Author: Paul Henebury

The Forgotten Covenant (Pt.1)

Question: Which plainly stated Covenant in the Bible is most often neglected?

The answer is the covenant which the LORD made with Phinehas in the Book of Numbers.

The circumstances surrounding this covenant centers around the doctrine of Balaam as it was realized at Baal Peor (Cf. Num.31:16; Rev. 2:14).  Amid the idolatry and fornication a Simeonite by the name of Zimri openly brought a Midianite woman into the camp of Israel and took her into his tent to have sexual relations with her.  This happened even while Israelites were “weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” (Num. 25:6).

Phinehas, who was Aaron’s grandson, witnessed this brazen act of “sexual liberation” and struck the man and the woman through with a javelin (25:8).  This act of priestly zeal stopped a plague which had broken out within the camp which had claimed the lives of twenty-four thousand people.  God’s response to this act was to initiate a “covenant of peace” with Phinehas and his descendents.  This is said to be “a covenant of an everlasting priesthood.” (25:13).

Some centuries later, the Psalmist, in recounting some of the most memorable moments of Israel’s history, referred to the incident at Baal of Peor (Psa. 106:28-31).  In verses 30 and 31 it says,

Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was stopped.  And that was accounted to him for righteousness to all generations forevermore. 

This covenant of peace between God and the descendents of Phinehas comes after the mention of a “covenant of salt” given to the Levites “as an ordinance forever” (Num. 18:19).  The ordinance has to do with eating from the heave offerings.  The exact relationship between these two covenants is not easy to pin down, although they are certainly complementary.  I shall say a little more about this further on.

The descendents of Phinehas the son of Eleazar (Exod. 6:23) include Zadok, who is identified as “of the sons of Eleazar” in 1 Chronicles 24:3.  During the attempted usurpation of the throne by Adonijah (1 Ki. 1:7-8), Abiathar deserted David.  The aged king responded with having Abiathar removed from the priesthood, thus ensuring that Zadok’s line (the descendents of Phinehas), kept the High Priesthood (1 Ki. 2:26-27).  This becomes important when we get to Ezekiel.

The Witness of Jeremiah

Jeremiah wrote during some of the most turbulent times in Israel’s history.  Chapters 30 through to 34 (and even possibly 35) form a sort of thematic scholia on the covenants.  Among the main prophetic teaching in the section is the prediction about “the time of Jacob’s trouble” in 30:7 (cf. Mk. 13:19-20), a forecast about Israel serving “divid their king, whom I will raise up to them” (30:9), God’s overtures of covenant steadfastness towards Israel in 31:1-4, with the LORD even calling the families of Israel “O Virgin of Israel!” in 31:4 and 21.  Then there is New Covenant language in 31:11-12, which goes on to include the line,

I will satiate the soul of the priests with abundance… (31:14a).

This comes before the famous New Covenant promise of 31:31-37.  The next chapter is about Jeremiah purchasing “poor” real estate amid promises of future peace and prosperity (32:14-15, 36-42).  Next comes the great (and much neglected) thirty-third chapter.  First we get a description of the tearing down of the houses to serve as fortifications against the Babylonians (33:4-5), but it quickly turns in outlook to more prosperous times to come, including cleansing from sin (see 33:8).  Then comes the passage in 33:14-26 which cites or alludes to four covenants within a New Covenant setting (This highlights my contention that the New Covenant is needed for the [literal] fulfillment of these other covenants).  Coupled with the promise to fulfill the Davidic Covenant in 33:17-18 and 21-22 are promises that God will also preserve the Levites to minister to Him.  The latter passage reads,

Thus say the Yahweh: If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night [which I take as a reference to the Noahic Covenant in Genesis 8:22], so that there will not be day and night in their season, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, or with the Levites, the priests, My ministers.  As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured [a clear allusion to the Abrahamic Covenant], so will I multiply the descendents of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.

The type of ministry which the Levites are promised is described as offering “burnt offerings…to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually” (33:18).

While nobody disbelieves the Davidic Covenant in Jeremiah 33, the same cannot be said for the covenant with the Levites mentioned in the same breath.

More to come…

 

How Old-Earth Creationists Use Scripture

Fred Butler has begun a series evaluating old-earth creationist (OEC) appeals to Scripture.  Naturally, OEC’s have to adopt the same methodology as amillennialists and other adherents of symbolical and typological interpretation and cast doubt on the perspicuity of the most pertinent texts which point to a young earth.  My Rules of Affinity help to weed out this type of eisegesis.

The process is always the same: (1) start with the teaching you prefer; (2) employ unaided reason to set up your argument; (3) appeal to texts which were not written in support of your views by wrenching them from their contexts and reading your inferences into them; (4) cast doubt on clear texts which contradict your preference.  Oh, and pretend you are not dividing your authorities allegiance between the authority of the Bible and an extra-biblical source or sources!

