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Posts Tagged ‘Anselm’


In Calvin’s Institutes, the Essentials Edition, we’ve seen how the knowledge of God gives us a truer knowledge of ourselves. While made in His image, we have fallen into sin and unrighteousness. Instead of glorifying Him, we seek to glorify ourselves (make a name for ourselves) which typically means taking advantage of others and bringing shame to ourselves.

Knowledge of ourselves should humble us. We are not what we were intended to be, but a rather tawdry sham instead. We over-estimate our abilities and good deeds, while we minimize our faults, weakness and wrong-doing.

“However, the person who carefully measures himself by God’s standard finds nothing to give him inner confidence, and the more closely he studies himself, the more dejected he becomes until, bereft of hope, he has nothing to help him lead a well-ordered life.”

We have fallen so far from our created glory as the imago dei. The great endowments of Adam and Eve testified to the “Creator’s extraordinary generosity.” They had done nothing to receive these great gifts from His hand. Their disobedience stripped them of much this glory. “The heavenly image he bore was therefore erased; being estranged from God by sin he was likewise deprived of his share in the blessings which can only be had in him.”

This brings us to total, or radical, depravity. From the womb we are prone to sin. We are not born innocent and then personally fall when we sin for the first time. Calvin argues against Pelagianism briefly. We are not “basically good” and only in need of a good example but better ourselves. Calvin affirms original sin, “a hereditary corruption and perversion of our nature which in the first place renders us guilty of God’s wrath, and in the second produces in us those works which Scripture calls ‘works of the flesh’.”

I wish Calvin added “covenantal” to the hereditary. Adam was not just our father, but our covenant head. In this sense, we are also held accountable for his disobedience.

From here, Calvin moves into his discussion of the freedom of the will. Definitions matter greatly in this discussion, and often they are not laid out appropriately. Calvin notes two dangers: indifference and excessive boldness. When we stress our depravity, people can lapse into indifference or fatalism. They see themselves as unrecoverable, even by the God of grace. When we stress the imago dei, people can have a view of themselves that is unreasonably high, a sense of entitlement.

“To avoid both of these pitfalls, we will follow a middle course. Man must learn that there is no good in him, and that misery and want are all around him. But he must also understand how he may aim at the goodness he lacks and at the freedom which is denied him.”

He then moves to some philosophic theories of the mind and will. “The role of the will is to choose and follow whatever our mind judges to be good, and conversely to reject and shun what it reproves.” So, the will works with the mind, not independently of the mind. “All we need to know, without entangling ourselves in superfluous issues, is that the mind is like the helmsman and captain of the soul, and that the will depends on its good pleasure…”

In fallen man, the mind is not fully functioning and flooded with divine light. Romans 1 shows us that the mind is darkened and futile because it has exchanged the truth for the lie. It is no longer able to distinguish between good and evil, the very thing Eve wanted when she disobeyed.

Calvin notes that the Church Fathers are uncertain guides in this matter. He saw them as capitulating to philosophy on this matter at times. Chrysostom, for instance, notes,”The wicked man can become good, if he chooses, and the good man may change into a wicked one.” Calvin sums up, “We see from these statement that the Fathers credited man with greater power than was proper…”

He interacts with the 3 A’s: Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas. He finds Aquinas’ definition sound: “Free will is an elective power which, intermediate intellect and will, inclines, however more toward will.” So, how free is the will?

Calvin wants to generally avoid the term “free will”. The Schoolmen note that “man cannot be said to have free will because he is free to choose both good and evil, but because he does what he does voluntarily and not out of compulsion.” He argues that this term has been wrenched from this definition as a “justification for self-pride.” In other words, people use it not for the voluntariness of our our decisions, but to freely choose between good and evil.

Augustine is presented as a trustworthy guide. He affirmed the enslavement of the will. It is grace, and grace alone, that frees it from bondage to our appetites. Augustine moves us toward humility by seeing our natural powers as “impaired, demolished, scattered, destroyed.”

“For the human mind, because of its ignorance, cannot follow a sure path in its search for truth, but blunders into various errors. Just as a blind man stumbles about in the darkness until he quite loses his way; so the mind, pursuing the truth, shows how ill-suited and ill-equipped it is to seek and find it…”

Calvin then differentiates between stuff of earth and stuff of heaven. The bondage of the will, the depravity of the mind does not mean we are stupid intellectually, but stupid morally. We are able to structure societies reasonably well (though the current state of American politics may indicate otherwise), and most citizens are reasonably law-abiding. People are able to master mechanical and liberal arts. We do have a capacity for rational perception. This would be an example of common grace. God gives us the ability to improve our earthly state. This is undeserved, and therefore gracious.

