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Archive for the ‘John Calvin’ Category

The necessity of reforming the churchThe necessity of reforming the church by John Calvin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a good little read, which has the advantage of being very concise and direct. It was written to Emperor Charles V on the eve of the Diet of Speyer (1544). This tract was written as an apologia for the Reformation. What was going on in the sixteenth century that made reformation necessary? I think Calvin lays out a case that it was quite necessary, and that the only course of action open to the Christian who loved the church of Jesus Christ was to support the Reformation.

What will be most surprising about this work is how heavily some issues factor into Calvin’s reasoning. You might expect him to focus on sola scriptura or sola fide. These issues simply do not get much attention. Instead, Calvin focuses on the abuses in worship, prayer, and the Sacraments. This, I think, should be quite instructive for us. Too often, we place a great stress on theological purity, but scarcely think about purity in the corporate action of the church. We should have done the one without leaving the other undone. Let us serve our Lord by pressing forward toward excellence in all areas of life.

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I ran across a gorgeous little ditty from John Calvin today. It fits into the discussion about God’s will and the salvation of people. Calvin’s little tract is called “Articles concerning Predestination”; it’s found in a volume translated and edited by J.K.S. Reid entitled Calvin: Theological Treatises. In that the article is short, I will reproduce the whole thing below and then add some comments afterward.

Articles concerning Predestination

Before the first man was created, God in his eternal counsel had determined what he willed to be done with the whole human race.

In the hidden counsel of God it was determined that Adam should fall from the unimpaired condition of his nature, and by his defection should involve all his posterity in sentence of eternal death.

Upon the same decree depends the distinction between elect and reprobate: as he adopted some for himself for salvation, he destined others for eternal ruin. (more…)

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…they just go together.

How is it that we can recognize the Spirit of God? Do we do so by feeling or intuition? Do we simply *know* God’s Spirit? If so, why does John admonish believers to test the spirits? If believers *knew* the Spirit from false spirits, there would be no reason to test the spirits. What, then, is the believer to use to test the spirits? Maybe another way of asking is, by what means do believers recognize the Spirit of God? I think God’s answer to this question is actually quite elegant and simple, and it’s exceedingly workable. Let’s see if I can’t lay it out so as to be understood. (more…)

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Books! Read Good Ones.

 

I posted this list as a note on Facebook earlier today. That list was supposed to be short, but I wanted to elaborate a bit about why each of these books is so important to me. Here goes.

1. The Bible by God – the whole world hangs on this book. It is God’s self-revelation unto our salvation. I loathe when people (recalling my liberal professors at University) pay lip service to the Bible, but deny its teachings. This book must rule us.

2. The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin – The only people more influential on my thinking than John Calvin are my parents (God bless them). This book rocked my little world. It was my introduction into the vast cosmos of Christian thought. Calvin is one of the great masters of Christian thought. This work is his justly famous summary of Christian doctrine.

3. Luther the Leader by John L. Nuelsen (I think) – I was a sophomore at University. I wanted to know about the Reformation. I sat in my ignorance on one side of the apartment looking across at this book on the book shelf. I knew the end of my ignorance was in its pages. This was the first book I picked up as an adult, and I picked it up with the express purpose of learning. That was awesome. It sparked a deep desire in me to know the things of God and his people – a desire that continues to burn.

4. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – This is one of the books that my mom read to me before bed. Thanks, mom. I have not read it as an adult, but as a child it helped me develop an imagination and a sense of wonder at the way things are.

5. He Shall Have Dominion by Kenneth Gentry – This book brought just about everything together for me. It’s a book about Postmillennialism (the best book available to define and defend postmil theory), but it draws together so much: covenant, ethics, history, God’s plan of redemption, and much more. Gentry’s book helped me bring together a fulsome Christian view of all these things.

6. Theonomy in Christian Ethics by Greg Bahnsen – Bahnsen work on ethics helped me sharpen my thoughts about ethics. It’s very popular in Christian circles to be dismissive of large tracts of God’s law. Bahnsen helped me fine tune my commitment to divine law, even in the details.

7. Christian Apologetics by Cornelius Van Til – I have never worked harder to read a book than I worked to read this one. It paid off. In the words of Kenneth Gentry, Van Til helped me begin to *think* as a Christian.

8. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul – This book helped me keep my mind in the great morass of happy-clappy Christianity that I was introduced to as an undergraduate. God’s holiness is rightly horrifying. Sproul taught me about the trauma of holiness. Thanks, R.C.

9. The Sovereignty of God by Arthur W. Pink – don’t read the abridged version of this. This work will rock you to your core. When I read it I was already convinced of the absolute sovereignty of God (call it “Calvinism” if you must). This book details how the Bible shows God’s absolute sovereignty in various areas of life, including salvation and reprobation. Pink is a great antidote to the poisons of Arminianism.

