Here’s the newest round of links:
- How Jazz Can Shape Apologetics- Douglas Groothius
- Antitheism Presupposes Theism (And So Does Every Other ‘Ism’)- James Anderson
- Can We Prove the Existence of God?- James Anderson
- Why I Am a Cessationist- Thomas Schreiner
- Why I Am a Continuationist: Sam Storms
- Six Factors that Do Not Affect Inerrancy- C. Michael Patton
- Free Kindle download: 52 Words Every Christian Should Know
I’ve discussed the biblical doctrine of common grace elsewhere, but here are The wise words of Cornelius Van Til on the subject:
Common grace is [God's] favor to sinners by which they are kept from working out to the full the principle of sin within them and thereby are enabled to show some measure of involuntary respect and appreciation for the law of God that speaks to them even through their own constitution, as well as through the facts of the world outside.
-Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 55.
In 2010 Crossway released David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture. VanDrunen is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, CA. In this work, VanDrunen aims to unpack what’s come to be known as Reformed Two Kingdoms Theology (R2K hereafter). Living in God’s Two Kingdoms offers an alternative to the view that’s become quite popular among young Reformed thinkers: Christ is king over all creation and therefore Christians are to influence their cultures for the cause of the gospel. This means, according to what I will refer to as the Kuyperian (or neo-Calvinist) view, that Christians are to aim for distinctively Christian approaches to economics, politics, law. Vandrunen fears this approach to the Christ and culture question will lead to a misapplication of Scripture and a triumphalistic attitude toward non-Christians.
Content. VanDrunen affirms the Lordship of Christ, though R2K theology teaches that God rules over his creation in two distinct, yet complimentary ways. Each of these ways represents a sphere, a kingdom, of God’s providential agency. Early on VanDrunen clearly develops what each kingdom entails and how God has chosen to rule through it. Whether one agrees or disagrees with VanDrunen’s proposal, we should certainly appreciate his clear exposition of a doctrine that hasn’t always been (to my mind, at least) the easiest to pin down.
The Two Kingdoms. The two kingdoms are the common kingdom and the redemptive kingdom, respectively. The redemptive kingdom, VanDrunen explains, was established with the call of Abram in Genesis 15. Its distinguishing characteristics are the establishment of a chosen people who are provided the means through which they can inherit eternal life. Likewise, as God’s people called out of the world, citizens of the redemptive kingdom maintains a spiritual antithesis with the world. The Israel of God is in union with God in Christ, while unbelievers are under the dominion of Satan. In contrast, the common kingdom was established back in Genesis 9 in God’s covenant with Noah. According to R2K theology, cultural development, the family, and the cause of justice mark the common kingdom. This means at least two things: First, the spheres of the family, economics, civil government, and cultural institutions fall under the rubric of the common kingdom. Second, as a part of this kingdom, they will pass away at Christ’s second coming. Third, while the citizens of the redemptive kingdom maintain a spiritual antithesis with unbelievers, they nonetheless share a cultural commonality with them via the common kingdom.
The Cultural Mandate. One of the most central disputes between Kuyperians and proponents of R2K theology is the application of the cultural mandate found in Gen. 1:28 (“Be fruitful and multiply…”). Was this a uniquely Adamic task? Is this something that applies to humanity more generally? According to VanDrunen Adam served as both a king and priest before God. The Fall was the result of Adam’s infidelity to protecting Yahweh’s sacred sanctuary (the Garden) from the intrusion of the (morally and ceremonially) unclean serpent. If Adam had obeyed he and his seed would have been rewarded with the age-to-come and (and this is the hotly debated point) all cultural activity would have ceased. In contradistinction from Adam, Christ in his perfect obedience as king and priest fulfills Adam’s original task on behalf of his people, thus winning the age-to-come for them. Because of Christ’s victory, the cultural mandate does not directly apply to Christians. As VanDrunen puts it:
Redemption does not consist in restoring people to fulfill Adam’s original task, but consists in the Lord Jesus Christ himself fulfilling Adam’s original task once and for all, on our behalf. Thus redemption is not “creation regained” but “re-creation gained.”
