A view from the inside of old Sandy Creek Primitive Baptist Church.
Happy Lord’s Day!
Webster’s 1828: DA’YSMAN, n. An umpire or arbiter; a mediator.
Neither is there any daysman betwixt us. Job 9.
There is one mediator between the Lord and man,
Christ Jesus was our daysman our sins were laid on Him.
Wounded for our transgressions and justice for our peace,
yet God was pleased to bruise Him for our iniquities.
With one hand on the heaven and one hand on the earth,
he satisfied the wrath of God our daysman stood for us.
Yours in the Lord,
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away…I was hoodwinked and bamboozled into believing the PreTrib Rapture and Dispensationalism. I’ve blogged about this in the past. It was my own fault. I didn’t examine the tradition I was being spoon fed in light of scripture.
For most of us in North American who attend conservative, Bible believing churches the PreTrib Rapture is the default tradition often assumed in the preaching and written into our church statement of beliefs.
Early in my Christian life, once I started reading Revelation and Daniel for myself, I doubted the idea. Over the course of a few years I moved from PreTrib to a PreWrath Rapture view before abandoning PreMillennialism altogether. But every now and then I pick up The Sign by VanKampen and find it impressive. The PreWrath Rapture view places the timing of the Rapture or the removing of the church from earth before the out pouring of God’s wrath found in chapter 6 of Revelation.
One of the most useful books in helping me rid myself of the PreTrib Rapture tradition is titled, “The Rapture Question Answered” by Robert Van Kampen. For many reasons, mostly for the sake of tradition I guess, I still have a fondness for this eschatological view.
Comparing Revelation 6 with Matthew 24 or the teaching concerning the end times in Pauline epistles with the teaching of Christ, the PreTrib Rapture view melts away… Van Kampen is especially good at picking apart the timing of the Rapture. For this reason I recommend the work. It’s short, easy to understand and as the subtitle reads, “Plain & Simple.”
For nostalgia and to satisfy some nagging questions I’m going to re-examine this end time view with another read through The Sign, maybe listen to a couple of sermons or lectures on the subject.
Yours in the Lord,
Michael P. Jensen is the author of Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology and (with Tom Frame) Defining Convictions and Decisive Commitments–The Thirty-Nine Articles in Contemporary Anglicanism. He is the rector of St Mark’s Anglican Church, Darling Point, in Sydney, Australia.
1. Since the arrival of Christianity in Britain in the 3rd century, British Christianity has had a distinct flavor and independence of spirit, and was frequently in tension with Roman Catholicism. The Britons were evangelized by Irish missionary monks, and it wasn’t until the 7th century that the Roman church established its authority over Christianity in the British Isles, at the Synod of Whitby. But tensions continued until the 16th century.
2. The break with Rome in the 16th century had political causes, but also saw the emergence of an evangelical theology. The Church of England was not just a church of protest against the pope’s authority and his interference in English affairs. It was also a church that adopted a distinctly evangelical theology. The English Reformation cannot be reduced to the marital strife of Henry VIII.
3. Anglicanism is Reformed. The theology of the founding documents of the Anglican church—the Book of Homilies, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion—expresses a theology in keeping with the Reformed theology of the Swiss and South German Reformation. It is neither Lutheran, nor simply Calvinist, though it resonates with many of Calvin’s thoughts.
4. Scripture is the supreme authority in Anglicanism. Article VI, “Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation,” puts it this way:
Holy Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
In Anglicanism, Scripture alone is supreme as the saving Word of God. Reason and tradition play an auxiliary role. This was the view of divines like Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker. There is a popular myth that Anglicanism views reason, tradition, and Scripture as a three-legged stool of authorities, but it is quite false.
5. Justification by faith alone is at the heart of Anglican soteriology. In its liturgy, its view of the sacraments, in its founding documents, and in the mind of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the Church of England holds that works do not save and cannot save a person. Only the blood of Jesus Christ is effective to save.
6. In Anglican thought, the sacraments are “effectual signs” received by faith. For Anglicans, the sacraments—the Lord’s Supper and baptism—do not convey grace in an automatic sense, or by a grace adhering to the objects used in them.
7. The Anglican liturgy—best encapsulated in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer—is designed to soak the congregation in the Scriptures, and to remind them of the priority of grace in the Christian life. There is grace on every page—it is not only the heart of Anglican theology, it is the heart of Anglican spirituality.
8. Anglicanism is a missionary faith, and has sponsored global missions since the 18th century. The sending and funding of missionaries to the far reaches of the globe to preach the gospel has been a constant feature of Anglican life, although this has happened through the various voluntary mission agencies as much as through official channels.
9. Global Anglicanism is more African and Asian than it is English and American. The center of contemporary Anglicanism is found in places like Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya. In these places there are burgeoning Anglican churches, and a great deal of evangelism and church planting. There are strong Anglican churches too in Asia and elsewhere. Noticeably, where liberal theology has become dominant in Anglicanism—mainly in the “first world”—Anglicanism is rapidly shrinking, and is possibly only a generation from its demise.
Arthur Walkington Pink is one of my spiritual fathers. His work the Interpretation of the Scriptures really helped me iron out issues I’ve had with biblical interpretation. I still refer to his works when needed (especially his commentary on Hebrews) when studying the word. He is far from perfect but always enlightening and I thank God for devout men such as him who display such careful handling of the word of God with a real zeal for truth. For every rule he provided in the “Interpretation of the Scriptures” I provided the amen. His refutation of Dispensational theology was instrumental in helping me shed some of that interpretive framework and become more biblical in my management of God’s word.
A brief outline of A. W. Pink’s work published by Baker.
Chapter 1: The first chapter highlights the need and importance of interpreting scripture without falling prey to two common extremes. One extreme would be the idea held by Rome and other denominations that teach the scriptures are too difficult to understand and therefore need to be presented to the average person by someone with special authority. The other extreme teaches that we are simply to read and believe without any interpretation needed at all. Pink gives three reasons for interpretation: 1) explain seeming contradictions, 2) to seek the meaning and sense of the words and 3) inserting of an explanatory word into the text.
Chapter 2: To understand scripture Pink tells the reader that we must have both the tools and the skill. We must be humble when we approach the word and avoid arrogance when we seeking an interpretation. Being a regenerate believer does not guarantee we will be able to understand all things perfectly or even well but that we must continue to work on it. We understand the Bible through reason that is impressed by the Holy Spirit. Pink gives five elements needed to interpret the word: 1) a mind illumined by the Holy Spirit 2) an impartial spirit 3) a humble mind 4) a praying heart 5) a holy design.
Chapter 3: Expository preaching is covered in this chapter with the emphasis on preaching solid doctrine. To quote Bible verses is not enough, the student of the word must labour to gleam a meaning from the text to feed self and others. The lessons learned are not taught through diligent study alone but through experience. Pink writes, “No one can learn what humility is by means of the concordance, nor secure more faith by studying certain passages of Scripture. The one is acquired through painful discoveries of the plague of our hearts, and the other is increased by a deepening acquaintance with God.”
Chapter 4: The Bible is described as the sole textbook for the student with the author using the Authorized Version. Commentaries are viewed as useful only when you have exhausted a concordance. Pink takes a dig at Dispensational theology on pages 25 – 26 for their unbiblical focus on things that differ instead of unity. Pink gives us the first three rules of biblical interpretation in this chapter: (1) there is a need to recognize the “inter-relation and mutual dependence of both testaments,” (2) to carefully study scripture when it quotes scripture, and to (3) “conform all interpretations to the analogy of faith.”
Chapter 5: Rule 3 is explained in further detail at the beginning of this chapter. Here the author introduces two more rules, that of (4) context and (5) scope. It is mentioned that “proof texting” is quoting scripture outside of its context to support the theologians thoughts rather then scripture.
Chapter 6: Continues with examples of proper and improper use (4) context and (5) scope with Dispensationalism once again in his cross hairs. The next rule offered is to (6) interpret scripture by scripture or “comparing spiritual things with spiritual things.”
Chapter 7: The thoughts expressed in chapter 6 are carried over and explained in full detail before recommending the next rule, that being, (7) briefer statements are to be interpreted by fuller ones. Little is written but common sense agrees with Pink.
Chapter 8: Collecting and collating (8) scripture is explained as the next rule. The author goes on to give examples, one being the term “born again.” It is used in scripture to describe regeneration but idea is found elsewhere with such as “passing from dark to light,” “renewing,” and “resurrection.” By collecting and collating passages the doctrine will become clear.
Chapter 9: The rule of (9) simple negative is briefly touched upon as well as (10) interrogative form and the proper use of (11) reason. It is explained that negative conclusions can be used to infer the opposites, rhetorical questioning of the Socratic method proves useful and human reason does play apart in understanding divine things, although it is subject to divine things.
Chapter 10: Pink gives us an idea of how we find (12) limitations of general statements in this chapter. The example being “judge not,” being considered in light of “judge righteous” and “thoroughly judge.” We cannot make a universal truth statement from general truth statement. In the same line of thought we are told that (13) positive statement with a comparative force, or, seek the context of absolute statements keeping our understanding within the analogy of faith. This will help to remain consistent.
Chapter 11: (14) Non-literal language must be viewed as such. Both translators and expositors must be aware of the finer nuances of the languages. The wooden literalism found in the more classic schools of Dispensationalism are to be avoided since they remove the original meaning from the text and fail to (15) understand types.
Chapter 12: The use of the analogy of faith is mentioned in connection with the next rule, to seek a proper (16) exposition of the parables, which are supplementary to direct teaching. Pink’s sharp mind then directs the Bible student to be aware that words are not translated uniformly so we are to seek other (17) or different meanings that each word might have.
Chapter 13: The idea is carried forward from the previous chapter with a different emphasis, this being, (18) the Holy Spirit’s use of the words. We are to note the actual use of the word in scripture alone and not to rely on classical literature to seek a meaning. The author sites his suggestion of a concordance rather then a dictionary. Although we find a dislike of Dispensational theology in this work (19) distinguishing between things that differ is still important, and well explained, just not the crux of our theological grid.
Chapter 14 & 15: The next rule we are instructed to follow is to seek (20) the spiritual meaning of scripture, that scripture often has a double purport, a natural and a spiritual. Chapter 15 explains this concept in great detail giving plenty of examples. Anyone familiar with A. W. Pink’s work will know he does implore this rule often and takes care to fully detail its use and importance.
Chapter 16: (21) Double reference and meaning is now taken on and explained. In this chapter, to my surprise, the author confuses a belief that man is tripartite! Using the rule of double reference Genesis 1:26 is used as support for this belief. Interesting.
Chapter 17: The author enlightens the reader to the (22) the law of order, meaning, the position the idea is found within scripture and how it relates to what follows it.
Chapter 18: (23) The law of cause and effect traces the steps and connection between events. The example of Peter’s fall is given; self-assurance (Mark 14:29), failed to pray and watch (Mark 14:38-40), disregarded the warning to be sifted (Luke 22:31-33) and trying to take control by force (John 18:10). This is explained to be a law of cause and effect. The next canon is that of (24) emphasis. What God has placed emphasis on, should be well noted to the believer. The Companion Bible written by the famous Ultra Dispensationlist is mentioned.
Chapter 19: The (25) origin of a word is understood as being of some use but we are direct back to rule 19 where we are instructed to seek out the Holy Spirit’s use of the words. (26) The law of comparison and contrast was written to be of interest but of less importance overall.
Chapter 20 & 21: The first use of a word, (27) the law of first mention, should guide our understanding of it. (28) The law of progress or progressive revelation is explained in detail and we are reminded that the Bible is full of life.
Chapter 22: We come to the last chapter and the last interpretive rule given to us by A. W. Pink. We are reminded of the (29) law of full mention with examples given of John 17 where Christ is interceding for believers, the total inability of man in Romans 3 and election and reprobation in Romans 9.
