You can’t justify its existence

sin-exists

You have to wonder: why on earth are people so intent on proving Genesis 1-3 untrue? Why do so many want to cast doubt on these early chapters’ credibility as being true? Why do we want to dismiss them as mere fairy tales or mythology?

Because they reveal the truth of the human condition—and how sin came into our lives.

We don’t like these chapters because they leave us with little doubt about the chief problem of humanity. But we want to change that—we don’t want to say it is disobedience to our Creator, or that we chose to believe a lie over the truth. Instead, we convince ourselves that our real problem is ignorance.

But in doing so, we are lying to ourselves. But, as Herman Bavinck explains, lying about sin, trying to justify its existence, is always a losing proposition:

Sin started with lying (John 8:44); it is based on illusion, an untrue picture, an imagined good that was not good. In its origin, therefore, it was a folly and an absurdity. It does not have an origin in the true sense of the word, only a beginning. Satan has, therefore, not incorrectly been called an “irony of all logic.” The impossibility of explaining the origin of sin, therefore, must not be understood as an excuse, a refuge for ignorance. Rather, it should be said openly and clearly: we are here at the boundaries of our knowledge. Sin exists, but it will never be able to justify its existence. It is unlawful and irrational. (Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3, 69–70)

10 words that will completely shatter your self-image (and that’s a good thing!)

independent-creatures

Let’s just admit it right now: we think far too highly of ourselves.

And no, those aren’t the ten words I’m talking about (and not just because there are 13 words in that sentence).

We westerners have an obsession with autonomy. We are self-made people who are motivated to actualize our potential to live our best lives now so that every day can be a Friday after we’ve worked a four-hour work week (which gives us more time to work out at the gym and experiment with fad diets, y’know).

We are masters of our domain (except when our fad diets crash and burn on us).

We are charting our own course, knowing our destinies are but what we make them.

We are… kind of silly, actually.

Why? Because, as Bavinck writes: “Scripture knows no independent creatures; this would be an oxymoron.”

Let those ten words press on you for a bit. A statement more at odds with our culture, and more challenging to how each of us live each day, you’ll have a difficult time finding.

The notion that we are creatures is naturally offensive to us. To be a creature means to be created. And to be created means we are derived from a Creator. And if there is a Creator, then we are not the all-powerful autonomous beings we wish to be, because we are dependent. We are finite. We are not our own.

The more we insist upon it—the more some even try to twist the Bible into making it say something that it clearly doesn’t (let the reader understand)—the more we find ourselves at odds with reality.

In every second throbs the heartbeat of eternity

heartbeat-eternity

In a world without God, time doesn’t really make sense. Or rather, at a minimum, the concept of time doesn’t. Time is always moving, always changing; one second is always becoming the next… As a thing that is always becoming, then, can time self-originate?

If time is self-originating, when did it self-originate?

Thus, the question is: can that which is ever changing spontaneously come into being? Herman Bavinck, in Reformed Dogmatics (vol 2), argues no. In fact, he says, for time to exist on its own is entirely inconceivable:

God, the eternal One, is the only absolute cause of time. In and by itself time cannot exist or endure: it is a continuous becoming and must rest in immutable being. It is God who by his eternal power sustains time, both in its entirety and in each separate moment of it. God pervades time and every moment of time with his eternity. In every second throbs the heartbeat of eternity. … He makes time subservient to eternity and thus proves himself to be the King of the ages (1 Tim. 1:17). (164)

When we consider the created world around us, it is not only the beauty of nature and the wonder of human ingenuity that testify to our Creator—time itself bears him witness, and indicts us in our neglect of giving honor and thanks to him. For time does not self-originate; God created it, and he sustains it. “In every second throbs the heartbeat of eternity.” Do you see it?


Photo credit: 9.15 via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

Brief thoughts on Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (vol 1)

Reformed Dogmatics

You may recall that my big reading project (aside from school) is to reengaging with time-tested works of theology. The first work I chose was Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, of which, after five weeks, I’ve made it through the first volume. (You can see my reading plan here.) Reformed Dogmatics is a fairly massive undertaking, and at my current (fairly aggressive) pace, I should be completing it around the end of May, 2015.