Here’s the link: http://hipandthigh.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/evaluating-old-earth-responses-to-young-earth-arguments-1/

 

 

Judges.Ruth

A Review of Robert Chisholm’s Commentary on Judges & Ruth

Review of Robert B. Chisholm, A Commentary on Judges and Ruth, Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2013, 697 pp., $39.99. 

In the past Judges and Ruth have not been particularly well served by commentators (Leon Wood’s Distressing Days of the Judges being one notable exception).  Many studies in the past were more homiletical than analytical.  The Book of Judges presents some unique problems for the Bible interpreter.  Such issues as the date of certain judges, the extent of their careers and influence, the numbers in the Book, not to mention the overall chronology of the period, offer challenges which can impact how one approaches the other historical books.

Thankfully that situation has changed in recent years with the publication of solid works by Butler, Block and Webb, supported by those by Younger and, to a lesser extent, Davis.  Thus, the gap has been filled.  How then does this new contribution from Robert B. Chisholm in Kregel’s Exegetical Library measure up?

Chisholm provides his readers with a long and detailed eighty-eight page introduction to Judges, which, by the way, includes a very useful selected annotated bibliography.  The author quickly orientates the reader to the major problems in the book and surveys the several attempts which have been made to solve them.  The chief problem has always been fitting the various localized activities in the central section, which add up to 410 years, within the framework of 1 Kings 6:1, and its 480 year time slot for all the events from the Exodus to the fourth year of Solomon’s reign.  This taxes all interpreters of Judges, but Chisholm’s careful analysis of the chronology is very well done.  He notes that the pan-Israeli perspective implicit in the narratives (for theological reasons pointing to the ideal unity of the nation, 30-31), do not encourage attempts to compress the chronological markers (37).

The author has worked out three proposals to address the problem of 1 Kings 6:1.  The first two are based on a fifteenth century dating for the Exodus, which is the standard evangelical dating, while the third works with a thirteenth century date.  Of the three options Chisholm himself opts for the second (44 n.47), which excludes Eli and Samuel as judges.

The commentary itself includes extended section outlines, a note on the literary structure, with expository sections.  Then there are separate notes on application, helpfully divided into thematic, theological, and homiletical subsections.  I really appreciated the way the translation has been arranged around the Hebrew clauses.  This feature is bound to be helpful for those who lack competence in Hebrew, but who want to get a feel for the original.  The author’s prose is a little academic but still very readable.  These features make the work both informative and manageable for the busy preacher or Bible teacher.

Chisholm has been given enough space to fully treat his material and he makes good use of it.  The reader will find lots of help from lexical, theological and background sources in each chapter.  If we take the episode concerning Jephthah’s vow as an example, we see Chisholm fully in command of his interpretive choices and well able to furnish a convincing piece of commentary.  Jephthah did indeed sacrifice his daughter (354-355), yet one must not interpret the silence of God in the matter as Divine approval of Jephthah’s actions (364).  While discussing whether an animal may have been in Jephthah’s mind as he made his rash vow, we are informed that “The construction of Iron Age houses would allow for an animal to come through the doors of a house” (353).  Nevertheless, a human being may also have been included in the vow.

In a long footnote he ably dispatches a feminist interpretation of Jephthah’s daughter which turns her into a “poster child for her fellow feminists!” (356-357 n.73).

The Commentary on Ruth covers a hundred and forty-eight pages (with a thirty-two page introduction).  Ruth certainly does not suffer from relative neglect in comparison to Judges, particularly in the exegetical department.  In his comments on the first chapter Chisholm discusses Daniel Block’s interpretation that the author of Ruth views the marriages of Naomi’s sons in a negative light, which is why they died early on in the story.  In effect, God struck them down (595ff.).  As this impacts the interpretation of chapter one quite heavily the lengthy cross-examination of Block’s thesis is profitable as an example of thinking through the text.  As with Judges, the author includes a helpful annotated bibliography of select commentaries on Ruth.  All in all, Chisholm’s work on Ruth is fully up to the high standard of his commentary on Judges.

One significant complaint I have is the inexcusable lack of indices in the book.  Although this would have added twenty plus pages to the book, it would have been worth it.  This decision of the publisher might bear some reconsideration.  Of less import to this reviewer is the way Chisholm handles the numbers in Judges (e.g. 110 n.2).  Notwithstanding this is a very good commentary and is right up there with the one by Daniel Block.

Finally, a word about the book as a product is in order.  As with Kregel’s excellent Psalms Commentary by Allen Ross, this book is well produced, with clear type, legible footnotes, and clear headings.  One can find their way around the commentary without much trouble.  The binding and cover look strong and durable.

 

This book was sent to me by the publisher.  I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

Has the Davidic Covenant Been Initially Realized in the Church?

This is a slightly revised version of what I wrote as a response to a question from progressive dispensationalist Darrell Bock about the inauguration of the Davidic Covenant at the first coming of Christ.  

Darrell Bock: How can a dispensationalist see the current application of the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant (see the Last Supper in procuring forgiveness we now experience) and not see the Davidic covenant being initially realized by what Jesus has done, as Luke 3:16 predicts and Acts 2:14-36 proclaims?

