Tuesday, September 24, 2013

D. A. Carson's book "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God"

D. A. Carson's book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Crossway, 2000) is small--about 75 pages of text--but very profound.  In this slim volume Carson has packed a great deal of content.  He touches upon lexical studies regarding the word "love" in the New Testament, the doctrine of impassibility, limited atonement, different aspects of the love of God, and the importance of seeing God's love in light of the fulness of all of his attributes.  Here a few comments I was again skimming today:
I do not think that what the Bible says about the love of God can long survive at the forefront of our thinking if it is abstracted from the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, the providence of God, or the personhood of God—to mention only a few nonnegotiable elements of basic Christianity.

The result, of course, is that the love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable.  The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized. p 11

Carson also has a great discussion in which he recognizes five different aspects of God's love.  His five categories are:
a.     The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father

b.     God’s providential love over all the he has made.

c.      God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world

d.     God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect.

e.     God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way—conditioned, that is, on obedience. pp 16-21

The great news is that Carson's book is available for free online HERE.  Take up and read!

Friday, September 20, 2013

God and the Heavy Rock He Can Lift

I'm currently teaching a course on systematic theology to some high school students.  We've been discussing God's omnipotence and today we looked at the old paradox, "Can God make a rock so heavy he cannot lift it?"  As we looked at this I tried to stress that this is not some theoretical issue they will have to think about.  I told of how back in 2002 while working at a big-box store I got into a series of written exchanges about philosophy and theology with one of the young men who collected carts out in front of the store.  We had a fascinating and free-ranging discussion that was both cordial and stimulating.  I shared with my class this exchange that B-. and I had to demonstrate the real world application of what we were discussing in class.

B-. wrote:

If god is infinite and the ultimate creator, then lets say that for some reason he decides to create a boulder so heavy that he can’t lift it.  Assuming that he can do so, cause he can do anything.  This would then have a problem, the rock now surpass[es] “god” as being something greater, if only for a moment.  Now the rock is to be worshipped and made sacrifice for as being your supreme being.

I responded with this comment:

The “God and the rock so heavy He can’t lift it” is a familiar objection—familiar but fallacious.  Your argument contains a premise which is false thus invalidating your argument.  The false premise is that there is such a thing as a boulder which God cannot lift.  All that God creates is under His sovereign control therefore there is no such possibility of a rock which God cannot lift.  God cannot create a rock so heavy He cannot lift it.  Does this compromise God’s omnipotence (God’s all-powerfulness)?  Not at all.  Christian philosophers have always defined and understood God’s omnipotence to exclude that which is contrary to God’s character.  For example, can God “kill” Himself and cease to exist—no.  But this limitation on the definition of omnipotence is a necessary consequence of God’s perfection.  God is perfect in His existence—He cannot “die.”  He is perfect in strength—He can lift anything that is “creatable.”  It is no limit on God’s perfection that He cannot be imperfect.
Of course, more could have been said but I wrote this on a lunch break!  For those looking for a good introduction to this topic I would recommend Ronald Nash's discussion in his small book The Concept of God (Zondervan, 1983), chapter 3--especially pages 47-49.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Rhetoric of "Fear-driven" Theology--part 2

This continues the dialogue began in part one.

David writes:

Sorry for taking so long to get back to you, Richard. I have been in the middle of a move (geographical, not theological or ecclesial) and this is the first time I have sat down in front of a computer since Wednesday.
My statements about a lot of apologetics being motivated by fear are basically attempts at articulating a hunch based on my own experience and based on the testimonies of friends who think of themselves as “recovering Fundamentalists.” In other words, I know that there were times (particularly in my late teens) when I relied on apologetics because I was terrified that my Christian faith was not grounded in reality. I desperately needed some assurance that I was not crazy to be a Christian, and I looked to Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler, Francis Schaeffer, and, eventually, Greg Bahnsen, Cornelius Van Til, & Co. to give me that assurance. I *needed* the arguments to hold. I needed certainty. I didn’t want theological loose-ends, either, because I was afraid they might unravel my entire worldview. This was my Fundamentalist phase and it was thankfully short-lived (maybe age 17-20).
At some point during my college years I got over all that–somewhere between reading Wolterstorff’s Reason Within The Bounds of Religion and Alister McGrath’s A Scientific Theology–and learned to get on without absolute, Cartesian certainty, to live with open-ended questions, and to rest in the simple faith in mere Christianity I’d learned as a kid.
In the meantime, I have met boatloads of self-described “recovering Fundamentalists” who describe their experiences in very similar terms–fear-driven dependence upon apologetics. And I am struck by how often I meet would-be apologists whose knee-jerk reaction to difficult issues is not to ask about the evidence but to ask about the stakes (If Adam & Eve are not historical, is my faith in vain?). I can’t be sure, but my hunch is that when our default questions are “What’s at stake?” and “What’s next?” (slippery-slope), we are engaging issues from a place of fear. I also think that belligerence is often symptomatic of fear.
Maybe the fear isn’t even for ourselves. Maybe it’s fear that our kids will hear something and abandon the faith. Maybe it’s fear about the direction our society is going in. Whatever it is, a natural reaction is to circle the wagons and defend ourselves with whatever arguments we find ready-to-hand.
In any case, this isn’t a counter-argument but a hunch about the motivation for some arguments. If we want to talk about Adam, we should talk about our reasons for thinking what we think. I wouldn’t start by speculating about your motives at all and I hope you would extend the same courtesy to me. But if the conversation seemed to evade vitally relevant evidence, if the conversation kept coming back to questions about theological stakes and slippery-slopes, and especially if the conversation became heated, I don’t know if I could help wondering about the spiritual and emotional dimensions of the discussion.
Finally, I should make it absolutely clear that I do not think that anyone who disagrees with me only does so out of fear. I thought that could go without saying, but now I’m not so sure.
I responded:

I appreciate the interaction. I’ll try to make this one of my last comments so that this does not become the unending thread!
My comments have focused on your statement regarding apologetics. Now after our back and forth I see now that your comments are based on your own experiences as a late-teen and the experiences of others of your friends. This then produces a “hunch” that “so much apologetics is fear-driven.” Your initial comments thus seem to be a bit overblown. My concern is not simply with a lack of justification for your remarks. As I understand your purposes they are to minister in a pastoral capacity to those engaged in Christian scholarship. As this is your goal may I suggest that your initial comments were a bit of reckless rhetoric that did not serve your pastoral purposes. You could have developed your main concern about fearfulness in approaching theology without seemingly denigrating so much of apologetics–especially after setting up the entire set of posts with a division between the faculty at Westminster.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Anthony Hoekema on Original Sin

I created the following graphic for my teaching of systematic theology.  As is documented below the quotations come from Reformed theologian Anthony Hoekema.

Original sin includes both guilt and pollution. 

Guilt is a judicial or legal concept describing one’s relationship to the law—in this case, specifically to God’s law.  Guilt is the state of deserving condemnation or of being liable to punishment because the law has been violated.  When we say that original sin includes guilt, we do not mean that each of us is considered personally responsible for what Adam did.  You and I cannot be held directly responsible for something someone else has done.  But the doctrine of original sin does mean that we are involved in the guilt of Adam’s sin because he acted as our representative when he committed the first sin.

Pollution, in distinction from guilt, is a moral concept; it has to do with our moral condition rather than with our status before the law.  We can define original pollution (the pollution involved in original sin) as the corruption of our nature that is the result of sin and produces sin.  As a necessary implication of our involvement in Adam’s guilt, all human beings are born in a state of corruption.  We should distinguish between two aspects of original pollution: pervasive depravity and spiritual inability.

·       Pervasive depravity, then, means that (1) the corruption of original sin extends to every aspect of human nature: to one’s reason and will as well as to one’s appetites and impulses; and (2) there is not present in man by nature love to God as the motivating principle of his life.

·       Spiritual inability means two things: (1) the unregenerate person cannot do, say, or think that which totally meets with God’s approval, and therefore totally fulfills God’s law; and (2) the unregenerate person is unable apart from the special working of the Holy Spirit to change the basic direction of his or her life from sinful self-love to love for God.  “Spiritual inability” is really only another way of describing the doctrine of “pervasive depravity,” this time with an emphasis on the spiritual impotence of the will.[1]

[1] Taken from Anthony Hoekema Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 148-152.