Sin As A Corporate Phenomenon

“Moral evil is social and structural as well as personal; it comprises a vast historical and cultural matrix that includes traditions, old patterns of relationship and behavior, atmospheres of expectation, and social habits.”

Cornelius Plantinga Jr.
Not The Way Its Supposed To Be, pg. 191

This observation teaches that a unredeemed people who build a culture will institutionalize their particular rebellion against God into their cultural infrastructure with the result that not only are the individuals in the culture in revolt against God but also that the cultural superstructure is serving to reinforce that rebellion in the lives of the individuals. The consequence of this is that if there is a redeemed community living as aliens in and among an unredeemed culture that redeemed community will first have to work hard at recognizing that their home culture can indeed be fairly characterized as unredeemed and secondly they will have to become epistemologically self conscious as to how their unredeemed culture, in which they are saturated, and consequently which they are inclined to find altogether normal, is pushing them in a direction that is contrary to Christ.

All of this is only to recognize that all of us tend to reflect the culture in which we are part. I heartily confirm that regeneration and redemption ought to have a significant bearing on that but it is manifestly self-evident that it often doesn’t. In our contemporary setting part of the reason for this, I think, is that there is not enough work being done by Christians in examining how our cultural mold in which we dwell is shaping us in a non-Christian direction. I also think however that there is also not enough willingness on the part of rank and file Christians to take seriously the work that is done in teaching how the Church needs to be counter-cultural, given the reality that we are currently living in a post-Christian culture.

As we pursue this subject we should likewise reverse this scenario and suggest that among a people who are largely redeemed their will arise a largely redeemed culture that will, by the impact of the common grace, have the effect of putting socio-cultural brakes on their wickedness of the unredeemed that live in their midst to the point that the unredeemed will often accept for normal what is defined as normal due to the cultural infrastructure that is in place in a redeemed culture. This is to say that a unredeemed person living in a largely redeemed culture will likely not express their depravity as thoroughly as they would were that same unredeemed person living in a culture completely devoted to hating Christ.

Now some might object that this is an environmental understanding of the effects of sin. Nothing could be further from the truth since a totalistic environmental understanding of sin would suggest that there would be no way to break out of the cultural mold into which people are born. Quite to the contrary, because of the power of the Gospel, both individuals and whole people groups, quite contrary to their established cultures do turn from the aimless conduct received by tradition from their fathers and embrace Christ. What I am arguing here is not for a predestinarian cultural behaviorism, rather what I am seeking to recognize is that as God has made us to be social beings, social dynamics and the way those are constructed make a difference in the way that we think about and respond to everything. I argue this point with the hopes that we might understand that the Gospel has to impact not only individuals but also the macro cultural constructs that individuals build. In order for the Gospel to be successful it is not only the case that individuals must be saved but it is also the case that those individuals have to be saved with the kind of salvation that challenges the reality shaping institutions that comprise their culture since the reality shaping institutions are still molding saved individuals in a anti-Christ direction.

I think there can be little argument that the Church has done, at least by its own estimations, a bang up job of getting people saved in the last 100 years. From Finney to Moody to Sunday to Rodeheaver to Graham to McGavern to Hybels to Warren to Osteen there has been a whole lot of ‘saving’ going on. But despite hand over fist converts we live in what many people are characterizing as a post-Christian West. Now, in light of this, either what I am arguing above is true or salvation really means nothing.

There is something else that is connected with all this that I find interesting and it has to do with the noetic effects of sin. We often speak of the noetic effects of sin being more pronounced upon the unbeliever over against the believer. But let’s imagine a scenario where two people are living in the same largely unredeemed culture. Shelia is a product of her culture and epistemologically self conscious of her hatred for Christ. The Bible holds no threat for her since she rejects any authority it proclaims to have. Christina on the other hand is a Christian who likewise is largely a product of her culture and who claims to accept the authority of the Bible. Both have decided to have an abortion. Shelia, having an interest in ancient literature, reads the Scripture and says to herself, ‘this teaches that murder is wrong,’ but since this book has no authority I am going to get my abortion. There are no noetic effects of sin on her interpretation (though certainly there are noetic effects on her volition). Christina reads the Scripture and precisely because she holds it to be authoritative insists that it does not prohibit abortion. Clearly in this scenario the neotic effects of sin lie more heavily on the Christian then the non-Christian. Those Christians who accept the authority of Scripture may be more inclined, because of the noetic effects of sin — noetic effects that may be accounted for, in part, because of how they are being informed by the unredeemed culture they live in– to abuse the Scriptures then those who have no dog in the fight since they read Scripture without thinking it has any authority over them anyway.

