Monday, September 24, 2007

The Divine Majesty of the Word

John Calvin: The Man and His Preaching

1997 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors

Speaker: John Piper

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

A.W. Pink, Limited Atonement, and 1 John 2:1&2. Pt. 3

by JM
Here’s a third reason Pink gives for thinking 1 John 2:1-2 conclusively doesn’t teach unlimited atonement (You can refer to the previous posts for the first and second reason, as well as a little bit of background involved in this debate). Here’s Pink in his own words:

In the third place, who are meant when John says, "He is the propitiation for our sins"? We answer, Jewish believers. And a part of the proof on which we base this assertion we now submit to the careful attention of the reader.

In Galatians 2 :9 we are told that John, together with James and Cephas, were apostles "unto the circumcision" (i.e. Israel). In keeping with this, the Epistle of James is addressed to "the twelve tribes, which are scattered abroad" (1:1). So, the first Epistle of Peter is addressed to "the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion" (1 Pet.1:1, R. V.). And John also is writing to saved Israelites, but for saved Jews and saved Gentiles. Some of the evidences that John is writing to saved Jews are as follows.
(a) In the opening verse he says of Christ, "Which we have seen with our eyes . . . . and our hands have handled". How impossible it would have been for the Apostle Paul to have commenced any of his epistles to Gentile saints with such language!

(b) "Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning" (1 John 2 :7). The "beginning" here referred to is the beginning of the public manifestation of Christ—in proof compare 1:1; 2:13, etc. Now these believers the apostle tells us, had the "old commandment" from the beginning. This was true of Jewish believers, but it was not true of Gentile believers.

(c) "I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him from the beginning" (2:13). Here, again, it is evident that it is Jewish believers that are in view.

(d) "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us" (2:18, 19).These brethren to whom John wrote had "heard" from Christ Himself that Antichrist should come (see Matt. 24). The "many antichrists" whom John declares "went out from us" were all Jews, for during the first century none but a Jew posed as the Messiah. Therefore, when John says "He is the propitiation for our sins" he can only mean for the sins of Jewish believers.
Here’s a summary of the above argument: John is writing to Jews. As such, John’s declaration in 2:2 is merely to instruct these Jewish believers that Christ’s propitiation is trans-racial, not that everyone in each race is propitiated for. Pink gives four reasons for thinking that John’s audience was Jewish.

(a) Pink feels that John includes his audience in being eye-witnesses to Christ. So when John says “Which we have seen with our eyes,” “our” refers to both John and his audience. If this is true, then John’s audience were probably Jews.

Response: Pink’s argument is unfounded. In the very text he quotes, John differentiates between those who were eye-witnesses and those to whom he is writing. Note:

1 John 1:3 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
John is clearly saying that his audience were not eye-witnesses of Christ. In all probability, John is probably referring to the apostolic witness of Christ’s ministry when he says “we“ “us“, etc.

(b) Pink believes that when John refers the “commandment” which his audience had from the beginning, this commandment is related to the public ministry of Christ. As such, only Jews could relate to this.

Response: However, it’s not clear that “the beginning” has to refer to Christ’s ministry. It can simply refer to the beginning of their faith. To the “children” of the faith (certainly, these are not eye-witnesses), John says:
1John 2:24, “24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.”
(c) Pink argues that John must be referring to Jews in that he refers to them as “Fathers” who have known Christ from the beginning.

Response: First of all, this ignores that John was also writing to “young men” and “children” of the faith, people who probably weren’t eye-witnesses to Christ’s ministry and perhaps Gentile. Furthermore, it seems that Pink has misquoted the text. It doesn’t say that the Fathers have known Christ from the beginning, but that the Fathers have known Christ “who has been from the beginning.” John isn’t speaking about the audience’s relation to the beginning, but Christ’s.

(d) Pink argues that the anti-christ is Jewish. That is, only Jews can pose as the Messiah. So when John speaks of propitiation, he can only mean the sins of Jewish believers.

Response: To be honest, this sound incoherent. Suffice it to say, the spirit of anti-Christ that John is referring to is far broader than a Jewish man. In fact, the text deals mainly with a non-Jewish (Hellenistic) heresy of Gnosticism.
Against Pink, it is quite probable that John is writing to both Jews and Gentiles. Many scholars date these epistles as late 1st century works directed towards churches in Asia Minor. If these assertions are reasonable, then John’s attempt to clue in Jewish believers about God’s relation with Gentiles is anachronistic given the "Jerusalem council", Paul's and Timothy's teaching and Paul's letters, common knowledge of the composition of Christ's body universal, the immediate knowledge of the composition of their own fellowships, which most probably included more Gentiles than Jews.