Today, I wanted to share a few of the things I most appreciated in the first volume—and truth be told, narrowing it down was no easy task. I rarely went more than a few paragraphs without highlighting something that was fascinating to me, or finding a quote I needed to interact with, or something that challenged my assumptions (even if simply in his approach to those whose ideas he was challenging). Here are three items in particular that stick out:

1. The background really does matter. Believe it or not, one of the most beneficial parts of the first volume was the editor’s introduction. There, readers are treated to not just an overview of the key points of the book, but a look into the climate that made Bavinck… well, Bavinck. The influence of Abraham Kuyper, the historical backdrop of the rise of 19th century liberalism… all of this is foundational for a fair reading of Reformed Dogmatics.

2. The philosophical discussions are fascinating. This, for me, was perhaps the most enjoyable part of volume one. As Bavinck delved into the history of dogmatics and how others have attempted to articulate the Christian faith—including his very generous assessments of Schleiermacher, Kant, and others—but also how he recognizes the place of philosophy in regard to the development of theology:

Still, theology is not in need of a specific philosophy. It is not per se hostile to any philosophical system and does not, a priori and without criticism, give priority to the philosophy of Plato or of Kant, or vice versa. But it brings along its own criteria, tests all philosophy by them, and takes over what it deems true and useful. (609)

This is so helpful to keep in mind, especially when reading frequent accusations of forcing Greek philosophy onto the Scriptures by post-evangelicals. Theology is not subject to philosophy—philosophy, when viewed rightly, is subject to theology. When we get this confused, the results are disastrous, for it is how we risk losing our grip on the gospel.

3. New problems aren’t that new. The final thing that’s helpful in reading the book is the reminder that, once again, the challenges we face in the church are not new. Heresy doesn’t change, it only gets a cooler haircut.

Thus, the temptations toward mere pietism, to outward morality without inward transformation, to the allegorizing and intellectualizing1 of the Christian faith, even accusations of circular reasoning have long been present. And just as these issues have long been present, so to have their responses.

Bavinck’s response to accusations of circular reasoning regarding the belief in Scripture as the Word of God is particularly helpful. The Spirit witnesses to the divine marks imprinted upon Scripture’s content. He also witnesses directly and indirectly through the Church’s ongoing existence and though the church’s united historical confession of Scripture. And finally through the internal witness within the heart of the believer. And yet, what Bavinck reminds us is that accusations against the testimony of the Holy Spirit are invalid because his testimony is not the ground, but the means of faith:

The ground of faith is, and can only be, Scripture, or rather, the authority of God, which comes upon the believer materially in the content as well as formally in the witness of Scripture. Hence the ground of faith is identical with its content and cannot, as Herrmann believes, be detached from it. Scripture as the word of God is simultaneously the material and the formal object of faith. But the testimony of the Holy Spirit is “the efficient cause,” “the principle by which,” of faith. We believe Scripture, not because of, but by means of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Scripture and the testimony of the Holy Spirit relate to each other as objective truth and subjective assurance, as the first principles and their self-evidence, as the light and the human eye. Once it is has been recognized in its divinity, Scripture is incontrovertibly certain to the faith of the believing community, so that it is both the principle and the norm of faith and life. (597-598)

So far, while it’s been heady (and at times confusing), Reformed Dogmatics has been an absolute joy to read. There is no shortage of material to consider in its pages, whether we agree with everything entirely or not (and let’s be honest, if we agreed entirely with it, we probably aren’t reading carefully enough). If you haven’t started reading this book (or rather, series of books), I’d encourage you to join me on this journey reading time-tested theology. Grab the reading plan, get yourself a copy of Reformed Dogmatics, and get started today.

How to lose the head, heart and hands of your faith

Whole Bible-Bavinck

What is the most widespread error in the church? There are oh, so many, of course: We have professing believers who say they love Jesus but hate the church, his bride. We have apparent Christians who call the work of Christ divine child abuse. We have church-going men and women who believe it doesn’t matter with whom they sleep, what media they consume, or where they go (and heaven help anyone who says otherwise).

These are all pretty serious things, to be sure. But they’re not the most consistently widespread problem. If anything, these are symptoms of the larger error. That error? The rejection of the Old Testament. Writing a century ago, in a time in church history very similar to our own, Herman Bavinck put it this way:

The worst and most widespread error is the rejection or neglect of the Old Testament. Marcionism repeatedly reemerged in the Christian church and plays a large role in modern theology as well. All this arbitrary use of Holy Scripture leads to one-sidedness and error in theology and to pathology in the religious life. In that setting the full and rich configuration of truth does not come to light. Either the person and work of the Father or of the Son or of the Holy Spirit is then sold short. Injustice is done to Christ either in his prophetic, or his priestly, or his royal office. The Christian religion loses its catholicity. The Christian head, heart, and hand are not harmoniously molded and guided by the truth. Only the whole Bible in its fullness preserves us from all these one-sidednesses. (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1, 617)

I have never met a spiritually healthy, well-balanced Christian who neglects the Old Testament. Chances are, neither have you.

