Coram Deo

Blogging 'Before the Face of God'

Christless Christianity

by David

The Evangelical Outpost (formerly Joe Carter’s blog) has just re-launched with a brand new website and a new team of authors, including myself. I will be contributing articles on Christianity and culture, Theology, the state of the Evangelical church (and where it’s heading), and maybe the occasional dash of politics.

For my first article, I wrote a brief review of Dr. Horton’s latest book, Christless Christianity.

Click here to read the article.

What Is The Future Of Evangelicalism?

by David

What is “Evangelicalism”? Who gets to claim the title? Does it have a future?

Drawing from the insights of an article written by Dr. Mike Horton back in 2001 that attempted to answer these very same questions, I attempt to show that there is no longer a meaningful doctrinal “core” to Evangelicalism and that we should not view Evangelicalism as a theological tradition so much as a town hall where Christians of different denominations can meet for common cause without sacrificing their distinct traditions. Following C. S. Lewis’s own understanding of his most famous work, I argue that this is precisely the meaning of “Mere Christianity”, and that it will safeguard Evangelicalism’s future.

Continue reading at The Evangelical Outpost.

On The Wrath Of God

by David

This post will largely be a response to another blog post written by Father Stephen Freeman at his blog “Glory To God For All Things”. Father Freeman attempts to address the question of God’s wrath from an Orthodox perspective, arguing that God is not actually “wrathful” toward anyone in the way Protestants (and Catholics) have tradtionally thought. In this post I will respond to Father Freeman’s arguments and attempt to defend the traditional Protestant view of the Wrath of God.

Continue reading at Reason From Scripture.

How Then Should We Do Apologetics?

by David

(1) You can believe in God without any evidence. (2) Without God, you can’t know anything at all. These are perhaps the most controversial Christian claims of the 20th century. Both were made by Christian apologists. The first is the claim of Reformed Epistemology and its most prominent advocate, Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame. The second is the claim of Presuppositionalism, pioneered by Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Theological Seminary. These two approaches to apologetics have many similarities, both in theory and practice. In this paper, my aim is three-fold. First, I will compare and contrast these two apologetic schools and offer suggestions as to how they might work together to strengthen one another. Second, I will offer a critique of Presuppositionalism from the perspective of Reformed Epistemology, which I have playfully dubbed the “Transcendental Argument against Presuppositionalism.” The final section of the paper will be devoted to a brief interaction between a synthesized Presuppositional-Reformed Epistemology method and the remaining heavy hitters in the Apologetic world; Classical Apologetics and Evidentialism. My hope is to show that there is actually a great deal of consensus between the modern representatives of these other two schools and my proposed “middle way”, and that once the epistemological insights of both Presuppositionalism and Reformed Epistemology are used as our apologetic grounding, we will find ourselves free to adapt our apologetic method to particular situations. We move, then, to the first task of compare and contrast.

Continue reading at Reason From Scripture.

By Whose Authority?

by David

I’ve recently joined a new group blog, the purpose of which is to consider various arguments for different views of church authority. More specifically, my coauthors and I will be looking closely at Orthodox (and Catholic) arguments against Sola Scriptura. Obviously attempts will be made at refuting these arguments, but the primary goal of this blog is to foster communication between Protestant and Orthodox Christians, and to work towards an increasingly charitable and transparent dialog between the two.

This blog is called “By Whose Authority?” and it can be found here.

A Word To The Calvinist: Arminians Are People Too!

by David

 Saint Augustine is well known for (primarily) three things:  His intimate Confessions, his majestic City Of God, and his heated debate with Pelagius.  It is in this debate that Augustine’s positions on Predestination and Perseverence of the Saints (eternal security) finds its final and strongest articulation (1000 years before Calvin!).

Pelagius, thanks largely to the tireless efforts of Augustine, was universally recognized as a heretic.  There were some at this time, however, who disagreed with both Pelagius and Augustine, and sought more of a middle road.  These people came to be called “semi-Pelagian” and eventually “Arminian” (after the position’s strongest and most infamous Protestant proponent, Jakob Arminius). 

Today there are no confessing Pelagians (although many evangelical Christians today have Pelagian tendencies they are largely unaware of).  Thus the debate that goes on today within evangelicalism is between Calvinists and Arminians.  Since I am a Calvinist, I obviously have plenty of concerns and disagreements with Arminian theology.  However, I have noticed a strong tendency in many Calvinists today to simply think of their semi-Pelagian opponents as full Pelagians.  Or, if they acknowledge the difference, they still tend to treat semi-Pelagianism as if it represents no improvement on Pelagianism at all.   The implication of this sort of thinking is clear: Pelagianism is a universally recognized heresy, liable to lead its adherents straight to damnation.  If semi-Pelagianism is no different…

But Calvinists today would do well to remember that Saint Augustine himself faced semi-Pelagian critics in his own day, and he always treated them as erring brothers, not heretics.  The Augustine-Pelagius debate may have meant eternal life or death, but the Augustine-semi-Pelagian debate was an intramural one. 