Putting that aside, the immediate context of this book serves to substantiate the contention that "the whole world" refers to something outside of the elect. After a discussion about our belief in Christ rendering us victorious over the "world" and ourseparation from the "world," John says in chapter 5:19,

"We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one."
Certainly we wouldn’t want to import Pink’s interpretation, for this would read, “We know that the Jewish Christians are of God, and that Gentiles lie in the power of the evil one.” This is the same construction we find in chapter 2. Us verses the Whole world. Does the "whole world" in 5:19 include the non-elect? If the answer is yes, then the immediate context of John's letter gives far more credence to chapter 2 also including the non-elect.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Online couple cheated with each other | The Daily Telegraph

Online couple cheated with each other | The Daily Telegraph: "A married couple who didn't realise they were chatting each other up on the internet are divorcing. Sana Klaric and husband Adnan, who used the names 'Sweetie' and 'Prince of Joy' in an online chatroom, spent hours telling each other about their marriage troubles, reported. The truth emerged when the two turned up for a date. Now the pair, from Zenica in central Bosnia, are divorcing after accusing each other of being unfaithful. 'I was suddenly in love. It was amazing. We seemed to be stuck in the same kind of miserable marriage. How right that turned out to be,' Sana, 27, said. Adnan, 32, said: 'I still find it hard to believe that Sweetie, who wrote such wonderful things, is actually the same woman I married and who has not said a nice word to me for years'."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Making Travel Plans: The Dalai Lama's Itinerary for the Next Life

"At 72, the Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since 1959, is beginning to plan his succession, saying that he refuses to be reborn in Tibet so long as it's under Chinese control. Assuming he's able to master the feat of controlling his rebirth, as Dalai Lamas supposedly have for the last 600 years, the situation is shaping up in which there could be two Dalai Lamas: one picked by the Chinese government, the other by Buddhist monks. "It will be a very hot issue," says Paul Harrison, a Buddhism scholar at Stanford. "The Dalai Lama has been the prime symbol of unity and national identity in Tibet, and so it's quite likely the battle for his incarnation will be a lot more important than the others."

Source: MSNBC

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A.W. Pink, Limited Atonement, and 1 John 2:1&2. Pt. 2

by JM
Here’s a second reason Pink gives for thinking 1 John 2:1-2 conclusively doesn’t teach unlimited atonement (You can refer to the previous post - Sept 7th - for the first reason, as well as a little bit of background involved in this debate). Here’s Pink in his own words:

In the second place, if other passages in the New Testament which speak of "propitiation," be compared with 1 John 2:2, it will be found that it is strictly limited in its scope. For example, in Romans 3:25 we read that God set forth Christ "a propitiation through faith in His blood". If Christ is a propitiation "through faith", then He is not a "propitiation" to those who have no faith! Again, in Hebrews 2:17 we read, "To make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17, R. V.).
This seems to be Pink’s argument:

(1) Romans 3:25 and Hebrews 2:17 say that God is propitious to those who believe. Conversely put, God is not propitious to those who don’t believe.
(2) 1 John 2:2 says that Jesus is the propitiation for the world.
(3) Yet, not everyone in the world believes.
(4) Therefore, the “world” in 1 John 2:2 does not refer to all people, only the elect.
Pink’s comments assume that propitiation can’t refer to something both objective and subjective. In relation to a person, I believe that the atonement may be an “objective reality” and/or an “appropriated” reality. By “objective reality” I mean that the atonement made by Christ some 2000 years ago is something real apart from my believing it. By “appropriated,” I mean that this objective reality has been applied to a subject. For a person who believes and is regenerated on August 5th 2007, the atonement was an unappropriated but objective reality up until conversion. From the point of faith on, it is both an objective and appropriated reality.

My contention is that the first facets always obtains for all people (Christ’s atonement is an objective reality on the behalf of all people), but the second doesn’t (Christ’s atonement is only appropriated to the elect). The failure to make this distinction leads to a puzzling result for Pink’s argument: If God has propitiated all those whom he has elected, then there was never a time the elect were not believers. Or put differently, the elect have always believed. This is unacceptable. Pink has forgotten about the many passages which indicate that our justification occurs when we believe, meaning in part that we were not right with God prior to this declaration. We were genuinely children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), which means that we had not be propitiated in some way. Finally, Pink has committed a non-sequitur: To show that in Romans 3:25 and Hebrews 2:17 God is propitious to those who believe is not to show that God is propitious only to those who believe.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Clouds and Oceans: The Role of Emotions in the Christian Life

by JM
Throughout the Scripture, Christians aren’t just encouraged to have joy, but commanded to have it. Strangely enough, this particular form of mental serenity is commanded during times of significant distress. For example,

“6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:6-8).
Peter says, “Even when you feel sad, grief, and pain (that’s the meaning of “distressed” in verse 6), you greatly rejoice with a joy that is unearthly and glorious.”

