Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hell Doesn't Exist (Neither Does Heaven)

Alright, pop quiz: if you were to die tomorrow, where would you go? No, this isn't the beginning of an evangelistic spiel (though if you want to have that talk, I'm available). Well, if you've been influenced by popular Christian thought, your answer would probably be one of two options: heaven or hell.

Now I admit, my title was a little sensational. But what I am suggesting is this: the common conceptions that Christians hold of heaven and hell are not necessarily in operation right now. The popular  picture of both heaven and hell is actually a blending of a few different "stages" of the afterlife that we've just balled into two simple concepts (in fact, biblical writers sometimes do this as well, only adding to the confusion). However, a careful reading of the Bible reveals that the afterlife for both the righteous and unrighteous is "in process". So if I were going to be completely honest and less "click-bait-y" with my title, it should have read "The hell you imagine doesn't exist as of now, neither does heaven". While this sounds complicated, the stages are simple and clear-cut: the stages of heaven and hell advance with the greater revelation of Jesus Christ and the gospel.

Stage 1: B.C. (Before Christ)

In the Old Testament, Sheol (sometimes translated "the grave" or "hell" in our Bibles) represented the place where all the deceased go. It is used in reference to the destination of both the righteous (Gen. 37:35, Job 14:13) and the wicked (Prov. 9:18, Ps. 55:15, Is. 5:14). While the Old Testament doesn't develop the idea much, Jesus' parable of the rich man and Lazarus actually gives us a vivid illustration. Luke 16 tells us that Hades (the Greek version of Sheol) was split into two subdivisions, a place of comfort (sometimes referred to as "paradise" or "Abraham's bosom") and a place of torment, with a chasm between.

Stage 2: A.D. (Anno Domini "In the Year of our Lord") 

At Jesus' crucifixion, he tells the repentant thief "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Yet when the resurrected Jesus meets Mary outside his tomb, he says "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father" (Jn. 20:17). Where has he been for the last 48 hours if he hasn't been "up"? I would suggest that he had been down into Sheol (the dwelling place of the dead), but not to Hades in torment. But more on that in a moment.

However, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it seems the dwelling place of the saints is moved above (2 Cor. 12:2,3)—at least inasmuch as you can give directions like up and down to the spiritual realms. Regardless of where the current "location" of Paradise is, we can be certain that it is in the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8) which is not a complicated thing for God no matter where Paradise is currently located.

Stage 3: The final revelation of Jesus Christ

Upon the return of Christ, we see the popular conceptions of heaven and hell finally implemented. The new Jerusalem, streets of gold, the river of life, the tree of life, the city of God—a new heaven and new Earthall coming down (Rev. 21,22). This seems to fit perfectly Jesus' message to his disciples: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:3) Notice the timing: when he comes again they will be taken to the place Jesus prepares. This makes logical sense when you consider that we don't get our resurrected bodies until the return of Christ, thus the current "heaven" only has to be compatible to souls/spirits while the new heaven and new Earth have to be compatible to remade physical bodies. And concerning "hell", the transition is even clearer: "Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire." (Rev. 20:14)

So what?

Before you panic, let me clarify. This is not limbo. This is not purgatory. Nobody's working off sin, waiting for merit, or getting extra chances to respond to the gospel. All three stages of heaven are a realm of blessing and comfort in the presence of the Lord. All three stages of hell are outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Nobody's changing sides after death.

What does change is the level of revelation regarding Jesus Christ and the gospel. This is actually, in my opinion, an elegant solution to some historically problematic verses that are highlighted by a phrase from the Apostle's Creed: "He descended into hell". (Side note: this controversial phrase doesn't even appear in the earliest extant versions of the Apostles Creed, but was a later addition). These verses (Eph. 4:8, 9, 1 Pet. 3:18,19) say that he "descended into the lower regions", "he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison", and "when he ascended on high he led a host of captives".

I am proposing that at his death Jesus descended to Sheol and proclaimed the mystery of the gospel. Now this was not an evangelistic proclamation; rather he was saying "All you rebels, this is what your self-righteousness was rejecting" and "All you saints, this is what your faith was looking forward to, built upon, hoping for, and trusting in". And thenupon his victorious proclamation of the gospelJesus led a mass exodus of saints out of Abraham's bosom (the paradise part of Sheol) and Paradise was carried away from Hades and "up" to the presence of the Lord.

