Wife Beating and the Idea of Revelation

Revelation presupposes three things — a revealer, a recipient, and a message with an accompanying hermeneutic. There is one who speaks, there are the ones spoken to, and there is the message along with the medium that carries that message. That medium would include all the created world, with its atmosphere and sound waves, papyrus, paper, computer screens, ink, toner, ones and zeros, and . . . a hermeneutic. How many times did Jesus tell us that the one with ears should hear? It is important to get the hermeneutic right. To illustrate how important this hermeneutic is (illustrated by two different versions of it, two distinct theologies of revelation) let us compare two very angular texts with regard to women. The first is from the Koran and the second from Exodus. [Husbands] "are the protectors and maintainers of their [wives] because Allah has given the one more [strength] than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly … [Read more...]

A Bucket With No Bottom

Warfield Order

I am currently reading A Humble Inquiry by Jonathan Edwards, in which he explains the reasons why he was putting some doctrinal daylight between himself and his predecessor Solomon Stoddard. And since these basic issues, being what they are, cannot ever go away, and because in addition they have become deeply embedded in the American psyche (even our pagans are evangelicals), let me say just a few necessary things about the practice of child communion in the CREC and the doctrine of regeneration. Edwards had a high level of respect for Stoddard, and this was possible, I believe, because both were evangelicals, as opposed to the formalists. Stoddard believed that communion was a "converting ordinance," but he did so believing that there was such a thing as conversion, and that there were visible communicant members of the visible church who needed to be so converted. The debate between Edwards and Stoddard was over how best to get the people from here to there, and not over whether … [Read more...]

Excommunicated Gnats, Ordained Camels

So let us talk about C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright and the topic of human evolution. I have recently taken N.T. Wright to task for his take on those who oppose his approach to theistic evolution. As it happened, just after posting that well-thought out epistolary sunbeam of mine, I was listening in my truck to C.S. Lewis's treatment of theistic evolution in The Problem of Pain. And lo! His was a position like unto Wright's. What now, Dougie? Well, it seems to me the thing to do is offer up a blog post touching on the three key differences between Lewis and Wright related to this issue. In outlining these differences, I do not mean to indicate that theistic evolution is okay for anybody. It is not okay when C.S. Lewis does it, it is not okay when Tim Keller does it, and it is not okay when N.T. Wright does it. But apart from the general not-okayness, it remains true that when C.S. Lewis does it, we generally don't get an entertaining (to some) blog rant from me about it. So why is … [Read more...]

Abortion and Infant Baptism

Last week I saw a Facebook thread that had been kicked off with a comparison of abortion and infant baptism. Quite a discussion ensued, as you might expect. The initial point being made concerned things parents do that they have no warrant from God to do, and since I am writing here as a paedobaptist it is not surprising that I agreed with the pushback the post generated. There is an important difference between slaughtering your children and dedicating them to God. At the same time, there is a sense in which I want to commend the instinctive wisdom of the initial observation -- a wisdom that is often missing from the saints who practice infant baptism. The meaning of baptism is death. The initiatory Christian rite is baptism (Matt. 28:18-20), and as Bonhoeffer observed, whenever Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but … [Read more...]

Going on a Worship Strike

I come now to my second installment in replying to Roger Olson's recent diatribe against Calvinism. Here is how these things usually go, and I want to suggest another way for them to go. A Calvinist explains the doctrines he holds, at the end of which explanation, his Arminian friend exclaims, "I could never worship a God like that!" The normal Calvinist response is that "you really ought to be willing to worship a God like that," but the response ought rather to be "you do in fact already worship a God like that." However Roger Olson kicks it up to the next level. He in effect vows that he never would worship a God like that. Period. "I come back to my most basic question of all—to classical, high (i.e., 'TULIP' Calvinists): How do you distinguish God from the devil except with degrees of power? And what if it turned out that God is the devil in disguise? Would you still worship him? I would not; I hope you would not. But therein lies the secret to why I have said that IF it … [Read more...]

