Archive for the ‘liberals’ category

Are you being Arbitrary When You Say that God is Arbitrary?

August 26, 2012

Steve Chalke–“why did God command us to forgive without demanding
punishment, but then God Himself wouldn’t forgive but instead demands
punishment (even if it was from Himself) to Himself? ”

The argument seems to be that either Jesus is our example and thus not unique, either that, or that Jesus is unique and thus not our example. Either Jesus accepting the unjust punishment is our example, OR the punishment of Jesus was the last final unique punishment and there is no more example, in which case you can do what you want because His death is not an example but unique.

But of course there is one more reading, and that’s from Romans 12 (leave the vengeance to God, don’t do vengeance yourself) and Hebrews (the violent sacrifice of Jesus does work, but it’s the only one that ever worked or will work, so don’t do sacrifices yourself).

Charles Bradlaugh–“What did Jesus teach–unto him that shoots your
wife, let him shoot you also? Surely it would be better to teach that
‘the one who tempts God and courts oppression shares the crime’, and
if one person is shot to shoot that person who shot to prevent future
shooting.” This argument says “if Jesus was a pacifist for you, then you don’t need to be a pacifist yourself” and it’s not only atheists who use this argument but many Christians.

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 slander 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.

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, it’s not only God’s sovereignty that declares the sinner 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 counted that elect sinner to legally share in that death. Because of these two facts of history, God is justified in justifying elect sinners.

But It certainly doesn’t look just. The elect sinners go free. Christ, who did not sin, died. Why doesn’t that just make things worse?

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.

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. Since God is our Creator, it’s not completely “arbitrary” for God to govern and judge us. It’s not the same as you being a parent and thinking that gives you the right to tell your (adult) children what to do.

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, —guilty sinners and justified sinners .

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.

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”. One. We have no right to make a negative judgment on God. Two, it is God who will be making a negative judgment on many sinners. Three. we are called to make a positive rational judgment about God’s justice.

But how do these three points connect and cohere?

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 just for God to not only let elect sinners go free but also to give them faith and all the other blessings of salvation. The death of Jesus was not only “one more bad thing”. That death without resurrection might have been, but Christ’s death plus resurrection , despite the sins of those who killed Jesus, was to God a good thing which reconciles and makes things right.

Yes, it is grace to those sinners saved by it, but also it was just for God to do it, because of what Christ did 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 condemned. We see this in Romans 1:25 . All of us 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 righteous. It is rebellion against the Creator to deny that God is just. 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 tells the truth, we are false.

The gospel is good news for the elect, but not without also being first bad news. 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 only being sovereign but not being fair to us, 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 should not only confess that God is going to get God’s way, that God is going to win. We need to 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.

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 with the true God shows not only that we are foolish to fight with the Almighty. Getting in a debate with God shows just how arbitrary we ourselves are! The irony every time is that our lies, rationalizations, self-deceptions only result in the truth of God being more 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.

God takes sides with Himself. God takes sides against sinners. God is not neutral arbitrator. God is one of the parties in God’s lawsuit against sinners. The God we have offended by being sinners (exchanging truth for idolatry) is the God who will judge all sinners.

If you Remember that Somebody Has Something Against You, Then You are not the Forgiver

May 12, 2011

Matthew 5:23–“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go First be reconciled to your brother.”

Some liberals have a difficult time reading this command correctly, They cannot think of themselves as needing any forgiveness, so they “interpret it” as saying “go to the person who has hurt you and make peace. (Michael Hardin, The Jesus Driven Life, p96)

We are not the ones who reconcile ourselves to God (by not being like Calvinists or other Christians we know). God is the one who reconciles. God is the subject of Reconciliation, But this does not mean that we need to become Socinians who deny that God is also the object of His own Reconciliation.

Romans 5:17 speaks of “receiving the reconciliation”. Why do we “receive the reconciliation”? Why not just say, we were reconciled? In other words, why not just get changed, so we are not at enmity? Why do we receive something?