Bonus Material:

This is much more speculative than the rest of the post, but it's possible that this view would also give a reasonable answer to one of the most bizarre and confusing passages in the Bible: "The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many." (Matthew 27:52-53)

If Jesus is proclaiming the gospel to the saints "below" and there's a transition of Paradise so that it is "above", it's not at all beyond the realm of possibility that these saints appeared briefly and proclaimed the same gospel message as they passed by. This would also fit the timing as Jesus ascended to the Father (John 20:17) and the bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised "after his resurrection". This, of course, is largely speculation, but it would at least make sense of this confusing passage.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

John Piper Giveaway: Week 4

I know, I know, I'm late. Things have been busy, but don't worry. We'll run this giveaway for a full week until next Wednesday to make up for my own tardiness. For this last week of giveaways we are sending three books to one lucky reader: This Momentary Marriage, Spectacular Sins, and Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (all paperback).

Since this is John Piper month (arbitrarily deemed so by myself simply because of the giveaway), you should know that tonight Desiring God will be live-streaming an event called Race & the Christian featuring the dynamic duo of Piper and Keller (sounds like a law firm, doesn't it?) sponsored by Crossway and hosted by The Grace and Race Team of Redeemer Presbyterian. And speaking of Keller, that gives me an idea for our next giveaway...

Be sure to subscribe via RSS feed, Reader, or email so you don't miss any of our giveaways! You can enter using the PunchTab app below (entering through the Facebook button gives you multiple entry opportunities!). RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. 


Monday, March 26, 2012

Puritan Mondays: Assure Yourself

"Wherefore, I beseech you, revoke this your erroneous opinion, and contradict the word of truth no longer; but conclude for a certainty, that it is not the righteous and godly man, but the sinful and ungodly man, that Christ came to call, justify, and save: so that if you were a righteous and godly man, you were neither capable of calling, justifying, or saving by Christ; but being a sinful and ungodly man, I will be bold to say unto you as the people said unto blind Bartimaeus, 'Be of good comfort; arise, he calleth thee (Mark 10:49) and will justify and save thee. Go then unto him, I beseech you; and if he come and meet thee, (as his manner is) then do not you unadvisedly say with Peter, 'Depart from me, for I am sinful man, O Lord! (Luke 5:8; but say, in plain terms, O come unto me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord! Yea, go further, and say as Luther bids you, Most gracious Jesus and sweet Christ, I am a miserable, poor sinner, and, therefore, do judge myself unworthy of thy grace; but yet I, having learned from thy word that thy salvation belongs unto such a one, therefore do I come unto thee, to claim that right which, through thy gracious promise belongs unto me. 
Assure yourself, man, that Jesus Christ requires no portion with his spouse; no, verily, he requires nothing with her but her mere poverty: 'the rich he sends empty away' (Luke 1:53); but the poor are by him enriched. And, indeed, says Luther, 'the more miserable, sinful, and distressed a man doth feel himself, and judge himself to be, the more willing is Christ to receive him and relieve him.' So that, says he, in judging thyself unworthy, thou dost thereby become truly worthy; and so, indeed, has gotten a greater occasion of coming to him. Wherefore, then, in the words of the apostle, I do exhort and beseech you to 'com boldly unto the throng of grace, that you may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need' (Heb. 4:16)."

--The words of 'Evangelista' in Edward Fisher's The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Christian Heritage, 2009) p.149.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Recommendation: Atheist Delusions

As a pastor, I am often looking for good books to recommend to people. Several years ago, someone approached me looking for a book that would help them when confronted by their atheist friends. A knowledgeable atheist will often bombard Christians with a plethora of so-called "facts" and "history" to prove that Christianity has caused nothing but trouble. When one hears everything from "Christians caused the dark ages" to "Faith and science are opposed" what is a Christian supposed to say in return? Most Christians will recognize something smells rotten in Denmark but they are not equipped to go toe-to-toe with the atheist and dismantle such ahistorical shenanigans piece by piece.

This is where David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies can help. I read this book about a year or two ago and remember thinking "finally" to the question of 'what book to I recommend to help debunk an atheist's jumbled arguments from history'.