Implications. Several implications follow from VanDrunen’s exposition. First, the redemptive kingdom is to be found in the church and in no other cultural institution. ‘Kingdom work” is accomplished in the church and in the church only. From this starting point Vandrunen emphasizes both the spirituality and ministerial authority of the church. The spirituality of the church is specifically anti-nationalistic. Since the redemptive kingdom is comprised of believers from the Church Catholic, no nation can claim to be the “hub.” We aren’t to confuse the common good of our respective countries for the advance of the kingdom of God. Likewise, since the minister of the gospel is not called to be a statesmen, politician, poet, or social activist, his authority is linked solely to the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. This is merely an application of the regulative principle. The minister’s authority lies in expounding God’s word. If it does not carry the authority of “thus says The Lord” it should not be spoken from the pulpit.
Commendation. As I noted earlier, VanDrunen is an excellent communicator of his position. He not only provides you with his theological conclusions, but also presents you with the scriptural passages that he is persuaded get you there. For Reformed thinkers who are interested in the kind of biblical theology and thinking found in the works of the late Meredith Kline this book certainly speaks your language. And this is a good thing, considering just how much Kline has contributed to Reformed redemptive-historical thinking over the last 50 years.
Likewise, Vandrunen has an excellent discussion of the role of kingly and priestly work of Adam in the Garden of Eden (somewhat building from the thought of G. K. Beale). I don’t agree with all of it (even all of what I wrote above) but he’s provided excellent food for thought. But the thing I appreciate most is his love for the local church and his concern for its purity. This comes out clearly on nearly every page. Again, this is a very good thing. VanDrunen is not leveling a strawman when he warns of the dangers of neo-Calvinism. Often Kuyperians do (functionally, at least) downplay the importance of the local church, along with the ministry of the word and sacrament. This breaks my heart, as I’m sure it does his, though I do not believe this error is inherent in the Kuyperian view. Far from it. All that to say, VanDrunen is right to remind us that whatever position we hold, we must keep the local church front and center in the advance of God’s kingdom work.
Concerns. There are a number of things that concern me about the book’s proposal. I’ll summarize them as 1) misrepresentation, 2) the “new-new creation” view, 3) sources of authority, and 4) a lack of interaction with alternative positions.
Misrepresentation. One thing that aids a reader ‘s comprehension is knowing an author’s audience. Living in God’s Two Kingdom’s is published by Crossway, an evangelical publishing house. While Crossway publishes broadly evangelical works of theology (along with works of devotion and Christian living), over the last 10 years or so it has discernably shifted it gears in catering to what I will call the TGC (The Gospel Coalition) demographic. This point is almost indisputable. This means a large percentage of Crossway readers are Reformed males ranging from the ages of 25-45. I state all of this for this reason: early on Vandrunen links his concerns for Kuyperian/neo-Calvinist theology (what he refers to as ‘transformationalism’) along with his concerns regarding the Emergent Church and the New Perspective on Paul (by which the discerning reader understands as N.T. Wright). But, in truth, there is almost nothing to link these groups other than the shared conviction that there is continuity between this present creation and the New Creation and that our Christian worldview should inform all of life. Outside of these points, linking Kuyperianism with the New Perspective and the Emergent Church (theologies largely perceived as rivals to the TGC demographic) borders on guilt by association. This is unfortunate considering that in the early sections of the book VanDrunen is quite fair in his presentations of neo-Calvinism. But that too is short-lived.
My primary concern with his misrepresentation is in his discussions of the doctrine of justification by faith (central to the thought of the apostle Paul and the theology of the Reformation). VanDrunen rightly links justification to the obedience of Christ as the second Adam (obeying and trusting God where Adam did not trust and disobeyed God). The problem is found when he repeatedly (either directly or by implication) says that the ‘transformationalist’ position that he opposes affirms a kind of salvation/justification by cultural engagement. If this charge seems a bit harsh, I urge my reader to see his comments on pages 28, 46 (twice), 47, 50, 51 (twice), 56-57, 62, 71, 139, 165, and 204-205. This is no mere slip of the pen. Yet it simply cannot be demonstrated that any bona fide neo-Calvinist has ever taught that we achieve our forgiveness and acceptance with God by means of our obedience to the cultural mandate. This is positively inflammatory.
