Category Archives: Great Quotes
Something to think about:
Christian maturity is tested by its willingness to go against the odds, to go against intellectual and practical fashions in the service of our King. It is easy enough to be a Christian when being a Christian merely requires us to be nice people. But love for Jesus, that love which is motivated by his great sacrifice, requires far more. It calls upon us to renounce what Scripture calls the “wisdom of the world,” the fashionable ideas and practices of our society, and to count them as rubbish for the sake of Christ. We honor those like Noah, who built his ark though the world scoffed; like Abraham, who set aside the evidence of his senses and the laughter of his own wife to believe that God would provide a miraculous son; like Moses, who stood up against Pharaoh the totalitarian despot to bring him the word of God; like Daniel, who endured lions rather than to worship an earthly king; like Peter and John, who told officials that “we must obey God, rather than man.”
-John M. Frame
Thoughts on our gifts, callings, and duties before God:
In general, our obligations, our moral responsibilities, differ according to our gifts, our callings, our opportunities. One who has the gifts and calling to be an architect, and the opportunity to get the training and credentials necessary for that profession, has an obligation to give more attention to architecture than most of us would dream of giving. Similarly, we can say that obligations also change with maturity (both physical and spiritual). When Paul writes to Corinth asking the people to set aside some contributions for the poor saints in Jerusalem, common sense would lead us to believe that he is not addressing children of six months and under. Those who are ordained to the eldership have a responsibilities for the welfare of the church body that “babes in Christ” do not have as yet. Scripture teaches us “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Thus Jesus is far more critical of the Jewish leaders, who have been entrusted with much knowledge, than he is of the ordinary Jews and Gentiles who are relatively ignorant of God’s word.
Can someone be genetically predisposed to violence, drug addiction, or even aberrant sexual behavior? What if homosexuality can be demonstratively shown to be a genetic predisposition?
The bottom line is that the genetic element in sin does not excuse it. To see that, it is important to put the issue into an even wider perspective. Christianity forces us again and again to widen our angle of vision, for it calls us to see everything from the perspective of a transcendent God and from the standpoint of eternity. Such perspective helps us to see our trials as “light and momentary” (II Cor. 4:17) and our sins as greater than we normally admit. From a biblical perspective, the difficult fact is that in one sense all sin is inherited. From Adam comes both our sin and our misery. We are guilty of Adam’s transgression, and through Adam we ourselves inherit sinful natures. If a genetic predisposition excuses sodomy, then our inheritance from Adam excuses all sin! But that is clearly not the case. Of course, Reformed theology construes our relationship to Adam as representative, rather than merely genetic, and that is important. But Adam represents all who are descended from him “by natural generation;” so there is also an inevitable genetic element in human sin.
-John M. Frame, “But God Made Me This Way!”
There are really only two worldviews. John Frame helps us see the contrast:
If the world is basically impersonal, it is a pretty dark, dreary, and hopeless place. Happiness, justice, love, beauty might spring up for a while, but they are cosmic accidents of no ultimate importance. Finally they will be consumed in various cosmic explosions, and nothing will remain to remember them. Ultimately they are meaningless. If the world is basically personal, the situation is different: personal values like happiness, justice, love, and beauty are wrapped up in the very core of the universe. They are what nature and history is all about. In time, it will be the matter of the world that will be burned up, to be replaced by a new heaven and earth wherein dwells righteousness.
Contrast this with the view of highly regarded atheist philosopher, Bertrand Russell:
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins. . . . Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built. (Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” Why I Am Not a Christian, ed. Paul Edwards)
This leaves us with a choice to make.
So: is the world basically personal, or basically impersonal? One would think that either hypothesis is at least worth considering at the outset of the discussion. But do the secularists give equal attention to both? Do they consider equally the evidence for both? My sense of it is that they routinely assume that the universe is impersonal, and they do not give any serious consideration to the other possibility. Consider Darwinian evolution, Marxist economics, Freudian psychology. Did Darwin, Marx, or Freud consider the evidence for the existence of God and conclude objectively that God did not exist? Certainly not. They assumed that God did not exist, and they went on from there to develop impersonalist explanations of life, history, economics.
