Friday, November 5, 2010

The Baptized Body by Peter Leithart

I originally posted these on another blog as three separate parts, but I'm combining them here as one post.

I’m currently reading Peter Leithart’s book, The Baptized Body. In the opening chapter, there is much to commend. Let me choose three examples.

First, baptism has socio-political implications. In other words, when I am baptized, my allegiances, my citizenship, and my responsibilities as a citizen are fundamentally altered. Baptism doesn’t only affect me, it doesn’t only affect the Church, but it affects the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world—and not only eschatologically, but as soon as it occurs.

Second, baptism is a basis for instruction, not an end of instruction. Baptists, who deny infants the rite of baptism, take the view that baptism is something that comes after faith has been demonstrated as the result of instruction into who is the object of that faith (Jesus Christ), His work, and how that work applies to the recipient. But if faith is something that is not only instantaneous, but also progressive, why should the sign be kept from those under the lordship of faith-filled parents? Parents who pass on language expect their children to speak as they speak as they grow into this instruction. Parents who pass on basic household instructions expect children to eventually learn and do what they are told. The symbols used to communicate realities that children are only just learning to understand are not withheld, but rather inform the meaning parents seek to give. Somehow the passing on of the faith becomes radically different from all other instruction, but there is no justification for this dramatic shift. But baptism, as a symbol of the faith in Christ and all that it entails by way of blessings and responsibilities is part of the way a child learns what faith is—it is not the end of instruction, but a basis for it.

Third, sacraments do work and require work. By work I don’t mean that they are “good works” in some forensic sense. Rather, they are participatory rather than entirely introspective or contemplative. The meeting of minds is a central aspect (as I’ve stated in a previous post here), but it is not the only aspect, and the mental aspect is supported by, and even accomplished through the interaction with or participation in the work/effort/action of baptism and communion. Objectively, though not always efficaciously, baptism and communion cleanse the believer of sin, confer upon the believer the rights and privileges of Christ, including the responsibilities of covenant fidelity, and draw the believer into communion with Christ and His Body. We can say objectively, because that is what God has purposed the signs to signify, and how He has instructed us to regard them and those partaking of them. That some will partake powerlessly, faithlessly, subversively does not invalidate the sign or its meaning—for a general purpose need not entail a universal application (I can say, “My class is full of good students,” even while there are a few who are “bad students.” The fullness does not imply totality in each particular, but generality across the class).

Despite these excellent points, there are unfortunately stinkers too. Two points in particular stick out. One is relatively minor, but is cropping up as a pattern (in three readings of Leithart now)—I don’t like the way Leithart discards long-standing terminology on the basis of contemporary misuses or misunderstandings. Provocation is not always perceptive. The other quibble is more grievous, and is based in poor definition, and poor attention to logical implication.

First is the disjunction between means and ends. Leithart avoids the term “ends,” but it seems apparent from his description and examples that what he opposes to means are the things means are supposed to be getting us toward, helping to accomplish, etc. He says, for example, “Is the sentence ‘food is a means of nourishment’ any more precise than ‘food nourishes’?” or “Is sex a ‘means of making love’ or is it ‘making love’?” He supposes that these sentences are tautologies, which they are, but then he takes the additional step of arguing that this invalidates the precision of “means” as a term of description: “In each case, sticking ‘means’ into the sentence gives the impression of insight and precision, but without much payoff.” But just because one may omit the word in several cases of expression does not imply that it loses precision in all cases of expression.

Suppose I confess the faith to an unbeliever, and as a result of my confession the unbeliever repents and believes. By Leithart’s logic, saying, “My confession saved this unbeliever” is as precise as saying, “My confession was a means of saving this unbeliever.” The first is true, but confusing insofar as it leaves unexpressed the other means that were necessary for the event to have been accomplished. By including “means” I communicate that more than my confession contributed to the unbeliever’s salvation. And this is precisely the type of precision that the Westminster Confession is aiming at in using the phrase “means of grace.” There are several means of grace—ways in which God graces us—none of which in itself is the sum and total of God’s particular grace to His people. Baptism graces. Communion graces. The Word graces. And all of these by God’s determination and power. The emphasis upon “means” is to point back to the “primary cause” who confers, and who also does not confer.

This fact on non-conference is another reason why “means” language is more precise. Every time one has sex, “lovemaking” is not only objectively portrayed, but subjectively accomplished, if we take the terms to be identical. Water is a bit more fluid (pardon the pun) for it can wash effectively or ineffectively based on how it is applied. Baptism and Communion are objective rites, but they do not confer in and of themselves what they signify (which Leithart acknowledges). Thus, God must act through them, in them, or by them, but “them” not apart from Him. The reprobate who has “bad faith” (though by all appearances he has faith) lacks the new birth wrought by God. This is so by definition, for God does not confer his favor (grace) upon, does not commune with, does not look upon with love the one determined by wrath or hatred from eternity. The appearance of faith is no different than an alien’s appearance of citizenship, or the imposter’s appearance of belonging. Now this is the first chapter, so perhaps Leithart will bring the discussion back around, but as it stands in this section, I don’t see how ridding ourselves of “means” language affords us greater clarity.

I’ve probably spent too much effort to explain what could be said in one sentence: the problem is not with the term “means of grace,” but with the misunderstanding of what it identifies or what is its definition. Leithart wants new terms (or old terms that find new usage), which seems good so long as we don’t discard terms that are still full of use, despite their misuse or misunderstanding.

The second objection I have is Leithart's explanation of God's relation to time.

He begins, “For some, however, God’s transcendence of time effectively cancels out any real interaction or involvement that God might have with creatures in time. Because God has determined and knows that some person will be reprobate, He cannot really, sincerely favor that reprobate in time. Because God has scripted history and fixed the course of events, God never really reacts to our actions. When the Bible says, ‘God changed His mind,’ it is mere anthropomorphism. This is not a satisfying answer. The Bible says God changed His mind, and the Bible is true (Exod. 32:14; Jer. 26:19; Amos 7:3,6). The Bible also says God does not change His mind, and that is also true (1 Sam. 15:29). We should try to affirm both equally well, and not allow one biblical truth to cancel another. Any time our theology makes it difficult or impossible to say what Scripture says, our theology must be mistaken.”

One small note, but important note: God hasn’t determined and known that some person “will be” reprobate, but rather God determines and knows that a person “is” reprobate. One doesn’t become elect or reprobate at some point in history, but is elect or reprobate from eternity, and is revealed before (displayed in front of or toward) creation as elect or reprobate in the Last Day. This is a subtle, but all important distinction, because insofar as we want to have eternal election—God choosing to place his love on certain men prior to and apart from any condition in those men—then we also by implication affirm eternal reprobation (whether supralapsarian or sublapsarian in order). You don’t get one without the other, and therefore all men for all of time are categorized in one of these two ways, never to be confused or alternated.

Second, let’s recognize that in tackling one of the most difficult philosophical topics (time) in addition to the part time plays in one of the most difficult theological topics (God’s relation to time) Leithart fails to define his terms—and not just in this quotation, but anywhere in the section. What is time? What is “changelessness?” We get lots of description, some propositions and supporting claims, but no definitions. It is impossible to resolve the relation of God’s immutability and time without knowing what exactly immutability and time are! Leithart promptly goes to the Bible, which is the right move, but instead of clarifying a single meaning, he identifies two mutually exclusive meanings and says we must have both! God cannot be glorified in logical contradictions, no matter how “mysterious” we want to proclaim them to be. Open that door and we can do all sorts of gymnastics upon the same basis: The Bible says that God’s eyes roam to and fro over the earth; the Bible also says that God is a spirit, which means He has no body; well, the Bible says God has eyes, and God has not eyes, so we must affirm both! Clearly this is absurd, and no one resolves anthropomorphisms of this nature by arguing that “somehow” God has and also has not body parts.

We needn’t resort to affirming contradictions anyhow. The word Leithart identifies as “change” is nacham, and means to repent, regret, be sorry, comfort, console oneself, or be comforted. The key idea here has to do with how God is positioned toward His people. In 1 Sam. 15:29 God is rejecting Saul, and Samuel wants Saul to be clear that God is beyond persuading, i.e. there is no repentance that can bring about restoration—God is not like men, who will be comforted by your efforts to appease him. In Exod. 32:14 Moses is interceding with God to spare the people for His name’s sake. Clearly this is in line with God’s eternal desire, and so here God accepts the mediation of Moses, for it is for God’s purposes to relent from destroying Israel. Has God “changed His mind” or was it that He never intended to wipe Israel off the face of the earth in the first place? Just because the language is put into dramatic form doesn’t imply that we toss out what the Bible elsewhere affirms about God’s eternal willing. Resolving the issue doesn’t require affirming the contradiction, nor does it require a definition of God’s relation to time wherein God is undergoing some change within Himself toward the people whom He is addressing or being addressed. We don’t even need to attempt to distinguish reprobation and election in these passages, but only that God is disposed to impose or relent of wrath on the basis of intercession actual or potential. That God exacts the consequences of sin at one time and does not exact them at another does not entail that God is changing His mind, or changing anything regarding His dispositions toward those upon whom the consequences fall.

So when Leithart wants us to accept that God changes, but does not change his mind and attempts to support this claim by explaining how God is both “active” and “responsive” in Creation, he isn’t giving us any logically sound definition of time and change upon which to evaluate his claims. Leithart simply does not define what is response or responsiveness. His affirmation that God passes judgment is not proof that God is responsive, for we can identify judgments of God that are not responsive at all, since they precede the existence of the things to which He would be responding—i.e. when God judges men elect or reprobate prior to creating them, he is not responding to something they have done, but is imposing judgment actively, determinately, without response. Leithart affirms that “God does all things according to the council of His will (Eph. 1:11), and yet God also responds to, reacts to, and passes judgment on things that He Himself has performed. He responds to prayers with showers of blessings. He responds to rebellion with flaming wrath. He mourns over the city and the people that refuse to receive Him. God, the changeless God, is a responsive God.” But this isn’t proof of Leithart’s claim, but mere assertion. We can just as easily assert that these judgments and consequences aren’t something God is “doing” in time, but are the entailment of what He “has done” from eternity—namely, decided that at time T, X would occur to Y on the basis of A. There is no compelling demonstration for Leithart’s claim, but insofar as we accept election and reprobation from eternity we prima facie affirm that God does judge, evaluate, and act from eternity in ways that humans experience in time, without the entailment of God somehow changing something about Himself or His doing in time.

