Saturday, August 23, 2008

Covenantal Divide Between Presbyterians and non-Dispensational Reformed Baptist

I enjoyed reading a recent post at the Thomas Goodwin blog, where the pseudonymous (like the present author) author provided some interesting commentary on the minority position held by Owen in contrast to that of the other major Reformed writers (Witsius, van Mastricht, and Turretin). (link) I would tend to see Owen's view as being consistent with Reformed Baptist (of the non-dispensational variety) position, whereas the other major Reformers would tend to favor the Presbyterian view. This is of particular interest in view of recent dialog and debate on the issues of infant baptism between Reformed Baptists and conservative Presbyterians.


Dabney on J.A. Alexander

Joshua Lim at Reformed Blogging has provided an interesting quotation from Dabney about Hodge (link). It's worth noting that the idiom Dabney employs is a bit outdated and might seem confusing to modern readers. "Man of the closet" means someone who studies a lot, which we might today refer to as a person who lives in an ivory tower.

UPDATE: It turns out that it is not Hodge, but J.A. Alexander that was being discussed. Joshua has removed the post, so I'll just post the relevant description, below:

"I was much struck with the fact that one who was so mach a man of the closet as he should have so much practical knowledge of society and human nature. During the day I remarked that there seemed to be a great difficulty in combining practical knowledge of men and affairs with thorough scholarship in our young men because the study which secured the latter necessarily shut them out of the publicity chich taught the former. He very quietly replied that there was a way by which the recluse in his study might acquire a correct knowledge of nature; by the study of his Bible and his own heart. I have no doubt that this remark gave the key to his own character as concerned this trait of it. There was a remarkable absence of egotism and dogmatism for one who must have been conscious of powers and acquirements and who had been so much complimented and applanded. This unhappily for me, happily for him, was my last interview for the good man was taken away from the evil to come." The Life of Joseph Addison Alexander By Henry Carrington Alexander, pp. 798-99.

Friday, August 22, 2008

εξο της παρεμβολης addresses Purgatory using Turretin

Danny at εξο της παρεμβολης has provided an interesting three-part series on Purgatory relying (especially in part 2) on the real Turretin to provide some solid criticism of the innovated doctrine of Purgatory and its impact on the doctrine of sola fide.

Part 1 (link)
Part 2 (link)
Part 3 (link)



Think of a Better Headline - Ecumenical Patriarch and Pope

The real headline was something about the two leaders of their respective religions (Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism) kissing. I'm sure this sort of thing gives ecumenicists the warm fuzzies.

One cannot fail to notice, however, the EP's enormous, highly ornate, crown. Especially in view of the pope's choice of going with much more low-key garb for the event (though one assumes that the mitre shown worn here by John 23rd is still kicking around the Vatican somewhere), the EP's regalia stands out.

So, since humor is so rarely expressed on this blog, I thought it might be nice to have a little fun with recaptioning the image shown above.

My proposals:

1) "This really was not a mitre-optional event, Ben."

2) "I'd have worn a zucchetto too, but it would not cover my enormous brain."

Any thoughts from my readers?


When does life begin?

The Bible does not specifically say when life begins. It is clear that life begins before birth, despite some claims to the contrary. Before birth, there are essentially three "bright lines" that can be drawn:

1) Viability

This line is a moving target as technology for supporting very untimely babies improves. The current earliest viability date is around 21-22 weeks from conception. That's significantly earlier than what it would have been about 50 or 100 years ago. In another 50 or 100 years, that age may be pushed back further, perhaps all the way back to conception - we just don't know.

Using viability as a criterion is unsatisfying because of its reliance on technology, and because it means that a baby exactly physically the same but placed 50 years ago or 50 years from now is considered to be alive (or not) differently. Intuitively, most people recognize that this cannot be correct.

2) Quickening/Ensoulment

A second line that has sometimes been drawn is a line based on what is termed the quickening of the child or what is called the ensoulment of the child. The two are not necessarily exchangeable.

Quickening is sometimes viewed as the first time the child shows signs of life that the mother can detect. This normally occurs around 18-21 weeks, but can occur as early as 14 weeks from conception. Evidently quickening had significance in the English common law, especially as an aggravating circumstance with respect to the homicide of fetal humans.

Ensoulment is the time when an infant's body gains a soul. Certain theologies would actually extend the child's soul indefinitely back to Adam, essentially viewing the soul as being transmitted via the sperm. This would seem to be based at least in part on a defective understanding of Scripture relating to Adam's federal headship.

Sometimes the time of quickening is identified as the time of ensoulment, but Scripture does not specify such a thing.

Quickening is partly counter-intuitive because it basically depends on the sensitivity of the mother. Furthermore, primiparous women usually feel this movement later than multiparous women, which would mean that a physically identical infant that was simply the first to be conceived would gain life later than a corresponding infant that was third to be conceived.

Furthermore, other signs of life are now visible with machine much earlier than when a child begins to kick from within. For example, after only 2 or 3 weeks, a heartbeat can be detected with the right equipment.

