Archive for January 2011

Gadfly Paraphrase: a Dingy in a Hurricane

21 January 2011 by Frank Turk

It is completely backwards to attempt, by discussion or argument, to establish a full-grown faith in Scripture. I admit that if I was arguing with the most clever nay-sayer or atheist, though I am not a very convincing speaker, I probably could get them to step back and stop talking and start listening; it wouldn't be very hard to shut down their overblown claims, as if anything was to be gained by disproving their endless double-talk. But even if we can make a good argument for the word of God, it does not follow that this is how we change men's hearts from doubt to faith toward the Scritpures. Profane men think that religion rests only on opinion, and, therefore, in order that they not hold to foolish opinions, they desire and insist to see a reasonable argument that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired. But here it is: the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason.

God alone is the proper witness to the truth of Scripture, so these words don't have any value to a man's heart until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that these men faithfully delivered the message which God gave them to tell. That's why Isaiah said this:
    “My Spirit that is upon thee,
    and my words which I have put in thy mouth
    shall not depart out of thy mouth,
    nor out of the mouth of thy seed,
    nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed,
    saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever,” (Isa. 59:21)
It's probably a good conscience that makes us feel uncomfortable because, while those still lost blaspheme God's words, these people don't have a clear proof at hand to silence them -- but we forget that the Spirit is called an down-payment and binding mark to confirm the faith of the godly for this very reason: until God enlightens their minds, they are tossed around by their doubts like a dingy in a hurricane.

-- John Calvin, Institutes I,7.4

Catechism Buzz: alone able fully

19 January 2011 by Frank Turk

Q. 3. What is the Word of God?
A. The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.

Q. 4. How does it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God?
A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very Word of God.

Q. 5. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.


There's another aspect of this section of Q&A which gets easily overlooked -- and not just by people who want creative solutions to the respectability problems that arise when we start dealing with talking snakes and rivers turning into blood and a man who can cause himself to walk out of his own tomb after 3 days. It's the statement that God bears witness by and through these books to the very heart of man.

See: it's really not enough that we accept the Bible as true or even as truth: we have to receive it as God's way, and in fact God's tool, by which he presents evidence of himself. It's actually God's testimony about what he has meant by all this throughout time. And this statement to us by our Calvinistic betters probably should startle us Calvinists at least as much as it startles the non-calvinist and the unbeliever.

It's not just that the words will make sense if you read them -- that's just the entry point for anything which is written as a credible piece of literature. But there is something here which distinguishes itself from witchcraft, and ouiji boards, and Mormonism, and pneumatological enthusiasm.

Catechism Buzz: Primary Purpose

17 January 2011 by Frank Turk

Q. 3. What is the Word of God?
A. The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.

Q. 4. How does it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God?
A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very Word of God.

Q. 5. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

As I said last week, the Larger Catechism does a fine job of telling us what Scripture is -- though we probably would ask of it what it means by "Old Testament" and "New Testament". And while those of us who are Christians -- especially, Calvinists -- might take these three answers at face value, what good are they to someone we want to present our faith to?

Well, they are of some use. Working backwards here, Q5 helps us define the scope of Scripture. That is: it helps us narrow the question of what we ought to use the Scriptures for. Primarily, we use the Scriptures to teach us what to believe about God, and also what we ought to do about it. This doesn't come up again until Q157, but consider it: All matters not centrally wrapped up in belief in God and living as if God is real are not the primary concern of Scripture. They may be the building-blocks of Scripture, or the narrative medium of Scripture's message, or for plain folk the words and pi'chers, but according to the Catechism we do not have to concern ourselves with any perception we have of things not in this primary purpose.

This is an important didactic point but it's actually an important apologetic point. For example, let's say that someone wants to discredit the Bible by saying that the age of the Earth is not actually 6500 years, but it is in fact much older than this. They are in fact saying this today, so maybe we can help our selves through catechesis. If we stick to what we ought to believe about the Bible, we should be willing to say that as long as the actual activity of God in creation, including the creation of Man as in his image, they can have the age of the Earth. As long as they do not deny the fall of man as the source of man's problem before God, they can have the talking serpent. As long as they do not deny man's fall and God's decree to put us out of his presence as punishment, they can even have the Angel at the gate of the garden.

