Finished John Owen volume 2

Good friend of mine sold me the volume at a price I could afford.  Longer review coming later.

Pros:
Owen has a great section on what “union” and “communion” actually entail.
Very clear section on satisfaction of Christ.
Clear statements of classic Western triadology.
Interesting tidbits on civil magistrate and regulative principle

Cons:
Too many subdividers in each chapter.  Loses focus of larger arguments.
His definition of “God” opens himself up to Eastern criticisms.  He defeated the Socinians in debate, but just barely.
The “Vindication of the Previous Discourse” suffered from length and lack of section divisions (I know that seems counter to the first con, but it’s true).  Not always clear what Owen’s opponent is purported to have said.

Jesus doesn’t burden the church apart from his word

Jesus told the church in the Apocalypse, “No other burden do I lay on you.”  Tertullian mentions that the sign of the cross was absent from the church in the first 150 years.   Therefore, Jesus didn’t burden the church with the sign of the cross.

Now, I am not necessarily opposed to making the sign.  However, if a relatively small thing yet eventually universal thing like the sign of the cross was absent from the church, meaning it could not have been established by the apostles, what do we say of the larger ceremonies?

Updating side links

I am finally updating the blogrolls to the side.  I don’t plan to overload it with a bunch of links that neither I nor the readers will read.   I am planning for a handful of links along the topics of Covenanter principles and useful discussions in reformed theology.

Conversation with Catholic Convertskii

Saw this on facebook with a Catholic friend of mine:

Catholic Convertskii, after bashing Calvinism:  Yeah, if you read Calvin you’ll be amazed at some of the wack things he said.

Other Catholic:  How much Calvin have you read?

Convertskii:  About 1/3 of the Institutes.

This is why Wedgeworth and others ridiculed the convertskii movement so much.   Convertskii as a general rule have’t read deeply in the Reformed tradition.  If you haven’t read Calvin, then you have’t really wrestled with the heart-issues of the system.  Now, is it necessary to read Calvin and Musculus to really arrive at the truth?  No.  But if you are claiming to pursue the truth and address all of the major concerns, you have to read Calvin (especially…gasp…if you are refuting Calvinism!).

I refuted this same gentleman on Thomism earlier in the year.  And the reason I felt so successful was that I had read at least 1500 pages of the 2500 of Summa Theologiae.  I plan to finish the whole thing by next May, deo Volente.  I knew the issues.   Even though I didn’t agree with Aquinas, I respected the system and really understood what he was aiming for.

This gentleman wrote a slam today on Facebook where he was asking how Calvinists could say that they “couldn’t fall from grace when Paul says in Galatians that you can.”   If he is arguing against Calvinistic Baptists, it’s a strong argument.   Reformed Presbyterians, however, believe in the doctrine of the Covenant.   The covenant is unconditional in its essence but quite conditional in its administration.  Of course, had he read Calvin he would have known that.

Messiah: Governor of the Nations

Messiah: Governor of the Nations of the Earth by Alexander McLeod, D.D.

This is a lengthy pamphlet outlining the basic Covenanter (and Reformed) view of Christ the Mediator and what this doctrine entails for the civil magistrate. The recent church in America has proven itself incapable of giving a clear and robust view of the duties of the civil magistrate. It is no small encouragement, then, to see McLeod’s book back in print. His writing style is simple and forceful and never tedious. The essay is divided into three parts: Messiah as Mediator, the acts of the Mediator, and Objections Answered.

He begins the first part surveying the texts which prove that the Ascended Christ is the Lord of the nations. There is no point in this review to survey all of the texts—there are just too many. It is remarkable that McLeod so artfully weaves these texts into his argument in a way that doesn’t tire the reader.

Having established that Messiah is ruler of the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5), McLeod, ever taking his cue from Scripture, examines the ways in which Messiah executes his mediation. This section is interesting and future Reformed reflection should develop this thought even further. We know that God the Father has ordained whatsoever comes to pass (Ephesians 1:11ff). Further, we Reformed folk do not simply believe in predestination in the abstract. Rather, we hold that predestination and election are actions that are in Christ (Ephesians 1:4) Therefore, we posit that Christ the Princely Mediator executes the decrees of the Father. More specifically and relevant to our purpose, he executes the decrees as they relate to the nations on earth.

The last section considers objections to this doctrine. Interestingly, McLeod does not consider unbelieving objections, which are likely tautologous, but rather he considers Christian objections. In many ways this section is logically unnecessary. If McLeod has demonstrated that the Bible teaches Christ is ruler of the nations on earth (Revelation 1:5), which he has and which it does, then there are no serious objections the Christian can advance against this doctrine. Granted, there are difficulties in our own spiritual life this may raise, and McLeod touches upon these, but there are no real logical objections by this point in the narrative.

The book can be read in an hour. It is short and pastorally written. As Spurgeon said of Bunyan, so may we say of McLeod’s book, “Prick him. He bleeds Bibline.” This book can likely be purchased in bulk for very cheap. It deserves widest possible dissemination.

A monarchist response to Horton and Two Kingdoms

Much of the debate on Two Kingdoms theology is frustrating to watch.  Both sides carpet bomb each other, not realizing they share many presuppositions, or so it would seem.   With Horton I agree that today’s church’s involvement in politics has been a disaster and should be avoided.  Further, to read the bible looking for a specific political system is doomed to failure.  The Old Testament law recommends a Hebrew Republic, but this fails miserably in biblical history and after the monarchy and exile, is not attempted again, prescription in the Law notwithstanding.  The monarchy is initially condemned by God, but later becomes the focal point through which the Messianic prophecies are shaped.  God never promised to restore the Republic to his Messiah.  How flat does that sound?

While I don’t hold to the Platonic and Hegelian view that opposites are in fact identical on one level, it appears nonetheless to be true here:  Kuyperianism/American theonomy is eerily similar, if not identical at the level of presuppositions, to Radical 2 Kingdoms (R2K).   Consider:

  • Neither view seriously challenges the validity of liberal democracy.   I know American theonomists are generally “conservative,” but I am using “liberal” in the sense of John Locke and Adam Smith.
  • While R2K advocates aren’t quite as loud about it, both views consider American-style Republicanism as the only valid political theory.
  • For all of Escondido’s gripes against Kuyper, sphere sovereignty is Two Kingdoms:  The Church cannot get involved in the State, and vice-versa.

Escondido is correct in that the Bible does not give the contents of a specific political order.  This is where American theonomy fails so miserably.  While it is true that the Torah outlines a form of representative government, the American theonomist has to answer a number of immediate and embarrassing questions:   1) The Torah also gives very specific guidelines to future monarchs, so on what grounds do we say that the Bible prescribes republicanism but prohibits monarchy?  2)  If 1 Samuel 8 is the most important political text in the Bible, and so condemnatory of monarchy, how come the prophets base their future hope that the Messiah will be a Davidic monarch and not a theocratic representative?  Let’s pursue this a bit further:  When we read the OT we understand–correctly–that this Davidic monarch is the 2nd Person of the Trinity.   So we sort of understand that such a monarchy is not actually a prescription to future rulers on how to build a political order (though one can certainly and legitimately understand their own monarchy as an imaging of the Davidic monarchy.  Jesus seemed to suggest as much in the Lord’s prayer).  However, an OT reader of these texts would not have (immediately) come to that conclusion.  He would have concluded, “God’s promises will be mediated through a monarchy, not a republic.”  This raises another question about how far the Law can function as prescriptive norm.

So is representative government necessarily illegitimate?  No.  Rutherford and numerous political thinkers (Calvin among them) wisely say that the best form of government is one that naturally reflects the people’s own cultural inheritance.  Monarchy won’t work in America (actually, a far worse centralized government is now functioning in America, yet American conservatives fear the rise of monarchy more than anything else!!!!!!!).

Conclusion:  What did I try to argue?

R2K and theonomy are American phenomena.  Only someone who has received the centuries-long fruit of Lockean politics and who lives in a stable and relatively tolerant land would argue something as inane as Two Kingdoms.   Theonomy seeks a legacy with earlier theocratic positions, but it phrases that legacy around a certain understanding of political order and economics, which would likely render it unintelligble to earlier theocrats.  I suggest that Lockean philosophy, in short, is that connection between American theonomy and R2K.

I also tried to outline, following the Rev. Professor Oliver O’Donovan’s argument in Desire of the Nations, that the monarchy stands as mediator between God and his people, ultimately mediating the Messianic promise. However, to cut off charges of Erastianism at the knees, this mediation was fulfilled in the Second Person of the Trinity and his ascension to the right hand of the father.  Current monarchs do not mediate divine promises.

Russell’s Criticism of Aquinas

Russell’s criticism of Aquinas:

“The appeal to reason is, in a sense, insincere, since the conclusion to be reached is fixed in advance…Or take again the arguments professing to prove the existence of God. All of these, except the one from teleology in lifeless things, depend upon the supposed impossibility of a series having no first term. Every mathematician knows that there is no such impossibility; the series of negative integers ending with minus one is an instance to the contrary…

“The contentions that God’s essence and existence are one and the same, that God is His own goodness, His own power, and so on, suggest a confusion, found in Plato, but supposed to have been avoided by Aristotle, between the manner of being of particulars and the manner of being of universals. God’s essence is, one must suppose, of the nature of universals, while his existence is not.

A History of Western Philosophy, p. 462.