Van Tillian Inconsistency

I want to start off by saying that I fall into the “presup” camp when it comes to apologetics. I find the position to be most consistent with Scripture (which I am not seeking to defend in this article). However, I find problems among those in the camp and even with some of Van Til’s teaching. I don’t necessarily buy everything Van Til or his followers teach or have taught. I would label myself a “moderate” presuppositionalist. I believe it is possible to find middle ground between the “classical” approach and the “presup” approach without having to result to what I think is a false dilemma between the two positions. Both sides have truths that can be offered and we shouldn’t throw either position out entirely because we may not like certain teachings sourced in either position. I do find it ironic that there are those in the “classical” camp who would complain because some in the Van Tillian camp will reject their position or aspects of it on theology proper due to philosophical commitments that are used in their theology, but then turn around and criticize the “presup” view because Van Til used idealist philosophical concepts in his system. For some reason, it is okay for “classicists” to use philosophical concepts in their theology (and rightly so) that are found in pagan philosophy, but Van Til can’t, even when he goes to great length to defend himself against accusations of adopting idealism (see his work “The Defense of the Faith”). And on the flip side, there are those in the Van Tillian camp that have fallen into this too, where there will be criticism of the usage of “Greek philosophy” in theology while adopting a system (“presup”) that has inherent philosophical commitments that are found in idealism. We have to move beyond this type of argumentation. With all that said, this article spawned out of me reading an essay that Dr. Matthew Barrett of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary posted by Richard A. Muller titled, “Reading Aquinas from a Reformed Perspective: A Review Essay” from 2018. This article is not meant to cover every inconsistency by Van Tillians or the beliefs of Van Til, but a point-by-point discussion of inconsistencies among Van Til and some of his followers. Also, when I say, “Van Tillian” in the title, I am not only referring to what Van Til may have taught, but some teachings found among the “presup” camp that have come from followers of Van Til. Let us begin.

The Doctrine of God

This doctrine seems to be in some way be at the center of multiple controversies. There are those in the “presup” camp (not necessarily everybody) that have adopted an unorthodox doctrine of God. However, there seems to be disagreement among followers of Van Til with Van Til himself on what constitutes an orthodox theology proper. One need look no further than Jeff Johnson. He identifies as a presuppositionalist in his book, “Saving Natural Theology from Thomas Aquinas,” on page 6 of the Kindle edition. However, there does not seem to be agreement even with Van Til on who God is (although this may be done in ignorance). In his previous book (“The Failure of Natural Theology”) he specifically rejects the concept of God as “actus purus,” meaning God is pure act without the capacity to become more than He actually is. He is the fullness of His being, completely perfect. Jeff says the following:

Actus Purus Is Not the God of the Bible…Actus Purus Is Oblivious and Unconcerned…Actus Purus Cannot Create…Actus Purus Does Not Have a Free Will…Actus Purus Is Impersonal…Thus, according to Aristotle, God is somewhat deistic in that he is oblivious to the universe.

Johnson, Jeffrey D. “The Natural Theology of Aristotle.” The Failure of Natural Theology: A Critical Appraisal of the Philosophical Theology of Thomas Aquinas, Free Grace Press, 2021, pp. 66–69.

As you can see, he expressly denies this doctrine. He sees it as a philosophical commitment and not a biblical one, although he does see some overlap between Aristotelian concepts of God and the biblical God (see page 67). However, it is clear that Van Til did teach this doctrine of actus purus as applied to God and even grounded this understanding of God as the basis for his apologetic position (which position Jeff Johnson espouses). Notice what Van Til says,

As God is absolute rationality so God is also absolute will. By this we mean primarily that God did not have to become good, but has from everlasting to everlasting been good. In God there is no problem of activity and passivity.

Til, Cornelius Van. “The Christian Philosophy of Behavior.” The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadephia, 1955, p. 83.

Even on a footnote on the same page, K. Scott Oliphint who edited the 4th edition, says the following in relation to the above:

That is, as orthodox theology has maintained, God is Pure Act. There is nothing incomplete or in any way imperfect in God.

Til, Cornelius Van. “The Christian Philosophy of Behavior.” The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadelphia, 1955, p. 83.

And Van Til then seems to tie this view of God to his view of apologetic methodology where he says,

It should be especially noted that Christians put forth this concept of God, not as something that may possibly be true and may also possibly be untrue. From the nontheistic point of view our God will have to appear as the dumping ground of all difficulties. For the moment we waive this objection in order to call attention to the fact that all the differences between the Christian and the non-Christian point of view, in the field of ethics, must be ultimately traced to their different God-concepts. Christians hold that the conception of God is the necessary presupposition of all human activity.

Til, Cornelius Van. “The Christian Philosophy of Behavior.” The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadephia, 1955, p. 83. (Emphasis mine)

Just prior to this section is where Van Til established actus purus as biblical in understanding God’s nature. So the context and what is said above would seem to indicate that to reject this view of God is to undermine a core aspect of Van Til’s position on God. Jeff says he’s a presuppositionalist without qualification as we’ve quoted already, so it can safely be assumed he holds to Van Til’s apologetic as a whole. Remember, this concept of “presupposing” God is key to Van Til’s methodology. God must be presupposed to account for all things such as logic, thought, facts themselves, etc. This is essentially the transcendental method of arguing for God’s existence. Also, there is no real neutrality when it comes to man. Man’s state is sinful and as such he is bent away from God. Also, since he lives in God’s world, man must assume God by default since he is using those things created. He cannot escape God. So this statement made by Van Til that, “the conception of God is the necessary presupposition of all human activity” is an indication of his apologetic methodology. This, I think, would put Jeff in a precarious situation as it relates to holding to Van Tillian apologetics the way he does.

Proofs for God

Now, I want to visit some of the apologetic argumentation of Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary who knew Van TIl personally and was a student of his post-Van Til’s retirement. Among the Van Tillian camp and with Van Til himself, there is a large amount of criticism of Thomas Aquinas. Van Til, at least to me, seems to identify Aquinas with the broader Roman tradition and not allow for much nuance of Romanism. If this is indeed the case, this could be problematic as the Catholic Church under Aquinas was very different than post-Trent Rome, so this could lead to anachronistic predication. Regardless, the emphasis on Aquinas by Van Til seems to have been passed to at least some of his followers including Dr. Oliphint. Let us look at an example. Richard A. Muller says the following in critique of Oliphint’s understanding of “proofs for God” :

Oliphint makes several crucial mistakes in his interpretation of Aquinas’s proofs of the existence of God. The first mistake is categorical. Oliphint assumes, largely on the basis of Aquinas’s Summa contra Gentiles (even though his analysis of Aquinas’s proofs is based on the Summa Theologiae) that the proofs are not only an exercise in the philosophy of “pure” natural reason but also a form of apologetics. The proofs in the Summa Theologiae, however, are identified as preambles to articles of faith that neither identifies them exclusively as philosophy nor classifies them as apologetic—they belong to sacra doctrina.

Muller, Richard A. “Reading Aquinas from a Reformed Perspective: A Review Essay.” Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 53, 2018, p. 274.

This is key, as critiques of the “classical” position of apologetics from the “presup” camp do assume that the arguments coming from the other side, i.e Thomistic the view, are indeed apologetic in nature. This can be understandable given that men like Norman Geisler, who was R.C. Sproul’s mentor, used Thomas as an apologetic tool (see Dr. Oliphint’s book, “Thomas Aquinas” page 55, Kindle edition). However, Thomas never meant his work to be utilized as an apologetic tool or for it to be apologetic in nature, but as part of the basic articulations of the Christian faith itself. This changes the discussion, as this means to critique the “classical” position based on these proofs from Thomas would be to fall into a straw manning by arguing against something that Thomas never said. If the argument is simply against one like Geisler who turned the theistic proofs of Thomas into apologetical arguments, then the argument would be against Geisler and not Thomas unless one misrepresents Thomas. However, Oliphint, who is a prominent Van Tillian, imputes these motives of theistic proofs to Thomas himself as is seen in Muller’s critique above. One should argue against followers of Thomas who have changed his proofs into apologetic tools rather than going after Thomas when he was simply laying out the Christian faith if they are to engage with these proofs at all. Given the discussion above, we can then look at a common argument for any theistic proof that is not attached to the Van Tillian model and is applied to Aquinas’s theistic proofs. Muller says this,

The second mistake is also a categorical one: it concerns the issue of precisely what Aquinas thought he was proving. Oliphint, who has strenuously advocated Mclnerny’s critique of Gilson and has referenced a Cajetanian reading of Aquinas, clearly misunderstands Cajetan’s view of the proofs. Oliphint represents Cajetan as teaching that the “proofs only demonstrated properties that could apply to a god, but not to God himself.”…The intent of the proofs is not to provide a full doctrine of the Christian God but only to show that reason can attain a set of rather limited concepts that can only be predicated of God and that will be seen to belong to God in the full development of the Christian doctrine of God subsequent to the proofs.

Muller, Richard A. “Reading Aquinas from a Reformed Perspective: A Review Essay.” Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 53, 2018, p. 276-277

This line is key from Oliphint’s book “Thomas Aquinas” that Muller cites, “proofs only demonstrated properties that could apply to a god, but not to God himself.” (Page 155, Kindle edition) Oliphint is actually referring here to a Cardinal that was explaining Thomas but Oliphint clearly thinks this principle is true of Thomas’s theistic proofs. But as one works through a massive work like the Summa, it can be seen clearly that saying these theistic proofs logically leave us with merely a god and not the God is inaccurate. Aquinas in the Summa is very clear that the God these proofs are pointing to is not a faceless god but the God of Scripture. As he expounds for instance on God’s immutability in Part I, question 4 of the Summa where he clearly establishes the God that does not change is the God of Malachi 3:6, the one true and living God. And the starting point for Aquinas is not philosophy, but Scripture. He then works from the already established Scripture to bring to light implications of divine immutability. To separate the proofs of God’s existence from the rest of Aquinas’s work as if they are arguments that merely prove a “god” is to take Aquinas’s words completely out of context and to let Van Tillian methodology blind. This Van Tillian argumentation would apply certainly to an evidential apologetic where God’s word is left out of the presentation for the sake of different evidences and even theistic proofs. This methodology is not intended to couple the supernatural with the natural in terms of apologetic argumentation, but it is meant to use “evidence” in lieu of the supernatural to prove the supernatural. This is not what we find with Aquinas. We find that he never meant these proofs to be apologetic and that they were to be taken with the whole doctrine of God, that God being from Scripture who is brought out elsewhere in the Summa.

