Author: Paul Henebury

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt.4)

Part Three

The Suffering Servant

God’s Servant reappears in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This passage is of great significance because in it the Holy Spirit puts emphasis not on the reign of Messiah (if I may at this place call Him that), but upon His sufferings.  It is a singular fact that the Old Testament prophecies are more concerned with the reign of the coming Ruler than with his death.  This point has even caused interpreters to question whether we are dealing with the same person or with two “servants”, a sufferer and a conqueror.  This passage answers that question decisively I think.

It starts with the exaltation of the Servant (Isa. 52:13), but immediately the mood changes to His degradation (52:14ff.).  Since Philip identifies the Suffering Servant as Jesus in Acts 8:35, and 52:13-15 is really part and parcel of that portion of the prophecy in chapter 53, we might look at these verses as a kind of prelude to it.  Verse 13 certainly draws a parallel with what has been spoken of the great King to come in Isaiah 9:7 and 11:2-5.  The exalted One who shall “deal with prudence” over the earth’s affairs will also have to undergo great humiliation in the earth.  As we know that His reign will be eternal (Isa. 9:7), we are compelled to conclude that His degradation will occur prior to His being coronation (hinted at in Isa. 53:12a).

Even without seeing Jesus in the remarkable words of Isaiah 53 one feels sympathy for the man being described.  Oppressed and afflicted, yet having the meekness not to object (53:7).  A man despised by men (53:3) and “smitten and bruised by God (53:4, 10), and yet one who bears our iniquities so successfully (53:5, 6, 11, 12) that He can be made a sin offering to God (53:10), even making intercession on behalf of sinners in a way impossible for any mere animal (53:11).  This again is the Servant (53:11), but it is not Israel by any stretch of the imagination!  In no believable circumstances could Israel, who remember were under a complex sacrificial cultus, ever be thought of in this fashion.  This impression is intensified when we consider that those justified by the Servant (who though afflicted by God was nevertheless serving God – 53:4, 10), included Israel (“My people” in 53:8).

While the Servant is subjected to terrible treatment at the hands of men the prophecy makes it clear that it is for mankind that the transaction was allowed to happen.  No wonder then that after all He has to endure God exalts Him (53:12).  What a wonderful verse is verse 11:

He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. – Isaiah 53:11

The righteous servant does all this not only for God but for Himself!  “The labor of His soul” is such a beautiful phrase.  Once we couple this together with the developing portrait of the Messiah and we recall His connection, in fact His identification with the New covenant, and we remember how the New covenant gives new vigor to the other covenants I think we begin to see how the covenantal Creation Project comes together in and through the Person of Christ.

Humiliation before Exaltation

We might do well to pause here for a moment to reflect on the remarkable fact that the Old Testament dwells far more upon the victorious ascendancy and rule of the Promised One than with His being dishonored and put to shame by His enemies before coming to the throne.  Even in the first promise in Genesis 3:15 the serpent is said to crush the heel of the woman’s seed before He vanquishes the serpent.  In Genesis 49:10 and Numbers 24:17 speak only of His glory, as does Micah 2:13 and 5:2.  Psalm 22:1-21 is the only other passage so far in the progress of revelation where a similar shameful treatment is recorded, but there the specific individual remains prophetically uncertain until the death of Jesus.  In Isaiah the prophecies in 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-10; 32:1; 40:10 all refer to the reign of the Lord, there is no mention of any suffering.  This will be the consistent theme of Isaiah from chapter 54 onward.

We shall observe the same phenomenon all the way through the Prophets.  Zephaniah 3:15-17 and Jeremiah 23:5-6 and 33:14-16 teach us to expect someone who will usher in righteousness under His purview.  The “smiting stone” of Daniel 2 and the great Ruler of Daniel 7:13-14 again draw the reader’s attention to the glory of the Coming One, not to His misery.  Zechariah’s post-exilic visions do briefly mention that Yahweh will be valued at thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:13), and then there is the enigmatic pronouncement that “they will look on me whom they pierced” in Zechariah 12:10, but otherwise that writer’s more Messianic predictions follow the descriptions of splendor we find nearly everywhere else (e.g. Zech. 2:10; 3:8; 6:12-13; 8:3; 9:9; 14:3-5, 9, 16-17).  Finally, Malachi 3:1-3 and 4:1-3 raise the same expectations. (more…)

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A Review of J. P. Moreland, “Scientism and Secularism”

A Review of J. P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism, Wheaton: Crossway, 2019, 222 pages, pbk

J. P. Moreland is a seasoned Christian philosopher who has provided the Church with some very good tools in defense of the Faith and the Christian Worldview.  He has been Professor of Philosophy at Biola for many years.  This timely book is most welcome as it engages one of the most pernicious false ideas that has arisen from man’s innate hatred of God (Rom. 1:18-25).

Scientism is essentially the belief that only science, especially the hard sciences, can give us solid knowledge of the world.  Although many of its advocates do not come right out and say it in such blunt terms, that is their faith.

Moreland refers to  “hard scientism” and “soft scientism”, the difference between them being that the softer variety allows that other fields of study may have something to say, but nothing as authoritative as the pronouncements of “science.” (29-30).  This belief in the magisterium of the lab coat has come about because of a shift in the “plausibility structure” in the society (32-33).  The organized and heavily guarded groupthink that permeates school and university curricula and the media.  Behind this is the ever-potent force of people not wanting God to be there. (191-194).

In the third chapter the writer relates how the universities were transformed into bastions of secularism, and this was chiefly done by the acceptance of scientism.  This shift did not occur because of evidence.  “Rather, it was merely a pragmatic sociological shift.” (48. Italics are the author’s).

