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One question that never seems to go away, even if we would prefer that it did; is the so called problem of evil and God. The Scottish philosopher par excellence, David Hume is famous for rhetorically musing:

“Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

crucifiedMy usual response to this kind of Humian skepticism, when I encounter it usually in evangelistic situations, is that they are starting in the wrong place; more pointedly, that they are starting in the wrong story, and thus ultimately with the wrong conception and categories for thinking about who God is, and how this God acts, and how he has concretely acted for us in and through Jesus Christ. And not only as a past reality, but in a perfect tense, in an ongoing reality that flows from the particular event and act of God in Jesus Christ for us at the cross; which inaugurated and presupposed a whole bunch of things about God’s eschatological life breaking in on us then and now, and into the future. Basically all I want to highlight with this post is a quote from Michael Horton, he captures this kind of shifting-the-story approach when engaging with this purported problem of God and evil:

[O]ur question, therefore, could be transposed in the following manner: If God is a player at all in this drama, much less the playwright, why doesn’t he reduce the problems the characters encounter? In the “divine drama” model, the problem of evil needs to be reconfigured. Without determining the possible positions in advance, the root metaphor nevertheless resists metaphysical speculation. Here, the question is, given the facts of this play. It is a drama with its own plot: creation in the divine image, forfeiting the consummation by rebellion, a promised Messiah and a typological kingdom of God, the advent of the second Adam to rescue fallen image-bearers, and his return “at the end of the age” in order to consummate the forfeited kingdom forever. Its central actor is an unsubstitutable character, as Hans Frei would say. And its answer to evil is practical (acted out) rather than theoretical. No other story could be substantiated to make basically the same point. [Michael S. Horton, Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama, 92.]

Obviously, this kind of narrative-shifting approach to dealing with this philosophical and ethical dilemma of God and evil, is situated in a kind of presuppositionalist mode; which in some ways needs to be corrected a bit. But that notwithstanding, the general principle of this approach is laudable, precisely because it discerns the underlying problem at the center of conceiving of God and the problem of evil. Contrary to Hume’s approach—one that starts in a story wherein humanity’s autonomous reason and rationality reigns supreme—the theo-dramatic approach highlighted by Horton presupposes one crucial thing; that the story is not one of our making, but God who is Lord over creation (not able then to be collapsed into His creation as hyperimmenant approaches do), and this story (creation, in general/salvation-history, in particular) is His story; and His story has cruciform shape come hidden and at the same time revealed in the sullen vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ for us.

So far,  from evil being in competition with a Holy God; what the right story does for the interested reader, is that it reorients the starting questions to those that God Himself has provided in His-tory; and the antecedent reality to this-story is really His kind of life that He has always already shared with His dearly beloved Son bonded in the communing love of the Holy Spirit. An inner life that is shaped by the kind of cross-shapedness that is fitting and fitted for what is finally revealed as the ultimate fulcrum for which creation was originally made; that is to participate in this kind of cruciform life in union with Christ for all eternity. This is the wisdom of God, logos tou staurou, the cross of Christ, the wisdom of the cross.

One consequence of holding to this ‘right story’ is that we come to understand that through God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and the story that is funded by that (our lives in relation to His), is that creation/nature has not ever impinged upon God’s character. Our sin did not determine how God has decided to determine Himself for us. What this story underscores is that God has always already, in His wise life, been in the shape that could answer and engage with whatever proclivities His creation might conjure up under its own contingent independence—say starting in the Garden of Eden. Because God is love (i.e. in free Self-given mode), and because He is grace (which is what creation is under-girded by), anything that occurs in this sphere (including evil and its adjunct, sin) has no independent ontology of its own; in other words, sin and evil are always realities that are within the scope of the answer provided by God’s life. Not as if sin and evil determine God’s life, nor in the sense that God determines what evil and sin are; but in the sense that God’s life in its singular core, in its Triune relation, has the overwhelming capacity to answer such things in a way that is fitting to His life of humility and exaltation all in one moment of gracious time.

