Wednesday, January 31, 2007

More fun questions

"Can a person be said to freely choose in the context of necessity? Are there any non-necessary choices ever made?"

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Musings from Jonathan Edwards #3

Some said that that "free will, meaning the ability to determine the nature of the choices made, is the basis of moral good and evil." But Edwards thought was that the "will does not determine choices, it selects among available choices. It is not a self-determining power."

Does Edwards’ doctrine make God the author of sin? Did not God cause Adam to sin when He withdrew preserving mercies from him? Edwards indicates that God left Adam after he fell [(3:382), but was there not a departure before Adam’s sin as well as in consequence of Adam’s sin? Were there two types of departures from Adam? Has Edwards really presented us with an explanation of how Adam fell? Are you comfortable with saying that God withheld His grace, needful to prevent sinning, and, thereby, is not the author of sin? Edwards is willing to say that God is the author of sin in the sense that He is the cause of everything that happens. However, God did not infuse an evil propensity into Adam so as to cause an evil action; He withdrew from him [a deprivation view, 3:381]. God permits evil in this manner; He is not the cause of it."

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Calvinism / Southern Seminary in the news,8599,1583921,00.html

So, after reading this article, I was asking myself the question ... is Al talking about actual, historical Calvinism, or about his own personal beliefs? Because my experience has been that Calvinism in practice and polemic, as regards free will, goes a good bit beyond "you can't save yourself" to the point of "Mankind has a free will; but it is free to milk cows and to build houses, nothing more." In truth, there was little, if anything, I found to disagree with in what was billed as a "Calvinist apology" article.

What do you think?

P.S. Extra brownie points to whoever figures out the author of the cows quote.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Counsel or Command?

I'm reading A Theology of Christian Counseling by Jay Adams for a class - he says this: "By counsel (he didn't decide to do it on his own) Adam named the animals. By counsel he dressed the garden. By counsel he learned of the trees in the garden and the proper use of them (as well as the possible consequences of misuse). All this came after creation, to a man who was made to be dependent on God's counsel for all his life, who was capable of being changed and developed by that counsel...But something happened that led to the misery we have already mentioned: man turned from God's counsel to heed Satan's counsel" (p. 3).

I read that and really had a problem with the wording - "counsel". I mean, really, is that what was going on? Was God "counseling" Adam not to eat of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't that a COMMAND?

Adams then goes on to say, "Man has no counsel that is strictly "his own" (John 8:34-44). If he rejects God's counsel, whatever counsel he follows instead turns out to be Satan's counsel" (p. 5).

But is it true that men cannot think up evil by himself, without the aid of the devil? Does that mean that EVERY evil thing I do is because I got the idea from the devil? What about my heart? Doesn't James say I am the source of my sin?

The only time I found a verse talking about God's counsel was in Job 15:8 - is says this: "Do you hear the secret counsel of God, And limit wisdom to yourself?"

I'm having trouble seeing Adams' point of seems like he has a subject and is proof texting an idea that he made up. Why not just be Biblical? Is the Bible not enough? Why should I say "counsel" when the Bible clearly shows that it was a command?

And why should I blame the devil for all the evil I do, when the Bible makes it clear that I am evil and need no help?

Sorry, I'm a little tired, and ranting - but I had to dump it somewhere :)

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Free Willy-Nilly

Doesn't the idea that our choices are determined by our greatest inclination born out by every-day experience?

Why did I choose to come to a coffee shop to study, instead of hanging out with my fiancee? Because strongest and most desirable inclination is to get my reading done for school. I didn't make the decision arbitrarily.

If my choice is determined by my greatest inclination, where does that inclination come from? Wouldn't it come from my nature, or, as Scripture might say, the condition of my heart (i.e. stone or flesh)?

What of Scripture saying "I will give you a new heart and new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to obey my rules"?

Doesn't this imply that a person's obedience is contingent upon that person being filled with the Spirit and having a new Spirit-installed heart and spirit?

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Captive Will

"Freedom is not the ability to act contrary to willingness – what we find pleasure in is dictated by our nature."

