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Praying the Psalms and Talking with God

December 6, 2017 1 comment

Continuing on the topic of the Psalms, I have found a few more helpful resources.

David Murray’s HeadHeartHand blog features Reformed-background biblical counseling authors including Bob Kellemen, a starting point that led to Kellemen’s website RPM Ministries, which has many resources including the ‘How to Have an Honest Conversation with God’ PDF.

Kellemen’s sermon series is easy to read, with hard-hitting (personal heart) content about how to relate to the Psalmist, as we learn from the Psalms how to relate to God, how to take our problems and many life difficulties to God.  The Christian life is not one of false joy, a stoic view that puts on a happy face and never complains to God about how hard life is.  The Psalmists are open and honest with God, and the point to learn is that we may not be happy with our circumstances, but to take our honest feelings to God – Ask, Beg, and then Thank God – and be happy in our circumstances.  I especially appreciate the references to Michael Card’s two songs (see previous post about Michael Card and the Psalms) from the Psalms (Psalm 13, ‘How Long?’, and Psalm 23, ‘My Shepherd’), as well as scripture references to other OT books such as Jeremiah and Lamentations.  Kellemen points out that the Psalms in fact contain more Lament type Psalms than any other type:

In Psalm 13, David begins his prayer life with the A of Asking God “Why?” and “How Long?” Now, immediately, some of us might respond, “No! You can’t ask God ‘Why?’ or ‘How long?’ That would be disrespectful.” That’s a fair question, so let’s ponder it biblically. Students of the Bible call Psalm 13 a psalm of lament or complaint. … there are more psalms of lament and complaint than psalms of praise and thanks. The first person I ever heard that from was the Christian songwriter, Michael Card. I love his music, but I had my doubts that he was right. I was sure there were more psalms of praise and thanks than psalms of lament.

… Here’s what Dr. Longman says. “Our spiritual songbook of Psalms does not contain 150 hymns of joy. As a matter of fact, a close look shows that the psalms of complaint and songs of accusation—the music of confusion, doubt, and heartache—significantly outnumber the hymns of joy. We may seek to flee from the feelings inside of us, but a look at the Psalms exposes them to our gaze.”

I still wasn’t convinced. So, I read and categorized every psalms. You know what I found? There are more psalms of lament, complaint, and asking God “Why?” than there are psalms of praise and thanks. I’d encourage you to do the same and see what you discover.

Sure enough, a googling of articles about the different types of Psalms (with some overlap) shows 67 of the lament type, compared to 52 psalms of the ‘praise’ (19) and ‘thanksgiving’ (33) categories, followed by other Psalm types: liturgical (35) and wisdom (11).

The variety within the Psalms itself indicates the variety and balance we need to keep — not completely focused on Lament, but not 100% focus on the joyful psalms to the exclusion of the other.  Kellemen’s series also reflects this, with consideration of the non-Lament psalms.  A podcast from Mortification of Spin also considers the Lament psalms within the broader context; churches that practice the singing of Psalms will, by the fact of using the Psalms, include both Lament and Praise within the corporate worship.  Churches that do not sing the Psalms, favoring non-Psalm hymns and contemporary songs, may neglect the Lament psalms with too much emphasis on the happy, joyful side — and should consider including Lament psalms, for a more biblically-balanced approach to corporate worship.

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The Whole Christ, by Sinclair Ferguson (Review)

November 20, 2017 Leave a comment

My recent reading includes a book featured this year in both Kindle format (sale), and as an audio book free monthly offer (from Christianaudio.com):  Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ:  Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters.  A straightforward reading, this book delves into all of the topics included in the title, to bring out many interesting points of both history and doctrine.  The main point throughout is the historical setting of the “Marrow Controversy” in early 18th century Scotland:  the controversy between the “Marrow Men” including its main player Thomas Boston, and those who had twisted the essential grace of the gospel to the preparationist error.  I’ve briefly looked at this error before, including this post about Spurgeon’s response to it and this later post in reference to Spurgeon and preparationism.  Here we see a historical situation that had developed, among those from a Reformed, Westminster Standards background who yet erred in their confused ideas regarding legalism and antinomianism.

