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Sometimes you read a book that has been sitting on your shelf for years and think, “I wish I’d read this years ago.”

Making Kingdom Disciples: A New Framework by Charles Dunahoo is one of those books, at least for me.

I can’t remember how I got my copy. Someone else had read it so it was highlighted and underlined with black ink. I might be the third person to read it. I use red ink when I read a book. Now the book is quite colorful.

Dunahoo is the either retiring or now-retired coordinator for the PCA Committee for Christian Education and Publications (I can’t remember). He served on a variety of committees in the early and formative days of the PCA. He’s been a pastor and taught systematic theology and apologetics at the Atlanta School of Biblical Studies. The fruit of much of that work is displayed in this book. You can see the influence of Francis Shaeffer, Cornelius Van Til and John Frame in this volume. There is plenty of  interaction with postmodernism (as well as modernism).

This is not a nuts and bolts kind of book, as he admits. It is a framework. That framework will need to be filled out in ways appropriate to your particular context and strengths. This means the book is not about the acts of discipleship (reading plans, planning prayer and other practices we think of when we think about discipleship). His focus is on the big picture.

This book has three parts: Knowing the Word, Knowing the World and Biblical Models for Applying the Word to the World.

Knowing the Word

The first section is by far the longest at around 120 pages. Knowing the Word is the Framework for Discipleship. that Dunahoo is talking about. He calls this a kingdom model. Discipleship is about reordering a life around the realities of the kingdom of Jesus. That means not simply new practices but a new way of thinking.

“Generic definition: A disciple is someone who accepts a set of beliefs, and embraces a holistic, total, and intentional approach to life based on those beliefs.

“Kingdom definition: a kingdom disciple is someone who thinks God’s thoughts after him and applies them to all of life.”

This involves a brand new way of thinking as Paul repeatedly asserts in his epistles. We are, after all, transformed by the renewing of our minds. That means not simply new beliefs (it includes that) but new ways of viewing and thinking about everything. He differentiates between a program-based model, an individual (often parachurch) model, the small group model and his kingdom model. The kingdom model incorporates the other models but “places them in the context of God’s kingdom. It is informational, formational, and transformational!” There is content, it forms a worldview and transforms lives.

Dunahoo then dives into how we think and know. This has been complicated by neo-orthodoxy and postmodernism. He wants us to be “epistemologically self-conscious” which he defines as “being aware of what we know and how we know what we know.” This includes knowing what we don’t know. He describes the shift in authority from the premodern (revelation) to the modern (reason) and the postmodern (self & community). Since the premodern era “truth and knowledge have been divorced from the person of God.” He stresses that true knowledge comes in relationship with the God who made us and everything else. This God can reveal our biases and filters that so often color our judgments and make our thinking and conclusions distorted. Here his dependence on Schaeffer becomes clear as he develops a “checks-and-balances approach” that helps us identify our biases. One of the problems he identifies with a postmodern approach is “a knowing process wherein truth is relatively determined from moment to moment, form place to place” rather than in an observable process. Tik Tok is an example of this as many young people seem to think they can process politics and society from 30 second videos of people dancing to bad music.

From knowing, Dunahoo returns to the Kingdom and its implications for theology, mission and ministry. The kingdom is larger than the Church, encompassing the whole of creation and therefore determines how we live in all of life (not just at home or in church). Kingdom refers to the realm (creation) and his reign (providence and revealed will). This implies the limitations of the Church’s role in the world which individual Christians don’t share. The Church proclaims the good news and disciples Christians about what to believe and how to live. In the world, as part of the kingdom, Christians work for justice as well as proclaim the good news. The Church has no role in politics, but Christians certainly do as citizens of two kingdoms. We act in the name of Christ under His authority, but not in the name of the Church. Christians vote, but not the Church (nor should it bind your conscience in voting).

“… it helps the Christian know how to live as a member of Christ’s body, the church, but also how to live in the broader kingdom realm.”

From there, he gets into a Christian World-and-Life view. This builds on the previous chapters and is the logical conclusion. As the kingdom shapes our thinking & knowing we develop a Christian world-and-life view. He engages with how our world-and-life views are shaped (and re-shaped) and why it is important. There is a good caution that our world-and-life view is continually being reformed so be humble and don’t think you have it all figured out. You don’t.

The next two chapters cover the Reformed Faith and the Covenant. Discipleship, for him and other Reformed people, happens within the context of our theological heritage and the covenant by which God regulates His relationship with His people. They are essential rather than optional aspects of discipleship for a kingdom model. Discipleship is not atheological. He addresses some misconceptions of theology and then summarizes key doctrines in the Reformed heritage.