The short fourth chapter is entitled “Scientism Is Self-Refuting.”  This little chapter is important because it not only shows that self-refuting stahttps://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/further-thoughts-on-the-call-to-the-ministry/tements are necessarily false (51), but that scientism is ironically not even a scientific position.  Scientism is “an epistemological viewpoint about science; it is not a statement of science.” (52, cf. 57).  From this position Moreland shows that philosophical presuppositions (say, about the nature of truth) are necessary before any science can get underway (ch. 5).

Unsurprisingly, Moreland spends time on the matter of consciousness and mental states.  Consciousness is and always will be a first-person phenomenon.  Neurologists depend upon the honest reports from the subject to gather their data (86-90).  But of course many neuroscientists have bought into physicalism, wherein the human being is viewed simply as the accumulation of active molecular parts – a machine (90-105).

Further chapters engage the Hawking/Mlodinow thesis that everthing came from nothing (ch. 10).  He takes several shots at methodological naturalism (121, ch. 13), includes a fine section on Fine-Tuning (143-149), and near-death experiences (92-94), and useful chapters on the integration of Christianity and Science (chs. 14 & 15).

The book does not analyze secularism as such.  It’s main aim is against the rampant scientism in our culture and to help Christians understand and critique it.  He rightly inveighs against “using watered-down, intellectually vacuous, simplistic preaching that is always applied to a parishioner’s private life while failing to deal from the pulpit with the broad cultural, intellectual, and moral issues facing us all” (39-40).  There is a helpful bibliography of recommended books at the end.

Scientism and Secularism sometimes seems to lack the cut and thrust of more polemical works, but it is recommended reading for anyone who wants to be conversant with a culture saturated with the canons of irrational scientism.

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt.3)

Part Two

The Intertwining of the Covenants: A Little Summary of the Coming Kingdom

In these kinds of passages Isaiah presents a picture of the future kingdom of the Branch that is glorious in many respects.  It is fair and just and safe and beautiful.  After the initial battles, there will be a realization of the dream of world peace, brought about by the great mass of people turning to the true God; a New covenant era.  Additionally, the beautification of the earth, the desolate places made verdant, and the increase in natural productivity, will be matched by the pacification of the animal world.  This might readily be seen as a New covenant effect on the Noahic covenant.  Peace, both outward and inward, will not be the elusive thing for which men have unsuccessfully sought throughout history.  It will be present as a felt reality.  It will be a natural part of human experience.  And humanity will not be left to itself, but will know itself to be under the benevolent and judicial eye of the everlasting One.  For God Himself, through “Immanuel,” will dwell on the earth in Jerusalem,[1] and all eyes will be on the great nation of Israel.  This is where the first two parts of the Abrahamic covenant, together with the Priestly and Davidic covenants come in.

What happens in the Prophets is that the covenants of God intertwine.[2]  Even parts of the Mosaic covenant are refocused in the New covenant.  The New covenant is the key, because through it the other divine covenants can be realized.  The great obstruction of human sin is dealt with.[3]

This is the outlook of the prophetic witness we have studied so far.  It will be repeated and expanded as we move forward.  The future kingdom will be wonderful in many ways.  The believing will find “perfect peace” (Isa. 26:3) and “learn righteousness” (26:9).  In fact God will work it all within them (26:12. Cf. 35:17).

Many of these great themes are present in Isaiah 32.  There is the pouring out of the Spirit in 32:15, which is followed by the revitalization of the wilderness and super abundance of the field.  But a noteworthy thing is that these normally uninhabited places will be places of justice and righteousness (32:16).  The ethical and the physical are beautifully intertwined in the passage.

Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted as a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.  – Isaiah 32:15-17

In his Religio Medici, the 17th Century polymath Sir Thomas Browne supposed that while there is only one world open to the senses, there are two open to the reason; the visible and the invisible.[4]  It is my belief that the end of the Creation Project is where the two worlds unite in our sensory experience as well as in our understandings.  That is what is portrayed by the Prophet here.  “Peace,” that elusive dream often rather rudely confronting us on preachy bumper-stickers and placards, will indeed be “felt” in the former nether regions of the earth when the righteous King reigns (Isa. 32:1).

But it will not be completely perfect.[5]  Already we have read that the Messiah, if I may at this point call Him by that title, will still have to keep sin in its place.  When the last book of the Bible tells us that this “Lord of lords and King of kings” will rule the nations “with a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15-16), it is because it is picking up on the language of Psalm 2.  Isaiah has also described how “He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth” (Isa 11:4).  Micah, in the midst of predicting a scene of the kingdom (Mic. 4:1-8), has to report the continuance of idolatry (Mic. 4:5a. cf. Zech.13:2-6).

The “Little Apocalypse”

What has been called “the little apocalypse” in Isaiah 24-27 begins with a description of God’s wrath upon earth (24:1-23),[6] before introducing an era when God “will swallow up death forever, and… wipe away tears from all faces” (Isa. 25:8).  Yahweh says that He will expand “all the borders of the land” (Isa. 26:15), which obviously recalls the Abrahamic oath of Genesis 15:18-21.  Judgment gives way to blessing.  There is even a mention of resurrection (Isa. 26:19 cf. Job 19:25-26), places this section at the time of the Lord’s establishment of His kingdom.  Pain is substituted for joy because God “will establish shalom,” having done all their works within the redeemed (Isa. 26:12; 27:9).  This will be an era of true justice, not just politics under the name of justice (Isa. 26:9); an era of a resurgent and resplendent Israel (Isa. 27:6).