Many important truths are brought out in the subsequent chapters:  why it is that repentance logically comes AFTER faith, as a fruit, and not before faith/regeneration; that legalism and antinomianism are not complete opposites but actually closely related, as “non-identical twins” of the same root – not antithetical to each other but both antithetical to grace; and how to compare John Calvin and the Westminster Standards on assurance, seeing them as not in conflict but as coming to the same problem from different angles and arriving at the same middle-ground.

In reference to the initial Marrow conflict and preparationism itself, William Perkins link: post about him (the beginning of the Puritan era) and John Bunyan (late 17th century) manifest the doctrinal shifts during the century between them. Perkins’ “golden chain” includes a “gospel spine” that links each aspect of the application of salvation …to a central spine representing Christ in terms of the various clauses of the Apostles’ creed. … But Bunyan’s map has no Christ-spine… the various aspects of salvation applied are related to each other, not directly to Christ.  Preparationism came about as a result of separating the benefits of salvation to be found in Christ, from Christ Himself.

The book includes many helpful analogies and illustrations, references to Thomas Boston, John Calvin and other teachers, as well as helpful quotes in poetic verse that describe the intricacies and detail of legalism and antinomianism, as with this wonderful piece from Ralph Erskine about grace and law:

Thus gospel-grace and law-commands
Both bind and loose each other’s hands;
They can’t agree on any terms,
Yet hug each other in their arms.
Those that divide them cannot be
The friends of truth and verity;
Yet those that dare confound the two
Destroy them both, and gender woe.

This paradox none can decipher,
that plow not with the gospel heifer.
To run, to work, the law commands,
The gospel gives me feet and hands.
The one requires that I obey,
The other does the power convey.

The beauty of this book is how it relates these doctrines to current-day questions and objections.  The heart issues underlying the “Marrow controversy” and the Westminster Standards are still with us today.  The chapters on legalism and antinomianism go beyond the surface level, of what many people suppose, to address the underlying issue and current-day issues such as doctrinal antinomianism and anti-confessionalism.  One such example is consideration of the “proof-text” mentality — of those who suppose that the Reformed Confessions came from proof-texting – by noting that:

First, the Westminster Divines were deeply opposed to producing a confession with proof texts and did so only under duress at the command of the English Parliament.  But, in addition, biblical theology itself is much older than its history as an academic discipline.  As C.S. Lewis well notes, we moderns can all too easily be like people entering a conversation at eleven o’clock not realizing that it began at eight o’clock.  The truth is that there is an intricate weaving of exegesis and biblical and redemptive historical theology behind the wording of the Confession, and this is nowhere more certain than in its treatment of the law of God.

The Whole Christ provides many quotes and insights into the doctrines of God’s law, such as this quote from B.B. Warfield on the topic of the law and the relationship between the Old and New Testaments:

The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted; the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what was in it but was only dimly perceived or even not at all perceived before. … Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation which follows it, but is only perfected, extended and enlarged.

Ligonier is now offering a full teaching series on Ferguson’s book, with the first lesson available for free.  As I near the end of the audio-book edition, while referring also to the Kindle version for rereading and reference (including the footnotes, not included in the audio book edition), I appreciate and recommend this book as a very helpful addition to my theology library.

 

 

Psalm 119, the Reformation Anniversary, and Apologetics

November 3, 2017 5 comments

Psalm 119 Thoughts

As I near the end of the Psalm 119 series, here is an interesting point brought out regarding verse 162:  I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.

Here we consider the treasure, the plunder – and the idea also involves the delight and joy of the victory itself, the victory which brought the ‘great spoil.’  Old Testament Israel could certainly relate to and remember the many great deliverances in battle, brought about by their God.  From my own recent reading in Ezekiel, here I also relate this to any victory in battle and the spoil or plunder, not limited to Israel’s warfare; Nebuchadnezzar had worked hard to conquer Tyre, but with no reward – therefore God gave Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar’s army, for their payment (Ezekiel 29:18-20).

