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

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

On Old Earth Presuppositions

I was struck, this morning, by Jamin’s article, also reposted to AOMin. Let me explain. I’m in agreement with Jamin 99% of the time – I even contributed to his book – “The Portable Presuppositionalist”. However, there are some statements in this article that I’d like to address. He has been dialoguing via email to Fred Butler, of Hip and Thigh, and decided to share his recent response as a blog post. In this article, he has the following statement:

We can calculate some numbers back to Adam, and that’s pretty cool. But that in no way results in “inerrancy and old earth creationism can never mix.” Again, must we really take the lead of Morris, Hovind, Ham, Chaffey, and others on the old-earth debate just because they had some good things to say instead of thinking more critically and realizing that the age of the earth just is not a hill worth dying on?

When I examined the article a bit closer, I noticed a few issues.

In his response concerning the uniqueness of the Genesis account, I read this:

A. The primary (e.g. most explicit and obvious) internal structure of the book is the Toledoth formula – “these are the generations of” …, which is mentioned 11 times from 2:4 to the end of the book. This heading not only “indicates a historical impulse” (Introduction to OT, 54), but it encapsulates the whole book into one category…except Gen 1, which is the only chapter in the book not to have this introduction. … Gen. 1 is unique in that respect.

B. The only citation of Gen 1 in the NT is of man being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27 in Matt 19 and Mark 10), a strongly theological point; there is no reference to chronology of Gen 1 in any of the NT, and (as far as I remember) any of the OT. Instead, Genesis 1 has some other literary features and “Hebrew parallelism”:

Maybe I’m missing something… but wouldn’t it be a bit tough to have the Toledoth formula in the chapter where the progenitors of those generations are created? It reminds me (forgive me!) of the argument that is often presented in regards to the period of enscripturation of the NT. It is, by it’s nature, an exception – which leads me to the next point.

Maybe, again, I’m missing something – but isn’t there another formula in Genesis 1 that is inherently chronological? “And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day.” That would seem to me the formula that binds this together, and makes it a chronological account, all at once.

But it is to say that if we have a question specifically about chronology, Gen. 2 would probably be the first place we should go, and if we have a general question about theology and the origins of all things – from birds to water – we should probably go to Gen. 1.
So, those are a couple of “the ways” I was referring to, and this is why I am hesitant to say “I’m a literal 24-hr 6-day young earth creationist” even though much of what I believe falls into that camp.

As pointed out above, I think that we’re forgetting something very important here. Morning, evening, day. The context for “day” is clearly presented, by “morning and evening”. So I’m not hesitant to subscribe to my confession at all in the matter of 6-day creationism.

The genealogies provide a reliable chronological line that ruins any assertions of an old man, for the people are the concern of the genealogies, not the earth. Granted, there is a link between people and events in history and areas of the earth, etc., but, again, the primary purpose of genealogies are to show who lived when and from what persons they came. And, you seemed to have missed what I said about time itself being created during the creation account, and how there are countless assumptions about the time-space continuum that we bring to the table when making arguments about time and creation.

Well, for the first point, obviously I agree. That’s really not the point of an OEC, however – a TE, yes, but not an OEC. As for the second – of course people are the focus of genealogies – but the chapter in question is what is the *foundation for* those genealogies. Which really points out the central reason I’m writing this. My concern is for two things. First, whether or not we are examining this with Biblical presuppositions. Second, whether or not we are *truly defending Christianity as a system*, or “as a unit” – NOT in “block house” fashion. My concern is that we are *overlooking* the presuppositions that OEC brings to Scripture, as well as *failing to see* the presuppositions *in* Scripture at this very point. As to the time issue – I think the above also solves that issue. We’re talking days. Evening, morning. Day. God created time, obviously, but finitude requires it – so, as creation begins, time, at that instant, begins.

The next section is where the rubber hits the road for me.

But I challenge you and other Christians to think more clearly about what is more significant; the war we wage is not the age of the earth because there’s no clear, direct line being crossed. Not only is the science under debate, but the Christians of the OT and NT would be rather baffled about how the age of the universe is so central to defending the faith. But, they would, however, give birth to a royal conniption if someone told them “man came from animals and they’re still made in God’s image.”