That is: as long as they do not deny that God has a purpose in creation which is to declare himself both the just one and the justifier of the lost, they can reinterpret the particulars of the story any way they want.

Personally, I have no idea why they want to waste the energy. It's like trying to re-read The Grapes of Wrath in order to invent a way to make it a book not about the evils of Capitalism. The Bible is what it is, but our first work is to see it as God's book and not ours. He had a purpose in telling it this way, and maybe we should mind it.

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Catechism Buzz: The Effective Reveal

14 January 2011 by Frank Turk

Q. 2. How does it appear that there is a God?
A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.

So the main advantage man has is his nature and God's work in creation, but it turns out that this is also our first place in which to find idols -- that is, in ourselves, and in the one place where God actually did put His image for our sake.

And as I said last time, everybody is willing to assume "God" as long as God doesn't say something specific to us -- but He has said something specific to us, and it puts our opinions about this image of Himself in us to shame.



The Larger Catechism does a fine job of working out the meaning of God's word, but here is the one thing all of us miss -- especially us "Calvinists": the only place God effectively reveals himself so that our errors can be overcome is in His word, and by the power of His Spirit. That means our arguments with people are not very likely to change their minds; our nice activities which may clothe and feed them are not the way God reveals himself to people; our books and conferences aren't going to reform us or anyone else in the world; and may God forbid that our politics, of all things, save even a single soul.

The way by which God effectively reveals himself so that men may be saved is through His word, and by the power of His Spirit. Think on that as you worship Him this weekend.

Gadfly Paraphrase: What the Heavens Declare

13 January 2011 by Frank Turk

Scientists, who have sunk deeply into these matters than others, understand how the stars are arranged in such beautiful order, that notwithstanding their large number there is no confusion; but to the ignorant and unlettered, the continual succession of days is a surer proof of the providence of God. David, therefore, having spoken of the heavens, does not then depart from them to other parts of the world; but, in order to get closer to the way we see things, he confirms what he has just now said, namely, that the glory of God not only shines, but also echoes all over in the heavens. There are quite a few explanation of these words in translation, but they all amount t the same thing. Some explain that no day passes in which God does not show some specific evidence of his power. Others would say that they are saying that the universe is put together in a sensible way, - that every day contributes something to build upon the proof of the existence and perfections of God. Other would say that the days and nights talk together, and reason concerning the glory of their Creator’, but this interpretation is a little forced.

David, I have no doubt, here teaches, from the rhythm of the cycle from day to night, that the course and revolutions of the sun, and moon, and stars, are regulated by the marvelous wisdom of God. Whether we translate the words Day after day, or one day to another day, it doesn't matter; for all that David means is the beautiful design of time which the parade of days and nights show us.

If, indeed, we were actually looking at it the way we should to be, even one day would be enough to tell us clearly, "GOD! CREATOR GOD!", and only one night would be enough to do it again for the same reason. But when we see the sun and the moon performing their daily dance — the sun following the moon following the sun, up again, then down again — and when we get it that the length of the days and nights is regulated, and that the variation of their length is arranged according to some regal design, and it happens again and again year after year, we have in this a much brighter testimony to the glory of God.

David, therefore, with a completely clear mind, declares that although God should not speak a single word to men, yet the order of all things and the uses of all things, as the rotation of day and night eloquently proclaims, "Glory to God!" There's no way for men to be ignorant, because day and night teaches us so well. We can learn a lot of things from them as teacher, if we pay attention.

-- Calvin's Commentary of Psalms, Ps 19:2 [paraphrase]

Catechism Buzz: Plainly Declared, but Badly Interpreted (2)

12 January 2011 by Frank Turk

Q. 2. How does it appear that there is a God?
A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.

It's funny that our error here is that we sense something greater than ourselves in our very nature, and in the work of Creation, but that rather than seek it (that is: Him) out to see what he has to say for himself, we turn to ourselves as if we were a sufficient means to understanding that Creator.