Psalm 119 and the other psalms so often express this truth so well – how wonderful God’s word is, our love for God’s word — with many analogies and metaphors.  The same truths have their New Testament “equivalents” such as 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 2:2 (the comparison to milk) and Ephesians 6:17 (which also uses the imagery of war and battle).

This psalm also especially shows us the law of God, that which we love (reference also the New Testament, Romans 7:12, 16, and 22), which reveals God’s attributes to us.

The Reformation Anniversary

The last few weeks have brought many interesting “Reformation theme” articles, free and discount sale offers, and conferences.  One item of interest here:  Reformed Resources is providing its large collection (over 3000 lessons) of MP3 download lessons, all free (normally $1 per download), until November 15 – with the coupon code ‘celebrate’.  Among the interesting collections here, are ‘The Bible Study Hour’ with lessons on many of the Psalms and other Bible books, and a series on ‘The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century’.  I’ve already ordered many of these, for future listening.

Many churches have hosted weekend conferences on “the Five Solas” or other variations, bringing to attention key ideas from the Protestant Reformation.  Desiring God’s brief biography podcast “Here We Stand” gives a few minutes each day to some well known or perhaps lesser known person who played a part in the 16th century Reformation.

The Reformation and Apologetics

A conference I have found especially interesting is Reformed Forum’s 2017 Theology Conference, relating the Reformation to Reformed / Presuppositional Apologetics, a six part series available here.  I’m still listening to these messages on my podcast player, and find these very helpful, to build on my recent reading of Van Til’s A Defense of the Faith.  The speakers reference Van Til, but especially point out that presuppositional apologetics existed long before Van Til, in the teaching of John Calvin and others during the Reformation.  Especially of note, one of the speakers references and responds to the errors and inconsistencies in the well-known book Classical Apologetics (which advocates “classic” as in Thomas Aquinas, evidentialist apologetics, though authored by Reformed theologians who are inconsistent and ought to know better).

Studying the Psalms: Bible Commentary, and Challies’ Reading Challenge

September 28, 2017 3 comments

As part of doing the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge, I have acquired several books as Kindle deals on special Amazon sale.  Books can be purchased quicker than they can be read, but even so the reading continues, and currently I’m reading one of the “Be” commentary series from Warren Wiersbe —  Be Worshipful: Glorifying God for Who He Is (Psalms 1-89).  In other Kindle deals of free or near-free books, my collection now also includes the “Be” commentaries for Exodus and Ezekiel, for future commentary reading.

This Psalms commentary is a good general, easy reading and non-technical commentary.  Various truths are brought out, though in a straightforward and concise way, as the many themes are considered in each of the Psalms. It provides more detail at a basic text level than Andrew Bonar’s Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms, which I read a few years ago, and from the human author’s (usually David’s) point of view; Bonar’s work was a good devotional, but, for some of the psalms at least, the idea that Christ Himself would have written/prayed particular texts, seemed more forced to fit that theme.  This “Be Worshipful” commentary considers each of the types of psalms – laments, messianic, praise and thanksgiving, royal psalms, wisdom psalms, psalms of affirmation and trust, penitential, and imprecatory psalms – along with basic structure of the thought in each psalm.  Along the way several interesting points are brought out, such as the grouping of certain Psalms together: 22, 23, and 24 form a trilogy on Christ the Shepherd.  In 22, the Good Shepherd dies for the sheep (John 10:1-18); in 23, the Great Shepherd lives for the sheep and cares for them (Heb. 13:20-21); and in 24, the Chief Shepherd returns in glory to reward His sheep for their service (1 Peter 5:4).  Psalm 27 includes the “first mention” of light as a metaphor for God, and addresses three types of fear:  fear of circumstances, fear of failure, and fear of the future.

