Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A new Confession of Faith for the 21st Century

I’m going to comment on some statements from this creed:

I’ve already commented on one statement:

Moving along:

We believe in one God, who is the creator, sustainer and ruler of everything that exists.  By his eternal decrees he has established the universe and governs it according to his sovereign will. No being greater than he exists, and no being has the power to affect, modify or diminish his sovereignty over his creation.  

That’s fine as far as it goes. But it’s less detailed than the Westminster Confession. Lacks the specificity.

A new creed ought to build on the best of what came before. Improve on the past. Incorporate the finest insights and the finest formulations of earlier creedal statements.

In himself, God is often so unlike any of his creatures that we can only speak of him by saying what he is not – he is not visible, not mortal, not comprehensible either physically or mentally.

i) That’s quite agnostic. Pure apophatic theology. We don’t know what God is like, only what God is unlike.

ii) It disregards the fact that God is both analogous and disanalogous to creatures. According to Augustinian tradition of medieval exemplarism, God is imitable. Creatures finitely exemplify divine attributes in varying degrees.

iii) And this is positive, not negative. Creation by limitation. For instance, space and time are limits. By contrast, the divine mode of subsistence is a given totality. Analogous to the abstract actual infinite in mathematics (over against a potential infinite.) That’s a positive concept. It can be given a precise definition.

iv) Compare the growing past theory of time with the block view of time:

These are opposites, but it’s not as if one represents the negation of the other.

Or take timeless eternality:

What helps to form the thought that God is timeless (and spaceless) is the idea, surely a basic intuition of ‘Abrahamic’ theism, that God has fullness or self-sufficiency or perfection. Part of God's perfection is that he is changeless; he cannot change for the worse, and does not need to change for the better. He exists as a complete, entire unity, together. His existence is not spread out in time or in space, as the existence of material objects is, but his existence is all at once.

Those in time are bound by it, in this sense, that they cannot stop the process of change and therefore of time. They are the subjects of time, not its masters…In this respect the hymn-writer Isaac Watts was perfectly correct when he compared time to an ‘ever-rolling stream’ which ‘bears all its sons away’.
Another feature of time is that those who exist in time have lives which are successive. Their memories are of parts that existed earlier, present awareness is of that part that exists now, (or perhaps a short time earlier) and hopes and expectations concern those parts that exist later. If God is in time in the sort of way that human beings are in time it follows that he has earlier and later phases. At any time, a part of his life is earlier than other parts. On the reasonable supposition that he has always existed there is a series of parts that is backwardly everlasting. There never was a time when God was not. Nevertheless it follows from the supposition that God is in time that there are segments of his life which together constitute a part of God's life that are presently inaccessible to him except by memory. And the eternalist will say that such an idea is incompatible with God's fullness and self-sufficiency. For how could God be restricted in this way?

That isn’t reducible to a via negativa. This is dealing with positive concepts.

v) Certainly the Bible doesn’t carry the disclaimer that none of its statements about God tells us what God is really like.

In the Old Testament God speaks as one person, whom the New Testament equates with the Father of Jesus Christ, although the term ‘Father’ was not normally used to speak about God in Israel. 

That’s deceptive. Yes, the NT frequently equates Yahweh with the Father, but the NT also equates Yahweh with the Son. Likewise, the author of Hebrews treats the Holy Spirit as the speaker when Yahweh is the speaker.

The Son and the Holy Spirit are not very extensively described in the Old Testament…

Of course, if you stipulate at the outset that the Father is the exclusive referent of “God” in OT usage, then by definition, anything the OT says about the Son and the Spirit will be the residual after you first reserve all statements about “God” or “Lord” for the Father. That’s building on a false premise (see above).

...but they are eternally present in God and participate fully in all his acts…

This makes it sound as if the Son and the Spirit are merely divine attributes. 

It is therefore intrinsic to the teaching of Christ that there are three persons in the one God. 

The conventional formulation is one God in three persons, not three persons in one God. I don’t know why the WRF statement flips that around. It makes the Trinity sound like a 3-car garage: there are three cars in the one garage.

God made the entire universe very good.  God is not the author of evil, and his holiness is not compromised by its existence.  Evil originated in the rebellion of Satan and some of the angels.
It appears that pride was at the root of their fall.  The fallen angels are called demons and are led by Satan.  They oppose the work of God and seek to frustrate his purposes.  Nevertheless God remains sovereign over the powers of evil and uses their actions to forward his plan of salvation.  Demons are not to be worshipped or served in any way.  Their activity lies behind false religions and Satan blinds human minds to the truth. 

