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Interacting with a Moral Government Theologian

August 22, 2008

Note: The following is a detailed response that I recently offered to a newfound acquaintance that holds to a heresy called Moral Government Theology (hereafter MGT). MGT is a real theological mess. It affirms Open Theism, denies mankind’s solidarity with Adam, and adamantly promotes sinless perfectionism. There’s more theological error inherent in MGT, but those three tiers are the major heretical roots in the system that everything else flows from. I take this fellow to task pretty hard on his Openness views by reducing his position to absurdity by demonstrating that he is inconsistent with his own hermeneutic and thus should either (1) reject Open Theism on his own hermeneutical standards or (2) become consistent in his interpretations and start viewing God as a “big chicken man” with literal arms, wings, eyes, nostrils, etc.

I post this because it would be good to be familiar with MGT in general and open theism specifically if you have never wrangled with them before.

Hi XXX,

As to the various issues related to sinless perfectionism and our corporate solidarity with Adam, please take a look at a few short articles I wrote here, here, and here. These short articles were written in response to a kind fellow that, as far as I can tell, held to some very similar views that you do regarding the relationship of Adam’s sin to our own as well as sinless perfectionism. We had a charitable discussion and I enjoyed interacting with him even though we still disagreed.

As to the issue of holding to Open Theism, I think that this doctrinal position paints a picture of a different god, and not the God of the Bible. Frankly, this is the biggest concern I have with your theology. I too believe that God knows all that can be known; however a sharp distinction must be drawn here as I believe this includes all things, past, present, and future (Job 37:16; Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 46:10; John 2:24-25; 16:30; 21:27; 1 John 3:20). However, there’s more. Several passages tell us that God not only knows everything about everything that is, but He also knows everything that could be but is not. He knows all possible worlds even though He chose not to actualize those possibilities as part of His plan for His creation. These are things that were not planned to happen but would have happened had God planned the events of the universe differently (cf. Matthew 11:21-23). So, to say that not everything can be known, I believe causes the Scripture to contradict itself; However, I believe that this is impossible because I believe that Scripture is infallible. Because my time is limited, lets look at your reference to Genesis 22:12, which states, “He said, ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.'”

The question before us is whether God literally did not know what Abraham’s response would be until Abraham made it. Most Open Theists I’ve interacted with will say something like, “The verse has no clear meaning if God was certain that Abraham would fear him before he offered up his son.” Then, they will cite several other Old Testament passages where God tests Israel “to know” whether they would fear God and serve Him. Then it is assumed that these passages cannot be reconciled with the view that God eternally knows exactly what will be in the heart of a person to do.

If we had no other information about God from Scripture regarding His nature and His eternal purposes other than Genesis 22:12 and some of the other passages you listed, then I agree that we would have to grant that these passages seem to teach that God’s knowledge is growing and that God is learning things as history progresses. However, logically speaking, God cannot but know all things as certain, otherwise He would not be “perfect in knowledge” (Job 37:16). If God’s foreknowledge were not eternal, then he must have learned something at some time. And if he learned it, then he must have previously been ignorant of it. If He had been ignorant and learned something, why could He not also forget something after a while? However, I do not believe that God learns or forgets. Does this mean that God did not know for sure what Abraham would do until He saw the raised knife? Does it also mean that God did not know whether or not Abraham feared Him as Genesis 22:12 states? But, the Open theist is presented with a problem because in Openness, God knows all the present completely and totally. If God knows all present things exhaustively, then did God not know the state of Abraham’s heart regarding Abraham’s reverent fear for God? How could He not? 1 Chronicles 28:9 says, “. . . for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts . . .” and Psalm 139:4, “Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all.” Since God continually searches all hearts and presently knows even the intent of the heart, and exhaustively knows what words a man will speak even before the words are on the man’s tongue, then surely He knew what the intent of Abraham’s heart was during the three day journey to the place of sacrifice as well as whether or not Abraham feared Him. Again, He would have known that Abraham feared Him and the test was unnecessary to establish this fact.

It is important to also take note here that Genesis 22:5 says, “Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.'”“He [Abraham] considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.” This is why comparing passage with passage is so important. This is because when you compare Scripture with Scripture, you learn that God must have known that Abraham was completely trusting in the Lord, or else, Scripture cannot be trusted because it contradicts itself. Nevertheless, in Abraham’s case, we have some “behind the scenes” information supplied by the Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures. “He [Abraham] considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type” (Hebrews 11:19). Abraham’s consideration that God is able to raise the dead must have existed before he lifted the knife, or else it would have had no bearing on his decision. For God to literally not know what Abraham would do, He would have had to be lacking knowledge of Abraham’s heart and faith, which the book of Hebrews says motivated Abraham’s obedience. As I’ve already iterated, this view must be rejected based on the clear teachings of Scripture. God is said to know the heart: “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind” (Jeremiah 17:10a). In Acts 15:8 Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son and according to Hebrews 11:19, he expected the Lord to resurrect Isaac.  The important thing to point out here is that in light of the context of Acts 15:8 God is called the “heartknower” in the Greek. In many passages, He is said to judge according to the heart. Since given this passage and other passages of Scripture, God must have known Abraham’s heart, and because Abraham had faith in his heart that God could even raise the dead if necessary per Hebrews 11:19, God must have known what Abraham’s decision would be. Therefore the clear teaching of Scripture demands that we do not take God’s statement, “now I know” to be a literal declaration of previous ignorance but instead as an anthropopathism.

Because I believe that it is not consistent with the rest of Scripture to say that God did not know what was in Abraham’s heart and that God did not know what Abraham would do, we can conclude that God was speaking to Abraham in terms that Abraham was familiar with. This is not at all foreign to the language of Scripture. In Genesis 3:9, after Adam’s sin, God calls to Adam and asks “Where are you?” Are we to say that God did not know where Adam was in the garden? Of course not. To say such would contradict other clear passages that teach God’s omnipresence, such as this one:

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. Psalm 139:7-8

God makes statements often designed to reveal to us a truth that needs to be presented. In fact, God often asks questions of people that He Himself already knows the answer to in order to call people to account (just like I do with my own daughter when she’s done something wrong – i.e., “Do you know what you’ve done?”). In Adam’s case, the “where” has always been understood by classical theists to be dealing with Adam’s spiritual condition, not his physical location because to say otherwise would contradict other clear passages of Scripture that teach God’s omnipresence. In like manner with Abraham’s situation, God is simply relating to Abraham in terms consistent what Abraham would understand, particularly, after event with Isaac on the altar.  It is also important to note that Genesis 22 is rife with types and shadows of the gospel. The Son, Isaac, is offered on wood, on a hill after a three day journey. Jesus, the Son, was offered on wood, on a hill, and was in the grave for three days. In fact, Jesus said in John 8:56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” The day that Jesus is speaking of is the day of Christ’s sacrificial death. God ordained that the gospel be revealed in types and shadows in the Old Testament and Genesis 22 is a great example of this.

In my studied opinion, God is doing two things: (1) God is revealing the gospel in typological form. (2) God is speaking for Abraham’s benefit; that is, it was Abraham who needed to hear that God was acknowledging that Abraham feared Him. The test was not for God, but for Abraham and the words “Now I know” were not for God (since other Scripture says He already knew – 1 Chronicles 28:9), but for the man who needed to hear God affirm his faithfulness. Abraham is a man locked in time and the act of sacrificing Isaac was important prophetically. But it was also important to us as a testimony of a Godlover’s faithfulness to God.

Summary

Thus, in my opinion, the Open Theist position on Genesis 22:12 raises more questions than it answers:

  1. Did God not know the then present condition of Abraham’s heart since God knows all present things exhaustively according to the Open theist position?
  2. Did God not already know that Abraham feared Him per God’s exhaustive knowledge of the present?
  3. God already knew, according to Genesis 22:5, that Abraham expected that God would resurrect Isaac. Did God forget this as He tested Abraham?
  4. Since the Open Theists states that people have libertarian free will, then what guarantee did God have that Abraham will not become unfaithful in the future?
  5. If God doesn’t know for sure that Abraham will be faithful in the future then it means that if Abraham becomes unfaithful, God would have made a mistake. Can we trust a God that makes mistakes?

