Sunday, July 31, 2011

Two Quotes from Calvin on Natural Law & Civil Laws

[T]here are some who deny that a commonwealth is duly framed which neglects the political system of Moses, and is ruled by the common law of nations. Let other men consider how perilous and seditious this notion is; it will be enough for me to have proved it false and foolish. (IV.XX.14)
Now, since that last quote is a bit of a tongue-twister, I thought I would restate it in a way that reads like English. So here it is - Adam's paraphrase:
If you don't think that a good nation should be ruled by the common law of nations and instead you think that a good nation's laws must include the Mosaic law, you are a dummy.
I didn't say it - Calvin did! (I didn't say it would be a kind paraphrase.)

In the next section, Calvin discusses the importance of Equity.
We [should examine]...these two things: the constitution of the law, and the equity on which its constitution is itself founded and rests. Equity, because it is natural, cannot but be the same for all, and therefore this same purpose ought to apply to all laws, whatever their object. Constitutions have certain circumstances upon which they in part depend. It therefore does not matter that they are different, provided all equally press toward the same goal of equity.
It is a fact that the law of God which we call the moral law is nothing else than a testimony of natural law and of that conscience which God has engraved upon the minds of men. Consequently, the entire scheme of this equity of which we are now speaking has been prescribed in it. Hence, this equity alone must be the goal and rule and limit of all laws.

Whatever laws shall be framed to that rule, directed to that goal, bound by that limit, there is no reason why we should disapprove of them, howsoever they may differ from the Jewish law and among themselves. (IV.XX.16)
You'll have to forgive all of the Two Kingdoms posts. That's what I've been studying and reading about lately; ergo... lots of 2K discussions. Or maybe I've just been looking for lots of excuses to Photoshop humorous images of Calvin onto other peoples' bodies...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Where Have All The (Natural) Lawmen Gone?

A few days ago, I posted a list and asked if Natural Law was clear enough to teach these things. Specifically, I wanted to know if there were any Reformed people who would affirm that Natural Law can offer any accurate guidance for the civil realm. The list included things such as duty to care for families, the obligation of promises, and also included the prohibition of murder, slavery, adultery, tyranny, and incest.

This list was compiled by Harro Höpfl in his book The Christian Polity of John Calvin. The list is a selection of things (often very specific; though not necessarily comprehensive) which - according to Hopfl - Calvin believed were informed by "'nature' or 'natural sense' or 'reason'" (p. 179-180).

I was so struck by this list because Reformed theologians today seem to be embarrassed of any sort of affirmation of so much clarity in natural law - especially of the sort Calvin was wiling to affirm. To many it smacks of inclusivism, liberalism, or rejecting Scriptural authority. To many, natural law doesn't matter at all, since all we really need to do is bring everyone - believer or not - under the rule of Scripture (in which case, natural law can go the way of the dinosaurs for all we care - am I right?)

Is it really such a "radical" idea that men ought to be held to the standards which God has placed them under? (Don't forget to add the 'R' to the 2K!) Perhaps what really needs to happen is for Reformed thinkers to develop a renewed interest in and appreciation of natural law. It is a part of our heritage - it's in our bones and sinew. Our forefathers believed in it (think Turretin, especially), and though it is hotly debated how natural law was to be applied to the civil kingdom, it wasn't always an embarrassing thing to acknowledge that men have in their hearts the knowledge of right and wrong as a clear standard by which the common kingdom could be held to by its own citizens.

Instead of a sermon, let me end with a question: whose fault is it? What happened to Natural Law, in other words? Do we lay our complaints at the feet of Van Til? Kuyper? Bahnsen?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Improving on the NASCAR Prayer

As far as I'm concerned, the now infamous prayer offered at the NASCAR race where the man publicly thanked God for his "smokin' hot wife" was pathetic and inexcusable. ... That being said, we now have this terrific autotuned version which almost justifies the horror of such an awful mockery of what might be called "prayer." I said almost.

"Not to us, but to Your Name be the Glory..."

We've discussed Reformed Hip Hop here at Bring the Books before. What can we say - we're suckers for good theology and hot beats. Anyway, Shai Linne has an upcoming album titled The Attributes of God. His first single from the new album, "The Glory of God" is available now from Lamp Mode Recordings, so do check it out.

Here is a snippet of some of the lyrics:
I can’t explain the half of it
Our brains can’t even fathom it
And language is inadequate
To characterize the Lord on the throne
With spiritual eyes, His story is known
From Him and through Him and to Him is everything
Surely to God be the glory alone!

