Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Realization: It's My Mid-Life Crisis!

An interesting story from Yahoo! News:

"Middle age is truly miserable, according to a study using data from 80 countries showing that depression is most common among men and women in their forties.

"'It happens to men and women, to single and married people, to rich and poor, and to those with and without children,' Oswald said. 'Nobody knows why we see this consistency.'

"One possibility may be that people realize they won't achieve many of their aspirations at middle age, the researchers said.

"Another reason could be that after seeing their fellow middle-aged peers begin to die, people begin to value their own remaining years and embrace life once more."

About a year ago, I hit this really depressing period where I was reflecting on my life and I just came to this point where I felt I would never accomplish all the things I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to be a famous writer, I wanted to teach theology at a university, and sometimes I wanted to be a courageous missionary.

Now, hypothetically, all of these things could still happen (I do lack the drive, though). But if I was struck with the depressing notion of never accomplishing anything beyond what I already have, does that mean that I'm middle-aged right now? And if I am middle-aged right now, then that means I'll be dead by the time I'm 50.

That's right; this is what my mid-life crisis looks like: since I can't buy a sports car, I'm collecting records and riding a bicycle to work, my idea of an affair is my man-crush on Larry Mullens Jr., and my idea of a wild party is having two cups of coffee instead of one whilst listening to a Beach Boys record.

Well, all of you schmucks are left wondering how long you'll live, but I have my answer: 50. So now I can sleep easy; at least until my 49th birthday.

This is Not Political, okay?

Sometimes I read a news story and just feel like the people in the news story are idiots, and I feel sorry for them. Here's one such story. The story is about Obama getting the Kennedy dynasty's nomination. The whole article, though, is about how excited everyone in the crowd is to be at this rally. At one point, the article says this:

For others, seeing Obama in person seemed to be enough.

"You know how close I was to him?" gushed one young woman as she showed off her digital photos to a friend. "I was, like, right there!"

Okay, you know what? I could see someone saying that if Paul McCartney was walking by them, or even if the Pope was walking by them. I could even see myself saying that if Bono was 20 feet from me. But a political candidate? A guy who talks for a living. A guy wants to have the job of lying to us for the next 4 years (I'm not commenting on Bush, for the record, but, rather, politicians in general), and this girl is freaking out?

See, people who get really into politics like this end up wasting 25% of their life (about one year out of every 4 years, right?) on making superstars out of deceptive, crooked politicians (that's right; I'm painting the whole lot of them) when they could be investing themselves into almost anything which will be more worthwhile (it only takes 2 minutes to vote, after all). Like amassing a record collection. Or learning to build a house of cards. Or writing a blog. Or teaching some needy child how to play the accordion on the street corner for tips (teach a child to fish, right?).

Because I have recused myself from the more recent political struggles, I have found it very interesting to see the actual amount of time those closer to me are spending debating each other, endorsing their candidate, comparing pros and cons, arguing on the radio, etc. Think about this: if this is only the primaries, just imagine how bad the actual Presidential election is going to be. All of my Christian friends are going to invest themselves into getting a particular candidate into office instead of focusing (primarily) upon the Gospel or upon their local church.

If we are going to vote, lets play it cool, folks. If you know who you're going to vote for, then on November 11th (or whatever) just cast your vote. Don't make an idol of these men (or women) and spend the next year waving their name in the air or tattooing their name on your right butt-cheek. They do not deserve your devotion or love.

Oh well, I can't change peoples' minds on this, but I will recuse myself, nonetheless, from the idol-worshipping that this poor girl in the Obama story was engaged in. At least we can all promise not to go that far.

For the record: I don't know if Josh agrees with me on this (I doubt it), but I want to make clear I am speaking for myself, not for the entire Bring the Books staff (all two of us).

Music Time is Happy Time!

I have my other blog where I talk about music and movies (both good and bad). But no one reads that one. And I think that if Fide-O blog can talk about LSU and boring sports on his blog, then we here at Bring the Books should feel free to talk about music. Plus, I'm pretty sure that Josh has his own musical interests that he'd love to open his heart about. That's why I want to make a few music recommendations, as well as tell you all about some great music deals I found. If you don't care, or if you think Satan invented the snare drum, then you can stop reading.

Over the weekend, I went a little cookoo on eBay and started bidding like crazy while looking for some stuff to add to my vinyl collection. So, what LPs did I end up with the winning bid on?

-The Beatles Revolver
-The Beatles A Hard Day's Night (Mono!)
-Bob Dylan The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (Also in Mono!)
-Bob Dylan Biograph (5-LP Collection)
-Iggy & The Stooges Metallic K.O. (A Pretty Crazy Live Recording; and in mint condition!)

Pretty standard stuff, but if you don't have these in a record collection, there does seem to be something missing. The best part is, I only ended up paying $1 for three out of these five records. Awesome.