Predestination in a Cheap Tux

A friend pointed me to this article by Roger Olson on the monster God of Calvinism, which, if logical demonstration were a verdant jungle in the Amazon, would be as bare as hell's back yard. There are enough non sequiturs here to roll out to an appropriate thickness, in order to cut them up to use for awnings. But it is important to note at the outset that I would rather dip a right hand covered with paper cuts into a basin of verjuice than to overheat my rhetoric on a point such as this. This issue is far too important to distract the reader with a verbal tapioca that has three eggs too many in it. So to speak. Okay, so if I had a gizzard, this line of argument would be down in it. But I don't have a gizzard and so I can say all this in a spirit of mild composure, and am gazing over the terrain of this argument with the equanimity and serenity of a somnambulant Buddha. The argument! What's the argument? There are a bunch of things here that I will likely address in a few … [Read more...]

An Excessively Pious Mud Turtle

So admittedly I am a Calvinist yahoo, something of an Augustinian yob. If Calvinism were coffee, not only would I not take cream and sugar, or other foo-fooeries, but I would endeavor to make it a form of cowboy espresso, only without any steam. You take a tin can, put a horseshoe on the bottom of the can, cover it with the coffee grounds, fill it with water, and set it on the campfire. When the horseshoe floats, it is ready. To modify the metaphor, I believe what what the church needs today is more jet fuel Calvinism. Pastors today should cultivate a crawl-over-broken-glass Calvinism. No more preaching through Romans with the caution of an excessively pious mud turtle. Put yet another way, to reapply a phrase from Wodehouse, no longer should pastors ascend into the pulpit looking like a sheep with a secret sorrow. I say this, of course, in a manner free of all ecclesiastical partisanship, one-upmanship, or flag-waving. The exuberance I urge here must always, at all times, be kept … [Read more...]

One Kind of Baptism Means Two Kinds of Christian

In my stack of books being read, there are a handful of writers that are always in there somewhere. I make a constant point of always having a book by Chesterton, Bunyan, Lewis, Thomas Watson . . . and, to come to our point this morning, Jonathan Edwards. I am currently in Volume 12 of his Collected Works (no, I am not that far along -- I jump around), and therefore have recently begun reading his Humble Inquiry. This is the book Edwards wrote defending his attempts to walk back the communion standards established by his predecessor Solomon Stoddard (also his grandfather) at Northampton, and which eventually led to Edwards getting the sack. Stoddard believed that the Lord's Supper was a converting ordinance, and therefore did not want to limit access to the Table to those known to be "truly converted." Edwards was seeking to establish some kind of process that would enable the church to inquire as to the true heart condition of the person seeking to become a communicant. In … [Read more...]

In Which Stephen Fry Steps In It

If you would be so kind, I would like to ask you to view this brief bit of blasphemous cheek. It'll just take a few minutes. Now then, all set? Let's break this down into two basic parts. The first part is that Stephen Fry is given a thought experiment, and we should take a moment to see how he thinks in thought experiments. He doesn't believe in God, but he is nevertheless asked a "what if." What if you were wrong, the questioner asks, and the whole thing turns out to be true, with you finding yourself in a conversation with God at the Pearly Gates. Fry takes that occasion to launch into his diatribe. Bone cancer in children? What's with that? But I want to note something really strange about this set up. When God and Fry take their places as these disputants, Fry undertakes to argue morality with Him. And in order to argue this way, he has to assume -- and most certainly does assume -- that there is a moral standard that overarches the two of them, and which is equally … [Read more...]