A Very Important Postscript on Hermeneutics

I realize that after all I have said, that you already have a hermeneutical grid to run my arguments through, for all people do. What I now want to get you to think about is the inconsistent and artificial distinctions made by open theists between anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms. Open theists attack classical theists for not taking the Bible literally and at “face value” when anthropopathisms are used (passions in God, God’s repenting, learning, questioning, changing, etc.). So they adopt a univocal lens with the anthropopathisms and take them hyper-literally, but still inconsistently use an analogical filter with the anthropomorphisms.

So, according to the Open Theist’s hermeneutic, when God is spoken of as repenting, questioning, changing, etc., this is all to be taken at face value one-hundred percent of the time and to suggest otherwise is in their opinion, to manifest a Greek, Hellenistic mindset, as opposed to a Scriptural, Hebraic one.

Yet, a blatant inconsistency becomes evident in the hermeneutic of the Open Theist when God is spoken of as having hands, a mouth, a heart, wings, and as travelling from place to place on cloud, these are to be taken figuratively, metaphorically, and analogically.

I have never read a work by the popular Open Theists Clark Pinnock or Gregory Boyd that has ever given a justifiable reason for taking one set hyper-literally while taking the other metaphorically. Thus, Open theists accuse classical theism of glossing over and ignoring the import of the anthropopathisms, yet they contradict themselves in the next breath when do the very same thing with the anthropomorphisms of Scripture! Thus, the hermeneutic of the Open Theist, even if left unchallenged, even hypothetically granting the distinction they make between mind-statements and body-statements relative to God, still leads to absolute absurdity.

Take for instance Clark Pinnock. He enjoys citing Jeremiah to illustrate divine “openness.” In Jeremiah 32:35 Yahweh states, “They built their high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” Why take this passage just literal enough to allow an “open” view of the future, but not literal enough to say that not only is the future unsettled, but certain things have not even occurred to God? Is this feasible?Take for instance Clark Pinnock. He enjoys citing Jeremiah to illustrate divine “openness.” In Jeremiah 32:35 Yahweh states, “They built their high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” Why take this passage just literal enough to allow an “open” view of the future, but not literal enough to say that not only is the future unsettled, but certain things have not even occurred to God?  Is this feasible?  Does this really mean that the possibility of renewed child sacrifice had never crossed his mind before even as a remote possibility? Unless one is using a classical theist’s hermeneutic, then one of course one must affirm that Yahweh did in fact mean precisely just that.

All of these types of examples are absurd because everyone (except those in the cults) knows that these things are not true of God. However, endless articles have stirred up a tumultuous sound and fury over the repentance passages in Scripture. Yet a principled argument that sets aside one class of statements as anthropomorphic or anthropopathic, and another as “literal” cannot be made. Serious intellectuals in this country are using the “repentance” passages, one metaphor among a myriad of metaphors which, when taken literally, tend to make chaos out of the doctrine of God, to deny that God knows the future.

Can it be more obvious that the only metaphors in Scripture which are taken literally are precisely those metaphors which conveniently uphold the open theist’s agenda of discrediting the notion of exhaustive foreknowledge in order to maintain the philosophical notion of libertarian freedom? That statement was not meant to be pejorative by any means, but based on the Scriptures (the statement to Adam, the tower of Babel, Sodom, Yahweh’s test of Abraham, etc.) as interpreted through by the hermeneutic supplied by the Open Theist, why, should God’s exhaustive knowledge of the present continue to be accepted and believed? Yet no Open Theist has challenged God’s exhaustive knowledge of the present? Why? Because it does not directly threaten the shibboleth of libertarian free-will, which, in their opinion, exhaustive foreknowledge destroys.

As an aside, Clark Pinnock did indeed start to take the plunge into absurdity in his book “The Most Moved Mover” when on page 138 of that book he tentatively puts forward that God indeed has a body of flesh and bones, just like the Mormons teach! At least he’s being consistent; consistently heretical. Thus, this issue is one of the philosophical tail wagging the dog, instead of the philosophy being informed by a rigorous, systematic theology that is guided by a classical, theistic hermeneutic that relies upon the analogy of faith.

Thinking Biblically: An Introduction to Presuppositionalism

August 17, 2008

INTRODUCTION

Paul the apostle was no stranger to dealing with controversy; especially when that controversy was caused by mixing God’s wisdom with man’s wisdom. In 1st Corinthians 1-3, Paul essentially tells the Corinthians three things:

  1. Mixing autonomous human wisdom/philosophy with the Christian gospel destroys the gospel because the two are completely opposed to each other (1:18-21).
  2. The one doctrinal rock-bottom, foundational fact that the church must be built upon theologically is the scandalous message of Christ crucified; which is the very gospel itself (3:11). The church cannot be built upon any other presupposition[1], for any other presupposition results in eventual apostasy.
  3. The doctrine that is used to “build” on the foundation of Christ-crucified must consist of “quality materials”; meaning that solid, high-quality doctrinal truth must be taught to the church so that the church may grow and mature into a healthy body and she must continue to receive this type of healthy spiritual nourishment so as to avoid spiritual disease and death. This means that any human philosophy, ideology[2], or religious dogma that undermines the gospel must be rejected a priori (3:10, 12-15, 18-20).

APPLICATION/TEACHING

We will consider each of these three points in some detail, look at some historical examples of what ignoring them has done to the church, and think about how we can avoid these same traps. But before we do so, we need to talk about what exactly “presuppositionalism” is. Presuppositionalism is a method of Christian apologetics developed by the late Dr. Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) and popularized through the public debates and lectures of one of his former students, the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen (1948-1995). Van Til was Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from its inception in 1929 until he retired in 1975. Presuppositionalism can be defined as follows,

“. . . Van Til’s distinctive approach is ‘presuppositionalism’, which may be defined as insistence on an ultimate category of thought or a conceptual framework which one must assume in order to make a sensible interpretation of reality: ‘The issue between believers and non-believers in Christian theism cannot be settled by a direct appeal to “facts” or “laws” whose nature and significance is already agreed upon by both parties to the debate. The question is rather as to what is the final reference-point required to make the “facts” and the “laws” intelligible. The question is as to what the “facts” and “laws” really are. Are they what the non-Christian methodology assumes they are? Are they what the Christian theistic methodology presupposes they are?” (Defense of the Faith, Philadelphia, 1967).

“Not only to ‘prove’ biblical Christianity but to make sense of any fact in the world Van Til holds that one must presuppose the reality of the ‘self-contained’ triune God and the self-attesting revelation of the Scriptures. From this basis, the redeemed person then reasons ‘analogically’, attempting ‘to think God’s thoughts after him’. This means humans may know reality truly (for God, in whose image they are created, knows it truly), but not exhaustively (for God is infinite and they are finite).

“The presuppositionalist endeavors to convince the unregenerate first by demonstrating that, on unregenerate presuppositions of chance occurrence in an impersonal universe, one cannot account for any sort of order and rationality. Next, he tries to show that life and reality make sense only on the basis of Christian presuppositions.

“Van Til vigorously criticized the traditional apologetic approach of both Catholics and Protestants as failing to challenge the non-Christian view of knowledge, as allowing sinners to be judges of ultimate reality, and of arguing merely for the probability of Christianity.”[3]

With that definition in mind, we will now look at point one.