What I'm Spinning (For Those That Care):
-Evangelicals The Evening Descends (By the way, I'm pretty sure that they're not really evangelicals.
-Harry Nilsson Nilsson Schmilsson
-The Velvet Undergound & Nico The Velvet Underground & Nico
-King Crimson In The Court Of The Crimson King

Monday, January 28, 2008

On the Death of Heath Ledger

I am not sure if this video has made its rounds on the blogs yet, if not, let me be the first to say that Fred Phelps does not speak for all Christians. In fact, I personally do not know of a single Christian that thinks and acts the way that he does.

Alright look, yes homosexuality is a sin. There I said it, however, there is NO biblical or moral reason to elevate this one sin above all other sins. Lying is a sin. Lust is a sin. Not loving your neighbor is a sin. I do not see the people from Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) holding up picket signs about these sins. Why not? Why are these people so one sided and out of balance?

We need to stand up for biblical truth. All Christians agree on this. However, we need to be as gentle as doves and as wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16). The people from WBC do not show either of these qualities. They are not gentle. I mean come on, picketing people's funerals. Talk about bad timing. And they are not wise. Using inflammatory language about homosexuals is not wise. All it does it put up walls and closes lines of communication.

Watch this video to see Fred Phelps being unwise and ungentle.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Particular Redemption and 2 Peter 2:1

There is a great article posted on Reformation Theology titled "Does 2 Peter 2:1 Deny Particular Redemption?." 2 Peter 2:1 was, personally, one of the most difficult passages in my journey to a fully rounded and robust biblical doctrine of particular redemption. This article points out some of the interpretive questions that need to be asked when deciding on the meaning of this passage.
1) Derive soteriological truths from soteriological passages (this isn't);
2) "Lord" is δεσπότης (despotes--sovereign title) not κύριος (kurios--soteriological title);
3) Is this the Father or the Son? Can it be proven?
4) "bought" (ἀγοράζω) has no purchase price mentioned, which would be the only time that happens in the NT *if* this is a soteriological reference;
5) The passage says the Master did not *potentially* purchase these men, but that He did, in fact, purchase these men (sovereignty, not redemption). Compare Deuteronomy 32:5-6 for parallel use in the OT.
6) Derive the extent of the atonement from Hebrews that discusses it, not from 2 Peter's reference to false teachers.

Synthetic Genome: I Thought DNA Was Supposed to Be Simple!

Scientists yesterday announced that they have successfully created an entire synthetic genome in the lab by stitching together the DNA of the smallest known free-living bacterium, Mycoplasma genitalium.

One genetisist, Roy Hood, commented that this is "a striking technical accomplishment." I know that naturalists do not characterize the formation of DNA as being unintelligent (they see the evolutionary process itself as being the creative force). But considering the considerable work, enormous investment, and massive amount of effort it is taking the most brilliant people on our planet, simply to stitch together their own man-made genome, is evolution really that brilliant in its ability to create life?

I suppose the argument could be put forth by a naturalist that given enough time (try millions and millions of years) and the right materials (you know, proteins, microscopes, tiny tweezers, etc.), life can eventually form. So even a group of apes in a lab could eventually have done the same thing. This really means that either evolution is a bloody brilliant creator, or the scientists who did this are no better than apes. Which is it, naturalists? Which is it?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hackers Threaten Scientology

Apparently some "hacker" (whatever that word means anymore) posted a video on YouTube declaring the destruction of Scientology as their goal:

"For the good of your followers, for the good of mankind--and for our own enjoyment--we shall proceed to expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form. We recognize you as serious opponents, and do not expect our campaign to be completed in a short time frame. However, you will not prevail forever against the angry masses of the body politic. Your methods, hypocrisy, and the artlessness of your organization have sounded its death knell."

Apparently, the Church of Scientology has yet to respond: apparently, they don't know who they're supposed to sue. Should anyone take this video seriously, though? Probably not.

General Impressions

As the Christian blogoshpere gets bigger and bigger, I see that there is a trend, by many, to shy away from biblical exposition. People would rather deal with their views and argue about their thoughts, rather than go to the texts of our holy book. Even scarier is the fact that many explicitly state that they do not want to deal with the Bible.

For the life of me I cannot understand why a Christian would not want to wrestle with the text of Scripture in formulating and resolving differences in their theologies. Here at Bring the Books…we have had commentators state that they do not want to get into a proof texting war. On one level I agree with this. I do not want to throw a Bible reference out there and then have you throw two more and then I throw three more and so on. But I do want to give texts that prove my view (proof text). I want to show why the text in question does in fact teach the doctrine I am claiming it teaches. I want to give a solid historical-grammatical exegesis of the passage. I want to show that my view is the same as the authors. We cannot do this by arguing about our own thoughts or reasons. The only way to know what God things about this or that subject is to go to his Word.