Which brings us to the problem of time itself. Augustine defined time as a quality of created things, thus God’s “entry” into time can only be truly expressed in Christ’s human nature in the Incarnation. God’s actions are not “in time,” but rather human experience of God’s acts is durative rather than immediate. If Leithart wants to disagree with Augustine, then he needs to put forth a definition of time. Instead Leithart says, “God is changeless, but we must define changelessness the way the Bible does and in a way consistent with our Trinitarian convictions. We must be careful not to fill the word ‘changeless’ with whatever content we think is appropriate. For instance, one might argue: God is changeless; any action is change; therefore, God doesn’t really act. When the Bible says He acts, it’s speaking ‘anthropomorphically.’ But that’s not the way the Bible defines ‘changelessness.’ Obviously God does act, and all the time; He works from the beginning until now, Jesus says. We can’t conclude from God’s changelessness that God is motionless. In short, we should affirm both sides of this apparent contradiction between God’s changelessness and His responsiveness.” But how can we affirm what has not been defined or identified? What are changelessness and responsiveness? Descriptions of Biblical events aren’t definitions of these terms. Leithart admonishes us to avoid importing our own meaning to a word, but then instead of giving us a Biblical meaning to use, he simply says it is obvious from the descriptions offered by the Bible.

I would think that Dr. Leithart would know that a description is not the same as a definition. Saying, “this object is hard, sharp edged, and gray” does not a rock define. Nor is saying, “God changes His mind, and God does not change His mind” a definition of God’s changelessness and “responsiveness.” It describes two statements made about God from Scripture, but does not distinguish their meaning or their difference from each other. Leithart’s primary problem is that he takes a change in man’s nature or temporal status to indicate a change in God’s relationship to man: “In short, God has planned everything, but part of what He’s planned is a change in His relationship with us. This is not only explicit in various passages of Scripture, where it is said that God changed His mind [a statement Leithart has asserted, but not proven, as my counter-explanation above has demonstrated], but it is evident from the very nature of the gospel. What can we say about a man who is a rogue apostate, living in flagrant disobedience to God, preying on every attractive woman he meets, backbiting his business associates and cheating his business competition? Are we justified in saying that he is the object of God’s wrath? Certainly. What if he converts? Has God’s attitude toward him changed? Certainly. He has moved from wrath to grace; before God regarded him in Adam, but now He regards him in Christ. God had not shown favor; then He does show favor. That’s what conversion means.”

This is terrible theology. It takes what we observe—a man’s transition from death to life—and identifies it as a change in God’s evaluation. But Scripture affirms that God chose us in Christ from before the foundation of the world, which means God has regarded us in Christ while we were sinners. God does not view the elect who have not yet been converted as reprobate, nor is He disposed toward them in wrath. They are called children of wrath because that is the realm in which they are still living, but that isn’t how God regards them, for otherwise it could not be said that He has elected them in Christ from eternity. They are only “in Adam” insofar as their nature has not yet been changed, but from God’s determination, from His evaluation of them (which, by the way, is always from the view of the individual’s end—glorification or condemnation) is from the nature He shall grant them upon conversion. What Leithart has done is taken the classical Arminian view of God’s relationship toward men in salvation and generalized it out to God’s relation to time. For the Arminian, God responds to what He has planned from eternity because He is dependent upon the free will of the individual to accomplish the plan. Leithart avoids the LFW problem, but keeps the dependency of God to be disposed one way or another on the basis of the temporal conditions of the individuals He has created. The Creator is rendered a passive agent. I don’t take this to be what Liethart believes himself to be saying, but rather I affirm it as an implication of what he has said. It is sloppy thinking, and the saddest part is that he doesn’t need it in order to support the arguments regarding the objective aspects of the Covenant identified in my previous post.

Musings on Federal Vision

Musings on Federal Vision

Below is a review of two articles articulating the basics of Federal Vision. The first article is a short one by Peter Leithart, which also has two other short articles that go along with it. The other two articles deal with an "identity" crisis and the question of who gets to defined what "Reformed" is, neither of which are really what I'm concerned about specifically. The other article is a lengthy one, and I've only interacted with the part that deals with articulating what is Federal Vision. The rest of the article I may get to, but for now I'm sticking with the basics of the viewpoint.

Leithart: Systems & sub-systems

1. The issue of time & eternity. Leithart recognizes that God’s eternality and determination imply that God knows the reprobate as such throughout the existence of the reprobate’s life regardless of what sort of circumstances occur within the reprobate’s life, such as a confession of faith, brief evidences of fruit, etc. Yet his qualifications of “hear and believe the gospel for a time,” “really taste the Spirit and the powers of the age to come,” and “real, if rocky, relationship with God in Christ” are left undefined. In what sense can it be said truly that God shows “grace” to the reprobate? Is it really grace, for example, when God provides the reprobate with a taste of His Word such that the reprobate attempts to abide in God’s commandments and so reaps the blessings of the positive consequences of godly behavior—is this grace when we consider that the reprobate’s ultimate rejection of these “graces” means an increase in the outpouring of God’s wrath upon him? Any attempt to put aside the eschatological implications or significance of every aspect of an individual’s existence is not only narrow-sighted, but denies the very point Leithart would grant—that God is determining the ends from the beginning. If God has chosen to categorically hate from eternity those whom He reprobates, then even the apparent blessings of the earthly life of the reprobate are expressions of God’s wrath upon the reprobate in the form of stored up wrath. To argue that this “temporal” view is reprobation “sung in a different key” is actually a “colorful” way of affirming the contradiction that God is gracious and wrathful toward the ones He hates—it is a denial (by implication) of the eternality of God’s dispositions toward men.

2. Leithart says that the “register” of the doctrine of man is different between FV and the Alternative Reformed View (henceforth ARV) while the doctrine itself is the same. The ARV’s “substance” view is opposed to the FV’s “radically relational” view. The problem with this dichotomy is that it can easily be rendered false by a simple proposition. Leithart says that “a substance view would say that human beings are what they are because of God’s purposes and acts,” which in itself does not imply what he says next: “But even there, the person’s connections with other humans does not significantly affect or determine who or what he is.” If God’s purposes and acts determine what is man, then are not God’s “purposes and acts” of placing a man in “radical relation” to other men an expression rather than a denial of the “substance” view as Leithart described it initially? Why should we set up a dichotomy between God’s purposes and actions in the abstract and God’s instantiation of those purposes and acts in history through the various relations of life? I think we can recognize in Leithart’s false dichotomy many contemporary Reformed thinkers, or even contemporary Reformed congregants, but that is not to fault the doctrines themselves, but those who have misunderstood and therefore misapplied them. What is needed is not a new understanding or significance of baptism and communion, but rather an understanding that is consistent with what is already recognized as true—as opposed to the oft-contradictory beliefs and practices of modern Presbyterians (to use an easy example) that do not operate faithfully to the more abstract doctrines, which they affirm. The problem, it seems to me, is not in the formulation of doctrine, but in the understanding of doctrine.

3. I agree with Leithart on the ultimate futility of a natural/supernatural distinction, for it seems to imply that there exists a category in which the supernatural (God) is inactive, which is impossible. However, it is important to recognize that there is a difference in how God acts within redemptive history. Distinctions between God’s special activity and His sustaining activity—distinctions within the economy of God’s activity in history—are necessary and helpful. This is especially true when we consider “grace” in its normal soteriological sense, as opposed to the broad sense in which Leithart seems to wish to use it. If we take “grace” so broadly as to include ALL of God’s activity in Creation with no distinctions, then we have divested grace of all meaning and made it synonymous with all of God’s activity toward man. But this is untenable when we recognize that God acts from a disposition of wrath toward the reprobate and a disposition of love (and therefore grace) toward the elect.

Minich: Within the Bounds of Orthodoxy

1. The Objectivity of God’s Covenant People. We run into the same problem that Leithart exhibits in Minich’s explanation of the FV view of Covenant. If God is eternal and His dispositions are unchanging, then asserts a contradiction to declare that God “loves” or “unites to Himself” to those whom He ultimately “hates” and “divides from Himself.” If we are going to affirm that God’s covenant is only for the elect, and the elect are only those chosen from before the foundation of the world, then the validity of the covenant can only be identified with the elect. Yet this does not imply that there is no sense in which the reprobate may enter into covenant with God, nor that the term “elect” may be applied in different and broader sense (Israel was an “elect” nation, without all its members being “elect” for justification from eternity). The very fact that God holds the nations accountable to the Law is evidence that all men owe God something by law, and the covenant (though not exhaustively defined by legal terms) is essentially a forensic agreement.

Admitting this lays me open to the charge of reducing “covenant” to the same category as “law”—a charge I leveled against Leithart with regard to the term “grace.” The distinction comes in recognizing that covenant also bears a special meaning—and this is where the FV debate really has merit (no pun intended) in raising the question of how Christians who are ultimately reprobate are to be understood within the blessings and cursings of the Covenant of Christ. I think it is helpful to use the analogy of the Law here. Just as all men are obligated to obey God’s Law, not all men are made capable of obedience. What makes a man capable of obedience? As Augustine affirmed, taking his cue from Paul, who took his cue from the OT, it is only by God’s providing the grace to obey that anyone is made able to obey. This grace is given in the vital union with Christ and the gift of the Spirit—a grace that is grounded in individual’s eternal union with Christ on the basis of God’s election of the individual from eternity. So the grounds are from eternity, applied in time through the new birth, and made complete in glorification at the end of the Age.