I. Autonomy versus Theonomy (1 Corinthians 1:18-21).

Because the intellect, emotions, and will of man are corrupted thoroughly by sin, the natural man is characterized by a desire for self-sufficiency and independence from God. This desire can be best characterized by being a law unto one’s self, and he shows this by continually creating philosophies and religions that allow him to live and exist independently of the True and Living God. This means that sinful man will seek to be the judge of what constitutes ultimate reality without reference to what God says about it in His word. This is what it means to be autonomous. Here is a fine example of a sinner who glories in his autonomy:

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”[4]

I appreciate this type of candor because many unbelievers consistently refuse to admit this type of presuppositional bias or ultimate “faith” commitment.[5] Instead, they will say things like, “Christians have faith whereas we have reason”; as if the two are mutually exclusive.[6] In 1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Paul was deriding the Corinthians for doing the same thing modern naturalists are doing; undermining God’s wisdom as revealed in apostolic doctrine by determining that the basic principles for determining what is true and false about wisdom can be found in themselves instead of solely within God’s revelation. They showed their sinful autonomy by undermining the gospel by mixing it with the prevailing philosophy of their day. The Corinthians wanted to take the prevailing autonomous philosophical beliefs and synthesize them with the apostolic message of Christ crucified; a move that would not only cost them their intellects but also their souls should they continue down that road (1:17, 21; 3:19, 17). Paul was calling them back to God’s standards of wisdom as displayed in the cross; he was calling to be theonomic[7] in their thinking; meaning, he wanted them to follow Christ’s Law and standards instead of man’s sinful standards for determining what constitutes ultimate spiritual truth and reality.

In our modern context, the confusion created by starting with man’s autonomous sinful standards for determining what truth is manifests itself in a plethora of ways, especially when it comes to the debate regarding what constitutes ultimate reality: material things only, or material and immaterial things. When one begins with the fundamental presupposition that God has spoken in the Scriptures in Christ’s Law-word, you are left with the only worldview that can consistently allow for immaterial, universal, and abstract things like laws of science, laws of logic, and abstract concepts. For example, when you reject God’s wisdom about creation as revealed in Scripture in favor of the prevailing secular paradigm of our day (i.e., philosophical materialism), you end up holding to a worldview that cannot account for the very things that it uses to argue against Christianity, things like immaterial laws of logic. I’ve reduced several philosophical materialists to absurdity via arguments like these:

Argument One:

  1. Material things are extended in space.
  2. Logical laws are not extended in space.
  3. Therefore, logical laws are non-material.
  4. Materialism posits that non-material entities do not exist.
  5. Therefore, logical laws do not exist.

Argument Two:

  1. Laws of logic are objective, universal entities that apply to all people, places, and times.
  2. Materialism holds that only particular entities have ontological existence.
  3. No material thing is a universal entity.
  4. Logical laws are not material things.
  5. Therefore, logical laws do not exist.

The purpose of both arguments is to show that upon the assumptions of the materialist (i.e., all is matter), they refute themselves. This is because if immaterial logical laws cannot exist upon their own standards, then the materialists cannot use logic to argue against Christianity or else they have to give up their materialism and become Christians in order to be intellectually honest. But they are not going to give up their unbelief so easily. We must continue to press the antithesis between their own assumptions about reality versus how they really behave in the world. Again, materialists must use the immaterial laws of logic every day, especially when attacking Christianity. Therefore, things like immaterial logical laws exist and consequently, materialism is false. Worse, when materialists use the immaterial laws of logic everyday, yet their worldview doesn’t formally recognize immaterial things, they show that they are irrational; the very thing they accuse Christians of being. Usually, they ignore this inconsistency, or modify their original position post hoc without doing what they really need to do: repent of their sins and embrace Christ as Lord and Savior since Christians have the only worldview that can provide the sufficient preconditions for the intelligibility of reality. This brings us to our next point, a discussion of the fundamental presupposition of Christianity: the gospel of Christ crucified.

II. The Fundamental Presupposition of Christianity: The Gospel (1 Corinthians 3:11).

Paul calls the Corinthians to ditch any move towards mixing man’s autonomous wisdom with the wisdom of God as displayed in the cross; for to do so not only nullifies the power of the gospel and the wisdom of God as displayed in the gospel but also brings spiritual disaster (cf. 1:17, 3:11). It is no different today. Consider the fact that if one rejects a literal Genesis in favor of Neo-Darwinian philosophy then this can put them on a slippery slide into unbelief. If we re-interpret God’s Word in Genesis to fit man’s fallible opinion, then ultimately, it would only be consistent to apply this same method of interpretation to Christ’s Resurrection; an absolutely essential part of the gospel (cf. 1st Corinthians 15:3-4, 14, 17-19). A newspaper report confirmed that indeed this is indeed happening: “A growing number of liberal Christians and scholars do not believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.[8] But what could be the ultimate cause of such a slide into unbelief in an area that is so vital and central to the Gospel, as the Resurrection of Christ? I suggest that one of the major reasons is that as people have compromised the book of Genesis with evolutionary humanism and as a result, increasing numbers have started to consistently apply the same method of interpretation to the rest of the Bible. If this is carried out consistently, it will eventually lead to atheism. Listen to what the apostate Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong stated regarding the gospel,

I live on the other side of Charles Darwin. And Charles Darwin not only made us Christians face the fact that the literal creation story cannot be quite so literal, but he also destroyed the primary myth by which we had told the Jesus story for centuries. That myth suggested that there was a finished creation from which we human beings had fallen into sin, and therefore needed a rescuing divine presence to lift us back to what God had originally created us to be. But Charles Darwin says that there was no perfect creation because it is not yet finished. It is still unfolding. And there was no perfect human life which then cor­rupted itself and fell into sin, there was rather a single cell that emerged slowly over 4½ to 5 billion years, into increasing complexity, into increasing con­sciousness.

And so the story of Jesus who comes to rescue us from the Fall becomes a nonsensical story. So how can we tell the Jesus story with integrity and with power, against the background of a humanity that is not fallen but is simply unfinished?[9]

And so, if the Bible is not accepted as true in its history, the Gospel story also comes to be rejected. Atheist Richard G. Bozarth also reflects this same attitude,

Christianity has fought, still fights, and will fight science to the desperate end over evolution, because evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus’ earthly life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin, and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the son of god. Take away the meaning of his death. If Jesus was not the redeemer that died for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is nothing.[10]

If Christ is not raised from the dead, then listen to what atheist biologist William Provine says logically follows,

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear . . . . There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.[11]

If the gospel is not true, then indeed we are above all men the most pitiful; for then the only other option is to embrace man as the supreme authority. If that is the case, then each person can determine what is right and wrong in his or her own eyes (Judges 17:6). This is exactly what mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer did. He lived his life acting consistently with his presuppositions, believing that Neo-Darwinian evolution was the true explanation of history, and therefore, it affected how he lived his life and caused him to have no regard for other people’s lives. He said:

If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing . . .[12]

Paul knew full well why the gospel had to be defended against efforts at combining it with the world’s autonomous philosophy: to do so consistently results in apostasy and spiritual death. This brings us to a common error made by good brothers in the Lord: giving up Jesus in order to defend Jesus.

III. Giving Up Jesus In Order to Defend Jesus: Autonomy in Practice versus Conviction in Mind (3:10, 12-15, 18-20).

The search for certainty has lead philosophers into various ways of answering the questions, “How do we find certainty? Do we need certainty?” and other questions like that. Christians apologists have done two things; the vast majority have done the one and I’m in the small minority that does the other. The vast majority say (1) we let the secular world determine the standards for obtaining epistemic certainty and then we as Christians come along and say “we can meet those standards.” So, we pass the test of those standards, therefore, you can say Christianity is certain. Now, it doesn’t take any sophisticated work in epistemology or logic to see that if that is your general approach, even if you can get to the conclusion that Christianity is certain (and I don’t believe anybody has done that, I mean there’s a whole lot more in-house talking amongst Christians about the certainty of our faith than there is conviction outside), but even if you get to that, you get to it at a very high price because Christianity becomes certain at the cost of what? Something being more certain that it; namely, those standards set by the secular world!

So whenever you have an apologetic system that argues, “You tell me what the standards of truth and certainty are and I’ll meet those standards and then you’ll see Christianity is true” – even if you get to that conclusion, you have to grant to your opponent that there is something of higher epistemic authority; namely, those very standards that have been delivered to you and by which you measured the truthfulness of Christianity.