Covenant is a key aspect of Reformed Theology. Reformed Theology is covenantal theology, but covers more than covenant theology. Discipleship takes place within and should recognize certain covenantal realities. It shapes how we think of family and God’s work in and through families (you and your seed), as an example. In covenant theology grace precedes obedience. This logic of grace (as Ferguson calls it) is to be an important part of discipleship. Obedience is taught, but not as a way of meriting grace. It is a response to grace and flows out of faith expressing itself in love.

Knowing the World

The second section of Dunahoo’s book deals with the context of discipleship. Discipleship occurs in a context just as it also involves addressing how we know what we know and what we are supposed to know.

“We have to teach people to think biblically, and that requires more than simple Bible study. … We must understand God’s revelation, particularly his inscripturated Word, in our particular circumstance to know how to apply that Word and think biblically about life and reality.”

Dunahoo begins with Modernity. He views it as a threat IF it is allowed to “control our lifestyles consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously.” It can be an opportunity IF “we understand it and its influence, and know how to use it in proper ways.” In this context he defines premodern, modernity and postmodernism as he did earlier in terms of sources of authority for knowledge and true.

Then he moves into modernity’s influence on (American) Christianity. We see it’s influence in pluralism which offers people choices and allows for change. It can make Christianity seemingly irrelevant in the marketplace of ideas. It leads to privatism which also relegates faith to the private sphere of one’s life. This seeks to limit faiths influence on the public sphere so that laws don’t reflect one’s moral views but lack a fixed reference point. He also examines individualism in which my reason (not ours) is the measure of truth. There is a lack of community since life is about me. This also leads us to relativism so there is no standard to measure cultures.

“As Francis Schaeffer often said in his lectures and writings, if there are no absolutes by which to judge society, then society itself becomes absolute.”

He also addresses, briefly, techism. We tend to think newer is better. People become a commodity even as we try to extend life (with medicine) without creating proper financial support systems for those longer lives. Tied to this is the rise of pop culture and immediacy.

The next chapter address the postmodern paradigm. Postmodernism takes pluralism to new heights, or possibly depths. Postmodernism is existentialism and nihilism in more concrete forms. Absolute truth becomes a meaningless concept since we can’t define truth. We look to ourselves to create meaning.

He briefly examines four key postmodernists: Jean Francois Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Richard Rorty. He then examines the key terms of postmodernism: Foundationalism, Pragmatism (Utilitarianism), Relativism and Structuralism. In evaluating postmodernism he asserts that it is not a reaction to modernism but rather the collapse of modernism which couldn’t bear the weight of its beliefs. Postmodernism can’t bear its own weight either. Long term communities can’t exist when they leave God out as a reference point. Otherwise self-interest and extremism rip them apart.

Both modernism and postmodernism are present in our culture. This is a function of the generational context. Older generations still operate in a modernist mindset (generally) and younger generations are more influenced by postmodernism. Discipleship can’t ignore modernism and postmodernism, and can’t ignore the generational context either.

He explores the Traditionalist, In Betweener, Boomer, Gen X and Millennial generations. He looks at the context in which they grew and their commitments (or lack thereof).

“We need all the generations coming together to produce the kind of covenant family that will survive the pressures, dangers, and consequences of today’s often degenerate and demoralizing world.”

Dunahoo is not trying to pit one generation against the other. He does note their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their general outlooks which can complement one another. Multi-generational ministries will balance the concerns of the various generations and help them humbly offer their strengths.

Applying the Word to the World

The third section applies the Word we’ve come to know to the world in which we live. This is the crux of discipleship because theology is meant to be lived, not simply asserted and assented.

He provides three biblical models or examples of how to do this. The first is Paul in Athens (Acts 17). Paul gains a hearing by building bridges through points of contact. Our message has to have some meaning to those who listen. In many cases this means first listening to the concerns and questions of those to whom we speak. This doesn’t mean that Paul was a relativist. He had a fixed reference point. He didn’t compromise his worldview but built on common concerns to then communicate his worldview. In this Dunahoo distinguishes between actual relevance (what it means for our lives) and functional relevance (whether or not we see that relevance).

The second model is Ecclesiastes which examines various worldviews to reveal their inadequacies. He notes that many Muslims criticize Christianity because western Christians have ceased to see it as a worldview, a system of thinking and doing. The topics he relates through Ecclesiastes are life, pleasure, happiness, wisdom, work, possessions, man and eternity. These are viewed from “under the sun” or from a human perspective and “above the sun” the view from above otherwise known as a Christian worldview.

In this context Dunahoo approaches the problem of legalism. We have liberties that we can enjoy in this life. We don’t avoid pleasure, happiness, wisdom etc. but seek them in God-honoring ways. This means in their proper place so they are not what we are living for but rather enjoying them as gifts from God to be used for His glory.