The ‘New-new’ creation. VanDrunen also advocates the view that upon the return of Christ and his exercise of final judgment God will create a new heavens and earth. But before you think to yourself, “Isn’t that what Scripture itself teaches?” you should know that within the Reformed tradition it has been affirmed that the new creation spoken of in Scripture is in fact this present creation liberated from it’s “bondage to decay.” Herman Bavinck—a fountainhead of Reformed theology— says as much (here as well). I will not spend much time dealing with what I think is the biblical alternative to VanDrunen’s position because I’ve address it elsewhere. The position put forward in the book strikes me as confusing the metaphysical and the ethical (a danger Cornelius Van Til frequently warned us about). VanDrunen teaches that if Adam obeyed in the Garden and crushed the head of the serpent upon its challenge to the authority of the word of God, God would have ushered in the new creation. Traditionally it has been affirmed that if Adam obeyed his probation would have ended and his nature would have been fixed or made permanently obedient to the will of God (as redeemed saints will be in the New Creation). But there will not be a “swapping out” of this material world for another ex nihilo creation.
The New Creation will be a renewed creation, purged of the presence of sin and under the righteous and godly rule of God’s redeemed vice-regents.
Sources of authority. While not addressed directly in this work, VanDrunen has defended the R2K view that there are 2 sources of authority, each related to it’s specific kingdom. Natural law governs the common kingdom, while special revelation (specifically Scripture) governs the redemptive kingdom. John Frame has helpfully addressed this subject in his piece Is Natural Revelation Sufficient To Govern Culture?
A lack of interaction with alternative positions. Other than his brief summary of neo-Calvinism early on, there is hardly any critical interaction with neo-Calvinists. Thinkers like Cornelius Plantinga, Albert Wolters, Tim Keller, or Nancy Pearcey are absent from the discussion in VanDrunen’s work. Also, VanDrunen doesn’t interact with alternative exegesis of the passages he references to support R2K theology. This makes his exegesis feel forced when there are perfectly plausible alternative interpretations than the ones he sets forth.
Conclusion. As I’ve noted earlier, David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms is to be commended as a clear and accessible introduction to Reformed Two Kingdoms Theology. He pulls from Reformed resources and helpfully explains Adams’ role in the Garden and rightly defends justification by faith alone. Finally, he has a passion for the local church and his love is crystal clear. All these things are wonderful and we need more of it.
Sadly I cannot recommend this work as a helpful proposal for the development and implementation of a biblical worldview. It unfairly misrepresents neo-calvinists as advocating a kind of salvation by works, doesn’t engage with rival exegesis or thinkers, and defends a view that teaches that God will replace this present fallen creation with another. It presents a religious version of the sacred/secular split that I reject and can—though to be charitable, it need not necessarily— lead to a theology of cultural disengagement and Christian ghetto-ism.
One of the most helpful works in Christian apologetics on the market is Nathan Busenitz’s Reasons We Believe: 50 Lines of Evidence That Confirm the Christian Faith. In this work he tackles reasons to believe in God, the Bible, and Jesus. The strength of his work is its brevity, or as John Frame puts it in his endorsement, it is both “comprehensive and concise.” Busenitz demonstrates that we can present a compelling case for Christianity without have to present technical, and highly philosophical, arguments (though, of course, I certainly believe there’s a place for that).
