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The Art of Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude in the Character of Christ by Dr. Ken Boa

Ken Boa

Our culture teaches us that people are basically good and that their internal problems are the result of external circumstances. But Jesus taught that no outside-in program will rectify the human condition, since our fundamental problems stem from within (Mark 7:20-23). Holiness is never achieved by acting ourselves into a new way of being. Instead, it is a gift that God graciously implants within the core of those who have trusted in Christ. All holiness is the holiness of God within us—the indwelling life of Christ. Thus, the process of sanctification is the gradual diffusion of this life from the inside (being) to the outside (doing), so that we become in action what we already are in essence. Our efforts faithfully reveal what is within us, so that when we are dominated by the flesh we will do the deeds of the flesh, and when we walk by the Spirit we will bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).

A Process from the Inside to the Outside

Holiness is a new quality of life that progressively flows from the inside to the outside. As J. I. Packer outlines it in Keep in Step with the Spirit, the nature of holiness is transformation through consecration; the context of holiness is justification through Jesus Christ; the root of holiness is co-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Jesus Christ; the agent of holiness is the Holy Spirit; the experience of holiness is one of conflict; the rule of holiness is God’s revealed law; and the heart of holiness is the spirit of love. When we come to know Jesus we are destined for heaven because He has already implanted His heavenly life within us. The inside-out process of the spiritual life is the gradual outworking of this kingdom righteousness. This involves a divine-human synergism of dependence and discipline so that the power of the Spirit is manifested through the formation of holy habits. As Augustine put it, “Without God we cannot; without us, He will not.” Disciplined grace and graceful discipline go together in such a way that God-given holiness is expressed through the actions of obedience. Spiritual formation is not a matter of total passivity or of unaided moral endeavor, but of increasing responsiveness to God’s gracious initiatives. The holy habits of immersion in Scripture, acknowledging God in all things, and learned obedience make us more receptive to the influx of grace and purify our aspirations and actions.

“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 John 3:21). It is wise to form the habit of inviting God to search your heart and reveal “any hurtful way” (Psalm 139:23) within you. Sustained attention to the heart, the wellspring of action, is essential to the formative process. By inviting Jesus to examine our intentions and priorities, we open ourselves to His good but often painful work of exposing our manipulative and self-seeking strategies, our hardness of heart (often concealed in religious activities), our competitively-driven resentments, and our pride. “A humble understanding of yourself is a surer way to God than a profound searching after knowledge” (Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ). Self-examining prayer or journaling in the presence of God will enable us to descend below the surface of our emotions and actions and to discern sinful patterns that require repentance and renewal. Since spiritual formation is a process, it is a good practice to compare yourself now with where you have been. Are you progressing in Christlike qualities like love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, servanthood, and hope? To assist you, here is a prayer sequence for examination and encouragement that incorporates the ten commandments, the Lord’s prayer, the beatitudes, the seven deadly sins, the four cardinal and three theological virtues, and the fruit of the Spirit. This can serve as a kind of spiritual diagnostic tool:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts;

And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

The Ten Commandments

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who is in heaven,

Hallowed be Your name.

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not lead us into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

The Beatitudes

Poverty of spirit (nothing apart from God’s grace)

Mourning (contrition)

Gentleness (meekness, humility)

Hunger and thirst for righteousness

Merciful to others

Purity of heart (desiring Christ above all else)

Peacemaking

Bearing persecution for the sake of righteousness

The Seven Deadly Sins

Pride

Avarice

Envy

Wrath

Sloth

Lust

Gluttony

The Four Cardinal and Three Theological Virtues

Prudence (wisdom, discernment, clear thinking, common sense)

Temperance (moderation, self-control)

Justice (fairness, honesty, truthfulness, integrity)

Fortitude (courage, conviction)

Faith (belief and trust in God’s character and work)

Hope (anticipating God’s promises)

Love (willing the highest good for others, compassion)

The Fruit of the Spirit

Love

Joy

Peace

Patience

Kindness

Goodness

Faithfulness

Gentleness

Self-control

Letting Loose of Control and Results

One of the great enemies of process spirituality is the craving to control our environment and the desire to determine the results of our endeavors. Many of us have a natural inclination to be manipulators, grabbers, owners, and controllers. The more we seek to rule our world, the more we will resist the rule of Christ; those who grasp are afraid of being grasped by God. But until we relinquish ownership of our lives, we will not experience the holy relief of surrender to God’s good and loving purposes. Thomas Merton put it this way in New Seeds of Contemplation:

This is one of the chief contradictions that sin has brought into our souls: we have to do violence to ourselves to keep from laboring uselessly for what is bitter and without joy, and we have to compel ourselves to take what is easy and full of happiness as though it were against our interests, because for us the line of least resistance leads in the way of greatest hardship and sometimes for us to do what is, in itself, most easy, can be the hardest thing in the world.

Our resistance to God’s rule even extends to our prayerful attempts to persuade the Lord to bless our plans and to meet our needs in the ways we deem best. Instead of seeking God’s will in prayer, we hope to induce Him to accomplish our will. Thus, even in our prayers, we can adopt the mentality of a consumer rather than a servant.

Perhaps the most painful lesson for believers to learn is the wisdom of being faithful to the process and letting loose of the results.

Opportunity Obedience Outcome
Divine Sovereignty Human Responsibility Divine Sovereignty

We have little control over opportunities we encounter and the outcomes of our efforts, but we can be obedient to the process.

Distorted dreams and selfish ambitions must die before we can know the way of resurrection. We cannot be responsive to God’s purposes until we abandon our strategies to control and acknowledge His exclusive ownership of our lives. At the front end, this surrender to the life of Christ in us appears to be the way of renunciation, but on the other side of renunciation we discover that it is actually the way of affirmation. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:24). The better we apprehend our spiritual poverty and weakness, the more we will be willing to invite Jesus to increase so that we may decrease (John 3:30).

Another key to staying in the process is learning to receive each day and whatever it brings as from the hand of God. Instead of viewing God’s character in light of our circumstances, we should view our circumstances in light of God’s character. Because God’s character is unchanging and good, whatever circumstances He allows in the life of His children are for their good, even though they may not seem so at the time. Since His will for us is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2), the trials, disappointments, setbacks, tasks, and adversities we encounter are, from an eternal vantage point, the place of God’s kingdom and blessing. This Romans 8:28-39 perspective can change the way we pray. Instead of asking the Lord to change our circumstances to suit us, we can ask Him to use our circumstances to change us. Realizing that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18), we can experience “the fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” through “the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). Thus, Blaise Pascal prayed in his Pensees:

With perfect consistency of mind, help me to receive all manner of events. For we know not what to ask, and we cannot ask for one event rather than another without presumption. We cannot desire a specific action without presuming to be a judge, and assuming responsibility for what in Your wisdom You may hide from me. O Lord, I know only one thing, and that is that it is good to follow You and wicked to offend You. Beyond this, I do not know what is good for me, whether health or sickness, riches or poverty, or anything else in this world. This knowledge surpasses both the wisdom of men and of angels. It lies hidden in the secrets of Your providence, which I adore, and will not dare to pry open.

We are essentially spiritual beings, and each “today” that is received with gratitude from God’s hand contributes to our preparation for our glorious and eternal destiny in His presence. In “the sacrament of the present moment” as Jean-Pierre de Caussade described it, “It is only right that if we are discontented with what God offers us every moment, we should be punished by finding nothing else that will content us” (Abandonment to Divine Providence). It is when we learn to love God’s will that we can embrace the present moment as a source of spiritual formation.

As we grow in dependence on Christ’s life and diminish in dependence on our own, the fulfillment of receiving His life gradually replaces the frustration of trying to create our own. It is in this place of conscious dependence that God shapes us into the image of His Son. Here we must trust Him for the outcome, because we cannot measure or quantify the spiritual life. We know that we are in a formative process and that God is not finished with us yet, but we must also remember that we cannot control or create the product. Furthermore, we cannot measure our ministry or impact on others in this life. If we forget this, we will be in a hurry to accomplish significant things by the world’s standard of reckoning. Frances Felenon noted that “the soul, by the neglect of little things, becomes accustomed to unfaithfulness” (Christian Perfection). It is faithfulness in the little daily things that leads to faithfulness in much (Luke 16:10). Henri Nouwen used to ask God to get rid of his interruptions so he could get on with his ministry. “Then I realized that interruptions are my ministry.” As servants and ambassadors of the King, we must be obedient in the daily process even when we cannot see what difference our obedience makes.

Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude

A young man with a bandaged hand approached the clerk at the post office. “Sir, could you please address this post card for me?” The clerk did so gladly, and then agreed to write a message on the card.

He then asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” The young man looked at the card for a moment and then said, “Yes, add a PS: ‘Please excuse the handwriting.’”

We are an ungrateful people. Writing of man in Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky says, “If he is not stupid, he is monstrously ungrateful! Phenomenally ungrateful. In fact, I believe that the best definition of man is the ungrateful biped.” Luke’s account of the cleansing of the ten lepers underscores the human tendency to expect grace as our due and to forget to thank God for His benefits. “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18).

Remember: God’s Deliverance in the Past

Our calendar allocates one day to give thanks to God for His many benefits, and even that day is more consumed with gorging than with gratitude. Ancient Israel’s calendar included several annual festivals to remind the people of God’s acts of deliverance and provision so that they would renew their sense of gratitude and reliance upon the Lord.

In spite of this, they forgot: “they became disobedient and rebelled against You . . . . they did not remember Your abundant kindnesses . . . . they quickly forgot His works” (Nehemiah 9:26;Psalm 106:7, 13). The prophet Hosea captured the essence of this decline into ingratitude: “As they had their pasture, they became satisfied, and being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore, they forgot Me” (13:6). When we are doing well, we tend to think that our prosperity was self-made; this delusion leads us into the folly of pride; pride makes us forget God and prompts us to rely on ourselves in place of our Creator; this forgetfulness always leads to ingratitude.

Centuries earlier, Moses warned the children of Israel that they would be tempted to forget the Lord once they began to enjoy the blessings of the promised land. “Then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. . . . Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth’” (Deuteronomy 8:14, 17). The antidote to this spiritual poison is found in the next verse: “But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth” (8:18).

Our propensity to forget is a mark of our fallenness. Because of this, we should view remembering and gratitude as a discipline, a daily and intentional act, a conscious choice. If it is limited to spontaneous moments of emotional gratitude, it will gradually erode and we will forget all that God has done for us and take His grace for granted.

