A Non Covenantal Theologian vs. A Covenantal Theologian

“I believe that there is timeless moral law in the Old Covenant, and that it passes over (so to speak) from Old to New. There was also time bound laws (ceremonial law, civil law, etc.) that don’t pass over. Our guide to defining what passes over — what is or isn’t moral law — is the New Testament.”

Where is the clear Scriptural teaching that divide Scripture up this way? Surely we can agree that Scripture clearly forbids the passing over of the those ceremonial laws dealing with redemption but even here we still believe that God still requires the shedding of blood. The final shedding of blood by the Lord Christ unto redemption fulfills all the proleptic blood shedding before Christ. While the ‘blood of bulls to take away sin’ is no longer required, the shedding of blood has not been done away with for without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. Listen to what Greg Bahnsen has to say on this;

You see the ceremonial law prescribed the necessity of blood for atonement (Lv. 17:11) and accordingly when Christ made atonement for our sins once for all, ‘it was therefore necessary’ that he shed His blood for us (Heb. 9:22-24); the OT redemptive system called for a Passover lamb to be sacrificed, and Christ is that lamb for us (I Cor. 5:17, I Pt. 1:19). The ceremonial law separated Israel from the nations by requiring a separation to be drawn between clean and unclean meats and prohibiting the unequal yoking of animals; in the NT the outward shadow form of such laws has been surpassed — the spreading of the Redeemed community to the Gentiles renders all meats clean (Acts 10), and the sacrifice of Christ has put the system of ordinances which separated the Jews and Gentiles out of kilter (Eph. 2:11-20) – BUT their basic requirement (the eternal principle we might say) of holy separation from the unclean world of unbelief is still confirmed and in force (I Cor. 6:14-7:1). The ceremonial law is therefore confirmed forever in and by Christ, even though not kept in its shadow form by NT believers.

(Bret continues),

So, the outward form has changed but the requirement for blood, or holiness has not been removed (cmp. Heb. 10:1-18), and so the emphasis falls on a covenantal continuity that realizes distinctions and not a covenantal discontinuity that manufactures differences. Likewise none of the Moral law {(a)Covenant (b)Case} has been decommissioned though some of its outward form may have been altered. This is where the idea of general equity enters into the discussion. For example, we may not build fences around rooftops but applying the principle of the case law as it incarnated the 6th commandment we may very well see scripture requiring building a fence around a swimming pool.

So we conclude that Jesus has forever confirmed the Covenantal Law of God. How could he not, given the fact that God’s Covenantal Law was only the eternal reflection of His character? Jesus affirms the Covenantal Law both in their summary expressions (Decalogue) as well as their case law applications and following our Lord we likewise affirm the case law applications as we implement their general equity.

The law was never to be a means by which an individual obtains righteousness, but it has always been a standard by which we measure righteousness, and this is as true now as it was in the Old Covenant.

However, even though there is only one plan of redemption, the New Covenant is certainly different from the Old Covenant.

(Bret responds,)

Not anymore different then my 6-year-old son would be from the same son when he is 19. They are distinct but without being different. In the progress of growth my son is still my son though maturity may make him look different. It is just so with the one Covenant of grace in its various expressions.

They are not just the same guy wearing two different hats, as if we were applying a modalistic approach to the covenants.

(Bret responds,)

Isn’t it odd that I was thinking of the same type of analogy for dispensational like approach except that I would reach for the idea that such dispensational approaches do to the covenant what tritheism does to the trinity? Even in the analogy you use you presuppose that the two covenants are really two different guys wearing different hats. This is explicit overwhelming discontinuity on your part.

Just as there is one God but the Persons are not mere “modes” of His existence, so also there is only one plan of redemption, but the Old and New Covenant are not mere “versions” of each other. A modalistic view of the covenants is a bad thing.

(Bret responds),

And no covenant theologian worth is salt would ever embrace such a modalistic notion.

The two covenants are often set in contrast to each other — by the Apostle Paul in many places (Galatians, parts of 2 Corinthians) and the book of Hebrews in particular.

