Saturday, February 21, 2015

Select bibliography on Reformed theology


Introductory
Paul Helm, Calvin: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark 2008)
_____, The Beginnings: Word and Spirit in Conversion (Banner of Truth 1986)
_____, The Callings: The Gospel in the World (Banner of Truth 1987)
–––––, The Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell (Banner of Truth 1989)
A. A. Hodge, Westminster Confession: A Commentary (Banner of Truth 2004)
Anthony Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Eerdmans 1995)
John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Eerdmans 1996)
Roger Nicole, Our Sovereign Saviour (Christian Focus 2001)
J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historical Christian Beliefs (Tyndale 2001)
Intermediate
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology 
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan 1995)
Paul Helm, The Providence of God (IVP 1994)
Roger Nicole, Standing Forth (Mentor 2001)
J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway 2010)
O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets (P&R 2004)
Carl Trueman, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Ashgate 2007)

Fred Zaspel, ed. The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway 2010)
Advanced
William Cunningham, Historical Theology, vols 1-2 (Banner of Truth 1960)
_____, The Reformers & the Theology of the Reformation (Banner of Truth 1979)
John Frame, The Doctrine of God (P&R  2002)
_____, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (P&R 2008)
Paul Helm, Calvin at the Centre (Oxford 2010)
_____, Eternal God: A Study of God without Time (Oxford, 2nd ed. 2011)
_____, Faith with Reason (Oxford 2003)
_____, John Calvin's Ideas (Oxford 2006)
Vern Poythress, Chance and the Sovereignty of God (Crossway 2014)
Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Baker 2008)
_____, Paul, Apostle of God's Glory in Christ (IVP 2006)
Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (P&R 1997)
Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, vols 1-5 (Lexham Press 2014-)
Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan 2007). A few concessions to liberalism. Coverage thins out on the Psalter and the Prophets. 
The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (Baker 1978)

Faith on trail

This post is about the emotional problem of evil rather than the intellectual problem of evil. Many professing Christians haven't thought through the problem of evil.

In one respect, that makes sense. There are many things in life we may or may not need to understand. So our default habit is not to learn about something unless and until it happens to us. That's practical. Often, that's necessary.

There is, however, a high likelihood that a Christian will experience personal tragedy. It is imprudent to wait until tragedy hits close to home before beginning to work through the problem of evil. If you wait that long, you may wait too long.

Many people have a habit of treating evil in abstraction. They know it happens all the time, but they are shocked if it happens to them:

It is at times like these that we need to keep firmly in mind the distinction between the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil. You and your friend are obviously suffering emotionally from the severe losses that you have each experienced, she of her parents and you of your friend. Nothing has really changed to make the problem of innocent suffering more difficult intellectually. You and she were already aware of innocent persons who died in airline crashes, not to mention those who perished in the tsunami of recent years. Yet these deaths did not cause you or your friend to lose your faith. What has changed is that the problem of evil has now become intensely personal. There is an emotional component to these losses that was not present in the deaths of those other persons.

What this implies is that you need to be taking steps to deal with the emotional problem of evil. Now more than ever you need to maintain your devotional life, to be involved in daily prayer and Bible reading, to participate in meaningful corporate worship, and to fellowship with other Christians and share your burden with them.

(Source)

Having a theodicy can help you cope with tragedy. However, intellectual preparation can only take you so far.

It's useful to see how some Christians grope, flail, struggle, and muddle through the pain, anger, and confusion, when they don't have all the answers. In the end, it's grace and faith that get us through:

Mass surveillance

http://www.propublica.org/article/judge-orders-nypd-to-release-records-on-x-ray-vans#