If we ignore the Old Testament, and the rich promise of Christ contained within it, we do so at our spiritual peril. If we teach that it’s no longer necessary, we ought to have millstones tied around our necks. If you overlook it, you impede your ability to respond to objections to it from non-Christians.

In other words, if you want to lose your heart, lose your hands or lose your mind, just ditch the Old Testament.

Take away the foundation and lose everything

Inspiration-Bavinck

There are certain statements that are trigger warnings for me—at least, when I see them made by a Christian writer, speaker or pastor. References to 1 Corinthians’ famous “everything is permissible” statements (but only because I almost always see them used in the exact opposite way Paul meant them). Nearly any time someone says Jesus doesn’t judge, so we shouldn’t either (again, because, it’s used in almost the opposite way it’s meant in Scripture). And when someone calls the Bible something like a “different kind of center,” or a people group’s collective and growing understanding of God, or some other such thing… oh boy.

When those kinds of statements come up, I usually know where the author or speaker is going, and it’s always to a bad place. Why? Because they’ve lost their footing, having abandoned the foundation of the Bible’s authority: its nature as “God-breathed,” or inspired.

Herman Bavinck understood this all too well, living through the rise of late 19th and early 20th century liberalism. And he knew exactly where it would lead:

There is in fact only one ground on which the authority of Scripture can be based, and that is its inspiration. When that goes, also the authority of Scripture is gone and done with. In that case, it is merely a body of human writings, which as such cannot rightfully assert any claim to be a norm for our faith and conduct. And along with Scripture—for the Protestant—all authority in religion collapses. All subsequent attempts to recover some kind of authority—say, in the person of Christ, in the church, in religious experience, in the intellect or conscience—end in disappointment. They only prove that no religion can exist without authority. Religion is essentially different from science. It has a certainty of its own, not one that is based on insight but one that consists in faith and trust. And this religious faith and trust can rest only in God and in his word. In religion a human witness and human trust is insufficient; here we need a witness from God to which we can abandon ourselves in life and in death. “Our heart is restless until it rests in Thee, O Lord!” (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1, 463)

This is something we’ve got to get. The arguments we’ve seen re-emerge over the last 20 years or so, the positions put forward by the likes of Brian McLaren, Rob Bell,1 and the like, are little more than the recycling of 19th century (and earlier) arguments by those who’ve attempted to revere the Bible in a sense, while undercutting the foundation of its reverence. We want to treat the Bible as having some sort of limited authority. And yet, unless we take seriously the foundation of its authority—that is, unless we truly embrace its inspired nature in its fullest sense—we’re only going to be disappointed. And worse, if we persist down this road, we’ll be lost in utter darkness.

A year of time-tested theology: the Bavinck reading plan

time-tested-theology

The new year is nearly upon us, and this year I’m spending a great deal of time reading time-tested works of theology. The first work on the list? Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.

Thanks to the tools in Logos 6, I’ve put together a reading plan for each volume. The goal is to complete read each volume over about five weeks, give or take. Here’s what the plan for volume one, Prolegomena, looks like:

  • January 1: Editor’s Introduction (optional)
  • January 2: Editor’s Introduction (optional) – Dogma, Dogmatics, and Theology
  • January 5: The Content of Theology – Apostles, Bishops, and the Return to Scripture
  • January 6: The Turn to the Subject – The Impact of Philosophy
  • January 7: The Foundation and Task of Prolegomena – Christian Theology and/ or Philosophy: Two Ways
  • January 8: Dogma and Theology in the East – Chapter 5: Lutheran Dogmatics
  • January 9: The Beginning of Lutheran Theology – The Beginnings of Reformed Theology
  • January 12: Reformed Scholasticism – Theological Prolegomena
  • January 13: Foundations of Thought – Objective and Subjective Religion
  • January 14: Piety and Worship – The Whole Person
  • January 15: The Origin of Religion – Nineteenth- Century “Recovery” of Revelation
  • January 16: Mediating Theology – Chapter 11: Special Revelation
  • January 19: Modes of Revelation – To Fallen Humanity
  • January 20: As Triune God – The Reformational View
  • January 21: Rationalistic Naturalism – The Witness of the New Testament
  • January 22: The Testimony of the Church – Differing Views of Inspiration
  • January 23: Organic Inspiration – Descriptive and Prescriptive Authority
  • January 26: Moral Authority Only? – The Conflict with Rome
  • January 27: Tradition and Papal Infallibility – Religion is Always Concrete
  • January 28: Theology’s Distinct Method – The Speculative Method
  • January 29: Triumph of Reason: Hegel – Albrecht Ritschl and Moral Religion
  • January 30: The Search for the Unity of Believing and Knowing – Two Kinds of Faith
  • February 2: Faith as Intellectual Assent – Scripture is Self-Authenticating
  • February 3: Divine and Human Logos – Faith’s Knowledge
  • February 4: Dogma and Greek Philosophy – end of volume one