The Concept of Analogy

We now arrive at a thorny topic: “analogy” There seems to be issue here as it relates to Van Til when it comes to his definition of “analogy” and the concept of the Thomistic “analogy of being.” Let us look at Muller again.

Oliphint’s discussion of Aquinas’s view of God draws heavily on the claims of Cornelius Van Til, one of whose basic points of critique is that Aquinas’s “idea of the analogy of being compromises the biblical doctrine of creation.” The reason for this, in Van Til’s view, is that the notion of an analogy of being comes directly from Aristotle and reduces the distinction between the Creator and the creature by adopting the Greek philosophical assumption that “all being is essentially one” and that “all individual beings are being to the extent that they participate in this one ultimate being,” thereby undermining the Christian teaching of “a self-contained God”…

Muller, Richard A. “Reading Aquinas from a Reformed Perspective: A Review Essay.” Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 53, 2018, p. 270

I am not sure what version of analogy of being Van Til would have held to explicitly, but he did at the very least rejected the concept of “analogy of being” between God and creation, understood Thomistically. This would naturally create problems. It would be dangerous to reject analogy between God and creation as this would mean there really is likeness between us and God in some way completely destroying the creator/creature distinction that must be kept if God is to truly be the first cause of all things and independent of all things. Clearly though, Van Til rejected Thomas’s view of analogy and applied analogy in a different way. What I will say though is I doubt Van Til denied in every respect analogy of being as this would result in no distinction in reality or concept between Him and His creation. I don’t think this was the case. It seems to me that he denied the concept of analogy of being, but maintained it in other areas unknowingly and inconsistently. This would merely show a misunderstanding of Thomas rather than a complete denial of the doctrine all together. What is odd about Van Til’s understanding of analogy of being is that he thought it broke the distinction between God and creatures. This is a complete misunderstanding of analogy of being as it relates to Thomas in that it sought to show a very qualified similarity between God and creatures without violating the distinction. By definition this is the case, and to say it isn’t implements a straw man fallacy. What would in fact break down the distinction would be to utilize a univocal understanding of God and creation or adopt an equivocal view. Van Til seemed to have two different meanings of “analogy” when talking about God. That we shouldn’t talk about the relation between God and creation by way of Thomistic analogy and that analogy of “knowledge,” which Oliphint breaks down for us in a footnote in Van Til’s “The Defense of the Faith”, is how we should view analogy as it relates to God. First we will quote Van Til and then Oliphint’s footnote:

All of this may again be expressed from another point of view by saying that human knowledge is analogical of divine knowledge.

Til, Cornelius Van. “The Christian Philosophy of Knowledge.” The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadephia, 1955, p. 62.

Here is Oliphint’s footnote aforementioned on the above statement from Van Til:

Van Til’s notion of “analogy” or “analogical,” as it applies to knowledge and to predication, is central to his theology and apologetic. Though the term itself is confusing, in that it carries with it a host of assumptions in Thomism, it should not be confused or in any way identified with Thomas’s understanding of analogy. Though for Thomas there was an analogy of being, for Van Til, the notion of analogy was meant to communicate the ontological and epistemological difference between God and man. The difference has been expressed historically in terms of an archetypal/ectypal relationship.

Til, Cornelius Van. “The Christian Philosophy of Knowledge.” The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadephia, 1955, p. 62.

Why Van Til chose to use the terminology Thomas did is odd and even Oliphint notes this terminology as “confusing” since it is clearly a Thomistic term. This makes it quite concerning that Van Til would choose to reject the notion of analogy of being and replace it with his own, confusing definition of “analogy” even if what he meant wasn’t necessary incorrect. This phraseology is not helpful.

Conclusion

These are just some quick points laid out of inconsistencies I see in Van Tillian theology. This does not mean I’m abandoning all that position. But I will not jump on the “presup” band wagon and try to remain objective. Van Til was a product of his day and it seems to bleed through sometimes in a negative way. I have come back to the “presup” position with new eyes having studied more historical theology and theology proper. I’ve been able to look at the position and go, “no that doesn’t work” for some things. But I can do so without throwing out the position entirely. I refuse to commit the genetic fallacy of rejecting “presup” because it came from Van Til or because Van Til was allegedly an idealist. This argumentation is not sound. But, like we do when we critique Aquinas while keeping the gems he taught, we should be willing to critique the Van Tillian camp even if it makes us fall out with the “cool kids club.”

– Daniel Vincent (thanks for those from the team who assisted with reviewing and editing this article)

PAEDOBAPTISM MOCKS THE OLD TESTAMENT

BAPTISM. It’s no surprise that I disagree with paedobaptism. It also shouldn’t be a surprise when I say the Baptist and Presbyterian views of baptism will revolve around how we view the covenant of grace. Each side believes in the covenant of grace, but we greatly differ in how we believe it is applied as well as when it was implemented. Without getting too far into the weeds, Presbyterians (and some others) believe the covenant of grace was active in the Old Testament but was merely a different form of administration as compared to the New Testament. Just as circumcision was a sign of the old covenant, so they feel baptism is a sign of the new covenant. Similarly, just as children in the old covenant were given the sign of circumcision, they feel children of believing parents are considered “covenant children” who should receive the sign of baptism. Now, there is far more to be understood on this topic, but this should suffice to give a fair overview of their beliefs. While my first two statements shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, perhaps my third will. I assert paedobaptism makes a mockery of the Old Testament and the old covenant (i.e. Mosaic covenant) by inadvertently declaring the latter to be a sham.

Before the hate mail begins, allow me to justify my assertion and preface it with the acknowledgment that no Presbyterian would ever dare make such a claim of the old covenant. I do believe our Presbyterian brethren are genuine in their desire to be true to the Word of God. My point is less that they openly declare such a position and more that their belief in infant baptism necessitates it. As we begin, we need to turn our attention to the eighth chapter of Hebrews. I will make bold the parts I plan to discuss in more detail.

6But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, to the extent that He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. 7For if that first covenant had been free of fault, no circumstances would have been sought for a second. 8For in finding fault with the people, He says,

“Behold, days are coming, says the Lord,
When I will bring about a new covenant
With the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
9Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers
On the day I took them by the hand
To bring them out of the land of Egypt;
For they did not continue in My covenant,
And I did not care about them, says the Lord.
10For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel
After those days, declares the Lord:
I will put My laws into their minds,
And write them on their hearts.
And I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.
11And they will not teach, each one his fellow citizen,
And each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
For they will all know Me,
From the least to the greatest of them.
12For I will be merciful toward their wrongdoings,
And their sins I will no longer remember.”

13When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is about to disappear. -- (Hebrews 8:6-13)

I will use the remainder of this article to lay out my reasoning. For the sake of space, this will just lightly touch on the subject. However, I do believe my case will still be made clear despite the brevity.

To begin, we must keep in mind the author of Hebrews declares the new covenant is not only new (v.8) but is also a better covenant with better promises (v.6). He makes it abundantly clear that this new covenant is not like the old one made with their fathers (v.9). It seems awfully strange to go to such an extent in differentiating the covenants, only for them to end up actually being the same covenant under a different administration. Not to mention, there is zero mention here of administrations. It is the covenants themselves that are different from one another. In the old, there was fault in that it was held together by man (v.7). The new is faultless because it is God Himself who keeps it. Again, the old covenant and new covenant are not the same, and any similarities in the old serve as a type/shadow of the new that was to come.

Let us shift our focus to Hebrews 8:8-12. These verses are quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34. Take note that Jeremiah is speaking in the future tense. At a minimum, the covenant of grace did not yet exist during his day. He clearly wrote of it as being a covenant yet to be. So when was the covenant of grace established? The answer to this is simple. It was established in the crucifixion of our Savior. The covenant of grace was not validly established until His blood was shed (Hebrews 9:16). Just as the old covenant was inaugurated with blood (Hebrews 9:18-19), so was the new covenant. Nobody tries arguing the old covenant existed prior to its inauguration. We must hold the same standard to the new covenant if we hope to be consistent.

But what happened to the old covenant once the new came? According to Scripture, it was made obsolete and disappeared (v.13). With the new covenant, there was no longer a need for the old. The Presbyterian uses words like “administration” because it fits their tradition, but we see no such wording found here. This is an area where I wish Presbyterians had continued reforming. I like to semi-jokingly assert that Lutherans were part of the Reformation but are not Reformed, Presbyterians are partially Reformed, and Particular Baptists are thoroughly Reformed. Of course that’s not to say we’re perfect and have it all figured out, but I do feel in the case of baptism we are further Reformed than our Presbyterian brethren. I also assert infant baptism is a doctrinal holdover of popish error and tradition. If the new covenant was not the old covenant, the new covenant was not inaugurated until the death of Christ, and the old covenant was rendered obsolete upon the establishment and inauguration of the new covenant, it necessitates that the old covenant and new covenant could not both exist simultaneously. The covenant of grace was not valid until it was ratified by Christ through the shedding of His blood, which means it was not active in the Old Testament. Thus, if paedobaptism requires the belief that the covenant of grace was active in the Old Testament, it must first declare the entire old covenant to be a sham. I dare say this is no small claim, but it is the logical conclusion of paedobaptism so long as it holds to the “two administrations” model of the covenant of grace. If the covenant of grace truly existed in the Old Testament, it means the old covenant was obsolete from the beginning, that it was never a valid covenant, and that it was all a sham. Thus, paedobaptism makes a mockery of the old Mosaic covenant and all who believed they were a part of something valid. During their time, the new covenant existed in promise only, the substance yet to be inaugurated.

