Category Archives: Theology and Calvinism

How the Pinning Works

I want to spend a few moments on why the penal substitution of Christ is the only possible ground of human happiness. My point is not to defend the doctrine here — that has been ably done by others — but rather to show one of the many glorious outworkings of the doctrine. In our life together, whether that life is being lived in family, church, or town, the substitutionary death of Jesus is the only thing that can keep us from becoming scolds who are impossible to live with.

This is what I mean, and I will use marriage for my example. Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). Now, whatever it is we believe that He did there, that is what we are going to imitate.

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An Odd Credo

I believe that God is God, and that we are not.

I believe that Jesus is our Savior, and that we are not.

I believe that the Holy Spirit is our wisdom, and that we are not.

I believe that Jesus died under the wrath of God for our sin, and that He was raised from the dead because God was so pleased with Him. Because of that death and resurrection, God was just as angry with us and just as pleased with us as He was and is with Jesus.

I believe the heavens declare the glory of God, as do the buttercups.

I believe that the Bible is offered to Christians as the smoothest bourbon ever distilled, and that we are supposed to drink it straight.

I believe in the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, and the law of the excluded middle, world without end, amen.

I believe that God is directing all of human history to a glorious culmination, and that He is doing so through a recurring pattern of high action death and resurrection adventure stories.

I believe that the material creation is saturated with His kindness, and that we are called to squeeze everything we can out of it.

I believe that the only way to squeeze out that kindness effectively is by taking hold of the impulse to be cool and crucifying it daily.

I believe that we are charged to conserve everything that the Spirit has done in history, and that we are to progress toward everything He intends to do.

I believe the foundation of our lives should be the cornerstone of worship on the Lord’s Day, as we gather in response to His call, in order to confess, sing, pray, hear, eat, and drink. We then receive the blessing and go.

I believe that the kingdom of God is like an endless river, like a sawtooth mountain range, like whole milk, like a cultivated plain, like a marble city with gardens, like a marbled steak on the grill, like aged cheese, like smart phones, like a high mountain meadow, like the laughter of family at the table, like the way of a man with a maid, like a moonlit ocean, and like a warrior crying high defiance. The kingdom of God is like everything.

I believe.

Total Depravity

This was originally published in Antithesis (Vol. II/No. 2), April/May 1991.

Pride and Prejudice

Before I came to understand and embrace the Biblical doctrine of resurrecting grace, I was kept away by a combination of factors. One reason, of course, was my own prejudices and ignorance. Certain truths tend to rub our theological fur the wrong way, and they have had that tendency since at least the time of Paul (Rom. 9:19). But there was another reason. I had trouble because my ignorance and prejudices were sometimes reinforced by how heard these issues presented. Conse­quently, I thought I understood what in fact I did not.

I write on one such topic, therefore, with some trepidation. I have no desire to mislead fellow Christians on such an important issue; our subject is the resurrection to eternal life, therefore, we must begin the discussion within the framework set by the Word of God.

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Understanding the Will

This was originally published in Antithesis, Vol. II, No. 4, July/Aug 1991

Free will. Who could be against it? But there is a better question than this to ask. Free will. What is it?

Many of the staunchest advo­cates of “free will” encounter immediate difficulties when they are asked to ex­plain what they defend — the embar­rassment of Erasmus in his debate with Luther may be the archetypical example. Upon any close examination of proposed explanations it soon be­comes apparent that “free will” (as commonly understood) is a philo­sophical chimera — it will be a long time before there is a rigorous apolo­getic in defense of this, the evanescent god.

Fortunately, the Bible does not leave us without teaching on this important subject of human choices. Jesus explains, in very plain terms, the mechanics of the will—and it is not what many suppose. In Matthew 12:33­37, Christ says:

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The Central Square of Reformedville

Earlier today I tweeted this: “God comes to us in three books — nature, law, and gospel. Read plainly, we read God above us, God against us, and God with us.”

I have been asked for additional explanation, and so here it is. The responses ranged from huh? what? to “you sound like Michael Horton.” But this thought is actually a reworking of something I read from Matthew Henry, and shows how, once again, I am sitting on the edge of the fountain in the central square of Reformedville, just swinging my legs.

First, the Scripture: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col. 2:13-14).

There are differences between Lutherans and the Reformed on the three uses of the law (usus legis), but the differences are not over whether there are three uses.

