The Struggle of Prayer (Pt.9)

Haven’t posted one of these for a while, bur few things are more important:


For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. – Matt.6:13b

This last refrain from the model prayer given by our Lord should not be bypassed.  Modern Bible translations omit it in line with the textual practices used to produce them.  I am not in the business right now of debating the rights and wrongs of the issue.  My only concern is with this passage as a confession of faith and hope; and as such, it is both apropos and biblical.

We have seen that the first petition of ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ after the salutation: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name” concerns the coming of the kingdom.  As I stated in Part Four of this series,

“In its setting in the early ministry of Jesus (see for example Matt. 10: 5-7), the kingdom would mean only one thing to the disciples and the people in general.  It would mean the Messianic Golden Age promised by the Prophets in Isaiah 2, 11, 62, and Micah 4 (cf. Acts 1:6).  Therefore, in its proper context, this petition looks forward to the return of Christ and His righteous reign over the earth. “

Now this ending statement closes with the same hopeful thought.  But it couples it with the attributes of God’s power and glory.  These two attributes are possibly the central ones in consideration of the coming reign of Christ the King.  His power will ensure that His righteous will is done, and also that the created earth is kept in check by its Lord.  God’s glory is, in large part, what the kingdom age is all about.  After the Fall, in no other epoch of human history has creation reflected God’s glory, and human beings, made in God’s image and likeness, have not exhibited that image and likeness.

This being true, God has scarcely seen His glory reflected back at Him by us or by this created realm.  But this realm was created for His glory!  He could not have created it for something else’s glory.  If He were to do so He would have to deny Himself; which God cannot do (2 Tim. 2:13c).

Furthermore, this statement is doxological.  It ascribes praise and glory to God.  Prayer that does not praise is hardly prayer at all.  Prayer without praise is not locked in on God as its target.  The writer of Hebrews explains, “he who comes to God must believe that He is…” (Heb.11:6).  This means that we must believe that God is really there and He is Who He says He is.  Now, that being so, we can hardly think of thinking about god as He really is and not offering up praise and worship to Him.

The great Methodist Bible commentator Adam Clarke (d. 1832) wrote:

“Prayer is the language of dependence; he who prays not is endeavoring to live independently of God; this was the first curse, and continues to be the great curse of mankind.”

A prayer that includes a doxology like the one at the end of ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ tells God of our earnest wish not to be left to ourselves and our own devices.  Independence from God is indeed what Adam Clarke called it, “the great curse of mankind.”  Therefore we should all want to take full part in a kingdom on earth that is God’s!


The Cursing of the Earth

This is a snippet from the book I’m writing:

To Adam God said,

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. 18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return. – Genesis 3:17-19

There are several things of moment in this passage.  Firstly, the Lord tells Adam that he has listened to Eve in preference to God.  The problem stems from the authority of words.[1]  Let me say here as forcibly as I can that in the end everything boils down to the interpretation of words and the authority we lend them.  Adam gave less weight to God’s words than to those of Eve.  What were God’s words?  Let us remind ourselves what God said in Genesis 2:

 …from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die. – Genesis 2:17

This is summarized in the middle of 3:17

…have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it.’

Hopefully you see that the Lord conflated the original prohibition but repeated it word for word?  If God had been taken at face value and His words were given the gravity they ought to have had all would have been well.  So we should never take our eyes off of what God is saying!

Another thing our passage reveals is that the “good earth” is cursed.  It is not just the dirt of the garden of Eden which is cursed, but the whole planet.  Again, this seems to give the lie to the theory of the world beyond the garden being a wilderness of lurking evil.  Such a view almost makes this curse on the ground superfluous; more especially if one goes along with the view that “thorns and thistles” already existed outside Eden.

But bypassing this question, I am more interested in the deeper issue of the curse on the ground.  By cursing the ground, from where everything grows and from which animals and men eat, the effects of the curse are inevitably transferred.  Not that sin is transferred that way, but the curse on the earth is.  And because our physiology often affects our emotional and bodily health, the cycle of detritus will continue until God acts to countermand it.

Moreover the passage is clear that the Lord cursed the ground because of (abur – ‘on account of’) the man.  This is fitting as the earth was made for man.  If man was to become the godless, lawless wretch that history portrays him to be, it would be quite strange if God had permitted him to live in a world unaffected by his sin and its consequences.  Just like the Resurrection of Jesus Christ seems out of context within this world[2], so sinners running around in an otherwise unspoiled tranquil earthly paradise would be decidedly non-contextual.

[1] One is reminded of the way Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:24-27.

[2] What I mean by saying this is not of course that the Resurrection never took place.  Only that the reversal and then some of the human form to transcendent perfection befits another, higher, and better world than this one.

Further Thoughts on The Call to the Ministry

The Call to the Ministry: A Crucial Subject

Again, what is the “Desire”?

We are looking into the subject of the Call to the Ministry.  Last time we considered the “desire” of 1 Timothy 3:1, and we saw that whichever way you cut it, this desire must be qualified in order to exclude carnal and fleshly impulses, overly romanticized fleeting impressions, the cocksure preenings of proud self-assuredness, or the recognition of persons in breach of biblical morality.  Thus, a true “desire” to preach and pastor boils down to something that is produced in a man by the influence of God Himself.