I would disagree on several points here. First, we’re being given a choice – the age of the earth, or man came from animals, and they’re still made in God’s image. Second, we are told there is no clear line being crossed. Third, I haven’t mentioned a word about science yet, in my response. Fourth, this is a modern debate in this particular context.

First: Is it our goal, as Covenantal Apologists, to argue on this level? Don’t we have to look at the *presuppositions underlying the assertion*? Here’s the deal – and this is where I want the reader to pay attention, if they’ve been on cruise control thus far. The underlying presupposition of *both* Theistic Evolution and Old Earth Creationism is that autonomous man is the primary authority on matters of empirical/natural science. There is no reason that I can see to assert an old earth, whatsoever, apart from naturalistic assumptions. The same assumptions, I’d assert, that are *more consistently* applied by the TE advocate, and even more consistently by a secular naturalist. The assertion is human autonomy, and it regulates the pages of Scripture.

“The relation between science and Scripture is not one of synthesis between two tentative theories; rather, it must be one of subordination. If science is not subordinate of Scripture, then Scripture must be subordinate to science and science itself will be autonomous. If science is independent of revelation, then nature must be assumed to be self-sufficient and containing in itself the principles for its own interpretation. Thus God is either identified with nature (the error of pantheism) or is shoved out of the picture altogether (the practical result of deism). Either God is God, or science deifies itself.”

~Greg Bahnsen

While Van Til notes, of course, that unbelievers are “in principle” autonomous, while believers “in principle” think God’s thoughts after Him; in practice, we are inconsistent. What we’re seeing here is either more or less “in practice” denial of the principles of believers – in favor of the practical adoption of autonomous principles. In this area – and remember, we defend Christianity as a unit – they have atomized their position, and are standing on enemy ground in their examination of Scripture. Since this is the case – be it severe, in the case of the unbelieving evolutionist, great, in the case of a theistic evolutionist, or small, in the case of an Old-Earther, the principle is the same. The extent of consistency to be found is the difference we see here.

Second, the line is clear, and has been crossed. The line, however, is not the age of the earth, it is the dividing line between man’s theology and God’s. In one case, we are affirming that the earth is relatively young, because we have the history of that relatively young earth in our hands, in the Scriptures. In the second, we have naturalistic principles being used as the “colored glasses” through which we see the world. We have God as center, and we have man as center – I would respectfully submit that the central issue is one of presupposition – and that brings OEC into a light other than that presented in this article.

Third, the problem is the naturalistic assumptions which underpin the desire of the OEC advocates to *adhere to this stance in the first place*. The desire is, as Bahnsen pointed out earlier, to “synthesize” science and Scripture. What ends up happening, however, is that Scripture is *subordinated to* science. This is, as I’ve pointed out, the *same presuppositional issue* found in TE. The difference is in their level of consistency.

Fourth, would Jamin make this same argument concerning the ECFs not addressing later controversies? Since this is a modern argument, we won’t find it addressed in history in the context we are in today. Every generation has it’s own apologetic context in which it has to give an answer – and, as I’ve argued, the central issue is *the* central issue of our apologetic and the theology from which it springs – who God is, and what He has revealed about Himself and His creation. Is our view on this subject God-centered or man-centered? A subject similar was addressed by Augustine, as has been argued ad nauseum elsewhere thus won’t be detailed here, but it was not the same context at all.

And that is, indeed, the true line that is being crossed with theistic evolution, and as such, it is where our attention should be directed. The BioLogos forum needs to be held accountable not for their standard evolutionary view of the age of the earth, but for their anti-Christian view of God’s images. Even though some more popular apologists, thinkers, and Christians are finally waking up to the sheer absurdity of this primary thesis of BioLogos, I am still surprised more Christians aren’t as upset and aren’t more proactive in trying to set up a moderated debate with someone from the BioLogos Forum over this issue.