Three loves


I. Secular Love
Several years ago, after about seventeen years of marriage, I had a few brief affairs, because I found myself unequipped to handle certain unusual circumstances in our marriage, which I won’t discuss here because they intrude on my wife’s privacy. In the process of that I also came to realize I can’t do monogamy and be happy. Since this was going to come to light eventually, about two years ago I confessed all of this to Jen and told her I still love her but I would certainly understand if she wanted a divorce. Despite all the ways we work together and were happy together, this one piece didn’t fit anymore.
Rather than divorce right away, Jen offered to try an alternative for a while to see if that would work for us. So we agreed on some rules and have had an open marriage for almost two years now, and it’s helped us work through a lot of things, and has helped us both in very different ways.
If, as Mrs. Humphry charges, Mr. Humphry abandoned her because she has contracted a potentially fatal disease, then many troubling questions arise about the man who has led an effective international crusade for a humane ''right to die.'' 
Mrs. Humphry, now 47 years old, says her husband ''panicked'' at the thought of having another wife die. ''The long and short of it is simple: Derek Humphry, unable to cope with the fact that his wife of 13 years was struck with a life-threatening illness, simply walked out,'' she wrote to board members. She had surgery on Sept. 22. He left her on Oct. 13, four days after she began chemotherapy. She said she has been told she has a 75 percent chance of recovering from the cancer.
II. Arminian Love
If you would have told me yesterday that I would find myself in sympathy with a controversial ethical position taken by Pat Robertson I wouldn’t have believed you. But here we are. Christian Post blogger Olabode Ososami’s article “Divorce and Pat Robertson’s Alzheimer’s Gaffe” has changed all that. In an interesting article Ososami points out that Robertson defended divorcing a spouse stricken by Alzheimer’s Disease because, as Robertson says, it is “a kind of death”. Ososami goes on to quote Robertson as follows:
“I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s [the husband] going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her….”
Robertson then added:
“Get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer.”
Ososami was not sympathetic to Robertson’s controversial position. And it is easy to understand why. This seems to be precisely the kind of situation covered in the “for worse” part of the martial vows. Thus divorcing a spouse at such a stage seems to be a cruel abandonment, like the cancer-stricken wife who finds her politician husband cheating on her.
I am sympathetic with that reaction. It may be right. All I am saying is that I am sympathetic with Robertson’s reasoning as well. This is what ethicists call a moral dilemma, one which is more complex than Robertson’s critics are recognizing. Why? Well Robertson asked for an ethicist to give a defense of his position so I’ll give it a try. Yes, I’m defending a controversial ethical position taken by Pat Robertson.
III. Christian Love
Then it happened. On March 27, I arrived in Peoria, Illinois, to begin a one-week conference on prophecy under the direction of the Moody Bible Institute. I was sitting in the motel room beside the telephone on Sunday afternoon, waiting with joyful anticipation. It was prearranged that Elsie would call me at four o'clock, Illinois time. The telephone had been a vital link between us whenever I was away. A man many miles from the one he loves becomes lonely.
With the first ring of the telephone, I picked it up and answered. The voice I heard on the other end of the line, however, was not the one I expected. Our son Richard was calling.
"Dad, the news is not good. Mother had a stroke." He gave me what information he had. I told him I would make flight plans and call him back.
I put down the telephone and just sat there stunned. After fifty years of a happy and trial-free relationship, why should the roof cave in like this? That Sunday in March was the darkest day in all my seventy-one years. Now, as I write these lines, it is nine months to the day since Elsie was stricken. The severity of the trial has not diminished. At times it has been even more severe.
I have been teaching the Bible and preaching sermons and writing books for forty-five years. I have set forth fervently, and sometimes dogmatically, the great doctrines of our historical Christian faith. I sought to comfort, console, and cheer sorrowing and suffering Christians. But trial and tribulation are now my constant companions. Truths that I once knew intellectually and academically, I am now learning experientially. There is a great difference.
In this book I am writing the testimony of that which is taking place in my own life during these months of watching my dear Elsie suffer. Her stroke was serious, and her recovery limited. Since her discharge from the hospital in mid-June, I have been caring for her twenty four hours every day. When you watch the one person suffer whom you love more than you love your own life, you reach a turning point. I am at that point now.
Hospitals have waiting rooms--small enclosures where people go to wait and hope for a favorable change in the condition of a loved one. Many of the people I have seen in hospital waiting rooms were anxious, worried, and frustrated.
I have been in God's waiting room since my wife had her stroke. God in His faithfulness has enabled me to bear the trial. Elsie remains paralyzed, and she needs my love and care twenty-four hours every day. I too am waiting and hoping for a favorable change; as I wait I am drawing upon the infinite resources of God's grace. This unexpected trial has changed my well-laid plans, but I know that God's plans are far better than mine.
Even so, this business of waiting is one tough assignment. I had never learned experientially that waiting is a necessary part of Christian training. This is my first experience in God's waiting room. If "Waiting 101" were an elective course in God's school, you may be certain I would not choose it. But God didn't give me a choice--it was a required course. He made the choice for me, knowing I needed it. So I continue to wait.
It was Wednesday, April 14, 1982. Eighteen days had passed since Elsie's stroke. The neurologist in charge requested that I meet with him. I waited expectantly in the corridor outside Elsie's room. When the doctor appeared his remarks were brief and pointed.
"We are making arrangements to move your wife to a rehabilitation center in San Diego."
"What led you to this decision?" I asked.
He hesitated. I detected a bit of concern in his delayed reply. I was right. His words came slowly.
"There is nothing more that we can do medically for Mrs. Strauss." He placed his hand on my shoulder and patted it gently. "I'm sorry," he said, and he walked away.
For a few seconds I stood motionless, my mind almost blank. Then I walked slowly into the room, kissed Elsie, and sat in the chair beside the bed.
She spoke first. "What did the doctor tell you?"
"He said that you will be transferred to a rehabilitation center in San Diego."
I took her hand in mine. Then I assured her that there was nothing to fear because God was in control.
But did I really believe that God was in control?
I am learning that there is a large gap between studying truth intellectually and knowing that truth by personal experience.
Is it wrong for a minister and teacher of God's Word to be perplexed? Although most of us don't admit it, all of us at some time have been tempted to walk away from God. 
How do I draw near to God? I could pray. But at that moment I was affected emotionally to the point where I couldn't articulate an intelligent prayer. 
I had just told Elsie that God was in control. But at that moment, I was being controlled by an experience that perplexed me.
After spending seventy-seven consecutive days with Elsie in the hospital room, I knew full well that we were facing the severest trial in our fifty-one years of marriage. For forty-five of those years, I had been preaching and teaching the Word of God to others. Never once did I doubt the truths I was called of God to declare, but I must confess that I had never experienced much of what I preached and taught.
Quite honestly, until our recent trial, I had never been put to the test in my own personal life. I saw how God's Word comforted others in their trials and sorrows as I read it to sick, suffering, and bereaved Christians.
While Elsie was in the hospital, each morning I would thank Him for blessings and mercies, which I mentioned one by one. Then, after a request for guidance, I would go immediately to the Word. After I read and meditated quietly, I selected a verse, typed it on a 3 by 5 card, and began my drive to the hospital. On the way down I memorized the verse. Throughout the day I read it to Elsie at intervals, and before leaving her at night we would recite it together. This became our daily practice, and it continues to be the main source of strength and comfort to us.
These questions have confronted me in vivid and unpleasant ways over the last ten to fifteen years. I have been interested in the problem of evil for much of my life, and in various degree programs I wrote theses and dissertations addressing the intellectual problems evil raises for a theist. For many years, I thought the intellectual answers I had constructed would be sufficient for someone in the midst of trials and afflictions. All of that changed for me in 1987 when my wife was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease.
Huntington’s disease is a genetically transmitted disease that attacks both mind and body and involves the premature deterioration of the caudate nucleus of the brain. On the physical side, the symptoms involve a growing inability to control voluntary movements. Among other things, this results in a loss of balance, difficulty in swallowing, slurred speech, and involuntary twitches in various parts of the body. Psychological symptoms can include memory loss, deterioration of attention span and mental function, depression, hallucination, and finally paranoid schizophrenia. The disease develops slowly, but over a period of decades it takes its toll, and it is fatal. In my wife’s case, symptoms first appeared when she was twenty-eight. As bad as this is, however, just as bad is the fact that Huntington’s is controlled by a dominant gene, so each of our children has a 50–50 chance of getting the disease. At the time we received this diagnosis, we already had three children. Since that time, progress has been made in research about this disease, but to date there is still no cure.
When news of this disease came, a host of emotions came with it: bewilderment, a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, a feeling of abandonment, and anger. As a Christian, I knew we aren’t promised exemption from problems and trials, but I never expected something like this. With one diagnosis, a dark cloud had formed above my family that would not dissipate for the rest of our lives. At that point, the problem of evil moved from an intellectual problem that I could calmly reflect on in the solitude of my study to a real-life trauma that has to be confronted every day of my life.