My Answer

With regard to the Abrahamic and the New Covenants, I think the NT is very clear about their application to the Church.  Galatians 3 and Romans 4 deal with the application of the Abrahamic Covenant to the Church; at least the parts of it which are appropriate.  1 Corinthinans 11:23-26, 2 Corinthians 3:6 (cf. also 2 Cor. 6:14-18) pin the New Covenant securely on the Church.  These explicit statements settle the question for the Abrahamic and New Covenants.  But the Davidic Covenant is quite another issue.  Here one is dealing with implications and inferences which can bend in different directions.

Firstly, in Luke 3 Jesus has not yet been baptized and presented as Christ. The two phases of Christ’s work are bundled together in the passage in typical OT fashion. The baptism with the Holy Spirit I take to be the New Covenant promise of the Spirit’s vitalizing coming to Israel with the kingdom. There is no Church yet in view as far as the context of the revelation goes. Jesus is rejected by Israel, but He has come, and that fact cannot be reversed. At His coming Jesus introduced the New Covenant (Lk. 22:14-20), yet in a context in which the kingdom is now driven into the future (Lk. 22:29-30).

Thus I see the first phase of John’s prediction; the baptism with the Spirit (Lk. 3:16) initialized in the New Covenant made with those who would be foundational to the Church (Cf. Eph. 2:20). This explains the use of Spirit language in Acts 2 where these ‘foundations’ (minus Paul) were present.

Yet the full realization of that blessing as it pertains to Israel (per John’s audience and context in Lk.3), awaits the Second Advent. At that time Jesus comes in judgment (the “fire” and “winnowing” language in Lk. 3:16 & 17), after which He inaugurates the New Covenant with Israel along the OT pattern.

That there is some sort of “already” aspect here is true, yet I would want to lay stress upon the object of that “already” – viz. the “new man”, the Church, not Israel. Here is where there is some chronological transition between “the Church age” and the “times of restoration” which Peter was holding out to Israel in Acts 3 (and in Acts 2 for that matter). I take Acts 3:19-21 as referring to the Davidic New Covenant Kingdom.

In the Acts passage (Acts 2:14-36) we face several issues, none of which I will pretend to give the final answer to. I will try to move through the passage briefly to bring out the logic of my position.

In Acts 2:14-21 there is the debated use of the Joel prophecy preceded by the “this is that” formula (v.15). The first thing to say is that whichever interpretation is brought to the use of Joel 2, nobody believes these extraordinary happenings (of vv.19-20) actually occurred at Pentecost (e.g. R. N. Longenecker). Further, the Holy Spirit was not poured out on “all flesh” (v.17). So we have to ask, what was Peter doing?

My answer is that Peter was still thinking within the basic framework of OT eschatology and Jewish expectation which we find in the Gospels and in Acts 1:6. His immediate concern in this setting was to point to the Cross and (especially) the Resurrection as the eschatological breaking- in of God into Israel’s history. The “this” of v.15 is answered by the references to the resurrection throughout Peter’s speech (vv. 24, 30, 31, 32). This is what proved that Jesus was “both Lord and Christ” (v.36).

The reference to the outpouring of the Spirit (vv.17-18, 33) is intended to show the Jews that the New Covenant has been inaugurated, and that there is still opportunity for them to repent and believe (in this sense the baptism of v.38 may be seen as a partial fulfillment of John’s baptism).

Of course, the nation did not believe this message. They rejected it again in chapter 3:12-26, where the expectation of the arrival of the Davidic Kingdom was still patently in the air (see esp. 3:19-21). In other words, these were good faith offers of the kingdom, referred to by Peter as “the times of refreshing” (3:19) and “times of restoration” (3:21), which were rejected by all but a relative few.

Viewed this way the one work of Christ in its two phases of Cross and Crown are still held together in Acts 2 and 3. If so, the “signs and wonders” of Acts 2:19 are in a real sense, still at the doorstep pending national acceptance of Jesus as Messiah; not only crucified Messiah, but Risen Messiah – bringing the two phases into close proximity.

Allowing this line of reasoning helps us with the Joel prophecy. How so? Because the “signs” and “wonders” which Jesus did prior to Calvary (v.22), portend the “signs” and “wonders” of v.19 which speak to the Second Coming. Here I again appeal to Acts 3:19-21 for help.

If I haven’t lost everyone, let me proceed to Acts 2:25-35 and try to fit it into my picture.

Jewish national acceptance in the fact of the Risen Christ ought to have come because the OT predicted it (vv. 25-28 cf. Psa. 16). For present purposes I shall forego verses 25-29 and pick it up in Acts 2:30. Progressive Dispensationalists like Dr. Bock appeal to this verse because it speaks about the “raising up” and the investiture of Christ upon the Davidic throne. If this was what actually happened in Acts 2 I would have to concede the point. But as I see it this “raising up” is a reference to Christ’s resurrection not installation (see esp. v.32). As I have said, the resurrection was uppermost in Peter’s mind in these verses. The next verse proves this by saying that David “spoke concerning (peri) the resurrection.” (2:31). In verse 33 the emphasis is now on the ascension “to the right hand of God”, which I do not take as a reference to the throne of David, for otherwise Acts 3:19-21 makes no sense to me (cf. also Rev. 3:21).

