Thursday, January 29, 2009

Promptly and Sincerely in the Service of God

Calvin's personal motto was Cor meum tibi offero domine prompte et sincere, "I offer you my heart, Lord, promptly and sincerely." His emblem featured a heart held in a hand and presented to God. Everything in his life testifies that this was no empty platitude, but the rule by which he lived.

One of my favorite Youtube videos

This is one very talented young man. And while you're at it, you really need to check this video out, too, by the same guy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Michael's Ruse Revisited

As I was reading Calvin's commentary on Genesis 1 as a part of my Torah study, I was reminded of the Creation/Evolution flap (actually Evolution/Intelligent Design flap) in Pratt several years ago. It just so happened that at the same time the Kansas State School Board passed changes to the Science standards, de-emphasizing the theory of evolution, the Pratt School Board was approached by a group of patrons urging the board to allow the teaching of Intelligent Design.

Well, our little community made national news, don't you know! And our humble little Pratt Tribune received a letter to the editor from Michael Ruse, world famous philosopher and defender of evolution. He made some rather astonishing claims that I just couldn't let go unchallenged. So I put pen to paper myself and formulated the following reply which was printed in the Tribune in September of 2000.

Dear Editor,

Last week noted philosopher Michael Ruse, a self-confessed “enthusiastic evolutionist” and “fanatical supporter of the theory of natural selection of Charles Darwin,” complained of being “misrepresented, quoted selectively and out of context” by creationists, “making [him] apparently say things the very opposite to that which [he] intend[ed].” And then he himself proceeded to misrepresent, quote selectively and out of context, Saint Augustine and John Calvin, and by implication the majority of Christian thinkers through the centuries.

Ruse argued that creationism is both “false science and bad religion.” His claim that creationism is “false science” is itself false. But since this point has already been ably defended by others, the point I am interested in now is his argument that creationism is bad religion.

Amazingly, Ruse states, “Creationism is…bad religion. It is not traditional Christianity, either Catholic or Protestant.” Further, he says, “Creationism…is a bastard invention of nineteenth-century America, primarily a product of Seventh Day Adventists…” These statements are, at best, uninformed (hardly possible for such a celebrated philosopher). At worst, they are disingenuous. Indeed, Michael appears to be pulling a “ruse.”

The fact of the matter is, belief in a literal six days of creation a la Genesis is traditional Christianity, as anyone acquainted with the history of Christian theology readily knows. It is true that a number of Christian thinkers through the centuries applied a figurative sense to the Biblical account of creation. But it does not follow that they thereby denied a literal sense. Barnabas (c. A.D. 100), for instance, held to a literal six-day creation, but also argued that the six days were intended by God to foreshadow six thousand years of human history, from creation to the consummation of all things (Ep. of Barnabas, XV). Irenaeus (A.D. 120-202) taught the same thing (Against Heresies, V.xxviii.3), as did a number of others.

Theophilus (c. A.D. 175), likewise, taught that “God made all things out of nothing” in six literal days (To Autolycus, II.x-xi). Other early Church Fathers who expressed their belief in a literal six-day creation in the recent past include Hippolytus (c. A.D. 230, in comments on Gen. 1:5-6), Archelaus (c. A.D. 277, in “The Disputation with Manes,” 31), Methodius (c. 300, in The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, VII.v), Victorinus (c. 300, in “On the Creation of the World”), and Lactantius (c. A.D. 325 in “The Divine Institutes,” VII.xiv).

It is indeed surprising to see Ruse claim that Augustine (354-430) “wanted no truck with Creationist miracle-mongering.” For, aside from the fact that Augustine affirmed the truth of the miracles of Scripture, and even reported in a personal correspondence a miracle with which he was acquainted in his own day (Letter 227, to Alypius), he also affirmed his belief in the doctrine of creation as revealed in Genesis. He taught, for instance, that God created matter “out of nothing” (Confessions, XII.vii). And though he believed that this matter might have existed as a formless void for a very long period of time before the six-days of creation, he nevertheless taught the Biblical account of creation much like modern Evangelical creationists. A notable exception being that rather than teaching there were six literal days of creation, he said there was a six-fold aspect to creation that took place on just one day. Further, he said, “we find that not 6000 years have yet passed” (City of God, XII.x). These things he elsewhere said we “must unhesitatingly believe” (City of God, XI.vii).

Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), also, apparently believed the six days of creation were literal days (Summa Theologica, Question 74, article 2).