From the book, I wrote a post on my blog entitled: "Mythbusters: The Christian Dark Ages." It remains the all time highest trafficked post. I encourage you to read it as I run through some of Hart's arguments and supporting documentation that Christians did not cause "Dark Ages." In fact, the Middle Ages were filed with advancements and most scholars in the field recognize this. It really is a naive 'Enlightenment' fantasy to say that Christians held back science and technological advancement. As Hart and others have shown, Christian advanced some thing in various ways. This includes especially medical treatment and care of the poor and needy.

Ironically, today, many of the 'new atheists' are rabid in asserting arguments that are filled with historical fallacies. Edward Gibbon's hostility to Christianity that colored his The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, has long been debunked--but some of the new horseman of the atheist apocalypse aren't always current on scholarship in fields they have no mastery of. Often times, Christians today encounter atheism of a species that bring more heat than actual light--I simply mean that your average coffee shop atheist often (but obvious not always) has a zeal without good knowledge.

This is a book that I would recommend to a knowledgeable high-schooler and definitely to a college student at a secular college or university. It is not so much an apologetics book in the traditional sense nor is it strictly a history book, although part 2 takes on the atheist rewriting of Christianity's history. 

The book takes on modernity as a failed project, as a surprising number of the new atheists are pointed out as being a bit naive when it comes to philosophical commitments. 

The book also makes positive arguments. We need to retain Christianity if we are going to retain any notion of humanity and ethics. Secularism's promise to the contrary has turned into a grand failure. Christianity has done for the West, and the world, something that was never found in paganism: it dignified the human being and individual. Secularism and enlightenment thinking has lived on borrowed capital but that capital is slipping fast as Christian moorings are lost.

Hart is not naive to argue that everything good that happened in the West is from Christianity and everything bad is unrelated. He is more interested in showing how Christianity and Christian beliefs actually changed the moral landscape, which of course brought secondary effects on history [although not necessarily direct cause and effect]. Listen to him in his own words:
[U]nless Christian apologists are eager to credit for much that is not creditable, and to argue that their faith made straight the way for all the large political movements of Western history, including the horrid ones, they should venture claims regard the inevitable political and economic consequences of Christian beliefs only tentatively and, as it were, in sotto voce. 
What interests me--and what I take to be genuinely demonstrable and important--is the particular ensemble of moral and imaginative values engendered in numberless consciences by Christian beliefs. That such values had political and social consequences I certainly do not deny; I feel fairly safe in saying, for instance, that abolitionism--as a purely moral cause--could not easily have arisen in any non-Christian culture of which I am aware. That is quite different, however, from claiming that Christianity ineluctably or uniquely must give rise to, say, democracy or capitalism or empirical science. It is to say, rather, that the Christian account of reality introduced into our world an understanding of the divine, the cosmic, and the human that had no exact or even proximate equivalent elsewhere and that made possible a moral vision of the human person that has haunted us ever since, century upon century. (Hart, p.202-203).
This leaves Hart's work as an interesting mix of history, theology and apologetics. But Hart brings his argument together in a way that is rather effective. His approach to the atheism is fresh. Hart himself is both winsome and engaging in his arguments yet he does not suffer fools gladly.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommended for college students, people interested in apologetics, history and Christian theology. Very useful for anyone in regular dialogue with non-Christians, particularly ardent atheists.

Other recommended reading:
Alistair McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism.
Tim Keller's The Reason for God.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Christ as Revelation

In two previous posts we looked at the attributes of special revelation (God's Word) and the attributes of general revelation. While it was not an exhaustive discussion, we argued that God's revelation is necessary, authoritative, perspicuous, and sufficient. These attributes make a healthy acronym NAPS.

In this post we want to argue that Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and the climax of God's revelation to us is also a revelation of God that is necessary, authoritative, perspicuous, and sufficient.

Two verses to begin:
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
Hebrews 1:1-2 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 
Necessity of Christ. Once God determined to redeem a people unto Himself and that this redemption would be a revelation of Himself and His character it was necessary for Christ to come. No one has ever seen God, nor will anyone ever see God fully as he is. While we can know God, we will never come to know God has he knows himself. The finite cannot contain the infinite.