Well, that's his opinion. I think it's balderdash, personally. Our nature dictates what things will be attractive to us, but it doesn't dictate which we will choose. Life is a series of choices between different pleasures -- delayed gratification and instant pleasure, sinful and godly desires, noble and ignoble means, etc. We need God's help, surely, to ultimately succeed in our efforts to choose the good ... but the statement "man has no ability to choose right and wrong" just doesn't line up with scripture.

Honestly, if you had no choices and were only able to choose the right when God changes you to desire only good, Jesus would not say stuff like, "Go and don't sin anymore." He would say, "Hold on, I'll zap you with special powers and then you'll never sin again."

The reformed tradition has given us many great things, but this idea -- that human beings lack moral agency -- is not only untrue, contrary to reality, and dangerous, but in the end no one really believes it. How many times have you counseled a person in sin thus: "Well, you don't really have any choice except to beat your wife. We're going to pray that God will make it so that you don't want that anymore." Obviously, this is something you want to pray for, but the first thing you say to them is, "Stop doing what you're doing!"

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Musings from Jonathan Edwards #2

Freedom is the ability to choose what you please based on the options available to you.

Freedom is not the ability to act contrary to willingness – what we find pleasure in is dictated by our nature.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Is the church the main impediment?

Response to Nathan's comment --

You know, one thing I've been realizing lately is how dangerous it is to say "the church" when you mean "this one church in particular". The truth is, every church is different. I think that my experience the last few years has been of church that (from my perspective) was robbed of the spiritual and the personal. I guess I can't really speak for the church at large ... it's more of a "this is something to avoid, that I have encountered".

So, is the church holding people back? Yes and no. God's plan (I assume) is that people come to faith, and are strengthened by the church discipling them and the Spirit transforming them. I think of it as the two elements of music: technicality and inspiration. The church is meant to be a means of improving your "technical" spiritual skill so that when inspiration strikes, it is more effective. If the church is not accomplishing its duty effectively, then it certainly is an impediment. But God is sovereign; he places people in situations with His eyes open; and if I was to blame my music class for my own failure to produce a Gold record then I would be laughed at.

Now that I think of it, though, the church may really be intended more as a family -- and your family shapes so much! Your morals, your values, tons of stuff that you don't even notice. If I said, "My parents abandoned me, so I didn't have the confidence to succeed," then I didn't have to fail because of what they did, but they certainly set me up for it. In this same way, the church will not stop you if the fire of God is in your heart, but they can hold you back a great deal ... and if you were on the brink of failure, then the church can destroy you!

... but it really is a continuum. There are some churches that are doing a horrible job and some that are doing a great one. No church is perfect, and I would guess that there are few true churches that will leave you worse off, in the end. I don't know.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Musings from Jonathan Edwards #1

Sin is not voluntary because all men sin.

There must be a cause to sin because all sin – for if we sin voluntarily then some must not sin, but because all sin, it is therefore not voluntary – for there cannot be an uncaused cause (except God).

Helping Question: If sin is voluntary, why do infants (who do not sin by choice) die?

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Helen Keller

Hey guys, I have a new poem up at my poetry blog.

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Monday, January 08, 2007


Just wanted to test the e-mail notification system. If you don't want to be notified by e-mail when someone posts something new just remove yourself from the google group I added you all to.


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Dreary Days

Weather affects mood...

We're fallen and so is our planet. My weakness manifests itself so clearly, because yesterday it was cold and dreary, with rain either drizzling or pouring all day. I started getting really depressed, for no apparent reason. I mean, sure, life is a bit stressful right now, but Laura and I spent hours registering for stuff people are going to buy for us. It's not like it was a bad day.

But, still, toward evening I was completely depressed. Laura and I had spent time praying, then reading and discussing Scripture. After that we made pizza and chocolate milk and cookies and watched TV.

I was trying to cast myself on the Lord, because he is sufficient. And my spirits lifted some, for awhile, but soon I was back into that funk. And, really, I think it was because the weather was crummy yesterday. Because today it's sunny, and I feel good.

