Thursday, October 22, 2015

Christianity and Civilization

Back in December, 2005 I wrote an article for Biblical Worldview magazine. At one point they had all issues available online but have since taken everything down. I scanned the article and have included it below.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Moral Law is Forever Binding on All

The idea that God could set aside or change His moral law is blatantly unbiblical and repugnant to the Father’s love for the Son.

First, according to the Bible, the law is a transcription of God’s holiness, righteousness, and perfection. This is why the Law instructs us to be holy, righteous, and perfect because God is holy, righteous, and perfect (Lev. 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7, 26; something the New Testament unapologetically repeats – e.g. Matt. 5:48, 1 Pet. 1:16).

In light of this, to say that God’s moral norms have changed necessarily presupposes either that God Himself has changed or that God is at variance with Himself. Both of these notions are contradicted by Scripture, the former by what James says, i.e. that with “God there is neither variableness, nor shadow cast by turning” —the same James, by the way, who defines sin as transgression of the Law (Jms. 2:9), even citing in the process the summary of God’s moral law found in the Decalogue (Jms. 2:8-13)— and the second is contradicted by what Paul told Timothy, namely, that God cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13)—the same Paul who also referred to the Old Testament as inspired by God and therefore “profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16). The immutability and absolute consistency of God are everywhere presupposed in Scripture, easily deducible from sundry truths of Scripture, and are explicitly asserted in Scripture. When this is coupled with the fact that the law is a revelation of God Himself, of His righteous character, of His holiness, of his goodness, then it follows that the moral law has neither been set aside nor changed. (BTW, any Christian who rejects the eternally binding nature of the moral law should forever forego arguing for God’s existence on the basis of absolute, universal, invariant laws of morality. When a Christian says that morality has changed, he has said nothing other than what atheists are forced to say by the dictates of their philosophy, though Christians can’t reason consistently by that assumption any better than atheists can. Autonomy is just as philosophically preposterous for a Christian as it is for an atheist, though the former have even less excuse for it, which is saying a lot since Paul says non-Christians have NO excuse – Rom. 1:20.)

Second, given God’s free and gracious decision to save man, the work of Christ in satisfying divine justice by his vicarious, sacrificial, atoning death became an absolute necessity. This clearly follows from our Lord’s own plea to the Father that if there be any other way to redeem lost sinners that the Father would remove from Christ the cup of His wrath (Matt. 26:39; Mk. 14:36; Lk. 22:42). The very fact that the Father did not remove the cup, as He surely would have had there been any other way, shows that there was no other way. However, if God can change or set aside His moral law as some allege, then there would have been another way to rescue sinners, i.e. God could have simply changed or set aside His law by which sinners are consigned to wrath for their sins, and then he could have waived his hand and declared bygones to be bygones (“For where there is no law, there is no transgression” – Rom. 4:15). In effect, those who say God’s moral laws are mutable and dispensable are obligated by the demands of consistency to say that the Father delivered the Son of His love over to death when He didn’t have to do so, and that He rejected the Son’s request in spite of there being another way of saving sinners that would have spared His beloved Son the accursed death of the cross.

Accordingly, any denial of the ethical continuity of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation ought to be completely rejected by those who hold to the orthodox doctrine of God as unchangeable and self-consistent and of Christ as the beloved Son of the Father.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Run of the Mill Attack on Calvinism

Part Three

For Part One and Two, see here and here

More knowledgeable writers than Mr. Mills on Calvinism and Islam recognize the disparities that obtain between the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination set forth in the previous post and its Islamic counterpart, the latter of which is more appropriately seen as a version of fatalism. No less an authority than Samuel Zwemer, appropriately dubbed the Apostle to Islam, noted the differences between the two and sought to elucidate them:

THE sixth great point of faith in Islam is Predestination, and it has important bearing on the Moslem idea of God. It expresses God's relation to the creature and to man as a moral agent. Although the terms used in describing predestination by Moslems and Christians (especially Calvinists) have much similarity the result of their reasoning is as far apart as the East from the West. It has often been asserted that the Mohammedan belief in God's eternal decrees and foreknowledge of good and evil is a sort of Oriental Calvinism. This, as we hope to show, is not the case. [Zwemer, The Moslem Doctrine of God: An Essay on the Character and Attributes of Allah According to the Koran and Orthodox Tradition (New York: American Tract Society, 1905), pp. 93-94. This book can be read in its entirety at the following link: here]

