Archive for December, 2020

Considering Isaiah 9:6

We’ve begun to have a memory verse of the month. I thought I’d blog on that verse each month.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

I’m not going to repeat my sermons that set this passage up, or on this passage. I want to spend some time applying this passage.

Christmas is about the Child but the Child brings a kingdom with Him. We can’t separate the two ultimately. This Child is King of kings and Lord of lords. His first public message would be “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

If He is a king then you are either a citizen of that kingdom or in the domain of darkness. Believing in, or receiving, Christ not only gives us the right to be God’s children (John 1) but also transfers us into the kingdom of the Son. We enter on the basis of His merit because He qualifies us (Col. 1). He meets the terms of citizenship for us. He is the obedient king who lived under the law on our behalf.

So what’s the point?

The point is: “Who runs your life?”

Sin creates a situation in which we either want to be in control (a God-wish) or abdicate responsibility. Adam, God’s vice-regent, was responsible to rule in keeping with God’s authority. God was the ultimate authority, and Adam had delegated authority. Eve’s sin was to take ultimate authority from God. Adam’s seems more to be about abdicating his authority. Either way, Adam’s sin plunged us into darkness: sin, misery and ultimately death. Both Adam and Eve abdicated responsibility when confronted by God. People generally want to be in control or not responsible. This is what makes the point pertinent.

Salvation unites us to the Savior, but also places us in the kingdom. As citizens we should live as good citizens of the kingdom. This is similar to but more extensive than living as good citizens of your/our nation. As good Americans we pay our taxes, follow the various laws, vote our own conscience and defend our nation to the best of our ability when necessary.

As citizens of heaven, we discover that sometimes God’s commands and the state’s commands (kings, presidents, governors, mayors etc.) are at odds. When they do, God wins. Or He’s supposed to.

God’s commands are also more extensive. They include our thoughts. We don’t yet have Orwell’s thought police in America. But God knows our thoughts and those too should align with His law, not simply our actions.

But let’s bring this back to the text. His great name reminds us that Jesus is God. This is implied in “Wonderful” whether you pair it with “Counselor” or not. He’s also the “Mighty God” or “Warrior God”. Both point us to the fact that Jesus, while fully human, is no mere man. As the Divine King He is worthy of full obedience over every area of our lives. He is the fulfillment of the great covenantal promise: I will be their God and they will be My people.

He doesn’t just rule our lives by authority (law) and power but by wisdom. Kings and presidents have a number of advisors because they obviously can’t be experts on everything. Jesus needs no advisors. He is a Council unto Himself. He is the wisdom of God. He provides us with wisdom for life decisions, big and ordinary as well.

He also rules by love, like the love of a father. As Everlasting Father He is the head of God’s new humanity (Eph. 2:11ff). A good father rules by love. This means a commitment of His people revealed in “steadfast love”, a keeping of covenant promises. He doesn’t simply care about Himself like so many earthly rulers. His laws are for our good rather than being arbitrary or whimsical exercises in power. He possesses the wisdom they lack so they really are for our good: good for us.

He also rules by peace. As the Prince of Peace, Jesus established peace by His atoning death. He extends that peace by bringing people under His peaceful realm. But He also extends that peace by helping His people to study and pursue peace in their relationships. In other words, “blessed are the peace-makers”. We proclaim His peace and keep the bond of peace in the Spirit (Eph. 4:2).

Who runs your life? Do you to try and run it yourself, like Eve? Does your spouse or other person, like Adam let Eve run it? Do you just go with the flow of society (which Paul says is under the power of the prince of the air)?

Christianity begins with repentance, coming under the protection and rule of King Jesus. But it continues in the growing awareness of that rule and its implications in our lives. We grow in our submission to Christ, recognizing His wise, loving, peaceful and righteous rule.

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As I consider Animal Farm, I thought about a 1b to contain the things I wish I’d said in part 1 but didn’t or didn’t address in sufficient depth. So before I get to Part 2 I’ll say a little more with regard to chapter 1 in particular.

Oppression is a real thing. As a Christian, and a Reformed Christian at that, I affirm the universality of sin and what we call radical depravity (sin affects every part of us, at the root). Therefore sin is systemic in this world. It runs thru everything: every person, every family, every neighborhood, every class, every race, every nation, every culture etc. Systemic sin produces things like systemic racism and oppression. Sinful people create sinful structures and systems. At times it is oversight, not realizing the consequences of the laws or systems we put into place. Other times it is purposeful by at least those who form the system but not necessarily all who participate in administering the system.

People groups generally consider one of the two more extreme positions: resignation and revolution. Resignation is the response of despair. It is for people with no hope or vision for a better system. It is extreme in passivity. It goes along to get along. It doesn’t make waves.

Revolution is the other extreme. We see the animals, due to Old Major, tossing off their resignation to their fate with hope of a new system. It is not about finding peace and reconciliation while fixing the flaws in the system but replacing the system and removing the oppressors. It is a complete reversal and overturning of the system.

There is a third way. It is the quest for equality, not superiority. This was the road chosen by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights advocates of the 60’s. This is the road advocated by John Perkins: the road of love for one another. That is why this is the road not often chosen. Love is harder than revolution. Hate is easier than love. Hate simply wants to destroy while love wants to find a mutually satisfying solution. Love often requires repentance on both sides, even if more guilt falls on one side than the other.

One of the things that is unclear in this fairy tale of George Orwell’s construction is whether or not the animals could communicate with the humans. They learned to read and some of them learned to write. They had a common language among them. Yet, they never presented any demands or petitions to Farmer Jones. There was never an attempt to find a mutually beneficial resolution and system. They went right for the nuclear option: revolution (or rebellion).

The rebellion was preceded by the demonization of the oppressor. Sadly we see this today in the anti-racism movement. The problem is not the sin of racism/prejudice found in all human hearts. The problem seems to be “whiteness” as though only white people are prejudiced. Here in America, we tend to be myopic and see things only in terms of our experience (a common problem for cultures). Racism and prejudice exist in every culture. There is majority privilege in every culture. It isn’t about whiteness but about sinful humans. But the materialist can’t grasp this. Marx put it in terms of class, and the oppressive class had to be removed. CRT often puts it in terms of “whiteness”, and homosexual activists see the oppressor as the church (the majority religion of America) while basically giving Islam as pass despite being more brutal internationally because here they are a minority religion.

The animals prevailed over the oppressive humans and have established the seven commandments of animalism. The last is the most important: All animals are equal. Let’s continue to see if their grand new animal society continues. Or rather, how it continues.

Chapter 3: The Rise of the Pigs

The animals all had particular jobs prior to the rebellion. They were suited to the nature of the particular animals. That seemed unjust to them, however. Theirs was to be an egalitarian society in keeping with the seventh commandment.

All the animals worked together to get the hay in. This was a new kind of work for them but it was very hard and they all had to adapt. But we see that the pigs were working in a supervisory role. They, after all, were the brains of the rebellion. They would remain the brains in the new society.

This continued through the summer, and the animals were never happier than they were. They enjoyed all the benefits of their labor. Each worked according to their capacity. There was no envy, stealing or grumbling. The animals all worked hard, except maybe Mollie the horse. She struggled to get up early and then found reasons to stop working early.

Old Benjamin, the donkey, was true to his nature and obstinately did as he’d always done. He was not up for a new order.

There was no work on Sundays. It was used to restructure the grand new society. Part of their new order was a flag to represent the forthcoming Republic of the Animals. It was raised every Sunday morning. This was followed by the Meeting. The week’s work was planned and issues were raised and debated. The pigs, as you may imagine, dominated the meetings. Snowball and Napoleon, their leaders, did not seem to agree. On anything. The Meeting would end with the singing of The Beasts of England.

