Objections to the Potter

We have all probably encountered objections to the doctrine of Divine sovereignty that show a genuine lack of understanding – not in a mean or callous fashion, but that simply don’t understand how God’s freedom works. Most of those objections will be prefaced with “but it doesn’t make sense!” These might even be accompanied with tears, or with all the signs of genuine incomprehension. We don’t serve these churchgoers well by giving them a good lambasting. It’s all well and good when a militant Arminian, out to “take down” Calvinism is in view, or when an arrogant atheist places us in his sights – but when it comes to those inside the church, to who we are accountable as teachers, or within our own family – those to whom we have bonds of affection, it doesn’t behoove us to go nuclear – or to act like a cage-stager on a rampage.

Gentleness is something we often forget. Do we forget that before talking about casting down fortresses, destroying speculations – Paul urges his readers by the gentleness of Christ to take heed? Do we forget that we are to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” with all humility and gentleness? Before the injunction to Timothy to “fight the good fight”, he is enjoined to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” We are all about being wise, yes? Then, do as James says – “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” You don’t need to be a pushover – but you don’t need to be a jerk, either. Sometimes people struggle to understand. Gently correct, guide, and teach. Even with our opponents we are to be gentle in correction – with the hope of repentance foremost in our minds. (2 Tim 2:25) That’s probably just an intro, though.

So, what about when someone just doesn’t understand the relationship between God, freedom, and evil? When the Confessions say that God is not the author of evil, but “common sense” (whatever that is) tells you “well, He has to be! I don’t want Him to be, but I don’t understand how that can’t be true!” Common sense is a bit of an urban legend. There’s a kernel of truth to it, in one sense. We are all created in the image of God, and in Him we all live, move, and have our being. We have minds, we live in His world, and we have to deal with His creation on His terms. Still, those of us who have taken a few more trips around the sun than some know that “common sense” is neither common, nor as sensical as we sometimes imagine, when we’re younger. People have discussed the relationship between God, freedom, and evil for a very long time. Yes, there are solid answers to be found, but we often forget, especially in this faux-literate age, that what people read is very, very rarely suitable for training them how to think. What to think – possibly – but how to think? We expect the schools to teach them that – but they don’t. Those of us who teach in the church need to recall that God uses means – and that “being transformed by the renewing of your mind” also involves means – and training in righteousness. Where does that training in righteousness primarily take place? In the home, and at our churches. If we don’t take the time to do so in either place, we cripple those for whom we will have to give an account.

With all that being said, what is the answer? In one sense, it is complicated. It isn’t a simplistic notion, or a simplistic answer – because it requires a variety of categories to be properly understood, and placed in the proper context. It requires a systematic theology. On the other hand, with the proper categories in place, and understood – it actually *is* simple – but only in a sense. Simply, when asked “is God the author of sin?,” the answer is “No.” The whyfores of that are what makes it complicated. When asked “does man have free will” – we can answer “yes and no” – in two different senses. Yes, man is free to do precisely what he desires – but those desires are enslaved to his nature – which means he isn’t free! What helped me, however, is asking the corollary to that – “Is God free?” Yes, of course He is. When the follow-up question “is God free to sin?” is asked, that often clarifies matters – because then you have to define sin. It’s where we have to define things, and be precise, that clarity begins.

When you ask “is God free to sin?”, you have to ask several things: “what is sin?”, “what is freedom?” and “what (and who) is God?” The answers to those questions should, if you do so carefully and precisely, bring you directly to the correct answer. Freedom in English, has a few meanings – primary is this:

The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

One Greek term for “freedom” is ἐλευθερία (eleutheria) – derived from ἐλεύθερος. It has the connotation of “one who is not a slave”, or, on the other hand, “free, exempt, unrestrained, not bound by an obligation”.

Secondarily, the English term is defined as follows:

the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.

Thus, we can see that “freedom” has a duality of meaning, in either language. It can mean “without restraint” – but it can also mean “not a slave.” When we speak of being a “slave to sin”, we refer to the latter – but someone who is a “slave to sin” will also be doing precisely as he desires – because what is enslaved are those desires.

What is sin? Sin, at bottom, is “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” Etymologically, it typically carries the connotation of “falling short” or “missing the mark” – which speaks to the nature of the thing itself. What I mean by that is that sin is a lack – something which is lacking, or missing, in comparison to perfection or completion. Any shot at a target which misses the bullseye is lacking, in comparison to the perfect shot.

The question of “Who is God?” is an enormous one – but if we take it in a limited sense, and contextually, we can answer from our Confession, and note that God is a) “most holy” and b) “most free”, c) “abundant in goodness”, d) “infinite in being and perfection”. God is holy – set apart. God is without constraint – limitless. God is good – and, we are also told, has a “most righteous” will. God is infinitely perfect. Since God is these things, he cannot be “like us” – sinful. He cannot be limited by the chains of slavery to sin. Those chains are, indeed, limitations.

So, if we examine this question, we find the answer lies in the question itself. If “sin” is a lack of perfection – a transgression of God’s own law – and is slavery – then God, by being God, cannot be subject to sin, and “free” thereby. “To sin” is the opposite of freedom – so “free to sin” is an oxymoron – the question is self-refuting.

The “bigger” question to follow, though, is this: “How can we be said to be free, if God ordains all things whatsoever that come to pass?” The Confession once again answers this question.

God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass;

LBCF III.1

We usually grasp that intellectually. What is often harder to grasp is how, given that to be the case, the following is also true:

yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.

LBCF III.1

We can grasp that others believe this – it is often harder to grasp (and hold!) that belief ourselves – especially on an emotional level. Many never grasp it – and instead turn to poor alternatives that give a more superficially acceptable answer – and that causes even more issues. This doesn’t mean it is impossible to grasp – it just means that it is difficult. Most things worth understanding are difficult.

There are several avenues of argument to which we have recourse, at this point. There is the argument from the nature of man and the nature of God. There is the argument from first and second causes. There is the argument from prescriptive and descriptive will. There is, further, the argument from purpose. Lastly, there is the argument from mystery.

Argument from Mystery

Many simply resort to the last – and there is a point at which all argument, when it relates to the infinite God, has to rest there. After a certain point, we just don’t know, and will either have to await further insight, in sanctification, into what Scripture already reveals – or wait until we see Him face to face, and understand all clearly. It really is okay if we just don’t understand, but trust God in faithful obedience. We might come to understand more – and it’s perfectly acceptable to do this in lieu of speculation. I do think, however, that there is a bit of ground to travel before we have to resort to mystery simpliciter.

Argument from Natures

The nature of man, as created, was very good. Man was free to act as he willed, and his will remained un-enslaved. Man, however, chose to be less than he was initially. When he first sinned, he chose slavery to sin. While this corresponds to the nature of finite man, it cannot correspond to the nature of the infinite God. There is no attribute of God which allows God to be less than He is. God cannot be less transcendent, less simple, less righteous, less infinite, less powerful, less wise, etc – and sin doesn’t affect merely parts of a person – but the entirety of a person. As such, God being sinful, or the author of sin, is impossible, in every respect. It is possible, however, and actual, in the case of man, who is finite, and who is not simple, but composed of parts. All of man’s parts are affected by sin, while none of God, who is One, and not composed of parts, can be.

Bavinck has some interesting insight for us, as to what is the nature of man’s first fall, and the subsequent change of his nature thereby. We often view the “knowledge of good and evil” as if it is “additional” information. What it actually is, is a corruption of information by an illegitimate categorization.

“In Genesis 3, the issue is not primarily the content of the knowledge that humans would appropriate by disobedience but the manner in which they would obtain it. The nature of the knowledge of good and evil in view here is characterized by the fact that humans would be like God as a result of it (Gen. 3:5, 22). By violating the command of God and eating of the tree, they would make themselves like God in the sense that they would position themselves outside and above the law and, like God, determine and judge for themselves what good and evil was. The knowledge of good and evil is not the knowledge of the useful and the harmful, of the world and how to control it, but (as in 2 Sam. 19:36; Isa. 7:16) the right and capacity to distinguish good and evil on one’s own. The issue in Genesis is indeed whether humanity will want to develop in dependence on God, whether it will want to have dominion over the earth and seek its salvation in submission to God’s commandment; or whether, violating that commandment and withdrawing from God’s authority and law, it will want to stand on its own feet, go its own way, and try its own “luck.” When humanity fell, it got what it wanted; it made itself like God, “knowing good and evil” by its own insight and judgment. Genesis 3:22 is in dead earnest. This emancipation from God, however, did not lead and cannot lead to true happiness. For that reason, God by the probationary command forbade this drive to freedom, this thirst for independence. But humanity voluntarily and deliberately opted for its own way, thereby failing the test.

Bavinck, The Origin of Sin, Reformed Dogmatics – Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Chris

That “freedom” the serpent promises is enslavement. Independence is chains, and self-rule is self-abasement.

Argument from First and Second Causes

“For the man who honestly and soberly reflects on these things, there can be no doubt that the will of God is the chief and principal cause of all things.”

Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 177.

“But of all the things which happen, the first cause is to be understood to be His will, because He so governs the natures created by Him, as to determine all the counsels and the actions of men to the end decreed by Him.”

Calvin, Ibid, 17

Calvin, rightly, distinguishes (and defines) the “first cause” as the will of God. What is often trickier, however, is the definition of “second cause.” God indeed determines all the counsels and actions of men – but does so by means of second causes.