That, in spite of our miserable track record. In the recent past, we thought thalidomide was a great sedative for pregnant women; we thought the United Nations would solve the problem of war; we think we can accidentally change the earth's climate to "deadly", but we're worried that we will not be able to turn it around on purpose.

There's something inside us which we can feel and believe in even when it fails us, and we're ore likely to turn to that than to seek out what it really is and why it calls out to us. We are on the one hand utterly willing to believe this:
    The heavens declare the glory of God; 
       the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 
    Day after day they pour forth speech; 
       night after night they reveal knowledge. 
    They have no speech, they use no words; 
       no sound is heard from them. 
    Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, 
       their words to the ends of the world.
and then completely reject this:
    The law of the LORD is perfect, 
       refreshing the soul. 
    The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, 
       making wise the simple. 
    The precepts of the LORD are right, 
       giving joy to the heart. 
    The commands of the LORD are radiant, 
       giving light to the eyes. 
    The fear of the LORD is pure, 
       enduring forever. 
    The decrees of the LORD are firm, 
       and all of them are righteous.
    They are more precious than gold, 
       than much pure gold; 
    they are sweeter than honey, 
       than honey from the honeycomb. 
    By them your servant is warned; 
       in keeping them there is great reward. 
    But who can discern their own errors? 
We're willing to buy into the idea that God can somehow tell us something without words which means we get to fill in our own words, but when we get to the part where God may have also said something brilliant by which we can actually grasp the purpose behind all things, we balk. We retreat from it because that means we don't get to dictate the terms of our lives.

But the Psalmist warns us plainly: who can discern their own errors? We need something to set us right for our own sake, and for the sake of the one who created a universe that sings His praises without one word or one note.

Catechism Buzz: Plainly Declared, but Badly Interpreted

11 January 2011 by Frank Turk

Q. 2. How does it appear that there is a God?
A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.

After discussing the chief end of man, the Westminster Larger Catechism plunges head-long into the question which seems to be the problem for most people today: God? What do you mean "God"? And by "most people", I mean most people -- most English-speaking people have a problem with the fact that there is a God.

Most English-speaking people actually want there to be some idea they have which is kind to them, and wants nice things for them, and thinks that Middle-Class life is really a great idea. They want Him to look like their boss, only less demanding and really: less rewarding. They don't really want God to set goals for them but they instead want God to tell them their goals are great and good.

It's the problem that the catechism actually uncovers here: "the very light of nature in man" tells him that there is something prior to himself, and something more in the universe than paying bills and shopping for groceries -- but it doesn't tell him sufficiently what to think of this idea, this urge, this broad idea.

I mean: how does Oprah get away with saying something like this --
So the evolving of consciousness is really what I’m about but I’m not telling people that’s what it is. All of us are here to become more of who we are, of who you really were born to be. Every single one of us in this room has that. That is how we are all equal, because I was born to be who the creator intended, whether you believe in the creator or not. Whatever you believe put you here, you were born to perform the highest expression of that coming. That is my goal as my personal self and it is also my goal to help other people see that in themselves. I fully understand that this platform that I have been given is a gift.”
And of course the reason Pat Robertson can say this:
Here goes and take it for what you feel, this is what I'm writing and this is what I'm saying the Lord said: your country is in grave peril. Your leaders have harkened to the demands of interest groups and have lead your nation into bankruptcy. In two years will come a time of reckoning. … I will protect my people, but warn them now about what is coming. Tell them to get out of debt and restrict purchases. Now. … In the midst of that, CBN will prosper, Regent will prosper, and the ACLU will be needed as never before. … what'd I say? ooh, no! The American Center for Law and Justice will be needed as never before, and God's going to give us extraordinary miracles, it's going to be another good year for CBN, but it's going to be tough for the world.
Both really without anyone pointing a finger and just laughing incredulously. Because we all know it: there's something out there. It's where meaning resides. And we want to be people who can somehow be associated with greater meaning.

We just want it to be the one that we think looks most like ourselves.