Sunday, March 30, 2008

Plantinga on God, Evil, and Ontology


Alvin Plantinga is a leading thinker in the realm of Christian and theistic philosophy. As such, he offers some very cogent arguments for philosophical dilemma’s facing Christianity. The two I shall examine here are the problem of evil and proof for the existence of God.

To answer the problem of evil, Plantinga attempts to argue from a definition of intrinsic characteristics for morals and the world that must be true in all possible worlds. You can read the explanation and analysis below.

To answer the proofs for the existence of God, Plantinga reformulates the ontological argument as follows:

1. Define God: God is that than which no greater can be conceived.

2. It is greater to exist not only in the mind or in the imagination but also independently of the imagination (i.e. in reality) than to exist only in the imagination.

3. It is possible to conceive of that than which no greater can be conceived.[1]

4. It is possible to conceive of God existing not only in the mind but also in reality.

5. If God exists only in the imagination but not in reality then (because of 2.) it is possible to conceive of a being greater than that than which no greater can be conceived.

6. 5. self-contradicts.

7. Therefore, the protasis of 5. must be false (i.e. God exist only in the imagination….)

8. Therefore, God exists not only in the mind but also in reality.

** The entire argument depends on the very nature of God himself and, thus, it hinges on the actual definition of the term God.

You can read the entire synopsis below, or click here.


Many philosophers have held that the existence of evil is such a glaring blemish on the face of theism that it essentially renders belief in God, at least the Christian God, as incoherent. It is this claim that has caused Plantinga to take up the pen to defend the coherence of theism. Plantinga’s resolution for the problem of evil and the supposed contradiction of the existence of a good God is what he calls the Free Will Defense.

The propositions asserted by atheologians, one who “offers arguments against the existence of God,”[2] do not themselves, via the strictures of logic, lead to a formal inconsistency. The two usual propositions are:

  1. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good.
  2. There is evil in the world.[3]

These two propositions do not, by themselves, lead to a valid conclusion. Thus, a third proposition that is consistent with one of the propositions and necessarily entails the other must be found to either vindicate or destroy theism. Thus, Alvin modifies the above propositions by simply stating that 1. is not inconsistent with 2., and thus begins his explanation of a plausible third proposition.[4]

At this point Plantinga offers some “preliminary definitions and distinctions.” First, freedom entails the ability to freely choose or reject an action – “no casual laws and antecedent conditions determine either that” the individual will or will not perform the action. A morally significant action is one that is morally wrong to perform or right to abstain from, or vice versa. Thus, to be significantly free is to be “free with respect to an action that is morally significant.” Lastly, Plantinga differentiates between moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is the result of a “human being’s going wrong with respect to an action that is morally significant for him.” On the other hand, natural evil are those misfortunes of nature like earthquakes and tsunamis.[5]

Given the definition of terms, Plantinga delineates the Free Will Defense as follows:

A world containing creatures whom are sometimes significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but he cannot cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if he does so, then they are not significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil; he cannot leave these creatures free to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. God did in fact create significantly free creatures; but some of them went wrong in the exercise of their freedom: this is the source of moral evil.[6]

Plantinga believes that the vindicating third proposition is both found in the above statement and is the core of the Free Will Defense. It “is the claim that it is possible that God could not have created a universe containing moral good…without creating one containing moral evil.”[7]

However, at this juncture Plantinga addresses a difficult objection. Since we are supposing that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good, then surely it is possible that God could have simply created a world “containing significantly free creatures who always do what is right.” After all, cannot an omnipotent God create “any logically possible world?” The Free Will Defender answers, no, claiming that, although God is omnipotent, He “could not have created just any possible world he pleased.”[8] Because Plantinga directly limits the activity of God in order to preserve the creature’s freedom and culpability in relation to actions, it can be said that God only brings into existence objects and not properties, numbers, propositions, or states of affairs. Thus, all states of affairs potentially exist. They only become actualized when both God so orchestrates the variables necessary to bring about the said state of affairs, and as the actions of significantly free agents bring to pass, in the communing of particular events and variables, the state of affairs presented to them by God’s orchestrated variables. Thus, when you combine Plantinga’s demand that a morally good universe necessitates moral evil, which by default entails the property of trans-world depravity in man in all possible worlds, with the semi-autonomy of significantly free individuals, then the product is one that only allows for the state of affairs that have so far existed in this actual world.


It strikes me as unsettlingly odd when brilliant men present their arguments as robed in the finest of logic and rhetoric when in actuality they are as naked as the emperor with no clothes. The Free Will Defense was a fun philosophical and logical read. However, Plantinga’s argument suffers from two fatal and irresolvable flaws. First, and perhaps most significantly, if Plantinga mandates that the ability to do good necessarily entails the same capacity to do evil, then how does he account for God’s moral purity? Does not God always do what is righteous and good? Yet, God does not possess even the minutest ability to do evil. If God can be called morally culpable, albeit only to Himself, even though He cannot sin, then there must exist a more consistent and correct understanding of both moral responsibility and the exercise of free agency.

Second, although Plantinga’s argument at hand does not mention middle knowledge, the actual truths of middle knowledge are in almost every paragraph of his exposition of the Free Will Defense.[9] Middle knowledge can be defined as that knowledge in God “by which God knows absolutely what men will freely do without having specifically decreed their actions, ‘since [He] knows what any free creature would do in any situation [and thus] can, by creating the appropriate situations, bring it about that creatures will achieve his ends and purposes and … will do so freely.’”[10] However, the irresolvable flaw in this reasoning is that the arbitrary and undetermined actions of individuals are, by definition unknowable – even when God has so foreordained the circumstances surrounding the actions. Thus, if man is truly arbitrary in his choices, then God is no longer omniscient in his knowledge. As Dr. Reymond rightly states, “Created forces cannot be independent forces and independent forces cannot be created forces.”[11]

[1] I.e. it is possible to have God in the imagination.

[2] Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 165.

[3] Ibid, 165.

[4] Ibid, 165.

[5] Ibid, 166.

[6] Ibid, 166-167.

[7] Ibid, 167.

[8] Ibid, 168.

[9] While originally developed by the Jesuits and later assimilated by Arminians, in our day Plantinga is one of the leading proponents of middle knowledge.