The third example is a covenantal reading of Genesis 13. We have to place texts within their context of the rest of Scripture and therefore the covenants. Dunahoo is getting at the gospel logic of indicative-imperative, moving from God’s grace to gospel implications. This rescues us from trying to merit God’s favor. The successes and failures of Abram must be viewed within the context of the covenant in which God gave grace to pagan Abram.

“That is the heart of discipleship: knowing about God in a way that transforms our lives by making us more like him, loving and caring for what he love and cares for.”

He is highly dependent upon S.G. DeGraaf’s Promise and Deliverance which seems to be out of print now. The life of a disciple is fundamentally a life of faith in the promises of God. As we see in Hebrews 11 faith acts on the promises of God. Our faith is “truths fleshed out in vertical and horizontal relationships.”

As I noted, this is a book I wish I had read years ago. It is a more theological, abstract book. It does get at the presuppositions of discipleship and that is a necessary endeavor. I may try to communicate this material in a SS class or in teacher training. It will inform what I’m looking to do going forward.

Providing a framework, Dunahoo does not exhaustively examine his topics. He summarizes quite a bit, and necessarily so. In other words, this is not a book on postmodernism but summarizes the high points pertaining to kingdom discipleship. He then provides some resources to better understand postmodernism (or Reformed Theology or generational differences etc.).

One of my takeaways, for instance, came from the chapter on generations. Boomers tend to look for a “how to” in sermons. One older elder I knew used to write YBH in outlines, meaning “Yes, but how”. Busters/Xers like myself tend to look for “Why” in a sermon. Those are the two that I’m used to addressing. The one I need to add more consciously is the Millennial focus on the “so what”. Hopefully this will improve my preaching as a result, and preaching is a key component of discipleship.

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From the 20th century, Francis Schaeffer cast a long shadow that is still seen in the 21st. L’Abri and his disciples like Os Guinness, Jerram Barrs, and Nancy Pearcey continue his work. I enjoyed his book True Spirituality, but got bogged down in He is There and He Is Not Silent. I’ve been meaning to read some of his other books.

As a result, I decided to read Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality by William Edgar on my study leave. Reading a book in this series has been my practice for the last few years. As I consider our changing place in American culture, I thought this would be a helpful read. In some ways it was. In other ways it wasn’t as helpful as I’d hoped.

The book was written by one of his disciples: William Edgar. Edgar was a college student seeking truth when he visited L’Abri and met with Schaeffer. Francis was instrumental in his conversion and growth as a Christian. He teaches apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

He begins the book with that personal reflection of his experience with Fran, as close friends like Edgar called him. This volume is not hagiography, however. He’s honest about Schaeffer’s shortcomings. He tries to present a balanced volume, and I believe he succeeds.

One of the flaws that Edgar mentions is his interaction with Cornelius Van Til, who was his professor for a time. Their apologetic method was very similar, but they seemed to dwell on their differences. In Edgar’s opinion they often talked past one another, as is often the case in such debate.

He then moves to Schaeffer’s life in two parts. The first is his early life, and life after the beginning of L’Abri. Little is known of his ancestors prior to his grandfather’s arrival in America in 1869, after the Franco-Prussian War. He apparently burned all of the family records.

His father only received a 3rd grade education. He apparently was a thoughtful man, as Fran would later reflect that working-class people could be deep intellectually. He worked hard, including time in the Navy. They attended a Lutheran church and believed the gospel. They would struggle financially even as they tried to leave behind the poverty of their parents. As a result, they only had one child (Francis). No books were in the house. The only vacations were trips to nearby Atlantic City.

In addition to this obstacles, Francis likely had dyslexia. Despite this he had a thirst for knowledge. He was driven by consistency. He wanted it to all fit together. He had an interest in Greek philosophers. He read the Bible through so he could reject it with integrity. Instead he became convinced that it was the most consistent way of looking at life that answered all the big questions.

At college he met Edith, who grew up in China because her parents served as missionaries with the China Inland Mission. This experience may have influenced L’Abri’s position as a “faith mission” (not sharing financial needs with others but simply praying for them). They both attended a meeting at First Presbyterian Church to hear a Unitarian attempt to refute Christianity. She responded to him citing J. Gresham Machen and Robert Dick Wilson from the new seminary down the street. This caught Francis’ ear and attention. He walked her home and requested she break off a date with another young man to go out with him. They were well suited for each other and complemented each other well.

Francis would end up at the new seminary, Westminster, as a student. There were two issues that the seminary left open: the millennium and Christian liberty. This would become a big issue in the also new Orthodox Presbytery Church in addition to the seminary. The last exam that Machen administered was to Francis, at his bedside.

