Friday, January 09, 2009

Piper and the God we Worship

David at Thirsty Theologian has republished Piper's thoughts relative to the issue of the God we worship (link). As David points out, Piper's explanation is the reason Vatican II cannot possibly be right.


John Gill on God's Love

John Gill, sometimes falsely accused (particularly by Amyraldians, and quasi-Amyraldians) of being a hyper-Calvinist, had this to say about God's love:
2. As to the objects of God’s love, it is special and discriminating. He loves some, and not others. It is true, he has a general love and regard to all his creatures. He is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. They all share in the bounties of his providence. He makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good. He sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. But then, he has chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure. Hence he bestows peculiar blessings on those to whom he bears a peculiar love. David says, Psalm 106:4, Remember me with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: very plainly intimating, that it was special and discriminating; of a different nature from that which he bore to others. A full instance of this distinguishing love, we have in Mal. 1:2, 3, I have loved you, saith the Lord; yet ye say, wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and hated Esau. And, as I said before, no other reason can be given of this distinction, which God makes among the lost sons of Adam, but his own sovereign will; who will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and will be gracious to whom he will be gracious, let a wrangling world say what they please.

Read this and more of Gill's powerful insight into the love of God at the following link (link).


Response to Benedict XVI on Christmas

No, Benedict XVI did not visit this humble blog. No head of state (to my knowledge) has visited this blog. Nevertheless, on December 31, 2008, Benedict XVI provided some comments that are (perhaps) worth addressing:
The birthday of Christ, which we are currently celebrating, is entirely suffused with the light of Mary and, even as we pause to contemplate the child in the manger, our gaze cannot but turn with recognitions toward his Mother, who with her 'yes' made the gift of Redemption possible.
This is why Christmastide has profoundly Marian connotations. The birth of Jesus, the man-God, and Mary's divine maternity are indissoluble realities. The mystery of Mary and the mystery of the only-begotten Son of God, who becomes man, form a single mystery, in which one helps to better understand the other.

A few counter-points:

1) To say that the birthday of Christ is "suffused with light of Mary" is to miss the significance of the Incarnation. The significance of the Incarnation is about Christ, not about Mary. Surely, Mary was blessed to be the mother of Christ, but when He was born and laid in a manger, the shepherds came to see Him, not Mary and Joseph. Mary bore witness to the events that happened, but she was not what the shepherds came to see. When the Angel announced, it was "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

Unto whom was born Jesus? Did the angel say "unto Mary"? No! The angel declared "unto you" (pluaral, i.e. the shepherds) this child was born. What was the sign? A child bathed in Marian suffuse light? No! A child lade in the manger. Mary did wrap up Jesus and lay him in the manger, to be sure - but they shepherds were not directed to Mary but to Jesus. The angel mentioned Jesus, but not his mother.

2) To say "our gaze cannot but turn with recognitions toward his Mother" provides some important insight. It is possible to turn one's eyes from Jesus to other things. When Mary is the one to whom we turn our eyes from Jesus, this should be to our shame.

When the shepherds arrived, their eyes had an opposite path: they found Mary, and Joseph, and at last they found the babe in the manger. And when they had seen it, what did they talk about? They talked, says Luke, about the child - "glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them." Did they mention Mary and Joseph? Probably so - they mentioned the manger too no doubt - but the focus was on Jesus - not on Jesus and his mother.

3) To say "who with her 'yes' made the gift of Redemption possible," is to perpetuate a legend. Scripture does not tell us Mary said "yes" to anything. To be the mother of our Lord was not offered to Mary as a queen, but announced to her as servant, a handmaiden. She was certainly a willing servant, but she was not offered a choice. Instead, Scripture tells us that the Angel came and said: "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end."

"Thou shalt!" It is an imperative. It is not a question. It is not, "Would you mind?" It is an imperative - a command. Mary didn't disobey, but she wasn't given a choice. It is not as though Mary had anything voluntary to do with conceiving anyway. She was not a man whose physical consent is required for conception. In conception she was acted upon - not against her will, but not with any cooperation on her own part.

Mary's first response was not, "Yes, you may," but rather "How can this be?" Once it was explained, Mary did accept the fact, not by saying, "yes," but by stating: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." Mary recognized her place as servant (handmaid) of God. She did not stand there "making things possible," she resigned herself (not gloomily, but humbly) to her task. She was assenting, but her assent was not necessary for God, but for herself.