Why? Because impersonalism and autonomy go together. If God exists, then autonomy is at an end; we must bow the knees of the mind. But if God doesn’t exist, then we are on our own, free. We can set our own standards, believe what we want to believe. So to assume autonomy, the secularist also assumes an impersonal universe. (John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God,)
For more see:
As God’s Spirit penetrates people’s hearts through the gospel, those people become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). They take their faith into every sphere of life, including the workplace, politics, economics, education, and the arts. And in all these realms, they seek to glorify God. They hear Paul’s exhortation in 1 Cor. 10:31, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” They obey, imperfectly to be sure. But their incipient obedience leads to significant changes in society, as we’ve seen above.
It is true that the New Testament does not focus on the goal of improving the general society. Most of its social teaching concerns relations of love within the body of Christ. But Jesus taught his disciples to minister to people without regard to their creed or national origin (Luke 10:25-37), and Paul, as we saw, urges believers to do good “especially” to the household of faith, but not exclusively there. The early Christians did not have the power to affect much the politics and culture of the Roman empire, but they did what they could. For example, they rescued babies who had been exposed to die and brought them up in their homes.
The Romans, at least, felt threatened. “Kyrios Iesous,” Jesus is Lord, sounded all too much to them like “Kyrios Caesar,” Caesar is Lord, their own fundamental confession. Jesus did not come in his first advent to be an earthly king, but he is indeed King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 17:14, 19:16), to whom all authority has been given (Matt. 28:18). He is the mighty Son of David, whose kingdom is to stretch “from sea to sea” and “from the River to the ends of the earth” (Ps. 72:8). The Romans persecuted Christians because they believed that Christ’s kingship was a threat to Caesar. The Christians protested that Christ was not an earthly king, and that they sought to be good Roman citizens. They said that sincerely. But in time Christianity overwhelmed the Roman Empire, not by the sword, but by the power of the gospel. In time, Scripture teaches, the kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdom of Christ (Rev. 11:15). So the gospel certainly is a political movement. That is not to say that Christians should seek political power by the sword. But they should never imagine that their faith is politically irrelevant.
-John M. Frame, “In Defense of Christian Activism“
In all of our discussions about proofs for the existence of God and the truth of Scripture, let’s never forget this all-inportant point:
The best proof of the Bible is what happens when you read it. For when you read Scripture, with trust and faith, something wonderful happens. God himself draws near. Imagine! He condescends to speak to us within the covers of a book. Quite amazing, really. And it’s not as if he gives us the book and then goes away. No: when you read this book in faith, you enter into a very personal relationship with God. In 1 Thess. 1:5, Paul says that the gospel came to the Thessalonians “not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” The Gospel is words, but it is never just words. When you hear this message in faith, something very wonderful, very supernatural is taking place. When the words go into your mind, the Holy Spirit speaks them to the heart. When the risen Christ opened the Scriptures to the disciples after his Resurrection, they marvelled how their hearts burned within them as Jesus taught them the Scriptures. The Bible is not only the place where God has spoken; it is the place where he still speaks– with power and assurance, causing our hearts to burn with in us because of how wonderful it is.
-John M. Frame, “How to Believe in God in the 2000s“
Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the greatest apologist of them all!
What’s the relationship between preaching and apologetics?
Apologetics and preaching are not two different things. Both are attempts to reach unbelievers for Christ. Preaching is apologetic because it aims at persuasion. Apologetics is preaching because it presents the gospel, aiming at conversion and sanctification. However, the two activities do have different perspectives or emphases. Apologetics emphasizes the aspect of rational persuasion, while preaching emphasizes the seeking of godly change in people’s lives. But if rational persuasion is a persuasion of the heart, then it is the same thing as godly change. God is the persuader-converter, but he works through our testimony. Other terms are also roughly synonymous (or perspectively related): witnessing, teaching, evangelizing, arguing, etc.
-John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 16
- The goal of apologetics is to evoke or strengthen faith, not merely to bring intellectual persuasion. Directed toward unbelievers, it is an aspect of evangelism; toward believers, it is training in godliness. It is possible to be intellectually persuaded of a theistic world view, as were the Pharisees, without a real heart commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Furthermore, everyone has the intellectual knowledge required for faith. The need of the unbeliever is not for more information, but for God’s grace motivating a heart change. It may of course be necessary for the apologist to bring factual information to the inquirer, in order to challenge him to rethink the data. But the apologist seeks above all to be a channel through whom God’s Spirit can bring repentance (including intellectual repentance) and faith.