There is a use of the law that convicts us of our need for Christ. If the basic message of the gospel is preached by evangelists whose message is “repent and believe,” this creates the obvious question — “repent of what?” That question cannot be answered without a standard, and the standard in Scripture is the law of God. This use of the law is essential in evangelism — more rich young rulers need to go away sad.
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C.S. Lewis and Moose Tracks Ice Cream

Over the last few weeks, we have been discussing natural law — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Jim Jordan kicked things off by attacking The Calvinist International at the Auburn Avenue conference, and I wrote a few posts on the subject, including an outline of my own debt to C.S. Lewis, and my derivative gratitude for the work of Van Til.

So the debate now continues. Peter Escalante and Steven Wedgeworth have now replied to Jim here. In addition, just as I did, Steven gives an account of his intellectual pilgrimage here. We all travel different paths, but we ascend the same mountain.

That’s what natural law leads to, right? A syncretistic swirl of paganism and Christianity, like moose tracks ice cream? The oxen are slow, but the earth is patient, that kind of thing?

Not really. I think this is a fruitful topic for debate because it concerns the nature of reality, and our access to that reality. For every Christian who lives downstream from Kant, I think this is an issue that should concern us much more than it usually does. We shouldn’t want to live in a generic universe, ruled over by the place-holder god of the secular deists, on the one hand, but on the other we must not duplicate (in our own fashion) the liberal Protestant “retreat to commitment” that Bartley dissects so ably.

So that you don’t have to read between the lines, here is my summary take on the whole thing. As far as relationships go, Jim Jordan is a friend, Peter Escalante is a friend, and Steven Wedgeworth is a friend, so that won’t help you much. I could leave it there, but as far as the substance of this discussion goes, I have much greater affinity with the outlook of The Calvinist International than I do with thoroughbred Van Tilianism. My most recent book, Against the Church, is dedicated to Peter and Steven for their work at The Calvinist International, so that should give you some idea.

One last thing. These really are crucial issues, and so as we debate them, I would urge everyone to keep a cool head. When outsiders look at us, they should think “hotbed of cool customers,” or something equivalent. I commend Peter and Steven for the measured response, and look forward to what shakes out of all this.

Me and Van Til

So let us begin with the ungrammatical title. Why would I put it like that? It is not really proper, unless worked into a sentence like “‘Me and Van Til’ is not really a proper title for a blog post.” So maybe I am being grammatical accidentially, like the boy who was dozing in the back row of English class when the teacher said to him, “Billy, give me examples of two pronouns.” He lurched to his feet, bewildered, and said, “Who? Me?” “Very good,” she said, albeit reluctantly. Maybe I was just looking for an arresting title. Maybe it is just clickbait.

Where was I? Since I have been writing a bit on natural law, and have identified myself as a Van Tilian presuppositionalist, I thought a little intellectual autobiography might be in order, and I will begin with an anecdote that illustrates the jumble in my head.

One of the first books I wrote (in the early nineties) was called Persuasions, and contained a series of conversations between a character called Evangelist and various unbelievers. It was a dream of “reason meeting unbelief.” This was pre-Internet, and at the time, conservative Presbyterians and recons got a lot of their books from a catalog company called Great Christian Books, previously named Puritan and Reformed Books. I sent a copy of the book to them, and a gent named Walt Hibbard running the catalog was kind enough to pick up my book and include it among his offerings. This was a big deal for me, and so I was naturally excited to get my copy of the catalog. When it arrived, I hunted down the place where it was, and read the copy that had been written for my book. That copy said something like “this small book is a fine introductory treatment of Van Tilian apologetics.” I stared at it, flummoxed. “It is?” I thought.

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Five Thousand Dollars in Your Pocket

As our discussion of natural law proceeds apace, one of things we have to do is distinguish between the unacceptable forms of natural law and the acceptable forms of it. I mean, to accept the unacceptable forms of natural law would be . . . unnatural. Creepy almost.

So what’s the difference? At the end of the day, if someone wants to say that natural law can give us a moral compass whether or not there is a God, that is unacceptable. It is idolatrous. In such a case, nature functions as the source of law. In my understanding of what Scripture teaches, the only source of natural revelation would be God Himself, as He is — which is triune. God is not an optional component in the system. With natural revelation, creation is the medium through which God speaks.

The world is God talking, and it is absurd to postulate a system where you keep the talking, but then grant that the existence of the talker is up for grabs. Scholars apparently differ . . .

So a litmus test of whether we are going in a bad direction would be whether or not the words nature and creation are interchangeable, for the purposes of our discussion. If those two things are treated as being completely different, then we have compromised with unbelief. If nature functions as a “given,” whether or not it has a Creator, then we are, metaphorically speaking, on the bad side of town at two in the morning, we are out of gas, and have five thousand dollars in our pocket.

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