Here’s where I’d like to point out that the line being set is a bit arbitrary. I agree that the problem is not the age of the earth – but once again, I think this article has mistaken the correct focus of the debate. It is not on the age of the earth – but on the presuppositions underlying our position on the age of the earth. The image of God in man is our point of contact with the believer, yes? Well, since when are we saying it’s satisfactory to give into the presupposition that naturalism can be the interpretive grid by which we exegete Scripture? The extent of consistency to that position is less than the TE would go, true – but is it not the same presupposition? When we say that man’s autonomy, presuppositionally, is the root – we can, to some extent, “prioritize” – but I don’t see the root issue as anything other than the same root issue of Arminianism, evidentialism, or other topics we’re more than happy to address, and spend a great deal of time in so doing. Van Til, as I’m sure Jamin knows, spent an extensive amount of time tracing down autonomy as the root for a great number of issues – and this fits that pattern like a glove.

Here’s a great illustration from Van Til. If they are, as I claim, embracing autonomy on this point – “…the… apologist would not be in a position to wipe out any of the signs that point in the wrong direction. An… apologist meeting the natural man as both stop at one of the service stations is in a strange predicament. Since he is a Christian, he should really speak to the natural man about the fact that he is following the wrong signs. But since he himself holds to a measure of autonomy for man, and since this undermines his own belief in creation, he can at best say to his friend that is it doubtful which signs are right. Then as far as his “neutral” apologetic method is concerned, … in the interest of getting his friend to go in the right direction, admits that the signs that point in the wrong direction are right. He himself goes in the wrong direction for some distance too with the natural man. He fully agrees with the natural man when together they start on their wrong course, and he still fully agrees on the way to the city of destruction. Then suddenly he puts on the brakes and turns around, expecting his friend will do the same. Thus in the whole business he has dishonored his God (a) by practically admitting that his revelation is not plain and (b) by himself running away from God in his interpretation of natural revelation and in his subjection of supernatural revelation to the illegitimate requirements of the natural man.” (Defense of the Faith, pg 135)

Just to note something interesting – and a bit providential – just moments before the link to this posted in #pros, I was reading an article on Justin Taylor’s blog touting Tim Keller’s “Reason for God” DVD. Nic had posted a comment related to whether or not something Dr. Keller said in that trailer was a violation of the myth of neutrality. We were discussing that issue, and I was posting a comment to Dr. Keller right then. Like you, I would be glad to see a debate with BioLogos – but I’d also like to see a more presuppositional tack – and heat – applied to the OEC position, as well. He replied, incidentally, and my response was to ask him whether his naturalistic presuppositions were capable of providing him a consistent position from which to defend.

While I understand your approach to priority, I disagree with the emphasis. I’m concerned with the presuppositions they are bringing to the table by embracing OEC; since, as I’ve argued, they are the *same* presuppositions the naturalist, be they secular or theistic, bring to the table. As you and I both know, inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument – my intent here was to point out that the same root issue is beneath OEC that is under Arminianism, Roman Catholicism, Evidentialism, and a host of other man-centered movements and positions – autonomy. Thank you for your patience in looking through my response.

~RK

Addendum: I’ve had one criticism thus far, and they say about my post, “it reads like a criticism of Hubner over Old Earth creationism”. While it is, in a sense, it’s a criticism of his position concerning challenging said OEC position. The criticism is of OEC, yes – but to point out how it’s presuppositions are the same as TEs, just not taken as consistently – and that, in order to point out that it should be critiqued on the same basis as TE. Whatever view the critique’s author holds (and he doesn’t say, other than to tell us that this doesn’t apply to him), he is left with the same dilemma as always. He can say that man is old – which Jamin specifically rebuts: “The genealogies provide a reliable chronological line that ruins any assertions of an old man, for the people are the concern of the genealogies, not the earth.” Or, he can appeal to “days” not being “days” (which seems to be his tack, given this quote: “the age of mankind and the age of the earth are not the same thing”). In that case, I refer him to the confession he claims to subscribe to, which specifically states that “In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible,in the space of six days, and all very good.” I don’t see how he escapes the dilemma of subverting Scripture’s statement that creation was in 6 days, save by the presupposition of naturalistic presuppositions. He says that is not what he has – and says that he does subordinate science to Scripture – but how do you do such a thing when Scripture *says otherwise*? In any case, I note that he accedes to my argument, as stated, and as directed. “For those Old Earth creationists who do this (and I think that the majority of them do; e.g., Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe), the criticism Whipps raises is spot on.”

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