Now there’s another fatal defect that goes beyond this; which is if you use this approach for defending Christianity, you will also end up saying (if you are consistent) “you don’t need Christianity for your standards.” Christianity at best becomes the conclusion of the system, not the heart of the system. You not only say that Christianity is less certain that those secular standards, you’ll end up indirectly saying that those secular standards make sense on their own. Again, this is another display of autonomy. Remember, something is autonomous when it’s independent, when it’s self-sufficient, when it’s a law unto itself. So, if we prove Christianity is certain by this method, we do so at the cost of granting that secular standards are more certain and that secular standards are autonomous. And, if I were an unbeliever that had some knowledge of philosophy and I realized that these were the implications of the approach I’d say “Even though you’ve proven the resurrection to me, I don’t need Christianity because my standards are sufficient as far as they go. And consequently, Christianity is at best an appendix to my system and not the heart of it. That’s one approach that is taken.

Another approach from a Christian standpoint, is to say, “There can be no certainty regarding anything without first assuming the truthfulness of Christianity.” Now, on that approach, instead of taking one standard that somebody else gives you, showing that you pass that standard, then concluding that Christianity is true, instead you say, “We can take anything in the world that anybody claims to know (i.e., “I know that that’s my car.” “I know that gasoline is combustible at 70 degrees” “I know that rape is wrong.”), anything that a person knows and challenge them to show how they could possibly know it if the Christian worldview were not true. This is really a turning of the tables – we’re saying that there can be no standards without Christianity. There can be no absolute standards, nothing can be known with certainty without the Christian worldview. Of course, that’s a much bolder claim and you can understand why people would shy away from it because it would seem to lead to the conclusion that unbelievers don’t know anything. But that isn’t what it leads to at all, it leads to the conclusion that unbelievers can know a lot of things, they just can’t account for what they know. Again, they can still know many things, but they can’t give an account of what they know. As Cornelius Van Til used to say, “Unbelievers can count, but they can’t account for their accounting.” So, unbelievers know plenty. My unbelieving physical therapy co-workers know a lot about anatomy, exercise physiology and so forth. But, if the Christian worldview were not true, my unbelieving co-workers couldn’t know anything about bones and muscles and couldn’t do their job. So, my unbelieving co-workers have a job in physical therapy not because their worldview is right, but because my worldview is right. Even though they are taking the measurements of joint angles, strength, and cardiac output, it’s only on the basis of a Christian outlook on life that anything makes sense. Science, math, morals, human dignity, or whatever else you can think of has its epistemological root in Christian theism. So, that should give you a heads up as to what Paul is getting at in the first three chapters of 1st Corinthians.

CONCLUSION

Interestingly in Matthew the 7th Chapter, Jesus our Lord teaches a story about the wise man who built his house upon the rock and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. We are all familiar with that story, but we often forget that Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “and My word is that rock.” Christ says that those who are wise build their lives, their outlook, their perspectives, and their worldviews on the rock of Jesus’ word. And those who don’t build their lives on His word are fools! Is it any surprise therefore that in 1 Corinthians 1:25 when Paul goes over his apologetic he says, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:25) For in its own wisdom the world rejects what it takes to be foolish (the preaching of the cross), but Paul says that this is the very wisdom of God; and to reject that wisdom in favor of the world’s wisdom is to end up becoming an intellectual and spiritual fool. So, there are worldviews in collision. That’s the situation right now and it was the situation in the church at Corinth. Today there is the secular worldview, the naturalistic worldview, the existentialist worldview, the relativist worldview, and any number of other options, and they all stand over and against the Christian worldview. How do you begin to defend the Christian worldview? I suggest you begin to defend it by first saying, “You can’t know anything for sure unless Christianity is true.” Or, if I’ve kind of lost you in all the detail, I’m going to put it in one sentence:

The best proof of the Christian God’s existence is that without Him you can’t prove anything.

That’s just a real pointed way of saying that the Christian worldview is indubitable because it provides the preconditions of knowledge and that I take to be the certainty of the Christian faith. Paul and the rest of the apostles knew of no other line of reasoning, for to them, the apostolic revelatory truth of Christianity as found in Scripture was more certain, more sure, and infallible than their own eyewitness experiences (2 Peter 1:16-19).


[1] A “presupposition” is an elementary assumption, foundational commitment, or basic perspective that is used in one’s reasoning that informs the process by which all other opinions are formed.

[2] An “ideology” is “a: a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture b: a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture.” See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ideology

[3] Sinclair B. Ferguson, ed., et al. THE NEW DICTIONARY OF THEOLOGY, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1998), 704-705.

[4] R. Lewontin, Billions and Billions of Demons, New York Review (9 January 1997): p. 31.

[5] Also, take note of scientist S. C. Todd’s presuppositional “faith” commitment to naturalism with this comment, Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.” S.C. Todd, correspondence to Nature 410 (6752):423 (30 September 1999).

[6] The false dichotomy of “faith versus reason” is a post-Enlightment formula that has no basis in Scripture. All people, regardless of their beliefs, have faith in order to be able to reason. The difference is the ultimate, foundational starting points for their faith: the infallible wisdom of God as revealed in Scripture versus man’s fallible and contradictory opinions as displayed in the history of Western philosophy. See also “Culture Wars: Bacon vs. Ham” at http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/181

[7] By using the word “theonomic”, I am not referring here to the school of thought known as Theonomic Reconstructionism, but instead I am making a general reference to the guidance that all believers enjoy by submitting to Christ’s commands as summarized in the New Testament epistles and some parts of the gospels.

[8] Roanoke Times, April 4, 1999, p. A1.

[9] Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV Compass interview with Bishop John Shelby Spong, by Geraldine Doogue, in front of a live audience at the Eugene Groosen Hall, ABC Studios, Ultimo, Sydney, Australia, 8 July 2000. Copied from transcript at , 6 August 2001.

[10] G. Richard Bozarth, “The Meaning of Evolution,” American Atheist, 20 Sept. 1979, p. 30.

[11] William B. Provine, Origins Research 16.1 (1994), 9.

[12] Jeffrey Dahmer, interview with Stone Phillips, Dateline NBC, Nov. 29, 1994.

A Great Example of how “Theology Matters”

August 4, 2008

Dr. James White is one of our favorite apologists. One of his favorite slogans is “Theology Matters”, and boy is he ever right. I can personally testify that Baptist Churches are certainly no strangers to being affected by doctrinal, philosophical, and pragmatic weirdness, and one example of such weirdness that has recently come across my pastoral radar screen has come in the form of a book titled “The Shack”.

After listening to the audio interview with the author of “The Shack” (linked below) and critically perusing through a copy of this book given to me by a friend, I have made the tentative conclusion that the author of this book holds to some permutation of “Christian universalism”, i.e., the belief that a person that believes that all people eventually will be saved through Jesus Christ even though they never repented and believed in Christ in this earthly life. This seems to be what he suggests in his book (p. 225) and it certainly seems that this is the case in the audio interview below.

Now, it is possible that Paul (William) Young is simply doctrinally confused, or hasn’t thought through the implications of what he is saying. There are a lot of folks like this; our churches are full of them. However, if this is what he believes, then his views are heretical, he should be exposed, and the sheep should be warned (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5; 2 Timothy 2:23-25; Titus 1:9; 3:10-11).  If he doesn’t really believe this, then he is simply one of many a confused Christian author that needs to be educated so that he can correct his theology and the doctrinally weird areas of his book in subsequent reprintings because he is confusing the already ignorant mass of evangelicalism; a group of people that do not need to be confused any further. Either way, this book is bad news because it is rife with bad theology (see linked article below for details); which of course, is nothing new to the ever-apostatizing church represented by modern American evangelicalism; especially many Baptist Churches.