Remember: God’s Benefits in the Present

“Rebellion against God does not begin with the clenched fist of atheism but with the self-satisfied heart of the one for whom ‘thank you’ is redundant” (Os Guinness, In Two Minds). The apostle Paul exposes the error of this thinking when he asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Even as believers in Christ, it is quite natural to overlook the fact that all that we have and are—our health, our intelligence, our abilities, our very lives—are gifts from the hand of God, and not our own creation. We understand this, but few of us actively acknowledge our utter reliance upon the Lord throughout the course of the week. We rarely review the many benefits we enjoy in the present. And so we forget.

We tend toward two extremes when we forget to remember God’s benefits in our lives. The first extreme is presumption, and this is the error we have been discussing. When things are going “our way,” we may forget God or acknowledge Him in a shallow or mechanical manner. The other extreme is resentment and bitterness due to difficult circumstances. When we suffer setbacks or losses, we wonder why we are not doing as well as others and develop a mindset of murmuring and complaining. We may attribute it to “bad luck” or “misfortune” or not “getting the breaks,” but it really boils down to dissatisfaction with God’s provision and care. This lack of contentment and gratitude stems in part from our efforts to control the content of our lives in spite of what Christ may or may not desire for us to have. It also stems from our tendency to focus on what we do not possess rather than all the wonderful things we have already received.

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We cannot give thanks and complain at the same time. To give thanks is to remember the spiritual and material blessings we have received and to be content with what our loving Lord provides, even when it does not correspond to what we had in mind. Gratitude is a choice, not merely a feeling, and it requires effort especially in difficult times. But the more we choose to live in the discipline of conscious thanksgiving, the more natural it becomes, and the more our eyes are opened to the little things throughout the course of the day that we previously overlooked. G. K. Chesterton had a way of acknowledging these many little benefits: “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” Henri Nouwen observed that “every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until, finally, even the most normal, obvious, and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace.”

Remember: God’s Promises for the Future

If we are not grateful for God’s deliverance in the past and His benefits in the present, we will not be grateful for His promises for the future. Scripture exhorts us to lay hold of our hope in Christ and to renew it frequently so that we will maintain God’s perspective on our present journey. His plans for His children exceed our imagination, and it is His intention to make all things new, to wipe away every tear, and to “show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” in the ages to come (Ephesians 2:7).

Make it a daily exercise, either at the beginning or the end of the day, to review God’s benefits in your past, present, and future. This discipline will be pleasing to God, because it will cultivate a heart of gratitude and ongoing thanksgiving.

The Secret of Contentment

“We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.” Uncle Screwtape’s diabolical counsel to his nephew Wormwood in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is a reminder that most of us live more in the future than in the present. Somehow we think that the days ahead will make up for what we perceive to be our present lack. We think, “When I get this or when that happens, then I’ll be happy,” but this is an exercise in self-deception that overlooks the fact that even when we get what we want, it never delivers what it promised.

Most of us don’t know precisely what we want, but we are certain we don’t have it. Driven by dissatisfaction, we pursue the treasure at the end of the rainbow and rarely drink deeply at the well of the present moment, which is all we ever have. The truth is that if we are not satisfied with what we have, we will never be satisfied with what we want.

The real issue of contentment is whether it is Christ or ourselves who determine the content (e.g., money, position, family, circumstances) of our lives. When we seek to control the content, we inevitably turn to the criterion of comparison to measure what it should look like. The problem is that comparison is the enemy of contentment—there will always be people who possess a greater quality or quantity of what we think we should have. Because of this, comparison leads to covetousness. Instead of loving our neighbors, we find ourselves loving what they possess.

Covetousness in turn leads to a competitive spirit. We find ourselves competing with others for the limited resources to which we think we are entitled. Competition often becomes a vehicle through which we seek to authenticate our identity or prove our capability. This kind of competition tempts us to compromise our character. When we want something enough, we may be willing to steamroll our convictions in order to attain it. We find ourselves cutting corners, misrepresenting the truth, cheating, or using people as objects to accomplish our self-driven purposes.

It is only when we allow Christ to determine the content of our lives that we can discover the secret of contentment. Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we must realize that the Lord alone knows what is best for us and loves us enough to use our present circumstances to accomplish eternal good. We can be content when we put our hope in His character rather than our own concept of how our lives should appear.

Writing from prison to the believers in Philippi, Paul affirmed that “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:11-12). Contentment is not found in having everything, but in being satisfied with everything we have. As the Apostle told Timothy, “we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8). Paul acknowledged God’s right to determine his circumstances, even if it meant taking him down to nothing. His contentment was grounded not in how much he had but in the One who had him. Job understood this when he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). The more we release temporal possessions, the more we can grasp eternal treasures. There are times when God may take away our toys to force us to transfer our affections to Christ and His character.

A biblical understanding of contentment leads to a sense of our competency in Christ. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). As Peter put it, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). Contentment is not the fulfillment of what we want, but the realization of how much we already possess in Christ.

A vision of our competency in Christ enables us to respond to others with compassion rather than competition, because we understand that our fundamental needs are fulfilled in the security and significance we have found in Him. Since we are complete in Christ, we are free to serve others instead of using them in the quest to meet our needs. Thus we are liberated to pursue character rather than comfort and convictions rather than compromise.

Notice the contrast between the four horizontal pairs in this chart:

WHO DETERMINES THE CONTENT OF YOUR LIFE?

SELF

CHRIST

Comparison

Covetousness

Competition

Compromise

Contentment

Competency

Compassion

Character

As we learn the secret of contentment, we will be less impressed by numbers, less driven to achieve, less hurried, and more alive to the grace of the present moment.

Article adapted from several sources on the Internet – most likely originally from Bible.org or Monergism.com. Dr. Ken Boa is an outstanding Bible scholar, and Spiritual director, and author of numerous helpful books including the Outstanding Textbook on the Subject of Sanctification and Spiritual Formation: Conformed To His Image.

 

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Dr. Ron Nash on What It Means To Have a Christian Worldview

[Adapted from Ronald H. Nash. Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in the World of Ideas. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, pp. 34-45). 

“The Christian Worldview”

 GOD

The Christian worldview is theistic in the sense that it believes in the existence of one supremely powerful and personal God. Theism differs from polytheism in its affirmation that there is only one God (Deut. 6:4). It parts company with the various forms of pantheism by insisting that God is personal and must not be confused with the world that is his creation. Theism must also be distinguished from panentheism, the position that regards the world as an eternal being that God needs in much the same way a human soul needs a body. Theists also reject panentheistic attempts to limit God’s power and knowledge, which have the effect of making the God of panentheism a finite being (For a fuller discussion, see Ronald Nash, ed., Process Theology. Panentheism can be thought of as a position somewhere between theism’s belief in a personal, almighty, all-knowing God and the impersonal god of pantheism that is identical in some way with nature or the world order. While the god of panentheism is not identical with the world, this god and the world necessarily co-exist eternally Another basic feature of panentheism is the denial of the view that God can act as an efficient cause, a belief that precludes any belief in either creation or in such miracles as the Incarnation or the Resurrection).

Other important attributes of God, such as his holiness, justice, and love are described in Scripture. Historical Christian theism is also trinitarian. The doctrine of the Trinity reflects the Christian conviction that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct centers of consciousness sharing fully in the one divine nature and in the activities of the other persons of the Trinity. An important corollary of the doctrine is the Christian conviction that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man (It is important for Christians to realize that the belief that Jesus is fully God and fully man does not involve them in a logical contradiction. Critics of Christianity like to deceive people into thinking that this Christian claim is similar to believing that something is a square circle. It is not). Christians use the word incarnation to express their belief that the birth of Jesus Christ marked the entrance of the eternal and divine Son of God into the human race.

 ULTIMATE REALITY

The Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Many early Christian thinkers found it important to draw out certain implications of the biblical view of God and stipulate that God created the world ex nihilo (from nothing), which is an important metaphysical tenet of the Christian worldview. This was necessary, they believed, to show the contrast between the Christian understanding of Creation and an account of the world’s origin found in Plato’s philosophy, a view held by a number of intellectuals in the early centuries of the Christian church (For more on this see Ron Nash. The Gospel and the Greeks). Plato had suggested that a godlike being, the Craftsman, had brought the world into being by fashioning an eternal or matter after the pattern of eternal ideas that existed independently of the Craftsman. Moreover, this creative activity took place in a space-time receptacle or box that also existed independently of the Craftsman. Such early Christian thinkers as Augustine wanted the world to know that the Christian God and the Christian view of Creation differed totally from this platonic picture. Plato’s god (if indeed that is an appropriate word for his Craftsman) was not the infinite, all-powerful, and sovereign God of the Christian Scriptures. Plato’s god was finite and limited. In the Christian account of Creation, nothing existed prior to Creation except God.

There was no time or space; there was no preexisting matter. Everything else that exists besides God depends totally upon God for its existence. If God did not exist, the world would not exist. The cosmos is not eternal, self-sufficient, or self-explanatory. It was freely created by God. The existence of the world, therefore, is not a brute fact; nor is the world a purposeless machine. The world exists as the result of a free decision to create by a God who is eternal, transcendent, spiritual (that is, nonmaterial), omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, loving, and personal. Because there is a God-ordained order to the creation, human beings can discover that order. It is this order that makes science possible; it is this order that scientists attempt to capture in their laws. The Christian worldview should be distinguished from any version of deism. This theory dared to suggest that although God created the world, he absents himself from the creation and allows it to run on its own. This view and several twentieth-century varieties seem to present the picture of a God (or god) who is incapable of acting causally within nature (This certainly appears to have been the view of such twentieth-century theologians as Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann. While the term naturalism will be explained later, there is some justification for describing thinkers like Tillich and Bultmann as religious naturalists. They may have believed in God, but their God was effectively precluded from any providential or miraculous activity within the natural order). While no informed Christian will argue with the assured results of such sciences as physics, biology, and geology, the Christian worldview insists that divine activities such as miracles, revelation, and providence remain possible.

KNOWLEDGE

The study of epistemology can quickly involve one in fairly sticky problems. In fact, one should admit that on many epistemological issues (for example, the dispute between rationalists and empiricists – For the reader unfamiliar with these terms, an empiricist is a person who believes that all human knowledge can be traced back to bodily experience. A rationalist, on the other hand, believes that some human knowledge can originate in something other than sense experience) a wide variety of options seems to be consistent with other aspects of the Christian worldview. But there do seem to be limits to this tolerance. For example, the Christian worldview is clearly incompatible with universal skepticism, the self-defeating claim that no knowledge about anything is attainable. The fact that this kind of skepticism self-destructs becomes clear whenever one asks such a skeptic whether he knows that knowledge is unattainable.