On another blog I frequent, the author states that he rarely solves theological disputes by exegesis. He thinks that we need to resolve conflict on the level of our presuppositions. I agree that in a dispute our presuppositions often can be the reason for the dispute, but even if this is the case, are we not to get our presuppositions from the text itself? Are we not to let the Bible set the agenda? Should we not have the same presuppositions that the Bible has? The only way to do this is to go back to the text! Even if that means we have to get our exegetical tools dirty. Even if that means we have to set Calvin or Murray or Hodge to the side for a moment. Anyone who knows me, knows I have a high view of tradition and I value the fathers of our faith very much. But you do ultimately settle theological dispute by saying, “My theologian can beat up your theologian.” Or by erecting a balance scale and setting all the fathers on their perspective sides and see which side out weighs the other. As reformed Christians (reformed with a little “r,” those whose theological roots are in the Protestant Reformation) we need to remember sola scriptura. I am not arguing for solo scriptura (only the Bible), but I am arguing that the Bible is our final authority in all matters of faith and practice and we need to take our theological disputes to the text. Back to the Bible!, ought to be out battle cry.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Birthday Presents; Berkhof on Compatiblism

For my birthday, my wife got me the following:

1. Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology; a book I have long desired for many many years. Now I have it, and the depths of resources I now have are abundant, indeed.
2. The Velvet Underground & Nico (Vinyl LP); The very first Velvet Underground album on a beautifully printed yellow vinyl. It is a real treasure, and one of those albums that every music lover should own on vinyl, for sure.

Thanks for my birthday presents, sweetie!

On to business: I found a wonderful quote from Berkhof which relates somewhat to the more recent discussions taking place here at Bring the Books.

It may be said that the Bible certainly does not proceed on the assumption that the divine decree is inconsistent with the free agency of man. It clearly reveals that God has decreed the free acts of man, but also that the actors are none the less free and therefore responsible for their acts, Gen. 50:19,20; Acts 2:23; 4:27,28. It was determined that the Jews should bring about the crucifixion of Jesus; yet they were perfectly free in their wicked course of action, and were held responsible for this crime. There is not a single indication in Scripture that the inspired writers are conscious of a contradiction in connection with these matters. They never make an attempt to harmonize the two. This may restrain us from assuming a contradiction here, even if we cannot reconcile both truths. (Pg. 106)

Compatiblistic Freedom (Part 4): Does God Sovereignly Limit His Sovereignty?

In a discussion on my blog for Compatiblistic Freedom (Part 2) we have been discussing libertarian freedom. A response was given by Heretic to something I said which I think deserves further thought. He said:

I'd prefer to believe that in God's omnipotence he could create a person IN HIS IMAGE.

Now, what Heretic means by that is, he believe that God is so powerful he could create something over which he has no power (namely, the human will). Another way of stating this is that he believes God is so powerful that He can actually choose to limit his power. I think this is a fair restatement that he would not contest.

So, we are left with a difficult question regarding something which I hear so often from believers in libertarian freedom that it does deserve some attention; namely this idea that a sovereign being such as God can use His sovereignty to limit His sovereignty.

My initial reaction to this idea is to brush it off, because it seems so obviously contradictory. However, so many people have, over the years, said this in one form or another to me that I think it deserves at least a cursory discussion in my Compatiblism series.

My primary approach to this shall be to demonstrate that sovereignly limited sovereignty is contradictory. First of all, a definition of sovereignty that won't make Heretic squirm:

The theological dictionary from Carm.org defines sovereignty thusly:

The right of God to do as He wishes (Psalm 50:1; Isaiah 40:15; 1 Tim. 6:15) with His creation. This implies that there is no external influence upon Him and that He also has the ability to exercise His power and control according to His will.

My argument is that Heretic's position [God's sovereignty entails the possibility of not being sovereign] is inherently contradictory.

1. God is sovereign.
2. If God's sovereignty entails the possibility to also not be sovereign then God is both sovereign and also not sovereign
3. Therefore God is not sovereign.

This is a contradiction. It's at this point that I call upon Heretic to give up his position, but that is unlikely. Rather, I would challenge our readers to not follow this modernistic tendency to make up ideas about God limiting himself when the Bible says nothing of the sort. I know Walker will have something else to say about this, so I will leave it to him, in the meantime, because I know his own post is forthcoming.

"The doctrine of the sovereignty of God is the doctrine that gives means and substance to all other doctrines." - J.M. Boice

"It is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things but that He does so always and without exception." - John Piper

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Federal Vision Heats Up

A recent blog article at the Green Bagginses points to some comments that James Jordan has made on this blog. Many of the comments by Jordan have been deleted, but a few are still there at the original site. Either way, Andy Webb from the Green Bagginses has them posted on his site.

Now, before reading anymore, you must read Jordan's comments. Some of them are so outrageous that my commentary will be of little help if Jordan's remarks are not squarely in view.

Go read it...

Did you read it???

Good, you can proceed.