(Bret responds),

In Hebrews what is set in contrast throughout is the ceremonial expression of the law that those people were tempted to going back to embrace with the fulfillment of that ceremonial law in Christ. The Moral law in its covenant and case expressions is NEVER contrasted with some kind of NT law. Consider in Hebrews 8 for example where in the new covenant God says He will write His LAWS on their heart. What laws could those be except God’s covenantal law since there was no Canon yet where God’s new NT laws could be found? So in Hebrews the distinction isn’t between a new and different Covenantal law vs. an old decrepit covenantal law but rather the distinction is between a new empowerment with respect to the one same covenantal law.

You’ll notice in Hebrews that whenever there is a mention of a different law it is invariably connected with the ceremonial aspect of the law. That is where the contrast lies.
In Galatians the Apostle is not denigrating the Law except as it was wrongly used as a ladder to climb into God’s presence or where it is still being posited as something, in its ceremonial expression, that the Gentiles are required to keep. A quick look at Galatians 5:19-21 reveals that the covenantal Law of God is still in force. Now couple this with the inspired testimony of Paul in Romans that the Law is Holy Just and good not to mention the esteeming of the Law in Romans 7 and it is difficult to see how a case can be made that God’s covenantal Law is eclipsed in the Renewed and Better covenant.

Just because there is only one eternal plan of redemption doesn’t mean that Moses’ Covenant is the same as the New Covenant. They are two covenants, and the latter supplants the former.

(Bret responds),

No, the latter does not supplant the former. The latter fulfills the former. Between those two ideas is a vast chasm that no man can cross.

Let me ask you Jack Baptist, do you really think that in the Mosaic covenant the faithful Jews were supposed to be saved by the Mosaic Law apart from the anticipated work of Christ?

This principle of covenantal contrast seems to be something that traditional covenant theologians are very loath to acknowledge, for some reason I still don’t understand.

(Bret responds),

But even using the word ‘contrast’ suggest that the emphasis should fall on discontinuity, and of course we would insist that the emphasis must fall on proper continuity and proper discontinuity and so would complain that dispensational theologians, whether they are traditional Dallas Theological Seminary types, or Progressive Dispensationalists, or Bullingerites, or New Covenant Theology types do profound mischievousness to the unity of God’s unbroken Word.

There seems to be a stubborn theological colorblindness on this subject among covenant theologians. They use the eternal to efface or erase real points of historical change. This habit of denying historical and doctrinal differences between the covenants comes off to me as quasi-Platonist.

(Bret responds),

“You certainly realize that we might say the same thing of your school only in reverse. Indeed we might hurl the same accusation of Platonism at Dispensationalists as they are forever making this incredible distinction between the New Covenant being more ‘Spiritual’ while the Old Covenant is more earthly… and EVERYONE KNOWS HOW SUPERIOR THE SPIRITUAL IS OVER THE CARNAL, and Non-Spiritual.

For instance, the idea that Moses’ Covenant ended seems to throw them for a loop, and they immediately begin shouting about “antinomianism”, even though there’s nothing antinomian about saying that Moses’ Covenant ended — as long as you acknowledge that there is moral law in the New Testament.

(Bret responds),

But the Moral Law hasn’t ended (cmp. Mt. 5:17f) though it was fulfilled and comes to us now through the hands of Christ. Through His hands that law is a greater terror to sinners then it was in the Mosaic covenant and a greater guide to righteousness to the covenant elect then it was in the Mosaic covenant.

Let me ask you Jack Baptist… where do you find the NT moral law? How did God change as it pertains to the law between the two covenants? Is God nicer in this covenant? Is He sterner? Why would His law need to change? Was there something imperfect about God’s law in the previous covenant? Would fault with God’s law imply fault with God? Should we not preach Psalms 1, 19, or 119 as they esteem the Law, teaching our people, that such reverence to the Law was only fit for the old and worst covenant?

There are so many questions left unanswered in your approach Jack.

In that sense, there are many dispensationalists who indeed are antinomians, because they (ridiculously) deny the existence of moral law in the New Testament. But saying (as I do) that obeying moral law as it is given in its New Covenant context, is part of what it means to be a Christian, makes me not an antinomian.