In sum, Isaiah’s Little Apocalypse shows that a global kingdom follows global tribulation.[7]

————————————————————————————–

[1] So many covenant theologians assume that these prophetic references to a glorified Jerusalem are to New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven (Rev. 3:12; 21:2), because their theological covenants force them to.  However, “heavenly Jerusalem“ is not a concept that occurs in the Old Testament.” – See Andrew T. Lincoln, Paradise Now and Not Yet: Studies in the Role of the Heavenly Dimension in Paul’s Thought with Special Relationship to His Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 18-19

[2] Thomas E. McComiskey refers to the way the “redemptive” or “promise covenants” (e.g. Abrahamic) work in tandem with what he calls the “administrative covenants” (e.g. Mosaic).  Hence the covenants function “bicovenantally.”  – The Covenants of Promise, 139-177.  His work is stimulating, but the Abrahamic covenant is not a redemptive covenant.  Only the New covenant contains the means of redemption.  Furthermore, McComiskey holds a necessary correlation between Israel and the Church on this bicovenantal pattern (Ibid, 189-190).  This fails, for example, to account for the raising of specific expectations by God in the three strands of the Abrahamic covenant and the repetition of these expectations under New covenant conditions.

[3] As we shall see, the New covenant itself is embodied in the Messiah, making Him the center of the covenantal picture of the Bible.

[4] Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and The Garden of Cyrus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), edited by R. H. A. Robbins, 37

[5] Note, for example, that not until the creation of the new heavens and new earth is there “no more curse” (Rev. 22:3).

[6] In Isaiah 24:5 we read of the earth’s inhabitants breaking “the everlasting covenant.”  The phrase is found in relation to the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9:16, and I believe that is the covenant Isaiah mainly has in mind here (John D.W. Watts, Isaiah 1 – 33, 318).  Still, I think Motyer is correct in saying that human beings have failed to live in right relationship to God within the terms of every divine covenant.  See his discussion in Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, 199.  Less likely in view of the Noahic connections is the view that it may convey a less technical sense meaning the relationship between man to the Word of God under which he is to live, as in e.g. Harry Bultema, Commentary on Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1981), 236-237.  The term is also found in reference to the New covenant in, for example, the Book of Hebrews (Heb. 13:20).  In each of its usages the onus is not on “eternity past” but upon the future.  It will take a work of God Himself to rectify the persistent failure.

[7] Michael J. Vlach. He Will Reign Forever, 167

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt. 2)

Part One

Isaiah 11

A great monarch, called the “Branch” (Isa. 11:1. Cf. 4:2) will be possessed of the Holy Spirit (11:2).  His wisdom and justice will be equal to Yahweh (11:2-4).  Already Isaiah has taught us that this person will be miraculously conceived by a virgin (7:14 cf. Gen. 3:15); and no wonder, because He will be “Immanuel” – God with us.

Now we understand more clearly the import of Micah’s words about the coming One, “Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2), and our thoughts are turned to “the one who breaks open” of Micah 2:13.  In Isaiah chapter 9 we come across an extraordinary personage “called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6).  He is of Davidic origin (9:7), just as this mighty and benevolent king in Isaiah 11:1 (cf. the Ruler from Bethlehem in Micah 5:2).  The details are clamoring for attention: the Prophets speak together of a great Potentate who will hail from Judah (Gen. 49:10; Mic.5:2), from David’s line (1 Chron. 17:12-14; Isa. 9:7).  He will rule in wisdom and righteousness and equity, aided by God’s Spirit (Isa.11:2, 4-5).  As Dumbrell indicates, His concern with righteousness and faithfulness (Isa. 11:5) shows His allegiance to God’s covenants.[1]

The Gift and Names of a King

But this person will be more than just an ideal human king.  His ancient provenance (Mic. 5:2), and special titles (Isa.7:14; 9:6) show Him to have close affinities with Yahweh Himself.  He will be “wonderful,” like no other ruler in human history.  Isaiah 9:6 refers to Him as “mighty God” (El Gibbor).[2]  Whoever this person of Isaiah 2 and 11 is then, even from the prophet’s perspective, He is very possibly divine!  By “everlasting Father” or “Father of eternity” is probably meant “protector of the people,” although He will remain so in perpetuity.[3]  The verse ought never to be misconstrued as equating this king with God the Father.  Although the description of Him as “everlasting” points to His divinity, the name “Father” does not.[4]

The first three names of Isaiah 9:6, along with the promise of the virgin born “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7:14,[5] could easily lead someone to the conclusion that God Himself will be this promised Ruler, this “great light” (Isa. 9:2).  Who else could preside over a world where the reaper could overtake the sower? (Amos 9:13).  Or bring about shalom among men and among the animal kingdom? (Hos. 2:18).  And if one is making connections with previous revelation, then who else could vanquish Satan (Gen. 3:15)?  The Psalmist had spoken about an individual so exalted that He was seated at God’s right hand until the kingdom was given to Him (Psa. 110:1).[6]  In fact Psalm 45:6 alluded both to His divine nature and the “scepter of righteousness” that He would wield (cf. Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:17; Psa. 2:8-12).

The fourth name of Isaiah 9:6 is “Prince of peace.”  This peace is what Micah 4, Isaiah 2 and 32 envisage.  The Prince of peace doesn’t negotiate peace, He exudes peace!  His shalom influences the coming New covenant Kingdom which He is present in.

The early chapters of Isaiah’s prophecy bring many strands of hope together, and they all coalesce around one man, whom the prophet speaks of variously as the Branch, Immanuel, the Servant.  Further on in the Book more information will be added, although some of it will be perplexing in light of what has been said (i.e. Isa. 53).  Yet it will not be contradictory.  But the strong kingdom promises within the great covenants (Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic), require a special key to unlock them.  That key is salvation from sin.

There is no kingdom or participation in the kingdom without atonement.[7]

Will atonement too be accomplished by this Divine Ruler?  And if so, how will He accomplish it?

The Man who is the “Branch”

The answer to these questions lies ahead of us.  The reintroduction of the “Branch” from the Davidic line alludes to a kingly figure who will rule, not only over Israel, but the whole created order.[8]  As such the person of the “Branch” is a king par excellence.[9]  But in the setting of Isaiah 11 there are more extraordinary things of which to make mention.