4) "This is why Christmastide has profoundly Marian connotations." In one sense, this is backwards. One of the reasons for the popularity of Christmas in Catholicism is its appeal to those devoted to Mary, since it is one of the few feast days involving her in some way. Surely there is a baby in the manger, and Joseph is hanging about someplace, but Mary is often the improper focus of attention.

In another sense, of course, the real reason for celebration is Jesus escape from Mary's womb! His separation from her. We are not told that the shepherds bowed down, but if they did, they did not bow down to a woman holding a child, but to the child himself in the manger. Kings of the earth have thrones, but our King was in something used for the animals.

5) "The birth of Jesus, the man-God, and Mary's divine maternity are indissoluble realities." Mary's maternity is of Christ, the God-man. But Mary is not the mother of Christ's divine nature - she is only the mother of his human nature. Before you call me a Nestorian, consider something:

Mary gave life, in some sense, to Jesus - and Pilate took that life away.

But Pilate could only take away what Mary gave: Pilate could kill the God-man, but Pilate could not kill God. Even so Mary could not give what Jesus already had: his divinity. Jesus does not derive his divinity from Mary, only his humanity. His human relationship of son to Mary does not communicate to the Trinity, just as Jesus death did not communicate to the Trinity.

Truly Mary was the Theotokos - she carried the God-man in her womb - but Mary was not the Mother of Christ's divinity. When Jesus was conceived, it was only his humanity that began to be. Jesus was before Abraham, whose daughter Mary was. To say that Mary had "divine maternity" is to confuse categories and to misunderstand the true mystery of the hypostatic union.

6) "The mystery of Mary and the mystery of the only-begotten Son of God, who becomes man, form a single mystery, in which one helps to better understand the other."

There is no parity between Jesus and Mary. Jesus is Mary's Saviour, just as Jesus is the Shepherds' Saviour. Mary is the handmaid, but Jesus is the King. Luke seems to suggest that the account we have of the shepherds is partly provided by Mary. She treasured the memories of her Savior's youth and, we are led to think, relayed them to the evangelist. In that sense, she helps us to understand Jesus better. But there is nothing mysterious about a virgin. What is mysterious is the fact that she is pregnant - that she gives birth to a son without knowing a man. It's a Christological mystery, not a Marian mystery.

Benedict continued:
In such times as ours, marked by uncertainty and concern for the future, it is necessary to experience the living presence of Christ. It is Mary, the Star of Hope, who leads us to Him. It is [Mary], with maternal love, who can lead to Jesus, especially the young, who bear in their heart irrepressible questions about the meaning of human existence.
Even though quite a few dark clouds are gathering over our future, we must not be afraid. Our greatest hope as believers is in eternal life in the company of Christ and the entire family of God. This great hope gives us strength to face and overcome the difficulties of life in this world. The maternal presence of Mary ensures tonight that God shall never abandon us if we entrust ourselves to Him and follow his teachings.
(same source - elipsis in source)

1) "It is Mary, the Star of Hope, who leads us to Him."

The star that lead the wise men to Jesus was not Mary. Our hope is not in Mary - she is not our star of hope. Our hope is in the Lord alone.

Psalm 31:24 Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.

Psalm 33:22 Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.

Mary was our fellow human being. She was created as we are. She was only human, not divine, though she bore the God-man in her womb.

2) "It is [Mary], with maternal love, who can lead to Jesus, especially the young, who bear in their heart irrepressible questions about the meaning of human existence."

It is the Word of God that leads men to Jesus. Mary has passed out of this world. She no longer acts in it directly. Yes, some of her words are provided to us in Holy Scripture, but she herself has gone on. The Holy Spirit leads men to Jesus, not Mary. It is the outward call of the Gospel, and the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit that saves.

The answers about human existence are to be found in Scripture, not in Marian devotion. Scripture, beginning in Genesis, teaches what man is to believe concerning God and the duty God requires of Man. It explains the purpose of our existence - to worship our Creator-God.

3) "Our greatest hope as believers is in eternal life in the company of Christ and the entire family of God."

This misses the point that Scripture makes. Our greatest hope is in Christ himself - in his person and work on the cross. Our greatest hope is not in the life to come. Our greatest hope is in God, not in what God gives.

4) "The maternal presence of Mary ensures tonight that God shall never abandon us if we entrust ourselves to Him and follow his teachings."

No. The token of God's promise is the Holy Spirit, not the maternal presence of Mary. She is not present, she is absent. She has gone on to be with her Savior in heaven. What is at the front of so many churches is a painting or statue - it is not Mary. This may seem obvious, but it is important. Mary is no longer among us. She does not have a presence here.