(Bret responds), What troubles a covenant theologian though is what looks like subjectivism in your system. Whereas God clearly gives His Covenant law in the Old covenant what I have seen is a subjective hunting and choosing for some idea of covenantal law in the New Testament among Dispensationalists since there isn’t one text where that Law is laid out in the New Testament Scriptures such as one finds in Exodus 20. Also, you have the problem with a lack of specificity in this dispensational schematic. The New Testament (as only one example) never says incest is sin. Do you believe it is sin? How can you believe it to be sin given the fact that your New Testament Law nowhere forbids incest? Now, I have no doubt you would say that incest is sin but given your approach I see you only having a subjective authority when you insist that it is sin. Finally, in the end Christ clearly said that he did not come to destroy the Law.

There is only one eternal plan of redemption, from beginning to end, though the amount of detailed information increased as the centuries of Scriptural revelation moved forward. The Mosaic Covenant, even though it couldn’t justify, still served the plan of saving grace by defining God’s holiness more exactly, bringing in a sharper conviction of sin, and prefiguring/illustrating the atoning work of Christ through the priestly system.

(Bret responds),

Were there no justified people who lived under the Mosaic covenant? If there were justified people who lived under the Mosaic covenant were they justified apart from or outside the context of the Mosaic covenant?

Critiquing The Reformed Critics — Does The New Justification Paradigm Work?

In 1962 Thomas Kuhn shook the academic and science world with his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. One of Kuhn’s main thesis was that change in Science Theory doesn’t happen cumulatively or incrementally but by revolution in theory. Kuhn posited that a previously accepted scientific paradigm becomes questioned due to the non-fitting anomalies that exist in all scientific paradigms. Kuhn’s elaborated that what happens in Revolutionary paradigm shifts is that those heretofore unexplained anomalies are seen as more and more significant by certain scientific practitioners with the result that new paradigms are launched in order to better explain the previous anomalies in the old paradigms.

Now, implicit in Kuhn’s critique is the idea that Science is based on something that isn’t completely scientific. A careful reading of Kuhn allows one to see that what drives Scientific Revolutions is not Science but Theology, for it is a shift in Theology that explains why those who are seeking to craft a new paradigm do not accept certain assumptions that existed in the previous paradigm. Now, if this is so, then it is easy to suggest that Kuhn’s work could be re-titled to “The Structure of Theological Revolutions,” and it would be just as easy to apply Kuhn’s observations in the realm of Theology proper, and I think there are those who are trying to do just that. There are those today within the Reformed community that have isolated what they believe to be anomalies in the Reformed paradigm and are trying to launch a new Theological paradigm to replace the Reformed paradigm.

What typically happens in a paradigm shift is that those who inhabit the prevailing paradigm are forced to defend and explain what are often difficult anomalies within their paradigms. I think this is fitting and proper AS LONG AS the ‘newer’ paradigm that is offering itself as replacement is forced to defend and explain its own difficult anomalies. It only stands to reason that if we are going to abandon one paradigm because of its problems in not explaining all of reality well enough, that we should expect the new paradigm that is offering itself as replacement to show that the plausibility structure that it offers is one that can take in and account better for all of reality.

With this background in mind, I would like to examine newer Reformed Theological paradigms that are offering themselves as substitutes to what one advocate in their group has called, ‘the exhausted Reformed Worldview.’ In order to do this I am going to interact with a summary piece that was offered online by one of those who are numbered among those who believe that the Reformed faith needs a new paradigm and whose goal in writing was to give as accurate description of the various approaches to the doctrine of justification that exist within FV circles as he could.

Before we press on there are those who might be asking how a change in thinking concerning the doctrine of justification ends up being a Theological paradigm shift. The answer to that is by realizing that in many respects Justification is at the center of Reformed thinking. Now, when one changes the center everything around the center changes as well. So, a substantive change in the doctrine of justification is really a Theological paradigm change against the whole. It is hoped that as we move through this analysis this will be more clearly seen.

