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.

As I stated in a previous post:

[W]e must see that only those with adequate preparation should be engaging unbelievers. Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord. Paul, of course, had intensive training as a Pharisaical student – but even that did not suffice, did it? He spent 3 years being “taught of God” before he began his ministry – interestingly, roughly the same amount of time the other Apostles spent with Christ. I’m not trying to say we should all go be desert dwellers of some sort – or that we are all called to be seminarians, either. What I am saying, however, is that we cannot neglect an intensive, intentional course of study in the foundations of our faith, if we are to be apologists. This is not negotiable. In order to defend the faith, we must know what we believe, and be unshakably convinced of the truth of what we know before we are involved in ministry of this sort. Apologetics is no ministry for neophytes. The Christian life is likened to warfare, in Ephesians and elsewhere. Front-line troops are experienced, well-trained soldiers. They know precisely where they fit into the ranks, what their duties are, and have undergone systematic training in the art of war. No soldier learns his trade by osmosis. His trade is soldiery. Soldiers are trained; so must we be. This training is primarily not in the assemblage of arguments, philosophical justifications, or evidenciary studies. Those of you who are in the military; where did your training start? It started with the discipline a soldier required. Next, it moved to the care and operation of your equipment. Then, training moves to the proper movements of troops, of which you are a part.[1]

Here’s exactly what I was talking about.

Superficiality is not what we are called to. A large amount of Bahnsen’s lectures is not what we’re called to. I have a great many of Bahnsen’s lectures. So what? Is that the central focus? Having an extensive library of Van Til is not it, either. I have an extensive library of Van Til – but that’s not my prized set of books, as much as I enjoy them, and as much as I have learned from him. My prized (and most-referenced) books are Calvin’s and Gill’s theologies. When I reference Van Til, it’s typically to show that he was, in fact, pointing us to the same aspects of theological study that those men spoke of. The title of this gentleman’s blog is “Apologetics with a Hammer” – might I suggest an instrument with a bit more delicacy is more appropriate to the task? There’s a reason that we do things the way that we do, and with the approach we have in doing so. As a student of military history and strategy, let me say this, in closing. There is a significant difference between charging off alone directly at an enemy stronghold, and doing in the company of a great force, arrayed in precisely the correct configuration to encircle, besiege and successfully assault that structure. When you play “lone ranger” apologetics, when you do so without reference to the Scriptural methodology of spiritual warfare, you are asking for a resounding defeat. In any case, that’s all I have to say about the subject.

  1. [1]So, You Think You’re a Presuppositionalist?

Thoughtful Young Men

How often have we heard an excuse for heresy made out of the desire to impress “thoughtful young men”! Young men, whether thoughtful or otherwise, are best impressed by the gospel, and it is folly to dream that any preaching which leaves out the truth is suitable to men, either old or young. We shall not quit the Word to please the young men, nor even the young women. This truckling to young men is a mere pretence; young men are no more fond of false doctrine than are the middle-aged; and if they are, there is so much the more necessity to teach them better. Young men are more impressed by the old gospel than by ephemeral speculations. If any of you wish to preach a gospel that will be pleasing to the times, preach it in the power of the devil, and I have no doubt that he will willingly do his best for you. It is not to such servants of men that I desire to speak just now. I trust that, if ever any of you should err from the faith, and take up with the new theology, you will be too honest to pray for power from God with which to preach that mischievous delusion if you should do so, you will be guilty of constructive blasphemy. No, brethren, it is not our object to please men, but our design is far nobler. – Charles Spurgeon

Just for fun

One of the disadvantages of having an eclectic position is that you might be the only one who holds that position, and the first to use the words you use. Case in point:

“be slaughtered, never to live again”

“lifeless, unconscious corpses”

Reminiscent of StrongBad:

“For death metal, you have to scream from the bowels of your lungs; words like decay, deranged, decrepit,and… um, deloused.”

“Creeping, rusty, meat. Truly the heart and soul of all death metal.”

lol…

Propitiation, Wrath, and Substitution

What is propitiation? That was one of the central elements of the Reformation of doctrine, and one of the most problematic issues in the modern Evangelical movement today. It has to do with many, many areas of theology, and we can’t possibly cover them exhaustively in a single blog post. But in a nutshell, what is it? In a nutshell, it is the “turning away of,” “appeasement” or “satisfaction for” the wrath of God due sinners. It is, therefore, intimately bound up to our notion of what the wrath of God actually is. It is bound up with sacrifice, atonement, substitution, holiness, sin, and many, many other subjects – to include the attributes of God, as we’ve already noted. With it having such a central place in our theology, the smallest misstep will have far-reaching consequences throughout.

If we are to talk about the wrath of God, are we to speak of it as something incidental to God, or as an attribute of God? It surely cannot be something incidental to Him. It is something He is said to possess; “My wrath”[1], and it is just as often called the “wrath of God”, or “of the Lord”. It is said to be magnified by the frequent use of modifiers such as “great”. God’s name is great, His power and strength is great, He is great in mercy, lovingkindness, and holiness. All of these likewise belong to God, and are affirmed of Him, then so must Wrath belong to God, and be affirmed of Him. It is one of His attributes.

If, as we have seen, it is an attribute of God, then it must be addressed per Divine Simplicity. Under Divine Simplicity, the wrath of God is omnipotent, immutable, eternal, sovereign, just, a se, infinite and holy.