Ask The Pastor Part III

What about end times? What are all those “millennialism” words about? Has the Christian Reformed Church officially wrestled with these?

In the Bultema case (1918 1920) the Christian Reformed Church officially decided that some tenets that are central to pre-millenialism are not acceptable in the Church. Generally speaking the Christian Reformed Church is amillennialist in its eschatology and especially in its interpretation of the book of Revelation, although its assemblies have never made a specific pronouncement to that effect.

Evaluate the rationale for the CRC’s coming into existence in 1857.

The CRC seceded from the RCA for four basic reasons.

Exclusive Psalmody

Masons and Lodges

English speaking worship

Government schools

In as much as the Government schools were already at that time being run by the Unitarians and since Education is a profoundly religious undertaking I believe that those who seceded were right to do so even if only for this reason. Though the problem with government schools at the time may have been as much cultural as it was theological, still if living these many years later recognize a intimate relationship between culture and theology we would have to conclude that their concerns were valid. Masonry is clearly a different religion and Scripture clearly teaches not to be unequally yoked and so on that score I find their reasoning acceptable. Since they were largely an immigrant Church I can’t fault them for wanting to worship in the language they were familiar. How many of us would attend Churches that worshiped in a second language with which we were barely familiar? And while not an exclusive psalmist myself I can’t fault people who are committed to singing from God’s songbook. The advantages of having Scripture ground into our memories along with verse and meter is itself enough to be sympathetic to anybody who wants to worship in such a fashion.

James Schaap wrote a book called “Family Album” about the CRC. In it, he does what many others have done – describe the CRC membership as having a number of “strands”. Tell about the three strands known as “doctrinalists”, “transformationalists”, and “pietists.”

The ‘doctrinalists’, as the name suggests, are concerned about adhering to the truths of Scriptures and the confessions. They are concerned with the question, ‘What do we believe.’ They would find the genuine stream in the CRC of vigorous Reformed thinking and insist that Reformed thinking is what makes us CRC.

The ‘transformationalists,’ following Abraham Kuyper are concerned with Kuyper’s emphasis of being salt and light to the World with the result that the World is transformed from fall by redemption. ‘Transformationalists’ are concerned about Worldview and cultural issues and believe that Christianity that doesn’t effect cultural, personal and institutional ‘transformation’ is a strange kind of Christianity.

The ‘pietists’ emphasizes the personal, relational, and intimate aspect of the Christian faith in terms of a walk with Jesus. The concern here is to avoid a religion that has the mind but leaves the heart unaffected.

It should go without saying that these three form a kind of three legged stool, that requires the presence of each in order for the stool to stand aright. For example, ‘transformationalists’ without ‘doctrinialists,’ would do incredible damage to the reputation of the Reformed faith by potentially transforming things in a wrong direction. Biblical ‘transformation’ can’t be successful apart from Biblical doctrine. Similarly it would seem that ‘doctrinalists’ can’t survive without the ‘pietist’ reality. Apart from a sincere love of Jesus and a desire to know him, it is difficult to see why anybody would spend their time burrowing into doctrine. Examples could be drawn from this triangle in every direction. Now we should say that the challenge for the Reformed faith is to find a harmony of interests among these different camps as opposed to seeing conflict in these different positions.

Which issue in CRC history do you think is most telling about the nature of the CRC?

I think the CRC claims to support the inspired, infallible, sufficient and authoritative Scripture throughout the life of the denomination has been paramount to its identity. Where the CRC has been at its best it has continued to stand under the authority of God’s Word. Where the CRC has been at its worst it has deviated from that authority. Starting with the Janssen affair where the encroachment of Modernism with its Higher Critical method was excised, continuing through every Synod that has affirmed directly or indirectly that Scripture is God-breathed the CRC has stood in the tradition of its Scriptural based confessions when it has affirmed that it serves and must examine all issues in submission to the King’s Word.

In the 1920s the CRC wrestled with “worldliness” and “common grace”. What was that about? What insights might help us today as we look back on that issue?

The consequence of this debate was the formation of the Protestant Reformed Church under the tutelage of Dr. Herman Hoekesma. The debate seems to have centered upon the kind of disposition that the Church would have towards the ‘World.’ The followers of Hoekesma insisted that common grace did not exist that while God did give good gifts to the reprobate it was not done out of love for the reprobate. They seemed to be reading God’s intent from the end consequent backwards. That is to say that seeing that at the end God intends to damn the reprobate they concluded that everything that happened along the way to that ultimate end must be read in light of that end. If God intended to damn the reprobate then any good gift that God gave the reprobate was given only to make their judgment all the heavier in their judgment, for they were after all always reprobate. The advocates of common grace seemed to read God’s intent as part of a story that is not yet finished. That is to say, they seemed to require that we read the story of men as it is unfolding. If in the unfolding story we see that good comes upon the reprobate then that must be read as a example of common grace.

