Archive for August, 2009

The Institutes (24)

Book 1 Chapter 13 Sections 21-24

Finally, Calvin goes to war. Joke. He’s always at war. The Institutes have a perpetual edge, as if Calvin’s arguing against something. Biblical doctrine means firmly holding to and loving truth, and vehemently attacking and dismantling error. There is corresponding love for truth and hate for falsehood in the Christian life.

Here he begins to name specific Trinitarian heresies against which the church should set itself and authoritatively should declare the Word. Part of me was actually left saying: “isn’t Calvin going a bit overboard?” Well, in fact he probably is, as is evidenced by the way he treated Servetus when the latter was captive in Geneva. However one might try, it’s not excusable, although there’s good evidence that Calvin wanted some measure of mercy for the man.

With that in mind, Calvin goes about systematically (surprise!) demolishing the arguments of anti-Trinitarians. He summarizes what he’s going to do near the beginning of the section:

Indeed, if we hold fast to what has been sufficiently shown above from Scripture – the the essence of the one God is simple and undivided, and that it belongs to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; and on the other hand that by a certain characteristic the Father differs from the Son, and the Son from the Spirit – the gate will be closed not only to Arius and Sabellius but to other ancient authors of error.

In short, Scripture is enough to tell us about God. All we must to is show positively what is true about God therein, and all heresy can be confronted, condemned, and brushed aside as such.

He goes about naming particular anti-Trinitarian heresies: Severtus is mentioned for the first time at length. For him, there is no Trinity, but instead a sort of modalism (where God has different modes that He chooses to display Himself through). He thought of belief in the Trinity as a belief in three gods, and that you couldn’t argue for the Trinity otherwise. Specifically, Servetus thought that Genesis revealed God as Creator, and John revealed God as Logos. Jesus was really God, but only came to be at the  moment that God the Father conceived Him to be the next expression of His glory.

Calvin begins to refute these things by going straight to John’s Gospel: Jesus Christ always existed as the Word in eternity past. The Word was both with God and was God… and then became flesh. The Word was not just a separate force; He was God Himself. And then the Word became flesh… the Word Who was both God and separate from God.

Calvin moves on to address heresies that promote the Spirit and Christ being finite creations of the Father that He infused with His a measure of His own deity. But Calvin shows that Christ receives worship as if He was the Father. If Christ receives worship, then one of two possibilities exist: He is God, or He is God’s rival.

Calvin points out that this is the same tension in the way the Father treats Christ: in Philippians 2, Christ is so exulted that it is obvious that He is deity.

… unless he had been God manifested in the flesh he could not have been raised to such a height without God himself striving against himself.

It wouldn’t make sense for Christ to be so exulted by both God and man unless Christ was God.

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Radical Ramadan

Brian McLaren shares that he’ll be participating in Ramadan with some Muslim friends. You can read his announcement about it here. For some context on what Ramadan is, see here. While the emphasis at the about.com site is the neighborly affect of Ramadan, it is nothing less than an act of worship towards Allah that is intended to gain salvation merit.

So Brian McLaren, who says he follows Jesus, and is about grace, and all the rest… is participating in an event that undercuts grace and goes against what Jesus told His followers they must do. That’s postmodernism for ya’.

Doug Wilson responds with a rather hilarious post here.

HT: Vitamin Z

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Bob Bixby Exits the Blogosphere

Bob Bixby, one of the more sane fundamentalist voices and a good read for many years, is leaving the blogosphere.

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The Institutes (23)

Book 1 Chapter 13 Sections 16-20

Slowing down the last few weeks as I’ve gone through the Institutes: been reading through book two, working, and spending time ministering at my church. Hopefully I’ll get to posting once a day again, or at least once every other day.

In chapter thirteen, Calvin is systematically presenting the Trinity as a foundational doctrine to Christianity. One cannot take Jesus Christ to be mere man and still claim His name for themselves. Calvin has taken time to show that the Son and the Spirit are indeed Yahweh in the Scriptures… now he begins to show that there is a unity in their distinction. He wisely cautions:

… Scripture sets forth a distinction of the Father from the Word, and of the Word from the Spirit. Yet the greatness of the mystery warns us how much reverence and sobriety we ought to use in investigating this.

