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Posts Tagged ‘presuppositions’


It is election season. In all the hubbub about impeachment (for the last 3 years) it is easy to lose sight of the debates and televised town halls that have been going on for the last 6 months. The 20 has slowly been dwindling in our game of who offers the most free stuff and is most relatable.

TImage may contain: 1 person, tree, table, plant, sky, grass, outdoor and naturehere have  been plenty of policy proposals. Some of those are slightly different than current policies, and some are vastly different. Some promise “big structural change.” I won’t go into how that scares the pants off me for now.

In the September 28, 2019 edition of World Magazine, Janie B. Cheaney has an interesting piece on policy. She begins with a documentary called One Child Nation which examines the effects of China’s “one-child policy”.

In one clip, the co-director (who grew up under the policy but now lives in the states) says, “I left a country where the government forced women to abort, and I moved to another country where governments restrict abortions.” Well, some states do. She seems to think, Cheaney says, that the central issue is government attitudes toward women (hear the cries of the ‘war on women’). The issue doesn’t seem to be “human life itself.”

The people interviewed in the clips seemed to fall back on “Policy is policy.” People feel helpless in the face of government policy. They have less impact in a system like China’s. Here we can vote, and we should evaluate policy.

In China the policy was enacted by top-level party members. The expressed problem they were trying to solve was “overpopulation.” Abortion was a means of population control. The resulting unintended consequences are a demographic nightmare (not enough women because parents wanted sons to care for them in old age). They self-corrected to a two-child maybe policy where if you have a girl you can apply for permission to have a second child in the hopes of having a boy. Cheaney notes that in the future they may have to require two children to fix the problem they created with their one-child policy.

Bad policy creates very negative consequences that are often addressed by the same group of people who gave you the bad policy in the first place. They create problems and then try to fix them, often having the same level of success. The ACA tried to fix our healthcare system, for instance. At least that is what we were told before it was crammed down our throats with a series of statements that proved false. It really messed up the healthcare system because it “fixed” the wrong things (in my opinion) and in the wrong way. We elected people to fix it in 2016, and they failed to get the necessary votes (thanks to the senators from my state, both of whom are no longer senators but one ran expressly on getting rid of Obamacare). Now we have different plans proposed in these debates without substantial debate on the motives, means and consequences of the plan. We have this on healthcare, student debt, gun control, climate issues and more.

“Policy has become the end-all of politics. Bad policy caused the current mess, however we define the messiness; good policy will fix it.”

Cheaney rightly notes that policy should be at the end of the discussion, not the beginning. Policy is the ‘how’ of a solution to a problem. First we have to sort out the “what” and the “why” of the particular problem. She goes back to China’s one-child policy. The stated rationale was overpopulation and therefore potential starvation of the population (obviously not the party elite, they always seem to eat). They didn’t consider the effect of their policies regarding how food was grown. They didn’t evaluate their communist system and whether it could feed that many people or not. The issue was their economic and political framework. Because they failed to examine their presuppositions, they came up with really bad policy. They also failed to consider the nature and value of human life. What matters to them is the Party.

We have the same policy problems. We don’t look at our presuppositions that drive a policy proposal. We don’t stop to think about what caused a problem. We treat symptoms instead of the disease and have bigger problems before we know it.

LenBias.jpgHere is a policy gone awry. In 1986 the Boston Celtics won the NBA title AND had the 2nd overall pick it the draft. Choosing Maryland standout Len Bias, it seemed the dynasty would be able to continue beyond Larry Bird. He flew up to his press conference in Boston, went home afterward and died overnight due to a cocaine overdose. This was high profile! This prompted policy change so “this never happens again.” The Len Bias Law, as it came to be called, increased the penalties on the local distributor of drugs. As a result large numbers of African-American men were incarcerated. Once in that system, it is amazingly difficult to become disentangled. Getting out of prison rarely means freedom. As a felon it is hard to get a job (due to policy), and other limitations and policies make it even harder to be employable. The person imprisoned by bad policy finds him or herself continuously constrained by bad policy (however well-intentioned) that continues to keep them impoverished materially, emotionally, relationally and even spiritually.

One of the great ironies is that most of these candidates are lawmakers in DC. Amazingly, they don’t seem to have proposed any of these in the form of law to this point (which if they are so awesome their colleagues should all vote for them) . In other words, they haven’t been doing their current jobs as legislators but make policy proposals so they can become President, the chief executive. They don’t really want their policy proposals seriously examined and debated until after they get in office. This is not a 2020 issue, but has been this way for awhile. Rather than electing people who have a track record of good policy, we are continually asked to vote for people on the basis of their promised policy about problems they usually helped create by voting on bad policy in the past.

Policy has its place. Let’s put it there.

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For quite some time I’ve been utilizing triperspectivalism to understand, apply and communicate the Scriptures and theology. I have wished that John Frame would release an introductory book for people. It is tough to invite everyone to read books like The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. His shorter systematic theology, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, has a section on triperspectivalism. But a small book that I could hand out to those intimidated by big books would be great.

If you read that first sentence and thought “what in the world is triperspectivalism?” this book is for you.