Those who denied ‘common grace’ seemed to believe that the embrace of ‘common grace’ by the Church would lead towards a ‘worldliness’ that was inconsistent with what it meant to be the set apart people of God. Those who embraced ‘common grace’ seemed to believe that without a doctrine of ‘common grace,’ the consequence would be a church that was isolated in its mission and witness.

It seems that the debate has taught us that both concerns were right and both concerns were wrong. Surely those who feared about a compromised Church may have reason to believe that their worst fears have come to pass as the Church begins to trespass into realms and on issues its members of earlier generations could never have imagined. On the other hand those who feared that a denial of common grace would lead to an isolated Church might look upon Churches that have a strong teaching on the anti-thesis and see very little missional impact in the World.

One insight from this issue might be the necessity of well thought out engagement. One way the McAtee family has done this is by holding vociferously to the anti-thesis when it comes to the training of our children. We have done so out of our desire to see our children equipped so that as they engage the World it is the World that they are transforming and not them that are being transformed by the World. We have sought to be very doctrinalist in our training so that out of a well formed love for Jesus they desire to see every area of life transformed in the direction of Jesus.

Another insight might be is that doctrine of common grace can be held in such a way as to be destructive to the crown rights of King Jesus and the body of Christ. There is and should ever remain a distinction between the people of Christ and the people of anti-Christ.

My preaching on this has been the necessity to build parallel but not isolated communities. As a witness to the World Christians should be building covenant communities that are definitive, distinct, and deliberate in their Christian faith and expression. At the same time we must not, in an Amish like fashion, completely isolate ourselves. We must take the distinctive Christian thinking and living that we are cultivating in our Christian covenant communities (which ideally should include more then just attending Church on Sunday) and seek to spread that virus into all the careers and fields in which as God’s people we are called. This will lead to conflict as the World doesn’t want to be infected with the virus of God centered thinking but this conflict may be indicative that we are making progress.

Andrew Kuyvenhoven, a former editor of The Banner, said upon his retirement that the greatest challenges to the CRC were materialism and fundamentalism. What do you think of his assessment? Are these still challenges? What other challenges might the CRC be facing?

Well, certainly anybody living in the incredible wealth of These United States, certainly must be aware of the dangers of materialism. It is fallen human nature to try to love both God and mammon. The fact that the Church has to often stumbled in that regard is seen in the late Francis Schaeffer’s lament about the Church’s desire for personal peace and affluence above all other considerations. Calvin taught us that the heart is an idol factory and materialism is certainly one of the idols of our age. Materialism has made all of fat, dumb, and happy and unwilling to do anything that might threaten any source that feeds our daily materialism fix. How many of us have thought when preparing for a sermon, “I better not say this or that because it might tick Joe Moneybags off and so dry up the revenue in the Church and thus jeopardize my job.” Materialism has made us obese and it is an open question whether or not we will die from the obesity with which we suffer.

As it pertains to fundamentalism, I’m not exactly sure what Mr. Kuyvenhoven is getting at, as often the perjorative of ‘fundamentalist’ is one of those epitaphs hurled at people in order to stop the conversation before going. Often liberals will hurl that label at the orthodox all because they are being challenged on some contentious point. In the end, the charge, in certain instances, may say more about the person making the charge then the person being charged.

Having given that caveat I would offer that I see very little fundamentalism in the CRC. Now, I readily admit this may be due to the fact that I don’t get out very often. Maybe they are out there and I don’t run in the right CRC circles in order to be exposed to them.

Let me say though with all earnestness that I am as opposed as possible to the kind of fundamentalism that allows for a man to tyrannize his wife because the Bible says he is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. I’ve seen to much of that in my life to stomach it. I am opposed to the kind of fundamentalism that mistakes loyalty to Christ for loyalty to the state all because the bible says that we must subject to the governing authorities. I am opposed to the kind of fundamentalism that thinks certain behaviors quite apart from love of Christ, is automatically pleasing to God. I grew up in that kind of fundamentalism and all I saw it breed was hypocrisy.

For what little I know of the great big ocean that is the CRC I would say that the greatest danger to the CRC right now is forgetting the anti-thesis. From where I sit I think there is a danger that the denomination is going to be finally swallowed by the whale of modernity. From what little I know of the CRC it seems to me that the denomination is in danger of losing its Reformed identity for a mess of pottage called ‘being relevant.’ I think that can only be avoided by re-discovering the idea of the anti-thesis. I think this is the danger not only for the CRC but also for most Reformed denominations with which I am familiar.