Finally, methodologically, I am going to enumerate the problems that the new paradigm proponents have with the old paradigm and then will follow by examining the problems with their proposed better way. By its insistence on faith alone the old paradigm relies, according to the newer paradigm, on inert or dead faith in order to save. Those thumping for the new paradigm insist that our obedience is necessary for justification though that necessary obedience isn’t the ground of our justification, which can only be Christ alone and His righteousness. The problems here are at least three,

A.) It seems with this arrangement that justification is pushed away from God’s declarative verdict of imputed righteousness for the sake of Christ’s substitutionary atonement to a process that ends with justification due to an ongoing obedience on the part of the ‘being justified one.’ So, in the older paradigm Justification is front-loaded so the Church can say, ‘We are justified,’ while in the newer paradigm justification is at the end and so the Church can only say, at best, ‘We are being justified if our faith remains obedient.’ This would seem to play havoc with any notion of assurance, as the earnest disciple would be forever wondering if his offered obedience would ever be enough obedience.

B.) Though the insistence is that obedience is necessary though not the ground for justification one can’t help but note that in this arrangement it doesn’t seem possible to be justified without obedience. Now, if that is true it is difficult to see, protestations to the contrary, how personal obedience in some sense isn’t being made the ground of our standing before God.

C.) Scripture clearly teaches that,”To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the wicked, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to who God imputes righteousness apart from works.”

Here, works are clearly being contrasted with a faith that is apart from works. Evidently, justifying faith can be both obedient and yet without works and still not be inert or dead. The position of the newer paradigm then is that we are only justified by an obedient faith. Now, any right-minded Biblical Theologian would agree with this 100%. The question that arises though is what should obedient faith look like as it concerns justification. The premise among some of those advocating the newer paradigm (you can seldom speak in universals with the newer school as they are quick to tell you that all of this is just a conversation and not a set theology) seems to be that a ‘resting in Christ for all faith’ is by definition disobedient faith or non-working faith or inert faith. The newer paradigm seems to insist that in order for faith to be legitimate that it must work. Once again, we would agree, noting though that in justification faith that rests from working is doing its proper work. We would wonder if the resting faith of the Israelites at the foot of the Red Sea was a faith that wasn’t working all because it did nothing but trust God to part the Sea? In the same way we would ask if the faith that justifies is not doing its proper obedient work when it rests in Christ for all? So, in the end we agree with our newer paradigm brethren that dead faith can never justify. Our disagreement is over what constitutes dead faith. They seem to be teaching that the historic Reformed teaching that justifying faith which rests in Christ for all is dead faith. We would charitably but earnestly disagree continuing to contend that justifying faith is to be defined as an act that is no way contributory to justification but rather is purely receptive of the person of Christ in all of His righteousness.

Problem # 2 — The Old paradigm so focuses on justification as initiatory act that it neglects justification in its present and eschatological dynamic. Norman Shepherd, an advocate of the new paradigm, has an emphasis on justification that is eschatological. Shepherd writes, “The term ‘justification’ may be used with reference to the acquittal and acceptance of a believer at his effectual calling into union with Christ, or with reference to the state of forgiveness and acceptance with God into which the believer is ushered by his effectual calling, or with reference to God’s open acquittal and acceptance of the believer at the final judgment (Matt. 12:36, 37; Rom. 3:22,24; 5:1; 8:1; Gal. 5:5).” Now, I think Dr. Shepherd has done the Historic Reformed camp a favor by reminding us of the eschatological nature of Justification, and I think we can learn from this emphasis even if Dr. Shepherds conclusions are incorrect. We should keep in mind that Justification is and will be eschatological in the sense of God’s justified people will be vindicated. Further we should remind ourselves that justification as initiatory declaratory act is God’s decreed eschatological justification brought into the present reality of the believer because of the vindication of the Son by the Father and due to the Son’s obedience in that task of His redemptive work. Dr. Shepherd reminds us that we have yet to be justified and we agree as long as that is understood as “vindicated,” but we would go on to add that that is so in light of the fact that we have been justified. Further, we would insist that all those who are eschatologically justified (vindicated) in final judgment are exactly, person for person, those who were set apart for justification from eternity, were justified in Christ at the Redemption event and were justified upon faith alone as the Holy Spirit applied our accomplished redemption. There are zero people who are initially justified who are not also vindicated. Justification does not lapse.