“The question of God’s will in relation to sin is vexing. Those who speak of God’s permission with respect to sin rightly seek to avoid making him the author of sin. However, because this formulation risks denying God’s full sovereignty, Reformed theology, following Augustine, was never satisfied with the idea of permission. At the risk of using “hard sayings,” Reformed theologians insist that while God does not sin or cause sin, sin is yet not outside his will. In addition, God created human beings holy and without sin; sin’s origin is in the will of the rational creature.

Bavinck, The Origin of Sin, Reformed Dogmatics – Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ

What else is interesting is that this doesn’t try to “soften” the blow by affirming one bit less than God’s sovereignty over all things whatsoever. What it does do, however, is place the onus for sin squarely in the camp of those capable of it. To be less, one must be capable of less. Only the finite can be less than they should be. To be the author, one must have the capability for it. God does not.

As Edwards puts it:

“If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing . . . it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin.”

A “second cause” can be defined as Robert Shaw does here:

“Since all things were known to God from the beginning of the world, and come to pass according to the immutable counsel of his will, it necessarily follows that, in respect of the foreknowledge and decree of God, all things come to pass infallibly. But, by his providence, he orders them to fall out according to the nature of second causes. Every part of the material world has an immediate dependence on the will and power of God, in respect of every motion and operation, as well as in respect of continued existence; but he governs the material world by certain physical laws,—commonly called the laws of nature, and in Scripture the ordinances of Heaven,—and agreeably to these laws, so far as relates to second causes, certain effects uniformly and necessarily follow certain causes. The providence of God is also concerned about the volitions and actions of intelligent creatures; but his providential influence is not destructive of their rational liberty, for they are under no compulsion, but act freely; and all the liberty which can belong to rational creatures is that of acting according to their inclinations. Though there is no event contingent with respect to God, ‘who declareth the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things which are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure;’ yet many events are contingent or accidental with regard to us, and also with respect to second causes.”

Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith: An Exposition Of The Westminster Confession Of Faith

In other words, second causes are those things which follow by necessary consequence – in the material world – in creation. They are not identical to the infinite will of God, but necessarily occur within creation as a result of the exercise of His will. The particular thing about sin, however, is that, along with Augustine, we confess that “all sin is voluntary.” All sin is a defect in righteousness, not something in and of itself, which exists and survives independently of righteousness. Will is necessary for sin to be defective in its righteousness. Since God’s will is infinite, eternal, simple, and unchanging, the only will in which sin can be said to exist is in that of rational creatures, as only such creatures can be said to have a will which is either more or less righteous, instead of infinitely so – thus, we can also pair this argument with the Argument from Natures above.

Argument from Prescriptive and Descriptive Will

“The decretive will of God concerns his purposes, and relates to the futurition of events. The preceptive will relates to the rule of duty for his rational creatures. He decrees whatever he purposes to effect or to permit. He prescribes, according to his own will, what his creatures should do, or abstain from doing. The decretive and preceptive will of God can never be in conflict. God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do, what He forbids. He may, as we see He does, decree to permit what He forbids. He permits men to sin, although sin is forbidden. This is more scholastically expressed by the theologians by saying, A positive decretive will cannot consist with a negative preceptive will; i. e., God cannot decree to make men sin. But a negative decretive will may consist with an affirmative preceptive will; e. g., God may command men to repent and believe, and yet, for wise reasons, abstain from giving them repentance.”

Charles Hodge, The Will of God, Systematic Theology

As we have already seen, we don’t see “permission” as bare permission. When God decrees something – ordains what comes to pass – this is not the same as decreeing what men should do. This is, in my estimation, the weakest argument, however. It tends to rely heavily on a distinction between “allow” and “command” – which, considered properly, is fine, as far as it goes – but it doesn’t explain. If it helps you, that’s fine – but it is not a distinction on which I rely overmuch.

The Argument from Purpose

This argument is primarily exegetical – and as such, perhaps the strongest. It seeks to answer why sin is in the world. To sum this argument up, we should make three statements. 1) Sin showcases God’s glory in His Justice toward sin and sinners 2) Sin is the backdrop against which righteousness is most evident 3) Christ’s substitutionary death is only substitutionary if man is not righteous.

Genesis 50 has one of the strongest examples we can make. Joseph’s brothers are called before him, after the death of their father, Israel. The brothers were understandably afraid, because they had sold Joseph into slavery – after contemplating simply murdering him.

They send Joseph a message, after speaking amongst themselves:

So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.

Genesis 50:16-17

When they stand before him, Joseph immediately assures them:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?

Genesis 50:19

What he says next is the kicker, however.

“’As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

Genesis 50:20-21

Note several things about this passage. Why does Joseph weep? First, they had lived with the consequences of their actions for many years now. Second, they still showed very little understanding of the God their father claimed that they served. They knew even less of their brother.

Joseph’s response is a masterpiece of compassionate theology. He does not excuse their action, or the consequences of it. What he does is explain about God – and that while their intentions were evil, God’s were not. He forgives them, promises his own protection to them, and to their families, and speaks kindly to them.

They meant evil toward Joseph. This is not in any way diminished by Joseph’s response. His initial answer underscores that they are responsible to God for their actions, despite the fact that Joseph has no intention of judging them for those actions. Joseph is not in God’s place. The very fact that they are standing before him does nothing but underscore the fact that without their actions, a) they would not be standing before Joseph now at his mercy b) they wouldn’t even be alive to stand before Joseph now at his mercy. Joseph’s response underscores something else, however. While their intentions were for evil – God’s intentions were for good. God turned a heinous evil into an indescribable good. It doesn’t make their evil any less evil. It doesn’t excuse his brothers. It doesn’t excuse Potiphar’s wife, or the injustice of his imprisonment, which provided him an opportunity to come before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. It doesn’t even excuse his father for letting those sons of his run wild and commit all the heinous acts that hardened them to the point that they were willing to kill their own brother, and the best they could manage was to “merely” sell him into slavery, and convince their elderly father that he had been killed by beasts, to cover up their crime. Their purpose was to get rid of their insufferable, righteous younger brother who told them they would bow to him, as his vision from God attested. Bowing in front of him now was not their intention – but it was God’s. God brought them out of the wilderness alive – as a result of their own actions – but not in accordance with their own intentions. God’s purposes, as Scripture repeatedly attests, are always good – and even evil can be suborned to God’s good purposes – contrary to the intentions of those who commit those evils.

How about Assyria? Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom, and was, by any objective standard, an evil empire. Yet in Isa. 10, they are said to be the rod of God’s anger. Even more interestingly – a woe is pronounced on them – for their actions in being the rod of God’s anger!

Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hands is My indignation,

I send it against a godless nation
And commission it against the people of My fury
To capture booty and to seize plunder,
And to trample them down like mud in the streets.

Yet it does not so intend,
Nor does it plan so in its heart,
But rather it is its purpose to destroy
And to cut off many nations.

Isaiah 10:5-7

See, Assyria is being used as the instrument of God’s punishment – but it has no intention of being used as such. Assyria will, in turn, be judged and punished – as we see in the same chapter, in verses 12-17.

“So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, [He will say,] “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.” For he has said, “By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did [this,] For I have understanding; And I removed the boundaries of the peoples And plundered their treasures, And like a mighty man I brought down [their] inhabitants, And my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like a nest, And as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth; And there was not one that flapped its wing or opened [its] beak or chirped.” Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? [That would be] like a club wielding those who lift it, [Or] like a rod lifting [him who] is not wood. Therefore the Lord, the GOD of hosts, will send a wasting disease among his stout warriors; And under his glory a fire will be kindled like a burning flame. And the light of Israel will become a fire and his Holy One a flame, And it will burn and devour his thorns and his briars in a single day.”

Isaiah 10:12-17

When the Lord has completed His work in Mount Zion and Jerusalem, He will punish the Assyrians for their intentions. He will first afflict the King’s warriors – but then He will “burn and devour his thorns and briars in a single day.” What day is that?

1 And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard [it], that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD. 2 And he sent Eliakim, who [was] over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. 3 And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day [is] a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and [there is] not strength to bring forth. 4 It may be the LORD thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up [thy] prayer for the remnant that is left. 5 So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah. 6 And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7 Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. 8 So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish. 9 And he heard say concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, He is come forth to make war with thee. And when he heard [it], he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God, in whom thou trustest, deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed, [as] Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden which [were] in Telassar? 13 Where [is] the king of Hamath, and the king of Arphad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? 14 And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed unto the LORD, saying, 16 O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest [between] the cherubims, thou [art] the God, [even] thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth. 17 Incline thine ear, O LORD, and hear; open thine eyes, O LORD, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God. 18 Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries, 19 And have cast their gods into the fire: for they [were] no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them. 20 Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou [art] the LORD, [even] thou only. 21 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria: 22 This [is] the word which the LORD hath spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, [and] laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. 23 Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted [thy] voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? [even] against the Holy One of Israel. 24 By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord, and hast said, By the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon; and I will cut down the tall cedars thereof, [and] the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the height of his border, [and] the forest of his Carmel. 25 I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of the besieged places. 26 Hast thou not heard long ago, [how] I have done it; [and] of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities [into] ruinous heaps. 27 Therefore their inhabitants [were] of small power, they were dismayed and confounded: they were [as] the grass of the field, and [as] the green herb, [as] the grass on the housetops, and [as corn] blasted before it be grown up. 28 But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me. 29 Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest. 30 And this [shall be] a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat [this] year such as groweth of itself; and the second year that which springeth of the same: and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof. 31 And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward: 32 For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this. 33 Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. 34 By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD. 35 For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake. 36 Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they [were] all dead corpses. 37 So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. 38 And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia: and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.