He goes on to quote Gregory of Nazianzus:

I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one.

Of all Scriptural mysteries, the Trinity is probably the most impenetrable by our human minds. In the Old Testament, the shema carries so much weight: “hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one.” And yet, Christianity doesn’t abrogate or change anything about the shema. It only clarifies the nature and character of Yahweh as He reveals Himself through the Son and the Spirit. So… if God is One, where do the Son and Spirit come from?

Christian doctrine has attempted to come to grips with the reality of the Trinity over the last 2000 years. The Christian doctrines that deal with this “origin” of the Son and the Spirit are called the eternal generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit. What is meant by these? Essentially, both of these doctrines attempt to show that in eternity all three Persons of the Trinity existed. As we can tell, the revelation of the Son and of the Spirit did not take place fully until the New Testament, but in no way does this mean that the Father decided to create the Son or the Spirit at that time, or at any other time.

What Scripture reveals is that the Son is the only begotten of the Father, and the Nicene Creed makes clear that He is begotten, not made. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and yet resided in eternity with them. Confused yet? Hopefully so: the Trinity is one of the most mysterious aspects of God, and yet the Scriptures bear testimony to it, as has previously been seen.

Calvin attempts to harmonize all the Scriptural statements concerning the nature of the Son and the Spirit. His conclusion regarding their nature is classic Calvin:

… this distinction is so far from contravening the utterly simple unity of God as to permit us to prove from it that the Son in one God with the Father because he shares with the Father one and the same Spirit; and that the Spirit is not something other than the Father and different from the Son, because he is the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

For instance, some of the proof Calvin turns to is found in John 14-15, where the Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son. Jesus declares that there is “another” who is coming after His departure, one that proceeded from the Father. Thus, the Spirit mentioned was neither the Father nor the Son, but distinct and proceeding from them from them. How does this procession work out in Scripture?

[T]o the Father is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity.

This quote seems to show the overarching position that each of the three holds. As concerns our salvation and election, nothing seems better than Peter in 1 Peter 1:2. Concerning our election, he writes:

… according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.

The Father is the source of our salvation in eternity past, the Spirit is the means in the present via sanctification, and the Christ is both the object of our faith in the future and the means by which we are sealed into the New Covenant. All three are active in our salvation. For me, this three-fold description of the Christian faith is more than enough to consider the Trinity to be a reality. God is the only one that brings salvation, and each of these three are labeled God throughout the Scriptures.

The only way to hold these in tension is to admit that Scripture teaches all three are deity, and yet there is an utter an absolute unity between the three. This is the Scriptural mystery of the Trinity.

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The Subtle Sovereign (5)

A few months ago, I started a series examining the subversive nature of culture. I was part of a small group that was reading through Ideas Have Consequences, and I wanted to draw some parallels between Richard Weaver’s observations about modernism and postmodernism, and the Christians experience in the kosmos, the present age.

The more I read, the more I realize that the subversion of Christianity, especially in America, must be realized before the church can corporately proclaim Christ. Beyond that, it must be fought. Christianity in America cannot be merely a subculture; it must be counter-cultural. There is a war raging, one of the heart and mind first, of hands and feet second. Where will professing Christians set their affections?

John Piper writes in Don’t Waste Your Life:

… the “war” that I have in mind when I speak of a “wartime mind-set” or a “wartime lifestyle” is not being fought along geographical lines. It is being fought first along the line between good and evil in every human heart, especially the hearts of Christians where Christ has staked his claim, and where he means to be totally triumphant. The “war” is being fought along the line between sin and righteousness in every family. It is being fought along the line between truth and falsehood in every school . . . between justice and injustice in every legislature. . . between integrity and corruption in every office . . . between love and hate in every ethnic group . . . between pride and humility in every sport . . . between the beautiful and the ugly in every art . . . between right doctrine and wrong doctrine in every church . . . and between sloth and diligence between coffee breaks. It is not a waste to fight the battle for truth and faith and love on any of these fronts.

