numerous problems. First, since the term kerygmatic applies to “preaching” it seems that no one can know if PST was preached for the first thousand years of the church because we do not have a record of everything that was preached during that period. The statement on its face is an extreme exaggeration and the commenter turned critic should have avoided it. Second, that we have no written record of anyone ever espousing any component of PST is, on the face of it, simply mistaken. The basic objective of this blog post is to demonstrate that there were components and more, of the penal-substitutionary model of the atonement embraced by those in the ancient church and that this can be traced throughout the history of the church until it comes into its own in the works of Anselm is not a difficult task.
Now, my critic has set his own bar and that bar is indeed a high one. Because my critic has set a high bar for himself, all that I must do in order to show that he is wrong is demonstrate that just one component of PST was indeed present in the history of the church prior to 1,000. I do not have to show that PST was fully framed out in some confessional form prior to 1,000. Additionally, there is a logical problem with my critic’s argument. Whether or not there is a written argument for PST is not a good enough reason to conclude that no one had ever conceived of it until Anselm. For there are many things that could be argued that would require principles deduced from the belief that PST is biblical doctrine. Finding principles that would require the soundness of PST would be good evidence that, even though there were no direct writings about the doctrine, PST was received by certain theologians making such arguments upon said principles. Even though my critic has issued a proposition that is filled with numerous logical fallacies, it is the lack of historical facts that is the most glaring. And so, it is the historical fact that I shall address for the remainder of this post. My goal is to provide historical proof that the PST was not new to Anselm, but that it has its roots in early Christianity, in fact, in Scripture itself.
It would be remiss for me not to provide a definition of what I mean when I say penal-substitutionary atonement. Wayne Grudem is helpful when he says that Christ’s death was penal in that he bore a penalty when he died. And, Christ’s death was a substitute in that he was a substitute for us when he died. [Grudem, Systematic Theology, 579] One of the issues with which we must grapple where the atonement is concerned is the its multifaceted nature. Gregg Allison identifies several facts: expiation, propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, Christ the Victor, example, and exchange or imputation. Because of this fact alone, the opportunity to focus on these various aspects of the atonement could create the false idea that other facets were not as important. This is a nuance of the doctrine that must be kept in view as one studies its history.
Clement of Rome wrote, “In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the love He bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls.” (1 Clement 49) Clearly the idea of substitution is present in the phrases, “his flesh for our flesh, and his soul for our souls.”
The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus also expresses a substitutionary view, “He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal…By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God?” This work was written in the late 2nd century.
Justin clearly thought in a penal-substitutionary way in his dialogue with Trypho, “The Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up…His Father wished Him to suffer this, in order that by His stripes the human race might be healed.” This letter was also written in the second century.
Irenaeus, having been the first to formulate the recapitulation theory, expressed a substitutionary view of the atonement; “For as by the disobedience of the one man who was originally moulded from virgin soil, the many were made sinners, and forfeited life; so was it necessary that, by the obedience of one man, who was originally born from a virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation.”
Athanasius, living in the 4th century expressed a substitutionary view: For when ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ and came to minister and to grant salvation to all, then He became to us salvation, and became life, and became propitiation; then His economy in our behalf became much better than the Angels, and He became the Way and became the Resurrection.” And then again, he wrote, “He next offered up His sacrifice also on behalf of all, yielding His Temple to death in the stead of all, in order firstly to make men quit and free of their old trespass, and further to shew Himself more powerful even than death, displaying His own body incorruptible, as first-fruits of the resurrection of all.”
Ignatius clearly believed that Jesus died on behalf of sinners, “Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved.”
The Epistle of Barnabas contains similar language, “For to this end the Lord endured to deliver up His flesh to corruption, that we might be sanctified through the remission of sins, which is effected by His blood of sprinkling…He also Himself was to offer in sacrifice for our sins the vessel of the Spirit, in order that the type established in Isaac when he was offered upon the altar might be fully accomplished.”