Acts 2:33 appeals to the coming of the Spirit, yet actual fulfillment of the Joel New Covenant prophecy awaits the condition of national repentance, which was not forthcoming. The quotation of Psalm 110:1 refers then to the present continuing session of Christ in heaven awaiting the fulfillment of the Davidic New Covenant kingdom announced, first by John the Baptist, and then by Peter.

I hope this rather convoluted explanation will be seen as viable. Whichever position is taken on Acts 2 and 3, it is easy to get ones theological wires crossed. This is my attempt to sort them out.

An Overview of the History of Interpretation (Part 1)

This is a revision of a series I wrote some years back.

The history of the interpretation of the Bible is a long and involved one. For many centuries some have approached the Scriptures supposing that they should be interpreted literally whenever possible. Others have believed that one ought to look deeper than the surface meaning to find its true spiritual center. Still others have believed that the Old and (to a lesser extent) the New Testament is opened up by means of three or four hermeneutical strategies. Today, the amount of interpretative proposals for various parts of Scripture is dizzying.

In this article I shall try to review the main schools of interpretation throughout the history of the Church. But we’re going to start off where I intend to end: with the Bible’s own witness.

1. Pointers within the Bible.

If we take certain statements in the Bible itself as our guide, it will help us to see how the Holy Spirit wants us to interpret His Word. For example, Isaiah wrote,

To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isa.8:20).

What is important about this verse is that it implies a standard by which false teaching can be measured. For that standard to have any credence it has to be stable and clear. The prophet’s reference to “the law and the testimony” (cf.v.16) implies that the whole Old Testament is to be viewed as possessing this stable character. Taking a different example, in the opening lines of the Book of Ezra we read,

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying: 2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (Ez. 1:1-2)

A simple passage like this presupposes a lot. For one thing it assumes that what God said to Jeremiah could be easily verified by Ezra. It only follows from this that if Jeremiah’s prediction of a return from exile after 70 years had not actually come to pass the rest of the Book of Ezra would have never been written. In the Law the test of a true prophet was whether what he said came true (See Deut. 18:22). For that to be a reliable benchmark the fulfillment would have to match the wording of the original prophecy literally. If this were not the case then anyone could spiritualize the prophecy and claim its fulfillment, no matter what the original wording said.

In John 21:21-23 the Evangelist seems to want to make a point that what God says must be grasped before we can correctly interpret. Thus, we think there is scriptural warrant for stable and plain hermeneutics. The anchor-points for this hermeneutics are God-given and are themselves clearer than perhaps anything else in the Bible. These are the Covenants which God Himself has made with men. But this is something we shall have to return to.

2. The First Two Centuries of the Early Church.

Before anything else is said, we must stress that the Post-Apostolic church was not inspired and should not be looked upon as authoritative in matters of interpretation. However, their use of Scripture is often instructing.

We cannot understand the church of the second and third centuries without knowing something about the difficulties which these early Christians encountered. On the one hand there was the very real threat of persecution from a Roman state not at all sympathetic to the beliefs and aims of these people. And on the other hand there was the persistent problem of heresy, which dogged the early church. These two major issues both played their parts in the formulations of hermeneutics. As a defense against the polemics of the influential anti-Christian Roman writers, such as Pliny the Younger, Menander, Celsus, and Porphyry, believers had to produce apologies that could address them, and in particular, their attacks upon the Old Testament, and their misunderstanding of the Christian God.

But alongside this the Christians had to respond to the rise of Gnosticism and the proliferation of Gnostic writings. To cite two examples, Valentinus (born, c.A.D. 100) was an extremely effective communicator who was perhaps even on the verge of becoming a bishop before his heresies were discovered. It was his followers who first composed commentaries on New Testament books. Second, Marcion (active ca. A.D.140-155) taught that the Old Testament was useless as a Christian document. He also severely edited the New Testament, producing one in which only Paul’s epistles were included, together with a condensed version of Luke’s Gospel, carefully purged of any Jewish “contamination.” All the Gnostics held that the God of the Old Testament was another lesser deity than the God of the New.

This then, was the kind of pressure that was being applied to these early saints and their Scriptures. It is hardly surprising then, that the most prominent Christians of the second century were apologists. The main three were Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 100-163), a converted Platonist who was the first to use the term “Israel” to describe the Church (A.D. 160). Irenaeus (c. A.D. 130-200), Bishop of Lyons in Gaul (modern day France), who wrote extensively against the heretics, produced the first formulation for biblical interpretation: the so-called “Rule of Faith.” This formulation was really a short statement of doctrine. Irenaeus believed that a Trinitarian meaning attached to both Testaments. This Trinitarian schema was observed in the apostolic witness, which, in turn, placed an emphasis upon the Christological interpretation of the whole Bible.