And Mary was a mother to Jesus and to Jesus' brethren, and like a mother to John, but she is not our mother. We were not in her womb, and we did not care for her in her old age. She does not have a redemptive relationship to us. She is not our Savior, and she is not our Mediator: we have one Mediator, Jesus Christ.

Don't get me wrong. She was important to Jesus coming into the world, yet so likewise was Pilate important in murdering Christ, without which we would not be saved. You will say, "But any Roman governor would have sufficed!"

I answer you, "Likewise, so would any virgin of the line of David have done in Mary's place, if it had pleased God." Mary was greatly blessed, not greatly deserving. Mary's relationship to Christ as mother is unique biologically, but not unique spiritually.

Jesus himself stated:

"Who is my mother, or my brethren?" And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, "Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother."

Mary did the will of God, yes. And Mary is a part of the story of the nativity of Christ, certainly. But Mary is not to be religiously venerated for her role. She is a handmaiden of the Lord, not the Queen of Heaven.


Sodom and Archaeology

I found the following video on archaeology performed in the Dead Sea Valley to be fascinating. Until more certain proof is presented, I would be hesitant to draw overly strong conclusions, but the view that the city of Sodom, as well as the other valley cities, have been located is reasonably persuasive.


UPDATE: Take the video with a grain of salt, in view of the criticism found at the following link (link). Thanks to Daniel's Place for noting this issue.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Real Turretin on: The Three-Fold Office of Christ

Los at Already and Not Yet, has provided a short but concise explanation from the real Turretin on the three-fold office of Christ and its relation to the three-fold misery of man (link).


Myths and Realities about Arminianism

Paul Manata of Triablogue has provided a thorough and detailed (and consequently lengthy) review of and response to Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, by Roger E. Olson (link to review). Olson is a self-described Arminian responding to what he views as various misconceptions about Arminianism both those of Calvinists and those of self-identified Arminians. I hope that the more serious Arminians out there will take the time to consider what Manata has written. His precise explanations, in many cases, cut right to the heart of the matter. I am thankful for this sort of piece, since it can promote understanding by clearly stating points of difference, while providing supporting explanation.


The Eucharist

The Thirsty Theologian has pointed me to an excellent article by William Webster on the Romanist view of the Eucharist (link to Webster's article).

Webster provides a very interesting historical analysis of the Eucharist, tracing it from ancient times, through to Trent. In the process, Webster demonstrates that Trent has departed not only from Biblical but also historical theology with respect to the Eucharist.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Calvin on the "Free Offer"?

I found R. Scott Clark's very brief post (link) puzzling. He asserts, "Yes, that’s right, Calvin said “offer” (not demand) as in “free” or “well-meant” offer of the gospel." That's a rather odd way of putting it.

a) Calvin obviously didn't use English.

b) Calvin did use the Latin cognate word to our English word "offer."

c) In this place, however, Calvin used the word "offer" as a verb, not a noun - much as it is used in WSC Answer to Question 31 or WCF VII:III (7:3).

d) It's not clear whether RSC is aware of the controversy that exists over the use of the expression "well-meant offer" as contrasted to the Reformed doctrine of the freely offered gospel. If so, it is mischievous of RSC to suggest that Calvin using the word "offer" is Calvin taking a position on one side or the other of that controversy.

e) The fact that Calvin doesn't (in the particular instance to which RSC points) use the word "demand" is inconsequential. Calvin naturally agrees with Paul who states that God "commandeth" all men everywhere to believe (Acts 17:30). Thus, even though we gospel preachers offer salvation to the masses, we do not necessarily refrain from preaching that it is men's duty to repent of their sins and appropriate Christ's sacrifice by faith.

I suspect that RSC just intended to tweak the nose of one or more of his regular readers who have a scruple against using the term "offer" because of its association (via the afore-mentioned controversy) with liberal tendencies towards synergism. I wish he wouldn't do that.


A Quick Editorial Note - Quotations

When I quote people who make typos, I generally have five options:

1) Reproduce what they said and don't comment on their mistake.

The positive side of this approach is that I don't get dragged into silly wars over spelling and grammar.

The negative side of this approach is that it looks as though I may have introduced an error into the comment I am quoting.

2) Reproduce generally what they said but fix their mistakes without telling the reader.

The positive side of this approach is that the end product is clean.

The negative side of this approach is that, technically, that's not what they said, and if I make a mistake in correcting, it may appear I am trying to misrepresent.

3) Reproduce generally what they said but fix their mistakes, telling the reader, but not telling the reader where the mistakes were.