Calvin notes that these natural endowments are gifts of the Spirit, “who distributes them as he pleases, for the common good of humankind.” Our corrupt minds are not as corrupt as they possibly could be. Although the Spirit only dwells in Christians, He is infinite and “does not fail to fill, move and quicken by the power of that same Spirit all creatures, according to the nature with which he endowed each of them at creation.”

Heavenly things (knowing God, his will and living accordingly) are a different story. We are spiritually blind apart from grace. Part of people’s blindness is their inability or unwillingness to accept this. People fall for all kinds of superstitions and foolishness (including deviations from Christianity). This blindness is taught in Jeremiah 24, John, Ephesians, 1 Cor. 2 and Colossians as well as Romans 1.

Calvin affirms the reality of natural law, arguing that its purpose is to make us without excuse. He points us to Romans 2 for this purpose. He defines natural law as: “an operation of conscience by which it is able to tell good from bad, with sufficient clarity that man cannot plead ignorance as an excuse, being rebuked by his own testimony.” For instance, as a teenager I had the capacity to recognize certain things as wrong. But I did them anyway.

Our moral reasoning and judgments are often (always?) clouded by our self-interest and passions/desires. We can talk ourselves into almost anything. We fail to grasp how evil our appetites often are.

After about 30 pages (and there are 40 more) he gets to Paul, who is obviously more authoritative than the schoolmen. It is also very different. We see the inner conflict of Christians in Romans 7 and Galatians 5. We have the Spirit by regeneration, how much worse the condition of those outside of Christ. Believers do strive after good, but don’t do it as often as desired due to this inner struggle. It is the Spirit that leads us toward righteousness. Apart from the Spirit, apart from Christ, people do not seek good (Rom. 3). They do not experience such inner conflict (though there is often the outer conflict of consequences- fear of man).

“Now we are all sinners by nature, so it follows that we are under sin’s yoke. Furthermore, if everyone is held fast by slavery to sin, the will, which is the chief agency of sin, must be tightly restrained and shackled by sin’s bonds.”

As we see in Romans 8, the unregenerate mind is hostile to God and His law. This indicates the bondage of the will to sin. It is in bondage to its inclinations. What people want to do is wrong, but that is what they do.

Thankfully, God, in His grace, limits our capacity for evil. He restrains our sin. While our corruption is changed, and ultimately cured, in the elect, it is merely curbed in the non-elect and non-converted. People are not as bad as they could be. But people sin because they want to, not because God makes them sin. They live within the bondage to sin, so there is an element of necessity. But it is also a joyful necessity. The sinner has not been “stripped of his will but of the soundness of will.” Calvin also brings us back to the character of God, to understand freedom and necessity.

“So if nothing stops God’s will from being free when he does good, even though he does good of necessity, and if the devil always sins voluntarily, even though evil is all he can do, who will argue that man does not sin voluntarily simply because he is subject to the necessity of sinning?”

Here is how Calvin sums it up: “This, then, is the distinction we must observe: man, corrupted by his fall, sins willingly, not despite himself or by compulsion. He sins, I say again, through inclination and not because he is forcibly constrained; he sins because he is prompted by his own appetites, not by external force.”

I’ll resume Calvin’s discussion of this matter in the near future.

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Vacation is a time to be refreshed. One way I get refreshed is by reading some of those books I’ve been wanting to read but haven’t had the time to read. One of those books is Tim Chester’s Delighting in the Trinity. As I have mentioned in other places, there are far too few books on the subjects of the Trinity and Union with Christ. Those books have taken up a fair amount of my free time in the last few years.

“The root of sin is always idolatry. We turn from the true God to find satisfaction in other things and other ways of life.”

Chester’s book is one of the shorter books on the Trinity. He, I think, is shooting for a different audience than either Saunders or Letham. This is intended to be a more accessible book, and it draws on his experiences and concerns as a faithful Christian living in an increasingly secularized England. He sets up the book, in chapter 1, by mentioning conversations he’s been having with Muslim friends. The Trinity is a huge stumbling block for them. We come to a cross roads. Should we not really focus on this, perhaps even ignoring it (like the Insider Movements) or do we recognize this as an essential part of our theology, the very foundation of the gospel? He chooses wisely and picks the latter.

“It is rooted in the electing love of the Father, the finished work of the Son and the present witness of the Spirit.”

So, he argues that the doctrine of the Trinity is not only foundational, but also practical. That does not mean it is easy to understand. I would remind you of Augustine’s statement, picked up by Anselm, that “we  believe to gain understanding.” It is not the other way around.

“But God always speaks with one voice. Father, Son and Spirit speak with one voice because they are one.”