Hence, the Rule of Faith gave a kind of unity to the Church. Consequently, any interpretation which did not measure up to this Rule of Faith (such as the teachings of the Gnostics) could be rejected as contrary to the preaching of the Apostles. The Rule of Faith also made the interpretation of the Bible a province of the Church, and so, of Church tradition. But Irenaeus also promoted non-literal interpretations. In the midst of dealing with heretical teachings he allowed for hidden meanings in some passages of the Bible. As one writer puts it:

“…the early Christians acknowledged that their claim to the Christian meaning of the Jewish Scriptures [i.e. the OT] was less a matter of what these documents said, and more a matter of how they were to be read…For passages obviously commensurate with the Rule of Faith, the reading would be literal (with allowance for genre distinctions and figurative expressions) whereas, for passages that required a second reading to agree with apostolic teaching, that second reading would be figurative.” – William Yarchin, History of Biblical Interpretation: A Reader, xviii.

One may notice how already the assumed doctrines protected by the Rule of Faith begin to authorize the kind of interpretations deemed acceptable. This side-effect would have serious repercussions later on.

It is worth noticing that all the early fathers of the Church were premillennial in their eschatology. Nevertheless, they also tended to drift to and fro between literal or face value interpretations and spiritual interpretations.

Roy Zuck notes that, “From these early church fathers it is obvious that while they started out well, they were soon influenced by allegorizing.” This form of interpretation became the dominant one from the middle of the second century until the Reformation in the sixteenth century. It would therefore be helpful to review this phenomenon before examining the major figures of Jerome and Augustine.

To be continued…

 

Faith and Reason in Christian Perspective – Pt. 3

Faith and Reason in Christian Perspective – Pt. 1

Faith and Reason in Christian Perspective – Pt. 2

In this third and final article on the roles of faith and reason I want to turn to examine some biblical passages, which, I think, really help us to understand why reason must be driven by faith.  The first of these comes from the Garden of Eden.

Autonomy: Our Default Position in the Use of Reason

Although we do not have a protracted narrative of all that went on between the serpent and Eve, we do have everything necessary for us to learn what God wants us to learn.  The culmination of the devil’s temptation of the woman was in the words, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5).  Of course this was a lie.  No one could know good and evil like God without being God.  But the promise of “being like God” was what did it.

Ironically enough, Eve and her husband were already like God.  They had been created in the image and likeness of God.  Also, they were with God.  The Lord fellowshiped with them in the Garden, and it is certain that these regular interactions would have expanded both the knowledge and the image of God in our first parents.  What Adam and Eve most needed was not to be “like God” in the way Satan promised, but rather they needed to be with God.  As it happened their disobedience left them less like God and deprived them of His close fellowship.

But what led up to it?  We can begin to see the answer if we compare the two descriptions of the trees in Eden in chapter 2 and chapter 3.  In chapter 2:9 we get an appraisal of the trees, via Moses, from God’s point of view:

And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.  The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Notice the twin description of the trees of the garden as being (1) “pleasant to the sight”, and (2) “good for food”.

Now take a look at the woman’s appraisal of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 3:6:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.  She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

I have again underlined the pertinent parts of the verse for comparison.  Notice how Eve’s independent analysis of the tree agreed with the Lord’s appraisal in 2:9.  After listening to the serpent Eve in effect stood back and sized up the tree, and she concurred with God that the tree was (1) “pleasant to the sight”, and (2) “good for food”, but she reasoned independently from God that the tree was (3) “desirable to make one wise.”

The main point here is that there was a movement from dependence on God’s Word and authority to independent evaluation, and hence reasoning.  In the autonomy of her reasoning about the tree Eve put reason before revelation.  It didn’t matter that she agreed with God (at least some of the time).  What really mattered was that she arrived at her conclusions apart from Divine prescription.

Since the Fall we have all functioned from a default position of independence from God and His Word.  False religions sprang from false notions of God.  From false notions of God come equally false notions about ourselves and our world.  Hence, the triad God, Man and the World is crucial to a correct Christian Worldview.  Get any one of these wrong and the other two will be affected.  Even in militant atheism the triad remains; only now “God” is substituted for “no God” (though God pervades their writings).  An autonomous view will warp all of these because of the idol of independence in the determination of final truth.

To give one example, in a recent work on Hegel’s mature thought, John McCumber (according to this reviewer), provides some added insight into Hegel’s (and Kant’s) theory of ethical drives:

What makes McCumber’s reading of the Philosophy of Right so striking is his emphasis on the role Hegel assigns to our natural drives, and on the idea that for Hegel, ethical theory must explain how these drives can be purified and ordered, or rationalized, so as to achieve genuine human autonomy. (Emphasis added).

