Feb 06

Institutes 1

CalvinsInstitutes

Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion: translated by Louis Battles (author John Calvin) ★★★★★

I initially started reading the Institutes in 1994, and got about ⅓ of the way through. Other books then became a major distraction. I restarted reading the Institutes from the beginning 2 years ago, taking a year hiatus in the middle for other books and issues, then returning to complete the entire 2 volume set at this time. It was a major undertaking, and something that I should have done years ago.

This is not a text that can be speed-read. There are many discussions of contemporary issues in Calvin’s time, that are now foreign to most of us. He takes up arguments against the Catholics which followed lines of arguments alien to today’s thinking. I was able to relate to his Anabaptist arguments, since I grew up Anabaptist. Calvin rarely ever addresses Luther and Lutheranism, occasionally simply mentioning side thoughts, such as when he was discussing the Lord’s Supper.

The style of Calvin’s writing is most interesting. Though at times he can be rather harsh in his words to opponents, this is found in most writings of that era, such as those of Lutherans, including Martin Luther himself. For the most part, Calvin writes in a very pastoral style. It is though he is delivering a 1520 page sermon. Calvin bleeds his heart and soul. You are never left wondering about how Calvin really feels about something.

Culture and society and the church have given Calvin some of the most nasty caricatures. He discussed as though his theology is 5 points (TULIP), and which of those five points should be accepted and which should not. (In reality, it is a logical all or nothing affair, but that’s another discussion.) The 5 points very poorly describe Calvin and his theology. Calvin spends very little time discussing such issues as predestination, limited atonement, irresistible call, etc. Though those doctrines are well established in the writings of Calvin, Calvin’s focus was on God, and not on five points.

Calvin is the probable author of one of the songs that we occasionally sing in church. I bring this up, because it best fits the heart and mind of John Calvin. The words are found below. If one reads it through thoughtfully, it gives the reader as good feel as to the nature of John Calvin. He is not the stern-faced hard-nosed preacher that developed a rigid exclusive form of Christian. His is a tender heart, seeking first and foremost to honor God, and to offer Him absolute supremacy and rule over earth. This is the Calvin that I saw in the Institutes, and a reason that everybody should read it through, all 1520 pages, some time in their life. As JI Packer noted, Calvinism is not just another “ism”, it IS Christianity. And I might add, Christianity at its best.

I greet Thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust and Savior of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray Thee from our hearts all cares to take.

Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place;
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of Thy pure day.

Thou art the life, by which alone we live,
And all our substance and our strength receive;
Sustain us by Thy faith and by Thy power,
And give us strength in every trying hour.

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast Thou and no bitterness;
O grant to us the grace we find in Thee,
That we may dwell in perfect unity.

Our hope is in no other save in Thee;
Our faith is built upon Thy promise free;
Lord, give us peace, and make us calm and sure,
That in Thy strength we evermore endure.

 

What’s next. I now start Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, a 4 volume set, recommended by Pastor Rayburn, written 100 years ago, but recently translated from the Dutch. You might be waiting a while for this book report to come.

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Oct 12

HistoricalAdam

Four Views on The Historical Adam; edited by Caneday, Barrett and Gundry; contributors Lamereux, Walton, Collins, Barrick, Boyd, and Ryken ★★★ Read on the iPad Kindle app.

This book addresses the issue as to whether there actually two real people, Adam and Eve, that once existed, were the very first human beings, and were responsible for producing the entire human race. Four views are provided, though, in reality, there were only two views, one being that there was not, and one being that there was a historical Adam. Two variants of that belief structure were discussed. Those that argued against a historical Adam held to theistic evolution in several different forms, and those who argued for a historical Adam held to either an old earth or young earth creationism. I read the book with the stance of old-earth creationist, and this book did nothing to either supplement nor dissuade my concept of what I take the Bible and science to be really saying, save to reinforce my thinking that theistic evolution is definitely on the wrong track. Though I personally know one of the contributors (C John “Jack” Collins), I’ve never discussed this topic with him, and so doubt the acquaintance influenced my personal belief structure (he took the stance of a real Adam in an old-earth creationist scheme).  The book has one fatal flaw, in that one’s belief regarding creation/evolution tends to influence one’s belief regarding Adam, and the two issues cannot be separated. Thus, the issue of creation/evolution is a primary issue, with the issue of Adam being secondary to one’s creation belief. It is impossible to separate the two, and so the book is as much an argument for a view of creation as a view of Adam’s existence.

