God’s Work of Creation July 05, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Reflections, Systematic Theology.
Tags: Cosmos, creation, Creator, God, Meaning of Life, Purpose of Creation, Universe
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God’s Creative Work
The work of creation is a work that was engaged in by all three members of the Triune Godhead, thus it needs to be briefly treated here, as we discuss Theology Proper. Within this category, there are four things that we must principally discuss: The Setting of creation, the Act of creation, the Purpose of creation, and the Destiny of creation.
The Setting of Creation
When we speak of the setting of creation, we are speaking of the state of existence prior to creation from which God began his creative work. In this case, there was nothing apart from God. All things that are were created by God and from nothing. In other words, there was no preexistent matter from which God began his creative work. This fact rejects the Gnostic and Greek notion of the Pleroma, it rejects any sort of polytheism, and it rejects the notion of the universe being eternal and ongoing. In modern science, it also rejects the notion of the universe’s origin being a “Big Bang” as the theory hinges on the idea of a preexistent singularity from which the universe came. Similarly, this rejects naturalism, as God is outside of and not bound within nature. Simply speaking, God existed in perfect harmony and satisfaction in his Triune state for eternity prior to his work of creation; he is the self-existent being from which all that exists finds its origin.
The Act of Creation
There are several things that fall under this heading: first, the cause of the act; second, the means by which the act was performed; and third, the act itself.
First, we must note that there was no outside cause that brought about God’s act of creation, nor was there anything lacking within God that precipitated a need for him to create. He made the decision to create purely for his own eternal purposes and to show his own glory. There are some who would portray God as being needy without the praises of his people or as being desirous of a relationship that was outside of himself, yet this is not the Biblical presentation of God’s sovereign being or act of creation.
Second, we must address the means by which God created. Scripture affirms that God spoke all creation into being by the word of his power, which is Jesus Christ. Scripture does not portray God as creating through other powers, it does not portray God as creating by forming preexistent matter, nor does scripture present God as creating through an interplay with or against evil powers. Instead, scripture presents God in the sovereign act of creating and then pronouncing that which he created as good.
Finally, we see the act itself, by which God made all things. There is a great deal of debate as to the nature of this act. Did God directly create all things by divine fiat? Did God begin the work of creation miraculously and then guide the natural development of the world through secondary causes? Did God begin creation and set the natural laws and then leave development to take place in a natural way? Is the world relatively young of is the language of Genesis 1 metaphorical?
It is not possible, within the scope of this discussion to address all of these issues as much ink has been spilled over these debates. The answer to this question falls largely into the question of which one holds to have priority. Do we interpret scripture according to man’s reason and scientific understandings or do we submit our reason and scientific understanding to the authority of scripture? We must ask, “which is translated by which?” There are faithful Christians on all sides of this debate. If one holds that scripture is primary, then science must be interpreted in light of the revelation. If one holds otherwise, then one is free to hold various interpretations of Genesis 1. See appendix for a defense of a literal (seven 24-hour days) position on the time and order of creation and the importance of holding to such a position.
The Purpose of Creation
There are really only two answers that can be given to the question of the purpose of creation. The first is that God created to glorify himself and that the second is to honor Christ. While there may be many secondary and subordinate plans and purposes that God has worked out in his world, like that of bringing us into a relationship with himself, the primary purpose of creation is to honor the one who brought it into being—to honor the one who rightly deserves praise and adoration. Even in our fallen state, one thing that we understand well is that it is right and proper to honor the artist or maker of a great work of art. Hence, names like Michelangelo and Rembrandt, Bach and Mozart, or Chaucer and Shakespeare are well known to us, though many years have passed since they created their masterpieces. Even the most ardent unbeliever understands that it is proper and honorable to give words of acclamation to someone who is an accomplished musician, athlete, or painter. Thus, when we see the created order and understand it to be the infinitely wonderful masterpiece that it is, how much infinitely more proper it is to praise its artist, God himself, for his work. Even more so, how much more wonderful is the infinitely perfect character of God himself than the character of his creation, and how we should praise him simply for who he is even apart from what he has done! Indeed, how much more rude and conceited it is when we refuse to honor God properly than when we refuse to give a human artist his or her due. Likewise, Christ, as the radiance of God’s glory and the perfection of God’s image deserves our praise.
The Destiny of Creation
The discussion of the end of the created order begins with God’s initial creation. For God created all things and pronounced them to be very good and gave mankind the responsibility of subduing it, essentially extending God’s garden of Eden—paradise—to the whole of the created order. In other words, creation, while very good in every way, needed to be given order and further cultivation. Man and woman, in taking dominion over the world, were to imitate God in his gardening activity by making the planet paradise. Yet, Adam and Eve fell and as the created order was under their regency, the created order fell with them. Yet, God has promised through Christ that the created order will be remade perfectly at the time his Son returns, Jesus as King in Adam’s place, remaking the world into paradise. Hence the language of Revelation picks up on much of the Old Testament imagery of the Garden of Eden. Thus, the destiny of the created order is never-ending paradise under the dominion of Christ.
 Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-2.
 See the unit on Symbolics for more on God’s creating ex-nihilo.
 Note that there is a difference between time and eternity: time being created and eternity being a state of timeless-ness, it simply is. This is important to note, as Augustine points out in his Confessions, for otherwise we must ask why God waited “so long” to begin his noble task of creation. Time is simply the measure that finite beings use to mark the sequential progression of their existence. Eternity describes the state of God’s being.
 Genesis 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26.
 Hebrews 1:3; Psalm 33:9.
 John 1:14.
 Genesis 1:31.
 Note that in the discussion of God creating all things, we are including the spiritual realms as well as the physical realms. Though it is not entirely clear as to on which day God created the spiritual world and populated it with angels, given that God is the only pre-existent being, it is understood that they were created at some point within these seven days. See appendix for more on angels and the spiritual realm.
 Revelation 4:11; Isaiah 43:7.
 Colossians 1:16.
 Hebrews 1:3.
 Colossians 1:15.
 Note that while some would consider God to be conceited and prideful for demanding our praise, we need to remember two principles. First, conceit and pride come as a result of a disproportionate emphasis on self to the exclusion of the rightful honor of others, and certainly this is not so with God. Secondly, praise is in our best interests, for when we praise that which is good, we find great joy. Thus the greatest of joy can be found in praising that which is the most praise-worthy: God himself.
 Genesis 1:31.
 Genesis 1:28.
 Genesis 2:15.
 Romans 8:20.
 2 Peter 3:10.
 Revelation 21:1, 22:1-3.
Understanding Predestination July 05, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Reflections, Systematic Theology.
Tags: Calvinism, Choosing, Determinism, election, Free Will, God's Decrees, Predestination, Sovereignty, Wesleyanism
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The natural outworking of the Doctrine of God’s Decrees when applied to salvation is the language of predestination, of which election is a subset. Regardless of how you understand predestination to be worked out in history, the term (and terms surrounding predestination) need to be dealt with because they are employed within scripture. With this in mind, various views on the nature of predestination have been put forth including that of God’s foreordination of some to glory and some to reprobation (Calvinistic), God’s predestination based on divine foresight (classic Wesleyan), and God’s predestination of Christ as the only elect one and believers finding their election in him (modern Wesleyan).
To better frame out this discussion, the first question that needs to be raised is whether God is active or passive in his predestination. The Calvinist will typically hold that God’s predestination of believers to glory is active while his predestination of unbelievers to reprobation is a passive activity—that of literally choosing not to act in the life of some. The Wesleyans will hold that God’s predestination of both believers and unbelievers is passive, the final decision in terms of salvation being left in the hands of the individual who chooses either to believe or to reject the things of God.
The second question that is addressed is the question of who forms the object of predestination. The Calvinist will hold that all men, both good and evil, are the object of God’s predestinating work. The Wesleyan will either argue that men ultimately choose to become the object of the predestinating work (as the work is passive) or that Christ is the only object of God’s predestinating work. It is worth noting that these theologies typically apply the language of predestination to angels as well as to humans, thus it is God who predestinated Satan and his minions to fall or that it is Satan and his minions who chose to fall on their own free and un-influenced will.
The third question that must be addressed is that of the specific language of the New Testament surrounding predestination. There are several terms that feed our understanding of God’s decretive work when it comes to predestination.
- proori/zw (proorizo): This term that we typically translate as “predestine” is constructed from two root words: pro (pro), for “beforehand” and oJri/zw (horizo)—“to define, appoint, or set a limit to.” Thus, when the terms are combined, this refers to something that is predetermined or decided upon ahead of time. Thus, two ideas must be accounted for in interpreting this word. First is that this word carries with it the idea of willful determination. God determined to do something (scripture context and theology will determine what that something may be); there is an intentionality that is contained by this word. Second, this willful act is an act that takes place before said events are realized, arguably, based on passages like Ephesians 1:4-5, said willful act takes place before the act of creation.
- proginw/skw (proginosko): Again, this term can be broken down into two constituent parts: pro (pro) and ginw/skw (ginosko), which means, “to know.” Thus, this term refers to God’s knowing beforehand things and events. There are two ways in which this “foreknowing” has been understood. The Calvinists have consistently argued that God’s foreknowing is due to his foreordaining (God knows the end of the story because he wrote the book). The Wesleyans have typically held that God, being outside of time and not bound by the linear time-stream as we are, equally sees past, present, and future, viewing the entire timeline of history from his divine vantage point (God knows the end of the story because he read the story beforehand).
The Wesleyan view ties proginw/skw (proginosko) with proora/w (proorao), or “foresight.” Thus God knows because he sees. Yet, the Calvinist points out the theological connection between ginw/skw (ginosko) and the Hebrew term [d:y" (yada), “to know.” The Hebrew concept of knowledge is relational, thus, when Adam “knew” his wife, she became pregnant. The Calvinist would thus argue that it is impossible to have a relationship with something that is simply seen in time, but that the word demands the idea of God setting his affections on those he “foreknew” ahead of time.
