Archive for August 9, 2010

God is More (not less) Than the Boss of Us

August 9, 2010

The Truth is More Than God’s Sovereignty

Romans 3:3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though everyone were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” 5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

I know some Calvinists (I was one of them) who think it is enough to say that God is sovereign. In this emphasis, sometimes they even project their own ego onto God, and sound like they think of themselves as sovereign also (at least sovereign representatives of the Sovereign).

But the truth of the gospel is not only God’s sovereignty but also God’s righteousness. This means that the gospel is not only about the justification of the elect sinner but also about the justification of God.

I have no use for the “freewill theodicy”. But that does not mean that I am dismissive of efforts to justify God. To justify God does not of course mean that we make God just. Rather, it means that we declare that God is just.

When God justifies an elect sinner, then God not only declares sovereignly that this sinner is just. God is justified in justifying the elect sinner because 1. Christ died because of the imputed guilt of that elect sinner and 2. God then righteously, justly, constituted that elect sinner to share in that death (Christ’s righteousness) so that the elect sinner is legally righteous. Because of these two facts of history, God is justified in justifying elect sinners.

It doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t look just. The elect sinners go free. Christ, who did not sin, died. This is why we are tempted to say that the whole thing is only about God’s sovereignty and then tell people to shut their mouths and ask no questions. But the Bible itself does not take that attitude. The Bible tells us how God thinks. The Bible justifies God.

For example, Romans 3, 6, and 9 deal with possible objections to God justifying sinners. Romans 9 does not only ask: “who are you to talk back to God”. Romans 9 explains that it is inappropriate for that which is made to sit in negative judgment on the maker. That which is made is instead to make the positive judgment that God has the righteous right to harden as many as God hardens.

Romans 6 deals with the objection that God justifying sinners will cause sinners to rationalize their sins, so that they not only say that their sins were predestined but also that they say that more sins result in more grace.

The Romans 6 answer is that grace is either grace or not. There is not more or less grace, but either grace or no grace. More sin does not get the elect more grace, because all those God justly justifies have all the grace any other elect person has. If you have grace, then you are justified from sin, and if you don’t have grace, you are a sinner “free from righteousness” (6:20).

While unbelievers trust in God to help them to sin less, those who have been delivered to the gospel know that there are only two kind of sinners, two states—guilty sinners and justified sinners (justly justified by Christ’s death to sin.)

The theodicy of Romans 3 announces that God is true even if every man is a liar. We justify God because God has revealed Himself. And God has revealed that God is more than sovereign. God’s words reveal God to be Righteous and Just. And God’s word is justified in history by what God did when Christ gave Himself up to death on the cross because of the imputed guilt of the elect. “That you  be justified!”

We were wrong: God was right and God is still right. God prevails, but it is not only a matter of “might makes right” or “sovereignty always wins”. We have no right to make a negative judgment on God, since it is God who will be making a negative judgment on many sinners. But we are called to make a positive judgment, that God prevails.

Not only does God do everything God pleases to God. God’s pleasure is holy pleasure. What God pleases to do is right. And there is no better proof of that than the way God justifies elect sinners. The wisdom of the cross shows God’s righteousness. It is fair. It is just for God to not only let elect sinners go free but also to give them faith and all the other blessings of salvation.

Yes, it is grace to these sinners, but still it is just for God to do it, because of what Christ got done in his obedience even unto death. As Isaiah 53 explains, the righteous servant will be satisfied. God will be just to Christ. And God is just to justify elect sinners for the sake of Christ.

Psalm 116:11—“I said in my alarm, ‘All mankind are liars’” Not only is God justified, but sinners are wrong. Sinners are condemned. We see this in Romans 1:25 already. All of us sinners have been people who “exchange the truth for a lie”.

It is idolatry to only know a God who is sovereign. The true God is also just and righteous. It is unbelief and rebellion to deny that God is just and righteous. Psalm 51:4-6—“Against you have I sinned and done what is evil, so that you are justified in your words and blameless in your judgment..Behold you delight in truth…” Two things go together: God is just and true, we are wrong and false.

The gospel is good news for the elect, but not without also being first bad news. You can call this “methodism” if you want. You can call it “law before gospel” if you wish. But part and parcel of justifying God (and trusting God’s true gospel) is taking sides with God against our-selves. We can’t both be right. God is right, and we are wrong. If God is right, then we are wrong.