[10] Dr. Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 189.

[11] Ibid, 189.

Plantinga's Argument for the Existence of God

The Reformed community widely differs on the acceptability of the “natural” proofs for God’s existence. However, Alvin Plantinga has reformulated St. Anselm’s classical ontological proof for the existence of God. The consistency of the argument is rather convincing. St. Anselm’s traditional formulation, which is a reduction ad absurdum argument, is as follows:

  1. God exists in the understanding but not in reality.
  2. Existence in reality is greater than existence in the understanding alone.
  3. God’s existence in reality is conceivable.
  4. If God did exist in reality, then he would be greater than he is (from 1. & 2.).
  5. It is conceivable that there be a being greater than God is (3 & 4).
  6. It is conceivable that there be a being greater than the being than which nothing greater can be conceived (5., by the definition of ‘God’).

But Surely

  1. It is false that it is conceivable that there be a being greater than the being than which none greater can be conceived.

Since 6. and 7. contradict each other, we may conclude that

  1. It is false that God exists in the understanding but not in reality.

So if God exists in the understanding, he also exists in reality. [1]

Thus, step 1 is the proposition “to be reduced to absurdity.” Steps 2, 3, and 7 are premises in the argument of which step 2 poses the only real problem. That is, is it necessarily true that “existence in reality is greater than existence in the understanding alone?” What is St. Anselm comparing at this point? He is comparing something that exists with something that does not exist and then predicating that that which exists is by default greater than which was does not. However, are existent and non-existent terms comparable terms? No, St. Anselm is comparing unlike terms. Even more, there is a sense in which the term “existent thing” is valid and the so-called term “non-existent thing” is absurd, for it is really nothing. Also, does St. Anselm’s argument account for the supreme excellence of God in all possible worlds? That is, can it be predicated of God that a necessary attribute of his is supreme excellence, thus it is true in every possible (or hypothetical) world? Rather, St. Anselm’s argument does not leave itself open to this analysis since his argument directly deals with the actual world.

However, Plantinga reformulates the argument and remedies these inconsistencies. First, it is important to understand that “those who worship God do not think of him as a being that happens to be of surpassing excellence in this world but who in some other worlds is powerless or uninformed or of dubious moral character.” Thus, if P is a property of an individual, then it can be stated that, “P is a universal property if and only if P is instantiated in every world or no world.” Therefore, unlike St. Anselm’s postulate, “Existence and necessary existence are not themselves perfections, but necessary conditions of perfection.”[2] That is, existence in both this world and all possible worlds do not constitute perfection. However, if we are arguing for the existence of an all perfect being, then one thing that must be true of this perfect being is that his essence or properties are necessarily the same in all possible worlds – thus contributing to his perfection. This can be stated as follows:

  1. The property has maximal greatness entails the property has maximal excellence in every possible world.
  2. Maximal excellence entails omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection.
  3. Maximal greatness is possibly exemplified.

Thus, if the property maximal greatness is possibly exemplified in any world, then it is necessarily follows that it is exemplified in all world by the mere definition of maximal greatness including or entails maximal excellence. Therefore, the ontological argument can be restated as follows:

  1. God exists in a conceivable world but not in reality.
  2. It is conceivable that God exists in a world W and as a perfect being has an essence E such that E is exemplified in W and E entails has maximal greatness in W.
  3. Maximal greatness necessarily exemplifies the property has maximal excellence in every possible world.
  4. Therefore, God’s essence entails has maximal excellence in every possible world.
  5. If world W had been actual, it would have been impossible that essence E fail to be exemplified given its necessary nature.
  6. Therefore, there exists a being that has maximal excellence in every world.
In simpler terms:

1. Define God: God is that than which no greater can be conceived.

2. It is greater to exist not only in the mind or in the imagination but also independently of the imagination (i.e. in reality) than to exist only in the imagination.

3. It is possible to conceive of that than which no greater can be conceived.

4. It is possible to conceive of God existing not only in the mind but also in reality.

5. If God exists only in the imagination but not in reality then (because of 2.) it is possible to conceive of a being greater than that than which no greater can be conceived.

6. Number 5 self-contradicts.

7. Therefore, the protasis of 5. must be false (i.e. God exist only in the imagination.)

8. Therefore, God exists not only in the mind but also in reality.


Plantinga’s ontological argument was much more cogent and convincing than his disappointing Free Will Defense. The argument definitely required at least a cursory knowledge of logic and valid syllogisms. All in all, it was an intellectually rigorous work, but well worth the read. The one point at which I believe an atheist or atheologian could respond is in questioning the premises. The reasoning is valid, but the axioms utilized to establish the validity of the conclusion would undoubtedly be attacked by contrary thinkers, albeit, it is an unjustified attack given the cogency of the argument.

I would recommend both of these arguments to be read by believers. The Free Will Defense can aid the Reformed thinker in flushing out his own beliefs about God’s sovereignty and the means by which free agents both act/move and are culpable for their actions. Plantinga’s ontological argument is a good example of right reason and logic applied to the things of God in a cogently conclusive manner.

However, I would not recommend the Free Will Defense to unbelievers or for any use in an apologetic discourse. As noted above, it is fraught with too many perils. However, if you can get an unbeliever to actually go through the ontological argument with you, I believe it can serve to show forth the rationality and coherence that is Christianity.

[1] Plantinga, 198.

[2] Ibid, 214.

Friday, March 28, 2008

An Evening With Reasons To Believe

This evening, we here in McPherson, KS had a special visit from an associate of the ministry Reasons to Believe. Reasons to Believe is an apologetics ministry specializing in astronomy and cosmology. I personally benefited from Reasons to Believe years ago as a high school student who was struggling with God's existence. I read a book by Hugh Ross entitled The Fingerprint of God which, for me, was the breaking point in my atheo/agnosticism. After finishing Ross' book, I felt compelled to hold to a generic belief in some kind of God (what kind of god or which god was something I dealt with later).

As I was saying, a fellow named John (his last name eludes me; sorry, John!) who is a doctoral student from Chicago came and talked for over two hours, answering questions any in attendance might have regarding the Old Earth/Day-Age perspectives on Genesis. I greatly enjoyed his discussion as I have always, from day one, tended towards the old-earth view. It's just always made sense to me and seems to most comport with the facts as best as we can know them. Anyway, this is all peripheral.