It also seems obvious that a well-formed Christian worldview will exclude views suggesting that humans cannot attain knowledge about God. Christianity clearly proclaims that God has revealed information about himself (I defend this claim in Ron Nash. The Word of God and the Mind of Man). Nor will an informed Christian deny the importance of the senses in supplying information about the world. As St. Augustine observed, the Christian “believes also the evidence of the senses which the mind uses by aid of the body; for if one who trusts his senses is sometimes deceived, he is more wretchedly deceived who fancies he should never trust them” (Augustine. City of God, tran. Marcus Dods. New York: Modern Library, 1950, 19.18.). In his own theory of knowledge, Augustine was a rationalist in the sense that he gave priority to reason over sense experience. Augustine probably had a good theological reason for defending the general reliability of sense experience.

He undoubtedly realized that many claims made in the Bible depended upon eyewitness testimony. If the senses are completely unreliable, we cannot trust the reports of witnesses who say that they heard Jesus teach or saw him die or saw him alive three days after the Crucifixion. If the experiences of those who saw and heard a risen Christ were necessarily deceptive and unreliable, an important truth of the Christian faith is compromised. In recent Christian writings about the theory of knowledge, philosophers apparently operating on different tracks have found agreement on an important point. In the case of my own track (a kind of Christian rationalism that received its first formulation in the writings of St. Augustine), it is a mistake to accept an extreme form of empiricism that claims all human knowledge rises from sense experience. Older advocates of this empiricism used to illustrate their basic claim by arguing that the human mind at birth is like a tabula rasa, a blank tablet. At birth, the human mind is like a totally clean blackboard; absolutely nothing is written on it. In other words, human beings are born with no innate ideas or knowledge. As the human being grows and develops, the senses supply the mind with an ever-increasing stock of information. All human knowledge results, in this model, from what the mind does with ideas supplied through the senses—the basic building blocks of knowledge.

My alternative to this extreme kind of empiricism can be summarized in the claim that some human knowledge does not rise from sense experience (I consciously reject an extreme type of rationalism that claims no human knowledge rises from sense experience. Plato held this latter view. But as explained earlier, Augustine did not; nor do I). As many philosophers have noted, human knowledge of the sensible world is possible because human beings bring certain ideas, categories, and dispositions to their experience of the world. The impotence of empiricism is especially evident in the case of human knowledge of universal and necessary truth. Many things in the world could have been otherwise. The typewriter I am using at this moment happens to be brown, but it could have been red. Whether it is brown or not is a purely contingent feature of reality. Regardless of the color my typewriter happens to be, it could have been colored differently. But it is necessarily the case that my typewriter could not have been brown all over and red (or any other color) all over at the same time and in the same sense. The necessary truth that my typewriter is brown all over and not at the same time red all over cannot be a function of sense experience. Sense experience may be able to report what is fact at a particular time. But sense experience is incapable of grasping what must be the case at all times. The notions of necessity and universality can never be derived from our experience. Rather, they are notions (among others) that we bring to sense experience and use in making judgments about reality.

How do we account for the human possession of these categories of thought or innate ideas or dispositions that play such an indispensable role in human knowledge? According to a long and honored philosophical tradition that includes Augustine, Descartes, and Leibniz, human beings have these innate ideas, dispositions, and categories of thought by virtue of their creation by God. In fact, this may well be part of what is meant by the phrase the image of God (I have explored the roots of this theory in the writings of St. Augustine in my book The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1969). After all (Christians believe). God created the world. It is reasonable to assume that he created humans in such a way as to make them capable of attaining knowledge of his creation. To go even further, it is reasonable to believe that he endowed the human mind with the ability to attain knowledge of himself.

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has noted an important similarity between the role that God-given categories and dispositions play in human knowledge and what Reformed thinkers like John Calvin said about belief in God:

Reformed Theologians such as Calvin…have held that God has implanted in us a tendency…to accept belief in God under certain conditions. Calvin speaks, in this connection, of a “sense of deity inscribed in the hearts of all.” Just as we have a natural tendency to form perceptual beliefs under certain conditions, so says Calvin, we have a natural tendency to form such beliefs as God is speaking to me and God has created all this or God disapproves of what. I’ve done under certainly widely realized conditions (Alvin Plantinga, “Self-Profile,” in Alvin Plantinga, ed. James E. Tomberlin and Peter van Inwagen (Boston: D. Reidel, 1985), 63, 64. Plantinga’s quote comes from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, bk. 1, chap. 3, 43–44).

Plantinga shows no reluctance to describe the idea of God as “innate,” that is, present in the mind from birth, not derived from experience. These are complex issues. But it is clear that the Christian worldview is no ally of skepticism. Human beings can know God’s creation; they are also capable of attaining knowledge about God. Nor should this surprise anyone. It is exactly what we should have expected.

 ETHICS

The fact that all human beings carry the image of God (another of Christianity’s claims about human nature) explains why human beings are creatures capable of reasoning, love, and God-consciousness; it also explains why we are moral creatures. Of course, sin (yet another of Christianity’s important presuppositions about human beings) has distorted the image of God and explains why humans turn away from God and the moral law; why we sometimes go wrong with regard to our emotions, conduct, and thinking.

Because of the image of God, we should expect to find that the ethical recommendations of the Christian worldview reflect what all of us at the deepest levels of our moral being know to be true. As C. S. Lewis pointed out,

Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality… Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities; it is quacks and cranks who do that… The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see (C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity, 78).

When one examines the moralities of different cultures and religions, certain differences do stand out. But Lewis was more impressed by the basic, underlying similarities:

Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of doublecrossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired (Ibid., 19).

According to the Christian worldview, God is the ground of the laws that govern the physical universe and that make possible the order of the cosmos. God is also the ground of the moral laws that ought to govern human behavior and that make possible order between humans and within humans (Each of the areas dealing with God, ultimate reality, knowledge, ethics, and humankind includes its share of important but different questions that cannot be pursued in this study. One such problem in ethics is the precise relationship between God and morality. For some technical discussions of the topic, see Philip L. Quinn, Divine Commands and Moral Requirements. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, and Robert Merrihew Adams, “A Modified Divine Command Theory of Ethical Wrongness” in Religion and Morality, Gene Outka and John P. Reeder, Jr., eds. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, Doubleday, 1973).

Christian theism insists on the existence of universal moral laws. In other words, the laws must apply to all humans, regardless of when or where they have lived. They must also be objective in the sense that their truth is independent of human preference and desire.

Much confusion surrounding Christian ethics results from a failure to observe the important distinction between principles and rules. Let us define moral principles as more general moral prescriptions, general in the sense that they cover a large number of instances. Moral rules, on the other hand, will be regarded as more specific moral prescriptions that are, in fact, applications of principles to more concrete situations.

The difference between principles and rules has advantages and disadvantages. One advantage of moral principles is the fact that they are less subject to change. Because of the larger number of instances where they are applicable, they possess a greater degree of universality. One disadvantage of any moral principle is its vagueness. Because principles cover so many situations, it is often difficult to know exactly when a particular principle applies. Rules, however, have the advantage of being much more specific. Their problem is their changeableness. Because they are so closely tied to specific situations, changes in circumstances usually require changes in the appropriate rule. For example, St. Paul warned the Christian women of Corinth not to worship with their heads uncovered. Some Christians have mistakenly regarded Paul’s advice as a moral principle that should be observed by Christian women in every culture at all times. But a study of the conditions that prevailed in ancient Corinth reveals that the city’s prostitutes identified themselves to their prospective customers by keeping their heads uncovered. In the light of this, it seems likely that Paul’s advice was not a moral principle intended to apply to Christians of all generations but a rule that applied only to the specific situation of the Christian women of Corinth and to other women in similar situations (Even if my particular interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 is challenged, my point can be made in terms of other New Testament passages. See, for example, Paul’s remarks in Romans 14 concerning Christians eating meat that had been offered to pagan gods).

 The following chart may help clarify the points of the last paragraph:

 Advantage                         Disadvantage

Principles                                  Universal                                 Vague

Rules                                          Specific                               Situational

I recognize that the distinction I am drawing here suffers from impreciseness. This is due in part to the fact that the difference between principles and rules is sometimes relative. That is, Scripture actually presents a hierarchy of moral prescriptions beginning at the most general level with the duty to love. This duty to love is then further broken down into the duties to love God and love people (Matt. 22:37–40), and then still further into the more specific duties of the Decalogue (Rom. 13:9–10). And, of course, the still more specific duties spelled out in the New Testament, such as the prohibition against the lustful look and hatred, are further specifications of the Ten Commandments (Matt. 5:21–30). The distinction between principles and rules suggests that whenever you have two scriptural injunctions, where a more specific command is derived from the more general, you can regard the more specific injunction as the rule and the other as the principle. It is possible to read 1 Corinthians 13 in this way. First, Paul proposes love as a moral duty binding on all. Then he proceeds to provide more specific rules about how a loving person will behave; for example, he will be kind and patient. Based on our distinction between principles and rules plus a careful study of the New Testament, we can draw several conclusions:

(1) The New Testament gave first-century Christians plenty of rules. But, of course, the rules cover situations that may no longer confront twentieth-century Christians, such as Paul’s injunction against eating meat offered to idols.

(2) The New Testament does not provide twentieth-century Christians with any large number of rules regarding our specific situations. The reason is obvious. The rules were given to cover first-century situations. A first-century book that attempted to give moral rules to cover specific twentieth-century situations would have become unintelligible or irrelevant to readers in the intervening nineteen hundred years. What moral help could the first-century Christians in Rome or Ephesus have derived from such a moral rule as “thou shalt not make a first strike with nuclear weapons” or “it is wrong to use cocaine”?

(3) At the same time, some of the New Testament rules apply to situations that have existed throughout time. Passages dealing with acts of hating, stealing, lying, and the like continue to be relevant because the acts are similar.

(4) But often what many people miss is the importance of searching out the moral principles behind the New Testament rules. These principles are equally binding on humans of all generations. A careful consideration of the Bible’s first-century rules enables us to infer the more general principles behind them, principles that apply to us today. It may be unimportant today whether Christian women keep their heads covered, but it is important that they avoid provocative dress and behavior. Though few Christians in our generation are bothered by pagan butchers who have offered their wares as a sacrifice to a false god, we can profit from the principle that we should do nothing that causes a spiritually weaker person to stumble (Another qualification may help some readers. I am not suggesting that Scripture presents us with a casuistic system of morality in which specific moral duties can always be deduced from more general moral statements. Casuistry always leads to a type of legalism that is condemned by Scripture. But I do think a recognition of a biblical hierarchy of rules and principles can help us determine our duty).