Early on in the book Busenitz spells out his approach to presenting evidence for the faith within the Bible’s own framework of thought. I think he’s right on the money. In his introduction he says:
Once we have developed each reason from Scripture, we can then show how extra- Biblical evidence corresponds with, and thereby attests to, what the Bible claims. To be clear, this external evidence does not establish the truthfulness of the Christian faith. If Christianity is true, it is because there really is a God, and He has revealed Himself to us through His Son and in His Word. Nonetheless, external evidence does corroborate the claims of Christianity. Because the God of the Bible is also the God of creation, time, and truth (cf. Psalm 19:1–6; Acts 17:26–28; John 17:17)—the facts of science, history, and logic will necessarily correspond to what the Bible reveals.
Here Busenitz adds the helpful footnote:
This is not to say that science, history, or human reason should be considered of greater or equal authority to the Scriptures. Rather, we are noting that when the Bible is rightly interpreted, and when the facts of science, history, or logic are fully known, the two will not be in contradiction to each other. Rather, the general revelation of the world around us testifies to the truthfulness of the special revelation found in Scripture (cf. Psalm 19:1–11).
So the presentation of evidences “corroborate,” “confirm” and “testify” to the truth already provided in Scripture. They do not act as an independent source of authority. Returning to his line of thought:
Such evidence therefore provides wonderful confirmation for believers, because it bears witness to both the reliability of Scripture and the authenticity of Jesus Christ.
We’ll end with Busenitz’s comments on the relationship of evidence and the role of the Holy Spirit in providing the certainty of Christian conviction.
… Nonetheless, it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately makes the truth of Christianity certain in the hearts of believers (1 Corinthians 2:10–15). He gives us absolute confidence in both God’s Word and God’s Son—assuring us of our salvation and our heavenly hope (Romans 8:14–17)… But when a person becomes a Christian, the ‘assurance’ or ‘certainty’ becomes a reality. Christianity from a ‘morally certain’ standpoint becomes as undeniable as one’s own existence.” For Christians, then, the reasons surveyed in this book only confirm what they already know to be true.
With this approach to evidences, couching them in the Bible’s own “philosophy of fact” (to use Van Til’s term), I would encourage all who are interested in apologetics to pick up this book.
Well, this is exciting. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School has released 4 video lectures by D. A. Carson on the book of Hebrews. I’ve only made it through the first and have greatly benefited.
Right now there are tons of sales are great Christian e-books: Topics range from parenting, theology, preaching, Culture, Bible studies, prayer, and church development and a host of others. Following the arrangement of Tim Challies, they are alphabetically ordered:
- Andrew, Brother - God’s Smuggler ($2.51)
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- Begg, Alistair & Ferguson, Sinclair - Name Above All Names ($3.99)
- Blomberg, Craig - Jesus and the Gospels ($4.64)
- Bounds, E.M.- The Complete Works on Prayer ($2.99)
- Carson, D.A.- Worship By the Book ($2.99)
- Chandler, Matt - Creature of the Word ($3.71)
- Chapell, Bryan - Praying Backwards ($1.99)
- Chester, Tim & Timmis, Steve - Everyday Church ($1.99)
- Crouch, Andy - Culture Making ($0.99)
- Dever, Mark - The Church ($4.64)
- DeYoung, Kevin - Crazy Busy ($1.99)
- Emlet, Michael- CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet ($2.51)
- Eswine, Zack - Preaching to a Post-Everything World ($3.99)
- Ganz, Nancy - Herein Is Love: Genesis ($1.99)
- Ganz, Nancy - Herein Is Love: Exodus ($1.99)
- Ganz, Nancy - Herein Is Love: Leviticus ($1.99)
- Ganz, Nancy - Herein Is Love: Numbers ($1.99)
- Ganz, Nancy - Herein Is Love: Deuteronomy ($1.99)
- Glenn, R.W.- Crucifying Morality ($4.99)
- Greear, J.D.- Gospel ($3.71)
- Greear, J.D.- Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart ($3.71)
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- McKnight, Scot - The Sermon on the Mount ($4.71)
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Zondervan has also discounted their Counterpoints Series:
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- Four Views on the Apostle Paul ($2.99)
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- Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament ($2.99)
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- Three Views on Creation and Evolution ($2.99)
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Recently a friend from P&R publishing asked me what I thought of John M. Frame’s new Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Here are my thoughts:
“Frame’s ST is a cleansing breath of fresh theological air! I’ve shared this with John before, but I’m always impressed at how much better he gets at streamlining and sharpening his theological ideas to a fine point each time he repeats them. This struck me when DCL was first released. In the opening chapters of the book there’s a decent amount of review of concepts from DKG (written in the mid 1980s) but they were clearer and as a result more cogent and powerfully presented. Well, in ST Frame has done it again! I’m also glad that there are so many more visuals in ST. As both a former student and TA of John’s I can testify to the great help that comes from charts and visual summaries. As John himself would have us recognize, each ST comes from its own perspective. Sometimes these perspectives can hide truths that ought to be seen, but many times they enable the theologian to shed light on the truth they’re writing about. John’s theological acumen, philosophical subtly, and apologetic concerns allow his ST to see things that others miss.”