Some in the community forming around Westminster and the OPC were historic premillennial and abstained from Christian liberties. They struggled with those who weren’t so inclined. It was not enough for them to separate from the Presbyterian Church in America (the liberal northern denomination that no longer exists and not to be confused with current PCA), and they separated from the OPC to found the Bible Presbyterian Church.

This was pertinent for his spiritual crisis. Schaeffer realized that he was not gracious and kind to those with whom he disagreed. He realized he was wrong. Hopefully most of us come to this understanding as we age in years and mature in Christ. That is counter-cultural in this age of outrage. It is one thing Edgar probably could have spend more time.

While the pastor of a church in St. Louis, God seemed to be calling Schaeffer to Europe. When he left St. Louis, his friend and one of my former professors Elmer Smick took over his responsibilities. At this time Schaeffer met Martyn Lloyd-Jones who similarly called evangelicals to leave the Church of England. He also met C. Everett Koop (who treated his daughter) and Hans Rookmaaker who would become life-long friends.

Image result for L'AbriSchaeffer talked much culture and was often critical. His views were not the conservatism of, say, D. James Kennedy, but those of the revolutionary. While they may have overlapped at points, Schaeffer wanted Christians to buck the trends and lived in a counter-cultural fashion. This was to exhibit the reality of Christianity.

His spiritual crisis in 1951-52 resulted in True Spirituality. It was about living in the reality of Christianity. We are really guilty, and Jesus has really made atonement for sin. Schaeffer stressed the authority of Scripture. “Wherever it touches upon anything, it does so with true truth, but jot with exhaustive truth …” He focused on propositional truth as conveyed by the Scriptures. The Bible spoke about how things really were.

A large part of his apologetic was to point out to people how their worldview didn’t match up with their lives, and often couldn’t. He looked for the inconsistency, the borrowed capital (as David Bahnsen calls it) of their view. He wanted to bring people to square with reality.

“All of us battle with the problems of reality … Reality is not meant to be only creedal, though creeds are important. Reality is to be experienced on the basis of a restored relationship with God through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.”

This brings freedom to the Christian. We are free from the bonds of sin and the bonds of legalism to live free in Christ to live godly lives of faith and love as expressed in the Ten Commandments. That is because we’ve been delivered from the Law’s loud thunder. Still sinners, we have both died with Christ and die daily. Self-denial is a central reality in the Christian life.

As subversives we sometimes have cobelligerents: people with whom we agree on a particular issue but do not share the Christian faith and worldview. This seems to be his view of common grace. We both see the truthfulness of this issue and work together even though we don’t see all of life the same way.

Prayer was an important and ordinary part of life at L’Abri. Edgar draws heavily here from Edith’s writings. He often does this since her writings were more about the practical aspects of their lives while Francis was looking at the bigger pictures. This was one of the ways their writings complemented each others’. Prayer is one of the ways we show we believe in God- we rely on Him in prayer. The cross invites us to ask for His help.

In terms of guidance, Edith writes that they didn’t really have a long range plan for L’Abri. They responded to the challenges that came their way. As finite people, making grand plans we can’t actually accomplish didn’t seem to make sense to her. As I face the realities of pastoral ministry, this seems to be what happens no matter how much I want to plan long-range. Cavman plans and God laughs.

Edgar then moves us into the topic of affliction which will surely come upon Christians in various forms. He addresses how Schaeffer dealt with Albert Camus’ dilemma as expressed in the plague. Do you fight against God to seek a cure or against humanity by rejecting one? Schaeffer sees this as a false dilemma. God loves humanity and to fight for a cure would be to fight on God’s side. In Camus’ atheistic world, there is no way to evaluate good and evil, there is no standard of justice.

Schaeffer had a complex relationship with the Church. He loved the Church as Christ’s bride. But he was critical of the ways the evangelical church strayed from its calling. Many who spent time at L’Abri would struggle in church life as a result. Schaeffer would not point to external problems like modernism or liberalism as the Church’s biggest threat, but to trying to fulfill its calling the power of the flesh. The middle class evangelical church is also risk adverse. We don’t want to risk our middle class life and compromise as a result.

“Schaeffer taught the general principle of form within freedom, an freedom within form- especially in the church.” They were not antitheses but needed on another to be meaningful. Jesus has set us free and life finds form within this spiritual freedom. We have patterns that emerge. Within those forms we are able to enjoy a measure of freedom. As one who needs to know the boundaries but wants to play within them rather than be straitjacketed by them, I grasp this. Form is meant to be a guide, not stifling.

“Unlimited freedom will not work in a lost world; some structure and form are necessary.”

He then moves into engagement with the world. This is the application of a revolutionary Christianity to a fallen world. His expectations were not perfectionism- either in the Christian life nor in society. The historical (having taken place in space & time, not simply the belief of the Church) Christianity has historically changed the cultures in which it has taken root like yeast affects dough. It speaks to the issues of any day, calling society and individuals to forsake sin.