And again,

The goal of Hegelian practical philosophy is thus very similar, on McCumber’s view, to the goal of theoretical idealism: ethical theory seeks to take our desires, motivations, and needs as they are, reducing them to moments in a larger whole, and reappropriating them for the project of freedom through their systematization.

Within biblical Christianity too, this default of human independence shows itself in our reasonings about the interpretation of texts, particularly those texts which might make us feel uncomfortable about any number of subjects.  Among these subjects I might mention the age of the earth, evolution, the global flood, the covenants made with Israel, the beginning of the Church, the headship of the husband, women in the ministry, Christian counseling, and a whole lot more.

I am not saying that everyone who uses the Bible to guide their reason will automatically come out at the same place.  There are variables in things like competence and experience which may effect interpretation.  But placing faith before reason will tend to hold off interrogative approaches to the text like, “Are you saying that….?” or “But what about….?” etc., when clear passages are quoted.

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.”

Christians are not immune from thinking independently of God.  We do it when we think we can circumvent clear passages which we would rather say something other than what they say.

Jesus on Faith and Reason

We can see this in two episodes in the life of our Lord.

In the first, Jesus warns the disciples to “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6).

The narrative then says the disciples “reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘It is because we have taken no bread.”

This brought forth a rebuke from Jesus:

“O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves….do you not understand…How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? – but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matt. 16:8-11).

Then the narrative tells us that “they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Clearly the reasoning of the disciples was faulty and brought forth a righteously indignant response from Jesus.  They were reasoning this way because faith was not guiding their reason.  Notice that Jesus does not explain His meaning to them in verse 11, but simply repeats the warning of verse 6.  That was because there was sufficient information in what He said to them for them to gain the right understanding - provided they let faith guide their reason! (more…)

John Byl Critiques Groothuis’s ‘Christian Apologetics’

I really appreciate John Byl’s stand for young-earth creationism against all the accommodationist nonsense of old-earthers.  He has written some thoughts about apologist Douglas Groothuis’s big book Christian Apologetics which should be pondered.  I think he shows the problems which inhere in the ‘two books’ view and in cow-towing to Big Bang cosmology.

http://bylogos.blogspot.com/2014/03/a-defective-case-for-biblical-faith.html#more

I agree with Byl that Groothuis’s book has good things in it, although I cannot recommend it as an apologetics book.  I feel okay about it though since Groothuis cannot bring himself to recommend one presuppositionalist work in his annotated bibliography at the end of his book.

Should ‘Presuppositional’ Apologetics Be Rebranded As ‘Covenantal’ Apologetics?

Recently K. Scott Oliphint of Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia has published a book which he has called Covenantal Apologetics.   I reviewed the book here and recommend it.  But I expressed reservations about the writer’s agenda of rebranding Van Til’s apologetic teaching in line with the book’s title.  Coming as it does from one of the foremost representatives of Van Til’s presuppositional approach around the thesis deserves attention.  As I said in my review, by “Covenantal” Oliphint means the ‘covenants’ of covenant theology.

Now nobody is going to disagree that Van Til often spoke about fallen man as a covenant-breaker.  And no one will dispute that by that designation he had in mind the theological covenants of Reformed Covenant Theology.  You cannot read Van Til very far before running into statements he makes about ‘the Reformed apologetic.’  For example,

All men are either in covenant with Satan or in covenant with God. – Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th edition, edited by K. Scott Oliphint, 300.

This is the kind of thing covenant theologians say (or used to say).  Van Til did not refer to his approach as ‘Covenantal Apologetics’, but I think he might not have minded too much.  Still, is it right?

Van Til’s argument for allying his apologetics with the resources of covenant theology should be seen against the backdrop of his conflating covenant theology with Reformed Calvinistic theology.  But any reader of the Jacob Arminius is well aware that he too was a covenant theologian.  This needs to be noted because Van Til’s point is mainly anthropological and soteriological.  He memorably observes,

We should add that according to Scripture, God spoke to man at the outset of history.  In addition to revealing himself in the facts of the created universe, God revealed himself in Words, telling man about what he should do with the facts of the universe.  Since the fall, all men, as fallen in Adam (Rom. 5:12), continue to be responsible for this twofold revelation of God given to man at the beginning of history. – Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 19

This is a point which can be made from the Bible through exposition of Romans 1:18-32 or Psalm 19.  Among his other contributions to theology Van Til stressed this revelatory nature of knowledge before and after the Fall:

For Adam in paradise God-consciousness could not come in at the end of a syllogistic process of reasoning.  God-consciousness was for him the presupposition of the significance of his reasoning on anything. – The Defense of the Faith, 113

But he did not always appeal to the Bible for his authority.  Like so many covenant theologians of the past and present he counted on the Westminster Standards to support his contentions.  So right after the above statement we read this one:

To the doctrine of creation must be added the conception of the covenant.  Man was created an historical being.  God placed upon him from the outset of history the responsibility and task of reinterpreting the counsel of God as expressed in creation to himself individually and collectively.  Man’s creature consciousness may therefore be more particularly signalized as covenant consciousness.  But the revelation of the covenant to man in paradise was supernaturally mediated…Thus, the sense of obedience or disobedience was immediately involved in Adam’s consciousness of himself.  Covenant consciousness envelops creature consciousness. In paradise Adam knew that as a creature of God it was natural and proper that he should keep the the covenant that God made with him. – Ibid.