Once God determined to reveal himself it was necessary for the Son to come because the Son is the eternal Word (John 1:1). The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's nature. (Heb. 1:3). Or as Col. 1:15 says "the image of the invisible God"--which I take to be referring to the Son's pre-incarnate being not merely his role after the incarnation (although it applies to his incarnation as well).

What we are saying is this: it had to be the Son who came to reveal God the way that he did. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit could not simply draw straws, as it were, or play "einee-minee-minee-moe" to determine which person of the Trinity would become incarnate. No--man was made in the image of God--and only the one who was the eternal image of the Father-- the eternal Son--could condescend into the created image of God, humanity.

If God's revelation was going to come to a climax that would entail a true revelation of His being then it would have to be the Son who came. His revelation is superior and the eschatological 'last days' of God's redemptive history. If history was going to move to this climax, as God planned, then it was necessary that God's self-revelation exceed all prior revelations given in the written Word. The only way for this was for the eternal Word of be made flesh.

Authoritative. The revelation of the Son is authoritative. Jesus says "if you have seen me you have seen the Father" (John 14:9). According to John 5:19-24, 14:10, the Son can do nothing on his own but speaks and acts wit the authority of the Father. He is an absolutely authoritative in his revelation (1) by virtue of his own person, being truly God; (2) by virtue of his communion and union with the Father and (3) by virtue of being the eternal Word.

Perspicuity. Christ's revelation of God is clear. He has truly made God known. Those who reject Christ do not reject him on the basis not having enough evidence, they reject him because their hearts suppress the evidence. Just to give you an idea of how clear the revelation of God is in the Son consider 1 John 1:1-3:
1 John 1:1-3 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
The revelation is clear and coupled with redemption provides a basis for real fellowship and communion with God.

Not only is Jesus clear in and of himself, He is a clear revelation of the Father. The Son has made the Father known (Jn. 1:18). 

Moses may had been graced to see the 'back' of God on Mt. Sinai. But the climax of God's revelation is not the 'face of God' because no man can see God and live. However, God condescends in the Son so that there is a complete and completely clear revelation of God in the Son. The Son was seen, touch and heard. To look upon his human face was to look upon the face of God. Even more in his resurrected and exalted state the glory of God shines out through Christ but in a manner that does not eradicate humanity and all creation.

Sufficient. The revelation of Christ is sufficient. It is all we need. The revelation is a true revelation but it is not an exhaustive revelation. As we mentioned, we will never see and know God as God sees and knows himself. This will always be impossible for us to have this complete of a knowledge of God. But we can have real knowledge of God and true knowledge of God.

God stoops to our level and sends the Son to reveal. The revelation is sufficient. We can, in the Son, know what we need to know, although we always know it was creatures. 

Other point concerning the sufficiency of the revelation is that there is not ongoing revelations of Christ, at least in this age. We have sufficient knowledge of him. We got what we needed to see Him and worship Him.

Rather than looking for new revelations and ongoing divine speaking, we should rest in what has been giving. It is sufficient and we should rejoice in the clarity of what has been giving. God has so made himself known to us that He gave his Son. More than that the Son died in order to bring people to God so that they could know God. 
John 17:3 And this is eternal life, uthat they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Book Review: Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson

Goose pimples. Or is it goosebumps? I've heard both (perhaps it's a regional thing like the use of the words pop, soda, and Coke), but if you're like me you'll get both when you read Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson. This book is an impassioned plea for every Christian to not just believe the truth of the gospel, but to feel and be carried along by it too. In Wilson, I found a bit of John Piper's zeal for the passion and glory of God in the gospel for a new generation.

 Gospel Wakefulness was a welcome breath of fresh air in the midst of the onslaught of social justice books making the rounds with Christian publishers lately. Not because the ministry of mercy and compassion shouldn't be a priority for the church, but because that ministry will be an utter drain (if successful) and unbearable guilt (if not) if the Christian is not first firmly grounded in the truths here. Don't misunderstand me, this book is in no shade a social justice piece, rather it is the fertile soil from which a minister of mercy and every other type of thriving believer may grow.