This seems quite odd that someone can simultaneously experience distressing grief and inexpressible joy. Yet, this appears to be quite normal in the life of a believer. At first this is relieving. Often we are guilted by perpetually happy Christians when we fail to follow their remarkably pathetic disregard for real evil in the world and in our lives. It’s relieving to hear Scripture declare that Christians do and should experience genuine distress of heart.

"22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:22-23).
On the other hand, this is also puzzling. How can someone be joy-filled when they’re undeniably joy-less? Is the apostle telling us, “Saints, don’t worry about your depression since you’re happy and don’t yet know it.” Like the women in World War II who said that the bread shortage wouldn’t affect her because she ate toast. This would be a denial of the worst kind, and one forbidden by Scripture. So how do we make sense of the simultaneity of joy and grief?

I think that to make sense of this, it would serve us well to distinguish between emotion and affection. I want to suggest that though our emotions are subjected to the ups and downs of life, both to the pinnacles of ecstasy and the depths of depression at different times, our affections are to be the unmoved abiding anchor whether our emotions are storm-tossed or still. Happiness relates to emotions, Joy relates to affections.

I want to hold that emotions are more of a surface phenomenon, whereas the affections seem to refer to something abiding, deeper, and more significant. By "emotions", I refer to our natural reflex to external circumstances. For example, “I’m depressed because of the eviction notice.” “I’m elated because of the tax return.” These are built in natural reflexes to life. By "affections", I refer to the product of a certain conditioning of the soul that enables a person to process the outside world so as to give the subject perspective. This is that unnatural poise that we find in a few amazing people who can cope with the most difficult life situations, situations which would easily send one of us to an asylum. Emotions are formed and fueled by instinct. Affections are formed and fueled by values. What we value shapes how we respond, interpret, and face circumstances in life. The less we fail to cultivate our affections positively, the more we will be driven by our emotion (or the more we’ll reinforce and strengthen our visceral emotional reactions by our mismanagement of our affections/values).

Jonathan Edwards contends that we always do what is our greatest affection (or what we value the greatest); that is, the will is always the same as our affections. Emotions, however, are often very different from what we will. I may hate rigorous exercise, but something deeper moves me to do what I hate: my value of good health. My value of good health (or my affections for good health) trumps the emotional allergy to exercise.

Emotions are to the affections what clouds are to the ocean. Certainly, the deep is far more abiding than the puffy white heights. Clouds come and go; they morph and shift from the least perceptible whisper to the most ominous roar. The ocean, on the other hand, is relatively stationary. These are two things that appear very different from each other, yet they have a concrete causal relationship. Who hasn’t witnessed the ocean whipped up into a life-threatening frenzy by the sky above? With that said, all admit that the ocean is causally primary in the relationship. Clouds (most of them) have the ocean to thank for their existence. From the harmless shade-giving cloud cover above, to the perilous hurricane, we have the ocean to thank for each. Master the sky and you may impact the ocean. Control the ocean and you command the sky

In a similar manner, emotions may flux between tranquility and turbulence. But whatever their condition, their impact on the affections is marginal compared to the impact that the affections have on the emotions. Master the affections, and you control the impact of your emotions on your will. The affections will largely determine the degree to with the emotions impact a person as a whole.

Here’s another illustration to help. Consider a mangled marriage. In the case of one spouse cheating on another, a spouse may be thrown into an emotional hurricane; wrestling with feelings of anger, betrayal, and sometimes hatred. Yet, we’ve often seen the offended spouse do something quite remarkable, something quite opposed to what emotions are demanding: we’ve see a spouse forgive and give extraordinary effort to rebuilding the marriage. They are simultaneously loving and hating. Emotionally, they want to kick, bite, scream, and maim; they hate. Yet, they choose forgive, mend, love, and restore; they love. This love is rooted in a deeper part of their soul which enables the spouse to manage the emotion.

When we look at the passage in Peter, we see the secret of what enables believers to experience joy in the midst of grief: the same occasion for temporary grief is the occasion for eternal joy. The same persecution that injures the emotions complements the affections or values. Or put differently, the same challenge that is life-destructive is soul-building. The persecution that stifles the freedom and liberty of life is certainly a drag. Yet Peter says, “as much as you value comfort, freedom, and life, you have a far greater value: the condition of your soul. God is using discomfort to strengthen what you value more. As such, you have inexpressible joy in the midst of suffering.”

When Scripture mandates that we have joy in his world, this is none other than the command to put all of our energy into shaping our affections with the values of heaven. It’s the mandate to diffuse that natural reflex to come undone when the world comes undone. This is accomplished by allowing God-entranced affections to give us a God-like perspective on what appears to be godless circumstances. This is that unworldly and unnatural peace and stillness often referred to in Scripture.