After the opening description of the Branch of verses 1-5 there comes an enthralling description of a transformation of the instinct and temperament of the wild beasts of the earth:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. – Isaiah 11:6-9 (more…)

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt. 1)

This post and those to follow are extracts from a draft chapter in the book ‘The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology’ Vol. 1 (forthcoming d.v.)

The prophet Isaiah prosecuted his ministry between around 755 to 685 B.C.[1]  Isaiah has a lot to say about both the developing picture of the Creation Project and the person of the promised King who will reign upon the earth.  His presentation of both of these broad themes furthers the developmental picture of the covenant program greatly.

The Prophet before his God

Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord in chapter 6 of his book helps us to understand the rest of what he had to say.[2]  The prophet is confronted by the unimaginably majestic vision of the throne room of God, being brought face to face with the King of the universe (Isa. 6:5b).  In this environment he quickly becomes acutely aware of his own decrepitude and unworthiness.  He is a sort of microcosm of the people of Israel to whom he is sent, and to every reader of his work.

The vision of the holy King in Isaiah 6 grants a glimpse of God, albeit terrifying, but with a lining of hope, that not only enables us to make (some) sense of God’s difficult words in the book, but also invites us to examine ourselves personally and corporately…[3]

The prophet sees his own sin before denouncing the sins of Israel, and is given many indications of sin’s vanquishing by the Judge on the throne.  Restoration, salvation, healing, and harmony are brought before the chosen race in this book; especially in and through the Messiah, whom Isaiah likes to call God’s “Servant,” in the second main division of the work.  Although there is an irony in that the prophet’s message will only accelerate Israel’s decline.[4]

Be that as it may, the hope which punctuates this book originates directly from the One who sits exalted on the throne.  If there was no hope from that quarter there would be no point in asking “Who will go for us?” for it would only be a fool’s errand of one doomed sinner telling every other doomed sinner what bad things God had in store for them all.  The vision of God in chapter 6 may be strategically placed so that, as Oswalt comments: “Just as the man of unclean lips had to abandon all hope before being cleansed by fire, so too must the nation.”[5]

The Lord (‘adonay) is seen in a temple (Isa. 6:1),[6] and the whole vision concerns the created earth (6:3).[7]  The fact that the Almighty cleanses the prophet before He asks for a volunteer (6:7-8) shows that a redemptive mission is in His mind.[8]  Isaiah goes forth “for Us” (the plurality that is the Lord[9]).  And even though there will be judgment against willful sin (6:9-10), yet in the end some, the “holy seed,” will be saved (6:13 cf. 4:3).

The Introduction to the Book

As Isaiah’s prophecy begins he wastes no time in coming to the point about Israel’s (i.e. Judah and Jerusalem’s) spiritual condition.  Isaiah employs several memorable images to show the people their abandonment of God: they are “laden with iniquity” (Isa. 1:4), “the whole head is sick, the whole heart faints” (1:5).  The trouble is the people don’t think (1:3).  Still, God tries to reason with them:

Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. – Isaiah 1:18-19

It is unclear whether this is simply a statement that we reap what we sow, or is also a prophetic oracle, looking at the cleansing action of God that will qualify His people to inherit what was promised to them many centuries earlier.  But as the first chapter draws to a close, Isaiah foresees a time when God will turn His people back to Himself.

I will turn My hand against you, and thoroughly purge away your dross, and take away all your alloy. I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.  Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her penitents with righteousness. – Isaiah 1:25-27 

With the benefit of hindsight we know that at no time was there a national repentance that led to Jerusalem being known as a “city of righteousness.”  The prophet is definitely on predictive ground again.  Furthermore, although it is not given the name, these are New covenant words; true righteousness will only come once the Law is satisfied. (more…)

God and Time (Pt. 2)

Part One

Carl Henry proposes the following view of God’s relationship to time:

The biblical view it seems to me, implies that God is not in time, that there is no succession of ideas in the divine mind, that time is a divine creation concomitant with the origin of the universe, that God internally knows all things including all space-time contingencies, and that this knowledge includes knowledge of the temporal succession prevalent in the created universe.  Although God’s nature, including His knowledge, is not in time, nonetheless, because He is omniscient He cognitively distinguishes between what I did in the past, what I’m doing now, and what I shall do tomorrow.  God includes time not as a constituent aspect of His being or knowing, but as a conceptual aspect of His knowledge of created realities.

God’s time-transcending knowledge in Himself does not cancel out distinctive space-time relationships to His created universe.  God is not limited to simply one track of relationships to the temporal order. He knows all historical factualities and contingencies through His eternal decree and He knows them in personal presence in the historical order.  It is therefore one thing to say that God simultaneously knows all things, past, present, and future, and quite another to insist that He knows them only in an eternal now that makes all time distinctions wholly irrelevant. – Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, Vol. 5. 276 (My emphasis)

In this quotation Henry has said that God transcends time, so he is obviously a B Theory or Tenseless time advocate.  But he claims that that view does not mean God cannot know the ‘I’ in the now or the ‘I’ in any sentence (this is called the problem of indexical reference).

The reason that Henry gives for this is that God does not have time or include time as part of his nature.  It is not, as he says, “a constituent aspect of his being or knowing, instead it is a conceptual aspect of his knowledge of created realities.”

In other words, it is part of His decree; part of His foreknowledge, and therefore it is not something that impacts God’s being and attributes.  So God does not have to change from an atemporal to a temporal being, as William Lane Craig says.  Such a change would of course impact His immutability.

The way Henry has formulated the issue means that God is both atemporal in His being, but temporal in His knowing (at least within creation).  Henry adds to what he has said by giving the example of the Incarnation of the divine Logos (Ibid, 257).  He asserts the eternality of the Logos, Jesus Christ as the “I am” (John 8:58), yet He enters into time.

Now, if that is possible without any contradiction in the divine essence as far as the second person is concerned, why can’t it be true of the Father and the Spirit, even if they do not take on physicality?