Zwemer goes on to demarcate the differences, noting, among other things, that Christianity fully affirms the reality of secondary causes and agents while Islam tends towards their denial. That is, in Christianity, God ordains not only that certain ends will be realized or actualized; he also ordains that they will come to pass by certain means. Moreover, while God ordains the means just as surely as He ordains the ends, the secondary causes or agents, particularly in the case of human beings, always act in accord with their own nature and desires. The Biblical or Calvinistic view on this has already been presented. On the other hand, Islam’s denial of human responsibility for what has been decreed is pointedly set forth in the following hadith:

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Adam and Moses argued with each other. Moses said to Adam. 'O Adam! You are our father who disappointed us and turned us out of Paradise.' Then Adam said to him, 'O Moses! Allah favored you with His talk (talked to you directly) and He wrote (the Torah) for you with His own hand. Do you blame me for action which Allah had written in my fate forty years before my creation?' So Adam confuted Moses, Adam confuted Moses," the Prophet added, repeating the statement three times. (Bukhari, 77.611; see also Muslim 33.6409, 33.6411)

The disparity between the Christian and the Muslim view on these points is well-captured and illustrated by Lorraine Boettner:

Practically, Mohammedanism holds to a predestination of ends regardless of means. The contrast with the Christian system is seen in the following story. A ship crowded with Englishmen and Mohammedans was ploughing through the waves. Accidentally one of the passengers fell overboard. The Mohammedans looked after him with indifference, saying, “If it is written in the book of destiny that he shall be saved, he shall be saved without us; and if it is written that he shall perish, we can do nothing”; and with that they left him. But the Englishmen said, “Perhaps it is written that we should save him.” They threw him a rope and he was saved. [Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Philippsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1932), p. 320.]

And so, while Calvinistic Christianity, which is just to say, Biblical Christianity, holds man to be fully accountable or responsible for his actions, the logical conclusion of the Islamic system is that man is not properly spoken of as being responsible for his actions, though he is still subject to Allah’s whims and punishment.

Hence, Mr. Mills' claim that Calvinism naturally leads one to Islam since the two teach the same thing regarding divine sovereignty and human responsibility is far from the truth.

In addition, while it is true that there are Muslims who believe in predestination, it is also true that many Muslims reject this doctrine in favor of something more akin to Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism and/or Arminianism. For example, Yusuf Ali, the famed commentator of a very popular translation of the Qur’an, claims to find proof for free will all over the place, albeit man’s free will is limited in some respects by Allah’s choices regarding at least “big” matters (such as maintaining the stars in their orbits), something readily affirmed by Semi-Pelagians.

For instance, the following verse of the Qur’an states:

Say: “The Truth is from your Lord”: let him who will believe and let him who will reject (it): for the wrongdoers We have prepared a Fire whose (smoke and flames) like the wall and roof of a tent will hem them in: if they implore relief they will be granted water like melted brass that will scald their faces. How dreadful the drink! How uncomfortable a couch to recline on! (Q. 18:29)

In his commentary on this verse, Yusuf Ali says:

Our choice in our limited Free-will involves a corresponding personal responsibility. We are offered the Truth: again and again is it pressed on our attention. If we reject it, we must take all the terrible consequences which are prefigured in the Fire of Hell. Its flames and roof will completely enclose us like a tent. Ordinarily there is water to quench the heat of thirst: here the only drink will be like molten brass, thick, heavy, burning, sizzling. Before it reaches the mouth of the unfortunates, drops of it will scald their faces as it is poured out. (Footnote #2371.)