Now, the newer paradigm insists that works are absolutely necessary for future justification. The older paradigm has no problem with this as long as it is admitted that the works that are absolutely necessary for future justification (vindication) are only present because initiatory justification is absolutely necessary for all future works. Second, we must always be careful of thinking overmuch regarding our own works, faithfulness, or obediential faith. R. L. Dabney reminds us that “all the defects in evangelical obedience are covered by the Saviors righteousness, so that, through Him the inadequate works receive a recompense.” So, yes, we agree that since works are the consequence to justification they are normatively required for salvation, but we still insist that our good works are only good because they themselves are imputed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. On this matter where we would differ with the new paradigm is where each respectively places repentance and new obedience. The new paradigm wants to place repentance and new obedience as preliminary to or concomitant with the anticipated pardon of justification that will only come in the final judgment. The older paradigm would insist that repentance and new obedience is required in salvation and so is consequent to the pardon of a justification that is promissory of repentance and new obedience precisely because in its initiatory declarative expression it is proleptic of the future eschatological justification (vindication). It is only in this way that faith and faithfulness can be kept distinct without divorcing them from one another thus resulting in a anti-nomian theology or confusing them with one another thus resulting in a Theology rife with either neo-nomianism or legalism.

Hey East Lansing — Chambers On Piper’s Two Wills In God

Mark Chambers is a good friend. He is one of the few guys that I’ve met who I don’t have to roll my eyes every time he open his mouth. We don’t always agree but we do so often enough that I always pay attention when he speaks.

Below he offers his insights on Piper.

When it comes to two wills in God what we have is a God that decrees one state of affairs while leaving men culpable when they disobey since He has made His revealed will known by way of command and precept.

Piper’s problem is a hopeless confusion expressed in his equivocation of the word will. He consistently conflates want, desire, intent, precept and command with will. God’s command is not his revealed will. God’s command is exactly that, His command. God commands one thing and decrees events that are fully contrary to the command. There is no contradiction there since the ability to obey is not a constituent aspect of the command. God commands all men everywhere to repent. Is this His revealed will? Or course not since all men everywhere do not repent. He cannot will that all men repent while also willing that only some men repent. This gets us tangled up in the absurd “some sense” language of Piper.

Piper says:

To avoid all misconceptions it should be made clear at the outset that the fact that God wishes or wills that all people should be saved does not necessarily imply that all will respond to the gospel and be saved. We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen, and both of these things can be spoken of as God’s will.

No they can’t and clearly Piper is daft. God’s will is always effected; he wills to save the elect and does so. It is doing that expresses volition. Piper sounds like an Arminian. For a Calvinist to say that God’s willing does not imply the accomplishment of what is willed is just astounding. And worse he says that God does what he does not want and wills what he does not will. Even the Arminian argument makes more sense than this. At least the Arminian has a sound reason for saying that God doesn’t get what He genuinely wills i.e. the free will of the creature. Here Piper posits a God who wills contradictory propositions.

Piper again:

The question at issue is not whether all will be saved but whether God has made provision in Christ for the salvation of all, provided that they believe, and without limiting the potential scope of the death of Christ merely to those whom God knows will believe.

Potential scope? Exactly what is “potential scope”? There is no such thing, at least as Piper would have us think. The potential in the work of Christ, or in anything that God does, is identical to the thing accomplished. There is no potentiality in God. The will of God is fully actualized. He does what He intends. Potential is the figment of a temporal imagination.

Piper who is obviously out of his mind and writing cross eyed says:

The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was a morally evil act inspired immediately by Satan (Luke 22:3). Yet in Acts 2:23 Luke says, “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan (boule) and foreknowledge of God.” The betrayal was sin, and it involved the instrumentality of Satan; but it was part of God’s ordained plan. That is, there is a sense in which God willed the delivering up of his Son, even though the act was sin.