Isaiah 37:1-38

Assyria destroyed the Northern Kingdom, as God decreed – but when they came against the South, and against Jerusalem, they were destroyed – by the Angel of the Lord, no less – and the woe came to pass, recorded by the same prophet. The same kingdom which, by its own intentions, came to devour and destroy, was used as a punishment for Israel’s unfaithfulness, and wiped out the Northern Kingdom. However, as a judgement on its arrogance, God Himself destroyed the great army of Sennacherib outside the walls of Jerusalem – and he was murdered by his own sons upon his return. They meant it for evil – but God meant it for good.

Lastly, there is the case of the crucifixion itself. Acts records a prayer, presumably by Peter or John, which says the following:

27 “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 peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”

Act 4:27-30

In this prayer, we are told that the Father predestined the crucifixion – as well as all the actions of Herod, Pontius Pilate, the other Gentiles, as well as the peoples of Israel. The most heinous act in the history of the world – the murder of the Messiah – was committed exactly as God predestined it to be. Every single one of the parties named meant it for evil. God meant it for good – to bring many out alive, with a deliberate nod to the foreshadowing of Joseph. Rome’s conquest of Israel brought about the conditions that made the crucifixion – a Roman practice – possible. What they meant for evil, God meant for good – and the greatest good in the history of the world was brought about by the commission of the greatest evil in its history. Man’s purposes are brought to naught by the purposes of God. The Savior rose from the grave, conquering death and sin – because death and sin were decreed by God. Israel was judged. Rome was judged. Herod was judged – and all of them received their woes in full measure – as Christ prophesied they would. Nonetheless, God brought good out of their evil – and it shone all the more brightly against their evil. We can only go so far with this explanation of why evil happens – but isn’t that far enough to go on with? We can finish up with Romans’ explanation of this same issue.

16 So then it [does] not [depend] on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And [He did so] to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 [even] us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’ AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.'” 26 “AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’ THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.”

Rom 9:16-26

Author’s Note: MadeOfLions and ThePinion from SSG’s Dev team have addressed the Calaquendi issue – the current prologue text identifying the player character as having dwelt in Valinor is incorrect. Their quotes will follow the text of this post.

To preface this post, I’ve been playing LOTRO since 2008. I’m a massive LOTR fan – enough so that our Rebekah’s middle name is Luthien. One aspect of LOTRO’s IP that can sometimes be frustrating is the fact that they can only use The Hobbit and the LOTR Trilogy – not the Silmarillion, or the other entries into the posthumous Tolkien canon. That being said, Standing Stone Games, the successor to Turbine, decided to add the “High Elf” race to the available choices, coinciding with the release of the upcoming Mordor expansion. The announcement was greeted with excitement, as well as some trepidation in some quarters. Here’s an interview snippet I want to share, to start with.

Pay close attention to it, because it will be important.

MMO-C: All righty. Let’s turn back to happy fun Made of Lions. We want to talk High Elves. You guys have already said there won’t be a new class coming out like what happened with Beornings. And Professor Olsen, of course people are going to ask him what he thought about it on his livestream on the official last week or the week before. He said the High Elves would by lore default be Noldorin like Galadriel or Sindar like Thranduil rather than Vanyar cos they never came back from Valinor. So if this happens, will we be getting a new starting instance for them to explain how they’re coming back to Middle earth because High Elves are the ones who went to Valinor and came back.

Libby: Well, that’s primarily the case but for our interpretation, one of the things that we’re thinking of going with is that it’s not only Elves who went to Valinor and came back, it’s also their descendants. We’re going with the concept of… and this is one of those things I think is sort of necessary in our game, in that you’ll need to be… you may have some proportion of High Elf in your blood, for instance, in order to in a way power you down slightly, so that you’re not Galadriel running around, because that’s not really the power level I think we can suspend disbelief on all that well in there are hundreds of High Elves running around and they’re all Galadriel-level people. I think that’s not a realistic way to present it, so we’re going more with the concept that there are people and characters of High Elf ancestry in addition to the sort of straight-up High Elves that we know from the book like Galadriel and in that way, we could have High Elf adventurers that weren’t mentioned, for example, like we traditionally have done with several of our other races and classes. I’m not sure that Grimbeorn had hundreds of kids running around, but for our game, you can make a Beorning and have Beorning adventures. So for the High Elf, you would be a High Elf in that you still have the benefits of being a High Elf and maybe some of the drawbacks that there might also be, like still working out gameplay concept for all of this obviously, but Sauron is going to be especially unhappy about High Elves and that might cause some difficulties for you. You’re going to be feeling the call of Valinor more strongly than other people, than other Elves even. And, as for the original question, we will probably have some starting instance of some stripe, but I don’t want to get into what that will entail at the moment.

Snook: I would say that, and Professor Olsen will probably appreciate this, we do have a fairly large what you might call a lore-doc in how High Elves would fit into Lord of the Rings Online, and that’s something we’ve been looking at, and a lot of it is a little behind the scenes kind of documentation, but we’re looking at a way to perhaps distill that for community read to help kind of place where they will fit into the game.

Ciccolini: Yes. I would love to see the community sort of have more insight into the gratuitous amounts of lore documentation that we generate.

Snook: (laughter) It’s a massive document.

Ciccolini: The community just doesn’t see some of this fantastic stuff.

Snook: I was like, ‘why is this PDF so large?’
(laughter)

So, with that in mind – spoilers incoming. Seriously. Lots of spoilers.

Read the rest of this entry

James White Dashcam Post Archive

Recently there has been a bit of a firestorm, chiefly on Twitter, so I gather, regarding the following post by Dr. White, since removed by him. I’m posting it here for you, so that there is somewhere to link other than the site of the slightly infamous “James Ach”. He used his opportunity to make a number of rather uncharitable claims in both the title and the text of his post, so I figured it would be helpful to link somewhere other than to the site of someone who is obviously reading the material with the hermeneutic of suspicion, not of charity – and who isn’t adding bracketed commentary into the post as if the author wrote it. Sending him traffic does little good, and more than a little harm. I’m also planning on writing up something to further discussion, so stay tuned to CH.

Edit: Some have claimed that the DRC post is unedited – for those folks, note the contents of the blockquote. 579 words, 3034 characters, due to the 4 bracketed insertions within the blockquote. That is an edit. He notes the bolded portions prior to posting – but does not inform the reader that he is adding commentary – in a blockquote. The actual post was 549 words, 2843 characters. Thus, the DRC post added 30 words, 193 characters. That is why this one is here. For the author’s rendering of his own comments, see this: Ethnic Gnosticism and the Gospel

I bought a dash cam recently. Seems everyone in Russia has one (I guess you have to for insurance purposes), and I thought it would be pretty good to have to document some of the crazy things that happen while driving. So I was coming home this evening and happened to be the first car at Glendale and 35th Avenue in Phoenix. And as you will see, a young black kid, looks to be 15 years old or so, was crossing the street. Now if you watch, you will see a police SUV cross in front of me first going east. The kid then comes into the screen, and though he sort of hid it under his elbow, he plainly flips off the police vehicle. Then he is emptying the drink he is consuming as he walks out of the frame. What you can’t see is that he then simply tossed the bottle into the bush in the corner of the gas station. I happened to notice the two ladies in the car next to me had seen the same thing. We just looked at each other, put up our hands in exasperation, and shook our heads.

As I drove away I thought about that boy. There is a more than 70% chance he has never met this father. In all probabilities he has no guidance, has no example. He is filled with arrogance and disrespect for authority. He lives in a land where he is told lies every day—the lie that he cannot, through hard work and discipline, get ahead, get a good education, and succeed at life. He is lied to and told the rest of the world owes him. And the result is predictable: in his generation, that 70% number will only rise. He may well father a number of children—most of which will be murdered in the womb, padding the pockets of Planned Parenthood, and those that survive will themselves be raised without a natural family, without the God-ordained structure that is so important for teaching respect, and true manhood or womanhood.

It never crossed my mind to flip off a police car as it passed me by when I was his age. Of course, it never crossed my mind to walk around with my butt hanging out of my pants, either, as if the entire world needed to see what kind of underwear I was sporting that day. I know I would have been mighty guilty had I tossed my drink bottle into a bush—and I never would have dreamed of doing that in front of everyone like this young man did. But I had a father. And a mother. And I was taught to respect others, and myself. If I had not had those things, I still would not have acted as he, simply because times have changed, and not for the better. There was simply more restraint in my day. It surely makes me wonder what the future holds. Oh, I know—this is nothing. There are videos on line of kids like this shooting guns in the air and robbing people and doing car jackings. I know. But you need to understand: those folks didn’t get there without first finding it “fun” to strut, flip, toss, and live an attitude of disrespect.

Confessional Eschatology and Civics

I’m fairly disinterested in the political debates as a rule – and probably just as disinterested in the majority of eschatological debate, as well. However, due to recent circumstances I’m not going to get into, I thought it fitting to outline my position on these two subjects for future reference. Firstly, I want to make it absolutely clear that I consider theonomy and the requisite postmillenial eschatology to be contra-confessional. Secondly, I want to make it absolutely clear that I consider these positions to be an abuse of as well as a hindrance to a truly Covenantal apologetic.