For overall study on the Psalms (and my first such study), I find this commentary very helpful, with many encouraging observations. It also ties in well with other readings about the usefulness of studying the Psalms for dealing with personal life issues.  Many articles talk about the value of the psalms for dealing with personal life struggles, and to study the Psalms was one part of the valuable advice given to the young, pre-Reformation Martin Luther.  David Murray’s blog has many helpful articles about the Psalms, including this Top 70 Online Resources on the Psalms.  This article from Crossway by author Lydia Brownback, describes a helpful approach to studying and applying the Psalms, of personal reading and journaling through various Psalms, with Psalm 3 as an example.  The “Be Worshipful” commentary helps identify the context of David’s life pertaining to a particular Psalm, along with main points about the Psalm.

Some highlights from my reading so far:

  • Psalm 13:  We must not deny our feelings and pretend that everything is going well, and there is no sin in asking, “How long?” But at the same time, we must realize how deceptive our feelings are and that God is greater than our hearts (1 John 3:20) and can lift us above the emotional storms of life. David eventually learned to replace the question “How long, O Lord?” with the affirmation “My times are in thy hand.” (Psalm 31:15)
  • Psalm 23, so oft-quoted at funerals, is really about the life experience of the mature Christian.  “While people of all ages love and quote this psalm, its message is for mature Christians who have fought battles and carried burdens.”
  • Psalm 24:  As children of God, we belong to three worlds: the world of creation around us, the world of the new creation within us (2 Cor. 5:17), and “the world to come” of the wonderful final creation that will be our home for eternity (Rev. 21-22)
  • Psalm 30:  God doesn’t replace sorrow with joy; He transforms sorrow into joy (John 16:20-22)

Saved from Human Opinion, Decisions and Consequences, and the Christian Life

September 13, 2017 2 comments

From my studies this summer, including various sermons and readings, comes a common theme that relates to recent personal experience.  David Murray’s sermon Saved from Human Opinion really hit home in a convicting way.  Beyond the obvious intellectual understanding about how we are to please God and not man, comes the point that when we actually act in ways that are to please man (and it really doesn’t work; to please one person ends up causing problems with someone else), it reveals our own self-love: wanting to be more comfortable, wanting to avoid criticism or persecution from others, for instance.

Recent blog posts from David Murray have expanded on the remedy to this: the fear of God.  See this post (also this follow-up) which includes links to several resources including a book by Arnold Frank, and the nine-part sermon series behind the book; the sermon series is now on my list for future sermon series listening.

Along with this, I’ve been enjoying back-issues of Tabletalk magazine (thanks to the ‘cleaning house’ collection from a friend), and since 2006 was the same calendar year as 2017, each month I am going through the daily and weekend devotionals from the 2006 issues.  I especially like Tabletalk for its great content that provides both solid, rich Bible study plus great application to our daily lives.  The ones for early September also relate to this overall topic: the decisions we make and their consequences.  (Note: Tabletalk magazine’s new website now provides back issues as far back as 2006; the 2006 issues can now also be read online here.) The first weekend devotional, ‘Decisions, Decisions’,  makes a good point about our life decisions and the negative consequences that last for years afterward – while pointing out the hope we still have:

Whether or not we always consider them, every decision we make has consequences. Perhaps they are relatively incidental …  Maybe they are more consequential, such as that decision to move to a new town that ultimately resulted in finding a spouse. Whatever the case may be, we will have to deal with the outcome of our choices. As Paul writes in Galatians 6:7, “Whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  … Despite the various hints that Sarai must give birth to the covenant child, her impatience moved her to substitute Hagar for herself and, with Abram’s acquiescence, produce Ishmael.  The consequences of this decision would haunt the covenant community for centuries. Even though the Lord did bring good out of Joseph’s situation, it was the sons of Ishmael who took him away from the promised land (Gen. 37:28). Later, Amasa the Ishmaelite commanded the armies of David’s wicked son Absalom when his coup d’etat temporarily sent the son of Jesse into exile (2 Sam. 17:25). Moreover, Islam, the greatest religious adversary of the church today, holds Ishmael in high esteem.