This is a godless version of church in many respects. It was meant to draw them together around the common vision and prepare them for the work ahead. They were saved, not from sin and death, but from humans.

The harness-room was repurposed by the pigs as their headquarters. They would study books on carpentry, smithing and other tasks necessary for running a farm. Snowball formed numerous Animal Committees seemingly one for every task that had to be done.

The pigs had learned to read and write well. The dogs learned to read but focused on the commandments, being good dogs and aiming to please. Most of the animals struggled to learn to read. Some, like the sheep, weren’t even able to memorize the seven commandments. The first commandment was reduced to “Four legs good, two legs bad!” as wings were considered legs.

Napoleon seemed less interested in these committees. He focused on the young, and new born pups in particular. He took the 9 weaned puppies to the loft to train them by himself. It was learned that the milk was added to the pigs mash. Many thought this unfair until it was explained to them that the leadership of the pigs was necessary to keep them free of Farmer Jones. As a result they were granted this additional privilege due to their vital role in the safety of the community.

Chapter 4: Farmer Jones Strikes Back

News of the rebellion was spread via the birds to animals throughout England. But Farmer Jones spent his time at the Red Lion drinking and complaining about the injustice done to him at the hands of his animals. The other farmers felt bad for him but seemed more intent on working this to their advantage, not his restoration. The adjacent farms lived in fear of the rebellion spreading to their farms.

Tales were told of cannibalism among the animals, that they tortured one another and had their females in common. In some ways this is reminiscent of the lies told about the early church. Restlessness spread far beyond the Animal Farm in a variety of incidents.

In October the corn had been harvested and was in process of being threshed when Farmer Jones along with all his men and 6 more from the neighboring farms appeared. They all had sticks except Jones who had a gun.

The animals had expected this and prepared for it. They were ready. Snowball called them to their posts for the engagement to begin. He led the first attack upon the men. He also signaled retreat as the men’s sticks and hobnailed boots seem too much for the animals. This was what Snowball had planned to lure them deeper into Farm. It seemed like Russia’s general strategy to allow your enemy to be swallowed up by Asia. Yes, the men committed one of the two great blunders.

Snowball led the next charge, and despite taking some buckshot from the shotgun took out Farmer Jones’ legs. Boxer reared up and kicked men with his hard hooves. Soon all the men had turn and fled except the stable boy, accidentally killed by Boxer.

The animals gathered to share their tales of battle. They buried a dead sheep with Snowball reminding them they all needed to be ready to die for Animal Farm. It was decided to create a medal, Animal Hero First Class, to be bestowed upon Boxer and Snowball for their valiant and effective efforts in the battle. These medals would be worn on Sundays and holidays.

Farmer Jones’ gun was found, along with its cartridges. It was fired off twice a year in honor of Rebellion Day and the Battle of the Cowshed.

Nature abhors a vacuum. This includes vacuums in leadership. In Animal Farm this leadership vacuum was filled by the pigs. In Russia it was filled by Lenin and Trotsky (head of the Red Army) at first. Stalin was younger and waiting in the wings.

photographs of Trotsky from the 1920s

But the new order wasn’t that different from the old order. The milk and a special supply of apples were reserved for the pigs, the new ruling class. The ruling class will always have privileges. Party members in communist countries have historically enjoyed perks and benefits the average person did not. They functioned no differently from monarchies and democratic republics in this sense.

There is something in humanity that creates a nobility of some kind. George Washington, among others, feared this. The founding fathers didn’t want a political class for this reason. Sadly, we’ve moved from professionals who served terms in government to professional politicians, a ruling class which with the bureaucrats form what we call the “deep state”. They live by different rules., just like communist party members.

All societies are stratified. Some are just more stratified than others. Some have more or less mobility than others. In America you can move up the ladder. In a caste system like India’s, you cannot. In communist countries the road up is party membership.

We see this beginning in Animal Farm. The pigs are gaining power, forming cracks in the egalitarian ideal. Snowball is vocal, and the visible leader despite his debates with Napoleon. But Napoleon is like a shark, waiting for his moment.

On a different note, I discovered that Animal Farm has a graphic novel version. This may be the way to get the next generation to read and learn.

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There is something weird about calling sin and death wonderful works of God. The tension is so thick you can cut it.

The Wonderful Works of God is a systematic theology and if we are to understand salvation, and what has gone wrong with the world we experience, we must understand that from which we are saved: sin and death (which is an expression of God’s wrath toward sin). That He delivers us from them is a wonderful work of God.

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

Sin is not simultaneous with creation. Sin came later. We aren’t sure how much later. The fall of the angels indicates that sin started in heaven. Mutable man was approached by the fallen serpent and deceived. God did not make Adam sin, but did test him. “But when someone fails in the test, he is immediately inclined to charge God with the guilt of the fall and to say that God tempted him, that is, tried him with the intention of making him fall, or put him to a test in which he must necessarily fail.” This is part of the deception of sin. God doesn’t test us to cause us to sin. He provides a way out (1 Cor. 10:13). God intends for good, but Satan for evil.

Scripture tells of the fall into sin, and its continuing effects including the darkening of the understanding. The sins we commit assume a sinful condition due to their universality. Adam and Eve had no such sinful nature or proclivity to sin. They were made upright though mutable.

Bavinck interacts with the psychological approaches to sin. One instance is the circumstances of our sin. “These do not justify the sin, but they do limit the measure of guilt.” Adam and Eve didn’t experience any circumstances that limit the measure of their guilt. Sin is forever in conflict with God, and our own conscience (unless it is seared). For instance, a parent may take the circumstances of their child’s disobedience into account. It remains disobedience but there may be mitigating factors: peer pressure, illegitimate command from an adult, illness etc. I recall one time I broke curfew. My watch battery had died, rather inconveniently, without my realizing it. Surely the alcohol didn’t help but I wasn’t trying to stay out too late. Those circumstances however did not lessen the consequences.

The pair of sin and misery should be obvious from our experience, not simply from Scripture. The creation groans every moment declaring to us the reality of this dynamic duo.

Some externalize sin, as though it is connected to our circumstances, our environment or the society (forgetting that people created that society). If sin is external to us we just need to fix the circumstances and people won’t sin anymore. So we hear that education or raising people out of poverty will fix crime. This reminds us that just as Adam and Eve immediately shifted blame, people continue to avoid accountability for their action. Something or someone else made us do it. He notes that in the eighteenth century people’s eyes were opened to political and social corruption and saw revolution as the answer. Other forms of government would be free of corruption since it was the form of government to blame, not the people who form governments and run them.

Other views are Platonic, putting sin in the material world. The spirit is good but the material world is bad. Evolutionary theory sees such behavior as remnants of our past animal condition (our lizard brain as some say today). Sin becomes outdated behaviors previously necessary for survival. Others turned to dualism, two gods who co-exist in perpetual conflict.

Scripture “vindicates God and implicates man” regarding sin. It is part of God’s eternal decrees in providence. It didn’t “take place outside the scope of His foreknowledge, His counsel, and His will.” It is something He willed to happen but not something He made happen. Sin is not a substance or thing, but a moral quality or departure from the ethical norm established by God for us. Therefore evil can only come after the good, not at the same time or before the good.

Man was changed by sin but did not cease to be man. His gifts were no longer used to glorify and serve God but as “weapons against God and put in the service of unrighteousness.” Bavinck drops a big indictment: “If anyone could see man as he is, internally and externally, he would discover traits in him which resemble Satan more than they do God.” Sin is not part of creation, but was introduced into this world by man. We made a mess of things (see Gen. 3 & Rom. 5).