Confessionally, it must be mentioned that the LBCF consistently and frequently mentions the “end of the world” – and treats all things related to the church; her work as well as her offices – as continuing until that time. As such, it must be granted that there is absolutely no provision for a “golden age” kingdom in or of this world prior to the end of it. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, and the kingdom in which and for which we labor is identical to it. Since this is the case, we labor here as aliens and strangers, with the understanding and expectation that all things in this world will pass away. The same cannot be said for the kingdom of heaven, as this will never pass away. This kingdom, however, is not of this world, does not consist of anything we build or fashion, nor is it anything to which the so-called “dominion mandate” applies. Definitionally, the “dominion mandate” belongs to Christ, as the second Adam – and the kingdom mandate belongs to us, as the members and sum of that kingdom. Ours is not to take dominion over the earth, but to build the kingdom of heaven. Aliens and strangers are not mandated to build an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one. We could go into more detail should it become necessary, but this will suffice for the purposes I have for this post.

It must also be mentioned that the confession clearly states that the civil, or judicial law is abrogated, along with the ceremonial law. The typical theonomist response is to use the “general equity” clause in the WCF; the LBCF’s parallel clause is much more specific, and impossible to mistake. It clearly states that the judicial laws only have a general equity of moral use, and expired together with the state of that people. Any attempt to go beyond this general moral equity is, however, covered by the next section of the confession, which prescribes our Christian liberty, within proper bounds. Another common response is to split the law into two groups, and not three; this is also explicitly denied by both confessions. They clearly state that there is a tripartite division in the law. Therefore, if you claim to be a confessionalist, you cannot subscribe to the theonomic view. It is prohibited by those same confessions. There is plenty more to say about this subject if it becomes necessary, but I believe this will be sufficient for my purposes.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that the antithesis between autonomy and theonomy is being rejected, by taking this position. It must be clearly understood that what is meant by “theonomy” is somewhat different in these instances. In the case of the presuppositional method advanced by Van Til, what is in reference with “theonomy” is the same as that which is referenced by WCF/LBCF XIX, and which I address in my exposition of Romans 1-2. This is not identical to the schema of “theonomy” advanced by other, primarily Reconstructionist proponents, as outlined above. Van Til, obviously, was not a theonomist in the Reconstructionist sense, nor was he post-millenial. Thus, it can be seen that repudiating these positions on a confessional basis is neither a critique of Van Til, nor a repudiation of his apologetic. In fact, it is far from either! It is an affirmation of his emphasis on a Biblically consistent, systematic, confessional apologetic.

I consider both postmillenialism and theonomy to be foreign to the fabric of confessionally Reformed Baptist theology, and foreign to the framework of the Covenantal apologetic found therein.

For further reading, I suggest the following:

Frame: Penultimate Thoughts on Theonomy
Duncan: The Mosaic Covenant
Duncan: The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Theonomic Document?
Gordon: Critique of Theonomy: A Taxonomy
Waldron: Theonomy, A Reformed Baptist Assessment
Gaffin: Theonomy and Eschatology: Some Reflections On Postmillennialism

The Argument from Necessity

“The Reformational doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Scriptures are sufficient to answer all of our questions. Rather, the doctrine means that the Scriptures are a sufficient guide to our communion with God, a guide to faith and life in the religious sense. WCF 1.6: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”
Theonomists often argue that it is “necessary for…man’s…life” that humans have revealed directives for statecraft. If this argument were valid, however, why would it not be equally (or more) valid to argue that it is “necessary for…man’s…life” that humans have revealed directives for medicine? Is it not the case when our loved ones die that the Scriptures have not been, in their medicinal instructions, sufficient in providing what is “necessary for…man’s…life”? Is it not the case, when a suspension bridge collapses due to no construction failure, that the Scriptures have evidently not provided adequate instruction in the field of design?” – T. David Gordon, “Critique of Theonomy: A Taxonomy,” Westminster Theological Journal 56.1

Dominion

We often see something called “The Dominion Mandate” spoken of. It comes from the KJV rendition of Genesis 1:28, rendered in the NASB as “rule over”, rather than “have dominion over.” Obviously, “dominion” has a much better ring to it than “rule” – so that’s what stuck. Essentially, the version I’m discussing today (in a short example) says that it is “the duty to have children and to take dominion over the earth” – and “in its essence it is a call to take every thought, deed, and action captive to the Lordship of Christ, to advance the work of the Lord in every realm, and to live lives of Kingdom service to our Savior.” That sounds like a good thing, right? I mean, it is hard to argue with taking all our thoughts, deeds, and actions captive to the Lordship of Christ, advancing the work of the Lord in every realm, and living lives of service to God.

Here’s where you see the kicker, however. We have to examine at least some presuppositions to begin with, there. 1) What is meant by “the duty to have children” 2) Who is “to take dominion over the earth” 3) What it means to “take dominion over all the earth.” It is often assumed in these conversations that everyone agrees on what is being discussed – almost by default – but I don’t think think that this can be assumed, for a number of reasons, or from a number of perspectives. We will return to that, however, in a minute. Let’s look at the “key verse” for this viewpoint.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”[1]

Now, I don’t think anyone is going to argue that Adam was not given dominion over the earth in this passage. That’s so vanishingly rare an argument, at least in Christian circles, that it can be ignored. Where the objection is going to come in is at one, two, or both of the following points. 1) The Fall, and its ramifications regarding Adam’s position 2) Christ, seen as the second Adam.

My questions for supporters of the Dominion Mandate as expressed above, are as follows;

1) What sort of accounting have you made for this “Dominion Mandate” as a pre-lapsarian command?
2) Do you assert that the “Dominion Mandate” consists of having as many children as one possibly can?
3) If so, why?
4) What does it mean to take dominion in this post-lapsarian world?
5) What is this dominion over?
6) Who has, and is taking dominion in this post-lapsarian world?

As a discussion opener, let me answer the questions above.

1) The dominion mandate was given to the sinless Adam as his charge – to rule over the earth and all it contained as the subordinate of His Creator. His charge was to care for all things he was given authority over, and to cultivate them. When Adam fell, his rulership was perverted and therefore cursed[2], he himself was enslaved to sin[3], and his power usurped by Satan[4], who became the ruler of this world[5]. Dominion is used 4 times in the LBCF[6] – concerning the dominion of God over all His creatures, the dominion, which while he kept the command, Adam had in the Garden, and the last 2 times of the dominion of sin – thus, confessionally, we do not have an easy answer on this point. The catechism doesn’t help us any more on this point, as it only uses “dominion” once, and with a bare reference to Gen 1:28, and concerning Adam as created, not as fallen.

However, there is another route to take. What does the confession say about the results of Adam’s fall? “Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.”[7] Wholly defiled, might we say, in dominion, as well? Well, we might say, if in Christ we are restored, does this not restore our dominion as well? I’m not so sure. Take this; “The corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and the first motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.”[8] I don’t think this means that this same dominion is restored. Are we in union with Christ? Absolutely. In principle, we might say, we are restored to it, in some sense, perhaps – but that needs to be defined first. However, in practice, we do not have dominion as Adam did. First, because while we are in union with Christ, what does that mean concerning dominion? It is dominion mediated through Christ, who has that dominion, not direct dominion as Adam was given it. Second, there is another aspect – but we will deal with that in a bit, while answering another question – although I have essentially answered that question above, you may have noticed.

2-3) No, we are to be fruitful, and multiply. This doesn’t give us a set number, yet, recall, that this was also directly influenced by the Fall in specific, not just a general way. Childbirth was directly and specifically affected by the curse. It is accomplished in pain, and sometimes accompanied by death, as I can personally attest. Is there a regulative principle in Scripture concerning what number or factor we are to be focused upon? I argue that there is no such statement in all of Scripture – and since Scripture does not give such a principle, then insisting upon one is to argue for what Scripture does not – and that is itself a violation of the regulative principle. Abraham is blessed in Isaac, and there is no scorn placed upon him for his single legitimate offspring. Isaac himself has only Jacob and Esau. It is Rachel who is the blessed mother, despite dying in the birth of Benjamin, with only two children, while Leah has 10. Samson is an only child. We are to multiply, as a general rule – but I believe it cannot be said that Scripture puts a low or high figure on the amount of children we are to have.

Secondly, there is no direct connection between “be fruitful and multiply” and “dominion over all the earth” to consider “be fruitful and multiply” as an act of dominion. It is often assumed that there is such a connection, but I haven’t seen any good argumentation for this. As far as I can tell, the passage says 1) They are to be fruitful and multiply 2) Fill the earth 3) Subdue it 4) Bring all living things under dominion. It seems that dominion presupposes multiplication and filling; but it doesn’t seem that multiplication and filling presupposes dominion. You have to be many and in all places in order to take dominion; but multiplication et al does not presuppose dominion – it’s the other way around.