My one concern is that this book be used for diagnostic, not division. What I mean is this: this book is not meant to determine who's on the inner circle. This book is not intended to determine who has risen to the upper echelon of Christianity. Rather, as I read it, my heart stirred and cried "Yes, that's what I've been missing. Yes, I feel that as I haven't felt much in a long time!"

The gospel is deeper, richer, and far more expansive than we know or feel. Wilson writes as one who has tasted and seen just a glimmer, and who calls us all along with him further up and further in.

Rating: Five out of five stars

Recommended for: Every Christian who hasn't felt their heart and spirit moved in a time 

This book was a free review copy provided by Crossway.

Monday, March 19, 2012

John Piper Giveaway: Week 3

And the goodie bag keeps getting bigger. This week we're giving away two books by John Piper. One looks to the future for its scope (Don't Waste Your Life) and one looks to the past—and Jonathan Edwards—for its inspiration (God's Passion For His Glory). 

Don't Waste Your Life is John Piper's plea to a new generation that has bought into the all-encompassing distraction that is the American Dream. God's Passion for His Glory is a book John Piper co-authored with Jonathan Edwards...sort of. It's actually a complete reprinting of Edwards' The End for which God Created the World with about one hundred pages of introduction, reflection, and biography by John Piper. 

Be sure to subscribe via RSS feed, Reader, or email so you don't miss any of the giveaways! You can enter using the PunchTab app below. RSS readers will need to click through to the post to see the widget. 


Puritan Monday: Flavel on Christ and Our Union with Him

Four points from John Flavel:

First, That Christ and his benefits go inseparably and undividedly together: it is Christ himself who is made all this unto us: we can have no saving benefit separate and apart from the person of Christ: many would willingly receive his privileges, who will not receive his person; but it cannot be; if we will have one, we must take the other too: Yea, we must accept his person first, and then his benefits: as it is in the marriage covenant, so it is here. 
Secondly, That Christ with his benefits must be personally and particularly applied to us before we can receive any actual, saving privilege by him; he must be [made unto us] i.e. particularly applied to us; as a sum of money becomes, or is made the ransom and liberty of a captive, when it is not only promised, but paid down in his name, and legally applied for that use and end. When Christ died, the ransom was prepared, the sum laid down; but yet the elect continue in sin and misery, notwithstanding, till by effectual calling it be actually applied to their persons, and then they be made free, Rom. v.10,11 reconciled by Christ's death, by whom "we have not received the atonement." 
Thirdly, That this application of Christ is the work of God, not of man: "Of God he is made unto us:" The same hand that prepared it, must also apply it, or else we perish, notwithstanding all that the Father hath done in contriving, and appointing, and all that the Son hath done in executing, and accomplishing the design thus far. And this actual application is the work of the Spirit, by a singular appropriation. 
Fourthly, and lastly, This expression imports the suitableness of Christ, to the necessities of sinners; what they want, he is made to them; and indeed, as money answers all things, and is convertible into meat, drink, raiment, physic, or what else our bodily necessities do require; so Christ is virtually, and eminently all that the necessities of our souls require; bread to the hungry, and clothing to the naked soul. In a word, God prepared and furnished him on purpose to answer all our wants, which fully suits the apostle's sense, when he saith, "Who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption." 

John Flavel, works, Vol. 1 pp.17-18.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Miserable Sinner Christianity

For those who don't follow [shame on you ;)], here's a good quote from B.B. Warfield worth republishing here:

"It belongs to the very essence of the type of Christianity propagated by the Reformation that the believer should feel himself continuously unworthy of the grace by which he lives. At the center of this type of Christianity lies the contrast of sin and grace; and about this center everything else revolves. This is in large part the meaning of the emphasis put in this type of Christianity on justification by faith. It is its conviction that there is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ's sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only "when we believe." It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior may be. It is always on His "blood and righteousness" alone that we can rest. There is never anything that we are or have or do that can take His place, or that can take a place along with Him. We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace. Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just "miserable sinners": "miserable sinners" saved by grace to be sure, but "miserable sinners" still, deserving in ourselves nothing but everlasting wrath. That is the attitude which the Reformers took, and that is the attitude which the Protestant world has learned from the Reformers to take, toward the relation of believers to Christ." --B.B. Warfield

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Following Jesus vs. Accepting Jesus

The concept of following evokes rich imagery—journey, process, adventure, and dependence. Accepting sounds like Jesus is put on our scales, and we decide his fate, like he is campaigning for our vote as he runs for Messiah. To accept Jesus does not call one to live as a disciple; it merely calls one to make a decision. Following calls for a series of decisions being made by the minute, keeping Jesus the focal point, refusing to look to the right or the left, increasing in likeness to his character and in closeness to his person.