We are saying that the desire to be an overseer/elder/pastor (it’s the same office. Cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-3), must be placed there by the One who calls and sends.  If that assertion is right, then this kind of call to the ministry must be subject to testing over a sustained period of time to see if it is the right thing or not, and to mature the one involved. That is what John Newton and C. H. Spurgeon and many others held to be almost axiomatic in order for the wheat, as it were, to be separated from the chaff. And that is why Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote that whenever anyone told him he thought he was called to preach, he (MLJ) would see it as his duty to try to talk him out of it!

This understanding of the ministerial call was very decided in Lloyd-Jones.  In his lectures at Westminster Seminary in the late 1960’s he spoke thus:

“A preacher is not a Christian who decides to preach …he does not even decide to take up preaching as a calling… preaching is never something one decides to do.  What happens rather is that he becomes conscious of a ‘call.’ There must …be a sense of constraint.  This is surely the most crucial test….I would say that the only man who is called to preach is the man who cannot do anything else, in the sense that he is not satisfied with anything else.” – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 103-105.

C. H. Spurgeon, of course, said something very similar.

Romans 10:14-15: Preachers Are Sent

Another important text which must be studied in this connection is in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 10.  In verse 14 and 15a of this chapter, the Apostle wrote:

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have never heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they be sent?

There are a number of matters to be settled in relation to this text.  First, what does it mean to “be sent” and who does the sending?  Second, what rubric, if any, is Paul drawing on?  Finally, what alternatives are there to the common interpretation?

In answer to the first question, Douglas Moo observes,

“By repeating the verb from the end of one question at the beginning of the next, Paul creates a connected chain of steps that must be followed if a person is to be saved.”The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, 663.

Further, the quotation of Isaiah 52:7 after the fourth and final question in v.15 fortifies the importance of God Himself sending out His heralds.  There is then something of an official air to this section.  It is worth reproducing a longish passage from F.F. Bruce in support of this:

“Men and women are urged to call on the name of the Lord and be saved; but they will not call on his name unless they have been moved to believe in him, they cannot believe in him unless they hear about him, they cannot hear about him unless someone brings them the news, and no-one can bring them the news unless he is commissioned to do so.  The preacher is an ‘apostle’ in the primary sense of the word: he is a herald or ambassador conveying from someone who has commissioned him to deliver it.”Romans, TNTC, 193-194.

The second question is also answered by the Apostle’s inclusion of the Isaiah passage.  The original context is clearly kingdom-oriented and eschatological.  Paul takes advantage of this context in his larger argument in chapters 9 through 11; which is that Israel still has a future in God’s plans.  Thus, the heralds are appointed by God to proclaim the good news to Israel too, in line with their future expectation. (more…)

The Call to the Ministry: A Crucial Subject

I have been wanting to repost this and another piece for some time, and now seems as good a time as any.  While I am aware that good people disagree with the view set out below, I am content to stand with many names from the past on this issue.  

Giving attention to the Call

I would like to say something about what is called “the call to the ministry” or “the call to preach.”  In my opinion this is a crucial subject which has very often been misunderstood or else ignored.  Indeed, this matter ought to be constantly before us in these days of declension.  I believe there is much important truth to the old saying, “As the pulpit goes so goes the church. As the church goes so goes the community…” In looking out upon the state of the evangelical churches in America today, it is my personal view that we really are suffering from the effects of a lack of attention to the call to the ministry.


Before going on I need to define what I am talking about.  By the “call” I here mean “the particular effects of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of some men to equip and to bring about in them an undying desire to preach and teach the Word of God to those to whom God would send them.”

This definition is more theological than textual.  That is, we might equally refer to it as a “sending” or a “longing”.  But the point is, it is a “calling” to a particular function within the Body of Christ.  This does not mean that there are not other “callings” – only that there is such a thing as a special call from God upon certain men whom He chooses to teach His Word.

In some quarters there has always been either a superficial view of this “call” into Christian ministry.  In some others, the whole concept of this call has been considered unbiblical.  There is no such thing as “the call to preach” so we are told.  Some men just have the ability and, if they choose to begin preaching and the churches support their desires that is really all there is to it.

Test All Things

Dealing with both of these opinions together we can say that there is one thing which they both pay little or no heed to: that one thing is the nature or source of the “desire” to preach.  Those holding a superficial view will not give much emphasis to the testing of the call or the maturity of the one professing to be under it.  They will often view the call in isolation from the person’s aptitude and, sadly, his spirituality.  The “desire” may well be seen as coming from God but it is still treated as if it could not arise from another, more carnal source.  Thus, the “call” is taken at face value without regard to personal pride, ambition, self-deception, or other forces acting on the will.  Often in such cases the native abilities of the person are seen as conclusive proof of a call.  And this is a snare which, time and again, the Church has fallen into.