The war is not primarily spatial or physical—though its successes and failures have physical effects. Therefore, the secular vocations of Christians are a war zone. There are spiritual adversaries to be defeated (that is, evil spirits and sins, not people); and there is beautiful moral high ground to be gained for the glory of God. You don’t waste you life by where you work, but how and why. [emphasis his]

This is most vividly portrayed in my life first thing in the morning. For years, I’ve read and prayed by light of laptop, using various programs and Notepad to type out thoughts and prayers concerning Scripture and its interaction with my life. This has always gone better without the allure of the internet: when there hasn’t been a WiFi connection, I study and pray and think and feel and love without distraction or subversion. But add a WiFi connection, and there is Facebook and Twitter and a thousand other distractions to defeat the purposes of God for me in the mornings. Is is overt? No, it’s covert. Subtle. Slow poison instead of swift sword.

I wonder what it would be like to be like Jonathan Edwards. Pastoring without aid of the internet, without the distractions of technology and the modern world. Books. Family. Bible. Congregation. I long for that, for the time that I would get back if my life were stripped to bare essentials.

I’ve not yet learned how to use technology well for the glory of God. Sure, I use it to give Him glory, but as often as not it’s a tool for the kosmos to declare its worth above the One Who is due all glory.

Let us fight on this front, too.

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“I Will Come… And Remove Your Lampstand”

John Piper, always one to view current events in light of Scriptural authority, comments on the tornado that touched down in Minneapolis during the ELCA vote on homosexual clergy yesterday. I’m not typically one to begin to interpret divine will in the midst of calamity (such as many did after 9/11 or Katrina), but I think Piper is dead on. Remembering that we are all wholly depraved apart from Jesus, let us have compassion and boldly proclaim the Word to those blinded by sin.

An excerpt concerning the agenda at the convention:

According to the ELCA’s printed convention schedule, at 2 PM on Wednesday, August 19, the 5th session of the convention was to begin. The main item of the session: “Consideration: Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality.” The issue is whether practicing homosexuality is a behavior that should disqualify a person from the pastoral ministry.

Read the whole post.

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The Institutes (22)

Book 1 Chapter 13 Sections 14-15

It’s not just important that Jesus is God, it’s critical to the Christian faith. As Jared Wilson argues near the end of Your Jesus is Too Safe, the doctrine of Christ’s deity is important because only God can save us from our sins. But what about the Holy Spirit? Is it important that the Holy Spirit is God? What about that He’s a Person, another member of the Trinity? Having argued strongly for the Person and deity of the Son, Calvin turns to (in my opinion) this much more daunting task: showing that the Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit is another Person of the Godhead.

Is it daunting because we must perform exegetical gymnastics in order to prove that the Holy Spirit is indeed God? Not at all, though the Scriptures speak less about the deity of the HS than it does about Christ’s deity. So rather than there being no clear testimony that the Spirit is God, we just don’t have as much evidence. It’s an issue of quantity, not quality. However, where the Scripture does speak to the nature of the Holy Spirit, it is still clear: the Holy Spirit is God.

First, in His work the Holy Spirit is shown to be God. The prophets were sent by and empowered through the Holy Spirit, where elsewhere it is clear that Yahweh sent and empowers them. Regeneration is said to be a work of God, but Paul in Romans attributes our regeneration to the Holy Spirit. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is said to have a will and choice in 1 Corinthians 12. Calvin writes:

If the Spirit were not an entity subsisting in God, choice and will would by no means be conceded to him. Paul, therefore, very clearly attributes to the Spirit divine power, and shows that He resides hypostatically in God.

In this same passage, the gifts of the Spirit are completely sourced in God. It is the Holy Spirit who gives gifts to the church by His own will and choice. This made me think of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5… which are nothing less than Yahweh’s own character being expressed through His servants.

Second, the Spirit is shown to be God by strongly implicit scriptural statements. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 shows that we are called the temple of God on account of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Calvin points out another intriguing passage… blasphemy committed against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, even though blasphemy against the Son will be (Matthew 12:31-32). Could we even blaspheme something instead of someone? The point is clear… Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is part of the Godhead, another member of a Trinity of Persons that all have the same essence of deity.

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