As I noted, this book stirred up an interest to read more of him. I saw ways that I had been greatly influenced by what I have read of his. Or picked up from professors who read him.

I tended to see this book as more like Schaeffers views on a variety of subjects than how to live as a Christian in this world. It seemed less than helpful in this regard. It seemed too philosophical at times. Perhaps it was just how Edgar structured the book, and the big themes he addressed. I was left without it making a big impression on me as other volumes in this series have. Interesting? Yes. Impactful? We’ll see.

“I have never met anyone anywhere like Francis Schaeffer, who took God so passionately seriously, people so passionately seriously, and truth so passionately seriously.” Os Guinness

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Some of my uncles growing up were in construction. Most of my brothers-in-law are in construction. So as I think about the 2nd part of Bavinck on the Christian Life, I think about a construction metaphor. If the first part was the foundation, the second would be the framing.

There were only two chapters in the second part. Recall that the foundations were creation in God’s image, the Law and union with Christ. The two chapters in this section are Imitating Christ and Worldview.

Bavinck understood the Christian life as one of imitating Christ. We need to see this in terms of God restoring His image in us, in accordance with the Law, through our union with Christ. I say this because may have seen the Christian life as imitating Christ, but meant something different.

Recall as well that this is intended to be an ordinary life, not viewed as radical. We partake of earthly goods, but they are not ultimate goods. We enjoy them as part of God’s good gifts, but they are temporal and temporary. As the song goes, hold on loosely.

Bavinck looked at the historical patterns of this theme. Bolt summarizes this for us. Bavinck identified dangers and wrong turns.

The early Church was a persecuted Church. This is because they claimed to be the only true religion, and Christ claimed their ultimate allegiance. Rome did not like that. With martyrdom a real possibility, it unfortunately became “regarded as a matter of glory and fame” (pp. 106). It became pathological, similar to what we see with radical Islam today.

Monastic separation created a divide between clergy and laity. Professional Christians tend to breed “incompetence and an unspiritual life-style.” He noted the rise of the Waldensians, and others, who simplified doctrine and emphasized holiness. Soon you also saw the rise of the “mendicant armies” who exalted poverty above all other virtues. Medieval mysticism came to see Jesus as model, not Mediator and Redeemer.

Any view of imitating Christ that neglects Him as Redeemer is sub-biblical and rejected by Bavinck. This brings us back to union with Christ as the primary element of imitation. He believed we were not to simply look and act like Jesus, but to be transformed inside.

Bolt then brings us to the Sermon on the Mount. Bavinck’s views shifted, with his latter view more nuanced. World War I lay between point A and B. It helped him see some problems with his understanding, and deepened his understanding. Bavinck understood it in its original context as to His disciples who would face persecution. We cannot simply woodenly apply it to our circumstances. The Sermon was about obeying the law of God in your circumstances. Our circumstances may be different, and therefore our obedience may look differently. They lacked power in culture, and were to let their light shine. “If the early church had tried to transform its world through cultural engagement, it “would have quickly drowned in the world’s maelstrom.” (pp. 115)” As Christianity loses power in the West, we need to recognize how we imitate Jesus will change. We will become more like the early church. We can’t focus on cultural engagement, but “simply” preach the Good News.

Bolt summarizes all this with “our following Jesus in lawful obedience is grounded and shaped by our union with the whole Christ. (pp. 117)” Therefore we focus on our obligations, not our rights. This is hard for sinful, self-absorbed people.

The chapter on worldview is more theoretical. Bolt covers specific aspects of the worldview in which we fulfill our vocations and imitate Christ in part 3 of the book. The concept of a Christian worldview appears to be first articulated by Kuyper in his Lectures on Calvinism at Princeton. Bavinck would also talk and write much about this topic. While the particulars were nearly identical, their methodology was different, as was their application. This lead to some conflict between the two men in later years. Kuyper was the more “dogmatic” of the two, and comes across as an autocratic leader. Bolt traces this history, and I won’t repeat it.

But one key area went back to regeneration. Kuyper viewed, at the risk of reductionism, regeneration creating two kinds of people with two kinds of science. Bavinck was more open to receiving the science done by unregenerate Christians. As image bearers, they could see something of the truth too. Kuyper was engaged in cultural conflict, Bavinck was more open to learning from non-Christians.

For Bavinck, a worldview broke down into thinking, being and doing. The relationship between these is important. For Bavinck,, being is first. As we become self-aware we think and do. Bolt notes that “worldview follows faith and union with Christ; it does not create faith and is no substitute for it. (pp. 125)” Worldviews are how we navigate our way through the world, other humans and God.