Ask The Pastor Questions, Part II

What is pre-suppositionalism, and how might it relate to apologetics?

Presuppositionalism is the school of thought that God and His revealed Word is the necessary pre-condition of intelligibility. As such Presuppositionalism teaches that the God of the Bible must be informative context in which all texts (facts) must be understood (In thy light we see light.) In short, Presuppositionalism holds that all facts are facts because of who God is. If one gets God wrong as the one who conditions all facts then inevitably one will get the nature of reality wrong in a substantive way.

Presuppositionalism thus holds that we must reason from God and only to God once we begin with God. God and His revelation will never be consistently adhered to if we start our reasoning from an autonomous position and in apologetical encounters the Christian will always come up short in his conversation if he begins with the presuppositions of the non-Christian or if he starts on putatively neutral (common ground). This school of thought thus challenges believers to be epistemologically self-conscious about their starting point (the God of the Bible) their methodology (reasoning from submission to God in His revealed word) and their ending point (the Glory of God).

In terms of apologetics the mission of the presuppositional apologist is often to confront the unbeliever with the Christ hating nature of his or her own presuppositions that automatically rule out of bounds any conclusions that they might come to which are contrary to their autonomous starting points. The Presuppositional apologetic thus focuses on the reality that the conflict in apologetic and evangelistic encounters often lies not in the clear evidence that all men have access to but rather the conflict lies in the reality that the non Christian, being in rebellion to God, reasons by his own self-attesting word whereas the Christian, in principle, reasons in submission to God’s self-attesting Word. This reality accounts for why it is that non-Christians, who are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, will not read any evidence for God in a way that speaks of God.

In terms of methodology Presuppositional apologetics is committed to epistemological confrontation done by exposing the contradictions that every non-Christian has in their Worldview living rooms. Since Presuppositionalism teaches that all non-Christian paradigms have surreptitiously imported Capital from a Biblical Worldview the Presuppositionalist sets about exposing the contradictions in non-Christian worldviews starting, for the sake of argument, from the non-Christians own confessed presuppositions. The Presuppositionalist knows that nobody will ever be reasoned into the Kingdom but he knows that regeneration normatively happens in the context of the Word proclaimed.

What is theodicy?

Theodicy is the work done to explain how a God who omni-benevolent and who is Omnipotent can be both at the same time in light of the reality of evil.

The Reformed expression of the Christian faith has always emphasized the “sovereignty of God.” If God has everything taken care of, why ought we pray? Why ought we engage in missions and evangelism?

The easy answer to both questions is because God commands it (Matthew 6, Matthew 28). It should be enough for those who are God’s Knights to do what the King says simply because the King commands it. When it comes to these matters it really is a case of ‘Ours is not to question why…Ours is but to do and die.”

Still, people usually want more than this so we probe the issue.

First, as it touches prayer, God in His sovereignty has not only decreed the ends of His work but He has also decreed the means to those ends. In God’s economy prayers is one end which God also uses as a means to bring about other ends. Second, at least some of the Reformers held that prayer was a means of Grace, which is to say that in prayer God uniquely gives Himself in ways that He does not give Himself except in Word and sacrament. The implication of this would be thus, that in prayer God gives us sanctification as we pray in faith. Third, in prayer it is often (if not always) the case that prayer changes us more than it changes God. In an active prayer life we are drawn into the presence of God where God teaches us the way of submission in those matters that we are bringing before him.

Touching Evangelism we would once again note that God predestines ends with means. God has predestined that thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand, a number that no man can count, will occupy the New Jerusalem. He could, should He desire, save them apart from human involvement, but Scripture clearly teaches that God uses human instruments to accomplish divine ends. He takes crooked sticks and draws straight lines and He does so by taking people like us and using us to take the glad tiding of Jesus Christ to the Church and to the culture. Second, we ought to be involved in evangelism and missions because God uses these as sanctifying shapers in the lives of those He sends out.

The truth of Divine sovereignty should never eclipse the truth of our obligation to be obedient to the King. God is sovereign but we are still accountable to be obedient in those things which He has revealed even if obedience seems destined, from our perspective, to end in defeat.

What concerns and/or sensitivities must Christians be aware of when sharing their faith in missionary or evangelistic settings?

First and foremost Christians must be sensitive to God and His revealed Word. We can never compromise that sensitivity by appealing to a pretended sensitivity to those in our culture. This is important to articulate because often in the name of being culturally sensitive we can show our insensitivity to God’s claims on us and to God’s revealed Word.