- ejkle/gomai (eklegomai): This is the verb that we translate as “to elect” or “to choose,” noting that this verb implies a certain degree of intentionality. This idea is also communicated through two nouns: ejklekto/ß (eklektos)—“chosen one” or “elect”—and ejklogh/ (ekloge)—“a choice” or “an election.” This is a term with which we will deal in more detail in our unit on Soteriology, but it is an important part of the understanding of predestination in terms of God’s decretive work. For our purposes here, though, it is important simply to understand the idea of election as being something that is a result of God’s intentional choice, regardless of the means by which you understand that choice being made (foresight or foreordination) or of your understanding of the object(s) of God’s electing work (Christ alone or all believers).
There is a fourth question that must be addressed, and this question, though it is one that tends to be more subjective than objective, is one that carries with it more pastoral connotations, and thus, in the eyes of many, is likely the most important question to address. This question is, “Is the idea of God predestinating fair?” Certainly, one may dismiss this concern by quoting, “Who are you, O Man, to answer back to God?” And, indeed, it is important to be reminded that we are the ones who must answer to God and he does not answer to man or seek man’s counsel. We were not the ones who set the world into place nor do we even know what tomorrow will bring. God is sovereign and man is not. As the German composer, Samuel Radigast, wrote: “Whatever my God ordains is right…”
At the same time, as we discussed before, God is not capricious and he is not unjust. All God does, he does in perfect harmony and accordance with his will. Thus, the question is raised once again, how do we understand the idea of predestination in terms of the “rightness” or “fairness” of the act that is consistent with the goodness of God’s character? The answer that we must give falls under a right understanding of our fallen, sinful estate. While we will discuss sin further when we discuss Anthropology, let it suffice to say that as a result of Adam’s fall, what every man, woman, and child deserves is the judgment of God—that is what we have earned. Thus, in terms of “fairness,” what is fair is that all mankind would face eternal judgment. In turn, the redemption that is seen in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ must be seen as the greatest of mercies delivered to an undeserving people. Regardless of your particular view on the object or means of election, a right view of our sinful states places into its proper context the marvelous, gracious, and wonderful work of our Lord on the cross. It can be said that the more seriously you take sin and its effects, the more you will appreciate the mercy of the cross.
One final note in terms of the language of predestination, in particular with respect to the Decrees of God: while there are many and varying views on how one explains the theology and theological ramifications of predestination, one must not ignore the concepts because they are scriptural concepts. One must deal honestly with the language of texts like Acts 4:28 and others, and while one’s theology may make less or more of them, one must make something of such passages in order to be faithful to scripture.
Ordinarily, this approach is rather backwards. Normally, when doing exegetical work, one should examine the words and their meanings, working from what the text literally states within its context and then deriving an interpretation from that point. Yet, in discussions as theologically charged as this discussion can be, it is worth noting that one’s theological presuppositions will often color one’s understanding of the context within which particular words may be found. If one is aware of one’s own presuppositions as they approach a text like this, it is my belief that one will be more inclined to recognize the effect that said presupposition is having on interpretation, hopefully using more discernment as the words are defined and understood.
Note that one must not be too hasty in assuming that a word can be defined accurately by combining the definitions of its constituent parts. Just as the English word “hot-dog” does not refer to a cute, fuzzy pet on a summer-time afternoon, such is often the same with Greek terms. At the same time, just as in English, many compound words do carry with them the combined meanings of their parts, and thus is the case with proori/zw.
It is important to note that a related debate in terms of predestination is that of single/double predestination. Some would argue that God actively elects some to salvation and passively permits unbelievers to condemn themselves to damnation. Others would argue that God actively elects some to life and elects others to condemnation. That debate is outside of the scope of this discussion, though it deserves to be referenced in this context.
Note that this question is often rephrased to say, “Is it just?” or “Is it consistent with my understanding of God’s character?”, but ultimately, if you read between the lines, the question that is being asked is whether or not God is being arbitrary and partial, which flies in the face of most of our understandings of “fairness.”
Also note that predestination, even in a strict Calvinistic sense, is different from philosophical determinism. God did not make automatons of mankind and though we make choices that are set within God’s will, these choices are not coerced in a negative sort of way. This will be discussed further in our discussion of Anthropology.
The Decrees of God June 07, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Reflections, Systematic Theology.
Tags: Decree, Decrees of God, eternity prior, God, Predestination, Sovereignty, Time, Work of God
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The Divine Decrees of God
In general, we can begin by defining what we mean by a “decree” of God. A decree reflects the definite plan of God; Wollebius defined a decree as: “an internal act of the divine will, by which he determines from eternity, freely, and with absolute certainty, those matters which shall happen in time.” Thus, when we are speaking of the “Decrees of God,” the definition is focused on three basic aspects:
- The Decrees were made in eternity, prior to God’s creative act. This is not a portrayal of God that pictures him working along through history, hoping that he can bring his desires into reality, but a God who is in sovereign control over history.
- These Decrees were made in perfect consistency with God’s immutable will. All these decrees flow out of his perfections and are good and right and designed for the bringing about of God’s purposes.
- These Decrees were made without outside influence (as in eternity prior, there was nothing outside of our Godhead) and without any internal deficiency or need.
With this definition in mind, there are seven attributes or character traits that can be said to belong to these decrees: they are founded on divine wisdom; they are eternal; they are efficacious; they are unchangeable; they are unconditional; they are all-comprehensive; and they are permissive with respect to sin.
- They are founded on Divine Wisdom. God neither pronounces his decrees randomly nor in a way that is arbitrary or fickle, but his sovereign decrees are pronounced in, by, and through his divine wisdom. This gives his decrees purpose and meaning and gives us every reason to trust in said decrees. They are his “good pleasure” to design, are grounded in God’s ever-wise foreknowledge, and they come to pass as a result of God’s ever-wise foreordaining.
- They are eternal. The Decrees of God are formed from before the beginning of time and will relate to all things that will come to pass, beginning with God’s first spoken word of creation and continuing forever without end.
- They are efficacious. What God decrees comes to pass. While man may plan, contrive, and anticipate all sorts of endeavors, he cannot so much as make one hair white or black, nor add an hour to his life. Yet, God can do all things that he sets before himself to do; the God of the Bible is not a God who sits in submission to the works of men nor is he a God whose plans are able to be undone by the aspirations of man.
- They are unchangeable. God is not a God who is fickle as men are fickle, nor is he a God of chaos. If God’s will is perfect, then, by definition, there is no room to improve on that perfection, and hence the concept of change in the decrees of God is nonsensical.
- They are unconditional. God does not act in response to outside input; God’s actions and decrees are not caused by anything apart from his perfect will. Neither do God’s decrees rely on fallen man so that they may come to pass; they come to pass because God so decrees.
- They are all-comprehensive. Some have made the suggestion that God’s decrees are only concerned with salvation and do not apply to anything else. Yet God has ordered all things according to the counsel of his will and has set all things into being, from the greatest of things to the smallest. He numbers our hairs, feeds the birds of the air, and he has set the moon and stars into their respective orbits. Even what we view as evil in this world is brought to pass through the will and decrees of God. Note that this does not mean that God is the author of evil, yet he uses the evil that comes through sin and rebellion to accomplish his good and perfect will. There is nothing that we experience in this world that does not fall under the oversight of God’s decrees.
- With reference to sin, they are permissive. God is not the author of sin, yet God yet permits sin to come about through secondary causes, using it to complete God’s good and perfect plan.
Objections to the Doctrine of God’s Decrees:
There are several concerns that rise when we use the language of God’s decrees that ought to be addressed. The first is one which we have already dealt with in that the language of decrees can seem to imply that God is the author of sin. In discussing this, we must add to what has already been discussed the concept that sin is an attribute of the fall much in the same way that wisdom is an attribute of God. Wisdom is not so much a created thing as it is a reflection of God’s perfect being and actions. In the same way, sin is not so much a created thing, but it is a reflection of our fallen state and actions. We miss the mark, when it comes to God’s righteousness, and hence we sin. Even so, this doctrine does contain the idea that God willingly chose to permit the fall to take place and could have ordained otherwise. Yet, as Augustine suggested, there is a blessedness in the fall, for without the fall of man, we would not know the full extent of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us as his people.
The second concern that has been raised with the Doctrine of God’s Decrees is that such a doctrine robs man of his moral freedom and will, thus removing from him the liability for his sin, making the idea of salvation meaningless. This debate is at the core of the Calvinist-Wesleyan/Arminian debate. It is not our purpose here to delve into this debate beyond the following principle: the scriptures present the God of the Bible as being sovereign over all things and the scriptures present man as being responsible and culpable for his sin. Any theology that does not affirm both of these principles is out of accord with orthodox Christianity and both the Calvinist and the Wesleyan seek to present a theology that affirms both of these principles. With this in mind, whether Wesleyan or Calvinistic, one is right to speak of the decrees of a sovereign God.
The third concern flows out of the previous question and leads us to the discussion of election and predestination. It is felt that in affirming a doctrine of God’s decrees (assuming that God has decreed who will come to him in faith) one robs man of the motivation for evangelism and of the responsibility to seek him in a stance of worship. Yet, this objection misunderstands the position of the Calvinist. Scripture clearly affirms that man is used as a tool by God to bring about his ends and that our primary task as the church is to go out and make disciples of all nations through the process of preaching and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, regardless of your position on decrees and on predestination, the making of disciples through evangelism and teaching is the work we have been commissioned to do.
 While we normally refer to “Decrees” of God in the plural, it should be noted that this is not meant to suggest the disunity of God’s decretive work. All of the decrees of God flow from his perfections in such unity that one could realistically speak of them as if they were a single, multi-faceted
 Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629) was a Dutch theologian and professor of Old Testament at the University of Basel.
 Compendium of Christian Theology (need more accurate citation)
 Acts 2:23; Job 11:7-9; 21:22; 1 Corinthians 8:6.
 Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; Proverbs 16:4; Job 40:2.
 Romans 11:34-35; Isaiah 40:12-14; Job 34:13-15.
 There is an important distinction that must be made between foreknowledge and foreordination. Foreknowledge, drawn from the Greek term proginw/skw (proginosko), literally means, “to know beforehand.” Yet, we must understand that this knowledge is not simply a result of God gazing ahead in time and seeing what will come to pass. Knowing, in its Biblical usage, refers to a relational knowledge. Thus, foreknowledge not only reflects God’s perfect knowledge of all time from eternity prior, but it also reflects God’s setting his affections upon that which he foreknows or those which he foreknew. In contrast, foreordination is represented by several Greek words: pro/qesiß (prothesis), which means “to will beforehand” (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; 3:11); and proori/zw (proorizo), which means “to decide beforehand” or “to predetermine” (Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 2:7).
 Acts 15:18; Psalm 84:8-11; Ephesians 1:9-11.
 Ephesians 1:4; Isaiah 48:13; Matthew 25:34; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 17:8.
 Matthew 5:36.
 Matthew 6:27.
 Psalm 33:10; Proverbs 19:21; Isaiah 46:10; Acts 2:21.
 Ephesians 1:11; James 1:17; Job 23:13-14; Psalm 33:11; Luke 22:22.
 Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 1:2.
 Ephesians 1:11.
 Job 38.
 Matthew 10:30.
 Matthew 6:26.
 Psalm 8:3.
 Isaiah 45:5-7.
 Deuteronomy 18:22; Isaiah 42:9; Ezekiel 24:14.
 James 1:13; Job 34:10—note, the concept of God sinning is self-contradictory and nonsensical. Sin, by definition, refers to missing the mark—not living up to the righteous standard of God. Thus for God not to be able to live up to the standard that is set by his own essential character is a contradiction of the very term and makes no sense.
 Genesis 50:20.
 It should be noted that while many Calvinists confuse Wesleyanism with Arminianism, assuming their views to be synonymous, there is a distinction between the two. Wesley adapted the positions of the Remonstrance particularly in the area of the extent of the fall. The Arminians held that the fall did not affect the human will, thus allowing man freedom of choosing God rightly on one’s own. Wesley properly understood that the fall affected the will as well as the mind and flesh, yet argued that the work of the Cross made it possible for man to choose God when presented with the Gospel (falls under Wesley’s category of “Prevenient Grace”).
 It should be noted that one ought not confuse the position of the Calvinist with the heretical position of hyper-calvinism, which does, in fact, hold that believers have no obligation to evangelize because of God’s predestining work.
 Zechariah 9:13; Romans 9:19-24.
 Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; John 20:21; Acts 1:8.
 Luke 24:47; Romans 10:14-17.
 Sometimes it is easier to talk about these decrees in the negative: God is not the author of sin; God does not repress the will of created beings; God does not eliminate secondary causes; God does not relinquish his divine sovereignty.
Forms of Special Revelation April 21, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Reflections, Systematic Theology.
Tags: Dreams, Miracles, Prophesy, Scripture, Special Revelation, Theophany, Typology, Visions
Forms of Special Revelation:
We have been speaking of and citing some of the weaknesses of General Revelation and our need for something more. Yet, let us point out that General Revelation was never designed to teach us our obligation towards God and our proper relationship to him as our creator. Indeed, it was never designed to even guide us in morality even if the fall were not to have taken place. How do we know this? It is because God engaged in Special Revelation prior to the fall of mankind. God gave Adam the law in the garden and regularly communicated with him in terms of instructing him in his role as regent over the creation. We are also told that God was prone to walk through the garden (by implication, to speak with Adam and Eve). Thus, communication beyond what could be learned from nature was part of God’s pre-fall relationship with his creatures. Now, one could argue that all revelation from God is Special Revelation. Was not God the author of the genetic code by which organic creatures function? Was God not the author of the laws of science by which the physical bodies of the universe operate? Certainly the limitation of understanding science lies within us, not within God’s revelation of it in creation. And certainly, in our fallen state, we sometimes mis-interpret the Special Revelation that is given to us. Thus, the important thing to note is that the purpose of General and Special Revelation is different. General reveals broadly and to all; Special reveals narrowly (dealing especially with God and our relationship with and obligation towards him) and only to whom it is delivered. How many people have read the scriptures only to come away with heretical teachings? Thus, not only is it delivered to few, its proper interpretation requires insight from the Holy Spirit, who effectively guides Special Revelation’s delivery.
We can categorize Special Revelation in the following way:
- Manifestations of God: God manifests himself to his people to guide them, encourage them, and teach them. And, God has done this in a variety of ways.
- Theophanies: Where God physically presents himself to the prophet while the prophet is awake and aware of such taking place. For example, God descended upon Mount Sinai when the law was given, He appeared to Job in a whirlwind, and He spoke to Elijah on Mount Sinai to mention just a few.
- Visions: This is where God manifests himself in a vision (not physically) to a prophet who is awake and aware of what is taking place. God came to Abram in a vision, to Samuel, and to the prophet Isaiah again to name just a few.
- Dreams: This is where God manifests himself visually (not physically) to a prophet who is asleep. God communicated this way to Jacob, to Joseph the son of Jacob, and to Joseph, the earthly adoptive father of Jesus again to name just a few.
- In his Son: Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of God given not just to the prophets, but to all people. He is also the perfect image of the invisible God and the object of all Special Revelation. All of scripture, not just the Gospels, points to Jesus.
- Prophesy: God also speaks to and through his prophets. The role of the prophet, as we have already discussed, is to faithfully be the mouth of God to his people. The role of prophesy is two-fold: it is to foretell and to forthtell. While some prophesy does speak of things that will take place in the future (foretell), the bulk of prophesy is to speak forth God’s word to the people of God, for rebuke and encouragement (forthtell). With this before us, God speaks prophetically in a variety of ways.
- Direct Verbal Prophesy: God speaks directly to his prophets and then the prophets relate it either orally or in writing to God’s people. This is the “thus says the Lord” clause in scripture.
- Indirect Prophesy: God also spoke to his people through indirect means. God gave the High Priest the Urim and Thummim, by drawing lots, and signs.
- Typology: As God is the God of history, it is not surprising that God would order events in similar ways as a means of demonstrating his hand at work. Typology is the study of these repetitions through persons, events, or institutions that are repeated with intensification in the events that follow—usually pointing toward Christ. For example, the institution of the priesthood, particularly that of the High Priest was designed to prefigure Christ’s priesthood. Moses, as a mediator for his people, prefigures Christ’s mediatorial work. There are many more such events that God has arranged in such a way as that they point to what is to come.
- Miracles: While miracles are not sufficient in and of themselves to generate faith, but they are given to confirm and strengthen the faith that is already present. They were given as signs that the prophets were genuine and given as signs that Jesus really is the Son of God.
In a sense, scripture is the ultimate Special Revelation of God as it is the record of the forms of Special Revelation we have already spoken of that is preserved in writing for God’s people through history. Scripture is the ultimate manifestation of God’s special Revelation to his people, revealing Christ and uniting in Christ all of these separate forms of Special Revelation. Thus, with the close of scripture, the necessity of such authoritative revelation from God has ceased. Scripture reveals Christ in his fullness for God’s people and thus, the completed canon of scripture is given to us as the capstone upon which our faith is held together. It is, according to the Apostle Peter when comparing the scriptures to his own experience of walking with Christ and witnessing (as well as performing) miracles, something that is “more sure.” Thus, we have General Revelation and Special Revelation, and all of the many forms of Special Revelation find their climax in the Scriptures—the written word of God.
This is a view that is hotly debated by the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements in the church, and this is not the place to go into an extensive discussion of the relevant issues. In short, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements would look to what they refer to as gifts of the Holy Spirit (Prophesy and Tongues) from the New Testament as normative for the church in all ages. In response, the question must be asked, “Is the canon of scripture closed?” Certainly that is the Bible’s own testimony about itself, as we have discussed. If there is continuing authoritative prophesy, for example, thus God speaking verbatim (thus says the Lord) through an agent to his people, are you not adding to scripture? There are many good books which argue on both sides of the debate, but the most important aspect of this discussion is what scripture says of itself. Scripture’s testimony, as we have discussed, is that it is complete and sufficient for matters of faith and matters of life. If it is complete and sufficient, why is there need for further supernatural revelation to be given?
Biblical Perspicuity April 13, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Reflections, Systematic Theology.
Tags: Bible, Perspicuity, Prolegomena, Salvation, Scripture
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What do we mean when we speak of the Perspicuity of Scripture?
While there are certainly many areas of scripture that are difficult to interpret and to understand, given that the Bible was given to all people throughout history, not to just a select few, and given that the Bible was given for the edification of people of every age and level of intelligence and education, not just those trained as theologians, in matters of salvation, the scriptures are clear enough that all can understand what God has communicated, particularly with respect to the question of salvation. The church fell into grave error in the medieval period when it argued that the scriptures were too difficult for any but the clergy to understand and thus restricted the Bible into the hands of the educated elite of the church. This is contrary to the Biblical testimony of the early church, where the gospel was proclaimed and the command to study scripture was given to all believers. The Bible is clear on the question of what sin is, the fallen state of man, the reality that man needs a redeemer, the fact that Jesus came and paid the penalty for sin for those who come to him in faith, and that if we yearn for redemption, we must flee to Christ. The Bible is also clear in terms of the explanation of what the life of the believer should look like in terms of moral behavior and good works. These things, even a young child or one with the least amount of education can understand and thus the scriptures should be read and studied by all who call themselves believers in Jesus Christ. This does not ignore that there are difficult passages of scripture; such passages should be labored over and assistance sought from reliable theologians and commentaries should be sought, but the last thing one should do is to flee from them.
Tags: Bible, Inerrancy, Infallibility, Prolegomena, Scripture
What do we mean when we state that the Bible is infallible as well as being inerrant?
As discussed above, the Bible is inerrant, or, in other words, without error. The idea of infallibility takes the premise one step further. When we say that the Bible is infallible, we say that the Bible is incapable of making mistakes, or in practical terms, that the Bible is incapable of leading the believer into error. This is not to say that there have never been students of the Bible that have drifted into error, indeed, the history of the church is filled with those who have done just that. Yet, the reason that they drifted into error is not because they were misled by scripture, but it was because their own sin got in the way of the proper interpretation of scripture. To understand scripture fully, it must be approached in faith and with respect for what it is, and thus guided by the Holy Spirit for its interpretation. Many non-believers have spent their lives studying the Bible and have often provided valuable insights into the text, but they eventually fall into error because they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and as a result, their minds are not illumined by the Holy Spirit. Yet, for those who are born again believers, those who are trusting in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, prayerful study and application of the scriptures will not lead them into error.
In addition, the scriptures are infallible in teaching the way by which men and women must be saved. To put it another way, it is through the writings of scripture, being taught and proclaimed, that people come to know the beauty of Jesus and to experience the wonders of salvation that Jesus wrought. So important was this idea that the Apostle Paul wrote the following words:
Therefore, how are they to call on him of whom they have not believed? And how can they to believe in whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without one preaching? And how can they preach if they have not been sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of the one who proclaims the good news!” But they have not all heard the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what they heard from us?” Therefore, faith comes out of hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14-17)
Thus, the very content of our proclamation of the gospel and of our preaching in the church must always be God’s word. The thoughts and ideas of the pastor can lead one to fall, but God’s word is incapable of doing just that.
There have been different approaches to this concept in the history of the church. The Eastern Orthodox church has largely held that since the early Christian councils were so scripturally based, said councils should be considered to be infallible as well as the scriptures. The difficulty with this view is that there have been many books, creeds, and confessional texts that are deeply based in scripture, but when one argues that infallibility extends from scripture to those writings based on scripture, one enters into subjectivity in terms of what constitutes a document based on scripture. Such a view also places a great deal of weight upon the interpretation of scripture and not upon the scriptures themselves. Invariably, this view will lead you into theological error and toward crediting the minds and the pens of men with honor that God never intended that they be given. Such a position elevates the writings of these church councils to the level of scripture as well, and the dangers of that matter have already been touched upon. While there are many wonderful texts that have been written to guide our studies, we should always be cognizant that they have been written by men and not by God.
The Roman Catholic church has taken a different approach to this as well. They have held that the Pope, as “Christ’s Vicar” on earth is preserved by God from entering into error on matters of the church, faith, and morality. He is said to demonstrate that infallibility when he speaks from “Peter’s Chair,” properly known as speaking ex cathedra. This is built on the assumption that Peter was the first Pope of the church and that through the process of a succession of Popes, the Apostolic authority of Peter was handed down from generation to generation. Again, this makes the error of assuming that men are incapable of failing, something all sinful men can do, no matter the character of the individual. It is only God who is infallible and thus the infallibility of God extends to his divine word alone, not to the words of men. What we do with that word is what opens us up to error.
To what extent does inerrancy extend? April 13, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Reflections, Systematic Theology.
Tags: Bible, Inerrancy, Infallibility, Prolegomena, Scripture
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To what extent is the Bible inspired and thus inerrant? Does the inspiration extend only to the ideas conveyed or to the very words of scripture?
A debate that has been taking place between the Orthodox branches in the church and what is normally called the Neo-Orthodox movement, is over the question of the extent of revelational authority. Another way of phrasing the question is, “Is the Bible the word of God or does the Bible contain the word of God?” This presents a contrast between a view of the inspiration of scripture and the view of the plenary inspiration of scripture.
The Neo-Orthodox movement in the church has held that it is not the words of scripture that contain the inspiration of God, but it is that when those words find themselves to rest upon the ears and the heart of a believer, then, and only then, genuine inspiration takes place. This allows the Neo-Orthodox theologian to not get very hung up by source critical arguments because, after all, it is not the words of scripture that are important; rather, it is the effect that those words have on the believing heart that is important. As one can see, this scheme of understanding revelation becomes extremely subjective and robs the text of any genuine content, for content, according to this view, comes from the hearer’s interpretation of the words. Exegetical theology also becomes nearly impossible, for exegesis becomes about “what this text means to me…” instead of what this text actually says. And though this position can be attributed to Neo-Orthodoxy today, it is not a new sin, but one that can be traced all of the way back to Adam and Eve who doubted God’s word that they would die if they ate of the forbidden fruit.
In response to this, the Orthodox theologians have taken a strong stand on the plenary (or complete) inspiration of scripture. In other words, every single word of scripture is a result of the inspiration of God. Every noun, every verb, ever preposition, every adjective, every pronoun, ever article is a result of the breathing out of God and thus carries with it the full authority of God himself. This view holds that meaning comes from within the text and not from within the hearer. This view holds that God is a rational and intentional God and that as a result, when he rationally and intentionally communicates with his people, he has a plain and intended purpose and meaning behind what was said. This view holds that the very statements of scripture contain propositional truth given to God’s people so that we might know him and glorify him with our lives. This view holds that while we see the stylistic fingerprint of the human authors within each text, that it is God who is writing through them, using all of their gifts and talents to produce his word, and that word—every word of it—is true and perfectly given and preserved by the Holy Spirit.
There are many in the post-modern world that would contend that words in themselves contain no meaning. They would continue that words are nothing but culturally formatted symbols with which we communicate and that it is the context in which language is used that conveys meaning. On one level, there is a degree of truth to this argument. We have already spoken of the dynamic nature of language as it is used by a culture. Many of our words carry with them very different meanings depending on the context in which they are found. For example, depending on the context, the word “dope” in English could refer to illegal drugs, to someone who is foolish or not intelligent, to gossip that is shared, to a form of varnish used on aircraft, or to lubricant that is used as a sealant. Context, then determines which form of the word you are using. This being said, words in a culture do have a fixed and limited set of meanings. Dope does not also mean dog, cat, and grocery cart; it cannot mean anything we want it to mean. If it could, then language would become meaningless, for “Dope dope doped dope” could then mean, “I need you to pick up a gallon of milk at the grocery store.” If such use of language were ever to become the case, then, as a culture, we would be returned to the state people found themselves in at the Tower of Babble, when God confused the languages. Culture cannot exist and reproduce itself if language is rendered meaningless.
Yet, even the post-modern thinker, when pressed on the issue, would assert that language does contain meaning, though it pains them to do so. Post-modern thinkers write books for people to read. Certainly in writing a book, the post-modern thinker expects people to understand what he is trying to teach. When a post-modern thinker goes to the bank and asks that his paycheck be deposited in his checking account, certainly he expects the teller to understand what he is saying and he trusts that the money will actually go into his account rather than in some random account. When the post-modern thinker goes to the emergency room in agony because he has kidney stones, when he communicates this to the doctor, he does not expect the doctor to start by examining his knees. When the post-modern thinker goes to a restaurant and orders an expensive meal, the post-modern thinker expects to be served the meal he ordered. Thus words have meanings and any rational person is forced to admit such by the way they use their words in practical situations. And, as God is a rational God, the words that God speaks in scripture are spoken with an expectation that they be understood—and that they be obeyed!
It is important to note that scripture was not given as dictation, squelching the various personalities through whom God wrote. We see stylistic language, artistic structure of texts, and themes that run through the writings of given authors, showing us something of the human nature of the Bible. Exodus 4:14-17 records the calling of Aaron to be Moses’ prophet (also see Exodus 7:1). God would tell Moses what to say, Moses would tell Aaron what to say and Aaron would speak it. The words that the prophet speaks belong to God (or in Aaron’s case, Moses), but the mannerisms, inflections of speech, and personality belong to the prophet. So too with scripture—the words belong to God, but the structure and personality of the writings belong to the prophetic or Apostolic author.
It is worth emphasizing here that only the Orthodox view of plenary inspiration preserves the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture. When the meaning of scripture becomes subjective, the truth of scripture becomes subjective as well. In addition, scripture itself claims to be the word of God, not just to contain God’s word. As the scriptures claim to be inspired in a plenary sense, to claim otherwise is to invalidate the value of scripture as a whole, suggesting that it is nothing more than a book of lies.
To what extent does Biblical infallibility extend? April 13, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Reflections, Systematic Theology.
Tags: Bible, Inerrancy, Infallibility, Prolegomena, Scripture
If the Bible is incapable of error, to what extent does that infallibility extend, just to theological matters or to all maters to which it speaks?
We have already touched on this idea but it bears repeating. Given that the Bible is written by God, it is impossible for the text to be in error. God is omniscient and as he is the author of the Bible, the Bible reflects his omniscience in all areas. This means that the Bible is inerrant in the history of which it speaks, of the geography of which it speaks, of the science of which it speaks, and of real existence of the miraculous deeds that it records. It is our obligation, when our own understanding seems to contradict the revelation of scripture, to submit our understanding to the revelation that is given. Anything that compromises this view accuses God of being untruthful in his revelation of all things or it denies that scripture is divine revelation altogether and accuses its authors of being charlatans and frauds in the name of religion.