Thirdly, note the context of the multiplication and filling – it is for the purpose of dominion over and throughout the earth. Yet, how does this work when humanity is already throughout the earth, and in this post-fall, ante-diluvian, post-Babel diaspora? Are we now multiplying to fill in every square mile? Are we shooting for a specific number or percentage of Christians per square mile? Or are we, perhaps, shooting for the maximum number of Christians per square mile? What standard are we using, here, for what is considered “proper” multiplication? Again, as there doesn’t seem to be any specific, regulative command for how many progeny we are to produce, where is it do we stop, and for what purpose? Are we to min/max procreation cycles to pump out children every 11 months? 13 months? Chart optimum recovery patterns for the womb so as to maximize births and minimize miscarriages as much as possible over the “usable lifetime” of our wife’s womb? Are we to consider this to be the highest goal, a middle goal, or a low goal, in our schema of overall obedience? By what standard is this to be determined? Is it determined by Christian liberty and godly wisdom in personal circumstances, or are there hard and fast guidelines to be observed from various passages I’ve somehow missed over the years? Am I okay with my six, or should I shoot to redeem the rest of my wife’s childbearing years and shoot for another half dozen with Jacob as my model, and ask repentance for our half-hearted observance of the dominion mandate? Obviously, you can probably tell my answers from the tenor of my return questions – but I think it bears mentioning that the general sense (although, obviously, there are exceptions) of the responses from those who espouse the “dominion mandate” in the sense outlined above are that it is a requirement, in some sense, to have as many children as possible, and that the cessation of child-bearing when there remains a capability for it is somehow sinful, or at the least, an unsatisfactory solution.

Fourthly, it might be argued that while there is no limit, there is no command to stop having children. In the same vein, however, I can argue that there is no command to keep having children. If the argument is that silence is golden, then the gold glints in either direction, does it not? There is no command to stop having children at any specific number, or factor of multiplicative replacement. Fine, let’s grant that for the sake of argument. By the same token, it also remains the case that there is no command to continue having children to any specific number, or until it is no longer possible to have more. Further, there is no specific blessing considered concerning, say, 12 children that is not also offered concerning 1, or 2, or 6. Let’s grant that a man with a quiver full of children is happy. How many arrows belong in a quiver? As Gill points out, “Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions, render it, ‘that fills his desire’ has as many as he desires or wishes for.”[9] How many arrows do I want, or need in my quiver, therefore? Now, this is not to say that God does not give the increase – but it also says that God gives us that which we desire righteously – that which is fitting for us to have. Instead of an insistence upon ever-increasing numbers, we should be mindful that God gives to each according to what He Himself wills, and according to what we are able to bear, or are suited for. Hence, here we have the true regulative principle of God’s ordination of the family unit – the precise amount of children which He Himself wills, in accordance with the gifts He has given us. As in all things, there is a proper balance which needs to be kept in mind. Some families only receive one child, and that is sufficient as well as proper. Others have a dozen, or even more. Let us not go beyond Scripture to insist on ever-increasing numbers when there is no warrant for doing so. In fact, let us recall that God uses means in accomplishing those ends – and one of those means may in fact be either the lack of desire or recognition of one’s lack of ability to provide for and parent more children than you have now. Not always, of course, but wisdom is granted to parents when they ask it in His name.

4-5) My answer to the question is that God gives the increase – but in the sense of “dominion,” you aren’t populating the kingdom by having children – because kingdom needs to be properly defined. You populate the kingdom by the preaching of the gospel and discipling those to whom it is preached and are given citizenship in it. In this fallen world, we live in a creation that groans to be released from bondage. We are not the ones who will strike off those chains. We have as much hope of that as we do of breathing life into dry bones. In fact, to think of dominion in terms of this world is to think of the kingdom in precisely the wrong fashion. We are not to be prophets, priests, and kings of this world. We are to be prophets, priests and kings in the world, but not of it. We are pilgrims and strangers in this world, and any dominion we have here will be equally ephemeral, if it is of this world. Focusing on dominion over this fallen, decaying world, which is passing away, is a waste of time and energy. This does not preclude the preservation of that which we are in, to some extent, but that preservation is that of salt – preserving that which is and must be decaying, due to the curse, in order that it might last until the appointed time, by the due use of means. Even the mountains will melt like wax at His coming, and all things will pass away and be made new. To try to usher in the kingdom here, and take dominion here is to invest precisely the wrong capital in precisely the wrong project. What we are given, we are given as prophets, priests, and kings in our families, churches, and only then to the world – but not directed toward the things of this world. We are not in the business of empire building in the material sense. We are in the business of empire building in the spiritual sense – in building up the church. Are we used as means in the restraint of sin and God’s common grace toward saint and sinner alike? Certainly. However, recall that common grace and the restraint of sin is for the sake of the elect. Not even primarily for their physical comfort or blessing, either – but primarily for their spiritual well-being and survival.

6) The answer to this question should be self-explanatory by now, but it needs to be explained. The dominion is Christ’s. The “dominion mandate” was given to Adam – and Adam failed to accomplish it. Christ, however, is the second Adam – He is the heir, and in Him is the restoration and summation of all things. Yet, what did He tell us? His kingdom was not of this world. Psalm 8 seems to be somewhat of a commentary on Genesis 1; in that commentary[10], we see that man is crowned with glory and majesty, rules the works of God’s hands, all things are under His feet. At that point, if you’re thinking “well, there you go! The dominion mandate is still in full flower!” – read the passage below.

What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth![11]

There’s a problem with the above interpretation of this passage as a continuation of the dominion mandate, however. It is found in the following passage, which cites Psalm 8.

For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying, “WHAT IS MAN, THAT YOU REMEMBER HIM? OR THE SON OF MAN, THAT YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT HIM? “YOU HAVE MADE HIM FOR A LITTLE WHILE LOWER THAN THE ANGELS; YOU HAVE CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR, AND HAVE APPOINTED HIM OVER THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS; YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.[12]

Note the first phrase. It is the world to come that is being spoken of. What does this mean? First, it means that it is speaking not of the world as in bondage, but of the world restored. After quoting the passage, he goes on to say that while everything is subject to Christ, we do not see all things subjected to Him. Here, we do not have a lasting city. We seek the one which is to come. He went away to prepare it for us – we are not here preparing it for Him. The verses above clearly specify the holder of this dominion to be Christ. This is inescapable. However, Christ Himself identified His kingdom as not of this world. Thus, if we receive our dominion from union with Christ, and by adoption as joint heirs with Him, our dominion is also not of this world.

So, by telling others to “take dominion” – what do you mean when you say that, and when you say it, are you telling us to take something that is rightfully and even possibly ours? “Taking dominion” seems to be a popular catchphrase – but the exegetical basis for it seems to be shaky, at best. How do you account for taking dominion over this world when the only dominion in view seems to be not of this world at all, but of the world to come? Assuming we all mean the same things when using these words is not going to work, nor is assuming the interpretation you have of them. There needs to be less buzzwords and more exegetical foundation for these ideas, or the audience you’re seeking to reach will quite simply not take it seriously. As for myself, I’m not convinced that we need to take dominion in the sense that it is being encouraged that we take it. In fact, I’m convinced that I need to spend less time taking “taking dominion” seriously, due to the lack of exegesis provided by the pro-dominion groups. If you are willing to make the case, however, go for it.

  1. [1]Gen 1:26-28
  2. [2]Gen 3:17-19
  3. [3]John 8:34
  4. [4]Eph 2:2
  5. [5]Eph 6:12
  6. [6]II.2, IV.3, XIII.1, XXI.1
  7. [7]VI.2
  8. [8]VI.5
  9. [9]Gill, Psa 127:5
  10. [10]See Gill on Psalm 8:4, as well
  11. [11]Psa 8:4-9
  12. [12]Heb 2:5-10

Kinism

Note 1:21ff especially. Enjoy 🙂

Why some folks should stay off Twitter

Ben just wrote a post about dispensationalism – clearly delineated into three general groups, then further delineated into 2 groups actually being addressed. Unfortunately, Fred Butler (of the blog Hip and Thigh) responded on Twitter:

Fred Butler

Something tells me I’m about to watch an army of strawmen burn to the ground, http://t.co/chz1EQFE . Eat your heart out Ed Young Jr.!

Ben responded:

Ben Woodring

@Fred_Butler don’t get your hopes up.

Another contributor at CH – Justin – also responded:

Justin Mccurry

@Fred_Butler Let’s try not to poison the well

Here’s where it gets interesting. Fred’s response was quite puzzling.

Fred Butler

@Resbyterian As soon as anyone invokes “transcendental” your poisoning the well.

Really? So, for instance, when Van Til says this:

[T]his brings up the point of circular reasoning. The charge is constantly made that if matters stand thus with Christianity, it has written its own death warrant as far as intelligent men are concerned. Who wishes to make such a simple blunder in elementary logic, as to say that we believe something to be true because it is in the Bible? Our answer to this is briefly that we prefer to reason in a circle to not reasoning at all. We hold it to be true that circular reasoning is the only reasoning that is possible to finite man. […] Unless we are larger than God we cannot reason about him any other way, than by a transcendental or circular argument. The refusal to admit the necessity of circular reasoning is itself an evident token of opposition to Christianity.[1]

Is this poisoning the well, Mr. Butler?

Now, more importantly – is this poisoning the well, Mr. Butler?

Apparently, Mr. Butler, if we are to take his aforementioned statement at face value, has poisoned the well at least 8 times. Now, were I to multiply the instances where Van Til, Bahnsen, or other presup apologists use “transcendental,” this post would be quite impossibly long. Are we also to understand that the use of “transcendental” by, say, Kant, is also well-poisoning? In short, Twitter is really suited to people able to express themselves within a 140-character limit without delving into broadbrush and unfortunately inaccurate statements. Making absurd statements such as “as soon as anyone invokes ‘transcendental'” they are “poisoning the well” is not responsible tweeting. Not even remotely.

Further, note the amazing statement made by BibChr of PyroManiacs fame.

Dan Phillips

@Fred_Butler He mentions Jamin Hubner as in any way a credible source, I tune out.