- Apologists, therefore, must resist temptations to contentiousness or arrogance. They must avoid the feeling that they are entering into a contest to prove themselves to be righter or smarter than the inquirers they deal with. I believe that kind of pride is a besetting sin of many apologists, and we need to deal with it. 1 Peter 3:15-16 focuses, surprisingly, not on the brilliance, cogency, or eloquence of apologists, but on their character: they must answer unbelievers with “gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.” Peter here tells us that a consistent Christian life plays a major role in the work of apologetics. Christianity is not just an intellectual system, but an comprehensive way of life; and nothing is more persuasive than a concrete, consistent example of that way of life. And nothing is more detrimental to our witness than an apologist whose life betrays his message, who fails to show the gentleness and love of Jesus.
- Our apologetic should take special pains to present God as he really is: as the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, who alone saves his people from their sins. As the creator of all things and the one who directs the course of nature and history by his providence (Rm. 8:28, Eph. 1:11), God is the source of all meaning and rationality. Our argument should lead to such a God. So we should not mislead unbelievers into assuming that they can understand any fact adequately without confessing its relation to God. We should make plain that even our methods of knowledge, our standards of truth and falsity, our views of logic, our scientific methods, must be reconciled first of all with God’s revelation.
-John M. Frame, Five Views on Apologetics, 217-218. (Emphasis added)
Our concept of theology as application will help us form a better view of theological progress. Theology progresses as it learns to apply God’s word to each situation it encounters, and we have seen evidence of that throughout church history. The great strides in theological understanding come about when the church creatively and faithfully responds to difficult situations on the basis of Scripture.
The Reformed faith is especially well-equipped to make theological progress. In the Reformed faith, the concept of application is not a threat to sola scriptura, because Calvinists believe in a comprehensive revelation of God in Scripture, the world, and the self. Everything reveals him, for everything is under his control, authority, presence. Nor ought Calvinists to be burdened with any demand for absolute precision or objectivity. The Reformed faith has a clear view of the Creator-creature distinction; only God has perfectly precise and perfectly objective knowledge (though even for him, such knowledge is not devoid of subjectivity)…
Reformed theology has also made exceptional progress in the more common sense of learning new things from Scripture. These discoveries too, however, our applications or contextualizations, answers to current questions. Lutheran theology has not changed very much since the seventeenth century, nor has Arminian theology. But Calvinism has developed new understandings of the covenants, of redemptive history, of biblical inerrancy, of apologetics, of theological encyclopedia, and of the relationships of Christianity to politics, economics, education, the arts, literature, history, science, and law. That progress has come about because belief in the sovereignty of God sets the Calvinist free to explore the fullness of God’s revelation in Scripture and creation.
-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 307-308
When we engage in apologetics the goal isn’t to show off our flashy intellectual prowess. As John Frame says:
It is important in apologetics to urge an inquirer toward a decision. That does not mean manipulating him or encouraging hypocrisy. It does mean, however, making clear to him the nature of faith. It means making clear that faith does not – indeed may not – wait on the resolution of all intellectual difficulties and that faith is expressed not only in intellectual or verbal fashion but also in all of life’s activities. If the inquirer is not ready to verbalize a confession of faith, he should nevertheless be encouraged (not discouraged, as in some circles) to seek after godliness and to make such a use of the means of grace as the church (under Scripture) will permit.
-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 357
The goal of tearing down strongholds and every lofty thought that resists the knowledge of God isn’t to show off our good we are at philosophical demolition. The goal is to lead someone to Christ, to behold his beauty, to taste the sweetness of the gospel of grace.
Here are 2 articles by John Frame introducing the basics of Reformed apologetics:
Part 1 of 2: Introduction and Creation
- The Word of God vs. Mere Creaturely Wisdom
- God’s Word Our Presupposition
This last section on ‘problems’ is very helpful. It covers issues like the psychology of presupposing, the content of our presuppositions, circularity, and persuasion.
Part 2 of 2: Fall and Redemption; and Summary and Conclusion
- Sin, Grace, and Knowledge
- Apologetic Implications
This is an excellent place to get your bearings on fundamentals of presuppositional apologetics in general, and Frame’s approach in particular.
