Thursday, November 18, 2010

Animals, aliens and redemption.

Listening to John MacArthur Jr. the other day and according to him animals are nothing more than biological machines that are in no wise self aware and behaviors that we percieve as personality traits unique to a specific animal are mearly instinctive responses to external stimuli.

The way he pushed this idea I got the feeling it was very important to his personal theology that this be the case. So I have to speculate:

My guess is that if animals are self aware and have a capacity for rational thought on some level, and especially an understanding of good and evil, then that makes them sinners. That idea would probably be unacceptable to J Mac. and most christians.

Existential data suggests to me that animals are more than mere "biological machines" and that they are capable of rational thought on a level lower than our own. I've observed my many cats problem solving, for example, and they have likes and dislikes that are individually unique.

Certainly animal behavior can be patterned and changed through the choice application of stimuli. I would suggest that so can human behavior.

I don't have a problem with the concept of animals being sinful. The universe is fallen. Animals die. God's judgement in the flood included animals specifically, and God declared "I am sorry that I have made them" (Gen. 6:7)

Further, it would not have been necessary for the sacrificial animals of the priestly services under the old covenant to be pure and innocent in reality to fulfill the symbolic appearance of innocence. These were types and shadows; visual illustrations of the reality of Christ- the true and only acceptable substitionary sacrifice, innocent and pure and absolutely unspotted with sin.

And lastly there is the misconstrued idea that God must needs have a plan of redemption for the animals if they are indeed sinfull. I suppose that people think it would be necessarily consistant with the character of God that He provide a way of redemption and reconcilliation for any intelligent, self aware, and sinful creature. But evidentally not- for the fallen angels (demons) have no redeemer and no possibilty of salvation.

In fact, people should really get that- the reason demons can't be saved is not because of the extent of their wickedness but because they have no redeemer! The have no substitutionary sin bearer to be a propitiation for their sins.

And that brings to mind the topic of extraterrestrial intelligent life, and specifically one of the most oft heard Christian objections to that possibility-"did Jesus go to their planet and die for them too?"

My counter question is "why would God have to redeem them?"

I'm not advocating a specific view of animal behavior and certainly not suggesting that aliens absolutely exist- but I have to question the wisdom of absolutely rejecting animal reasonableness or the existence of intelligent lifeforms other than humans based on shakey thelogical presuppositions.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Feeling kind of hyper

I have been listening through the Systematic Theology lectures made freely available at Covenant Seminary's Worldwide Classroom at work. I highly recommend them as mostly irenic and not at all "too high" for the layperson, while being doctrinally sound.

While listening to a certain section of the series the proclamation of the gospel came up as a topic. Dr. Peterson made his opinion known in no uncertain terms, that to reject the proclamation of the gospel as a "well intentioned offer" is to be a Hyper-Calvinist. I cringed.

I cringed because this is the very accusation levied against the guy I use for my picture on this blog- John Gill. John Gill denies that the gospel is a "free offer of salvation". At this point, the somewhat more "apologetic" set of Calvinists cut off Gill flat and fear him, because we certainly don't want to offend the sensibilities of the Arminian crowd, and we(rightfully) do not even want to touch "Hyper-Calvinism".

Well, upholding the sovereignty of God in salvation has already offended the Arminian very much, so keeping the "free offer" or "well meant offer" terminology is too little too late.

The other accusation of Hyper-Calvinism levied against John Gill is against his Supralapsarianism, which has to do with the logical sequence of God's decrees concerning creation, election and reprobation, and the fall of man.

Supralapsarianism places logically God's decree to elect and harden men prior to the decree of the fall of man, while the opposing view, infralapsarianism, places the decree of election and reprobation logically after the decree of the fall of man. I won't go into the particulars of the arguments because it would take a long time, and even Gill admits it is an academic argument, making little practical difference.

Those who don't like Gill make it more than academic, and make it a mark of Hyper-Calvinism.

I would like to point out here that Robert Reymond, modern Presbyterian scholar and theologian and former professor at Knox Seminary, and author of the excellent and widely lauded single-volume systematic theology A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (which I highly recommend), is a Supralapsarian. Not only so, but he also advocates the idea of equal ultimacy, that God is equally the ultimate cause of both the election of men to salvation and the reprobation unto damnation of the rest of men. Equal ultimacy is usually associated with Hyper-Calvinism.

Where are Reymond's accusers? Why hasn't he been labeled "Hyper" and shunned as has Gill? Why is he still considered an evangelical Calvinist despite holding the same views as Gill? Is it because he's a Presbyterian?

Back to the "universal and well intentioned offer".

The gospel, over-simplified, is a message about Jesus Christ having made a way for the salvation of condemned sinners by making satisfaction to God for their sins (redemption) by paying the penalty for sins on the cross, and being resurrected from death, conquering death and hell, ascending to heaven where he makes intercession for the saints, restoring us to fellowship with God through him.

The command of the gospel is that we repent of sins and believe this gospel for our salvation.

The promises of the gospel are that whosoever obeys the command, repents of sin and believes this Gospel will be forgiven their sins and granted eternal life; whosoever disobeys the command, does not repent of sins and rejects this gospel will receive eternal condemnation.

It is a covenant- the New Covenant in Christ's blood (his death), with the command to repent and believe containing the promise of salvation for obedience and damnation for disobedience.

The proclamation of this gospel along with the command to repent and believe and the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life for obedience and eternal death and condemnation for disobedience is commanded by Jesus Christ to be proclaimed indiscriminately to all peoples from every nation, throughout the whole world.

This message is the ordinary means through which the Holy Spirit works salvific grace in the hearts of men, calling them to Christ and regenerating their hearts, thereby granting the faith and repentence commanded, which are the fruits of regeneration.

John Gill believed and taught everything that I have stated thus far concerning the gospel and evangelism.

Now, what of the word "offer"? First, lets define offer:

"make available or accessible, provide or furnish; present for acceptance or rejection; put forward for consideration; extend: make available; provide; propose: ask (someone) to marry you;" and so forth (see this Princeton WordNet Search)

Does this word "offer" do justice to the biblical proclamation of the gospel, as a message about Jesus with a command and promises? I don't really think so. The gospel is not given as optional, a proposal for consideration, or anything of the sort. It is commanded that we believe this message, along with a gracious and wonderful promise for obedience, and a solemn and terrible promise for disobedience.

The gospel is not presented as optional, and salvation is not a take-it or leave-it proposition; in a very real sense we are to, by authority of God, command people to recieve salvation! I think to call this an "offer" is akin to calling the ten commandments "the ten well intentioned offers". God's commandments demand obedience, and the commandments are universal, and are to be proclaimed throughout the world to all people.

This is why Gill rejected the term "offer". It is weak and does not do justice to the gospel message, its command or the promises, and especially the way it is presented in Scripture.

Am I a Hyper-Calvinist?

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Reformed Baptist Distinctives: Baptism Part 2

Baptism is Immersion

The proper mode of baptism is immersion in water. This is the meaning of the word baptizing in Matthew 28:19, which is translated from the Greek word transliterated baptizo, which is defined "(1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk) (2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe (3) to overwhelm"

The Greek words for sprinkling are different, and are transliterated rhantizo or rhantismos, which are used in the New Testament in reference to O.T. ritual purification (Hebrews 9:13, 21, 11:28) and the fulfillment of that which ritual purification pointed to, Christ's death being applied for the purification of believers united to him by faith, which is justification (Hebrews 10:22, 12:24, 1Peter 1:2). Although baptism signifies our justification, the use of the word sprinkling in the New Testament refers to the very act of justification in our uniting to Christ by faith.

Likewise, the Greek words translated in English to indicate pouring is used of different words, transliterated variously as ekcheo, ballo, didomi, epicheo, katacheo, and spendo, and are used many times in the New Testament in different contexts but never in reference to the ordinance of baptism.

It is difficult for me to understand how sprinkling and pouring could possibly be considered immersion or dipping, which is the literal translation of the very Greek word for baptism. If we use the English equivalents of the Greek terms: sprinkle, pour, dip - these three words mean three different things and to use them interchangeably is absurd. It could and should be concluded from this alone that the proper mode of baptism is immersion, but there is more evidence for immersion as we shall see.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Reformed Baptist Distinctives: Baptism Part 1

I have been, slowly and sporadically, working on content for my website. The latest is an original article about Christian Baptism. Hopefully I will have it completed before I die.

In the completed form at my website, there will be extensive footnotes and links as usual. But in the meantime, I thought I would blog the article in sections to keep you interested.


It is unfortunate that among modern Baptist churches that the doctrine of the ordinance of baptism has often been neglected and weakened into relative insignificance, or else confused with mixture of errors that have never been practiced or believed by Baptists, but have found there way in as Baptists have rejected statements of orthodoxy and despised our historic roots. This arises from the importance of doctrine being relegated to only very core Christian distinctives, and often not even that, with nearly the entirety of church polity being open to various interpretations and beliefs which are all too readily accepted by an ignorant and apathetic laity.

As Dr. Timothy George has observed:

"The recovery of a robust doctrine of believers' Baptism can serve as an antidote to the theological minimalism and atomistic individualism which prevailin many credobaptist churches in our culture."

What follows is a short treatise on the Reformed Baptist theology of baptism,
which is an attempt at a recovery of the historic Baptist doctrine. I will give
positive statements of what baptism is, signifies, and the right administration
of it, as well as address some of the common errors.

Baptism is a New Testament Ordinance of Perpetuity

Baptism and the Lords Supper are ordinances of positive, and soveraign institution; appointed by the Lord Jesus the only Law-giver, to be continued in his Church to the end of the world. (1689 LBCF, Chapter 28: Of Baptism and the Lord's Supper)

Baptism is an Ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party Baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death, and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ to live and walk in newness of Life. (1689 LBCF, Chapter 29: Of Baptism)

An ordinance is a regulative statute, or rule of law, ordained by a governing authority, with the limits and due administration of the statute prescribed by that governing authority. Jesus Christ is the governing authority of the church, and it is he who commanded the institution of the ordinance, its limits, and the right administration of it.

Jesus Christ gave the ordinance of baptism to the church after his resurrection, in his final address to his disciples before he ascended to the Father, known as "The Great Commission":

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with
you always, to the end of the age."

Jesus starts by stating that he has been given authority to institute commands to the church; "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.". He then commands that the gospel be preached throughout the world; "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations," Disciples are students and followers of Christ; viz." teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." He then commands that his disciples be baptised; "baptizing them". Christ gives the ordinance as an institution to be observed in perpetuity, or, "without end", till he comes at the end of the age;

"The commission was given, just before Christ ascended to heaven, and was
designed for the dispensation which was to follow ... Since the ascension of
Christ, no change of dispensation has occurred by which the commission could be
revoked. The promise which it contains, of Christ's presence until the end of
the world, implies its perpetuity. Under this commission the ministers of Christ
now act, and by it they are bound, according to the manifest intention of his
words, to administer water baptism."

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

The strange world of Dr. Scott Clark

Dr. R. Scott Clark is finally drawing some attention to himself with his incredibly sectarian views on what it means to be "Reformed" and "Covenantal". Dr. Bob Gonzales, dean of Reformed Baptist Seminary
has written a short article calling attention to Clark's contentions, including this amazing statement:

We would discipline someone if they left our church and began attending a baptistic congregation or a sect…. I don’t think that any congregation that denies the administration of baptism to covenant children can be a true church. I don’t see how any baptistic congregation is practicing the “pure administration” of the sacraments

Good thing Dr. Clark left that baptistic sect he used to belong to and discovered the true church. At least he was baptised with true Christian baptism before he left.

I don't believe that Dr. Clark considers Baptists to be damnably heretical, so I have to wonder how he reconciles the idea that he has that a person can be in the body of Christ and not a member of the true church. That is a strange idea to say the least.

Ironically, in another statement quoted by James White at the Alpha & Omega blog, Clark accuses Baptists of the same error:

As a consequence, we regard our children as Christians and as baptized persons. Baptists, of course, do not regard our children as Baptized persons nor do they regard those of us who've not been re-baptized as Baptized persons!

That's a huge matter. According to the Baptists I'm not a Christian. That's no small thing.

Evidentally Dr. Clark associates baptism with Christianity so closely that one can be saved and not a Christian. I am really confused about this one, but I can say for sure no Baptist would say that anyone is not a Christian because they havn't been baptised.

Note that in the same statement he admitts that he believes that his infant children are Christians simply be recieving infant baptism.

So in Clark's strange world one one can be unsaved and Christian, saved but not a member of the true church, saved but not a Christian.