Rather than to detail arguments for each position, I’d like to simply pick out a few high points and then offer my personal reflections. Lamereux was the first discussant, taking a view that there was no historical Adam, and providing an evolutionary creation view. Lamereux is desperate to persuade the reader that he indeed remains a devout “evangelical” Christian by starting with a lengthy recounting of his conversion and orthodox beliefs. Oddly, he is deeply offended by remote suggestion from the young earth creationist (Barrick) about the validity of his Christian faith, ending his rejoinder with some a off-handed and inappropriate response to Barrick. He seemed to be behaving like Shirley McClaine at the Oscars, desperate for others to show their approval of her performances by commenting how much some people really loved her. Collins was a delightful read, though he perhaps spends too much time trying to find contemporary movie quotes to drive his points home – they are entertaining and effective all the same. I am a little bit puzzled at everybody’s response to the young earther for not being “scientific” enough. Barrick approached the issue of Adam from a nearly strict biblical perspective, and why would somebody complain about that?

The last two contributors, Boyd and Ryken, provided a “pastoral” perspective of the issue, Boyd arguing that it really doesn’t matter, and Ryken arguing that is really DOES matter what we believe about Adam. These comments were probably unnecessary and did not contribute to the value of the book.

Reflections on the book
I read this book at a scientist (PhD in cell biology [Anatomy]) and a Christian, and only peripherally interested in the creation/evolution debates. From reading the Amazon.com reviews of this book, it seems that most reviewers did not change from pre-existing stances regarding this book. The quality of the discussion was measured by how vigorously a discussant agreed with the reviewer’s existing beliefs. As mentioned before,  I find it strange that Barrick came under fire for choosing to offer a solid biblical (though perhaps wrong) argument, without offering a biblical/exegetical rebuttal. This suggests to me that the fundamental problem is not the issue of who could make the best logical argument, but rather, whether the readers have all lost faith in the preeminence of Scripture as the only sure authority in life. Several contributors seemed to regard the scientific concordists as synonymous with morons and buffoons, using it as a derogatory insult if perhaps somebody actually had the naive notion that the bible lacked scientific error (i.e., that passages that had “scientific error” were automatically designated as “poetic” in genre and thus to not be taken literally).

As a scientist, I love science, and had great delight in working in a laboratory, and extracting new truths from the world. I have nothing against science, but never allowed science to trump Scripture. Science was always viewed through “scripture” colored lenses. My work in science also demonstrated how unreliable science can be. I am deeply troubled by how both Lamereux and Walton demonstrate a stronger, more unwavering faith in the scientific methodology than in Scripture itself. They express lofty confidence in the same science that I consider dismally weak. If my PhD thesis were based on the same strength of argument and evidence as most evolutionary theory, it would have been summarily rejected. Lamereux’s conversion to evolutionism seems to have equal eminence to his conversion to faith in Christ.

Schlossberg (Idols for Destruction) has noted that the greatest enemies of the church have come from within the church, by its own members. Thus, a testimony of faith in Christ only makes me a touch wary when the Christian seems to be talking biblical nonsense. I have heard and met Francis Collins at serious medical conferences, delighted in his scientific talks, and appreciated his witness for Christ, yet remain concerned as to how the BioLogos evolutionary theology concept is destroying the church. Two of the book editors quoted J.G. Machen in the opening preface. They did not mention that Machen was at one time a student at Tübingen in Wittenberg, Germany, and nearly persuaded to convert to liberal theology through the pious behavior of the extremely devout professors at the university. Devout they were, but their teaching has destroyed much of the church, and forced Machen to develop his stance against the theological liberalism of Germany. I suspect that (to my dismay)  theistic evolution will eventually gain a stronger stance in Christian circles, and the 21st century scientific believers will have completed the destruction of Scripture as begun by the redaction critics of Tübigen.