More than a few Christians have expressed concern that the Reformed doctrine of eternal security leads to a lazy attitude toward holiness. This is one reason why many Reformed people (Calvinists) feel uneasy talking about ‘once saved, always saved,’ or even ‘eternal security.’ Instead, Calvinists speak of ‘perseverance of the saints’ or even the ‘preservation of the saints.’ Founding faculty member of Westminster Seminary, John Murray, sheds some much needed light on this subject:
The new covenant also finds its centre in the promise, ‘I will be your God and ye shall be my people’. The new covenant as an everlasting covenant reaches the zenith of its realization in this: ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people’ (Revelation 21:3). But we must ask: Do believers continue in this relationship and in the enjoyment of its blessing irrespective of persevering obedience to God’s commands? It is one of the most perilous distortions of the doctrine of grace, and one that has carried with it the saddest records of moral and spiritual disaster, to assume that past privileges, however high they may be, guarantee the security of men irrespective of perseverance in faith and holiness. Believers under the gospel continue in the covenant and in the enjoyment of its privileges because they continue in the fulfilment of the conditions; they continue in faith, love, hope, and obedience. True believers are kept unto the end, unto the eschatological salvation; but they are kept by the power of God through faith (cf. I Peter 1:5). ‘We are made par- takers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of confidence stedfast unto the end’ (Hebrews 3:14).
It is through faith and patience we inherit the promises (cf. Hebrews 6:11, 12). We shall be presented holy and unblameable and unreproveable before God if we ‘continue in the faith grounded and settled and not moved away from the hope of the gospel’ (Colossians 1:22, 23). Paul the apostle could exult in the assurance that his citizenship was in heaven and that one day Christ would change the body of his humiliation and transform it into the likeness of the body of his glory (Philippians 3:20, 21). But co-ordinate with this assurance and as the condition of its entertainment is the protestation, ‘Brethren, I do not yet reckon myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press on toward the goal, unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:13, 14).
Paul knew well that if he were to attain to the resurrection of the dead all the resources of Christ’s resurrection power must be operative in him and all the energies of his personality enlisted in the exercise of those means through which he would apprehend that for which he was apprehended by Christ Jesus (cf. Philippians 3:10-12). This is just to say that the goal is not reached, the consummation of covenant blessing is not achieved in some automatic fashion but through a process that engages to the utmost the concentrated devotion of the apostle himself. It is not reached irrespective of perseverance, but through perseverance. And this means nothing if it does not mean concentrated obedience to the will of Christ as expressed in his commandments. We readily see, however, that the attainment of the goal is not on the meritorious ground of perseverance and obedience, but through the divinely appointed means of perseverance. Obedience as the appropriate and necessary expression of devotion to Christ does not find its place in a covenant of works or of merit but in a covenant that has its inception and end in pure grace.
-John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics, 200 (emphasis added)
I’m tempted to one day writing an article titled “Things no Van Tillain Presuppositionalist Believes.” There are so many misunderstandings about what Van Til taught that even some who think they follow him in his approach get it wrong. Here I noted one prominent non-presuppositionalist make the following statement, “Christians share common ground with unbelievers, who are likewise made in God’s image, which is not erased by the fall.” There I noted the irony of the statement, as if Van Til ever said anything different! Here is a snippet from John M. Frame, a former student of Van Til, and one of his leading interpreters:
Granted that the unbeliever is totally depraved, what is there in him, if anything, that is capable of receiving God’s grace? The Arminian answers, “man’s reason and free will.” Karl Barth answers, “nothing at all.” In Barth’s view, God’s grace creates his own “point of contact.” This position coheres with Barth’s views that the reception of grace has no intellectual content. Grace brings us no “propositional revelation” which the unbeliever by grace comes to understand and trust. It is rather a “bolts out of the blue,” which makes no contact at all with the finking or will of the unbeliever.
Orthodox Calvinists, however, recall that God made man in his image – an image that is marred by sin, but not destroyed. Van Til argues that part of that image is knowledge of God, which, though repressed (Rom. 1), still exists at some level of his thinking. That is the point of contact to which the apologist appeals. He does not appeal merely to the unbelievers reason and will, for his will is bound by sin and his reason the seeks to distorts, not affirm, the truth. We do not ask the unbeliever to evaluate Christianity through his reason, for he seeks to operate his reason autonomously and thus is deep in error from the outset. Rather, says Van Til, we appeal to the knowledge of God which he has (Rom. 1:21) but suppresses.
