Posts Tagged ‘predestination’

Another quarter, and another volume of Nick Needham’s church history set, 2,000 Years of Church History. The second volume covers The Middle Ages. I mentioned the layout of the books in discussing volume 1. This volume is about 440 pages long. Reading about 10 pages per day, I was able to read a chapter a week and be done in 10 weeks. This makes for a very doable project, and you aren’t overwhelmed with all the information that is found in this thus far excellent series.

He  begins this volume with Islam and the Church. We’d join Paul in saying that even if an angel preaches another gospel to you, they are to be anathematized (Gal. 1). While Mohammad claims to have received a vision from an angel, his message is very different from Paul’s gospel and therefore to be rejected.

Islam did spread through military conquest. Some of the churches in conquered lands were treated fairly well, particularly the Arian and monophysite churches. He distinguishes between the Sunni and Shia muslims in addressing their first “civil war”. Most Christians were placed in segregated communities and treated as second-class citizens, often with a heavy tax. At times they benefited from the Christian community. Nestorian Christians in Persia translated the great Greek philosophers into Arabic. Generally “Christian governments” waged defensive wars against Islam. A few people like Francis of Assisi preached the gospel to them. Some of the crusades seem far less interested in protecting pilgrims and freeing conquered Christians than gaining fame, power and wealth.

Needham then discusses Charlemange and the Holy Roman Empire. The struggle between civil and religious authorities would take up much of the Middle Ages. This was not limited to the Pope, but we also see the Eastern Patriarchs, at times, seeking to bring the civil authority to heel. It was a back and forth. He also addresses developments in theology and worship in both the Eastern and Western Church.

This volume continues Needham’s broader than usual focus. This is not a Eurocentric approach to church history. For that I am thankful. For instance, much is said about the development of both Eastern and Western monasticism. We see the repeated influence of Augustine in controversies involving predestination and the Lord’s Supper. Communion controversies appear at least 3 times in this volume.

The third chapter focuses on the Byzantine Empire and brings us to the Great Schism. The iconoclastic controversy takes up a bit of space. It was a ruthless controversy with Emperors deposing Patriarchs; Patriarchs excommunicating Emperors, exiles and cruel punishments. Church history is not pretty! This should put to rest any mistaken notion about the consensus of the Patriarchs as preferable to “sola Scriptura”, but sadly it won’t. The filioque controversy regarding the Nicene Creed is discussed.

“Following the Cappadocian Fathers, the East tended to being with the persons of the Trinity, and saw their unity as lying in the person of God the Father. For Eastern theologians, the Father guarantees that the three persons are only one God, because the Father alone is the “fountain of deity”, the one source of the Son and the Spirit, … By contrast, the West began, not with the persons, but with the nature of God. Following Augustine of Hippo, Western theologians tended to think of God’s nature or essence before the three person of the Trinity, and to see the oneness of the Trinity as lying in the one common nature shared by Father, Son and Spirit”

In the east, you had some dissenting movements: the Manichees, Paulicians and Bogomils. All three were connected to Gnosticism. Paulicians often allied themselves with Muslim Arabs against Byzantium, whom they saw as oppressors. The Bogomils were in Bulgaria, which was a region over which the Eastern and Western Churches struggled. They would not survive the conquest by the Muslim Turks in the late 14th century.

Needham then moves back West for the Cluniac Revival, influence of Hildebrand and the Investiture Controversy. The Norsemen proved to be a problem for much of the Western church. But eventually they were converted to Christianity. Over the course of about 100 years the gospel spread from the lands the Norseman conquered to the lands they came from (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland). The gospel also made headway into eastern Europe as the Bohemians, Poles and Croats were converted. Alone with this was a reformation of Western monasticism aka the Cluniac Revival. They also sought purification in the leadership of the church. Hildebrand led the efforts to reform the papacy. He wanted it to be independent of the state in order to pursue its spiritual purposes. This would lead to the Pope investing kings with power. Popes, for a time, were king makers. One unfortunate side effect was that ecclesiastical officers were freed from prosecution from the state. Their crimes were considered sins and subject to the discipline of the church- a practice that helped produce the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the American Roman Catholic Church, particularly in Boston (don’t worry, I don’t deny that Protestants like to cover up a “good” scandal too).

The fifth chapter examines that less than period of time covering the Crusades. He looks at the causes and history of the Crusades. Not all crusades were created equal. Some were worse than others as the trade cities exerted their power.