Dr. Gonzales lists a few good links to discussions about Baptist use of the adjective "Reformed". I have a feeling this conversation is just getting warmed up.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Denying God

I've been pondering the Arminian (semi-Pelagian) and Pelagian belief that God can't play favorites; that is, everyone is equally enabled to come to saving faith and the choice is up to us. It matters little for my purposes here that the one affirms the necessity of grace while the heretical Pelagianism denies that grace is needed at all, although this of course in itself makes semi-Pelagianism vastly superior to full Pelagianism; in the end the semi-Pelagian view is, like their teaching of grace, insufficient.

In both cases, all men are equally enabled to come to saving faith, whether by universal prevenient divine grace or by nature.

And here is the Achilles' heel of this belief; all things being equal, all responses to the gospel should be the same, right? But of course they are not, so all things aren't equal. Something makes people differ. And according to both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism (Arminianism), what makes people different cannot be God or grace, as all people are equally enabled. So let us now slide down this slope a ways:

Perhaps believing the gospel is due to intelligence (or even lack thereof)- well, we can't give God the credit for individual intelligence because that would make God play favorites. Perhaps unbelief is due to natural skepticism- we can't give God credit for any natural limitations or abilities if any of these things may be a deciding factor in belief or disbelief, because that would mean God would have to interfere with man's free-will choices. Maybe it is in the raising- maybe being brought up in a godly family stacks the deck in favor of belief- well, we can't allow God to be involved with our family upbringing, if it may bring us to the cross, because God can't interfere with our choice, because that would make things unequal.

God can't have anything to do with where we are born, when we are born, our upbringing, our natural abilities and limitations and dispositions, social factors such abuse or nurture or anything else that may be a factor in bringing us to saving faith, because if he did, that would be graciously providing for one person and denying another person. The only option for the Arminian or Pelagian is to deny all these factors as having anything to do with whether or not we believe the gospel or you wind up with Deism, with a god who is not involved with his creation at all.

I would agree that none of these factors can cause saving faith. In fact, God is intimately involved with all of these things, but given ideal circumstances concerning all of these things (and hundreds more), they would be insufficient to bring a person to believe the gospel. The Arminian and Pelagian must agree too or else deny that God relates to creation.

This is truly a conundrum- it would seem that saving faith is truly miraculous, if we have a sovereign God that is involved with internal and external influences on our lives, and that none of these influences can bring us to saving faith without having God choosing to help some people but not others.

So what is the difference? Why does one believe and another does not?

Is it that one loves sin more than the other? What causes one to love sin more than the other? It can't be natural disposition, intelligence, upbringing, or any external or internal factor that God has anything to do with. So we must either deny that God controls or influences any of these factors or deny any of these factors as having influence on whether or not we believe.

I'm tired of playing this game. God is what makes people differ. It is divine, effectual grace that enables saving faith in one person while withholding that grace leaves another person in unbelief. It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is no help at all- and neither are all these other factors. God saves through the preaching of the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit everyone whom he chooses for salvation, without being limited by upbringing, natural limitations, race, social oppression, or any other internal or external influence on our lives. Saving faith is a miracle of divine grace.

So now do we become fatalists? Do we just "let go and let God"? God is going to accomplish his will concerning salvation irregardless of what we do anyway.

No! God ordains the ends as well as the means. Our prayers, bringing our children up in the fear of the Lord, witnessing through sharing the gospel and through godly lives and nurturing and loving people are all influential factors that God can and does use to bring a person to the cross. But they are insufficient in of themselves- they cannot turn the point, they cannot cause a person to believe. It takes a miracle of divine and sovereign grace.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Education Resources

I have added content to the Education page at my website. Many education links categorized according to the following:

Free Resources

Seminary and lay level education resources made available without cost.

Online/Distance Learning
Links to paid courses and professional degree opportunities available through online and distance education programs that may be completed or mostly completed from home.

Homeschool, Children and Youth
Teaching materials and curriculum for the homeschool, Sunday school, and family devotionals.

Reformed Seminaries and Colleges
Reformed and Reformed Baptist "brick and mortar" graduate and under-graduate institutions.

Also there are links to articles concerning methods and philosophy of education, encouragements and tips for educators and those seeking to be educated. I hope this resource proves useful.

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