10. Westminster Standards (but especially the Shorter Catechism) – The Standards are always in my hands. They’re a consistent source of spiritual sustenance and guidance. I recall learning a great deal from the Shorter Catechism in one particular reading at an airport (LAX) in 1998.

 

Leo Tolstoy

 

11. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – I read this amazing book for the first time in 2000. Took a while, cuz it’s big and thick. That’s okay. Big books just take longer to read. Don’t be scared of them. W&P, itself, was vast and amazing, telling the story of many lives in the context of the Napoleonic Wars in Russia. Simply amazing. This book also kicked off a love affair between me and Russian authors, especially Tolstoy.

12. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – This book taught me that people could use words to paint pictures in my mind, that they would write words that could break my heart, that being an author is art. This book (along with others) convinced me of the necessity of reading fiction for pastors. Words are powerful tools. We gotta learn how to use ’em.

13. First in his Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton by David Maraniss – This may seem like a curious book to make the top 15. I suppose that it is. Let me put it this way: Before I read this book, I abhorred Bill Clinton. After I read this book, I abhorred Bill Clinton, but thought that there were many ways that I should be more like him.  Briefly, it opened my eyes to my narrow view or assessment of people. It didn’t make me think differently about right and wrong, but it did help me access people in a broader, healthier way.

14. Confessions by Augustine – This book, to some degree, taught me devotions. It demonstrated that a thinking Christianity can be a devotional Christianity. It is proof that not only can you have both head and heart, but that the heart is diminished without the head, and the head is diminished without the heart. Also, I like reading Augustine thoughtfully kicking around an idea, an idea with which all the greatest minds in history subsequently wrestle. Augustine is a wellspring of centuries and centuries of thought.

15. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament by J. Julius Scott, Jr. – I read this book at the end of seminary: wish I read it long before that. Scott shows how dependent the NT is on both the OT and intertestamental Judaism. This book helped me get a better view of the “historico” part of my historico-grammatico-theological hermeneutics.

Looking at my list now, I see that I should have added How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie – this book’s title is cliché, but that’s only because of how successful it was. This book codifies how to treat people so that they like you. The simple version is *actually* be interested in them, focus on them, their desires and interests. Love them first, and, in turn, they’ll love you back. I think this book could be read annually with great benefit.

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St. Augustine

One of the great quandaries of Christianity (and even more broadly, of philosophy) is how the sovereignty of God is balanced with the responsibility of humanity. Somehow or other I’ve been in too many conversations on this topic both on Facebook and on some blogs. What’s interesting is that I have not really done too much arguing for Calvinism since I was in college.  Maybe I’m out of practice (I’m definitely a little soggy around the mid-section), but I do think I can add some value to these conversations, so I’ll address the topic here.

 

There are many directions to take this. I’ve been interacting with Billy over at TheArminian.net – see the comments for some dialog. Billy’s a good man, a Christian brother, and I appreciate him. I think he misunderstands both the Bible and Calvinism, but I love him anyway. I suspect that I misunderstand both the Bible and Arminianism at points, too. God bless him.

Rather than rehash that discussion on John 3:16 (the discussion with Billy), I’ll focus on Ephesians chapter one. I was reading an Arminian exegesis of Ephesians 1 earlier today. I’ll give a quote of this interpretation:

In the case of Eph. 1:4, Christ is presented as existing before the foundation of the world and chosen by God as the head of his people and the heir to all of his blessings. All those who come to be in Christ then necessarily come to share in his election, identity, and inheritance. What is true of Christ the covenant head also becomes true of those who are in him. He is the Son of God, so they are sons of God. He is holy, so they become holy, indeed holy ones…

Now, I quite agree that we share in Christ. We are, for example, prophets, priests, and kings in the One who is the Prophet, Priest, and King. All that is a theological construct that is quite true. The problem is that this construct has nothing to do with a proper exegesis of Ephesians 1. It’s simply imposed by the Arminian. The text of verse four says: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Now, God chose us in Christ. “Us” is the direct object of God’s choice. The Arminian construes this as though Christ is the direct object and we are the indirect object. That’s clearly NOT what the text says. Sorry. We are the chosen ones in Christ. God deals with us through the Mediator, to be sure. But the text doesn’t say that Christ is the chosen one and we share in his election. It says that we are the elect ones.