But what does that make of Old Testament saints? Were they not actually saved? If they were saved, was it by some other means than how we are saved today? Rest assured, Old Testament saints were saved in the very same manner we are today: by faith in Christ alone. Paul makes very clear that Abraham was justified by the same faith that we possess today (Romans 4). This is because Old Testament saints looked forward in faith to the coming Messiah while New Testament saints look back through faith. This faith remains constant, though there was certainly more revealed in time. So does this mean Old Testament saints were actually in the covenant of grace after all? Does this mean they saw heaven from the moment of death because of their faith? The answer to the second question is no. The answer to the first question, however, is a bit more difficult to answer. While they were saved by the same faith, and we can safely say they are part of the covenant of grace, they were not yet in the covenant because it had not yet been established. There was no covenant of grace to be a part of. However, it was their very real faith that saved them. This is why they went to Abraham’s Bosom (for more, READ THIS). This was not a place of uncertainty but of temporary holding until the Christ would come and inaugurate the new covenant. Upon inauguration, all who possessed faith in Christ were now a part of it though Him. The below graphic might help.

TIMELINE OF THE SAINTS

The good news is that there is now a better covenant with better promises. In the old covenant, you could be a full-fledged member simply by birth, yet be bound for hell in unbelief. The better promise of the new covenant is that all who are part of it will see heaven. This is because only those in Christ by faith are members. All members of this new covenant, from the greatest to the least, will know Christ (v.11). Just as circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, so is circumcision required in the new. All new covenant members will bear the sign of a circumcised heart which leads to faith. This is the inward reality of all members. I, too, believe in covenant children but only in one of two ways: either a child who comes to saving faith in Christ, or by the fact that all believers are children of God. As Pastor Steve Clevenger so succinctly put it, “You are not in the new covenant without the inward realities.”

The new covenant is unbreakable. All who are in it shall remain in it. No covenant member can wear the external signs, void of internal realities, only to fall away or depart later. Such a person only demonstrates they were not covenant members at all. While Baptists may occasionally mistakenly baptize false converts, Presbyterians routinely do so to those who never even proclaim faith, all in the name of a covenantal continuity that does not exist. This is dangerous territory. If you were baptized as an infant only to come to faith later in life, I urge you to be baptized through faith in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the absence of faith, your baptism was just a BATHtism. Seek obedience to your Savior have the ordinance be carried out biblically.

The new covenant is unbreakable! Take peace in this and give thanks to the Lord who has called His own and shall preserve us to the end in such an unbreakable covenant.

~ Travis W. Rogers

The Ground is Not Uncreated: Responding to William Lane Craig

Recently, William Lane Craig and James White had a debate/discussion on Molinism vs Calvinism in regards to the problem of evil (which can be found here). Although there were many things said, one in particular piqued my interest: Craig’s response to the grounding objection, a standard Reformed critique of Molinism that White presented. Molinism teaches that God has what is called Middle Knowledge. Middle Knowledge is the idea that God knows what free creatures would do in a given circumstance. God had this knowledge before the foundation of the world and used it in order to bring about the world in which He felt was most optimal, and works in time to put creatures in the circumstances leading to the most optimal outcome. This is view is to preserve human free will, that God doesn’t determine how the creatures will act, but merely knows how they might act and creates circumstances to make them act how He desires. The facts of what creatures might do are called counterfactuals, as they may never be brought about by God and thus are counter to fact. The grounding objection to Middle Knowledge is the question of where do these counterfactuals come from? If they are not determined by God, is there something outside of God determining the creation? If so, what is that? What is the ground that counterfactuals and thus Middle Knowledge stands on? Here is Craig’s response to that objection. (As a note, I used the YouTube auto generated transcript of the debate for quotations. I fixed anything I saw was incorrectly generated, but I may not have seen everything.)

“That’s known as the grounding objection. It claims there needs to be some sort of ground of the truth of these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom and here, I frankly agree with Alvin Plantinga that it’s much clearer to me that at least some counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true then that they must be grounded in this way.  This objection seems to presuppose a view of truth called truth maker theory, that in addition to propositions that are true, there are things truth makers that make them true, and I think that this doctrine is very implausible and that there are lots of counter examples to truth maker theory and a truth maker maximalism which says that every proposition has a truth maker.  Take just one example: the proposition that Baal does not exist. There’s nothing that makes that true. Baal just doesn’t exist so if there is a truth maker of that, it’s just the fact that there is no Baal. Similarly, if one wants to identify truth makers for these counter factuals of freedom it would just be the counter facts that are stated by them. If it were true that if I were rich, I would buy a Mercedes then the truth maker for that is just the state of affairs that if I were rich I would buy a Mercedes and I don’t think anything more needs to be said about it.”

Timestamp 23:26 – 24:58

I have some major problems with this. First of all, God is the determiner of all truth outside Himself. God created all things:

“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”

Colossians 1:16-17

Here the Apostle Paul lists exhaustively all categories of things to make sure the reader understands God created all things. Truth claims that restrict God may very well not be physical things, but they still exist and thus need to be either created by someone or be self-existent.

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

John 1:3

I don’t think the Bible could be any clearer that God created all things and that there is nothing self-existent aside for God. This is where God’s name “I Am” comes from (Exodus 3:14). He is self-existent. He alone exists of itself. Nothing else does. There is nothing else we can say “it is” and leave it at that. And yet Craig would have us believe that there exists something outside of God that is uncreated. It has to also thus be self-existent. It merely is, and he feels no need to explain it. If they are self-existent, one wonders if they should be considered as some sort of impersonal deity, as they are just as eternal as God and restrict the Almighty in what He is able to do.

Craig also presents Baal’s non existence as an example of something that just “is” and needs no explanation for it. I have several problems with this. First, this again implies that something uncreated exists outside of God. Second, it’s wrong to compare something that doesn’t exist to something that does exist; the parallel is not quite the same. Third, the reason that Baal (or anything else) doesn’t exist is because God did not make him. If Baal were to exist, he would need to either be made by God or be self-existent, which he obviously is not. Thus, the truth of Baal’s existence is still determined by God, just like everything else. God is the source of all being for all things including supposed deities.

“For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.”

Acts 17:28

To say anything exists apart from God means He is not the source of being, to which we then must ask: where does being itself come from?

Finally, Craig says the truth maker for a counter factual being true is the state of affairs itself. If Craig were rich, he would buy a Mercedes and the circumstances would have determined it. However, those circumstances themselves didn’t exist before time when God was supposedly considering how to create the world. So how can we say they determined anything if they don’t exist? God is truth (John 14:6-7). If any truth comes from outside of Him, He is no longer the truth, but perhaps part of the truth or the creator of some truth. Brute, uncreated facts do not exist apart from God, neither do we get any sense from the Scriptures that anything constrains God.

“And Jonathan said to the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the LORD will work for us: for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few.”

1 Samuel 14:6

Though this speaks of physical salvation, the same is true for spiritual salvation. God can save anyone. There are no facts that exist outside of Him to restrict Him. Let us avoid the idea that there exist uncreated things outside of God, and instead honor Him as the creator of ALL things.

Toying With God: Owen Strachan and the Submission of Christ in the Trinity

Note: I want to acknowledge one of our contributors and team members Andrew Warrick for some major changes in this work in reviewing/editing. We try to have each team member review each other’s posts before posting them and sometimes a team member will make changes in the editing process to a work that is up for a particular week. In this case I think it was substantial enough that I want to give Andrew credit.

The Jeffrey Johnson debate surrounding his new book, “The Failure of Natural Theology,” has made waves in the Reformed world with regards to theology proper specifically. But it seems his employee and sidekick Owen Strachan has his own way of stirring the pot. In a book that he and Gavin Peacock authored, “The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them,” there is discussion about authority and submission in the Trinity. Even though this book was published in 2016, his understanding of God ad intra still causes controversy today. Let us begin.

Paul explains this parallel in 1 Cor. 11:3 ‘But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.’ The Son does the Father’s will: ‘I do exactly as the Father commanded me,’ Christ said in John 14:31. He submitted Himself to the Father’s will (John 6:38). This posture of submission to fatherly authority did not begin the day Jesus came to earth. The Father is the authority of Christ, and always has been. The Son joyfully carries out the plan of His Father. The persons of the Godhead are not impersonal, with only titles to differentiate them. They are living persons, and their own love has structure and form. The Father as Father has authority; the Son as Son obeys His Father.

The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them, Kindle Edition

Now before you run away screaming, let us see why this is such a poor (and I dare say heretical) understanding of the Trinity, especially the relationship between the Father and the Son ad intra. Now, to the untrained eye this understanding of the Persons may fly under the radar. Jesus is the Son and it makes sense that he should submit to the Father ad intra. From a human standpoint submission is exactly what happens. I, as a son of my father, submitted to him. But applying that understanding to the Trinity would assume that the Father and Son as the subsisting essence of God function exactly like we do from a human standpoint. God’s “society” must function univocally, at least to some extent, as our society does. But God cannot be made like corruptible man or we have created an idol (Romans 1:22-23).

What must be kept in mind and what is lost in the authors’ discussion above is that Jesus has (yes, present tense) two natures.

“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,”
‭‭

Colossians‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There is no accounting for the fact that in this mysterious union of divine and human nature there are things that are only to be posited of one nature or the other. Jesus slept, ate, grew, learned, all according to His human nature ONLY. This would also include submission. There is submission to God according to his human nature only thereby allowing us to consistently say the head of Christ is God while preserving the unity of the divine essence of God. It is assumed by the authors that Scripture must be talking about God ad intra in addition to the human nature of Christ. This is a fatal mistake. Never mind both John 14 and 6 are during the Incarnation meaning Jesus would be speaking according to His humanity back to the Father or in relation to Him (only Jesus’ human nature taking on relation, with nothing created in the essence of God). Yes, Jesus did act according to His divine nature while on earth, but if we have a proper understanding of God we can understand why this can’t be the case in every instance.

Two cardinal doctrines must be kept in mind: God is simple and God is immutable. If these are held dearly there will be no room for the error that Peacock and Strachan make. God’s simplicity means He is not composed of parts and is not divisible. And His immutability means God does not change. And not just that he doesn’t change and remains still with potency, but that He cannot change in any way as finite creation would. Divine simplicity ensures this. Movement would mean change and God would take on new states of being. Further discussion of these two doctrines can be found in our podcast episode reviewing Jeff Johnsons book here.