Here, as Oliphint explains in a footnote in this edition, Van Til is appealing to the WCF 7.1.  The “covenant” to which Van Til is referring in this quotation is not any covenant found in the description of paradise in the first chapters of Genesis.  The “covenant” is the ‘covenant of works’ invented, along with the ‘covenant of grace’, by covenant theologians as a theological explanatory device to describe our relationship with our Creator.  No Scripture is provided to show the presence of this covenant, and for good reason: there is none.  

In arguing for the name covenantal apologetics, Oliphint uses the same method.  In all his argumentation for the idea there is a noticeable dearth of scriptural appeal.  For instance, for his definition and understanding of the term “covenant” he does not go to the Bible but to the Westminster Confession (See K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics, 39, 49, 61-62, 93).  The Confession does indeed refer to God’s condescension in relating to us as “covenantal.”  But is that the way the Bible itself uses the idea of covenant?  I think not.

For one thing, it begs the question to have the Westminster Confession authorize the name-change from presuppositional apologetics to covenantal apologetics.  Without reinventing the wheel, I have tried to show in other places (e.g. here), that covenant theologians have misread biblical covenants, like the New Covenant, in fitting them into their extra-biblical inferential scheme.  Oliphint himself does this on page 59 of his book when confusingly quoting Hebrews 6:17-18, which refers back to the Abrahamic covenant (6:13), and forwards to the New covenant, of which Christ is the Mediator (Hebrews 8 and 9 go on to explain this).  But Oliphint’s quotation is not in reference to either of these biblical covenants, but (as we saw with Van Til) in service of a supposed covenantal relationship enacted at the outset of creation.  

Covenant theology has often been criticized for making their theological covenants ride roughshod over the clear covenants of the Bible, effectively stripping them of any specifications not required by their approach.  The example just given is quite typical.

Like Van Til Oliphint wants man’s knowing to be covenantal (44, 82, 152).  But this is neither necessary nor particularly relevant.  It is not necessary because our relationship to God need not be viewed within the terms of covenant.  We would do better and would stay within the boundaries of the biblical text to speak of “creaturely obligations” or “image-accountability” than introducing covenant language.  Although covenants in the Bible do establish relationships and commitments, no one is free to read and then define the terms of a covenant for which there is scarcely any warrant.  And interpreting our knowing as covenantal is not relevant  for two reasons.  First because Arminians have often been adherents of covenant theology and Van Til was often at pains to try to show that only Calvinism could support his position (see, e.g. A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 81ff.).  Therefore, his real emphasis while using the Westminster Confession should more often than not be understood to be Calvinistic.  Second, because nowhere in the Bible is our knowing depicted this way.  While all assent that the new birth brings with it new outlooks (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:17-5:17), such things were hardly necessary in Eden.  Divine covenants obligate God to do something.  But in paradise we read of no such Divine obligation; still less do we read of a covenant oath!  In Scripture, all the covenants which are plainly discoverable come after the Fall: indeed, they come after the Flood!  Covenants are not required where the relationship is not sundered and in need of reconciliation.

In truth, while the genius of covenant theology may be brought to bear on Van Til’s apologetic, the real issue is whether his approach is supportable from the text of Holy Writ.  And the answer to that question is certainly Yes!  As Greg Bahnsen showed in his Always Ready, there is plenty of biblical justification for presuppositional apologetics, without the need to appeal to covenant theology.  While Bahnsen was a proponent of covenant theology, he wisely sought to establish his apologetics on a different and firmer foundation.  What we want to know is whether Van Til’s apologetic is biblical, and indeed it is.  Because that is so the question of nomenclature might be easily solved by calling it, as a recent fine exposition does, simply Biblical Apologetics.

The question of whether covenant theology is biblical is much harder to prove.                 (more…)

Faith and Reason in Christian Perspective – Pt. 2

Part One

A Case Study: Harold Netland and the Demand for Neutrality

As we further consider whether reason should be categorized separately to faith as properly functioning independent of it, I cite the example of an article by Harold Netland entitled, “Apologetics, Worldviews, and the Problem of Neutral Criteria.”[1] In Netland’s 1991 article we see an able but, I believe, misguided critique of presuppositionalist John M. Frame’s epistemology as set forth in his book The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. The overall burden of Netland’s complaint is clear, there must be some mutually shared neutral criteria that all people, whether Theist, Atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Humanist, or whatever, can use to judge each other’s positions.[2] It is the possibility of this neutral ground that Frame, in common with other biblical presuppositionalists (including the present writer) denies.