Yet, with this clearly before us, it is perspicuous that we must be sensitive to understand why the people we are commanding to come to Christ have the Worldview that they have. Why is it that they have embraced this plausibility structure and not another. What wounds are they trying to cover so nobody will notice. We must be sensitive to why it is that sin is manifesting itself the way it is in a particular person life. It is not enough to say ‘sin is the problem’ we have to go further then that and be sensitive enough to ask, ‘why this particular arrangement of sin and not another’?

In terms of concerns related to Evangelism and Mission I would say that the main concern would be to locate the Idol. Since God is an inescapable category those who will not bow the knee to Christ have bowed their knee to some Idol. Once we identify the Idol we can begin the work of toppling it.

Series of ‘Ask The Pastor’ Questions — Part I

Dear Pastor,

What’s “open theism”? Why might it be attractive? What might its danger be?

Open Theism is that belief that while God knows all things He can not know that which by definition can’t be known, which includes the future. This cornerstone belief of Open theism contradicts passages like Isaiah 46:10

Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

This denial cuts the heart out of the historic Christian doctrine of God’s Omniscience. This in turn calls into question the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. If God does not know the future omnisciently then it is difficult to see how it can genuinely be said that He controls the future is any substantive sense.

The Open Theists argument has been that the advantage of their system is it yields a God who cannot be charged with evil (how can God who didn’t know the future be held responsible for wickedness in the future?) and it allows for a libertarian free will that allows for genuine human involvement in creating the future.

Obviously its danger is that for every bit of libertarian free will that it gives to man it takes that much from God, thus shifting sovereignty from God to man. Also it becomes an open question of how a God who is neither omnipotent nor omniscient is worthy of being worshiped. If the best that God can do for those who have had evil visited upon them, is to sit down and have a good cry with them, then Open Theism brings the open question as to whether that God is worthy of our Worship.

What’s atonement? What are the classical ways of understanding / describing Christ’s atonement?

In Christian Theology Atonement is the means by which the justice and wrath of God are averted. In Christian Theology, because of the Fall, God and man are at enmity. Because of man’s sin the Holiness of God requires the justice of God to visit fallen man unless some kind of acceptable atonement can be found by which the wrath of God can be averted without calling into question God’s Holiness. In Christian theology God Himself provides the necessary atonement with the incarnation of the 2nd person of the trinity for the purpose of being the Elect’s, substitute, penalty bearing, sin-bearer thus serving as the propitiation that turns away the personal and just wrath of God from deserving sinners and as the expiation that bears sin away. The effect of the atonement is the reality of reconciliation between warring parties put into place by the work of satisfaction of the substitute. (Mt. 20:28)

Ransom to Satan Theory (Christus Victor) — This theory holds that the work of Christ terminates upon the devil. The atonement is provided to Satan. Satan holds men in thrall and Christ pays the ransom to Satan in order to redeem men and negate Satan’s claims. Some of the ECF held that God deceived Satan in the work of the Cross by tricking the Devil into accepting Christ’s death as a ransom since the Devil did not realize that Christ could not die permanently.

The emphasis in the Christus Victor theory of the atonement is Christ as triumphant over sin, Satan and death. Christ has come and triumphed and those who look to Christ triumph in and with Christ.

Mystical Theory — Here the emphasis falls not so much on the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ as it does on His incarnation. Christ in His incarnation and perfect life is the second Adam who reverses the course of sin that the first Adam set for humanity. The atonement of Christ is accomplished by Christ purifying the sinful fallen nature by the power of his divine nature and presenting that to the Father as the first fruits of a saved humanity. Men are atoned for as they are united to Christ by faith and experience ethical transformation.

Martyr Theory — The premise is that it is not God who needs to be reconciled to man but rather man that needs to be reconciled to God. In order to accomplish this Christ dies as a noble martyr and men are redeemed by being overawed by his example of faithfulness to truth and duty, which instills in them a determination to moral improvement to likewise be faithful to truth and duty. In this theory there is no connection between the death of Christ and the salvation of sinners in terms of Christ’s death being a payment for sin.

Moral influence Theory — This theory transfers the power of the atonement from the finished work of Christ to the response of men to the appeals that come forth from the work of Christ. Here the idea is that the atoning work of Christ will lead men to such a state of mind and heart that will itself be acceptable to God. It is that state of mind and heart underneath Christ’s moral influence that is accepted as atonement before God and not the atonement itself.