Needham then moves into the manner in which the gospel came to the Rus, how they had their own patriarch and became an independent Eastern Church. The Mongols factor heavily in this. After the defeat and removal of Mongol control, many Russian Orthodox began to think of themselves as the “third Rome”. Because Byzantium had “sold its soul” in the Union of Florence (in order to receive military assistance against the Turks) Russia saw itself as the heir of orthodoxy.

Back to the West, the book then delves into the rise of the universities and scholasticism. Aristotle “came west” and exerted great influence on the theology of the Church at this time. Needham gives summaries of Anselm, Peter Abelard, Peter Lombard, Bonaventura and Aquinas among others.

The Papacy reached its height in the time of Innocent III. There were a number of theological developments (transubstantiation was made dogma), new monastic orders (Franciscans and Dominicans) and humbling of kings. There was also the crusades against dissenters like the Albigensians and Waldensians.

Back to the Eastern Church he develops the fall of Constantinople. The battles with the Muslims, particular the Turks, continued to take their toll. There were also controversies like the hesychastic controversy involving Gregory Palamas. He relates the various attempts to heal the Great Schism, all of what came to nothing since they were mostly about receiving military aid than uniting the Church.

The decline of the Eastern Church was matched in the West by the decline of the Papacy, particularly in the Avignonese Captivity (the Papacy was controlled by French nobility and seated in France). At times there were two or three Popes. Proto-Reformers like Wycliffe and Hus arose. The church East and West was in sad shape at the end of the Middle Ages.

This is another insightful and interesting volume. It has good balance between East and West. It deserves a reading by all interested in church history.

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Here are my study notes on these topics.  The same caveats apply (see Considering the Scriptures).

Chapter IV: Of Creation

50. What is God’s work of creation? God’s work of making all that exists outside of Himself in the span of 6 days ex nihilo.

51. What is meant by the creation of man in God’s image?  We were made to reflect his glory as his representatives.  We shared in his communicable attributes.

52. What was man like in his original state?  Dependent upon God, they were righteous and holy but mutable.

53. Are any of the various theories of evolution compatible with the Biblical doctrine of creation?  Small scale evolution- which occurs within a species- is compatible with the Biblical doctrine of creation.  Large scale evolution – which occurs between species- is incompatible with the Biblical doctrine of creation.

54. Do you believe in creation Ex Nihilo? Yes.

55. Do you believe in special creation of Adam & Eve?  Yes.

56. Do you believe in a historical fall?  Yes.  Paul treated it as a historical fall in Romans 5.

57. What is the purpose of God in creation? To display His glory.

58. What is your view on the nature of the six days of Genesis 1?  24-hour days.

59. Do you believe the Confession teaches a literal six 24-hour day view of creation?  Yes, it clearly does.  As a doctrinal statement it does not use figurative or metaphorical language.

60. In light of God’s wisdom, power and goodness in the original creation, how do you account for the fall?  He also wanted to reveal the glory of His mercy, compassion, justice and wisdom.



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Now here is an interesting and (sadly) controversial subject.  Not here to argue the case, but present the summary of the Westminster Confession on this matter as I prepare for my licensure exam on Wednesday.

Chapter III: Of God’s Eternal Decree

38. What are the decrees of God?  God, from all eternity, did freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.

39. What is the basis of the decrees of God?  God’s most wise and holy counsel.

40. Distinguish between the Westminster doctrine of the decree and the view refuted in III.2 which bases God’s decree upon “foreknowledge”. Relate this to Romans 8:29.  The false view is that God issues decrees based on what he knows we will do rather than God decreeing events.  In Romans 8:29 it is the people, not their actions, which are foreknown meaning that God had loved them before time.

41. What are the so called “Five Points of Calvinism”?  Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints.

42. Are you personally committed to the doctrine of predestination?  Yes!

43. Demonstrate from Scripture that election is a sovereign, free act of God and totally unconditional. Are you personally committed to this doctrine?  Romans 9- “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy; I will have compassion upon whom I will have compassion.  It does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”

44. How is election important for the doctrine of assurance? It is vital for our assurance rests on God’s work rather than our fleeting experiences.

45. What is the significance of having been chosen in Christ?  None are saved apart from Christ.  God didn’t just ordain who would be saved, but how they would be saved and experience that salvation- thru Christ and in union with Christ.

46. Why did the divines distinguish between the “predestination” of the elect, and the foreordination” of the non-elect (III.3)? God actively works to save the elect, but passively passes over the non-elect.  He does not actively prevent them from coming to a saving knowledge of Christ.  The language seeks to make this distinction.