…But our Lord is eager to forgive, and He worked through their faith to make their pattern of decisions bring about wonderful consequences for His people.

The next devotion (for Monday, September 4) continues the study:  ‘Sarai Took Hagar’ and the lessons learned.  Particularly noted here is a parallel between the Abram-Sarai story, and the account of the fall in Genesis 3:

Even more telling, the exact wording of the Hebrew for “listened to” used of Abram in 16:2b is used elsewhere only in 3:17 where God chastises Adam because he “listened to” his wife. Clearly, Moses wants us to understand that these events are parallel in that both are accounts of transgression. Matthew Henry perceptively says this story shows Satan’s policy “to tempt us by our nearest and dearest relations.” Right after a visible confirmation of the Lord’s promise (chap. 15), Abram yields to his wife’s suggestion to lay with another when his earlier sojourn in Egypt (12:10–20) should have told him that God intended to provide his heir from Sarai’s loins. May we hear the wishes of those closest to us, but may we also take care to give God’s wisdom priority.

The ‘Coram Deo’ follows-up on this important point, one also learned by experience:  Our enemy is cunning and will often try and deceive us through those closest to us.  As John Calvin comments, “We must be on our guard against his wiles; lest by any means he should undermine us.” … Be careful not to let another close to you convince you to do something God forbids.

From recent reading of Charles Spurgeon sermons (1867 volume), sermon #764 also provides the needed reminder, that we are to view the Christian life with much patience, and as a warfare that will never let up in this life:

Life is indeed a “warfare,” and just as a man enlists in our army for a term of years, and then his service runs out, and he is free, so every believer is enlisted in the service of life, to serve God till his enlistment is over, and we sleep in death. Our charge and our armor we shall put off together. Brothers and sisters, you are enlisted soldiers, when you believe in Jesus. Let me remind you that you are a soldier, you will be always at war, you will never have a furlough or conclude a treaty. Like the old knights who slept in their armor, you will be attacked even in your rest. There is no part of the journey to heaven which is secure from the enemy, and no moment, not even the sweet rest of the Lord’s Day, when the clarion may not sound. Therefore, prepare yourselves always for the battle. “Put on the whole armor of God,” and look upon life as a continued battle. Be surprised when you do not have to fight; be wonderstruck when the world is peaceful towards you; be astonished when your old corruptions do not rise and assault you. You must travel with your swords always drawn, and you may as well throw away the scabbard, for you will never need it. You are a soldier who must always fight, and by the light of battle you must survey the whole of your life.

and

waiting means enduring with patience. We are put into this world for one appointed time of suffering, and in sacred patience we must abide steadfast the heat of the furnace. The life of many Christians is a long martyrdom—they are to bear it patiently. “Here is the patience of the saints.” … herein they fulfill their life’s design, if through abundant grace they learn to bear their woes without a murmur, and to wait their appointed time without repining.

 

Baptist Covenant Theology: Coxe and Owen, ‘From Adam to Christ’

August 28, 2017 2 comments

Continuing in the 2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge, I’m now reading another theology book: a second one about Baptist covenant theology.  The first book I read, back in January, was A.W. Pink’s The Divine Covenants  (see previous post); this time, a recent publication and reprint of two 17th century works,  in Covenant Theology: From Adam To Christ.  The first part is Nehemiah Coxe’s views of the first covenants:  the Adamic/covenant of works, plus the Noahic and Abrahamic covenants.  A selection from John Owen’s commentary on certain verses of Hebrews 8 follows. The original language of both Coxe and Owen has been modernized and edited for easier reading; footnotes have been added for words uncommon today, and section headings added to guide the reader.  It has often been said that Owen in particular is hard to follow, but this version of Owen is readable (and quite insightful).