It is challenging to gain more clarity on this question than is added by reading the early church historian Eusebius, “Thus the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world, became a curse on our behalf.” And again, “And the Lamb of God not only did this, but was chastised on our behalf, and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins; and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins, because He received death for us, and transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonour, which were due to us, and drew down upon Himself the appointed curse, being made a curse for us.” And finally, “But since being in the likeness of sinful flesh He condemned sin in the flesh, the words quoted are rightly used. And in that He made our sins His own from His love and benevolence towards us.” It seems this statement alone would provide the hammer, the nail, and the coffin by which we could reject and dispense with the view that there was no hint of PST in the first 1,000 years of the church. Surely, the evidence is overwhelmingly stacked against such claims.
I rest my case.
What is even more devastating for the anti-PST view than the historical evidence in church history is a careful exegesis of the text of Scripture. Nothing more is needed than Scripture itself to offer a sound and thorough refutation of any view opposing a Penal-Substitutionary Atonement.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Odd as it may sound, it is a word that many churches, if not most churches have dropped from their vocabulary. We just don’t like talking about it these days. The trouble is, we cannot very well talk about Jesus Christ and the good news of the gospel without also talking about sin. Modern churches have turned the gospel of God into a “God is for you” message, God is on your side, God accepts you just as you are with no strings attached, and if you just do what he says, life will be so much better all the way around. While the early church was described as turning the world upside down, the modern American church can rightly be said to have turned the Word upside down. Without sin, there would be no gospel. And without the gospel, there would be no church. So, let’s talk about sin for a few paragraphs. What does God have to say about sin? And does what God have to say about sin accord with what you think about sin?
The Biblical Definition of Sin
What is sin? To answer this question, we turn to the writings of 1 John. There we find this statement: Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4) John tells us that sin is lawless behavior, behaving in a way that is without, apart from, or better yet, against the law. What law you ask? Why, the law of God of course. So sin is defined by God in his word as living without his law. How does God deal with beings that live without his law? What does God have to say about beings that would dare to conduct their life without consulting his law? To answer that question, you guessed it; we must turn to Scripture once again.
The First Sin
In the beginning, God created man and woman perfect. We know this because God looked at man and woman and said that his creation was וְהִנֵּה־טוֹב מְאֹד, and, behold it was very good. The Hebrew phrase literally means “exceedingly good.” Adam and Eve, our first parents were created abundantly, exceedingly, good. But they both failed to honor God’s law as expressed in his covenant with Adam. Adam and Eve wanted to live without submitting to God’s law. They made a choice not to honor God’s covenant. Hos. 6:7 could not be more clear on the matter. “But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me.” Adam transgressed God’s covenant and as a result, all of mankind was cast headlong into sin, condemnation, blindness, and judgment. Sin brought pain, imperfection, sickness, disease, doubt, alienation, death, and eternal judgment. Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree in violation of God’s sacred command and God cursed both of them, their prodigy, and cast them from the garden. One reason many scholars want to relegate Adam and Eve to myth is that they cannot accept the idea that God would act so harshly toward something they consider to be in reality, a minor offense after all. However, breaking the divine covenant is never a minor offense. And it is a contemptuous and arrogant attitude that would embrace that sort of mindset. Nevertheless, I fear that the majority of us Christians in 2016 have adopted precisely that sort of mindset toward our own sin at least and in most cases toward sin in general. Sin is viewed as an unavoidable fact of imperfect beings, winked at with a shrug of the shoulders, and given very serious thought beyond that. Christians have adopted a defeatist attitude toward sin. We use the crutch that we are all sinners, we sin every day, so what is the point of confronting sin in our lives and waging war on it with every fiber of our being to root it out, to kill it. And so we give up. We move along daily sinning all the while, asking God to forgive us with a half-hearted prayer at the end of the day and get up and do it all over again tomorrow.
It didn’t take long for mankind to reach its threshold of evil after the fall. It took humanity all of ~1656 years to once again provoke God to the point that he wiped nearly every human from off the planet with the exception of 8 souls. “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) Man, as a creature of God, is still under a covenantal obligation to acknowledge God in all his ways and to submit to God’s law in all he does. Modern man scoffs at this claim. Modern man, if he acknowledges any god at all, only acknowledges a god that pleases him, not the God whom he is under strict obligation to please. The same was true in the time of Noah. Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. (Gen. 6:11-13) God hates sin so much that he destroyed all of humanity excepting Noah and his family.