(For more comments from Yusuf Ali on the Qur’anic support for free will, see the following footnotes for starters: #186, 628, 860, 866, 1333, 1392, 1490, 1503, 1622, 1802, 2057, 2133, 2229, 2247, 2252, 2253, 2395, 2573, 3557, 3644, 3788, 4012, 4233, 4267, 4556, 4593, 4855, 4952, 4963, 5480, 5688, 5832, 5996, 6004, 6168. If the reader wants further garish descriptions of hell, read the Inferno by Yusuf Ali’s Roman Catholic counterpart, Dante Alighieri.)

Predestination is also denied by Muslims of the Ahmadiyya sect, as well as by Shiites, the followers of Ali, Muhammad’s cousin, et al.

Since Muslims also have their “Semi-Pelagians” and "Arminians," and since examples of Semi-Pelagians and Arminians converting to Islam are ready to hand, perhaps like Mr. Mills I should say of someone like John Walker Lindh: “It should not surprise us when a Roman Catholic becomes a Moslem.”

To be continued…

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Run of the Mill Attack on Calvinism

Part Two

For Part One, see here.

Here is the first point on offer by Mr. Mills to support his claim that Calvinism leads one to Islam…

Both [Calvinism and Islam –AR] have a constricted view of the nature of God, a view that limits human responsibility.

In this post I will respond to Mr. Mills’ view of Calvinism, leaving a consideration of Islam’s doctrine of predestination to the next installment.

Since Mr. Mills, in an attempt to confirm the above charge, goes on to write that Calvinism teaches God’s comprehensive sovereignty over all created reality, or at least over who will be saved or damned, one can only wonder what Mills thinks the word “constricted” means. Such a scurrilous charge is all the more inexplicable in light of Mills’ claim that Calvinism’s view of the nature of God puts “limits on human responsibility.” If Calvinism’s view of God actually does limit human responsibility, it would seem only too obvious that Calvinism’s doctrine of God does not teach a constricted view of God’s nature but a constricted view of human nature. To make Mills’ statement coherent, it should be revised to say that Calvinism teaches “a constricting view of the nature of God, i.e. one that limits human responsibility.”

In any case, while it is certainly true that Calvinists believe in the sovereignty of God, and while this does place definite limits on all created reality, including mankind, confessional Calvinism has never thought or taught that this limits human responsibility. While God decreed, planned, and purposed everything that was and is to happen, by His providence He caused and causes it all to come to pass through that natural liberty with which He has endowed secondary agents. The Bible itself teaches the complete compatibility of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The following two verses are representative of this teaching, for in both the sovereign goodness of God in planning and bringing the events to pass is affirmed while at the same time the human agents that brought these events about are upbraided for their evil intent and the lawlessness of their actions.

Genesis 50:15-21

When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, YOU meant evil against me, but GOD meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Acts 4:22-24

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

In fact, Calvinism does not merely teach the utter compatibility of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, as if the two are merely to be thought of as consistent with one another and no more. Calvinism actually teaches that it is only on the Biblically grounded presupposition that God is the sovereign creator as well as providential sustainer and governor of everything is human responsibility a reality. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it:

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (“Of God’s Eternal Decree,” Chapter III, Section 1.)

It is precisely because God created (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6), upholds (Hebrews 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-17), and governs all events, things, and people (Lamentations 3:37-38, Ephesians 1:11), and through the works of creation and all the motions of providence reveals Himself and His righteous requirements (Psalm 19:1-7, Romans 1:18-32, Acts 14:15-17, 17:24-28), that human beings are obligated at all points to render unto Him whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them. To deny God’s sovereign Lordship at any point is to deny human responsibility at precisely that point. According to Calvinism then, man, the special object of God’s works of creation and providence – indeed, man as the image bearer of God – is face to face with God everywhere and at all times, even when he looks in the mirror. We were made in His image and it is in Him that we live and move and have our being. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

In short, the reality of human responsibility is grounded upon and presupposes divine sovereignty in order to even be possible or intelligible. To unseat God from His Lordly throne and place chance or human autonomy in His place is the only way one can hope to do away with human responsibility. Only on the assumption of human autonomy can it be said that man is not a responsible agent. Since Mr. Mills does not deny human responsibility but in fact affirms it and uses it in his argument, it must frankly be said that Mr. Mills has not only failed to impugn Calvinism but has shown that he can’t even intelligibly attempt to do so apart from depending on the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…and, yes, Calvin.