Not to us, not to us
But to Your name be the glory!
To download the song and to look at the complete lyrics, check out the page at Lamp Mode. [Note: At the moment Lamp Mode's website seems to be a bit overwhelmed.]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

John R. Stott (1921-2011)

"It is enough for us to know that on the last day and through eternity we shall be both with Christ and like Christ; for the fuller revelation of what we are going to be we are content to wait...

"To be sure, it is appropriate at Christian funerals joyfully to celebrate Christ's decisive victory over death, but we do so only through tears of personal sorrow. If Jesus wept at the graveside of his beloved friend Lazarus, his disciples are surely at liberty to do the same."

-John Stott

Monday, July 25, 2011

Is Natural Law Clear Enough To Teach This?

Are there any Reformed folk out there who are willing to say that the Natural Law is clear enough to teach the following:
  • The authority of fathers over wives and children.
  • The sanctity of monogamous marriage.
  • The duty to care for families.
  • Breastfeeding.
  • Primogeniture.
  • The sacrosanctity of envoys and ambassadors.
  • The obligation of promises.
  • Degrees of marriage.
  • The need for witnesses in murder trials.
  • The need for distinction of ranks in society.
  • Prohibition of incest.
  • Prohibition of murder.
  • Prohibition of adultery.
  • Prohibition of slavery.
  • Prohibition of the rule of one man.
  • Respect for the old.
  • Equity in commercial dealings.
  • Religion must be the first concern of governors.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Manata on Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and the Reformed Tradition

Paul Manata has written a paper discussing the subject of Free Will and Moral Responsibility, especially focusing on the Reformed tradition. Much to my delight, he spends some time interacting with so-called "Reformed Libertarianism," which Richard Muller seems to see within the Reformed tradition. Much of my satisfaction with Manata's interaction in this respect touches on the fact that I had some brief thoughts awhile back regarding Muller's reading of Jonathan Edwards as creating a divergence within the Reformed schools of thought on this very subject.

I am currently celebrating my tenth wedding anniversary with my wife and have not, as of yet, had an opportunity to read Manata's paper on the subject, but I am looking forward to the coming days when I will get to see how Manata interacts with both theologians past, as well as theologians present. You can find Manata's paper at his blog: here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Unprofessional Movie Review: The Tree of Life

Having spent years anticipating the day I could finally watch The Tree of Life, I was privileged a few weeks ago to be able to see it. At the time, I felt a bit shell shocked by the film. It's not that it isn't what I expected at all - I love Malick's filmmaking, and I expected the sort of movie that I saw. I guess I just felt a bit speechless. And so my "review" of the film after the fact was sort of a series of scattered thoughts. Today, I wanted to go back and paint my impressions of the film with a bit of a broader brush.

Every frame of the movie is worth talking about. Whether it is the beautiful sorrow of the opening minutes of the film as Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien discover that their son (now grown) has died, whether it is the stunning creation sequence which stretches on for at least twenty minutes, or whether it is the somewhat enigmatic closing minutes of the film - this is a movie that is absorbed and not learned or studied.

I have said before that if you want propositional content spoon-fed to you, we have theological tomes, sermons, and helpful commentaries on Scripture galore. This is not the primary purpose of art. Art is there to remind us of the value of the propositions which we have already learned and to cause us to treasure them more deeply. Many Christians will be tempted to enter the thoughtful environment of The Tree of Life expecting a certain level of propositional truth - and they will be disappointed and probably confused.

In the end, TOL is not about telling us the truth so much as it is about soaking us in the weight and beauty of the universe so that we realize that it is the big picture reality which permeates everything we do - from childhood to death. Most of society is geared towards making us forget this. We live in a loud and distracting society, and in a way, TOL is a picturesque reminder of the glory all around us that we drown out with pop music, comedy, explosions, politics, and other pursuits. What TOL reminded me of is how easily I forget the things which first drew me to the Christian faith. Meditating upon creation, eternity, the nature of God, the depth of human sin, our serious need of a savior, and the guilt which follows all of us and which mankind desperately struggles to part ways with.

When I was 17 years old, I read a book called The Fingerprint of God by Hugh Ross. At the time, I was an atheist who believed in the big bang but who had no idea just how saturated the big bang really was in theistic implications. Ross showed me in his book that my belief in the big bang necessitated a designer and a creator. In a moment, God used Ross' book to open my eyes to the God revealed in the big bang, and within a few months, I submitted my life and soul to His care and recognized Jesus as 'my Lord and my God.'