There are controversies within the realm of the strict Biblicists, and I’m not saying that all is totally clear. Was a flood a flood that involved the known world, or did it involve the entire earth? What exactly was the tower of Babel and what happened there? What was the time frame for the diversity of languages in the tower pericope? Were the days of Genesis “God days” or 24 hour periods (I prefer the God-day reading, based on Augustine’s argument for a philosophy of time that explains this [see Paul Helm Eternal God for a discussion of this issue]). There are many issues of controversy where the Hebrew or Greek isn’t perfectly clear, and I defer to the language scholars for a most plausible explanation, so long as the arguments remain Biblical in their substance.

Boyd foolishly argues that one does not need to believe in Adam to be saved. Nobody will disagree with that. Yet, he doesn’t offer what   fundamental quantity or quality of belief is required to be saved. To believe in Christ is to believe in his Word, and to trash Scripture is to then believe in a non-Scriptural christ that doesn’t exist. I can’t define where the edge of the cliff is which defines the dividing point of orthodoxy from heresy, and can only encourage Christians not to tempt the edge of the cliff by challenging the ultimate authority of Scripture. To not believe in Adam makes the garden pericope and fall pericope to be a fanciful fiction on the order of reading the Gilgamesh epic, which in turn makes it logically impossible to explain the need for “salvation” and for a “god-man” to die for man.

Lamereux does not express logical conclusions that could come from forcing “scientific” conformity to the first 11 chapters of Genesis. I have seen the argument that since God  MUST remain faithful to his own created laws of creation, that he would never interfere with the evolutionary process, or any other natural process that occurs in the created universe. This means that miracles (as we would call them) in Scripture could not have happened. So, how did things in Scripture occur? God used space aliens with advanced scientific knowledge to cause the so-called “miracles”. Even the virgin birth of Christ was a result of space aliens, who abducted Mary, harvested her DNA and excised the “sin-gene”, then impregnating Mary to create the Christ. If you are laughing your head off right now as to such preposterous claims, you might wish to wake up and realize that such claims are MORE believable than the Francis Collins Biologos theistic evolution claims. Once God (and his word, as found in Scripture) are demoted, and science and the “laws of nature” given preeminence, then many claims, regardless of their outlandish nature, acquire credibility. To this end is where I fear the 21st century church is going.

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Jan 12

Secretprovidence

 

The Secret Providence of God, by John Calvin, Edited by Paul Helm ★★★★★

Castellio met Calvin while Calvin was in Strasbourg, and later followed him to Geneva, where he served as Rector in the College of Geneva for several years. He eventually parted ways with Calvin,  generating very strong anti-Calvinistic statements. This book is a response to Castellio, in the form of an open letter back to Castellio in response to a letter which Castellio sent to Calvin, and is also found in this volume. In Castellio’s letter, fourteen articles are presented of objections to Calvin. Calvin in return goes through each of these articles, all of which state in various ways that Calvin’s theism promotes God as the author of evil, and thus make evil and good ethically alike, since they both come from god. Calvin’s rebuttal is firm, and anchored in the notion of a secret providence of God, whereby He even uses evil to promote the ultimate good, but in a manner which does not make God the author for sin. This debate is not an idle historical quibble, but relates to much of which splits Christians today, but was the backbone of both the Lutheran and Reformed branches of the Reformation. Thus, it is worth a reading. Calvin presents his argument in a manner that would never be found today, calling Castellio a dog and a pig. His very last statement was “May God restrain you, Satan. Amen”. Sadly, there are a few among us that feel that since Calvin could use such literary technique, they are also justified in calling their opponents dogs or pigs. Paul Helm provides an insightful introduction to the book, and the translation is quite readable.

Calvin

 

Where did he ever get that hat?