47. What does it mean that God has “foreordained all the means” unto election (III.6)? He ordained the ordo saludus- the process by which we are saved- redemption accomplished by Christ and applied by the Spirit.

48. Why does the Confession say God “passes by” those ordained to dishonor and wrath (III.7)? God does not actively prevent them from being saved.  He withholds grace that they might receive the proper penalty of their sin. 

49. Why do you think God revealed this doctrine of election?   To humble us and exalt Himself.

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Scottish pastor-theologian Eric Alexander has said this about Our Sovereign Saviour: The Essence of the Reformed Faith by Roger Nicole: “I could not speak too highly of this book.”  That is an apt summary of my sentiments as well.

All the more reason for me to wonder why this delightful little book is so unavailable.  It seems downright difficult to find in the places it should be easy to find.  Dr. Nicole is one of the pre-eminent theologians of the 20th century.  In the words of ‘King Arthur’, “You make me sad.”  But to the book!

In 184 pages Dr. Nicole summarizes and explains the distinctives of the Reformed Faith, and its implications on other doctrines.  Here is a chapter outline:

  1. The Meaning of the Trinity.  He establishes the 3 truths we hold in balance, and how the various heresies exalt one truth at the expense of the others.
  2. Soli Deo Gloria– or to God Alone be the glory.  This is a chapter on the glorious extent of God’s sovereignty, including individuals and the Church.
  3. Predestination and the Divine Decrees.  He explores what is meant, and not meant, by God’s sovereignty.  It does not mean we are puppets, for as the Westminster Confession notes, “nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures (III, 1).”  God ordains all things in keeping with our nature/character and how he plans to work to change our character.  He also briefly explains & critiques supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.
  4. Calvinism: the Five Points.  He briefly explains the 5 main ideas of Calvinism, and dispells some common misunderstandings based on poor terminology.
  5. Particular Redemption.  He explains and defends the doctine of definite atonement, summarizing John Owen’s arguments from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
  6. The Doctrines of Grace in the Teachings of Jesus.  He shows that these are not doctrines of John Calvin, or Paul but taught by Jesus Himself, particularly in the Gospel According to John.
  7. Reconciliation and Propitiation.  He explores the use of these terms in Scripture and how they fit best with an understanding of definite atonement.
  8. Justification: Standing by God’s Grace.  He explores the 3 main illustrations of justification in Scripture to understand it fully.  In this chapter he mentions students who ‘made a virtue of being poorly attired’ hoping they learned to dress better before candidating for a position.  Sadly, I was one of these immature slobs who thought so little of themselves.
  9. Sanctification: Growing unto God.  He explains what it means negatively (mortification) and positively (vivefication).  Whereas justification is something done for us, sanctification is something done in us.
  10. Predestination and the Great Commission.  He shows, primarily through the example of William Carey, that election and evangelism are not at odds with one another if properly understood.  He defends the free offer of the gospel from misunderstandings.
  11. When God Calls.  Shows from God’s call of Paul and Barnabas that God is mission-minded in a way that ought to challenge us all to become engaged.  Without using the term, he builds a quick case for missional living.
  12. Freedom and Law.  He addresses the issue of what freedom really is, against some silly misconceptions, and how the Law fits into freedom.
  13. Prayer: the Prelude to Revival.  He addresses prayer as an established means for revival.  He also talks about some fundamentals of prayer in relation to sovereignty.
  14. The Final Judgment.  He defends the doctrine of the final judgment.

In these chapters you find typical Dr. Nicole.  Though humble and irenic, you find him quite knowledgable and more than capable of dispelling any misunderstandings or strawmen opposed against the truth.  He is brief, not laboring his points.  He uses illustrations from everyday life, and history.  I’m not sure if he’s ever seen a movie.  But this means that the book is not bound in time unnecessarily.  How I wish he wrote more!  This is a book that often moved me to prayer- gratitude and petition.  That is what good theology does.  This is a book that can encourage those who understand the distinctives of the Reformed Faith.  It is also a great, winsome book for those who do not yet understand and embrace them. 

Here are a few choice quotes:

“Thus, the sovereignty of God immediately crushes man as sinner into the very just of the ground, for he is unable to rise in God’s presence but must be the object of his fearful condemnation. … When we talk about the sovereignty of God we emphasize the sovereignty of God the Holy Spirit who works in the lives of men and does not await some consent that would be coming fron unregenerate sinners but who himself transforms at the very depths of their personality lives that are disrupted, distorted and destroyed by sin.”

