It’s been such a long time…

On December 8, 2011, in General, by marc

man, it HAS been a long time.

So, uh, is this thing on?

I was updating my resume tonight, and there was a space for my website on the template I was using, and all of the sudden I realized that I haven’t really posted on this blog in forever.

Oops.

So I suppose it’s time to rectify that with a post like this where I acknowledge my laxity in posting but say virtually nothing of any substance. Which is what this is. Hopefully in the coming days I’ll manage to post an update on what I’ve been reading of late, which includes a new translation of a portion of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace in Science and Art, occasionally a couple of older volumes on topics relating to the reformed faith, W’s Decision Points, and a bunch of other stuff. Let’s just not mention my failure to finish Bavinck.

That’s all. I’m hardly paying attention to what I’m writing anymore anyway.

Jesus, the Son of God

On August 24, 2010, in Culture, Reformed Theology, Religion, Theology, by marc

I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to read during lunch at work, and I’ve chosen R.C. Sproul’s new commentary on the Gospel of John (part of his St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary series published by Crossway) as the book I’ll be reading.  Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1, which deals with the prologue of the book (verses 1-18), and specifically addresses Jesus’ claim of divinity:

John by RC Sproul

RC Sproul - St. Andrews's Commentary on John

Sometimes Jesus stated his origins very explicitly.  For instance, He said on one occasion, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).  Likewise, in a discussion about the Jewish patriarch Abraham, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58).  The Jews immediately picked up stones to put him to death because they understood His message–Jesus was equating Himself with God, who had revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14).  Again, when He told a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven, He then healed the man so that, in His words, those who were there would “know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:6).  These were not statements of humility.  They were statements by which Jesus openly declared that He had come from heaven. John’s prologue was intended to accomplish much the same goal–before John gave us his record of the earthly visitation of Jesus, he told us where Jesus was from.

Just a reminder that there is no way to claim that Jesus never saw himself as God.  The reality is that Jesus was either who he said he was, or he was a madman.  I believe the former with all my heart.

John Calvin (1509-1584)

Some time ago, I posted a link to some article or other on my Facebook page that had some relation to the dispute between Protestants and the Roman Catholic communion on the issue of justification.  I can’t remember what the specific article was, or how it addressed the issue, but at some point in the comment banter that followed, one of my Roman Catholic friends (of which I have a few) noted that he wanted a fuller explanation of the Protestant position on justification, as the logic of it escaped him.  I said I would be happy to provide one, thought about how to do so for a few days, and then, in the business of life, the whole thing slipped from my mind.

Back in May, I had the privilege of attending the first RCA Integrity conference at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (here’s a recording of Dr. Mark Dever, our speaker at the conference, speaking on preaching), and I came home with a lot of free books, among them a number from the 9Marks series including What is the Gospel?, which is currently awaiting its turn at the top of my active reading pile of books.  I also left the conference with a renewed desire to get into God’s Word, which is probably more important than the free books.

One of Dr. Dever’s addresses at the conference was his take on what is driving the resurgence of Reformed Theology in America and beyond today.  This was a great lecture, and I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t record it, but I took decent notes and as a result have begun reading one of the men he mentioned as being important to the current revival of Reformed thought, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones.  Thanks to the used book section of Baker Book House, I’m now the proud owner of two volumes of his commentaries on Romans, which cover chapters 3-5 of Paul’s great epistle, the first volume of which I’ve been reading aloud

I’ve also benefitted this week from Baker’s $1 book sale, which is their attempt to clear out some of their old stock—if you want a nice fresh copy of Pat Robertson’s 1988 campaign biography, it’s there—and also to move some of their used material that has been sitting around too long.  Today I picked up a copy of John H. Bratt’s The Rise and Development of Calvinism, which was written by the long-time Calvin College professor back in 1959, at which time my alma mater still took its namesake seriously and remained steadfastly Reformed in outlook and practice.