One of the reasons for my confusion over what was happening was the previous thinking and writing I had done about the problem of evil. If anyone should have been ready for this crisis, it was I. But during this time of emotional and spiritual turmoil, none of the intellectual answers proved to be even the least comforting. As I thought about that, I came to an important realization. The religious problem of evil, the crisis of faith precipitated by suffering, at rock bottom is not primarily an intellectual question but an emotional problem. There are, of course, intellectual questions that the sufferer asks, and at an appropriate point in the grieving process when the afflicted is ready to hear the answers, it is appropriate to offer them. However, that point rarely comes during the shock of the terrible news. At that point, the sufferer needs comfort and care, not a dissertation on the logical consistency of God’s existence and evil.
While there are many things one can say and do that won’t help the afflicted cope with trials, other things can and do help. In what follows, I will present what helped in my case, not as a how-to for comforting the afflicted but rather as a personal testimony and explanation of why I am still a Christian in spite of the evil that has befallen my family.
One of the first things that helped came in a conversation with my father. I was bemoaning the fact that this had happened and that I had no idea how I would be able to cope as my wife’s condition became progressively worse. My dad responded, “John, God never promises us tomorrow’s grace for today. He only promises today’s grace, and that is all you need.” Though at the time I wasn’t handling well the reality of my wife’s situation, I hadn’t completely collapsed. More importantly, my wife was still quite capable of functioning. Part of the grace for those early days was finding out the diagnosis at a time when the full burden of my wife’s care didn’t fall on me.
With this reminder from my dad, I began to readjust my focus from imagining what the disease would be like in the future to dealing with it in the present. I began to ask God each morning for the grace I would need to make it through that day. As I saw those prayers answered each day, I became more confident that when things got worse, I would still need only one day’s grace at a time, and it would be there.
At other times during my struggles with this disease, I am reminded that despite what is happening, God has been gracious to us in other ways. First Peter 5:7 tells us to cast our problems on God, because he cares for us. At times it doesn’t seem this is true, but it is. In our case, I realize that despite my wife’s disease, there are other problems that God has kept from us. Some people lose their spouse to cancer or a heart attack or in an automobile accident, but that has not happened to us. God doesn’t owe us such protection, but he has graciously given it to us. That is a sign that he really does care.
There is another realization that is difficult to swallow, but it is true. When tragedy strikes, we often blame God, but God didn’t give my wife this disease. In Romans 5:12, Paul explains that through Adam sin entered the human race, and death resulted from sin. In other words, people die as a consequence of sin. I am not suggesting that this has happened to my wife as recompense for being a horrendous sinner. Rather, we live in a fallen world, and death is a consequence of sin. The particular death that befalls a person doesn’t come from a specific sin he or she commits, but rather from the fact that the human race as a whole has fallen into sin. But if people die because of sin, they must die of something. One of the causes is disease, and some of those diseases are genetically controlled.
So while it is human nature to blame God for what happens, Scripture is clear that these things happen because we live in a fallen, sinful world. If we are going to be angry, our anger should be directed toward sin, not God. Our problem ultimately stems from not seeing the gravity of sin. But when we stand at the graveside of a relative or friend, or when we receive a diagnosis, we begin to see just how serious a matter sin is. The realization that something bad has happened because we live in a fallen world is not likely to comfort the afflicted, but it can help to assuage our anger at God, and it should help us redirect that anger to the proper target.
Some may grant the point about the cause of affliction but still object that an all-loving, all-powerful, all-gracious God should prevent evil from happening. Such a suggestion reflects a misunderstanding of what God’s attributes obligate him to do. Many think that because God is all-loving, he is obligated to do every loving thing possible. His grace obligates him to do every gracious thing possible, and so on. However, this is an incorrect assessment of God’s obligations. In my judgment, it would be very loving for God to make us all multimillionaires, but I can’t think of anything that obligates him to do so. God’s love doesn’t obligate him to do every loving thing possible. Rather, everything he chooses to do (though he isn’t obliged to do everything he can do) must exhibit his attribute of love. As to God’s grace, at most it means that the things he chooses to do will exhibit his grace, but even here we must be careful. Grace as undeserved favor is by definition never owed, so we can hardly demand that God act graciously toward us. The key point is that before we mount a case against God for failing to do what his character requires, we must be sure that we understand what he is obligated to do.
In spite of this point about God’s attributes, I still felt something was amiss. Granted, my wife’s disease resulted from the sinfulness of the human race, and granted, God didn’t owe us exemption from this problem because of his attributes, but still, not everyone has to deal with such a burden, so why should we? It seems God has been unfair in letting this burden fall on us when others escape such problems.
I believe this complaint is at the heart of why many believers and nonbelievers alike turn from God in the midst of affliction and feel justified in doing so. God hasn’t treated them fairly, so he doesn’t deserve their worship and devotion. As I reflected on this matter, several things came to mind. First, as I reflected on God’s fairness or justice, I began to think of my philosophical training about matters of justice. Philosophers often distinguish between distributive and egalitarian justice. Distributive justice gives to each person exactly what they are owed, reward or punishment. Egalitarian justice requires that each person receive exactly the same thing.
With this distinction in hand, I realized the nature of my complaint. I was angry because God gave me something different from what he gave others. Egalitarian justice requires that each of us get the same thing. Others escape such problems, so we should have too. As logical as this sounds, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t think of any biblical or nonbiblical principle that requires God to deal with us according to egalitarian justice.
In contrast, Scripture teaches that God functions in his relations with us in accord with distributive justice. Distributive justice is about what we have earned—what we deserve and what is owed to us. If we want God to treat us justly, that means we want what we deserve. But what do we deserve? Given God’s moral governance of our world and the fact that we have broken his laws, we deserve punishment. None of us deserves exemption from problems and punishment for sin, for all of us have sinned against God. We may chafe under this system of moral government, but God as Creator has a right to set things up this way. And given this setup, he has done nothing unjust by not exempting my family from this affliction. If we are speaking in terms of justice, God owes none of us egalitarian justice, and in terms of distributive justice, he owes none of us blessing.
Still, I harbored residual anger toward God. Though I came to see that my desire for egalitarian justice was wrong and that according to distributive justice I didn’t merit exemption from affliction, it seemed unfair that others who don’t deserve exemption from problems have not been asked to bear this burden. Eventually I came to see that my complaint was that God has dealt with others in grace, and I felt that I should get the same grace.
As I pondered such thoughts, however, I came to see how wrong they are. I was demanding grace as though God owed it to me because he gave it to others. But grace is unmerited, undeserved, unearned favor. That is, you get something good that you don’t deserve, haven’t merited, and aren’t owed. Grace is not given to reward good deeds or upright character; it’s not a reward at all. It is given out of the generosity of God’s heart. As unmerited blessing, grace is never owed—that’s why it’s grace and not justice. So God has done nothing wrong if he gives you grace that he doesn’t give me.
One of Jesus’ parables beautifully illustrates this principle. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1–16), a landowner hired workers at various times in the day. Those hired early in the day were promised a denarius for the day’s work. Others were promised only that the owner would do right by them, and still other workers were simply told to go to work. At quitting time, those hired last were paid first. The landowner paid them each a denarius, even though they had been hired a mere hour or two before the end of the day. In fact, he paid every worker a denarius. When the landowner paid those hired first the denarius he had promised, they were angry. They had worked the entire day, but those hired near the end of the day had received the same wage. Their complaint amounted to the following: Somebody got a better deal than I did, and that’s not fair!
The landowner replied that he had not treated them unfairly. They had made a deal, and he had given them exactly what he had promised. Justice says you give people what they earn and what you owe. But if the landowner wanted to be generous with the others, what’s wrong with that? If he wanted to extend them grace, why is that wrong? Whose money (whose grace) is it anyway? The message of the parable is clear: Our standing in the kingdom of heaven depends on God’s grace, and God has a right to give grace and withhold it as he chooses. Never begrudge someone the grace that God gives them, especially when he doesn’t give you the same grace.
Coming to this realization about whether God owed me exemption from this trial was a major breakthrough in my experience. It made me realize that if I were to mount a complaint against God over what he had or hadn’t done, I had no ground for such a case. I had been angry at God without adequate reason. While this realization did not remove the affliction, it made me feel more comfortable with God. After all, he had not caused the affliction, and he didn’t owe me release from it. But he hadn’t abandoned me either. He gives me grace to sustain me through each day. I don’t deserve that either, but it is there!
A final major factor in helping me adjust to what had happened and removing my anger were the many tangible signs of God’s love and care for us. Many people displayed generosity and kindness, showing us that there are people who care and who will help when things grow worse. But why do these people show us this love and concern? I know it is ultimately because God moves them to do so, and hence, we have periodic reminders that God cares for us and loves us.
There is much more to our story and many other things that also helped me cope with this affliction. I would not delude myself into thinking that everyone’s situation is like mine or that what I have said will solve the personal crises of faith others confront. However, much of what I have said touches on very common, human themes, so others may find it helpful.

