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).

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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