Monday, March 20, 2017

On the nature and will of God

Clark’s solution is to distinguish human responsibility from God’s causative agency. This is certainly a helpful solution which the Reformed world should utilize, yet I do not see it as solving the question completely. (from my review of The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, here)

Chalcedonian theism marks the high point of orthodoxy with regards to the doctrine of God. This catholic (small "c") tradition defines God as one being/ essence, three persons, and this one God has one will and one nature in His being. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is one person with two natures (human and divine), and thus two wills. In traditional theism, a nature has a will, and thus Christ's two natures necessitates the existence of two wills. One could also extrapolate that to mean Christ has two minds, as indicative of the fact of Him having two wills.

What, then, is nature? What is will? What is person? Such questions should not be difficult to answer, especially when one looks at the Greek words behind these concepts: nature (φυσις), will (θελημα), person (προσωπον). "Nature" is an ontological terms defining what a thing is. "Will" originates decisions and actions. "Person" is more complicated and much confusion reigned over the term, but in association with the term hypostasis (ὑποστασις), a "person" is a subsistence, an instantiation. To simplify things, I would use the term "individuated consciousness." Note here that I did not say "individual consciousness," or "individuated center of consciousness," in order to keep the definition generic, since the three persons of the Trinity are one and the same being.

A "nature" is what a thing is. A "will" originates decisions and actions. What a thing is is separate from what a thing decides. Socrates is a man; that is his nature. Socrates ate his dinner; that is his will originating a decision to eat, and his body obeying his will to eat. Such is basic English and basic philosophy 101. A "nature" is never a "will," and, as we can see in recent times, it is possible for people to will something (transgender surgery) contrary to their nature (humans as inherently male and female).

God has His own nature, which is who He is ad intra. God wills, and acts accordingly, ad extra. Whatever God wills has its origin ad intra, but is manifested ad extra, where it then effect His works. There should be no question whatsoever that God's nature and God's will is distinct. To be sure, God is consistent, as God is one and simple. Therefore, according to traditional theism, God's will should be consistent with God's nature.

Since we never know God's nature simpliciter, in the history of theology, we come across the debate between realism and voluntarism, in the debate over the potentia Dei absoluta et ordinata (power of God absolute and ordained). Is the power of God absolute, in the sense that He can will anything including alternate past events, round squares and evil as good (divine voluntarism). Is it the power of God restricted to what He ordained to come to pass, and thus is not "absolute" in that sense (realism). Radical divine voluntarism, as held to by the nominalists, have God's power extending over contingency (possible past events), logical contradictions (round squares) and moral contradictions (evil as good). The orthodox position would deny the latter two (at least in their crude form) since they make no sense, but debate remain over contingency. As an example, can God create a world where He can forgive sins without the atonement of Christ? Those who hold to voluntarism might answer yes, while the realists would definitely say no.

So what does this obscure medieval debate has to do with Gordon Clark's theodicy? This "obscure" debate is relevant only because it brings up the same issues concerning God's nature and God's will. It must be noted that we are not talking about whether Clark's solution to the problem of theodicy is helpful. We are speaking concerning those who think that Clark's solution to the problem of theodicy is THE solution. Those who think that appeal to a fiat declaration that God is by definition good and therefore the entire question of theodicy is solved have not begun to scratch the surface of the problems it creates within the doctrine of God. In Clark's solution, we have the following propositions:

(1) God (by definition) is good

(2) God wills evil things

(3) God is ex lex (outside the law) and thus cannot be judged by His law.

Conclusion: Therefore, God is good even though He wills evil

As ONE solution, it is helpful. But we note here there are two propositions concerning the doctrine of God that we need to take note also:

(4) God is one and simple, therefore His will and His nature within Him are one and the same.

(5) God's law is a reflection of His nature

Putting propositions 1-5 together will create a problem, which shows that theodicy is not as easily solved just by Clark's solution. For, yes, God is ex lex in the sense that God is not culpable of evil just because He wills evil. But what is the law? What does willing evil say about the nature of God? For since God is one and God is simple, then His will (as originating ad intra) is equivalent to His nature, but if His will is His nature, then does willing evil things mean that God's nature is evil? But then it is protested that God by definition is good? Well then, you have a contradiction between proposition 1 and 4, and merely repeating proposition 1 does not solve the contradiction you will have. Unless of course, you do not mind throwing away the doctrine of divine simplicity. The same problem will arise when we ask how we can square propositions 3 and 5.