One solution is to push back ensoulment to the formation of the heart or brain (around 18 days from conception) or the formation of lungs (slightly later). One issue with such an approach is that there is no compelling Biblical data to suggest one option over another one.

3) Conception

Conception is normally identified as the moment at which a sperm cell and ovum cell combine to form a single diploid cell. This is the most widely accepted (among Christians) date for the beginning of life. There are, however, several objections:

a) Identical Twins
Identical twins are the result of a division of the original diploid cell. If they divide very early, they will have separate placentas. If they divide somewhat later, they will have one placenta with two amniotic sacs. It is believed the conjoined twins divide much later.

Often one objection is that since a given zygote has the biological potential to split after conception, the soul cannot yet be present. In short, the soul cannot be present until after twinning is impossible.

The usual response is either that:

i) the original zygote has two souls (this approach assumes a deterministic view of the world); or
ii) the soul of one of the twins is created upon the splitting (this, in essence, makes one of the twins the ancestor of the other twin).

b) Too Many Deaths

Another argument against the view of life starting at conception is that it results in a large number of deaths, since it is imagines that a significant number of human zygotes fail to embed in the uterus, and consequently die. Additionally, in the production of "test tube babies" a number of zygotes are produced and normally only one or a few is ever introduced into the mother's womb.

This argument mostly appeals to the emotions. If life starts at conception, than infant mortality is much higher than if life starts at birth, but that does not seem to have any rational basis.

c) It's not in the Bible

The Bible does not say that life starts at the moment of conception. The counter-argument here would seem to be that the Bible does speak of people being conceived:

Luke 1:36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Matthew 1:20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

Luke 2:21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

2 Samuel 11:5 And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.

Job 3:3 Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.

Song of Solomon 3:4 It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.

Hosea 1:6 And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Loruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away.

Leviticus 12:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.

Hosea 2:5 For their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them hath done shamefully: for she said, I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink.

The following essentially make the comment that a woman "conceived (sometimes adding "again"), and bare a son (or the name of the son)"

Genesis 4:1 and 17; Genesis 29:32-35; Genesis 30:5, 7, 17, 19, and 23; Genesis 38:3-5; Exodus 2:2; 1 Samuel 1:20; 1 Samuel 2:21; 2 Kings 4:17; 1 Chronicles 7:23; Isaiah 8:3; and Hosea 1:3 and 8.

The following mention something essentially along the lines of "shall conceive and bear a son"

Judges 13:3, 5, and 7; Isaiah 7:14; and Luke 1:31.

So, the Bible does not explicitly say that conception is when life starts, but it makes a pretty strong connection that way.


Conception is the easiest bright line to use, notwithstanding the objections. Since we have a duty to protect human life, it is preferable to draw the line earlier (perhaps protecting non-life) rather than later (perhaps not protecting life). Birth itself is an absolutely ludicrous standard for the beginning of life, particularly in view of the fact that some children are conceived outside of the body, and the fact that an unborn child can be taken from the womb without the mother giving birth in the conventional sense(Cesarean Section, for example). Furthermore, birth is clearly not the beginning of life according to the Biblical evidence (John the Baptist and Christ being two immediately apparent examples).

There's no particular reason to draw the line before conception, because there is no biological identity of a person before conception. However, the scientific evidence is conclusive that at conception a new biological entity is formed, distinct from both the mother and the father, and remains the same biological entity that is (if all goes well) eventually born.

All in all, therefore, the king (the one who has been given authority by God to rule the nation) has the responsibility of protecting human life including unborn human life. The king, therefore, would be wise to fulfill this responsibility by protecting human life from the moment of conception.

May God persuade the rulers of this earth to do their duty,


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Two Sola Scriptura Debate Transcripts

My own debate on Sola Scriptura with Mr. Bellisario is progressing at a snail's pace (link to debate) - the latest news being that late last night my cross-examination questions for Mr. Bellisario were posted.

For those champing at the bit (or chomping at it, if historical etymology is not important), here are two Sola Scriptura debate transcripts - both of which are rather substantial in terms of reading length.

Gerry Matatics vs. James White (1992)

James White vs. Patrick Madrid (1993)



Plantinga on Naturalism and Evolutionism

Melinda at Stand to Reason, has posted an interesting quotation from Alvin Plantinga on the relation between Naturalism and Evolutionism (link). Prof. Plantinga makes an excellent point regarding the fact that naturalism and evolutionism are not allies but enemies.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Steve and Turretin vs. Bryan Cross

I enjoyed a recent article by Steve Hays of Triablogue taking Bryan Cross to task on the issue of the perspicuity of Scripture, and relying on Turretin's excellent summary of that issue. (link)


Arminianism and Natural Birth

Joshua Lim at Reformed Blogging has an interesting post on Arminianism and Natural Birth (link) (Mitch has pointed out that there is something wrong with the link. The post can be found via the following link, about 3/4 of the way down the page - backup link). He states fairly succinctly this particular problem that is posed for Arminianism. More could be said, of course, but the main point is articulated, and worth reading.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Learn a Word: Aseity (Self-Existence)

As one wise pastor recently pointed out to me, "very few people even know what aseity means." He's right, of course. So, what does aseity mean?