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I am currently reading Michael Horton’s Covenant And Eschatology: The Divine Drama, and I am happy to say that I am being very edified by it. It is somewhat surprising for me to say this, because I have been such a long time critic of the environs that Horton inhabits—e.g. Westminster Theological Seminary (Escondido, California). Yet, Horton illustrates a capacity to think with a kind of critical, constructive, and creative wit that I have found eschatologylacking in most of his brethren’s way. I cannot in the end accept all of Horton’s commitments, but what I am beginning to realize (personally) is that there isn’t the kind of disparity between the post-Reformed orthodox and the so called neo-Orthodox (which has been my vibe for years now), as far as methodology as I once thought. That said, there are still some very fundamental and basic critiques which still leave me on the “side” of the neo-Orthodox (or on the side of Thomas Torrance)—like following a theological method that is rooted in an ‘analogy of faith’ (instead of ‘being’), a method that is grounded in seeing Covenant (God’s life) preceding Creation (instead of the post-Reformed orthodox reversal of this), a theological method that intentionally eschews a natural theology approach, etc. So I am still obviously on one side of this Reformed pendulum. That said, I see things in Horton and some of the post-Reformed emphases—like an emphasis on Covenant (biblically construed), an emphasis on historia salutis (salvation history), etc.—that I can see waiting for a via media of sorts. In other words, I see some general contours of thought and emphases that jive with my own predisposition better than what I have heretofore conceived in regard to the classic approach previously. I wouldn’t say though that my general disdain for the prolegomenon of post-Reformed orthodoxy has changed; it is just that I have become more open to the idea that there are things available therein that have the kind of depth that is worthy of resourcement and retrieval for an evangelical Calvinist project.

With the above noted (caveated), let me now turn to something that almost has nothing to do with what I just wrote; except for the fact that I will, indeed, be quoting from none other than Michael Horton. That notwithstanding, the point that will be being made throughout the rest of this post has to do with a Christian eschatology V. a secular humanist one. And yet embedded in the secular humanist one, there is still a parable therein that is helpful towards the Christian one. That is, the humanist aneschatology has demonstrates where the end of human-centered wisdom terminates; and as such, as corollary, shows the wisdom of God in the wisdom of the cross (and thus the Christian eschatology). Here is some quotation from Horton on this subject:

[C]olin Gunton, for instance, has argued that the displacement of God by humanity and therefore of eschatology by human attainment has left the contemporary person with a “pathological inability to live in the present, while at the same time, as in the consumer culture, it is unable to live anywhere but in the present. Both arms of the paradox alike derive from a gnostic denial of goodness of creation.” Gunton adds the following:

The anxiety to bring the future about is the cause of the frantic rush that is one mark of the modern failure to live serenely in time…. Orientation to a divinely promised future sets human life in context, and is by no means a disincentive to appropriate use of the world. (We should remember Luther’s remark that if he knew that the end of the world was coming tomorrow, his response would be to plant a tree). What mainstream mediaeval eschatology lacked was rather a sense of the interweaving of the times: a way in which the divinely order of destiny of life could, by the work of the Spirit, be anticipated in the present.

If modernity can be characterized by an eschatology of utopia leading to despair, its postmodern successors may find themselves distinguished only by their lustful Nietzschean embrace of this condition rather than the Schpenhauerian resignation that Nietzsche and his disciples have identified with Christianity. Both the modern utopian and the postmodern “active nihilist” share a common metanarrative: “this fading age.” The reign of the autonomous self, whether conceived in terms of reason, consciousness, or will, cannot help but end in either resignation of triumphalism. [Michael S. Horton, Covenant And Eschatology: The Divine Drama, 42.]

Something that further illustrates this kind of ‘displacement of God by humanity and therefore eschatology’ is noted later by Horton as he quotes Rudolof Bultmann:

[…]It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of daemons and spirits. We may think we can manage it in our own lives, but to expect others to do so is to make the Christian faith unintelligible and unacceptable to the modern world. [Rudolf Bultmann, cited by Michael Horton, p. 52]

For Bultmann, using the polarity noted before (between an humanist eschatology in resignation or triumphalism), his is an eschatology that revels in the triumphalism of human championship.

I just think it is interesting how whether Christian or not, we cannot escape the fact that we have an eschatology shaping our approaches and ideas about life and its meaning. There is no critical space where someone can live untouched by the proclivities of their own situadedness in creation. Our only ‘escape’ is available through the cross, where God’s eschatological life breaks in on our resignations and triumphalisms, and confounds the wisdom of the wise with His foolishness. The cross breaks up the indomitable human spirit by putting it to death, and injecting into it a trajectory that finds strength and hope in the weakness of God.