The radical followers of Clark will just assert propositions 1-3 over and over again, and either ignore or deny propositions 4 and 5. Such an emphasis on the divine will as dissociated from the divine nature is a characteristic of divine voluntarism. To be sure, they do not affirm clear logical or moral contradictions, but their emphasis on the divine will blind them to the problems such voluntarism have concerning one's doctrine of God. Perhaps they wish to deny propositions 4 and/or 5? But for those of us who do not reduce everything to "will" alone, we can affirm Clark's solution solve the moral aspect of theodicy, but acknowledge it leaves untouched the ontological problem of theodicy. (For those wanting to know how to solve that latter problem, a pointer would be to distinguish God's will concerning evil as primarily good, while secondarily evil.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark by Doug Douma

Douglas Douma has recently published a biography of the Presbyterian philosopher Gordon Haddon Clark (1902-1985), entitled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark. I have just finished reading it, and here is my review of the book. An excerpt:

Gordon Haddon Clark (1902-1985) was a prominent American Presbyterian philosopher and churchman in the 20th century, yet one would not know it by living in many contemporary 21st century American Presbyterian and Reformed circles. In this biography of this neglected American thinker, Douglas Douma does us all a great service by opening a window into the life of this man, helping us to understand his situation in life, and especially into the major controversy that has played a big influence in the formative years of one Presbyterian denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) — the “Clark-Van Til Controversy.”


Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Turretin concerning the Free Offer

XII. … Thus the promises added to the precepts signify only what God will grant to believers and penitents, not what he wills to grant to all those to whom the precept is proposed. [3.XV.12]

XVIII. There cannot be contrariety between those two wills because they do not will and nill [sic] the same thing in the same manner and respect. … [3.XV.18]

XXIV. If God by this will had signified that he willed the salvation of all without exception, he would have signified that he willed what he least willed (since by passing over the greater part, he has not willed to give them salvation). But when he signifies that he wills the salvation of all believers and penitents, it signifies that he wills that which he really wills and nothing is more true, nothing more sincere than such a declaration. [3.XV.24]

XII. This twofold will [of an antecedent and consequent will as per Amyraut -DHC] cannot be proved from Mt. 23:27, ... Therefore, Jerusalem is here to be distinguished from her sons as the words themselves prove. ... [3.XVI.12]

XVIII. When God testified that "he has no pleasure at all in the death of the sinner, but that he should return from his ways, and live" (Ezek. 18:23), this does not favor the inefficacious will or the feeble velleity of God because the word chpts (which occurs here) does not denote desire so much as delight and complacency. ... [3.XVI.18]

- Francis Turretin, Institute of Elentic Theology

It seems Francis Turretin did not hold to the well-meant offer as taught by John Murray and the Neo-Amyraldians.

Friday, March 03, 2017

The usage of words and power plays

Over in an article at the Desiring God website, the word "homophobia" is used once again. While the article does expresses certain truths (i.e. one's opposition to homosexuality should be based on Scripture and love not on emotions), the use of the word "homophobia" is extremely disturbing.

Words have meanings, and while it is a stretch to say that words are instruments of power, it is nonetheless true that terms and phrases direct the flow of thought and conversation. Even if a concept is rejected, the mere naming of the concept (particularly as a neologism) creates a conceptual space for it to be conceived in, with all its connotations. If mentioned and brought up frequently enough, the terms and what it conveys will become part of normalized discourse, even IF the concepts continue to be rejected. On a subconscious level, such normalization in discourse will create an impetus towards seeing such things as part of normal everyday life.

The usage of the neologism "homophobia" therefore functions in such a manner, as a trojan horse towards the normalization of deviant sexualities. Instead of telling people they ought to be compassionate towards those who struggle with deviant sexual temptations, those people are tarred with the neologism "homophobia." Thus, those who buy into the deceptive words of the LGBTQIAXXX agenda have lost half the battle when they adopt the terms and phrases of wicked men, even when they do correctly reject the actual wicked practices themselves. But when you allow wicked activists to direct the flow of thought and conversation, then those who reject the sexual deviancies will be increasingly perceived to be backward intolerant bigots and be on the defensive, no matter how much Desiring God and others will claim otherwise.