For the Christian, our worldview is about God revealing Himself to us, as well as revealing truth about ourselves and the world. God is faithful and good, revealing these things truthfully and reliably. While he acknowledges the distortions caused by sin, he doesn’t focus on them like Kuyper and Van Til.

“The essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God.”

These frames, built on the foundation, will direct our understanding of the Christian life. We’ll get to that next time.

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In the 5th section of The Doctrine of the Christian Life, John Frame touches on the question of culture. This is an important question regarding the Christian life. No one lives it in a vacuum. We each live it in a particular culture, and that raises issues and questions. It is a big part of the circumstances making up the situational component of triperspectival ethics.

“So culture is not only what we grow, but also what we make, both with our hands and with our minds.”

He begins the section with a chapter on the question, what is culture? In terms of Scripture, this is a word not found there, but one that must be derived from good and necessary consequence. He starts with some basic facts about the origin of the word, and some definitions posited by others, like the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelism. He then distinguishes between creation (what God has made) and culture (what we make with creation). This, of course, leads us back to the Creation Mandate. Adam and Eve (and their children) were to fill the earth, subdue the earth and rule the earth. They were to utilize it, not preserve it (or exploit it). As a result, culture for Frame is what we make of God’s creation.

“God creates the world, but he does not depend on the world at all. The world depends entirely on him. But in human life, there is a mutual dependence between ourselves and the world. The world depends on us to fill and rule it, but we depend on the world for our very existence.”

As made in God’s image, the various cultures we create and maintain reflect something of the goodness of God. But as sinners marred by the Fall, our cultures also reflect that descent and distortion of God’s glory. No one culture, this side of Eden, is either all good or all bad but a rather tar babyish mix of the two.

Into this, Frame develops a view of Common Grace. This is another word not found in Scripture, but a concept taught in Scripture. It is gracious because it is undeserved. It is common because it does not lead to salvation. It does maintain the stage for salvation, like what we see in the Noahic Covenant.

By common grace we mean that God restrains sin. He actively keeps people from being as bad as they could be. An example Frame provides is the Tower of Babel, scattering the nations so they won’t accomplish their evil intent. Satan is on a short leash, as we see in Job; and even shorter as we see in Revelation 20.

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Some books are written and read as labors of love. Some books are written and read as “necessary evils”. The author wishes they did not have to write the book, and you wish you didn’t have to read it. Sometimes their labor of love is your “necessary evil”.

The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis by Guy Prentiss Waters is probably one of those necessary evils. I’m sure he probably wishes he could have spent the time and energy writing on some other project. Because he loves Christ and his denomination (the PCA), he felt compelled to write this book.

Because I am now serving in the PCA, and love Christ and His Church, I felt it necessary to read this book that I might better understand the Federal Vision since it is present in the PCA. Since I appreciated his earlier book Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, I thought this would be a helpful book. It was. I just wasn’t happy that I had to read it, and at times found it difficult to wrap my head around what the Federal Vision actually is.

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In my second year of seminary, John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God became required reading in the first year. Oh, well. It has only taken me about 20 years to read the book.  I began to read it 2 years ago, I think, while I was home “watching” the kids while CavWife taught a group exercise class on Monday afternoons. Last year I spent that time studying and developing a curriculum for the Book of Revelation. Though I no longer watch the kids on Monday afternoons, I resumed reading the book this Fall as time permitted. It was worth the work.

The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (an interesting title) is the first in Frame’s A Theology of Lordship series, of which I have already read The Doctrine of God (Salvation Belongs to the Lord is a shorter version that is quite readable). The title of this book suggests the main concern of the book- how can we know God. This is a book about epistomology, the study of how we know. We often take this for granted and never think through it. Those presuppositions drive many of the debates and arguments we have with people. We often fall into bad argumentation (logical fallacies for instance).

“Our criteria, methods, and goals in knowing will depend on what we seek to know.”

Frame wants to examine our presuppositions, and argue for a presupposition understanding of how we know what we know and what we can know.  He starts with knowing God, as Calvin did in The Institutes of the Christian Religion. But he starts with God as Covenant Lord. As Covenant Lord, He made us to think and understand as receivers of revelation. As Covenant Lord, he determines what is revealed to us.

“We do not come to know God, or anything else, in a vacuum. … Still, one has to start somewhere; he cannot relate everything to everything else at once, for otherwise he would be God.”

He touches on subjects like transcendence (God as head of the covenant) and immanence (God’s nearness or involvement with creation), authority,  control and presence, knowability and incomprehensibility etc. He moves out of the theoretical at times to show how these tensions reveal themselves in theological debate, particularly the disagreement between Van Til and Clark. In other words, he examines many of the implications of the Creator-creature distinction.

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Some pastoral questions have brought the disagreement between Van Til and Gordon Clark to mind.  It isn’t so much the views of those men, but some problems I see emerging when reason is elevated above revelation.