Given the backdrop of these two doctrines, we can now move onto a discussion of why Jesus cannot in any way be subordinate (as Owen and Peacock assert) to the Father according to His Deity. Now, Strachan has said in a recent article that,

One of those areas is the eternal authority of the Father and eternal submission of the Son (called ERAS, eternal roles of authority and submission). There are a bevy of texts that have led many theologians to conclude that Scripture teaches the eternal authority of the Father and the eternal submission of the Son. As I read it, Scripture presents such truth while continually promoting the full ontological equality of the Father and Son; the Father and Son are coeternal and each fully a divine person.

The Danger of Equating Eternal Authority & Submission with Arian Heresy (https://owenstrachan.substack.com/p/the-danger-of-equating-eternal-authority)

This is problematic as we have noted already, but notice there is this distinction made between the Persons and the essence of God, as if each Person is some kind of additional “something” on top of the essence rather than simply being a different subsistence of that essence. In Owen’s model, the Persons submit but somehow there is no submission in the Godhead as it relates to the being of God. Simplicity has already been undermined, as he implies there is a real distinction between the Persons and the essence of God to the point where each Person possesses distinct actual properties (as opposed to the relative properties) that exist outside of God’s being, enabling the Son to have a separate will that can be submitted to the Father. In other words, they have wills outside the essence of Deity. This is not the same thing as subsisting relations in the divine, this is creating a distinction that makes “Persons” and “essence” partite. Understanding the procession of the Persons properly will keep us from errors like this. When we talk about procession of the Son from the Father the question is, a procession from what? There has to be something that Jesus is proceeding from and it has to be the essence of the Father. John 20:21 lays out the procession of Christ from the Father. If the Father is eternal and He is infinite, simple, and immutable, it must be an eternal procession, one that does not divide or start and terminate yet really distinguishes the Father from the Son. But because Jesus proceeds from the essence of the Father, they must be equals since there is but one essence of God that each of the three persons subsist in. Each Person of the Trinity is the essence of God and therefore subsists, and this means there is no real distinction between what the Persons do and what the essence does. They are only distinguished from one another by where their relations “begin.” This preserves the unity of God while providing us with real distinction in the Godhead.

As soon as you insert gradations of authority within the immanent Trinity, gradations that are person-defining and therefore essential for the Trinity to be a Trinity, you forfeit one will in God. You forfeit the Trinity’s one, simple essence. Our God is simply Trinity…no more.

Matthew Barrett, Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit, page 229

God’s nature is compromised if authority, functions, etc. are posited to the Trinity. Seeing Jesus simply as the Father’s essence is to avoid falling into the trap of breaking God up into parts. John Owen noted that the divine essence is simply subsisting specially for a divine person when he said, “Now, a divine person is nothing but the divine essence, upon the account of an especial property, subsisting in an especial manner.” (A Brief Declaration and Vindication of The Doctrine of the Trinity and also of The Person and Satisfaction of Christ). Subsistence helps us to avoid falling into the error of division and roles because it’s simply (no pun intended) God existing as three. No division, no subordination, just “I AM” (Exodus 3:14).

…subordination would absolutely throw into question the divine equality attributed to the Son. And should EFSers object that they only mean the Son is inferior in authority (person), not essence (divinity), let’s not forget that the Son is a subsistence of the divine essence. Begotten from the Father’s essence from all eternity…the Son can be nothing less than equal with the Father in every way. For the divine essence cannot be severed, wrenched away, or divorced from divine power, authority, and glory, each of which subsists in the three persons equally.

Matthew Barret, Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit page 236

I will clarify, Owen would not claim to be an “EFSer” (Eternal Functional Subordination) but a proponent of ERAS (Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission) but based on Barret’s assessment, they have the same problem. Namely, that there is a personal difference in authority, not ontologically so. Being very careful with our words about God and our conception of Him will help us to avoid errors like these. Since Owen has been the center of the subordination controversy lately, I’m picking on him but he is by no means alone although it may present itself differently. Owen is continuing down a dangerous path, one that can only lead to destruction if continued. We need to bring God back to the focal point of our theology. Critical race theory, theonomy, complimentarianism, or abortion should not be our focus. These are important issues and they must be addressed but nothing is more important than who our God is. We must let this stick in our brains and our souls. Idolatry takes many forms, not just in statues made by man. Many idols wear religious garb. They look so appealing and entice with a passion, but the church needs to act like men, and stop sleeping while the enemy takes prisoners and slaughters behind our backs. Only then will we recover a proper doctrine of our incredible God. Men have labored hard by God’s grace to provide us what the Scriptures teach on God — not exhaustively, but in a way we can know Him truly. Let us stand on the shoulders of these vessels of grace.

On the Sufficiency and Inerrancy of Scripture

One would be remiss to write on the important matters of the faith while failing to mention the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture in the Christian life. In all the ways God has spoken through the ages, the written Word has been the farthest reaching and most used method. Even in Scripture, we see positive affirmation of this. We see it in the way Paul praised the Bereans for searching the Scriptures to verify the words they had heard preached (Acts 17:11). In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul even refers to Scripture not as the word of men but as the Word of God. And this is barely scratching the surface!

One would think, with such clear descriptions and characteristics being used to define the written Word of God, it would be at the pinnacle of our faith and defended to the death. Yet, throughout the ages, there has been an assault on God’s written Word. No, not only from those who openly mock Christianity but also from those who claim to be a part of Christ’s flock. Some are vehemently opposed to such ideas as the inerrancy of Scripture while others are subtler in their tactics.

Over the years, I’ve heard challenges to accepted authorship, date origins, translations, and inerrancy. While all of these are common and can be easily noticed, some attacks are more difficult to identify. For instance, I hold to the position that the Roman Catholic Church, while accepting the inerrancy of Scripture, denies the sufficiency in the way they hold sacred tradition to be on equal ground.

Consequently, it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore, both sacred tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion and reverence.

Vatican II, Chapter 2, Para.9

Simply put, if any form of divine revelation or tradition, in addition to Scripture, is said to be required to have certainty of the object of our faith, of necessity, it denies the absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures. It declares a need for something more in order to fully understand that which God has already revealed in His completed Word.

For those who have debated with Mormons, you know that they will openly embrace multiple “sacred” works to include the Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants. Once again, we see an assault on the sufficiency of Scripture. However, if you were to accuse a Latter-Day Saint (LDS) of such a charge, he or she would openly deny it. Technically, they’d be right. The reason why they can say they believe in the sufficiency of Scripture is because all the above works are included in “their” Scriptures. While Protestants adhere to the Bible as the sole Scriptural text, the LDS add to their foundation via claims of additionally inspired text. Never will they claim to replace the Bible with these added texts, yet never will they claim to place the Bible over them. In fact, they also stand behind the claim, as found in their eighth article of faith, that the Bible is, “the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” while also admitting to the continuation of divine revelation through the office of the prophet. Therefore, it’s vitally important for us to be able to distinguish both the subtle and the obvious and know how to defend the truth.

While we could go on for days touching on the multitude of ways we might encounter contrary claims to the sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture, it would be of little use if we didn’t also turn to the Scriptures to see what God has to say on this matter. As you’ve seen, some oppose the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture while adhering to their sufficiency (an oxymoron) while others adhere to their inerrancy while opposing their sole sufficiency. My hope is that, if you don’t already hold the position, by the end of this article, you’ll see the importance of adhering to both, while recognizing that the Bible alone is the sole source of holy writ.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NASB)

The rest of this article will revolve around the great theological and practical truths embodied within these two verses of Paul’s second letter to Timothy. In them, we see the source of Scripture, four clear and distinct benefits (though not an all-inclusive list) of said Scripture, and the powerful outcome.

The man who lives in such a way as to encompass all four uses in his daily life is said to be adequate and equipped for every good work. The word ἄρτιος (artios) gives reference to the idea of being specially and thoroughly equipped for the four preceding special uses. The NASB translates the above word as “adequate” while the KJV translates it as perfect, which Paul reinforces by describing such a man as equipped and furnished for every good work. There’s nothing left regarding matters of faith and practice in the life of the Christian that isn’t perfected through his use and daily application of the Scriptures.

The reason for this, while maintaining a certain amount of eternal mystery, has been made known to us. It’s because Scripture is inspired. Some have argued that this verse only refers to the Old Testament, but I’m convinced that, while he may not have fully understood the reach (i.e. a final 66 book canon in the drawer of every hotel nightstand), Paul was aware his letters were to be considered as Scripture. For those who may not yet be convinced, let’s go back to a verse we already alluded to at the beginning of this article.

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NASB)

Paul readily acknowledges the words they previously taught to be the word of God and not merely the word of men. Many have argued that he was merely referencing the oral teachings of the Old Testament and was not including his own letters. However, this won’t stand to scrutiny.

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NASB)

In case there was any confusion left, Paul sorts it out in his second letter to the church of Thessalonica when he states that the words of God pertain not only to the word of mouth but also to the words in his letters. Paul further emphasizes this point in 1 Corinthians 14:37 when he explicitly states that his own writings are the Lord’s commandments. Therefore, when Paul speaks of “all Scripture” being inspired, he’s referring to both the Old and New Testaments, which would include all remaining letters that God had yet to write through godly men.

The word translated as “inspired” paints a far more beautiful picture in the Greek. The word is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) which literally means “breathed out by God” and carefully points to God as the true author through godly men moved by the Holy Spirit. This isn’t to say God controlled them robotically as they wrote, nor is it to say God merely gave them good ideas which they decided to write down. In infinite wisdom and power, God saw to it that each author retained his own personality and style of writing while also dictating each word to be jotted down and ensuring the promise that His Word would endure and none would pass away (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33). It’s the last part, along with many other affirmations found in Scripture, that guarantees we can know Scripture to be not only divinely inspired but also inerrant.

With this profound promise in mind, what are some of the ways in which we can, and should, apply this to our own lives?

TEACHING

The first point of Paul’s is that Scripture is profitable for teaching. Sound doctrine is of the utmost importance in the life of the believer and the state of the Church. Without sound doctrine, one can never know Christ as He is. Instead, He becomes a product of men’s own imaginations and carries the traits that best suit their own fancies. As I’ve grown in my marriage throughout the years, I’ve sought to continually know my wife better. Similarly, to grow in one’s relationship with Christ, one needs to know Him better. While prayer is critical in the life of the believer, we can’t forget that God has already revealed Himself to us in the written Word.