If one wants to actually promote the truth of Scripture on the issue, then one should stop adopting the terms of the wicked. Call a thing as what it is, and not what the world thinks it is, and refuse to compromise even on the terms one uses. Terms such as "homophobia" should never be used towards Christians, and should be qualified even in apologetics towards unbelievers.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The idolatry of nationalism

Nationalism is not patriotism. Whereas patriotism is the love of one's country, nationalism is the divinization of one's country, to worship one's nation as a god. During World War One, the various European nations were transmogrified into the divine instruments of God and His wrath on earth, with catastrophic consequences. The Liberal Protestant clergy were one of the chief culprits, and here is one such blasphemous prayer from a German pastor:

Our Father, from the height of heaven,
Make haste to succor Thy German people.
Help us in the holy war,
Let your name, like a star, guide us:
Lead Thy German Reich to glorious victories.
Who will stand before the conquerors?
Who will go into the dark sword-grave?
Lord, Thy will be done!
Although war’s bread be scanty,
Smite the foe each day
With death and tenfold woes.
In thy merciful patience, forgive
Each bullet and each blow
That misses its mark
Lead us not into the temptation
Of letting our wrath be too gentle
In carrying out Thy divine judgment.
Deliver us and our pledged ally [Austria-Hungary]
From the Evil One and his servants on earth.
Thine is the kingdom
The German land.
May we, through Thy mailed [sic?] hand
Come to power and glory

[As cited in Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (New York, NY: Harper One, 2014), 13]

Loving one's country is good, but never, ever treat any country or government as divine or semi-divine, as having absolute authority over the souls and consciences of men. Such is idolatry, and idolatry can have real-life consequences, as the First World War and the Second World War has shown us.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Turretin on the relation of God to His decrees

X. The decrees of God can be regarded in two ways: either subjectively (if it right so to speak, i.e., on the part of the internal act in itself and absolutely); or objectively, extrinsically and relatively with respect to creatures (respectively). In the former manner, they do not differ from God himself and are no other than God himself decreeing. But in the latter, they do differ because they may be conceived as many and various (not as to the thing, since God has decreed all things by one single and most simple act, but as to the objects), even as the knowledge of God is conversant with him innumerable objects without detriment to his unity.

XI. The decrees of God are free, not absolutely and as to the principle, but relatively and objectively and as to the end. For there could be no external object necessarily terminating to the divine will, for God stands in need of nothing out of himself. Therefore they could be and not be. But this does not hinder them from being called necessary as to the principle and internal act because the act of intelligence and will could not be absent from God at all. He could not be God without intelligence and will. They are necessary, therefore, as to internal existence, but free as to external relation (schesin) and habit. Nor can the will of God be said to cease absolutely, but with respect to the external object on which it is terminated.

What is the relation of God to His decrees? On the one hand, it consists of God decreeing something freely, and thus they seem to be on the side of God ad extra. On the other hand, they are the expression of God's mind and will, which are constitutive of God ad intra. But certainly nothing can be both internal and external to God at the same time, can it?

As Turretin states, the decrees, coming from God's "intelligence and will" is internal to God. But the decrees, as they are freely done by God, is free in its external relations (schesin). But what does this actually mean?

Perhaps to re-phrase for the intention of clarification, we can think of the decrees as being a thing X, which exists. The existence of X comes about from mind and will, and thus it is eternally timeless, partaking of the eternity of God's mind and will. The quiddity (or "what-ness") of the decrees, of the thing X, is internal to God, for God's mind and will necessitates it.

At the same time, the content or relation of the decrees, the thing X, is external to God, for it terminates upon the things decreed. Thus, the decrees are truly free in this sense, towards things external to the being of God. Thus, the decrees as to its reality is internal to God, God ad intra, yet the decrees as to what they refer to are external to God's being, God ad extra.

Therefore, the decrees of God are one, in the being of God, for God is simple and indivisible. When we speak therefore of the decreeS of God, we have already moved to the ad extra aspect of theology proper. The decrees of God in its one simple ad intra form we know that it exists (quiddity), but not as to what it is. When we inquire into what it is, what they are, we only see the decrees as they are of God's work, in a manner we can understand.

If there's no God...

"Imagine there's no heaven ..."

… For if there were no God, no republic, no society in the world would be safe. Without virtue, without religion, nothing can be safe. If here were no God, there be neither virtue nor religion. What would the world be but a mere den of robbers in which license would be each one’s law, no such thing as right or wrong, no right of government, no necessity of obedience—the most abandoned, the superior and the most powerful, the master? No check would be placed upon the oppression of rules and the rebellion of subjects. Each one would follow the bent of his own inclination. Again, if there were no God, no mortals would even for a moment be safe or secure from violence, fraud, perjury, slaughter of blood. Every hour everything would have to be feared. Take away the barriers of divinity and what would become of confidence and innocence? What license or violence would not be witnessed? As to human edicts (besides the fact that they cannot change the mind for the better, but on the contrary make it artful and intent upon all the arts of deception), what place would there be for human laws, if (the sense of deity being removed) the conscience would shake off all relations of justice and injustice?