SOME SENSE IN WHICH HE WILLED IT? I can’t take this. Decreeing the death of Christ and abhorring the evil in it does not constitute a duplicitous will. The will is reflected only in the decree. How can any 5 point Calvinist say that there is “a sense” in which God willed the death of His Son? I’m flabbergasted. GOD WILLED THE DEATH OF HIS SON PERIOD. He was delivered up ACCORDING TO THE DEFINITE PLAN AND FOREKNOWLEDGE OF THE ALMIGHTY GOD WHO WORKS ALL THINGS AFTER THE COUNSEL OF HIS OWN WILL. There is a sense in which He did it all right. It was exactly what He intended and that from eternity. Piper appears to be afraid to say that God is the ultimate cause of all things. If something happens it happens by divine decree. The only logically sound alternative is the finite god of open theism. I’d like to say that this is because Piper is a Baptist but stuff like this I’m sure has John Gill rolling over in his grave.

Fisking Piper On Two Wills In God — Part II

The assignment in this chapter is not to defend the doctrine that God chooses unconditionally whom he will save. I have tried to do that elsewhere and others do it in this book. Nevertheless I will try to make a credible case that while the Arminian pillar texts may indeed be pillars for universal love, nevertheless they are not weapons against unconditional election. If I succeed then there will be an indirect confirmation for the thesis of this book. In fact I think Arminians have erred in trying to take pillars of universal love and make them into weapons against electing grace.

It only takes one example to subvert this notion of God’s universal love. Universal means without qualification and in every instance God loves each and every individual. Yet in Romans 9 we read,

And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

God did not love Esau therefore God’s love cannot be referred to as Universal. Esau, being reprobate, there never was a time when God loved Esau. Why should we think that God’s disposition towards all reprobate is any different?

I think we should realize that the teaching of a Universal love which Arminians espouse serves in their system to support their doctrine of a hypothetically universal atonement. In the Arminian system because God universally loves each and every individual He sent Christ to die for each and every individual. Can Reformed people take out of the Arminian system their doctrine of Universal love and plug it into the Reformed system of limited Atonement without importing confusion?

Affirming the will of God to save all, while also affirming the unconditional election of some, implies that there are at least “two wills” in God, or two ways of willing. It implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that a different state of affairs should come to pass. This distinction in the way God wills has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries. It is not a new contrivance. For example, theologians have spoken of sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, secret will and revealed will, will of decree and will of command, decretive will and preceptive will, voluntas signi (will of sign) and voluntas beneplaciti (will of good pleasure), etc.

First, I know of nowhere in Scripture that affirms God’s will to save all. We must keep in mind that this is God we are talking about. If God willed to save each and every individual then each and every individual would be saved since one of the perks of being God is getting whatever you will.

Second, it would be less confusing to say that God’s has eternal decrees that are unknown to man while at the same time God has revealed, by way of command, in His Law Word, what the creature is responsible for, which is to repent and look savingly to Christ. Now in God’s Law-Word we are told to be God’s heralds throughout the world but we are not told to say that “God wills to save all.”

When it comes to two wills in God what we have is a God that decrees one state of affairs while leaving men culpable when they disobey since He has made His revealed will known by way of command and precept. Men are responsible to obey God’s command. It is those revealed commands by which they will be judged. Man is not responsible for God’s eternal decrees. This is why Christians should promiscuously publish the Gospel. They do not know who is and who isn’t elect and reprobate and so they go to all men and command them to repent while promising those who labor and are heavy laden with sin that Jesus will receive them.

Clark Pinnock refers disapprovingly to “the exceedingly paradoxical notion of two divine wills regarding salvation.” In Pinnock’s more recent volume (A Case for Arminianism) Randall Basinger argues that, “if God has decreed all events, then it must be that things cannot and should not be any different from what they are.” In other words he rejects the notion that God could decree that a thing be one way and yet teach that we should act to make it another way. He says that it is too hard “to coherently conceive of a God in which this distinction really exists”

Part of the problem here is a unhealthy preoccupation with the secret things of God. God’s eternal decrees are hidden except as they are revealed to us in generic fashion. Who is and is not elect is part of God’s hidden decree. The fact that there are those who are and are not elect generically speaking is part of God’s revealed word.