More distinctions are required, for how is it that some can “taste of the heavenly gift and share in the Holy Spirit” and yet be reprobate? I don’t think that the author of Hebrews is declaring anything other than the objective aspects of being in the community of Christ’s Body and in the presence of His Word in Scripture and the Sacraments. The participation in these tangible marks of Christianity do not necessitate that God has indeed graced the individual as one elect unto Christ from eternity. Yet they are experiences of God’s more explicit self-revelation, just as the Israelites having been given the Law was a special experience not afforded to the Gentile nations. Note well that when Jesus tells his disciples how to identify truth from error in the Church, he does not point to baptism and the covenant meal, but rather to fruit in keeping with repentance. If by apostasy Minich is including not only denials of doctrine but also rejection of the law in the believer’s practice, then perhaps we are in more agreement than disagreement on this point. Still, one must be careful not to overrealize the signs of the Covenant (baptism and communion) as though they confer God’s eternal favor to all who profess to take them by faith. The Church must treat such professions as genuine, and any ecclesiology that tries to identify subjective realities is usurping the authority of the Spirit, but to make the signs identical to what they signify is to both undermine their nature as signs and to involve God in a contradiction in his dispositions toward men. The issue in this section may be the fact that the way terms were defined in the Reformers has shifted dramatically in the present—this makes sense as the present age struggles mightily with making categorical distinctions. The objective nature of the Covenant is where I find the most helpful aspects of the FV, but it is also where one must be the most careful in explaining one’s terms, for just as when evangelicals used the term “salvation” to mean the definitive act of regeneration, whereas the Reformers included justification and sanctification under the same term, so too many Reformed folks today limit the term “election” and “union with Christ” to the indwelling of God’s Spirit unto life, rather than in the fuller sense of the observable or objective standing of those in Covenant with Christ by profession and/or household baptism.

2. The sacraments. Again, I am very sympathetic to the FV position with regard to the purpose and significance of the sacraments. Baptism is a mark of citizenship in the Kingdom of God, which means that—objectively speaking—one has been freed of one type of legal debt (slavery to sin) to be placed under a new legal debt (slavery to Christ). How am I to know that I am a Christian? Why, because I have been marked by the brand of the King in baptism! It is a call to be what you have been called out to be. That many will ultimately prove imposters is no threat to either the sign or the promise of God, for the promise of God is general not universal, or, it does not extend to every particular individual within a category. That God saves the remnant of Israel is proof that His promise is yes and amen, notwithstanding the fact that His promise is stated generally to “all Israel.” So too the promise of God “to the nations.” God saves all nations generally, not all nations universally. God’s promise is to you and your children and to all who are far off generally, but not universally. The Christian can be confident that God’s promises are for his children, while not shirking the normative means by which God has commanded in order to call our His children from death to life. But if one is to acknowledge and even emphasize the objective nature of the sacraments, then one must also doubly emphasize the evidence of fruit in the life of the believer—for this will be the confirmation that one is abiding in the reality that the signs (baptism and communion) are signifying.

3. The Unity of God’s Gracious Covenant. Minich’s opposition of legal and personal or relational has the odor of false dichotomy. Modern connotations of law are essentially negative and impersonal, but there is no cause to reject the identification of love and law. Rather, the Scripture affirms that love is revealed in law, and law is fulfilled by love. David loved God’s law because he recognized that God’s law is an expression of God’s love for His people. Calvin’s recognition and emphasis upon the primary use of the Law as a guiding light for the believer in the pursuit of godliness is sorely ignored in modern theology. Reconstructionism is, in my opinion, the best understanding of the Law as it relates to God and to man—it is God’s expression of the nature of His relationship to man, and His expectations for how man is to love God. Christ willingly, joyfully submitted to the Father’s commands because these commands were the bonds of love. We all inherently recognize the necessity of boundaries for our relationships because boundaries define what is safe or unsafe, just or unjust, loving or unloving, in how we express ourselves and interact with one another. Boundaries are laws. Thus, to say that the Covenant is legal, but also personal is really bordering on tautology.

Law is pervasive, for law is really the means for defining what relationship exists. The FV gets it right, though, in recognizing that there is no merit in human fidelity to God’s commands. We can speak of Christ meriting favor with God by His fidelity, but even this obscures the fact that Christ’s obedience was really nothing more or less Christ’s being what He was by nature: one with God. We must recognize that although Adam was created “perfect” in the sense that he was sinless and made according to God’s design, this does not mean that Adam was complete in the sense of his being the full expression of the image of God. Christ is the express image of God, and Adam was but the prototype to the real paradigm. Adam is incomplete because he is made positionally righteous, but not ontologically righteous—Adam is not created in sin, but created with the capacity for sinning. Christ is not only born sinless, but is ontologically incapable of sinning by virtue of His being God, who is sinless by nature, and not simply by status. If we take merit to mean simply that there is an entitlement to blessing by virtue of having met the law’s demands we have no problems. The problems arise when we try to identify from when the power to obey arises. Clearly the power to obey must come either by an inherent nature, or by imposition from an external nature. Human nature is not empowered to obey apart from the imposition of God’s own nature—for God alone is incapable of sinning. Thus only the God-man is a human nature inherently empowered to obey. When we have been glorified, we will be partakers of the divine nature completely (this is the best meaning for what the Church Fathers said when they said man’s purpose was “divinization”), whereas now we are partakers partly in the payout, and partly in trust—we await the redemption of our bodies.

4. Christ-centeredness of the Gospel. I don’t see anything particularly different in this section from the previous ones concerning the objectivity of the Covenant and the sacraments. One’s justification is manifest in the fruit one exhibits. If there is not fruit, then one has not been justified. This does not imply that the fruit is what confers justification, but rather that fruit is the necessary consequence of justification. Again, this is a classical Reformed distinction. Where I differ from both FV and most ARV proponents is in my view of justification as eternal. Justification is an act of God, accomplished only by God, and categorized as a disposition of God (God disposes Himself toward me in love in election, and thereby disposes Himself to me in grace and mercy in Christ, which requires God to dispose Himself to me as one who is just—for God will not unite Himself to evil). The legal fact of justification for the elect is eternal, for our inclusion as heirs with Christ is eternal. The historical fact of justification is at the cross, where Jesus pays the penalty for sins, bears the wrath of God to satisfy His righteousness or justice, and secure for the believer the application of soteriological benefits when God calls him forth from death to life in regeneration. Faith, as the instrument of justification, is entirely passive and publishes the declaration of justification to the conscience of the believer, by which he may subsequently publish to the world by confession that “I too am a partaker in the cross of Christ, which secures my righteousness before God.” The believer cannot declare “I am justified because my faith has apprehended” without the object of faith being also asserted, “that is, apprehended that my debt was paid to God by Christ’s propitiation on the cross.” God has already justified the believer in Christ, which is temporally prior to the believer’s apprehension by faith, just as God’s legal decision to punish Christ and so justify us was made in Christ’s agreement to suffer for the elect in eternity—hence the Scripture’s affirmation that Christ was crucified from before the foundation of the world. A friend of mine distinguishes the two aspects of justification as “objective” (eternal justification) and “subjective” (justification as it is apprehended by faith). This same friend says that we are justified by faith alone because we have been given faith by justification alone.

5. Speaking God’s words to God’s people. I find little value in the distinction of the “phenomenological” language of the Scripture and the “language of abstraction.” Scripture speaks in concrete and abstract terms, and the old standard recognition of anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms as God’s condescension to human incapacities is much preferable. The point about theological formulations being limited by their historical context OUGHT to be obvious to anyone who has had a conversation with one person in one situation only to have a conversation on the same matter with someone else in a different situation be quite distinct, while expressing something quite identical in meaning. Unfortunately people don’t like to think contextually and they’d rather just affirm what someone else has said before doing the work of translation into a new situation. Again, the analogy of Law is helpful. Theology is a science for determining universal truths or principles concerning God, Man, and their relations, yet application of general principles is accommodated to the specifics or particulars that alternate or differ from one point in time to another. The command, “thou shalt not commit murder” implied in Ancient Israel that Israelites build fences on their roofs, for people hanging out on roofs needed to be protected from the harm of falling. Insofar as a culture no longer walks about on rooftops for social interaction, they don’t need that application of the law anymore, but will need another—another that Israelites may not have needed. So too some emphases of theology find a different or more acute application during one period and place in time than another, but the truth of the principle remains unchanged. Living “trinitarianly” in downtown metropolis will have different practices than in rural Prairieville, but they’ll both have the same principles. The point is that God’s words to God’s people are flexible and fixed: flexible in the sense that their expression may look different in one time and place than another (Israel describes God as a shepherd, which meant a whole lot more than just tending sheep in the Ancient world, though today that is about all it means), but the principles or “abstract” meanings are what must remain fixed as the expressions are adjusted to new contexts.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’m continuing to familiarize myself with ideas, while seeking to avoid falling into the inconsistencies that crop up in how different people express themselves differently. I welcome any corrections, corroborations, or general comments. My biggest problem with FV, as far as I’ve been able to discern its arguments, is in its attempt to attribute grace and union with Christ to the reprobate. It is folly to argue that God can give grace (love) in time to those He hates from eternity, or unite Himself in time to what He has disunited Himself to from eternity. These sort of things pit God against Himself, and add nothing by way of clarity to the relationship between the elect and reprobate within the Church. On the human level, a union with Christ applied to both elect and reprobate alike destroys the possibility of the assurance of salvation for the elect—the doctrine of perseverance is undercut. If the elect are united to Christ and the reprobate are united to Christ, then upon what are the elect able to base their assurance that they are Christ’s truly, and not falsely? The Scriptures are clear that we may know the hope that is within us is certain—that God is our God who loves us eternally, died for us, and will bring us home to Him through all the pains and toils of this present life. Without an assurance of these truths for ourselves, then God’s promise does little to free our consciences of His wrath toward us.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Biblical Progymnasmata V & VI - Refutation & Confirmation

I'm treating exercises five and six together because they are very closely related.