Bavinck then moves into the first sin. Adam could not avoid consequences or knowledge that he and Eve had sinned. “They saw each other as they had never before seen each other. They dared not and could not freely and unreservedly look into each other’s eyes. They felt themselves to be guilty and impure, and they sewed fig leaves together in order to cover themselves against each other.” The internal sense of guilt and shame prevailed, as did the thought, “Can I trust that person?” They were immediately alienated from themselves and one another since they had lost the image of God in the narrow sense of righteousness.

They were also alienated from God which they realized as soon as they heard Him coming. They hid instead of running to meet Him.

Bavinck spends time addressing this self alienation, the guilt and shame we experience as consequences not only of that sin but every sin. We lose a sense of “inner, spiritual spontaneity and freedom”. It is tied to our relationship with God. The Puritans distinguished between union with God (which does not and cannot change due to the covenant of grace) and communion or fellowship with God which does change. As I explain to my congregation, my love for my kids will not change (union) but my experience of their relationship is affected by our behavior towards one another (fellowship). When we sin we lose a sense of fellowship. We feel guilty and impure in His eyes too.

Bavinck then traces this reality through Scripture to explain the universality of sin. As he notes, “the whole preaching of the gospel is built on this assumption.” Yet, how is it that we all share in this sinful condition?

The Problem of Pelagianism

He begins with the Pelagian explanation of imitation. Each sinful act is isolated and does not change the nature of the person nor humanity in the case of Adam. People are born innocent and remain free, always to choose freely between good and evil with no proclivity. People sin, often, because they follow the example of others (disregarding the consequences they see, I guess). And yet the only sinless one was Jesus. Bavinck finds this view refuted on nearly every page of Scripture as well as our own experience. Sin is not like a dirty garment that can be changed and we feel clean. Guilt and shame persist even when no one else knows what we have done.

“Sin makes us guilty and it makes us unclean; it robs us of peace of mind and heart, is followed by regret and remorse, confirms us in the inclination, the listing, towards evil, and gets us into a condition in which, finally, we can no longer offer resistance to the power of sin but succumb to even the slightest temptation.”

He continues to note that a bad environment could influence us unless we had that disposition toward evil in our hearts. This also explains why good environments often produce rotten children. We have actively responding hearts which are tainted at the core. Bad examples may cause us to move in a different reaction, or follow along the path of least resistance. I know people who had horrible upbringings. They resolved to not be like their parents, and they weren’t. But they weren’t necessarily godly either.

Consider the responses to sexual abuse. We can think of a person’s response as active or passive, permissive or prohibitive. An active permissive response is the person who actively pursues promiscuity and/or exhibitionism. This is the woman who ends up in some version of the sex trade, male predator or the sex addict of various kinds. The passive permissive can’t say “no” because they have no boundaries: their body and sexuality are community property. I counseled someone who asked if it was okay if the janitor at work touch her breast. She was passively permissive. The active prohibitive person actively rejects their sexuality either because they take the blame or think all others of the offending sex are predators. So some move into homosexuality or destroy themselves so they won’t attract unwanted sexual advances. Passive prohibition is the frigid person. They relate to others and may even get married but suffer from sexual anorexia. They don’t want sex and only engage in it reluctantly if they do. We see a variety of sinful responses to the sin done to us.

Bavinck reminds us that the environment provides occasions to sin but that the desire to sin is in our hearts. Sinful thoughts and images may appear unbidden by us or our environment. These rotten fruits don’t make us bad trees, but are produced by us because we are bad trees.

The Insufficiency of Semi-Pelagianism

He then shifts to the semi-Pelagian or Arminian view. They affirm moral corruption proceeding from Adam’s sin. They don’t seem to follow this to its natural conclusion of radical depravity, however.

Bavinck chases down the notion of lust or desire. Semi-Pelagianism sees these desires as part of our human nature and neutral or good. Calvin distinguished lust from desire. Desire was not sinful in itself. The desire for sex itself is not sinful. But sexual lust is desire for the wrong person (not your spouse), wrong gender (same sex attraction), wrong creature (bestiality) or an inordinate desire meaning it controls you rather than you controlling it. Our desires have been corrupted, or flow from a corrupted heart.

In Romans 7 we see that Paul measured his desires by the law of God. It was then that he realized that they were corrupt and he was guilty. It caused him to cry out for redemption.

Both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagian seek to discover the cause of universal sinfulness in each individual. “According to semi-Pelagianism each man falls by himself alone because quite by his own choice he takes the inherited but not sinful desire up into his will and converts it into a sinful deed.”

He then introduces the spread of ideas similar to Buddhism with the pre-existence of the soul. We see this in Mormonism as people knew God but when sent to Earth they basically had their memory wiped and had to discover the truth about God (what a horrible way to view life). Like the seed theory of human existence, this merely begs the question. How did the pre-existent souls fall?

Radical Depravity

Humanity, he argues, is not simply the aggregate of individuals. We are a unity. Though there are many branches, we are of one tree. Physically we descend from one couple. Juridically we are one because of the covenant of works in which we all find ourselves. A more clear expression of Adam as our covenant head would have been helpful. He gets there when he begins to unfold Romans 5 but that should be in big neon lights, from my perspective. This one man’s sin brought sin and death into the world not simply because Adam was the first man but our covenant head. It is this same principle, in Romans 5, which reveals how we are saved through the Second Adam as He is head of the covenant of grace.

All men die in Adam. He made us all mortal beings. We live as “dead men walking”: we are on death row awaiting the execution of our sentence.

Grace comes not after one sin but a multitude of sins. Grace is greater than all our sins, as the song goes in reflecting Paul’s explanation in Romans 5.

“The whole history of the world is proof of the fact that mankind, both in its entirety and in its individual membership, is guilty before the face of God, has a morally corrupted nature, and is at all times subject to decay and death.”

Original sin, therefore begins with original guilt and includes original pollution from which our actual sins do flow. We are depraved, unable to do any spiritual good for our salvation. We are prone to wander, attracted to sin. Faith stops looking back at Paradise lost to charge Adam but looks to the cross to see the abundant love of Christ who offers us His glory.

Original Sin Unfolded

His discussion of original sin is very helpful. It is the ruined root of our actions. It is an unholy fountain producing actual sins. “All such sins have a common origin: they stem from the heart of man.” Though there are thousands of sin, the seed of the all is in the heart of every person. Yes, what you think unthinkable in this moment is a sin you may actually commit in the “right” circumstances. It won’t simply be the circumstances but the overflow of your heart.

He discusses the various classifications of sins that we use (thought, word and deed; omission and commission; private and public etc.). He warns us that sin is a slippery slope. We cannot go down partway and expect to come back up easily. His explanation of James 1:14-15 is perhaps the best I’ve read, and by best I mean helpful.

“When someone is tempted to evil the cause of it does not lie in God, but in his own lust. This lust is the mother of sin. This lust is not in itself, however, enough to bring forth sin (that is, the sinful deed, whether of thought, word or deed). It must first conceive and become pregnant. That happens when the reason and the will are united with the lust. It is then, when lust is impregnated by the will, that it brings for the sinful deed. And when this seed in turn grows up, develops, and reaches its maturity, it bears death.”

Not all sinners or groups of sinners are the same. Families and even nations will struggle with different sins. “Every class and status in society, every vocation and business, every office and profession brings with it its own peculiar dangers and its own peculiar sins.” We need to reckon with this. It is easy to see the sins of other people and groups. This breeds the animosity we see between groups of people because we fail to see the sins of our people and groups. We use the sins of the other to excuse the sins of our own. Oppression is the reason some riot, and the rioting provides justification for the oppression since that group is obviously out of control. Round and round it goes instead of each group repenting of their sins and seeking forgiveness (macro- and micro-) for those sins. We walk the path of retribution rather than reconciliation. This is what original sin produces.