One person in attendance asked about String Theory, and he explained what String Theory [ST] is (he does not, incidentally, hold to ST). He sort of - in passing - referred to ST as an attempt by physicists to understand the universe as a simplistic place rather than a place governed by multiple complex laws. Somehow, the purpose of ST is to take the many complex laws (gravity, for example) of the universe and boil them all down to this one basic component: vibrating strings. Now, I am not really interested in ST so much as I am in the purpose of formulating of ST.

You see, as he was discussing this idea that Physicists regard the many laws of the universe as a problem it made me think of the implication of laws - namely that there must be a Creator. Why is it that in classical theology, we regard God's simplicity as utterly non-negotiable? It is because the implication of a complex (rather than Simple) god with many parts is that he would have his own creator. Is not ST doing the same thing that Aquinas and the classical theologians were doing? In both ST and classical theology, the ultimate source and reason for the universe's existence must be perfect and simple. Both are searching for an elegant and simple foundation for everything that is. For the String Theorist, the strings are the simplest, most perfect foundation of the universe. For the Classical Christian (or at least the Thomist) the perfectly Simple God is the perfect foundation of the universe.

Perhaps what I am really driving at is that I see ST as a backdoor answer to the complex laws of the universe without necessitating a God who must be that universe's foundation. So yeah... the parallel between the Thomist and the String Theorist really stuck out to me tonight. You all may or may not have thoughts about what I've said here. Actually, since most who read this blog tend towards the presuppositional perspective, I could totally see everyone accusing me of being a classical apologist. [For the record, I'm for practicality. I use presuppositional apologetics, but I also use classical apologetics if it gets the job done.]

Lord, Lord...I Never Knew You!

Two verses (not just these two) seem to do massive damage to the Federal Vision: 1 John 2:19 and Mathew 7:22-23.
I would like to comment briefly on the Mathew passage here (and I will comment on the 1 John passage in the future).

On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

The context of this passage is the Kingdom of God and how we know who is in and who is not in this Kingdom. Jesus declares that you will know who is in by their fruit (v. 20). Then here, Jesus tells us that some, on the last day, at the judgment, will argue with him. They will argue that they should be numbered among God’s people. Jesus’ response to these false professors is that he never knew them.

Now, if the FV is right, Jesus’ response does not seem right. If the FV is right, Jesus should have said, “I knew you, but only in a sense.” But that is not his response. Jesus says that he never knew them. As is, there was no time in which I knew you. These men had all the outward evidence of being one on the “in.” They prophesy, they cast out demons and they do many mighty works. This group surely would have been part of the “visible” Church. Those who had all the outward signs of being ‘in’ Christ, but the Lord Jesus Christ tells them that he never knew them.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Can We Pray For Our Muslim Enemies?

The following is a short film about the Quran from a conservative Dutch filmmaker. Apparently this is a big deal that we can even see this, because he could find no one in Holland who would broadcast it, and it took him sometime to even find a website who would host the video.

These are our enemies. They are enemies of our Savior and enemies of the cross. After watching this video, I want you all to think about something very difficult: what does it mean to love our enemies? Can we bring ourselves to love people who hate us so much?

[Warning: The video has some disturbing images, and an even more disturbing ideology.]

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:45). The calling to be a Christian is the calling to rise above the methods and hatred of our enemies. The message of Islam is in direct contrast to the content (i.e. grace) and the method of spreading (i.e. peace/love) the Gospel.

[As you can now see, Liveleak was pressured by threats and intimidation to remove this important example of free speech from the internet. Truly, we now live in a world where people cannot say what they feel in a public forum. Part of respecting the opinions of others is honoring their right to be heard, even when you disagree. Silencing them through threats of violence is no victory at all, because no hearts or minds have been changed. I am proud to belong to a religion which believes in causing change through affecting the heart and mind through arguments and persuasion; not through threats of violence.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Lighter Question: Any Theological Reflections on Deja Vu?

I get deja vu all the time. Just last week, I absolutely know that I perceived in my mind (either in a dream or something) a visit my wife and I had to the doctor's office. I remembered the doctor, her name, and the conversation we were having with her. How is this possible in God's universe?

I know it is tempting to say that moments of deja vu are simply errors in our perception and that we are mistaking a moment for a memory, but it seems that these memories are too clear and obvious to simply be dismissed. Not to say, from an epistemological perspective that I couldn't be wrong - nor could anyone else, of course.

I don't have an explanation for deja vu, but I do want to set forth an argument against a certain form of Open Theism [OT] using the phenomena of deja vu, assuming it's a real phenomenon, of course, and not simply a psychological error of perception. Let me offer this caviat first: scripture is the best and most effective way of arguing against theological errors, and I think it's quite easy to do with Open Theism; however, there is nothing wrong with using lesser arguments if they do the job (or at least part of the job). In some forms of Open Theism, the reason God doesn't know the future is because the future doesn't exist yet. If our deja vu is a true perception of future events (even if we don't infallibly know that it is accurate) it would seem to fly in the face of this idea that the future simply doesn't exist. It would, rather, seem to indicate that the future is real and we can know it - albeit in a fallible, limited, muddy sense.

There is no precision here, but I am sure of this much: I have deja vu all the time, and for years I just told myself, "You just think you remember deja vu-ing this moment." That could still be correct, but I don't really think so anymore. Its clarity and frequency seems to indicate otherwise.

So what do you all think about deja vu? Seriously.

Alright; well, now you all think I'm crazy. Great.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Nugget From Piper On N.T. Wright

In this excerpt, Piper is taking issue with Wright's charge that imputation makes no sense in the New Testament's courtroom metaphor:
But there's a catch. In God's courtroom, the Judge is omniscient and just. Now everyone in the first century would agree that in a courtroom where the Judge knows everything and is just, there can never bee a case where there is a discrepancy between the truth of the charge and the truth of the verdict. In this court, what would be the basis of saying, "I bestow on you the status of righteous, and I find you guilty as charged"? How could such a finding be intelligible, not to mention just? One right answer that I think Wright would agree with is that this is what the atonement is all about. Christ died for our sins to provide a basis for this finding, and therefore, though guilty, the court can exercise clemency (or in God's case, forgiveness) because of Christ and we go free.
John Piper in The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright (Pg. 73-74)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Westminster on Resurrection

Westminster Larger Catechism 52
How was Christ exalted in his resurrection?

Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that not having seen corruption in death (of which it was not possible for him to be held), and having the very same body in which he suffered, with the essential properties thereof, (but without mortality, and other common infirmities belonging to this life), really united to his soul, he rose again from the dead the third day by his own power; whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God, to have satisfied divine justice, to have vanquished death, and him that had the power of it, and to be Lord of quick and dead: all which he did as a public person, the head of his Church, for their justification, quickening in grace, support against enemies, and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Days?

Here is a link to an extract from Samuel Miller's book Presbyterianism the truly primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ. Miller is discussing “The Worship of the Presbyterian Church.” Miller in 1813 was appointed professor of church history and government at the newly established Princeton Theological Seminary.

This excerpt is timely as we are in the heart of the Christian 'holy season' of Easter. Many in the Church today think that discussions like these are pointless, but our Reformed ancestors did not agree. They spent much time and energy in this important issue that needs to be brought back to the forefront of American Presbyterianism. Our worship needs to be governed by God in his word. We have no right telling God how he is to be worshiped.

Miller starts this section with this confession.
We believe, and teach, in our public formularies, that there is no day, under the Gospel dispensation, commanded to be kept holy, except the Lord's day, which is the Christian 'Sabbath.'

We believe, indeed, and declare, in the same formula, that it is both scriptural and rational, to observe special days of Fasting and Thanksgiving, as the extraordinary dispensations of Divine Providence may direct. But we are persuaded, that even the keeping of these days, when they are made stated observances, recurring, of course, at particular times, whatever the aspect of Providence may be, is calculated to promote formality and superstition, rather than the edification of the body of Christ.

He then gives seven reasons why this is the case. Points three and six are of particular interest.

3. The observance of Fasts and Festivals, by divine direction, under the Old Testament economy, makes nothing in favor of such observances under the New Testament dispensation. That economy was no longer binding, or even lawful after the New Testament Church was set up. It were just as reasonable to plead for the present use of the Passover, the incense, and the burnt offerings of the Old economy, which were confessedly done away by the coming of Christ, as to argue in favor of human inventions, bearing some resemblance to them, as binding in the Christian Church.

6. It being evident, then, that stated fasts and festivals have no divine warrant, and that their use under the New Testament economy is a mere human invention; we may ask those who are friendly to their observance, what limits ought to be set to their adoption and use in the Christian Church? If it be lawful to introduce five such days for stated observance, why not ten, twenty, or five score? A small number were, at an early period, brought into use by serious men, who thought they were thereby rendering God service, and extending the reign of religion. But one after another was added, as superstition increased, until the calendar became burdened with between two and three hundred fasts and festivals, or saint's days, in each year; thus materially interfering with the claims of secular industry, and loading the worship of God with a mass of superstitious observances, equally unfriendly to the temporal and the eternal interests of men. Let the principle once be admitted, that stated days of religious observance, which God has no where commanded, may properly be introduced into the Christian ritual, and, by parity of reasoning, every one who, from good motives, can effect the introduction of a new religious festival, is at liberty to do so. Upon this principle was built up the enormous mass of superstition which now distinguishes and corrupts the Romish Church.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Supralapsarianism - The Beauty of Logic & Doctrine

There are two major views of how God decreed to save the elect from all eternity: infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism. The dominant Reformed view is infralapsarianism, but noted theologians like Martin Luther, John Knox, Theodore Beza, Huldrych Zwingli, Jerome Zanchius, and Franciscus Gomarus have held to supralapsarianism. Further, three well known modern theologians have also fervently advocated supralapsarianism: Geerhardus Vos, Gordon Clark, and Dr. Robert Reymond.

Here is a brief analysis of the two views with an excellent restatement of supralapsarianism that is both convincing, biblical, and logically and doctrinally consistent:

– Refers to a historical order of the decrees of God in salvation. Thus they order the decrees of God in salvation as follows:
  1. The decree to create the world and all men.
  2. The decree of the fall of all men into sin
  3. The decree to elect some sinners to salvation and the reprobate to justice.
  4. The decree that Christ’s cross work would accomplish redemption for the elect.
  5. The decree that Christ’s cross work be applied to the elect.

Essentially, they hold that God first decrees to create the world and permit the fall before enacting a particularizing principle in Christ amongst men – thus “infra” after “lapsarian” the fall. The order of decrees follows the chronological order of supposed execution in history. Infralapsarians further hold that their order of decrees has God distinguishing amongst men as sinners and NOT amongst men as merely men – this is their main accusation against supralapsarianism.

Supralapsarianism – Refers to the logical/teleological order of the decrees of God in salvation. Thus, they order the decrees as follows:

  1. The decree to elect some men to salvation and the reprobate to justice.
  2. The decree to create the world and all men.
  3. The decree of the fall of all of man into sin.
  4. The decree that Christ’s cross work would accomplish redemption for the elect.
  5. The decree that Christ’s cross work be applied to the elect.

Supralapsarians hold that the particularizing principle of Christ’s cross work and whom it is for is the organizing and primary unifying principle of all the decrees – therefore it comes before “supra” the fall “lapsarian.” However, infralapsarians charge the traditional supralapsarian view as distinguishing amongst men as men and not sinners.

Theodore Beza - Successor to Calvin and Surpalapsarianist-Extraordinaire

However, Dr. Robert Reymond, formerly of Knox Theological Seminary, makes an adjustment to the historic view of supralapsarianism. The adjustment that Dr. Reymond makes creates a logically and doctrinally consistent supralapsarian scheme. It is as follows:

  1. The decree to elect some sinners in Christ and the reprobate to justice in order to show forth the grace of God given to the elect.
  2. The decree to apply Christ’s cross work to the elect
  3. The decree to accomplish Christ’s cross work for the elect
  4. The decree to permit the fall of man into sin
  5. The decree to create the world and all men in and through Adam.