“Triperspectivalism is simply a teaching tool to help us grasp some of the deep things in Scripture. It highlights a pervasive pattern of three-fold distinctions, or triads, in the Bible.” Don Sweeting from the Forward

Theology in Three Dimensions: A Guide to Triperspectivalism and Its Significance is incredibly short (about 90 pages) and each chapter has review questions to help people process the information. It is therefore a relatively quick read. Frame has chapters on:

  1. Perspectives
  2. Perspectives and the Trinity
  3. The Threefold Gospel
  4. Perspectives in All of Life
  5. The Normative Perspective
  6. The Situational Perspective
  7. The Existential Perspective
  8. What to Do with Perspectives

“A perspective, literally, is a position from which a person sees something. … Ultimately, all this knowledge comes to me through my own body- through my senses and the operations by which my brain organizes my sense impressions into knowledge.”

While Frame speaks of three perspectives on truth, these perspectives are distinguished but not separated from one another. They include each other. The normative has to do with authority. God possesses all authority and gives His Word to us as a source of authority. The Word does not simply give norms, but describes our situation and ourselves. God exercises His authority in controlling our situations (circumstances). These circumstances reflect both His norms and our influence as sinners. God exercises His authority and control as He is present in creation and with His people. He is not to be confused with creation, but is present. This provides a brief example of where John Frame goes with this.

“These are multiple perspectives, but they all are part of the general personal perspective that constitutes my experience and assessment of the real world.”

I will come back to blog on the Trinity and his understanding of God’s simplicity in particular. This has been the subject of a recent controversy. I will also come back to blog on apologetics and how he things triperspectivalism can rescue use from the tribalism that divides the church in terms of apologetics. He lamented this tribalism after the death of R.C. Sproul last week. He and Sproul were born in raised around Pittsburgh, had a love for philosophy and studied it, and both taught systematic theology. He expressed that the fact that he and R.C. were on different apologetic teams may have been part of why they didn’t become friends. The fact that spent most of their time teaching in different parts of the country (before the days of the internet) didn’t help either.

It is hard for me to fully judge this volume. I tried to suspend my knowledge and view it as one who doesn’t think triperspectivally. But I ultimately couldn’t. I enjoyed the volume and thought he communicated his material clearly. But I didn’t arrive to the book with contrary presuppositions or “innocence”. My presupposition was that he is on to something very helpful and illuminating.

So, if you aren’t familiar with triperspectivalism and read this let me know how clear it is. I’m not so much concerned with whether he convinces you but if you understand it when done with reading the book.

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Who wouldn’t want to read John Calvin on The Secret Providence of God? Well, it depends what kind of book you are looking to read.

The subject is certainly an interesting one. The caveat is that the book is polemical in nature. He’s not simply asserting what he believes on this subject so you and I can be edified. He’s responding to “charges” made by a former student/associate of his, Sebastian Castellio. The editor’s (Paul Helm) indicates some of their prior relationship. But in the final pages of the  book Calvin gives us more information about their relationship. This book reeks of betrayal. Polemics and betrayal make for some bombastic language at times. It may also explain why this book is not as clear as I’d hoped at times (but perhaps this was me having been online too much, rotting my brain, or too focused on the good cigars I’d often smoke while reading this). I read this book intermittently over the course of a few months. Far too long for a book of its size (122 pages), but I’ve been busy with other matters.

All this to say, I’d be careful to whom I recommend this book. I would recommend this for more mature Christians who have an interest in Calvin because they’ve already read his more popular works. It would be of interest to students of the Reformation and theological methods. I would not recommend this to someone struggling with the doctrine of providence or unfamiliar with how to do theology.

Helm’s introduction informs us that this was, in fact, Calvin’s third response to his fellow Frenchman on the subject. I suspect his frustrating was mounting as would mine. They met in Strasbourg. Castellio’s strength seemed to be languages, and Calvin appears to have taken a liking to the man. For a time Castellio was rector of the College of Geneva. It didn’t last long. First, Castellio denied the canonicity of the Song of Songs, calling it a lewd book. Then Calvin worked with him on a translation of the Bible into French. They differed greatly, and argued, about their approaches to translation. As the relationship soured, Castellio resigned from the college. He seems to have accepted at least some of Servetus’ writings, for later in this volume Calvin calls Servetus his master (this could be figuratively since Calvin did consider him a heretic in the body of his response). But the execution of Servetus by the Genevan authorities led to Castellio’s personal campaign against them, and Calvin. He was not open about this, often using a pen name instead of his own.

“The work provides us with a small window onto the boisterous, argumentative years of the Reformation, not in this case to the main conflicts but to the skirmishes initiated by some of its lesser characters, such as Pighius and Servetus and, of course, Castellio.” (pp. 18)

Helm notes that Calvin was generally gentle and accommodating to those he considered open or friendly to his views. “But he is pitiless and unflattering toward those such as Castellio who openly crossed him.” Castellio, on the other hand, seems less concerned with clear theological thinking as to ridicule and misrepresent Calvin. His goal seems to be to repeatedly jab his finger in Calvin’s eye. If they lived next to each other in Bowling Green, one thinks he’s blindside Calvin and stomp him when Calvin got off his lawn mower.