Aphthonius defines refutation as, "an overturning of some matter at hand" and confirmation as, "the corroboration of some matter at hand." He states that when refuting or confirming one should not choose a subject that "is neither very clear nor what is altogether impossible, but what holds a middle ground." In refutation one "should first state the false claim of those who advance it, then add an exposition of the subject and use these headings: first, that it is unclear and incredible, in addition that it is impossible and illogical and inappropriate, and finally adding that it is inexpedient." In confirmation one "should use arguments opposed to those of refutation and first mention the good repute of the claimant, then, in turn, provide an exposition, and use the opposite headings: clear instead of unclear, credible instead of incredible, and possible instead of impossible and logical instead of illogical and appropriate instead of inappropriate and expedient instead of inexpedient." Of both refutation and confirmation Aphthonius tells us, "includes all the power of the art" or rhetoric.

There are a variety of ways to go about using these exercises from a Biblical basis. The best way is to take a proposition, narrative, law, or some other aspect of Scripture and to argue on both sides of its assertion or truthfulness. Although others may find it inappropriate to engage in arguments against Biblical truths, I think it can be a healthy exercise for Christians for several reasons. First, it teaches the student to discover what argument are available both in support of Scripture and against it. The best way to uphold the truth of Scripture is to know what objections others are likely to raise against it. Second, in apologetic encounters the Christian will not be facing a sympathetic opponent, and so engaging in a debate on both sides prepares the Christian to face opposition without being unprepared or taken aback by opposition. Third, it teaches the Christian that the truth is not self-evident to all, but requires an exposition and defense against alternative viewpoints. Fourth, it is perfectly reasonable for the instructor to clarify to the student that the arguing against Scripture is a hypothetical exercise rather than an earnest means of taking God's Word to heart. Fifth, just as light is more conspicuous in the midst of darkness, the truth can be seen more clearly in the midst of many falsehoods. Although this truism does not hold for those who stand in rebellion to God's Word by their sinful nature, it is normative for those who abide in the Spirit and have the illumination of the Teacher, Jesus Christ, within them.


Refutation - What is stated about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not probable.

(The False Claim) It is impious to attack a sacred text, yet what is not in accord with the light of reason is itself an impious stain upon humanity, and any sacred word that would turn the mind to irrational and impossible conclusions is not worthy of the virtue and integrity required for human flourishing. How is it rational to suppose then that when all those whom we observe dying, whose bodies decay and turn to dust, that one man should die and yet be raised again to life in a body that is not subject to decay, and moreover exhibits capabilities that no ordinary body possesses? Surely the sober minded and cautious soul will not assent in haste to what is fantastic, however desirable such fantasy may be.

(Exposition) The prophet Jesus, the Gospels and Epistles teach, was crucified, dead, and buried in a grave that was covered by a stone, and guarded by soldiers. For three days his body remained in the tomb until an angel appeared and rolled the stone away. At the same time did Jesus walk from the grave in a body that was not decayed in any way, yet bore the marks of his wounds, and exhibited the ability to pass through walls as if it were a spirit rather than a body. The credibility of these claims is corroborated by several eye-witnesses, and the additional claim that those opposed to Jesus sought to cover up the reality of this resurrection to life by claiming his body was stolen by his disciples.

But why should we accept the testimony of these supposed eye-witnesses whose affinity for their departed leader no doubt left them embittered to those who had taken his life? Surely it is more probable that the testimony of those who killed Jesus is more reliable, for it accords with common experience, the testimony of history, and what the most learned authorities have speculated upon with regard to the state of the soul after death.

First, our common experience shows that persons who die (and truly expire, rather than swoon) have their soul depart never to return to their bodies. When bodies have been exposed to the elements, or dug up from their earthly graves, moreover, the evidence of their decay is readily evident by all of our sensations--the smells and sights being the most distant; yet by means of touch, and even more scientific experimentation it has never been the case that any bodies have been resurrected or renewed from their death and decay.

Second, the testimony of history, although it may bear a few cases here and there, is overwhelmingly against the possibility of resurrection from the dead. Those few stories of resurrection have never been convincingly supported by evidence that the caution of reason recommends, nor have the common masses of people put much trust in stories, even when it might be suited to their own interests or highest wishes.

Third, the learned authorities, though disagreeing on the particular destiny of the soul, are universally agreed that whether the soul is destroyed or departs into the One, or returns to the earth again it never returns to the body from whence it departed. Just as the crab whose girth prevents it from returning to the external shell that was once its home, so too the soul which outgrows this life does not return to the corrupted shell that it inhabited before.

Thus we find that, however desirable it may be to believe in the resurrection of the dead to renewed bodies of incredible powers, there is no clarity to the testimony, nor possibility to its support, nor can right reason find it worthy whether by common experience, the testimony of history, or the learning of the wise. Let us not consider it blasphemy then to discard the testimony of sacred texts altogether, bur neither let us assent to claims that are better suited for children or poets, or others less concerned with what is wise and expedient.

Confirmation - What is stated about the resurrection of Jesus is probable.

Anyone who would deny the testimony of Scripture sets out to refute not the words of men, but the very knowledge of God, in whom, through whom, and to whom all things exist, subsist, and persist. What is more foolish to doubt: the light of human reason dimmed as it is by the frailty of human error, or the light of truth which was given by the breath of God Himself? Though all men should become liars by their claims, God remains true. Therefore it is our present task to demonstrate that the testimony of Scripture to the resurrection of Jesus is not merely probably, but as certain as any claim can be.

Let us first begin by noting the special nature of the man of whom it is said, "he rose again." The testimony of his character is not simply that he was a prophet, but that he was God's own prophet. We read in the sacred histories that the prophets of God were often empowered to do miraculous and uncommon feats, at which the world marveled. But more than this, Jesus was the Son of God, greater than any prophet of God, and appointed for the singular task of redeeming humanity from its corruption and error. The full testimony of Scripture bears this out not only in the shadows and promises, which God gave to the Israelites, of which the apostle to the Hebrews relates, but more clearly in the narratives of the life of Jesus and his work on earth during his life. The miracles that Jesus accomplished (among which was the raising of Lazarus from death to life) and the wisdom that he displayed does not make it incredible to believe that God should raise him from the dead.

As for those who would reject the testimony of Scripture altogether, let us introduce an objection to their claims built upon the three-fold pillars of common sense, historical testimony, and the wisdom of men.

First, although common sense is quite often reliable for common occurrences, it is quite obvious from the nature of the word itself that uncommon occurrences will appear foolish to a sense that considers only what is common to be reliable. Is it not taught amongst the rhetoricians and orators that when one is defending the smaller man accused of attacking the larger man, when the facts are true, to nevertheless argue that the smaller man would never prevail against the larger, nor even attempt to try, for it goes against our common sense? Nor does it take a great deal of thought to find other examples where what is not commonly thought to be true nonetheless finds occurrence in patterns more frequent that human attention is capable of finding. It is the dullness of our memories and the limitations of our observance that leads us to miss even those things which are common, and which we call uncommon, merely because of our own incapacity! Rather than trusting in this pillar, we rather see it unfit for supporting our assent.

Second, the testimony of history might be dismissed upon the argument that it is no more than the record of common sense applied to the courses of life that appeared significant to the authors of history. But even if we consider history to be more acute than common sense, the very fact that it records testimony of resurrection should give us reason to consider it more probably than our opponent would have us believe. The Scriptures themselves, when considered as history, tell of Elijah's raising of a child, and of Jesus' raising of Lazarus. Still other accounts, though they be doubted, show that the testimony of history cannot be considered a formidable grounds for denying the unique resurrection of Jesus.

Third, the wisdom of men is so far from being comparable to the revelation of God that we might as well compare it to the buzzing of flies or babbling of infants. But since there are many who do not consider such ground established, let us answer the philosophers. We shall ignore those who consider the soul destroyed in death, or that no soul exists, for they argue not only against revelation, but also against the very inclinations of human nature towards itself, death and what lies beyond death in hope. This is not to say that these things are themselves proof of immortality, yet they are so commonly assented to that the burden of proof lies not upon us, but upon them to make their case credible. Those that think the soul depart never to return to the body introduce so gross a distinction between body and soul that we must wonder at how this design could enter their mind at all--indeed how even their mind and body could cohere at all! Since they have not adequately proven that the relationship between body and soul is one of prison to prisoner, why should we think it more probable than the relation of house to occupant? Just as an occupant may leave his home for a period of time, why should not the soul have separation from the body with no possibility of return? And though we witness the decay of those bodies in which the soul has departed, why should we doubt that when the God who made these bodies is unable or unwilling to refurnish them when he wishes for the soul to inhabit again the property which he appointed for them at the first?

Yet let us not stray too far afield from our present consideration, for whatever may be the general estate of man, we can only know such when we consider the purpose for which man was made, and it is evident to all pious observers that only the testimony of the Maker Himself is suitable grounds for determining what purpose creation is intended to serve. For if there is no purpose at all, we have no cause to consider the debate worth consideration whatsoever, for whether one be convinced of resurrection, or not, there is no purpose for which it matter beyond the expiration of air into the atmosphere. Yet when we consider that God made man so that he might worship and glorify God forever, it was necessary that God should redeem a portion of man to fulfill this purpose though man had forsaken this destiny through the rejection of God's purpose at his initiation into the world.

Therefore let none be dismayed by the pillars of common sense, the testimony of history, or the wisdom of men, for they cannot stand in and of themselves apart from the very foundation of God, who has made men whose minds seek the common, who directs history according to His special design, and who illumines man's mind to know whatsoever may be known, though man is often led astray by his rebellious designs. And let us believe that the resurrection of Jesus is not only probable, but true, and that it has established the pattern for all humanity, be they resurrected unto life abundant, or unto torment unending.

Summary & Use:

Although the examples above lack the polish of careful editing, one can nevertheless see the potential for fruitful survey of the various arguments that may be leveled for or against a given Biblical claim. Not only do these exercises provide a rich storehouse of commonplaces for the student to have ready to use to defend the truth of God's Word, but it also prepares the Christian to be prepared for the sort of arguments leveled by unbelievers against the faith. It is not enough to know what to teach, for one must be able to anticipate and reply to objections (however weak or strong) offered by those whom God is both drawing unto Himself and condemning in their unrepentance. Moreover the competitive spirit which hypothetical debate fosters can ensure that those participating do not settle for straw arguments that may be easily dispatched--for who wants to be exposed as ignorant, weak, or incapable in front of one's peers? Therefore those debating as opponents of Scripture will be forced to not only find the most formidable claims of unbelievers, but also find those Biblically sound refutations for those same claims.