An example of this superficial view is the case of Charles Templeton, an evangelist of the 1940’s and 50’s who was often compared with Billy Graham.  Templeton deserted the faith and became an ardent atheist.  He had the ability to speak, but his “calling” was shown to be a false one, not of God at all.  Similarly I can recall a well known preacher in Cambridge, England whom everyone thought was a great man of God.  This individual could certainly expound Scripture from the pulpit.  The present writer can testify to his ability.  But in 1999 this man shamefully left his wife and kids to enter into a homosexual relationship.  He continues to promote gay christianity via the Gay Christian Network today.  His abilities are beyond all doubt.  But was He ever really “called”?

It is easy to multiply such examples.  One thinks of the now atheist former pastors John Loftus and Dan Barker for instance.  What needs to be pondered by us is the credibility of their calling into Christian ministry in the first place.  Did God call these men to teach His Word knowing that they would abandon the faith they once preached?  Either we acknowledge such a situation or we conclude that grave mistakes were made in putting these men into pastorates.  The fault lies either with God and man or with man alone.  In the first case we bring a charge against God Himself!  In the second the fault lies much closer to home.  We, the Church, have thrust uncalled and unsent men into our pulpits.

This gives encouragement to those who deny any special call to the ministry, but it surely chastens those of us who believe such a call to exist!  On the one hand, if there is, in fact, no calling upon certain men to preach and/or pastor churches, it is hard to see how the Church can prevent the wrong sorts from getting churches and poisoning them from the inside.  On the other hand, if there is a true call to preach it must be both identifiable and verifiable.  We might add that it will also be falsifiable if it is an imposture.  In the case of the Cambridge preacher mentioned above, he has said himself that he confessed his homosexual tendencies before and while he was a missionary and before he became a pastor. (more…)

An Overview of the History of Interpretation (Part 2)

Part One

 3. Allegorical Interpretation continued.

But what we must keep in mind is that allegorical interpretation was not foreign to Jewish understanding of their Scriptures in the first century.  Maier can say, “Jewish interpreters of the first century were convinced that the Holy Scriptures contained more than what the sensus literalis offered.” – Gerhard Maier, Biblical Hermeneutics, 68.

Thus, we should not yield to the naïve temptation to think that the Jews held to single-sense literal hermeneutics.

So what did the use of allegory accomplish?  In one important sense it enabled Christians in earlier ages to locate themselves and their situations in the Bible story.  As one writer puts it,

“…allegory was one of the main means by which Scripture continued to be a channel of the life of Christ to the church, rather than a dead letter.  It especially helped maintain the identity of a people.  It enabled Christians of the fourth, or seventh or fourteenth centuries to see themselves in the sacred text – and they can still do so today.  It is a community building manoeuvre, in which Christians of any ‘present’ are bonded with those of the past.” – Stephen I. Wright, “Inhabiting the Story,” in Behind The Text, eds, Craig Barthlomew, etc. 509.

Looked at that way, it is easy to see the attraction of allegory, just as it is easy to understand the urge to apply every verse in the Bible to Jesus Christ, or to erect large theological edifices via typology today.

4. From The Third to the Fifth Centuries.

It is no coincidence that allegorical interpretations of Scripture filtered into both the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church via Alexandria.  It was there that Clement (c. A.D. 150-215), and Origen (c, A.D. 185-254), used allegory to find ‘deeper’ meanings in the OT and NT. They particularly found difficulty in assigning OT prophecies about Israel to the Christian Church. But by discovering a mystical sense to Scripture, they could reassign troublesome passages and explain away what appeared to them to be incongruities within the Bible. Augustine (A.D. 354-430), who was a native of North Africa, was the greatest theologian-philosopher of the Early Church.  He came to Christ through allegory (Maier, 69).  It was his endorsement of the allegorical method of interpretation which had the decisive influence upon hermeneutics up until the time of the Reformation. Thus it was that early Roman Catholic allegorism was given its impetus by the Alexandrian school under Clement and Origen, and then through the Bishop of Hippo.

Origen’s prominence as a Bible scholar influenced many interpreters of the Latin church. One of these, the Donatist Tychonius, was the man who would set out the principles of interpretation which Augustine would follow in his ideal of relating everything to Christ. A major premise of Augustine’s interpretation was that the Catholic Church was the City of God – the kingdom. Therefore, Old Testament statements which gave promises to Israel were to be re-interpreted so that the promises were now inherited by the Church.  He often allegorized Old Testament passages in order to solve its “problems.”  He did this so skillfully that it is hard to resist his conclusions, even if they are drawn precariously from an allegorical method.

Augustine’s elder contemporary, Jerome (c. A.D. 341-420), was a man of great learning, particularly in Hebrew and Greek. Although his first commentaries followed the allegorical approach, later in life he adopted a far more literal hermeneutic. This was due, in the main, to the influence upon him of the Antiochene school, which we will describe presently.  Jerome’s later Commentary on Daniel, says Dockery, “remained strictly within the confines required by the text.”  Thus, “Through Jerome’s influence, a modified Antiochene literalism was mediated to the later church.” – David S. Dockery, Biblical Interpretation Then and Now, 133.