If we ever get to thinking that God is sovereign but wrong, then we show not only that we are wrong but also that God has not yet called us by the gospel to the truth. We do not only confess that God is going to get God’s way, that God is going to win; we learn to confess that the way God acts and judges is just. We make a positive judgment about God. That is a result, and not a condition of God having justified us.

God is true. Which is to say: God is God. To reject the righteousness of God (His attribute, not only Christ’s saving work and gift) is to reject the true God. Romans 3:3 tells us that God’s faithfulness proves that God is the true God. Isaiah 42:3—“He will faithfully bring forth justice.” Isaiah 45:19—“I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness. I did not say to the seed of Jacob, seek me in vain. I the Lord speak the truth. I declare what is right”.

Getting in a dispute or debate or argument with the true God shows us just how dumb we become! The irony every time is that our lies, rationalizations, self-deceptions only result in the truth of God being all the more justified, declared. And then, when we try to say, “well at least our falsehoods are making God look more faithful”, we are brought face to face with the fact of Romans 3:5—God is the righteous judge of us. God is not only “the boss of us”, because God is judging us and will judge us. And that right there shows that God is not unjust for judging sin to be sin.

God is not some impartial “fair” judge. God takes sides with Himself. God takes sides against sinners. And the only sinners that God justifies are the elect who God has constituted as righteous by placing them into the death (to sin, to guilt, not only to punishment) of Christ.

God is not some neutral “outside” arbitrator. God is one of the parties in God’s lawsuit against sinners. Sinners are defeated by God’s triumph. The God we have offended by being sinners (exchanging truth for idolatry) is the God who will judge all sinners. Some sinners God hardens. Other sinners have their names written in another book, because God has elected them in Christ.


Not Understanding to Understand?, Works is Grace?, by David Bishop

August 9, 2010

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was an amateur philosopher, an intellect and a poet. He was a prolific writer, a contemporary and correspondent of George Bernard Shaw, as well as a man who considered Atheism the religion of “the mad man.”

First and foremost, however, Chesterton was a Roman Catholic; and as such, he was a man who detested Calvinism, and made no effort to hide it. In fact, he devoted a great portion of his career arguing that all Calvinists are lunatics.

Chesterton’s shocking inconsistencies, blatant misrepresentations and outright deceptions aside, he nevertheless managed to state one fact about Protestantism that remains true to this day.
“The genuine Protestant creed is now hardly held by anybody –
least of all by the Protestants. So completely have they lost faith
in it, that they have mostly forgotten what it was.”

Indeed they have. And most of what they have replaced it with is no newer than Chesterton’s Catholicism itself. Consider Herman Bavinck, for example. Bavinck writes:”Mystery is the vital element of Dogmatics. It is true that that the term ‘mystery’ in Scripture does not indicate abstract-supernatural truth in the Romish sense; nevertheless, the idea that the believer would be able to understand and comprehend intellectually the revealed mysteries is equally unscriptural. On the contrary, the truth which God has revealed concerning himself in nature and in Scripture far surpasses human conception and comprehension. In that sense Dogmatics is concerned with nothing but mystery.”

Now where have I heard that before? “His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight; he sees two different things at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young, and old age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he cannot understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.”
– G. K. Chesterton ,”Orthodoxy”

So then, if I am to understand Chesterton and Bavinck here, then I must first ensure I do not understand them. For only when I do not understand them shall it be that I then do understand them. But if I begin by understanding them, it will then be that I do not understand them.

Say what? This is completely nonsensical,

In a 2002 Auburn Avenue Pastors Conference, pastor and author Steven Schlissel stated the following: “Western Christendom was not built up by the method of individual conversions; rather, it was a way of life that the people accepted as a whole, often by the decisions of their rulers. When accepted,Christianity affected the whole life of society by the change of their institutions and laws. It is easy to condemn this type of corporate Christianity as superficial, external or even sub-Christian, but at least it means that Christianity is accepted as a social fact affecting every side of life and not merely as an opinion or a specialized group activity or a hobby. If we want to know how a nation uniformly Christian has become anti-Christian, we need look no further than this individualized conception of God’s dealings . . ”

Who does Schlissel think the Catholics were persecuting for all those centuries, if not the individually converted, faithful few? Chesterton, being ever the obedient Catholic, and thus a citizen of corporate Christianity, would have adored Schlissel. Speaking of the modern world and how it is “not evil; in some way the modern world is far too good”, Chesterton writes of Christianity, “(it was) shattered at the Reformation.”

