Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Carl F.H. Henry Versus Karl Barth

Quote: “10. God’s revelation is rational communication conveyed in intelligible ideas and meaningful words, that is, in conceptual-verbal form.

The motif of a speaking God is found in the great world religions only in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And the thesis that God speaks his mind intelligibly is a fundamental emphasis especially of Judeo-Christian religion. The loss of revelation as a mental concept has had devastating consequences in modern theology. To deny the rational intelligibility of divine revelation is to forego the connection between authentic faith in God and any necessary adherence to particular beliefs. When Karl Barth rejected the objective, rational-verbal character of revelation, Rudolf Bultmann and the existentialists swiftly eroded Barth’s weaker alternative of a supposedly paradoxical supernatural Word. In the Bible ‘the word of the Lord’ is an intelligible divine Word, not simply a human interpretation of the deeds of God or an existential inner response to a spiritual confrontation; in his redemptive disclosure, God often speaks BEFORE he acts. In the case of the exodus, for example, Yahweh’s explicit declaration of his purpose precedes the saving act itself. The Old Testament prophets were spokesmen of a mediated Word of God. In proclaiming ‘thus saith the Lord’ they do not exhort their hearers to enter into or to seek the same special experience of revelation that they have had. Rather the prophets declare themselves to be divinely chosen to bear to others God’s specially given message. Even Jesus of Nazareth, the climax of God’s personal manifestation, in his own teaching and practice endorses the view that revelation takes conceptual-verbal form. Not only does Jesus identify his very ‘words’ as revelation (John 14:10) but he also identifies the Word of God in terms of what ’stands written’ (Matt. 4:4, literal)."

Carl F. H. Henry in GOD, REVELATION AND AUTHORITY, Vol. II, GOD WHO SPEAKS AND SHOWS (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999), pp. 12-13.

Again, Evangelicals who don’t have a problem with the departure from the orthodox doctrine of Scripture open the door to existentialistic and individualistic interpretations of “revelation.” For Barth, revelation is an existential encounter or experience. For orthodox Christians, revelation is the Holy Bible in an objective form which even children can understand and be saved (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Barth’s redefinition of revelation is essentially an attack on the authority of Holy Scripture as the norm for Christian theology, doctrine, and praxis. Make no mistake about it, neo-orthodoxy is a direct attack against orthodoxy, albeit in a more subtle form. I’ve been reading the Scriptures since I was 8 years old. Even though I did not make a formal decision to become a Christian until I was 25, it was my direct encounter with God through the written Word that brought me to faith. It had absolutely nothing to do with any personal “revelation” to me from God but rather with my understanding of what God had said in His Word. This is an objective Word and not something that can be re-experienced and re-interpreted according to our existential predispositions. Either we take God at His Word or we reject it in favor of our own subjective experiences. The Holy Scriptures are the final authority in all matters of faith and practice; second to that is orthodoxy and tradition. These bases for Christian doctrine are not to be taken lightly.



Seth said...

Greetings Charlie,

You will have to forgive my ignorance as I am still trying to learn what exactly it means to be reformed, evangelical, and orthodox but I thought that the reformed view was that one does not *choose* to become a Christian. I thought God chooses (elects) us. So where does your language of "making a formal decision" fit into that and how can you say your decision had "absolutely nothing to do with any personal revelation" to you from God?

Chapter X ("Of Effectual Calling") of the WCF says that God's effectual call works (in part) by "enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God."

Also, I wonder what you make of strongly reformed Christians who appear to fall somewhere between Barth and Henry on the question of the authority and inspiration of Scripture. I'm thinking especially of

Herman Ridderbos http://www.the-highway.com/scripture_Ridderbos.html


Peter Enns

Grace and Peace,

Charlie said...

Regarding your question about God's sovereignty in election, you're very correct. God before the foundation of the world and before creation elects those who will be saved by His sovereign and secret will. This is true whether you take the infralapsarian view or the supralapsarian view. This is merely a distinction between two views of God's decree to elect. One view is that in logical sequence God made the decree of election and reprobation prior to the decree to allow the fall of man (supralapsarianism). The other is the infralapsarian view, the most common view, which says that God decreed to elect after the decree to allow the fall, which is more consistent with the biblical text.

What you are neglecting to see is that according to the Bible, men are in total bondage to sin such that they are unable to come to Christ on their own. Thus, they must be regenerated or raised from the dead spiritually prior to their conversion, a special grace given to the elect to bring them to saving faith. Even repentance is a gift from God. The bondage of the will is a primary and essential doctrine of the Protestant Reformation and is held by practically all the Reformers and even by Arminians, though Arminians believe prevenient grace is given to all mankind and not just to the elect.