“In sin too there is a system.” This was helpful for me in addressing systemic sin that manifests itself in systemic oppression and racism in a recent sermon. Sin is systemic and produces sinful systems. This does not exclude personal sin but recognizes we are both individuals and part of groups. Sin is expressed individually in personal transgressions and systemically in sinful systems that oppress others. It is not either/or as some forms of fundamentalism or cultural Marxism want us to think. As I used to have on the wall of my cubicle at Ligonier: It all leads back to depravity.

“The history of the world is not a blindly operating evolutionary process, but an awful drama, a spiritual struggle, centuries-long in duration, a warfare between the Spirit from above and the spirit from below, between Christ and anti-Christ, between God and Satan.”

Degrees of Sin

The wages of all sin is death, but as has been noted by many, not all sins are equal in kind and decree. I usually go to differences between sins of property (theft) and person (adultery or murder) as explored in the civil law and its penalties. The punishment for theft and fornication is restitution. The penalty for murder and adultery is death.

Bavinck talks about the differences between sins of ignorance and presumption, which is an important distinction in Numbers. He notes the differences between the two tables of the law. He notes the different circumstances. “Therefore not all sins are equally grave nor deserving of the same punishment.” He continues to discuss the difference between sins against the ceremonial law versus those against the moral law.

They all begin, as we’ve noted repeatedly, from the same source. They are all sin, bearing guilt and producing shame. Yet, Bavinck affirms civil righteousness. “Not all who walk the broad way walk equally fast or make the same progress.” The reason for this is not in ourselves. The reason is found in the restraining grace of God. He has not abandoned the reprobate completely but restrains sin for their good, the good of society and the good of the elect. People are like wild animals under the harness, he says. Family, neighborhoods, government with their ideas of decency, peer pressure, punishment etc. restrain sin as secondary means. People do “civil good”. Bavinck returns to the Canons of Dordt to remind us that confessionally we can do no spiritual good for our salvation, not that we are unable to obey the laws instituted by government or families. He sees this as part of the common grace of God. But these institutions cannot renew man or even prevent all sins. There is a struggle between sin and grace in the hearts of individuals, in families and societies.

In this context he discusses the hardening of the heart as both by God and man. Humans harden their hearts by resisting common grace and become not simply implicit but explicit enemies of God. God hardens hearts judicially by withdrawing restraining (common) grace. In this larger context he (rightly) understand the blasphemy of the Spirit as a conscious rejection of God’s rich revelation and illumination by the Spirit. In other words, this is not a sin of which the doubting Christian is guilty.

This is a lengthy and exhaustive chapter. He touches on more than I’ve laid out here. In the interests of time and space I’ve tried to hit the highlights. Alas there are so many. This is a book and chapter well-worth our time.

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When I was in school we had to read Animal Farm by George Orwell. Not only that but we read 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 amidst all the Shakespeare and The Hobbit. Sadly many public school systems don’t require students to read this books. Apparently they aren’t concerned about totalitarianism like our school system was. I ended up buying copies of these books. It is time read them again.

While donating plasma, I’ve begun to read Animal Farm: A Fairy Tale. It is an easy read with relatively short chapters. Since many of you, my dear readers, seemingly have not actually read this book I will blog on it as I go.

George Orwell was the pen name for Eric Blair. He was a novelist, critic, and journalist. I think he was an atheist though his paternal grandfather was a clergyman. His great-grandfather was a wealthy countryman who was an absentee landlord of plantations in Jamaica. His father worked in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. How’s that for a background?

As a child he went to a school run by Roman Catholic nuns. After school he worked in Burma for a number of years as a police man. There he became familiar with oppression. After returning to London he spent time investigating its poor neighborhoods to see how the poor lived. He then moved to Paris, lived in a working class neighborhood and began to write novels. It was written toward the end of WWII and released in 1946.

Orwell opposed totalitarianism through his writing. Oddly, he supported Democratic Socialism. The latter is probably a result of seeing the oppression of others. Animal Farm is an allegory that surely seems to be based on the Bolsheviek revolution. Orwell did fight on the side of the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. As a result, color me confused. But let’s look at Animal Farm.

Chapter 1: The Dream

This novella takes place on the Manor Farm in the English countryside. It is owned by Mr. Jones who seemed to like his alcohol a bit too much. His drunken neglect led to the animals to begin meeting to plot his demise, or at least overthrow.

England was a stratified society with very little social mobility. We see this, or at least I do, in the different roles the animals had. Each had their place on the farm and they were not interchangeable. In a capitalist society, you often find work according to your abilities. You don’t last long if you can’t do the job unless you worked for the old Xerox Business Services where you had to rob a client blind to get fired. Each animal had a task suitable to its nature and physical make up. Horses like Boxer and Mollie pulled things, chickens laid eggs, cows produced milk and pigs got fattened up. Dogs protected the animals and herded them.

We are introduced to Old Major, a pig, on a raised platform to speak to the barnyard animals. Like a good Communist, he addressed them as “Comrades”. He shared a dream he had and spoke about their “miserable, laborious, and short” lives. No animals in England were free according to Old Major. Mr. Jones oppressed and exploited them. They were alienated from the fruit of their labor and often their loins.

Here we can see some of the problems that emerged with the industrial revolution. Work was hard and you got a wage rather than the profits of what you sold like in an agrarian and trade society. There was less risk, and therefore less opportunity accumulate wealth unless you had wealth to invest already. Oddly, Mr. Jones was not a wealthy farmer. He was getting by, and that’s about it. He wasn’t a good manager of his farm or his wealth. Not all capitalists were and the people they employed suffered. Some were wise, at least with money, and built empires. Others also helped their employees (see The Search for God and Guinness)

Russia, however, wasn’t quite a capitalist nation. It was mismanaged by the Czars. They did live well, at the expense of the people.

Old Major identifies human beings as the enemy and oppressor. In Marxist thought (political or cultural) if you just get rid of the oppressor all will be well. “Almost overnight we could become rich and free.” Sound familiar? This same lie is being floated today after the collapse of nearly every Communist country except China who integrated some measure of capitalism (among the elites).

This polarization has often led to genocides. One group of people (Jews, Armenians, Christians, Tutsi etc.) is dehumanized and demonized prior to being slaughtered. These are not ideas interested in reconciliation, compromise and peace. They lead toward extermination.

Old Major isn’t sure if the wild animals were on their side or not so he asked for a vote. But he was clear that no animals were to imitate humans. He continued: “Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. And remember also that in fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him. Even when you have conquered him, do not adopt his vices. No animal must ever live in a house, or sleep in a bed, or wear clothes, or drink alcohol, or smoke tobacco, or touch money, or engage in trade. All the habits of Man are evil.”

Old Major is a theorist, an idealist. He is an ideologue. He defines enemies who must not be won over but destroyed. You don’t build your own business, but destroy the “oppressor” who built the world you despise. “No animal must tyrannize over his own kind. Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers.” He concludes by teaching them a song, Beasts of England.

Chapter 2: The Rebellion

Three days later Old Major died in his sleep. The animals began to prepare for the Rebellion. The role of teaching and organizing “naturally” fell upon the pigs. Two rose to the top: Snowball and Napoleon. Snowball was the talker but Napoleon had a way of getting his way. Along with Squealer they turned Old Major’s lessons into a system of thought they called Animalism. While Mr. Jones slept they’d teach the other animals. They were practitioners: putting theory into practice. Snowball and Napoleon appear to represent Trotsky and Lenin respectively.