While a properly formed Christian worldview allows a great deal of leeway regarding the positions sincere Christians may take on many of the tough problems that rise in the formulation of an ethical theory, informed Christians will have to reject certain views. One such view is the position called situation ethics, which asserts that Christian ethics imposes no duty other than the duty to love. In determining what he should do, the situationist declares, the Christian should face the moral situation and ask himself what the loving thing to do is in this particular case. No rules or principles prescribe how love will act. Indeed, each loving individual is free to act in any way he thinks is consistent with love as he understands it. The point to situation ethics is, then, that Christian ethics provides no universal principles and no specific rules. Nothing is intrinsically good except love; nothing intrinsically bad except nonlove. One can never prescribe in advance what a Christian should or should not do. Depending on the situation, love may find it necessary to lie, to steal, even presumably to fornicate, to blaspheme, and to worship false gods. The only absolute is love.

A proper response to situation ethics will begin by pointing out that love is insufficient in itself to provide moral guidance for each and every moral action. Love requires the further specification of principles or rules that suggest the proper ways in which love should be manifested. Because human beings are fallen creatures whose judgments on moral matters may be affected by moral weakness, love needs guidance from divinely revealed moral truth. Fortunately, Christians believe, this content is provided in the moral principles revealed in Scripture.

In spite of all this, life often confronts us with ambiguous moral situations in which even the most sincere among us may agonize over what to do. At times we simply do not know enough about ourselves, the situation, or the moral principle that applies to be sure we are doing the right thing. As many of us also know, weakness of will can hinder moral decision making.

In the unambiguous situations of life, Scripture teaches, God judges us in terms of our obedience to his revealed moral law. But how does God judge us in the more ambiguous situations where the precise nature of our duty is unclear? God looks upon the heart, Scripture advises. We are judged if we break God’s commandments. This is certain. But in those cases where we may not know which commandment applies or where we may have incomplete knowledge of the situation, God’s judgment will take into account not merely the rightness of the consequences of our act (something that we ourselves are often unable to determine in ambiguous situations) but the goodness of our intentions.

HUMANKIND

 William J. Abraham provides us with an introduction to the complex subject of what the Christian worldview teaches about human beings:

Human beings are made in the image of God, and their fate depends on their relationship with God. They are free to respond to or reject God and they will be judged in accordance with how they respond to him. This judgment begins now but finally takes place beyond death in a life to come. Christians furthermore offer a diagnosis of what is wrong with the world. Fundamentally, they say, our problems are spiritual: we need to be made anew by God. Human beings have misused their freedom; they are in a state of rebellion against God; they are sinners. These conclusions lead to a set of solutions to this ill. As one might expect, the fundamental solution is again spiritual…[I]n Jesus of Nazareth God has intervened to save and remake mankind. Each individual needs to respond to this and to become part of Christ’s body, the church, where they are to grow in grace and become more like Christ. This in turn generates a certain vision of the future. In the coming of Jesus, God has inaugurated his kingdom, but it will be consummated at some unspecified time in the future when Christ returns (Abraham, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985, 104-5).

What a paradox human beings are! The only bearers of the image of God on this planet are also capable of the most heinous acts. As Pascal put it, “What a freak, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a marvel! Judge of all things, and imbecile earthworm; possessor of the truth, and sink of uncertainty and error; glory and rubbish of the universe” (Blaise Pascal. Selections from The Thoughts, trans. Athur H. Beattie. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1965, p. 68).

In another passage, Pascal wrote,

Man is but a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. The whole universe need not arm itself to crush him; a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even though the universe should crush him, man would still be nobler than what kills him since he knows that he dies, and the advantage that the universe has over him, the universe knows nothing of it (Ibid., 30).

The essential paradox here—the greatness and the misery of humankind—flows out of two important truths. God created humans as the apex of his creation; our chief end, in the words of the Westminster Catechism, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. But each human being is fallen, is in rebellion against the God who created him and loves him.

Christianity simply will not make sense to people who fail to understand and appreciate the Christian doctrine of sin. Every human being lives in a condition of sin and alienation from his or her Creator. Each has sinned and fallen short of God’s standard (Rom. 3:23). As John Stott counsels, sin “is not a convenient invention of parsons to keep them in their job; it is a fact of human experience” (John Stott. Basic Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967, p. 61).

The sin that separates us from God and enslaves us is more than an unfortunate outward act of habit; it is a deep-seated inward corruption. In fact, the sins we commit are merely outward and visible manifestations of this inward and invisible malady, the symptoms of a moral disease…Because sin is an inward corruption of human nature we are in bondage. It is not so much certain acts or habits which enslave us, but rather the evil infection from which these spring (Ibid., 75-76).

In the writings of the nineteenth-century Christian writer Søren Kierkegaard, human alienation from God often rises to the surface in the form of moods like despair. As Kierkegaard described it in his technical way, two aspects of human existence (the finite/temporal and the infinite/eternal) compete for dominance in the life of every human being. Unless a person succeeds in getting these two dimensions into proper relation and manages somehow to unify them, he or she will never really be a self. Apart from God, each human being is a divided self.

Clearly, each of us is finite in many respects. We are limited and restricted by our bodies, our circumstances, our surroundings, our weakness of will. A constant and unavoidable reminder of the limitations of our existence is provided by death—the actual death of others and the realization of the inevitability of our own death. But there is also another side to our existence, a side that takes on dimensions of infinity or eternity. For one thing, our desires seem to transcend the finite limitations of our bodies. We always desire more than we have; we always want more than we can possibly achieve. No matter what we have accomplished or attained in the way of fame, fortune, pleasure, or happiness, we want more. In a very real sense, our appetites are never satisfied. This is not to ignore times when thoroughly satiated individuals pause, momentarily content with the most recent satisfaction of their desires. But the contentment soon disappears, and they are back on the trail, searching for more.

The frustration resulting from the human inability ultimately to satisfy all desires is just one manifestation of the tension between the finite and infinite poles of our being. Another example is the tendency of many to seek escape from reality through flights of fantasy. Rather than confront the truth about the closed frontiers of their existence, many people prefer to live in a world of dreams and illusions. In spite of their age, such people suffer from lifelong immaturity. They never really grow up.

Because most people never succeed in pulling the finite and infinite sides of their being together, they go through life suffering the spiritual and emotional consequences of being divided selves. Despair is one result of the failure to put the various parts of one’s life together. Despair is essentially enthusiasm that has gone astray, that has lost its bearings; it is a zeal for things that either disappear when they are most wanted or fail to deliver all that they seem to promise. If, in a person’s unconscious, he or she begins to feel that all the deepest yearnings of the soul will eventually end up unsatisfied, the onset of despair makes a kind of perverse sense. It is perfectly understandable how one’s unconscious, under these conditions, might react by repressing enthusiasm, thus producing the mood of despair.

The victim of moods like despair is frequently unaware of the problem. Kierkegaard clearly thought that despair is often unconscious. The individual senses dimly that something is wrong, without ever being able to put a finger on it. The great extent to which despair functions in human lives below the level of consciousness may be one more result of the refusal of many people to face the truth about themselves and their world. The truly unhappy person who mistakenly believes himself or herself happy tends to regard as an enemy everyone who threatens that illusion.

Moods like despair are also indications that the major source of human trouble lies within, not in external circumstances. Consider the contrast in the writings of St. Paul between sins, the overt acts, and sin, the depraved nature within. Human beings are not self-sufficient; we cannot cure ourselves. We can become selves, we can grow up and develop into complete human beings only through a proper relationship with God. The finite and infinite must be joined from without, by God himself. Despair is only one symptom of estrangement from God and consequently from the self. Divided selves can achieve the unity of selfhood only in a faith-relationship with God.

One final aspect of Kierkegaard’s analysis deserves attention. Moods like despair indicate that people are not wholly or ultimately made for this world. There is “something eternal” in us. We are to find the fulfillment of our passion for meaning and security, which is expressed in a distorted way by our typical immersion in these worldly projects, in a realm which is not subject to disappearance. A human being is not an absurdity, a futile passion, doomed either to repression or the most poignant unhappiness. He is, rather, a wayward child of God, whose restlessness and anxiety and despair can and should drive him into the arms of his Father. His despair is indeed a sickness, but it is curable when he finds his true home (Robert C. Roberts, “The Transparency of Faith,” The Reformed Journal. June, 1979, p. 11).

The eternal factor that God has implanted within leaves all of us ultimately frustrated, unhappy, and restless until we finally enter into his rest. As Augustine put it, God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him. Human beings are driven to seek an eternal peace, in which everything will finally be in its proper place, in which perfect order both in the world and in the soul will be attained. Despair may be one way God informs us that we are to look beyond ourselves for our ultimate peace. It is one of several moods and affective states that ought to remind alert people that we should know better than to think that our highest good can be found in this life. The Christian worldview recognizes the human need for forgiveness and redemption and stresses that the blessings of salvation are possible because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Christ’s redemptive work is the basis of human salvation. But human beings are required to repent of sins (be sorry for and turn from sins) and believe. Accepting Christ as one’s Lord and Savior brings about a new birth, a new heart, a new relationship with God, and a new power to live (See John 3:3-21; Galatians 2:20; Hebrews 8:10-12; and 1 John 3:1-2).

Christian conversion does not suddenly make the new Christian perfect. But the Christian has God’s nature and Spirit within and is called to live a particular kind of life in obedience to God’s will. Finally, the Christian worldview teaches that physical death is not the end of personal existence.

 CHRISTIANITY’S “TOUCHSTONE PROPOSITION”

Even my short outline of the Christian worldview may seem involved to some readers. Is it possible to boil everything down to one proposition? In this connection, William Halverson makes an interesting observation:

At the center of every worldview is what might be called the “touchstone proposition” of that worldview, a proposition that is held to be the fundamental truth about reality and serves as a criterion to determine which other propositions may or may not count as candidates for belief. If a given proposition P is seen to be inconsistent with the touchstone proposition or one’s worldview, then so long as one holds that worldview, proposition P must be regarded as false (William H. Halverson, A Concise Introduction to Philosophy, 3d. ed. New York: Random House, 1976, p. 384).

There is value in seeing how Halverson’s suggestion applies to what has already been said about the Christian worldview. Does one touchstone proposition or control belief or ultimate presupposition that is the fundamental truth of this particular worldview also serve as the test that any belief must pass before it can be included as part of the worldview?