[Turretin, Institutes, 3.I.21]

On papal infallibility pre-Vatican I

V. … Now such a judge can be found nowhere else than in the church where they erect four tribunals from which there is no appeal: (1) the church; (2) the councils; (3) the fathers; (4) the pope. But when the votes are properly counted, the pope remains solus (alone), to whom they are accustomed to ascribing that supreme and infallible judgment.

VI. That such is this opinion this passage from Andradius (who was in the Council of Trent) proves: “This high authority of interpreting the Scriptures we grant not to individual bishops, but to the Roman pontiff alone, who is the head of the church, or to all the chief offices collected together by his command” (Defen. triden. fidei, lib. 2+). “That judge cannot be the Scriptures, but the ecclesiastical prince; either alone or with the counsel and consent of the fellow bishops” (Bellarmine, VD 3.9*, p. 110). “The Roman pontiff is the one in whom this authority, which the church has of judging concerning all controversies of faith, resides” (Gregory of Valentia, Analysis fidei catholicae 7 [1585], p. 216). Still this is not the opinion of all. For although they who exalt the pope above the council ascribe this authority of a judge to him, yet they think differently who hold the council to be above the pope finally. Others, to reconcile these two opinions, think the pope (in the council) or the council (approved by the pope) is that infallible judge.

[Turretin, Institutes, 2.XX.5-6]

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Revisiting the issue of discernment and discernment ministries

Back around the time when I first started this blog (2006), Christian blogs were proliferating and the notion of Discernment ministries was just forming. For good or for ill, I became involved with the discernment movement, which, as all movements are, are a mixed bag. The proliferation of discernment ministries, good as it may seem to be, ignores the fact that sin pervades all our thoughts, our actions, and even ministries. The Christian blogosphere became like the Wild West, totally unregulated, where everything goes. In the highly decentralized, naturally anti-authoritarian, radical egalitarian Western (especially American) societies, who has the right to tell another that he or she is not called or not qualified for discerning truth from error?

Thus, what was to be a good thing did not turn out as well as it should. There was almost zero QC (Quality Control), and, as we sinners are tempted to do, personal emotions get into the mix and tempers flare. It is not uncommon especially in the anti-ODM (Online Discernment Ministries) blogs to see flame wars happening non-stop. As much as there was light, there also seem to be much heat.

Many of the original Discernment bloggers however take the high road. My friend Mike Ratliff has recently posted an article Discernment and Slander". I do not know the exact reason why he posts this, but it shows the high road that those of us who are or were involved in the Discernment movement in the beginning aspire to.

So why have I did a short reflection on something that, in Internet time, is centuries ago? I did it not because "discernment" has (unjustly) gained a bad rep, although that is true. But I see the same dynamic continue to be in play when certain second or third generation "discernment bloggers" are, to put it nicely, sloppy in their research. Others react by attacking "discernment" and "discernment bloggers." The whole sordid affair that is seen in the episode of Tim Challies' article against discernment, which he published in 2009, just repeats itself, again! It's almost like nobody learns from the past! What is to be gained from making blanket generalizations and demonizing an entire group, just because perhaps your opponents are currently the most "prominent" among that group? Is that helpful? What do such blanket condemnations hope to achieve, besides slandering those in the group who are innocent?

If, just because certain Reformed Baptists sinned against me, it is right for me to attack ALL Reformed Baptists as wicked people? If an Arminian were to meet five self-declared "Calvinists" who taught Hyper-Calvinism, would it be justified for that Arminian to assert that ALL Calvinists were Hyper-Calvinists? But if we do not like broad generalizations when we ourselves become implicated because of the sins of others, why do we think it fit to inflict such a travesty on others?

Some of the Online Discernment Ministries continue, but the movement has mostly passed. What was good in it did benefit the Church, and what was bad was ugly, to be repented of. Yet one should not make broad generalizations against it all, especially when one was formerly a contributor to the team blog that one has now become so bitterly opposed.

The relation of God to the Pactum Salutis

What is the relation of God to the Pactum Salutis, the Covenant of Redemption? Some people might think of the Pactum Salutis as being predicated of God in Himself, God ad intra. But is that how we should be thinking of the Pactum?