The Need for Interpretation
Pink opens this work with a warning:
“Man is notoriously a creature of extremes, and nowhere is that fact more evident than in the attitude taken by different ones to this subject.”
O Lord how true this is! In my own life I wish someone had warned me to avoid the “notorious” extremes that permeate natural man and our understanding of the simple things God has revealed. “…obscurity is not in them” but in us.
“Since the imagination of man, like all the other faculties of his moral being, is permeated and vitiated by sin, the ideas it suggests, even when pondering the Divine oracles, are prone to be mistaken and corrupt. It is part of our sinful infirmity that we are unable of ourselves to interpret God’s Word aright; but it is part of the gracious office of the Holy Spirit to guide believers into the truth, thereby enabling them to apprehend the Scriptures.”
We find the light of God’s word so bright at time we turn away and hide the truth or hide from it. I am guilty of trying to obscure the truth using a manmade scaffold that, by the Grace of God, could not support the word and I was eventually convicted of this sin leaving Dispensationalism forever. We are to test what we find in theology and give thanks for both the milk and the meat we find therein.
We must seek rules or canons for interpretation because interpretation is needed to understand the deeper things that God has revealed. These rules guide us and help us to be consistent with the word and we read they will help to:
1) explain seeming contradictions
2) find sense of the words
3) inserting of an explanatory word to assist in our understanding
We gain a deep knowledge of God by using these canons as tools to develop skills of interpretation.
“To declare that I need none but the Holy Spirit to teach me may sound very honoring to Him, but is it true? Like all human assertions that one requires to be tested, for nothing must be taken for granted where spiritual things are concerned.”
When helping to instruct new Christians this is often the idea many have, that since they are born again, it’s all done. The important work is complete, finished so don’t argue with me but argue with the word of God! “Study to shew thyself approved” seems to have to slipped their minds if they have even gone that far in their Bibles. I wonder if we can blame Post Modernism for this idea, that since they have “experienced” the goodness of God in the regeneration of their souls, nothing is left for them. It is assumed that everything will be given them including a perfect interpretation of the word of God. Perhaps I’m going too far but the false idea remains and I have personally encouraged this dozens of times in person and on the internet. I really like the point A. W. Pink makes against this misunderstanding, he points out that God has supplied Pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, the Holy Spirit uses these men and their instruction to aid the believer in understanding the scriptures. To believe all we need is the Holy Spirit is to possess a low view of the Body of Christ. This, of course, does not lessen our reliance upon God, but should humble us before Him. God found it pleasing to use man.
While listening to “Christian radio” recently one of the speakers said she was, “waiting for God to speak to her, just resting in His will…” God has give us His word and has spoken to us. We must interpret it and interpret correctly.
Although we gain an understanding of scripture through reason and understanding our understanding must be impressed or influenced by the Holy Spirit. I believe Thomas Manton is quoted as writing, “Our hearts are overcast with strong affections of the world, and so cannot clearly judge practical truth.” This quote is offered along with a few preliminary points that I believe offer the student of the word sound, spiritual direction:
1) a mind illumined by the Holy Spirit
The sinner must be brought to a place, by God, where we can understand divine revelation. Christ tells in Matthew, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” And, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:” Ephesians 4:17-18
J. K. Popham who was a minister of the word for over 50 years in the United Kingdom has delivered some of the most powerful, experiential sermons I have ever read. He tells us of the Holy Spirits work;
“One end, one covenant to open, one mercy to give, one life to impart, one justification to bring, one salvation to work, one heaven to give to those who deserve hell.”
The work of the Spirit is in building a united Body of Christ. This is the beginning and not the end as some believe.
2) an impartial spirit
It is a commonly held idea that we can approach a subject with a spirit of impartiality, that we can understand the world around us from a neutral standpoint, which is contrary to scripture. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Romans 8:7 Even after we have come to faith in Christ the old man remains. We seek to find what we want in scripture and ignore the often weightier or more difficult passages.
3) a humble mind
I will quote Pink on this point given that he is so crystal clear, “The knowledge of a proud man is the throne of Satan.” Charnock put it this way, “A proud faith is as much a contradiction as a humble devil.” How many times has the church proclaimed the Gospel, answered the objections using evidence and presuppositionalism only to have a far more “educated” person proclaim us “ignorant!” A servant shall not be greater then his master. Pink warns the Bible student to be humble before God by studying His word from a position of a beggar asking for the riches of God’s knowledge and not a rich man.
4) a praying heart
We approach the inspired work with a humble heart, a heart that realizes we do not deserve what we have in our hands, that being the thoughts of God. If we are to “think God’s thoughts after Him” we must place our vanities aside and seek Him and His will. Our minds must be open to the impressions of the Spirit and the way this is accomplished is with a prayerful heart. Pink refers to the “prayerless scholar” who uses the word of God as he would use a work made by the mind of man ultimately failing to understand the need for a divine assistance.
5) a holy design
Lastly, we must not seek the answers to our curiosities but to learn truth from the scriptures. Not too long ago God has gave me the opportunity to aid a fellow believer in setting his house in godly order, whose background is in the The Gospel Hall churches or Brethren Assemblies. After one evening of discussing scripture I was astounded at how little practical truth, day to day truth, his previous church had equipped him with. Instead of understanding his role as a father and leader of the home in all matters he was taught about the Rapture. Instead of learning from God’s word how to raise children for the Lord he was instructed about pre-flood giants that walked the earth who were the offspring of Angels and man! This is not following “a holy design” to seek truth but a feeding of the curiosities and vanities of the old man. More then a thought or form of entertainment the truth of scripture is truth to live by.
A Note to Ministers
Having laid a preliminary foundation in the first two chapters Pink now explains the need to be faithful to seek the pure word of God and to be faithful to what we find. The emphasis is on preaching with the warning too many have failed to heed:
“Every minister of the Gospel will yet have to render a full account of his stewardship unto the One whom he claims called him to feed His sheep (Heb. 13:17), to answer for the souls who were committed to his charge. If he fails to diligently warn the wicked, and he dies in his iniquity, God declares “his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezek. 3:18).”
Much of this chapter applies to anyone proclaiming the truth of the Gospel and should serve as a reminder to keep subservient to the word. The exposition of the word is hard work so Pink tells the reader to work hard at it. It must be expounded and applied not simply read from the pulpit, or in the case of the layman quoted and dismissed, it must be explained for as quickly as the minister delivers truth Satan takes great pains to obscure sound doctrine. The truth of the word is to be proclaimed in all its wonder and beauty, not for the adulation of the flesh or for the praise of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but for God’s glory alone.
A. W. Pink reminds the Bible student that his textbook for study is the Bible. Only after he has exhausted his abilities in exegesis of the sacred text does the student go beyond the covers of his Bible. It might sound simple but in our time, when many commentaries are free online, it is far more tempting to read a commentary instead of the word or to read the word with a commentary open beside it. It can be more tempting to quote an authority then take the time to dig deeper into scripture. The Bible and the Bible alone contains the direct revelation of our Triune God and therefore should be studied before any human work is consulted.
“The Bible is to be his sole text-book, and from its living waters he is to drink deeply and daily. Personally, we use nothing else than the English Authorized Version and Young’s concordance, with an occasional reference to the Greek Interlinear and the American Revised Version. Commentaries we consult only after we have made a first-hand and exhaustive study of a passage.”
Amen. This is solid advice to all those new Christians who are given or purchase “study” Bibles. The damage done by Scofield’s notes is incalculable. The struggle to understand a difficult passage is where the blessing is. The struggle to see how it relates to the greater context of scripture is where godly wisdom is found, but many today prefer the word to be opened for them, the work already done.
“The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.” Proverbs 13:4
“If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” 1 Corinthians 3:14
The Evangelical church has been lulled into a lazy stupor and distracted by the world. From Pink’s other writings it is clear he saw the beginnings of it in his day. The father no longer leads the home but feels the influence of an ungodly world and delegates his job to the wife. The mother no longer has time for the children believing she could better serve them by planning a getaway to have “me time.” The children are left to their own devises without much guidance. This is in the “Christian” home. I write without much guidancebecause, after all, they do have their televisions, internet and video games. The church has become lazy and distracted foregoing the difficult task of handling God’s word and have been left with only a shadow of truth. It is at this point Pink begins to outline the principles to guide the Bible student as they study.
The Principles of Interpretation
It total there are 30 principles varying in their importance listed in Arthur Pink’s work “Interpretation of the Scriptures.” It was truly a blessing to read this work and find confirmation to some of the principles I was using previously. It was also convicting because I had learned where I need improvement. Instead of trying to deal with all 30 principles I will try to interact with what I believe are some of the most important and useful rules to understanding scripture.
The Analogy of Faith
Some suggest the “analogy of faith” should be called the “analogy of scripture” and for the sake of clarity and I must agree. The church has seen the misuse of this rule as an ecclesiastical tool wielded like a club in the hands of the Roman Catholic magisterium. I believe this is one of the most important, but often misunderstood and inconsistently used, rules describes by A. W. Pink. (It can be found at the closing of chapter 4.) My own understanding of this principle hindered my ability to properly handle God’s word and continues to a lesser extent today and I wish the author would have spilled more ink on this subject with emphasis on its importance in sound interpretation. What he did give us is sound advice,
“The exposition made of any verse in Holy Writ must be in entire agreement with the Analogy of Faith, or that system of truth which God has made known unto His people. That, of course, calls for a comprehensive knowledge of the contents of the Bible—sure proof that no novice qualified to preach to or attempt to teach others.”
Again, Pink reminds us of our need to have a comprehensive understanding of our textbook, the Bible. This analogy or rule of faith is gleamed from the scriptures themselves:
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;” Romans 12:6
“And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” Galatians 6:16
This rule is explained in the London Baptist Confession of 1689 as follows:
1.9 The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly. ( 2 Peter 1:20, 21; Acts 15:15, 16)
To illustrate the importance of applying this principle with consistency I would like to point out a few verses from Acts 15,
“And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.”
If we use the analogy of the scriptures expressed in the Reformed confessions it is easy to see the apostle Luke referring to Amos 9,
“In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old”
The passage from Acts 15 is alluding to Amos 9 in reference to the assembled church. A common Dispensational interpretation of Amos 9 misses the meaning completely and regulates a complete fulfillment of these verses to a future Israel and millennial reign of Christ. Instead of using the analogy of the scriptures we see a system of belief forcing a literalistic understanding of Amos 9 and gives us with a clear case of dogma influencing the interpretation. The mind of God is then subjective to exegesis and not objective truth revealed.
Arthor Walkington Pink has given the church so much to think about in this tiny volume on interpretive principles. He worked in what must have seemed, at times, in utter obscurity but he remained faithful to the God that saved him, working for His glory, a worthy servant of the truth.
[details; Interpretation of the Scriptures, published by Baker 1996, ISBN: 0801070252]
“Though most loudly denounce salvation by works, when examined closely, all false religion is works religion. Augustus Toplady put it this way – “Every religion except one puts you upon doing something in order to recommend yourself to God…It is the business of all false religion to patch up a righteousness in which the sinner is to stand before God. But it is the business of the glorious gospel to bring near to us, by the hand of the Holy Spirit, a righteousness ready wrought, a robe of perfection ready made, wherein God’s people, to all the purposes of justification and happiness, stand perfect and without fault before the throne.”
This is what I am saying – False religion always makes room for the flesh to glory. The great contest between the religion of the world and the religion of Christ is just this – Who is entitled to the praise and glory of the sinner’s salvation? Is salvation by free-will or by free-grace? To answer that question I make no appeal to the preachers and theologians of the past, though I thank God for what he has taught me through the writings of those faithful men who served him in past generations. And I make no appeal to the preachers and theologians of the present, though I truly thank God for his faithful witnesses who minister to my soul. I turn, instead to the Book of God, our only rule of faith and practice (Psa. 115:1).