As I’ve been reading Bratt’s chapter on the life and work of John Calvin, I came across a reference to one of Calvin’s more obscure writings, his Reply to Sadoleto. The Sadoleto referenced in the title is Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto, who—upon Calvin’s departure from Geneva—had written to the leaders of the city in the hopes of winning Geneva back to Rome.  The Council of Geneva promised the Cardinal a reply, and turned to Calvin—then in Germany—to reply.  A significant excerpt can be found here; a sample:

Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto (1477-1547)

Cardinal Sadoleto (1477-1547)

As to the charge of forsaking the Church, which they were wont to bring against me, there is nothing of which my conscience accuses me, unless, indeed, he is to be considered a deserter, who, seeing the soldiers routed and scattered, and abandoning the ranks, raises the leader’s standard, and recalls them to their posts. For thus, O Lord, were all thy servants dispersed, so that they could not, by any possibility, hear the command, but had almost forgotten their leader, and their service, and their military oath. In order to bring them together, when thus scattered, I raised not a foreign standard, but that noble banner of Thine which we must follow, if we would be classed among Thy people. Then I was assailed by those who, when they ought to have kept others in their ranks, had led them astray, and when I determined not to desist, opposed me with violence. On this grievous tumults arose, and the contest blazed and issued in disruption.

With whom the blame rests it is for Thee, O Lord, to decide. Always, both by word and deed, have I protested how eager I was for unity. Mine, however, was a unity of the Church, which should begin with Thee and end in Thee. For as oft as Thou didst recommend to us peace and concord, Thou, at the same time, didst show that Thou wert the only bond for preserving it.

But if I desired to be at peace with those who boasted of being the heads of the Church and pillars of faith, I believed to purchase it with the denial of Thy truth. I thought that anything was to be endured sooner than stoop to such nefarious compact. For Thy Anointed Himself hath declared, that though heaven and earth should be confounded, yet Thy Word must endure forever.

All of this is to say that I remain grateful to God that I have been raised in a tradition that taught me the doctrines of grace, and that in light of what I mentioned at the beginning of the post (and due to the fact that my reading right now is focused on Romans, which contains within it the clearest exposition of said doctrines in all of scripture), I plan to begin what will hopefully turn out to be an occasional series on justification, expounding upon the great Biblical principle of sola fide. So if you’re at all interested, feel free to check in from time to time to see if I’ve made any progress.  Lord willing, I shall.

We Have No Excuse

On April 6, 2010, in Culture, Reformed Theology, Religion, Theology, by marc

RC Sproul, writing in his commentary on Romans:

RC Sproul - RomansObviously, Freud was not on the Sea of Galilee when the storm arose and threatened to capsize the boat in which Jesus and his disciples were sitting. The disciples were afraid. Jesus was asleep, and so they went to him and shook him awake, and they said, “‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:38-39). There was not a zephyr in the air. You would think the disciples’ gratitude would have led them to say, “Thank you, Jesus, for removing the cause of our fear.” Instead, they became very much afraid. Their fears were intensified, and they said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (v. 41). They were dealing with something transcendent.

Paul outlines the dreadful consequences that fall on a race of people who live by refusing to acknowledge what they know to be true about the character of God.  The result is a futile mind, a blackened heart, and a life of radical corruption.  People are exposed to God’s displeasure so that their only hope is the gospel of his dear Son.

What we see in the disciples is xenophobia, fear of the stranger.  The holiness of Christ was made manifest in that boat, and suddenly the disciples’ fear escalated.  This is where Freud mised the point.  If people are going to invent religion to protect them from the fear of nature, why would they invent a god who is more terrifying than nature itself?  Why would they invent a holy god?  Fallen creatures, when they make idols, do not make holy idols.  We prefer the unholy, the profane, the secular – a god we can control.

Here in Romans the apostle brings us to the place where we have no excuse, where ignorance cannot be claimed, because God has so manifested himself to every creature that every last one of us knows that God exists and that he deserves our honor and thanks and is not to be traded in or swapped for the creature.

Herman Bavinck, from Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1, Chapter 8 – “Religious Foundations”:

We have a choice only between two alternatives: either (1) religion is folly since God does not exist or is in any case strictly unknowable; or (2) it is truth but then demands and presupposes the existence and revelation of God in a rigorously logical and scientific sense.  Those who cannot accept the former are compelled to assume the latter and to recognize God as the very principle of being, the essential foundation (principium essendi) of all religion.  Religion exists solely because God exists and wants to be served by his creatures.  Only when the existence of God is certain can we understand the essence and origin, the validity and value of religion.