- Bill Clem, Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

To lead the church well, lead your family well

Jonathan Parnell over at Desiring God blog has written a great piece (with a cute story any father of a little girl will appreciate) called "Be a Real Husband and Dad". His larger point, however, is important for any church leader (current or aspiring) about leading his family:
In 1 Timothy 3:5, Paul tells us that men who can't lead their own household well shouldn't lead in God’s. This means we don't learn how to be pastors to then figure out the home stuff later. It happens together, if that home stuff hasn’t already happened first. What we do at home is more pertinent to our future ministry than the best class we'll ever take or any exegetical gold we'll ever dig up. Every bit of gospel growth we receive by means of our theological training is aimed by God to touch all of our lives. A solid seminary experience doesn't change just this view or that, but it changes us — as husbands, as dads, and then as leaders for the church as well.
And of course speaking of Desiring God, don't miss our ongoing John Piper book giveaway! This week we're featuring The Justification of God.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Attributes of General Revelation: NAPS

Previously in this post, we briefly articulated four of the central attributes or characteristics of Scripture as God's Word. Scripture is what theologians sometimes call "special revelation." In the writings of Scripture, God-breathed out what the prophets and writers should say so that the words were fully by men but fully the product of God's divine hand. The interpretations did not come about by men but by the Holy Spirit. 

Scripture describes another form of God's revelation and that is God's revelation in creation. God speaks in creation so that He is plainly made known and revealed.

Psalm 19:1-4 ESV The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
Romans 1:19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 
This is important because they really is a clear revelation of God in creation. On the one hand it is in all created things so that we might sufficiently and clearly see his glory, eternal power and divine nature. On the other hand, man himself is made in God's image (even with his sin) so that he has a conscious and bears the marks of God. It is "clearly perceived."

The problem with general revelation is not the content--contra Barth and others--there is a real and clear revelation of God. God has supernaturally made his creation to communicate to us who He is. It speaks just as much as special revelation in Scripture speaks. It is so clear that a person who has never heard the gospel, when they stand before God at the judgment will be guilty and be able to offer no excuse to Him.

The problem with general revelation is that the receiver of it (you and I) take what God gives us and we suppress it, reject it and rebel against it. In sin we deny all that it screaming forth all around us.
Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they obecame futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Humanity always takes the clear revelation and because it stairs us in the face we need to do something with it. So we make idols and false beliefs. All forms of unbelief takes the revelation of God (general and/or special) and has "do" something with to deny and suppress it. Our hearts are idol factories twisting the good revelation God has giving us so that our hearts become and stay darkened.

Cornelius Van Til used this understanding of Romans 1 to formulate his apologetic method. In an essay entitled "Nature and Scripture" in the book The Infallible Word, he applied the acronym NAPS to general revelation. Reading his essay first introduced me to this way of thinking. The thought that guides Van Til's thinking is that "God's revelation in nature was from the outset of history meant to be taken conjointly with God's supernatural communication" (p277). Revelation from God comes in a covenant character and so in creation prior to the fall we see the covenantal character.

Necessity: God did not create man in a state of independence but in a state of dependence. Adam in the garden was established as God's image and that entailed being a covenant bearer as God's vice regent. This into the position man was created man was given revelation that was absolutely necessary for his role. (1) He bore moral and regal qualities of God to exercise in the garden; (2) He was given given all creation as a display of God's glory.

This "necessity" was a consequent necessity in that once God determined to create, he could do no less than determine that it be necessary for his creation to display His glory. As the highest of all being, God cannot but glorify himself in all his actions. The structure and order of creation is a necessary reveal of God so that mankind is properly established in the garden.

Van Til also states that part of the necessity of general revelation is that it necessarily reveals the curse of God for sin in its post fall state. The creation groans await its redemption, thus imply that he clearly displays (reveals) the need of redemptive grace. Since God truly cursed creation it is necessary that the curse be proclaimed by the groaning of the creation.