  • Thus, the order of decrees is structured according to how a rational mind organizes a plan. Namely, a rational mind begins with its end purpose and moves progressively through each means to achieve that purpose. Therefore, the execution of the plan is done in retrograde order so that the first in accomplishment is the last decree and vice versa.
  • Additionally, this scheme answers the infralapsarianism criticism and portrays God as choosing the elect amongst men as sinners – thus solving the traditional criticism against supralapsarianism.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Modern Liberal by G.K. Chesterton

I have posted this before, but it deserves reiterating here. This is G. K. Chesterton's sublime and piercing analysis of liberals, from his book Orthodoxy:

The new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy [1] because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes hi hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything
(Orthodoxy 53).

Chesterton wrote this almost one hundred years ago. It is amazing how perceptible the illogical and ignorant positions of the liberal are. Yet, truth will always triumphant over doctrinal treason…..

[1] A person who is too much concerned with being proper, modest, or righteous: bluenose, prude, puritan, Victorian.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Radio: Stupidity Celebrated

Today, I was working with someone who likes to listen to mainstream radio, and since my iPod almost always rules the radio (I hate the radio) I decided I should let someone else listen to what they want to for the day. Now, I absolutely detest any music on the radio, unless it is from before 1989 and I hate… HATE commercials. That’s just my taste. I listen to talk radio and the music from my iPod, that’s it. But today, as I was saying, I took off my radio dictator hat. And oh boy, do I still hate radio. But one thing really stood out to me; a song by Timbaland with the most appalling name I’ve ever heard: “This Is The Way I Are.”

Were I physically able, I would have thrown the radio out the window of the truck in a fit of frustrated rage. I realize this is the mainstream, and part of how you stand out in the mainstream is by being different, but since when was it considered cool to present yourself as mentally disabled, unable to speak a sentence as simple as “This is the way I am”? Even in the hip-hop world, proper grammar is at least loosely admired. This isn’t even Ebonics or some other language; it is just plain celebrated idiocy. This is a generation which is eschewing grammar and spelling in favor of shorthand instant messaging spellings. Our children will be better at texting on their phones than they are at using a keyboard or writing by hand. Does that concern anyone else the way it concerns me? I am definitely getting old-fashioned. I see shades of my father all over this blog.

I consider myself a realist, and as such, I have some perspective on this matter. My perspective is; get ready, thinking people. Because it’s about to get a whole lot cooler to appear a whole lot stupider. The mainstream has celebrated idiocy and ignorance for years, but by and large, the message to young people has been one celebrating genius and intellectual achievement. This is just the tip of the iceberg, because as I said, the current zeitgeist says stupidity equals credibility. There are various reasons for this, but one of them is that intelligent people tend not to shoot straight, and this generation places a very high value on honesty and “being real.” Smart people put too much spin into their speech and are perceived as being dishonest. Is there truth to this? Of course there is… in small measure, but the assumption that stupid (or “simple”) people don’t lie or spin their words is off the mark.

The other mistaken assumption is that these people who are presenting themselves as “down to earth straight shooters” are exactly that. On the contrary, these are simply people who have learned to speak the language of the day. Now, I’m sure a lot of these people are genuinely mentally deficient, but the vast majority of them are simply smart enough to speak the way their audience demands: postmodern, ignorant, no concern for grammar, and so on and so forth.

This is precisely why we should train our children to be wary of the mainstream and to always consider themselves outside of it. This does not mean that they should not be aware of it, of course. But we should always remember that we are outsiders looking in (“In the world, but not of the world,” as the saying goes). Sometimes, to see what the sharks are doing, you’ve got to get into the water. As believers, let us remember that Reason is important and not peripheral. After all, even though you’re getting in with sharks, it’s nice to do so with a cage.

Dr. Thomas Sharpens

Dr. Derek Thomas from Reformed Theological Seminary was on the radio program Iron Sharpens Iron. They discussed 'heresy.' The program can be found here.

Of particular note is his fine discussion, toward the end, of the Federal Vision in response to a caller. He shows great wisdom in handling this controversial issue.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My 2 Year Old And Original Sin

Here it is, folks: original sin demonstrated in a 2 year old:

My wife was sitting on the bed folding clothes when she looked down to see our 2 year old daughter kicking the cat and stepping on its stomach, all the while yelling abuse such as, "You get out, kitty!" "Kitty, no!" and the ever classic, "You go away, cat!" My wife said, "Genesis, why are you doing that?" and our daughter responded, "Because I'm mean to her."

There you go. Case closed, children don't have to learn evil. They just do it.

Federal Vision and 'Biblical Language'

There are many in the Federal Vision movement who are advocates of using ‘biblical language’ in our theology. That is, they want our theology to sound more like the Bible. On the surface this sounds very right—very pious. Why would anyone want to have a theology that does not ‘speak the way the Bible speaks?’ However, there are two huge problems with this.

First, a person can use biblical language and not mean what the Bible means. A clear example of this is the Arian controversy. Those who supported Arianism wanted to quote Bible verses about Jesus being a human and use that language. They highlighted those passages and that kind of ‘biblical language’ to the exclusion of other passages. This is why the Church held councils to hammer out this issue. This is why these councils used nonbiblical (not unbiblical) language such as homoousias, this was to keep or protect the biblical teaching. So to with the FV issue, just because someone is using the same words the Bible is (i.e. ‘elect,’ ‘baptism’) does not mean they are teaching the same thing the Bible is.

Second, this misses the whole point of theology. Theology is the Christian discipline of clarifying and systematizing the teaching of the Bible. In order to do this, by necessity, one has to use nonbiblical words. If all a person does is use ‘biblical language’ then they have done nothing to clarify the Word of God. The Bible can be confusing at times and it is the point of theology to use different words and different constructions to clarify the Word of God. The key is to be saying the same thing the Bible does, but in language that people can understand.

Hopefully this will move the conversation with the FVers forward and we can get to the heart of the issue and that is, who is saying what the Bible says.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Galatians 5 and Friendship

Galatians 5:22-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

I realize that the point of this text is not about friendship, but I think that the idea of faithfulness is more than just to God. Yes, faithfulness to God is the primary focus in this text, but I do not think that this exclude other kinds of faithfulness—faithfulness to one’s job, faithfulness to one’s family and faithfulness to one’s friends.