“There is no circumstance of life that should be totally disconcerting, because God has ordained it and is at the back of it.  His loving and gracious purpose is fulfilled even in the events which may appear quite contrary to our wishes.”

“The grace of God does not function against our wills but is rather a grace which subdues the resistance of our wills.  God the Holy Spirit is able to accomplish this.”

“Authentic Calvinism has always confessed particular redemption and at the same time insisted on the universal offer of the gospel.”

“God cannot punish a sin twice.  He cannot punish it once in the person of the Redeemer and then punish it again later in the person of the perpetrator.”

“The Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He is not going to allow his sheep to wander away.  That, in fact, is expressly stated.  He gives them eternal life.  They shall never perish.”

“It is only when we consider how grievous a thing sin is and how greatly displeased God is with it, that we are in a position to understand what it means to be reconciled to him.”

“The very fact that you know this person- the very fact that you are in contact with this person, the very fact that there is a burden upon your heart for this person- ought to be an indication that quite possibly, even probably, he or she has been picked by God.”

“There is no Christian who can say, ‘I am not a missionary.’  There are places that you can reach that nobody else can reach.  There  are people for whom you can work that nobody else can invite in the same way in God’s name.  We have a task to accomplish.”

“What people fail to understand is that the spiritual laws that God has established are equally binding. … They think they can violate the moral laws that God has established at the root of the universe and not bear the consequences. … To disregard the laws of God is not to achieve freedom; it is to sink into futility.  It is to break oneself against the structure of the world in which we live.”

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On his blog, former Ligonier co-worker Anthony Carter asked some friends of his questions for a book he’s working on.  He wants to show how some African-American Christians came to embrace Reformed Theology.  So I thought it would be interesting to ask my friends these same questions to see their answers.  Perhaps they will help some of you as you think about these things, or help others think about them.  I suspect we’ll see God using many different instruments.

The first to respond was Ivan Lambert.  Ivan and I went to RTS Orlando at the same time.  We didn’t know each other well.  We were both Calvinistic Baptists, but he was a commuter on the 4 year plan.  We both graduated as Calvinistic Baptists.  5 or 6 years later we ended up in contact: both of us having become conservative Presbyterians.  A little over 2 years ago, Ivan became the pastor of Covenant PCA here in town.  We have enjoyed time talking about theology and ministry.  We meet with a few other guys monthly to encourage and pray for one another.  He’s gracious enough to grant me pulpit supply opportunities during my transition.

Here is (some of) his story.

  1. What was the first book you read that introduced you to Reformed Theology?  Study Guide on Bible’s Teaching on Election by John MacArthur
  2. Besides the Bible, list the five most influential books in your Reformed theological journey.  Knowing God                                         J I Packer
        Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God     J I Packer
        The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination   Lorraine Boettner
        The Christian Life                                   Sinclair Ferguson
        Putting Amazing Back into Grace              Michael Horton
  3. List three preachers and/or teachers who were most influential in your journey.  John MacArthur    [used by God to introduce me to Salvation by Grace Alone: teaching God’s election, and that regeneration precedes faith!]
        J I Packer            [MacArthur suggested Knowing God, I read it, and realized I’ve been missing out] this led to some guys named Sproul, Boice and Horton
        Michael Horton    [His Putting Amazing Back into Grace, Where in the World is the Church, were very instrumental for me]
        Sinclair Ferguson, Tim Keller: haven’t read a whole lot by these guys, but each one has helped me see grace / Christ as my merit.
  4. If you could give one book to someone interested in Reformed theology, what book would you give them?  Man, that is tough:
        a. to one who is in the Word, needs a pastoral, softer touch; I’d offer The Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson
        b. to one who wants to argue or needs a polemical approach: I’d give Chosen by God -Sproul or Putting Amazing Back into Grace-Horton
  5. What doctrine would you say distinguishes Reformed Theology?  A particular doctrine?  How do I answer this one?
        At the time I entered RTS I would have answered “God is Sovereign”, then while at RTS I would have answered “Justification”
        Toward the end of my RTS days, I would have answered “Grace” because I had just read “When Being Good isn’t Good Enough”
        Man, I don’t know, I think for about the last five years I might have answered up until about a year ago “Adoption”
        Now days, I honestly view this much more as a perspectival approach to “In Christ”:
        The gospel is much more than “being Reformed”, believing “God is Sovereign” more than “Justification”, or “Adoption”
        Also included are: “Election, Substitution, Propitiation, Redemption, Regeneration, Reconciliation,  Sanctification, Glorification” and whatever else I am forgetting at this time..
    If you must have one particular doctrine, I have sat on this for ten minutes now and I’ve narrowed it to three: Gospel, Substitution, Jesus is Savior of sinners”
    How About if I say Grace Alone [because all those others are -I think- perspectives that flow from the whole gospel of Grace.