Who is entitled to the praise and glory of salvation? What does the Bible say? “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake!”
Is salvation by the free-will of man, or by the free-grace of God? What does the Bible say? “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy!” (Rom. 9:16).
What do I mean when I use that vile, ugly, reprehensible term – “free-will”? I mean anything decided, determined, or done by the sinner to attain God’s salvation.” – Don Fortner
I read this article once a year! Posted for your enjoyment.
Presuppositional Apologetics in conversation by Cornelius VanTil
We have first the non-Christian, who worships the creature rather than the Creator. We shall call him Mr. Black. Mr. Black may be a very “decent” sort of man. By God’s common grace he may do much that is “good.” Even so he is, as long as he remains in his unconverted state, black in the sight of God.
On the other hand we have a representative of those who have, by the grace of God, become worshipers of the Creator-Redeemer, called Mr. White. Mr. White is far from what, judging him by his name, we should expect him to be. But he is washed in the blood of the Lamb. In Christ he is whiter than snow. Mr. White is the Reformed Christian.
But, strangely enough, there is a third party, an Arminian, called Mr. Grey. Of course, in Christ Mr. Grey is as white as is Mr. White. Mr. Grey thinks that Mr. White is too severe in his evaluation of Mr. Black. Mr. Black is not all that black. It is not pedagogically wise to require of Mr. Black that he make a complete about-face. Surely no such complete revolution is necessary in the field of science and in the field of philosophy. Many of Mr. Black’s followers have valiantly defended the existence of God against materialism, atheism, and positivism. Even in theology many of these disciples of Mr. Black have sprung to the defense of God when he was attacked by the God-is-dead theologians. Mr. Grey, therefore typifies the Aquinas-Butler method of defending Christianity.
Let us now note the difference between the way Mr. White and the way Mr. Grey approach the unbeliever, Mr. Black, with the gospel of Christ.
Let us say that Mr. Black has a toothache. Both Mr. White and Mr. Grey are dentists. Mr. White believes in a radical methodology. He believes that Mr. Black should have all the decayed matter removed from his tooth before the filling is put in. Mr. Grey is a very kind-hearted man. He does not want to hurt Mr. Black. Accordingly, he does not want to drill too deeply. He will, therefore, take only a part of the decayed matter out of the tooth and then fill it.
Naturally Mr. Black thinks this is marvelous. Unfortunately, Mr. Black’s tooth soon begins to decay again. He goes back to Mr. Grey. But Mr. Grey can never bring himself to do anything radical. As a consequence he is never able to resolve Mr. Black’s toothache problem.
Let us now suppose that instead of coming to Mr. Grey, Mr. Black had gone to the office of Mr. White. Mr. White is radical, very radical. He uses the X-ray machine to diagnose Mr. Black’s condition. He drills deeply. All of the tooth decay is removed. The tooth is filled. Mr. Black never need return. This simple illustration points out a basic truth.
The Bible says that man is spiritually dead in sin. The Reformed creeds speak of man’s total depravity. The only cure for this spiritual deadness is his regeneration by the Holy Spirit on the basis of the atoning death of Christ. It is therefore by means of the light that Scripture sheds on the natural man’s condition that Mr. White examines all his patients. Mr. White may also, to be sure, turn on the light of experience, but he always insists that this light of experience derives, in the first place, from the light of Scripture. So he may appeal to reason or to history, but, again, only as they are to be seen in the light of the Bible. He does not even look for corroboration of the teachings of Scripture in experience, reason, or history, except insofar as these are themselves first seen in the light of the Bible. For him, the Bible, and therefore the God of the Bible, is like the sun from which the light that is given by oil lamps, gas lamps, and electric lights is derived.
Quite different is the attitude of the Arminian. Mr. Grey uses the Bible, experience, reason, or logic as equally independent sources of information about his own and therefore about Mr. Black’s predicament. I did not say that for Mr. Grey the Bible, experience, and reason are equally important. Indeed they are not. He knows that the Bible is by far the most important. But he none the less constantly appeals to “the facts of experience” and to “logic” without first dealing with the very idea of fact and with the idea of logic in terms of the Scripture.
The difference is basic. When Mr. White diagnoses Mr. Black’s case he takes as his X-ray machine, the Bible only. When Mr. Grey diagnoses Mr. Black’s case he first takes the X-ray machine of experience, then the X-ray machine of logic, and finally his biggest X-ray machine, the Bible. In fact, he may take these in any order. Each of them is, for him, an independent source of information.
Let us first look briefly at a typical procedure generally followed in evangelical circles today. Let us, in other words, note how Mr. Grey proceeds with an analysis of Mr. Black, and at the same time see how Mr. Grey would win Mr. Black to an acceptance of Christianity. We take for this purpose a series of articles which appeared in the January, February, and March, 1950, issues of Moody Monthly, published by the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. The late Edward John Carnell, author of An Introduction to Christian Apologetics and Professor of Apologetics at Fuller Theological Seminary, was the writer of this series. Carnell’s writings were among the best that appeared in evangelical circles. In fact, in his book on apologetics Carnell frequently argues as we would expect a Reformed apologist to argue. By and large, however, he represents the Arminian rather than the Reformed method in apologetics.
When Carnell instructs his readers “How Every Christian Can Defend His Faith,” he first appeals to facts and to logic as independent sources of information about the truth of Christianity. Of course, he must bring in the Bible even at this point. But the Bible is brought in only as a book of information about the fact of what has historically been called Christianity. It is not from the beginning brought in as God’s Word. It must be shown to Mr. Black that it is the Word of God by means of “facts” and “logic.” Carnell would thus avoid at all costs the charge of reasoning in a circle. He does not want Mr. Black to point the finger at him and say: “You prove that the Bible is true by an appeal to the Bible itself. That is circular reasoning. How can any person with any respect for logic accept such a method of proof?”
Carnell would escape such a charge by showing that the facts of experience, such as all men recognize, and logic, such as all men must use, point to the truth of Scripture. This is what he says: “If you are of a philosophic turn, you can point to the remarkable way in which Christianity fits in with the moral sense inherent in every human being, or the influence of Christ on our ethics, customs, literature, art, and music. Finally, you can draw upon your own experience in speaking of the reality of answered prayer and the witness of the Spirit in your own heart. . . . If the person is impressed with this evidence, turn at once to the gospel. Read crucial passages and permit the Spirit to work on the inner recesses of his heart. Remember that apologetics is merely a preparation. After the ground has been broken, proceed immediately with sowing and watering.”1
It is assumed in this argument that Mr. Black agrees with the evangelical, Mr. Grey, on the character of the “moral sense” of man. This may he true, but then it is true because Mr. Grey has himself not taken his information about the “moral sense” of man exclusively from Scripture. If, with Mr. White, Mr. Grey had taken his conception of the moral nature of man from the Bible, then he would hold that Mr. Black will, as totally depraved, misinterpret his own moral nature. True, Christianity is in accord with the moral nature of man. But this is so only because the moral nature of man is first in accord with what the Bible says it is, i.e., originally created perfect, it is now wholly corrupted in its desires through the fall of man. If you are reasoning with a naturalist, Carnell advises his readers, ask him why, when a child throws a rock through his window, he chases the child and not the rock. Presumably even a naturalist knows that the child, not the rock, is free and therefore responsible. “A bottle of water cannot ought; it must. When once the free spirit of man is proved, the moral argument — the existence of a God who imposes moral obligations — can form the bridge from man to God.”2
Here the fundamental difference between Mr. Grey’s and Mr. White’s approaches to Mr. Black appears. The difference lies, as before noted, in the different notions of the free will of man. Or, it may be said, the difference is with respect to the nature of man as man. Mr. White would define man, and therefore his freedom, in terms of Scripture alone. He would therefore begin with the fact that man is the creature of God. This implies that man’s freedom is a derivative freedom. It is a freedom that is not and cannot be wholly ultimate, that is, self-dependent. Mr. White knows that Mr. Black would not agree with him in this analysis of man and of his freedom. He knows that Mr. Black would not agree with him on this any more than he would agree on the biblical idea of total depravity.
Mr. Grey, on the other hand, must at all costs have “a point of contact” in the system of thought of Mr. Black, who is typical of the natural man. Just as Mr. Grey is afraid of being charged with circular reasoning, so he is also afraid of being charged with talking about something that is “outside of experience.” So he is driven to talk in general about the “free spirit of man.” Of course, Mr. Black need have no objections from his point of view in allowing for the “free spirit of man.” That is at bottom what he holds even when he is a naturalist. His whole position is based upon the idea of man as a free spirit, that is, a spirit that is not subject to the law of his Creator God. Carnell does not distinguish between the biblical doctrine of freedom as based upon and involved in the fact of man’s creation, and the doctrine of freedom, in the sense of autonomy, which makes man a law unto himself.
Of course, Mr. Black will be greatly impressed with such an argument as Mr. Grey has presented to him for the truth of Christianity. In fact, if Christianity is thus shown to be in accord with the moral nature of man, as Mm. Black himself sees that moral nature, then Mr. Black does not need to be radically converted to accept Christianity. He only needs to accept something additional to what he has always believed. He has been shown how nice, even how important, it would be to have a second story built on top of the house which he has already built according to his own plans.
To be sure, the evangelical intends no such thing. Least of all does Carnell intend such a thing. But why then does the “evangelical” not see that by presenting the non-Christian with Arminianism rather than with the Reformed faith he compromises the Christian religion? Why does Carnell not see that in doing what he does, the non-Christian is not really challenged either by fact or by logic? For facts and logic which are not themselves first seen in the light of Christianity have, in the nature of the case, no power in them to challenge the unbeliever to change his position. Facts and logic, not based upon the creation doctrine and not placed in the context of the doctrine of God’s all-embracing Providence, which culminates in the redemption through Christ, are without significant relation to one another and therefore wholly meaningless.
It is this truth which must be shown to Mr. Black. The folly of holding to any view of life except that which is frankly based upon the Bible as the absolute authority for man must be pointed out to him. Only then are we doing what Paul did when he said: “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (I Cor. 1:20).
As a Reformed Christian, Mr. White therefore cannot cooperate with Mr. Grey in his analysis of Mr. Black. This fact may appear more clearly if we turn to see how Mr. Black appears when he is analyzed by Mr. White in terms of the Bible alone.
According to Mm. White’s analysis, Mr. Black is not a murderer. He is not a drunkard or a dope addict. He lives in one of the suburbs. He is every whit a gentleman. He gives to the Red Cross and to the United Fund campaigns. He was a Boy Scout; he is a member of a lodge; he is very civic minded; now and then his name is mentioned in the papers as an asset to the community. But he is spiritually dead. He is filled with the spirit of error. Perhaps he is a member of a “fine church” in the community, but nevertheless he is one of those “people that do err in their heart” (Ps. 95:10). He lives in a stupor (Rom. 11:8). To him the wisdom of God is foolishness. The truth about God, and about himself in relation to God, is obnoxious to him. He does not want to hear of it. He seeks to close his eyes and ears to those who give witness to the truth. He is, in short, utterly self-deceived.
On the other hand, Mr. Black is certain that he looks at life in the only proper way. Even if he has doubts as to the truth of what he believes, he does not see how any sensible or rational man could believe or do otherwise. If he has doubts, it is because no one can be fully sure of himself. If he has fears, it is because fear is to be expected in the hazardous and ambiguous situation in which modern man lives. If he sees men’s minds break down, he thinks this is to be expected under current conditions of stress and strain. If he sees grown men act like children, he says that they once were beasts. Everything, including the “abnormal,” is to him “normal.”
In all this, Mr. Black has obviously taken for granted that what the Bible says about the world and himself is not true. He has taken this for granted. He may never have argued the point. He has cemented yellow spectacles to his own eyes. He cannot remove them because he will not remove them. He is blind and loves to be blind.