One proposition that may fill the bill is the following: “Human beings and the universe in which they reside are the creation of the God who has revealed himself in Scripture” (By Scripture I mean the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament deemed canonical by the Protestant Church).

The basic presupposition of the Christian worldview is the existence of God revealed in Scripture. This linkage between God and the Scripture is proper. It is true, naturally, that this particular touchstone proposition allows the Christian ready access to all that Scripture says about God, the world, and humankind. While that is certainly an advantage, it is hardly an unfair advantage. What would be both unwise and unfair would be any attempt to separate the Christian God from his self-disclosure.

As Carl F. H. Henry points out, God is not “a nameless spirit awaiting post-mortem examination in some theological morgue. He is a very particular and specific divinity, known from the beginning solely on the basis of his works and self-declaration as the one living God” (Carl F. H. Henry, God. Revelation and Authority, vol. 2: God Who Speaks and Shows. Waco: Word, 1976, p. 7).

Any final decision regarding the existence of the Christian God and the truth Christian worldview will necessarily involve decisions about issues related to the Christian Scriptures. Since details of that worldview flow from the Christian’s ultimate authority, the Bible, any negative reaction to one will likely produce a negative reaction to the other. Of course, to turn the coin over, a positive evaluation of one side of this equation should bear positively on the other. The Christian cannot pretend that his worldview was formulated in a revelational vacuum.

CONCLUSION

While all mature, thinking persons have a worldview, many of them are unaware of the fact. People often evidence great difficulty attaining consciousness of key elements of their worldview. Most of us know individuals who seldom think deeply enough to ask the right questions about God, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and humankind. As I have said, one of the important tasks for philosophers, theologians, and, indeed, for anyone interested in helping people in this important matter, is first to get people to realize that they do have a conceptual system. The second step is to help people get a clearer fix on the content of their worldview. What do they believe about the existence and nature of God, about humankind, morality, knowledge, and ultimate reality? The third step is to help people evaluate their worldview and either improve it (by removing inconsistencies and filling in gaps) or replace it with a better worldview. In the next chapter, I will examine recommendations regarding the best or most promising way to go about making a choice among competing worldviews.

The article above was adapted from Chapter 2 in Ronald H. Nash. Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in the World of Ideas. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

About the Author: Ronald H. Nash (PhD, Syracuse University; 1936-2006) was professor of philosophy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He also was a professor of philosophy and theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He previously served for 25 years as Head of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Western Kentucky University. Nash was strongly influenced by such evangelical thinkers as Gordon H. Clark and Carl F.H. Henry. He influenced and mentored many young Christian philosophers and apologists during his life. He was a Fellow of the Christianity Today Institute, and a prolific author. He wrote hundreds of magazine and journal articles, as well as authoring or editing over thirty books, including:

Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in the World of Ideas. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? (Student Library). Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 2003.

The Light of The Mind: Saint Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 2003.

Great Divides: Understanding the Controversies That Come Between Christians. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993 (Republished by Academic Renewal Press, 2003).

Social Justice and the Christian Church. CCS Publishing, 2002.

When a Baby Dies. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.

The Meaning of History. B&H Academic, 1998.

Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.

Christian Faith and Historical Understanding. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.

The Word of God and Mind of Man (Student Library). Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 1992.

Poverty and Wealth: The Christian Debate over Capitalism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.

The Concept of God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dr. R.C. Sproul on the Essence of God’s Sovereignty in Our Salvation

The Pelagian Captivity of the Church

by R.C. Sproul

Shortly after the Reformation began, in the first few years after Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses on the church door at Wittenberg, he issued some short booklets on a variety of subjects. One of the most provocative was titled The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. In this book Luther was looking back to that period of Old Testament history when Jerusalem was destroyed by the invading armies of Babylon and the elite of the people were carried off into captivity. Luther in the sixteenth century took the image of the historic Babylonian captivity and reapplied it to his era and talked about the new Babylonian captivity of the Church. He was speaking of Rome as the modern Babylon that held the Gospel hostage with its rejection of the biblical understanding of justification. You can understand how fierce the controversy was, how polemical this title would be in that period by saying that the Church had not simply erred or strayed, but had fallen — that it’s actually now Babylonian; it is now in pagan captivity.

I’ve often wondered if Luther were alive today and came to our culture and looked, not at the liberal church community, but at evangelical churches, what would he have to say? Of course I can’t answer that question with any kind of definitive authority, but my guess is this: If Martin Luther lived today and picked up his pen to write, the book he would write in our time would be entitled The Pelagian Captivity of the Evangelical Church. Luther saw the doctrine of justification as fueled by a deeper theological problem. He writes about this extensively in The Bondage of the Will. When we look at the Reformation and we see the solas of the Reformation — sola Scriptura, sola fide, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria, sola gratia — Luther was convinced that the real issue of the Reformation was the issue of grace; and that underlying the doctrine of solo fide, justification by faith alone, was the prior commitment to sola gratia, the concept of justification by grace alone.

In the Fleming Revell edition of The Bondage of the Will, the translators, J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, included a somewhat provocative historical and theological introduction to the book itself. This is from the end of that introduction:

These things need to be pondered by Protestants today. With what right may we call ourselves children of the Reformation? Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned nor even recognised by the pioneer Reformers. The Bondage of the Will fairly sets before us what they believed about the salvation of lost mankind. In the light of it, we are forced to ask whether Protestant Christendom has not tragically sold its birthright between Luther’s day and our own. Has not Protestantism today become more Erasmian than Lutheran? Do we not too often try to minimise and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Are we innocent of the doctrinal indifferentism with which Luther charged Erasmus? Do we still believe that doctrine matters? (J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston, “Introduction” to the Bondage of the Will. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming Revell, 1957: pp. 59-60)

Historically, it’s a simple matter of fact that Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and all the leading Protestant theologians of the first epoch of the Reformation stood on precisely the same ground here. On other points they had their differences. In asserting the helplessness of man in sin and the sovereignty of God in grace, they were entirely at one. To all of them these doctrines were the very lifeblood of the Christian faith. A modern editor of Luther’s works says this:

Whoever puts this book down without having realized that Evangelical theology stands or falls with the doctrine of the bondage of the will has read it in vain. The doctrine of free justification by faith alone, which became the storm center of so much controversy during the Reformation period, is often regarded as the heart of the Reformers’ theology, but this is not accurate. The truth is that their thinking was really centered upon the contention of Paul, echoed by Augustine and others, that the sinner’s entire salvation is by free and sovereign grace only, and that the doctrine of justification by faith was important to them because it safeguarded the principle of sovereign grace. The sovereignty of grace found expression in their thinking at a more profound level still in the doctrine of monergistic regeneration (Ibid).

That is to say, that the faith that receives Christ for justification is itself the free gift of a sovereign God. The principle of sola fide is not rightly understood until it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of sola gratia. What is the source of faith? Is it the God-given means whereby the God-given justification is received, or is it a condition of justification which is left to man to fulfill? Do you hear the difference? Let me put it in simple terms. I heard an evangelist recently say, “If God takes a thousand steps to reach out to you for your redemption, still in the final analysis, you must take the decisive step to be saved.” Consider the statement that has been made by America’s most beloved and leading evangelical of the twentieth century, Billy Graham, who says with great passion, “God does ninety-nine percent of it but you still must do that last one percent.”

What Is Pelagianism?

Now, let’s return briefly to my title, “The Pelagian Captivity of the Church.” What are we talking about? Pelagius was a monk who lived in Britain in the fifth century. He was a contemporary of the greatest theologian of the first millennium of Church history if not of all time, Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. We have heard of St. Augustine, of his great works in theology, of his City of God, of his Confessions, and so on, which remain Christian classics.

Augustine, in addition to being a titanic theologian and a prodigious intellect, was also a man of deep spirituality and prayer. In one of his famous prayers, Augustine made a seemingly harmless and innocuous statement in the prayer to God in which he says: “O God, command what you wouldst, and grant what thou dost command.” Now, would that give you apoplexy — to hear a prayer like that? Well it certainly set Pelagius, this British monk, into orbit. When he heard that, he protested vociferously, even appealing to Rome to have this ghastly prayer censured from the pen of Augustine. Here’s why. He said, “Are you saying, Augustine, that God has the inherent right to command anything that he so desires from his creatures? Nobody is going to dispute that. God inherently, as the creator of heaven and earth, has the right to impose obligations on his creatures and say, ‘Thou shalt do this, and thou shalt not do that.’ ‘Command whatever thou would’ — it’s a perfectly legitimate prayer.”

It’s the second part of the prayer that Pelagius abhorred when Augustine said, “and grant what thou dost command.” He said, “What are you talking about? If God is just, if God is righteous and God is holy, and God commands of the creature to do something, certainly that creature must have the power within himself, the moral ability within himself, to perform it or God would never require it in the first place.” Now that makes sense, doesn’t it? What Pelagius was saying is that moral responsibility always and everywhere implies moral capability or, simply, moral ability. So why would we have to pray, “God grant me, give me the gift of being able to do what you command me to do”? Pelagius saw in this statement a shadow being cast over the integrity of God himself, who would hold people responsible for doing something they cannot do.

So in the ensuing debate, Augustine made it clear that in creation, God commanded nothing from Adam or Eve that they were incapable of performing. But once transgression entered and mankind became fallen, God’s law was not repealed nor did God adjust his holy requirements downward to accommodate the weakened, fallen condition of his creation. God did punish his creation by visiting upon them the judgment of original sin, so that everyone after Adam and Eve who was born into this world was born already dead in sin. Original sin is not the first sin. It’s the result of the first sin; it refers to our inherent corruption, by which we are born in sin, and in sin did our mothers conceive us. We are not born in a neutral state of innocence, but we are born in a sinful, fallen condition. Virtually every church in the historic World Council of Churches at some point in their history and in their creedal development articulates some doctrine of original sin. So clear is that to the biblical revelation that it would take a repudiation of the biblical view of mankind to deny original sin altogether.

This is precisely what was at issue in the battle between Augustine and Pelagius in the fifth century. Pelagius said there is no such thing as original sin. Adam’s sin affected Adam and only Adam. There is no transmission or transfer of guilt or fallenness or corruption to the progeny of Adam and Eve. Everyone is born in the same state of innocence in which Adam was created. And, he said, for a person to live a life of obedience to God, a life of moral perfection, is possible without any help from Jesus or without any help from the grace of God. Pelagius said that grace — and here’s the key distinction — facilitates righteousness. What does “facilitate” mean?