If there is never legal enmity in God, then there is no wrath, and if not, there is no propitiation, and no need for it. But the problem is not only in our own hearts, at the altar. God has a problem with us, and only God can solve that problem.

Romans 5:17 does not mean overcoming your enmity in order to overcome your enmity! It means to passively receive by imputation what Christ did.

Matthew 5:24 (sermon on the mount) commands “leave your gift there before the altar and first be reconciled to your brother.” So, even though sinners are the objects of reconciliation, though sinners receive it, this reconciliation is not only the overcoming of the hostility of the elect, but what God has done in Christ to overcome God’s own judicial hostility to elect sinners.

John Murray: “In the Scripture the actual terms used with reference to the reconciliation wrought by Christ are to the effect that we are reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10) and that God reconciles us to Himself (II Cor. 5:18, 19; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:2-22). Never is it expressly stated that God is reconciled to us.

It has often been stated, therefore, that the cross of Christ, insofar as it contemplated reconciliation, did not terminate upon God to the removal of His alienation from us but simply and solely upon us to the removal of our alienation from Him. In other words, it is not that which God has against us that is dealt with in the reconciliation but only our enmity against Him. It is strange that this contention should be so persistent, that scholars should be content with what is, to say the least, so superficial an interpretation of the usage of Scripture in reference to the term in question.

It is not to be denied that the reconciliation is concerned with our enmity against God. Reconciliation, like all the other categories deals with sin and the liability proceeding from it. And sin is enmity against God. But, when the teaching of Scripture is properly analyzed, it will be seen that reconciliation involves much more than that which might appear at first sight to be the case.

When in Matthew 5:24 we read, “Be reconciled to thy brother,” we have an example of the use of the word “reconcile” that should caution us against a common inference. In this instance the person bringing his gift to the altar is reminded that his brother has something against him. It is this grievance on the part of the other that is the reason for interrupting his act of worship. It is the grievance of the other that the worshiper must take into account, and it is the removal of that grievance, of that alienation that the reconciliation which he is required to effect contemplates.

He is to do all that is necessary to remove the alienation of the other. It is plain, therefore, that what the reconciliation must effect is the change of (forensic, judicial) declaration on the part of the other, namely, the person called the brother. Thus we are pointed in a very different direction from that which we might have expected from the mere formula “be reconciled.”

And although it is the “against” of the brother that is in view as requiring a change, the exhortation is in terms of “be reconciled to thy brother” and not at all “Let thy brother be reconciled to thee.” By this analysis it can easily be seen that the formula “reconciled to God” can well mean that what the reconciliation has in view is God’s alienation from us and the removal of that alienation. Matthew 5:23, 24 shows how indefensible is an interpretation that rests its case upon what, at best, is mere appearance.

Infant Baptism Will Save the World?

February 7, 2011

Stanley Hauerwas, A Better Hope, p43–“Gerald Schlabach sent me criticisms of my work that another Mennonite had posted on an e-mail forum. The critic argued that my work is far too Catholic and thus incompatible with an Anabaptist perspective: ‘Hauerwas has a Constantinian fear of Christian liberty. He wants the clergy to tell us the story and the church to have the sanctions to enforce it.’ In his response Schlabach agreed that this is an accurate (although insufficiently nuanced) summary of my views but defended the position nevertheless. ”

Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom , Peter Leithart, IVP, 2010

Leithart is a high church theonomist. He teaches at Doug Wilson’s little school in Idaho. Like others in the anti-federal “federal vision”, he teaches justification by works, with a particular emphasis on “sacrament”. His book is endorsed by Anglicans who teach justification by works: Stanley Hauerwas, John Milbank, and NT Wright.

Leithart believes that infant baptism will save the world. Constantly caricaturing one side against the other, he calls John Yoder an “anti-realist”, then puts the Niebuhrs on the other end, and then sits himself in the middle. “In the end it all comes down to infant baptism.” P341.