I have shown how one may proceed to argue for and against a claim drawn from Scripture. One is not limited to a doctrinal claim such as the resurrection, but could also attack and defend the historicity of a Biblical narrative, the application of a Biblical law, or even the interpretation of a given passage of Scripture. There are few limitations and many possibilities for development, which is why it is said by Aphthonius that the whole art of rhetoric may be displayed in these exercises.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Biblical Progymnasmata IV - Maxim

After a bit of a delay, here is the fourth entry of the Biblical Progymnasmata, the Maxim.

Aphthonius tells us of the maxim, "a summary statement, in declarative sentences, urging or dissuading something. Some maxims are protreptic [recommending], some apotreptic [dissuading], some declarative; and some are simple, some compound, some credible, some true, some hyperbolic."

His examples include:

"One should be kind to a visiting stranger, but send him on his way when he wants to go" (protreptic)
"A man who is a counselor should not sleep all the night" (apotreptic)
"There is need of money, and without it nothing needful can be done" (declarative)
"One omen is best, to fight for one's country" (simple)
"Many rulers are not good; let there be one ruler" (compound)
"Each man is as those he likes to be with" (credible)
"It is not possible for anyone to lead a life without suffering" (true)
"Earth nourishes nothing feebler than man" (hyperbolic)

As with the Chreia, the maxim are treated by various topics of invention or amplification, including praise, paraphrase, cause, contrary, comparison, example, testimony, and epilogue. The key difference between a chreia and a maxim, at least for Aphthonius, was that a chreia was attributable to a specific person, in order to be treated with a pointed view toward that person, whereas the maxim was not attributed, and could be treated more generally as a truism.


The book of Proverbs is a compendium of maxims in many ways, and can be mined richly for its contents. But just to prove that we aren't limited to Proverbs, here are some examples from Ecclesiastes:

Eccl. 9:9 - "Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun." (protreptic)

Eccl. 7:9 - "Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools." (apotreptic)

Eccl. 7:19 - "Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city." (declarative)

Eccl. 12:13 - "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (simple)

Eccl. 8:2-3 - "I say: Keep the king's command, because of God's oath to him. Be not hasty to go from his presence." (compound)

Eccl. 4:9 - "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil." (credible)

Eccl. 10:10 - "If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed." (true)

Eccl. 12:12 - "Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh." (hyperbolic)


The explanations for each maxim depend upon the context in which they are given, as well as whatever generalization that context bears. The second example (Eccl. 7:9), to take but one, comes in the context of a comparison between wisdom and folly. Therefore, the verse is recommending a way of wisdom over and against a way of folly. The verse is a truism, which means it has universal application for all individuals, but is not necessarily true in each and every individual circumstance. Maxims provide a storehouse of wisdom, which, when applied correctly, are a precise arrow to hit one's target in speaking or writing about a particular matter. One could imagine, for example, bringing home a very challenging point of admonition to a congregation, and then following it up with the maxim from Eccl. 7:9 to rebuke any spirit of anger that might arise from speaking the admonition. This point of amplification doubles the attack upon foolishness and curbs the attention of the listeners away from their self-justification toward a more humble consideration (that is, supposing it doesn't incur the opposite affect of doubling their anger!).

Summary & Use:

As with the Chreia, we also have the various amplifications of the maxim that we can use to develop its point. Let's use the last example (Eccl. 12:12):

Praise: The Teacher gives us wise instruction to consider the pain of education. While we know that learning is a great benefit, it is true that of the endless books to be read there are but few worthy of our efforts, and those efforts are made strenuous by the fact that it shall never be different.

Paraphrase: For what is it that the Teacher teaches us but that we shall never see the end of human opining, nor yet the immortality of banal writings, so we must suffer our flesh to decay if we are to seek out wisdom by study.

Cause: Consider for yourself: what else could be the reason for endless publication and the consternation that it brings but the folly of men whose mouths gape and whose pens prattle their tireless drivel? There is no respite for the wise, who are but few when set amongst fools.

Contrary: Yet those who find wisdom, find also that the pains of study are never so bitter as the pains of ignorance and folly; for a fool may stumble a thousand times into the same hole, but the wise one, once perceiving a matter, shall never mistake it for masquerading errors.

Comparison: And is our Teacher's word not familiar to what he says elsewhere, "For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow" (Eccl. 1:18)? Indeed, knowledge comes by toil, produces pain, and loses many a fool as a friend who might be of some slight comfort would we abide in ignorance. So it is that the weariness of study is compounded by the afflictions of knowledge, yet still so much less afflicting to the soul than ignorance.

Example: For consider Christ, who though He knew His destiny was to die at the hands of men who did not even understand the grievous nature of their sin, and though He knew that His best would desert Him and deny Him, and though He knew that His would be a life of affliction and a death of immeasurable wrath--yet His wisdom taught Him to consider all these things as joyful because of the end that they would accomplish for Himself and those whom He loves.

Testimony: And this is true and in conformity to what our Teacher instructs, for he finishes his own lesson with its end: "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil," so that we are assured that whatever pain we have for righteousness' sake is not without its eventual reward.

Epilogue: Therefore let us not speak falsely of the toils of study, nor the weariness it brings, as though knowledge and learning were always pleasant and cheerful; but let us learn from the Teacher for the keenness of his wisdom, and hope to emulate in ourselves something of its likeness.


The maxim is very much like the chreia, although it tends to be separated by its generality of purpose and its lack of attribution. Like the chreia, maxims are useful for amplification, and may be treated in a number of ways to accomplish that end. Also in like fashion to the chreia, we should not shun extra-biblical maxims that are in harmony with its teachings, but make the most of what may be familiar to our audience, while remaining fidelitous to God's commands.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Biblical Progymnasmata III - Chreia

We come to our third exercise in Biblical progymnasmata, the chreia. Here is what Aphthonius says,

"Chreia (khreia) is a brief recollection, referring to some person in a pointed way. It is called a chreia because it is useful (khreiodes). Some chreias are verbal, some active, some mixed. One that makes the utility clear by what is said is verbal; for example, Plato said the twigs of virtue grow by sweat and toil. An active chreia is one signifying something done; for example, when Pythagoras was asked how long is the life of men, he hid himself after appearing briefly, making his appearance a measure of life. A mixed chreia consists of both a saying and an action; for example, when Diogenes saw an undisciplined youth he struck his pedagogue, saying, "Why do you teach him such things?"

He then goes on to elaborate on the different treatments the chreia can take:

"This is the division of the chreia, and you should elaborate it with the following headings: praise, paraphrase, cause, contrary, comparison, example, testimony of the ancients, brief epilogue."

Aelius Theon considers the treatments of the chreia a bit differently, but we'll stick with Aphthonius for simplicity's sake. Chreias are very similar to maxims, but differ in several respects, which I'll point out when we get to maxims. For now it is best to understand that a maxim can be a chreia, but not all maxims are chreias. The chief distinction of the chreia is its usefulness as an application for life.

Example: Proverbs 26:4-5

"Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes."


This pair of verses form a riddle clothed in paradoxical expression. How can one answer and not answer a fool? It would be self-contradictory if the pair was intended to indicate the same thing in the same manner, but it doesn't. The first phrase intends that we not answer the fool according to the fool's own manner of understanding and expression--in other words, don't use the same assumptions and manner that a fool does. In apologetics, this would mean not granting the fool the assumption that God must be proven before He can be accepted as true. The second phrase intends that we answer the fool by pointing out his folly, in order that he not remain confident in his self-estimation. In apologetics, this would mean demonstrating the folly of the fool's assumptions and/or manner of reasoning. Thus, the saying has great import for life because it recommends in a very memorable expression how we are to engage with those who deny God by their words and actions--which is the Biblical definition of foolishness.

Summary & Use:

The treatments of a chreia in the progymnasmata are different inventions: different ways of inserting the chreia into a larger speech in order to lend credibility, garner praise, or highlight some idea, or add support to an argument. Aphthonius takes the several treatments and combines them into one example following the order: praise, paraphrase, cause, contrary, comparison, example, testimony, epilogue. Here is what our present example might look like given the same order.

Praise: It is just that Solomon is praised as the wisest of all men, for his facility with words is excelled only by his acuity of thought. His recorded sayings as as numerous as they are illustrious, and we would do well to consider each of them with keenness like unto themselves.

Paraphrase: Don't play the fool, he says, unless we wish to be foolish ourselves, but rather make play of the fool, in order that his foolishness be made evident to even himself.

Cause: It is a fearful responsibility to possess the truth, but it ought to cause men more fear to be in want of the truth. It is because of this twofold nature that truth-bearers must be ever ready to neither forsake the truth, nor let it be trampled upon by the slack-jawed ignorant--for the former is to become a semblance of ignorance, which is a betrayal of the truth, and the latter is to allow ignorance to be paraded as truth, which is also a betrayal of the truth. Therefore we see the truth-telling is both manner and means: its clothing must be both well-fit and visibly displayed.

Contrary: For if the fool is answered in foolishness, what can be the outcome but like for like? And if the fool is left to boast in his folly, what can come of it but compounded corruption? Therefore we must forsake neither the silencing of the folly within ourselves prior to our speaking, nor in our neighbor who speaks folly in his haste or ignorance.

Comparison: For it would be as though a father wished to correct his son's childishness in pitching a fit by engaging in a fit himself, or otherwise allowing the son to pitch his fit and feel no sting of guilt or remorse for having succumb to such madness.

Example: Consider Paul, who did not count it above himself to speak to the learned Greeks upon the Areopagus, nor below himself to teach them of their own ignorance. Yet in speaking of their religious beliefs, he neither failed to point out their ignorance of the One True God, nor did he speak to them by adopting their own philosophy, but openly proclaimed the resurrection of the dead, which to their ears was nonsensical.