Philippians 4:7-8 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Americanized View of Sovereignty

by JM
"The Puritans in early America dwelt on the sovereignty of God's grace and the inability of sinful individuals to influence God's will. Jonathan Edwards, for example, when he analyzed religious experience made clear that the 'divine and supernatural light' that a Christan perceived was not contingent on the agency of a free human will, but on the prior gracious work of the Holy Spirit who granted the ability to see and respond to that light. After Edwards's time revivalist theology in America moved steadily toward emphasizing the human side of religious experience. This tendency was manifested in various ways of positing the free and decisive character of the human free will. Free will was virtually an American dogma; indeed it was practically an unassailable article of faith for most of Western Culture."

Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925 George M. Marsden.

A.W. Pink, Limited Atonement, and 1 John 2:1&2. Pt. 1

by JM
In the debate on the scope of the atonement, 1 John 2:1-2 appears to support an unlimited view of the atonement.
1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
An unlimited view of the atonement will hold that Christ made propitiation (in some significant way) for people who ultimately experience eternal wrath. In the appendix of his work, The Sovereignty of God, A.W. Pink gives several reasons for why he believes that 1 John 2:1-2 does not support an unlimited view of the atonement, thereby seeking to secure the reformed doctrine of limited atonement from the allegation of being unfaithful to Scripture. Of his treatment of 1 John 2:1-2, he says
“Below we offer a number of conclusive proofs to show that this verse does not teach that Christ has propitiated God on behalf of all the sins of all men.”
You can view his short treatment on the topic here: Appendix 4. 1 John 2.2 My conclusion from examining Pink’s treatment is that he has severely overstated his case, and at some points is irrational. In next few blogs, I’ll present the what I believe to be his arguments to support the above contention, and then follow up with some analysis. Let's hear Pink in his own words.

“In the first place, the fact that this verse opens with "and" necessarily links it with what has gone before. We, therefore, give a literal word for word translation of 1 John 2 :1 from Bagster’s Interlinear: "Little children my, these things I write to you, that ye may not sin; and if any one should sin, a Paraclete we have with the Father, Jesus Christ (the) righteous". It will thus be seen that the apostle John is here writing to and about the saints of God. His immediate purpose was two-fold: first, to communicate a message that would keep God’s children from sinning; second, to supply comfort and assurance to those who might sin, and, in consequence, be cast down and fearful that the issue would prove fatal. He, therefore, makes known to them the provision which God has made for just such an emergency. This we find at the end of verse 1 and throughout verse 2. The ground of comfort is twofold: let the downcast and repentant believer (1 John 1:9) be assured that, first, he has an "Advocate with the Father"; second, that this Advocate is "the propitiation for our sins". Now believers only may take comfort from this, for they alone have an "Advocate", for them alone is Christ the propitiation, as is proven by linking the Propitiation ("and") with "the Advocate"!”
This is what I discern his first argument to be:

(1) John is only writing to comfort believers about forgiveness.
(2) This comfort is grounded in Christ’s intercession and Christ’s propitiation.
(3) Given that only believers are addressed, therefore only believers can have the comfort of forgiveness.
(4) Therefore, only believers are interceded for and propitiated.
For point of clarification, I do not believe that it is necessary for someone who holds to unlimited atonement to affirm that Christ intercedes for the non-elect. In my view, everyone interceded for is also propitiated, but not everyone that is propitiated is interceded for.

Now to the argument. (4) doesn’t follow from (3). It doesn’t follow that since only believers can have the assurance of salvation, then only believers are propitiated. What about the elect who have not yet been granted faith and therefore have no comfort or assurance of their soul’s state? Are we to say that they are neither propitiated nor interceded for? In fact, Pink’s reasoning seems to lead to the follow contradictory statements:

In order to be believer, one must be interceded for by Christ (which I think Pink would concede).

In order to be interceded for by Christ, one must be a believer.
Since it is obvious that one can be interceded for without being a believer, it seems possible that one can be propitiated for without ever being a believer.

Let me make the same point in a slightly different way.

Pink’s reasoning leads to a conclusion that Pink doesn’t want to adopt, namely, “in order to be interceded for by Christ, one must be one of the elect who is also believing.” Pink argues that since only believers are addressed about the comfort they can derive from Christ's intercession and propitiation, therefore only believers are interceded and propitiated for. This is the conclusive proof he gives to undermine the unlimited thesis.

My point, in part, is that this comfort (assurance) can't be given to all the elect (like the unbelieving elect). It doesn't follow then that the unbelieving elect are neither interceded nor propitiated for. If Pink wants to insist on this, then he’s forced to say:

The non-believing elect are neither propitiated for nor interceded for, seeing that they can’t have the assurance of salvation, given that they are not believers.
I think that the natural reading of the texts strongly suggests that the scope of the phrase “not only our sins, but the sins of the whole world” includes group people outside of the immediate audience, regardless of their believing status, thus undermining the force of Pink’s argument.