The Arminian makes much of the corporate aspect of election. I don’t dispute that the majority of the Bible is written to the Body, not to individuals. Here’s the rub. The Arminian wants to talk about, say, the “world” in John 3:16 and particularize it to “each and every individual,” but is reticent to particularize Paul’s words here to the church. What’s funny is that the Bible EXPLICITLY speaks of the body being made up of particular, individual members (Ephesians 4; 1 Cor 12:12; Romans 12:4), but it does not speak of the world as such. The Arminian turns this on its head. That contortion is quite telling for anyone paying attention.

 

John Cassian

Now, we know that there are a group of people that God foreknew (not foresaw!), predestined, called, justified and glorified (Rom 8:28-30). This group of people is called the elect. There’s no break in the chain. Everyone God foreknew is glorified (and everything in between).  There’s a lot more to it, but this is ol’ timey Calvinism. It’s really ol’ timey Augustianism. This is the backbone of Christianity. Say it ain’t so, but Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism are both condemned as aberrant and heretical. It is this strong old Augustianism that is the majority report of the Christian church down through the ages. The Magisterial Reformers attested to it with one voice. The Reformed and Gnesio Lutherans have held to it since then. Arminianism is a perversion of this biblical teaching, a perversion as old as John Cassian and the Semi-Pelagians (actually older). There are different flavors of the week, but it’s all the same: a rejection of the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation and a rejection of the absolute dependence of men upon God in the same.

 

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Maximus the Confessor

In the last post on “theosis,” I simply gave a definition of sorts, referenced a passage from 2 Peter, and then set down some necessary limitations to the notion of theosis. In this post, I’d like to consider theosis more positively. That said, I do not have a handle on Eastern Christian thought. I’m a great fan of reading and grappling with other traditions, as that helps us clear up our own thinking and sometimes shows us where we’ve missed the last ferry from Chappaquiddick. (Don’t worry, we can still dive in and swim across, even if it’s in the middle of the night.) In the case of theosis, however, I think there is something we Western Christians have to glean. Not something completely missing, but maybe an emphasis that’s lacking. As mentioned above, I’m no specialist here, but I do want to work through some ideas. I hope and pray that the thoughts and meditations of my heart will be pleasing to God and prove to be an edification to the body of Christ.

Alright, here are a couple quotes on the doctrine of theosis from Maximus the Confessor on theosis:

God made us so that we might become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet. 1:4) and sharers in His eternity, and so that we might come to be like Him (cf. 1 John 3:2) through deification by grace. It is through deification that all things are reconstituted and achieve their permanence; and it is for its sake that what is not is brought into being and given existence.

A sure warrant for looking forward with hope to deification of human nature is provided by the incarnation of God, which makes man god to the same degree as God Himself became man. For it is clear that He who became man without sin (cf. Heb. 4:15) will divinize human nature without changing it into the divine nature, and will raise it up for His own sake to the same degree as He lowered Himself for man’s sake. This is what St. Paul teaches mystically when he says, ‘…that in the ages to come He might display the overflowing richness of His grace’ (Eph. 2:7).

St. Athanasius

A thought or two that come from Maximus: Theosis is the divine purpose of creation. God gave humanity existence so that he could then redeem humanity in his Son. So far: dig. We have this notion similarly explained in what’s called the Covenant of Redemption. In fact, I think that we can find just about everything the doctrine of theosis has to offer in historic Covenant Theology. Moving right along: We have an emphasis on the incarnation, which is excellent. It’s taken as a reverse model for the redemption or deification of humanity. In the pithy words of the great Athanasius of Alexandria, “God became man so that man might become god.” I want to explore this more below, but I’ll make the comment here that I think that the incarnation has some significant limits as a model for theosis. First, in Jesus we have the union of two distinct natures in one person (hence, the hypostatic union) forever. Will the redeemed be given a second nature? I don’t think so. I think that our human nature will be perfected and deified (insofar as that’s possible). Thus, at that point, the incarnation doesn’t serve as a good reverse model. We should say, however, that our access into divinity is through Christ’s humanity, indeed, through his flesh and blood.

Theosis is a process, and a long one at that. Since it’s long, I’ll be brief on each point. It starts with creation. The triune God created humans in his image. Creation, in classic Christian thought, is followed by corruption and then by restoration. Theosis takes the created humanity, which has been corrupted in Adam, and sees it not only restored, but brought into God (higher and better than Adam ever was before the fall).

In the West, we tend to conceive of the salvation process in terms of calling, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. I dig all that. I think theosis digs it, too. Theosis encompasses that whole process. In fact, I think that the term sanctification, if taken in the broadest salvific way, could more or less be equated with theosis.