It helps, it makes it more facile, it makes it easier, but you don’t have to have it. You can be perfect without it. Pelagius further stated that it is not only theoretically possible for some folks to live a perfect life without any assistance from divine grace, but there are in fact people who do it. Augustine said, “No, no, no, no . . . we are infected by sin by nature, to the very depths and core of our being — so much so that no human being has the moral power to incline himself to cooperate with the grace of God. The human will, as a result of original sin, still has the power to choose, but it is in bondage to its evil desires and inclinations. The condition of fallen humanity is one that Augustine would describe as the inability to not sin. In simple English, what Augustine was saying is that in the Fall, man loses his moral ability to do the things of God and he is held captive by his own evil inclinations.

In the fifth century the Church condemned Pelagius as a heretic. Pelagianism was condemned at the Council of Orange, and it was condemned again at the Council of Florence, the Council of Carthage, and also, ironically, at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century in the first three anathemas of the Canons of the Sixth Session. So, consistently throughout Church history, the Church has roundly and soundly condemned Pelagianism  —  because Pelagianism denies the fallenness of our nature; it denies the doctrine of original sin.

Now what is called semi-Pelagianism, as the prefix “semi” suggests, was a somewhat middle ground between full-orbed Augustinianism and full-orbed Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism said this: yes, there was a fall; yes, there is such a thing as original sin; yes, the constituent nature of humanity has been changed by this state of corruption and all parts of our humanity have been significantly weakened by the fall, so much so that without the assistance of divine grace nobody can possibly be redeemed, so that grace is not only helpful but it’s absolutely necessary for salvation. While we are so fallen that we can’t be saved without grace, we are not so fallen that we don’t have the ability to accept or reject the grace when it’s offered to us. The will is weakened but is not enslaved. There remains in the core of our being an island of righteousness that remains untouched by the fall. It’s out of that little island of righteousness, that little parcel of goodness that is still intact in the soul or in the will that is the determinative difference between heaven and hell. It’s that little island that must be exercised when God does his thousand steps of reaching out to us, but in the final analysis it’s that one step that we take that determines whether we go to heaven or hell — whether we exercise that little righteousness that is in the core of our being or whether we don’t. That little island Augustine wouldn’t even recognize as an atoll in the South Pacific. He said it’s a mythical island, that the will is enslaved, and that man is dead in his sin and trespasses.

Ironically, the Church condemned semi-Pelagianism as vehemently as it had condemned original Pelagianism. Yet by the time you get to the sixteenth century and you read the Catholic understanding of what happens in salvation the Church basically repudiated what Augustine taught and Aquinas taught as well. The Church concluded that there still remains this freedom that is intact in the human will and that man must cooperate with — and assent to — the prevenient grace that is offered to them by God. If we exercise that will, if we exercise a cooperation with whatever powers we have left, we will be saved. And so in the sixteenth century the Church reembraced semi-Pelagianism.

At the time of the Reformation, all the reformers agreed on one point: the moral inability of fallen human beings to incline themselves to the things of God; that all people, in order to be saved, are totally dependent, not ninety-nine percent, but one hundred percent dependent upon the monergistic work of regeneration in order to come to faith, and that faith itself is a gift of God. It’s not that we are offered salvation and that we will be born again if we choose to believe. But we can’t even believe until God in his grace and in his mercy first changes the disposition of our souls through his sovereign work of regeneration. In other words, what the reformers all agreed with was, unless a man is born again, he can’t even see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it. Like Jesus says in the sixth chapter of John, “No man can come to me unless it is given to him of the Father” — that the necessary condition for anybody’s faith and anybody’s salvation is regeneration.

Evangelicals and Faith

Modern Evangelicalism almost uniformly and universally teaches that in order for a person to be born again, he must first exercise faith. You have to choose to be born again. Isn’t that what you hear? In a George Barna poll, more than seventy percent of “professing evangelical Christians” in America expressed the belief that man is basically good. And more than eighty percent articulated the view that God helps those who help themselves. These positions — or let me say it negatively — neither of these positions is semi-Pelagian. They’re both Pelagian. To say that we’re basically good is the Pelagian view. I would be willing to assume that in at least thirty percent of the people who are reading this issue, and probably more, if we really examine their thinking in depth, we would find hearts that are beating Pelagianism. We’re overwhelmed with it. We’re surrounded by it. We’re immersed in it. We hear it every day. We hear it every day in the secular culture. And not only do we hear it every day in the secular culture, we hear it every day on Christian television and on Christian radio.

In the nineteenth century, there was a preacher who became very popular in America, who wrote a book on theology, coming out of his own training in law, in which he made no bones about his Pelagianism. He rejected not only Augustinianism, but he also rejected semi-Pelagianism and stood clearly on the subject of unvarnished Pelagianism, saying in no uncertain terms, without any ambiguity, that there was no Fall and that there is no such thing as original sin. This man went on to attack viciously the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and in addition to that, to repudiate as clearly and as loudly as he could the doctrine of justification by faith alone by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. This man’s basic thesis was, we don’t need the imputation of the righteousness of Christ because we have the capacity in and of ourselves to become righteous. His name: Charles Finney, one of America’s most revered evangelists. Now, if Luther was correct in saying that sola fide is the article upon which the Church stands or falls, if what the reformers were saying is that justification by faith alone is an essential truth of Christianity, who also argued that the substitutionary atonement is an essential truth of Christianity; if they’re correct in their assessment that those doctrines are essential truths of Christianity, the only conclusion we can come to is that Charles Finney was not a Christian. I read his writings and I say, “I don’t see how any Christian person could write this.” And yet, he is in the Hall of Fame of Evangelical Christianity in America. He is the patron saint of twentieth-century Evangelicalism. And he is not semi-Pelagian; he is unvarnished in his Pelagianism.

The Island of Righteousness

One thing is clear: that you can be purely Pelagian and be completely welcome in the evangelical movement today. It’s not simply that the camel sticks his nose into the tent; he doesn’t just come in the tent — he kicks the owner of the tent out. Modern Evangelicalism today looks with suspicion at Reformed theology, which has become sort of the third-class citizen of Evangelicalism. Now you say, “Wait a minute, R. C. Let’s not tar everybody with the extreme brush of Pelagianism, because, after all, Billy Graham and the rest of these people are saying there was a Fall; you’ve got to have grace; there is such a thing as original sin; and semi-Pelagians do not agree with Pelagius’ facile and sanguine view of unfallen human nature.” And that’s true. No question about it. But it’s that little island of righteousness where man still has the ability, in and of himself, to turn, to change, to incline, to dispose, to embrace the offer of grace that reveals why historically semi-Pelagianism is not called semi-Augustinianism, but semi-Pelagianism.

I heard an evangelist use two analogies to describe what happens in our redemption. He said sin has such a strong hold on us, a stranglehold, that it’s like a person who can’t swim, who falls overboard in a raging sea, and he’s going under for the third time and only the tops of his fingers are still above the water; and unless someone intervenes to rescue him, he has no hope of survival, his death is certain. And unless God throws him a life preserver, he can’t possibly be rescued. And not only must God throw him a life preserver in the general vicinity of where he is, but that life preserver has to hit him right where his fingers are still extended out of the water, and hit him so that he can grasp hold of it. It has to be perfectly pitched. But still that man will drown unless he takes his fingers and curls them around the life preserver and God will rescue him. But unless that tiny little human action is done, he will surely perish.

The other analogy is this: A man is desperately ill, sick unto death, lying in his hospital bed with a disease that is fatal. There is no way he can be cured unless somebody from outside comes up with a cure, a medicine that will take care of this fatal disease. And God has the cure and walks into the room with the medicine. But the man is so weak he can’t even help himself to the medicine; God has to pour it on the spoon. The man is so sick he’s almost comatose. He can’t even open his mouth, and God has to lean over and open up his mouth for him. God has to bring the spoon to the man’s lips, but the man still has to swallow it.

Now, if we’re going to use analogies, let’s be accurate. The man isn’t going under for the third time; he is stone cold dead at the bottom of the ocean. That’s where you once were when you were dead in sin and trespasses and walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air. And while you were dead hath God quickened you together with Christ. God dove to the bottom of the sea and took that drowned corpse and breathed into it the breath of his life and raised you from the dead. And it’s not that you were dying in a hospital bed of a certain illness, but rather, when you were born you were born D.O.A. That’s what the Bible says: that we are morally stillborn.

Do we have a will? Yes, of course we have a will. Calvin said, if you mean by a free will a faculty of choosing by which you have the power within yourself to choose what you desire, then we all have free will. If you mean by free will the ability for fallen human beings to incline themselves and exercise that will to choose the things of God without the prior monergistic work of regeneration then, said Calvin, free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to a human being.

The semi-Pelagian doctrine of free will prevalent in the evangelical world today is a pagan view that denies the captivity of the human heart to sin. It underestimates the stranglehold that sin has upon us.

None of us wants to see things as bad as they really are. The biblical doctrine of human corruption is grim. We don’t hear the Apostle Paul say, “You know, it’s sad that we have such a thing as sin in the world; nobody’s perfect. But be of good cheer. We’re basically good.” Do you see that even a cursory reading of Scripture denies this?

Now back to Luther. What is the source and status of faith? Is it the God-given means whereby the God-given justification is received? Or is it a condition of justification which is left to us to fulfill? Is your faith a work? Is it the one work that God leaves for you to do? I had a discussion with some folks in Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently. I was speaking on sola gratia, and one fellow was upset.

He said, “Are you trying to tell me that in the final analysis it’s God who either does or doesn’t sovereignly regenerate a heart?”

And I said, “Yes;” and he was very upset about that. I said, “Let me ask you this: are you a Christian?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Do you have friends who aren’t Christians?”

He said, “Well, of course.”

I said, “Why are you a Christian and your friends aren’t? Is it because you’re more righteous than they are?” He wasn’t stupid. He wasn’t going to say, “Of course it’s because I’m more righteous. I did the right thing and my friend didn’t.” He knew where I was going with that question.

And he said, “Oh, no, no, no.”

I said, “Tell me why. Is it because you are smarter than your friend?”

And he said, “No.”

But he would not agree that the final, decisive issue was the grace of God. He wouldn’t come to that. And after we discussed this for fifteen minutes, he said, “OK! I’ll say it. I’m a Christian because I did the right thing, I made the right response, and my friend didn’t.”

What was this person trusting in for his salvation? Not in his works in general, but in the one work that he performed. And he was a Protestant, an evangelical. But his view of salvation was no different from the Roman view.