Theologically, one has to start with what the Bible says, and the Bible certainly does seem too intimate in John 1:1-18 that the One who was the Beginner, the One who created all things, was before time.  You see the same thing in Genesis 1:1:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Time is shown as coterminous with creation.

James Barr, in his book on Biblical Words for Time, agrees with this.  He says that is certainly the biblical teaching.  Now if time didn’t start until creation, we can say that God was at least supratemporal or atemporal before He created (the preexistence of Christ plays in to this too).  That being the case, the only issue that has to be resolved is whether God has now confined Himself to time.

John Frame has said that the biblical view reflects God’s immanence, which includes temporality, and His transcendence, which includes atemporality (The Doctrine of God, 551).  It should be recalled that God’s immanence and transcendence in the true biblical view, are part of each another.  Therefore, it is no contradiction to say that God is immanent in time (and therefore temporal in His working), and yet in His actual being He transcends time (and is atemporal, just as He transcends all other things).

Frame writes,

Too little attention has been paid to God’s temporal omnipresence (the term he uses, in the discussion of His relationship to time).  Much of what some writers want to gain by a temporalist view, other than of course libertarian freedom, can be easily secured through sufficient recognition of God’s temporal covenant presence.  In other words His immanence. 

For example a covenantally present God, like a temporalist God, can know and assert temporarily indexed expressions like “the sun is rising now”…  He can feel with human beings the flow of time from one moment to the next.  He can react to events in a significant sense, events which to be sure, He has foreordained. He can mourn one moment and rejoice the next.  He can hear and respond to prayer in time.  Since God dwells in time, therefore, there is give-and-take between him and human beings.  But God’s temporal immanence does not contradict his Lordship over time or the exhaustiveness of His decree.  These temporal categories are merely aspects of God’s general transcendence and immanence as the Lord.  The give-and-take between God and the creation requires, not a reduced, but an enhanced view of His sovereignty.  God is the Lord in time, as well as the Lord above time.  So God is temporal after all, but not merely temporal.  He really exists in time, but He also transcends time in such a way as to exist outside of it.  He is both inside and outside of the temporal box; a box that can never confine Him nor keep Him out. This is the model that does the most justice to the biblical data. – John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, 558-559†

Frame’s account is on a par with Carl Henry’s view; and that is, I believe, the biblical view.††  We should look at the problem of God’s working in time through the theological categories of God’s immanence in transcendence.  God is temporal through his “covenant presence.”††† He is atemporal in his transcendence or Lordship.

Some Scriptural Representations of God, Eternity, and Time

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. – Psalm 90:2

Many have noted here the duplication of the word olam which should be recognized as a way of speaking of eternity.

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. – Revelation 1:8

Although these references to the “Alpha and the Omega” seem to be temporal references, they are explained as atemporal by the description that is appended to them.  The text describes the Lord thus: He “is and was and is to come.”  It does not say that God “was and is and is to come.”  That would imply a temporal existence always.  The presence of God in the ‘now’ situation (“is”) is placed first, therefore putting emphasis on God’s atemporality.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11:36

By “all things” this passage must mean all things in time and space.  Creation and its time are from God.  By saying all things are of God, through Him, and to Him Paul is not claiming creation is an emanation from God.  They are created separate from Him.  Only He is eternal.


†  My quotations here come from lecture transcripts.  Though I own these books, I do not have them in front of me as I write this.

††  In saying this I am not claiming to have answered every objection or read every counter-proposal.  This is my opinion so far as I can give one.

†††  By speaking of ‘covenant presence’ Frame (if I understand him rightly) is invoking the theological covenant(s), not those clearly found in the Bible.  However, one can use the term ‘covenant presence’ just so long as it is understood more as a figure of speech than as a reference to the biblical covenants.

 

God and Time (Pt.1)

The well-known biblical scholar James Barr, in his book Biblical Words for Time, wrote that the dispute about whether God is timelessly eternal or eternally time-bound cannot be decided by going to a Hebrew and Greek lexicon and looking at the terms.  The evangelical scholar Carl Henry claimed that “The Bible’s explicit teaching about the nature of divine eternity is inconclusive.”

This is an important subject.  There has been a lot of debate about whether God is necessarily in time Himself or whether He transcends time.

Two Basic Theories of Time: they are called the A Theory and the B Theory.

The A Theory of Time, also called the Tensed Theory, teaches that the ‘now’ exists, but that the past did exist and the future doesn’t yet exist; so only the ‘now’ exists.  In this view God is thought of as being a ‘temporal’ being; most modern philosophers of religion hold to a tensed theory of time.  Some of these advocates hold that this means that God is, in some sense acquiring new facts as He experiences passages of time.

The A Theory teaches that the future doesn’t yet exist, so if the future doesn’t exist then it doesn’t exist for God either.  This means God must be receiving facts; at least the fact that the future is coming into existence.  Naturally, Open Theists, Process Theists, and some Arminians like this view, because it appears to protect their belief in forms of libertarian free will.  But this view does have knock on effects for the attributes of God.

If God is experiencing the passage of time, as this view teaches, then He cannot be omniscient in the sense that men like Augustine and Calvin have insisted on.  Moreover, He cannot transcend time.  And if that is so then it seems hard to believe that God is immutable, since He would experience changes in time with all that would appear to imply.

Most of the Reformed Epistemology school (e.g. Nicholas Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga) accept this A Theory view of time.  So does John Feinberg, who in his book No One Like Him, embraces the view of a temporal God.  For Feinberg, divine timelessness is both incomprehensible and undermining to God.  He writes:

For if God knows all things intuitively at the same moment and these thoughts don’t change, then that means that God has always been thinking the exact same thing. Added to this, it surely implies that the communal fellowship between the persons of the Trinity is ruled out, since all three have always had the same thought. – John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him, 429-430

Feinberg thinks this completely nullifies any kind of intercommunication between the three persons.  How can they communicate, he reasons, if they know all things about each other, and know them intuitively all at the same time?