Testimony: In doing likewise we agree with Elijah's words from the top of Carmel to the people of Israel:
"How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him," for what Elijah demands of Israel Solomon demands of us: to flee foolish duplicity and speak singularly on behalf of the truth.

Epilogue: Now then ought we seek obedience to Solomon's words and thereby fulfill what he also says: "Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles."


The chreia are quite versatile for amplification of the teaching they contain. Nor should we necessarily limit our search for them to the Scriptures, but ought also include the pious sayings of our forefathers in the faith. For example, Augustine's famous theme of the Confessions: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." Although I didn't do so here, the New Testament also makes great use of Old Testament references in ways that resemble the chreia, or at least are easily adaptable into chreia.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Biblical Progymnasmata II - Narrative

I'm continuing my series on Biblical Progymnasmata. Our second entry is narrative, which is already well-recognized as a central genre of the Bible. We'll focus on how Biblical narrative can be used in its own right, as well as how the Progymnasmata teaches how to craft narratives from narratives.

On narratives, Aphthonius states:

"Narrative is an exposition of an action that has happened or as though it had happened. Narrative differs from narration as a piece of poetry differs from a poem. The Iliad as a whole is a poem, the making of the arms of Achilles a poetry.

Some narrative is dramatic, some historical, some political. Imagined narrative is dramatic; narrative giving an account of early events is historical; what orators use in their contests is political. There are six attributes of narrative: the person who acted, the thing done, the time at which, the place in which, the manner how, and the cause for which it was done.

The virtues of narrative are four: clarity, brevity, persuasiveness, and hellenism [i.e. purity of Greek]."

Before getting into examples and explanations, I want to provide a bit of preface. Although narrative is the second stage of progymnasmata, it is quite difficult if a proper method of use is not followed. It is much harder to craft an original narrative, and harder still when the narrative is left without a specific purpose or aim for its being given. Thus, narrative should be done with existing narratives from Scripture, which are then manipulated according to several methods: summarization, reversals of order in retelling (Aelius Theon identifies five ways of doing this), alternating direct and indirect syntax, using various types of expression (asking questions, making inquiry, expressing doubt, making a command, expressing a wish, expressing an oath, crafting a dialogue, stating facts, omitting conjunctions, or expressing a maxim, interweaving several narratives, including refutation and proof, as an extended example, or even as a myth--all things Aelius Theon names). Thus, while it is supposedly an easier step than later stages of the progymnasmata, it is clear that a lot of time and development can be spent on narrative.

Example I: Acts 7:2-53 - Stephen's speech before the Jewish council.


Stephen's speech might be classified as an historical narrative because it recounts the past, but it is probably better labeled as a political speech because it is aimed at making an argument before the council, rather than simply relating events in a more general way. Stephen's speech is a short summary of God's salvation history leading up to the Messiah and the rejection of Him by the Jews. Beginning with Abraham, Stephen retells the history of Israel through the episodes of God's preservation through faithful prophets and kings in the face of opposition from within Israel itself. He saves the provocative statement to the end, for it is likely that his narrative would not have been controversial had he not linked the rebeliousness of the Jews toward God and His prophets to the present-day leadership of Israel. The narrative provides the student with ample material for using the various methods above for manipulating the narrative for a specific audience--just as Stephen chose to recount the sweeping narrative of the Old Testament according to his apologetic and polemical purpose before the council. It would probably be good to have several other narrative accounts of God's salvation history, which are quite numerous throughout the Old and New Testaments. Here are several others large enough for comparison and manipulation: for a more metaphorical account, Ezekiel 16 is good, albeit graphic for younger children; Psalms 105 and 106 are excellent; Isaiah 42 has a more abstract example, and Isaiah 49 has a future-oriented example.

Summary & Use:

Biblical narrative occurs on several levels. Some narratives aim to recount Israel's history with a special focus on representing God's faithfulness in the midst of an unfaithful people, or in the face of threats to God's promises. Other narratives are more specifically aimed to instruct the faithful to remember God's promises, or to condemn the reprobate for their faithlessness. Biblical narratives in general can be useful in several ways: they teach us content that can be memorized, internalized, and remembered in times where our faith is tested; they show us how the Biblical writers themselves crafted narratives for specific occasions and intentions; they allow us opportunities to adapt the narratives for specific purposes we might have in preaching a sermon, witnessing God's faithfulness to an unbeliever, or instructing each other in the promises and commandments of God. For young children, using the Psalms or speeches in Acts by Peter and Stephen can be used as foundational instruction in God's historical purposes. As they grow older, the ethical tone of promise/curse can be heightened through exercises with Ezekiel 16 or the Major and Minor Prophets.


Although it is only the second stage of the Progymnasmata, narrative exercises can be quite elaborate and varied. They are simple because adaptation of an existing story is easier than developing something intuitively or for argumentation. However, as students become more proficient in the use of various methods of adaptation, assignments should be advanced to have the student adapt their narratives for a specific aim (exhortation, apologetic, reproof, etc.). Narrative is also in the second stage because besides being an exercise that stands alone, it can also form a part of later exercises, such as refutation and confirmation. Thus the student who masters the adaptation of Biblical narratives will have a solid grounding in the flow of Biblical history and God's plan of salvation in order that specific doctrines learned during the later stages of Progymnasmata remain connected to their applications in God's Church throughout history.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Biblical Progymnasmata I - Fable

I'm beginning a new series of posts on the Progymnasmata. The Progymnasmata are "preliminary exercises," which the ancient Greeks developed as teaching tools for students preparing to become orators. These exercises were a series of incremental stages beginning with the most basic and easy to understand elements (i.e. fable) and progressing up to longer, and more complex elements (i.e. introduction of a law). The Progymnasmata were a part of Greek and Roman education, as well as classical education in the Christian empires up through the 19th century in some places. The content that comprise the elements were drawn from classical literature, but the model is really an application of universal forms of linguistic expression, so almost any literature can be found with one or more of the elements. Biblical literature has all of them, and since I'm a proponent of exercises that actually teach something useful and true, I think the progymnasmata ought to be updated with Biblical examples. So I'll be following the Progymnasmata of Aphthonius the Sophist, using Biblical examples with explanation and possible applications as well. Let's make like Israel and Augustine and plunder the Egyptians!

On fables, Aphthonius states, "Fable originated with poets but has come to be used also by orators for the sake of the moral. Fable is a fictive statement, imaging truth. It is called Sybaritic and Cicilian and Cyprian, varying its names with its inventors, but calling it Aesopic has largely prevailed because Aesop composed fables best of all. Some fables are rational, some ethical, some mixed; rational when a human being is imagined as doing something, ethical when representing the character of irrational animals, mixed when made up of both, irrational and rational. When the moral for which the fable has been assigned is stated first, you will call it a promythion, when added at the end an epimythion."

Example 1: Mark 4:30-32

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like g a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”


Mark 4:30-32 is a promythion, for the "moral" or application of the fable is declared from the beginning: "With what can we compare the kingdom of God." We have an ethical fable, for though the Kingdom of God is comprised of people, it is really an abstract (i.e. spiritual) idea, here represented through the organic metaphor of the mustard seed. The kingdom of God begins small, with only a few disciples, but shall eventually grow into a Kingdom of vast proportions, as the tiny mustard seed becomes the much larger tree. Not only shall the Kingdom grow large, it shall be a boon to all who come under its sway, which is explained in the phrase, "that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." Thus the Kingdom begins small and has small impact in the world, but it grows large and has great impact in the world. Here is the ethical teaching of the fable.

Example 2: Ezekiel 17:22-24

Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”


Ezekiel 17:22-24 is also a promythion, for the entire chapter up to these verses contains a double-sided parable previously stated and applied as a two-fold prophecy. The above verses are one side of the parable/prophecy. It is also an ethical fable, again describing the Kingdom of God and using an organic metaphor. In fact, we see Mark 4 as a direct allusion to Ezekiel 17, for it uses the same language of birds dwelling under the branches of the tree. The application is also similar: the twig that is small and insignificant shall become a tree that is large and has great impact in the world, for many will come to rest under its power and sway. An additional teaching is added: that all the "trees" of the field shall recognize God as Lord of all, faithful to His Word in bringing down the "high tree" and raising up the "low tree," dry up the "green tree," and make the "dry tree" flourish. Here the "high tree," the "green tree," and the "trees of the field" are all the other kingdoms, or rather all those under the "kingdom of this world" or the "Kingdom of Satan." God will crush His enemies and restore His Kingdom and its people to ascendency and right worship. The other additional teaching is the seal of assurance: "I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it." This teaches us that whatever inadequacies we see in the people of God, God Himself accomplishes in them all that He wills to do.


We have seen two Biblical examples of the progymnasmata category of "fable," which is a fictional image of the truth; a teaching tool to represent a genuine aspect of reality. In these examples, the reality being taught is that the Kingdom of God, though starting out insignificant, shall ultimately become triumphant in the world and become a boon to all who come under its influence. This truth is grounded in the character and promise of God, which cannot be broken, delayed, or otherwise thwarted; and which provides the assurance and impetus for God's people to be about His work despite all circumstances and appearances positive or negative in our limited estimations.


The use of these "fables" can occur in a sermon whenever the text brings to bear any discussion of the Kingdom of God. They serve as a reminder to God's people that He is faithful to His Word, and that His Word tells us that His Kingdom shall prevail over His enemies, and become a blessing for all the earth. It is also a reminder to God's enemies that no measure of present victory shall be enough to vanquish the Lord of Hosts, who is patient to bring in all who are His, and who will by no means relinquish His justice for those who are unrepentant. Another use of these particular fables is to teach the people of God humility. It is not their piety, nor their righteous efforts that shall accomplish the fulfillment of God's Kingdom. Rather, it is God's own power, His chosen means, His chosen time, and His Wisdom that shall make it so. There is great comfort to be had in knowing that the power to do all the will of God rests with God Himself, and it is great encouragement to seek obedience to God's expressed commands, for it is elsewhere taught that through our obedience (which God Himself provides to us by His Spirit in Christ Jesus, our Teacher) God shall bring about His Kingdom's reign. Beyond the sermon, in the home, the fables are a reminder to the child to put his confidence in the Lord God and His Word; and it reminds the parents that they are dependent upon God for all that He requires of them, and it teaches them both patience to see that what must begin insignificantly may become triumphant by degrees--the teaching of the organic metaphors here supported by another (this time rational) fable of the gardener or vinedresser.