God’s Sovereignty in Salvation

This is the issue: Is it a part of God’s gift of salvation, or is it in our own contribution to salvation? Is our salvation wholly of God or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who say the latter, that it ultimately depends on something we do for ourselves, thereby deny humanity’s utter helplessness in sin and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all. It is no wonder then that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being, in principle, both a return to Rome because, in effect, it turned faith into a meritorious work, and a betrayal of the Reformation because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the reformers’ thought. Arminianism was indeed, in Reformed eyes, a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favor of New Testament Judaism. For to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle than to rely on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other. In the light of what Luther says to Erasmus there is no doubt that he would have endorsed this judgment.

And yet this view is the overwhelming majority report today in professing evangelical circles. And as long as semi-Pelagianism, which is simply a thinly veiled version of real Pelagianism at its core — as long as it prevails in the Church, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I know, however, what will not happen: there will not be a new Reformation. Until we humble ourselves and understand that no man is an island and that no man has an island of righteousness, that we are utterly dependent upon the unmixed grace of God for our salvation, we will not begin to rest upon grace and rejoice in the greatness of God’s sovereignty, and we will not be rid of the pagan influence of humanism that exalts and puts man at the center of religion. Until that happens there will not be a new Reformation, because at the heart of Reformation teaching is the central place of the worship and gratitude given to God and God alone. Soli Deo gloria, to God alone be the glory.

About the Author: Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: The Work of ChristThe Holiness of God; Chosen By God; Reason to Believe; Knowing Scripture; Willing to Believe; The Intimate Marriage; Pleasing God; If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists?, and Defending The Faith) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as Senior Minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL. The article above was adapted from Modern Reformation, Vol 10, Number 3 (May/June 2001), pp. 22-29.

 

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REFLECTIONS ON THE RESPONSE TO THE BOOK “FUTURE ISRAEL” By Barry E. Horner

(As someone who is both an Augustinian and a Premillennialist in the ilk of S. Lewis Johnson, John Hannah, John MacArthur, Steven Lawson, Erwin Lutzer, John Feinberg, Robert Saucy, James Montgomery Boice, Donald Grey Barnhouse, C.I. Scofield, J.N. Darby, Thomas Ice, Eric Raymond, and several others – I highly enjoyed and unflinchingly endorse Barry Horner’s book “Future Israel” and his response to it below…I certainly hope that those of a Pelagian persuasion will continue to move into the Augustinian camp in their soteriology, and those in the replacement theology camp will move into the pre-millennial realm in their eschatology – May Barry Horner’s Tribe increase! – DPC)

I. Introduction

To begin with, let me supply some brief background material concerning myself. Over the years as a pastor, my area of specialty has been that of John Bunyan and his setting in the turbulent seventeenth century (Refer to www.bunyanministries.org). I am an Australian, Sovereign Grace in doctrine, and premillennial in my eschatology. This is important since a large part of those with Reformed and Sovereign Grace convictions, with whom I am well acquainted, are quite strenuously amillennial. As a result they have tended to be a- Judaic or anti-Judaic in their eschatology, which is merely indifferent or militantly opposed to the Jews and modern Israel. Specifically I am premillennial, sympathetic with dispensationalism, and restorationist regarding the divine destiny of the Jews and Israel, that is concerning their eschatological return to the land as a nation. Then will follow their climactic conversion to Jesus as their Messiah at His return, when “they will look upon Him whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10). At the same time, Christ’s church having been raptured and gathered together, there will follow His messianic, millennial reign from Jerusalem over a renewed earth. At that time Israel will be gloriously elevated from its humiliation. Israel does indeed have a glorious future (Refer to www.futureisraelministries.org)

II. The challenge of two questions concerning Israel during the church age.

Over ten years ago, while a pastor in North Brunswick, New Jersey, and having access to the fine library of Princeton Theological Seminary, two questions challenged me in expounding through Ezekiel, Hosea, Zechariah, and Romans.

A. First, does God have a covenantal interest in the unbelieving Jewish people today, along with the nation and the land, which is as distinct from the believing Jewish remnant. The answer, which I now believe to be beyond serious challenge, came with a strong impression in my study of Romans 11, but especially v. 28. “From the standpoint of the gospel they [the unbelieving Jews] are enemies for your [the Gentiles’] sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice [the election, τν κλογν, tēn ekloēn – Most commentators believe that here “the election,” especially in the light of the logic of vs. 26-28, is concerned with the elect nation, according to the sovereign calling and promise of God. Though Lenski, true to his amillennialism, believes that here Paul writes about the remnant of v. 5] they [unbelieving Jews] are beloved for the sake of the fathers.” Unbelieving Jews today remain God’s “beloved enemies.” For a sample of this contemporary unbelief, consider Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who I greatly respect and certainly esteem way beyond the preceding Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. Nevertheless he writes in his enlightening volume, A Durable Peace: Israel and its Place among the Nations:

The final guarantor of the viability of a small nation in such times of turbulence is its capacity to direct its own destiny, something that has eluded the Jewish people during its long centuries of exile. Restoring that capacity is the central task of the Jewish people today (Benjamin Netanyahu, A Durable Peace, p. xxiii).

However, in spite of all of the Jews’ carnality today, they remain God’s elect people. And this being the case, for the Christian they should also be “beloved,” even if they remain militantly opposed to Jesus as the Christ.

B. The second question that challenged me was how Christianity in general, over the centuries, had treated the Jewish people. The answer came to me as if being hit over the head with a mallet of truth. Various authors, whether liberal, conservative evangelical, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Reform or Orthodox Jewish, even secular, came up with the same basic assessment. The church, especially after the Bar Cochbar rebellion of 135-136 AD and the influence of Marcionism, then the united patristic voice from Justin onward, but especially the authoritative formulation of Augustine, led to centuries of humiliation toward the Jew, and right on through the Reformation up to today. So having read and heard of many amillennialists who boasted in their Augustinian eschatology, it suddenly became shamefully clear that they had nothing to boast in. Indeed, their trumpeted belief in replacement theology and supercessionism, via centuries of vaunted proclamation that the church is the new Israel, was something that they ought to weep about! Hence, a vital principle came as a result, and it is this. A good eschatology cannot produce unethical fruit of the magnitude that has come about by means of replacement theology. This blot upon Christianity in general is the result of bad eschatology that has made the Jews fear, and not be jealous, as Paul exhorts should be the case. It is at this point that historic amillennialism is proven to be fundamentally flawed.

Some have attempted to avoid the painful truth of history in this regard by declaring that they would only discuss the issues, with regard to the Jews, by considering the exegesis of Scripture. Yes, we regard what God means by what He says as of vital, fundamental importance. However church history is the response, the lifestyle of Christianity that is derived from biblical truth, and cannot be disregarded, especially in terms of broad movements. We sense that some, in knowing the truth, would prefer to avoid it. We also believe that the right embrace of biblical truth ought consistently to result in biblical virtue. However ungodliness evident in a professing Christian is recognized as hypocrisy. Orthodoxy cannot be divorced from orthopraxy. Hence centuries of church history up to today, the disgraceful record of it all, should cause us to blush in reflecting upon an eschatology that is so terribly stained and so inconsistent with practical righteousness, especially as Paul exhorts us in Romans 11.

III. The publication of Future Israel, October, 2007.

Initially Future Israel was accepted for publication by Paternoster Press in England.

However I became unhappy about the editing process and asked for a release from the contract. Among other things, an editor suggested that one comment be taken out because Colin Chapman, a leading supercessionist who lived nearby, would not like it. However I am particularly grateful to David Brickner of Jews for Jesus who, at this stage, suggested approaching Broadman & Holman. How grateful I am for this new arrangement that worked out so well. They proved to be in sympathy with the basic thesis. Certainly the commendation of John MacArthur was helpful, though there was no collusion. He was preaching on this very matter while the manuscript was being edited. Then, through a friend, we had mutually sympathetic communication.

Certain other thrusts within Future Israel worth mentioning.

A. The importance of a Judeo-centric eschatology. The early church was Jewish. According to Eusebius, the first fifteen bishops at Jerusalem up to 135 AD were Jewish, and surely restorationist in their eschatology. They all proclaimed the gospel from Jewish Scriptures concerning a Jewish Savior, who will return while still being Jewish. As an example refer to Matthew 5:5 – Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth [τν γν, ten gen],” which should more likely read, “the land.” Of course, by way of application, “the earth” is appropriate. A helpful booklet would be David Stern’s Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel. Also consider the prophetic revelation of the reversal of roles when the humiliation of the Jewish people will be followed by their exaltation after their conversion and participation in the millennium (Isa. 60:14; Zech. 8:22-23; 14:1). It seems that the Gentile Christian ought to joyfully accept this, but in fact many may not like this prospect.

B. The importance of a Judeo-centric hermeneutic. Over the centuries, a Gentile- focused hermeneutic has predominated within Christendom. However a Judeo- centric hermeneutic is the answer to the problem that we Gentiles have had when attempting to understand, disparate in meaning, quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament (e.g. Matt. 2:14-15; cf. Hos. 11:1). This difficulty caused George Eldon Ladd to suggest the need of “re-interpretation” of Old Testament prophetic passages by means of a Christo-centric hermeneutic. However the Hebrew writer of the New Testament can quote the Old Testament, giving it an applicatory, nuanced shade of meaning, as with Midrash, without at all nullifying the literal meaning of the original Old Testament passage (David Stern, Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel, pp. 31-33). This principle will also help in our understanding of such passages as Acts 2:16-21, cf. Joel 2:28-32 in context, and John 19:37, cf. Rev. 1:7; Zech. 12:10 in context.

C. The importance of the continuity of replacement theology before and after the Reformation. Modern replacement theology is not a recent phenomenon (Refer to R.E. Deprose. Israel and the Church. Waynesboro, GA: Authentic Media, 2000; Michael J. Vlach, The Church as a Replacement of Israel: An Analysis of Supercessionism. Ph.D. diss., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2004). It goes back as far as the second century, especially after Gentile bishops took the ascendency after 135-136 AD, the result being development of Gentile dominance that ignored the exhortations of Paul in Romans 11. So the Reformation, in general, perpetuated replacement theology according to the authoritative legacy of Augustine. Thus Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, John Calvin, Francis Turretin, Patrick Fairbairn, Herman Bavinck, and Geerhardus Vos, to name but a few of this eschatological lineage, exercised tremendous influence over Protestantism. They perpetuated the eschatology of Augustine, and thus at best the indifference of a-Semitism.