Now, note that there is no reason given for why Jamin’s posts about hyper-dispensationalism (which was the reason for the link – to move the discussion of that movement out of the bounds of the current discussion) were considered to be not “credible.” This seems to be either a case of “guilt by association” – the argument being presented (which has nothing to do with Jamin’s posts – as the post itself states) is ignored because Jamin is considered to be not-credible for whatever reason. However, there is no relation of the post in question to Jamin’s series of posts on hyper-dispensationalism. In fact, during the writing of this post – as I was writing this paragraph, in fact, Dan tweeted the following:

Dan Phillips

@bkben3 @Fred_Butler That was a FAIL, not unlike beginning a study of Calvinism by recommending Dave Hunt’s probing insights

Now, how are we to understand Dan’s comments as being relevant to the content of Ben’s post? He did not cite Jamin as someone interacting with dispensationalists – but as someone interacting with *hyper* dispensationalists. As such, I don’t see what relevance there could be to the remark. Lets put this into perspective. Let’s use Dan’s remark in his comparison. Imagine that he didn’t completely ad hominem there, but was actually trying to make a valid comparison. Let’s say that Jamin is interacting with hyper-Calvinists. That doesn’t mean that anyone who links to his resources on hyper-Calvinism agrees with his conclusions on Calvinism – it means that he is being referred to for a discussion of hyper-Calvinists – right? So, without regard to what his problems are in regard to Calvinism; if his resources on hyper-Calvinism are generally accurate, does that mean they are invalidated if his resources on Calvinism are not accurate? Should we disregard anything he says on other topics due to his problem, in our little comparison, with Calvinism? That doesn’t seem to follow. For instance – let’s say that Dan Phillips is generally correct when it comes to the Gospel. When he addresses Covenant Theology, however, he starts calling it “replacement theology”, and things such as that – things which cannot be remotely accurate concerning the Covenantal position. Should we disregard every post Dan has written on the topic of the Gospel due to his inability to correctly characterize Covenant Theology? Just as with our last example, I don’t think this is the case. Nor do I think it even makes sense.

For another example: I don’t think the post series in regard to dispensationalism is even going to mention JMac-style dispensationalism. First, because it’s tiny, and second, because it’s so odd in comparison to the two major branches. I hinted at that in an earlier tweet.

Joshua Whipps

Hint: If you’re a JMac-style dispy – most likely nobody is talking about you, because you’re such a miniscule group that you’re irrelevant.

Note: I used “most likely”. This should be fairly obvious as far as meaning goes, but apparently not to Fred. It means that it’s probably not the case that anyone’s talking about you, since you’re such a tiny fraction of dispensationalism. For some reason, Fred decided to respond to this, hours later.

Fred Butler

@RazorsKiss What?! Sam Waldron wrote a book. Demar pounds us unmercifully. And let’s not forget Riddlebarger.

My response, obviously, was to point out that I used “most likely.” Perhaps not especially “nicely” – but it’s not like Fred is all sweetness and light, as a rule – so I think he’ll manage. In any case, what’s the beef here? The beef seems to be that someone they don’t like got mentioned, therefore there will be strawmen. Of what, we might ask? Of Fred and Dan’s position? As I’ve said, I don’t think Ben will even address their position, as he is dealing with the classical and progressive positions – as he states that he will. Their particular position is neither fish nor fowl. Again, however, we see the JMac types up in arms because they aren’t “in the crowd”. Well, here’s what we should be asking – which way do they want it? If we don’t address their minority view, they get upset. If it is addressed in with other dispensational views, will they complain because we don’t treat them the “best”? I don’t see where you can win with this. If, as I’m sure they would affirm, they aren’t classical or progressive dispensationalists – what is their problem if we address those views? Don’t they also believe they are wrong? If we do address their own views, would they be upset if we did? I don’t see the issue they seem to be having.

On the one hand, we’re being told that even a *mention* of a particular person in regard to a completely different subject makes someone’s material “ignorable” – but on the other hand, we are told that there will be strawmen in the series on Choosing Hats. What we are not told is why. While I (and two other Choosing Hats contributors) have an article in the first version of one of Jamin’s books – they didn’t make it into the second edition, and apart from moderating one debate for Jamin, we really don’t have much contact anymore. Ben, on the other hand, hasn’t done anything with Jamin Hubner, to my knowledge. He recommended Jamin’s work on hyper-dispensationalism because he thought it adequately dealt with a position pretty much universally considered heretical. As we’ve already established, I don’t see that even if it were true that Jamin incorrectly responded to dispensationalism, that it is the case that he incorrectly responds to hyper-dispensationalism. In fact, there has been no presentation of Jamin incorrectly responding to hyper-dispensationalism. Fred tweeted something to me earlier, but I found it to be incoherent and vague.

In closing – I want you to note a few things. First, some folks should just stay off of Twitter. They can’t frame things within 140 characters and still make sense. When you simply say “As soon as anyone invokes “transcendental” your poisoning the well” – to a presupper – you’re quite obviously not thinking clearly. Are we to imagine that Van Til was saying that the only way to argue is to poison the well? Hardly – yet this is what Fred insists upon. It’s quite obviously wrong. Secondly, it’s hardly logical to insist that the very mention of a person you dislike means that a post is problematic. This is a fallacy. I’m trying to figure out which it is, actually. Is it the genetic fallacy? If the origin of the claim is that which makes the claim itself wrong.. maybe so. But I think it’s probably the “guilt by association” fallacy. For instance: If someone said “Taxation is great” – and the response was “but Hitler liked taxation!” That is a guilt by association fallacy. In this case, Ben mentioned that he wasn’t going to address hyper-dispensationalism. This means that he isn’t even addressing that topic, does it not? At least if you happen to read English. However, he linked to someone else – on a topic he doesn’t intend to address. Does this have any bearing on the topic in question? Not in the slightest. To claim that it does is to commit a fallacy. It’s a bit odd, though – because it isn’t even the point itself that is in question – it’s that someone’s name was mentioned at all! That’s quite puzzling.

Third, don’t let friends tweet if they can’t do it without saying silly things. It’s bad for them, and it’s bad to have your view given bad press by the use of fallacious argumentation. Don’t let friends tweet irresponsibly. Especially if they are dealing with topics like “transcendental” – and making their assertions about it in 140 characters or less. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

  1. [1]A Survey of Christian Epistemology, pg 12

God and Desire

It was a bit of an eyebrow raiser – mostly due to the nonchalance of the entire affair – (albeit unsurprising, given prior statements he has made) to read Piper simply handing over 1 Tim. 2:4 to Arminianism. What’s also quite interesting is that the handoff is done with practically no exegetical attention paid to the surrounding verses, or seemingly, even an attempt to interact with the historic Reformed commentators on the subject.

Put two texts together, and see what you see.

“God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (eis epignōsin alētheias)” (1 Timothy 2:4).

“God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (eis epignōsin alētheias)” (2 Timothy 2:25).

Now, do you see any treatment of the surrounding verses in the following discussion? I don’t. Essentially, it’s conceding the Arminian conception of the first verse – and there is no reason whatsoever to do so.

Here’s what I see:

1. Though God desires all people to be saved, he “may perhaps grant repentance.” Which I think means that God’s desire for all to be saved does not lead him to save all. God has desires that do not reach the level of volition. They are restrained by other considerations — like his wisdom, which guides him to display his glory in the fullest way. He has his reasons for why he “may perhaps grant repentance” to some sinners, and not to others.

First, what is meant by “all”? He doesn’t address the subject. In “The Potter’s Freedom”, there is an extensive treatment of this section of Scripture. Who do I want to bring to your consideration on this verse, however? Why, John Gill, of course! His commentary is amazingly thorough. I’ll post the rest of Piper’s comments, and then follow with Gill.

2. The “knowledge of the truth” is a gift of God. God “grants [i.e., gives] repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” Without the gift of repentance, we would not know the truth. This is evidently what 1 Timothy 2:4 means also: We must be “saved and [in that way] come to a knowledge of the truth.” Saved from our blindness to the truth.

3. Therefore the truth Paul has in mind is not truth that the natural man can see. But the natural man can see a lot of truth. Tens of thousands of truths are open to the natural mind. What truth can the natural man not see? The natural man cannot see the glory of Christ in the gospel. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

4. This is why God must “grant” what it takes to see the truth of the gospel. We are blind to it. And Satan keeps us that way. Until God “grants” repentance (metanoia) — the change of mind that can see and receive the truth of the gospel.

5. Therefore, our prayers for the unbelievers we love, and our evangelism, should be driven by this one and only hope for their salvation: “God may perhaps grant them repentance.” Since he alone has the power to overcome spiritual deadness and Satanic blindness, we lay hold in prayer and witness on the truth: “God may grant repentance.” That is our only hope.