Governmental Theory — This view holds that Christ did not die for men’s sins but rather as a means of revealing God’s displeasure with sin and to show forth what men’s sins deserved. As such the atonement is not a satisfaction rendered up because of God’s intrinsically Holy Nature but rather in order satisfy the necessities of divine Government. This death of Christ thus does not forgive men but makes men forgivable if they will render up the kind of behavior that God requires. The death of Christ serves to uphold God’s moral government while leaving men to earn their forgiveness. The obvious problem here is that this theory moves from a Christo-centric means of forgiveness to a anthropocentric means of forgiveness. Christ’s death does not save men but makes them savable. The importance of the cross is eclipsed by our response to the Cross. In this theory the chief impact of the atonement is upon man and not upon God and so is subjective. It’s intent is not to provide forgiveness of sin but rather to be a deterrent to sin.

Commercial Theory — In this view sin is seen as withholding the honor that is due unto God. Should this kind of sin remain unpunished it would detract from the majesty of God (impugn His dignity). Consequently every sin must be followed either by punishment or by satisfaction. Man can not make the necessary satisfaction that is required by dishonor being done to the Great King’s name. God therefore, in showing mercy, provides the satisfaction Himself by becoming man in order to provide the only satisfaction that can meet that which man requires. The commercial theory is weak in expressing a relation between God’s honor which must be vindicated and His justice which must necessarily punish unatoned sin.

Penal – Substitution Theory — This is the theory that is taught by Scripture and so is embraced by Biblical expressions of the Reformed Faith. In the Biblical understanding of the atonement we find that God and man are at enmity with one another and reconciliation has to take place. The atonement that Christ provides is objective and by that we mean it terminates (is offered up to) the Father. It’s intent is first and foremost to propitiate God and to reconcile Him to sinners. However, there is also a reflex action in the atonement in as much as God is reconciled to the sinner, the result is that the sinner is reconciled to God (Romans 5:10). It is important to stress this primarily God-ward direction in the atonement if only because the primary error in all errant theories is that the atonement is seen as being primarily subjective and manward.

Second, orthodox views of the atonement require the ‘once for allness’ of Christ’s sacrifice. The atonement accomplished is unrepeatable and when applied by the Spirit of Christ is indefeasible. Justification is an accomplished fact and not a process. (Hebrews 7:27)

Third a Biblical view of the atonement requires us to see it as vicarious. Christ is our substitute and Vicar. He accomplished in our stead what we can not accomplish on our own. (Hebrews 9:28)

Fourth a Biblical view of the atonement requires forensic categories. Our sin is imputed to Christ and His righteousness (passive and active) is imputed to us.

Fifth, a Biblical view of atonement requires the sacrificial language of propitiation and expiation. Christ in His atoning work turns the personal wrath of God away from sinner while at the same time taking sin away. Further the language of sacrifice is seen in the whole idea that Christ is our ransom. Scripture teaches without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. The shed blood of Christ is the ransom price that is offered up in sacrifice that we might be loosed from our bondage.

What’s the place of the Ten Commandments in the Christian life?

The place of the Ten Commandments in the Christian life is both to continue to convict and remind us of our need for Christ who provides for us the only righteousness that is acceptable before the Father. The law continues to work in the Christian’s life to preach Christ in as much as it remind us that we remain sinners and that as sinners our only hope is in an alien righteousness.

The law however has what is called a ‘third use.’ This use of the law in the Christian’s life is to inform and instruct them in what is pleasing to Christ. The ‘third use’ of the law is to propel us in sanctification and Christ likeness.

The Puritans had a proverb that taught that the law sends us to Christ for justification and Christ sends us back to the law for sanctification. I believe that is a life long reality. Throughout our lives the law sends us to Christ to remind us that we are insufficient in and of ourselves to provide what we stand in need of, while at the same time out of sheer love of God and passion for His glory being known the law conforms Christians increasingly to Christ.

So, paradoxically enough, the place of the Ten Commandments in the Christians life is to remind that they are covenant breakers who need Christ’s covenant keeping righteousness while at the same time it is to propel them on in ever increasingly becoming covenant keepers in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit of Christ. We see this in the Heidelberg Catechism where the Law is given in the first section to convict of Sin but then in the section on gratitude it is given as the means by which we show our gratitude for being saved from the condemnation of the Law.

Is the Reformed faith “spiritual” enough? What is a Reformed understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit?

Depends what you mean by ‘Spiritual.’ If by Spiritual in that question you are asking if the Reformed faith is imbued with a sense of God’s majesty, splendor and awe, that radically energizes and captivates the Redeemed, then I would say there is no expression of Christianity that is more Spiritual than the Biblical faith which is sometimes synonymously called Reformed. The Reformed faith fills one with passion for the extension of the Kingdom and the desire to see all of creation Redeemed. The Reformed faith fills one with compassion for the lost and rebellious. The Reformed faith seeks to see everything in light of God’s light and to assess all things in relationship to who God is. The Reformed faith compels one to know God throughout ones life and then in turn to make Him known. The Reformed Faith believes that the ‘good,’ the ‘true’ and the ‘beautiful’ only come to fruition by submitting to the Biblical World and life view. If the Reformed Faith isn’t Spiritual enough then nothing is.