“To Calvin’s intense irritation, here is a man, once a friend and follower, who is not impatient of the carefully crafted subtleties that Calvin sometimes uses to advance his position, and above all contemptuous of the God whose interests Calvin sought to advance. Even their Protestantism provides them with little common ground.” (pp. 19-20)

Helm then moves into some theological analysis of the book. He critiques Castellio’s method. The antagonist blurs theological distinctions so that he accuses Calvin of equal ultimacy regarding God’s decrees of salvation and sin/reprobation. Calvin follows a typical medieval view of the two wills of God: his secret will (decrees) and his revealed will (declarations & commands). Calvin depends heavily on Augustine in this volume, the only other author he quotes. Castellio’s method also relies heavily on reason while Calvin’s on revelation. Castellio sets reason above revelation. While Calvin obviously uses reason, he understands it to be bound to revelation. There are limits to the powers of reason as well as things not revealed to us. He invokes Deut. 29:29 (as any student of Calvin’s would guess). His introduction is helpful in understanding how each participant will engage in this disputation. Helm also notes, at the end, how Arminius’ own formulations are dependent upon Castellio’s. He built, as Muller calls it, a theology of creation, far more popular than Castellio’s. But both rejected Calvin’s theology of grace.

The book proper begins with a series of Articles, 14, Castellio generates (better, fabricates) from Calvin’s writings. He presents as series of strawmen arguments since they bear little to no resemblance to what Calvin actually wrote. He misrepresents Calvin. What is unclear is how much of this he actually believed and how much he purposely twisted just to tick Calvin off. As he explains these articles you do find instances of confusing logic, conflation of ideas, failure to make distinctions and more really bad theological method. Here are some example of him tying himself in knots (as I noted in the margins of my copy):

“If God wills sin, then the Devil does not will sin. That is to say, the idea that the Devil is God is a complete contradiction. If God wills sin, he loves sin’ and if he loves sin, he hates righteousness.” (pp. 45)

“… if the (secret) will of God often contends with his command, how can it be known when he wills or when he does not will what he commands? … For instance, if God commands me not to commit adultery and yet wills that I commit adultery, and yet I ought not to commit adultery, then I ought to do what is contrary to his will.” (pp. 45)

“Your false God is slow to mercy and quick to wrath. He created the largest part of the world for perdition.” (pp. 52)

“But the God of Calvin is the father of lies who evidently governs sometimes by what he says and at other times by his secret promptings.” (pp. 53)

He’s trying to make Calvin’s understanding of God appear to be a moral monster, and the Christian life not practicable because he can’t make simple distinctions. How you think matters. And this is some seriously stinking thinking. He also appears to operate from a denial of depravity. This is an unstated presupposition of his that seems to infect his reasoning leading to a number of faulty conclusions.

“… if God prompts perverse affections and then he flies into a rage, he hates the same people before the perverse affections arise, for to prompt perverse affections is the work of hatred. Therefore, he hates the innocent. For men are innocent before the perverse affections arise.” (pp. 50)

Castellio also attacks Calvin’s “students” as contentious and sinful. He puts all his arguments into the mouths of Calvin’s opponents while affirming them as personally unanswerable. There is one more claim that his “disciples” depend more upon Calvin “than upon reason.” Here he affirms his view of reason over and above Scripture, and denies that Calvin’s doctrines arise from Scripture.

The main body of the book is Calvin’s point by point response to Castellio. He works through the articles. This divides the book into readable chunks for busy people. Much of Calvin’s argument is that his doctrines are in fact derived for Scripture. He places Scripture above (not against) reason. Castellio argues for common sense, common sense, common sense => theology from below, subject to our judgment. Man is the arbiter of truth.

“But if you allow no other form of reasoning except what an earthly man recognizes, then by such arrogance and disdain you deny yourself access to the very doctrine of knowledge of which is only possible to someone with a reverential spirit. … Everything loses its authority and grace if it does not satisfy your reason.” (pp. 61)

Calvin also notes that he has already answered these objections three or four times thus far. He notes that these articles falsely represent his views. He notes his dependence on Augustine who also faced similar stubborn objections. Castellio frequently didn’t cite Calvin’s works. When he quotes Calvin, he takes him out of context. Some of the accusations he makes are similar to those that Paul faced and answered in places like Romans 9-11. Calvin’s point? “You aren’t arguing against me, but the Scriptures when we examine the tensions in Scripture” is what he’d say. In terms of those tensions and distinctions Calvin asks:

“Truly God invites all men to repentance; therefore, all might return to the road where he offers pardon. Now, what we must here consider is whether the conversion that God requires is according to man’s free choice or is a truly unique gift from God. Therefore, insofar as all men are exhorted to repent, the prophet rightly denies that God wills the death of the sinner. Why does God not convert everyone to himself equally? The reason is in the hands of God’s secret will.” (pp. 71)

He notes that Castellio also has to answer these great questions.

“This knot is also for you to untie. Since no one comes near to God unless the secret influence of the Spirit draws him, why are not all men without discrimination drawn, if God wills all to salvation? For from his discrimination it certainly is to be concluded that God has a particular secret way in which many are excluded from salvation.” (pp .73)

Calvin also unearths some of his other presuppositions: “Nor will you accept that the causes of wrath are in man himself” (pp. 74). Castellio rejects the depravity of men as the root of God’s judgment and man’s temptation to sin. He espouses a weak view of foreknowledge, separating God’s “power and his prescience” (pp. 75). He is judging God by feeble sense, to quote Cowper’s hymn on the subject. Calvin warns Castellio of dualism.  He reminds him that God uses primary and secondary causes (pp. 191). He schools him in the doctrine of concurrence- two or more persons willing the same action but for different reasons (God’s being good and Satan’s and men’s being evil).

There are moments you have to stop and think (especially if you’ve been distracted by your children) to sort out the argument. He will trace out Castellio’s argument at times so keeping the train of thought is essential.