Ruse’s comment that John Calvin (1509-1564) “stayed out of the business of reading the glory of God’s handiwork from the Pentateuch” betrays an appalling ignorance of an author he pretends to fairly represent. The fact of the matter is that Calvin did see the glory of God in the Pentateuch, and especially in creation, which he taught took place in “the space of six days” (commentary on Gen. 1:5), less than six thousand years ago (Institutes I.xiii.1). And he said, “In the creation of the universe he brought forth those insignia whereby he shows his glory to us, whenever and wherever we cast our gaze.”

Consistent with its Calvinist roots, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) speaks of both creation in six days, and the glory of God manifested in creation. It states, “It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days.” (4.1)

Shall we also speak of James Ussher (1581-1656), the Irish cleric who dated the creation of the world at 4004 B.C., and whose basic Bible chronology was widely accepted in the church for three centuries?

Much more could be said. But this is sufficient to put the lie to Ruse’s claim that “creationism is not traditional Christianity, either Catholic or Protestant.” The truth is that some 20th century Christians have defected from Biblical Christianity and traded in the trustworthy account of origins found in Scripture for the secular myth of evolution.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Calvin's Love of Luther

Whatever greatness belongs to Calvin is in no doubt due (humanly speaking) to the fact that he was standing on the shoulders of giants. He was particularly fond of Augustine among the ancient fathers of the church. Among those in his own day, he thought very highly of Martin Luther. Luther was his elder by nearly 26 years and was mightily used of God to begin the work of Reformation. The two never met in person, but Calvin gladly acknowledged his indebtedness to him and expressed his appreciation for Luther's work a number of times. "It was a great miracle of God," he said, "that Luther and those who worked with him at the beginning in restoring the pure truth were able to emerge from it little by little." He also stated that, even if Doctor Martin should call him a devil, he would "nevertheless hold him in such honor [and] acknowledge him to be a distinguished servant of God."

Calvin's Early Life

John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, in Noyon, a small town about fifty miles northeast of Paris. He had two brothers and two sisters.

His father, Gerard, intended that he should enter the priesthood, and to that end enrolled him in the College de Montaigu in Paris (1521), where he received a classical education. He later studied at Orleans, Bourges, and Basle. He received training in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin and earned the equivalent of a master's degree.

Calvin's father persuaded him to abandon his pursuit of the priesthood in favor of a more profitable career in law. He studied under some of the most able teachers, not only of France, but of all Europe. His legal training came in especially handy when he moved to Geneva and advised that city's council as they moved toward a republican form of government.

Had it been left up to him, Calvin would have chosen the quiet life of a scholar over the active life of a pastor, preacher, and reformer. His first publishing venture demonstrated the nature of his academic interest: a commentary on Seneca's De Clementia (1532).

Calvin had been exposed to the ideas of the Reformation which were spreading throughout Europe like wildfire. He briefly recounts his early life and his conversion in the introduction to his commentary on the Psalms.

When I was as yet a very little boy, my father had destined me for the study of theology. But afterwards, when he considered that the legal profession commonly raised those who followed it to wealth, this prospect induced him suddenly to change his purpose. Thus it came to pass, that I was withdrawn from the study of philosophy, and was put to the study of law. To this pursuit I endeavoured faithfully to apply myself, in obedience to the will of my father; but God, by the secret guidance of his providence, at length gave a different direction to my course. And first, since I was too obstinately devoted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off other studies, I yet pursued them with less ardour.


Thanks to Allison Reed for sending me the following link. Pretty funny!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ay, there's the rub!

We would not be far from the mark to say that the primal sin that lies at the root of all sin, is that self-will which refuses to be content with limitations on our (supposed) freedom. Jude tells us of certain angels "who did not stay within their own position of authority" and suffered the consequences of their overreaching (Jude 6).

This was also the sin of Adam and Eve. They were not content to be subordinate to God, even though they were created in his image and were placed at the head of his creation. They just had to have more. They had to be "like" (equal to) God. They had to know good and evil for themselves, rather than let God define their moral world for them.

This mother of all sins carries over into marriage. One of the principle temptations women must resist is a desire to rule over their husbands, contrary to the created order (Gen. 3:16).

Consider Korah. He had high privileges as a Levite, but not content with these, he coveted the priesthood also (Num. 16).