But do not think that Mr. Black has an easy time of it. He is the man who always “kicks against the pricks.” His conscience troubles him all the time. Deep down in his heart he knows that what the Bible says about him and about the world is true. Even if he has never heard of the Bible, he knows that he is a creature of God and that he has broken the law of God (Rom. 1:19, 20; 2:14, 15). When the prodigal son left his father’s house he could not immediately efface from his memory the look and voice of his father. That look and that voice came back to him even when he was at the swine trough! How hard he had tried to live as though the money with which he so freely entertained his “friends” had not come from his father! When asked where he came from he would answer that he came “from the other side.” He did not want to be reminded of his past. Yet he could not forget it. It required a constant act of suppression to forget his past. But that very act of suppression itself keeps alive the memory of the past.
Mr. Black daily changes the truth of God into a lie. He daily holds the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). But what a time he has with himself! He may try to sear his conscience as with a hot iron. He may seek to escape the influence of all those who witness to the truth. But he can never escape himself as witness bearer to the truth.
His conscience keeps telling him: “Mr. Black, you are a fugitive from justice. You have run away from home, from your father’s bountiful love. You are an ingrate, a sneak, a rascal! You shall not escape meeting justice at last. The father still feeds you. Yet you despise the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not recognizing that the goodness of God is calculated to lead you to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Why do you kick against the pricks? Why do you stifle the voice of your conscience? Why do you use the wonderful intellect that God has given you as a tool for the suppression of the voice of God which speaks to you through yourself and your environment? Why do you build your house on sand instead of on rock? Can you be sure that no storm is ever coming? Are you omniscient? Are you omnipotent? You say that nobody knows whether God exists or whether Christianity is true. You say that nobody knows this because man is finite. Yet you assume that God cannot exist and that Christianity cannot be true. You assume that no judgment will ever come. You must be omniscient to know that. Yet you have just said that all man declares about ‘the beyond’ must be based upon his brief span of existence in this world of time and chance. How, then, if you have taken for granted that chance is one of the basic ingredients of all human experience, can you at the same time say what can or cannot be in all time to come? You certainly have made a fool of yourself, Mr. Black,” says Mr. Black to himself. “You reject the claims of truth which you know to be the truth, and you do that in terms of the lie which really you know to be the lie. It is you, not Mr. White, who engages in circular reasoning. It is you, not Mr. White, who refuses to face the facts as they are. It is you, not Mr. White, who crucifies logic.”
It is not always that Mr. Black is thus aware of the fact that he lives like the prodigal who would have eaten of the things the swine did eat, but who knew he could not because he was a human being. Mr. Black is not always thus aware of his folly. This is, in part at least, because of the failure of evangelicals and particularly of Reformed Christians to stir him up to a realization of this basic depth of his folly. The Reformed Christian should, on his basis, want to stir up Mr. Black to an appreciation of the folly of his ways.
However, when the Reformed Christian, Mr. White, is to any extent aware of the richness of his own position and actually has the courage to challenge Mr. Black by presenting to him the picture of himself as taken through the X-ray machine called the Bible, he faces the charge of “circular reasoning” and of finding no “point of contact” with experience. He will also be subject to the criticism of the Arminian for speaking as if Christianity were irrational and for failing to reach the man in the street.
Thus we seem to be in a bad predicament. There is a basic difference of policy between Mr. White and Mr. Grey as to how to deal with Mm. Black. Mr. Grey thinks that Mr. Black is not really such a bad fellow. It is possible, he thinks, to live with Mr. Black in the same world. Mr. Black is pretty strong. It is best to make a compromise peace with him. That seems to be the way of the wise and practical politician. On the other hand, Mm. White thinks that it is impossible to live permanently in the same world with Mr. Black. Mr. Black, he says, must therefore be placed before the requirement of absolute and unconditional surrender to Christ. Surely it would be out of the question for Mr. White first to make a compromise peace with Mr. Black and then, after all, to require unconditional surrender to Christ! But what, then, about the charge of circular reasoning and about the charge of having no point of contact with the unbeliever?
A. A Consistent Witness
The one main question to which we are to address ourselves now is whether Christians holding to the Reformed Faith must also hold to a specifically Reformed method of reasoning when they are engaged in the defense of the faith.
This broad question does not pertain merely to the “five points of Calvinism.” When Arminians attack these great doctrines (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints) we, as Calvinists, are quick to defend them. We believe that these five points are directly drawn from Scripture. But the question now under discussion is whether, in the defense of any Christian doctrine, Reformed Christians should use a method all their own.
People easily give a negative reply to this question. Do we not have many doctrines in common with all evangelicals? Do not all orthodox Protestants hold to the substitutionary atonement of Christ? More particularly, what about the simple statements of fact recorded in Scripture? How could anyone, if he believes such statements at all, take them otherwise than as simple statements of fact? How could anyone have a specifically Reformed doctrine of such a fact as the resurrection of Christ? If together with evangelicals we accept certain simple truths and facts of Scripture at face value, how then can we be said to have a separate method of defense of such doctrines?
Yet it can readily be shown that a negative answer to these questions cannot be maintained. Take, for example, the doctrine of the atonement. The Arminian doctrine of the atonement is not the same as the Reformed doctrine of the atonement. Both the Arminian and the Calvinist assert that they believe in the substitutionary atonement. But the Arminian conception of the substitutionary atonement is colored, and as Calvinists we believe discolored, by the view of “free will.” According to the Arminian view, man has absolute or ultimate power to accept or to reject the salvation offered him. This implies that the salvation offered to man is merely the possibility of salvation.
To illustrate: suppose I deposit one million dollars to your account in your bank. It is still altogether up to you to believe that such wealth is yours, and to use it to cover the floor of your house with Persian rugs in place of the old threadbare rugs now there. Thus, in the Arminian scheme, the very possibility of things no longer depends exclusively upon God, but, in some areas at least, upon man. What Christ did for us is made to depend for its effectiveness upon what is done by us. It is no longer right to say that with God all things are possible.
It is obvious, therefore, that Arminians have taken into their Protestantism a good bit of the leaven of Roman Catholicism. Arminianism is less radical, less consistent in its Protestantism than it should be.
Now Mm. Grey, the evangelical, seems to have a relatively easy time of it when he seeks to win Mr. Black, the unbeliever, to an acceptance of “the substitutionary atonement.” He can stand on “common ground” with Mr. Black on this matter of what is possible and what is impossible. Listen to Mr. Grey as he talks with Mr. Black.
“Mr. Black, have you accepted Christ as your personal Savior? Do you believe that he died on the cross as your substitute? If you do not, you will surely be lost forever.”
“Well now,” replies Mm. Black, “I’ve just had a visit from Mr. White on the same subject. You two seem to have a ‘common witness’ on this matter. Both of you believe that God exists, that he has created the world, that the first man, Adam, sinned, and that we are all to be sent to hell because of what that first man did, and so forth. All this is too fatalistic for me. If I am a creature, as you say I am, then I have no ultimate power of my own and therefore am not free. And if I am not free, then I am not responsible. So, if I am going to hell, it will be simply because your ‘God’ has determined that I should. You orthodox Christians kill morality and all humanitarian progress. I will have none of it. Good-by!”
“But wait a second,” says Mr. Grey, in great haste. “I do not have a common witness at this point with the Calvinist. I have a common witness with you against the Calvinist when it comes to all that determinism that you mention. Of course you are free. You are absolutely free to accept or to reject the atonement that is offered to you. I offer the atonement through Christ only as a possibility. You yourself must make it an actuality for yourself. I agree with you over against the Calvinist in saying that ‘possibility’ is wider than the will of God. I would not for a moment say with the Calvinist that God’s counsel determines ‘whatsoever comes to pass.’
“Besides, even less extreme Calvinists like Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., virtually agree with both of us. Listen to what Buswell says: ‘Nevertheless, our moral choices are choices in which we are ourselves ultimate causes.’ Dr. Buswell himself wants to go beyond the ‘merely arbitrary answer’ in Romans 9:20, 21, which speaks of the potter and the clay, to the ‘much more profound analysis of God’s plan of redemption’ in Romans 9:22-24, in which Paul pictures Pharaoh as ‘. . . one who, according to the foreknowledge of God, would rebel against God.’”3
“I understand then,” replies Mr. Black, “that you Arminians and more moderate Calvinists are opposed to the determinism of the regular, old-style Calvinists of the historic Reformed Confessions? I am glad to hear that. To say that all things have been fixed from all eternity by God is terrible! It makes me shudder! What would happen to all morality and decency if all men believed such teaching? But now you Arminians have joined us in holding that ‘possibility’ is independent of the will of God. You have thus with all good people and with all liberal and neo-orthodox theologians, like Barth, made possible the salvation of all men.
“That means, of course, that salvation is also possible for those too who have never heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Salvation is therefore possible without an acceptance of your substitutionary atonement through this Jesus of whom you speak. You certainly would not want to say with the Calvinists that God has determined the bounds of all nations and individuals and has thus, after all, determined that some men, millions of them, in fact, should never hear this gospel.
“Besides, if possibility is independent of God, as you evangelicals and moderate Calvinists teach, then I need not be afraid of hell. It is then quite possible that there is no hell. Hell, you will then agree, is that torture of a man’s conscience which he experiences when be fails to live up to his own moral ideals. So I do not think that I shall bother just yet about accepting Christ as my personal Savior. There is plenty of time.”
Poor Mr. Grey. He really wanted to say something about having a common testimony with the Calvinists after all. At the bottom of his heart he knew that Mr. White, the Calvinist, and not Mr. Black, the unbeliever, was his real friend. But he had made a common witness with Mr. Black against the supposed determinism of Mr. White, the Calvinist, so it was difficult for him, after that, to turn about face and also make a common testimony with Mr. White against Mr. Black. He had nothing intelligible to say. His method of defending his faith had forced him to admit that Mr. Black was basically right. He had not given Mr. Black an opportunity of knowing what he was supposed to accept, but his testimony had confirmed Mr. Black in his belief that there was no need of his accepting Christ at all.
It is true, of course, that in practice Mr. Grey is much better in his theology and in his method of representing the gospel than he is here said to be. But that is because in practice every evangelical who really loves his Lord is a Calvinist at heart. How could he really pray to God for help if he believed that there was a possibility that God could not help? In their hearts all true Christians believe that that God controls “whatsoever comes to pass.” But the Calvinist cannot have a common witness for the substitutionary atonement with Arminians who first make a common witness with the unbeliever against him on the all-important question whether God controls all things that happen.
It must always be remembered that the first requirement for effective witnessing is that the position defended be intelligible. Arminianism, when consistently carried out, destroys this intelligibility.
The second requirement for effective witnessing is that he to whom the witness is given must be shown why he should forsake his own position and accept that which is offered him. Arminianism, when consistently carried out, destroys the reason why the unbeliever should accept the gospel. Why should the unbeliever change his position if he is not shown that it is wrong? Why should he exchange his position for that of Christianity if the one who asks him to change is actually encouraging him in thinking that he is right? The Calvinist will need to have a better method of defending the doctrine of the atonement therefore than that of the Arminian.
We have dealt with the doctrine of the atonement. That led us into the involved question whether God is the source of possibility, or whether possibility is the source of God. It has been shown that the Arminian holds to a position which requires him to make both of these contradictory assertions at once. But how about the realm of fact? Do you also hold, I am asked, that we need to seek for a specifically Reformed method of defending the “facts” of Christianity? Take the resurrection of Christ as an example — why can there be no common witness on the part of the Arminian and the Calvinist to such a fact as that?
Once more Mr. Grey, the Arminian, pushes the doorbell at Mr. Black’s home. Mr. Black answers and admits him.
“I am here again, Mr. Black,” begins Grey, “because I am still anxious to have you accept Christ as your personal Savior. When I spoke to you the other time about the atonement you got me into deep water. We got all tangled up on the question of ‘possibility.’