This is one of the dangers of “Christian rationalism”.  The mind subtly usurps the authority of Scripture, or special revelation.  They wouldn’t admit to this (I think), but you see it when there is the denial of various doctrines because it does not make sense in light of other doctrines.  They have a hard time reasoning these apparently opposite doctrines that are found in Scripture.  Rather than submit their minds before Scripture, they make the Scriptures submit to their “rational” theology.

There are 2 doctrines in particular that have been problematic for many who espouse Clark’s views.  They affirm the doctrine of election or predestination.  This is the problem, so to speak.  They have a difficult time with both common grace and the free offer of the gospel.  These don’t doctrines don’t make “sense” in light of election, but our minds are not the measure of truth.  Our theology is not to settle for “reasonable” but to reflect revelation.

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Some time ago I had told a commenter that I planned on reading Van Til’s chapter in Introduction to Systematic Theology on the Incomprehensibility of God and blog on it.  I never seemed to find the time.

Since my computer was “resting” on Tuesday, I was flipping through my copy of the book.  Lo and behold, I have already read that chapter.  Silly me.   So here I go!

Van Til starts with the problem of knowing the “living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise…” as our Confession summarizes the Scriptures regarding God.  Such a God, according to Kantian epistemology is beyond our experience.  In their view, God is not just incomprehensible, but unknowable.  The theology of Van Til’s day often embraced such views.  God become unknowable, and faith became irrational.  It was no longer a faith seeking understanding since there is nothing we can understand about an absolute God.

Aquinas put forth the “way of negation” by which we know God negatively instead of positively.  We speak about what God is not rather than what He is.  His dependence on Aristotle means he embraces a non-Christian epistemology that descends into a similar irrationalism.

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I took a stab at the Controversy a few years ago after reading (or trying to read) Herman Hoeksema’s book.  That post remains quite popular.  I’ve been meaning to read Van Til on the incomprehensibility of God, but more important matters have hindered me from investing the time necessary.

But I finally began John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.  Early on in the book, he interacts with the Controversy and makes what I think are some helpful comments on it.  I’ve been meaning to blog about this, but have been (yes) busy.  Since today is something of a sick day, I’ve got a bit more time.

“We should be gentle with those who differ from us; they may not be rebellious or sinful in their disagreement, only immature (in other respects they may surpass us).  And, of course, we must always recognize the possibility that we may be wrong, that a brother or sister who disagrees with us may have something to teach us.”

Frame asserts that this controversy was not the highlight of either man’s career, and that they seriously misunderstood one another.  As the first, such controversies tend to bring out the worst in us.  This is why many godly men offered warnings about how to conduct themselves in theological controversy.  It is quite easy for pride to deceive us and distort our thinking, motive and goals.  Part of that deception ties into the misunderstanding of the other person’s actual views that takes place.  As I mentioned in the earlier post, controversy tends to move us to further extremes in the quest to be right (as opposed to understanding truth).

Both, however had valid concerns.  Van Til wished to preserve the Creator-creature distinction in the realm of knowledge, and Clark wished to prevent an skeptical deductions from the doctrine of incomprehensibility, to insist that we really do know God on the basis of revelation.  Van Til, therefore, insisted that even when God and man were thinking of the same thing (a particular rose, for example), their thoughts about it were never identical– God’s were the thoughts of the Creator, man’s of the creature.  Such language made Clark fear skepticism.

Here is how they were talking past each other in some ways (there was a real disagreement, but not as vast as either made it out to be perhaps).  They wanted to protect different ideas in their discussion of the topic.  Different agendas or concerns, which led to different expressions and therefore misunderstanding.

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I’ve begun reading R. Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confession after someone recommended it to me.  I will confess that I am leery as I begin to open the pages.  While confessionally in agreement with the folks from Westminster West, I find I am not in agreement practically or theoretically.  In other words, we seem to differ on how to apply the theology we hold (mostly) in common.

But, I will attempt to give a fair reading to the book.  I hope I will not be unnecessarily critical.  I hope to remember what I wrote on a post-it note some years ago-

Discernment is recognizing both what is true and what is false.

Therefore, I will attempt to affirm that which is true as well as reject that which is false.  Or at least responding to that with which I disagree (since I am not the ultimate authority on what is true).

Clark begins with identifying the mainline, borderline and sideline denominations.  I am not sure why he calls some “sideline” but that’s not important now.  We are familiar with the mainline Reformed denominations (the PCUSA, RCA & UCC) which have largely squandered their theological heritage.  While there are surely some faithful congregations, as a whole they would appear to have become apostate as they begin denying essential orthodox doctrines.