There are two main thoughts that come to my mind in this situation. The first is that we have moved way beyond discussing the issues and have clearly moved into the ad hominem phase of this controversy. Now clearly not everyone involved in this controversy is 'throwing mud.' There are men on both sides of this issue who are handling this with great respect and integrity. One such man is Dr. Guy Waters. It seems that everyone feels like he is the 'whipping boy' of the TR's. At every turn people are taking shots at him. The recent article in the Westminster Theological Journal that reviews his book on the FV is a great example of this. But despite all the attacks against him, I have never heard, see or read him say anything negative about the so-called 'FV guys.' Sure he has said thing about their views, but there has never been one personal attack that I am aware of. I am sure that he has not said anything close to the level of James Jordon's most recent comments. I think that everyone in this debate could learn a few things from Dr. Waters. If you agree with his views or not, he has constantly shown Christian character throughout this controversy.

The second thought I have is that I am, on one level, glad that Jordan said what he did. Before you jump on me for this comment, let me explain. There are many on the FV side of this issue that seem to think (and the repeat over and over) that the TR's are the only ones 'throwing mud.' Clearly Jordan is not the first FVer to lower to this level, but those who are sympathetic to the FV always find a way to see their guys in a positive light and the TR's in a negative light. With these comments by Jordan, there is no way that they can be spun to not look like mud throwing.

Now given the big picture, I wish all sides, including Jordan, could carry this discussion on with Christian character. Remembering that the greatest of these is Love. When I first read Jordan's comments, I was truly saddened by them. I was saddened to see the discussion come to this level. But to Jordan's credit, it appears, that he did delete many of the comments. This may be the lowest point in the debate, but it could be on a up swing. We can only watch and pray.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thornwell on the Church

Our whole system of operations gives an undue influence to money. Where money is the great want, numbers must be sought; and where an ambition for numbers prevails, doctrinal purity must be sacrificed. The root of the evil is the secular spirit of our ecclesiastical institutions. What we want is a spiritual body; a Church whose power lies in the truth, and the presence of the Holy Ghost.
B. M. Palmer, Life and Letters of J. H. Thornwell, p. 291.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

R.L. Dabney on Hypothetical Universalism

R. L Dabney is one of the greatest theologians in the South's history. According to Wikipedia he

was an American Christian theologian, a Southern Presbyterian pastor, and Confederate Army chaplain. He was also chief of staff and biographer to Stonewall Jackson. His biography of Jackson remains in print today.

Dabney and James Henley Thornwell were two of Southern Presbyterianism's most influential scholars. They were both Calvinist, Old School Presbyterians, and social conservatives. Conservative Presbyterians still study their theological works, particularly in the Presbyterian Church in America and Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

In his work Systematic Theology he takes up the theme of Christ's sacrifice. In his second section on this topic he deals with the view's held by the French theologian Moses Amyraut, who is best know for his modifications to classic Calvinism. In his handling of Amyraldism he shows how the hypothetical nature of the cross is untenable.

First Dabney sets the stage for his refutation.

The view of the Hypothetical Universalists was professedly Calvinistic, and was doubtless, and is, sincerely held in substance by many honest and intelligent Calvinists, (e. g., Richard Baxter, R. Hall, Bellamy) although Turrettin and Dr. Hodge condemn it as little better than Arminianism in disguise. It presents the divine plan in redemption thus. God decreed from eternity, to create the human race, to permit the fall; then in His infinite compassion, to send Christ to atone for every human being’s sins, (conditioned on his believing); but also foreseeing that all, in consequence of total depravity and the bondage of their will, would inevitably reject this mercy if left to themselves, He selected out of the whole a definite number of elect, to whom He also gave, in His sovereign love, grace to “make them willing in the day of His power.” The non elect, never enjoying this persuasive grace, infallibly choose to reject the provided atonement, and so, as its application is suspended on faith, they fail to receive the benefit of it, and perish.

With this understanding of Amyraldism set in place, Dabney turns to a refutation of this aberrant view.

This theory, if amended so as to say that God sent His Son to provide a vicarious satisfaction for the sin of all whom His Providence intended to place under the Gospel offers, would be liable to less objection than the others. But several objections lie against it. In the first place, the advantage proposed to be gained by it appears illusory. It was hoped that this view would meet the cavils urged by Arminians against the seeming lack of candor in offering Christ’s sacrifice for reconciliation to those for whom God never designed it. But I submit that this cavil is not in the least dissolved by saying that God designed Christ’s sacrifice to provide satisfaction for every non elect man’s guilt, which would avail for his atonement only on condition of his true faith, while the omniscience of God showed him that this sinner would certainly refuse this faith, in consequence of his total depravity, and God’s purpose was distinctly formed not to remove that depravity by His effectual grace. To say that God purposed, even conditionally, the reconciliation of that sinner by Christ’s sacrifice, while also distinctly proposing to do nothing effectual to bring about the fulfillment of the condition He knew the man would surely refuse, is contradictory. It is hard to see how, on this scheme, the sacrifice is related more beneficially to the non elect sinner, than on the strict Calvinist’s plan. Second, the statement of Amyraut involves the same vice of arrangement pointed out in the supralapsarian and sublapsarian plans. It tends towards assigning a sequence to the parts of the decree, as it subsists in God’s mind. He thinks and purposes it as one contemporaneous, mutually connected whole. The student is referred to the remarks already made upon this error. Third, and chiefly, Armyraut has to represent the graces which work effectual calling, while free and unmerited indeed, as yet the free gift of the Father’s electing love, irrespective of Christ’s purchase, (for that is represented as made in common for all) and not mediated to the elect sinner through Christ’s sacrifice. Since Christ’s intercession is expressly grounded in His sacrifice, we shall have to conceive of the benefit of effectual calling as also not mediated to the sinner by Christ’s intercession. But this is all contrary to Scripture, which represents Christ as the channel through which all saving benefits come, and the very graces which fulfill the instrumental conditions of salvation as a part of His purchase for His people. See, for instance, Acts 5:31; Rom. 8:32; Eph. 1:3, 4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 2:14; 2 Pet. 1:2, 3.