He responds to the questioning of Calvin and disciples’ character with observations about Castellio’s.

“When I fed you in my home, no man had ever appeared to be more proud and more deceitful or more destitute than yo. Whoever does not perceive you to be an imposter and a cynic devoted to shamelessness, and a buffoon barking against piety, they are absolutely without judgment.” (pp. 118)

“But it must certainly be that you were too dull, because you were not able to understand what I have taught you, both in the familiarity of my own home and also what you heard when I so often preached in the public assembly.” (pp. 119)

“… you boast among your followers that study is empty and frivolous (the same study that is employed in philosophy, logic, and even theology) in order that you might gain more disciples for yourself. … You, on the other hand, request that untutored men who despise all learning and are inflated only with the breath of arrogance appear in public so that they may audaciously make judgments concerning the mysteries of heaven.” (pp. 120-121)

You see here the sense of betrayal that drives his harsh words. Still, these words are mild by some of today’s standards. We see a picture of Castellio as something of a fundamentalist Arminian. He was anti-intellectual; anti-scholarship in addition to exalting human reason. He was also, in Calvin’s estimation, a heretic. He didn’t just disagree, but held to views that Calvin put him outside the bounds of the Church. And so he ends:

“May God restrain you, Satan. Amen.” (pp. 122)

There is much here that is important to learn in terms of doing theology. There is some here that we should likely avoid in terms of doing polemics. We should continue to speak the truth in love. Lay out presuppositions to the light of day for evaluation. Clearly make proper distinctions. Reconcile the tensions found in Scripture instead of just proof-texting. Bur resist the temptation to denigrate the other person. Truth in the face of lies (even half-truths), and love in the face of animosity. I believe Calvin did the former but at times failed in the latter. May God have mercy on us all.

 

 

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Sometimes you come across a book that looks like it will address the big questions you’ve been churning over in your mind for years. When you read it you are disappointed because it barely addresses those questions. This can happen more frequently in the age of internet shopping. But it is quite frustrating as you invest time in a book that doesn’t scratch the itch you have.

Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds is one of those books for me. Based on the subtitle I thought it would focus on the profound ways we have been sinned against. Indeed, Chris Brauns does include a number of stories about such profound sins. But I found a disconnect between those stories and the content he presented. So while there was some good material here, it didn’t really help me in the issues I was looking for help personally and professionally.

In his introduction he claims to address “where I’m coming from”. This is not so much about his presuppositions (more in a moment) but the questions he will address, such as: should we forgive God, does God forgive everyone, and should we forgive everyone?

He does lay out one presupposition: “only God’s Word can unpack forgiveness”, a proper commitment to sola Scriptura. He then says “unpacking forgiveness is like relocating a family.” Unpacking takes a lot longer than the actual event of moving. He mentions that 2 years after a move, his family was still unpacking. This is what I was hoping he’d address but really didn’t as I’d hoped. And some of what he said hindered this process, at least as I understand it.

I was struck at the two main presuppositions he didn’t address which shape so much about forgiveness. He never defined his understanding of sin. He assumes we all know. He doesn’t use this term often, preferring the terms derived from the verb “to offend”. While sin rightfully offends, we often use that term (which he doesn’t define either) in many ways no connected to sin. It often has psychological (for lack of a better term) uses, and he generally distances himself from other psychological concepts. This focus on “offense” is a more subjective understanding of sin, not an largely objective one. For instance he says “we have all offended his standard” (pp. 45) with regard to Romans 3:23 (I assume since he doesn’t note it). This is a great time to clarify that “sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.” Look, was that difficult? No. But he assumes the reader has a definition of sin, and that it is the same as his unexpressed one.

The other big presupposition was the nature and extent of the atonement. He quotes a few Calvinistic and Reformed guys (he mentions Piper frequently), but how he speaks about forgiveness points to a general atonement in which salvation is possible but not actually procured. I could be wrong about what he actually believes, which is the point: he doesn’t actually express it. (To be fair, he defines ‘propitiation’ on pp. 46.)

Granted, you can’t say everything about everything when you write a book, but these seem to be significant issues that affect much of what you say on this topic. I’m not “heresy hunting” but noticing large gaps in his reasoning.

At times his vagueness affects how he interacts with Scripture. I have notes written in the margins in numerous places questioning how he understands particular texts.

He interacts with Lewis Smedes on the topic of “mandatory forgiveness”, representing a less than biblical view of forgiveness. But he doesn’t interact with anyone else on significant issues. I would have liked him to interact with Dan Allender’s material in Bold Love, as an example. His work regarding forgiveness is different than Brauns’ (and Smedes’). Such interaction would have helped clarify a few things in his book that I still have questions about regarding his perspective.

The main premise of the book is that “we forgive as God forgave us.” He doesn’t simply take this as forgive because we’ve been forgiven, or even in a similar way, but rather “in the same way.” He rightfully notes the graciousness of God’s forgiveness, and the costliness to God in the atonement of Christ. He properly notes the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us in justification. He notes the connection of forgiveness with reconciliation (they are not identical). He also notes that forgiveness does not remove all earthly consequences which in Christ have been transformed from punishment to training in righteousness. But I struggle with his definition of forgiveness.

“God’s forgiveness: a commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to him, although this commitment does not eliminate all consequences.”

So, for you to forgive is an identical commitment to those who repent.