Either way, “The Shack” is as great example of how a robust, biblically faithful and historically grounded soteriology, doctrine of atonement, and doctrine of God is so very important.  Again, “Theology matters!”  While the ever creeping effects of postmodernism erode away many people’s confidence in any doctrinal formulation produced by the dead, white, European males of the Puritan era; we stand firm on the fact that God’s good providence has deigned to cause these men of the past to work hard at hammering out what God hath said so that we can avoid offering up another dose of “Strange Baptist Fire”.

The .mp3 audio below is an interview with the author of “The Shack” and the article linked under it is a detailed critical review produced by Christian apologist Matt Slick of Carm.org.

We hope you will benefit from the interview below and Matt’s article that follows.

Apologist Matt Slick Interviews Paul (William)Young, Author of “The Shack”

Slick says in his review,

“The Shack is a popular book in Christian circles, at least at the time this article was written in May of 2008. The Shack is supposed to be the account of a person who spent a weekend with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in a shack in a forest. It is a fictional story1 of Mr. Mackenzie Allen Phillips, written by William P. Young. Mack suffers the horrible loss of his young daughter to a serial killer. Of course, Mack is highly distraught and traumatized. The book is about his “healing” via an encounter with the persons of the Trinity who all three take human form and dialogue with him in this cabin and the surrounding countryside. It is written well enough to be an enjoyable read. It has many positive things to say such as God being loving, that he wants a relationship with us, and that Jesus died for us. That is fine, but this is supposed to be an actual account of what happened to Mack immediately prior to a serious car accident. Okay, so is it true? Let’s take a look.”

Continue here to read the rest of Matt’s article.

A Solemn Warning

August 1, 2008

NOTE: The following article serves as the basis of a message on 1st Corinthians 3:16-17 that was brought to the people of Shepherd’s Fellowship Baptist Church. I hope it blesses you as you read it, for it teaches what the true nature of the church is and that our Sovereign will destroy all those who are bent on destroying her.

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In 1st Corinthians 3:16-17, Paul tells us what the church is and what happens to those who are bent on destroying it through divisions (1:10-3:23). In these verses, he further develops the argument that he was making in verses 9b-15 by describing the kind of building that he and other Christian workers have been erecting, namely God’s temple in Corinth. With this imagery he does two things: (1) he helps the Corinthians understand the nature and significance of their being God’s people in Corinth, and (2) he develops the imagery of judgment used in verses 13-15 and goes on to solemnly warn those who are destroying the church by their factiousness. In these wonderful verses, we will learn what the real nature of the local church is and what God will do to protect it against those who would take Him lightly and destroy His church through worldly wisdom and division.

The Temple of God: The Church of Jesus Christ – 1 Corinthians 3:16

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

  • “Do you not know that you are a temple of God . . . ?” – The word “you” here is plural, indicating that Paul is speaking of the church collectively. The word “temple” is pregnant with meaning, both for Jews and Gentiles. This is because the Old Covenant Jew had a physically locatable space called “the temple” to worship at, where God would come and make himself known to His people (Exodus 25:1-9; 1 Kings 8:1-13). The Gentiles in Corinth were also familiar with “temple” imagery since they were surrounded by pagan shrines and temples. As former pagans, many of them would have frequented the shrines in their city; and sadly, some of them were still in the habit of doing so (cf. 1 Corinthians 8-10). We’ll look now at the latter half of verse 16.
  • “ . . . and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” – Paul is essentially asking the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit resides in you, the church?” It is true that the Spirit of God controls (i.e., indwells) each individual Christian (cf. 6:19), but Paul’s point here is more along the lines of a corporate dwelling. Paul means something like this: “Do you not know that you are the corporate place of God’s dwelling and that when you are gathered in Jesus’ name, you experience the presence and power of the Spirit in your midst?” (cf. 5:4-5) And so, for them the most important thing to remember is that the Spirit is the key to Christian living in the new covenant era and it is His presence in their midst that marks them off as God’s people in Corinth and as such, they provide the only genuine hope and holy alternative to the surrounding pagan world.

A Solemn Warning: God’s Protection of His People – 1 Corinthians 3:17

1 Corinthians 3:17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

  • If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him . . .” – Because of their worldly wisdom, boasting, and factions, some within the Corinthian congregation were quenching the work of the Spirit and in so doing were destroying the only alternative to paganism that God had placed in their city. This is what happens when cliques develop. People cluster themselves around certain people and certain teachings and then segregate themselves from the rest of the congregation. Unity is destroyed, factions are created, and heresy eventually develops as people follow the traditions of men rather than the wisdom of God. God hates this because it destroys the ability for the church to be the light of the world and a city set on a hill.
  • Paul uses very strong language to warn that those who destroy the church can expect eternal judgment (Matthew 25:46; Acts 17:31). Some theologians have struggled with the fact that Paul seems to indicate in this context that it is a particular group within the covenant community who are in danger of being destroyed. The fact that Paul would warn those in the church of a genuine threat of eternal punishment in no way compromises the truth that nothing will separate God’s elect from the love of Christ, for we know from other passages that no one can snatch Christ’s sheep from the hand of the Father (Romans 8:33-39; John 10:27-29). It is important to understand that on the one hand, God’s warning the sinning professors in any church does not rule out the truth of the perseverance of God’s elect on the other. This is because the visible congregation in any given local assembly almost always consists of those who are not part of the true, invisible church, the elect of God. In other words, both God lovers and God haters will comprise the outward visible congregation of any local assembly because the latter group often looks and acts like the former group; at least for a time (cf. Matthew 7:15-23; 13:18-23; 1 John 2:19). And so, for God’s own sovereign purposes and for His glory, it is His will that the wheat and the chaff grow up together until the harvest at the end of the world (Matthew 13:25-30). At any rate, the warning of eternal destruction in verse 17a is directed towards those who are primarily involved in creating these factions. Now, we will move on to the reason given for such a dire warning.
  • “. . . for the temple of God is holy . . .” – The word “holy” means that God’s new covenant “temple” is the exclusive, set-apart group that He chooses to use to bring Himself the maximum glory. Because the new covenant “temple”, the church, is to be set apart exclusively for the service of God, it cannot be desecrated in any way, either by those within it or those outside of it lest they risk eternal destruction (v. 17a). This is because God is a jealous God, meaning, He is a protective God (Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 2:9). You desecrate or profane a temple by treating it as a common thing, and when you do so, you are arrogantly declaring that that temple is no longer the exclusive domain of a particular person or persons and is thus no longer exclusively set apart for them.
  • Just as one didn’t profane the old covenant temple sacrifices upon pain of physical death (Leviticus 22:9), you endanger your own soul when you profane the church because you treat the new covenant “temple” as a common thing; the very thing that the Creator has designated to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable and pleasing to Him and are designed to bring glory to Him (Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 3:17). O’ the inexpressible danger involved in profaning God’s temple through a malicious heart that is intent upon destroying Christ’s church!
  • “. . . and that is what you are . . .” – This language doesn’t mean simply a ritual holiness, something that was common amongst the Pharisees; but instead it indicates a true display of moral-ethical holiness that was to be continually lived out by this God-loving community. Since God is holy; His new covenant temple, the church, is also holy and set apart for His purposes; and as His temple, we are by implication to be holy. And so, these verses reveal that the church of God in Corinth has not been the poster child for moral-ethical holiness, but instead, after a stern warning to those factious people within the congregation; Paul lovingly calls them to be that which they must be by nature, if indeed they are truly a part of God’s “temple” in Corinth (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Romans 6:19, 22).