Uzziah, too, although he was king of Judah, was not content to stay within his own position of authority, but sought to offer incense in the temple, which was unlawful except for the priests. As a result, he was struck by God (2 Chron. 26:16-21).

A spirit of insubordination and overreaching is deeply ingrained in fallen human nature. This is why there are so many biblical admonitions that we render a humble submission to all lawful authority (Rom. 13:1-7; Eph. 5:22-6:9; Col. 3:18-4:1; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 2:-3:6; etc.).

This is also why constitutions are written, in order to clearly define and limit the power of civil magistrates. They, too, must submit to authority. We do not want to leave our rulers to their own devices and simply trust they will use their power responsibly. Instead we clearly express the limits of their authority in written constitutions.

The old saying by Edmund Burke (I think) is true: "Power tends to corrupt; and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely." It tends to corrupt even otherwise good men. And if not corrupt them, at least tempt them to corruption. It takes a man of extraordinary character not to abuse great power.

Thomas Jefferson was skeptical of mere good intentions. He said, "In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

Our Constitution is a marvelous piece of work--no doubt the wisest and best governing document in the history of the world. But it is only as good as the men who are sworn to uphold it are honest.

Ay, there's the rub!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Grand Illusion

I've just finished reading a very interesting, and a very troubling book: Who Killed the Constitution: The Fate of American Liberty from World War I to George W. Bush, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and Kevin R. C. Gutzman.

Many Americans worry that the Constitution is dying. Leading the chorus are those critics, mostly on the Right, who decry activist judges for rendering the Constitution more and more irrelevant with their twisted decisions, which substitute their political preferences for the nation's highest law. In recent years other voices, mostly from the Left, have joined in, deploring President George W. Bush and his administration's supposedly unprecedented attacks on the Constitution.

We have bad news for both sets of critics: the Constitution is already dead. It died a long time ago. (From the introduction)

The authors go on to examine "the dirty dozen," twelve of the most eggregious examples of the federal government's disregard of constitutional authority.

This is no partisan screed. Republicans and Democrats alike come under scrutiny. Nor is it aimed at just one branch of the federal government. Woods and Gutzman examine Presidents, Congress, and the Federal Judiciary, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

There have always been men in office who have stretched the meaning of the Constitution to suit their political ambitions, but the 20th century has seen an extraordinary acceleration in the corruption of constitutional limitations of power. In earlier times the average citizen knew the Constitution better and kept their leaders accountable. I have to wonder how many citizens today have actually ever read the Constitution, let alone are familiar with its provisions. Most seem to live under the grand illusion that the Constitution is alive and well. Reading this book will disabuse them of the notion.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On Creation

Have you ever noticed the correspondence between the creative acts of God performed on the first three days and those performed on the last three days?

1—Light................. 4—Sun, moon, and stars
2—Sea and sky..........5—Fish and fowl
3—Earth and plants.... 6—Land animals and man

There are a lot of interesting things like this in the Bible.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

And all this without a computer

Calvin's work was quite extraordinary not only in terms of the impact it's had on subsequent generations, but also in the sheer amount of ink he devoted to paper. His collected works fill fifty-nine volumes and include tracts, pamphlets, sermons, catechisms, church manuals, biblical commentaries, letters, a commentary on Seneca's De Clementia, and of course his magnum opus: The Institutes of the Christian Religion, which has gained for him a lasting reputation as one of the Church's greatest theologians. His genius is recognized by friend and foe alike. His prodigious output is all the more remarkable given his rather short life (July 10, 1509 - May, 27, 1563). What might he have done had he lived another 20 years?

More On the Creation of the World

If you've ever read Hesiod's Theogony (Greek) or the Epic of Gilgamesh (Babylonian) or are familiar with other ancient accounts of the gods and the creation of the world, you know just how stark the differences are between them and the creation account in Genesis.
All kinds of wondrous stories about the creation of the world were wide-spread throughout the lands of the East, and many of them assumed a literary form in epic poems or other compositions… They began, as a rule with a Theogony, that is, with the origin of the gods, the genealogy of the deities who preceded the birth of the world and mankind; and they told of the antagonism between this god and that god, of frictions that arose from these clashes of will, and of mighty wars that were waged by the gods. They connected the genesis of the world with the genesis of the gods and with the hostilities and wars between them; and they identified the different parts of the universe with given deities or with certain parts of their bodies… Then came the Torah and soared aloft, as on eagles’ wings, above all these notions. Not many gods but One God; not Theogony, for a god has no family tree; not wars nor strife nor the clash of wills, but only One Will, which rules over everything, without the slightest let or hindrance; not a deity associated with nature and identified with it wholly or in part, but a God who stands absolutely above nature, and outside of it, and nature and all its constituent elements, even the sun and all the other entities, be they never so exalted, are only His creatures, made according to His will. (Rabbi Umberto Cassuto)
Amen and amen!