That suppression, as we have noted, is never complete. The unbeliever would like to snuff out his knowledge of the true God, but he cannot. Indeed, it is this knowledge, however he may distort it, which enables him to go on living in God’s world. Thus, the unbeliever, contrary to his own assumptions, often says things which agree with the truth as the Christian sees it. The affect of sin upon reasoning does not mean that the Christian and the non-Christian disagree over everything, although if both were consistent with their presuppositions that would be the case. Defining the possible extent of that agreement is difficult. The Pharisees acknowledged so much of God’s truth that Jesus actually commended their teaching (Matt. 23:3), while deploring their works (Matt. 23:3). Thus, we may appeal to the unbelievers native knowledge of God, we may find him agreeing with us, at least part of the time… For the question of the point of contact boils down to this: are we accepting and thus addressing the unbelievers distorted worldview, or are we accepting and thus addressing the undistorted revelation which he holds within himself despite his distorted worldview?… Are we so impressed by unbelieving “wisdom” that we seek to gain the approval of unbelieving intellectuals based on their own criteria?… Our job is to rebuke unbelieving criteria, not affirm them. Our appeal is not to those criteria, but to that knowledge of God which the unbeliever has “deep down,” as Van Til liked to say.
-John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 82-83, 85
Translating Cornelius Van Til’s teaching that all unbelieving thought teeter-totters back and forth from rationalism to irrationalism to the language of atheism and idolatry, John Frame gives the following instructions:
Against atheistic relativism. When you find a nonbeliever who stresses the atheistic relativist side of unbelief, be persistent in asking these questions: (1) how can you be sure that relativism is right, when it itself rules out all Cherence? (2) How can you live as a relativist? Having no assurance of anything must be a terrible strain, rationally, emotionally, and volitionally, what basis do you have for making decisions? What basis do you have for criticizing the treatment you receive from others? How can you say anything is wrong, unfair, or unjust? What basis do you have for trusting logic – or, for that matter, your own mind?
Against idolatrous rationalism. When you meet someone who tends to stress the powers, rather than the limits, of what autonomous thought and action, you will likely be dealing with someone in the grip of an idol. Find out what his idol is and take aim by asking these questions: (1) What basis is there for thinking that this idol is absolute? (2) Does your god really do the job of a God? Did it create the world? Is it the ground of logic, mathematics, ethical value, and the universal judgments of science? Is it adequate as a final standard of meaning, truth, and right?
We know that an impersonal god can do none of these things. So the unbeliever will be tempted either to lapse into relativism or to grant that his god has some elements of personality. Once he does the latter, he’s granting part of our case, and we can pursue him further, especially by asking him, “How do you know this person?”
Against atheistic idolatry. Press the fundamental contradiction in this rationalistic – irrationalistic combination. A proof that there are no proofs, an absolute statement that there are no absolute statements. Then attack the original rationalistic and irrationalistic elements, as above. It will not be easy. The unbeliever will slide from one position to another, from rationalism to irrationalism and back again. Argument itself will not be enough; God must intervene. Thus, prayer is the ultimate apologetic weapon.
-John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 201-202.
On Monday I posted a quote from John Dickson on Christological monotheism, the declaration that God rules the world by his Messiah Jesus. Today I’d like to follow that up by demonstrating the essential link between the confession that there’s only one true and living God (monotheism) and the essential Christian commitment to proclaiming his name among all peoples (mission). First, let’s listen to John Stott:
Monotheism remains the essential basis for mission. The supreme reason why God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the [same] truth” is that “there is one God and there is one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all…” (1 Tim. 2:4-6). The logic of this passage rests on the relation between “all men” and “one God”. Our warrant for seeking the allegiance of all men is that there is only “one God”, and only “one mediator” between him and them. Without the unity of God and the uniqueness of Christ there could be no Christian mission. (John Stott, Our Guilty Silence, 23)
Few texts in Scripture make this connection so clearly as Psalm 96:
Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth!
Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
John Dickson drives this point home:
Here [Psalm 96] we arrive at the fundamental equation of mission, the driving force behind all our efforts to bring the news of the one true Lord to our friends and neighbours: If there is one Lord to whom all people belong and owe their allegiance, the people of that Lord must promote this reality everywhere. Monotheism and mission are intimately related. The existence of just one God makes our mission to the many essential. (John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, 31)