It is possible to hold the truths of Scripture in the highest regard without sacrificing charity.  Indeed, it is possible to fight hard for those truths without sacrificing the Apostle’s command, “love one another.” 

 

(Mis)Understanding Sola Scriptura

by David


The Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, simply put, is the belief that the Bible, the Word of God alone is the final authority in all matters of Christian faith and practice.  Where Popes or church councils have seemed to violate the plain meaning of Scripture on these matters, it is Scripture alone that has the power of veto, it does not stand side by side in authority with tradition.

The most common objection I have heard from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers to this doctrine is that it is not itself found in Scripture.  Nor is the list (canon) of books that ought to count as Scripture found in Scripture.  At first brush this seems rather embarrassing, if not outright contradictory.  But I feel this objection has been given far more attention than it deserves, and here I will attempt a brief response.

First, a simple but all too important point must be made:  There are many items of true knowledge to be found outside of the Scriptures, and we can know them.  My belief that the external world exists (including the Bible I’m holding in my hands) is one such item of knowledge.  But this belief, it could be argued, is found at least implicitly within Scripture.  Fair enough.  Another example would be the deliverances of modern Science, or of History beyond the date of the last New Testament book.  The Bible is neither a Science nor a History textbook.  But no one would attempt to argue that the doctrine of sola scriptura precludes Christians from engaging in and learning from these disciplines.  

Likewise, I see no reason why the list of books determined to be canonical or the doctrine of sola scriptura itself cannot be such items of knowledge, arrived at by sound arguments and the use of God-given reason.  

To illustrate the point, one need only study church history.  In the earliest days after the Apostles, there were a few books widely accepted as Scripture (such as the letters of Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas).  There was no single council convened to answer the question of which books belonged in the canon and which did not.  There were several, some with slightly differing opinions than others.  There were also prominent individuals who compiled their own lists (such as Athanasius, who was probably the first whose list comprised only and all of the 27 books we now call the New Testament).  What is important to note about all of these is that each group or individual offered arguments on behalf of their selections.  The church did not arbitrarily pick which books it liked and which it didn’t.  Good reasons were given for including books like Revelation and excluding Clement and Hermas, and in the end, the best arguments won the day.  And very recently, such arguments came in handy once more, as many Christians, especially Catholics, had to rebut the claims of the best selling Da Vinci Code.  

If this was sufficient to convince the church at the time, why not now?  Why now must infallible church authority  be added to the mix in order for us to be confident that we have the right canon?  Catholic and Orthodox Christians readily admit that the church never sat down and self-consciously used its belief in its own infallible authority to declare the canon into existence by fiat.  So why is infallibility necessary to be confident in the reliability of the canon today?  This at least seems to lead us to the conclusion that the list of books belonging in the canon need not be in Scripture itself in order for sola scriptura to be coherent.

But what of the original charge, that sola scriptura itself is not discovered by Scripture alone?  Again, this objection simply misses the point.  If I have good reason to believe, based on the best evidence (both historical and logical) that the Bible (in its final, canonized form) is the infallible Word of God, and moreover, if I likewise have good reason to believe, based on the best evidence, that no other earthly institution bears the mark of divine infallibility, then sola scriptura follows quite naturally.  It is a deliverance of sound argument and reason, and need not be found in Scripture itself (which would be circular anyway).  

***

As a side note, it’s worth pointing out that whatever can be said in favor of church infallibility can likewise be said in favor of the infallibility of Scripture, and whatever can be said against the doctrine of sola scriptura can likewise be said against the infallibility of the church.  Consider, upon what basis does the church claim infallible authority?  If the basis is on either tradition or Scripture (which is really a written derivation of tradition anyway), then the argument is circular.  But if the basis is upon reason (or even faith…which are by no means opposed), then whatever can be said for church infallibility can be said for sola scriptura.  

(I recognize that my Catholic and Orthodox brothers have other concerns with sola scriptura, but in this brief post I meant only to deal with this one common objection).

I Made An Icon! (Or: Recapturing Beauty In The Church)

by David

(See below for larger images).  Yes, that’s right, I’m quickly spiraling down the path of idolatry.  Actually, this is my final project for my “Art and the Bible” class.  (I included the second picture for those of you who are particularly offended by images of Jesus).  Seriously, though, I’m with Sproul on this one.  There is nothing inherently evil about this sort of religious imagery (although I do think there are superior forms of art).  And as long as I’m not worsh…er…venerating it, or thinking that whatever honor I bestow upon this piece of painted canvas I’m actually bestowing upon Christ, I see no harm in it.  You can be Reformed without being an iconoclast.  And Sproul actually contends that even Calvin thought of many of his iconoclastic policies as being merely provisional, until people got over their Roman tendencies to turn the art into idols.