Jesus is the same today as he was yesterday. He held yesterday's rainy world in his all-powerful hands like he has and will all other days throughout history. It's so hard, because I knew it, deeply, understood it. But I felt like the clouds would never lift, and it had only been a few hours of darkness -- not even darkness, but just cloudy. My fickle heart frustrates me. That's why it's good to know that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007


For all you married types: what is something you wish you had registered for?

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Friday, January 05, 2007


I realized after Outback when we were all in town a few weeks ago, that I really miss talking with you guys.

And then I was like, oh yeah, we all have a blog together.

I figured if I was posting stuff, and other people were posting stuff, we'd all be posting stuff. All of which equals the semblance of communication.

But, still, nothing beats talking over free bread and cheese fries.

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Nothing happened here for a few months and then all of a sudden there is a flurry of activity, what's the deal?

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Not Connected

I'm not much of a photog, but I liked this picture.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What Holds People Back?

Fundamentally, the idea of being "sold out" for Christ isn't all that helpful , because there are truly only two types of people: those "in Adam" and those "in Christ." I mean that we are either dead or alive and there isn't an in-between. But I think the point of the question is a good one: "Why are there so many resurrected souls who look a lot like zombies?" By "zombies," I mean "walking dead," and my point (which I think is the question's point too) is that many Christians don't live like Christ.

I think that maybe part of the problem is a faulty view of being "sold out." We have to remember that different people have different portions and not all are called to be Paul or St. Francis or George Mueller or John Piper. Like Jesus said Peter about John living forever: "What is that to you? You follow me!" We must be clear (and I agree with Ben here) that Christ's calling will look different for different people. An "in Christ" plumber might be completely faithful by reading the Word three times a week, teaching Sunday school, leading his family, doing his job well while trusting and thanking Jesus in and for all things.

Focusing on externals is dangerous, because it can smack of justification by works. I know we can't chuck it out the window, because those who are alive by the Spirit will increasingly walk by the Spirit (Gal 5). But we need to focus less on ourselves and more on the amazing Jesus the Bible describes. Maybe that's the problem--people don't know Jesus. The question's intonation shouldn't be "Why aren't more people sold out for Jesus?" but "Why aren't people more sold out for Jesus?"

Our practical concept of Christ is far too small. He is the incarnated God almighty, who made the heavens and the earth and speaks all things into existence and sustenance. He is the resurrected Lord of lords, the reigning and conquering King of kings. We must live as those who, in Him, have been crucified and raised and given His own Spirit of promise. The Spirit has been given as the down payment of the future and final revelation of God's holy and awesome Christ. When He is revealed in glory will be like him, because we will see Him as He is. That's the key now, too--seeing and knowing Him. And Our change will come in direct proportion to our intimacy with Him through Scripture and the Spirit.

But too often (even as I wrote the last paragraph I struggled) when we see Him we don't love Him because our hearts are dull and flabby and our eyes are weak to see true glory. I get excited about a piece of dirt where there will be a small-ish house, but not about the Cornerstone of God's holy temple. And it's so sinful. I thank God that the blood and righteousness of Christ covers even this sin, in this moment!

People's Jesus, like mine, is too often too small. A big and true Jesus as the Scripture describes Him will demand and accomplish big and true change in tiny people like me.

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God = Father, according to Calvin [parts 3 &4 of 4]

So, up to this point we have seen that prior the Fall man stood in unbroken Father-son relationship to God. But Adam destroyed this relationship with his heavenly Father by transgressing the commandment. All of his offspring, then, are estranged from God, condemned in Adam. God’s fatherly love, however, extends by grace to those chosen in Christ, those, who by faith in him are united with him as brothers of the eternal Son. As adopted sons we possess the inheritance of our brother and therefore of our Father. This leads to what might be the most under-emphasized point in Calvin’s theology: that the God who works with all-sovereign providence loves and cares for his children because he is their Father.

The Relationship Trusted

The doctrine of fatherhood which pervades Calvin’s entire theology, is especially significant in his doctrine of providence. It’s everywhere, undermining that frequent caricature of Calvin’s God being a merciless potentate who happily dictates damnation, simply because he can. Bierma notes that there is indeed “a one-sided emphasis in the field of Calvin research.”[1] However, in the actual substance of Calvin’s theology it seems that terms such as fatherly “care,” “benevolence,” and “love” arise almost spontaneously, in a diverse array of contexts.