When we think of God, we think of God in relation to Himself (ad intra) and God in relation to those external to Himself (ad extra). We think of God in His being, and God in His works. There is the immanent Trinity, and there is the economic Trinity. All of these distinctions are meant to clarify our thoughts concerning who God is, and distinguish the nature of God from what God actually does. God is immutable, and thus His nature is immutable. To predicate something about God ad intra, about His being, the immanent Trinity, is to predicate immutability to it. As God is simple, something predicated about God ad intra is predicated of His attributes, for God is His attributes.

Another philosophical/ theological category that is important for this discussion is that of necessity and contingency. Something is necessary because it cannot be otherwise. Something is contingent when it could be otherwise. Thus, for example, a man necessarily has a human genotype. But having the XY genotype is contingent for a man, because some men due to mutations do not have the XY genotype (e.g. XXY, XX with SRY gene attached).

In theology, God is a necessary being, because God cannot not exist. God's love to Man however is contingent, because God does not have to love anyone if He so chooses not to. God is necessarily omnipotent, because God cannot be not all powerful. Likewise, God is necessarily good, because God cannot ever be evil. Yet God's creating the world is contingent, because God does not have to create the world.

As we look at those examples, we can notice a pattern. Whatever that is of God's being, of God ad intra, of the immanent Trinity, is necessary. Whatever that is of God's works, of God ad extra, of the economic Trinity, is contingent. That must be the case, because God who is simple and necessarily existing implies that everything about the essence of the one God must be necessary. Conversely, the God who is sovereign does not need to do any of the works He has done (or could do), and therefore all of them are contingent.

So how should we think about the Pactum? Well, is the Pactum necessary or contingent? Does God have to make the Pactum, or does he not have to do so? Let's think for a moment. If the Pactum is predicated of God ad intra, then by virtue of simplicity, it must be necessary (and eternal, and immutable and so on). If it is necessary, then God cannot not make the Pactum. Since the Pactum speaks about created realities like "the cross," "death," and so on, even though they are spoken of in the abstract (since the world has not yet been created), then the concepts of these created realities must exist eternally. Moreover, the atonement of Christ then is necessary and eternal. Justification also becomes eternal, since justification is part of the Pactum (that the Son will save a people by justifying them). Also, since as we have mentioned many times, God is simple, that means God is to be identified with concepts of created realities, the atonement of Christ and justification!!?!

From this reductio ad absurdum, I hope it can be clearly seen that predicating the Pactum of God ad intra is untenable, at least not if one wants to be orthodox. The Pactum therefore must be predicated of God ad extra, and most definitely it must be contingent. If we maintain that God does not have to save anyone, then it must be the case that God does not have to provide salvation for sinners either, otherwise is God necessarily saving a set regardless of whether anyone is in it? But if salvation is a free (as opposed to necessitated) act of God, then by definition, it could be otherwise. And thus the Pactum as a free act of God must be able to be otherwise also.

The Pactum therefore must be and only can be predicated of God's works, of God ad extra, of the economic Trinity. But... the Pactum is made in eternity? And that is why we speaks of submission of the Son from eternity, understanding this "eternity" not as the timeless eternity predicated of God's being, but of the everlasting eternity predicated of God's works. From my perspective, if one is to be consistent with the various facets of one's theology, there is simply no way to make the Pactum as speaking of the immanent Trinity without creating the type of absurdities (eternal forms of created realities, eternal atonement, eternal justification; in the being of God) that we have shown.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The problem with wanting a "practical" faith

What is Christianity? Many people, even Christians, see Christianity as many things. Christianity is a religion. Christianity is about being spiritual. Christianity is about going to heaven after death. But not all these conceptions of Christianity are correct. Having a wrong conception of Christianity might just undermine the faith one professes. After all, a deficient understanding of Math for example might cause one to lose money in commercial transactions. A deficient understanding of Christianity would certainly cause one's faith to be stunted. Since the Christian faith is for the salvation and comfort of the saints, having a deficient understanding of Christianity would undermine one's faith in God and undermine the comfort and joy God gives to His people.