This film, in many respects, rekindled my awe and wonder at the Creator which I felt after I first read Ross' book and I first believe that God really was the Creator and Maker of all things. Sometimes, all we need is a reminder - and if there is one thing that sums up TOL it is the notion of reclaiming memories. The whole film drifts towards us like a series of recollections trying to be grasped at, but remembered somewhat inaccurately (think of the scenes where Jack remembers Mrs. O'Brien as literally floating on air as she dances in the family's front yard). Even the scenes of the Creation represent the memories of the Creator (or maybe Jack's own imagination of the creation - things are somewhat ambiguous), showing us an event which only the Godhead was present to see in the moments of first light when the universe came into existence from nothing, when God "laid the earth’s foundation . . . while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy." Memories are important because they are rooted in the truth, and they are the ground of who we are and where we came from. Even the opening chapters of Genesis are God taking His memory (if we are permitted to anthropomorphically refer to an atemporal Creator as having a memory) and telling us in words which He knew we could comprehend, how it was that He did all of this.

All of this description of the film is a grasping at straws, really. Rather than summing up the story of the film, I hoped in some measure to communicate the deeper ideas and emotions which the film communicated to me. Everyone will respond differently to the film. In fact, I'm rather enjoying reading the myriad of reviews for this film which have been popping up online, because the film is so open-ended and aesthetic that nearly every reviewer has a different take on the movie. Has it dethroned The Thin Red Line as my favorite movie of all time? We'll just have to see. The biggest test is whether I will still love it a decade from now, as I still do with The Thin Red Line.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Getting Two Kingdoms Right

While Adam is reading through Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, I am reading, in the little spare time I have, Living in God's Two Kingdoms. When I told a friend I was reading through VanDrunen's latest book and he ask me if I had seen this review of it. I had not, but since he pointed it out to me, I thought I would give it a read.

I am only into chapter 3 of God's Two Kingdom, but the thing that struck me about this review was this comment:
since in the Introduction [of Living in God's Two Kingdoms], as in Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, he began by lumping together theonomists, Kuyperian neo-Calvinists, the emergent church, and N.T. Wright as all instantiations of the same problem, the one he is going to solve.
This particular comment stuck out to me for at least two reasons. The first was that this author mentions that VanDrunen lumps "theonomists" in with these other groups, but as best as I can recall, VanDrunen never mentioned this group. The reviewer does say that this is the same as in Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, so the confusion may be that the reviewer is mistaking the one book for the other. The introduction, however, to Living in God's Two Kingdoms does not bring up theonomy as a foil. In fact, as of chapter 3, VanDrunen has not mentioned this group at all. His foils are "contemporary" movements and since theonomy is not a predominant theological view at this time, it would seem odd for VanDrunen to even bring them up.

The second reason this comment caught my attention was the lake of qualification. The way the comment stands now, it is as if VanDrunen is lumping these four (or better three) groups together in all respects. This, however, is not the case. VanDrunen is very clear that he is only grouping these views together in so far as they view creation, fall and redemption. As VanDrunen puts it:
Though advocates of neo-Calvinism, the New Perspective on Paul, and the emerging church certainly do not hold identical views on all issues, they show mutual respect for each other's work and, most significantly, they share a common vision that the redemptive transformation of culture is central to the Christian life (p. 16-17).
And so we see, VanDrunen does group the three views together (no mention of theonomy), but it is a qualified association which he draws between them. Now, I am sure that the reviewer understood this point from VanDrunen. I only wish the review would have been more careful to bring this out. The reviewer's point is that VanDrunen is confusing, and the reason he thinks he is confusing is that he is lumping all these different views together and trying to argue against all of them. However, Vandrunen's task is a bit more limited, since he is really only arguing against their common vision of a "redemptive transformation of culture" as being "central to the Christian life."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Free Cornelius Van Til Kindle Book

You can find a whole host of free e-books over at Monergism, but perhaps the most exciting so far is Defending the Faith, by Cornelius Van Til. You can get it in .mobi (Kindle-ready) format or in .epub format, whichever suits you. Note, this is not exactly the same thing as his book The Defense of the Faith, as this is a compilation of six articles which evidently ran in Torch and Trumpet 1951-1952. If you have any interest in presuppositional apologetics, these articles which are written in a popular, non-technical style should be just what you need to dip your toes into the waters.

Friday, July 15, 2011

History IS Better Than Fiction

I finished reading Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer this morning. Earlier this week, I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It really is true, however, that history is far more interesting than some fictional thriller.