So he starts with Biblical Foundations. The first foundation is the unity of God in the Bible. He starts with the Shema, the confession that “the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” He then brings us to 1 Corinthians 8:6, and sees this as an expression of the Shema in light of the progress of revelation. To claim that Jesus is Lord (kuyrios is used in the LXX to translate YHWH) is to claim that Jesus is the LORD our God. Jesus’ statement that the “Father and I are one” helps us to see both the differentiation and unity within God. The unity of God keeps us from tritheism.

He then shifts to the plurality of God in the Bible. He brings us to creation and back to the Shema before going to the gospels to see the Incarnation of Jesus. One cannot escape the divinity of Jesus in the Gospel of John (which I happening to be preparing for a sermon series).  In the opening verses of John we see both the differentiation (with God), and identification (was God). God lives forever in fellowship with Himself, realizing the priestly blessing so to speak, as the Father and Son are “face to face” until that moment on the Cross when Jesus experiences the curse as the Father looks away.

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One of the free books I got at General Assembly was R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross. When I was a young Christian I discovered R.C. and his books and tapes (that’s how long ago it was) were an important part of my growth as a Christian. But I have not read much of his stuff in the last 15 years or so. So much to read, so little time.

“If anything has been lost from our culture, it is the idea that human beings are privately, personally, individually, ultimately, inexorably accountable to God for their lives.”

But I decided to read this one. I’d been wanting to read it, and now I owned it. This little book is typical R.C. Sproul, which is a good thing. A very good thing. My former professor has a knack for making theology easy to understand. Many of the recent books that have come out to defend the various attacks on the atonement have been excellent, but for the more theologically advanced audience. The reason R.C. was so instrumental to the resurgence of Reformed Theology is his ability to “put the cookies on the counter”. He’s accessible for all kinds of people.

“He is the One Who stands there, backing up our indebtedness, taking on Himself the requirement of what must be paid.”

As usual, R.C. brings the past into the present. We find Anselm, Augustine, Calvin, Luther and many more. That is another thing that makes his books great- introducing you to the great minds of the past.

He discusses the necessity of the atonement, the justice of God, the various aspects of the atonement (surety, ransom, redemption, freedom etc.), the place of the covenant and explaining particular, or limited, atonement. All this in his winsome, accessible style. But he is also clear about where the lines need to be drawn.

“If you take away the substitutionary atonement, you empty the cross of its meaning and drain all the significance out of the passion of our Lord Himself. If you do that, you take away Christianity itself.”

It is well worth reading for anyone who wants to better understand what Jesus was doing on the cross and why. And that should include every Christian.

Thank you to Ligonier Ministries for making this available to those of us at General Assembly. At least, I thought it was for free.

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Today is Fat Tuesday which used to have a different meaning than it currently has in secularized America.  It refers, originally, to the end of the feast in the church year and the beginning of a time of fasting in the church year.  It has turned into a time of feasting, not on food, but sin before fasting from sin.  America has turned it into another excuse to get drunk, naked and engage in immoral activity.

“Fat, drunk and stupid is not any way to go through life, son.”  Dean Wormer

For some, the Lenten practice is to give up something they love or enjoy.  It is something of a sacrifice to fast from TV, drinking, candy etc.  I don’t want to say sacrifice is a bad thing.  I believe I am saved from my sin by sacrifice- the sacrifice of Jesus.  In the Old Testament, the sacrifices were intended to point us to Jesus and His once for all time sacrifice.  Sometimes people fell into the misguided notion that those sacrifices were the real deal.  They missed God’s point since the blood of bulls and sheep can’t take away or cover your sin.

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I am currently reading (among other books) The Great Work of the Gospel by John Ensor.  In proclaiming the greatness of God’s work for our salvation, John takes a very different approach than Rob Bell.  Bell, during his Sex God tour, talked about how God was not angry with sinners, but sinners only seemed to think he was.  Bell’s upcoming book seems to allude that God is not an angry God.

Ensor, on the other hand, spends a chapter on the great need for the great work of the gospel.  He focuses there on the justice of God’s judgment, or the reality of God’s wrath.

11 God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.  Psalm 7

In one of his sermons on Colossians 3, Matt Chandler distinguishes between God’s active and passive wrath.  His active wrath is clearly seen in judgment upon nations and people.  Think the flood, or Sodom and Gemorrah.  His passive wrath, as noted in Romans 1, is to give us over to our own dark desires.  He gives us over to the sin we love that it might ruin us.  Then, some of us cry out for mercy.

Ensor notes that the frequency with which the Bible speaks of God’s wrath should lead us to some startling conclusions.

“Either our sin and guilt is far, far greater than we ever knew, or God’s punishment far, far exceeds the crime.”