As Christians we should be the best kind of friends. We should be the ones that listen longer, love deeper and work harder at being friends than the world. But the sad fact is that many of my non-Christian friends are better friends than my Christian ones. Yes, this is sad, but it is true.

At the heart of friendship is faithfulness and loyalty. These are the biblical bed rocks for Christian friendship. If you do not think this is so, look back at the friendship of David and Jonathan. This friendship was so close that moderns look at it and think they must have been gay. Of course they were not, but they were close friends. This is the biblical picture of friendship. Why is it that the world is better at this then the Church? I am not completely sure, but my guess would be that the Church is full of people that want right doctrine to such an extent that they do not care how they treat others. They walk over their ‘friends’ as long as they feel fulfilled; as long as they are getting something out of the friendship. This is Worldly with a capital ‘w.’ We need to repent of our sins and step up and be friends; be loyal friends, be faithful friends and as a result be God glorifying friends.

100th Post!

Is this a watershed moment? Probably not. But I did want to be the one to make the 100th post. So there, I did it. In you face, Josh and Jason! In your face! If only I were Josh or Jason, this post would have some substance to it and you'd all be better for having read it.

The irrelevant Church?

I do not think for a moment that the church should aspire to become irrelevant. There is always a need for Christians to speak the gospel into their own context. Rather, my concern is with the ever present danger of over-contextualizing. Consider what happens to a church that is always trying to appeal to an increasingly post-Christian culture. Almost inevitably, the church itself becomes post- Christian. This is what happened to the liberal church during the twentieth century, and it is what is happening to the evangelical church right now. As James Montgomery Boice has argued, evangelicals are accepting the world’s wisdom, embracing the world’s theology, adopting the world’s agenda, and employing the world’s methods. In theology a revision of evangelical doctrine is now underway that seeks to bring Christianity more in line with postmodern thought. The obvious difficulty is that in a post-Christian culture, a church that tries too hard to be relevant may in the process lose its very identity as the church. Rather than confronting the world the church gets co-opted by. It no longer stands a city on a hill, but sinks to the level of the surrounding culture.

Philip Ryken
City on a Hill, p. 22.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Mist: Another Argument for Human Sinfulness

The film doesn't offer a traditional or standard argument for sinfulness or depravity, mind you. But on artistic grounds, the film (I just saw it tonight) is painful and horrifying. As Stephen King once said in a recent interview, the film adaptation doesn't leave you with a 'Pollyana' ending. As one reviewer of the film opined: "it provides food for thought with its downright vicious assertion that humans are equally as monstrous as anything supernatural." Exactly. After watching the film and seeing the absolutely brutal ending, I was left thinking to myself, "This is a very worldview-oriented movie." But at the same time, it was so postmodern and full of grey-areas that I have given up being able to glean anything helpful from it except for its horrifying depiction of what people will do when fear takes over.

The film is an interesting study in mob-mentality and in what people will do when they believe they have lost all reason for hope. Some will act against hope and try to create a solution (pragmatism), and some will look for hope in a supernatural source (religion). Of course, in typical Hollywood fashion, the people who turn to a religious answer end up looking like total monsters, but then again, so do their pragmatist counterparts, as it turns out. By film's end, everyone has compromised themselves, everyone has given up hope, and everyone has behaved monstrously. Since the film condemns everyone, essentially, we are left with skepticism and nihilism when all is said and done. We as Calvinists are in the pleasant position of being able to use the film as an object lesson of what humans, left to their own devices, are capable of - and also what they are incapable of, as well (self-salvation, for example).

Calvin and Lent

ST. PAUL hath shown us that we must be ruled by the Word of God, and hold the commandments of men as vain and foolish; for holiness and perfection of life belongeth not to them. He condemneth some of their commandments, as when they forbid certain meats, and will not suffer us to use that liberty which God giveth the faithful. Those who troubled the church in St. Paul’s time, by setting forth such traditions, used the commandments of the law as a shield. These were but men’s inventions: because the temple was to be abolished at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those in the church of Christ, who hold this superstition, to have certain meats forbidden, have not the authority of God, for it was against His mind and purpose that the Christian should be subject to such ceremonies.
Then he goes on to say this:

Shall it then be lawful to observe what men have framed in their own wisdom? Do we not see that it is a matter which goeth directly against God? St. Paul setteth himself against such deceivers: against such as would bind Christians to abstain from meats as God had commanded in His law. If a man say, it is but a small matter to abstain from flesh on Friday, or in Lent, let us consider whether it be a small matter to corrupt and bastardize the service of God! For surely those that go about to set forth and establish the tradition of men, set themselves against that which God hath appointed in His Word, and thus commit sacrilege.
John Calvin
The Word Our Only Rule

Friday, March 7, 2008

Gaffin on Union with Christ

At the same time, however, various considerations already adduced point to the conclusion that Paul does not view the justification of the sinner (the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) as an act having a discrete structure of its own. Rather, as with Christ’s resurrection, the act of being raised with Christ in its constitutive, transforming character is at the same time judicially declarative; that is, the act of being joined to Christ is conceived of imputatively. In this sense the enlivening action of resurrection (incorporation) is itself a forensically constitutive declaration. This does not at all mean that Paul qualifies the synthetic character of the justification of the ungodly. The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established. If anything, this outlook which makes justification exponential of existential union with the resurrected Christ serves to keep clear what preoccupation with the idea of imputation can easily obscure, namely, that the justification of the ungodly is not arbitrary but according to truth: it is synthetic with respect to the believer only because it is analytic with respect to Christ (as resurrected). Not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps the most prominently) is the central motif of Paul’s applied soteriology.
Richard Gaffin
Resurrection and Redemption, p. 132

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” - these words from our U.S. Declaration of Independence are familiar to most Americans and much maligned words by many evangelicals. I have heard many evangelical leaders and pastors, both Reformed and not, disparage these three terms as if our Founding Fathers had their heads in the clouds of the Enlightenment when they penned them. The most frequent retort is that life and possibly liberty can be found in Scripture, but the “pursuit of Happiness” is surely unbiblical. I believe such statements more accurately portray our modern, abject ignorance of U.S. History then they do the biblical naiveté of our Founding Fathers (FF).