To say, however, that Calvin sees God’s fatherly love as unilaterally bestowed upon all people in all ways would be a gross misrepresentation. Those in Adam do receive some benefits of the loving fatherly character of God—Calvin explains that God “sustains, nourishes, and cares for everything he has made, even to the last sparrow.”[2] They are, however, ultimately the recipients of wrath and judgment.

But, as has been clearly demonstrated, those in Christ relate to God as Father and as such God relates to them as sons, with care and love, direction and discipline. Wilterdink notes, “Calvin shows repeatedly that he sees this all-pervasive providence in terms of God’s fatherly favor.”[3] Calvin brings both of these ideas together when he says that “either fatherly favor and beneficence or severity of judgment often shine forth in the whole course of providence.”[4]

Calvin understands this fatherly favor of God as that of “special care.” Calvin says of unbelievers, “Indeed, although they subscribe to Paul’s statement that we have our being and live in God, yet they are far from that earnest feeling of grace which he commends, because they do not at all taste God’s special care, by which alone his fatherly favor is known.”[5] Here Calvin is discussing the specific sovereign action of God, in which he acts as in fatherly provision toward his creation. This indeed is grace, even toward those who are not sons. However, this special, fatherly care of God manifests itself more fully and profoundly in his dealings with believers. Calvin explains:

There are very many and very clear promises that testify that God’s singular providence watches over the welfare of believers [Calvin here quotes a variety of biblical texts: Ps 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7; Ps 91:1; Zech 2:8; Jer 1:18; Is 49:25]. Indeed the purpose of Biblical history is to teach that the Lord watches over the ways of saints with such great diligence that they do not even stumble over a stone. Therefore, as we rightly rejected a little above the opinion of those who imagine a universal providence of God, which does not stoop to the especial care of any particular creature, yet first of all it is important that we recognize this special care toward us [….] we ought to realize that God watches over us with all the closer care [….] God has chosen the church to be his dwelling place, there is no doubt that he shows by singular proofs his fatherly care in ruling it.[6]

So, believers, in contrast to the condemned, know the “special care” of God’s fatherly favor, which God repeatedly promises and fulfills. God purposed the biblical witness to testify to this marvelous truth, that God cares ever so closely for his people, as a Father for a child. Proof of this fatherly care abounds. God bestows blessings received in Christ, on earth to some extent, but fully and ultimately in the heavenly kingdom: “For before he shows us openly the inheritance of eternal glory, God wills by lesser proofs to show himself to be our Father.”[7]

These “lesser proofs” Calvin sees in a multi-faceted way, one of which is in the mysterious difficulties of life, even (especially?) for those in Christ. God demonstrates his fatherly affection for his children in and by these circumstances. Calvin says: “In short, if all things flow unto us according to our wish, but we are uncertain of God’s love or hatred, our happiness will be accursed and therefore miserable. But if in Fatherly fashion God’s countenance beams upon us, even our miseries will be blessed. For they will be turned into aids to salvation.”[8] Calvin here overturns human wisdom, explaining that apart from the assurance of God’s beaming and fatherly countenance upon them, no one will experience true happiness. But sons of God may be assured; God is for them and love them because he is their Father, working all things out for their blessing and salvation. Important for Calvin is the fact that much of God’s fatherly care is veiled for his still earth-bound sons. Sons receive their inheritance on death’s other side, tasting only the down payment until that time.

Calvin maintains this position even more vigorously in his discussion of the Cross:

But it behooves the godly mind to climb still higher, to the height to which Christ calls his disciples: that each must bear his own cross. For whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of his fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil. It is the Heavenly Father’s will thus to exercise them so as to put his own children to a definite test. Beginning with Christ, his first-born, he follows this plan with all his children.[9]

As a human father would discipline his human son, so a believer’s heavenly Father disciplines his adopted sons—because he loves them. On this idea, Calvin best interprets himself: “Now because that only is pleasing to us which we recognize to be for our salvation and good, our most merciful Father consoles us also in this respect when he asserts that in the very act of afflicting us with the cross he is providing for our salvation.”[10] This is not the merciless punishment of a tyrant, but the loving work of a Father for his children. Contrary to much theology, the God of Calvin is a Father who loves his children enough to chastise them, and bring them what they most need—a painful and heavy cross. A cross which brings salvation.