More than that, though, Protestantism has done itself a great disservice by marginalizing art.  We can’t have anything too beautiful in the sanctuary because it would be distracting from worship.  Aside from the obvious reality that people will space out during the sermon no matter how ugly the room is, I wonder why we don’t go all the way and start learning mediation techniques to clear our minds of all possible thoughts and images that could distract us.   This seems more consistent.  Instead, we have artistic people in the church who can’t find any way to put their God-given gifts to use in an explicitly religious way that is beneficial to the church community.  We either force them to suppress their talents, channel them into something more practical like architecture (but don’t get any ideas about making our church building look too fancy!), or they just end up producing the kind of schmaltzy  paintings that you see on Christian greeting cards.  Or worse, we chase them off and they end up converting to Roman Catholicism where their talents are appreciated.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s a bad reason to become a Catholic, but we shouldn’t be forcing our Protestant artists into that position in the first place.

I just think it’s time we stopped being afraid of a robust religious art and started being as concerned with beauty in the church as we are with truth.  

(Oh, by the way, I’m not an artist or the son of an artist, so I’m aware that my painting is pretty lame.  Please don’t feel the need to point that out to me :P )

Christ-Like Leadership And The Gender Debate

by David

When it comes to the gender debate, we must always keep sight of the Biblical picture of leadership.  Egalitarians frequently argue that our focus should not be on claiming our rights to authority over others, and I couldn’t agree more.  They argue that we should focus on serving one another, and again I couldn’t agree more.  But something that egalitarians would do well to remember is that true Biblical leadership is nothing more than the ultimate form of servanthood.

Christ has all power and authority and dominion over all the earth, and yet He humbled himself more than any human being possibly could.  The same is true for those who are called to lead in Christ’s church.  The powerful description of the way in which a husband is to love his wife (Ephesians 5) does not reveal some sort of egalitarian model of marriage, rather it reinforces the Biblical picture of true, Christ-like leadership.  For a husband to take on the role of head of his wife is for him to give up his own desires for her sake.  It is for him to always put her first, to always think of her before himself, and ultimately to give up his whole life for her (figuratively as well as in reality).  This is not a command to “mutually submit.”  Far from it.  This is a command to be a true Christian leader, as Christ was, and is, and ever will be.

A Two-Way Street: Free Will, Suffering & The Glory Of God

by David

I was on facebook the other day, taking a silly quiz to see how “Reformed” I was.  As it turns out, the quiz was designed by Presbyterians, so it wasn’t very accurate. 

One person, obviously irked by Reformation theology, left a rather cynical comment on the quiz’s wall, along the lines of “child prostitution brings glory to God.”  This person was attempting to raise the objection that, because the Reformed believe quite strongly that every event and every moment of history is ordained by God, for the purpose of glorifying Himself, they are left with the (supposedly) absurd conclusion that the most vile and wicked acts imaginable are somehow God-glorifying.  Child prostitution exists, according to this line of thought, because God in some sense wanted it to. 

I just want to say two things in response to this.  The first is that, as is often the case, this is a stilted charicature of Reformed theology.  No sane Reformed person actually believes that God possesses a disposition such that He actually delights in suffering.  There is a very real sense in which God does not want anyone to suffer, in this life or in the next.  He justly hates evil in every possible sense.  You’ll also be hard pressed to find a Reformed theologian who will claim that the Fall (and the subsequent existence of sin and evil in the world) was somehow necessary.  What you will find is a commitment to the idea that, even though evil things are evil in and of themselves, and should not be considered good in any way, it must be the case that they exist for the good, or God would not allow them.  I think Reformed and non-Reformed alike should be able to agree on this.  The only other option is that God does not work all things for good (even if only the best good possible).

The second point is very important, and too often overlooked.  Typically it is said that Reformed theology places the ultimate blame on God, while Arminian forms remove from Him any such responsibility and place it back on us.  Here’s the problem:  Both views must account for vile atrocities like child prostitution.  And both views believe in an omnipotent and wholly good God.  In short, both must still account for the problem of evil.  But to simply say, “well, it’s human freedom” does little to get God off the hook.  At the heart of the so-called “free will defense” against the problem of evil is the notion that the free choice to love God is so infinitely beautiful and good that it is worth the price of child prostitution.  This is, to say the least, a contentious claim.  But more importantly, most advocates of this view will also argue that such free choices of love are supremely God-glorifying.  Arminian theology doesn’t glorify man by placing all the emphasis on him and his choices, says the Arminian, but rather it places equal emphasis on God and His glory.  Fair enough.  But notice what the Arminian view is now saying:  God “allows” (rather than “ordains”) child prostitution so that some can freely choose Him, to the end of glorifying Himself.  Does that sound familair? 

My point here is not necessarily to defend one view over the other.  I don’t think I’ve made any case for Reformed theology here.  But we need to stop acting as though any one denomination has the sure-fire, bullet-proof response to something as immensely troubling and difficult as the problem of evil.  I don’t hold to Reformed theology because I think it makes more sense of the problem of evil than Arminian theology, and I would strongly discourage anyone from holding to Arminian theology for the same reason.  If you can’t accept Reformed doctrine because of exegetical concerns, or because you think it has no adequate grounding for moral responsibility, great!  All I wish to submit here is that the mere presence of evil in the world is not by itself sufficient grounds for accepting or rejecting either view.  It is, as they say, a two-way street.   

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