Dabney, Systematic Theology, p., 519-520.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Compatiblistic Freedom (Part 3): The Incoherence of Libertarian Freedom (Part 2)

In part two of my argument against Libertarian freedom, I ask permission to regurgitate a rather profound argument offered by Jonathan Edwards in his previously mentioned Freedom of the Will.

Essentially, Libertarians argue that their particular form of freedom is necessary in order for someone to be punished and or rewarded. They say that if the causation of their actions did not arise from a Libertarian context (i.e. without necessary causation preceding its occurrence), then the act was not done freely; and if the act was not done freely (so the reasoning goes) then their acts cannot be judged.

Edwards argues by turning this idea on its head: if volitions must be uncaused in order for one to be worthy of praise or blame, then it is the Libertarian system which actually makes praise or blame impossible. This is because, in the Compatiblistic schema, people are judged because their actions arise from their nature. But if actions arise from an uncaused volition, then the nature of the criminal can not be brought into question. After all, their nature was not the sufficient cause of their actions.

The legal system puts this notion into practice. Part of the reason we send violent criminals away (in many cases) for life is that they are the types of people whose natures are such that they are believed capable of killing or harming others again. When people do bad things, in other words, we take it for granted that this is because they are bad people. Their natures are such that their proclivity to kill may again result in harm being done. We make an assumption of the truth of this in everyday life. Now, if the legal system proceeded in a Libertarian fashion, every action would be assessed on its own merits (which should certainly be done), but without a view to future harm the individual is believed fully capable of. If the individual's nature does not sufficiently determine their actions, we are not even justified in assessing a moral value to the person's actions, precisely because said actions did not necessarily arise from their nature.

If this line of argumentation is valid, then given the notion of Libertarian freedom, it is impossible to assign a moral value to anyone's actions. This is again another example of how Libertarian freedom is an incoherent version of freedom. I again offer up that the Compatiblistic notion of freedom is not only coherent, but that in contrast to the Libertarian system of freedom, it is most evident from reason as well as the Scriptures (examined in Part 1 of this blog series).

Compatiblistic Freedom (Part 2): The Incoherence of Libertarian Freedom

In the philosophical world, discussions of human freedom can be heated, difficult, and complex. Most of the time, in the Christian world, thinkers come down in favor of one of three possible positions: Hard Determinism, Libertarianism, and Soft Determinism (or Compatiblism, as I will be calling it here). I will do what I can, here, to demonstrate that Libertarian freedom is an incoherent philosophical position. Let me first say, however, that anything I say here is dwarfed by Jonathan Edwards' brilliant tome (which to my knowledge has never been adequately answered) in defense of compatiblism, The Freedom of the Will. Written while Edwards ministered to the indians at Stockbridge, Mark A. Knoll once stated that Edwards' book single-handedly restrained the spread of Arminianism in the American colonies for nearly a hundred years. That being said, few have the patience for Edwards' difficult language and meaty philosophical rigor. I say all of this because, truly, if Libertarian freedom is to be an academically acceptable notion, it must be able to tackle Edwards' arguments, and I believe this still has yet to be done.

On with my arguments against Libertarian freedom:

Compatiblists define freedom as "being able to do whatever one desires at any given moment." Libertarians, in contrast, define freedom as "being able to do otherwise than what one actually does."

1. For Libertarianism to be true, the will must be able to make decisions contrary to prior inclinations. This is because in order for the will to be free in the libertarian sense, it must be arbitrary and turn in the face of preceding causes. For example, it must be possible for someone to be presented with two choices and have either choice be equally probable that either could be chosen. However, this is incoherent, because everyone always has a prior reason for the decisions that they make, whether it be disposition at the moment, instilled moral code, or simple preference at the time of decision. This leads in somewhat to my second argument.