When we ask how Constantine and infant baptism will save the world, Leithart asks us to stop being so impatient. Baptism has happened, and it will change the world, because justification by works has worked and will work.

Make no mistake: Leithart is still a theonomist, and the ritualism of James Jordan has not changed his dogmatic agenda that “the Old Testament is normative for politics”. (p131). When somebody like James Carroll (Constantine’s Sword) complains about the anti-semitism of Augustine, Leithart is quick to defend the good old days of the middle ages. The Jews were merely not allowed to proselytize, and besides, he is pro-Jewish because he thinks the OT is normative for politics. And he’s against all kinds of sectarian proselytizing, except of course his own proselytizing for one universal church.

Leithart very much opposes the “John Locke” Protestantism in which separatists (isolationists) “hold opinions that divide them from the general public”. We are reminded that theonomy is not about a combination of church and state but about having one church (with bishops) which can stand up to the state. He quotes Rushdoony (p181) about Trinitarians resisting imperialism. If you won’t support killing heretics, then you are left with “invisible churches”.

Of course we could ask all kinds of questions here, like which kind of visibility? Which church? Which bishops? Whose ordination? But Leithart cautions us to be patient about all such details. All we need to know for now is that infants are being baptized in the name of Trinitarianism. It’s happening, no matter what kind of “nominalist” objections and theories are being suggested. And Leithart himself is still ordained by the PCA, and if the PCA were to become a sect and disqualify him, then he would simply move on to the one church which remains the one church.

If you won’t defend Augustine for killing Donatists who “re-baptise”, then you simply show that you are a baptist at heart. True Anglicans still know that it’s a sin not to have your infants baptized by the one church. We cannot say that Constantine had no mission, because his mission was the empire, and in order to become a citizen in that empire, you also needed to be baptized (and have your infants done, along with your wife and slaves) and if you object to that, you show yourself to be modernist plain and simple.

Indeed, argues Leithart, Constantine really subverted the empire (you see) because he used his great power in the empire to change the empire! How could he have ended the gladiatorial shows, if he had retreated from cultural engagement like the quietists and separatists? If you can vote, you must, and if you can kill for a more civilized culture, then the killing itself becomes civilization!

If Joseph and Daniel can dream for the emperors, doesn’t it stand to reason that you also must become emperor if you can kill enough people to do so? And shame on Constantine for refusing to wear the purple when he thought he was near death, as if being emperor and being Christian were in competition. There is a bad justification by works, like when you do stuff not commanded, or stop doing stuff not forbidden, like stop killing, but then there is a good justification by works, when you can baptize the nations in the name of the Trinity.

Leithart knows that anti-Constantinianism is a cover for liberalism, or even worse, for pacifism. And so he argues simply, for those of us who are too dumb to get it. Augustine was a Christian. Augustine was not a pacifist. Therefore Christians do not need to be pacifists. Christians need only to reject “their wars” (that of the Marxists or the Anabaptist sectarians). But when Constantine becomes a Christian, then his wars become Christian wars, and thus our wars.

Leithart explains to us that John Yoder was effected by his social location: writing in Europe against the state churches of Europe, Yoder could not see that this kind of sectarian nation-building is not the same thing as the medieval achievement of cultural unity. In other words, with Milbank and Hauerwas, Leithart is accusing the ecclesiology of Yoder of still being “modernist”. Even if we can’t be quite Roman Catholic yet, we must all agree now that justification by faith is mere Gnosticism and that justification is by obedience to God’s law, and for that we need both character and community.

And of course Constantine’s history Is somewhat messy (especially his family life) but the alternative is the impatience of perfectionism. Leithart appeals to all us who grew up in dispensationalism and now see ourselves as superior to all that. Surely, “church history is not an empty parenthesis.” (p325) We need to work with that which has come about with the passing of time, and if we resist the gradualism of the Magisterial Reformers, we will end up with no church at all, and no conservative culture!