Conclusion: The Take Home Message

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 has direct relevance for our contemporary church. It is by these verses that we learn that the church of Christ is not a brick and mortar building nor can it truly be located in any permanently fixed place, but it is found exclusively in the people of God, the Spirit controlled, new covenant “temple” of God. We also learn that God is jealous (read protective) of this precious “temple”, and to profane it is to bring to wrath of God upon your head and earn your own eternal destruction. This shows how important the church really is to God, and if He takes her this seriously, we should stop and consider why and what that means for us today. Most people in evangelical circles take the church way too lightly today, as if it is a playground for all the materialistic toys that the world has to offer to immature believers. As a result, most pagans see the evangelical church as irrelevant at best, and at worst; they view it as if it’s a disease that needs to be eliminated (i.e., atheists Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett). In some ways the latter group might be more correct in their assessment than they realize. There are indeed many professing local “congregations” that do need to close-shop because they bring such a terrible reproach upon Christ and His gospel; for many have long forsaken the gospel and its power to change sinful man. But in spite of the dire condition of evangelicalism in general, God is still on His throne, and as the High King of Heaven, He will always have a special, Spirit-empowered people called out for Himself; His true bride. They truly love Him, they always seek Him, and when compassing their entire Christian lives, it is proven by Scripture that they alone hunger and thirst for Him just as a famished deer craves a drink from the cold stream (Psalm 42:1-2; John 6:68-69). And it is through the testimony and work of that called-out people bride that God offers the only true alternative to the fool’s gold that worldly religion, pagan superstition, and rank secularism has to offer. Would to God that He would make this assembly His special, choice, and precious “temple” for the glory of His name (1 Peter 2:9)!

Out with the old?

July 31, 2008

When I was in the process of deciding to attend seminary, a pastor friend of mine warned me that, for apologetic purposes, seminaries often will require a great amount of reading from erroneous positions to the extent that such reading can displace reading from sound biblical resources; the result of such reading can be spiritually draining rather than spiritually edifying. For the most part, I have been greatly blessed by the reading requirements here at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; I have been encouraged and strengthened in my understanding of how to apply God’s Word. Most of the reading requirements for my Ministry of Leadership class this summer were no exception. Some readings required for this class were Humility by C.J. Mahaney, Manly Dominion by Mark Chanski, and Shepherds After My Own Heart by Timothy Laniak, all of which contain probably the best expositions of the biblical material in regards to their respective topics.

We were also required to read Aubrey Malphurs’ Advanced Strategic Planning: A New Model for Church and Ministry Leaders, which was a great disappointment, especially in comparison to the fine works mentioned above. John Piper once wrote a book titled, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals; Malphurs’ book could reasonably be named, We’re Professionals, Brothers! The book is, indeed, insightful when it comes to defining the mission of the church, which Malphurs asserts is defined by Christ in the Great Commission, and in offering practical advice on how to evaluate if a particular church is actually pursuing this mission. (It may be these sections that my professor had in mind when assigning this book.) The problem is that according to Malphurs, there are crucial areas of church life, such as church government and how worship is to be conducted, on which Scripture is intentionally ambiguous. In order to compensate for this ambiguity, Malphurs turns to secular business principles to supplement the biblical text.

The result can be illustrated with the following quote from the book: “Once a pastor reaches retirement age, he serves his ministry best by leaving. This may be sad, but it makes room for a younger person who will be better in touch with the current culture and the ministry paradigms that God is blessing.”

Forget over 35 years of ministry, John MacArthur, we need someone more “in touch!” And forget that R.C. Sproul preached what many consider among his best sermons at the last Together for the Gospel conference, what his church really needs is someone who knows all about “current culture!” This American emphasis on youth is irreconcilable with the appreciation in Scripture of those who are older and wiser; there is a reason that the New Testament refers to church leaders as “elders.”

The admixture of the secular with the sacred is indeed “strange fire,” which is unusual to find here in the curriculum at SBTS, but has been all too common within baptist circles.

An Open Letter to Ray Comfort

July 7, 2008

Introduction: What follows is an e-mail that I recently sent to evangelist Ray Comfort of The Way of the Master Ministries. For many years, I have appreciated Ray’s ministry and evangelistic efforts, but because Ray is planning to unequally yoke himself with Word of Faith heretics in order to create a platform for preaching the gospel (an “ends justifies the means” mentality) at the 2008 Inspiring Excellence Conference, I decided to respond with a loving but earnest e-mail. Please pray that this brother will either take a stand and expose these heretics for what they are and warn the conference attendees of the false gospel of “health and wealth” or that he will decline his invitation to speak at this conference. I would also encourage you to express your concern by sending a loving, thoughtful, yet earnest e-mail to Ray Comfort at: general@wayofthemaster.com

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Dear Brother Comfort,

I must first say that I and the people of our church have greatly benefited from your ministry through the years. Thus, the intention of my writing to your ministry is for no other purpose but to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). It has come to my attention through the Slice of Laodicea blog that on July 13-20th, you will be preaching at the 2008 Inspiring Excellence Conference alongside the known Word of Faith teachers John Avanzini, Jesse Duplantis, Mike Murdock, and Rod Parsley.

It is well known that all of the above men are associated with the Word of Faith heresy and have actively taught it in the past. As you already know, most Word of Faith teachers teach that we can become incarnated gods just like Jesus. Kenneth Copeland said, “don’t be disturbed when people accuse you of thinking you are God…the more you get to be like Me, the more they are going to think that way of you. They crucified Me for claiming that I was God. But I didn’t claim I was God. I just claimed I walked with Him and that He was with Me” Kenneth Copeland, “Take Time to Pray,” Believer’s Voice of Victory, #15, 2 February 1987, p. 9.

All of this of course is an explicit denial of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Word of Faith heretics mix their heretical doctrine of God with ideas from the mind sciences, occult metaphysics, and also have a convenient “give to get scheme” known as the “health and wealth gospel”; all of which is combined in such a way that undermines the true, biblical gospel of Jesus Christ.

Please remember that the attendees at this conference will be swallowing this poison, and if you do not either separate yourself from these men or use this as a platform to explicitly expose them as heretics, these people will stay right where they are, drinking this spiritual poison. That’s why the Apostle Paul said that a heretic should be rejected by the church after one or two warnings (Titus 3:10-11). This warning has already been given by R.C. Sproul and Michael Horton, but instead of repenting because of their loving admonition, they were cursed to hell by these men. The poisonous false gospel of Word of Faith heresy spreads like cancer and as such, you know full well that those who preach a false gospel will be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9). Unless you are planning on clearly and lovingly confronting these men for their heresy, I can find no biblical warrant for attending this conference, even for evangelistic purposes. Your failure to do so will only add to the confusion already prevalent in the church and will cause a dangerous mixture of truth and error. The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther said,

Though we be active in the battle, if we are not fighting where the battle is the hottest, we are traitors to the cause.

Brother Comfort, I pray that you’ll use this opportunity to expose these false teachers for what they are in accordance with Scripture (Jude 3), or avoid partnering with them “in ministry” so as to be obedient to 2 Corinthians 6:14-18,

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17 “Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. 18 “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.


I will be praying for you my dear brother.

No Sin Nature? – Conclusion and Summary

July 5, 2008

Introduction: This is the final part in a series interacting with a gentleman that holds to libertarian freedom, denies the imputation of Adam’s sin and guilt to all humanity, and holds to sinless perfectionism.

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Hi Jack,

Sorry I haven’t responded before now; but I have been busy caring for pressing family matters. You said,

“’Nature’ as taught in the bible means “manner of life”, not some coercive force that governs man; like Adam, man is a free moral agent as well.”

Given your suggested definition, that would mean that when the Bible refers to God’s nature (Rom. 1:20) it refers to God’s “manner of life”? The BDAG Greek lexicon never defines Ephesians 2:3c’s “nature” (phusis) as “manner of life”. Entry no. 1 defines phusis as “condition or circumstance as determined by birth, natural endowment/condition, nature” and goes on to elaborate “we were, in our natural condition (as descendants of Adam), subject to (God’s) wrath Eph 2:3 . . .”. Ephesians 2:3c is actually a demonstration of what all men are apart from Christ; namely, children of wrath, hopeless, and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). I commend this very well-written technical and exegetical paper that wonderfully discusses what I have argued for regarding the spiritual condition of all people from conception: EPHESIANS 2:3c AND PECCATUM ORIGINALE. As to the issue of coercion and “free moral agency”, please see my comments below.

You go on to say,

“. . . Paul tells us to “put on Christ”… this does not imply some coercive force that conforming us to holiness. “By nature children of wrath…” doesn’t in any way imply being born with a coercive sin nature and how you can get that implication is only by theological bias. People are children of wrath by their willful continuance in a sinful lifestyle.”