One Sunday in June, Mr. Jones stumbled home from the pub. While he collapsed on the sofa, the animals had enough. The Rebellion was on. Smashed doors awakened him. Mr. Jones rushed out to help his men but they were kicked and butted. Mrs. Jones, witnessing this, packed her bags and fled.

As the ribbons were tossed into the fire, one of the horses, Mollie, began to realize this was not the Paradise she was promised. She loved those ribbons in her mane. As they plundered the main house, she was found admiring a ribbon she found in the bedroom. Her longing for the past had begun. The farm house was declared to be a museum to remember the cruelty of the past.

The pigs then revealed that they had reduced the teachings of Animalism into 7 commandments:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall wear clothes.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
  7. All animals are equal.

These were crudely painted on the wall of the barn for all the animals to see, when they were taught to read. These laws were more about not being human and about being an animal.

Soon reality struck home again when they discovered that no one had milked the cows. There was no one to milk the cows. The pigs figured out a way to do it “fairly successfully.”

I am reminded of the end of colonialization in Africa. It needed to end, don’t get me wrong. But the Europeans hadn’t trained people to run the country. They learned tasks, not leadership and the allocation of resources. In places like the DRC, the infrastructure has rotted. Libraries collapsed, trains were kept shiny in depots instead of carrying freight or people. In a revolution in which you kill or exile the ruling class no one has the necessary expertise to manage a country.

The animals rejoiced that they had 5 buckets of fresh milk. It was declared that it would be poured in their mash. Napoleon told them to not worry about it and get to work since it was time to bring in the hay. He would take care of the milk. He did, and they didn’t get any as promised.

From the beginning, the leaders (aka the pigs) showed they were not equal to the rest of the animals. They had privilege. Someone always has privilege. Some gain it by hard work, others by by theft and others by manipulation. The pigs took it feeling entitled since they had risen to the ruling elite.

Animal Farm was influential in the writing of the Pink Floyd album Animals. This album is lost between Wish You Were Here and The Wall. The songs are long and filled with anger, fitting Roger Waters’ mood at the time. Interestingly enough, this was when Waters began to take over the band much like Napoleon. It is an album I enjoy but after that tour they seemingly refused to play anything from the album in future live shows.


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I was tempted to handle the subjects of the The Origin, Essence, and Purpose of Man as well as Sin and Death in separate posts. That is because these two chapters in The Wonderful Works of God are quite lengthy. They are firmly packed, much like the rabbit Hawkeye used for the pregnancy test in MASH. But … here we go!

M*A*S*H Notes — (*DISPATCH*) s06e19: What's Up, Doc?

The Origin of Man

The origin of man covers familiar territory as Bavinck again returns Darwinism as a possible explanation for the origin of man. But he also mentions that Scripture is silent about the creation of the angels. I noted in my margin that the Scriptures are written to men, not angels, and our origin is very important to that audience and the origin of angels… not so much. We are curious but it is not important for us to know. We may decide what we want to know but God decides what we need to know (see Genesis 2-3 and that whole Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil thing).

God deliberates with Himself prior to the creation of man which we don’t see elsewhere in Genesis 1. The result of this deliberation is to make man alone in the image of God. Bavinck reminds us that it is not man alone who bears the image but both man and woman in interdependence who bear God’s image. As God’s image they are to rule the earth as vice-regents. Eden, in light of this, is a land grant from the Great King & Creator to Adam. Land wasn’t granted to serfs but to nobles. Adam is a king, and Eve is a queen.

When he gets to the second account of man’s creation it is almost as if Bavinck anticipates the Framework Hypothesis. Some mistake it as a second creation story. They tell the same story but have a different focus. Chapter 1 is the whole stage that is set, the context into which Adam will be created in greater detail in chapter 2. Chapter 1 deals with creation, and chapter 2 with Paradise. The common element is that humanity is the crown of creation, the one for whom these environments were made.

In Genesis 2 we also see the probationary command. There are other commands he must follow. He is to keep the Garden: cultivating and preserving it. There is the provision of food through his work. The sole prohibition has to do with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam gains dominion through his work, but he must submit to God in that work. He serves his Creator and Lawgiver in dependence upon Him.

We also see the gift of a woman and the institution of marriage. He was not created to be alone: “He must be able to express himself, reveal himself, and give himself.” As many have discovered “Solitude is poverty, forsakenness, gradual pining and wasting away.” This is why solitary confinement is so painful a penalty. Many lose their minds, and as we see in Papillon (the account of French prison colonies by Henri Charriere) many waste away and die in solitary confinement.

Papillon: Charriere, Henri: Amazon.com: Books

Adam is the “source and head” of the human race. Woman is created out of him, and for him. Yet they are dependent on one another.

“She is out of Adam and yet is another than Adam. She is related to him and yet is different from him. She belongs to the same kind and yet in that kind she occupies her own unique position. She is dependent and yet she is free. She is after Adam and out of Adam, but owes her existence to God alone. … She is his helper, not as a mistress and much less as a slave, but as an individual, independent, and free being, who received her existence not from man but from God, who is responsible to God, and who was added to man as a free an unearned gift.”

Yes, he says far more about women than most conservative theologians of the 20th century!

Humanity can’t stop wondering about its origins. If one discards Scripture and therefore creation something must fill the gap. “Evolution is the magic word which in our times must somehow solve all problems about the origin and essence of creatures.” They proceed from the assumption that matter, energy and motion are eternal which is fairly arbitrary. He did not have the benefit of AI to help prove the statistical impossibility of evolution. The odds of positive gene mutation successfully mutating, based on a recent AI experience and subsequent article is 1 times 10 to the 77th power. And yet, science is believed to render God unnecessary. Some inexplicably argue for an endless creation out of nothing. It makes more sense to them for life to be seeded by an alien civilization (yet not explain their life) or our universe to be an experiment by an alien society (outside the universe, obviously) which again begs the question.

Bavinck distinguishes between the facts to which evolution appeals and the philosophical view with which it interprets them. In other words, the facts are viewed through presuppositions. The question is: is the presupposition reasonable? He argues this hypothesis (many evolutionists hate this word) came first and is used to interpret facts rather than facts driving the hypothesis. But this hypothesis sees life as struggle, the struggle for existence. Bavinck reminds us that life also includes cooperation and help. And love. The sacrifice of love would seem to argue against the drive to survive as ultimate.

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

The Essence of Man

He speaks at great length about other issues concerning our origin. I want/need to move on to the essence of man. What you believe about the essence of man flows out of what you believe about his origin. “If man is not of Divine but animal origin and has gradually “evolved” himself he owes everything to himself alone, as his own lawgiver, master, and lord.” Man, in this view is autonomous and all morality is social construct (though he doesn’t use that term). Biblically, on the other hand, the essence of man is the image of God. Ideas, as Sproul often said, have consequences.

He contrasts man with the animals. Man is not a descendant of other animals but rather a “great gulf” called the image of God separates them. This also separates men from angels. He briefly describes the nature of angels as revealed in Scripture. There is no covenant head for angels. Those lost are lost forever since they have no Redeemer who has taken their nature.

Bavinck argues that image and likeness amplify each other. They support one another. Man is “a perfect and totally corresponding image of God. … As creature man is absolutely dependent upon God and yet as man he is a free and independent being.”

In this context he turns to 1 Corinthians 11 which some see as denying woman as part of the imago dei. “Hence man is the image and glory of God directly and originally; the woman is the image and glory of God in a derived way in that his is the glory of man.” There may be a typo there: hers is the glory of man? He argues that she receives the image of God because she is created from man. This is largely a passage about headship, or covenant relationships, not ontology.