Take a moment though to insert that definition into a passage in the place of forgiveness. Passages like these:

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,Luke 1

30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, …. Ephesians 1 cf. Colossians 1:14

In this way, he goes beyond the simple meaning or use of the term forgiveness (which he mentions) as release from a debt to this more complex idea. We therefore offer people forgiveness, but they must repent in order for us to actually forgive them. We have an “attitude” of forgiveness toward them.

So, while he therefore says we don’t need to “forgive” everyone he never gets to what I think is a core issue based on the doctrine of sin. I don’t forgive people unless they sin, thereby incurring a debt, against me. I can’t forgive Timothy McVeigh, whom he mentions repeatedly in this context, for instance because he didn’t sin against me except in the most vague way since I’m an American. I can feel outrage, but that is the problem: I’m carrying an indirect burden since he didn’t take anything away from me. His treatment of this issue, in my opinion, is quite superficial and unhelpful.

Let’s apply this to an unknown rapist whose repentance a victim may never know about. She has an attitude of forgiveness, and a “gift” she doesn’t know where to send. This is where it breaks down for me. Theology is all about distinctions, and there are a number of big ones he doesn’t make. The “gift” makes sense in understanding my personal relationships. But not with regard to profound sins in which there is no personal relationship (for instance with an uncle who physically abuses the victim).

Another important distinction that is never spelled out (or I missed it if he did) was that just because I forgive someone doesn’t mean God does. He seems to imply at points in his argument against automatic or mandatory forgiveness that God does because I do. Not only may there be state sanctions (though he has conflicting statements on this too), there may be divine sanctions that remain.

Let me illustrate: there is a family member who sinned against me profoundly (it was not a crime so there would be no legal sanctions), in a way that still haunts me to this day. That person can’t really face it, or understand it. For an extended period of time I was very angry with them. Despite their lack of repentance I forgave them. I didn’t just have an attitude of forgiveness, but forgave their debt to me. I am reconciled with them despite this sin and their lack of repentance. This doesn’t mean God forgave them or is reconciled with them (by all appearances He has not). I chose to no longer hold this debt against them, and even restore relationship with them despite this profound debt.

He missed another important distinction in his chapter about when you can’t stop thinking about it. Why are you thinking about it? Is the source Satan to continually put up walls between you, to get you to be bitter or feel false condemnation, shame etc.? Or is the source God to help you deepen your forgiveness of the other person? This, in my opinion, matters. But he never mentions the latter possibility.

What I mean is this (which I hoped the book would be about or address): at times we come to a deeper understanding of the debt incurred. Something we thought was a $50 debt is really a $1,000 debt. For instance, I minimized that debt a family member incurred. I needed to face what I really needed to forgive. Ultimately God intended that process for good, even as Satan intended it for evil (to trap me in bitterness). THIS is real pastoral theology, not the superficial approach he presented that we shouldn’t think about it if we’ve forgiven. But what have we forgiven? Have we forgiven the debt as much as we can understand it?

A question he doesn’t really answer is that though forgiveness is often the basis of reconciliation, must I reconcile with someone because I have forgiven them? A rape or abuse victim should forgive the person who sinned against them. Perhaps the person has even repented. Must you be reconciled to them? Have them over for dinner? Leave your kids with them? No!! Forgiveness does not mean that the person is suddenly trustworthy, or that you trust them with your life. It just means you no longer want your pound of flesh, for the debt to be repaid. It doesn’t mean you have to loan out more money.

There was also somewhat of an internal conflict in the book. He thinks we should only forgive if the other person repents. That was not the intention of Jesus’ answer to the question. It was not what must they do for me to forgive them, but if they repent must I forgive them. Very different question, and to distort that distorts the answer. As long as someone repents, I must forgive them. But it doesn’t mean I must wait until they repent to forgive, which is what Brauns says at points.

Later in the book he notes we can overlook an offense. But they didn’t repent. Unlike Ken Sande, whom he references at times, there is no real process for sorting out when I should just overlook an offense or sin. Sometimes even Braun, despite his previous statements, means they don’t have to repent for you to forgive them.

This book does present some good material that may be helpful to a number of people. He is closer to the biblical understanding of forgiveness than Smedes. But there are some holes in the foundation, gaps he didn’t address or distinctions he failed to make that prove unhelpful for others. For instance, my sister-in-law found the book helpful. Okay. I don’t think she’s deceived or stupid. It helped her and that is GOOD. I didn’t find it as helpful. That could be a function of my understanding of theological complexities which differs from hers necessarily as a pastor, and/or the ways I have been sinned against that she has not. I still find Allender’s work more helpful for me. If you are more like my sister-in-law you may legitimately find this book helpful. If you are more like me, you may not find this book helpful for equally legitimate reasons.

 

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I recently picked up a book in an attempt to understand one of my children better so I can parent better. It is a book on the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). I heard about the book from a congregant who thought I was a HSP. As I read some of the book this morning, thinking both of my child and my self, I found both confusion and clarity.

My Presuppositions: We are all broken, though in different places and to different degrees. As a result of Adam’s sin, we are not only sinners but we are also affected physically and emotionally. We are a mess, and while Jesus doesn’t keep us as messy we don’t always understand the mess. Is that messy? Some aspects of our brokenness are there from the beginning of our lives. They are genetic. The author mentions this with regard to HSPs. She sees them as “naturally occurring” on the spectrum of sensitivity. There are some, I gather she’d say, who look like HSPs but aren’t: they’ve been traumatized by something. Their increased sensitivity would not be innate, but picked up from their environment or circumstances. Some of our brokenness comes at the hands of others after birth: parents, friends, strangers. It is hard for us, much of the time, to tell which it is.

The Problem of Pop Psychology: Often times symptoms overlap. A condition is describe in such terms that too many people see themselves there. If you read too many books, you can think you’ve got everything. Or just the wrong thing.

Years ago I read Driven to Distraction on the recommendation of a friend who struggled with ADD and saw a similar struggle in me. Don’t confuse ADD with ADHD. I never saw myself as hyperactive, but I struggle to remain focused. I am easily distracted and have a hard time in environments like airplanes for anything much longer than an hour. I get restless leg syndrome, I can’t read anything more engaging than a novel and end up fairly miserable.

But do I have ADD? I can check enough boxes in the self-test to say ‘yes.’ But not only are we a mess, but a mysterious mess. Our symptoms could be explained by other things. For instance, the author of the book on HSPs distinguishes it from ADD (this was helpful!). They differ, apparently on where the blood flows more in their brains.

“Children with ADD probably have very active go-for-it systems and relatively inactive pause-to-check systems. … But ADD is a disorder because it indicates a general lack of adequate ‘executive functions,’ such as decision making, focusing, and reflecting on outcomes. HSCs are usually good at all of this, at least when they are in a calm, familiar environment. For whatever reason (the cause is not known), children with ADD find it difficult to learn to prioritize, to return their attention to what they are doing once they have glanced outside or know the teacher is not talking to them personally. … another reason HSCs can be misdiagnosed as having ADD is because, if the distractions are numerous or prolonged, or they are emotionally upset and thus overstimulated already from within, they may very well become overwhelmed by outer distractions and behave as if agitated or ‘spacey.'” Elaine Aron (The Highly Sensitive Child)

I can prioritize, reflect on outcomes and have a pause-to-check system. I am not a big risk taker. I am thoughtful. But I may be easily overwhelmed by data or sensory input. I can study to music and TV, but not to talking. Or apparently with an internet connection at hand. I may be distracted, but for different reasons.

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I’ve tried to become less reactionary in my blogging. I might have made some progress, or perhaps I’ve just been busier and don’t think about it very much. Sometimes there is an article or blog post that comes to my attention that is so annoying that I feel compelled to consider it for blog fodder. This morning I read one of them called 16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible. I suppose I am tempted to read too much into his Patheos post, but aware of this and will try my best to interpret his words well.

He is Roger Wolsey, a “progressive” United Methodist pastor. What he does is helpful because he does lay out his assumptions when he interprets the Bible. He doesn’t defend those assumptions, he just assumes they are superior to the assumptions held by “Fundamentalists”. By the way he articulates his argument you’d think there were only “Fundamentalists”, “Atheists” and “Progressives.” I am part of the great unknown (perhaps not to him but at least “Sir Not-Mentioned-in-this-Article”) that would fall under the category of Conservative and Confessional.

“All Christians pick and choose which portions of the Bible (to interpret) literally, progressive Christians simply admit this and share how we discern.”

Not sure I’d agree with that statement. Most people I know admit this and talk about how they discern the difference. Progressives are not superior to anyone in this matter. They don’t have “interpretative righteousness” as a result. I am bringing my men’s study through the book Bible Study that addresses many of these issues and I often verbalize these things as I preach or teach SS (the Revelation series was not an exception). I suggest he doesn’t give those pesky Fundamentalists enough credit. So much for the love (or charity) he talks about later. He seems to always paint them in a most negative light.

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The question of an individual’s relationship to the state is an important one. The answer reflects how one views the state and its responsibilities. Christians have given many answers to this question. In his discussion of the 5th Commandment in The Doctrine of the Christian Life, John Frame gives the answers that various traditions have given.

Frame is of the opinion that the state is essentially the government of an incredibly large family. Such large scale government is far more complex than governing a nuclear or even extended family., In places like Romans 13 we see that God has ordained the State, it is not an accident or human invention (though there have been developments that are the product of human thinking). As Christians, we have dual citizenship. Becoming a Christian does not mean rejecting your earthly citizenship. Paul remained a Roman citizen. We should seek to be good citizens of both kingdoms.

In early non-Christian thought, there was the tendencies toward elitism and libertarianism. Frame notes that the rationalist moved toward totalitarianism. We see this in Greek thinking about the state. Some were born to rule, and some were born to be slaves. Plato’s Republic was not democracy, but ruled by philosopher kings. This was not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. But there is a strong tendency toward totalitarianism among political elites today. They know better than the hoi poloi, the masses. Machiavelli, for one, argued that rulers should increase their own glory thru non-traditional (immoral) means to accomplish their goals. This ends justifies the means thinking is prominent in the big government crowd.

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There is a place for “bite-sized” reflections on ethical issues. Al Mohler provides just that in Culture Shift: The Battle for the Moral Heart of America.  I suspect this book is taken from his blog posts from 2001-2005. I read the expanded edition which contains some newer chapters from 2010-11. The chapters are short enough to read in less than 30 minutes. Mohler interacts with events and controversies, so these pieces are not abstract. As John Piper notes, he is clear-headed.

While he tackles some complex issues, I never got the sense I was in over my head. He makes the material accessible to ordinary people. He has 3 chapters on Public Law, first laying out 3 secular arguments, then 3 secular myths and finally 5 theses. Many of these chapters are still relevant, like his chapter on Offendedness. There are chapters wrestling with 9/11, the Tsumani, abortion, Darwinism and more. These are things to think about. At times you can see how perceptive he is.

“Instead, Saletan argued that the pro-abortion movement should coalesce around an agenda of lowering the total number of abortions and increasing the use of contraceptives.”

This, for instance, has been the rhetoric of our President.

But he looks not merely at personal sins, but at structures. This is not as common for conservatives. This is part of the tension between conservatives and progressives today. The one sees personal morality as the main issue, and the other public morality as the main issue so sin is found either in the individual or the structures. For a Christian, we should recognize both. And both need to be addressed.

“Sin is so interwoven in our lives and institutional structures that we often cannot even see it.”

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The final chapter, though there is an appendix, in Children at the Lord’s Table? has Venema’s concluding observations and an evaluation. Most of the chapter reviews the material presented earlier in the book. It is fairly redundant, as one other reviewer noted.He does remind us that since this view is out of step with the Reformed Confessions, the burden of proof is on them to show from Scripture that they have it right and we’ve gotten it wrong for 500 years (it is possible). But they failed to provide sufficient evidence (in his opinion, and mine).

But his evaluation includes some thoughts about the different view of the covenant that functions under the surface of their arguments. In other words, he moves on to their presuppositions. This is where the disagreement really lies. The subject of infant communion is just the visible evidence of the different presuppositions (the same is true for the infant-believers’ baptism debate).

The advocates of infant communion operate with a view of the covenant that claims that all members of the covenant “enjoy a full and saving union with Christ.” This got me to thinking. It sounds remarkably like the argument for the “pure church” used by many credobaptists. Their argument for paedocommunion is completely consistent with that view of the covenant. But is that a proper view of the covenant? Is the pure church a proper understanding of the covenant community? Why then practice excommunication (apart from being commanded to) if they have a saving relationship with Christ because they’ve been baptized?

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Ever seen a dog with a bone? They just can’t seem to let it go. That’s my dog with rawhide.  She’ll make herself sick.

On the surface, I might be seen as a guy who “can’t let it go”, but I don’t think that is the case. Why? First, the issue hasn’t gone away. I interact with people giving me the same argument on different particular issues. Second, I’m continuing to think more deeply about the issue.

The issue? New Covenant Theology. This is a view of the covenants held by a growing number of people that undermines a Reformed understanding of the sacraments (particularly baptism) and the Law. I’ve engaged in some blog discussion and debate with one of the leading proponents of this position, Andrew Farley. It becomes an exercise in futility as we compare biblical texts. I’ve tried to keep those texts in their contexts (this is important!). But the discussion goes nowhere.

The discussion must go deeper- to presuppositions. I noted this in my reviews  of 3 different arguments for baptism.  What is the presupposition, the unproven assumption, made by adherents of the various forms of New Covenant Theology? It sounds like a holdover from Dispensational Theology, but here we go: Nothing from the Old Covenant is binding unless repeated in the New Testament.

Got that? The New replaces the Old, so nothing remains of the Old unless repeated in the New. This is why Farley tosses out tithing, a sabbath rest and the moral law. This is why Calvinistic Baptists toss our infant baptism. It seems logical, right?

But is this presupposition biblical? Is this how the Bible treats the issue? Our call is not be logical, but biblical (though we use reason as well as illumination to properly understand the Bible).

They do not prove their assumption. Can it stand up to a biblical litmus test?

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This post will look at the third and last position discussed in Baptism: Three Views.  First, Dr. Bruce Ware used a (truncated) systematic theological approach to defend believers’ baptism.  Then Dr. Sinclair Ferguson used a biblical theological approach to defend infant baptism.  Now Dr. Anthony Lane will use a historical theology approach to defend what he called the dual practice approach.

Here is not what he means- most Reformed paedobaptist churches do not bind the consciences of credobaptist members.  They do not exercise church discipline for not practicing the doctrine of the church.  Most often such members are not eligible for office, however.  Some baptist churches also recognize the infant baptism of members, refusing to bind their consciences.  Those members often are not permitted to hold office due to their divergent views.  This is not “dual practice” per se, but extending grace to those who differ on a non-essential.

Dual Practice occurs in denominations, or congregations, that have no official practice but allow freedom to parents on the issue of whether or not to baptize or dedicate their children.  When I was between pastoral calls, I was open to considering the Evangelical Free Church since they were considering removing pre-milennialism from their statement of faith.  But they eventually decided to keep that, ruling me out.  Congregations there are free to practice each according to the theology of the pastor & lay leaders.  In the Evangelical Covenant, mentioned by Ware, they officially practice both based on the desire/convictions of the parents.  Ware was opposed to this, seeing it as binding his conscience.  As a good Southern Baptist, he has no problem binding the conscience of others forcing them to be baptized if they want to become members.  My mother-in-law was forced to do this to join an independent Baptist church. So his comments come across to me as hypocritical.

Back to Lane’s views.  He states that Marcel’s defense of infant baptism (which was very helpful to me) led him into believers’ baptism.  And then Beasley-Murray’s book led him into dual practice despite the author’s intention.  He sounds to me to be a contrarian.  The NT texts, he says, teach a converts’ baptism.  Baptism, in his view, is part of the conversion process and that there is not true conversion without it.  He believes the NT is silent on the issue of infants, and believes that this could be part of a biblical practice of converts’ baptism.  He thinks that some household baptisms involved infants, but this is not conclusive.

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I’m working my way through the 3 main sections of Baptism: Three Views.  In my previous post, I worked through the essay by Dr. Bruce Ware on Believers’ Baptism (aka credobaptism) and the responses by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and Dr. Anthony Lane.  This time through I’ll be working through the essay by Ferguson on infant baptism (paedobaptism) and the responses.

Previously I talked about the power (for good or ill) of presuppositions.  If Ferguson’s presentation in Systematic Theology II (Ecclessiology and Sacraments) was anything near as compelling as this essay, my presuppositions were working for ill that day in 1993.

Presuppositions become far clearer in the responses of Ware and Lane.  But I found Ferguson’s essay an incredible example of how great theologizing is to be done.  Instead of expecting explicit statements as if we are all 6 years old, Ferguson thinks through biblical data to see connections and “good and necessary consequences.”  Not all things are clear (as we might like) in Scripture, but they are addressed in just this way.

Ferguson starts with a caution based on 1 Corinthians 1:17 in which Paul “prioritized gospel preaching over baptismal administration without thereby minimizing the important role of the latter.”  A different approach from Ware who warned of disobedience in the matter of baptism (though that is true).

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Talking about justice in practice takes us into the complexity of politics (broadly used).  We must inevitably work with people in a pluralistic culture.  Sometimes we will share the same views, but for different reasons.  Other times we will have divergent views.  In his 7th chapter of Generous Justice, Tim Keller risks entering the dark room to switch the light on for us.

The Justice Card

Keller shares a story of staff members for a nonprofit deciding who should represent the agency at a conference.  Some lobbied for a senior staff member who was a female.  Others a younger man who had less experience but was particularly gifted in such situations.  Somehow, those who thought the woman should go claimed it was “a justice issue.”  It brought dialogue to an abrupt end.  The woman was chosen, but reluctantly by those who didn’t want to be called unjust.  They weren’t unjust, but this story reveals that “justice” can be person relative.

By that Keller means that people often have very different understandings of justice.  Often people on both sides of debates (abortion, tax rates, war etc.) claim they are being just and the other side unjust.  Presuppositions are at work to support these very different understandings of justice in that situation.

“Democrats think of it more in collective terms. … Republicans think of justice more individualistically.”

Our debates on issues exist because fundamentally we can’t agree on what justice is.  Many of the terms used to define justice, like “freedom” and “equality”, are equally vague.  We go chasing shadows.  Think about “harm” regarding abortion.  Pro-choice people don’t want harm to come to the woman.  This is their concern, forgetting there are other people involved in this (yes, people!).  Pro-life people don’t want harm to come to the child, the mother, the father and other people.

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In my study of the issues surrounding Genesis 1 I just completed a book by one of my former professors, Doug Kelly.  His book Creation and Change: Genesis 1:1-2:4 in Light of Changing Scientific Paradigms is not very long (about 200 pages) but wrestles with many of the issues regarding our understanding of the text and interacting with science on them.

Unlike Dr. Bruce Waltke, who merely decided that since he’s not a scientist he shouldn’t really disagree with them, Dr. Kelly put his mind to work and did enormous research.  He did not fall into the trap of thinking “I’m a theologian, not a scientist” therefore they know better.  At this point some may say Dr. Kelly should have taken the same approach.  I, for one, am glad he didn’t.

There should not be this separation of faith and science that often reigns today.  We are trying to understand the same thing- this world we live in.  Dr. Kelly tackled many of the things I’ve pondered in days past.  Only he spent more time thinking them through and researching them.

Long ago some scientists attacked the presuppositions of the creation account.  Sadly, few if any ever evaluated the presuppositions of the scientists or their methods.  What we find here is that process of evaluating their presuppositions and methods.

This book was originally conceived as he taught a SS class at church.  But it is no lightweight book.  It demands much of the reader as you weig the arguments of a variety of positions and think things through.  To assist, each chapter has a Technical and Bibliographical Notes section.  Each also has study or group questions to help process the material.

Cutting to the chase, Kelly ends up defending the traditional view of creation ex nihilo, and a young earth.  He views the Framework Hypothesis as an irrational capitulation to modernism since it gives science too much credit and power to misinterpret parts of the text.  He does provide exegetical reasons to reject their views.  He also rains on Dr. Hugh Ross’ parade at times.

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I started to see this book pop up on people’s blogs a few years ago.  The title, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation by Graeme Goldsworthy, intrigued me.  So, using a gift certificate, I bought the book.  Recently, excited to begin reading, a friend wondered aloud why we need to read another book on hermeneutics.

I’m glad I didn’t listen.  I have not yet finished the book, but I’ve found it quite stimulating, understandable and grappling with an important topic: how should we, as evangelical Christians, interpret the Scriptures?

Here we will cover Part 1 of the book: Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics.   Goldsworthy introduces the idea of presuppositions into the question of hermeneutics: will we assume the supreme authority of God or assume human autonomy?  This is the question upon which so much hinges in biblical interpretation.  Our assumptions or presuppositions, in addition to this one, greatly affect the effectiveness of our attempts to understand, explain and apply the text of Scripture.

“The function of hermeneutics could be stated as the attempt to bridge the gap between the text inside its world and the readers/hearers inside their world.”

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