These statements contradict Scripture and erect somewhat of a straw man. We do not believe that people have the ability to do things that are spiritually pleasing to God, for such goes against their natural, spiritual proclivities (Romans 8:7-8). Nor do we believe that they are forced to act contrary to their constituent wills, but instead they are first “born from above”; and once their constituent natures are thusly changed in regeneration, they freely come to Christ because doing so is now part of their new nature (John 3:3, 5; Philippians 1:29). According to Scripture, those who are born from above “are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12) In other words, John explicitly states that their regeneration occurs apart from their ancestry (“are born not of blood”), apart from their natural, fleshly wills (“nor of the will of the flesh”), apart from any portion of any man’s will (“nor of the will of man”) “but of God” and God alone. People always act in accordance with their desires, and since they are imputed with Adam’s sin and are accountable for their own actual sin, they do the desires of their father, the devil (John 8:44). Those without Christ are children of wrath not simply because they sin but because they are constituted as sinners from conception (Psalm 51:5). However, God’s born-again, blood-washed children willingly obey God’ word because God is working within them for their good and His glory. For example, Philippians 2:13 states, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” If you want to call Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:13 “coercion” then I leave you to your choice of words, but please remember that Paul himself never said that the Philippian Christians were acting contrary to their redeemed natures; nor do orthodox, confessional Calvinists. As to the imputation of Adam’s sin to the entire human race, John Piper states quite eloquently regarding Romans 5:12 ff:

At the end of verse 12 the words, “death spread to all men, because all sinned” mean that “death spread to all because all sinned in Adam.” Death is not first and most deeply because of our own individual sinning, but because of what happened in Adam. (Ibid)

Paul’s Emphasis Upon the One Transgression
Fourth, at least five times in the following verses Paul says that death comes upon all humans because of the one sin of Adam:

Verse 15: by the transgression of the one the many died

Verse 16: the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation

Verse 17: by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one

Verse 18: through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men

We are all condemned not ultimately because of our individual sins, but because of one sin (verse 18). We die not ultimately because of personal sins, but because of Adam’s one transgression (verse 17). It is not ultimately from our personal sins that we die, but rather “by the transgression of the one the many died.” Paul states over and over again that it is because of one sin that death and condemnation belong to us all. In other words, we are connected to Adam such that his one sin is regarded as our sin and we are worthy of condemnation for it.

The Direct Statement of Verse 19
Fifth, verse 19 provides us with a direct statement of imputation:

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Paul here says that we are made sinners by the sin of Adam. Due to his disobedience, we are regarded as sinners. We cannot take “made sinners” here to be referring to original sin in which we become inherently sinful because it is paralleled with “made righteous.” The phrase “made righteous” in this context is referring to the great truth of justification. Justification does not concern a change in our characters, the infusion of something inherent in us. Rather, it involves a change in our standing before God. In justification, God declares us righteous because He imputes to us the righteousness of Christ–not because He makes us internally righteous (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Thus, when Paul says “made righteous” here, he means “imputed with righteousness” not “infused with righteousness.” Since “made sinners” is paralleled with “made righteous,” it must also be referring to imputation. Thus, Paul is saying that we are all made sinners in the sense that we are imputed with Adam’s sin.

You state,

“Often unbelievers will try to ascribe creation to the law of probability as if this law is coercive when in fact it is merely descriptive. Why do men universally sin? I believe once Adam was expelled from the Garden, He lost his fellowship with God, he also lost his hedge and men are now subjected to a world full of myriads of demons and sinners all enticing him to sin. This is why all men will sin, because they choose to selfishly satisfy their pleasures and follow the enticements of the evil-doers.”

I agree that the laws of science tell us what is the case versus what ought to be the case. However, you confuse categories when you compare that which is descriptive in the world via natural law with that which is declarative in Scripture in regards to the nature of the natural man. The issue is not descriptive versus prescriptive aspects of nature as compared to God’s word, the issue is that you disagree with the conclusions of the traditional Reformed exegesis and interpretation; thus leading you to Pelagianism and sinless perfectionism. Again, Scripture knows nothing of man’s freedom as being that of “the power of contrary choice.” Biblical freedom is not autonomous, but is defined as a deliverance from the slavery to sin in which all humans are born (cf. Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:18), into the glorious freedom of the children of God: “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18, emphases added). He can try to as hard as he wants, but a man can never escape being someone’s spiritual slave. The Devil’s motive was to get Adam and Eve to think that if they disobeyed God they could begin to rule their own lives — they could be the autonomous, masters of their own universe. Instead, by rejecting God’s rule, they took upon themselves Satan’s yoke (Ephesians 2:2). However, for those who have been set free from this bondage to corruption, Paul says in Romans 6:22-23, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Far from human freedom being the “power of contrary choice,” the very exercise of that power exercised by the first man and woman robbed their descendants of the only freedom for which we were made: the freedom of obedience to the Most High. Contrary to Pelagius, because our first parents exercised “the power of contrary choice” the resulting and resident corruption within man can never endue him with the natural ability to free himself from sin’s clutches since those who are descended from Adam physically and are in him spiritually are now “dead in trespasses and sins” and “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1, 3). They are thusly afflicted, as Luther put it in the title of one of his most famous books by The Bondage of the Will; the will of the lost man is bound to the corrupt, rebellious, and sinful nature that he inherited from Adam and as a result, this fallen disposition and natural proclivity towards sin causes the lost to further corrupt themselves by their own wicked desires through the free and willful committing of actual sins.

We do not need a libertarian free will, we need a new and righteous nature that hungers for holiness, righteousness, and truth (2 Corinthians 5:17). We cannot produce that new nature for ourselves and by our own power, and least of all can we do so by an act of our own will, which is bound by the contrary nature. Dead, rebellious humans do not, cannot, repent, believe, and embrace the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:14). Man is indeed a free moral agent, but Calvinists have always defined free moral agency as man doing what man desires to do because what he does is ultimately a reflection of who he is spiritually enslaved to; hence, natural man has free moral agency, but no power of contrary choice insofar as that choice pertains to being able to do spiritual good and to spiritually please the Creator. Paul says further,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:4-10, emphasis added)

Regarding 1 John 1:8 in light of the rest of the epistle, you stated, “I believe that 1 John 1:8 was dealing with the Gnostics who denied the concept of sin. John was speaking to those Gnostics and refuting their teachings, they claimed to be enlightened and denied any sort of sin. They claimed to have the truth within them, yet denied the need of redemption from sin. This is evident because if you go on to read the epistle you will see that John expects believers to live in holiness and without sin especially chapters 2 and 3.”

It is true that these early antinomian Gnostics denied the need for forgiveness of sins and that this is what John was directly addressing, but it is not true that John expects believers to live completely without sin but instead he is teaching that the lifestyle of a born-again person is not characterized by habitual patterns of sin. When 1st John 3:6 says “No one who abides in Him sins . . .”, he is not teaching sinless perfectionism. Quite the contrary, the present-tense Greek verbs are correctly translated so as to indicate continual and habitual activity. For instance, this is why the NIV rightly translates 1 John 3:6, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” The same idea is found in John’s later statement in 3:9, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (NIV) If these verses are going to be used to prove sinless perfectionism, they would have to apply to all Christians since these verses describe what is true for everyone who is born of God. However, there are verses in both the Old and New Testaments that clearly teach that no one can be sinless in this life, excepting the Lord Jesus. For example, Solomon said in his prayer at the dedication of the temple, “When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) . . .” (1 Kings 8:46) Another example can be seen in the rhetorical questions in Proverbs 20:9, “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?’” and finally Solomon says, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) In the New Testament, Christ commands His disciples to pray for the forgiveness of their sins (Matthew 6:11-12). When Paul talks about the new power over sin that is given to a Christian, he does not say that there will be no sin in the Christian’s life, but simply tells the believers not to let sin reign in their bodies nor yield their members to sin (Romans 6:12-13). Note that Paul does not say that believers will not sin, but says that sin will not dominate or “have . . . dominion” over them (v. 14). The fact that Jesus and Paul would give such commands shows that they realized that sin will continue to be a present reality in the earthly life of a believer. Even James, the brother of Jesus said in a very matter of fact way, “For we all stumble in many ways . . .” (James 3:2)