He then moves to the meaning of the image. After the Fall man continues in the image of God as we see from Genesis 5:1-3 and 9:6 (as well as James 3). Yet, that image must be renewed or restored in salvation (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10. He, therefore, distinguishes between a broad and narrow sense of the image. This is a distinction that Lutherans don’t make. They focus (in Bavinck’s day) on the original righteousness of man, the narrow sense. He then argues that “the religio-moral life of man is held to be a special and isolated area. It is not related to, and it exercises no influence upon, the work to which man is called in state and society, and in art and science.” I wonder if this is the root of what is called R2K (radical 2 kingdoms view). I am not read up on that position but my superficial understanding sees that disconnect between faith and life in the kingdom of men which troubles me. But I need to spend time looking into R2K.

Rome, on the other hand, make the distinction between the two senses. They externalize it instead of internalizing it, however. This explains their dependence on natural law, religion and morality. Grace is added to nature, not given to restore fallen nature. Following Aquinas they use a nature and grace formulation. Man didn’t lose anything in sin, but grace can be added to him. This means, for Bavinck, that “it serves as a restraint upon the flesh, and it clears the way for merits to heaven.” Grace enables salvation rather than brings salvation.

In Reformed Theology, man loses original righteousness. He continues to be man, bearing the image in the broader sense. Sin is not inherent in human nature but is a property of fallen humans. Grace comes to bring salvation and restore the narrow sense of the image.

Bavinck then talks about the soul, which he sees as spirit. Due to the spiritual nature of a human soul man is immortal.

The Purpose of Man

In looking at the purpose of man we must go back to Genesis 2, the origin and essence of man. We see that we work as part of the image of God. We don’t work without plan or purpose. Without purpose or plan we work hopelessly. Adam worked to expand the Garden to the glory of God (this is more Beale than Banvinck). He worked under the authority of God, in the way appointed for him. “He lived in paradise, but not yet in heaven. He still had a long way to go before he arrived at his proper destination.” He was to trust and obey God. We work to glorify God. Work is worship as a result.

As the Shorter Catechism puts it, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Our origin, essence and purpose are all tied together. Though distinct they can never be separated. A man with accidental origin has the essence of other animals and no purpose. He comes from nothing, goes to nothing and amounts to nothing. This is the sad consequence that evolutionary thinking leads us to. Philosophers have tried to rescue us from such hopelessness by the “will to power”. Others have merely told us to live in the existential angst.

Christianity holds out to us a meaningful and sensible origin story, a unique essence and a grand purpose that alone answers the longings of the heart (which shouldn’t exist in an evolutionary world view). Humanity is a wonderful work of God, not the result of random accidents in a meaningless universe.

Since Bavinck dealt with these issues so exhaustively, for what is supposed to be an abridged version (much my copy of Papillon) I’ve decided to change course and address Sin and Death in another post.

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CavWife periodically says something like this: “I’m just trying to understand the way you think.”

I get the idea that she isn’t the only one. Some people seem to think “What’s his problem?” Or “Why can’t he just let it go?”

One of the keys to understanding me, and how my mind works is what John Frame calls “cognitive rest”. This is the idea that one’s mind will not rest until it finds “sufficient answers”. I often experience this as I write sermons. What I’m saying doesn’t make sense, yet. There is a missing piece that brings all these thoughts together. I could be I’m not fully grasping the text, not making a logical connection explicit or expressing it in a way that the average person will “get it”. The light bulb hasn’t yet gone off in my head, so I shouldn’t expect it to go off in their heads.

I’ve got some of that now. I write sermons on Thursdays. Yesterday’s took too long. Something wasn’t right, yet. I lacked cognitive rest, my mind was therefore still working the problem. On my walk this morning I may have finally found that “sufficient answer” to my sermon problem as I processed Bavinck’s chapter on sin as I walked. Well, it started as I read some of Bavinck this morning. I think I’ve got the idea that pulls it all together now, and my mind can rest.

Some people have a higher tolerance for cognitive dissonance. They can live with answers that just don’t quite measure up. I. Can’t.

It is a blessing, and a curse.

The quest for cognitive rest is what drives many to genius. Okay, they were geniuses but that dissonance drive them to discover new answers to replace the old, insufficient and sometimes patently wrong answers. It can also drive others to madness if they lack the ability to put the pieces together. It can drive even geniuses to madness if it is the unsolvable problem.

2020 has been the year of cognitive dissonance. It did start a bit early with some personal relationships that went awry and I couldn’t make sense of all the data. Something was missing. Still is.

Image may contain: Steve Cavallaro, sitting
2020 is breaking bad on us all.

Then people in my life started dying. This times the cries of pandemic were matched by nightly death tolls. But not all the data matched up. Then there was an election, which used the pandemic as an excuse to change all the rules, and the results still don’t make sense of other data.

It has been the endless quest for cognitive rest about masks, government mandates, elections and the role of fraud, racial issues and on it goes. While I may find cognitive rest for Sundays’ sermons there are other scenarios about which my brain still churns.

Some people are mad (angry) or going mad (insane) because of my quest for cognitive rest.


Another part of who I am is that I am an external processor. I think out loud.

This has gotten me in plenty of trouble in the past. One girlfriend (#4) assumed my external processing was the final conclusion. As a result she became ex-girlfriend #4 which is much better than ex-wive #___.

One of the dangers of pastoral ministry is that I largely work alone. There is no one to talk to in the next room. Other pastors have lives too. Our times together can’t be dominated by my quest for cognitive rest. Nor can our Session meetings etc. Being a pastor is a lonely experience.

One reason I blog is to process ideas. I’m thinking out loud.

The same goes for Facebook. Sometimes I think out loud, I’m trying to make sense of these things that don’t add up to me. Perhaps they add up for you, but my mind hasn’t or can’t put those pieces together. What satisfies you has not satisfied me. It could make me stupid. Or proud. Or inquisitive. Or …

To complicate things there are those who try to shut down the quest for cognitive rest. There is simple dismissal, outright opposition and the joy of personal attacks. “Why can’t you just shut up and get with the program?” is basically what some people try to say to me. Not, “Here’s where I think you’ve taken the wrong turn…”.

This is not something you “get over”. It isn’t like nursing a hurt. That is stuff to let go, and if you can’t see a counselor to help you. That is a conclusion you didn’t like. That is about grief.

I’m thinking about the reason for the conclusions. I’m following facts and they don’t add up. Do you get the difference?

The “year that makes no sense” has met the “brain that seeks to make sense of things.” Unstoppable force vs. immovable object. But this is who I am, and these are the unchangeable circumstances we find ourselves in right now. Either I’ll gain the insight I seek, or people will finally say “you may be onto something” or it will break me. Or maybe, in the providence of God, these things won’t matter much anymore.

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From the source of knowledge of God, Herman Bavink shifts to the actual knowledge we have about God in The Wonderful Works of God. You could call this section The Wonderful God Who Works, but he didn’t. The primary purpose for Scripture in the WSC is to know what we are to believe concerning God.

Scripture doesn’t tell us everything we want to know about God. There are things unrevealed that belong to God, but what has been revealed is for us and our children (Deut. 29:29).

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

Bavinck lays out two methods for such inquiry. We can listen to the Christian as he speaks in something like the Heidelberg Catechism, or we as Christians can “trace out what order is objectively present in the truths of the faith themselves.” He reminds us that we do either not in isolation but in fellowship with our brothers and sisters. Theologizing is a community project. As one of my professors stressed, that community is not limited to the present but includes those of the past.