A couple of things you might be wondering:

Why no weekends? I intentionally limited this to weekdays only for a couple of reasons. First, I want to make sure everyone who participates has time to adequately process what they’re reading each week. I don’t want anyone to just consume Reformed Dogmatics, I was to think about it. Second, I felt it important to build in some buffer. I don’t want anyone to get caught in is the “desperate catch up” trap if we get behind in our reading (which shouldn’t be an issue, but you never know).

Where are the page numbers? Each entry shows the section heads where we’ll be starting, rather than a page number as this is built using the editions available through Logos Bible Software. If you’re following along with a hard copy edition, it works out to reading roughly 30-ish pages a day.

How long will it take to read all four volumes? The way the plan is structured, we’ll have completed the four volumes by by May 19th. This is a fairly comfortable pace.

How can I get a copy of these plans? Copies of the plans for each volume are available in PDF format and for iCal. You can download the PDF versions here and the iCal version here.

Enjoy!

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

What Is Your Bible-Reading Plan for 2015?

Tim Challies rounds up a number of really great Bible reading plans for the coming year.

Social Media Fruit of the Spirit

Aaron Earls:

One of the most unfortunate, but telling aspects of social media is the way many Christians use it with no concern for how it reflects on them or their Savior.

Many believe (wrongly) as long as they speak the truth, nothing else matters—even, especially, when talking to or about other Christians.

However, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we keep unity within the body of believers by not just speaking truth, but by doing so in love.

5 trends that will shape 2015

Josh Linkner at Forbes has a few interesting ideas about trends we’ll see in the business world in the coming year. I’m skeptical on the last one, though.

Don’t Get Too Familiar with the Bible

Peter Krol:

Unexamined familiarity will prevent you from looking at the Book. Because such familiarity crowds out curiosity, it imperceptibly stiffens necks, hardens hearts, and deafens ears. Familiarity may lead us to assume things that are not in the text, and it may blind us to things that are.

Why You Should Read Bavinck

Derek Rishmawy:

This past January I embarked on a Saturday reading plan of the Dogmatics. Now roughly halfway through the fourth volume and on track to complete the set by the end of December, I can safely say this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my theological life. Bavinck’s accomplishment in the Dogmatics is nothing short of jaw-dropping. The expansive, nuanced, and deeply trinitarian theological vision is both intellectually challenging and spiritually nourishing. I anticipate turning to these volumes regularly in the years to come.

I’d like to offer up six reasons you ought to consider picking up the Dogmatics and working through them yourself.

The world rests on revelation

holding-bible-lr

The world itself rests on revelation; revelation is the presupposition, the foundation, the secret of all that exists in all its forms. The deeper science pushes its investigations, the more clearly will it discover that revelation underlies all created being. In every moment of time beats the pulse of eternity; every point in space is filled with the omnipresence of God; the finite is supported by the infinite, all becoming is rooted in being. Together with all created things, that special revelation which comes to us in the Person of Christ is built on these presuppositions.

The foundations of creation and redemption are the same. The Logos who became flesh is the same by whom all things were made. The first-born from the dead is also the first-born of every creature. The Son, whom the Father made heir of all things, is the same by whom he also made the worlds. Notwithstanding the separation wrought by sin, there is a progressive approach of God to his creatures. The transcendence does not cease to exist, but becomes an ever deeper immanence. But as a disclosure of the greatness of God’s heart, special revelation far surpasses general revelation, which makes known to us the power of his mind. General revelation leads to special, special revelation points back to general.

The one calls for the other, and without it remains imperfect and unintelligible. Together they proclaim the manifold wisdom which God has displayed in creation and redemption.

Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation, pp. 27-28