11 Theses on the Meaning of Scriptural Authority

1. Our starting point for all discussions of biblical authority should begin with an affirmation of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. More needs to said on this subject than was said there, but not less. Fruitful discussion can take place only among those who can honestly sign that statement. With those who cannot sign it, our duty is that of charitable debate and refutation. 2. Obedience is a key element in exegetical understanding. Obedience is the opener of eyes. Without obedient application, the text is not really being studied. 3. Affirmations of biblical authority are worthless unless we understand that the contemporary secular challenges to biblical authority create enormous pressure on those affirming inerrancy to develop interpretive workarounds, such that inerrancy can be formally affirmed while being practically denied. Examples of such pressures today would include biblical teaching on sexuality and human origins. 4. Scripture is given to us as seed, and … [Read more...]

Lord of the Slippery Roads

We all enjoy talking about the sovereignty of God, and sometimes we even enjoy it too much when we are talking with those brothers who happen to disagree with us on it. But how much do we believe it? How strongly do we believe it? "Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, 'The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.' So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer" (Ezra 8:21-23). As Ezra's example makes dear, for eons the saints of God have been seeking His protection as they travel. We instinctively look to Him for our safety as we travel. But there is more to it than this—we … [Read more...]

Nothing Coming Down the Pike

The question of assurance is a subset of epistemology. And that means Christians today who struggle with assurance are dealing with an extra factor that previous generations of Christians (usually) did not have to deal with. We live in a skeptical postmodern age, and so the question of knowing that you are saved is related to the question of how you can know anything. This becomes even more challenging when we are talking about our own faith five years out. In Scripture, genuine faith in God now is necessarily related to faith in God in the future. Baptism binds the future. “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the … [Read more...]

21 Theses On Assurance and Apostasy

1. There are only two final destinations for human beings after the day of judgment, those two destinations being the final damnation of the old humanity in Adam, and the final salvation of the new humanity in Christ. 2. Throughout all history, God has kept a visible covenant people for Himself, intended to declare, model, test drive, instantiate, train for, grow toward, and otherwise approximate that final redeemed humanity. 3. Depending on location and era, that visible covenant people has ranged between a grotesque parody of that final redeemed humanity and a genuine approximation of it. As history grows toward its glorious consummation, the historical progress toward that final eschatological goal will be more and more unmistakeable. 4. But in either case this means that the rosters of names involved, those of the visible covenant people, and the final redeemed humanity, the elect, are not identical rosters. 5. God has always given His visible covenant people visible … [Read more...]

Down at the Pool Hall

Warfield's little book The Plan of Salvation is one of the few books that I have read three times. The first time was in 1988 when I was first becoming a Calvinist, and it was no doubt part of that bumpy but wonderful process. I read it again the next year. I read it a third time just a few years ago, and this leads to a needed retraction. I interact with that book in several of my own. The first book is "Reformed" Is Not Enough, published over a decade ago, and the second is Against the Church, published late in 2013. In RINE, my assessment of Warfield is fairly critical. "But I do want to argue that Warfield was being inconsistent here..." (pg. 86). And then a bit later I say this: "According to Warfield's definition, to have the covenant dispensed in ordinances and to have them be spiritually efficacious, is sacerdotalism. But this is the Westminster Confession, which he claims is anti-sacerdotalist. And so it is, but the inevitable conclusion is that there is something wrong … [Read more...]

Our Last Christening

A year or so ago, I read through Marilynn Robinson's novels, which was a treat for the most part. I read all of them except for Lila, but there I had the excellent excuse that it had not yet been released. But now it has been, so it comes to pass that I have now read it also. Robinson's descriptive powers remain as great as ever, and she does what every novelist dreams of, which is to hold your attention page to page. What she does not do, however, is provide a compelling case for universalism. Robinson specializes in exquisite descriptions of broken characters, but here her theology unwittingly becomes one of those broken characters, lame and blind, and with no one to help. In universalism, the human is constant. He or she does things, and those things can be good or bad. Universalism focuses on those things, and wonders whether God is so arbitrary or so irrational as to be unwilling to forgive such things. And it is also pointed out that someone else has been forgiven for those … [Read more...]