Perhaps the most poignant example in the Institutes of Calvin’s conception of God as Father is in his discussion on prayer. Astonishingly, as Calvin says, in Christ we may call God “Father;” in fact, God not only permits believers to address him as “Father,” but desires that they do so: “God both calls himself our Father and would have us so address him.”[11] In the next breath (or pen stroke), Calvin continues, “By the great sweetness of this name he frees us from all distrust, since no greater feeling of love can be found elsewhere than in the Father. Therefore he could not attest his own boundless love toward us with any surer proof than the fact that we are called ‘children of God.’”[12] Calvin’s logic flows seamlessly here: In Christ, God desires that we call him “Father.” Because “Father” denotes the greatest conceivable love, distrust flees. This, then, is the surest proof of God’s love toward us: our adoption, in which we are called “children of God.”

Similarly, in the next section, Calvin expounds the parable of the prodigal son which “depicts and represents for us […] this abundance of fatherly compassion,” whose archetype is God himself.[13] Calvin comments on this parable, saying:

In setting forth this example of great compassion to be seen in man, he willed to teach us how much more abundantly we ought to expect it of him. For he is not only a father but by far the best and kindest of all fathers, provided we still cast ourselves upon his mercy, although we are ungrateful, rebellious, and forward children. And to strengthen our assurance that he is this sort of father to us if we are Christians, he willed that we call him not only “Father” but explicitly “our Father.” It is as if we addressed him: “O Father, who dost abound with great devotion toward thy children, and with great readiness to forgive, we thy children call upon thee and make our prayer, assured and clearly persuaded that thou bearest toward us only the affection of a father, although we are unworthy of such a father.”[14]

He notes that the compassion of the father in the parable of the prodigal pails compared to the compassion of God who is “best and kindest of all fathers.” God’s fatherhood likewise stands in contrast to the unworthiness of his children, whom God calls to himself in a most intimate and loving relationship, desiring that they relate to him as such. In this way, it seems, Calvin explains the entirety of an adopted son’s response toward his all-loving and all-gracious Father in heaven: to acknowledge with full assurance that his heavenly Father feels only love, devotion, and affection for him—abundantly so—and is ready to forgive despite his wretched unworthiness.


The fatherhood of God is not an issue peripheral or incidental to Calvin’s theology. While the limits of this paper preclude a full discussion of this concept in Calvin’s understanding, it has traced a rough contour of his position on God as Father. This notion pervades the heart of some of the most central elements of Calvin’s theology: faith, salvation, and providence. We have seen that Adam was the son of God before the Fall, but severed that relationship because of sin. Though men then stand condemned, God, in his loving and fatherly character still manifests blessings upon them, especially and ultimately toward believers. God provided, in Christ, a way for Adam’s children to be once again adopted as sons of God. By faith in Christ, who is the natural, eternal, and true Son of God, believers are brought into Christ and united with him, adopted as brothers. As brothers of Christ, they may then be adopted as sons of God. And as sons, they may trust in the loving care of their all-gracious and merciful Father, whose inheritance they will receive in the heavenly kingdom.

The academy and the church alike suffer from a lack of balanced explanation of Calvin’s theology. We must not accept or draw a caricature of the theology of man who is so manifestly biblical in his understanding, desiring to faithfully expound the biblical categories and descriptions of the all-sovereign, all-loving, all-holy Father-God. A robust and proportional portrait of Calvinism must apprehend this foundational teaching which percolates through all of his thought: “The purpose of Biblical history is to teach that the Lord watches over the ways of saints with such great diligence that they do not even stumble over a stone.” As only a father is, Calvin, explains, such is our God, to infinite degree.