The school of Antioch in Syria was renowned for its exegetes Lucian (c. A.D. 240), Diodore (d. c. A.D. 394), and Theodore of Mopsuesta (c. 350-428), and for its great preacher John Chrysostom (c. A.D. 354-407), and its greatest theologian, Theodoret (c. A.D. 393-466). All of these men employed a more literal hermeneutic than the Alexandrians, wherein the literal sense was given precedence.  But it would be a big mistake to assert, as some do, that the Syrian approach to interpretation was the same as what has been called “grammatical-historical interpretation” in the present day.  To give two quick examples: Theodore of Mopsuesta was often so literalistic as to deny the prophetic teaching of many OT prophecies.  On the other hand, Theodoret often used spiritualizing in his expositions.

Still, it was true that, as a rule, the Antiochenes were far more concerned about reading the text for what it said rather than seeking for secondary meanings.  But, in the end, it was the spiritualizing of the Alexandrian school that prevailed and which was to hold sway for the next thousand years.

Next time:  Approaching the Reformation



The Incoherence of Evolutionary Origins (6)


Natural Theology and Methodological Naturalism

How can scientific naturalism be a child of Christian theology?  That is a good question.  One would think that such a methodology, disposed as it is to serve the worldviews of materialists and atheists, and presented by them as indispensable to good science, would have been contrived by them, but such is not the case.

In fact Cornelius Hunter contends that,

What we need…is a clear understanding of what naturalism is.  Naturalism’s adherents think that it is a scientific discovery, and its detractors think it is atheism in disguise.  In fact, it is a rationalist movement built on a foundation of religious thought and traditions that mandate a world that operates according to natural laws and processes.  - Cornelius G. Hunter, Science’s Blind Spot, 50

If this is so, it was thought that those laws and processes would be primed to produce perfect symmetry – IF God was working within them!

Having said this it has to be noted that although methodological naturalism is seized upon by materialists with fervor, it is not identical with philosophical cum metaphysical naturalism.  It was brought into the rule of science by theists.  The problem was though, these well-intentioned theists were not paying as much attention to their Bibles as they ought to have done.  Hunter notices the case of the great Botanist John Ray, who “would argue on the one hand that nature revealed design but on the other hand that the world was not directly created, as evidenced by its errors and bungles.” (Ibid, 53).  These “errors and bungles” in nature could not, it was thought, be laid at the feet of God.  Logically, therefore, they had to come about via purely natural processes.

The erroneous notion under which these theistic naturalists were operating stemmed itself from the dictates of a form of natural theology.  In their book In Defense of Natural Theology, James F. Sennett and Douglas Groothuis define it this way:

The attempt to provide rational justification for theism using only those sources of information accessible to all inquirers, namely the data of empirical experience and the dictates of human reason. In other words, it is defensive theism without recourse to purported Special Revelation.  

I am not claiming that Sennett and Groothuis endorse Ray’s position, but this definition does serve to show how such a position might come about, especially at the dawn of the modern scientific era.  As time went on the anti-theists of the Enlightenment took hold of what the theists handed them and employed it with relish.  Would that these theists had understood that the Natural Theology which they used to divine nature’s “errors and bungles” was itself shot through with the same.

What causes still more friction is that those who like Natural Theology commonly call it General Revelation.  But the two are very different.  There is not an awful lot that I would agree with when it comes to the work of William Abraham, but he is quite right in separating the disciplines of General Revelation and Natural Theology.  He says it well:

It has been common to run together General Revelation and Natural Theology, but this is clearly a mistake. The doctrine of General Revelation involves an assertion that God is revealed ‘generally’ in creation – Natural Theology involves an argument from general features of the universe to the proposition that God exists. – William J. Abraham, Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation, 67 n.7

The term General Revelation has often been co-opted by natural theologians to mean Natural Theology.  But General Revelation is a doctrine which is subject to Scripture while Natural Theology self-consciously is not.

Why this digression to talk about Natural Theology?  Because it furnished the original conditions and the rationale for naturalism in science and is still often invoked (sometimes without knowing) by people, be they Christians or unbelievers, to defend methodological naturalism in science.  Methodological naturalism came about through poor theology; it is a bastard-child of ill-understood doctrines, and it now legitimates itself through its associations with established scientific procedure and the requirements of evolutionary dogma.  Nobody questions its credentials.  It serves a bigger purpose.

Indeed, on some grounds not immediately dependent upon Natural Theology, even the evolution hypothesis is not incompatible with Christianity.  For instance, Alvin Plantinga, though no evolutionist, in the first part of his Where The Conflict Really Lies, has shown that there is no necessary conflict between evolution and Christianity.  But this is not to say that when it comes down to it there is no incompatibility.  Agree with him or not, all Plantinga is saying is that certain approaches to Christian Theology – approaches dispensing with plain interpretation and the problem of death and thorns before the Fall – can theoretically incorporate Neo-Darwinian views.

Two Large Obstacles

Of course, two very large obstacles get in the way of “Theistic Evolution”.  The first is the actual text and theology of the Bible, which, if it can perhaps be understood to permit old-earth scenarios, cannot without rude discomfort accommodate evolution and the survival of the fittest.  But I am not concerned with that here.  It is the second obstacle which I wish to ponder; and that is, the illogic of evolution and evolutionary descriptions of origins.