In the Beginning

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). If we get this right, we avoid a great many errors.
This simple sentence denies atheism; for it assumes the being of God. It denies polytheism, and, among its various forms, the doctrine of two eternal principles, the one good and the other evil; for it confesses the One Eternal Creator. It denies materialism; for it asserts the creation of matter. It denies pantheism; for it assumes the existence of God before all things, and apart from them. It denies fatalism; for it involves the freedom of the Eternal Being. (James Murphy, Barnes Notes, vol. 1, p. 30)

Monday, January 5, 2009

An Anniversary to Celebrate

The new year marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of that brilliant but controversial man, John Calvin, whose name has taken its place among the isms that fill the vocabulary of systematic theologians.

It might not be too much of an overstatement to say that Calvin has been the most misunderstood, the most misrepresented, and the most maligned figure of Protestant Christianity. This is unfortunate because his contribution to Western Civilization has been enormous, not only in terms of systematizing the theology of the Reformation and developing the science of biblical interpretation, but also in terms of his impact on the wider culture.

One need not subscribe to the particulars of Calvinism to appreciate his genius and to be thankful for his lasting legacy. Many of the the blessings of Western Civilization that we often take for granted are attributable to the work of Calvin.

During the course of 2009, I'll be reading a number of things by and about Calvin, and I'll be posting a few things along the way--my small tribute to a good and godly man whom God used mightily to advance his kingdom.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

No Arguments Needed

It's very interesting that the Scriptures nowhere advance a philosophical argument for the existence of God. Moses doesn't begin Genesis by saying (a la Thomas Aquinas), "The existence of God can be proved in five ways," and then proceed to develop arguments from motion, the notion of efficient cause, from possibility and necessity, from the gradation of things, and from the governance of things.

No insult to the Angelic Doctor intended, but there is no such arid stuff in the Bible! Instead, Genesis opens with the beautifully simple and majestic statement: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Notice how his existence is simply taken for granted.

This is not difficult to explain. The Torah was written by Moses in the midst of a remarkable Divine intervention in the course of human history: a self-revelation of God in the exodus of Israel from Egypt, and the giving of his law from Sinai, with all the attending miracles. Can you imagine Moses telling Israel, "Now that you have seen him plague the Egptians and divide the Red Sea and kill Pharaoh and all his hosts, and have been fed by bread from heaven, let me demonstrate his existence by several philosophical proofs. First, the argument from motion..."

The people would have looked at him and said, "Are you kidding! After what we have seen, no arguments are necessary!"

Friday, January 2, 2009

Torah Study

As we start a new year I thought I might add a (hopefully) regular feature to my blog, namely, a few comments on various passages of Scripture. Last year, as I have done several times since my late teens, I read through the entire Bible, taking 3-4 chapters a day. This year I plan to devote considerable attention to the study of the books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), and I will post a few thoughts along the way.

The books of Moses are called the books of Moses because...well...they were written by Moses (for the most part). There is some evidence of a later editorial hand at work as well (e.g., the account of Moses death and burial, Deut. 34), but the higher critical theories that deny Mosaic authorship are unconvincing. The prophets and the apostles frequently recognize Moses as the author (e.g., Dan. 9:11-13; Mal. 4:4; Acts 3:22; Rom. 10:5), as does Jesus himself (e.g., Matt. 8:4; 19:8; Mk. 7:10; 12:26; Lk. 24:44; Jn. 5:46).

The books are often called the "Pentateuch", which means five books. Though the word "Pentateuch" does not appear in Scripture, it came to be used at a very early date as a convenient way to speak of the books of Moses collectively.

They are also frequently referred to as the "Torah", which is often mistranslated law. The Torah contains the revelation of God's law at Sinai, but the word itself has a much broader meaning, just as the books contain a much larger purpose than the revelation of the law.

"Torah" is derived from a Hebrew word that means to teach. Thus, the Torah is the teaching. It consists of the first and foundational elements of God's special revelation to his people and serves as the basis for all later revelation through the prophets and the apostles, and of course Jesus himself.