It’s only through the study of Scripture that we can be properly equipped to know our Savior, combat heresy, evangelize to the lost, and grow in sanctification. This has far reaching implications, not only in our own lives, but also in the world. While the purpose of the Church isn’t to change cultures or society, there will undoubtedly be some impact within the community whether it be through prosperity and revival or through persecution and mocking. We need to stand is united in truth, standing for the proclamation of the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ. We evangelize the lost unashamedly and trust that God will call those He intends to save. This only comes from knowing the truth. After all, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses also evangelize. In fact, some may say they put Protestants to shame on that front. With such heresies as false gods, counterfeit Christs, and works-based salvation, we can’t afford to stand on the sidelines singing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” It’s high time we study Scripture seriously, then take to the streets. After all, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).

However, teaching isn’t only for our own personal growth or to be used in evangelism. While one will only ever come to salvation by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:14), Scripture is primarily for those in the Church with the ultimate purpose being worship and glorification of God. It should be the pinnacle of the worship service with the culmination being the Lord’s Supper. If done correctly, all singing should point to the sermon, while the sermon points to the Supper, with the focus being Christ’s sacrifice. Unless a church is built upon and relies on the accurate interpretation and exposition of Scripture, it will surely become a congregation of sinners in the hands of an angry God rather than a communion of saints.

Scripture is the divine plumb line by which every thought, principle, act, and belief is to be measured.

John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on 2 Timothy

Only with this in mind can we begin to move into the other three remaining benefits.

REPROOF

In a “judge not” world, how can we possibly think of reproving another? After all, it seems that any time someone is corrected or admonished, countless “Christians” come out of hiding to admonish the original admonisher. The only wrong that can be committed is in telling another they have committed a wrong. So, who should be the subject of reproof and how does one do it biblically?

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy a good debate. One of the challenges I face in discussing or debating with unbelievers is that I need to remember I have no ground or reason to rebuke them for their lack of belief in the Word of God. It’s to be expected that unbelievers are going to live their lives contrary to biblical standards. This isn’t to say all unbelieving households are the epitome of immorality as much as it is to say that every unbelieving household will lack a reverence for God. While there is a place for rebuking unbelievers when it comes to matters of faith, this isn’t what Paul had in mind.

I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. (1 Corinthians 4:14, NASB)

The case that Paul is making in 2 Timothy 3:16 is for those within the church. This is the consistent theme of good order and discipline within the church. The world may love to take Matthew 7:1 out of context and declare that Christians should never judge. But that simply isn’t the case. Matthew 18 lays out a format for church discipline, which may lead to expulsion from the church. 1 Corinthians 5:12 tells us not to worry about judging those outside of the church as that judgment belongs to God. Yet, simultaneously, we are commanded to judge those within the church. John 7:24 makes the case that, when we do judge, we’re to judge righteously. Again, none of this should be for the purpose of making others feel small or unloved. Nor should it be for the purpose of shaming someone into submission. In all acts of judgment, it’s for the purpose of promoting good order and discipline within the church body. It’s to ensure righteous living and doctrinal truth. In extreme cases, it’s to purge the body of unrepentant sin. Even in such cases, the person being disciplined is typically given three prior chances (Matthew 18) to repent of their sin and heed the rebuke of the church. Without Scripture, there is no ground to rebuke anyone and the church falls into calamity.

CORRECTION

So, if reproof is meant to correct error in the life of an unbeliever, does that mean correction is for the unbeliever? While it would be easy to come to jump to such a conclusion, we’d be better suited to go to the Greek for clarification. The original word is ἐπανόρθωσις (epanorthōsis) which describes restoring something to an upright state. When we think of correction, we tend to think of admonishment. However, when we relate it to the depths of parenting, the proper purpose becomes clear. When our child misbehaves, he or she receives our discipline. Yet, the end goal is never discipline alone, but rather correction. It’s with the hope of correcting some deficiency so that the child will learn to obey. It’s in this sense that Paul is using the word. While reproof is the way in which the believer is chastised or disciplined, correction is the believer’s restoration to righteous living before God. In this way, Scripture is quite powerful. It not only points out our wrongs and convicts us of them, but it also builds us back up and tells us how to walk in the way of the Lord (Psalm 128:1).

INSTRUCTION

As we enter the last point made regarding the profitability of Scripture, you may have noticed how they build upon one another. First, there was doctrine or sound teaching. Next, we saw reproof and conviction. Thirdly, we see correction and restoration to an upright position. Lastly, we see Paul speaking of “instruction in righteousness.” The Greek word used here carries with it a sense of virtue, morals, and overall instruction. The root of the word would be used when speaking of training children in the way they should grow up. It refers to the whole of a man or woman.

So, how does one know what he ought to do unless someone teaches him? Paul rounds out his very short (not all-inclusive) list with an unfathomable concept. From our infancy, we’re constantly learning and being taught. As we stand today, we are each the culmination of our experience and learning. Hence why there’s such an emphasis placed on instruction. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins by declaring that man’s chief end is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This is backed by Scriptures such as Psalm 86:9, Isaiah 60:21, 1 Corinthians 6:20, and many others. It’s a theme that resounds throughout the Bible. Thus, we must ask ourselves the question of how do we learn Godly living? If such a lifestyle is expected of us, where do we turn for answers. The answer is obvious: Holy Scripture! God hasn’t left us alone in the world to wonder what He expects of us. As outlined in the beginning of this article, He spoke through men and preserved His words for us.

When it comes to righteous living, the only infallible source of authority is sacred Scripture. While we may learn from many resources, including family, books, articles, and blogs, all of these must fall in line with Scripture and, even then, they’re secondary to the Bible. While your pastor has been given the serious charge of tending to the flock and feeding his sheep, he also has the fearsome responsibility of accurately dividing the Word and expositing the Scriptures from the pulpit for the purpose of providing the nourishment of sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).

While reproof may have carried with it a harsher or more negative connotation, instruction brings about the gentler side of things. The Greek refers to teaching a child the ways of education, morality, and care of their body. It’s the fundamental teaching for children. That said, it also leaves room for chastisement when the child fails to obey their teaching. In the context of this passage we can see how Paul comes full circle. Scripture is profitable for teaching sound doctrine to include the depths of God. When the believer fails to adhere to this teaching, it calls for reproof. After being reproved, the corrected believer is restored. At all times, there is a continued instruction in righteousness as he walks the path of sanctification. Once restored, and instruction is given, he should desire to return to a deeper study of sound doctrine for the purpose of Godly obedience and devotion.

Many children in this world are sadly neglected. Be it in a lack of discipline, a missing parent, or parents who don’t care, there’s no shortage of ones in this tragic state. For those seeking to do something about their misfortune, it’s become increasingly common to see self-help books on the shelves of most retailers, some of which may even label themselves as Christian. It’s unfortunate that people in despair tend to turn everywhere other than the very tool given to us by God. Scripture is more than mere words in a book. It’s more than a history lesson. It’s more than an antiquated lesson on morality. It’s the very breath of God in written form and is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). It contains spiritual guidance and points us to our only hope: Jesus Christ. If we submit to the Scriptures through prayer, the Spirit will reveal to us, through our reading and meditation, how to properly uphold God’s righteous statutes and, when we fail, how to rest in His comfort, joyfully accept reproof or correction, and dive even further into sound doctrine.

All the above has its culmination in our daily living. If we fully submit to the Scriptures, we have the promise that we’ll be equipped for every good work. While this may sound cliché, it’s important to understand what that words “adequate” and “good” really mean. To break it down, I’d like us to look at them in the reverse order.

What does it mean to be capable of doing good? One of the first uses of the term that comes to mind is in Genesis during the Creation account. Everything God made was good in His eyes. This only makes sense since God alone is good. In fact, in Mark 10:18, Jesus says only God is good. So how does this account for man being equipped for good? For that answer, we can look to the very Scripture we say makes us capable.

All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.” (Romans 3:12, NASB)
Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:3, NASB)

According to the Scriptural account, mankind is incapable of doing good. By God’s own standard, there’s not a single person who does good, not even one. This is because, in his natural state, man rejects the things of the Spirit of God. He doesn’t understand them, nor is he capable of understanding (1 Corinthians 2:14). Yet, in God’s infinite wisdom, He has chosen to call His elect out of the domain of darkness and into His kingdom (Colossians 1:13).

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, NASB)

It’s through this act of regeneration that we’re given a new nature. Instead of being broken and sinful creatures, we’re now justified saints of God who are capable of doing that which is good because we’re so empowered by the Spirit of God. Yes, we still sin but it no longer defines us. We are defined by Christ alone. We’re now equipped to do every good work in the name of Christ and for the sake of His glorious gospel.

Not only are we capable of doing good, but we’re adequately equipped to do so. Don’t be fooled by a cursory reading of this. When we hear the term ‘adequate’, we tend to think of just barely meeting the mark. However, Paul’s use of the word conveys so much more. In Greek, it means to be perfect and complete. It means to be thoroughly furnished and completely competent. Quite simply, Paul taught that such a person requires nothing more in life in order to be equipped for sound teaching, reproof of wrongs, correction and rebuilding, and training in fully righteous living. All of this is found in Scripture and equips the believer to do every good work unto God. While certain self-help books may have their place, nothing will ever supersede Scripture, nor is it be capable of equipping you with anything you can’t already receive within its pages. Christian books should always be used in conjunction with Scripture, and should be checked by it, but they should never take its place. The same goes for the article you’re currently reading. If you’ve found yourself learning more from this writing than Scripture itself, I urge you to close this one out and come back to it later after you’ve had time to meditate upon the Word in prayer. However, if this article is helping clarify points of confusion and has kindled a desire to study Scripture, it’s fulfilling its purpose.

The Reformers had it right when they said, “Sola Scriptura.” Scripture alone equips and fulfills. Embrace this fact and give thanks to the Lord for revealing within its pages all we need to know this side of Heaven.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Where Does Faith Come From?

This may sound like a rather obvious question but you would be surprised how many people get it all wrong. The dictionary defines faith as belief that is not based on proof. Where does this faith come from? Is it a product of a decision we make or is it something more? Thankfully, the bible is not silent on this.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB)

How do we normally receive gifts? We either ask for them or they are given without any influence from us. The latter half of the passage in Ephesians tells us it was given to us without any influence on our part. There was no work done by us (praying, asking, doing good, etc). It was given as a gift out of God’s own heart. He chose to give the gift of faith without any work on our part whatsoever.