The Reformed understanding of the Work of the Holy Spirit is that he is to convict the world of Sin, righteousness and the judgment to come. His job is to make Christ known just as the son was to make the Father known. The Spirit also is the work of the Sanctifier in the lives of believers and the Church. He is the one who continues to cause us to thirst for Christ and He is the one who slakes that thirst with Christ. The Spirit is also spoken as the inheritance which is to come. He is given as kind of a promissory note of all the glory that believers will share with Christ. The Spirit is also the person of the Trinity that is the driving force in the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God. One way that the Spirit does this is by illumining the minds of God’s people and the Church in the reading of Scripture so that we might know how to apply God’s Law-Word to every area of life.

Ecclesiologists talk about the “institutional” and “organic” natures of the church, and the “visible” and “invisible” church. What are these about?

Institutional and organic are typically distinctions that are spoken of in relation to the Church visible.

Institutional Church — The Church as it is considered in its organizational role. This is the Church as considered from the vantage point of its structures, ministries, government, and institutional influence. The Church in its institutional capacity is the Mother of all believers and exists as an agency for the conversion of sinners and the up building of the saints.

Organic Church — The Church as it is considered in its relationships, communal life, confession of faith, and joint opposition to the World. The Church organic is the fellowship of the believers united by the bond of the Spirit.

Visible and Invisible are typically distinctions that are spoken of in relation to the all of those who are in the outward administration of the covenant vis a vis those who have the essence of the covenant.

Visible Church — The Church as it is seen before the World. The whole body of confessing members, both regenerate and unregenerate as known by God and gathered to worship. The Church as seen in its corporeal manifestation.

Invisible Church — The Church as known by God. This would be the true Church and encapsulates all the saints who are in the bosom of Christ.

When should and when should the church not speak on social issues?

First of all, I’m not sure what a ‘social issue’ is. Are there social issues that are not issues because of the different theologies held by different people that are making them a ‘social issue?’ In other words are social issues in reality theological issues under another guise?

I guess the short answer is that the Church should speak on social issues whenever the Scriptures speak on social issues.

How do you respond to someone who says, “Spirituality is Moses’ face glowing when coming down from meeting God on Mt. Sinai, and religion is Moses dragging two stone tablets with God’s commands on them”?

I would say that this is a false dichotomy.

First of all Moses’ face glowed with the Shekinah glory of God for the precise reason that He spent time in God’s presence. If we are now to shine with that Shekinah glory of God the only way to go about it is to likewise spend time in God’s presence just as Moses did and the way to do that is by spending time in the Scriptures and in prayer. There is no separating Spirituality from the fullness of God’s spoken Word and the presence of God in His Word. There is no separating Biblical and Christian Spirituality from Biblical and Christian religion and anybody who seeks to introduce a dichotomy between the two will likely end up in a very confused state. We can not get to Biblical Christian Spirituality apart from Biblical Christian religion. We cannot have the effects of Biblical Christianity (Biblical Christian Spirituality) without having the carrier of that Spirituality (Biblical Christian religion).

Letting You Listen Into The Conversation

Many of you know that the Reformed world in the USA is going through a really donnybrook of a battle between some who have styled themselves Federal Visionists and those who claim to be defending the historic traditions of the Reformed faith. Many of you know I have a problem with some of the beliefs of combatants on both sides of the contest. Below I reproduce a conversation I recently had with somebody on this division within the Reformed Church. The person who is pro FV comments are in italics.

For one thing, the majority of the PCA has not determined the state of the question or even the legitimacy of the charges against men like Steve Wilkins even if they have appointed a committee to do so. As usual, these things on closer examination fail to pass muster when we consider all the attendant factors.

KJ this is revisionist history. The PCA GA, by higher than 90%, accepted the committee report that clearly determined that FV was out of bounds. All that is happening with the Wilkins case is the application of that denominational decision. Actually, upon closer examination what fails to pass muster when the attendant factors are considered are KJ’s assertions.

Secondly, it is clear–whatever you or others think of the matter–that Federal Vision theology springs generally from normal received traditions in flux at differing points in the Reformed traditions we have to this point since the sixteenth century.

You can find almost anything as a ‘normally received tradition’ somewhere at some time in 500 years of Reformed history. So what?