2. For Libertarianism to be true, it must be possible for a volition to occur without a cause to its existence. The reason this is so is that if a volition has a prior cause, then the volition could never have been otherwise than what that prior cause had determined. In other words, in a Libertarian schema, Dave may at the given moment prefer chocolate and yet still decide to take the vanilla instead. But this makes no sense. It is literally a contradiction to say that at the given moment Dave's strongest desire was for chocolate, but his strongest desire was for vanilla. Some may say, "But that happens all the time. Sometimes people just want something different or want to 'mix it up.' " However, the question we must come back to is "Why?" Why did Dave pick the vanilla instead? It is because (though he had a prior preference of chocolate) his desire was strongest at that moment (for whatever reason) to try vanilla. This is classic Compatiblistic free will at work. Our decisions are always conditioned by something, and if our decisions are never free of prior causation, then Libertarian freedom is again, as I have charged, incoherent.

I should point out, again, that God's certain foreknowledge of future events (and human decisions in particular) renders Libertarian freedom impossible. The very existence of Open Theists, I would surmise, is evidence that one must deny God's exhaustive foreknowledge of future free human decisions in order to preserve and consistently protect this philosophical notion of Libertarian free will. I could use many other arguments, (examples include Edwards' argument that every effect has a necessary and sufficient cause of its existence) but this is a blog and not a book, so for now I will end with a quote from Edwards which, in my view, sums up the absurdity of the Libertarian position:

It is indeed as repugnant to reason, to suppose that an act of the Will should come into existence without a Cause, as to suppose the human soul, or an angel, or the globe of the earth, or the whole universe, should come into existence without a Cause. And if once we allow, that such a sort of effect as Volition may come to pass without a Cause, how do we know but that many other sorts of effects may do so too?" (Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will Part II Sect. III)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Divine Lord

One of the most important and controversial doctrines in the history of the Christian church has been the doctrine of the deity of Christ. Is Christ to be seen as merely a man? Or is he more? The orthodox answer (and biblical one I might add) is that he is more. He is very God of very God.

The divinity of Jesus of Nazareth is taught on almost every page of the Bible. One of the most powerful and often over looked evidences of the deity of Christ is the title of ku,rioj (Lord). This simple title that is used in almost every book of the New Testament to refer to Jesus is rarely seen as proof for the deity of Christ, but I will attempt to show, it should be seen as one of the strongest because it is used so frequently. But exactly how does this straightforward title show the divine nature of Jesus?

The key to this is to understand the New Testament in its cultural context. At the time the New Testament was written the ‘Bible’ of the day was the Septuagint (LXX). The LXX is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. It is the Bible, most likely, Jesus would have used. and it is the Bible that Paul quotes from often in his writings. The LXX often translated the divine name for God hw"Ühy> (Yahwah) with the Greek word ku,rioj. One clear example of this is in the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4. The divine name Yahwah is translated by the Greek word for Lord. This is the background for the New Testament usage of the title Lord that is ascribed to Jesus.

When the New Testament writers give Jesus the title Lord they are doing much more that being polite. It is true that the word ku,rioj is used of people other than God as a polite greeting (much like our modern day word 'sir'). But it is more that this with Jesus. That is why the focus here has been on the fact the Jesus is not simply called Lord, but rather, Lord is a title given to Christ. In essence, Jesus is given the divine name, Yahwah by the New Testament. This is strong proof that Jesus is to be seen as divine and not merely a human.

Two Kingdoms and Politics

When viewed from the perspective of the two kingdoms, every Christian is simultaneously a citizen of both kingdoms and our theological beliefs should inform how we behave as citizens. But there's no distinction of kingdoms with Huckabee in a pulpit, and Huckabee's "soldiers in God's army" are people who will serve his political cause. In other words, they'll vote for him and encourage others to do the same. Fine for a political rally. Not fine for a church service.

Monday, January 7, 2008

You're On Notice, Fellas!

Compatiblistic Freedom (Part 1): Abundant Examples from the Scriptures

God willed that Absalom lie with David’s wives.

[Speaking to David] “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun’” (2 Samuel 12:11-12). [Note: Though God hates fornication and adultery, He is said to have raised Absalom up to do exactly that. Also note, God says, "I will do this."]

God willed that Jesus should be crucified.

“This man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (4:28). (Note: the crucifixion of Christ was the greatest of all mankind’s sins, for Christ was the only innocent person in all of the world, and yet these verses show us that God willed that the crucifixion take place.)

What man determines never comes to pass unless God determines it.

“Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?” (Lamentations 3:37).

God is said to determine a man’s life, and also the length of his life.

“Is not man forced to labor on earth, and are not his days like the days of a hired man?” (Job 7:1). “Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with you; and his limits You have set so that he cannot pass” (14:5). (Note: “If the limits of men’s lives are determined, men’s free actions must be determined, and even their sins; for their lives depend on such acts.” Jonathan Edwards)

King Sihon’s folly of attacking Israel was willed by God.