Sodom and Gomorrah
Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord. (Gen. 13:13) And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. (Gen. 18:20) The LORD visited Sodom and Gomorrah by way of two angels. The cities were so given over to wickedness that the following was the result: “and they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.” (Gen. 19:5) The wicked men of Sodom wanted to have sex with the two angels, thinking they were men. Lot even went so far as to offer the men his daughters. But the men would have none of it. As a result, God destroyed the cities. “Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.” The NT writer, Jude, commented on the situation in Sodom: just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7) God was so intolerant of rampant homosexuality that he completely wiped out the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. (2 Sam. 11:2) David lingered too long and his fleshly lust got the better of him. David allowed his sexual urge to cause him to commit adultery. David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house. (11:4) As a result of this union, Bathsheba conceived a child. David then attempted to engage in deception, bringing Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband home from war in hopes he would think the child was his. But Uriah refused to have sex with his wife while his comrades were still at war. Uriah was a man of high honor. As a result of David’s sin of adultery, and his failed deception, he decided to add murder to his failings. “He had written in the letter, saying, “Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” (2 Sam. 11:15) David’s master plan worked, finally. But God was watching. God is always watching. “Then the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s widow bore to David, so that he was very sick. Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead.” (2 Sam. 11: 15 & 18) God punished David by killing the child of his adulterous union with Bathsheba. God did not, as so many modern Christians think, understand that David was just an imperfect sinner who made a few mistakes along the way. David committed adultery, then he lied, and finally, he murdered to cover up his sin. And God was watching. God is always watching.
The High Cost of Redemption
But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief. (Isa. 53:10) But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. (Isa. 53:5) About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46) The cross was as much as an act of divine judgment as it was an act of love. In fact, if the cross was not an act of judgment, it could not have been an act of love assuming that God is perfectly righteous. If the cross was a loving act of a perfectly just God, then it necessarily included divine judgment so long as it’s intent was to forgive sin and redeem men. If you do not understand this principle, then you do not understand Christianity. If you do not understand this principle, you do not understand the gospel. And if you do not understand my claim, you should be very upset right now. And I can only hope you are upset enough to read the following article, which provides a discursive overview of Christ’s atonement: Greg Bahnsen Penal Substitutionary Atonement God despises sin so much, and sin is so wicked, and God’s love is so profoundly deep, that he had to send his only Son to serve as the object of his wrath in our place in order to release us from the divine curse, from condemnation, from divine judgment. No one else but God could serve as the object of his own wrath in order to redeem man. God’s perfect righteousness would have been compromised if the cross had not served as the object of divine wrath. God could have been loving and forgiven us without crushing Jesus at Calvary. But he could not have remained perfectly righteous, holy, and extended such forgiveness.
What does God have to say about sin? What will God do where sin is concerned? How will God deal with sin on the earth? How will God deal with unrepentant human beings in love with sin?
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:11-15)
How do we respond to these truths of Scripture concerning sin? Some of us contend that Adam and Eve was literary myth. We reject the historicity of the flood. We consider the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to be about something other than homosexuality. We accuse the God that killed David’s baby of being a projection of ancient, unsophisticated, bloody, violent men. We reject the cross as an object of divine wrath and prefer rather to view it as religious hypocrites with their rules murdering a good man. Others think the cross was nothing more than God giving us a good example and self-sacrificing service. Finally, we reject the idea of final judgment, believing that a loving God would never subject any human to eternal punishment. The message of love is contradictory to the message of wrath. Moreover, the prevalent attitude is that sin is not really that big of a deal. We all sin every day. We are sinners. We are not perfect. Don’t make more out of it than it is. No one is perfect. Sin is just humans being human. But if we begin with Genesis 1 and read through Revelation 22, we understand the Bible to be telling us the grand story of the history of divine redemption. And in that love divine, we see God’s attitude toward sin. We see a different picture unfolding before us if we just allow it to speak for itself. Sin is something to be avoided. Sin is something to be hated. Sin is something to be eradicated. God hates sin so much that he came to earth as a man and died a cruel death at the hands of sinful men in order to put an end to it.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o'er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o'er them from the throne!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
'Tis an ocean vast of blessing, 'tis a haven sweet of rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, 'tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!