Still, despite Basinger’s protestations the Prophets are rife with being assigned tasks by God while being told at the same time they would not be successful.

I have deleted four paragraphs from this Piper paper because he says nothing controversial or that I would take issue with.

Illustrations of Two Wills in God

The Death of Christ

The most compelling example of God’s willing for sin to come to pass while at the same time disapproving the sin is his willing the death of his perfect, divine Son. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was a morally evil act inspired immediately by Satan (Luke 22:3). Yet in Acts 2:23 Luke says, “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan (boule) and foreknowledge of God.” The betrayal was sin, and it involved the instrumentality of Satan; but it was part of God’s ordained plan. That is, there is a sense in which God willed the delivering up of his Son, even though the act was sin.

It is important to note here that Judas is held accountable for disobeying God’s revealed command of “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” In the eternal decree of God Judas was always the “son of perdition.”

When we say that “Judas violated God’s will” we muddy the waters since it suggests that somehow God was frustrated. Looking at this event retrospectively, we would be better served to say that Judas, due to the eternal decree of God, disobeyed God’s revealed command and so is held responsible for his sin. If someone were to respond by saying, “Well since we can’t help but do what God decrees then why bother to pay attention to God’s revealed Law-Word,” the answer is found in our Love for God for completely saving us in Christ and in the consequence of Judas’ behavior.

It goes almost without saying that God wills obedience to his moral law, and that he wills this in a way that can be rejected by many. This is evident from numerous texts: “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will (thelema) of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). “The one who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). The “will of God” in these texts is the revealed, moral instruction of the Old and New Testaments, which proscribes sin.

The first sentence would be more perspicuously articulated read as,

It goes almost without saying that God commands obedience to his moral law, but His commands are rejected by many.

Therefore we know it was not the “will of God” that Judas and Pilate and Herod and the Gentile soldiers and the Jewish crowds disobey the moral law of God by sinning in delivering Jesus up to be crucified. But we also know that it was the will of God that this come to pass. Therefore we know that God in some sense wills what he does not will in another sense. I. Howard Marshall’s statement is confirmed by the death of Jesus: “We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen.”

All of this can be rescued by speaking with a bit more clarity.

Therefore we know it was not according to the revealed Law-Word of God that the company that killed Jesus do so. Still, since all that happens, happens according to God’s eternal decree we know that God foreordained all the disobedience of sinful men without violating the pen-ultimate causes that leave men culpable for their sin.

Marshall’s statement would be better if it went something like this, “We must certainly distinguish between what God has commanded in His Law-Word and what He has eternally decreed to come to pass.”

Much of the confusion in all this dissipates when we understand that we are responsible to God’s revealed commands and that God is responsible to God’s hidden decrees.

Limited Atonement — An Inescapable Category

In a recent post I insisted that everyone believes in election. Either one believes that a sovereign God elects his people or they believe that sovereign people elect their God. As such, I argued, election is an inescapable category. Now I would like to proceed with arguing that limited atonement is an inescapable category that everyone has.

In the Reformed understanding of limited atonement the sovereign Creator limits the extent of the atonement applicable to those He has elected. In non Reformed understandings it is the sovereign creature who limits the extent of the atonement to those who decide to elect God as God, arguing that it wouldn’t be fair if the sovereign Creator limited His atonement. What needs to be noted here that both the sovereign creature party and the sovereign Creator party believe in limited atonement. The question reduces itself to where the sovereignty lies as to the decision on the extent of the atonement. Further reflection by both parties should move them to agree that whoever gets to make the decision on the extent of the atonement is the God of their belief system.

As we have said, the argument by the sovereign creature party is how it would be unfair to the creature if a sovereign creator were to limit His atonement. They makes this argument without blushing over the fact of how unfair to the creator it is of the sovereign creature to limit an atonement that doesn’t belong to them to begin with.

So limited atonement is an inescapable category. The only question is where the sovereignty lies in the decision making process as to who will do the limiting. Will the sovereign creature limit the atonement or will the sovereign creator limit the atonement?

Now, if the sovereign creature must elect God before God can be God and if the sovereign creature gets to determine the extent of the atonement can any one tell me where the advantage is in being God?