I never could have guessed that the man who was in the theater box with Lincoln (his name was Rathbone) and survived Booth's attack would later stab his own wife to death! Or that the man who actually shot Booth had actually castrated himself out of a radical Origen-esque obedience to Christ, or that this same man would later hold the Kansas legislature hostage with a gun before being committed to an insane asylum, only to later escape and never be seen from again.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New Testament Commentaries Recommended

Dr. Guy Waters, Associate Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson, has shared with Bring the Books his list of what are, in his opinion, the best recent exegetical commentaries addressing the Greek text of the New Testament. We thought our readers might appreciate seeing his list, as well.

The Gospel of Matthew:
The Gospel of Matthew, by R.T. France (NICNT)

The Gospel of Mark:
The Gospel of Mark, by R.T. France (NIGTC)

The Gospel of Luke:
The Gospel of Luke (2 Vol.) by Darrell L. Bock (BECNT)

[Hint: at WTSBooks, if you buy the two volumes separately, you'll save $5 on the total price. Volume 1 - Volume 2]

The Gospel of John:
The Gospel of John, by D.A. Carson (Pillar)

The Book of Acts:
Acts, by Darrell L. Bock (BECNT)

The Epistle to the Romans:
The Epistle to the Romans, by Douglas J. Moo (NICNT)

The Epistle of 1 Corinthians:
The First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Gordon Fee (NICNT)

The Epistle of 2 Corinthians:
The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, by Murray J. Harris (NIGTC)

The Epistle to the Galatians:
Galatians, by Thomas R. Schreiner (ZEC)

The Epistle to the Ephesians:
Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, by Harold W. Hoehner

The Epistle to the Philippians:
The Epistle to the Philippians, by Peter T. O'Brien (NIGTC)

The Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon:
The Epistle to the Colossians and Philemon, by Douglas J. Moo (Pillar)

The Epistles of 1 & 2 Thessalonians:
1 & 2 Thessalonians, by F.F. Bruce (Word)

The Pastoral Epistles:
Pastoral Epistles, by George W. Knight (NIGTC)

The Letter to the Hebrews:
The Letter to the Hebrews, by Peter T. O'Brien (Pillar)

The Epistle of James:
The Letter of James, by Douglas J. Moo (Pillar)

The Epistles of 1 & 2 Peter & Jude:
1, 2 Peter, Jude, by Thomas R. Schreiner (NAC)

The Epistles of 1-3 John:
The Epistles of John, by I. Howard Marshall (NICNT)

The Book of Revelation:
The Book of Revelation, by Walvoord (just kidding!)

The Book of Revelation, by G.K. Beale (NIGTC)

Hey, Carl Trueman...

Bear Grylls called. He wants his voice back.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Calvin's Distinctions Between the Kingdoms

I've been reading David VanDrunen's chapter on Calvin in Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, and I couldn't help but wonder if any Neo-Kuyperian or transformationalist would ever make the following distinctions between the two kingdoms like Calvin does:
Now, these two [kingdoms], as we have divided them, are always to be viewed apart from each other. When the one is considered, we should call off our minds, and not allow them to think of the other. For there exists in man a kind of two worlds, over which different kings and different laws can preside...the spiritual kingdom of Christ and civil government are things very widely separated...[to]seek and include the kingdom of Christ under the elements of this world [is a] Jewish vanity.

Calvin's Institutes, 3.19.15; 4.11.1

Monday, July 11, 2011

Two Ways to Live Like There's No Tomorrow

I have often been fond of quoting Jonathan Edwards' Resolution 7:
Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
What we need to take special notice of is the insufficiency of living by Resolution 7 alone. The last hour of one's life will be devoted to that which he regards as highest and of greatest importance. Hence, when watching one of those end of the world movies, there is inevitably some character who is more than happy to have sex with a complete stranger because they think a comet is about to destroy the planet and their last moment of opportunity for deviance is now upon them. This is the picture of a self-obsessed individual who performs the proverbial dance on the deck of the Titanic as it is sinking. Look at the lyrics to this song which struck me tonight as I was thinking of this subject:
I live my life like there's no tomorrow
and all I've got, I had to steal
Least I don't need to beg or borrow
Yes I'm livin' at a pace that kills

I found the simple life ain't so simple
When I jumped out, on that road
I got no love, no love you'd call real
Ain't got nobody, waitin' at home

Runnin' with the devil
Runnin' with the devil
I'm gonna tell ya all about it!

Van Halen, "Running With the Devil"
You see that it's just as possible to live by Edwards' resolution 7 and yet use the resolution in opposition to God. To the end, mankind's deepest inclination is to shake his fist at God as the eschatalogical hammer comes smashing down.