The book was not quite what I expected – a discourse regarding each of the historical covenants in sequence from Adam through the Davidic and New Covenants, the approach taken by Pink’s book.  Instead, Coxe starts with the Covenant of Works with Adam, followed by the Noahic covenant, and lastly discourses at great length on the Abrahamic covenant, which he actually divides into two separate covenants:  the covenant of promise with the spiritual blessings, and a separate “covenant of circumcision” linked to the later law added by Moses and specifically for the Jewish economy.  So the discussion on the Abrahamic “covenant of circumcision” relates to the later Mosaic covenant.  Coxe ends at this point, without comment on the Davidic or New Covenant; the history notes that he agreed with John Owen’s exposition of Hebrews, and thus never completed his own exposition of the New Covenant.  Thus the next section is John Owen’s treatment of Hebrews 8.

Whereas A.W. Pink’s The Divine Covenants includes responses to classic dispensationalism and antinomianism, Coxe’s primary focus is the dominant view of his day – paedobaptism and the related construction of the covenant of grace as including the children of believing parents.  At times he speaks against the view of unbelieving Jews, switching his hermeneutic approach to the general spiritualized amillennial view – missing the point of the Jews’ belief of a future millennial age by seeing it as “their view” as something that pertains to carnal unbelieving Jews; of course the true premillennial view fully affirms a future millennial age, as a both/and that includes believing Jews.

As a book explaining Baptist covenant theology, and especially in response to the paedobaptist idea – a parallel between circumcision as a sign of the covenant of grace and thus infant baptism in our age – Coxe’s work is very helpful.  One problem with the idea of circumcision=infant baptism:  the pre-Israel saints, God’s people going back to Enoch and Noah, as well as other believers in the same time period as Abraham’s family, were not under the covenant of circumcision.  Melchizedek and others, even Lot, were believers and yet not included in the promises to Abraham and not bound to the covenant of circumcision.  (He does not mention Job or his friends, but the point includes them as well.)

Melchizedek was alive about this time. … it was  he who was the priest of the most high God and King of Salem.  In both respects he was the most eminent type of Jesus Christ that ever was in the world; a person greater than Abraham, for Abraham paid tithes to him and was blessed by him.  Now considering that he was both king and priest, there is no doubt that there was a society of men that were ruled by  him and for whom he ministered.  For a priest is ordained for men in things pertaining to God.  This society was as much a church of God as Abraham’s family was and as truly interested in the covenant of grace as any in it.  Yet they were not involved as parties in this covenant of circumcision nor to be signed by it.  And so it is manifest that circumcision was not at first applied as a seal of the covenant of grace, nor did an interest in it presently render a man the proper subject of it.

… there was a positive command which made it necessary to circumcise many that never had interest in the covenant of grace.  So, on the other hand, from the first date of circumcision there were many truly interested in the covenant of grace who were under no obligation to be circumcised.  This is how far from truth it is that a new covenant interest and right to circumcision may be inferred the one from the other.

Another consideration is Paul’s debate with the Judaizers, as explained in the book of Galatians.

There the apostle tells them if he still preached circumcision, then the offence of the cross was ceased and he might have lived free from the persecutions he now suffered from the unbelieving Jews.  … For if the controversy has been about the mode of administering the same covenant, and the change only of an external rite by bringing baptism into the place of circumcision to serve for the same use and end now as that had done before, the heat of their contests might soon have allayed.  … But he will certainly find himself engaged in a very difficult task who will seriously endeavor to reconcile the apostle’s discourse of circumcision with such a notion of it.  Circumcision was an ordinance of the old covenant and pertained to the law and therefore directly bound its subjects to a legal obedience.  But baptism is an ordinance of the gospel and directly obliges its subjects to gospel obedience.

Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ is quite informative and helpful for its response to the more well-known paedobaptist covenant theology.  The reprinting with modernized language makes Baptist covenant theology more accessible to the readers of our day, and helpful for discussing with today’s “Calvinist Baptists” who reject Covenant Theology by only interacting with the paedobaptist form of it and thus coming up with their own new teaching while yet ignoring the historical Christian teaching, that believers’ baptism and covenant theology do go together.