So let us follow Paul: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). And: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Now, although this looks, superficially, to be a complete answer – it isn’t. It’s a superficial answer. I appreciate the comments in the following points – 2-5 – but his comments on the first point are quite simply lacking, in a variety of respects. Compare Gill, starting at verse 1:

1 Timothy 2:1:

I exhort therefore, that first of all

The two principal parts of public worship, being the ministry of the word and prayer; and the apostle having insisted on the former, in the preceding chapter, in which he orders Timothy to charge some that they teach no other doctrine than that of the Gospel, gives an account of his own ministry, and call to it, and of the glorious Gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to his trust, and stirs up Timothy to the faithful and diligent discharge of his work and office; now proceeds to the latter, to prayer, and exhorts unto it; either Timothy in particular, for so read the Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, “I exhort thee”, or “desire thee”; or else the church in general; unless it should rather be thought to be a charge to Timothy to exhort, and so Beza’s Claromontane copy reads, “exhort thou therefore”: but it is commonly considered as an exhortation of the apostle’s, which he was very urgent in: it was what lay much upon his mind, and he was greatly desirous that it should be attended unto; for so the words may be read, “I exhort first of all”, or before all things; of all things he had to say, this was the chief, or it was what he would have principally and chiefly done by others: for this does not so much regard the order of time, that prayer should be made early in the morning, in the first place, before anything else is done, and particularly before preaching, which seems to have been the custom of the primitive saints, ( Acts 4:31 ) but the pre-eminence and superior excellency of it; though the words may be rendered, “I exhort, that first, the supplications of all be made”: and so may regard public prayer, the prayer of the whole church, in distinction from private prayer, or the prayer of a single person; which is expressed by different words,

supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks:

the first of these, “supplications”, signifies such petitions for things that are wanted by men, either by themselves or others; and that either for their bodies or souls, as food and raiment for the one, and discoveries of pardoning love, supplies of grace, spiritual peace, comfort for the other: and the second word, “prayers”, signifies good wishes and desires, directed and expressed to God for things that are in themselves to be wished for, and desired of God, either for ourselves or others: and the next word, “intercessions”, intends either complaints exhibited in prayer against others that have done injuries; or prayers put up for others, either for the averting of evil from them, or for the bestowing some good thing on them: and the last word, “thanksgivings”, with which requests should always be made known to God, designs that branch of prayer in which thanks are given to God for mercies received, whether temporal or spiritual: and these are to

be made for all men;

not only for all the saints, for all the churches of Christ, and, ministers of the Gospel; nor only for near relations and friends, according to the flesh; but for all the inhabitants of the country and city in which men dwell, the peace and prosperity of which are to be prayed for; yea, for enemies, and such as reproach, persecute, and despitefully use the saints, even for all sorts of men, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, high and low, bond and free, good men and bad men: for it cannot be understood of every individual that has been, is, or shall be in the world; millions of men are dead and gone, for whom prayer is not to be made; many in hell, to whom it would be of no service; and many in heaven, who stand in no need of it; nor is prayer to be made for such who have sinned the sin unto death, ( 1 John 5:16 ) besides, giving of thanks, as well as prayers, are to be made for all men; but certainly the meaning is not, that thanks should be given for wicked men, for persecutors, and particularly for a persecuting Nero, or for heretics, and false teachers, such as Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom the apostle had delivered to Satan. But the words must be understood of men of all sorts, of every rank and quality, as the following verse shows.

(Ver. 2)

For kings, and for all that are in authority

For supreme governors, as the emperor of Rome, and kings of particular nations; and for all sub-governors, or inferior magistrates, as procurators or governors of provinces, and proconsuls, and the like; all that were in high places, and acted under the authority of those that were supreme; these are particularly mentioned, the then governors, whether supreme or subordinate, who were avowed enemies, and violent persecutors of the saints; and it might be a scruple with some of them, whether they should pray for them, and therefore the apostle enjoins it; and this in opposition to the notions and practices of the Jews, who used to curse the Heathens, and pray for none but for themselves, and those of their own nation:

that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty;

which does not merely design the end of civil government by kings and magistrates, which is to preserve the peace and quiet of the commonwealth; to protect the persons and properties of men, that they may possess their own undisturbed; and to secure to them their civil and religious rights and liberties, that they may have the free use and exercise of religion, signified by “all godliness”; and to encourage morality and virtue, expressed by “honesty”; and so is an argument for prayer, taken from the advantage of civil government: nor does this clause only point out the duty of saints to live peaceably under the government they are, and not disturb it; to mind only their religious exercises among themselves, and behave honestly and morally among men, as they generally speaking are, the quiet in the land; but also expresses the thing to be prayed for; and the sense is, that since the hearts of kings are in the hands of the Lord, and he can turn them as he pleases, prayer should be made to him for them, that he would either convert them, and bring them to the knowledge of the truth, they now persecuted; or at least so dispose their hearts and minds, that they might stop the persecution, and so saints might live peaceably under them, enjoy their religious liberty, and be encouraged in their moral conversation. The Arabic version renders it, “that they may be preserved”: that is, kings, and all in authority. It is a saying of R. Hananiah, or Ananias, the sagan of the priests[1],

“pray for the peace or safety of the kingdom (one of their commentators on it adds[2], even of the nations of the world, which is remarkable, and agrees with the exhortation of the apostle); for if there was no fear of that, men would devour one another alive.”

(Ver. 3)

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.

Not only to live peaceably and quietly under the government men are, since that is the ordination of God, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, which his grace teaches; but to pray for all sorts of men, and for those who are set in the highest place of government, even though enemies and persecutors: this is good in itself, and in the sight of an omniscient God, who sees not as man seeth; and it is acceptable unto him through Jesus Christ, by whom every sacrifice of prayer or praise is so; for by God our Saviour is meant God the Father, who is the Saviour of all men, in a way of providence, and the Saviour of all the elect in a way of special grace;

(Ver. 4)

Who will have all men to be saved,…

The salvation which God wills that all men should enjoy, is not a mere possibility of salvation, or a mere putting them into a salvable state; or an offer of salvation to them; or a proposal of sufficient means of it to all in his word; but a real, certain, and actual salvation, which he has determined they shall have; and is sure from his own appointment, from the provision of Christ as a Saviour for them, from the covenant of grace, in which everything is secured necessary for it, and from the mission of Christ to effect it, and from its being effected by him: wherefore the will of God, that all men should be saved, is not a conditional will, or what depends on the will of man, or on anything to be performed by him, for then none might be saved; and if any should, it would be of him that willeth, contrary to the express words of Scripture; but it is an absolute and unconditional will respecting their salvation, and which infallibly secures it: nor is it such a will as is distinguishable into antecedent and consequent; with the former of which it is said, God wills the salvation of all men, as they are his creatures, and the work of his hands; and with the latter he wills, or not wills it, according to their future conduct and behaviour; but the will of God concerning man’s salvation is entirely one, invariable, unalterable, and unchangeable: nor is it merely his will of approbation or complacency, which expresses only what would be grateful and well pleasing, should it be, and which is not always fulfilled; but it is his ordaining, purposing, and determining will, which is never resisted, so as to be frustrated, but is always accomplished: the will of God, the sovereign and unfrustrable will of God, has the governing sway and influence in the salvation of men; it rises from it, and is according to it; and all who are saved God wills they should be saved; nor are any saved, but whom he wills they should be saved: hence by all men, whom God would have saved, cannot be meant every individual of mankind, since it is not his will that all men, in this large sense, should be saved, unless there are two contrary wills in God; for there are some who were before ordained by him unto condemnation, and are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction; and it is his will concerning some, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned; nor is it fact that all are saved, as they would be, if it was his will they should; for who hath resisted his will? but there is a world of ungodly men that will be condemned, and who will go into everlasting punishment: rather therefore all sorts of men, agreeably to the use of the phrase in 1Ti 2:1 are here intended, kings and peasants, rich and poor, bond and free, male and female, young and old, greater and lesser sinners; and therefore all are to be prayed for, even all sorts of men, because God will have all men, or all sorts of men, saved; and particularly the Gentiles may be designed, who are sometimes called the world, the whole world, and every creature; whom God would have saved, as well as the Jews, and therefore Heathens, and Heathen magistrates, were to be prayed for as well as Jewish ones. Moreover, the same persons God would have saved, he would have also

come to the knowledge of the truth:

of Christ, who is the truth, and to faith in him, and of all the truth of the Gospel, as it is in Jesus; not merely to a notional knowledge of it, which persons may arrive unto, and not be saved, but a spiritual and experimental knowledge of it; and all that are saved are brought to such a knowledge, which is owing to the sovereign will and good pleasure of God, who hides the knowledge of Gospel truths from the wise and prudent, and reveals them to babes: whence it appears, that it is not his will with respect to every individual of mankind; that they should thus come to the knowledge of the truth; for was it his will they should, he would, no doubt, give to every man the means of it, which he has not, nor does he; he suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, and overlooked their times of ignorance, and sent no message nor messenger to inform them of his will; he gave his word to Jacob, and his statutes unto Israel only; and the Gospel is now sent into one part of the world, and not another; and where it does come, it is hid to the most; many are given up to strong delusions to believe a lie, and few are savingly and experimentally acquainted with the truths of the Gospel; though all that are saved are brought to the knowledge of such truths as are necessary to salvation; for they are chosen to it through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.

—–

The difference is stunning. The “quick” answer – the “put two verses together and see what you get” approach – just doesn’t work. It’s not sound, and it gets you into trouble – even if you’re John Piper. If you want to get the real answer, you have to really dig into theology proper – dig deeply into systematic and biblical theology. Otherwise, the “combination” you try to make just isn’t going to be sound. I’d also recommend to you Gill’s comments on 2 Tim. 2:25, as well. In the end, the whole difference between these two solutions is exegetical. Piper doesn’t give an exegesis of the text – Gill does. Dr. White gives an exegesis in his book, too – and comes out with the same conclusion as Gill. This should be instructive to us.