[1] Lyle D. Bierma, “Book Reviews: Calviana” of Garret A. Wilterdink, Tyrant or Father? A Study of Calvin’s Doctrine of God, 2 vols. (Bristol, IN: Wyndam Hall, 1985), in Calvin Theological Journal (Vol. 21, no. 2, November 1986, 239-41), 241.

[2] 1.16.1

[3] Wilterdink, 13.

[4] Inst., 1.17.1.

[5] Ibid., 1.16.1.

[6] Ibid., 1.17.6.

[7] Ibid., 3.9.3.

[8] Ibid., 3.2.28.

[9] Ibid., 3.8.1.

[10] Ibid., 3.8.11.

[11] Ibid., 3.20.36.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 3.20.37.

[14] Ibid.

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Where are you going?

This is a response to the question -- "What's holding people back?"

Following Christ 100% is not as easy as just choosing to do it. Even if you didn't have all kinds of sins and temptations luring you away, the actual goal is kind of elusive. Let's be honest, what we call being sold out for Christ usually ends up looking more like an interest or even obsession with ministry or Christian topics, and a combination of blindness or leniency to our own pet sins and condemnation of the pet sins of others.

I love how Kierkegaard says it's an Either/Or, and that is true to a certain extent; however, the reality is that there is no way to escape moral ambiguity. The person who throws themselves into a life of sacrifice may find it easier to live a morally upstanding life, but this is not necessarily the true good that God desires. It can just as easily lead to pride and arrogance, insular "professional hobby-ism", or a self-loving martyr complex.

The problem is, the true good is difficult to divine, because it is not what you do, but who you are. It is not merely following a code (cleaning the outside of the cup, if you will), but where your heart is. Truthfully, I don't think it would be an improvement to have a bunch of "sold out Christians" if they did not actually have a heart change ... and a heart change must be personal, and must be forged in the fires of God by His person. It is also relative and individual -- "to whom much is given, much will be required."

For me, the key is in the personhood of God. First, without God's personhood, the question of "what's holding you back from a godly life" becomes only a more serious version of "what's holding you back from losing weight?". But if Christianity is not a quest for personal excellence and holiness, but rather the deepening of a relationship with a person without whose help you cannot succeed, the crux changes fundamentally. You cannot simply follow a series of steps to become holy, because it is only through following Christ's person that you become so.

If you want my answer to what's really holding Joe Christian back, it's that this kind of Christianity is not modeled in the church. The pulpit presents an impotent religion, a code of rules and regulations that promises grace and freedom but delivers nothing, expects outward conformity without providing the power to enact it, and expects a person already drawn towards evil by nature and nurture to simply drop everything and switch to a new set of cultural foibles, without the overwhelming transformational power that the true Christ brings. Impersonal and academic religion cannot hope to bring about true transformation.

In essence, however, the road is narrow and there are few who find it. It should not be a surprise to us that the true good is so hard to follow.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

God = Father, according to Calvin [part 2 of 4]

The Relationship Restored

God initiates this restoration of his relationship with sinful men, and still loves them as a Father. The instrument of this reconciling work is faith, the object of this faith is Christ (the true Son) and the goal is reconciliation, the restitution of God being to us a Father. Calvin explains, “Although the preaching of the cross does not agree with our human inclination, if we desire to return to God our Author and Maker, from whom we have been estranged, in order that he may again begin to be our Father, we ought nevertheless to embrace it humbly.”[1] Calvin here clearly denotes that God’s goal in salvation is to make himself again “to be our Father,” with all of the benefits that this entails.

The instrumental means of reconciliation is faith, which leads to this mending of disrupted Father-son relationship. As was stated above, the object of faith is Christ. Absolutely. But Calvin explains the object of faith more fully. Faith for Calvin has one object, with a general and a specific component. Specifically, one places faith in Christ and his atoning work. And more generally one places faith in the nature and character of God himself. This is perfectly consistent, for Christ is the most poignant manifestation of God’s fatherly character. Therefore the way one demonstrates faith in God’s loving and fatherly character is by having faith in Christ.