In these articles I have tried to pinpoint several logical errors in standard evolutionary ideas.  I have shown that without the biblical God to ensure that the future will be like the past the whole scientific edifice teeters upon the fallacy of begging the question.  I have shown several other incoherences along the way.  Still another one is provided by Hunter when he explains about the use of predictions to fortify a theory which is wrong.  He gives the example of Ptolemy and observes,

In fact, the idea that an evidence proves a theory is a logical fallacy known as affirming the consequent.  So we need to be careful when using predictions to evaluate the truth value of a theory. – Science’s Blind Spot, 74.     

This second problem of incoherence will only intensify over time.  The tide is turning. (more…)

Prophets As Fore-Tellers?

This is a note from a book I am trying to write.

We must too be aware that a prophet foretells.  The term “prophet” (nabi) basically means “mouthpiece” or “spokesman” (Cf. Exod. 7:1-2 with 4:16; Deut. 18:17-18).  They were preachers, proclaiming the words of God to their contemporaries.  But in the Bible the most prominent function of a prophet was to proclaim God’s word about future events (see e.g., Jer. 1:7-16; Amos 7:7-9, 14-17; 1 Ki. 1:22).  As we shall see, although it scarcely requires demonstration, much of what is recorded in Scripture about prophetic utterances includes predictive elements.  Hence, a crucial test of a prophet was not merely whether he was thought to be correctly interpreting a political situation or addressing a declension in national morality, but whether what he said was going to happen actually did occur (Deut. 18:21-22).[1]  Prophecy was more often than not about what God was going to do, especially in view of the tension between His covenant love (hesed) and His justice.[2]

Though not all cases involved predictive prophecy, a false prediction could be spotted where the fulfillment was in the short term – say, in the lifetime of the prophet – and then it would be clear enough whether he had spoken something from the Lord, or merely spoken out of egotistically-propelled enthusiasm (E.g. Jer. 8:11-15; 28:1-4, 10-11).[3]

But many prophetic declarations were not short-term.  In cases where fulfillment lay in the more distant future, what was to happen?  Were the tests of a prophet redundant in such cases?  Were there then no tests given in regard to long-term far reaching eschatological predictions?  I argue that these tests are not only necessary for long-term prophecies, but that they themselves assume an interpretation of the prophet which can be checked against the original utterance.  This leaves little space for broadening the semantic range of the original words of a prophetic utterance to make them undergo a forced fulfillment by transforming the prophet’s words out of all recognition.  Prophecies are not made of the stuff which can sustain substantial metamorphoses and transplantation.  An original hearer, were she able to travel far into the future to the time of fulfillment, should easily recognize the prophet’s words coming to pass before her eyes without having to be “debriefed” on why things looked very different than what the original prophecy had led her and her contemporaries to reasonably expect. One reason the biblical prophets have been turned more into forthtellers than foretellers is perhaps that many scholars wish to do just that, and in choosing to do so they are forced to divert attention away from the predictive roles of these Seers.  The subject of the generation of and responsibility for Expectation needs more careful reflection than it has had until now.

[1] Some will refer to Peter’s use of “prophecy” in 2 Pet. 1:19-21 to teach that the primary meaning of the word covers all Scripture; therefore “prophecy” becomes synonymous with revelation.  But this is misleading.  In the context, Peter is pointing to the Transfiguration as adumbrating the Second Advent (see 1:16 & 19).  Hence, he is speaking of prophecy as foretelling a future event and not as another term for revelation.

[2] “The prophetic books reflect God’s struggle with his love for Israel in view of the betrayal of that love.  His decision to execute judgment stands in internal tension with his inextinguishable love.” – Reinhard Feldmeier & Hermann Spieckermann, God of the Living: A Biblical Theology, 138-139.

[3] For example, the phrase “you shall know” when spoken by Yahweh refers to short-term predictions (Exod. 6:7; 7:17; 16:12; Num. 16:28; Josh. 3:10; 1 Ki. 20:13, 28; Ezek. 11:10).  Once it refers to a long-range prediction of [New] covenant fulfillment (Ezek. 16:62-63).


This is one which came out a couple of years back.  Thought it deserved a rerun:
When one is associating a belief with the text of Scripture it is never wise to choose texts from obscure, debated or overly figurative portions of the Bible. Why go to a vision of Zechariah when you can go to an epistle of Paul for the same doctrine?

When tying a doctrine concerning the Church to Scripture we find good men like F. Turretin running to the song of Solomon. Surely it is unwise to appeal to the Song of Solomon, since the assumption that the Song is actually speaking about the Church is a decided long shot.

A Dispensationalist who thinks he has proven the pre-tribulation rapture by just citing 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is not paying enough attention to the passage. I have seen this done many times. Someone says, “the pre-trib rapture is there in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15.” Not in those passages it isn’t. Yes, 1 Thessalonians 4 speaks of the rapture. No, it says nothing about the timing of the rapture. More passages need to be brought in to help.

Likewise appealing to certain verses in the Prophets and applying them indiscriminately to the present state of Israel, or extrapolating OT warnings of judgment upon Israel for her idolatry and wickedness and applying them to the United States often entails lack of respect for the context.

Is it a fait-accompli to refer to Jn. 5:25 for proof that the first resurrection of Rev. 20 is the new birth and not physical resurrection? The verse right before Jn. 5:25 famously refers to regeneration as “passing from death to life.”