“But now I have something far simpler. I want to deal with simple facts. I want to show you that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is as truly a fact as any fact that you can mention. To use the words of Dr. Wilbur Smith, himself a ‘moderate’ Calvinist but opposed to the idea of a distinctively Reformed method for the defense of the faith: ‘The meaning of the resurrection is a theological matter, but the fact of the resurrection is a historical matter; the nature of the resurrection body of Jesus may be a mystery, but the fact that the body disappeared from the tomb is a matter to be decided upon by historical evidence.’4 The historical evidence for the resurrection is the kind of evidence that you as a scientist would desire.
“Smith writes in the same book: ‘About a year ago, after studying over a long period of time this entire problem of our Lord’s resurrection, and having written some hundreds of pages upon it at different times, I was suddenly arrested by the thought that the very kind of evidence which modern science, and even psychologists, are so insistent upon for determining the reality of any object under consideration is the kind of evidence that we have presented to us in the gospels regarding the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, namely, the things that are seen with the human eye, touched with the human hand, and heard by the human ear. This is what we call empirical evidence. It would almost seem as if parts of the gospel records of the resurrection were actually written for such a day as ours when empiricism so dominates our thinking.’5
“Now I think that Smith is quite right in thus distinguishing sharply between the fact and the meaning of the resurrection. I am now only asking you to accept the fact of the resurrection. There is the clearest possible empirical evidence for this fact. The living Jesus was touched with human hands and seen with human eyes of sensible men after he had been crucified and put into the tomb. Surely you ought to believe in the resurrection of Christ as a historical fact. And to believe in the resurrected Christ is to be saved.”
“But hold on a second,” says Mr. Black. “Your friend the Calvinist, Mr. White, has been ahead of you again. He was here last night and spoke of the same thing that you are now speaking about. However, he did not thus distinguish between the fact and the meaning of the resurrection. At least, he did not for a moment want to separate the fact of the resurrection from the system of Christianity in terms of which it gets its meaning. He spoke of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as rising from the dead. He spoke of the Son of God through whom the world was made and through whom the world is sustained, as having risen from the dead. When I asked him how this God could die and rise again from the dead, he said that God did not die and rise from the dead but that the second person of the Trinity had taken to himself a human nature, and that it was in this human nature that he died and rose again. In short, in accepting the fact of the resurrection he wanted me also to accept all this abracadabra about the trinitarian God. I have a suspicion that you are secretly trying to have me do something similar.”
“No, no,” replies Mr. Grey. “I am in complete agreement with you here against the Calvinist. I have a common witness with you against him. I, too, would separate fact from system. Did I not agree with you against the Calvinist, in holding that possibility is independent of God? Well then, by the same token I hold that all kinds of facts happen apart from the plan of God. We Arminians are in a position, as the Calvinists are not, of speaking with you on neutral ground. With you, we would simply talk about the “facts” of Christianity without immediately bringing into the picture anything about the meaning or the significance of those facts.
“It makes me smile,” continues Mr. Grey, “when I think of Mr. White coming over here trying to convert you. That poor fellow is always reasoning in circles! I suppose that such reasoning in circles goes with his determinism. He is always talking about his self-contained God. He says that all facts are what they are because of the plan of God. Then each fact would of necessity, to be a fact at all, prove the truth of the Christian system of things and, in turn, would be proved as existing by virtue of this self-same Christian system of things. I realize full well that you, as a modern scientist and philosopher, can have no truck with such horrible, circular reasoning as that.
“It is for this reason that, as Arminian evangelicals, we have now separated sharply between the resurrection as a historical fact and the meaning of the resurrection. I’m merely asking you to accept the fact of the resurrection. I am not asking you to do anything that you cannot do in full consistency with your freedom and with the ‘scientific method.’”
“Well, this is delightful,” replies Mr. Black. “I always felt that the Calvinists were our real foes. But I read something in the paper the other day to the effect that some Calvinist churches or individuals were proposing to make a common witness with Arminian evangelicals for the gospel. Now I was under the impression that the gospel had something to do with being saved from hell and going to heaven. I knew that the modernists and the ‘new modernists,’ like Barth, do not believe in tying up the facts of history with such wild speculations. It was my opinion that ‘fundamentalists’ did tie up belief in historical facts, such as the death and resurrection of Jesus, with going to heaven or to hell. So I am delighted that you, though a fundamentalist, are willing to join with the liberal and the neo-liberal in separating historical facts from such a rationalistic system as I thought Christianity was.
“Now as for accepting the resurrection of Jesus,” continued Mr. Black, “as thus properly separated from the traditional system of theology, I do not in the least mind doing that. To tell you the truth, I have accepted the resurrection as a fact now for some time. The evidence for it is overwhelming. This is a strange universe. All kinds of ‘miracles’ happen in it. The universe is ‘open.’ So why should there not be some resurrections here and there? The resurrection of Jesus would be a fine item for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Why not send it in?”
Mr. Grey wanted to continue at this point. He wanted to speak of the common witness that he had, after all, with the Calvinist for the gospel. But it was too late. He had no “common” witness left of any sort. He had again tried to gallop off in opposite directions at the same time. He had again taken away all credibility from the witness that he meant to bring. He had again established Mr. Black in thinking that his own unbelieving reason was right. For it was as clear as crystal to Mr. Black, as it should have been to Mr. Grey, that belief in the fact of the resurrection, apart from the system of Christianity, amounts to belief that the Christian system is not true, to believe in the universe as run by Chance, and to believe that it was not Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who rose from the dead.
To be sure, in practice the Arminian is much better in his witness for the resurrection of Christ than he has been presented here. But that is, as noted already, because every evangelical, as a sincere Christian, is at heart a Calvinist. But witnessing is a matter of the head as well as of the heart. If the world is to hear a consistent testimony for the Christian faith, it is the Calvinist who must give it. If there is not a distinctively Reformed method for the defense of every article of the Christian faith, then there is no way of clearly telling an unbeliever just how Christianity differs from his own position and why he should accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. We are happy and thankful, of course, for the work of witnessing done by Arminians. We are happy because of the fact that, in spite of their inconsistency in presenting the Christian testimony, something, often much, of the truth of the gospel shines through unto men, and they are saved.
B. The Authority of Scripture
“But how can anyone know anything about the ‘beyond’?” asks Mr. Black.
“Well, of course,” replies Mr. Grey, “if you want absolute certainty, such as one gets in geometry, Christianity does not offer it. We offer you only ‘rational probability.’ ‘Christianity,’ as I said in effect a moment ago when I spoke of the death of Christ, ‘is founded on historical facts, which, by their very nature, cannot be demonstrated with geometric certainty. All judgments of historical particulars are at the mercy of the complexity of the time-space universe. . . . If the scientist cannot rise above rational probability in his empirical investigation, why should the Christian claim more?’ And what is true of the death of Christ,” adds Mr. Grey, “is, of course, also true of his resurrection. But this only shows that ‘the Christian is in possession of a worldview which is making a sincere effort to come to grips with actual history.’”6
By speaking thus, Mr. Grey again seeks for a neutral point of contact with Mr. Black. For Mr. Black, history is something that floats on an infinitely extended and bottomless ocean of Chance. Therefore he can say that anything may happen. Who knows but the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Son of God might issue from this womb of Chance? Such events would have an equal chance of happening with “snarks, boojums, splinth, and gobble-de-gook.” God himself may live in this realm of Chance. He is then “wholly other” than ourselves, and his revelation in history would then be wholly unique.
The Arminian does not challenge this underlying philosophy of Chance as it controls the unbeliever’s conception of history. He is so anxious to have the unbeliever accept the possibility of God’s existence and the fact of the resurrection of Christ that, if necessary, he will exchange his own philosophy of the facts for that of the unbeliever. Anxious to be genuinely “empirical” like the unbeliever, he will throw all the facts of Christianity into the bottomless pit of Chance. Or, rather, he will throw all these facts at the unbeliever, and the unbeliever throws them over his back into the bottomless pit of Chance.
Of course, this is the last thing that such men as Wilbur Smith, Edward J. Camel!, and J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., want to do. But in failing to challenge the philosophy of Chance that underlies the unbeliever’s notion of “fact,” they are, in effect, doing it.
This approach of Mr. Grey’s is unavoidable if one hold to an Arminian theology. The Arminian view of man’s free will implies that “possibility” is above God. But a “possibility” that is above God is the same thing as Chance. A God surrounded by Chance cannot speak with authority. He would be speaking into a vacuum. His voice could not be heard. If God were surrounded by Chance, then human beings would be too. They would live in a vacuum, unable to hear either their own voices or those of others. Thus the whole of history, including all of its facts, would be without meaning.
It is this that the Reformed Christian, Mr. White, would tell Mr. Black. In the very act of presenting the resurrection of Christ or in the very act of presenting any other fact of historic Christianity, Mr. White would be presenting it as authoritatively interpreted in the Bible. He would argue that unless Mr. Black is willing to set the facts of history in the framework of the meaning authoritatively ascribed to them in the Bible, he will make “gobble-de-gook” of history.
If history were what Mr. Black assumes that it is, then anything might happen, and then nobody would know what may happen. No one thing would then be more likely to happen than any other thing. David Hume, the great skeptic, has effectively argued that, if you allow any room for Chance in your thought, then you no longer have the right to speak of probabilities. Whirl would then be king. No hypothesis would then have any more relevance to facts than any other hypothesis. Did God raise Christ from the dead? Perchance he did. Did Jupiter do it? Perchance he did. What is Truth? Nobody knows. Such would be the picture of the universe if Mr. Black were right.
No comfort can be taken from the assurance of the Arminian that, since Christianity makes no higher claim than that of rational probability, “the system of Christianity can be refuted only by probability. Perhaps our loss is gain.” How could one ever argue that there is a greater probability for the truth of Christianity than for the truth of its opposite, if the very meaning of the word “probability” rests upon the idea of Chance? On this basis, nature and history would be no more than a series of pointer readings pointing into the blank.
In assuming his philosophy of Chance and thus virtually saying that nobody knows what is back of the common objects of daily observation, Mr. Black also virtually says that the Christian view of things is wrong.
If I assert that there is a black cat in the closet, and you assert that nobody knows what is in the closet, you have virtually told me that I am wrong in my hypothesis. So when I tell Mr. Black that God exists, and he responds very graciously by saying that perhaps I am right since nobody knows what is in the “Beyond,” he is virtually saying that I am wrong in my hypothesis. He is obviously thinking of such a god as could comfortably live in a closet. But the God of Scripture cannot live in a closet.
When confronted with the claims of God and his Christ, Mr. Black’s response is essentially this: Nobody knows — nevertheless your hypothesis is certainly wrong and mine is certainly right! Nobody knows whether God exists, but God certainly does not exist and Chance certainly does exist.
When Mr. Black thus virtually makes his universal negative assertion, saying in effect that God cannot possibly exist and that Christianity cannot possibly be true, he must surely be standing on something very solid. Is it on solid rock that he stands? No, he stands on water! He stands on his own “experience.” But this experience, by his own assumption, rests again on Chance. Thus standing on Chance, he swings the “logician’s postulate” and modestly asserts what cannot be in the “Beyond,” of which he said before that nothing can be said.
Of course, what Mr. Black is doing appears very reasonable to himself. “Surely,” he says, if questioned at all on the subject, “a rational man must have systematic coherence in his experience. Therefore he cannot accept as true anything that is not in accord with the law of non-contradiction. So long as you leave your God in the realm of the ‘Beyond,’ in the realm of the indeterminate, you may worship him by yourself alone. But as soon as you claim that your God has revealed himself in creation, in providence, or in your Scripture, at once I shall put that revelation to a test by the principle of rational coherence.