Authority: Natural revelation is authoritative in that it tells us truth of God. In the pre-fall state, Adam without corrupt and with moral perfection and righteousness could understand and know God through what was made. Adam would have learned obedience in the garden by heeding the proscription against eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Adam's conscious in the garden would have also been a revelation of God. He was made to bear God's image. Created in a state of morality and as a moral being, the position in which he was created--in covenant--was binding to him, authoritative. As Van Til describes it "The mark of God's ownership was from the beginning writ large upon all the facts of the universe. Man was to cultivate the garden of the Lord and gladly pay tribute to the Lord of the manor" (p.273). In this way the revelation in the garden was authoritative.

Perpescuity: The revelation was clear. Note Romans 1:20 "his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world." The creation clearly displays who God is and something about his attributes.

Again, after the fall the problem is not with the creation that is sending the message and speaking, the problem is with those are listening to it. Consider how many people can see all the wonder, majesty and power of creation and still walk away denying a god exists or even suggesting we can never be certain.

We should point out that creation does not simply point out that there is 'a god'--as if it proves mere theism. Creation points to the God of the Bible. How? Creation was made subservient to a God who established a covenant order and hierarchy. It revealed the Covenant God. God set up Adam as his image in His creation. So in the garden man did not just see a non-desrcript presentation 'there is a god' but rather a descriptive 'this is who God is.'

Sufficiency: Here Van Til demurs a bit. General revelation is not sufficient in and of itself. It was never meant to function without Scripture. This is true is a post fall context where a person cannot get saved without coming to the light through the special revelation of God's Word and the illumination of that revelation by the Holy Spirit.

General revelation is not sufficient for all things in a comprehensive sense. However it is sufficient in the purpose for which it was created. Van Til notes it was historically sufficient. It was sufficient to give Adam what he needed to know in a prefall state--this is who God is and this is humanity's relation to him. It is sufficient in a postfall state to render all people everywhere without excuse.

Conclusion: The basic point is that we need to maintain that the creation displays the glory of God. It truly reveals God. It also lays the foundation for our understanding of redemptive grace.

The problem is that you and I in our sins do not listen to or respond to all that creation tells us. It goes to illustrate the depths of our rebellion and condemnation. Our hearts are so foolish and dark that we take the plain and obvious and make up false theologies and idolatries with it--all because our heart does not want to yield what the creation is calling out.

Thankfully as a Christian, you are regenerated. This means, next time you see something in God's creation, like for example a sunset, you have been equipped to recognize that this calls forth the glory of God to you. Rejoice and Worship.

Monday, March 12, 2012

John Piper Giveaway: Week 2

This week our giveaway is not for the faint at heart!

Originally published in 1983, this study was conceived as an attempt to understand how Paul defends the righteousness of God in Romans 9:14-23. It involves a broad effort to grasp what Paul means by the righteousness of God and raises the question of election and predestination. Monergism Books considers it "probably the best written exegetical defence of election in Romans 9 available".

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Puritan Monday: Trinity, Grace and God's Glory

"The end of the dispensation of grace being to glorify the whole Trinity, the order fixed on and appointed wherein this is to be done, is, by ascending to the Father's love through the work of the Spirit and the blood of the Son. The emanation of divine love to us begins with the Father, is carried on by the Son, and then communicated by the Spirit; the Father designing, the Son purchasing, the Spirit effectually working: which is their order. Our participation is first by the work of the Spirit, to an actual interest in the blood of the Son; whence we have acceptation with the Father."
John Owen, Communion with God, Works Vol 2. pp179-180

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Doug Wilson on Lent

Given my post here on Lent, and Jared's wonderful and gracious pushback with his post on Lent here, I thought this video by Doug Wilson might be helpful and enjoyable to our readers. It's about 17 minutes worth your time.

 In my estimation Wilson gets at some of the things that both of us want to highlight. For example, he echoes my points about self-justification. But he also makes Jared's points about fasting and spiritual disciplines. Overall it is a good video.