If you can only pick up a single systematic theology and are looking for clarity, cogency, and profundity this is the book for you!
James R. White is one of the best teachers on the fundamentals of trinitarian doctrine. His book The Forgotten Trinity was extremely helpful to me during my formative theological years. Here White gives an overview of the book:
Myron Penner’s The End of Apologetics argues that much (if not most) of the practice of contemporary apologetics is hopelessly wedded to Enlightenment assumptions that undermine the very enterprise of apologetics (to commend the Christian faith). Penner is an priest in the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. As he states in one online interview, “I no longer see how modern apologetics (and by that I mean the attempt to give reasons for Christian belief that are objective, universal, and neutral) is really all that helpful – for me or anyone else.”
On the upside, he does present some stinging criticisms of apologetic neutrality and provides helpful reminders that apologetics should aim at more than mere acceptance of a few additional propositions like “God exists.” The kind of faith we hope to lead a person to is full blooded and thrives in community and is aimed at the flourishing of other image bearers.
This was also quite the frustrating read. In some parts I really agree with Penner’s thesis (that much of the modern apologetic project is in bed with modernism), but even in the places where I tend to be sympathetic, I still think he erects strawmen to make his debate partners looks more naive and un-nuanced than they really are. He writes as if [what we could call] evidentialists reduce the faith to a mere acceptance of propositions. I’m a Van TIlian of the Framean stripe, but even as I disagree with their method, Christian charity demands that I fairly present their position. Contrary to their representation in the book, apologists such as William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland believe that true Christian faith flourishes (and needs) discipleship, community, etc. Instead Penner tends to present them as bald rationalists. Also, his (brief) discussion of presuppositionalism is superficial at best, downright uninformed at worst. If he paid closer attention to Van Tillian apologetics he wouldn’t (essentially) condemn the entire modern apologetic enterprise.
With the exception of one short section toward the end of the book Penner seemed more concerned with kierkegaardian categories of analysis than biblical and theological ones. And his painting of his debate partners in the worst light was a put-off. This is a helpful book in terms of presenting a contemporary argument against apologetics, but the book’s weaknesses outweighed its strengths.
It’s not uncommon to hear that the view of God’s sovereignty manintained by Calvinists reduces human beings to the role of a mere robot. Here John Frame thinks through this objection:
Scripture is concerned, above all, to glorify God. Sometimes glorifying God humbles man, and those who believe Scripture must be willing to accept that consequence. We covet for ourselves ever more dignity, honor, and status, and we resist accepting a lower place. But Scripture assaults our pride and honors the humble. Scripture compares us, after all, not to sophisticated robots, but to simple potter’s clay.
What if it turns out that we are robots, after all—clay fashioned into marvelous robots, rather than being left as mere clay? Should we complain to God about that? Or should we rather feel honored that our bodies and minds are fashioned so completely to fulfill our assigned roles in God’s great drama? Some creatures are born as rabbits, some as cockroaches, and some as bacteria. By comparison, would it not be a privilege to be born as an intelligent robot?