Sempi-Temporality

A derivation of the A Theory is called Sempi Temporality, whereby God was eternal prior to creating, but when He created He entered into time so as to have a relationship with his creatures.  This is the view of William Lane Craig, although it is also attractive to men like Feinberg.

A Major Problem with the A Theory of Time (and Sempi Temporality theory)

A major problem of this view relates to the Doctrine of Creation.  John Frame explains:

Some have claimed that the God who exists in time without beginning or end would embody an ‘actual infinite,’ that is, an infinity of actual events in temporal sequence, past and future. If God is temporal, then time is not created. If time is not created, then it extends infinitely far into the past. In that case, an infinity of days would have elapsed before God’s creation of the world.  But if an infinity of days elapsed before creation, then creation never took place. But since creation did take place, God must not embody an actual infinite, and so He exists outside of time.

I cannot detect a flaw in this argument, but I would hesitate to give it doctrinal weight, in the absence of biblical teaching.  William Lane Craig, in his book Time and Eternity argues that God was originally supra-temporal, which is beyond time, but became exclusively temporal when He created the world.  This view would avoid the problem I mentioned here, but I don’t believe it is consistent with the biblical data I discuss later. – John Frame, The Doctrine of God, 552

So we should look at the alternative.

The B Theory or Tenseless Theory of Time.

In the B Theory of Time the ‘now’ exists in the same way that the past and future exists, at least to God’s mind.  The main argument against this view is neatly expressed by Gregory Ganssle in the book God in Time: Four Views, which he edited.

If God is atemporal , His relation to each event is the same.  He knows them all in His eternal now.  How does He know which of them occurs now and which of them has already occurred?  Since every event is present to Him, He cannot know which is actually present. – Gregory Ganssle, God in Time: Four Views, 15-16

 In another book Ganssle comments,

If the traditional view is correct then God cannot be and at your ‘now’.  He knows everything that happens at the time you say your sentence, but he does not experience it as ‘now’ in the way you do.  He experiences every point in time all at once, so to speak.  If God were to use a word ‘now’ literally, He could not point precisely to one point in time, as opposed to another point.  For Him all times are ‘now’ just as each point in space is here for Him. – Gregory Ganssle, Thinking About God, 172

So God cannot really use the same sentence we use to express what He knows; He has to use a different sentence.  For example, He could only say “Fred is reading on the couch in his living room at 4 pm on Tuesday,” as opposed to “I am reading on this couch at 4 pm on Tuesday.”  The referent changes for God, so He cannot experience what you are doing.  He only knows what you’re doing.

How does one surmount this hurdle?  Does one go with the modern Christian philosophers of religion, and opt for the A Theory of Time where God is a temporal being?  Do we go for Craig’s Sempi Temporality, where God was supratemporal / atemporal before He created, and now He has created He is bound to time for the rest of eternity (i.e. for the rest of the passage of moments)?  Or do we hold to a B Theory, a Tenseless Theory, with men like Paul Helm, and in fact all the classical expressions of theology?

Buswell rejected the traditional position, but most reformed and dispensational scholars held to the B Theory.  In which case do we have to say that God doesn’t know or experience the ‘I’ in the same way we do, and does that therefore limit His knowledge?

Ones view of time will have knock on effects to the way that you formulate the attributes of God.

How Might We Glorify God in His Attributes? (2)

Part One

As we contemplate God’s perfections, we need to pay attention to what God has disclosed about Himself, linking these qualities together as they are linked together in His person.  The perspectival aspect that is so important to grasp when we are dealing with the attributes should be remembered.  Millard Erickson actually criticizes the great Puritan Stephen Charnock for seeming to compartmentalize the attributes of God.  When we are dealing with the perfections; whether it be the power of God, the presence of God, the holiness of God, or His patience, love, justice, grace, mercy, truth, eternality, immutability, omnipotence, etc., we should see the attributes wrapped up in each another; that they are different perspectives on the unity of the one God, not parts of God, but rather perspectives on God.

We have been saved by God’s grace and mercy and love and power and truth and justice, so this places us under an obligation to glorify Him.  I Corinthians 10:31 declares,

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

But how can we do that truly if we have not made ourselves familiar with the way God has disclosed Himself in the Bible?

The Glory of His Name

Psalm 29 reminds us to,

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. – Psalm 29:2

When the psalmist speaks of the “name” of God here, he is talking about the character of God; that which defines God, that which God, in naming Himself for us, wants us to know about Himself.  We are to proclaim the honor due to His name; in fact the honor of His name, and make His praise glorious.  As the psalm suggests, this is best done when the truth about God arrests our hearts and we begin to reflect His holiness.

Sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! – Psalm 66:2

We’re scarcely in a position to participate in this if we are ignorant of what it means to speak of God’s attributes.  To glorify God in His attributes is to declare either to oneself or to another, the absolute perfections of our Creator.  It is also to apply this knowledge to ourselves.

For example, how might a Christian’s contemplation of God help him in trying times? Here are eight things to ponder.

First, the saints are never alone.  The Lord is always with us.  Hebrews 13:5  instructs us:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

The love of money is a rejection of providence of God and of rewards in heaven.  It is also a snubbing of the presence of God.  As Psalm 139:7 says,

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

Second, God knows all about our situations.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. – Psalm 139:2-3

The thought is a beautiful one to meditate upon.  The verse is not saying anything about God’s control, but rather about His knowledge.  We honor God’s knowledge when we plan our steps with this truth in mind.  And so,

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. – Psalm 37:23-24

Third, all believers are destined for a kingdom of love and peace, they are to enter into the joy of the Lord.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. – Revelation 21:22

Then, really for the first time, we will know the value of goodness, holiness, peace, and wisdom, and be able to appreciate what these things are to the optimal degree.  For eternity we shall dwell in the House of the Lord (Psalm 23:6).