The first stratagem of Netland is to label Frame’s position “theological fideism,” which quickly becomes “fideism” as the article proceeds.[3] Having done this he presents his position as the one that will use reason instead of eschewing it.[4] The main question he wants answered is this: “Given our religiously pluralistic world an obvious question arises…‘Why should one accept the Christian presupposition instead of the Hindu or Buddhist presuppositions?’”[5] Behind this question is his assumption that Frame is claiming that, “ultimate presuppositions (commitments)…can be accepted or rejected at will.”[6]

It should not take a hard-core Van Tilian to point out that this is exactly the opposite of what theologians like Frame are saying. (more…)

Faith and Reason in Christian Perspective – Pt. 1

This and the following piece are old posts to which I am giving more daylight.  I hope to append a Part Three!

 

It appears to me that one of the first things a faithful theologian needs to do is to straighten out the confusion brought about by the world’s separation of faith and reason. This relationship is so vital to a biblically fastened worldview that to neglect it will involve the believer in a host of conflicting beliefs and practices. For it is just here that the negligent Christian theologue will be attacked.[1] To the average man in the street, “faith” is that “I really hope so” attitude that many people employ when their circumstances get tough. It is that blind trust that things will turn out all right in the end. Faith thus defined is the opposite of reason. “Reason” deals with the cold hard facts, so it goes, and is what we have to use in the “real world” – in business, in science, in education.

One Christian writer has put the matter in the form of a question: “Is it rational for us to believe in God? Is it rational for us to place our confidence in Him and his revelation to man? Can a person believe in God without performing a sacrifice of his intellect? ”[2]

According to many people, faith and reason are polar opposites. Faith deals with hopes and aspirations and dreams and ‘religious stuff’, while reason concerns itself with the facts of day to day experience, the world in which we live and do science learn about what is and what is not so. As the late Harvard paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould stated it, in what has become a mantra among secular scientists, “religion tells us how to go to heaven; science tells us how the heavens go.” To put it in less deceptive terms, “religion deals with gods and heaven and pixies and UFO’s; while science (which knows these things are non-existent) concerns itself with what is so.” Gould even thought up a nice anagram for his concept: NOMA, or “non over-lapping magisteriums”.[3] Secular science gets all the facts; faith gets all the pink elephants. Or as one astute critic observed,

The power to define “factual reality” is the power to govern the mind, and thus to confine “religion” within a naturalistic box. For example, a supposed command of God can hardly provide a basis for morality unless God really exists. The commands of an imaginary deity are merely human commands dressed up as divine law…[N]aturalistic metaphysics relegates both morality and God to the realm outside of scientific knowledge, where only subjective belief is to be found.[4]

It is because of misconceptions such as these that the matter deserves more attention than it gets. We must begin by defining our terms. Gould and his followers are so impressed by their formulation of the issue because they have defined faith away while reconstituting reason so that it mirrors their own opinion of themselves and what they think they are doing. The first thing that any person should do, therefore, is to know what he means when employing specific terminology.

I will define reason along with theologian-philosopher John Frame as, “the human ability or capacity for forming judgments and inferences.”[5] This is employing the word in a descriptive sense. Frame goes on to narrow the definition down to a normative sense “to denote correct judgments and inferences.”[6] The important thing to notice about Frame’s definition is that it houses no built-in biases against supernaturalism. While being itself a perfectly good description it does not contain anything in it with which the secularist can control the debate.

Faith, meanwhile, may be accurately defined as “persuasion of the divine truth,” upon which we rightly presume when we renounce all self-dependence, and upon which all our hope is based.”[7] Carl Henry provides a perceptive yet succinct definition when he calls faith the “knowledge based on and issuing from revelation.”[8] Within this definition it is important to realize that such faith is impossible without the effectual working of the Holy Spirit. Hence, we are not concerned with a general religious belief, but in a living faith which has “its object, basis, and origin” in a relationship “between a human being and God.”[9] This faith is dependent on revelation and can come to certainty through a Divine in-working by means of the Word of God.

We may add one more definition to those given above, this time from the Scots worthy, Hugh Binning: “Faith is the soul’s testimony to God’s truth; the word [i.e. the Bible] is God’s testimony.”[10] To hearken back to a previous set of posts, the Divine Logos who created and structured the world and created us to interpret the world through Him via the Scriptures, has given faith as the mechanism by which the two are brought together.[11] Thus, faith is not opposed to reason; but in fact it is served by reason. We see this taught in Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word (rhema) of God, so that the things which are seen were not made by things which are visible.” As the “we” in the verse refers to saints, the understanding is available only on the basis of faith (cf. vv. 1 and 6). Since the verse refers either to the created spheres, or, most probably, in view of the historical references in the chapter, to the program of history itself, and it takes the prerequisite of faith to comprehend, then, patently, a Christian view of knowledge places faith before reason. Or as the Puritan commentator William Gouge put it, “Faith is in the understanding.”[12] Therefore, the teachings of the Bible should act as the “control beliefs”[13] of the one who has come under the sway of the Bible. (more…)