True Christianity starts and ends with God, not with Man. True Christianity does not come to "offer" Man help. It offers Man salvation, that is true. But the offer is not for autonomous Man to add one more asset to his portfolio, but rather for autonomous Man to surrender his autonomy altogether. God is not an addition to life, or merely for the afterlife. God does not exist for us! The question has never been, "Is God relevant for my life?" Rather, the question is, "Am I relevant in God's unfolding drama?" God is primary, and as such, God's desires and will takes precedence over us the creature. In salvation, God calls us to give up on ourselves, thus to deny ourselves, not in an ascetic manner, but in a worldview manner. God does not need my fasting, neither does he need my money, nor even my life. We are to be subsumed into God's story, not God into our story.

The problem therefore with wanting a "practical" faith, when voiced by various people, stems from a view of Christianity that does not place God front and center of everything, regardless of what one professes. After all, one does not ask what God wants, what God desires, but rather what I feel is deficient in my life that I think God ought to fulfill. It is the "therapeutic" aspect in the modern day Evangelical religion of "moral therapeutic deism," where professing Christians are not interested in doctrine and theory but rather in practice. But if God is truth, and it is only through Scripture which is made up of propositional truth that believers can come to know God, then how can any Christian say they are not interested in doctrine and truth? One might as well say he has no interest in God, because the only way to God on this earth is through Scripture which is given to us in words! Scripture is sufficient for us (c.f. 2 Tim. 3:16-17) for all things, and through Scripture, believers' minds are being renewed (Rom. 12:2).

Scripture is of course truly practical, in that it addresses the problems we face. BUT that is not the primary focus of Scripture. It is only through doctrine and the knowledge of God's Word that we can follow the imperatives of Scripture correctly. The direction has always been from doctrine to practice, never the divorce of doctrine from practice.

The uniquely cultural conditioned problem of "practicality" in Singapore is due to the embrace of cultural notions of knowledge in Singapore, which the Church ought to reject and to teach against. In Singapore, knowledge is just for the purpose of getting a degree, a cert that can be nicely displayed so as to get a respectable and good paying job. In Singapore, the entire culture is all about learning to be "exam smart," and thus knowledge is not treated as knowledge but as mere words of fact. This transfers into the Singapore church culture such that doctrines and Bible study are treated the same way. Is it then not surprising that Singaporean Christians can seem to know so much yet they actually truly do not know a lot? Administer a doctrinal test on paper, and many Christians might excel. But ask them to think outside the box, to reformulate what they know using different terms, or to apply what they know in concrete situations, and their actual lack of knowledge becomes manifest. What is the point of such "exam smart" theology? Such "exam smart" theology is not the knowledge God demands for us to have. From such an "exam smart" theology, it is not surprising that those having such "theology" cannot see the practical point of it all. They can score a 100% even on a exam on the Westminster Confession, but such "exam smart" knowledge is of no use at all. [In point of fact, "exam smart" knowledge on any non-STEM subject is of no use at all.]

Those who desire to have a more "practical" faith apart from doctrine need to examine themselves as to whether they are using God instead of surrendering to God. Are they starting everything with God? Who are they actually worshiping? If they are content with worshiping a generic "God" and a generic "Jesus," without understanding the Triunity of the one true God, are they then actually worshiping the one true God? Are they learning so as to get a bunch of propositions ("exam smart theology") without actually understanding them? If so, they ought to repent. The problems they have is not because the sermons or Bible studies do not seem to be "practical" enough, but rather they have a wrong view of the faith and ought to repent of that. Scripture is supremely relevant, but only because we are subsumed into God's story. As long as we think of ourselves from a therapeutic mind-set, we will never see the true relevance of true Christianity.

What is Christianity? Christianity is God-centered; it is Christ-centered, and it exalts Christ not just in theory but in practice. Since God is the "star," therefore every sermon has to exalt God and Christ, and every Bible study has to do likewise. It is in our worship before the Almighty God in everything we do that our needs will be met. Christianity will thus be seen as practical, as long as we do not make it practical but Christ-exalting. The more we want to make Christianity practical, the more actually impractical it will be, because God and Christ will be out of our supposed "practical" solutions.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Vulgate, the King James Version, and the natural propensity towards venerating a single Bible version

II. True, there are varying opinions among the papists as to the sense of this decree [Council of Trent, Session 4, Decree 1 –DHC]. Some maintain that no comparison is made between that version and the source, but only with other Latin versions then in use; … Others maintain that it is absolutely declared to be authentic (so that there is no better) and is to be preferred to all editions in whatever language and, even by it the original codices (as corrupt) must be emended; as Cano, Valentia, Gordon, Gretser, Suarez and others. But whoever attentively considers the words of the decree will easily perceive that it leads to the latter opinion. … [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elentic Theology, 2.XV.2]