In order to “de-sacrifice the empire” and thus eliminate the confusion of patriotism and religion, we need to do two things, according to Leithart. First, we need to sacrifice (kill) the enemies of Rome. Second, we need to move the patriotic rituals out of the realm of the empire and move them into the church (which will support the empire). And one great immediate effect of this is that blood sacrifice is ended in the Jewish temple in Ad 70. Sure, in theory, the blood in the temple never worked, certainly not after Christ died, but if you want to see the real coming of the Christ, see it there in the Roman invasion of Jerusalem in Ad 70. (No wonder the theonomists and the preterists like NT Wright’s “end of exile” theology so much!)

If you are patient enough, you can make a nation Christian in the same way that you make an infant a Christian. You baptize it. And the great commission is for you who baptize, which is to say, first you say to a nation that it is Christian, and then you can talk to it like you do to Christians. But if you do not agree that the Romanists and the Americans are all already Christians, already baptized, then what can you say to them about what they should do?

You may think that my sarcasm has simply got the best of me, and that there’s no way that Leithart can be saying any of the things I think he is saying. To that, I say: read him for yourself. If you don’t have time to read the other theonomists (Rushdoony, Doug Wilson, James Jordan, Greg Bahnsen, Andrew Sandlin) or the preterists ( American Vision, Gentry), begin with Leithart’s earlier book: Against Christianity.

I quote from Leithart’s page 333: “The Creator made man to participate in and prosecute His wars.” Of course he is not only describing what God has predestined; his concern is ethics. Mine two. No triangulation needed here. Either he is right or we pacifists are right. According to him, Adam’s problem was that he was a pacifist in regard to Satan. If Leithart is right, as we get to newer covenants (or, “newer administrations of the one covenant”, as the ideology likes to say it), then the newer the covenant, the more responsibility all of us have to kill for the sake of the covenant.

And thus Leithart contextualizes Jesus, so that His dying at the cross rather than killing, is particular, specific, and unique, and not an example for anybody. I remember the old days when theonomists mocked Ron Sider for his leading questions: is God a Marxist? Ron never said he was, but he kinda implied it. And so today, the theonomists ask the leading questions: is turning the other cheek a rebuke of self defense or the defense of others?

How could we possibly think that what Jesus said in the Sermon was for all Christians in all places and for all times? We know that church history is not an empty parenthesis, and we know that Augustine was a Christian, and thus we know that Augustine’s version of Just war (not like that of Bush and Rumsfield) was also the politics of Jesus.

It’s sad that IVP published the book. What’s next for IVP? Will one day they even publish a book defining Calvinism in way that you don’t have to believe the doctrines of “tulip” to be a Calvinist?

The Ritual Christendom Captivity of the Churches

October 29, 2010

Those who would defend Constantine and slavery must also always defend the rituals of Christendom. I refer not only to the attempt to eliminate heresy by means of the heresy of violence. I refer to infant baptism, and to the “federal vision” deconstruction of any difference between water and union with Christ.

Those who warn against the “anabaptist captivity” of “the church” are also willing to reject any difference between a ritual Lord’s Supper and God’s “real or legal” means of union and communion. They will defend anything (slavery, the confederacy) old just so long as it is anti-liberal.

Instead of visible congregations, they write books of theory against theory. Unwilling as individuals to return to the Roman Catholic Church, despite a common faith in justification by works, as optimists they write essays against not only individualism but even against counter-cultures. The most consistent Reformed idealogues (theonomic postmillenialists) plan an end of exile by means of ordained violence.

The next time they are Constantine they promise to do it better. But as inductive theologians, they remind us that even what Constantine did in the past was a result of God’s sovereign providence. And so they hope for a liberal-free future in which cross-bearing will no longer be necessary.

To get at the error of ritual Chrsitendom, we need to do more than talk about associations with Romanism. That’s like criticizing Billy Graham for his associations instead of his false gospel. He runs with those with false gospel because he has false gospel.