This has roughly the same positives as (2), and roughly the same negatives, although if it is clear that the comment has been altered, there should be less concern that any changes were supposed to secret.

4) Reproduce generally what they said but fix their mistakes, telling the reader where the mistakes were.

This is almost as clean as (2) or (3), and removes the concerns about secret changes.

5) Reproduce what they said, without fixing their mistakes, but comment on the mistakes.

This has the advantage of avoiding introducing my own interpretation of the spelling/grammatical issues in the item I'm quoting.

This has the disadvantage of not being a very clean product.

An additional downside to (3)-(5) is that they can make me look like a linguistic snob, which is (of course) not the point.

In general, I favor (5) in contexts where it is hard for the reader to go back and check the original and (4) in contexts like comment boxes, where the reader can easily go back and check the original. I know I've used (3) a few times, and I have used (2) once or twice. I generally try to avoid (1), but I'm sure I must have used it (either intentionally or unintentionally) at least once when speed was more important to me than quality.

Obviously, there are a few people out there who post supercilious screeds. If someone argues, "Don't listen to TurretinFan because he's an ignorent fool," it's a pretty safe bet I'm going to throw a "[sic]" in right behind "ignorent" - if only to make a minor rhetorical point (not to score points, but to make a point).


Many "Saints" Were Wicked Men

The title of this post, "Many 'saints' were wicked men," was one of the Reformers charges against the saint-venerating papists of the day. Off hand I cannot recall the Reformers providing many specific examples. Allow me to provide one: San Simon of Guatemala (reasonably full background).

San Simon is an example of a wicked man who lived a very colorful life. You can read more about it at the link above, if you like. His veneration started with friends, and caught on over time. Today, his veneration is not only clearly contrary to Reformed Christianity but even to conservative Catholicism (note that the blog I link to above is a Romanist blog, not a Reformed blog).

Is San Simon a "canonized" saint? No - I don't think so (I hope I'm not wrong about that). But he is venerated within a significant part of practical, real Catholicism. I don't mean that this practice matches the official doctrines of Catholicism, but actual baptized, communicant papists are buying San Simon's candles and making unChristian requests of this dead man.

What differentiates San Simon from other "saints" whose lives come down to us in legends? Perhaps the main differentiation is the preservation of his life history by virtue of the printing press. If there were less writing on the candle, or the prayer were a bit less ridiculously unorthodox, why would the memory of his wickedness be remembered? Is it hard to believe that legends sprang up about wicked men of the middle ages if it could happen in the modern age? Surely not.

I realize this doesn't fully vindicate the Reformers, but I hope it demonstrates that what the Reformers noted is not implausible, and is not just cranks complaints.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Responding to Scientology

Tommy Davis from Scientology International stated:
In Scientology, we believe that you have lived before and that you will live again. The spirit, which is you, is immortal and you are not your body. You as an individual are an immortal spiritual being and simply put, you have lived before and will live again, lifetime after lifetime. In Scientology, these past existences are simply referred to as past lives.
(as reported at MSN News)

I respond:

Christianity rejects Scientology, and these doctrines of man. The Bible is the Christian's source of authority when it comes to the nature of man.

1. Reincarnation is False

The Christian doctrine of man is that man lives once, dies once, and will be raised on the day of judgment.

Scripture teaches that man has one life on earth, and after that the judgment:

Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

Scripture teaches also that the resurrection is general:

Acts 24:15 And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.

Although the resurrection is general, there will be a division - some will be raised to life, other will be raised to the second death: hell.

John 5:29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

2. Our Body is a Part of Us

As noted above, we await a bodily resurrection. Although we will have the same body, it will be changed. The mortal body we have now will be changed into an immortal body.

I Corinthians 15:35-44
35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? 36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: 37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: 38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. 40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

We can also see that our bodies are a part of us from other places in Scripture, such as the following:

1 Thessalonians 5:23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus, God told Adam:

Genesis 3:19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

3. Our Spirits are Immortal in a Limited Sense, but are not eternal.

Men come into being. They are not eternal beings. Thus, Jesus said he was before Abraham.

John 8:58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

Furthermore, although our souls will never cease to exist, if we do not now repent and trust in Christ, there will come a time when both our body and soul will perish (eternally) in hell.

Matthew 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.


We reject the errors of Scientology, because they are contrary to the revealed word of God, our Creator and Redeemer. If one follows Scientology, one will eventually discover its errors. Man does not have an infinite number of lives to "get it right" - this life is it.

Psalm 2:12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.