Later:

…a human is a human because he is the image of God; a human is at once a religious being in virtue of being human.  Religion is not “the essence”  of a human, as Amorie van der Hoeven Jr. expressed himself somewhat less correctly, for religion is not a substance but a disposition or virtue.  Still religion is an essential of human nature so integral to it and inseparably bound up with it that, though sin can devastate it, it cannot eradicate it.  For that reason religion is universal and has such immense power in life and history.

Ephesians 2:1-10:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Simple, stunning, beautiful.  Not from ourselves, but a gift of God; not by works so that boasting in anything but the grace and goodness of God is precluded.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

- Augustus M. Toplady, 1776.

Outward Show

On March 3, 2010, in Culture, Reformed Theology, Religion, Theology, by marc
John Calvin (1509-1584)

John Calvin (1509-1584)

Found in The Stewardship Study Bible, in the course of reading I Samuel 16 – a quote from John Calvin:

Where is our gratefulness toward God for our clothing if in the sumptuousness of our apparel we both admire ourselves and despise others, if with its elegance and glitter we prepare ourselves for shameless conduct?  Where is our recognition of God if our minds be fixed upon the splendor of our apparel?  For many so enslave all their senses to delights that the mind lies overwhelmed.  Many are so delighted with marble, gold, and pictures that they become marble, they turn, as it were, into metals and are like painted figures.  The smell of the kitchen or the sweetness of its odors so stupefies others that they are unable to smell anything spiritual.

Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism reads like a memo from the early 20th century to to present-day church. Case in point – Chapter 3′s extensive section on the loss of the consciousness of sin in preaching:

Modern liberalism has lost all sense of the gulf that separates the creature from the Creator; its doctrine of man follows naturally from its doctrine of God. But it is not only the creature limitations of mankind which are denied. Even more important is another difference. According to the Bible, man is a sinner under the just condemnation of God; according to modern liberalism, there is really no such thing as sin. At the very root of the modern liberal movement is the loss of the consciousness of sin.

The consciousness of sin was formerly the starting-point of all preaching; but today it is gone. Characteristic of the modern age, above all else, is a supreme confidence in human goodness; the religious literature of the day is redolent of that confidence. Get beneath the rough exterior of men, we are told, and we shall discover enough self-sacrifice to found upon it the hope of society; the world’s evil, it is said, can be overcome with the world’s good; no help is needed from outside the world.

What has produced this satisfaction with human goodness? What has become of the consciousness of sin? The consciousness of sin has certainly been lost. But what has removed it from the hearts of men?

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

…the loss of the consciousness of sin… has its roots in a mighty spiritual process which has been active during the past seventy-five years. Like other great movements, that process has come silently ? so silently that its results have been achieved before the plain man was even aware of what was taking place. Nevertheless, despite all superficial continuity, a remarkable change has come about within the last seventy-five years. The change is nothing less than the substitution of paganism for Christianity as the dominant view of life. Seventy-five years ago, Western civilization, despite inconsistencies, was still predominantly Christian; today it is predominantly pagan.

In speaking of “paganism,” we are not using a term of reproach. Ancient Greece was pagan, but it was glorious, and the modern world has not even begun to equal its achievements. What, then, is paganism? The answer is not really difficult. Paganism is that view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties. Very different is the Christian ideal. Paganism is optimistic with regard to unaided human nature’ whereas Christianity is the religion of the broken heart.

In saying that Christianity is the religion of the broken heart, we do not mean that Christianity ends with the broken heart; we do not mean that the characteristic Christian attitude is a continual beating on the breast or a continual crying of “Woe is me.” Nothing could be further from the fact. On the contrary, Christianity means that sin is faced once for all, and then is cast, by the grace of God, forever into the depths of the sea. The trouble with the paganism of ancient Greece, as with the paganism of modern times, was not in the superstructure, which was glorious, but in the foundation, which was rotten. There was always something to be covered up; the enthusiasm of the architect was maintained only by ignoring the disturbing fact of sin. In Christianity, on the other hand, nothing needs to be covered up. The fact of sin is faced squarely once for all, and is dealt with by the grace of God. But then, after sin has been removed by the grace of God, the Christian can proceed to develop joyously every faculty that God has given him. Such is the higher Christian humanism: a humanism founded not upon human pride but upon divine grace…