Those who cannot tell the difference between the gospel and “the nonvoluntary church” are trying to sell us a narrative in which the visibility of the kingdom of Jesus has to do with the traditional rituals inherited from Augustine and others who used violence in the name of God.

“Reformed” people like J I Packer and Timothy George associate with Romanist ritualists because they themselves are ritualists (George, who calls himself a “baptist sacramentalist”, has much more in common with JI Packer than he doe with predestinarians like Roger Williams or Obadiah Holmes.

If we are going to escape the ritual Christendom captivity of the churches, we need to talk about the sacramental errors of John Calvin, Martin Luther and all “mystical catholic” people who define the Lord’s Supper as something God does instead of as the human obedience of Christians.

We need to oppose ecclesiastical anti-nomianism which equates ecumenical ritualism with spiritual revival and reformation. The fight about sacramentalism is a fight about politics, because it’s a fight about judging saved and lost.

Sacramentalists want to hand out grace without judging saved and lost. They want to include you in their “church” and tell you it’s God’s will and not your decision. Sacramentalists don’t trust anabaptists because they see that suspicion of the state might also mean suspicion of their big broad “the church”.

The majority culture of the state and the powerful (and the would be powerful!) always opposes any attempt for “sects” to judge who is saved. This is why the Reformers kept on killing the Anabaptists the Romanists also killed.

Ecclesiastical antinomians want to say that “sacrament” is a secondary issue and not a gospel issue. But when you refuse the political responsibility of judging saved and lost in terms of knowing and believing the gospel, then you have opened the way for assuming that everyone handed out the sacrament (or listening to the “minister’s” sermon) is a Christian. To not judge by the gospel is to compromise the gospel.

What we believe about who’s in the church has everything to do with the politics of evangelism. Do we see everyone with whom we talk as already Christians who simply need to know more (of what we know)? Or do we see that even Christ’s sheep are not yet all justified yet?

Do we think of church as one universal church which includes saints now living in heaven (to whom we pray or not, is not the only issue) or do we think of local fellowship around a table which is closed to those who do not yet obey the gospel?

In these days, to be more ecumenical means not only to be more romantic about ritual Christendom but also to be more open to “deification”. The “federal vision” way down this path usually begins with II Peter 1:4 (become partakers of the divine nature) and ends up replacing justification by Christ’s death with “union with Christ”.

Just as the word “sacrament” is left undefined or given multiple definitions, so also the idea of “union with Christ” is left undefined or given various (unbiblical) definitions in ecumenical discussions.

What does it mean to be in Christ, and how is it different from Christ indwelling us? This is the kind of question we need to begin asking. Does this indwelling in Christ have anything to do with being handed the sacrament? Certainly Calvin thought so.

We need to read Calvin on this, to see what he did and did not believe. Calvin, for example, only believed in an union with the humanity of Christ, and did not teach an union with God defined as creatures indwelling the Creator, even though that is left an open possibility in undefined ecumenical discussion. But Calvin’s anti-rational streak, which cannot explain and refuses to explain, becomes very mystical when it comes to “sacrament”. (See Bruce McCormack and Michael Horton essays in Tributes to Calvin).

Does the Bible teach that God effects “union with Christ” by means of water, or with bread and wine? NO. My opinion is that we baptists will never get away from that sacramental idea until we get away from the idea that “union with Christ” is only about regeneration. As long as our categories for judging saved and lost are “regenerate” and “unregenerate”, we will be assuming (even if we don’t define it at all) that “union” means regeneration and that union/regeneration precedes justification.

1. We need to define what we mean by “regeneration”. Since the Bible word is “new birth”, we need to think about this new birth in terms of “effectual calling” by the power of the Holy Spirit with the word of the gospel. We need to get away from the idea that “regeneration” is a “change in substance or nature” and then a time gap between that and the hearing of the gospel.