Van Til on Presuppositional Apologetics

August 17, 2017 6 comments

Continuing in the 2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge, some books are more challenging and slower-going, such as a selection for apologetics:  Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith,  about presuppositional apologetics.  The writing style itself is not always easy to follow, with a lot of abstraction and philosophy, though some parts are clearer.  Overall, though, I see the basic points of presuppositional apologetics, along with a detailed explanation for why classical/evidential apologetics is not the best approach for communication with unbelievers.

Throughout, Van Til contrasts Catholic and Protestant-Evangelical (Arminian) apologetics, with the understanding of Reformed Theology.  As well-pointed out, what it really comes down to is that Reformed folks should use the same approach for both preaching and apologetics; Reformed preaching proclaims the sovereignty of God in all things, including salvation, as well as the total inability of the lost sinner.  Yet often, Reformed Christians depart from this when it comes to apologetics, turning instead to lost man’s “reason” independent of the authority of God’s word.  The analysis of basic differences in the very definitions of concepts between unbelievers (even unbelievers of varying types, pagan polytheists versus secular), such as the concepts of deity and mankind, is quite interesting, all supporting the point that believers really do not share any “common” point with the unbeliever, in terms of the natural man’s thoughts and reasoning.

The Reformed Christian is often Reformed in preaching and Arminian in reasoning.  But when he is at all self-conscious in his reasoning he will seek to do in apologetics what he does in preaching.  He knows that man is responsible not in spite of but just because he is not autonomous but created.  ..  He knows also that the sinner in the depth of his heart knows that what is thus held before him is true.  He knows he is a creature of God; he has been simply seeking to cover up this fact to himself.  He knows that he has broken the law of God; he has again covered up this fact to himself.  He knows that he is therefore guilty and is subject to punishment forever; this fact too he will not look in the face.

And it is precisely Reformed preaching and Reformed apologetic that tears the mask off the sinner’s face and compels him to look at himself and the world for what they really are.  Like a mole the natural man seeks to scurry under ground every time the facts as they really are come to his attention.  He loves the darkness rather than the light.  The light exposes him to himself.  And precisely this neither Roman Catholic or Arminian preaching or reasoning are able to do.

Van Til points out that evidentialist apologetics does the first part of evangelism by appealing to the natural man’s thinking, and challenging the atheist/agnostic unbeliever with the fact, the existence, of God.  Only after this first part of “accommodating” the unbeliever, the apologist then “switches” to the Christian perspective and why one should believe the Bible, etc.  The unbeliever can certainly follow along at the first point, since nothing is being challenged in his fundamental human reason.  As Van Til observes, the result is a two-phase approach to Christian conversion:  first to Theism, then, later, conversion to Christianity.  This method obviously does ‘work’, as God’s sovereign purposes in calling His elect include even faulty apologetic methods; but Van Til makes the case for a true Reformed approach to the matter.

It helps to relate what Van Til is saying to real-world examples.  What Van Til described here, describes the conversion story of C.S. Lewis, who was an atheist when he met colleague J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford in the 1920s.  Much has been said on the negative side regarding the theology of both of these men – though as has also been noted, Tolkien converted Lewis to Christianity in general, not to Catholicism.  Yet as Lewis himself described it, his conversion was indeed a two-phase process: first, conversion to theism, and then – about two years later – to the Christian faith.  Van Til’s critique of classic apologetics provides the clear explanation for the very process/method of Lewis’ conversion experience.

Though the overall reading is not easy, I’m now over halfway through, and some parts are quite good, with insightful quotes.  In closing, here are a few great quotes from Van Til:

The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. And it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or indirectly. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work but it also tells us who God is and whence the universe has come. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the Word of God that you can separate its so-called religious and moral instruction from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.

And

Time rolls its ceaseless course. It pours out upon us an endless stream of facts. And the stream is really endless for the non-Christian basis. For those who do not believe that all that happens in time happens because of the plan of God, the activity of time is like to that, or rather is identical with that, of Chance. Thus the ocean of facts has no bottom and no shore.