“And by that test none of your doctrines are acceptable. All of them are contradictory. No rational man can accept any of them. If your God is eternal, then he falls outside of my experience and lives in the realm of the ‘Beyond,’ of the unknowable. But if he is to have anything to do with the world, then he must himself be wholly within the world. I must understand your God throughout if I am to speak intelligently of any relationship that he sustains to my world and to myself. Your idea that God is both eternal and unchangeable and yet sustains such relationships to the world as are involved in your doctrine of creation and providence, is flatly contradictory.
“For me to accept your God,” continues Mr. Black, “you must do to him what Karl Barth has done to him, namely, strip him of all the attributes that orthodox theology has assigned to him, and thus enable him to turn into the opposite of himself. With that sort of God I have a principle of unity that brings all my experience into harmony. And that God is wholly within the universe. If you offer me such a God and offer him as the simplest hypothesis with which I may seek to order my experience as it comes to me from the womb of Chance, then the law of non-contradiction will be satisfied. As a rational man I can settle for nothing less.”
All this amounts to saying that Mr. Black, the lover of a Chance philosophy, the indeterminist, is at the same time an out-and-out determinist or fatalist. It is to say that Mr. Black, the irrationalist, who says that nobody knows what is in the “Beyond,” is at the same time a flaming rationalist. For him only that can be, which he thinks he can exhaustively determine by logic must be. He may at first grant that anything may exist, but when he says this, he at the same time says, in effect, that nothing can exist and have meaning for man but that which man himself can exhaustively know. Therefore, for Mr. Black, the God of Christianity cannot exist. For him the doctrine of creation cannot be true. There can be no revelation of God to man through nature and history. There can be no such thing as the resurrection of Christ.
Strangely enough, when Mr. Black thus says, in effect, that God cannot exist and that the resurrection of Christ cannot be a fact, and when he also says that God may very well exist and that the resurrection of Christ may very well be a fact, he is not inconsistent with himself. For he must, to be true to his method, contradict himself in every statement that he makes about any fact whatsoever. If he does not, then he would deny either his philosophy of Chance or his philosophy of Fate. According to him, every fact that he meets has in it the two ingredients: that of Chance and that of Fate, that of the wholly unknown and that of the wholly known. Thus man turns the tools of thought, which the Creator has given him in order therewith to think God’s thoughts after him on a created level, into the means by which he makes sure that God cannot exist, and therefore certainly cannot reveal himself.
When Mr. White meets Mr. Black he will make this issue plain. He will tell Mr. Black that his methodology cannot make any fact or any group of facts intelligible to himself. Hear him as he speaks to the unbeliever:
On your basis, Mr. Black, no fact can be identified by distinguishing it from any other fact. For all facts would be changing into their opposites all the time. All would be ‘gobble-de-gook.’ At the same time, nothing could change at all. Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? He clearly has. I know you cannot see this even though it is perfectly clear. I know that you have taken out your own eyes. Hence your inability to see is at the same time unwillingness to see. Pray God for forgiveness and repent.
But what will be the approach of the Arminian, Mr. Grey, on this question of logic? He will do the same sort of thing that we saw him do with respect to the question of facts. Mr. Gray will again try to please Mr. Black by saying that, of course, he will justify his appeal to the authority of the Bible by showing that the very idea of such an appeal, as well as the content of the Bible, are fully in accord with the demands of logic. Listen to him as he speaks to the unbeliever.
“You are quite right in holding that nothing meaningful can be said without presupposing the validity of the law of non-contradiction,” says Mr. Gray.7 “‘The conservative ardently defends a system of authority.”8 But ‘without reason to canvass the evidence of a given authority, how can one segregate a right authority from a wrong one? . . . Without systematic consistency to aid us, it appears that all we can do is to draw straws, count noses, flip coins to choose an authority. Once we do apply the law of contradiction, we are no longer appealing to ipse dixit authority, but to coherent truth.’9 ‘The Scriptures tell us to test the spirits (I John 4: 1). This can be done only by applying the canons of truth. God cannot lie. His authority, therefore, and coherent truth are coincident at every point. Truth, not blind authority, saves us from being blind followers of the blind.”10
“‘Bring on your revelations!’” continues Mr. Grey. “‘Let them make peace with the law of contradiction and the facts of history, and they will deserve a rational man’s assent.”11 ‘Any theology which rejects Aristotle’s fourth book of the Metaphysics is big with the elements of its own destruction.”12 ‘If Paul were teaching that the crucified Christ were objectively foolish, in the sense that he cannot be rationally categorized, then he would have pointed to the insane and the demented as incarnations of truth.’”13
“Well,” says Mr. Black, “this is great news indeed. I knew that the modernists were willing with us to start from human experience as the final reference point in all research. I knew that they were willing with us to start from Chance as the source of facts, in order then to manufacture such facts of nature and of history as the law of non-contradiction, based on Chance, will allow. I also knew that the famous neo-orthodox theologian, Karl Barth, is willing to remake the God of historic Christianity so that he can change into the opposite of himself, in order that thus he may satisfy both our irrationalist philosophy of Chance and our rationalist philosophy of logic. But I did not know that there were any orthodox people who were willing to do such a thing. But you have surprised me before. You were willing to throw your resurrection into the realm of Chance in order to have me accept it. So I really should have expected that you would also be willing to make the law of non-contradiction rest upon man himself instead of upon God.
“I am extremely happy, too, that not only Arminian fundamentalists but also less extreme or moderate Calvinists, like Buswell, Carnell, and Smith, are now willing to test revelation by a principle that is wholly independent of that revelation. It is now only a matter of time until they will see that they have to come over on our side altogether.
“I do no like the regular Calvinists. But they are certainly quite right from their own point of view. Mr. White claims that I am a creature of God. He says that all facts are made by God and controlled by the providence of God. He says that all men have sinned against God in Adam their representative. He adds that therefore I am spiritually blind and morally perverse. He says all this and more on the basis of the absolute authority of Scripture. He would interpret me, my facts, and my logic in terms of the authority of that Scripture. He says I need this authority. He says I need nothing hut this authority. His Scripture, he claims, is sufficient and final. The whole thing, he claims, is clear in the light of Scripture.
“Now all this looks like plain historic Protestantism to me. I can intellectually understand the Calvinist on this matter of authority. I cannot understand you. You seem to me to want to have your cake and eat it. If you believe in scriptural authority, then why not explain all things, man, fact, and logic, in terms of it? If you want with us to live by your own authority, by the experience of the human race, then why not have done with the Bible as absolute authority? It, at best, gives you the authority of the expert.
“In your idea of the rational man who tests all things by the facts of history and by the law of non-contradiction, you have certainly made a point of contact with us. If you carry this through, you will indeed succeed in achieving complete coincidence between your ideas and ours. With us, you will have achieved complete coincidence between the ideas of man and the ideas of God. The reason for this coincidence of your ideas with ours, and for the coincidence of man’s ideas with God’s, is that you, like we, then have a God and a Christ who are virtually identical with man.
“Do you not think, Mr. Grey, that this is too great a price for you to pay? I am sure that you do not thus mean to drag down your God into the universe. I am sure that you do not thus mean to crucify your Christ afresh. But why then halt between two opinions? I do not believe Christianity, but, if I did, I would stand with Mr. White.”
C. Proofs for the Existence of God
When Mr. Black objects against Mr. White that unconditional surrender to the authority of Scripture is irrational, then Mr. Grey nods approval and says that, of course, the “rational man” has a perfect right to test the credibility of Scripture by logic. When the Bible speaks of God’s sovereign election of some men to salvation this must mean something that fits in with his “rational nature.” When Mr. Black objects to Mr. White that unconditional surrender to Scripture is rationalistic, then Mr. Grey again nods approval and says that, of course, genuine human personality has a perfect right to test the content of Scripture by experience. When the Bible speaks of God controlling by his counsel whatsoever comes to pass, this must mean something that fits in with man’s “freedom.” God created man and gave man a share in his own freedom; men therefore participate in his being.
But what of natural or general revelation? Here surely there can be no difference, you say, between the requirements of Mr. White and Mr. Grey. Here there is no law and no promise; here there are only the facts of nature. How can you speak of any requirement at all with respect to them? Here surely Mr. White can forget his “five points of Calvinism” and join Mr. Grey in taking Mr. Black through the picture gallery of this world, pointing out its beauties to him so that with them he will spontaneously exclaim, “The whole chorus of nature raises one hymn to the praise of its Creator.”
Let us think of Mr. White as trying hard to forget his “five points.” “Surely,” he says to himself, “there can be nothing wrong with joining Mr. Grey in showing Mr. Black the wonders of God’s creation. We believe in the same God, do we not? Both of us want to show Mr. Black the facts of creation so that he, too, will believe in God. When Mr. Black says, ‘I see no meaning in all I have seen, and I continue, just as I was, confused and dismayed,’ Mr. Grey and I can together take him to the Mt. Wilson observatory so he may see the starry heavens above. Surely the source of knowledge for the natural sciences is the Book of Nature which is given to everyone. Do not the Scriptures themselves teach that there is a light in nature which cannot be, and is not, transmitted through the spectacles of the Word? If this were not so, how could the Scriptures say of those who have only the light of nature that they are without excuse?”
So the three men, Mr. White, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Black, go here and there and everywhere. Mr. White and Mr. Grey agree to share the expense. Mr. Black is their guest.
They go first to the Mt. Wilson observatory to see the starry skies above. “How wonderful, how grand!” exclaims Mr. Grey. Then to the marvels of the telescope they add those of the microscope. They circle the globe to see “the wonders of the world.” They listen to the astronauts speaking down to the earth from the vicinity of the moon. There is no end to the “exhibits” and Mr. Black shows signs of weariness. So they sit down on the beach. Will not Mr. Black now sign on the dotted line?
As they wait for the answer, Mr. Grey spies a watch someone has lost. Holding it in his hand he says to Mr. Black: “Look around the world: contemplate the whole and every part of it: you will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions, to a degree beyond that which human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which forces admiration from all men who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance, of human designs, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since, therefore, the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble one another. The Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work, which he has executed.
“Now, Mr. Black, I don’t want to put undue pressure on you. You know your own needs in your own business. But I think that as a rational being you owe it to yourself to join the theistic party. Isn’t it highly probable that there is a God?
“I’m not now asking you to become a Christian. We take things one step at a time. I’m only speaking of the Book of Nature. Of course, if there is a God and if this God should have a Son, and if this Son should also reveal himself, it is not likely to be more difficult for you to believe in him than it is now to believe in the Father. But just now I am only asking you to admit that there is a great accumulation of evidence of the sort that any scientist or philosopher must admit to be valid for the existence of a God back of and above this world. You see this watch. Isn’t it highly probable that a power higher than itself has made it? You know the purpose of a watch. Isn’t it highly probable that the wonderful contrivances of nature serve the purpose of a god? Looking back we are naturally led to a god who is the cause of this world; looking forward we think of a god who has a purpose with this world. So far as we can observe the course and constitution of the universe there is, I think, no difficulty on your own adopted principles, against belief in a god. Why not become a theist? You do want to be on the winning side, don’t you? Well, the Gallup poll of the universe indicates a tendency toward the final victory of theism.”
When Mr. Grey had finished his obviously serious and eloquent plea, Mr. Black looked very thoughtful. He was clearly a gentleman. He disliked disappointing his two friends after all the generosity they had shown him. But he could not honestly see any basic difference between his own position and theirs. So he declined politely but resolutely to sign on the dotted line. He refused to be “converted” to theism. In substance he spoke as follows: “You speak of evidence of rationality and purpose in the universe. You would trace this rationality or purpose back to a rational being who is back of the universe who, you think, is likely to have a purpose with the universe. But who is back of your God to explain him in turn? By your own definition your God is not absolute or self-sufficient. You say that he probably exists; which means that you admit that he may not exist. Probability rests upon possibility. I think that any scientific person should come with an open mind to the observation of the facts of the universe. He ought to begin by assuming that any sort of fact may exist. I was glad to observe that on this all-important point you agree with me. Hence the only kind of god that either of us can believe in is one who may or may not exist. In other words, neither of us does or can believe in a God who cannot not exist. It was just this sort of God, a God who is self-sufficient, and as such necessarily existent, that I thought you Christian theists believed in.”