“But Sihon king of Heshbon was not willing for us to pass through the land; for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order to deliver him into your hand, as he is today” (Deuteronomy 2:30). (Note: Sihon’s opposition to Israel was a sin, yet it was willed by God.)

God ordered the sin and folly of the kings of Canaan in their opposition to Israel.

“For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, to meet Israel in battle in order that he might utterly destroy them, that they might receive no mercy, but that he might destroy them, just as the Lord had commanded Moses” (Joshua 11:20).

God willed that the Egyptians should hate God’s people.

“He increased His people greatly, and made them stronger than their enemies. He turned their hearts to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants” (Psalm 105:25). (Note: God willed that they hate His people, and yet God judged them for this great sin.)

God willed that Jacob’s brothers sell him into slavery.

“God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:7-8). “[God] sent a man before them – Joseph – who was sold as a slave” (Psalm 105:17). (Note: Though God hated the sin of Joseph’s brothers, He still willed that Joseph be sold into slavery.)

God causes disasters.

"Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?" (Amos 3:6). This doesn't demonstrate compatiblism, but it is, nonetheless, a hard saying of Scripture with regard to God's providence.

There it is. The Scriptures teach over and over and over again that free agents act of their own accord AND by God's command, simultaneously. Their sins are judged independently, irrespective of their ultimate source. This IS what compatiblistic freedom teaches, and my confidence in the truth of it is reinforced when I see the sort of things Scripture says regarding God's dealings with men. Remember: the question is not whether or not people make choices; the question is "Why do people make the choices they make?".

Compatiblistic freedom (or "soft determinism") teaches that God is sovereignly in control of everything in this world, including the thoughts and actions of men. But it also teaches that when men think and act, they are responsible for those actions, because they are free to do whatever they want. Some may not like that all men want to do is sin, and therefore are judged accordingly [*cough* "Heretic" *cough*]. However, we all, nevertheless, act as we want. No one does anything against their wills. Boom. Compatiblistic freedom. Booyashakah. You best check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Coming Soon: A Philosophical Presentation of Compatiblism.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Jonathan Edwards: Advice in Controversy

I am grateful to John Piper for including this quote from Edwards in his section on dealing with controversy in his new book The Future of Justification. This represents a delightful middle-ground which is surprisingly charitable. Maybe I've always just pictured Edwards as more of a hard-head than this:

How far a wonderful and mysterious agency of God’s Spirit may so influence some men’s hearts, that their practice in this regard may be contrary to their own principles, so that they shall not trust in their own righteousness, though they profess that men are justified by their own righteousness—or how far they may believe the doctrine of justification by men’s own righteousness in general, and yet not believe it in a particular application of it to themselves—or how far that error which they may have been led into by education, or cunning sophistry of others, may yet be indeed contrary to the prevailing disposition of their hearts, and contrary to their practice—or how far some may seem to maintain a doctrine contrary to this gospel-doctrine of justification, that really do not, but only express themselves differently from others; or seem to oppose it through their misunderstanding of our expressions, or we of theirs, when indeed our real sentiments are the same in the main—or may seem to differ more than they do, by using terms that are without a precisely fixed and determinate meaning—or to be wide in their sentiments from this doctrine, for want of a distinct understanding of it; whose hearts, at the same time, entirely agree with it, and if once it was clearly explained to their understandings, would immediately close with it, and embrace it:—how far these things may be, I will not determine; but am fully persuaded that great allowances are to be made on these and such like accounts, in innumerable instances; though it is manifest, from what has been said, that the teaching and propagating contrary doctrines and schemes, is of a pernicious and fatal tendency.

Jonathan Edwards, "Justification by Faith Alone" in Sermons and Discourses, 1934-1938, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 19 [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001], 242.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Galatians 3:10 and Works of the Law (Part 4)

e;rgwn no,mou in the New Perspective
There are many who are labeled as advocates under the title of “The New Perspective on Paul”—E. P. Sanders, N. T. (Tom) Wright and James D. G. Dunn. Since the literature on this topic is broad and each of these men has a slightly different take on this issue, it seems best to handle the works of Dunn, since he has written widely on this topic, especially as it relates to Galatians 3:10.

In his influential work The Theology of Paul the Apostle, Dunn deals in length with “works of the law.” Dunn sums up his understanding of works of the law with these words,

The phrase “works of the law,” does, of course, refer to all or whatever the law requires, covenantal nomism as a whole. But in a context where the relationship of Israel with other nations is at issue, certain laws would naturally come more into focus than others. We have instanced circumcision and food laws in particular.[1]

Here Dunn puts the phrase “works of the law” in the category of that which sets Israel apart from other nations. That is, “works of the law” are what identified Israel as the people of God. This is why, for Dunn, the phrase “works of the law” is in essence covenantal nomism, which

is the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandment, while providing means of atonement for transgressions…Obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace.[2]