It is interesting to note here that Tridentine Roman Catholicism suggests correcting the original codices (Greek and Hebrew) according to the Latin Vulgate. Such a move is what we see today in Fundamentalist King James Version Only (KJVO) circles. Evidently, it seems to be a human impulse that shifts from treasuring the Bible in the translation one knows or studies, into venerating that particular translation as being THE only Bible, even to the extant of correcting the ancient manuscripts according to the Bible version one is elevating, be it the Vulgate, or the King James Version.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Turretin on Theology and Philosophy

I. On this subject men run into two extremes. Those who confound philosophy with theology err on the side of excess. This the false apostles formerly did who incorporated various unsound philosophical opinions with the Christian doctrine and are on this account rebuked by the apostle (Col. 2:8). … They sin in defect who hold that philosophy is opposed to theology and should therefore be separated from it, not only as useless, but also as positively hurtful. The fanatics and enthusiasts of former ages held this view and the Anabaptists and Weigelians of the present day (who seem professedly to have proclaimed war against philosophy and the liberal arts) retain it.

II. The orthodox occupy a middle ground. They do not confound theology with sound philosophy as the parts of a whole; nor do they set them against each other as contraries, but subordinate and compound them as subordinates which are not at variance with, but mutually assist each other. …


Philosophy is not against theology when it functions as a handmaiden to theology. Those who pit philosophy against theology as being absolutely contrary to the Christian faith are anti-intellectuals and heirs of the Anabaptists.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Turretin on reason and theology

III. The question is not whether reason has any use in theology. For we confess that its use is manifold both for illustration (by making clear divine mysteries from human and earthly things); for comparison (by comparing old things with new, versions with their sources, opinions of doctors and decrees of councils with the rule of the divine word); for inference (by drawing conclusions); and for argumentation (by drawing forth reasons to support orthodoxy [orthodoxian] and overthrow heterodoxy [heterodoxian]). But the question is simply whether it bears the relation of a principle and rule in whose scale the greatest mysteries of religion should be weighed, so that nothing should be held which is not agreeable to it, which is not founded upon and cannot be elicited from reason. This we deny …

IV The question is not whether reason is the instrument by which or the medium through which we can be drawn to faith. For we acknowledge that reason can be both: the former indeed always and everywhere; the latter with regard to presupposed articles. Rather the question is whether it is the first principle from which the doctrines of faith are proved; or the foundation upon which they are built, so that we must hold to be false in things of faith what the natural light or human reason cannot comprehend. This we deny.

What is the Reformed view on reason? Is any emphasis on reason (and logic) "rationalism" which we ought to reject? To hear some of the charges against the whole idea of systematic theology today, one would think that rational thinking along the line of foundations (axioms) and syllogisms is unbiblical. But was that what the Reformed tradition historically taught?

The Reformed Orthodox used syllogisms, plenty of them. After all, Logic was important to them for the process of intellectually rigorous thinking. Even those who reject Aristotle for people like Ramus are merely attempting to substitute one system of thinking for another, not eradicating reasoning altogether. Who were those who reject reason? It was the mystics who rejected reason for the idea of an unmediated direct encounter of the soul with God, through the practice of spiritual disciplines. Such was found in Medieval and Tridentine Roman Catholicism, as well as major segments of Anabaptism, but they were not a hallmark of the best of the Reformed tradition.

The rise of rationalism with the Socinians was a threat to the Reformed Orthodox because they use reason to argue against the doctrines of the faith. But the Reformed Orthodox do not therefore throw out the baby with the bathwater. Turretin distinguishes between the instrumental use of reason and the foundational use of reason (1.VIII.7), ascribing the former to true Christian theology and the latter to the error of the rationalistic Socinians. Reason, which is probably better termed "logic" since "logic" describes the laws and processes of reasoning, is meant to be used as a tool, not to create new propositions from thin air (the foundational view). Rather, the propositions are Scripture, and reason merely infers from them to their consequences.