My thesis is that “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” is a succinct statement of basic Calvinistic anthropology and governmental theory. Let me explain.

Quick side note: I want to warn you that this is not an explanation or argument for the epistemology of our FF. I will grant that the belief in truth to be literally and completely self-evident, as a product of the School of Scottish Common Sense, and the philosophical views of men like John Locke did play major roles in the thoughts and statements of our Founders. However, they were not the dominant stream. Deism was not dominant either – I leave you to read George Washington's Sacred Fire by Peter Lillback to prove the point that Deism was not the majority or even minority view amongst our FF.

First, our FF were products of two centuries of solid Puritan Calvinism. Yes, Puritanism had its ups and downs in the Colonies even as soon as the first generation after Plymouth Rock. Nevertheless, the worldview of our FF was consistently Calvinistic and consistently biblical (as if the two were different!!). Since this is a point much maligned by secular academicians and the students indoctrinated by them and their revisionism, then I can provide proof of this in a later post if it becomes enough of an issue for some….

However, what does this do for the specific author of the phrase “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”, i.e. Thomas Jefferson, who was a professed non-Christian. Remember the great point Francis Schaffer made about worldviews. Today the dominate worldview is humanism, even among Christians – it is the way that almost all of us think, serve, behave, love, etc. in our world, even as believers. The contrary was true for our FF. The dominate worldview at that time, and for much of American History, was not only Christian, but Calvinist. This would have even included such men as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. This may not have influenced their depraved hearts behind closed doors, but it definitely dictated the governmental and economic policies they put forth.

Second, American Calvinism was well versed in Reformed experimental Christianity. Perhaps the greatest example of American Calvinistic thinking on practical theology and practice is the American theologian Jonathan Edwards. Edwards is quite well known for his Treaties on Religious Affections. In this treatise Edwards exposits 1 Peter 1:8 and explains that God created man as beings of desire – we always do what we want to do the most at any given moment. This is according to design and normal. The problem, natural man does not long after Christ and so he never seeks nor believes in Christ. Therefore, regeneration is needed.

However, step back for a moment from this purely salvific reality and look at what Edwards teaches about anthropology. Man was created by God to be a desiring being. Man desire things. Man hungers and longs for things, both material and immaterial. The Psalms convincingly portray man as a being of desire– longing after God like a deer after water, or delighting our selves in the Lord and He will gives us the desires of our heart. Jesus taught that he who loves Him will obey Him – i.e. he who desires Christ will desire to obey Christ’s teachings. Desire is what drives man. In fact, this is exactly what is behind Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations – economics is about ‘want’ and markets must freely allow these pursuits. When this happens, what is best for the individual, i.e. fulfilling his desires, becomes best for the economic community.

Now, I do not mean illicit, sinful, sheer passionate desire and wants. In fact, our worldview has been so transformed from Edwards’ day that we cannot even read the above statements and talk about desires without illicit, hedonistic, pornographic definitions being read into the word desire. This is not what I mean. I mean the wants and desires that are at the core of our being – life, food, shelter, protection, safety, procreation, and community. Even as unfallen beings we would have still desired, we would have simply desired the right things all the time.

Third, Edwards was not espousing a new thought. In fact, one of Edwards’ main sources for understanding of anthropology was Petrus van Mastricht, a seventeenth century Dutch Reformer. Van Mastricht’s four volume magnum opus, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, was the dominate text for instruction in theology in the American colonies in the eighteenth century – Perry Miller has some great resources about the 17th and 18th Century New England mind and education to further elaborate this point. The idea of desire or longing as part of man’s core makeup was part of the warp and woof of Calvinistic anthropology – and it still should be!!!

Thus, when a man like Thomas Jefferson takes the words of John Locke and transforms them from “Life, Liberty, and Property” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” he is stating the very essentials of what it means to be human biblically. The intention of government is not management of my life or provision of my needs. The purpose of government is to ensure that I am alive, that I have the proper freedom as a vicegerent to be a steward, and that I can go forth and fulfill the divine-desires placed within. Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness is what it means to be human. It means being able to live your life according to the conviction of your mind, properly pursuing the desires of your heart. God did not create man to be a slave to another intellectually, emotionally, or psychologically. God created man after His own image: thinking, desiring, and being according to one’s own self. It is within this grand framework that man is to live, move and have his being – as man thinks upon God’s providence and creation, desires after God’s Law, and goes forth in-like.

The great problem: this only works for a truly moral people. Many of our FF echoed that our Constitution is one that will only work for a Christian people. Liberty is quickly turned into license and happiness to lust when we abandoned divine moorings. Thus, for those who malign the great statement of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” I fear simply proclaim their humanism-laden worldview while testifying to their ignorance of our Nation’s history.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Can it Get Sweeter to Your Reformed Ear?

The whole question, therefore, concerns simply the purpose of God in the mission of his Son. What was the design of Christ’s coming into the world, and doing and suffering all He actually did and suffered? Was it merely to make the salvation of all men possible; to remove the obstacles which stood in the way of the offer of pardon and acceptance to sinners? or, Was it specially to render certain the salvation of his own people, i.e., of those given to Him by the Father? The latter question is affirmed by Augustinians, and denied by their opponents. It is obvious that if there be no election of some to everlasting life, the atonement can have no special reference to the elect. It must have equal reference to all mankind. But it does not follow from the assertion of its having a special reference to the elect that it had no reference to the non-elect. Augustinians readily admit that the death of Christ had a relation to man, to the whole human family, which it had not to the fallen angels. It is the ground on which salvation is offered to every creature under heaven who hears the gospel; but it gives no authority for a like offer to apostate angels. It moreover secures to the whole race at large, and to all classes of men, innumerable blessings, both providential and religious. It was, of course, designed to produce these effects; and, therefore, He died to secure them. In view of the effects which the death of Christ produces on the relation of all mankind to God, it has in all ages been customary with Augustinians to say that Christ died "suffcienter proomnibus, efficaciter tantum pro electi," sufficiently for all, efficaciously only for the elect. There is a sense, therefore, in which He died for all, and there is a sense in which He died for the elect alone. The simple question is, had the death of Christ a reference to the elect which it had not to other men? Did He come into the world to secure the salvation of those given to Him by the Father, so that the other effects of his work are merely incidental to what was done for the attainment of that object?