By this time Mr. White was beginning to squirm. He was beginning to realize that he had sold out the God of his theology, the sovereign God of Scripture, by his silent consent to the argument of Mr. Grey. Mr. Black was right, he felt at once. Either one presupposes God back of the ideas of possibility or one presupposes that the idea of possibility is back of God. Either one says with historic Reformed theology on the basis of Scripture that what God determines and only what God determines is possible, or one says with all non-Christian forms of thought that possibility surrounds God. But for the moment Mr. White was stupefied. He could say nothing. So Mr. Black simply drew the conclusion from what he had said in the following words:
Since, in your effort to please me, you have accepted my basic assumption with respect to possibility and probability, it follows that your God, granted he exists, is of no use whatsoever in explaining the universe. He himself needs in turn to be explained. Let us remember the story of the Indian philosopher and his elephant. It was never more applicable than to the present subject. If the material world rests upon a similar ideal world, this ideal world must rest upon some other; and so on, without end. It were better, therefore, never to look beyond the present material world. In short, gentlemen, much as I dislike not to please you, what you offer is nothing better that what I already possess. Your God is himself surrounded by pure possibility or Chance; in what way can he help me? How could I be responsible to him? For you, as for me, all things ultimately end in the irrational.
At this point Mr. Grey grew pale. In desperation he searched his arsenal for another argument that might convince Mr. Black. There was one that he had not used for some time. The arguments for God that he had so far used, he had labeled a posteriori arguments. They ought, he had thought, to appeal to the “empirical” temper of the times. They started from human experience with causation and purpose and by analogy argued to the idea of a cause of and a purpose with the world as a whole. But Mr. Black had pointed out that if you start with the ideas of cause and purpose as intelligible to man without God, when these concepts apply to relations within the universe, then you cannot consistently say that you need God for the idea of cause or purpose when these concepts apply to the universe as a whole. So now Mr. Grey drew out the drawer marked a priori argument. In public he called this the argument from finite to absolute being. “As finite creatures,” he said to Mr. Black, “we have the idea of absolute being. The idea of a finite being involves of necessity the idea of an absolute being. We have the notion of an absolute being; surely there must be a reality corresponding to our idea of such a being; if not, all our ideas may be false. Surely we must hold that reality is ultimately rational and coherent and that our ideas participate in this rationality. If not, how would science be possible?”
When Mr. Grey had thus delivered himself of this appeal to logic rather than to fact, then Mr. White for a moment seemed to take courage. Was not this at least to get away from the idea of a God who probably exists? Surely the “incommunicable attributes of God,” of which he had been taught in his catechism classes, were all based upon, and expressive of, the idea of God as necessarily existing. But Mr. Black soon disillusioned him for the second time. Said he in answer to the argument from Mr. Grey, “Again I cannot see any basic difference between your position and mine. Of course, we must believe that reality is ultimately rational. And of course, we must hold that our minds participate in this rationally. But when you speak thus you thereby virtually assert that we must not believe in a God whose existence is independent of our human existence. A God whom we are to know must, with us, be a part of a rational system that is mutually accessible to, and expressive of, both. If God is necessary to you, then you are also necessary to God. That is the only sort of God that is involved in your argument.”
“But Mr. Black, this is terrible, this is unbearable! We do want you to believe in God. I bear witness to his existence. I will give you a Bible. Please read it! It tells you of Jesus Christ and how you may be saved by his blood. I am born again and you can be born again too if you will only believe. Please do believe in God and be saved!”
Meanwhile, Mr. White took new courage. He realized that he had so far made a great mistake in keeping silent during the time that Mr. Grey had presented his arguments. The arguments for the existence of God taken from the ideas of cause and purpose as set forth by Mr. Grey had led to pure irrationalism and Chance. The argument about an absolute being as set forth by Mr. Grey had led to pure rationalism and determinism. In both cases, Mr. Black had been quite right in saying that a God whose existence is problematic, or a God who exists by the same necessity as does the universe, is still an aspect of, or simply the whole of, the universe. But now he felt that perhaps Mr. Grey was right in simply witnessing to the existence of God. He thought that, if the arguments used are not logically coercive, they may at least be used as a means with which to witness to unbelievers. And surely witnessing to God’s existence was always in order. But poor Mr. White was to be disillusioned again. For the witness-bearing done by Mr. Grey was based on the assumption that the belief in God is a purely non-rational or even irrational matter.
Mr. Black’s reply to the words of Mr. Grey indicated this fact all too clearly. Said Mr. Black to Mr. Grey: “I greatly appreciate your evident concern for my ‘eternal welfare.’ But there are two or three questions that I would like to have you answer. In the first place, I would ask whether in thus simply witnessing to me of God’s existence you thereby admit that the arguments for the existence of God have no validity? Or rather do you not thereby admit that these arguments, if they prove anything, prove that God is finite and correlative to man and therefore that your position is not basically different from mine?”
Mr. Grey did not answer because he could not answer this question otherwise than by agreeing with Mr. Black.
“In the second place,” said Mr. Black, “you are now witnessing to Christ as well as to God, to Christianity as well as to theism. I suppose your argument for Christianity would be similar in nature to your argument for theism, would it not? You would argue that the Jesus of the New Testament is probably the Son of God and that he quite probably died for the sins of men. But now you witness to me about your Christ. And by witnessing instead of reasoning you seem to admit that there is no objective claim for the truth of what you hold with respect to Christ. Am I right in all this?”
Again Mr. Grey made no answer. The only answer he could consistently have given would be to agree with Mr. Black.
“In the third place,” said Mr. Black, “you are now witnessing not only to God the Father, to Jesus Christ the Son, but also to the Holy Spirit. You say you are born again, that you know you are saved and that at present I am lost. Now, if you have had a special experience of some sort, it would be unscientific for me to deny it. But, if you want to witness to me about your experience, you must make plain to me the nature of that experience. To do that you must do so in terms of principles that I understand. Such principles must needs be accessible to all. Now if you make plain your experience to me in terms of principles that are plain to me as unregenerate, then how is your regeneration unique? On the other hand, if you still maintain that your experience of regeneration is unique, then can you say anything about it to me so that I may understand? Does not then your witness-bearing appear to be wholly unintelligible and devoid of meaning? Thus again you cannot make any claim to the objective truth of your position.
“Summing up the whole matter, I would say in the first place, that your arguments for the existence of God have rightfully established me in my unbelief. They have shown that nothing can be said for the existence of a God who is actually the Creator and controller of the world. I would say in the second place that using such arguments as you have used for the existence of God commits you to using similar arguments for the truth of Christianity with similar fatal results for your position. In both cases you first use intellectual argument upon principles that presuppose the justice of my unbelieving position. Then, when it is pointed out to you that such is the case, you turn to witnessing. But then your witnessing is in the nature of the case an activity that you yourself have virtually admitted to be wholly irrational and unintelligible.”
When Mr. Black had finished, Mr. White was in great distress. But it was through this very distress that he at last saw the richness of his own faith. He made no pretense to having greater intellectual power than Mr. Grey. He greatly admired the real faith and courage of Mr. Grey. But he dared keep silence no longer. His silence had been sin, he now realized. Mr. Black had completely discomforted Mr. Grey, so that he had not another word to say. Mr. Black was about to leave them established rather than challenged in his unbelief. And all of that in spite of the best intentions and efforts of Mr. Gray, speaking for both of them. A sense of urgent responsibility to make known the claims of the sovereign God pressed upon him. He now saw clearly, first, that the arguments for the existence of God, as conducted by Mr. Grey, are based on the assumption that the unbeliever is right with respect to the principles in terms of which he explains all things. These principles are: (a) that man is not a creature of God but rather is ultimate and as such must properly consider himself instead of God the final reference point in explaining all things; (b) that all other things beside himself are non-created but controlled by Chance; and (c) that the power of logic that he possesses is the means by which he must determine what is possible or impossible in the universe of Chance.
At last it dawned upon Mr. White that first to admit that the principles of Mr. Black, the unbeliever, are right and then to seek to win him to the acceptance of the existence of God the Creator and judge of all men is like first admitting that the United States had historically been a province of the Soviet Union but ought at the same time to be recognized as an independent and all-controlling political power.
In the second place, Mr. White now saw clearly that a false type of reasoning for the truth of God’s existence and for the truth of Christianity involves a false kind of witnessing for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity. If one reasons for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity, on the assumption that Mr. Black’s principles of explanation are valid, then one must witness on the same assumption. One must then make plain to Mr. Black, in terms of principles which Mr. Black accepts, what it means to be born again. Mr. Black will then apply the principles of modern psychology of religion to Mr. Grey’s “testimony” with respect to his regeneration and show that it is something that naturally comes in the period of adolescence.
In the third place, Mr. White now saw clearly that it was quite “proper,” for Mr. Grey, to use a method of reasoning and a method of witness-bearing that is based upon the truth of anti-Christian and anti-theistic assumptions. Mr. Grey’s theology is not Reformed. It is therefore based upon the idea that God is not wholly sovereign over man. It assumes that man’s responsibility implies a measure of autonomy of the sort that is the essence and foundation of the whole of Mr. Black’s thinking. It is therefore to be expected that Mr. Grey will assume that Mr. Black needs not to be challenged on his basic assumption with respect to his own assumed ultimacy or autonomy.
From now on Mr. White decided that, much as he enjoyed the company of Mr. Grey and much as he admired his evident sincerity and basic devotion to the truth of God, yet he must go his own way in apologetics as he had, since the Reformation, gone his own way in theology. He tried to make an appointment with Mr. Black then to see him soon. Meanwhile he expressed to Mr. Grey his great love for him as a fellow believer, his great admiration for his fearless and persistent efforts to win men to an acceptance of truth as it is in Jesus. Then he confessed to Mr. Grey that his conscience had troubled him during the entire time of their travels with Mr. Black. He had started in good faith, thinking that Mr. Grey’s efforts at argument and witnessing might win Mr. Black. He had therefore been quite willing, especially since Mr. Grey was through his constant study much more conversant with such things than he himself was, to be represented by Mr. Grey. But now he had at last come to realize that not only had the effort been utterly fruitless and self-frustrating but, more than that, it had been terribly dishonoring to God. How could the eternal I AM be pleased with being presented as being a god and as probably existing, as probably necessary for the explanation of some things but not of all things, as one who will be glad to recognize the ultimacy of his own creatures? Would the God who had in paradise required of men implicit obedience now be satisfied with a claims-and-counter-claims arrangement with his creatures?
From the dialogue given above, the reader can for himself discern why we have advocated what seems to us to be a Reformed as over against the traditional method of apologetics. The traditional method, the method practiced by various Christians for centuries, was constructed by Roman Catholics and Arminians. It was, so to speak, derived from Romanist or Arminian theology. Just as Roman Catholic and Arminian theology compromises the Christian doctrines of Scripture, of God, of man, of sin, and of redemption, so the traditional method of apologetics compromises Christianity in order to win men to an acceptance of it.
The traditional method compromises the biblical doctrine of God in not clearly distinguishing his self-existence from his relation to the world. The traditional method compromises the biblical doctrine of God and his relation to his revelation to man by not clearly insisting that man, as a creature and as a sinner, must not seek to determine the nature of God, otherwise than from his revelation.
The traditional method compromises the biblical doctrine of the counsel of God by not taking it as the only all-inclusive ultimate “cause” of whatsoever comes to pass.
The traditional method therefore compromises the clarity of God’s revelation to man, whether this revelation comes through general or through special revelation. Created facts are not taken to be clearly revelational of God; all the facts of nature and of man are said to indicate no more than that a god probably exists.