I just watched two little clips of Michael Horton and Roger Olson in their recent discussion about Calvinism and Arminianism; which took place at Biola University in California (here & here). And then I followed up these two little clips by listening to James White [here] (of his Alpha and Omega Apologetic Ministries) critique Roger Olson’s recently released book Against Calvinism (which by the way was what prompted the coming together of Horton and Olson at Biola—they have also had conversation on Horton’s ‘White Horse Inn’ broadcast in the past about the same subject). What continues to intrigue me about this debate (the one between Arminians and Calvinists—both classic versions of that) is that neither side of this debate seems to want to recognize that the impasse they are facing will not be solved until at least they deal with their informing assumptions about God—but more importantly, and directly related, their understanding of God’s Self-revelation in Christ. James White, for example, mockingly cajoles Olson’s book and points against Calvinism as surfacey shallow blather that have been around for years, and refuted over and again; he thinks that engaging Olson’s book is a waste of time (which makes me wonder why he devoted at least one hour if not two hours to it on his internet radio show). White, in the video I link to above, rebuffs Olson by simply asserting that “that’s not what the Bible says.” In other words, for some reason White seems to think that there is only one way to read Scripture; apparently, and he owns that way. And yet, it seems that someone like Roger Olson sets himself up for this kind of beating around the head; since he tries to out-pace his classic Calvinist counterpart by engaging in the same kind of thought experiments about God and God’s relation to creation and humanity in particular. I guess the most troubling thing about this kind of fiasco (what I think it is), is that neither Olson, nor Horton, nor White try to think these kinds of questions through the most revealing point of contact that God has with man; through the Incarnation and/or hypostatic union of God and humanity in Christ. What they need is what Muller and David Gibson after Muller categorized as Karl Barth’s approach to interpreting Scripture and his Christology; that is, they need to adopt a ‘principled’ intensive methodology that sees Christ as the bedrock of all things scriptural—that sees Christ as the depth of Scripture’s witness and authority, and thus seek to parse out the relation and dynamic of God’s sovereignty and human freedom within this interstice, and not one, which I think is imposed back upon God through the logico-deductive schemata deployed by Horton, Olson, and White as they engage in biblical exegesis.

I will have to flesh out what I have reflected upon above at a later point. But I find this song and dance (the one that Horton, Olson, and White are fiddling) to be out of touch with what’s really going on in God’s Self-revelation of himself in Christ for us.

It looks like Michael Horton of Whitehorse Inn fame has his own systematic theology coming out next month; check out his verbal blurb:

HT: Valiant For Truth

I’ll be interested to see how he “does theology.” It’s obvious what confessional slant he’ll be coming from, but I’ll be interested to see if his style is more confessional; or more traditional scholastic/systematic.

This is agreeable, what do you think? This does bring up a question. Do you think it is necessary for Pastors to have formal “training” in order to “rightly” carry out the demands of the “office” which they have aspired to?

**Repost**

There are a slew of ministries today that are promoting an enlivened Calvinism for the masses; whether that be by radio, books, pulpits, or the internet. Off the top I can think of just a few that are making quite the impact:

Each one of these characters has their own unique brand and emphases, relative to their articulation of Calvinism. MacArthur follows a more ‘Baptistic’ “Spurgeonized” Calvinism, with an emphasis upon good expositional preaching; and a call for holy living (he is more Fundy in approach and socio/culturally). John Piper is similar in many ways to MacArthur, although he is more steeped in the ‘history’ of Covenantal Calvinism drawing off of his background with the Puritans; in particular his appeal to many of Jonathan Edwards’ themes. And then Michael Horton, who is a full-fledged Federal Covenantalist who approaches things much more “historically” and “academically;” which is only natural given his profession as an professor.

Each one of these figures offers a different angle on Calvinism —some more consistent, historically, than others— but they also offer an certain commonality in emphasis; and that is, that they all follow the style of Calvinism codified at the Synod of Dordrecht and evinced through the Westminster Catechism. As far as communicating salvation goes, each of these fellows find their directive from the TULIP.

Instead of trying to unearth (re-invent the wheel) the history and theological (loci) focal points of Calvinism, of which there is legion; I just want to comment on this rather amazing phenomenon that seems to be sweeping large pockets of Christendom. And that is the in-roads and re-emergence that Calvinism seems to be making amongst both the young and old, Christian. Let me posit a few reasons why I think this is happening:

[B]ecause of the shallowness and decline exemplified in much of ‘Evangelical Christianity’.
[B]ecause of the lack of doctrine being promulgated within ‘Evangelical Christianity’.
[B]ecause people want some guidelines, they want some real-life structure and infrastructure for what they believe.
[B]ecause people are tired of hearing sermons about themselves, and they want to hear an emphasis upon Christ through biblical exposition.
[B]ecause there really are no other alternatives but to return to the “Old Paths” that Calvinism appears to offer.

I know there are plenty more reasons why folks seem to be turning to Calvinism (have any suggestions?), but by-and-large I think that it has something to do with the realization that ‘Evangelical’ Christianity (whether the style be: ‘Purpose/Market Driven’, ‘Emergent Driven’, or ‘Independent Fundamentalist Driven’) is becoming quite bankrupt in regards to providing a Christianity that is robust enough to answer the deep felt questions that the issues of this life throw at us every single day.

When people (and many are) get to this point where do they turn? Either they completely leave the church (and I know some are doing that, according to the “statistics”), become ‘Liberal’ and find the substance and community they are looking for in political causes and social justice issues; or maybe they see the arms of MacArthur, Piper, and Horton opened up saying: “. . . come find rest for your souls weary pilgrim.”

Do you see what I am getting at (and indeed, I am generalizing)? There has been a vacuum created through the “man-centered” approaches and [non]doctrinal forays provided by the broader portion of “Evangelicalism” for years. Calvinism offers just the opposite, by reputation and assertion. It offers doctrine, devotion, and depth for the disenfranchised ‘Evangelical’.

But what if the sparkling beacon of rest that Calvinism appears to be (for your average church person searching for depth) turns out to be just as “man-centered” as the “Evangelicalism” they are fleeing? What if “Calvinism” is promising more than it can deliver? These are questions that should be considered by the tired souls in search of the “truth” of the Gospel. But indeed, that is part of the problem, so many are ‘tired’ they just want rest; they just want someone to tell them that it is all okay, “here’s the doctrines of Grace that they have been deprived of for so many years.” People, tired people, especially, are ready to hear that! They begin to immerse themselves in this new deep culture, they read books by MacArthur —not the fickle flamboyant stuff they are used to, mind you— with titles like: The Gospel According to Jesus, or Hard to Believe. This isn’t the flimsy-flighty stuff their CEO’s, uh *#&% argh, I mean their mega-church pastors were slinging at them from their pulpits. No, oh no! This has guts, it sounds like Jesus’ kind of stuff in chapters like John 6; finally, the depth, the substance these folks have been longing for. No more of that Christless Christianity, they have finally come into a Christian situation where Desiring God is emphasized; a place where there is an opportunity for Putting Amazing Back into Grace!

Maybe what I am describing sounds curiously true to your own situation. Maybe you’ve even swung this way, believing that popular Calvinism was the answer to your “Evangelical woes;” but now you are realizing that maybe, theologically, there are certain problems (along with certain pros) that didn’t ap
pear at the euphoric ‘honey-moon’ stage you were in when first introduced to this ‘new-way’.

I haven’t (in this post) really elaborated on the ‘problems’ that are inherently endemic to ‘TULIP’ style Calvinism; but maybe I don’t need to, maybe you know those all too well. Certainly you recognize an array of variable “truths” packed into the Calvinist themes; but you realize that there might be something ‘rotten in Denmark’, that Calvinism still seems to be pointing you in the direction of yourself. Sure you have found quite a bit of substance, relative to the ‘old Rick Warren’ days; but now you are wondering if the ‘substance’ measures up to the right kind of ‘substance’.

Or maybe you have found what you were looking for in the halls of ‘Dordt’, and you think that, especially by now, I am full of hot air 😉 (indeed)!

Either way, let me know . . . what you think on this front.

P. S. By the way, I’m not an Arminian or a follower of Popular/Contemporary Free Grace Theology —- I am quite ‘Reformed’ (an Evangelical Calvinist, don’t you know)!

There are a slew of ministries today that are promoting an enlivened Calvinism for the masses; whether that be by radio, books, pulpits, or the internet. Off the top I can think of just a few that are making quite the impact:

Each one of these characters has their own unique brand and emphases, relative to their articulation of Calvinism. MacArthur follows a more ‘Baptistic’ “Spurgeonized” Calvinism, with an emphasis upon good expositional preaching; and a call for holy living (he is more Fundy in approach and socio/culturally). John Piper is similar in many ways to MacArthur, although he is more steeped in the ‘history’ of Covenantal Calvinism drawing off of his background with the Puritans; in particular his appeal to many of Jonathan Edwards’ themes. And then Michael Horton, who is a full-fledged Federal Covenantalist who approaches things much more “historically” and “academically;” which is only natural given his profession as an professor.

Each one of these figures offers a different angle on Calvinism —some more consistent, historically, than others— but they also offer an certain commonality in emphasis; and that is, that they all follow the style of Calvinism codified at the Synod of Dordrecht and evinced through the Westminster Catechism. As far as communicating salvation goes, each of these fellows find their directive from the TULIP.

Instead of trying to unearth (re-invent the wheel) the history and theological (loci) focal points of Calvinism, of which there is legion; I just want to comment on this rather amazing phenomenon that seems to be sweeping large pockets of Christendom. And that is the in-roads and re-emergence that Calvinism seems to be making amongst both the young and old, Christian. Let me posit a few reasons why I think this is happening:

[B]ecause of the shallowness and decline exemplified in much of ‘Evangelical Christianity’.
[B]ecause of the lack of doctrine being promulgated within ‘Evangelical Christianity’.
[B]ecause people want some guidelines, they want some real-life structure and infrastructure for what they believe.
[B]ecause people are tired of hearing sermons about themselves, and they want to hear an emphasis upon Christ through biblical exposition.
[B]ecause there really are no other alternatives but to return to the “Old Paths” that Calvinism appears to offer.

I know there are plenty more reasons why folks seem to be turning to Calvinism (have any suggestions?), but by-and-large I think that it has something to do with the realization that ‘Evangelical’ Christianity (whether the style be: ‘Purpose/Market Driven’, ‘Emergent Driven’, or ‘Independent Fundamentalist Driven’) is becoming quite bankrupt in regards to providing a Christianity that is robust enough to answer the deep felt questions that the issues of this life throw at us every single day.

When people (and many are) get to this point where do they turn? Either they completely leave the church (and I know some are doing that, according to the “statistics”), become ‘Liberal’ and find the substance and community they are looking for in political causes and social justice issues; or maybe they see the arms of MacArthur, Piper, and Horton opened up saying: “. . . come find rest for your souls weary pilgrim.”

Do you see what I am getting at (and indeed, I am generalizing)? There has been a vacuum created through the “man-centered” approaches and [non]doctrinal forays provided by the broader portion of “Evangelicalism” for years. Calvinism offers just the opposite, by reputation and assertion. It offers doctrine, devotion, and depth for the disenfranchised ‘Evangelical’.

But what if the sparkling beacon of rest that Calvinism appears to be (for your average church person searching for depth) turns out to be just as “man-centered” as the “Evangelicalism” they are fleeing? What if “Calvinism” is promising more than it can deliver? These are questions that should be considered by the tired souls in search of the “truth” of the Gospel. But indeed, that is part of the problem, so many are ‘tired’ they just want rest; they just want someone to tell them that it is all okay, “here’s the doctrines of Grace that they have been deprived of for so many years.” People, tired people, especially, are ready to hear that! They begin to immerse themselves in this new deep culture, they read books by MacArthur —not the fickle flamboyant stuff they are used to, mind you— with titles like: The Gospel According to Jesus, or Hard to Believe. This isn’t the flimsy-flighty stuff their CEO’s, uh *#&% argh, I mean their mega-church pastors were slinging at them from their pulpits. No, oh no! This has guts, it sounds like Jesus’ kind of stuff in chapters like John 6; finally, the depth, the substance these folks have been longing for. No more of that Christless Christianity, they have finally come into a Christian situation where Desiring God is emphasized; a place where there is an opportunity for Putting Amazing Back into Grace!

Maybe what I am describing sounds curiously true to your own situation. Maybe you’ve even swung this way, believing that popular Calvinism was the answer to your “Evangelical woes;” but now you are realizing that maybe, theologically, there are
certain problems (along with certain pros) that didn’t appear at the euphoric ‘honey-moon’ stage you were in when first introduced to this ‘new-way’.

I haven’t (in this post) really elaborated on the ‘problems’ that are inherently endemic to ‘TULIP’ style Calvinism; but maybe I don’t need to, maybe you know those all too well. Certainly you recognize an array of variable “truths” packed into the Calvinist themes; but you realize that there might be something ‘rotten in Denmark’, that Calvinism still seems to be pointing you in the direction of yourself. Sure you have found quite a bit of substance, relative to the ‘old Rick Warren’ days; but now you are wondering if the ‘substance’ measures up to the right kind of ‘substance’.

Or maybe you have found what you were looking for in the halls of ‘Dordt’, and you think that, especially by now, I am full of hot air 😉 (indeed)!

Either way, let me know . . . what you think on this front.

P. S. By the way, I’m not an Arminian or a follower of Popular/Contemporary Free Grace Theology —- I am quite ‘Reformed’ (an Evangelical Calvinist, don’t you know)!

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Hello my name is Bobby Grow, and I author this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist. Feel free to peruse the posts, and comment at your leisure. I look forward to the exchange we might have here, and hope you are provoked to love Jesus even more as a result. Pax Christi!

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A Little Thomas Torrance

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” -T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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