You have seen the dictionary’s definition of faith, but what is the biblical definition? According to Hebrews, “faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). This, combined with Ephesians 2:8-9, should be enough to prove faith is not something we earn or reach out for. It is something God gives us of His own will. Faith may be something we have but it certainly is not something we create. Faith is not a result of anything on our part. To further drive home the origin of faith, God has given us an abundance of verses that speak to it. For instance, we know that that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6), the flesh is hostile toward God, does not subject itself to Him, and unable to please Him (Romans 8:7-8), the natural man is unable to accept or understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14), and that one who is not with God is against Him (Luke 11:23).

We are all born into flesh. As natural man, not only is it impossible to understand the things of God (spiritually appraised), but it is also impossible to please God. It is impossible to submit to Him because we are naturally hostile towards God. We are not for God, therefore we are against God. How then can one believe we make the choice to follow God of our own free will when it is impossible to understand and we are in a state of hostility?

In reality, prior to being regenerated by the Spirit and given a heart of repentance, our desires are to do the will of another one we called father: the devil (John 8:44). The only way to escape this snare of the devil is if God grants us repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth so that we may come to our senses (2 Timothy 2:25-26). As natural man, we desire to do the devil’s work. In the 2 Timothy passage where it speaks of correcting those in opposition, it is not speaking of rebuking fellow believers. It is referring to correcting non-believers. It says we are to witness to non-Christians in case God decides to grant them repentance. Notice they do not come to their senses before God grants them repentance. The gift is given first. Only then will their desires change, not first. God makes the first move, yet we are told He will often do so through the preaching of the gospel.

In case there are still any doubts as to the efficacy of our will in changing our nature, Scripture also tells us the unregenerate man is incapable of making himself clean (Job 14:4), doing good (Jeremiah 13:23), or bearing good fruit (Matthew 7:18). It is only when the Father draws him (John 6:44) that he is granted to come (John 6:65). Upon this act of God, he is given a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27) and is considered adequate (2 Corinthians 3:5). A leopard cannot change its spots (Job 14:4) but God can.

Before we move on, let’s review what was just said:

1) We cannot clean ourselves any more than a leopard can change his spots.

2) One who does evil cannot also do good.

3) A bad tree will only produce bad fruit. There will be no good fruit produced by one who is unsaved.

4) The Father draws and grants. Without these, nobody can enter the kingdom of God.

5) Our adequacy is from God alone and not from our own choices.

6) God gives us a new heart. He gives us the Holy Spirit to walk in His ways. Before this, we were nothing but bad fruit incapable of doing good.

We cannot change our desires. We cannot change our hostility toward God. We are the way we are and we cannot change ourselves. Only God can make the change. Only God can initiate the change. Furthermore, the desire to change ourselves will not be present apart from the Spirit of God in His regenerating work.

We cannot think clearly about or desire Christ by our own unaided decision. Why not? We cannot respond to the good news of the gospel until we want Christ, and we cannot want Christ simply by a decision we can take at any moment we choose. We cannot say to our will, “Will, will to belong to the Lord!” It is beyond our powers to do that. No one can will the will to will what it will not will!

Sinclair B. Ferguson “By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me” p.4

Everything is from God. He draws us to Himself. He changes us. He grants repentance and an understanding of truth. He removes hostility. He causes us to die to flesh and to be born to Spirit. He is Almighty God and it is all in His hands.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, NASB)

Faith may be a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9) but that is an incomplete statement regarding non-Christians. It is not just faith that God gives us but faith in Him. The Bible tells us that nobody seeks God (Psalm 14:2-3) and that without His gift of faith, it is impossible to understand the things of God (2 Corinthians 2:14). People can still have faith (i.e. belief in something) but that faith will always be misplaced unless God allows them to open their eyes and have faith in Him.

I certainly do believe it is possible to have more faith than another person even if that faith is misplaced. The great news is that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains if it is placed in God. Faith placed in anything else will be empty regardless how big it is. Be encouraged! Have faith!

~ Travis W. Rogers

Jesus in Hell? Where Did He Go?

How many of you clicked this because of the title? It’s okay. You can admit it. Yes, you read it right. While it may sound blasphemous to one without understanding, by the end of this article, it may actually sound like solid doctrine. This subject was brought up in a recent episode of The Particular Baptist podcast and I wanted to flesh it out a bit more for the blog.

We always say that God loved us so much that he gave His son to die on the cross but how many of us really stop to think about it? We all know Jesus died and rose again three days later, but most people don’t really think about the time in between.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sinsa;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

The Apostles Creed

Before going any further, I will admit there have been varied interpretations of this over the years. Among Particular Baptists, Hercules Collins’ An Orthodox Catechism is a favored work. Question 23 of the catechism recognizes the Apostle’s Creed as one of our articles of faith. Question 44 attempts to answer the question of what “He descended into hell” actually means. While being a helpful work, I do believe Collins got this one wrong. In response to why the Creed has that line, Answer 44 says,

“To assure me in times of personal crisis and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, especially on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.”

Hercules Collins, An Orthodox Catechism

According to Collins, the “hell” being spoken of was nothing more than the “anguish, pain, and terror of soul” that Christ went through both on the cross and in the events leading up to it. By Him experiencing hellish torment and anguish, He has saved us from actual hell with eternal torment. I just don’t feel this adds up and I can’t help but think this is just one of the many ways Christians try to avoid the difficult-to-grasp truth of what I believe to be plainly taught in Scripture.

Not only did God send His Son to die on the cross, but He also sent His Son to hell for three days. Now, I want to clarify when I say hell. I’m not referring to a place of torment that we know it as. In English, we are very limited in our wording (for instance, our one word for love versus the four words in ancient Greek). When I say hell, I am actually referring to Hades, the Greek abode of the dead. I’m merely referring to it as “hell” for familiarity’s sake, as this is what the vast majority know it as. Please keep this in mind as you see the many references to hell in this article. As a whole, Hades did not refer to a place of suffering nor did it refer to a place of peace. It was simply the storage location, or abode, of the dead. The Hebrews believed in the same place, only they called it Sheol.

At this point, no human was in heaven since the only way in is through the Son (John 14:6). The only other place for Him to have gone during those three days was Hades. It was simply where all human souls went after they died. Imagine how happy Satan must’ve felt when he thought he had triumphed only to be proven wrong a few days later. Ever wonder what Jesus went through during those three days? Really stop to think about it. God loves us beyond our comprehension!

Some may ask why God would send His only begotten Son to hell for even one day let alone three. I’m not one to guess why God set up the timeline the way He did but I am willing to bet the three days wasn’t meant to “work off” any sin as if he were in some form of purgatory.

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (Hebrews 9:27-28, NASB)

Jesus bore the sins of the entire world. He was condemned as guilty and unsanctified despite having committed no crime. Though never becoming a sinner, His righteousness was imputed to us while, at the same time, our guilt and shame was imputed to Him. Sin must be punished. Due to God being just, He issues no waivers. Sin will, and must, be dealt with according to His standard set forth from eternity. Our debt could not be brushed to the side. Jesus did more than declare us innocent. He transferred His innocence upon us while, simultaneously, transferring our guilt upon Himself. Because of this, He died and went to Hades. God’s timeline said three days later He would rise. I don’t know why He picked three days but He did and that’s that. Jesus’ judgment was hell just as any others would have been. God had His plan for Jesus to rise. After He had risen, He was in a glorified state, free of any filth of imputed sin. He had already died and received judgment. Now, He was alive for the second time. It was an entirely new life. It was a life that would never again see the sting of death.

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, (Hebrews 9:27, NASB)

As it is appointed unto man once to die. Jesus had defeated death, risen from the grave, and visited his disciples one last time before rejoining his Father in Heaven. I say rejoined because He was there since the beginning (Genesis 1:26).

To understand why Jesus went to hell, we must understand the reasons people go there:

  • They do not trust in Christ as their Savior. They do not believe that He was the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day.
  • They cannot enter heaven blemished with sin.
  • They have not repented of their sins and turned in faith to Christ as the ultimate sacrifice.

A friend once attempted to prove this wrong by saying it was the blood of Christ that washes away our sins. In and of itself, this is correct theology. The point he was trying to make was that since Christ had already shed His blood, He no longer had a need to go to hell because His blood covered it all while He was still on the cross. The same argument was used for the thief on the cross. The problem with this is that, while the new covenant was established upon His death, the captives were not set free until Jesus had risen from the dead (Ephesians 4:8). We can believe Jesus was who He said he was all we want but unless we also believe that He conquered death by rising from the grave on the third day, one is not truly saved. That is a vital part to our salvation!

Jesus did not have to deny God or Himself as He is God (John 10:30). The reasons I gave previously were all reasons why men go to hell. Points one and three above cover point two now that He is raised, but Jesus was still bound by one simple fact. Yes, He had already died but He had not yet risen. He died just as any other man under the old covenant. It was once He had risen that the new covenant began and He was brought up into Heaven.

Now that we have a biblical understanding of what the requirements of entry into heaven are, we can focus on the biblical support for Jesus in Hades. 

Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things. (Ephesians 4:9-10, NASB)
for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40, NASB)
“Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s Bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.’” (Luke 16:22-24)

While many respected theologians throughout the years have interpreted “the lower parts of the earth” to be Jesus’ condescension through the incarnation coupled with the suffering he underwent in the crucifixion, I don’t believe this is sound for a number of reasons. During the times of Jesus, it was a normal belief that Hades was located deep within the Earth. Hades was broken into two parts. There was a place of torment and a place where there was peace. Before the death and resurrection of Christ, the faithful went to a temporary holding place of peace. The unfaithful went to a place where there was torment and suffering. This temporary holding place was not purgatory. It was not meant to work off the sins of the flesh. We also know Heaven is a place of eternity and not merely temporary. This place was meant to act as a holding area for those Old Testament saints awaiting the death and resurrection of Christ so that they might gain access to Heaven. This place was known as Paradise, or Abraham’s Bosom. Those with faith were in Paradise and those without faith were in a place of tormenting flames; a precursor to the Lake of Fire called Gehenna.