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I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Roger Nicole.  He was also my advisor for much of my seminary experience.  While he was teaching at Gordon-Conwell, he was an interim pastor at the church I would later join as a young Christian.  He still remembered many of the people even though it had been some time ago.

“A good wife will double your ministry, a bad wife will cut it in half.”

He told us this during our Introduction to Pastoral Ministry class.  It was the last year they had this course.  It, and a few others, got put together into the Introduction to Theological Studies (ITS) course taught by Dr. Pratt.

How right Dr. Nicole was.  I have seen it happen.  I am fortunate to have a wife who furthers rather than hinders my ministry.  But there are also uber-wives.  This last week in SS we talked about Martin Luther (we’re studying the Reformation).  He would not have been able to do all he did w/out his little ‘ball and chain’- Katy.  Last night I listened to Mark Driscoll’s recent sermon on Divorce and Remarriage.  Sounds like his wife is one of those uber-wives who quadruples a man’s ministry.  I’ve also seen wives completely sink a man’s ministry.

“Faith and repentance are not flowers that grow on the dunghill of human depravity.”

Another course that got incorporated into ITS was a 1-week tour de force on the Reformed Doctrine of Predestination taught by Dr. Nicole.  That was an incredible week, and this quote always stood out to me.

Sounds a little Puritan, dunghills and all.  Yet, this is so important to remember when you are in ministry.  Apart from the grace of God you can do nothing.  It isn’t about changing people’s minds, evangelism is raising the dead.

“Read your opponents.”

He probably said this in most of his classes (I also had him for Roman Catholicism).  I’ve referred to this concept in other posts.  You want to know firsthand what the person believes, or at least puts in writing.  It is wearisome to read strawman arguments.  I often hear arguments against some of the things I believe: Calvinism, amillenialism, presuppositionalism etc.  You wonder if they actually read anything by an actual proponent of a position, because it has little or no resemblence to what you believe.

Story #1: One day I had an oral exam with Dr. Nicole in his office (for the Roman Catholicism course).  He pointed to a drawing on his desk.  In his strong accent he told me, “My students from Gordon-Conwell made this for me when I retired.  I want you to feel like this rabbit.”  He was pointing to a cartoon of himself in the Swiss Alps next to a smiling little bunny.

His gentleness was amazing.  Here was the most brilliant man I would ever meet but there was no hint of pride.  While teaching he’d sometimes stare into space while reading a page from a book in his head.  But with you he was fully present.

Story #2: In the mid-90’s I gave him part of my manuscript of a book I was writing on the priestly ministry of Jesus.  Dr. Nicole’s specialty was the atonement, so I wanted him to read it for me to make sure I wasn’t off the deep end.  Still waiting……….

His office was always a disaster.  He had numerous books and papers scattered on his desk.  He had so many projects going on at the same time.  Many of us lamented that he didn’t write more books (those available were taken from articles he’d written, like Standing Forth).  But Dr. Nicole could tell you pretty much where any book in his own 25,000+ library was.

Story #3: A few years ago I was visiting the RTS Orlando campus and ran into him in, of all places, the library.  Not much of a shocker if you knew Dr. Nicole.  At this point he was near 90.  The exchange went something like this.  “Dr. Nicole, how are you?”

“I am good dear brother.”  (he was always saying this)

“It’s me, Steve Cavallaro.”

“I know Steve Cavallaro, but you are not Steve Cavallaro.”

“Well, I’ve gotten older,  married and put on weight.”  (I also added facial hair)

“You are not Steve Cavallaro.”

“Yes I am.  Look, here’s my driver’s license.”  He wasn’t convinced.  But the aforementioned Driscoll sermon reminded me of the good doctor, and his great wisdom.  I think the next time we meet, he might recognize me (and say that manuscript was pretty darn good).

Update: Dr. Nicole passed away on 12/11/10 and now beholds the Savior he served so well.  He consistently represented Jesus in his manner

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