Paul the apostle dealt with many born again believers that committed sins yet he never told them they had to be immediately sin-free practically from the moment of regeneration lest they be in danger of losing their salvation. So, if John is teaching sinless perfectionism, then we have a huge threefold problem (1) all those who commit sins after regeneration are really just self-deceived as to their conversion experience and are on their way to hell, (2) they really are regenerated but “undo” their regeneration and so lose their salvation the moment they commit their first sin (even if its worry or anxiety – the gravity or degree of sin doesn’t matter, the issue is that it is sin, period), something that I believe is contradicted by other Scripture, and (3) we have a blatant contradiction in Scripture, and so the Bible is now rendered unreliable and unable to guide us into all matters of faith and practice (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10; Galatians 5:16). But if this view is not true, then all those who hold to and propagate it are lost and on their way to hell since John says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1:8) So, if you hold to sinless perfectionism, you are going to get cut by its double-edged sword because (1) if it is true that John was teaching this, you undermine any epistemological warrant to know it is true since the apostles would be blatantly contradicting themselves since Paul and Peter had to give Christians commands to adhere to in their letters because they were practicing the exact opposite (i.e., Galatians 5:15-17), hence sinning; and so by your interpretation of John’s epistolary statements all those whom Paul and Peter were correcting via their letters would be lost and Paul himself would be deceived in considering them Christians and you now cannot trust Scripture. (2) You are lost if you have misinterpreted 1 John 1:8 since that passage says that those who say they presently have no sin are self-deceived and the truth is not in them. In light of this, it would be wise for you to rethink the dangerous, eternal ramifications of this heretical teaching.

When those who hold to sinless perfectionism interpret 1 John 1:8 to say that this verse does not apply to Christians but only these early Gnostics, he contradicts the grammatical and syntactical evidence provided by the verse. John writes verse 8 using the present tense of echo, planao, and eimi (translated “we have”, “we deceive,” and “is”), and in doing so, he is thereby showing that this is something that is true of all people at all times and not just Christians. The verse is literally translated with the present tense verbs bolded, if we may say – ‘sins no we have,’ ourselves we deceive, and the truth no is in us”. As said earlier, this has dangerous implications for the sinless perfectionist if they are wrong not only because they lose any warrant to trust the rest of Scripture but also because John explicitly states that those who are presently saying that they have no sin (that includes all people, including Christians) are deceiving themselves (heautous planomen) and the truth is not in them. This indicates that those who teach the false doctrine of sinless perfectionism are not making some mild, relatively harmless doctrinal error. No, John says this view is a damnable heresy.

In regards to Psalm 58:3 it was said, “Hyperbole, poetic, do you know of anyone who was speaking lie as an infant?

NAU Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.

First, Psalm 58:3 doesn’t say that infants tell lies. The NASB 95 translation says “Those who speak lies go astray from birth” not “those who speak lies do so from birth”. The literal Hebrew reads, speakers of a lie go astray from the womb.” This is exactly what Calvinists believe; namely, that infants are constituted sinners from conception onward (Psalm 51:5). Second, David is speaking specifically in the context of wicked lairs that have come against him and notes that their present behavior is rooted in something much deeper than their own actual sins; i.e., they have gone astray from birth.

The assertion “Original Sin was not taught by the Ante-Nicene Church; it is an Augustinian invention . . .” is not true. There are many direct and indirect references from the writings of the Ante-Nicene fathers regarding the imputation of Adam’s sin to the entire human race. Obviously, there is much more commentary from the Ante-Nicene Fathers than what is listed below, but for the sake of time and brevity, here are three quotes that disprove this assertion:

IRENAEUS (c. 180 AD)

“. . . having become disobedient, [Eve] was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. . . . And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Even had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” Against Heresies, 3:22; 4.

“But this is Adam, if the truth should be told, the first formed man, of whom the Scripture says that the Lord spake, ‘Let Us make man after Our own image and likeness;’ and we are all from him: and as we are from him, therefore have we all inherited his title. But inasmuch as man is saved, it is fitting that he who was created the original man should be saved. For it is too absurd to maintain, that he who was so deeply injured by the enemy, and was the first to suffer captivity, was not rescued by Him who conquered the enemy, but that his children were, – those whom he had begotten in the same captivity.” Ibid, 3:23:2.

And not by the aforesaid things alone has the Lord manifested Himself, but [He has done this] also by means of His passion. For doing away with [the effects of] that disobedience of man which had taken place at the beginning by the occasion of a tree, ‘He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross;” rectifying that disobedience which had occurred by reason of a tree, through that obedience which was [wrought out] upon the tree [of the cross]. Now He would not have come to do away, by means of that same [image], the disobedience which had been incurred towards our Maker if He proclaimed another Father. But inasmuch as it was by these things that we disobeyed God, and did not give credit to His word, so was it also by these same that He brought in obedience and consent as respects His word; by which things He clearly shows forth God Himself, whom indeed we had offended in the first Adam, when he did not perform His commandment. In the second Adam, however, we are reconciled, being made obedient even unto death. For we were debtors to none other but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning.” Ibid., 5:16:3.

TERTULLIAN (c. 200 AD)

“In expressing vexation, contempt, or abhorrence, thou hast Satan constantly upon thy lips; the very same we hold to be the angel of evil, the source of error, the corrupter of the whole world, by whom in the beginning man was entrapped into breaking the commandment of God. And (the man) being given over to death on account of his sin, the entire human race, tainted in their descent from him, were made a channel for transmitting condemnation.” The Testimony of the Soul, 3:2, c. 200 AD)

METHODIUS (c. 300 AD)

For he [man] also was created without corruption, that he might honour the kind and maker of all things, responding to the shouts of the melodius angels which came from heaven. But when it came to pass that, by transgressing the commandment (of God), he suffered a terrible and destructive fall, being thus reduced to a state of death, for this reason the Lord says that He came down from heaven into (a human) life, leaving the ranks and the armies of angels. . . . For it remained that man should be included in this catalogue and number, the Lord lifting him up and wrapping him round, that he might not again, as I said, be overflowed and swallowed up by the waves of deceit. For with this purpose the Word assumed the nature of man, that, having overcome the serpent, He might by Himself destroy the condemnation which had come into being along with man’s ruin. For it was fitting that the Evil One should be overcome by no other, but by him whom he had deceived, and whom he was boasting that he held in subjection, because no otherwise was it possible that sin and condemnation should be destroyed, unless that same man on whose account it had been said, ‘Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return,’ should be created anew, and undo the sentence which for his sake had gone forth on all, that ‘as in Adam’ at first ‘all die, even so’ again ‘in Christ,’ who assumed the nature and position of Adam, should “all be made alive.” The Banquet of the Ten Virgins or Concerning Chastity, 3:6.

In conclusion, regardless of how difficult and unfair all of this may seem, people are conceived and born in sin because of their first father Adam. In other words, all people are blamed for something they did not do. However, God is not subject to our fallen notions of fairness and no one can restrain His hand or say to him “what have you done?” The Most High does whatever pleases Him and it is sinful for people to complain and shake their fists because they do not agree with the ethics of the Almighty (Dan. 4:34-35). Christians worship a God who is merciful and loving but they also worship a God who commanded the genocide of the Canaanites. As unfair as all of that may seem, Christians benefit from something they did not do because they have been set free from the bondage of original and actual sin because. If the unfairness of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity concerns people, then it is inconsistent to not cry foul when sinners receive pardon and forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness apart from anything they have personally done (Romans 3:21-26). In light of what has been said already, I believe that the proper response in all of these cases can be summed up in one word: Worship.