Look, it’s this simple … If the gatekeepers in current Reformed denominations don’t desire FV then FV isn’t going to survive in those denominations. That is the way that all organizations work. Many Reformed denominations have determined that they don’t want FV getting into the water supply of Christendom through their channels thus bringing about the same kind of coup that dispensationalism won 100 years ago when it got into the water supply and infected everything.

The answer is easy here KJ. Let the FV people go build their own denominations. If, as many have said, ‘Ichabod’ is pronounced over the denominations that have given the old ‘heave ho’ to FV then in a short amount of time those denominations will dry up and FV will stand as champion on the grave of that which it detests.

I am too much of a historian to admit the idea that the Reformed tradition was fully developed and constant throughout its entire five hundred year length to this point. So, is it really a compromise of the doctrine of justification by faith? Maybe it is according to Muller who has his own limitations in looking at the Reformed histories and the corresponding traditions but I daresay that some of the men he has studied would be less impressed with his results.

Yes, and many men who study the works of those who don’t like Muller wouldn’t be impressed with their works. Again, I ask … ‘So What?’

Certainly, the Reformed tradition is still not fully developed, and who would contend that it has ever been constant? These are ‘Captain Obvious’ statements. Again, the point of the matter is that different groups desire different trajectories for their version of the ‘Tradition.’ Let each go their own way.

And yes the Federal Vision is, in its less thought out expressions, is a compromise on the doctrine of justification by faith alone.’

But to further throw a wrench in the works…let us do what you have supposed and grant the premise. I’m frankly not sure that this is the momentous occasion that the Reformation was in looking at ‘the article at which the church stands or falls’. Is the Church herself on the brink of destruction because sola fide is purportedly at risk in a denomination not .0000000000000000153254 percent of the entire Christian Body on this planet?

You don’t come to truth by counting noses KJ. By this reasoning something was amiss with Elijah since he was one of the .0000000000000000153254 percent of the entire faithful body in Israel. Being the avid student of history that you claim to be you surely realize that minorities often are those who save the day.

Remember the Mustard Seed.

Go ahead, drop a zero on the right side of the decimal from that percentage and include all the other Reformed bodies that have commented negatively on the FV and what do we have other than a very small group–something like the leaf way up high on massive oak that is hundreds of years old–telling the entire Church how she must view this issue.

Just imagine how small of leafs Luther and Calvin and Bucer, and Zwingli, and Peter Martyr and Bullinger et. all must have been. And yet …

No doubt a proper understanding of justification by faith alone is important and central to the gospel, but it is not equivalent to the gospel.

Is this like saying a proper functioning ovary is important and central to getting pregnant, but it is not equivalent to getting pregnant?

Well, sure, but no woman will ever get pregnant without a proper functioning ovary. Just so, no one will ever be saved without a gospel which casts all on Christ alone.

And, frankly the dismissing of the importance of justification by faith alone is troubling.

There are times when other more central matters have pressed to the fore in the history of the Church and I believe we face more important issues than this one especially when (let us come back to reality now) it is not immediately clear that the Federal Vision advocates are in every instance denying that which they have sought to affirm every inch of the way.

There is some truth there. I believe that public square a-nomianism (Radical Two Kingdom Theology) in the church is just as dangerous as FV. I believe that Feminism in the Church is just as dangerous as FV. I believe that humanistic psychology in the Church is just as dangerous as FV. There are many different ways in which the Church can be poisoned. I also agree that not all FV advocates are in every instance denying what they are being said to deny though certainly some of them do. Still, among all the dangers the Church faces FV is certainly a danger that the Church should react strongly against. Now, if she would only act against the other dangers.

The discipline present in Reformed churches carries with it a stench that originally belonged to her Roman subjugators.

That is always what the minority says when they are getting tossed out on their ears. Sometimes, no doubt, they are correct. Sometimes they aren’t.

If anything, the Reformed churches of our land are due for a major overhaul. I pray for revival. Repentance and true revival. The kind that would scare the crap out of the White Horse Inn guys. That would solve our problem a whole lot faster than the countless disciplinary actions sure to follow if the SJC and Mr. Inquisitor General Andy Webb gets their way.

I join you with the prayer for Reformation in head and members. I support the idea that every generation must re-interpret and re-apply the Reformed faith so that it remains the living tradition of the dead and not the dead tradition of the living. I also agree that the White Horse Inn guys would probably soil their undergarments with the kind of Reformation I envision. But for all that I am pretty sure that your vision of Reformation and my vision of Reformation are at such odds that we would be disappointed if either of our visions came to pass.

It is a good thing that God’s vision will come to pass when genuine Reformation comes and not Horton’s and not Webb’s and not Wilson’s and not Johnson’s and not McAtee’s.

Well … maybe McAtee’s