We cannot ultimately disconnect the doctrine of God from the doctrine of salvation. Jesus said that eternal life was knowing the One, True God and the One He has sent (John 17:3). Those who have eternal life are not content with their knowledge of God, but long to know God more and better. This is because, as Bavink notes from Scripture, He is the fountain of salvation. “In God we find all our well-being and all our glory.”

Those who reject the authority of Scripture try to reason their ways to God either rationally or empirically. They inevitably end up claiming to be agnostic, claiming God to be unknowable, but Bavinck sees this as practical atheism, a denial of the existence (better, subsistence as Sproul would say) or at least the importance of God. He notes that Calvin warns us against trying to wrest God’s secrets from Him (he loved Dt. 29:29).

Scripture does not reason to God, or explain His origins like some Marvel movie. He is. We immediately see His transcendence over creation as He speaks it into existence. He merely speaks and it exists. The nations, which seem so large and important to us, are a mere drop in the bucket to Him.

As creatures, the knowledge we have of God through the books of nature and Scripture “is limited, finite, fragmentary, but it is nevertheless true and pure.” He notes that Rome prefers to speak of negative and positive attributes, Lutherans of quiescent (being at rest, still or inactive) and operative attributes. They both get at what Bavinck notes as the difference between transcendence and immanence. Transcendence saves us from polytheism and pantheism. Immanence preserves us from deism and atheism. Reformed Theology has called these the incommunicable and communicable attributes. We distinguish between them, but they do not stand apart since they are all attributes, and “His attributes coincide with His being.” They are who He is, both communicable and incommunicable. “He is everything that He possesses and is the source of everything that creatures possess. He is the abundant source of all goods.”

Incommunicable Attributes

These demonstrate that “all that is in God exists in Him in an absolutely Divine way, and is therefore not susceptible to being shared by creatures.” These, in English, are the attributes that are not shared with creatures. These include aseity or independence or self-existence. He is not contingent, meaning He relies on no one and nothing to subsist. He has life in Himself not from someone or something else. He is unchangeable or immutable, not subject to the variableness of creatures. He is simple meaning that He has no parts. Being eternal, God transcends time, penetrating every moment of time. He is also omnipresent or transcends space while also sustaining all space by His power. While he affirms the omniscience of God elsewhere, it is missing here. God knows all things perfectly, including Himself.

Take any of these attributes away and He is but a creature, identified with creation. “God is the one God and the only God only if no one and no thing can be what He is alongside of Him or under Him.” Only if He is God in this way can He be the object of our faith and salvation.

Communicable Attributes

These attributes tell us who God is in relation to His creatures. Additionally those attributes can be shared, in a lesser degree (not infinite) by His creatures. He is wise, just, mighty, holy, gracious and merciful. We also can be such but not perfectly or immutably in this life. Some of these attributes are reflected in names like God Almighty, or the God who Provides.

The love of God, for instance, finds its source in Him and not in us. It is “independent, unchangeable, simple, eternal, and omnipresent.” It doesn’t depend on our loveliness and isn’t produced in reaction to some great deed done by us. It neither grows nor wanes as human love does.

The idols of men have no such attributes. They do not see nor speak. They do not hear nor act. People love such illusions because they can treat these gods as they please and manipulate them. Idolatry makes no sense being born of sin. Why worship a god you can control? Why worship a god who can’t really be God? But in the atheistic flight from accountability, people either kill God or fashion a manageable god.

But He is the living God. As such He is the fountain of life. Simple, He is Spirit and has no body or parts.

Holiness is closely related to righteousness and justice. He has no fellowship with sin but rather it kindles His wrath. As a result, He cannot hold the guilty guiltless. “His wrath is kindled against native and actual sins, and He wants to punish them both temporally and eternally by way of a righteous judgment.” Justice is satisfied as mercy is poured out because the wrath of God has been poured out on the Son. “But while the ungodly conceal their sins or gloss over them, the saints acknowledge them and confess them.”

The Divine Trinity

From the Divine Being he moves to the Trinity. The temptation is to think that the Trinity is a human construction. But we are “dealing with God Himself, with the one and true God, who has revealed Himself as such in His Word.” The Church has always confessed a Triune God, and we give ourselves fully to all three persons in faith. The Church has been entrusted with this treasure for safekeeping.

He reminds us of the progressive nature of revelation. More was revealed over time. What was revealed was not contradictory but a fuller picture of the truth. It becomes clearer and more glorious. In the OT we see the focus on the unity of God, particularly through the Shema. Because He is One, His people must love Him in wholeness (all your heart, mind, soul and strength) rather than in divided fashion reserving some love for Baal or Molech.

In the OT revelation we also encounter the Angel of the Lord or the covenant. This Angel appears at key moments. He is distinguished from God and yet also bears the name of God (see Gen. 16:13 for instance). This Angel is a mediating presence for God. “The revelation of God in the Angel of the covenant and in the Spirit of the Lord proved inadequate: if God wanted to confirm His covenant and fulfill His promise, another and higher revelation would be necessary.” And we see the Servant of the Lord arise in the prophets. His coming will bring a richer dispensation (administration) of the Spirit.

While the Trinity was progressively revealed, culminating in the NT revelation of the Father, Son and Spirit we should recognize that these relationships existed (subsisted?) in eternity. The Father has eternally begotten or generated the Son, and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. While they are united in willing salvation for the elect, we see different roles in the economic Trinity: the Father elects & sends, the Son is sent & accomplishes salvation and the Spirit applies that salvation.

While the Church as held to the Trinity from its beginning in Acts 2, there have been challenges as the Church has sought to fully understand what has been revealed and confessed. On the one hand there was a rejection of the Trinity through views of those like Arius. He believed that the Son was the first created being through whom the rest was made. Similarly, the Spirit was a creature or an attribute of God but not God. On the other hand was the stress on the three at the expense of the one: Sabellianism. He taught that God appeared as three successive modes: Father, Son and Spirit. They were not co-eternal but successive.

As they Church grappled with these ideas they used terms not found in Scripture. “For the Holy Scripture was not given to the church of God to be thoughtlessly repeated but to be understood in all its fullness and riches, and to be restated in its own language in order that in this way it might proclaim the mighty works of God.” So go ahead and use words like Trinity, hypostatic union, and cherioperisis. But, he notes, we should remember these terms are imperfect because they are the tools of men to describe the infinite wonders of God.

“In the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is contained the whole salvation of men.”

Creation and Providence

God reveals Himself to us in His words and works contained in Scripture, and we learn to glorify Him from them. The living God works to create and then to sustain and govern all He has created. God does this freely. No one and no thing forced Him to create and sustain. God took counsel in Himself and willed these courses of action. “The fact that things and events, including the sinful thoughts and deeds of men, have been eternally known and fixed in that counsel of God does not rob them of their own character but rather establishes and guarantees them all…” Bavinck delves into the eternal decrees as well as the use of means and the doctrine of concurrence.

In terms of creation, Bavinck addresses the origin of all things. Shortly before he wrote there was a seismic shift in science thanks to Charles Darwin. “Science can supply no answer to it. Science is itself a creature and a product of time. … Science cannot penetrate to the moment when they were given reality.” He is not anti-science. He recognizes the limitations of science as work done by finite and sinful human beings. There are questions is can answer and questions it cannot. Both here, and later in his discussion of humanity, Bavinck interacts with and critiques evolutionary theory. “It is at best an expression of the process through which things go when once they exist.” Evolution cannot explain how we got here, nor the differences between species. We can see small scale evolution: the development or change of a particular species through “natural selection”. But we find no evidence (then and now) for development from one species to another.