Also, I might add that you're oversimplifying the Reformed position. You have neglected to note that the Westminster Standards place a heavy emphasis on human accountability and responsibility. Man is fully accountable for his rebellion against God because men willingly and freely choose to rebel against God as free moral agents. The bondage of the will does not mean that men are not free to choose what they will do but that their choices are always to react in rebellion unless they receive a divine intervention. The Arminian view does not solve this dilemma because even by the Arminian view the prevenient grace does not work in most cases. Men still refuse to accept Christ and they go on their merry way to hell. Furthermore, God would be leaving salvation up to capricious and sinful men if grace can be resisted. The real question is why grace is so ineffective in such a view since most men go to hell even by the Arminian view.

The Calvinist view is that God is just in damning all to hell. The fact that He decides to give particular grace to unworthy sinners is merciful. If we got justice, then God would damn all of us and quite justifiably so. The destruction of the whole earth in the ancient flood is proof enough of this.

The appointed means that God uses to awaken the elect to saving faith is the preaching of the Gospel:

Question 60

Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?

Answer: They who, having never heard the gospel, (Rom. 10:14) know not Jesus Christ, (2 Thess. 1:8–9, Eph. 2:12, John 1:10–12) and believe not in him, cannot be saved, (John 8:24, Mark 16:16) be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, (1 Cor. 1:20–24) or the laws of that religion which they profess; (John 4:22, Rom. 9:31–32, Phil. 3:4–9) neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, (Acts 4:12) who is the Savior only of his body the church. (Eph. 5:23)

The larger catechism : With scripture proofs. 1990 (3rd edition.). Atlanta, GA: Committee for Christian Education & Publications.

Also, God does not force the wicked to be wicked. He simply turns them over to their own depraved and corrupt nature (see Romans 1:18ff). Neither does God force the elect to be converted but He instead gives them a grace which awakens them to the truth and they freely and willing come to Him in faith after they have seen the light. Reminds me of a line in Amazing Grace: Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. And "Was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see."

Furthermore, the Westminster Confession takes great care to distinguish the fact that God does not violate man's will even in making His decrees:

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: (Eph. 1:11, Rom. 11:33, Heb. 6:17, Rom. 9:15,18) YET SO, AS THEREBY NEITHER IS GOD THE AUTHOR OF SIN, (James 1:13,17, 1 John 1:5) NOR IS VIOLENCE OFFERED TO THE WILL OF THE CREATURES; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (Acts 2:23, Matt. 17:12, Acts 4:27–28, John 19:11, Prov. 16:33)

The Westminster confession of faith : An authentic modern version. 1985 (Rev. EPC ed.). Signal Mountain, TN: Summertown Texts.

I think if you will study the Westminster Confession in it's entirety you will see that it establishes both God's sovereignty AND man's accountability. While these seem on the surface to be contradictory, they only appear so to us from our limited human perspective. While we don't fully understand yet, we must accept what Scripture says. Since the Bible teaches both God's sovereignty in election and man's accountability to choose Christ, we must accept both as true.

Regarding Ridderbos, I'm not sure that I would agree that modern Reformed theologians are all faithful to the classical doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. Of course there are neo-orthodox theologians who claim to come from the Reformed tradition, including the American neo-orthodox theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. I'm not that familiar with Ridderbos but judging from the article you gave in the link, he is not neo-orthodox at all but rather a conservative. There's nothing said in the article that would contradict the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

As far as I can tell, however, Ridderbos is an Evangelical/conservative Reformed theologian as noted here:

3. Redemptive–Historical Approaches to Scripture One final trajectory of theological reflection upon the nature and meaning of Scripture is that which focuses on redemptive history. Arising in the critical milieu of the late eighteenth and pioneered by figures such as J.P. Gabler, this approach made a distinction between the categories and methods of systematic theology and those of biblical theology, the latter being conceived as a discipline which was shaped less by synthetic categories and more by the shape of biblical history. In the nineteenth century, Geerhardus Vos of Princeton, a friend of Warfield, baptised this paradigm into a traditional evangelical framework, emphasising that the meaning of the Bible was to be found essentially in the story of Israel which culminated in Jesus Christ. Scripture was thus authoritative both because it was divinely inspired (i.e., according to its mode of delivery) and because it focused authoritatively on Jesus Christ (i.e., according to its content). This method has been fruitfully expanded and developed in the last fifty years in evangelical circles by scholars such as Herman Ridderbos, Willem VanGemeren, and Graeme Goldsworthy.


I would be more than glad to answer any questions you might have about Calvinism as I have been a dedicated Calvinist since about 1996 or so.


Seth said...

Thank you for your patient and detailed response.