The traditional method compromises the necessity of supernatural revelation in relation to natural revelation. It does so in failing to do justice to the fact that even in paradise man had to interpret natural revelation in the light of the covenantal obligations placed upon him by God through supernatural communication. In consequence, the traditional method fails to recognize the necessity of redemptive supernatural, as concomitant to natural, revelation after the fall of man.
The traditional method compromises the sufficiency of redemptive supernatural revelation in Scripture inasmuch as it allows for wholly new facts to appear in Reality, new for God as well as for man.
The traditional method compromises the authority of Scripture by not taking it as self-attesting in the full sense of the term.
The traditional method compromises the biblical doctrine of man’s creation in the image of God by thinking of him as being “free” or ultimate rather than as analogical.
The traditional method compromises the biblical doctrine of the covenant by not making Adam’s representative action determinative for the future.
The traditional method compromises the biblical doctrine of sin, in not thinking of it as an ethical break with God which is complete in principle even though not in practice.
In spite of these things, this traditional method has been employed by Reformed theologians, and this fact has stood in the way of the development of a distinctly Reformed apologetic.
It has become even more apparent now that our Reformed pastor cannot, as he defends the Christian faith, cooperate with the Arminian any more than he could cooperate with the Roman Catholic.
The Arminian as well as the Roman Catholic fails to present to the believer a challenge to the effect that he needs a radical conversion. Neither the Arminian nor the Roman Catholic so much as gives the unbeliever the opportunity of seeing what the gospel really is. They do not direct the all-revealing searchlight of the Scripture toward him. They do not even show him the face of the Great Physician lest this Great Physician should say that the heart of the natural man is desperately wicked and that no man knows the depth of that wickedness except the Great Physician, who would heal all his diseases.
Of course we are speaking primarily of systems rather than men. Many Roman Catholics, and especially many Arminians are much more biblical than are their systems. Therein must all rejoice. But the Reformed Christian must be true to his Lord. He must love sinners with a deep compassion. But he must not love sinners more than he loves Christ. The more truly he loves sinners the more uncomprisingly will he require of them that they must be saved on God’s terms, not their own. It is Christ, through his Word in Scripture, who must diagnose their disease even as it is Christ who heals only those who confess that their disease is what the Great Physician says it is.
Moody Monthly (January, 1950), p. 313.
Ibid., p. 343.
J. O. Buswell, Jr., What Is God? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1937), pp. 50, 53, 54.
Wilbur M. Smith, Therefore Stand (Boston: Wilde, 1945), p. 386.
Ibid., pp. 389, 390.
E. J. Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), p. 113.
Ibid., p. 114.
Cf. ibid., p. 57.
Ibid., p. 71.
ibid., p. 72.
Ibid., p. 73.
ibid., p. 178.
Ibid., pp. 77, 78.
The Great Exchange and Forensic Justification in the Early Church Fathers
Some Catholics and Eastern Orthodox like to say Martin Luther invented the concept of the “Great Exchange.” The Great Exchange, in short, teaches that Christ bore the punishment for our sins, thus satisfying God’s need for justice, but at the same time credited us Christ’s righteousness.
A graphic representation of what 2 Cor 5:21 amongst other Scriptures teaches about the Great Exchange.
The Scripture is abundantly clear that Chris bore the penalty for our sins:
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed (Is 53:7).
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities (Is 53:11).
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors (Is 53:12).
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col 3:13, 14).
To doubt that Christ bore our iniquities and paid their penalty on the cross, is in my mind, is completely unthinkable. Being that there are Catholic apologists that for whatever reason reject this plain statement of fact, my response to them is that this is not an idea Luther invented.
The Epistle to Diognetus, written in the second century, understood the ramifications of Christ baring the burdens of our sins, if not also crediting us His righteousness:
He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors (Chapter 9)!
The underlined is where we may infer that the Epistle taught the positive imputation of Christ’s righteousness. However, because it is inferred it is not convincing to Catholics or Eastern Orthodox who find it hard to believe that unrighteous men like us can really be credited fully righteous as Christ.
It is not an idea that is explicit in the Scripture. We may infer it from passages that speak of us being “in Christ” and others such as Eph 5:31-32 which speak of the Church’s literal union with Christ. The idea is, if the Church (with its believers) are literally one with Christ, they my be accounted as righteous as Christ upon judgment.
Indeed, this is an interpretative stretch, but one that appears justified by 2 Cor 5:21 which states, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Christians are not merely made righteous or credited as righteous in a theoretical sense, but really “become the righteousness” specifically “of God” and not their own, an “alien righteousness.”
Now, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox reject this for legitimate interpretive reasons, but also because of its ramifications. If believers are in union with Christ, and this happens upon faith in Christ, then good works wrought in holiness really do not make one more righteous in any way. Instead, it is Christ’s righteousness that really makes us righteous, not us conforming or doing something in accord with Christlikeness. Hence, we can be really unchristlike, but be accounted fully as righteous as Christ due to our union with Him.
This does not mean that by necessity all Christians achieve equal awards in heaven. The Scripture mitigates against this as does the interpreters of the early church, specifically Jerome in his letters against Jovanian.
However, it does mean that our justification is a completed act because of what Christ done, not an ongoing event. Our union with Christ does not increase in time, rather it gets consummated specifically upon Christ’s second coming.
This is why Protestants teach “Forensic Justification,” which in short means that justification is a completed and not a ongoing act. We simply can point to Scripture that uses the words “believed” and “justified” in the past tense to show that the event already occurred. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox accuse of of preaching a novelty. However, let our argument be based upon the Scripture and not tradition, because we are not the first to traditionally to espouse the idea. Cyril of Jerusalem writes:
Oh the great loving-kindness of God! For the righteous were many years in pleasing Him: but what they succeeded in gaining by many years of well-pleasing , this Jesus now bestows on you in a single hour. For if you shall believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved, and shall be transported into Paradise by Him who brought in there the robber. And doubt not whether it is possible; for He who on this sacred Golgotha saved the robber after one single hour of belief, the same shall save you also on your believing (Catechetical Lecture 5, Chap 10).
Chrysostom concurs in his exegesis of Rom 3:26:
He does also make them that are filled with the putrefying sores of sin suddenly righteous. And it is to explain this, viz. what is declaring, that he has added, That He might be just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus. Doubt not then: for it is not of works, but of faith: and shun not the righteousness of God (Homily 7 on Romans).
Now, because all of this seems a great deal more theoretical than the negative imputation of our sins onto Christ, Catholics and Orthodox will accuse us Protestants of coming up with an innovation. I must respectfully disagree.
For one, Augustine interpreted 2 Cor 5:21 as teaching the positive imputation of Christ’s righteousness:
He does not say, as some incorrect copies read, He who knew no sin did sin for us, as if Christ had Himself sinned for our sakes; but he says, Him who knew no sin, that is, Christ, God, to whom we are to be reconciled, has made to be sin for us, that is, has made Him a sacrifice for our sins, by which we might be reconciled to God. He, then, being made sin, just as we are made righteousness (our righteousness being not our own, but God’s, not in ourselves, but in Him); He being made sin, not His own, but ours, not in Himself, but in us, showed, by the likeness of sinful flesh in which He was crucified, that though sin was not in Him, yet that in a certain sense He died to sin, by dying in the flesh which was the likeness of sin; and that although He Himself had never lived the old life of sin, yet by His resurrection He typified our new life springing up out of the old death in sin (Chapter 41, Handbook on Hope, Faith, and Love).
Many Protestant interpreters like to say that Jesus Christ was fully obedient to the letter of the Jewish Law, henceforth fulfilling the Law and its righteous requirements on our behalf. Not all ECFs affirmed this idea, but Athanasius did and he writes specifically that it is this righteousness that is credited to the Church:
It is necessary therefore it is necessary to believe the Holy Scriptures to confess him who is the first fruit of us to celebrate the philanthropy of him who assumed our nature to be struck with wonder at the great dispensation to fear not the curse which is from the Law for Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law Hence the full accomplishment of the Law which was made through the first fruit must be imputed to the whole mass (Athan Synops Sacr Script lib vii in Epist ad Rom Oper vol ii p 125, see link here).
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law being made a curse for us Properly He was not under the curse because in all things He perfectly fulfilled the Law And therefore in the matter of debt our debt has been paid off by his curse so that He should set free from all obligation those who pass over to faith (Comment in Epist ad Galat iii, see link here).
Chrysostom also concurs, stating in his comments on Rom 8:4–
For the righteousness of the Law, that one should not become liable to its curse, Christ has accomplished for you.
Now there is more on the topic, but I think I have shown enough from both the Scriptures to justify Protestant doctrine and tradition to show that our doctrine is not an innovation. In fact, I would say that the burden of proof is on those that would teach that righteousness is infused into a believer and not a completed event:
An eternal rest remains to those who in the present life have wrestled legitimately which rest is given not according to the debt of works in way of just retribution but is bestowed to the grace of an abundantly bountiful God to who have hoped in Him(Basil, Homily on Psalm 104, see link here).
An eternal rest remains. It is a completed state, it is not a state that continues and grows over time. To God, the author and perfecter of our faith, be the glory forever. Amen.
How was it with Cornelius?
Cornelius and his friends whom he had invited over to his house, do nothing but sit and listen. Peter is doing the talking. They just sit and do nothing. The Law is far removed from their thoughts. They burn no sacrifices. They are not at all interested in circumcision. All they do is to sit and listen to Peter. Suddenly the Holy Ghost enters their hearts. His presence is unmistakable, “for they spoke with tongues and magnified God.”
Right here we have one more difference between the Law and the Gospel. The Law does not bring on the Holy Ghost. The Gospel, however, brings on the gift of the Holy Ghost, because it is the nature of the Gospel to convey good gifts. The Law and the Gospel are contrary ideas. They have contrary functions and purposes. To endow the Law with any capacity to produce righteousness is to plagiarize the Gospel. The Gospel brings donations. It pleads for open hands to take what is being offered. The Law has nothing to give. It demands, and its demands are impossible.
Our opponents come back at us with Cornelius. Cornelius, they point out, was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people and prayed God always.” Because of these qualifications, he merited the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. So reason our opponents.
I answer: Cornelius was a Gentile. You cannot deny it. As a Gentile he was uncircumcised. As a Gentile he did not observe the Law. He never gave the Law any thought. For all that, he was justified and received the Holy Ghost. How can the Law avail anything unto righteousness?
Our opponents are not satisfied. They reply: “Granted that Cornelius was a Gentile and did not receive the Holy Ghost by the Law, yet the text plainly states that he was a devout man who feared God, gave alms, and prayed. Don’t you think he deserved the gift of the Holy Ghost?”
I answer: Cornelius had the faith of the fathers who were saved by faith in the Christ to come. If Cornelius had died before Christ, he would have been saved because he believed in the Christ to come. But because the Messiah had already come, Cornelius had to be apprized of the fact. Since Christ has come we cannot be saved by faith in the Christ to come, but we must believe that he has come. The object of Peter’s visit was to acquaint Cornelius with the fact that Christ was no longer to be looked for, because He is here.
As to the contention of our opponents that Cornelius deserved grace and the gift of the Holy Ghost, because he was devout and just, we say that these attributes are the characteristics of a spiritual person who already has faith in Christ, and not the characteristics of a Gentile or of natural man. Luke first praises Cornelius for being a devout and God-fearing man, and then Luke mentions the good works, the alms and prayers of Cornelius. Our opponents ignore the sequence of Luke’s words. They pounce on this one sentence, “which gave much alms to the people,” because it serves their assertion that merit precedes grace. The fact is that Cornelius gave alms and prayed to God because he had faith. And because of his faith in the Christ to come, Peter was delegated to preach unto Cornelius faith in the Christ who had already come. This argument is convincing enough. Cornelius was justified without the Law, therefore the Law cannot justify.
Martin Luther, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians