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.

Definition

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)

PART FIVE

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).

A WORD ABOUT PROOF-TEXTS

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

(more…)

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…)

The Incoherence of Evolutionary Origins (4)

PART THREE

After the Impossible Hurdle

Evolution is the atheists’ way out.  It is his escape clause from having to face the God who created him.  People like Richard Dawkins may convince themselves that it makes atheism intellectually respectable, but they must first convince themselves that naturalism is intellectually respectable.

The problem here is that, as in many walks of life, it is possible to arrange our arguments selectively and with rhetorical conviction while ignoring the issues, even the most obvious ones.  So if we begin to stack up the problems: – something does not come from nothing; life does not come from non-life; the mathematics of sequence space (not enough time); the contradiction of using target-oriented computer programs to “simulate” discrete non-targeted chance scenarios; the logical fallacies (question-begging, composition, reification), etc., these problems make the intellectual satisfaction appear rather hollow.

But after such matters as these are engaged, there are still more difficulties.  One such is irreducible complexity.  First posited by biochemist Michael Behe, and, despite rumours to the contrary, not close to being refuted, this observational theory says that function in highly complex systems requires that all the necessary parts are in position and ready to work for the system itself to be what it is.  In Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, he has looked at the incredibly complex engines in the cells and he has shown that the different features of the cell must all have been there at the same time, already manufactured, and ready to do their jobs. The blind non-teleological forces of evolution cannot explain either the design of these complex and minuscule machines, nor can it explain the simultaneity of these parts; each one functioning the way that it should function.  Behe uses a by now well known illustration:

Irreducible complexity’ is just a fancy phrase I use to mean a single system that is composed of several interacting parts, where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to cease functioning. For example, the mousetrap has to have a platform, a catch, a holding bar, a spring, and a hammer in order to function as a mousetrap. – Michael Behe in William Dembski  & James Kushiner, eds., Signs of Intelligence, 93

Evolutionists have claimed that since some individual features in these systems are found to do work in other systems, that means evolution could have picked up and selected them to include in a future system.  But not only does this fail to address the “irreducible” part of Behe’s argument (as noted by him in an appendix to the 10th Anniversary edition of his book), it also lends evolution a prescience it actually does not have – again showing the proclivity of evolutionists for extrapolation and reification.

Doing what comes Naturalistically

As many a scientist will tell you, true science must – I say must –  proceed along naturalistic lines.  We must seek for natural explanations in the natural world for the phenomena we come across.

Now, on the face of it, the only thing which could be criticized in that sentiment is its doctrinaire flavor.  The problem with it is that there are many phenomena which cannot be satisfactorily explained as arising naturally even though they are amenable to observation and experimentation.  The method of science should not exclude a priori non-naturalistic explanations, because not invoking God as the Creator and Designer of nature moves the naturalist beyond experimentation and hypothesis testing into metaphysical dogmatism and its resulting blindness.  Phillip Johnson well describes the metaphysical fog which methodological naturalism encourages:

Philosophical naturalism is so deeply ingrained in the thinking of many educated people today, including theologians, that they find it difficult even to imagine any other way of looking at things… Even if they do develop doubts about whether such modest forces can account for large-scale change, their naturalism is undisturbed. Since there is nothing outside of nature, and since something must have produced all the kinds of organisms that exist, a satisfactory naturalistic mechanism must be awaiting discovery. – Phillip E. Johnson, “Evolution as Dogma”, in Uncommon Dissent, William A. Dembski, editor, 30.

Under these conditions it is impossible to do what Kepler or Newton or Maxwell or Faraday did, and do good science while leaving a route open where the facts can lead to God (if Carl Sagan believed the facts could lead to aliens why could they not lead to God?).  It is exactly this cognitive rut which one so often sees in the reviews of creationist and I.D. books by methodological naturalists of all stripes.  The charges, “they don’t understand evolution”, or “this writer doesn’t know how stages of bone-growth [or whatever] follow evolutionary pathways”,  etc, show up this often unnoticed slavery of thought.  These people cannot conceive of a situation where evolution is wrong or where philosophical naturalism does not equate to doing science.