Indeed, what remarkable robots we would be—capable of love and intimacy with God, and assigned to rule over all the creatures. Is it not a wonderful blessing of grace that, when we sinned in Adam, God did not simply discard us, as a potter might very well do with his clay, and as a robot operator might well do with his malfunctioning machine, but sent his only Son to die for us? Risen with him to new life, believers enjoy unimaginably wonderful fellowship with him forever.
As we meditate upon these dignities and blessings, the image of the robot becomes less and less appropriate, not because God’s control over us appears less complete, but because one doesn’t treat robots with such love and honor.
-John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God
Apologetics, like any other Christian activity, must be undertaken first as an act of love to God. In particular, we must be sure not to compromise God’s mission, God’s law, God’s message, or God’s love in our zeal.
First, we must not compromise God’s mission. We must not re- strict it so that it becomes narrower than God wants it to be: not merely “souls” being “saved,” or “minds” being “changed,” but whole people being adopted into God’s family and cooperating with him in the global work of redemption.
Second, we must not compromise God’s law. We must not manipulate or deceive, and particularly not use the “bait-and-switch” tactics that show up occasionally among evangelicals, and particularly in work with students: “Come and find out how to have great sex!” “Come to this talk and your grades will go up!” We must not use fear tactics, or success tactics, or any other tactics that are not congruent with the message we are offering and the Lord we serve.
Third, we must not compromise God’s message. Throughout the history of the church, well-meaning apologists have trimmed the gospel to make it fit a little easier with the presuppositions and preferences of the audience. Christianity seems too Semitic and not classically sophisticated? Let’s make it look and sound like Platonism, as some of the earliest apologists tried to do, or like Aristotelianism, as some medievals undertook to make it. Too much mystery in Christian theology? Let’s render Christianity Not Mysterious, as John Toland wrote in 1696. Too many references to the superstitious and supernatural? Let’s edit the New Testament to make Jesus look more enlightened and sophisticated, as Thomas Jefferson did (at least twice) literally with scissors and paste. Too much ancient strangeness and especially Jewish elements? Let’s follow the lead of modern liberal theology and strictly separate the New Testament’s “essential” message from its old-fashioned husk.
No, the gospel will appear foolish to sophisticates in every society. Too much editing of the message to suit the categories and interests of our neighbors can result in our merely echoing them, rather than giving them the gift of something wonderful they don’t already have. Apologetics must always maintain fidelity first to the sacred tradition.
Fourth, we must not compromise God’s love. Apologetics must always look like God’s love at work. People should be able to tell we love God and that we speak and act in the name of God’s love. Any apologetics that falls short of this standard falls badly short of the glory of God.
-John G. Stackhouse, Humble Apologetics, 140-141.
Over the last week Amazon has listed a host of fantastic theological titles for $3.99 or less. This is a great way of pulling together a theological library without spending a fortune (or taking up precious space in your home). My favorites are in bold.
- God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments
- The End of the Law: The Mosaic Covenant in Pauline Theology
- Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ
- Theology and Practice of Mission: God, the Church, and the Nations
- Jonathan Edwards and Justification
- A God Entranced Vision of All Things
- The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith
- God’s Grand Design
- Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary
- Warfield on the Christian Life
- The Theology of B.B.Warfield
- The Ever-Loving Truth
- How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth
- Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament
- The Cross and Christian Ministry
I know I’ve been really behind in posting lately. I’ve been working on several projects and haven’t quite figured out the balancing act. As a result I’m also a bit backlogged in collecting interesting and helpful links around the web. These are a few of my favorite over the past few weeks.
- Infanticide: The Coming Battle- Michael Bird
- Pro-Life Activism Is Not a Mission of the church: It Is THE Mission of the Church- Rolley Haggard
- Some Thoughts on Gay Rights- William Edgar
- And Some Were Persuaded- James Anderson
- The Trouble with Violence in the Old Testament- Philip Bethancourt
- The Ultimate Apologetics MP3 Audio Page- Apologetics 315
- R.C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions eBooks Now Free Forever- Ligonier
- The Top 60 Online Resources for Battling Porn- HeadHeartHand
- 5 Lies that Kill Obedience- Brad Watson