One of the toughest questions we can honestly ask ourselves is HOW we would put Resolution 7 into action. If this were the last hour of our lives, would we seek to spend that last hour giving glory to God or in gratifying the flesh? It's one thing to give the right answer, but it's quite another to feel the right answer, deep within our soul.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Free Tim LeHaye Book!

I know that our readers are big fans of the Left Behind series. I also know that our readers love free e-books. Ergo, I am certain that this will be our most clicked post.

Have you ever wanted to know what a YOUNG tribulation force might look like? Well look no further - In the book Taken, it's just like the amazing and biblically accurate older tribulation force (complete with rebuilt temple and re-establishment of the system of sacrifice which I thought Jesus put away forever), except they're younger, which makes teens feel like they can relate.

I hope our readers don't trample one another in their rush to get this book, which is free on Amazon today.

If you are tempted to take every word of what I have said here literally, then please I beg you, read the tags for this post.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Destruction of Jerusalem Was More Apocalyptic Than You Think

It seems like most commentators are comfortable seeing the Olivette Discourse (Matt. 24:3-25:46; Mk. 13) as referring in its first half to the destruction of Jerusalem and then in the later half to the end of days parousia of Jesus. In Matthew, one stretch that seems somewhat divisive is 24:29-31.

[29] “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. [30] Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. [31] And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

In particular, the most controversial aspect of these three verses is the epic apocalyptic scale of what is being described. "Tribulation," "sun will be darkened," "moon will not give its light," "stars will fall from heaven"... Most people outside of the Jewish first century culture would see a pretty huge stretch between a city being demolished and these sorts of images being fulfilled. As a consequence, a large number of commentators include verses 29-31 in the second half of the Olivette Discourse and say that this is imagery of Jesus' eventual parousia, visitation, or coming (pick your favorite translation).

What I want to quickly do is just show how the gap is not nearly as great as one might think. There is actually quite a precedent for speaking of the destruction of cities in the Old Testament with at least this level of enthusiasm. Lets look at a few in passing:

Amos 8:9
"And on that day," declares the Lord GOD, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight."

Joel 2:10
The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.

Ezekiel 32:7-8
When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon shall not give its light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over you, and put darkness on your land, declares the Lord GOD.

Isaiah 13:10
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.

Isaiah 34:4
All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their hosts shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.

These are only a few examples, and I am sure there are even more occurrences like this in the Old Testament, but I think these should suffice to prove my point. My point is that none of these texts are referring to the eschaton at the end of the age when Christ returns. All of these verses are using this epic imagery to refer to God's judgment on specific cities. The passage in Joel refers to a judgment upon Israel; the passage from Ezekiel refers to a coming judgment upon the Pharaoh of Egypt; Isaiah 13:10 refers to coming destruction on Babylon; and finally, Isaiah 34:4 referred to a coming judgment upon Edom.

R.T. France, in his commentary on Matthew, points out that these last passages from Isaiah are obviously the source of the imagery which Jesus uses in Matt. 24:29-31. In particular, the fact that Jesus would use the language of a judgment upon Babylon to refer to a coming judgment upon Israel was terribly offensive. To say that Jerusalem deserved to be treated like Babylon was the epitome of judgment.

Avoiding other arguments which could be set forth for the inclusion of Matt. 24:29-31 into part one of the Olivette Discourse rather than the second half which does refer to Jesus' parousia at the end of the age, lets simply consider once again that epic imagery need not always refer to the second coming of Christ. Instead, we ought to see Jesus as using "language of cosmic symbolize God's acts of judgment within history, with the emphasis on catastrophic political upheavals... If such language was appropriate to describe the end of Babylon or Edom under the judgment of God, why should it not equally describe God's judgment on Jerusalem's temple and the power structure it symbolized?" (R.T. France, Matthew, 2007, p. 922)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Professional Book Review: Perspectives on the Sabbath

If you are a fan of my "Unprofessional Book Review" you will be sorely disappointed by a post I contributed over at Trevin Wax's blog, since its definitely more professional than usual. In it I review Chris Donato's terrific volume Perspectives on the Sabbath: 4 Views. I may post the review here at some point in the future.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor for Free on Kindle

Richard Baxter - The Reformed Pastor

Quote of the Day

"It's hard to imagine what sort of public meltdown would be necessary to dislodge Tom Hanks from the world’s affections. The near-supernatural amiability of the star is such that it would probably require televised puppy murder while brandishing a copy of Mein Kampf to so much as dent his likability."

-Helen O'Hara, in her review of the new film Larry Crowne