Further, it must also be noted that it is not the natures of Christ that were our substitute, it was the Person of Christ – namely, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. If we are to say that He was our substitute, we must say that it was the God-man that was our substitute. We must also note the connection with this being the case alongside the nature of the wrath of God. Gill:

Eternity it not of the essence of punishment; and only takes place when the person punished cannot bear the whole at once: and being finite, as sinful man is, cannot make satisfaction to the infinite Majesty of God, injured by sin, the demerit of which is infinite punishment: and as that cannot be bore at once by a finite creature, it is continued ad infinitum; but Christ being an infinite Person, was able to bear the whole at once; and the infinity of his Person, abundantly compensates for the eternity of the punishment.

Let me add a few more notes, here. Gill, above the quote given here, notes

that Christ was ‘put to death in the flesh;’ as the apostle expresses it (1 Pet. 3:18), that is, in the body; that only suffered death; not his soul, that died not; but was commended into the hands of his divine Father: nor his Deity, or divine nature, which was impassible, and not capable of suffering death; and yet the body of Christ suffered death, in union with his divine person; hence the Lord of glory is said to be crucified and God is said to purchase the church with his blood (1 Cor. 2:8; Acts 20:28). And the death of Christ, as the death of other men, lay in the disunion of, or in a dissolution of the union between soul and body; these two were parted for a while; the one was commended to God in heaven; the other was laid in the grave: but hereby he was not reduced to a state of non-existence, as say the Socinians; his soul was with God in paradise; and his body, when taken from the cross, was laid in a sepulchre, and where it saw no corruption.

We cannot say that only one nature of Christ suffered, or we 1) Deny the union of Christ’s natures as expressed in Scripture, and formulated at Chalcedon, or 2) Deny, at least potentially, that Christ was our actual substitute, in His Person; we also cannot say that both natures suffered in the same fashion, however, at risk of 1) Denying the nature of God as immutable, impassible, eternal, and immaterial or 2) Violate the Creature/Creator distinction hypostatically. The Divine nature is immutable, impassible, immaterial, and eternal; hence not subject to the decay and corruption of death. It was, however, that one infinitely Divine Person who suffered the wrath of God. Not both natures alike, but both natures in union, and in concert, according to their nature. What the simply human cannot suffer immediately, the Divine Person, as Gill notes, did. Not equally in both natures, as the natures are not equal. This is a very, very complex subject, and we cannot treat it lightly. We cannot, on the one hand, attribute too much to mystery if it has, in fact, been revealed; but we cannot, on the other hand, speculate on things not revealed, and call them as such, if they are mysteries – so we must toe a very precise line. We must do so carefully, reverently, and studiously, lest we either take too much upon ourselves, or not enough.

It was not merely one nature which took the wrath of God upon Himself; else, we would be throwing out Chalcedon just as easily as Fudge does, if from a different perspective. We must ask ourselves – what was the point of it being the God-man who came if it was only the human nature which was under that wrath? We must also face the theological implications of passages such as “Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” Only with a full-orbed Christology, a full-orbed Theology Proper, a full-orbed Anthropology and a full-orbed Soteriology can we have a full-orbed Eschatology. The one demands all of the others. A lack of concentration on theology as an organic, cohesive whole spells disaster for our theology, and the apologetic which flows from it.

This outpouring of the Wrath of God against sinners is something which must be addressed if we are to speak of the propitiation for those sinners, or of Christ’s substitution for those sinners. What it was that was suffered is intrinsic to our idea of propitiation. The nature of the God-man is something that cannot be overlooked if we are to deal with his propitiatory sacrifice on the behalf of his people. The nature of substitution, in a precise manner, is also something we cannot pass over. In short, this further shows that a modification of one element of CT has a great, if not catastrophic, effect on the rest of our theology and doctrine, if we see that doctrine as it truly is – an organic whole.

  1. [1]2Ki 22:17, 2Chr 12:7, Psa 2:12, 6:1, 76:10, 78:38, 102:10, 106:23, Isa 34:2, 48:9, 60:10, 63:3,5,6, Jer 4:4, 7:20, 21:12, Eze 5:13, 6:12, 7:14, Hsa 5:10, 13:11,

I really have to ask…

Why on earth does anyone still use blogspot blogs?

The interface stinks, the comment platform is terrible, it can’t do trackbacks to save its life, and the “plugins” are laughable. Why on earth would you use it? It’s mystifying to me.

For a Theology Conference…

This seems to be a little light on “theology”.

Read through the list of speakers and topics. How much theology do you see in that speakers list? Tim Tebow? Uh. Not exactly a theologian, kids. Tony Boselli? Uh. Alvin Brown? Uh. Mike Licona? Something tells me, given his typical presentation, that it won’t be much about theology. Hank H.? As much as I’m sure people love him – he’s no theologian. Folks – if you’re going to call it a theology conference, invite theologians.

My favorite part of the survey: “Would you pay a $75 registration fee for 2 3-hour debates, 4-6 panel discussions, several ministry presentations, extraordinary worship music, and celebrity meet & greets and book signings?”

Yes, that’s exactly what a theology conference should be.

Issues resolved

The recent issues with redirects, et al should be resolved. Sorry about the inconvenience.

Wellum’s faculty address at SBTS

Apparently, this address didn’t pass muster in SBC politics. Since I’m not SBC, here it is. I think it’s pretty good, myself 😉

“What does the Extent of the Atonement have to do with Baptist Ecclesiology: an Experience of Doing Theology.”

In case anyone was wondering, I got it last week from another blog that posted it. That blogger is SBC, I’m not. So there you go.

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