This fails to state the fact that God predestined the Fall. It makes it sound as if he has a plan of salvation, but not a plan for the fall. As if the fall was an unpremeditated disaster, and redemption an afterthought.

But in Calvinism, God intended the fall, and did so for an overarching reason. Both the fall and redemption are integrated elements, planned in mutual conjunction, as a part of God’s eternal design.

God’s call to human beings is to repent and believe.  No one can respond to this call without the work of the Holy Spirit. 

That, of itself, doesn’t go beyond the Arminian theory of prevenient grace or sufficient grace. It isn’t monergistic.

Though many may aurally receive the message, or read it directly from the Bible, or indirectly in Christian literature, not all are chosen.  Rather than abandon the human race in its fallen condition, God sovereignly and graciously elected some to eternal life.  Only those whose hearts and minds are illumined by the Holy Spirit are empowered to accept the promised gifts of forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God. 

i) That doesn’t clearly distinguish between conditional and unconditional election.

ii) In addition, it says nothing about reprobation. But a fundamental difference between Lutheranism and Calvinism is that Lutheranism only affirms single predestination (i.e. election) whereas Calvinism affirms double predestination (i.e. election and reprobation).

The Scriptures have a fundamental clarity but only the Christian believer can receive and understand their spiritual meaning and significance, having access to the mind of Christ.

i) It’s true that only a born-again Christian will be receptive to the message of Scripture.

ii) It’s not true that only a Christian can understand Scripture.

iii) The Bible doesn’t have a “spiritual meaning.” The Bible refers to many spiritual truths, but that doesn’t make the meaning spiritual.

Similarly, although it is possible that lost apostolic writings may one day be rediscovered, they will not be regarded as Holy Scripture because they have not been handed down from apostolic times as part of the normative rule. 

Of course, that’s hypothetical, but for the sake of argument, why shouldn't we regard a newly-discovered apostolic writing as Scripture? The process of transmission is irrelevant to its intrinsic properties (e.g. revealed truth).

If it's divinely inspired, then it’s the word of God. We have a standing obligation to believe and obey what God tells us to think or do. 

Immediately after death, the souls of human beings return to God, while their bodies are destroyed.  They do not fall into a state of sleep.


The souls of the saved enter into a state of perfect holiness and joy, in the presence of God, and reign with Christ, while they await the resurrection. This happiness is not impeded by the memory of their lives in earth, since now they consider everything from the light of God’s perfect will and plan.

i) That’s a half-truth. According to Rev 6:10, the saints aren’t perfectly happy. And that’s because they do remember what happened to them on earth. They won’t rest content until the Day of Judgment.

ii) Put another way, the WRF statement suffers from overrealized eschatology. It fails to distinguish between the intermediate state and the final state. There are stages in the process. Everything doesn’t happen all at once.

They have no power to intercede for the living or to become mediators between them and God.

This is shadowboxing with the Roman Catholic cult of the saints. But it needs to be more qualified.

i) Mediation and intercession aren't interchangeable.

ii) It’s theoretically possible that our sainted loved ones do pray for us. However, we don’t have any concrete evidence that that’s the case. So it would be improper for us to count on that or build a theological edifice on that sandy foundation. We don’t know one way or the other. It’s sheer speculation.

iii) In principle there’s a difference between loved ones interceding for us and perfect strangers interceding for us. By the same token, there’s no warrant to pray to the “saints” to intercede for us.

iv) What we do know is that Jesus ascended to heaven to intercede for his people (e.g. Heb 7:25). So we should direct our prayers to him.

Neither the souls of the saved nor those of the lost can return to the land of the living after death.  All experiences attributed to the action of disembodied souls must be attributed either to human imagination or to the action of demons. 

So when the Gospels tell us that Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus and the disciples at the Transfiguration, this must be attributed either to human imagination or demonic impersonation?

And when Scripture indicates that Samuel appeared to Saul, this must be attributed either to human imagination or demonic impersonation?

1 comment:

  1. Steve wrote, "What we do know is that Jesus ascended to heaven to intercede for his people (e.g. Heb 7:25). So we should direct our prayers to him."

    I was always told that we should direct our prayers to our Heavenly Father. Is that incorrect?