One further point to make. Job 23:13 says this: “But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does.” God, of course, is the referent of this verse. vs. 3-12 in this same chapter all refer to God Himself. What does it say? God accomplishes all that He desires. The Hebrew word for “does” is עָשָׂה – the primary semantic domain of the term is “to do, fashion, accomplish, make” – and this is not the only place where this is said, of course. Isa 46:10 says ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’ The word for “good pleasure” is חֵפֶץ – delight, pleasure, with the further connotation of “desire”. Thus, it can be established that that which God desires, is that which is accomplished. It is no solution to assert that there is a “desire” which does not rise to the level of “volition” – as God is eternal, and thence is to be seen as eternally frustrated in His desire. This is no fitting view of God. While I appreciate the work that John Piper has done for the kingdom, and his faithfulness as a shepherd – he is simply wrong on this issue of God and desire.

  1. [1]Pirke Abot, c. 3. sect. 2.
  2. [2]Bartenora in Pirke Abot, c. 3. sect. 2.

There are the Jehovah’s Witness claims that the entire Christian church has always been wrong about, well, almost everything. Except for those few ECFs they could massage into some sort of superficial agreement, of course. Mormonism likewise asserts that all churches ceased to be true churches rather quickly following Christ’s ascension. Islam, with it’s idea of scriptural supercessionism and their revisionist version of what the Scriptures actually are, or taught, have a similar view of Christianity as a whole. It’s much the same with any other warmed-over historical error – be they large, as the wholesale replacement religions seen above – or be they smaller, specific, targeted errors like conditionalism/annihilationism, with their aberrant views within anthropology and eschatology.

In both cases, the assertion is made that despite the fact that we are told the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church, in Matthew 16:18 – they did in fact, prevail in some specific sense – be that in a wholesale fashion, or in a specific area. In the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is some attempt to try to support their claims from the ECFs (failing miserably upon any detailed examination), but in the case of Mormonism, there is usually the flat assertion that the church was essentially defeated entirely for 1700 years or more. Islam’s claims are far more modest, despite the more militant nature of the religion as a whole. In the specific case we’re addressing, the assertion is made that the church, in a practically universal fashion, has lost entirely what is supposed to be meant by “Hell” – and we must “rethink” Hell to somehow recover the original beliefs as taught in the Scriptures, but were “hijacked” by one or more foreign belief systems. Your mileage may vary. Sure, there are books like “The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers” – but like any other book of this kind, the assertions therein are quite similar to those made by the Arians, the Pelagians, the Romanists, the Socinians, or the Landmarkers; “There have always been people who believed what we believed!” Athanasius addressed such claims, as did Augustine, and their respective counterparts throughout church history, defending the Christian faith. Whether we are dealing with the trail of blood, the trail of Racovian models of theology, the trail of Papal authority, the recurrence of Pelagianism, or even of Arianism, there is always recourse made to either “brave dissenters” throughout history, when it is clear that their position was not that of the universal church, or in the case of positions like that of Romanism, that it was always the majority view – even at times when their church did not exist as the current entity – such as during its period as a multiple-elder ruled body – which can be quite an interesting subject of study, incidentally.

Similarly, volumes such as “The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers” try to recruit early church fathers, or famous figures to their cause, and then proceed to ransack the annals of church history for any and every viewpoint that could possibly accord with their position in some fashion. What is also tiptoed around, at least in some evangelical circles, is that Froom himself is a Seventh-Day Adventist. Although considered by many in the general evangelical community to be “orthodox” – is considered to be “unorthodox” by many in the conservative side of that community, and to be a cult by a significant minority. This cannot be de-emphasized when the appeal is so often made to the “Protestant” heritage of the SDAs. Even Fudge’s book does a bit of “recruiting” in the ECFs, and it’s essentially a topical overview of the subject, if not from an SDA perspective, but a (generally) Church of Christ background. What isn’t clearly depicted, however, is that they are pulling a few dozen or so names from a cast of hundreds of thousands of historical writers, and that those who share their position are typically the only ones who think many of these ECFs were saying anything of the sort. What is even more often neglected is that many, if not most of their supporting cast they appeal to beyond the ECFs were themselves members of a great variety of historical heresies – where there were bigger fish to fry when dealing with their various problematic theological positions. For instance – do you address the Socinian adherence to an Arian view of Christ first, or their aberrant view of Hell? Quite obviously, the answer is the former. When dealing with heresies, you must do triage. When you address Millerites – what do you deal with first? It’s not quite as simple as “this has never been addressed before” – it’s also not quite as simple as “conditionalism hasn’t had a thorough response,” either. Conditionalism as distinct from other heretical views is a fairly recent phenomenon. How does this matter?

As has long been recognized by theologians, positions are refined and obtain precision through apologetic engagement. Christology was refined by Arianism’s challenges, and the challenges of Docetism and Nestorianism at Nicaea, First Ephesus and Chalcedon. Trinitarianism has always been refined by challenges from Unitarianism, the nature of man’s slavery to sin refined by the challenges from Pelagianism and it’s natural heirs, and, of course, Justification was given elegant refinement by the Reformation’s disputes with Romanism. Apologetic encounters with the challengers to orthodoxy is nothing new, nor is it original with the modern church. In fact, it is something that has always served as tempering for our doctrinal steel. What must be remembered is that Conditionalism and the oft-resulting Annihilationist credo is nothing new to the annals of the church’s apologetic encounters, either. What makes it an interesting study is the frequent pairing it seems to have with other heretical views. Compared to the denial of the deity of Christ the Socinians made, their ideas concerning conditionalism seem rather trivial in comparison. Unitarian denials of eternal damnation seem rather mild in comparison to their denials of the Trinity, similarly.

It should be noted, however, that the idea of an otherwise “orthodox” conditionalist or annihilationist is a rather modern conception. Why is this the case? Even granting Pinnock’s claim, for the sake of argument, that the belief in eternal damnation was fixed in the 6th century, that leaves how much of church history with practically every adherent to Christianity with no earthly idea what the Bible teaches about Hell? Such an argument proves entirely too much for even the “general evangelical” to stomach when seen in those terms. The resort to “traditionalism” as the favored explanation for this practically universal ignorance smacks entirely too much of the revisionist histories of the LDS and the Watchtower. Church history does not allow us such ghastly, lasting rents in the fabric of historic orthodoxy. Even in the Roman communion there was always the Pauline/Augustinian emphasis on Sola Scriptura in at least some fashion – as well as the persistent, recurrent witnesses to justification by faith, and the persistent, nagging memory of days in the history of the church where one bishop could not set himself up above the rest. The Roman version of church history simply does not accurately portray what actually transpired – and neither does the conditionalist version of events in church history.

One reason that there has been fairly little in response to the conditionalist case in church history is that there is no distinctive conditionalism in church history, even as we see it in chiefly centered in today’s modern Anglicanism, General Baptists, and the doctrinal descendants of certain strains of Millerism. Anglicanism and the Particular Baptists churches had a serious bout of trouble with Unitarianism/Socinianism that they have never fully recovered from. The Presbyterians and Particular Baptists contemporary with the English Unitarians (often called Socinians) went to great lengths to address this movement, as we should expect from the doctrinal heirs of the Reformation; but Anglicanism and the General Baptists did not fare nearly as well. Anglicanism fared far better than the General Baptists – who were all but destroyed by the inroads of Unitarian influence, and are effectively scattered wholesale into other groups – but the influences are still seen to the present day, despite their attempts to curb that influence. In the Americas, the Millerite movement, born of disaffected members of a number of denominations, spawned a great number of sects which show a distinct influence of the conditionalist influences – which I submit to you is due to the leavening of General Baptist and Methodist Anglican thought in the Millerite movement, the descendants of which have elements scattered throughout more mainstream channels of evangelicalism. Members of the Millerite movement with conditionalist stances also influenced Russell, the founder of the Bible Student movement, which became the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The fracturing of the Millerite movement is complicated and laborious to track – but there are common themes to be seen throughout, if you take the time to do so.

In summary, you will notice that there has not been a distinctly “otherwise orthodox” conditionalist movement until very recent times. When a particular subject is made the center of controversy, that is when the apologetic response is most fully brought to bear. Since it is a thoroughly Biblical picture, let’s use some military references to illustrate what we mean. When a front is not central to, but peripheral to the the main theatre of warfare, the troops assigned to that front are sufficient to “hold the line” in skirmishes. The more pressure that is brought to bear on that front, the more troops are assigned to it, and the more attention is given to the defense of that area. Far from demonstrating that we need to “rethink Hell” – the lack of a thoroughgoing apologetic response in church history demonstrates most clearly that there has not been much of an assault made on this position. When not coupled with other heretical views more in need of a response, there has been vanishingly little historical “push” on the topic of Hell. My prediction, hope and prayer is that the desire of modern annihilationists to make this subject a central focus will have the effect it has always had in the history of the church – to cause the opposite of their intent in bringing that sequence of events about. There will not be a “rethinking” of Hell – but a “refinement” of the historic doctrine which more clearly and more precisely outlines the Scriptural teaching on the subject, and again vindicates the Scriptural promise that the church will not be left rudderless, or the Spirit without a witness to the truth, and the Scriptures without right division. A lack of precision on a subject has never been a sign of a lack of orthodox agreement – it has been a sign of a quiet front, on the whole. Such is the history of apologetic disputation, and as such we can be confident that this historical sequence will transpire yet again. It is whenever orthodoxy gets pushed that there is a cohesive, controlled, and coordinated response to that push. I hope that the annihilationists do push the way they say they will. That’s what engenders the responses that improve precision and detail.

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