If God is just (and He is), then the latter proposition is not the case.  In other words, our sin and guilt are far greater than we ever imagined.  As Anselm noted to Boso, “You have not yet considered how great the weight of sin is.”  We need only look to the cross to discover the greatness of sin and guilt.  Our perception is off, by a large margin.  Instead of seeking mercy, we tend to excuse, overlook and ignore our sin and guilt.

Ensor, like Chandler, brings Romans 1 into the picture.  Our sin suppresses the clearly seen truth about God and his invisible attributes revealed in creation.  We exchanged the real God for any number of fake gods in creation: the Creator for the created.  We have turned our backs on God, and sought life in a wide variety of created goods- sex, money, family, music, food…

Hulk Smash!

Ensor reveals the compatibility of love and anger.  The sermon by Chandler, and one by Tim Keller, takes the same approach.  We tend to think of love and anger opposed to one another.  But anger is the proper response to a threat against that which is loved.  God hates sin because sin threatens to destroy creation, and people.  In the most recent version of The Hulk, the Hulk’s rage is greatest when the woman he loves is in danger.  Wrath seeks to eliminate the threat.  Sinful anger is sinful, in part, because it takes out more than the threat.  It adopts a scorched earth policy.  But love must get angry when the object of love is threatened.  If you don’t get angry when your spouse (or child) is physically or sexually assaulted, you don’t love them.

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Advent is coming.  This year I’ll be preaching out of Matthew.  We get to celebrate the incarnation, a much assumed but not well understood doctrine.  It is essential to biblical Christianity.  So, here are a  few options to read up on the Person of Christ.

  • Incarnation in the Gospels is part of the Reformed Expository Commentary series.  It is geared for pastors and driven by the text more than by systematic theology.
  • B.B. Warfield The Person and Work of Christ.  One of the best of the Old Princeton theologians working through both His person and His work on our behalf.  The incarnation took place for the work to take place.  They are essentially connected.
  • Donald MacLeod The Person of Christ.  From the Contours of Christian Theology series MacLeod follows the development of the church’s understanding of this important doctrine.
  • G.C. Berkouwer The Person of Christ.  This is part of his Studies in Dogmatics, which is a rather lengthy series.  R.C. Sproul spent time studying under Berkouwer.  It is fairly academic.

What is interesting to me is that I have read none of these books.  In seminary we used David Wells’ The Person of Christ.  I might still own the Berkouwer volume.  The commentary is a relatively new volume I am interested in purchasing and using.  This shows us how little there is out there focusing on this subject.

Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? touches on the incarnation as a basis for the atonement.  This I have read, but he is not really wrestling with texts.  It is written as a dialogue between 2 people.

 

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The Cavman is on vacation. One of the many benefits of vacation is the ability to catch up on the reading I’ve been meaning to do. Since we flew across the country, I had plenty of time (except when CavSon was rambunctious) to dig into Sinclair Ferguson’s By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me. If you haven’t read Sinclair Ferguson before, I ask you “Why?”. I always find food for my soul in Ferguson’s books.  This book was no exception.

This book, a companion to his recent book In Christ Alone, is different. Ferguson utilizes a hymn by African pastor Emmanuel Sibomana to explore the amazing nature of God’s grace. Each of the 7 chapters uses the corresponding stanza as a spring board into good pastoral theology. By that I mean the application of theology to pastoral/personal matters.

“Being amazed by God’s grace is a sign of spiritual vitality. It is a litmus test of how firm and real is our grasp of the Christian gospel and how close is our walk with Jesus Christ. The growing Christian finds that the grace of God astonishes and amazes. … Sadly, we might more truthfully sing of ‘accustomed grace.'”

My Chains Fell Off– the gospel begins with liberation. Ferguson begins with the bondage we experience before being liberated. Christians look back and see their prior bondage. Non-Christians often don’t even notice the chains they are so accustomed to them. There were a few twists I did not expect. He quotes part of the Kinks’ song Dedicated Follower of Fashion.  Later he quotes the Rolling Stones’ (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction [one of the few Stones song I like]. I thought of a few more songs that illustrated depravity while reading along.

“Every time she walks on by, wild thoughts escape” U2God Part 2

“‘We’ll walk on thru heaven’s door and proudly raise our heads.’  I said, ‘Man, you must be crazy, our hands are covered blood red.'”  The CallBlood Red

We are in a bondage from which we cannot free ourselves. But when we forget the depths of our bondage grace becomes boring. Part of the bondage is that when it is pointed out, people feel insulted. “How dare you call me a sinner!” Until we grasp the severity of the bondage we won’t grasp the wonder of the freedom. Even from respectable bondage, like those which enslaved the Pharisees.

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