In his book, “St. Thomas Aquinas”, Chesterton goes even further when he writes of Martin Luther’s “barbarity”: “It had one theory that was the destruction of all theories; in fact it had its own theology which was itself the death of theology. Man could say nothing to God, nothing from God, nothing about God, except an almost inarticulate cry
for mercy and for the supernatural help of Christ. Man could
not trust what was in his head anymore than a turnip.”

Chesterton’s argument is silly. If man could say nothing to God, then what use to Luther was his many prayers? And if man could hear nothing from God, then just who was Luther listening to during his careful study of Scripture? And if man can say nothing of God, then what precisely was Luther talking about when he spoke of his theology?

The similarities between Schlissel’s theology and Chesterton’s philosophy do not end at corporateChristianity. In his book, Law and Gospel In Covenant Perspective, Norman Shepherd writes:
“. . . the Lord God deals with the power and corruption of sin
by teaching his people how to live happy and productive lives.”

Chesterton is in full agreement. In part four of his essay, Education: Or the Mistake About the Child, he writes, “The difference between Puritanism and Catholicism is not about whether some priestly word or gesture is significant and sacred. It is about whether any word or
gesture is significant or sacred. To the Catholic every
other daily act is dramatic dedication to the service of good or evil. To the Calvinist no act can have that sort of solemnity, because the person doing it has been dedicated from eternity, and is merely filling up his time until the crack of doom.”

There is a great chasm separating the Romanist from the Protestant. While the Romanist works in order to rest, the Protestants rests in order to work. (See Hebrews 4)

“. . . the only great English poet ever went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven made by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. . . . He was damned by John Calvin; he was almost saved by John Gilpin.”
– G K Chesterton, “St. Thomas Aquinas”
“Calvinism held that God had indeed made the world, but in a special sense, made the evil as well as the good: had made an evil will as well as an evil world. On this view, if a man chooses to damn his soul alive, he is not thwarting God’s will but rather fulfilling it . . .
The new Calvinist taught that God originates the whole work of damnation commonly attributed to Satan. One looked back to
the first day when a devil acted like a god, the other looked
forward to a last day when a god acted like a devil.”
– Orthodoxy

” ‘If once a man is born it is too late to damn
or save him.’ That is the fundamental and subterranean secret;
that is the last lie of hell.” – Education: Or the Mistake of the Child

Shepherd and Schlissel are now following Rome into salvation by works, rather than by sovereign grace.

“The biblical nature of the covenant means that man is
compacted into a covenant of mutual obligations, and is
therefore accorded a decisive role in securing its promises.
Man is required to fulfill what is due and to request thereupon
his due. This turns Christianity into a congregation of obeyers
rather than a congregation of believers.”
– Steven M. Schlissel, “A New Way of Seeing?”

“We have thought too long only in terms of covenant blessings.
The covenant of grace curses people who have the privilege of
being among God’s people on earth, distinguished from the world,
and yet don’t live up to what He teaches.”
– Randy Booth, “The Sensible Covenant”, Backbone of the Bible: Covenant in Contemporary Perspective

“To be covenantlly united with God, although intended by God
to bring favor and blessing to His chosen people, carries as well
the threat of judgment and curse. God’s covenant involves
blessing and cursing, depending upon whether one is a covenant- keeper or a covenant-breaker.” – Randy Booth

The Federal Visionist pretends to be a Reformer. In fact, however, he despisies the gospel of grace and wants to return to the grace of law. While they formally reject initial justification by works on one hand, they proclaim men can only remain justified by doing good works. they must “live up to it.” This was Chesterton’s argument, and is even today the Pope’s argument. Unlike the unbelieving Protestant however, Chesterton was at least honest enough to call his philosophy what it was – Catholicism.

Scripture is very clear on this subject of justification by works.
“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never,
by the same sacrifices continually offered every year, make
perfect those who draw near.”, – Hebrews 10:1

If a man’s work could justify him, then there would be no need for him to offer works every day, every week, every year, year after year after year. If his work was good enough to justify him, he would have been once and for all justified, with no need to perform any more works. But the fact that he does indeed strive to be a good man for God, proves he shall never be a good man to God. The only righteousness God accepts is that acquired by Christ Himself, His own very righteousness, and none else. The only sacrifice pleasing to God is the blood of His Son, shed upon the cross, and nothing else.

For the Atheist, the Nihilist and the Materialist, God is dead. For the Catholics, the Federal Visionists and the Chesterton’s of this world, God is a feeble, old man, leaning heavily upon the cane of man’s free will.

Those who play at being both Protestant and Romanist have forgotten they do so at His bidding. It is a terrible thing to fall in the hands of the living God.