Friday, February 20, 2015

God moves in a mysterious way

http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.com/2015/02/mysterious-thy-ways.html

The Imitation Game: A Masterpiece of Subversion

http://godawa.com/movieblog/oscar-watch-•-the-imitation-game-a-masterpiece-of-subversion/

Is Gen 2 a one-day creation account?


One stock objection to YEC is that it's hard to squeeze everything that happens in Gen 2 into a 24-hour timeframe. 

Now I think that objection is somewhat overdrawn. If, say, God only named the animals in the Garden, then that drastically reduces the amount of time required. 

That said, it's pretty rushed, pretty congested, if everything had to happen in the span of 24 hours. Why the hurry? 

Now, what's interesting about this question is that, unlike Gen 1, Gen 2 has no time-markers. There's nothing in the account itself to indicate when it began and when it ended. So there's nothing in the account itself to limit the action to a single day. In principle, it could be spread out over two or more days. And you could still take everything literally. 

What's driving the 24-hour interpretation of Gen 2 is synchronizing Gen 2 with Gen 1. If you take Gen 1 as the temporal frame of reference, then day 6 supplies the terminus ad quo for Gen 2 insofar as man can't be created in Gen 2 before man is created in Gen 1. 

However, assuming that we accept that frame of reference, even if day 6 supplies the terminus ad quo, that doesn't mean day 6 supplies the terminus at quem. Although, on that reference frame , it can't begin before day 6, that doesn't mean it can't end after day 6. 

Perhaps, though, the objection is that Gen 1 says both male and female were made on day 6. So that's the cutoff. However, day 6 is a shorthand account of what's detailed in Gen 2–with special reference to man's creation. The telegrammatic description of man's creation on day 6 pencilled in by the more expansive account in Gen 2. 

But it still might be said that if day 6 marks the terminus ad quo, then day 7 marks the terminus ad quem. That's if we bookend Gen 2 between day 5 and day 7. 

However, to say that day 6 supplies the terminus ad quo oversimplifies the relation. If you attempt to coordinate Gen 2 with Gen 1, then events in Gen 2 begin on day 3. For in Gen 1, the creation of flora antedates the creation of fauna by 3 days. 

On the calendar-day interpretation, you can't synchronize days 3-6 with a one-day creation in Gen 2. 24 hours ≠ 74 hours. But if, in Gen 2, some things happen sooner than day 6, why can't some things happen later than day 6?

Of course, this discontinuity goes to the fact that even though Gen 1 and Gen 2 overlap, the events in Gen 2 are in some measure independent of Gen 1 inasmuch as Gen 2 is a local creation account with special reference to the Garden of Eden. So, as a matter of act, they were never meant to be strictly synchronous. In Gen 2, God prepares a home for our first parents. He plants a garden. He furnishes the garden with animals he creates (on the spot). It's more diagonal than parallel to Gen 1. Given the complicated relationship between Gen 1 and Gen 2, there's no compelling reason to view Gen 2 as a one-day creation account. It may reflect a more leisurely pace. 

Richard Carrier's Marvelous Amusements


In the process of that I also came to realize I can’t do monogamy and be happy…Rather than divorce right away, Jen offered to try an alternative for a while to see if that would work for us. So we agreed on some rules and have had an open marriage for almost two years now, and it’s helped us work through a lot of things, and has helped us both in very different ways. 
http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/6737
I'd like to briefly discuss the concept of an open marriage. Isn't that oxymoronic? What's the point of getting married in the first place if you continue to play the field?
I suppose the cynical explanation is that an open marriage gives you a fallback in case you can't scrounge up something superior that day. Hookups are better, but that's unpredictable. That depends on having a regular supply of appealing, willing sexual partners. But what if no winsome prospects are available that day? 
Well, you always have your spouse to fall back on. If ransacking the singles bars doesn't turn up anything more exciting that day, you still have a sexual partner at home to come back to. Unless your spouse got lucky that evening and is away on a one-night stand. 
In an open marriage, the spouse is second-best, but better than nothing if you can't find somebody more appealing when you're in the mood. Just like eating second-rate food is preferable to hunger-pangs.
On the face of it, prostitution might seem to be the best of both worlds for someone like Carrier. But there's a catch: they charge for their services. And the high-end callgirls are pricey. 
Perhaps, though, Carrier could set up a special PayPal account to subsidize trips to the brothel.  
Coming out poly lends new meaning to "Richard Carrier Games" and Richard Carrier's Marvelous Amusements." 

Some Neglected Arguments For Jesus' Historicity

What's below is a response I recently wrote to an email that brought up the issue of Jesus' existence. It's a summarizing response written quickly, so I can expand upon what I wrote if anybody wants me to.