For Part Three, go here.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Run of the Mill Attack on Calvinism

Part One

In an opinion piece written for Western Journalism by Charles G. Mills, which is titled From Calvinism to Islam, the author, a Roman Catholic, takes several ill-informed and misdirected swipes at Calvinism.

The foil for Mills’ attack is the recent Bergdahl affair, and it is the latest instance of what may well turn into a trend, as witness the relatively recent and equally wild flailing of Dr. Mary Stange, likewise in an opinion piece (USA Today), who also used the Bergdahl situation to attack Calvinism: Can Bergdahl’s faith explain his actions? (For those who are interested, several responses to Dr. Stange can be found in the following articles: A Response to Professor Mary Stange’s USA Today Article on Bowe Bergdahl, Helping the media understand Bergdahl and his religious past, USA Today Slams the Reformed Faith…A Slight Rebuttal.)

According to Mr. Mills, Bowe Bergdahl and his father “are said by some to have become Muslims,” a bit of unsubstantiated gossip that Mr. Mills, undoubtedly hastened by his unwillingness to be bogged down with the pesky business of presenting evidence, and justified by the opportunity it provided him to lampoon Calvinism, turned into an established fact in the short space of two sentences. Nevertheless, as interesting as all that is, it isn’t my intention here to probe into the truth or falsity of what some people have said about the alleged conversions of Bob and Bowe Bergdahl. Neither is it my intention to upbraid the author for all too easily hopping on the rumor mill, an effort that would quite possibly only cause him to swell with pride that he is living up to the family name.  I’m also not interested here in going on at any length about how Mills' evident ability to transubstantiate a rumor into a fact through a bit of verbal legerdemain shows that he missed his calling as a priest in the Catholic church which, as every self-respecting Catholic knows, is where the real hocus pocus takes place. Instead, what agitates this response is the following statement made by Mr. Mills:

Bowe Bergdahl was home-schooled and raised as a very strict Calvinist. It should not surprise us that a Calvinist has become a Moslem. The two religions have much in common.

As this response to Mills will demonstrate, what he believes about Calvinism and Islam shows that he knows very little about either, which is perhaps Mills’ way of living out Rome’s teaching on implicit faith, i.e. belief devoid of personal knowledge.

As Mills would have it, Calvinism and Islam have the following four things in common, and these commonalities make a transition from the former to the latter both easy and natural:

  • “Both have a constricted view of the nature of God, a view that limits human responsibility.”

  • “Calvinism and Islam are characterized by unjust and harsh laws.”

  • “Both Islam and Calvinism practice an extreme form of textual literalism in understanding scripture.”

  • “…both Islam and Calvinism produce self-righteousness and intolerance.”

Each of these claims will be dealt with in several future installments. For now, the reader can smart from the fact that it is a Roman Catholic who is leveling the charge that Calvinism makes it easy to convert to Islam. After all, it was a Pope, not Calvin, who said to Muslim youth: “We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection,”(*) a statement every bit in conformity with Vatican II (See Nostra Aetate, Lumen Gentium, Ch. II, sec. 16, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 841.). And it was Calvin, not a Pope, who said:

John’s saying has always been true: “He that does not have the Son does not have the Father” [1 John 2:23 p.]. For even if men once boasted that they worshipped the Supreme Majesty, the Maker of heaven and earth, yet because they had no Mediator it was not possible for them truly to taste God’s mercy, and thus be persuaded that he was their Father. Accordingly, because they did not hold Christ as their Head, they possessed only a fleeting knowledge of God. From this it also came about that they at last lapsed into crass and foul superstitions and betrayed their own ignorance. So today the Turks [i.e. Muslims –AR], although they proclaim at the top of their lungs that the Creator of heaven and earth is God, still, while repudiating Christ, substitute an idol in place of the true God. [John T. McNeill, editor, Ford Lewis Battles, trans., Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), Vol. I, II:6:4.]

For part two, go here.