It is a good bet then that the “dead” who hear and “live” are the spiritually dead. Then again, the word “resurrection” is not in the passage. It is there in verse 28-29 where Jesus is referring to “those in the tombs” – i.e. corpses! – being raised at the end-time judgment, but not in first century Israel. Thus, the resurrection in Jn. 5:28-29 supports the idea of physical resurrection in Rev. 20. The new birth in Jn. 5:25 has nothing to with Rev. 20. Notice also that the context of Rev. 20 refers to those who had been “beheaded” (20:4), and who are contrasted with “the rest of the dead” in verse 5.

When trying to prove that infants of believers should be baptized and admitted to membership in the visible church, the Shorter Catechism (Q.95) uses Acts 2:38-39, Gen. 17:10; Col. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 7:14. Acts 2:38-39 says:

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.

Notice that repentance is necessary to receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit; something which infants cannot do because they do not understand repentance, nor indeed what there is to repent of. But if it is pressed that only the hearers of Peter had to repent and the promise would automatically include all their children, then clearly there would be no need for any of the children to repent, because they would have already be forgiven through the promise. If individual repentance is necessary to receive forgiveness then infants would need to show repentance before being baptized according to the order of Peter’s instruction (nobody thinks it would have been alright for these Jewish hearers to have been baptized before showing repentance!). Thus, Acts 2 really has nothing to do with why infants ought to be baptized.

What about the Catechism’s next proof-text: Gen. 17:10? Well Genesis knows nothing at all about baptism. The reference is to male circumcision. Yes, infant males were to be circumcised, but that was so they would be included under the provisions of the Abrahamic covenant as descendents of Abraham and Isaac to inherit the promised land (17:8). There is no Church in view here, so again, how is this a proof-text for baptized infants being church members? We start to see the presuppositions in the next two references which were given as comparisons. First up, Colossians 2:11-12:

and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Nothing here about infants or church membership. The “circumcision made without hands” relates to the new birth, so those to whom Paul is writing had believed the gospel. How do I know that? Simple, verse 6 says, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” These are believers! The context was ignored by the Westminster men. Please notice that these believers were said to have been “buried with Him in baptism,” which is surely Spirit-baptism not water baptism. So water baptism isn’t in the text either!

The final proof-text resorted to is 1 Cor. 7:14:

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.

This passage has to do with marriages where the father is an unbeliever and the mother is a believer. In such a situation it is comforting to know that God regards the children as “clean” in the sense that the marriage is “clean.” Notice that if used to prove infant regeneration this would not require anything else (belief, repentance, consecration) from the children. they would be saved already! And without baptism too!

These are examples of poor proof-texting. In each case the context was ignored because it wasn’t important to the formulation of the doctrine. The doctrine was presupposed and forced upon the verses.

It is also not good to choose proof-texts which could quite easily and legitimately be interpreted in a way which would not lead to one theological conclusion. We ought to find the clearest, most unequivocal verses to prove our beliefs. When employing these base-texts careful attention should be paid to those passages which most closely match the doctrine or interpretation we are setting forth.

The Incoherence of Evolutionary Origins (5)

Part Four

The Definition of Science

In the course of writing about the idea of science in his Systematic Theology, Reformed writer Michael Horton notes that “Britain’s Royal Society was founded by Puritans.” – The Christian Faith, 339 n.48

The Puritans saw no clash, either ontological or methodological, in pursuing science as a response to God’s revelation.  The fact that God created the world and created man in His image meant that to find out what God had done was both legitimate as to fueling an expectation of discovery, and meaningful because Creation had been endowed with its own integrity apart from God while being supervened by God.  In this they were in line with the Reformers like Calvin, who said:

Meanwhile being placed in this most beautiful theater, let us not decline to take a pious delight in the clear and manifest works of God. For as we have elsewhere observed, though not the chief, it is in point of order, the first evidence of faith to remember to which side, so ever we turn, that all which meets the eye is the work of God, and at the same time to meditate with pious care on the end which God had in view in creating it. – John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I. 14, 20

Hence, the pursuance of science as scientia (knowledge) was seen to be a full-orbed task, unpartitioned as yet by the bifurcation of phenomenal and noumenal; natural and supernatural: all knowledge had some revelatory significance.  Alas, the Royal Society does not see the world through the same eyes as its founders.

Saying this does not mean that scientists should not follow certain methods for discovery.  These methods will differ depending on the phenomena under investigation, but the thing to be kept in mind is that Christians were for science while at the same time seeing no problem with bringing God the Creator into the conversation; not as a replacement for scientific descriptions of the world He has made, but as THE Reality which makes sense of every other reality, and the study of that reality.  Indeed, to insist that to evoke God as Cause means science comes to an end usually entails bad theology and falls foul of the law of the excluded middle.  To make the issue either/or is both to show ignorance of the rise of the Christian-theistic origins of modern science and to put into practice the blunder of begging the question.  If God created the world and He invites us to explore it and to analyze it, most assuredly He does not want us to emit the cry “God did that!” and walk away from our scientific experiments and hypotheses.  At the same time He does not want His creatures to do science as if He was not the Designer, Creator and Sustainer of both man’s faculties and the extended world which those faculties investigate.  Indeed, the dominant idea of science as naturalism cannot itself uphold science as a pursuit because naturalism as metaphysical dogma fails to give a coherent account of either.  As Horton rightly says,

The natural sciences… excel in weighing, measuring, observing, and predicting, but they exceed the bounds of their competence when they reduce all phenomena to natural causes. – Ibid, 340

Doing science in God’s world as if God isn’t there is no less culpable today than it would have been had Adam named the animals while pretending God did not exist.  Further, it is no less irrational.

A Big Problem with Scientific Naturalism

(In these posts scientific, philosophical and methodological naturalism are used interchangeably).

Cornelius Van Til observed that,

Non-Christian science has worked with the borrowed capital of Christian theism, and for that reason alone has been able to bring to light much truth. – cited in Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, 377

The reason for this is because philosophical or scientific naturalism is not self-justifying.  Just because persons of all different persuasions can do science does not mean that these same persuasions are competent to act as an apology for science and/or the search for truth.  David Hume’s arguments against cause and effect reduced everything to habitual practices within a state of affairs which could change tomorrow.  We are merely “a bundle of perceptions.”  We cannot know for sure that tomorrow will be as today.  In fact, the standard Copi & Cohen Introduction to Logic (11th edition) lists that very belief as a classic example of the fallacy of begging the question!  Hence, on naturalistic presuppositions the logic of testing hypotheses breaks down, because it relies on a belief about the future which is empirically closed-off and logically fallacious.  A sine qua non for science; the principle of uniformity, is not itself open to the vaunted “scientific method” – within the naturalistic approach.

If Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins are to be believed, we are nothing more than brain chemistry.  But if that is “true” then nothing is true and science is a futile self-delusion.

If the rational human mind is merely a biological product, which it must be if naturalistic evolution were true, then the mind is not an independent observer, no matter how complex or sophisticated it may be and it is therefore not truly free to explore or examine reality. The functions of the mind would be produced and controlled solely by the genetic chemical makeup of, and the environmental influences on, each individual. Because of the complexity of the mental faculties, the brain itself being incredibly intricate, there would be some natural variation in thought patterns, So not everyone would think exactly alike but the variations would be like the multitude of variations found in roses or in dogs. Just as ‘Peace’ and ‘American Beauty’ are both roses despite their significant differences, and Great Danes and Yorkshire Terriers are both dogs despite their differences, so atheism and theism would simply be examples of natural variations of human thought and one could not be more true than the other in any objective or absolute sense. – L. Russ Bush, The Advancement, 39

This is science played on purely naturalistic instruments: no strings, no composer, no instruments.

Many philosophers of science have shown that there is no one agreed upon or completely serviceable definition of science (the pronouncements of scientists notwithstanding).  The literature is vast (See e.g., Del Ratzsch, Science and Its Limits).  Stephen Meyer demonstrates well in his books Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt that he and other I.D. advocates employ the very same tools which Darwin used and which scientists today use.  The real issue is not how scientists operate, but which worldview these people operate within.

Scientists Aren’t Fools

A common defense which is heard when evolution and its mother philosophy are questioned is that scientists are not fools.  Setting aside the obvious truth that all of us, scientist or no, can and have been fools, I shall narrow the definition down to the meaning that “scientists are aware of what they are doing.”  And the reply one should give to that sort of answer is, “so what?”

If that seems unkind let me clarify.  To the objection that naturalistic scientists have good reasons for pointing to the Big Bang, or homology or the fossil record as proof that they are on the right track it may be pointed back that this is another non sequitur.  Michael Polanyi, the famous chemist and philosopher of science, used the example of the premise “all men must die” to drive this home.  Speaking of “primitive peoples” he said,

 Such people believe that no man ever dies, except as a victim of evil magic… Their denial of natural death is part of their general belief that events which are harmful to man are never natural, but always the outcome of magic wrought by some malevolent person.  In this magical interpretation of experience we see some causes which to us are massive and plain… or even irrelevant to the event (like the passing overhead of a rare bird)… The primitive peoples holding these beliefs are of normal intelligence.  Yet they not only find their views wholly consistent with everyday experience, but will uphold them firmly in the face of any attempts on the part of Europeans to refute them by reference to such experience. – Michael Polanyi, Science, Faith and Society, 25.

Are these people fools?  No.  But then perhaps Polanyi is trying to get us to see that the question is inappropriate.  The real question is, “is the worldview true?”  to that question the Christian must answer the evolutionary naturalist as he would answer the “primitive” native: assuredly not!  They have both cut off access to much truth by adopting a false perspective on the world.  For as Phillip Johnson observes,

Natural science is thus based on naturalism.  What a science based on naturalism tells us, not surprisingly, is that naturalism is true. – Phillip E. Johnson, Reason in the Balance, 8


Covenants: Clarity, Ambiguity and Faith (6)

Part Five

C. Phinehas (‘Priestly’)

Since I have treated this covenant elsewhere in some detail I shall just briefly rehearse the salient facts.

Owing to the zeal of Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, a devastating plague was stopped and God’s wrath appeased (Num. 25:  ).  Although Phinehas could have had no idea what God would do next, his honoring of God’s holiness elicited a quite un-looked-for covenant between God and Phinehas’s offspring (Num. 25:13; Psa. 106:28-31).  This covenant stands behind the promise of ministering Levites in New covenant contexts as seen in Jeremiah 31:14; 33:17-18, 21-22; Ezekiel 44:15, and other places.

The oath is as follows:

Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace: and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood… – Num. 25:12-13a (cf. Jer. 33:21)

Despite the difficulties (more often presumed than proven) of Levites ministering in a New covenant kingdom context this pledge must mean what it says.  One may perhaps wish to put a limit on the duration of the promise, such as the end of the Millennial Reign, which is permissible under some circumstances, but one cannot begin to meddle with the unambiguous oath and make it fulfilled in the past in violation of God’s oaths (Num. 25 and Jer. 33).  That is to say, it is illegitimate to make this covenant oath ambiguous because of a perceived clash with the writer of Hebrews.  This point is reinforced when one considers that at the time God made the covenant with Phinehas, he was under the terms of the temporary Mosaic covenant.  Hence, the Priestly covenant transcends the Mosaic covenant.

D. ‘Land’ 

Sometimes wrongly called the ‘Palestinian’ covenant (“Palestine” was the name given by Hadrian to Israel after the Bar Kokhba revolt in A.D. 132-135), the Land covenant is really a reaffirmation of the land promises of the Abrahamic covenant, and is often alluded to under those terms in the OT.  Although there are New covenant overtones to account for in Deuteronomy 30:1-6, the land promises in Deuteronomy 29-30 are tied to the Law (Deut. 29:21, 25; 30:10).  Therefore I prefer to refer to the unconditional land promise within the Abrahamic covenant (see above).

E. David

It is well known that 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17 do not mention the word for covenant (berith).  That a covenant was initiated is substantiated by Psalm 89:3-4, 33-37 and Jeremiah 33:17, 21.  In 2 Samuel the Lord says to David,

And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you.  Your throne shall be established forever. – 2 Sam. 7:16

The Psalmist notes the two bound concepts in the covenant: the longevity of David’s line and the establishment of his throne:

My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.  Once have I sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me; it shall be established forever… – Psa. 89:34-37a   

The all-important promise pertaining to the subject of the throne of Israel is repeated in the slogan,

David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel – Jer. 33:17 (cf. 1 Ki. 2:4)

This pledge does not necessary mean the line of Davidic kings will be unbroken.  The Davidic covenant was made under the auspices of the Mosaic economy and awaits its New covenant fulfillment.  What is guaranteed is the perpetuity of the line under New covenant kingdom conditions.  God’s oath cannot and will not be sidetracked.  David will yet have a man reign in the nation Israel (e.g. Jer. 23:5-6; Ezek. 34:11-31; Dan. 7:13-14).

F. New

The New covenant is first introduced as such by the Prophet Jeremiah in chapter 31 of his book:

But this covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts…No more shall every man teach his neighbor…saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me…For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more. – Jer. 31:33-34

 The New covenant is a salvific covenant.  In fact, it is the salvific covenant!  

This is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you – Lk. 22:20 (cf. 2 Cor. 3:5-6; Eph. 2:20)

Without the salvation and restoration contained in this covenant none of the other Divine covenants can achieve their fulfillment.  This covenant is wrapped up in the Person of the Messiah.  As I have written previously,

The promises appended to the biblical covenants are not supplemented with a means of fulfillment within those same covenants.  The fulfillment lies outside of those covenants, within the New Covenant as it supplies the Noahic, Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic Covenants with the means of their realization.  And the New Covenant must be “enabled” by Christ, the “Man from Heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47).  Hence, the Plan of God outlined in the biblical covenants converges on the crucified Jesus and emerges from the resurrected Jesus!

Because Jesus Christ is the One for whom everything was made in the first place (Col. 1:16-17), it is absolutely fitting that the New covenant in His blood, whether enacted in the present with the Church (1 Cor. 11:23-26), or in the future in fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-34 upon Israel, be the basis upon which God’s other covenants are satisfied.  The New covenant, as it were, takes the other unilateral covenants into itself and prepares sinners to receive their joint benefits in accordance with the oaths taken by God – whether the recipients are Israel, the Church, or the Nations.  [For more on these themes please see the series Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism]

What God’s New covenant oath means is that sinners made in God’s image will be saved and the marred image fully restored; and as this earth is made for man for living in, the planet and its creatures will be restored too (see e.g., Isa. 11:1-10; 49:6-8; Mic. 4:1-3; Matt. 19:28; Acts 3:21; Rom. 8:18-23).

If this is true then there is no reason to transform or reinterpret or typologize the great covenantal oaths which God voluntarily entered into, knowing beforehand how He would make everything come together just as He said it would.  The covenants mean what they say.  We ought to have full confidence in them as amplifications of God’s plain words to our dull ears and autonomous inclinations.  Any approach which changes the plain sense of these unambiguous oaths for the sake of a theological program cannot be biblical, for the simple but profound reason that nothing which cuts across these Divine oaths can be in line with the Divine intent in these very covenants.   (more…)