Of particular interest to me is what he says about the use of a minimal church calendar as a means of talking every thought captive to Christ. His discussion starts at about 9:30. This is a thought I need to meditate a bit more on because of some encounters I've had with radically strict 'Christians' and cultists who regard even the celebration of Christmas as completely pagan and having no redeeming value, going so far as to argue you are sinning if you celebrate it because of your 'friendship' with the world. 

To this issue I've always applied Romans 14:5-6 to the issue. But Wilson seems to argue that there are more positive reasons to the celebration--namely letting our calendar be focus on Christ rather than the secular calendar. Somebody defines your time, it's either Christ or Caesar. His basic point seems to be that your calendar cannot and will not be neutral.

It's good to think about. Leave a comment and let us know your opinion on the issues. And don't forget to enter the John Piper giveaway.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Attributes of Scripture: NAPS

Commonly there are four attributes described about special revelation. I always remembered them by the helpful acronym NAPS. We say Scripture is necessary, authoritative, perspicuous and sufficient.

Necessary: If we are going to know anything about God, He must reveal Himself to us. Calvin famously remarked that when God speaks, he condescends to us and lisps baby talk. For me to know anything about God, He must speak to me. Therefore we say that the Bible is necessary.

Authoritative: Because God is the ultimate author of Scripture, the Word of God is 'God-breathed'. Because it is God's Word, it is authoritative. He bears the authority of the author because He is the one who has spoken it, ordaining that it should be our guide and authority in all matters of faith and practice. As authoritative, it is our ground because God is revealing to us what He wants us to know.

Perspicuous: This means that the basic doctrines and teachings of Scripture are clearly expressed. This is not to deny that certain passages are hard (2 Peter 3:15-16). Neither does this mean that we will necessarily come to understand all the things in Scripture. But what it does mean is that the basic message is easily discernible. It is true that we cannot discern it without the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). Because of our hardness of heart, we suppress the truth of God when we encounter it. But despite the problem that resides in us, the basic message in and of itself is sufficiently clear. God spoke in plain language. There are not tricks or confusion, nor do we need a magisterium, committee, or publication to understand what is in the Word of God.

Perspicuity is a sometimes a forgotten doctrine, especially when we consider the issues of hermeneutics and post-modern literary theory. Nevertheless the Word of God is basically clear in the core things we need to know. Thus it is sufficient and clear enough to hold us accountable if we reject it. A person will not be able to stand before God at the judgment and claim 'I read it but I couldn't see it was from you.' The reality the person say and had all the evidence and clarity in front of them, their heart suppressed the truth and rejected it.

Sufficiency: The Scriptures are sufficient. God has given us what we need to know and all we need to know in and for this life. The sufficiency relates to the doctrines and teachings in the Word of God. It does not mean Scripture tells us everything. For example, Scripture does not tell me how to repair my car. But Scripture is sufficient to make we wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15).

This also means that our doctrine can be derived from Scripture. We do not need philosophy to come to the aid of our theology. This is not to denigrate philosophy but it is to say that a Christian does not need to be a philosopher to understand the things of God (one potential danger of philosophy is the use of human wisdom to get to God or to understand God's revelation--and to the extent that this detracts from God's wisdom in the cross the two agendas can be antithetical-1 Cor. 1:18-31).

Sufficiency is another doctrine that gets short shrift. Today the church often lacks a practical reliance on the Word of God as sufficient for ministry and transformation. The reality is that the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God as His Sword. How often do we run the risk of trying to do things under our own strength and our own ability rather than letting the Word of God lose and trusting its sufficiency.

So next time you are thinking about the attributes of Scripture think about NAPS. We are grateful for the Word of God that God has blessed the church with so that we might know him. He has given us revelation in His Word. It truly is a precious treasure.

Hopefully in follow up post will talk about how God's two other means of revealing Himself (general revelation and Christ the Logos) also share these characteristics of necessary, authoritative, perspicuous and sufficient.

Monday, March 5, 2012

John Piper Giveaway: Week 1

I can think of no better way to begin our month of John Piper giveaways than with the book that has arguably been his most pivotal, influential, and well-read, not to mention most foundational to his entire ministry. Desiring God also holds a special place in my life as it is only the second book that I read when cutting my theological teeth as a young buck (behind only Mere Christianity). And yes, some of it was a bit over my head at the time, but I cannot think of a book I'd be happier to reread.

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