We can see the great opportunity that the "fable" provides for young children as well as young Christians who can easily grasp the meaning of the fable and may enjoy its presentation in simple narrative form. We need not rely upon Aesop to entertain and instruct our own, for God has given us, through the Greeks, a model well-suited to the treasures God has hidden in His revelation to us. Up next: Narrative.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Law & Liberty

Cross-posted from my xanga blog:

I just finished reading R.J. Rushdoony's book, Law & Liberty. The book is a translation/transposition of radio addresses that Rushdoony gave during 1966-67. In many ways, his conclusions were ahead of his time, which is evidence of two things: 1) the enduring fixity of human nature, 2) the resultant need to know the past.

Two verses continually popped up in Rushdoony's analysis. One was Proverbs 8:36, which reads in the ESV "but he who fails to find me [Wisdom] injures himself; all who hate me love death. The other was Psalm 127:1, which reads in the ESV, "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." One might venture to say, upon these two texts the whole of Law & Liberty is built.

Consider the parallel implications. Those who renounce the wisdom of God, which Paul tells us in 1 Cori. 1:24 is Christ, do violence unto themselves and all those who become dependent upon them. Because they have rejected the Christ of God, the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), they pursue and even exalt death (Rom. 1:28-32). The epistemologically self-aware Christian must therefore recognize that any claims that do not trace their origin to God's Word, any claim that is not explicitly stated or deducible from God's commandments, can only and ever lead to self-destruction. This is true regardless of the expressed or hoped for, or ostensibly well-intended efforts of those whose work is constructed upon unbelieving presuppositions. The humanist who desires for the poor man to be well-fed and sheltered will nevertheless ultimately drive the poor man into slavery, destitution, and destruction because his methods and his means will be built upon principles derived from his autonomous sense of justice, rather than upon God's justice.

If one doubts this claim, he needs only to consider the parallel verse of Psalm 127:1. Unless God labors upon our behalf, all of our labors shall be in vain, for God is the owner of all Creation, and thus all Creation is subject to His bidding or determination. The short-term supposed gains of the evil man are the lament of the Psalmist in Psalm 73, yet when he comes into the presence of God in His sanctuary, he is reminded that God's justice, though often delayed, shall be made full--whether filled up by His mercy in the pouring out of His wrath upon our substitute Jesus Christ; or filled up upon the rebellious who refuse to bow the knee to the King of Kings. The Christian who sees the fruits of the wicked shall discern that whereas the appearance is all of glory, the substance is all of destruction--for God awaits the time, the right time, when He shall recompense all evil and make manifest the greatness of His mercy (Rom. 9:22-23). Thus, the epistemologically self-conscious Christian shall ever strive to direct his decisions according to God's expressed commands, not vainly pitting law against gospel--for we know that all our righteousness is in Christ, our legal representative--but rather walking blamelessly in the law, for even our missteps are washed clean by Christ's service to God on our behalf. Therefore we are freed from the condemnation of sin, in order that--in order that!--we may walk in obedience to God's Law (Rom. 6), expressed so elegantly, so comprehensively, so coherently in the two testaments of Scripture.

Those who wish to allow unbelieving men the optimistic hope of rightly interpreting the natural law fail to recognize the implications of the two verses at the head of the present exposition. Without God's wisdom, no structure can be maintained. Without God's wisdom, all pathways lead to destruction. Now natural law is said, by some, to be manifest to all men, as though God's general revelation is sufficient to teach men how they ought to live. However, the fact that Paul calls all unregenerate men dead in their trespasses and hostile to God, by what natural means will they seek to interpret the natural law in such a way that is pleasing to God? Rather, we should expect that unregenerate man's use of natural law will be consistent with his ontological perversion--original sin--which has already corrupted the image of God in man--his moral uprightness and intellectual understanding of and assent to God's Word. Therefore the natural law can only be used for the glory of God and the good of men when it is used upon the basis of God's revelation--a basis that all unregenerate men, by definition, reject in toto, for they reject the God who has delivered it and placed the seal of His Spirit upon it.

We must therefore never forget the stark antithesis that persists between belief and unbelief, which are the only two systems of thought or worldviews that Scripture declares to exist. Because there is but one Master, and because one can only serve God or one's own standard, there is no third choice between submission to God's authority or pursuit of one's own autonomy. All the various complications of the many thousands of individual philosophies of all unbelievers through all of time amount to nothing more than the simple rejection of God's commandments. All of the various Christian beliefs, if they remain Christian, are fundamentally committed (however consistently or inconsistently) with the desire to obey God's expressed commands.

Therefore, if we would see Christianity spread amongst our nations, if we would see Christianity thrive in our churches, if we would see Christianity perpetuated in our homes, we must dedicate our thinking to follow no further than where God Himself has directed it: to Christ, who is alone the Wisdom of God, and to His Law, which His Word alone commands. Therein lies the simple plan of reformation and revival. Therein lies the marching orders for the spread of Christ's Kingdom. Therein lies the joy for all of life: be it in times of flourishing faithfulness, or be it in times of widespread apostasy. Consider Christ this evening, on the eve of His own Great Suffering, that He counted it joy to do this and nothing else: the will of His Father in Heaven.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Calvin's Keys

I'm working my way through a very interesting book on Calvin's exegesis called The School of God, written by Raymond Blacketer; a man who is apparently a student of Richard Muller. Like Muller, Blacketer pays close attention to Calvin's rhetorical education and in particular to how Calvin allowed that training to aid him in interpreting the Scriptures. In doing so, Calvin was following in a long train of Bible expositors tracing back to the early Church, and most famously Augustine.

One of the key ideas from classical rhetoric that Calvin and most of the other Reformers employed was the notion of commonplaces. Commonplaces are topics upon which, or around which collections of arguments or disputes collect and serve as a stockpile from which the orator can draw to make a persuasive case for some or another proposition. It was Melanchthon who brought the idea of commonplaces into the writing of Christian doctrine in his Loci Communes. Interesting, as we learn from Muller's book, The Unaccommodated Calvin, Melanchthon drew out his commonplaces from Scripture itself. Not Scripture as a whole, but rather Paul's epistle to the Romans, which follows the following topical order:

1. Sin
2. Law
3. Grace
4. The people of God and the call of the Gentiles
5. Predestination
6. Good works
7. Civil authority
8. Christian liberty
9. The problem of offense or scandal

These topics become one of the organizational structure by which Calvin organizes his Institutes in the 1539 edition onward (the original 1536 edition follows a catechism method adapted from Luther's Small Catechism). Thus, following Paul, Calvin and other Reformers used these commonplaces as interpretive keys to unlocking the major teachings of the Bible. They would organize the content, or testimony of Scripture under these heads in order the the preachers and teachers of the Church would know the overarching theological themes of Scripture.

It is also in Muller that we find Calvin's pedagogical division of labor. He did not attempt to write a comprehensive exposition of Scripture in his Institutes. Rather, in the interests of brevity, he sought to use the Institutes as a treatment of the common topics with some measure of disputation, but without a lengthy exegesis of Scripture. The Commentaries would be where Calvin would avoid delving into the disputed passages or common topics of doctrine, but would follow closely the thought of the Biblical writer, only occasionally delving into doctrinal extensions or disputations. In the sermons Calvin would depart from his attempts at brevity and engage in lengthy amplifications of his text in the form of direct applications to the congregation. He generally avoided disputation, and where he avoided numerous cross-referencing in the Commentaries, he indulged in them heavily in the sermons.

An exception to the division of labor occurs in Blacketer's analysis of Calvin's Harmony of Moses. Here Calvin arranges the materials of the last four books of the Pentateuch into an order more conducive to both doctrinal exposition and chronological narrative. The interpretive key for the harmony is the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, which Calvin considers to be Scripture's own commonplaces for the doctrines and laws set forth in the Pentateuch. The Decalogue is a summary statement of God's Law from which all the ceremonial and civil laws of the Pentateuch are derived or deduced. Calvin goes to great lengths to categorize the laws according to their ceremonial or civic (or both) nature, commenting on the extent to which they are abrogated in the work of Christ, or by the limits of the historical context of Ancient Israel.

Blacketer points out that Calvin's Commentary in the Harmony does not follow the proposed brevity that Calvin claimed for himself. Blacketer's argument is that Calvin did not intend to use the doctrinal insights for a new edition of the Institutes, and so he saw fit to include them within the Commentary itself, despite having chastised Bucer for doing that very thing. Although this explanation seems plausible, it may also be necessary to consider the nature of the Harmony as such. Calvin is not merely attempting to follow the thought of Moses, but to improve upon its organization for the purposes of pedagogy for the Church. In such a case, Calvin is working both as Commentator AND as Expositor of the fundamental doctrines set forth by the text (i.e., the function of the Institutes). Calvin's Harmony may be more than a harmonizing the Pentateuch--it may also be harmonizing Commentary with the System of doctrine set forth in the commonplaces.

In any case, what is quite clear from Muller and Blacketer's scholarship is that the modern divide between systematic and biblical theology is foreign to the sixteenth century context. Such bifurcations, if there were even hints of them, are not matters of strict division of content, but rather a conscious division of labor suited to the pedagogical ease and needs of unlearned pastors and teachers in the Church. Calvin did not derive his dogmatics apart from his exegetical work in preparing commentaries and sermons for his congregation. Indeed, it was only because Calvin was constantly studying the Scriptures to exposit them for the congregation and for the future pastors and teachers that Calvin arrived at his dogmatic conclusions.