To further elaborate, picture the afterlife as four separate chambers. These chambers consist of:

  • Heaven
  • Sheol/Hades (non-tormenting side)
  • Sheol/Hades (tormenting side)
  • Gehenna/Tartarus (the actual fiery Hell)

Prior to the cross, both heaven and Gehenna were devoid of humans. No man had been granted entrance into heaven yet the final condemnation to the flames of Gehenna had not been carried out either. Upon the resurrection of Christ, both Gehenna and the non-tormenting side of Hades were empty. While Christ redeemed those in Abraham’s Bosom, those in the tormenting side of Hades remained. Their final condemnation to Gehenna still awaits. Only upon the second coming of Christ will both sides of Hades finally be empty and everyone in their eternal residence. Those with faith in Christ will continue to be in the presence of the Lord. However, those who rejected the Savior will finally see weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:13) in the fires of Gehenna for all eternity.

Looking back at Matthew 12:40, some have tried to say it was likely speaking of a cave or a tomb in which Jesus’ body was kept. I would like to take a moment to explain why this was not the case. The tomb of Jesus would have been more of a cave. The heart of the earth is hardly a hole in a mountain. The word used for” heart” is the Greek word kardia. It was used in the sense of being the center of the earth and to say the entire earth comes from it. Kardia is certainly not being used to speak of a tomb. It speaks of the center of the earth. The kardia of the earth is referencing Hades, the location that was once believed to be in the center of the earth.

We all remember the story of the thief on the cross. Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” The thief went with Jesus, as well as all the rest of the Old Testament saints, to Hades. Yes, they went to Hades. No, they did not go to be tormented. As Jesus said, they went to Paradise; the non-tormenting part of Hades, the abode of the dead.

What do we know as of now?

1) Jesus was in the grave for three days.

2) Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth.

3) Jesus was going to be in Paradise the day of His death.

4) Jesus was in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

Based on this information, we can see Jesus spent three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Since this was the exact same amount of time His body was in the grave, we can conclude that if He was in Paradise on one of those days, Paradise would have to be in the heart of the earth. The only way to heaven is through the Son. It is not simply a belief in the Son that grants us access. It is belief in who the Son is as well as belief in what took place in the death and resurrection. Before this process was complete, man had no way into heaven. It was not until the resurrection that Paradise was relocated into heaven and all the saints from that day forth could share in the Glory of God in heaven. For those who may want to argue that Paradise has not been relocated to heaven and that it still resides in Hades, they must first explain how believers who die will be absent from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). After all, He’s no longer in Hades. Additionally, I believe this is what the dead saints rising in Matthew 27:53 after his resurrection is evidence that the Old Testament saints are no longer in Hades. When Christ ascended, so did they (Ephesians 4:8). While it is true that we will still go to Paradise upon death, Paradise is now located in heaven with the Lord.

In which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, (1 Peter 3:19-20a, NASB)

What exactly did Jesus do during His three days in Hades? 1 Peter makes mention of Jesus proclaiming the truth to the spirits in prison. These spirits were characterized as being disobedient. The Old Testament saints that went to Abraham’s Bosom certainly were not characterized by disobedience. Their obedience and faithfulness was the thing that saved them. They just had to wait for Christ before they could enter the kingdom of heaven. Verse 19 also says the spirits were in prison. Prison is a place where you go as a result of wrongdoing. You break the law and you go to prison. The demons and disobedient people of the world both broke the law of God. As a result, they would have been imprisoned in Hades awaiting the final judgment of God when all of Hades is cast into the lake of fire: Gehenna (Mark 9:43, Revelation 20:14).

For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4, NASB)

The fallen angels are in prison. The NASB uses the word “pits” but, if you look, the KJV uses the word “chains” in their translation. The Greek word for this was σειρά (seira). It literally meant a line, rope, or chain. The fallen angels, as well as disobedient people, are in chains in prison.

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18, NASB)

Jesus conquered death. Death no longer has any hold over a Christian. Sure, we will all die. The difference is that we will live in heaven because we have been reconciled to God through Christ. Christ is the only way to heaven. What of the people from the Old Testament? Did they go to heaven? I would have to say no. They performed sacrifices but this was a continued action. Christ cannot be compared to an animal. He is called the Lamb of God but He was so much more than that. No mere animal could cleanse the way Christ did. I fully believe the Old Testament saints went to Paradise as a place of storage awaiting the death of Christ. Even more, I believe they stayed there until the resurrection. While they were saved through the same faith as New Testament believers, it was not until Jesus rose from the grave that He truly defeated death.

Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (John 20:17, NIV)

This has commonly been misinterpreted to mean Jesus had to remain pure and did not want anyone to touch him. The problem with that interpretation is that it is in direct contradiction with John 20:27 when Jesus told Thomas to touch his wounds. In truth, Jesus was telling Mary not to cling to him. He was telling her to not expect His presence to continue for much longer for He had not yet returned to the Father but would soon be doing so. This brings me to my point. Jesus rose on the third day. Up until this point, He had not yet returned to His Father. He had not rejoined God in Heaven as of yet. Well, where was He then? He was in Paradise during this time. After the third day, He rose from the dead, saw His apostles along with hundreds of others, and joined God in Heaven.

Looking back, we see a few things:

1) The kardia of the earth is Hades and not a hole in a mountain.

2) Jesus preached to the spirits in prison.

3) The spirits in prison are the fallen angels and those who rejected God.

4) Jesus had not yet returned to the Father.

The very basis of the disbelief in Jesus going to Hell for three days is:

1) People do not want to believe Paradise was a section of Hades.

2) People refuse to believe Jesus (being God) could go to Hades.

There is no biblical evidence stating that Jesus did not go to Hades. On the other hand, the biblical evidence is stacked saying He did. Ask yourself these questions: If He had not yet returned to the Father, where was He those three days? What spirits in prison was He preaching to? Why would Scripture speak of the center of the earth?

If He was in a tomb that whole time, He would not have been able to preach to anyone. This is another sign that the kardia of the earth is not speaking of the tomb of Jesus. Jesus was preaching to the spirits in prison. He was in the kardia of the earth while doing it. He had not yet returned to the Father. That only leaves one place and it makes perfect sense biblically.

The doctrine of Jesus in hell (Hades) is both a very biblical and accurate teaching. I do not believe He went there to suffer in pain. I believe He went there as a result of the sin of the world being on Him. It was the same reason any of the other Old Testament saints went there. They placed their faith in God but they still owed the penalty of sin. Jesus was spotless up until the point that He became the ultimate sacrifice and took the sin of the world upon Himself as our substitutionary atonement (2 Corinthians 5:21). He then went to Paradise and rose three days later, defeating death once for all.

~ Travis W. Rogers

THEONOMY: A Doctrine of Ignorance and Error

About a year ago, I wrote an article called Theonomy No More. In it, I addressed certain points such as why a theocracy is an unbiblical (and horrible) idea, how it inconsistently applies the threefold division of Law, and how it minimizes the completed work of Christ. Since writing that article, I’ve received multiple comments (some good, some bad) and have observed what appears to be a rising tide of those promoting the position. As a brief follow-up, I want to focus on why theonomy is a doctrine of ignorance and error.

6Some people have strayed from these things and have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

1 Timothy 1:6-7, NASB

When Paul was writing to Timothy, he instructed Timothy to teach sound doctrine and to be careful of those who had turned aside to teach things they knew nothing of. While it may sound harsh, I believe theonomists are committing a similar error. I want to be clear that I do not automatically count a theonomist as a false teacher or heretic. There are many who are dear brothers in our risen Lord. However, the underlying concept and method being employed does share a common vein. They continually make proclamations of Law while understanding nothing of it. In fact, while promoting error, they typically do not even do it with any form of consistency, which I will briefly highlight. While this won’t be an exhaustive refutation of theonomy, my hope is that it will be enough to cause the reader to question it.

Undoubtedly, anyone who has ever encountered a theonomist has likely heard the person employ Matthew 5:17 as the definitive prooftext.

17Do not presume that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter shall pass from the Law, until all is accomplished!

Matthew 5:17-18, NASB

I guess that settles it. If not even the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until heaven and earth pass away, the argument must certainly be over! After all, I’m still here typing this article instead of enjoying eternity with our Lord. Then again, maybe there might be more to the story.

by abolishing in His flesh the hostility, which is the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances,

Ephesians 2:15a, NASB

In this, we are explicitly told Jesus abolished “the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances.” This is just another way of saying the Ceremonial Law has been abolished. The word used for “abolished” is καταργέω (G2673). It carries with it the idea of an external force putting a stop to something. For all my cessationist brethren out there, it’s the same word used in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, where Paul speaks of prophecy and knowledge being done away at the coming of the perfect. This poses quite the dilemma for the theonomist who desires to use Matthew 5:17 in an all-encompassing manner. Clearly, Christ has abrogated, at a minimum, a part of the Law. Therefore, the verse can’t possibly be saying no part of the entirety of the Law (Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial) will be abolished before heaven and earth pass away, as the Ceremonial Law was abrogated in His death, burial, and resurrection. It necessitates an “all or nothing” approach be deemed inadequate and incorrect.

With the Ceremonial Law being out of the picture, that leaves the Moral and Civil Law. While it could very well be that Christ was only referring to those two, with the Ceremonial Law being explicitly removed from the topic at hand, it does open the door to the possibility that another one may be on the chopping block as well. In fact, I will make the assertion that the Civil Law no longer applies either and that we are only bound to the Moral Law. While I believe the the “commandments expressed in ordinances” refers to both the Ceremonial and Civil Law, a case can still be made to one who disagrees.

One thing that must be kept in mind is that the Civil Law was only given to ethnic Israel. It was given for the purpose of preserving a people for the coming Messiah. Even before the Law was given to mankind, God’s Moral Law still existed and sin was still in the world (Romans 5:13). This is because it’s universal law that applies to all of humanity. Unlike the Moral Law, the Civil Law was only given to a specific people for a specific purpose. Not once do we see the early Church calling believers to uphold the Mosaic Civil Law. You can search until your eyes bleed but you won’t be able to find a single verse advocating for it. This is because they were not bound to it. Conversely, we do see Jesus making proclamation that the entirety of the Law rests on God’s Moral Law (Matthew 22:37-39).