2. We need to define “in Christ” in terms of justification. Although the Bible does teach that the sheep are always in Christ by election, Romans 16 teaches that some of the sheep are in Christ before other of the sheep. This change is not a first of all a change of regeneration or birth but legally a change of state before God. To be in Christ in this way is to be justified. Union with Christ is justification, legal union with Christ and His work and His benefits. Immediately after this legal change, the sheep are born again and believe the gospel, but “union” does not precede justification, because union IS justification.

3. God justifies the ungodly. God does not justify because of faith. God does not justify because God knows that God is going to regenerate and change the person. God changes the person because God has justified the person. The change from a belief in the false gospel to the true gospel is evidence of justification, but it is never the reason for God justifying.

Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God, that you were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were called…”

Roman 6:20 “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?”

As long we define union as regeneration and judge saved and lost by regeneration, we will be tempted to ignore the gospel of justification and judge by morality and immorality.

Romans 6 describes two legal states, one of which is “free from righteousness”. We tend to judge people (even ourselves) to be saved on the evidence of morality. But God sees that morality as something to be ashamed of, when those moral people are still in their sins, still not yet justified.

Romans 6 defines the “in Christ” in terms of legally being placed into the death of Christ. Union with Christ is justification. Instead of an “ritual done by an ordained minister” which makes you a participant in Christ ( understood in many places as indwelling even the deity of God!), our hope as the justified is that God has counted the death of Christ as our death.

Is this unbalanced? Why do I pit regeneration against justification? Well, I could ask you, why do you always draw the line between the regenerate and the unregenerate? Why don’t you draw the line between the justified and the condemned? Why don’t you judge by if a person knows and believes the gospel?

I am not denying the new birth or the absolute necessity for it. I am only saying that the new birth and faith are not all there is to “union with Christ”. I am only say that the “new creation” has to do with a change in legal state, and not first of all with a change of substance or nature.

II Corinthians 5:14 “one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sakes died and was raised. From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh (judging by morality or immorality or by other non-gospel standards)….If anyone is in Christ, there is a NEW CREATION. The old has passed; the new has come.”

“Those who live” means first of all those who are justified. The category of “we died” is not about a change of substance or nature but about an imputed legal reality. So also the category of “those who live” is also not about a change of substance or nature but about an imputed reality, legal life because of justification.

The “new creation” (or “new man”) is not first of all about regeneration or birth but about a legal change of identity, a legal before and after. It’s not gradual; it’s an either or. The new is not effected by a “sacramental feeding on Christ” but by God’s imputation of what God did in Christ in His death and resurrection.

Christ is here, yes, but not in some different way because of water or bread and wine. And also, Christ is not here, not yet, and we believe and obey and hope, waiting for the day when Christ will be here. He is not now coming down from heaven as He will someday, and we are not now going to heaven, no matter what the “minister of the sacrament” might say. The church is not Christ, and the church is not the gospel.

So how then are we in Christ? We are in Christ legally. The old has passed. The legal verdict has already been declared. One day, at the resurrection, there will be visible evidence of that verdict. No ritual is a sign from God that we in particular have been justified or united to Christ.

Even if our children were to eat the “sacrament” with us, still that’s no seal that either we or our children have been justified or that God is our God. What is the gospel? Judge justified and lost by the gospel.

Calvinism is Not Less than the Five Points

October 20, 2010

A Review of The Points of Calvinism (Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology) by Kenneth Stewart, Covenant College

Stewart is rigid in his rejection of rigidity. His essay is less about what he does believe, and mostly about what he doesn’t believe–he doesn’t like the vulgar extravagance of those who identify the gospel with the five doctrines.

In his uncritical embrace of the evangelical party, Stewart rigidly cannot embrace parties on the narrow margins like Herman Hoeksema or David Englesma of the Protestant Reformed Church, or Robert Reymond (from Covenant Seminary, in his Systematic, p1125) or Tom Nettles (a Reformed Baptist “five-point Calvinist”, p387, By His Grace and For His Glory) or R.K. Mcgregor Wright (No Place for Sovereignty, IVP, p100)

By demonstrating the lack of historical precedent on a focus on the five points, Steward somehow thinks he has made an argument that we should not in the future focus on the five points.