Finally, and the most important application to be taken, we should recognize that reading Scripture is of very little profit apart from understanding the doctrine that the Scripture displays. A corollary to understanding doctrine is that there must be a proper organization, method, or order of thought by which we can discern what Scripture teaches. For Calvin, the right order of teaching came via the classical rhetorical idea of commonplaces, which he saw applied by the Holy Spirit through Paul's ordering of the epistle to the Romans, and through Moses's development of the Law by means of the Ten Commandments. We should remember that rhetoric, like logic, though it was developed by the Ancient Greeks, is not inimical to Scripture, but is rather revealed in its pages to be the very means by which the Holy Spirit has chosen to reveal His thought to us. In that sense we may be humbled by God's choice to enlighten pagan minds to teach His holy saints about Himself. We may, like Augustine says, plunder the riches of Egypt to our profit, and to the glory of God.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cross posting: The End of a Thing Determines its Beginning

The following is a combination of two posts I did for another blog, which is where I do most of my musings and book logs.

The phrase that heads this current post seems counter-intuitive in our present age. How can something's end determine its beginning, see as how the beginning precedes it in time? It is such temporally determined thinking that prevents us from considering how it is that God works in the world, how it is that He makes good what is evil, how it is that we must see all things now are, though they have not yet been brought to pass in history.

From all eternity, in order to glorify Himself to the uttermost, God did determine to choose unto Himself an elect people to give unto His Son, with whom the mutual agreement was made to unite this people unto the Son, in an immaculate display of God's perfection. As God is both merciful and just, as He is both gracious and wrathful, He decided it most pleasing to choose some upon whom His love He would place and some upon whom His wrath He would place, not according to any condition foreseen in these objects, but because of His own desire to magnify Himself did the God of Heaven make unto Himself objects of mercy and objects of wrath. Here is the first decree, the last to be revealed in history--for we do not yet see all who it shall be that God has confirmed as His people, or denied as rebellious.

Given that God did choose to elect unto Himself a people to Love by His grace and mercy and a people to Hate by His justice and wrath, God did determine to apply the benefits of His Son, by the Holy Spirit's power, upon those who He would make unto Himself in love. The righteousness, holiness, goodness, long-suffering, peacefulness, and all the other communicable attributes of God He did decree to apply to the elect in Christ according to His electing love for them. To those whom He had determined to reprobate God withheld the merits of Christ by union with Him, instead passing them over in their unloved state. Here we see in history the calling out of God's people through regeneration, whereby they are delivered from the curse of sin and raised unto life, which they now live for God until He shall bring history to its end.

Given that God did decree to apply the benefits of Christ to the elect, and to deny them unto the reprobate, it was necessary to determine how it would come about that Christ's benefits would be applied to the elect. This salvation was to be according to the Law, which God decreed should be that standard according to which all men should be subject, and according to which they would be reconciled to God through the incarnation, obedient life, substitutionary death, and life-giving resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ. The apparatus of God's salvation is seen in history in the life and work of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of the elect, prophesied from the earliest ages and revealed at the appointed time.

Given that God did decree to bring about the salvation of the elect through the incarnation and work of the Son in history, it was necessary for Him to determine how it would be that men should come under the penalty of wrath and the need for redemption. Therefore God decreed that all men should fall under the penalty of lawbreaking in their federal representative, Adam. By this Fall the whole of Creation would be separated from the love of God and be subject to the effects of God's wrath, including the curse upon the earth, and upon the subsequent generations of men propagated by natural generation. The means of bringing all men under the need of redemption was accomplished in history in the disobedience of Adam in the Garden of Eden, wherein he did take the forbidden fruit to the dishonor of God's commandment to him.

Given that God did decree to bring about the Fall of men in order that the means of salvation in Christ might be provided, and the merits of Christ be applied to those whom God had chosen to elect in Him for His own glory, God did decree to create the world and all that is it in, including the federal head Adam in whom all humanity consists under the law and according to natural generation. The Creation of the world was the first act of history, and the last intention of God necessary to bring about His utmost glory.

The consistency of logical progression of God's thought is the perfect reverse reflection of their temporal accomplishment. Understanding the character of God's thought as such, we are called to consider our own lives and every event in them as determined by the ends for which God is doing all things--His own glory, and the brining to maturation all those elect who are the image of Christ, Who is the image of God, who has manifest His glory in just this way, and no other.

When, therefore, there is evil, let us praise the name of the Lord and work according to His express commands. When, therefore, there is good, let us praise the name of the Lord and work according to His express commands. When, therefore, there is doubt concerning what is our destiny upon this earth, let us praise the name of the Lord and look into His perfect Law and find all that we are in Christ, and all that we shall do in His name and by His power for the restoration of all things to the great glory of our God, Father, Savior, King.

I'm going to add a followup to the last post. There, I concluded that:

"The consistency of logical progression of God's thought is the perfect reverse reflection of their temporal accomplishment. Understanding the character of God's thought as such, we are called to consider our own lives and every event in them as determined by the ends for which God is doing all things--His own glory, and the bringing to maturation all those elect who are the image of Christ, Who is the image of God, who has manifest His glory in just this way, and no other."

I'm sure a few of you read the previous post, blanched at its abstract character, and pulled away thinking, "but what has such considerations of 'logical' order have to do with how I live in the world?"

A perfectly valid question. Consider the fact that if you are one of God's elect, there is no moment in the history of your life, beginning to end, when God has not considered you in light of His loving purposes. That means that every circumstance, every sin, every success or failure: every single aspect of your existence is characterized by the love of God. Each sin, for example, brings not condemnation, but the opportunity for greater illumination and subsequent obedience. "Are we not then to lament our sins?" May it never be! That all things work to our good does not entail that all things we experience are praiseworthy! The breaking of God's law is indeed a lamentable offense, yet because the elect has been accepted in Christ from eternity, his standing before God is as a son, and not as an enemy. What father would give a snake when the son asked for an egg? God conditions us by degrees into His very likeness, the express image of God that is Christ Jesus. Thus, every destination has its journey, and every step of that journey is characterized by the direction determined by that destination. God is the governor, guide, and goad--how could we, his sons and daughters, come out otherwise than He desires, if we are indeed His children?

I often hear Christians complaining of how great is their sin, how manifestly difficult it is for them to master, and how wonderful it will be when we are free from sin in heaven. While all of these considerations are true in one sense, they are profoundly misleading in another. Has not our sin been placed upon an even greater Savior? Has not our flesh been crucified, and our life that we now live, lived in the power of God Himself, the Holy Spirit? Has not the power of sin and death been buried with Christ in His death, in order that we may walk unencumbered by the sins that so easily beset us? We children of God, every one of us, struggle in our sin to the extent that we fail to understand our identity--we are not our own individual self, but we are the complex identity of Christ-in-us-and-we-in-Him. The commandments to be of one mind so often given in relation to our brothers and sisters in Christ is because we are first of all made of one mind with Christ Himself. We have the mind of Christ - 1 Cor. 2:16.

A further corollary consideration to our being identified completely with Christ is that we must know what it means to be Christ upon the earth. If Christ is our Head, and we His Body, then the sense of the analogy would indicate that the Head will use the Body to accomplish His will in the earth. But what standard has been given, or what orders been issued, that we may know not only who we are, but what we are to be about? Jesus Christ came to be about the will of His Father, and while we are not privy to the same tasks in every respect (which of us would profess to propitiate the wrath of God for the elect!?!?), we nonetheless are given in Christ a model of our true humanity. Christ fulfilled the Law by following the Law in every respect. Love God. Love your neighbor. Two very simple commands within which are contained the limitless directives for Christians in every age and in every circumstance. Yet there are those who claim that the Bible does not speak to every consideration. God has indeed been silent on a great many truths, but those are expressly concerning Himself and His particular reasons for what He does. What we must choose in each choice is profoundly determined by Scripture in every aspect. Even legitimate matters of Christian liberty are characterized by the requirements of the first word: they must be Christian; they must glorify God as Christ glorified God in every way.

But further, who can be so foolish as to think that the Eternal God of Heaven would leave us groping for direction in those affairs that bear the most direct impact upon what we shall learn and how we shall live!? I am speaking of our decisions about how to educate our children. I am speaking about our decisions about how to use our money. I am speaking about our decisions about how best to use our "free time." The modern Church has so circumscribed the Law of God, if it has not thrown it out entire, that it cannot be said to be about much of anything concerning the Kingdom of God Almighty. We not only fail in knowing who we are, but in knowing how who we are impacts how we live, and not by some generalized platitudinous clichés tossed from our pulpits and in our parishes (where they still exist!). What use is the "power" of the "Gospel" when we know not what or how such "power" is to be used or what "good news" is to be spoken? What does it mean to "press the Kingdom" into our lives, really? How exactly is it that "seeing and savoring the beauty of Christ," works itself out, day to day?

The most basic implication is that we must know God's Law, Christ's Law, and find out how to apply it where we are now. For example, it is not enough that one should avoid lying to one's neighbor in order to fulfill the commandment against bearing false witness. One must also do all in one's power to protect the good name of one's neighbor. Do you gossip? Do you criticize on the basis of preference rather than principle? Do you not only wish no ill, but also wish the best for those around you? And no, the best doesn't always entail avoiding confrontation and being polite, for the best is to be free from sin and to honor God. If you see a brother sinning, we are to point him to God's Word for encouragement to repent, even as we must be prepared, with soft hearts, to accept the rebuke of a brother when confronted upon our sin - Hebrews 3:12-13.

But you will fail if you forsake the fact that your righteousness is not accomplished by your obedience to the Law, but rather, your obedience to the Law is accomplished because Christ's righteousness has been applied to your account! The end of the thing determines its beginning. You obey because you have been bought, you were not bought because you obey. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "Dogs bark because they are dogs, not because they bark." It is in the nature of the Christian to grow in obedience, because his life is Christ's life within, living out God's particular purpose for that individual life in the grand drama of His glory. If you aren't doing Christianity well, go think about what it means to be in Christ. Perhaps God will illuminate your mind to the knowledge of His Son, and thereby call you forth as son or daughter of the living God.