Prolegomena Matters: Engaging with Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology

prolegomenaYesterday, I posted my review of the first section in Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic IntroductionAs with most theology textbooks, Bird opens with a discussion of how to do theology. In theological circles this is called the prolegomena and it portends to how the rest of the book will be developed.

As I mentioned in that review, I am encouraged by his focus on the gospel but concerned about how he is actually going to do his theology. In my review I mentioned in passing four general concerns. Today, I want to substantiate those concerns. Continue reading

What Total Depravity Is Not

In his Abstract of Systematic TheologyJames P. Boyce gives a classically Reformed presentation of sin. In four points, he affirms (1) all men have sinned, (2) all men are sinful from birth (i.e., they possess a sinful nature), (3) the world suffers from the corruption of sin, and (4) all parts of humankind are infected and affected by sin. Altogether, Boyce makes a Scriptural defense of ‘Total Depravity.’

However, in all of his efforts to affirm what Scripture teaches about sin and its effects, he simultaneously relates what ‘Total Depravity’ is not. In fact, he posits more statements related to what sin is not than what it is.  Consider these five. Continue reading

The Gospel Perfectly and Proportionately Humbles and Exalts

Why is the Gospel of Jesus Christ so vital to the restoration of mankind?

Simply put, there is no other message or medium, person or power that is able to elevate a man without making him an arrogant ogre. The gospel humbles a man to dust, and raises him to glory. Through its life-giving message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, sinners are forgiven and given the very life of God.

This balanced work of the gospel was observed centuries ago by Blaise Pascal (1623-62).  In his Pensées (208)he observes.

Without this divine knowledge, how could we help feeling either exalted or dejected? The Christian religion alone has been able to cure these twin vices, not by using the one to expel the other according to worldly wisdom, but by expelling both through the simplicity of the Gospel. For it teaches the righteous that they still bear the source of all corruption which exposes them throughout their lives to error, misery, death, and sin; and [yet] it cries out to the most ungodly that they are capable of the grace of the Redeemer. Thus, making those whom it justifies to tremble, yet consoling those whom it condemns, it so nicely tempers fear with hope through this dual capacity…. Grace and sin! It causes infinitely more dejection than mere reason—but without despair, and infinitely more exaltation than natural pride—but without puffing us up! (cited by Tim Keller in his foreword to J. D. Greear’s book Gospel).

Pascal was followed by Charles Hodge (1797-1878), who said of the finer points of the gospel, “the doctrines of grace humble man without degrading him and exalt him without inflating him.” Indeed, this is the reason why Christians must never leave the gospel behind; it simultaneously humbles and exalts.

The gospel restores men wrecked by the Fall to reflect the glorious image of God, but it also forces them to confront the ugliness of their sin and the immensity of God’s holiness. The result? Men are most glorious when they fall face down before the King of Glory. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can effect that.

May we endlessly delight ourselves in the perfect, proportionate gospel of Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

God’s Love: Particular in Its Design, Infinite in Its Offer

When considering the love of God towards fallen humanity, one of the greatest challenges is rightly discerning how his particular love for his children (1 John 3:1-2) is distinguished from his universal love towards all people (Matthew 5:45).  On that subject Charles Hodge has provided a couple helpful illustrations in his Systematic Theology.  Listen to what he says, and tell me what you think.  I’d love to know if you think these illustration are helpful or not.

If a ship containing the wife and children of a man standing on the shore is wrecked, he may seize a boat and hasten to their rescue. His motive is love to his family; his purpose is to save them. But the boat which he has provided may be large enough to receive the whole of the ship’s company. Would there be any inconsistency in his offering them the opportunity to escape? Or, would this offer prove that he had no special love to his own family and no special design to secure their safety. And if any or all of those to whom the offer was made, should refuse to accept it, some from one reason, some from another; some because they did not duly appreciate their danger; some because they thought they could save themselves; and some from enmity to the man from whom the offer came, their guilt and folly would be just as great as though the man had no special regard to his own family, and no special purpose to effect their deliverance.

Or, if a man’s family were with others held in captivity, and from love to them and with the purpose of their redemption, a ransom should be offered sufficient for the delivery of the whole body of captives, it is plain that the offer of deliverance might be extended to all on the ground of that ransom, although specially intended only for a part of their number.

Or, a man may make a feast for his own friends, and the provision be so abundant that he may throw open his doors to all who are willing to come. This is precisely what God, according to the Augustinian doctrine, has actually done. Out of special love to his people, and with the design of securing their salvation, He has sent his Son to do what justifies the offer of salvation to all who choose to accept of it. Christ, therefore, did not die equally for all men. He laid down his life for his sheep; He gave Himself for his Church. But in perfect consistency with all this, He did all that was necessary, so far as a satisfaction to justice is concerned, all that is required for the salvation of all men. So that all Augustinians can join with the Synod of Dort in saying, ‘No man perishes for want of an atonement.'” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:556).

For more quotes on this subject, click on Atonement (Extent).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Read the Bible with the Church: A Wise Word from Charles Hodge

Protestant Christians have always believed in Sola Scriptura, but they have also read the Bible with the Church.  Until recently (since the American Revolution and the Enlightenment), the idea of “Me and My Bible” Christianity, or Solo Scripturahas not been advocated.  Like the Jews who plugged their ears and stoned Stephen, when we read the Bible without listening to the men who have gone before us, we endanger ourselves of committing many errors and foolishly rehashing untold biblical-theological arguments.

In this vein–reading the Bible with the light of Church History–is helpfully represented by American theologian, Charles Hodge.

Protestants admit that as there has been an uninterrupted tradition of truth from the protevangelium [Genesis 3:15] to the close of the Apocalypse [Revelation 21-22], so there has been a stream of traditionary teaching flowing through the Christian Church from the day of Pentecost to the present time. This tradition is so far a rule of faith that nothing contrary to it can be true. Christians do not stand isolated, each holding his own creed. They constitute one body, having one common creed. Rejecting that creed, or any of its parts, is the rejection of the fellowship of Christians, incompatible with the communion of saints, or membership in the body of Christ. In other words, Protestants admit that there is a common faith of the Church, which no man is at liberty to reject, and which no man can reject and be a Christian (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:113–14).

To learn more about the value of Charles Hodge for today, read my review of  Paul Gutjahr’s recent biography, Charles Hodge: Guardian of American OrthodoxyAnother fresh biography on Charles Hodge is Andrew Hoffecker’s Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

(HT: J.T. English)