In his thought-provoking book Science’s Blind Spot, Cornelius Hunter demonstrates that it was aberrant theological assumptions, fueled by natural theology, that installed and sustained the illegitimate reign of naturalism over science in the first place.  It was the dysteleology in the world; the imperfections and extinctions, which God had to be protected from.  God, it was thought, would not have made the world less than perfect.  Therefore, to invoke God would be to connect Him uncomfortably to the “wrongness” of nature.  The deistic strain in such thinking should not be lost.  Whatever, this was not good theology.  As a result of the hardening of this resolve a questionable philosophical tenet has been turned into an established rule of science.

He observes:

Across the various fields of study, the common requirement is that explanations be naturalistic.  And in this grand paradigm there is a grand blind spot.  Problems are never interpreted as problems with the paradigm.  No matter how implausible, when explanations do not fit the data very well, they are said to be research problems.  They must be, for there is no option for considering that a problem might be better handled by another paradigm. – Cornelius G. Hunter, Science’s Blind Spot: The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism, 46

Yet scientific naturalism, Hunter goes on to say,

is not a discovery of science – it is a presupposition of science as currently practiced. – Ibid, 47

And it is a presupposition which, though it now maintains the naturalistic paradigm, cannot in fact support the the scientific enterprise as a meaningful endeavor.  In fact, it is the materialist outlook on life and mind that poses perhaps the biggest obstacle to any sound philosophy of science.

In contrast, the Biblical Worldview provides a basis for the uniformity of nature in God’s unchanging character and His covenant with Noah.  But it also insists the the existence of the supernatural (God) is the precondition of the natural; that reason must precede unreason because the reverse scenario is impossible, and so non-demonstrable. It has never been experienced by anyone anywhere. This has to do with the laws of information which I shall discuss in the last post.  So, something does not come from nothing (law of causality); matter is not eternal (first 2 laws of thermodynamics); life does not come from non-life (law of biogenesis); amino acids cannot thrive in a reduced (oxygen free) atmosphere (2nd law of thermodynamics), but neither can they thrive in a water-based environment (law of hydrolysis). Finally, (though more could be added) reason implies information which cannot come from mindless particles (laws of information).  These are laws because they have never been countermanded in our experience.

Next in series…

The Incoherence of Evolutionary Origins (3)

PART TWO

Life not from Earth

It is a universal law which, as all scientific laws, has not witnessed an exception: life does not come from non-life.  Yet evolutionists, of the non-theistic sort) must teach that it does.  Going further back, ex nihilo nihil fit, out of nothing comes nothing.  No one has ever seen or heard of something (i.e. that which has properties and permits predication) coming into existence from nothing (that which has no properties and does not permit predication).  Yet evolutionist must adhere to the contradiction of this very basic principle.  That is, unless they want to teach the eternity of matter.

Is it a sign of rationality and a coherent system to flout two empirically static principles of science at the very outset of ones thinking? So how do they get around it?

Staying with the life question, one quite popular maneuver is to equivocate on the word “life”.  Instead of keeping with a basic definition like “a self-replicating organism” (which is a reductionistic and often imaginary concept itself), they talk about “life” within hypothetical extrapolations where amino acids are formed in an ancient “soup” under propitious chance conditions.  In this chance scenario these different amino acids came together in one place, beating off all the enormous odds of ultra-violet destruction and threat of contamination and, voila! “Life.”  A self-replicating cellular system?  No.  Any DNA?  No.  What was it then?  “Well suppose…..”  So the story (or a version of it) runs.  In evolutionism, organic life must come from non-living compounds.  So much the worse for the laws of science. 

The problems with getting life started, even granted the excessive gratuity of the 20 correct left-handed amino acids which make up basic proteins, would still remain a fantasy.  In fact, as geneticist John Sanford, the inventor of the ‘gene gun’ has said, “fill the whole world with proteins, and you would still be no closer to getting life.  Because proteins do not equal life.”  This is because of the amazing micro-machinery within even the simplest cell; machinery which is told what to do by a ‘code’ far more advanced than any computer software we possess.

Knowing the extremely unlikely chances that life could come about on this planet  the way many evolutionists had hoped, eminent scientists like Fred Hoyle, Francis Crick and Carl Sagan believed that it had to start elsewhere and come from outer space (And the complexity of the cell is known to be yet more wondrous than these men knew).  Of course, claiming life came from outer space isn’t an answer at all (although it might keep the issue of biogenesis off the table for a while longer).  We still have to ask, ‘How did life start some other place in the universe?’  Out of sight, out of mind is really all that is being done here;  just a rhetorical trick.

This rhetorical trick is performed all the time by evolutionists. They simply put their imaginations forward as some kind of scientific proof.  Therefore, they try to put the burden of proof on someone who says ‘Well, how did this happen?’ They say,”I’m not sure, but I can imagine it happened this way.”  If they can imagine it happened that way, then it could have happened that way, couldn’t it?  This is what Miller-Urey, or Avida or any other like program is.  As Stephen Meyer has said about these information fed extrapolations,

Since the lawlike processes of necessity do not generate new information, these combinatorial models invariably rely upon chance events to do most, if not all the work of producing new information.  This problem arises repeatedly for models invoking prebiotic natural selection in conjunction with random events, whether Oparin’s theories or various RNA-world scenarios.  Since natural selection “selects” for functional advantage, and since functional advantage ensues only after the result of a successful random search for functional information, combination models invariably rely upon chance rather than selection to produce new information.  Yet these theories face formidable probabilistic hurdles, just as pre-chance models do. – Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell, 331 

Here are some fundamental questions to start with:

a. If the chances of  a living cell coming from non-living elements (which themselves came from hydrogen and helium!) are staggeringly small, why believe it?

b. All living cells contain DNA, but how did the informational instructions (incredibly complex specific code) for each of the cell’s operations come about?

c. As every instance of this kind of instructional information ever known comes from minds, why look for it’s cause in mindlessness?

d. Why because all amino acids are left-handed must that mean all life is related to a common ancestor? (a variety of the compositional fallacy).

e. In the same vein (and the same fallacy), why because different creatures have features which look similar are they necessarily derived from a common source?  N.B. These fallacies are built upon the premise that evolution is true – hence begging the question.  Do forks and spoons and scissors and whisks have a common ancestor?

f. Since evolutionists wrongly predicted there would be much “junk DNA” (see Meyer, Signature, 406-407) and creationists rightly predicted there wouldn’t, why label evolution science and creationism religion?

g. How long is it going to be until evolutionists admit that the fossil record, which is the sole source for determining the truth or falsity of evolutionary history, undermines the whole theory?

The Math

The mathematics on this is just staggering!  Michael Denton is not Christian, doesn’t believe in God, and he doesn’t believe in creationism, but he doesn’t believe in the present neo-Darwinistic view of evolution either.  He says that it’s ‘nonsensical’. Writing about the possibility of life starting by chance he says:

As it can easily be shown that no more than 10 to the power of 40 possible proteins could have ever existed on earth since its formation [and Denton believes Earth is billions of years old], this means that if protein functions reside in sequences any less probable than 10 to the power of -40 it becomes increasingly unlikely that any functional proteins could ever have been discovered by chance on earth. To get a cell by chance would require at least 100 functional proteins to appear simultaneously in one place; that is 100 simultaneous events, each of an independent probability, which could hardly be more than 10 to the power of -20, giving a maximum combined probability of 10 to the power of -2,000.

(more…)

Covenants: Clarity, Ambiguity and Faith (5)

Part Four

As I have said, at the most rudimentary level covenants are for the purpose of reinforcing plain speech about specific things.  They do this formally in the terms of the covenant and its obligations upon specified parties.  God holds human beings to the very words of their covenant oaths (Jer. 34:18; Ezek. 17:15c).  The Bible also indicates that God “keeps covenant” (Deut. 7:9; Neh. 9:32; Dan. 9:4).  We would expect no less from Him who cannot lie and who does not change.

Of all verbal communications, written and oral, surely the most steadfast and adamant are covenants.  And surely the least ambiguous and fluid would also be covenants?

The Oaths in the Covenants

The oath is the decisive ingredient in any covenant.  We have already taken a look at the oath which the people took in answer to God’s Book of the Covenant in Exodus.  Now we need to examine, if only briefly, the oaths of the other Divine covenants which can be easily spotted in Scripture.  (There are certain covenants of a speculative nature which it is impossible to pin down in the text of the Bible.  These include the three theological covenants of Reformed covenant theology; the so-called “Adamic” and “Edenic” covenants of some sectors of Dispensational theology; and the “Creation” covenant of New covenant theology).

A. Noah

As nearly all non-evangelical scholarship recognizes, the first covenant one comes across in Scripture is the one God made with Noah.  Its oath is found in Genesis 9, with a possible personal oath in 8:21-22.

Surrounded by a preamble (9:8-10), and a sign of remembrance (9:12-17) the covenant oath is found in 9:11:

Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

This is the specific thing that God binds Himself to.  The form the covenant takes and the source-critical issues with the passage need not detain us.  Neither am I here bothered with the problem of whether the Noahic covenant is entered at Genesis 9 or whether it signals a perpetuation of a previously established covenant (Cf. W. J. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation, 24ff.).  The sole concern here is with showing just what it is that God pledges to do in the covenants, and to demonstrate the clarity of those commitments.  That God takes His own oath literally is proved by Isaiah 54:9:

For this is like the waters of Noah to me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so I have sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you.

Since this is the first clearly defined and specific covenant, and since it “provides the biblical-theological framework within which all subsequent divine-human covenants operate” (Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath, 68), the fact that its terms are so clear and are universally acknowledged by all believers should not escape our notice.  Nobody believes the Noahic covenant can be transformed or reinterpreted to mean something other than what the plain words of the oath say it means.  It is a hard-and-fast marker telling us that God will maintain the present order until the New Creation.  If other Divine covenants can be treated differently then we must have two kinds of unilateral Divine covenants in the Bible, and the uncertainty creeps in again.

B. Abraham

The Abrahamic covenant has its basic outline in Genesis 12:1-3, although we don’t get a covenant oath until chapter 15. Even the famous promise which elicited Abram’s faith-righteousness was not part of the covenant proper, but it does show that God is as good as His word, and that to have faith in that word requires that its terms are unambiguous and unequivocal.

On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates.. – Genesis 15:18

This corresponds with Genesis 12:1c – 2a, & 7; 13:14-15 and concerns the land.  Williamson believes that ch. 15 is a separate covenant than that in ch.17.  I demur, but it is worth noting that Williamson calls the land covenant unilateral (Ibid, 87).

But there is more which the LORD swears in this covenant.  When He changed Abram’s name and before giving him the token of the covenant (which has been kept) God said,

Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.  No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.  And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.  Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. – Genesis 17:4-8

And to this must be added Genesis 22:

And the Angel of the LORD called to him a second time out of heaven, and said: By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son – blessing 
I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies (Cf. Heb. 6:13-17).

Hence we see three specific elements in the Abrahamic covenant:

1. The land given to the physical seed of promise (cf. 35:1-12)

2. Inextricably tied to this is the promise that Abraham’s descendants through Isaac will become a nation (cf.12:2)

3. Abraham becoming the father of many nations (although not necessarily through Sarah – 18:18)

Because of 17:1-2 Williamson thinks this is a bilateral agreement and so separate from the covenant in chapter 15.  I shall deal with that later.  But the passage above does give an expansive view of this covenant.  As well as recalling the land aspect of the covenant, this passage harks back to the promise of Genesis 12:3; 15:5 about all the families of earth being blessed through Abraham.  It is important to notice that this expression is tied to Abraham’s physical descendants (see also 19:19), and does not seem to contemplate his spiritual descendants as Paul does (see Rom. 4:9-18; Gal. 3:8-16, 29).  But this is because there is a missing element.  The crucial part that has to be supplied is Genesis 22:18, which brings in Christ (Gal. 3:16).  Thus, in Paul the corporate is included in the One (Jesus) through the same faith as Abraham.  And since righteousness obtained by faith apart from physical lineage leads to salvation, the Apostle can conclude that we are all Abraham’s seed through faith unto salvation.

But this does not rub out the connotations of being “the father of many nations”, and the promise of Genesis 12:2 & 7; 15:3-4 concerning Abraham’s physical descendants through Isaac (cf. 17:21).  If it did, the spiritual seed (in Christ)  could not be realized because Jesus had to come through the physical line of Abraham to be the Christ, and we had to be in Christ to be considered within the third aspect of the Abrahamic covenant.

As many have pointed out, the threefold elements of the Abrahamic covenant are taken up and amplified in the “Land”, Davidic and even New covenants.  That these connections can even be seen is owing to the fact that the covenants mean what they say, and what they say is clearly identifiable in the covenant oaths.

The series closes off next time…