He identifies the borderline denominations as the CRC and the EPC.  He (this was written in 2008, to be fair) identifies the CRC as moving toward the mainline and the EPC to be moving toward the sideline.  With a large number of former PCUSA churches entering the EPC since that time, I think they are shifting back to the mainline.  The recent approval of female pastors would be a case in point.

Clark right points out the confusion as to what “Reformed” actually means.  It now means nearly anything.  Some use it so narrowly as to identify their position on creation, law or music.  There is a great variety of practice among those churches taking the name Reformed.  There would also appear to be a great variety of theology among them.  I suspect he would disagree with me, but I think our theological system should be the same (therefore preferring the older term Particular Baptists to Reformed Baptists), but there is no need for uniformity of practice (which is what I am reading, fairly or unfairly, between the lines).

“It is the argument of this book that the Reformed confession is the only reasonable basis for a stable definition of the Reformed theology, piety and practice.”

I have no qualms with that.

He refers to Phillip Schaff’s (he of the 8 volume History of the Christian Church) inaugural address.  There he identifies rationalism and subjectivism as the 2 great diseases that threaten to kill the church, including the Reformed Heritage.

Rationalism results in the question to know all as God knows it.  They want to be right, to have absolute certainty  on matters about which Scripture is less than clear.  They do not distinguish between essential matters and matters for the well-being of the church.  All become equally important and you must toe the line.  This group would be the TRs (truly Reformed or thoroughly Reformed).  If you’ve had a bad experience with a Reformed person, it was probably one of these.

Subjectivism (or sectarianism) is the pursuit of the immediate experience of God apart from the appointed means of grace.  Where I suspect Clark and I may differ is the number of appointed means of grace.  But maybe I’m wrong.  Either way, these people place their emphasis on the emotional, the experiential.  They fail to see that Scripture guides our spiritual experience lest we have a counterfeit spiritual experience.

Clark notes how a growing number of younger people are beginning to embrace more traditional forms of worship.  The modernistic experiment of the boomers is insufficient for them.

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It finally happened today- the kids woke up at 7 am MST.  We had a busy day ahead of us.  We needed to get the kids alittle something to tide them over to the brunch at the church.  You know kids can’t really wait when they are hungry.  So we went down and had “first breakfast”- a bowl of cereal.  I went retro with Corn Pops while they had the Special K with berries.  Then I took the stir-crazy mob of 2 on a walk to the local golf course.  They love looking at the cacti.  I also pulled a super ball out of a palm tree and they spent 5 minutes tossing it into the netting by one of the holes.  Gotta love kids!

We then headed to the brunch to meet more members of the congregation.  It was a good time.  I enjoyed some yummy salad and hash browns, and the first time I’ve had Quiche in about 20 years.  The kids then went outside while CavWife and I interacted with people.  I enjoyed talking with a World Harvest missionary from London who is home on furlough.  Then (as CavWife says) I held court, talking with a bunch of guys about R.C. Sproul, Cornelius Van Til, apologetics, the Marrow Controversy and a variety of other subjects they brought up.  Before we knew it it was after noon and time to head back.

The kids were tired from running around, but we knew they would need something to tide them over until dinner since second breakfast was at 10.  We picked up some popcorn chicken at KFC, ate and put those nubbers down to sleep.  I took a nap too.

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The Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore is currently running a series of sales.  This week they are putting some Reformed Classics on sale for up to 50% off.  This is a great chance to load up on great books like:

Calvin- The Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Edwards- The Religious Affections.

Machen- Christianity & Liberalism (must reading, folks)

Owen- The Mortification of Sin

Vos- Biblical Theology

Van Til- Christian Apologetics

Happy shopping!

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I must confess that I have not finished Herman Hoeksema’s book The Clark-Van Til Controversy, because it was giving me a headache.  Part of the problem with this Trinity Foundation book is that it is a compilation of editorials HH did in The Standard Bearer.  HH sees much of the Christian Reformed Church controversy of 1924 in this 1940’s issue in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  I fear his baggage blinds him.

A disclaimer: at RTS Orlando I studied under a number of men who went to Westminster and could be called Van-Tillian (Pratt, Kidd, & Glodo).  It was a unique time there since R.C. Sproul, a classical apologist was on the faculty, as we also had the late Dr. Nash teaching us philosophy and apologetics.  Dr. Nash was a rationalist (unapologetically) and greatly influenced by Clark.  Let’s just say it was interesting.  But Nash’s big Clark-Van Til story indicated to me that Nash either didn’t read, didn’t understand or refused to accept what Van Til wrote on these matters.  The apocryphal story was his complete refutation of Van Til.  But I digress.

The issue revolved primarily around the continuity and distinctions between God’s knowledge and our knowledge.  Hoeksema seeks to defend Clark and seems to overlook some very important pieces of the puzzle.

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