Charles Hodge
Systematic Theology, p. 545

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Irreverence Not Driscoll's Specialty

Much has been made of Mark Driscoll's particular methods of self expression. Especially on this blog. One of the greatest errors which has arisen from my pointing our that Driscoll is "irreverent" and "edgy" has been the perception that this is what Driscoll is all about. It couldn't be further from the truth. True, these racy comments and jokes which offend Westminster sensibilities definitely stand out from his traditionally reformed doctrinal stances. But I am also here to say that they should not, and my focus on the "irreverent" stuff Driscoll has said definitely detracts from Driscoll's primary message in Vintage Jesus, and that is that Jesus is the Lord of Glory and we must submit our lives to Him.

Taking a break from the discussion about controversial language, I want to share a couple of thoughts from Vintage Jesus which I greatly appreciated.

Sadly, it is too common for churches not to speak of Jesus, which is a tragedy akin to a wife rarely uttering the name of her own husband. In our day when there are inumerable contradictory beliefs about who God is, Christians must be clear that their God is Jesus Christ alone so as to communicate the same central truth that Scripture does. No matter how many verses are used, the Bible has not been rightly understood or proclaimed unless Jesus is the central focus and hero. (Pg. 66)

I think this is a potent way of expressing something grave which is occurring all over (it has been happening for years). I really can't put it better than him, I just wanted to share this little nugget. Here's another referring to our culture's enthusiasm for worship:

[Referring to going to a football game in Seattle] While zoning laws in our city essentially forbid us from building a large church, the football stadium was built at a cost of 450 million dollars... Every ticket for the entire season is expensive yet sold out. Our seats at the game I attended were in what Paul calls the "third heaven" and cost about forty dollars each. In addition, parking, a hog dog, and a beer cost about the same as a year's tuition at a state college. The help of a Sherpa was required to haul it all to the high altitude where the seats were.
People walked many blocks in a driving rain that was so Old Testament that parts of the city were flooded, rivers had spilled over their banks, and mudslides were leading the nightly newscasts. Nonetheless, seemingly every seat in the stadium was filled, and fans stood in the rain for the entire game - not even using the seat they paid for - wearing the team colors and screaming, while music blared through the sound system and half-naked young women provided the eye candy.
In short, I was at a worship service with a congregation that was larger, more devoted, more generous, and more vocal than any church in America.

See? Driscoll's game is not offending people; it's providing helpful insights into our world and teaching solid theology. However, I'll bet there are still some Baptists who think the beer reference was obscene, and I'll bet there are some Puritans who feel his reference to half-naked women is scandalous. A little advice, Mark. Remember what Roosevelt said: "You can please some of the people some of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time." Don't go through your ministry just dying to please the Presbyterians out there, because we can be a very finicky bunch. We'd eat each other alive if Jonathan Edwards told us to.

Oh boy, am I asking for it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

In Defense of Irreverence

There is something to be said for irreverence. It is politically incorrect, it cuts through the ether of "sensitivity," and it often results in clarity being brought to an issue. Front and center for this discussion is Mark Driscoll, who is both loved and hated in the Reformed world. There are many for whom his style is simply too crude or crass. Others, such as myself, find his use of language and humor refreshing and culturally engaging.

But the larger issue here is the idea of irreverence in our speech. I am not here, going to defend crudeness, filthy speech, dirty jokes, or coarse profanity. What I am referring to, here, is a way of speech which is humorous but not profane; satirical but not cruel. This is a way of speaking which reflects the culture of the day without compromising one's integrity or the clarity of one's message.

In one of the first speeches I heard Driscoll give, he defended using the culture's language and interests when communicating the Gospel. He offered examples from Scripture (such as having Titus circumcised for the sake of the people he was going to minister to, because they believed circumcision was important) of Christians adapting to the culture. Essentially, what Driscoll did was point out that contextualization is a biblical notion. Now, I would say that the way in which Driscoll speaks (both during his sermons and in his books) is a contemporary example of contextualizing language to fit the culture being reached out to. In Driscoll's case, this is Seattle, WA; a place filled with indie rock, irony, and Starbucks at every turn. He speaks the everyday language of the people who come into his church and read his books. For example, instead of saying that Mary was accused of sexual impropriety, he says that everyone thought she probably was knocking boots in the backseat of a car at prom. This manner of speaking engages the ears of his audience, he engages their sense of humor (which few would deny is important in communication), he communicates in a way which shows that suspicion of lurid sexual behavior between the time of Mary and our time is really not that different, and he speaks in a way which connects with the other six days of the week for his listeners.

Essentially, church people have a way of speaking which makes sense within the confines of Sunday morning or seminary classes, but which doesn't really reflect their way of speaking for the rest of the week, because they are going into a world which does not speak that language. Many communicators have been taught that they should be ultra-conservative, trying not to offend others with their words. Now, this is often true. But if we were so cautious as to never offend anyone, we would often not be able to say anything. And we certainly couldn't say anything true.

Have I been clear enough? As Christians, we should be loving in our words, we should speak in a normal way that our listeners will understand, and we should contextualize to our listeners. If we believe that communicating effectively is important, then I would suggest we do what Driscoll (in this example) has done, and sometimes that involves ruffling the feathers of the more conservative listeners for the sake of effectively reaching those who are not from that same background.

Again, I would say that Driscoll has not crossed any moral lines with what he has said, and any examples should be taken on an individual basis, one at a time. I don't think there are any examples of Driscoll speaking in an unloving or biblically impermissible way.

Excuse me now, folks. Let me make it even plainer. Though Driscoll's way of speaking is very different from the way your average pastor speaks from the pulpit, it is not Biblically forbidden. As such, it is a matter indifferent and a question of Christian liberty. This means that if you don't like the way that he speaks, you should go pick up your collection of Spurgeon or Edwards and stay away from Mars Hill Church; though I actually recommend that you get a sense of humor, instead, and lighten up.