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Oct 22

Hodge

 

Charles Hodge Systematic Theology ★★★★

Several aspects of this review need to be separated. First I will comment on the media of the book, and then on the contents of the book itself.

This book was downloaded from Amazon.com. It is a large text, over 2700 pages in printed type, fitting into three volumes. I have the printed version, but decided to read the Kindle version instead, as it is more convenient. There are several serious problems with the Kindle version. It was a scanned edition, and the typos in the text are extremely numerous, and oftentimes very bothersome. Secondly, Charles Hodge quotes much latin, none of which is translated. He quotes and personally translates the German and French, but assumes that the reader will have a command of Latin. That was probably true in 1870, but absolutely not true in 2013, and thus any appropriate reproduction of this book should now have the Latin in translation.

Charles Hodge was professor of theology at Princeton Seminary from 1851 to 1878. His thinking has heavily influenced evangelical thinking up to this present day. There is no doubt that Hodge is truly one of the great Presbyterian/Reformed theologians of all time. This set is his magnum opus, and a very fine display of his thinking. First, the problems with his writing. Hodge was affected by the science of the day, and often explores science. He often discusses the leading scientific and philosophical thinkers of his day and refutes them. Unfortunately, none of those thinkers are well-known today, and the subjects to be refuted would not be considered relevant today. The beauty of his writing overwhelms the problems. The style of writing is more similar to that of Michael Horton than of Louis Berkhof. Hodge attacks relevant topics, and leaves other topics only briefly discussed. He is not encyclopedic like Berkhof. Sometimes, he will ramble in philosophy. Otherwise, he might even quote scripture. Often, he will have a blend of both. At no time did I find him affronting my Reformed faith, but rather agreeing with it. Hodge is most masterful at tackling difficult theological issues, and the greatest beauty of this book showing how one can think through difficult theological issues in a very logical but Scriptural fashion. For Reformed thinkers, it is a must read at some time in ones’ life, just at Calvin’s Institutes should be read at some point in time.

I started reading this set late last year, interrupted by numerous other books. Nearly a year later, it is finally completed. I must now go on to read other texts. I am reading some history and hiking books on the iPad, and will begin Calvin’s Institutes, Battles’ version, soon. I made it nearly half way through the Institutes, and now need to start over and complete the task. It will probably take six or more months. The other theology texts waiting include Reymond’s recent systematic theology text, and Bavinck’s systematic theology – four volumes!, as recommended by Rob Rayburn. Stay tuned.

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Mar 03

Eternal God

By Kenneth Feucht books 10 Comments »

EternalGodEternal God: A Study of God without Time, by Paul Helm ★★★★★

Almost exactly a year ago I reviewed the book God and Time-Four Views where Paul Helm was one of the contributors, and who argued for a classical interpretation from Augustine of a timeless God, who exists completely outside of time. This book is a further elaboration of his statements referred to in the four views text. Helm wrote an additional four chapters from the original edition to answer some of the criticisms of his work. Various criticisms still exist (e.g., see the review of this book at http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/review/eternal_god_a_study_of_god_without_time . The criticism that Helm remains aloof to new thinking on time is a poor argument; see my most recent review on the physics of time. The criticism of Helm lacking a philosophical grasp of time is completely unfounded. Though Helm prefers to remain biblical in his arguments, he seems to consider philosophy as a subset of theology, thus is entirely philosophical in his response. Helm realizes that he simply cannot provide a perfect answer as to how a being outside of space and time can think, move, act, create. Much of his argument is to show that answers other than his own do not make matters any more explainable. One could end up with a God that is not omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, but the sacrifice  leaves a god in man’s image and not the God of Scripture. William Lane Craig attempts to create a hybrid God, that can emerge from timeless existence and enter time. Helm adequately shows that this concept still leaves many philosophical inconsistencies. The book was a slow read, in that I am not used to endless philosophical terminology, yet it was easy enough to grasp where Helm was going, and thus is readable for those outside of the philosophic profession. It’s a wonderful read for those willing to venture into topics rarely ever addressed in sermons or devotional texts.

 

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