Fourth, these things are as true for us now as if we were already there!  Because of the predestination and plan of God (Romans 8:28-30)

Fifth, God’s nature never changes (Malachi 3:6), therefore, neither will His tender mercies toward His children.

So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:7

Our Relationship to This World

In terms of the present, as adoptive sons and daughters of God and partakers of the divine nature, we are not to think of this world as our home.  In Jesus’ prayer to His Father for us He spoke of us thus:

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  – John 17:16

This is a profound idea.  We really don’t belong here.  Not in this era.  Not is this act of the play.  Once we are regenerated we are children of the resurrection; and of that coming world of which the resurrection of Jesus was the prelude. (more…)

How might we glorify God in His Attributes? (1)

Calvin on God’s Powers

John Calvin’s treatment of Psalm 145 offers some great ruminations about the attributes of God.  The psalm can be broken down into three parts:

Verses 1-3 are David on his own speaking of the greatness of God celebrating God’s praise.

Verses 4-9 speak of David bringing in the people of whom he is king and bringing them to praise and prompting them to consider God’s greatness and goodness.

Verses 10-21 he brings in the whole of creation; he is not satisfied with just himself praising God or with Israel praising God, but he wants the whole of God’s creation to do what it ought to do, which is to look at the revelation of God that He has given and to respond in worship and praise to Him.

Calvin deals with Psalm 145 he speaks of his comments on verse one: “since God is constant in extending mercies, it would be highly improper in us to faint in his praises.”  He continues by saying that even when David was in his ascendancy he did not permit his royal trappings to interfere with the glory due to God – John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 145:1

It doesn’t matter what we are in this world, God is far above us, God is transcendent, God is King over us, and our proper position is of worshipers.  Calvin then refers to being overwhelmed by “the immensity of His power.”  Calvin means that we are brought out of ourselves and our condition by our ruminations upon God and His wonders.

“There is an implied contrast between the eternal name of God, and that immortality of renown which great men seem to acquire by their exploits. Human excellencies are eulogized in histories; with God it stands differently, for there is not a day in which he does not renew remembrance of his works, and cherish it by some present effect, so as indelibly to preserve it alive upon our minds.” – John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 145:4

God does great things everyday that deserve our recognition!  So God’s glories are displayed for us:

“We may infer from this, that the greatness of God is not that which lies concealed in his mysterious essence, and in subtle disputation upon which, to the neglect of his works, many have been chargeable with mere trifling, for true religion demands practical not speculative knowledge.” John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 145:4

We don’t just leave in our heads what we have learned, we do something with it, we nurture a practical knowledge of God.

Calvin next turns to the use of the memory:

“To celebrate the memory of the Lord’s goodness, is the same with recalling to memory what we have personally experienced of his goodness. We cannot deny God’s claim to praise in all his excellencies, but we are most sensibly affected by such proofs of his fatherly mercy as we have ourselves experienced.” – Commentary on Psalm 145:7

Calvin is saying that whether we have experienced all of the attributes of God in the same measure, all of us can recall the goodness of God in our lives.

In his observations on verse 8 Calvin notes that David borrows from the great passage in Exodus 34:6:

which as clear and satisfactory a description of the nature of God is given us as can anywhere be found. Were he to bring his power prominently into view before us, we would be cast down by the terror of it rather than encouraged, as the Papists represent him a dreadful God, from whose presence all must fly, whereas the proper view of him is that which invites us to seek after him. Accordingly, the more nearly that a person feels himself drawn to God, the more has he advanced in the knowledge of him. If it be true that God is not only willing to befriend us, but is spoken of as touched with sympathy for our miseries, so as to be all the kinder to us the more that we are miserable, what folly were it not to fly to him without delay?” – Commentary on Psalm 145:8

Some readers may think that Calvin might have benefited from Rudolf Otto’s analysis (in The Idea of the Holy) of the two poles of the dread and the allure of God, but his main point here is crucial to grasp.  The attributes of God as enunciated by God Himself inform us that God wishes us to come to Him.  And the clearer this realization becomes in our minds the more advanced we are in our spiritual maturity.

With this understanding comes also the privilege of witnessing to others of this truth:

“He then assigns the special work of declaring them to believers, who have eyes to perceive God’s works, and know that they cannot be employed better than in celebrating his mercies. – Commentary on Psalm 145:10

Even in our suffering, this knowledge comes to our aid.  As he says, Another lesson taught us is, that none will be disappointed who seeks comfort from God in his affliction.” – Commentary on Psalm 145:14

As to our daily sustenance, we miss the hand of God when we simply imagine that it is just a product of the planet:

“We sinfully confine our attention to the earth which yields us our food, or to natural causes. To correct this error David describes God as opening his hands to put the food into our mouths.” – Commentary on Psalm 145:16

God’ s perfections are active and they are working.  They are to be seen in the everyday habits of life.

“The ground upon which praise is here ascribed to God may seem a common one, being in every one’s mouth; but in nothing is wisdom shown more than in holding fast the truth, that God is just in all his ways, so as to retain in our hearts an unabated sense of it amidst all troubles and confusions.” – Commentary on Psalm 145:17

(more…)

Recommended Books for Studying Calvinism

Having been asked to recommend a few books on Calvinism I thought it might make a good post at Dr Reluctant.  I myself am about as much a modified Calvinist as I am a modified Dispensationalist.  Although many will not agree with me, I believe that “plain-sense,” old fashioned grammatico-historical hermeneutics requires some readjustment of standard Reformed formulations of Calvinist doctrines.  My reason for this is that the hermeneutics of Reformed Calvinism, when aimed at eschatology, produces supercessionism and covenant theology.  It is a hermeneutics heavy on deduction.  I might characterize it as “deduction before induction,” whereas I believe it ought to be the other way round.