But Calvinism is not less than the five points, and a lot of the “more than five points” guys don’t believe the five points.

With the non-Bible-church “Reformed” folks who really do believe the five points but want more than that, Calvinism is about “the covenant”. They say “the covenant” in every other sentence without defining it. Which covenant? Is that covenant conditional or unconditional?

“Calvinism is more than the five points” often means
a. infant baptism
b. “sacramental realism”: unlike those Zwinglian rationalists, they really eat Jesus they proclaim that they do not explain how.
3.They don’t withdraw from culture like the anabaptists (or create their own) but try to take over everybody’s culture. (The two-kingdom Calvinists still think there is only one culture, but they agree to it being secular.)
4. Like the brothers Niebuhr, they know there can be no culture without killing. To transform the culture, they will try to transform the killing without killing it.

Speaking from the margins where the atonement is defined in terms of imputation and election, I must say I am glad not to be Stewart’s kind of rigid Calvinist!

Mark McCulley


April 16, 2010

Freddy, you are the one who’s queer

How could you do this to me?

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

Derek Webb, singing to Fred Phelps about graveyard protests

Liberals tell us that God does not punish anyone for the sins
of others. And then quote Jeremiah 31: 29—“they shall no longer say: the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But everyone shall die for his own sin.” Ezekiel 18 also teaches that the soul who sins shall die.

Jeremiah and Ezekial wrote to people in exile who were suffering for the sins of an earlier generation. In context, the prophets’ assurances that the solidarity of the present generation to their fathers’ guilt would no longer continue functioned as encouragement to repentance. That specific situation is no reason to contradict other Bible texts which teach corporate responsibility.

For example, Romans 5 is very clear that all humans are born imputed with Adam’s guilt. Only a liberal individualist would deny original sin. There are numerous other examples of corporate responsibility in Scripture. For example, in Joshua 7, thirty-six Israelite soldiers die on account of the sin of Achan, and then his family members are executed with him because of his sin. In II Samuel 2, seven of Saul’s sons are executed for their father’s sins.

What God in his sovereignty ordains gives us humans no excuse to hate or punish sinners. Even though so many soliders have died because of the sins of Bush and Obama, this historical fact does not mean that their deaths are justified. Deuteronomy 24:16 explicitly prohibits humans from killing one person in the place of another: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers.”

This means that we cannot read the face of providence (as Fred and the Westboro group attempts) and determine that it was divine justice that caused so many Iraqi soldiers to die for their country. God ‘s judgment extends further than ours . God will judge the secrets of our hearts (Romans 2:16, Hebrews 4:12), but we humans cannot and should not try to imitate the coming apocalypse.

Some liberals  think that any notion of God being judgmental in the future only leads to violence now. But historically that is not how the “peace-churches” have understood it. Instead of reading current events as providential judgments, we have quoted Romans 12: 19—“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

In Luke 13: 4-5, the Lord Jesus responded to those attempting to interpret current events: “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them; do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” That threat from Jesus is not an endorsement of redemptive violence, not an excuse for us to kill anybody.

God judging justly is one reason we are not to kill. The other reason we are not to kill is that, when the soldiers killed Jesus, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” (I Peter 2:24) Liberals will tell us that this event was only humans killing another human and that God had nothing to do with it. But I Peter in context assumes that God does indeed punish His Servant for the sins of the others. I have no space left now to reflect on the wonders of Isaiah 53: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; his soul makes an offering for sin…”

As I Peter 3:18 has it, “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.” There is no need for any of us to be killing, since there is now no other sacrifice for sins. Liberals  will deny that Jesus was punished for the sins of His friends, but it is that very hope which serves as the reason for patience in the face of current tragedies. I Peter 2:21—“leaving you an example, so that you would follow in his steps…when he suffered, he continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”