In general it refers to God's property of being self-existent. By way of background, I provide the following explanation:

By self-existence we mean
(a) That God is "causa sui," having the ground of his existence in himself. Every being must have the ground of its existence either in or out of itself. We have the ground of our existence outside of us. God is not thus dependent. He is a se; hence we speak of the aseity of God.
But lest this should be be misconstrued, we add
(b) That God exists by the necessity of his own being. It is his nature to be. Hence the existence of God is not a contingent but a necessary existence. It is grounded, not in his volitions, but in his nature.

Augustus Hopkins Strong, Outlines of Systematic Theology, p. 72 1908 ed.


Shedd - On the Atonement

Shedd writes:

Before leaving the subject of vicarious atonement, it is in place here to notice its relation to the soul of man. For, while Christ's atonement has primarily this objective relation to the Divine nature, it has also a secondary subjective relation to the nature of the guilty creature for whom it is made. The objective atonement is intended to be subjectively appropriated by the act of faith in it.

Dogmatic Theology, page 409 (emphasis in original)

Likewise, Shedd explains that

Unfallen man was a member of the heavenly family merely by the fatherhood of creation and providence; but after his rebellion and apostasy this ceased to be the case. Redemption was needed in order to restore him to membership. The whole human family are not now God's heavenly family. Only a part of it are the dear children of God. Those only are members of God's family who are members of Christ, "of whom the whole family in heaven and earth [the church above and below] is named," Eph. 3:15. All others "are bastards, and not sons," Heb. 12:8.

Dogmatic Theology, page 422 (footnote omitted)

While Shedd does say that "It does not mean that Christ's vicarious atonement naturally and necessarily saves every man ..." (Dogmatic Theology, page 437) but Shedd goes on to explain that "The atoning Mediator can demand upon principles of strict justice, the release from penalty of any sinful man in respect to whom he makes the demand."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Common Research Tool Mistakes

The Internet is a great source of information. With the advent of large-scale book scanning projects like Gallica,, and Google Books, a wealth of information that was formerly available only to those with books has become easily accessible. There are also web discussion boards, some of which attract experts and amateurs alike. Wikipedia and numerous copycats have provided public encyclopedias. YouTube and copycats have provided video discussions of various topics. Search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Kart00, Cuil, and Alltheweb have made searching the Internet easier. Some Internet service providers, like AOL, have provided additional tools for extracting information from the Internet. This wealth of available information is a rich blessing. It has also lead to a number of problems.

1) Consider the Sources

When one locates a source of information, it is important to consider what the source is. Anybody can make their on Geocities web site, or start their own or blog. Critical reading skills are important in order to sort it all out. The same goes, though, for books written in the 19th century. There are many good books that have been scanned, but there are also many books that are worse than useless. Simply because it got placed on the Internet, in your local paper, or even in a book, doesn't mean it's true.

2) Learn the Basics

If you want to understand something complicated, you are going to have start with something simpler. Trying to jump from basic algebra to partial differential equations is likely to lead to some serious math problems. Trying to jump from rudimentary Bible study to a study of the order of decrees is similarly likely to lead to some serious theology problems. Trying to jump from no knowledge of Greek to a complicated Greek question involves a similar leap.

3) Know your Limitations

Not everyone is equally good at critical thinking. Learn your own weaknesses. This can be an enormously difficult task. Women may not appreciate my saying this, but women need to bear in mind that they are the weaker vessel not just physically. Women are more easily deceived, which is why God has given men the responsibility and duty of caring for them. One of a husband's duties is the spiritual care of his wife.

Men also need to know their limitations though. The elders of the church are there for the edification especially of the men (who in turn are to teach their wives and children). One of the Biblical qualifications for the eldership is that a man is apt to teach. Churches that follow the Scriptures take this into consideration.

Even elders need to know their limitations. There is true danger in being a teacher, because one is held to a higher standard. A wise teacher relies on his fellow teachers, both his living colleagues, but especially the great teachers of the past.

4) Always Go Back to Scripture and Prayer

No matter what your research may turn up, go back to Scripture and prayer to God for wisdom. Scripture is the revealed Word of God and the only infallible source of knowledge that we have. Prayer to God is the way we have to beg Him for divine assistance to illuminate our understanding.

Research tools are good, and useful, but they need to be kept in their appropriate place, subservient to Scripture and prayer. There have been many who have forgotten this important fact and wandered off into idle speculation.

May God give us Wisdom according to the pleasure of His will,


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Psalm 147

For those who enjoy music - for those who are merry - for who simply wish to worship God - here's a beautiful rendition of the first part of Psalm 147 - feel free to sing along:

It is a comely thing to Praise God,


Archibald Alexander on the Study of Theology

Joshua Lim at Reformed Blogging has provided some useful thoughts of Archibald Alexander on the study of theology. (link)