…The fundamental fault of the modern Church is that she is busily engaged in an absolutely impossible task: she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance. Modern preachers are trying to bring men into the Church without requiring them to relinquish their pride; they are trying to help men avoid the conviction of sin. The preacher gets up into the pulpit, opens the Bible, and addresses the congregation somewhat as follows: “You people are very good,” he says; “you respond to every appeal that looks toward the welfare of the community. Now we have in the Bible – especially in the life of Jesus – something so good that we believe it is good enough even for you good people.” Such is modern preaching. It is heard every Sunday in thousands of pulpits. But it is entirely futile. Even our Lord did not call the righteous to repentance, and probably we shall be no more successful than He.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Rob Bell’s recent “tour” titled The Gods Aren’t Angry while I was reading this.  The point of Bell’s tour, as I understand it, is that the message of scripture isn’t so much one of a just God who punishes sinners, but of a compassionate God who is different from the ancient wrathful pagan gods of antiquity.  This is all of a piece with the continual trend exhibited in the emergent movement (and in modern theology in general) that deemphasizes sin and the wrath of God while emphasizing the grace and love of God.  The problem with doing that, of course, is that it’s a fraud.  Telling people that God loves them without calling them to repentance for their sins and to accept the substitutionary atonement of Jesus for their salvation is to condemn them; and yet, the church today by and large deemphasizes sin because people prefer to believe that they’re basically good.

Machen addressed this problem nearly a century ago; sadly, his admonition is as necessary to the church today as it was then.

More from Machen in Christianity and Liberalism.  Here, he discusses the value of a system of public education for a free society, and the danger of allowing that system to become monopolistic:

J. Gresham Machen

J. Gresham Machen

A public-school system, in itself, is indeed of enormous benefit to the race. But it is of benefit only if it is kept healthy at every moment by the absolutely free possibility of the competition of private schools. A public school system, if it means the providing of free education for those who desire it, is a noteworthy and beneficent achievement of modern times; but when once it becomes monopolistic it is the most perfect instrument of tyranny which has yet been devised. Freedom of thought in the middle ages was combated by the Inquisition, but the modern method is far more effective. Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them then to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult to see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist. Such a tyranny, supported as it is by a perverse technique used as the instrument in destroying human souls, is certainly far more dangerous than the crude tyrannies of the past, which despite their weapons of fire and sword permitted thought at least to be free.

If only more Christians thought more deeply on the dangers of ceding the formal education of their children to the state.  Is it any wonder that so many children of Christian families abandon the faith as soon as they leave for college?  Why should this be a surprise when we – more often than not – take our children to church on Sunday to teach them about the glory and sovereignty of God, and then on Monday through Friday send them to the local public school and by implication teach them that what they heard on Sunday about God’s sovereignty doesn’t apply to math, science, history, and art, but that God can be neatly separated from those areas of endeavor – placed in a box, if you will, to be taken out and dusted off again on Sunday at church.

The most important duty of any Christian parent is to raise their child in the faith.  In this day and age, even more so than in Machen’s time, allowing a child’s formal education to be dictated by the state undermines Christian parents in that task.

Christianity and Liberalism

On February 24, 2010, in Reformed Theology, Theology, by marc
J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)

Via Reformation 21, I just discovered that one of the books on my reading list is available as a free pdf download (and there’s audio too, if you prefer) at ReformedAudio.org!  Christianity and Liberalism was J. Gresham Machen’s response to the growing theological liberalism within the Presbyterian Church in America in his time. In the book, Machen demonstrates that theological liberalism is not just a version of Christianity, but is actually a wholly different religion that denies the central claims of the Christian faith.  From the introduction:

The purpose of this book is not to decide the religious issue of the present day, but merely to present the issue as sharply and clearly as possible, in order that the reader may be aided in deciding it for himself. Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time; there are many who prefer to fight their intellectual battles in what Dr. Francis L. Patton has aptly called a “condition of low visibility.”1 Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding. May it not discourage contribution to mission boards? May it not hinder the progress of consolidation, and produce a poor showing in columns of Church statistics? But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end.

More like this in today’s reformed churches, please.