For those not familiar with mythicism, it's sometimes suggested that Jesus didn't exist or that the earliest Christians were referring to a Jesus who existed in a non-earthly realm, for example. I'm responding to such views in general, so the degree to which my comments are applicable will vary from case to case. I'm focusing on some arguments for Jesus' historicity that are less common. I'm not denying the validity of more popular arguments. Rather, I'm supplementing them:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The bitter fruit of fruits


DAN SAVAGE: Population control. There's too many goddamn people on the planet...Sometimes in my darker moments I am anti-choice. I think abortion should be mandatory for about 30 years.   
http://jkdinale.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/QA-TRanscript-episode-40-Nov-4-2013.pdf

This will be the third time I comment on his statement. Like some B movies, it's so bad that it's good (in a terrible way):

i) Even on his own terms, his position is counterproductive. If there were a 30-year moratorium on having babies, aging sodomites would lose their supply of buff young men to service them. They'd be stuck with other aging sodomites. 

ii) Many people, when they hit middle age, wax nostalgic about their youth. And when they see young people, it triggers wistful memories. 

They may envy the young. But older folks don't normally resent the young for being young. They usually assume a generous attitude: "I had my turn, now it's your turn. Hope you have as much fun as I had at your age."

But not for people like Savage. Here we see how aggravated sin erodes common grace. He duplicates the jaundiced view of the antinatalist: "Unless I'm happy, no one should be happy!"

His best years (such as they were) are behind him, and that makes him begrudge the younger generation. They have what he lost–what he can never reclaim.

Atheism, Adultery, Polyamory, And Shifting Morals

Richard Carrier has a post up announcing that he's "polyamorous", which he calls his "sexual orientation". He's been adulterous in his relationship with his wife, and they decided to get a divorce after having tried polyamory for a while. In the thread, he refers to how he has "sympathy for people who cheat on their spouses", how he's come across "many" polyamorists, and how he's become more convinced that "monogamy is the actual problem". So far, most of the responses at his blog are positive.

Herd mentality


Political correctness demystified the Left. I saw amongst the radical students a herd mentality more rigid and unthinking than I’d ever seen in an entire life growing up in a fundamentalist church (yes, fundamentalist — our little sect believed only its members merited eternal life). The herd conventional wisdom hardened virtually overnight, debate was minimal to nonexistent, and condescension and anger substituted for reason and thought. Activists raged at Christians for being intolerant, yet they exhibited less tolerance and open-mindedness than any angry pastor or minister I’d ever heard — and I’d listened to lots of anger from the pulpit. I often met liberals who’d literally never heard a coherent conservative argument and never met a conservative Evangelical. Especially in pre-Internet days, the liberal cocoon of elite education, urban liberalism, and radical readings could be virtually hermetically sealed. Even now — with an entire Internet of information about alternative ideas — Leftists often “learn” about conservatives by clicking on links with headlines like “Jon Stewart DEMOLISHES Sean Hannity” or “Right Wing Wingnuts Still Hate Science.” 
In the intolerance, I also saw hope. During one particularly memorable day, when radicals started shrieking when I questioned why our professor referred to an unborn child as a mere “clump of cells,” I remember speaking to a small group of students after class. They told me they were questioning some of their pro-choice views. “Why?” I asked. Because, they responded, if the leading pro-choice activists couldn’t debate the issue without shout-downs, then perhaps their positions weren’t as intellectually coherent as they led us to believe. Intolerance and intimidation do not breed affection and loyalty. Reasoned arguments and basic kindness have their own appeal, and often the barrier to greater influence lies more in the inability to speak (or to be heard) than in the perceived inadequacy of the ideas. 
http://www.nationalreview.com/node/414025/print

Nazareth

https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/the-nazareth-home-of-jesus/

Moratorium on kids


DAN SAVAGE: Population control. There's too many goddamn people on the planet...Sometimes in my darker moments I am anti-choice. I think abortion should be mandatory for about 30 years.   
http://jkdinale.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/QA-TRanscript-episode-40-Nov-4-2013.pdf

I've quoted this before, but it's so sublimely inane that one post can't do it justice. 

i) To begin with, the Western world is generally suffering from reproduction below replacement rate. That's masked by immigration. 

ii) Also, imagine the social consequences of no new children for 30 years. Just imagine a 30-year-gap between the current generation and the next generation. The extreme graying of the population. It would lead to the collapse of the infrastructure. Crucial jobs could not be filled.  

Of course, Savage doesn't care because that will never happen in his lifetime. It's a throwaway line. 

He's used to saying anything for effect. Saying anything to advance his political agenda. It's all about the present.

I doubt it's coincidental that Savage is an aging homosexual activist. No wonder he's so angry. It's all about sodomy all the time. He lives for sex.

Problem is: male vitality declines with age. No amount of viagra will make you feel like 20 again. 

Most straight men regress the loss of sexual vitality, but most straight men do have other things to live for. They adjust. They have varied interests. They have people to live for. 

Which raises another indelicate question: How do aging sodomites attract fresh meat? What's in it for the buff young men they crave? Even if they appeal to aging sodomites, what makes aging sodomites appealing to them? Not to mention homosexuals who play the receptive role. Once again, what's in it for them? What do they get out of that transaction? It can't be pleasant. 

Offhand, it's hard to think of any bait beyond a financial inducement. Like rich spinsters with paid "escorts."

Responding to ISIS with a Christian doctrine of hell

Someone asked me to comment on this article, and I thought I would share my response here, in case anyone else would benefit.

Thanks for sending this to me. Notice that the article doesn’t make a case for what the author thinks the Bible teaches about hell or present an argument for why the traditional doctrine of hell is unjust. Rather, it appeals to our moral intuitions. The problem with this is the subjectivity of our personal intuitions. Speaking for myself, when I hear about ISIS beheading people and burning them alive, my intuition is to thank God that a place like hell exists for such evil.

For example, the Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf, who witnessed the Serbian violence in the early 90’s after the breakup of Yugoslavia, comments that to people living in a war zone, whose villages have been plundered and burned, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, and whose fathers and brothers have been murdered, it doesn’t work to tell them that they shouldn’t respond with violence because God doesn’t respond with violence either. He writes, “Soon you will discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariable die.” The only hope for a forgiving response today is the conviction that God will bring justice in the end. 

Indeed, when God calls his people not to take revenge, he doesn’t tell them that vengeance is wrong but that “vengeance is Mine” (Deut. 32:35). And so Paul tells them to “leave room for the wrath of God” (Rom. 12:19). That is why the early church, facing the terror of Roman persecution, rejoiced in God’s judgment on “Babylon,” singing, “The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever” (Rev. 19:3). Apparently, to God’s people, the burning of their wicked torturers was received as good news. God avenges the blood of his servants (Rev. 19:2).

The author comments “Is it possible that God is actually Jesus on the cross dying for his enemies and not an ISIS terrorist torturing his enemies?” Of course, that’s a false dichotomy, since no orthodox Christian thinks that God is “an ISIS terrorist torturing his enemies.” He’s letting his caricature do the heavy lifting for him. But he fails to mention that some of those most striking statements about hell were said by Jesus himself. Jesus is the one who talks about hell being a place where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). God is not only Jesus dying on the cross for his enemies; God is also Jesus returning on a white horse with a sharp sword protruding from his mouth to strike down the nations, treading the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God (Rev. 19:15). If your theology makes room for the Jesus of the cross but not the Jesus of judgment, your theology is not actually Christian.

Now, I’m not inclined to think that people literally burn alive in hell. When you consider the Biblical descriptions of hell, there seems to be a number of figurative expressions employed (an unceasing fire, complete darkness, their worm does not die, weeping and gnashing of teeth, etc.). If you took all of these literalistically you’d have contradictory pictures (e.g., a place of both fire and darkness?). So I think they are metaphorical, but the metaphors do mean something, and they are clearly indicating that hell is a terrible place.

As I look at the rest of Scripture and the way that God’s judgment is meted out, I’ve concluded that much of the terror of hell is that it will be a society of depraved people without God’s restraining hand of common grace. In Romans 1, God’s judgment comes in the form of “giving them over” to their passions. Imagine a world of people totally absent of grace, totally given over to their godlessness, never having their desires fulfilled, and turning on one another in the process. That’s not injustice; that’s poetic justice!

He talks about about both Hitler and the indigenous tribesman who never heard the gospel receiving the same fate. Well, first, the Bible doesn’t teach that people are condemned because they’ve never heard and responded to the gospel; they are condemned because they have sinned, and the gospel is the only hope of rescue. But again, we need to distinguish our assumptions about hell from what the Bible actually teaches. Scripture does not say that the experience of judgment will be exactly the same for every individual regardless of what they did in this life. It indicates precisely the opposite (Matt. 10:15; 11:24; Rom. 2:6). When people say there is a “special place in hell” reserved for individuals like Hitler and Pol Pot and child predators, they’re actually stating a Scriptural value judgment.

I agree that we experience moral revulsion at the actions of ISIS, and rightly so. But the author then takes this moral revulsion at evil and transfers it to God’s righteous condemnation of evil. This is morally upside down. My question is, what’s his alternative? Annihilationism? But you could present exactly the same response to that position as he does to the doctrine of hell as unending, conscious torment. I’m outraged that ISIS is beheading people, taking innocent lives, robbing them in a moment of the gift God has given. Should I say that this moral intuition means it would be wicked for God to remove people from existence in judgment? If I had the time to waste, I could re-write his entire post, just replacing the terms to make it an argument against Conditionalism/Annihilationism. That’s the problem with these kinds of arguments based in “intuition” alone.

The key distinction is guilt vs. innocence. That’s the morally relevant question, and that’s what distinguishes God’s actions from the comparison. But the author has cut off that response, calling “BS” on anyone who would draw attention to the fittingness of God judging sin. My guess is that he doesn’t really see sin as terrible, wicked, deserving of judgment. Which means he is approaching the Bible with his own (culturally-blinded) assumptions, bending it into submission to his subjective opinions. At the end of the day, I don’t want to know what Benjamin Corey thinks about these things; I want to know what God thinks. And he has spoken clearly.

Cheating as a way of life


A popular slam against Christianity is that Christian faith in heaven removes the incentive to improve life on earth. Christians are too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly-use. Since Christians think this life is just at temporary phase, that's not a priority. We will put this world behind us soon enough. The best is yet to come. 

Now, even on its own terms, that charge is historically false. Christianity has done an enormous amount to improve the world. Just having a Christian lifestyle makes the world a much better place to live.

Of course, inevitability there will be disagreement on what counts, since believers and unbelievers disagree on what constitutes personal and social goods. 

But now I'd like to approach the issue from another angle. I can't help noticing how, increasingly, cheating is a way of life for unbelievers. Let's begin with a few examples:

Consider the rash of fake hate crimes. These are sometimes exposed, but they help to advance the cause. The initial report gets lots of sympathetic coverage. The retraction gets little coverage. People tend to remember the initial report, not the belated retraction.

Take systematic efforts to sabotage representative democracy. Californians passed a referendum to ban homosexual marriage. The courts struck it down. Californians then amended the state constitution to ban homosexual marriage. And a homosexual judge struck that down. So California citizens are denied the right to amend their own state constitution.

Opposition to voter ID. That's a recipe for voter fraud. Combine that with an open borders policy, and voter fraud becomes rampant. 

Or when the Supreme Court cites international law to "interpret" the US Constitution.

Or when the IRS targets conservative PACs. 

Or when the Obama administration routinely breaks the law. Flouts statutory law. 

Or when President blatantly lies about Obamacare. Or when he blatantly lies about his true position on homosexual marriage–because black voters generally oppose homosexual marriage.

Or when liberal academics and liberal politicians brazenly attack the Bill of Rights.

Or when homosexual activists lie about "tolerance." That's a wedge. 

These are just a few examples. Such tactics subvert the consent of the governed. 

Increasingly, unbelievers don't think everyone should have to play be the same rules. They have made cheating a way of life. It's all about power. It's all about winning. Do anything to gain unfair advantage. 

Why is that? Well, in part it's motivated by belief that their righteous cause justifies any means whatsoever.

But I suspect it's also motivated by the belief that you should live like there's no tomorrow, for this life is all you've got.

If you think death terminates your existence, then the stakes are too high to play fair. You can't afford to lose, because you don't get a second chance. You can't afford to be patient. From the moment you're born, you're running out of time. 

There is no eschatological justice. No eschatological compensation. No reversal of fortunes. 

So you cheat to get ahead. It's now or never. Cut in line.  

Even if you destroy the future, you are no part of that future–so what's that to you? 

What is Roman Catholicism? Part 3: Epistemology

I’ve spent some time walking through how the Reformation concepts of “general revelation” and “special revelation” form the foundation of the Protestant practice of religion. These two principles are among the first things that Herman Bavinck writes up as part of his “Prolegomena” – what the foundation of the practice of the Christian religion is.

Rome holds to “one common source, two distinct modes of transmission”, the Roman Catholic view of Special Revelation, (those being “Scripture” and “Tradition”), with the high-card up its sleeve, the thumb on the scales, being that “an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone”.

(Here, where Roman authority is involved, is the only place where they use the word “sola”).

Allison describes this phenomenon:

Another key element of this Catholic system is its epistemology, or method of knowing. Catholic theology is characterized by the integration of divergent elements: it takes an “and-and” approach, rather than an “either-or” approach. [Or a “sola” approach].

Coming Out Atheist

http://www.denverseminary.edu/resources/news-and-articles/coming-out-atheist-how-to-do-it-how-to-help-each-other-and-why/

Pointless Predestination

In considering Arminianism, there is much that I find that just doesn’t make any sense about it. In fact, if I had any Arminian leanings left, I think I would just carry on over to Open Theism because I don’t find much about Arminianism as a whole to be consistent. I’m going to address just one such area here: the utter pointlessness of predestination in Arminianism.

Now, to their credit, most Arminians do acknowledge that predestination is a thing. It’s difficult to deny given passages like Romans 8:29 and Ephesians 1:5, 11 that actually use the word “predestined.” But I’ve found that the internet Arminians that I’ve had discourse with tend to break down into two camps when it comes to predestination. The first camp believes that predestination is what God does when He examines what the future will be and then decides to make it so. The second camp believes that predestination is when God selects for groups (not individuals) to be appointed unto salvation.

But in neither case is predestination actually needed or useful. Why would God need to look through the passages of time to declare, “What is going to happen is what is going to happen” when what is going to happen is going to happen even if He does not look through time? Those who have presented this view to me are adamant that God is not effecting any change by His predestining what will happen. After all, the whole point of such a neutered concept of predestination is to avoid God being the determining factor of who is saved and who is damned. But in effect, this view renders predestination as equivalent to bare foreknowledge (by which I mean the foreknowledge that Arminians typically speak of, not the Reformed view which carries along with the “knowledge” aspect the idea of God’s love). In short, the Arminian is saying that God foreknows what will happen and then predestines what He foreknows, but His predestination is simply a restatement of His foreknowledge. It’s completely and utterly pointless here.

But what of the second camp who hold that what God predestines are groups or classes of people? Once again, this renders predestination unnecessary. Firstly, there is no advantage to predestining a class of people if you are not also predestining the members of that class. For one thing, without predestining the members you don’t even know if there will be any members until after time unfolds (so to populate the class with members, the Arminian version of God is going to have to resort to the unnecessary procedures discussed in the previous paragraph regarding foreknowledge). For another thing, the content of the decree does not impact the choices of anyone (this is critical in Arminianism, for God absolutely cannot violate freedom without destroying responsibility, etc.) and therefore this decree can just as easily come at the end of time rather than beforehand. Finally, if all that predestination is boils down to God saying, “I’m going to treat people who meet this specific condition in this specific manner” then what is the difference between predestination and the plain old law? The Laws of God specifically say things like “Every animal that parts the hoof but is not cloven-footed or does not chew the cud is unclean to you. Everyone who touches them shall be unclean.” (Leviticus 11:26, ESV). Is that predestination? And yet what is the difference between saying, “If someone touches an unclean animal he will be unclean” and “If someone believes in Christ he will be saved” in terms of class structures and groups of people?

So it appears to me that there is no purpose for predestination in Arminianism. Yet there are verses using that term. Why would God do something utterly pointless and irrelevant? Why wouldn’t He instead have a reason for predestination, just as the Calvinist sees?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Consciousness and evolution


We live in a time when many "evangelical" Christians are desperate to harmonize evolution with as much traditional theology as they can salvage. Of course, this isn't a new development. It's been going on ever since Darwin published his landmark book. In addition, the popularity of the evolution in church circles tends to wax and wane. Some periods are more accepting while other periods are more resistant. But at the moment we're living in a time when the pace of acceptance is accelerating. 

Although the theory of evolution raises many theologically significant questions about creation, providence, divine revelation, and Biblical hermeneutics, the flashpoint has always been human evolution. 

According to evolutionary theory, human intelligence evolved because the brain evolved. Human intelligence tracks brain development. As the brain became bigger and more complex, hominids became smarter.

However, one of the most ironic and interesting developments in late 20C philosophy has been the "hard problem of consciousness." On that view, consciousness has properties that are not reducible to a physical state.

There are several different arguments feeding into this position. And it's been developed by secular philosophers. These are default physicalists. They dearly wish there was no hard problem of consciousness.

If one or more of the arguments for the hard problem of consciousness are sound, then advances in neuroscience are impotent to solve the problem. 

Now, the hard problem of consciousness blows a huge hole right through the center of human evolution. For if the hard problem of consciousness is insoluble, then evolutionary psychology is false. But how can human evolution be true if evolutionary psychology is false? There's a clash of two essentially different paradigms. 

In addition, the hard problem of consciousness dovetails seamlessly with traditional Christian dualism, where man is a composite of a physical body and an incorporeal soul. The soul is the source of consciousness (mind, personality).

Although many Christians feel harried by the "evidence" for evolution, there's a sense in which the hard problem of consciousness is a gift to beleaguered Christians. This is a bulwark against human evolution. An impregnable bulwark, if it's soundly argued.

Arminian strategies for sidestepping Rom 9


I'll briefly comment on this post:


Romans 9 is often the “go to” text for Calvinists. They hold that it is about individual election to salvation — that God unconditionally chooses to save certain individuals, and that he unconditionally rejects and hardens others. John Piper writes that the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9:11-12 was the watershed event that caused him to become a Calvinist.
Arminians come to a different conclusion about Romans 9. We hold that it’s about the election of the nation Israel to serve God’s greater purposes.
As if John Piper has never encountered that alternative interpretation, much less interacted with it.
1) To understand Romans 9, read all of Romans 9, along with Romans 10 and 11. Better yet, read the the entire book. The larger context is key to understanding the passage. Calvinists
Because Reformed theologians and NT scholars like John Murray, Thomas Schreiner, Vern Poythress, Frank Thielman, and D. A. Carson never read Rom 10-11–much less the entire book. Can't you just see them slapping their brow as they read principle #1: "Now why didn't I think of that! You mean, Romans continues on the next page? I never thought to turn the page!"
2) When reading the portion of Romans 9 that sounds Calvinistic, refer to the Old Testament passages that Paul uses for his argumentation. 
Because Reformed Bible scholars like John Currid, Duane Garrett, Gregory Beale, and Bruce Waltke have never studied those OT passages. 
3) Whatever Romans 9 means, it can’t mean that God is a liar, and it can’t contradict the plain meaning of other scripture passages.
When you lose the exegetical arguments, you can still pull the rip cord. Notice how principle #3 nullifies #1-2. So why not skip the formalities and go straight to #3? Arminianism is an unfalsifiable tradition.

A Collection Of Studies On Christianity And Young People

See J. Warner Wallace's post here on the extent to which young people are leaving Christianity, the reasons they give for leaving, and related issues. Two of the problems that stand out in my mind are parents and churches' intellectual shallowness on religious matters and their lack of apologetic work. One thing that's helpful is to ask what schools are expecting from their students and compare that to what parents and churches are expecting in religious contexts. Are we to believe that students can handle trigonometry, chemistry, and American history in high school, then go on to get college degrees and doctorates, but can't handle anything beyond an elementary school or junior high level when their parents or churches are addressing religious subjects? And it's not just a problem with young people. Most churches treat middle-aged and elderly adults as if they can't handle anything beyond a junior high level, if even that. We're living in an unprecedented information age, and the anti-Christian apologetic efforts of our culture operate far above a junior high level. We need to adjust accordingly.

Postmortem ichthyological cognition


This may illustrate one of the hazards of using fMRI scans to show that minds are reducible to brains:

...we completed an fMRI scanning session with a post-mortem Atlantic Salmon as the subject. The salmon was shown the same social perspective-taking task that was later administered to a group of human subjects. 
Either we have stumbled onto a rather amazing discovery in terms of postmortem ichthyological cognition, or there is something a bit off with regard to our uncorrected statistical approach. 
https://labs.psych.ucsb.edu/miller/michael/PDF/Bennett-JSUR-2010.pdf

Red states are pro-science while blue states are anti-science

http://www.science20.com/print/79868

The NT witness protection program


Because we have no extrabiblical corroboration for the existence of some individuals or villages named in the Gospels, unbelievers claim these never existed. They are fictional characters or fictional villages. 

Now, I think the objection is patently absurd. For one thing, many ancient were fly-by-night hamlets. Consider all the ghost towns in the Old West or Midwest that came and went. Which used to be on the map. Silver mining towns that went bust. Or towns which the train bypassed. 

Likewise, these people are only remembered because they were recorded in the Gospels. 

There is, however, another issue. In some instances this may be the NT witness protection program. It's possible that a Gospel writer might intentionally obscure the identity or address of somebody connected with Jesus to shield him or his family from hostile authorities. Change their name. Use pseudonyms for proper names or place names if the individual was still alive at the time of writing.

I have a book by an anthropologist who studied an Eskimo fishing village on the North Slope. She uses pseudonyms for the town and its inhabitants to protect their privacy. 

Special Revelation and God’s “catholicity”

“If we finally briefly sum up with Scripture teaches about Revelation”, Bavinck says, “we first of all have to understand by revelation quite generally that deliberate and free act of God by which he makes himself known to human beings in order that they may come to stand in the right relation to him” (Bavinck, vol 1, pg 349).

General revelation teaches that there is a God, and that we are separated from him; but it is Special revelation that shows us the way back to God.

“Revelation” as given in Scripture holds that “the Messiah came forth only from Israel” and that “in Scripture the initiative in religion is not taken by human beings but by God”. That is, “in Scripture it is always God who seeks human beings. He creates them in his image and calls them after the fall. He saves Noah, chooses Abraham, gives his laws to Israel. He calls and equips the prophets. He sends his son and sets apart the Apostles. He will one day judge the living and the dead” (Bavinck, vol 1, pg 327).

General revelation provides “a calling from God that comes to human beings through nature and history and that, when they do not obey this calling, renders them inexcusable”:

Since this general revelation is insufficient [to convey the saving knowledge of the salvation that God has provided] … special revelation is a revelation of special grace and thus brings into existence the salvific religion known as Christianity.

Special revelation is salvific revelation and consequently casts the subject and the means, the content and the purpose of revelation, into another form… (Bavinck, vol 1, pg 342).

God’s “catholicity”:

Hence the object of revelation cannot only be to teach human beings, to illuminate their intellects (rationalism), or to prompt them to practice virtue (moralism), or to arouse religious sensations in them (mysticism).

God’s aim in special revelation is both much deeper and reaches much farther. [And here we see God’s “catholicity”.] It is none other than to redeem human beings in their totality of body and soul with all their capacities and powers; to redeem not only individual, isolated human beings but humanity as an organic whole. Finally, the goal is to redeem not just humanity apart from all other creatures but along with humanity to wrest heaven and earth, in a word, the whole world in its organic interconnectedness, from the power of sin and again to cause the glory of God to shine forth from every creature (Bavinck vol 1 pg 346).

This is God’s “catholicity”, and it shows the “catholicity” aimed for both by Roman Catholicism and also those who want to claim “reformed catholicity” to be cheap substitutes.

You want to say, “oh, but we still should try”? But God has his job, and we have ours.

Sin has spoiled and destroyed everything: the intellect and the will, the ethical and the physical world. Accordingly, it is the whole person and the whole cosmos at whose salvation and restoration God is aiming in his revelation. God’s revelation, therefore, is certainly soteriological, but the object of that salvation (σωτηρια) is the cosmos, and not only the ethical or the will to the exclusion of the intellect, and not only the psychological to the exclusion of the somatic and physical, but everything in conjunction. For God has consigned all human beings under sin that he might have mercy upon all (Rom 5:15f; 11:32; Gal 3:22).

When we keep this goal in mind, it will not be hard for us to draw the boundary to which special revelation is extended. Special revelation, according to Scripture has occurred in the form of a historical process, which culminates in the person and work of Christ. But when Christ has appeared and is taken up into heaven, special revelation does not immediately cease as a result. Still to come then, are the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the extraordinary operation of powers and gifts through and under the guidance of the apostolate.

Without doubt, Scripture still counts all this as belonging to the area of special revelation; and the continuation of this revelation in the apostolic age was necessary to give special revelation, which had culminated in Christ, permanence and stability in the midst of the world, a permanence and stability in the text of Scripture as well as in the life of the church.

Truth and life, prophecy and miracle, word and deed, inspiration and regeneration go hand in hand also at the completion of special revelation.

But when in Scripture and in the church the revelation of God that appeared in Christ has become a constituent of the cosmos, a new dispensation begins. Just as up until this time everything had been prepared with a view to Christ, now everything is traced back to him. Then Christ was made to be the head of the church; now the church is to be the body of Christ. Then Scripture was completed; now it is worked out. No new constitutive elements can any longer be added to special revelation now, because Christ has come, his work is finished, his Word completed…

Scripture clearly teaches that God’s full revelation has been given in Christ and that the Holy Spirit who was poured out in the church has come only to glorify Christ and take all things from Christ (John 16:14).

But to that end, accordingly, the activity of the Spirit is continually needed. For the special revelation in Christ is not meant to be restricted to himself but, proceeding from him, to be realized in the church, in humanity, in the world. The aim of revelation, after all, is to re-create humanity after the image of God, to establish the kingdom of God on earth, to redeem the world from the power of sin and, in and through all this, to glorify the name of the Lord in all his creatures (Bavinck, vol 1, pgs 346-347).

God has set the course for “catholicity” – just as “sin has spoiled and destroyed everything: the intellect and the will, the ethical and the physical world”, so too does God’s reach for his Word extend “accordingly”, to the “whole person and the whole cosmos at whose salvation and restoration God is aiming in his revelation” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

God’s word neither requires nor asks for help of “the succession”.

“He himself is our peace” and “through him we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access in one Spirit to the Father”:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.