This faith itself is defined by Calvin as “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”[2] Calvin further elaborates on what this benevolence is, as well as the object of faith. He says:

Briefly, he alone is truly a believer who, convinced by a firm conviction that God is a kindly and well-disposed Father toward him, promises himself all things on the basis of his generosity; who, relying upon the promises of divine benevolence toward him, lays hold on an undoubted expectation of salvation.[3]

Faith, then, for Calvin, is trust in God’s (fatherly) benevolence, benevolence which is seen in Christ, the ultimate expression of God’s “kindly and well-disposed” Fatherhood. Clearly, the fatherhood of God is not a peripheral for Calvin. He here centers his entire doctrine of faith upon his understanding of God’s fatherhood. God as Father, in this way, is both the object and the goal of a believer’s faith.

Faith’s specific object, again, is Christ himself, into whom believers are engrafted and adopted as sons of God. In discussing the assurance of election, Calvin explains that believers seek such assurance only in Christ. This, similarly, has manifold implications for the understanding of God’s fatherhood as it relates to faith in Christ:

If we seek God’s fatherly mercy and kindly heart, we should turn our eyes to Christ, on whom alone God’s Spirit rests [….] Accordingly, those whom God has adopted as his sons are said to have been chosen not in themselves but in his Christ; for unless he could love them in him, he could not honor them with the inheritance of his Kingdom if they had not previously become partakers of him. But if we have been chosen in him, we shall not find assurance of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we conceive him as severed from his Son. Christ, then, is the mirror wherein we must, and without self-deception may, contemplate our own election. For since it is into his body the Father destined those to be engrafted whom he has willed from eternity to be his own, that he may hold as sons all whom he acknowledges to be among his members, we have a sufficiently clear and firm testimony that we have been inscribed in the book of life if we are in communion with Christ [….] the Heavenly Father will count as his sons all those who have received him in faith.” [4]

Calvin begins this section by setting the entire context of faith in Christ as seeking “God’s fatherly mercy and kindly heart.” But believers seek to relate to God as Father, not in the Father himself, but “in his Christ.” Though God as Father is the goal, all is sought in Christ. This is not contradictory, because what Calvin postulates here, he does for the purpose of explanation. All is sought in Christ, he says, and is not sought even in the Father, “if we conceive him as severed from his Son.” This is key to what Calvin desires to do when discussing this issue: the Father and the Son are not severed from each other in actuality. This is related to the mystery of the Trinity: the Father and Son are un-severed, yet distinct, each having a discrete role in salvation.

Faith, then, again, is most specifically and properly placed in Christ. Calvin describes those who have faith in Christ as we who “turn our eyes to Christ,” who “receive him in faith,” who “are in communion with Christ,” having been “chosen” in Christ and “engrafted” into his body. The purpose of God’s action to save here is so “that he may hold as sons all whom he acknowledges to be among his members.” As Wilterdink explains, “Consistently, Calvin interprets revelation and redemption in Christ in terms of the fatherhood of God. God is our Father only in Jesus Christ. Christ is the object of faith as the Father is the object of its trust.”[5] Calvin himself again well explains the object and goal of faith. He says:

Let us sum these up. Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.[6]

So, we see here that the generous and loving Father-God gave Christ in order to reconcile us to himself (firstly), and (secondly) to sanctify us. On the first point, Wilterdink boldly asserts, “The very heart of the gospel is the annunciation of God’s fatherhood in Christ.” [7] In this way, then, relating to God as Father is in a sense both the object and the goal of faith. And, briefly, on the second point of blameless living, God’s fatherhood re-instated by Christ inspires holiness. Calvin explains that “he who ponders within himself what God the Father is like toward us has cause enough, even if there be no hell, to dread offending him more gravely than any death.”[8]

[1] Ibid.

[2] Ibid., 3.2.7.

[3] Ibid., 3.2.16.

[4] Ibid., 3.24.5.

[5] Wilterdink, “The Fatherhood of God,” 13.

[6] Inst., 3.11.1 (italics added).

[7] Wilterdink, 13.

[8] Inst., 3.2.26. Also, “He who would duly worship him will try to show himself both an obedient son to him and a dutiful servant. The Lord, through the prophet, calls ‘honor’ that obedience which is rendered to him as Father. He calls ‘fear’ the service that is done to him as Lord.”

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