Theosis is conceived of in three parts: thoughts, will, and actions. The renewing work of the Holy Spirit renews our minds, wills, and then our lives. The Orthodox theologians speak of praxis, by which they mean the struggle of living out a progressively holy life. Through this struggle, our lives become mirrors of God. But we not only reflect him in our thoughts, wills, and actions, we begin to live in him more and more. The journey toward full theosis includes many forms of praxis, including fellowship in the church, prayer, and participation in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. These forms of praxis are what’s in view in the Reformed tradition in what the Westminster Shorter Catechism calls “effectual means of salvation.”

Now, what can we say about full theosis? One thing we know about God is that he is love. We know this because it’s explicitly stated (1 Jn 4:8), but we would be able to know this also from the triune nature of God. Since the simple God exists in three distinct persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we recognize that there is interpersonal fellowship in the Godhead. We know that there is love in the Godhead. Allah is the eternal loner. Yahweh is the eternal fellowship of love.

Calvin looking good 'n' French

Theosis, taken rightly, gets the redeemed into that love and into that fellowship. We don’t glorify and enjoy God forever so much at a distance, but rather with great intimacy. He, as it were, draws us into his own holy, triune fellowship of love. That’s part of the incarnation. God the Son became man, to draw mankind into God. He is the head, and we are his body. In the words of John Calvin, “Until He is united to us [the church], the Son of God reckons himself in some measure imperfect. What consolation is it for us to learn, that, not until we are along with him, does he possess all his parts, or wish to be regarded as complete!” The divine purpose is creation is that, though Christ, the God-man, a fully redeemed humanity should be drawn into God, into his fellowship, into his love, indeed (insofar as it’s possible) into his nature. The eternal state of glorification is much more intimately in God than the typical caricature of clouds and harps would let on. Theosis gets at that eternal reality. It drives home the point: we were created to be redeemed into God, into his very nature.

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Not Presbyterian Baptism!

The Westminster Shorter Catechism #94 asks, “What is baptism?” To which it give the answer, “Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.”

First, baptism’s a sacrament (mystery), not merely an ordinance. I’m aware that a certain segment of the Protestant population that objects to historic terminology, but the last time I checked the Bible didn’t refer to baptism as an ordinance, either. It is an ordinance, to be sure. It is also a high mystery (sacramentum).

Second, baptism’s a washing, not an immersion. The historic Reformed view of the mode (way of administering) baptism is very charitable toward immersionists, as we receive immersion as a valid mode. We argue that baptism is rightly, that is, biblically administered by sprinkling or pouring. For any that disagree, begin by telling me by what mode the Holy Spirit baptized the New Covenant church. We’ll go from there.

Third, baptism signifies and seals three things, or rather, three categories of things: covenantal initiation, covenantal involvement, and covenantal commitment. To signify is to point to something else, as a sign point to a place. A seal is stamp of divine approval, meaning that it really means business, like a royal seal on a letter. This sign/seal language is drawn from Romans 4:11.

Covenantal initiation: Baptism is the beginning of the trip. It is your “ingrafting into Christ.” Ain’t got no kinda spiritual nuthin (except death) until you’re grafted into Christ. *Important side note: None of these blessings occurs of itself, or by the sacrament itself, but by the blessing of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit by means of the sacrament (same as the Word). See WSC #91 for this.

Covenantal involvement: Baptism is also a “partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace.” As if initiation we’re enough to blow the minds of American Evangelicals (roundly influenced by baptistic thinking in these areas), the Westminster divines blow one bigger. If you want an eye-opener, read the Westminster Confession of Faith on these issues. Also, read some of the older Reformed writers. You’ll be amazed how unabashedly non-Baptist they sound. So, what’s meant by “partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace”? First, what’s not meant by it? Baptism doesn’t hit everyone the same. Only the elect receive the grace of baptism. The water’s not magical, so there’s no immediate regenerating effect. However, for those to whom the grace is due, baptism is (by the work of the Spirit) a powerful means of salvation. Here’s WCF 28.6:

The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

In baptism, grace is not just promised, but the Spirit really exhibits and confers that promised grace by means of the sacrament, in God’s appointed time. Baptism is MORE than a bare and empty sign (as John Calvin argued so often). Baptism is, by the work of the Holy Spirit, a potent means of grace.

Finally, covenantal commitment: This is the part that American Evangelicalism has dialed in. Baptism is (in the second place) a commitment by the party baptized to walk in the ways of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s telling the world, “I belong to Christ, and I follow him. I was once dead, but now, by his Spirit, I live!” This is an important aspect of baptism, but it’s not the primary thing. The primary thing (as always) is God’s grace to us, his name upon us, his covenant to us. Baptism is all that first and foremost. As a response to that grace, our baptism publicly proclaims our fealty to our Lord.

Baptism’s all this and much, much, much more. Baptism’s a mind-blower… that’s why we call it a sacrament!

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