At this point, we can see the Moral Law is the foundation of all binding law. We’ve also seen how the Ceremonial Law has been abolished. While there is no single verse that speaks to the abolition of the Civil Law, there is a clear example of who was and was not bound to it. Yet, we are all bound to the Moral Law. Of course, this isn’t to say the Civil Law doesn’t have any virtue to it. As I made clear in last year’s article, I’m not promoting antinomianism. Even the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith recognizes the Civil Law has a certain moral use to it through its general equity. But this does not mean believers are bound to observe it. This is because Christ fulfilled it in His active obedience. Believers are grafted into Him and His fulfilling of the Civil Law. There is only one aspect of the Law that we are now bound to: Moral Law.

Even among those who uphold this position, there tends to be uncertainty. Of course, we’re finite creatures living before an infinite God. Questions are certainly going to pop up. As stated, certain aspects of the Civil Law are helpful when held to the Moral Law. We are to strive for obedience in our duty to God (Commandments 1-4) and our duty to fellow man (Commandments 5-10). In our duty to man, we are not to murder, steal, covet, etc. These are all helpful and beneficial to society. But it does not mean we are to implement abolished Law in order to achieve it. While I may not agree with implementing the Civil Law, I also contend that applying morality to legislation is not synonymous with legislating morality. We can never make the unbeliever righteous by forcing him to obey the Civil Law. In fact, even if he were to follow it perfectly, he would still be unrighteous because it would not be with the motivation of obedience to God. In this case, even his perfectly kept legal standing would be as filthy menstrual rags (Isaiah 64:6). The only way to achieve righteousness is to be in Christ. Nobody in Christ should ever seek to bring back that which He has fulfilled. What we should be doing is seeking to demonstrate our love for Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:15).

We should strive to obey the Moral Law, not out of selfish ambition but out of a love for God. Because we love God and seek to obey His commandments, we apply the second table of the Law to legislation out of a desire to obey the first table, but the first table should not be legislated itself. While the Law does serve as a mirror, the first table should be proclaimed, not legislated. For instance, some may say we should outlaw working on the Sabbath in order to help prevent someone from reaping God’s wrath for practicing a Fourth Commandment violation (Exodus 20:8-10). But this would be no different from outlawing non-Christian places of worship in order to prevent a First Commandment violation (Exodus 20:3). It simply is not what we see prescribed in Scripture. To make an argument to the contrary is to make an argument from silence, while defending error born in ignorance of the Law and what it teaches.

~ Travis W. Rogers

THE WRATH OF GOD: Eternal or Temporary?

WEEPING AND GNASHING. If you’re a Christian, this phrase should mean more to you than merely what happens when your team loses the Super Bowl. The idea of weeping and gnashing of teeth is meant to fill one with dread over the terrors of hell. By the grace of God, He chose to save me from such a final destination so that I love Him and glorify Him forever in worship. Just as a recognition of our depravity should wake us up to the need of a Savior, the knowledge of hell should drive our praises of His lovingkindness and mercy. So what does that make of those who deny the eternal torment of unbelievers? For starters, it minimizes what they have to be thankful for. Instead of being thankful for salvation from eternal misery, they can only be thankful that they get to partake in eternal worship. But will those who end up having their souls destroyed really care in the end? Obviously not.

I recently had a very short discussion with someone who was promoting the idea of the total annihilation of the soul. He felt like eternal torment was outside of God’s character. After all, how could a God of love be willing to torment anyone for all of eternity? Such a perspective is severely lacking in the understanding of the very thing they seek to question: God’s character. While God is indeed a God of love, He is also a just God who has repeatedly stated that He will pour out His wrath in judgment. The person just couldn’t wrap his mind around God tormenting people for eternity. He felt such a view was unbiblical and an affront to God. To justify his position, he used Matthew 10:28 which says:

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 20:28, NASB

While I was able to see why that verse, if isolated from the rest of Scripture, could be interpreted in that way, to do so requires a very low view of Scripture and is lazy. Aside from lazy study habits, such an interpretation places the emphasis on the wrong word. Instead of emphasizing DESTROY, it should emphasize COULD. The verse in Matthew isn’t saying God will destroy the souls of unbelievers. The context is about the power of God. But just because God CAN do something, doesn’t mean He WILL do it.

There are plenty of places in Scripture that speak of eternal torment in Hell. The common theme is that there is eternal destruction (1 Thessalonians 1:9) in an eternal fire (Matthew 25:41) that cannot be quenched (Matthew 3:12). While believers will enjoy everlasting life, unbelievers will face everlasting contempt (Daniel 2:12) through eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46). The smoke of their torment shall go up (Revelation 14:11) and they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).

Or we can just believe God is lying to us and that He’ll actually just annihilate the souls of unbelievers and let them find their peace. After all, that’s exactly what it would amount to. Upon final judgment, those who reject Christ would now find their peace in annihilation. While believers get to glorify God forever, it’s not like unbelievers are really missing anything. Going back to the Super Bowl analogy used above, it would be like me not caring who wins after I die. I’m dead. I’ll have absolutely nothing to care about at that point. If I’m going to be annihilated with zero cognizance or existence, why do I care what happens after that? The eternal bliss of the unbeliever would essentially match the eternal bliss of the believer in Christ. Such a view only minimizes the importance of repentance and faith in Christ. There’s a reason Scripture is so clear on the matter. It’s not only a valid scare tactic, but it is also an exposition of righteous judgment from a just God.

Reader, I care deeply for your soul and want nothing more than to worship God in eternity as we bow before a mighty King (Psalm 93:1) and merciful Father (Luke 6:36). Just as eternal life means eternal life, eternal fire means eternal fire. It’s not merely reserved for the devil and his demons. If this were so, there would be no reason for dire warning. If you do not know Christ as Lord and Savior, take heed of this warning as it is from no less than God Himself. Time will come for us all.

~ Travis W. Rogers

DEATH & SOCIETY: A Tragic Inconsistency

DEATH. Nobody really likes the word. In fact, many actually fear it. Life is precious and valued while death is shunned. My grandma once told me a story of how, when I was very young, she was explaining death to me. She said I put my foot down in defiance and proclaimed, “I refuse to die!” While it still brings a smile to my face thinking about it, it’s not a healthy outlook for the Christian. While we are to embrace life on this earth, we also look forward to eternal life (John 3:16). Yet, this eternal life comes through death. We first experience the death of our carnal nature that gives birth to our regenerated nature. At some point, we will experience physical death which gives birth to our eternal state of glory (Hebrews 9:27-28). Death can be scary but it doesn’t have to be. By no means am I advocating for one to eagerly await death in anticipation, but we should be eagerly awaiting our future dwelling with God in heaven, in His own timing.

While I could go on and on about the nature of death, that isn’t my intent. Instead, I’d like us to ponder the inconsistent views held by society when it comes to the subject. If you were to poll random strangers on whether they thought killing others was good or bad, I don’t think we’d be shocked to find most feel the latter. While you may hear a variety of justifications for their answer, the common theme would be that murder is wrong. If we all seem to be in agreement on this fact, why is there so much disparity when it comes to practical implementation?

For instance, as of today, 25 states have the death penalty, 22 do not, and 3 have it on the books, though there is a temporary governor-mandated moratorium. This means our nation is split exactly down the middle on whether or not the death penalty is justice in cases of homicide. According to a recent article, Virginia is looking at abolishing the death penalty as well. This would mean those who support it would be in the minority. How can this be the case if nearly everyone agrees that murder is injustice? Just as the answers to why people believe murder to be wrong will vary, so will the answers on why people believe the death penalty to be unjust. One objection I have heard is that killing isn’t a valid response to killing. On the surface, this seems to make sense. After all, I think most would agree more injustice isn’t an appropriate solution to resolving injustice. Yet, such a view first necessitates the preconception that the death penalty is unjust. To that, we must turn to Scripture.

Whoever sheds human blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made mankind. – Genesis 9:6, NASB

It’s not some arbitrary reason why the death penalty exists. Truth be told, it’s not even negotiable. It exists because human life is inherently valuable due to us being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Chapter 4 of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 states:

After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, rendering them fit unto that life to God for which they were created; being made in the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness and true holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts,

– 2LBCF, 4.2

According to that statement, it is the very image of God that enables us to live the life to which we were created. By our very ability to reason, and our obligation to worship the Creator, we are distinct from the rest of creation. The image of God is not just something we possess. It makes up our entire being and is what gives us our identity. Though we may be in a fallen state, our identity is still rooted in us being the very image and likeness of God. It is because of this that I argue a denial of the death penalty is a denial of God and His righteous statutes. At this point, while many advocates of sin love to reference Matthew 7:1 and Matthew 5:38-39, they fail to provide the proper context. While we are not to take up vengeance or judgment into our own hands, we have a justice system as a part of our government. The government bears the sword for a reason (Romans 13:4). Ironically, claiming sanctity of life as the basis for rejecting the death penalty, is actually demonstrable of devaluing life. After all, advocates promote capital punishment because of the inherent value of the person who was killed. Opponents to the death penalty give lip service to the man’s inherent value while treating it as less than when put into practice.

Another area of inconsistency is when it comes to abortion. According to one poll, roughly 77% of Americans support the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. As a nation whose citizens will proudly stand united when it comes to opposing murder, we fall woefully short when it comes to putting it into practice. For 50% of our states opposing the death penalty, 100% allow for the legalized murder of the most innocent class of humans to ever exist: the preborn. Sadly, we have a society of people who oppose murder while proudly wearing a “pro-choice” pin on their lapel. It’s an ever-growing movement of erratic and inconsistent behavior on a downward spiral of self-destruction. The only consistency within the movement appears to be consistently shifting the goalposts while being consistently inconsistent. Instead of addressing the subject at hand: the inherent value and dignity of human life, the pool has become flooded with red herrings and the field littered with strawmen.

As with all things in life, we need to approach this subject from a biblical perspective. While death may only be a result of the Fall, there can be a certain sense of beauty to it. However, when God is rejected, everything else tends to be corrupted in the process. My hope is that this short article has given you something to think about in regard to this often avoided subject.

~ Travis W. Rogers

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