D. The importance of not confusing the bilateral Mosaic covenant with the unilateral Abrahamic covenant. It is astonishing to find that leading scholars promoting replacement theology are so confused at this point. An example would be from W. D. Davies, Emeritus Professor, Duke University, who is widely quoted by scholars in support of Replacement Theology.

In this way [of universalizing in Christ the covenant made with Abraham], “the territory” promised was transformed into and fulfilled by the life “in Christ.” All this is not made explicit, because Paul did not directly apply himself to the question of the land, but it is implied. In the Christological logic of Paul, the land, like the Law, particular and provisional, had become irrelevant (W.D. Davies, The Gospel and the Land, p. 179).

The unilateral nature of the Abrahamic covenant, in which the land is such an intrinsic component, is simply ignored or incorporated within the bilateral Mosaic covenant. Yes, the Jew and the Gentile only have hope of salvation, through Jesus Christ since He is the promised seed of Abraham, which promise is one of pure sovereign grace. Yet this same promise upholds the distinction between Jew and Gentile within the one people of God (Romans 11).

E. The importance of diversity within unity. It is astonishing that while there is diversity within the unity of the Godhead, diversity with the twelve tribes of Israel within one nation, diversity according to spiritual gifts within the one body of Christ, yet Augustinianism is so adamant that there cannot be diversity with Israel and the church distinctively comprising the one people of God. Scripture knows nothing of a future clone-like homogeneity, and especially within the economy of the Millennium. There, Moses and David and Elijah and Paul will still be their own individual selves. This is one of the great strengths of Premillennial and Dispensational eschatology.

F. The importance of Romans 11. It is written by a highly educated Messianic Jew.

1. Paul declares himself to be “an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin,” v. 1. He really means it, and not with some tongue in cheek attitude. He also confirms it, again using the present tense, in Acts 21:39; 22:3. As a Benjamite he asserts both demographic and territorial association. Consequently he upholds Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and territory.

2. The remnant according to God’s gracious choice is Israel’s guarantee of a future, v. 5. But God is not ultimately satisfied with a remnant, as the climactic development indicates in vs. 12, and v. 15 which surely alludes to Ezekiel 37. So v. 26 is also climactic. It is not, “And so/in this manner Israel is being saved,” through the accumulation of relatively small additions to the remnant over the centuries; rather it is, “And so/in this manner all Israel will be saved [future tense of σζω, sozo], in a consummate sense.” It is this climactic grandeur of the saving power of the gospel, especially the final triumph of mercy toward Israel, that so excites Paul. However the Augustinian suppresses this because of centuries of a misplaced eschatology.

3. The Christian church is built upon the Jewish remnant. This is something to ponder in the light of the arrogance of the mainly Gentile church over the centuries. Paul seems to suggest this very point in v. 18. The New Covenant was anticipated in the upper room before Jewish disciples (Luke 22:19-20). Then it was cut, according to Jeremiah 31:27, before “the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” that is a large number of Jews gathered in Jerusalem. So the initial, believing remnant branches that sprouted from the cultivated olive tree were wholly Jewish. The Gentiles were later grafted in according to pure grace. For this reason they have no reason for “conceit,” v. 20.

4. So Paul is primarily addressing Gentile Christians who need exhortation about a bad attitude toward the Jews. Rather they ought to make them jealous, vs. 11, 14. Yet over the centuries the Christian church has pompously ignored this exhortation while claiming to be the new spiritual Israel. Paul’s stern warning in vs. 17-20, concerning arrogance, has been largely ignored. Perhaps during the last of the last days a gentle and sympathetic spirit will come to the fore from repentant Gentiles; if it does, evangelistic outreach toward the Jewish people is certain to accelerate and flourish.

5. The significance of v. 28 that indicates God’s covenantal interest in unbelieving national Israel, and its related connection with v. 26. Here is clinching proof that God continues to have unfailing interest in unbelieving Israel today that is comprised of His “beloved enemies.” Further, working back from v. 28 to v. 27, then v. 27 to v. 26, it becomes virtually incontestable that “all Israel” refers to the eschatological saving of the nation of Israel (Matt Weymeyer has well exegeted this point in, “The Dual Status of Israel in Romans 11:28,” The Master’s Seminary Journal. Spring 2005, pp. 57-71). And all of this is because of “the sake of the fathers,” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which promises are irrevocable, v. 29.

6. The significance of vs. 30-32 concerning the mercy of God being poured out upon Gentile and Jew. There is surely Gentile arrogance in the suggestion that Israel has lost its covenant relationship with God on account of disobedience concerning the old Mosaic covenant, while the New Testament church boasts in the sovereignty of grace through faith alone. But here: “God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all,” v. 32. The “these” of v. 31 cannot refer merely to the remnant, but to the unbelieving nation.

IV. Responses:

A. The response to Future Israel has been overwhelmingly favorable. None of those who have responded unfavorably have attempted to deal with the essential arguments. In England, Steven Sizer, a rabid supercessionist, reluctantly agreed in March of this year to provide a review for Evangelicals Now. He wrote: “O dear. I really don’t want to have to review this unpleasant little book but those nice people at Evangelicals Now have asked me to, so I will, eventually” (Refer to the Stephen Sizer web site: http://www.stephensizer.com/2009/03/christian-zionism-achronological-and-annotated-bibliography/Referenced, November, 2009). As of today, no review has been forthcoming.

B. There have been many blog responses such as from Dr. Sam Waldron, Professor of Systematic Theology at Midwest Center for Theological Studies. Staunchly Reformed Baptist and amillennial, he commented: “I had to pray for grace and patience not to fire it across the room. . . . [I] had over three weeks [during a trip overseas] to calm down and regain my sanctification.” A month later, because I had upheld God’s distinctive, contemporary covenantal regard for unbelieving national Israel, and at the same time am critical of Gentile bias, therefore I was said to be guilty of “a kind of reverse racism. . . .This kind of language seems to be somewhat ‘racist’ in its own way. It conveys prejudice against Gentiles. It is like Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s rantings against ‘White America’ which have been all over the news lately (Refer to the Mid-Western Center for Theological Studies web site. http://www.mctsowensboro.org/- blog/?-p=307 Not currently accessible). Is Paul guilty of “reverse racism” in Romans 1:16?

C. However what a delight it was to receive an email from Jeroen Bol, the Netherlands (Holland). He has bought fifty copies of Future Israel and distributed them to Christian leaders in Europe. More recently he has described some of the positive effects of this outreach, specifically some who have been persuaded to embrace a Judeo-centric eschatology.

V. Reflections.

A. The importance of Judeo-centric ministry. In Horatius Bonar’s significant book, Prophetical Landmarks, he makes the vital introductory comment:

The prophecies concerning Israel are the key to all the rest. True principles of interpretation, in regard to them, will aid us in disentangling and illustrating all prophecy together. False principles as to them will most thoroughly perplex and over cloud the whole Word of God (Horatius Bonar, Prophetical Landmarks: Concerning Christ’s Premillennial Advent, p. 228. Also go to http://www.futureisraelministries.org/horatius_bonar.html.).

By way of illustration, only a month ago I conducted a seminar on the issues raised by Future Israel at Twin Cities Bible Church, St. Paul. A week before, my daughter in San Jose told me of a forthcoming gathering at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, titled An Evening of Eschatology. Dr. John Piper chaired the meeting which included three other participants. They were, Jim Hamilton (professor of New Testament at Southern Seminary in Louisville), premillennial, Sam Storms (pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City), amillennial, and Doug Wilson (pastor of Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho), postmillennial. Having arrived at St. Paul, the pastor told me that he attended the meeting. He concluded, that to be quite frank, those who attended would probably have left more confused upon leaving than when they first arrived. However there appears to be a reason for this. I watched the whole two hour session on the internet and was surprised to note that in all of it, there was not so much as one mention of Israel or the Jews, whether with regard to Scripture, history or the present. Horatius Bonar was right! Israel is central to eschatology.

B. The importance of Judeo-centric godliness. While being critical of the ethics of amillennial Augustinianism, we also need to consider the ethics of restorationist premillennialism and dispensationalism. We are by no means blameless, even if more eschatologically biblical. So Peter exhorts us: “Since all these things [with regard to the coming day of the Lord] are to be destroyed [dissolved] in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (II Pet. 3:11). It is godly ethics emanating from our eschatology, not prophetic glibness and sensationalism, which pleases God. Certainly it is more likely to make our Jewish friends and enemies both jealous and curious.

C. The importance of Judeo-centric evangelism. I have often heard the suggestion: “Let us put aside our eschatological differences and agree to focus on the evangelization of the Jews.” It may sound a good proposal, but how can the Augustinian honestly face it? Will he tell the Jew that after believing in the Lord Jesus as his Messiah, then he will be absorbed into the Christian church and lose all of his Jewish identity? Surely in Paul declaring that he remained an Israelite, he never disowned Jewish ethnicity, nationality and territory in all of his outreach to the Jews. Rather he proclaimed to them “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20). Could the Augustinian evangelize in Israel and tell the Jew that in reality, which is in the sight of God, the land is now passé, an anachronism? It takes a Judeo-centric eschatology to reach out to the Jews and at least gain their attention.

Hence there is the need for opposing replacement theology on account of the cause of Jewish evangelism; it saps the life out of it. The modern awakening of evangelism, especially directed toward the Jewish people, commenced toward the end of the nineteenth century. Ever since, up to the present time, this flourishing movement has had premillennial, dispensational, restorationist underpinning. I also believe that Christian restorationists made a significant contribution toward the formation of the modern state of Israel. By and large, the Augustinians opposed it. Where is there one missionary agency today, based upon Augustinian eschatology, which thrives in its distinctive outreach toward the modern nation of Israel and the Diaspora? Why is this so? Because the Augustinian gospel results in Jewish converts losing their Jewish identity while the Gentiles retain their distinctiveness. Believe me, I say this while being a happy and contented Gentile.

Hence the answer for today is the proclamation of the gospel, to both Jew and Gentile, in its full Jewish context. The reason is that, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). I believe that God will especially be pleased to honor this priority.

About the Author: Dr. Barry Horner, an Australian, is a graduate of George Fox College and Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Oregon. His Doctor of Ministry degree from Westminster Theological Seminary in California focused on the biblical/theological content of The Pilgrim’s Progress as well as its validity as an appropriate means for the communication of the Word of God. Ordained in Melbourne in 1976, Barry has pastored churches in Australia and the United States. The reflections above are from his excellent book in the New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology entitled: Future Israel. B&H Group, 2007. The article above is adapted from http://www.pre-trib.org/data/pdf/Horner-ReflectionsonRespons.pdf

 

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