Does human sin and human depravity therefore means that any focus on reason as an instrument is a compromise of the doctrine of total depravity? Does it mean that one must argue for a "qualitative" difference between the truth known by God (ectypically) and what we can come to know as truth as revealed to us? Turretin would not have agreed with such arguments. Rather, this is what Turretin wrote:

VIII. The darkness of the human intellect does not hinder sound reason from judging of the truth of connections and so contradictions. We allow indeed that it cannot judge of the truth of propositions (as ignorant of it per se and which it must seek from the law and testimony). But it does not follow from this that it cannot judge of the contradiction of the expositions, opinions and interpretations which men give of these mysteries. [1.X.8]

'Sound reason' seems almost to be autonomous and unaffected by the Fall, but that is because it is not the human faculty of reason Turretin speaks of here, but rather the laws of logic, which are laws and not human faculties. The transcendent law of non-contradiction for example does not care whether the human seeking to utilize it is sinless or fallen, as long as it is used properly. The problem with our human minds that are affected by total depravity is not that the laws of reason have been altered, for these laws are outside of us, but rather that we are unable to properly use these laws correctly all the time. Just like Pharisaism distorts the revealed holy law of God, so rationalists distorts the laws of logic. Pharisaism and the Judaizers did not cause the holy law of God to be unholy, for the fault is with them not with the law! Likewsie, the many forms of rationalism are not manifestations that reason is totally corrupted and unfit for spiritual uses, but rather the fault lies with the users (Man) rather than the instrument of reason.

Thus, in the Clark-Van Til controversy, Turretin's position will be much closer to Clark's. Turretin is of course clearer in teaching that we cannot comprehend God, and the archetypal/ectypal distinction is clearly maintained, BUT on the main issue of the place of reason, he stands with Clark on the instrumental use of reason and the possibility of sound reason even in depraved minds (whether depraved Man wants to use sound reason is another question altogether).

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Francis Turretin, "Natural Theology," and General Revelation

II. The question is not whether natural theology (which is such by act as soon as a man is born, as the act of life in one living or of sense in one perceiving as soon as he breathes) may be granted. For it is certain that no actual knowledge is born with us and that, in this respect, man is like a smooth tablet (tabulae rasae). Rather the question is whether such can be granted at least with regard to principle and potency; or whether such a natural faculty implanted in man may be granted as well as put forth its strength of its own accord, and spontaneously in all adults endowed with reason, which embraces not only the capability of understanding, but also the natural first principles of knowledge from which conclusions both theoretical and practical are deduced (which we maintain).

III. The question is not whether this knowledge is perfect and saving (for we confess that after the entrance of sin it was so much obscured as to be rendered altogether insufficient for salvation), but only whether any knowledge of God remains in man sufficient to lead him to believe that God exists and must be religiously worshipped [sic].

V. We find in man a natural law written upon each one's conscience excusing and accusing them in good and bad actions, which therefore necessarily implies the knowledge of God, the legislator, by whose authority it binds men to obedience and proposes rewards or punishments. ...

[Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1. III. 2-3, 5]

Francis Turretin was the last of the great Reformed Scholastics, and the last leader of the Reformation in early modern Geneva, Switzerland. His Institutes of Elenctic Theology bears the fruit of much Reformed thought over the many years since the Reformation, and should be required reading for all pastors and theologians who consider themselves Reformed.

In his Institutes, which I am slowly going through, Turretin has an interesting take on "natural theology." It seems that for Turretin, "natural theology" corresponds to what we would today call "General Revelation." The knowledge of God available to everyone informing them of God's existence and the basics of His moral law is ubiquitous to all. All men have this revelation. Even the suppression of the truths of General Revelation does not negate that fact, because they must be actively suppressed, for what can be known about God IS plain to them, for God has made it plain to them (Rom. 1:19).

Such truths however do not make up any form of natural theology, which is the idea that Man can come up with a true coherent theology of God purely from the truths of Nature. There is a gap between knowing there is a God and knowing some of His moral laws, and being able to produce a partial but correct doctrine of God from Nature. This gap is the gap between cognitive coherent and intuitive inchoate knowledge. The former I deny to General Revelation while affirming the latter. I would like to note here that any theology of General Revelation produced by Christians always appeal to axioms that make sense only within a Christian theistic framework. That is why I will gladly affirm General Revelation while denying Natural Theology, because I just do not see how one can derive a coherent albeit partial doctrine of God from Nature alone apart from Scripture and its framework.

Do Turretin and the Reformed scholastics endorse Natural Theology? They certainly use the phrase "natural theology" positively, but, as I have shown, Turretin uses it only in the sense of General Revelation. While I certainly cannot rule out the possibility of any of them endorsing Natural Theology, I do not see Turretin doing so in this particular instance. I am therefore not convinced that Turretin or any of the Reformed Scholastics would have approved of Natural Theology, and any argument to that effect needs to not just appeal to the approval of the phrase "natural theology," since it is rather clear that Turretin means by that phrase something different from how the term is used today.