In other word, Dunn understands “works of the law” as that which keeps one in the covenant, but not how one enters the covenant. “The phrase [works of the law] means most naturally ‘deeds or actions which the law requires.’” [3] For Dunn, Paul is not arguing against how one finds a right standing before God. Rather, Paul is arguing how one finds their standing in the people of God. “Paul meant those who, in his judgment, were putting too much weight on the distinctiveness of the Jews from the Gentiles, and on the special laws which formed the boundary marker between them.”[4] In other words, what Dunn says is that Paul is arguing against making works of the law the grounds for who is in and who is out of the covenant people of God. Works of the law, then, as Dunn understands Paul, are not what sets apart the people of God, faith in Christ is. For Dunn “the problem that Paul raises in Galatians 3:10-13 is one of identity or state, not of activity: the debate is ecclesiological, not soteriological, in nature.”[5] This is the key to Dunn’s understanding. He puts justification in the realm of ecclesiology and not soteriology—church membership and not salvation.

However, as we have seen, this understanding of Paul in Galatians 3:10 does not seem to advance Paul’s argument. Rather, it seems to retard it. As we stated above, the reason Paul quotes the Old Testament passage is to show that “works of the law” are in the realm of things done. Further, these things done are done to gain a right standing before God. They do not serve as a boundary marker to show who is in and out of the covenant people. If Paul only had in mind covenant membership, his Old Testament quotes seems to be out of place because he would not need to say that people who do not “continue in everything that has been written in the Book of the Law” are cursed. Rather, all Paul would need to affirm would be that people need to follow certain key outward laws—i.e. circumcision and the dietary laws.

Further, Dunn argues specifically against the traditional understanding of Galatians 3:10. He argues that the law never required perfect obedience. That is, the implied premise for Paul, as stated above, is not that the law cannot be accomplished. He argues that,

The mistake, once again, has been to read into the argument the idea that at this time the law would be satisfied with nothing less than sinlessness [perfect obedience]…Paul was able to describe himself as “blameless” before his conversion; not because he committed no sin, not because he fulfilled every law without exception, but because the righteousness of the law included use of the sacrificial cult and benefits of the Day of Atonement.[6]

We have answered this objection above, but again it should be noted that this argument assumes that the Old Testament sacrifices were in and of themselves efficacious, which the New Testament declares they were not. In addition, this principle is taught elsewhere in the New Testament. When Paul “describe[d] himself as ‘blameless’ before his conversion” it is best to see this as the heart of an unregenerate Pharisee who does not see the law in its proper light: as consisting of more than external actions.


[1] James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 358.
[2] Ibid., 338-339.
[3] James D. G. Dunn, Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Galatians, 135.
[4] Ibid.,172.
[5] Guy Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul: A Review and Response,109.
[6] James D. G. Dunn, Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Galatians, 171.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Josh's Top 10 Things of 2007

I guess everyone else is doing it, so I thought I should jump on the bandwagon. In no particular order:

1. Movies: Amazing Grace
2. Books: Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar by William Mounce
3.TV: Battlestar Galactica Season 3
4. Movies: Live Free or Die Hard
5. Music: In Black and White by Mustard Plug
6. Music: Secret Weapon by MxPx
7. Music: Anthem by Less Than Jake
8. Trips: San Diego, California for the 59th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society
9. Books: Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey and Andrew Sach
10. Moments: Being asked to be the John E. Richards Honor Scholar of Systematic and Practical Theology for Derek Thomas

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Adam's Top 10 Things of 2007

1. Music: Boxer by The National
2. Books: The Future of Justification by John Piper (so far)
3. Movies: Children of Men
4. TV: Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (The UK Version)
5. Movies: Heima by Sigur Ros
6. Trips: Going to Jackson, MS to visit my blogmate, Josh!
7. Discoveries: I finally understand the New Perspective. Good. Now I'm only 4 years behind everyone reading this blog.
8. Moments: Radiohead giving away their new album online
9. Music: Forteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters by The Twilight Sad
10. Movies: King of Kong: A Firstful of Quarters

New Widget

We at Bring the Books have just added a new widget to our blog that we hope will enhance the blogging atmosphere here at Bring the Books. On the left column you will see a new feature that shows the most recent comments made. This will enable you to see, at a glance, where the 'action' is taking place. Now you will be able to quickly 'get into the conversation.' We hope you enjoy this new feature and we hope this helps spark some more discussion here at Bring the Books.

A Prayer for New Year's Day

Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed in thy presence, in thy service to thy glory.

Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains,
sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from thee,
but may rely on thy Spirit
to supply every thought,
speak every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire
to show forth thy praise,
testify thy love,
advance thy kingdom.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with thee, O Father, as my harbor,
(with) thee, O Son, at my helm,
(with) thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to thy calls,
my heart full of love, my soul free.

Give me thy grace to sanctify me,
they comforts to cheer me,
thy wisdom to teach,
they right hand to guide,
thy counsel to instruct,
thy law to judge,
thy presence to stabilize.

May thy fear by my awe, thy triumphs my joy.

From Valley of Vision, p.112