In light of this I wrote a set of posts a while back which engaged standard Calvinist formulations: Dispensationalism and TULIP.  (The link is to the last in the series, from where the others can be accessed).  The posts do not present a positive case, and I understand that these posts are not popular with many Calvinists.  But I long ago gave up trying to please others by towing the line, and I prefer to explore theology “freed” from what can become a party line.  If it doesn’t sound pompous I want to do theology from the Bible while feeling quite free to disagree with formulations that appear to me to rest too much upon inference instead of exegesis.  I am okay with having “frayed edges” to my theology.  I don’t think I am capable of boxing everything up in a tidy way.  Some things in the Bible just stick out!

Anyway, in studying Calvinism it is essential to read well and carefully.  There are too many doctrinaire works out there that bloviate much and explain little.  In no particular order, here are some of the best resources I know:

Major Works of Calvinistic Theology

John M. Frame – The Doctrine of God

In this outstanding work Frame supplies the mature student with a thorough text on the most important subject in theology.  Within its pages he develops a “theology of Lordship” based upon “Lordship attributes” of immanence and transcendence from which he expounds his views on God’s control of His world.  I personally do not think that he escapes the gravitational pull of nominalism with his discussion of accountability and responsibility, but I think he does make a pretty fool-proof case for the necessity of Divine predetermination, and he grounds everything in a well worked-out worldview and ethics.  Even where I differ, this is the best book on its subject.

John S. Feinberg – No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God

Feinberg’s book is even more massive than Frame’s.  He takes a decidedly more philosophical approach and interacts much more with modern thinkers than does Frame.  I don’t like what he does with Divine simplicity, but his discussion of compatibilism is nuanced and compelling.  More than a simple book about God, No One Like Him is one of the best things produced by an evangelical ever, although few will agree with him on everything (Frame is better on worldview).  I used to use this as my required text for teaching Philosophy of Religion.

Robert L. Reymond – A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

When I get round to revamping my article reviewing Systematic Theologies I will again extol the overall merits of this book.  It has some quirks, but it is superior to Grudem.  Reymond reminds me so much of John Murray, which is a good thing.  Reymond is as dogmatic as they come; a bit of a blunt instrument.  But his earnestness is so refreshing.  He tries to ground his Calvinism in exegesis, and his explanations of “the doctrines of grace,” even within a revised supralapsarianism, contain some of the most straightforward expressions of classical Calvinism.

John Calvin – Institutes of the Christian Religion

You should read Calvin.  Even when he gets into murky waters with children going to hell in Book 3 he has by then said enough about God’s “powers” (i.e. attributes) to warrant serious reflection.  Calvin does not articulate a belief in definite atonement (still less in his commentaries), but his logical arguments for God’s absolute sovereignty must be read (N.b. his translator, Ford Lewis Battles wrote a classic essay, “Calculus Fidei” if I recall, in which he explained the inevitability of ending up where Calvin was if you followed his thought).  Btw, I do not recommend the book Calvin’s Calvinism, which displays the Reformer’s ruder and more pugnacious side.

As for shorter studies, I think these best explain Calvinism:

Michael Horton – For Calvinism

Horton is one of the most well versed Reformed theologians around, particularly in interacting with modern theological movements.  He is able to write books at a scholarly level and for popular readers.  This book is for the latter, and even though I demur here and there, I think it succeeds in its stated aim.

Lorraine Boettner – The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination

A standard work in which the “five points” made one of their first appearances.  The best delineation of TULIP.  Clear discussion of double predestination.

James White – The Potter’s Freedom

I actually don’t think this book is that good, but since it interacts with Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free, it is worth perusing.  White indulges in what I think are some cheap shots against Geisler (no exegesis, circular reasoning, etc) while not really addressing the charge of voluntarism (i.e. nominalism) which Geisler presses (btw, I am not a huge fan of Geisler).  Still, when he does express the Calvinist position White states his positions well.  He presents the way many contemporary Calvinists think, and for that it is valuable.

Greg Forster – The Joy of Calvinism

I reviewed this book and mentioned that what I liked about it was its forthrightness.  I also appreciated the way the author emphasized definite atonement as a linchpin of TULIP.

J. Gresham Machen – The Christian View of Man

This is the first book I read on Calvinism.  I recall studying on a long train journey back in 1986.  Machen walks the reader through the central pillars of the Reformed doctrine of salvation, including predestination and the imputation of Adam’s sin.

David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, et al – The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented

The big contribution of this book is the way the authors provide succinct definitions of “the doctrines of grace” with texts supporting each step in the logical argument.  That makes it very valuable.  It took me a long time to trace each step out, but it showed that built into some of their definitions is a tendency to affirm the consequent.

Three more books which should be read are:

Dan Phillips – The World-Tilting Gospel

This is a book about the Gospel and its “transformative implications.”  But what the author manages to do while pursuing his goal is to fit the five points within a worldview narrative.  I found that to be an ingenious and unique approach.

Kenneth J. Stewart – Ten Myths About Calvinism.

In this well written book Stewart shows that there is more breadth to Calvinism than is often portrayed.

David J. Engelsma – Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel

This book is by a theologian who many would say is a hyper-Calvinist.  But the value of reading this well articulated book is to follow his logic.  Engelsma argues cogently that if TULIP is true it follows that God hates the non-elect (a common teaching found in e.g. John Owen), and that therefore you cannot offer the Gospel to the lost because the odds are God doesn’t mean well for them if they are non-elect.

These are not the only solid books on Calvinism, but they are the ones that I would choose.  If you have another list I would like to see it.  I should say that there are reasons I did not include men like A. W. Pink or John Owen in the list.  I revere both men, but I don’t like their arguments for Calvinism.