[You said]:
"Neither does God force the elect to be converted but He instead gives them a grace which awakens them to the truth and they freely and willing come to Him in faith after they have seen the light."

Could you clarify this statement? You seem to be saying that God's special grace is a kind of knowledge which enables the elect to make a fully informed choice. The non-elect on the other hand, presumably make a choice too but one based on inadequate knowledge.

In other words, is God's call merely necessary to engender conversion or is it sufficient as well? If it is necessary (but not sufficient), then human will or assent would also be required. If it is sufficient, then there is nothing else required, somewhat like when the doctor strikes my knee with his little hammer to test my reflexes. In the latter case, I don't "add" anything (such as acceptance or will) to his hammer strike in order to move my knee. My knee simply moves as a reflexive response to his action.

Charlie said...

The effectual calling of the elect has nothing to do with "knowledge." Rather it is something that works in the heart of the unregenerate elect to now enable them to receive the outward call of the Gospel. Both the non-elect and the elect may receive the invitation or external call of the Gospel through preaching but only the elect will in fact respond because they have received efficacious grace to do so. As A. A. Hodge puts it, "But efficacious grace, since it acts not UPON but IN the will itself, changing the governing desires, and giving it a new direction to the active powers of the soul, is neither resistible nor irresistible, but most free, spontaneous, and yet most certainly effectual." [OUTLINES OF THEOLOGY, A.A. Hodge, 1860, rewritten and enlarged edition, 1879. Banner of Truth edition, 1972. Reprint (Banner of Truth: Carlisle, 1991) page 450].

The non-elect also make a choice but it is likewise not a choice made by knowledge but by the sinful and corrupt will. As I mentioned already, God is totally just in bypassing the non-elect and leaving them in bondage to the sinful nature inherited from Adam. It is this sinful nature that makes man unable to do only good as Adam could before the fall and unable to come to God in faith. Mankind, like those before the flood, is in rebellion against God.

Regarding the second part of your question, there are two calls placed by God. The external call is a general invitation or calling that is given to all mankind who hear the message of the Gospel. However, only the elect receive the inward and effectual calling which transforms the will and enable the elect to come to Christ in faith. It is not a knee jerk reaction since the elect receive both the inward and effectual calling and the external calling. The reason the non-elect do not respond in faith is that the will and the intellect and the entire being of mankind is corrupt in every area, mind, body and spirit, such that he is unable to act in any other way except in accordance with the human nature that is corrupted by original sin and ongoing actual sins.

Moreover, God is just in leaving mankind in this condition because Adam was the federal head of the human race and Adam brought the curse upon himself and all of his progeny. When Adam sinned we became guilty of Adam's first or original sin and the consequences of this is that we are born with a depraved and corrupt human nature and we sin in actuality as soon as we begin to make moral choices. Only a supernatural intervention can change that condition. It is therefore like being raised from the dead supernaturally rather than receiving a medicine. We are not just sick. We're dead. Thus, every time someone accepts Christ as Savior it is indeed a miracle. Not only that but salvation is by grace and grace alone. We do not cooperate as part of the package of justification and salvation but we do cooperate imperfectly in our progressive sanctification.

Hope this helps.

Also, I forgot to note where I was quoting the Westminster Confession of Faith above. The quote is from Chapter III, Section 1. Of God's Eternal Decree.

Charlie said...

CHAP. X. - Of Effectual Calling

1. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, (Rom. 8:30, Rom. 11:7, Eph. 1:10–11) by His word and Spirit, (2 Thess. 2:13–14, 2 Cor. 3:3,6) out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; (Rom. 8:2, Eph. 2:1–5, 2 Tim. 1:9–10) enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, (Acts 26:18, 1 Cor. 2:10,12, Eph. 1:17–18) taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; (Ezek. 36:26) renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, (Ezek. 11:19, Phil. 2:13, Deut. 30:6, Ezek. 36:27) and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: (Eph. 1:19, John 6:44–45) yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. (Cant. 1:4, Ps. 110:3, John 6:37, Rom. 6:16–18)

The Westminster confession of faith : An authentic modern version. 1985 (Rev. EPC ed.). Signal Mountain, TN: Summertown Texts.

Seth said...

Many thanks for the clarification.

Charlie said...

John Frame seems to agree with Van Til's assessment of Karl Barth's theology regarding the errors of Barth's approach:

"There are similar problems in Van Til's critiques of scholasticism and of the Amsterdam philosophy; but he does hit upon some genuine and serious errors and confusions in those systems, and even more in the system of Karl Barth. For giving the church such clear warning about these errors, he deserves the commendation of all Christians."

From: http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/Reassessment.htm

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