Materialism argues that matter was “primary, eternal, and having always had energy as its potential.” Pantheism, on the other hand, argues that energy is primary and that matter is a manifestation of energy. Scientific man, avoiding God, places his hopes in explanations that can’t really explain. They are no better than the gods of the nations. God is being, but the world has become and is always becoming. Scripture helps us to not confuse God and creation. The world is contingent or dependent upon God. Made by God, creation continues to be dependent upon Him to maintain it.

Space and time are part of creation. Bavinck notes that Augustine was right: God did not make the world in time, but together with time and time with the world. From here he moves into Genesis 1. He rejects the gap theory (Thomas Chalmers) since the world was without form, not that it had form but then became without form. God made the earth precisely so humanity would live on it. He separates and fills creation for this express purpose.

God did this in the span of six days, not as Augustine thought six view points of the instantaneous creation. Bavinck does note that the first few days were different from the rest because there was no sun to revolve around. He also ponders about the length of the 6th day since so much seemed to happen on that day. “However all this may have been, the six days remain the creation week within which the heaven and earth and all their hosts were made.”

Bavinck rules out “theistic evolution” but not development. “Creation and development do not therefore exclude each other. Creation, rather, is the starting point for all development. … All such evolution takes its point of departure, and at the same time its direction and its purpose, for this creation.” This creation, for Bavinck in submission to Genesis 1, includes the many kinds of animals and plants. It is not a creation in which protozoa emerge from a primordial soup eventually developing over millions or billions of years into the wide variety of animal and plant life we see today.

Scripture, he says, tell us the world is finite. It had a beginning. It was created along with time. The world will have no end. While not eternal, the world is everlasting. Bavinck seems far less concerned with the age of the earth. He recognizes that the more recent science of his day “infinitely (?) extended our field of vision; the world has become an awesomely bigger place than it was for our forefathers…” This should bring delight to us, as it did him, to behold more of God’s wonderful works in creation.

The world, also from Scripture, is good. He found that statement requiring faith in his day as eighteenth century optimism had given way to the pessimism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This was before the War to end all wars, the Spanish Flu, nuclear proliferation, the rise of communism and the slaughter of tens of millions to bring in such utopias. “Others surrender themselves to discouragement and world-weariness or in visionary dreams hope for a future, a socialistic Utopia, a bliss beyond the grave, a nirvana.” He had seen the beginning of the socialist/workers’ struggle with the rise of unions. But he hadn’t seen the Bolshevik revolution when this was written (1909). But the point is that the creation is good, though now subject to futility thanks to the sin of Adam and the subsequent sins of the sons of Adam.

“For just as the creatures, because they are creatures, cannot come up out of themselves, so too they cannot for a moment exist through themselves. Providence goes hand in hand with creation; the two are companion pieces.” The rejection of this leads to deism (belief in God without revelation), which he argues gives rise to Pelagianism, the idea that salvation is achieved us, not only as a possibility but as a necessity because God is not engaged with creation, with you.

Providence is the almighty and omnipresent power of God to uphold and govern creation and all the creatures therein. Nothing can exist or act apart from His power and will.

While Bavinck insists on maintaining a connection between creation and providence, he also insists on distinguishing them and maintaining that distinction. Here he again warns of pantheism which erases the distinction between God and creation. Deism, he notes again, erases the connection between God and creation through providence.

“At creation something is accomplished and so is completed. True, as was indicated before, the resting of God is not a desisting from all work, for providence, too, is work.” God ceased from creating but not from sustaining and ruling. Creation would collapse if He did.

While God is sovereign over sin (governing all His creations and all their actions), He is not the Author of sin. He touches on this mystery only briefly here. “The man who becomes a slave to sin debases himself and becomes a sheer instrument in His hand. Hence it is possible for Scripture to say that God hardens the heart of man, that He puts a lying spirit into the mouth of the prophets, that by means of Satan He spurs David on to count the people … that He gives men up to the uncleanness of their sins … and that He sets Christ for a fall of many.” God also watches over sin. The cause of sin is in men, not God. God is the “overflowing fountain of all that is good and pure.” Sin is under God’s governance but is charged to the perpetrator of said sin maintaining the distinction between Creator and creature. He introduces cooperation or concurrence. “By this term theology means to do justice to the fact that God is the first cause of all that happens but that under Him and through Him the creatures are active as secondary causes, cooperating with the first.”

There are also many circumstances and events that are “oppressive and that rob(s) us of the strength to live and to act.” Separated from a knowledge of providence, we are prone to discouragement and despair. We trust not that they are the work of a faithful Father. They become either random, or God our enemy.

This section, like the first, was chock full of ideas to chew on and wrestle with. For the sake of brevity, I shall stop here.

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Considering Worship

Today at a local pastors’ lunch we talked about worship. In particular we discussed the use of ancient liturgies, creeds and songs.

It got me to thinking because I’d recently had a conversation about our worship with a member. I pondered the most influential books for me in terms of my views and vision for the worship of the local congregation

The first is Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World. Around 2002-3 RTS Orlando hosted a seminar by Webber on Ancient-Future worship. A few members of our music team came with me to listen and then discuss what we’d heard.

It is important for us to not live in the past, nor in the present. Our faith is an ancient faith. Our faith also exists in a variety of cultural contexts in the present (as well as in the past). Our worship should not be culture bound. Our worship also shouldn’t neglect our culture and time.

We should reflect our ancient faith by using creeds, songs and liturgical forms from the past. This is why we sing the Gloria Patri, the Doxology and many old hymns. We also confess our faith using the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds. Some of our communion prayers are borrowed from older liturgies and pastors from the past.

We also sing newer songs, hymns that have new arrangements, and confess our faith. We don’t have an age minimum, or maximum on elements of our liturgy. What matters is that they communicate the truth about God, man and salvation as revealed in the Scriptures.

The second book that was highly influential is Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practices. The key is in the subtitle. Our worship practices should communicate the fullness of gospel. They should bring us from God’s glory to our sin and then to Christ’s work for our salvation.

Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice Chapell, Bryan cover image

This is why we have a Call to Worship, a Confession of Sin, the Pastoral Prayer, the sermon and then the Sacraments. As I type this I wonder if we should have the pastoral prayer after the sermon wherein we speak most clearly of Christ’s work for us, in us and through us. We utilize Scripture, ancient and newer liturgies and songs.

This means that people used to a “low church” environment often don’t understand what we are doing. They are used to a bunch of songs, time to greet each other, a sermon and maybe an offering. They don’t understand the need to walk down this road each week as, like Luther, I try to remind us of the gospel each week since we are so prone to spiritual amnesia.

The third “influence” was more affirmational than influential. That is Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church by Keith & Krystin Getty.

Sing!: How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church Getty, Kristyn; Getty, Keith cover image

The main point of this book that I took away, and why I gave it to all of our music team members a few years ago is that in terms of our music, the point is congregational singing. It is not about choirs, or the praise band. The musicians are intended to facilitate congregational singing. I love well-performed music. And I love the “joyful noise” of congregants lifting their voices in praise to our God and Savior.

This is our focus: congregational singing. We occasionally have special music by ensembles but that is the exception, not the norm or regular. We want to worship of the people, not just the musically competent. We do want to use the gifts God has given to our members. So we have a number of people playing a variety of instruments in our music team. This has been a priority for me during my ministry.

Our congregation’s music, and overall worship, will not be identical to any other congregation’s. There will be similarities but it will reflect a particular mix of ancient, old and contemporary as well as the particular personalities and gifts present in our congregation. What I do want to do is to utilize the best I can find that regularly communicates the gospel to us in a way we can understand.

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