For the Umpteenth Time, Grace is Not Nature

Once again the lame argument that nominalism (and its Protestant progeny) severed the chain of being and gave us Walmart:

One can now readily see the theological pitfalls of this position. It means that in Genesis, when God called creation ‘good’—it was only because He said so, not because it was really good. It also contravenes the testimony of the Old Testament, where creation as seen as reflecting the beauty and goodness of God—Dreher quotes Psalm 19:2, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Finally, Ockham’s position is at odds with the reality of the Incarnation itself, along with the reality of the visible Church and the sacramental system. (Certainly it is now apparent how nominalism helped pave the way for the Protestant Reformation.)

In the context of the Christian faith, the errors and perils of nominalism may seem manifest, but what about its broader cultural implications? As Dreher explains, once the world had been emptied of inherent meaning and bore only that meaning imposed on it by God, the next big step was to replace God with man.

How and why did this happen?

The real answer, of course, is beyond our scope, but we can briefly point to it here. (See Dreher’s second chapter, “The Roots of the Crisis” for the full summary.) Once the sacred chain connecting all being to God was severed, creation shrunk back from its Creator: the world became a smaller place.

Hello! The heavens declaring the glory of God doesn’t make the heavens a sacrament.

Hello! Affirming the profound chasm between Creator and creature (can you say transcendence?) does not destroy the light of nature that shows “that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might” (Confession of Faith 21.1).

Hello! Saying that God’s ways are not our ways is not to deny that God superintends all things.

In fact, if you believe in providence:

God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. (Confession of Faith 5.1)

you can also believe in sacraments:

A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers. (Shorter Catechism 91)

But if you so closely identify God with his creation, you may have trouble distinguishing the church from Europe. Hillaire Belloc anyone?

Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe.

Surely, somewhere in all those Aristotelian categories appropriated by Aquinas, Roman Catholics have a way of distinguishing the world from God who is a “spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” You have to preserve those incommunicable attributes of God somehow.

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If You Don’t Like Cats, You Have a Problem with the Lord

Keep in mind:

He set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills;
they give drink to every beast of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has her home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.

He made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until the evening.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. (Psalm 104:5-24 ESV)

This is not a cats versus dogs thing. Like Chortles says of himself, God loves all his critters, every square inch (and all) of fur.

More Van Tillian Than Thou

The new book that critiques republication (the idea that the Mosaic Covenant had in some sense a works principle) is curious in various respects. But one of the more glaring (if the paper originally presented to the Presbytery of the Northwest upon which the book is based is accurate) is the contention that Meredith Kline botched covenant theology by regarding God’s work of creation as essentially covenantal. Here are the authors of Merit and Moses:

The republication view teaches that man was in covenant with God at the very moment of creation. This is an important shift from the traditional viewpoint. Ontological considerations demand that there be at least a logical distinction (rather than a chronological or historical sequence) between God’s creating man and his entering into covenant with him. The republication teaching now erases this confessional distinction (which is based upon the “great disproportion” between the Creator and creature), and thereby turns God’s providential work of establishing the covenant into an aspect of the work of creation. Thus, we may say that the two distinct acts have been conflated or collapsed into essentially one act in this new view. For all intents and purposes, the relationship between God and man is not first that of sovereign Creator over his finite creature, but is from the point of creation a relationship of “God-in-covenant-with-man.” For Professor Kline and those who have followed his lead in the republication position, it is improper to even consider man’s existence apart from covenant. Thus, man’s covenantal status seems to “trump” his creaturely status. (from the section, “Two Definitions of Merit, Part 2: The Republication Paradigm”)

But what if Kline was simply channeling Cornelius Van Til (who should count as much as Murray unless of course Kline compromises status purity)? Here is what Van Til had to say about creation and God’s covenants:

The philosophy of history that speaks to us from the various chapters of the Confession may be sketched with a few bold strokes. We are told that man could never have had any fruition of God through the revelation that came to him in nature as operating by itself. There was superadded to God’s revelation in nature another revelation, a supernaturally communicated positive revelation. Natural revelation, we are virtually told, was from the outset incorporated into the idea of a covenantal relationship of God with man. Thus every dimension of created existence, even the lowest, was enveloped in a form of exhaustively personal relationship between God and man. The “ateleological” no less than the “teleological,” the “mechanical” no less than the “spiritual” was covenantal in character. (Nature and Scripture)

So how do your reconcile competing human authorities? Maybe you appeal not to sacred cows but to sacred Scripture?

Did God Rest In One Day?

Volume four of the Nicotine Theological Journal is now available at the back issues page. Here is a whiff, from the April number:

. . . [Morton] Smith’s study of John Murray is an example of how sabbatarian-creation logic fails. Murray understood as well as anyone the importance of creation for Sabbath-keeping: “The weekly sabbath is based on divine example,” he wrote in Principles of Conduct. “The divine mode of procedure in creation determines one of the basic cycles by which human life here on earth is regulated, namely, the weekly cycle.”

LET US CONCEDE, FOR argument’s sake, that Smith is right about Murray, and that the Scotsman “seem[ed] to have held to the 24-hour creation days.” (Smith acknowledges that this is not “expressly stated” in Murray.) So the world was created in 144 hours, according to Murray. Then what happened? “And he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he made.” But how long was the seventh day? Murray is very clear that that day was not twenty four hours. Here is more from Principles of Conduct: “In the realm of God’s activity in creating the heavens and the earth there were six days of creative activity and one day of rest. There is the strongest presumption in favor of the interpretation that this seventh day is not one that terminated at a certain point in history, but that the whole period of time subsequent to the end of the sixth day is the Sabbath rest alluded to in Genesis 2:2.”

From these citations we are forced to conclude that for Murray a literal six-plus-one creation sequence was unnecessary for the establishment of a literal six-plus-one Sabbath-keeping sequence. However symbolic God’s days were, Murray saw that creation was still revealed in such a way as to establish the weekly Sabbath as a creation ordinance. So the logic of Sabbath-creationism collapses. And if the seventh day is not literal, why do the first six days have to be?

Although Smith’s essay claims to survey American Presbyterian thought on creation, including the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, it is largely focused on recent PCA debates, and he neglects OPC reflection on the matter except to speculate on the views of Murray and Cornelius Van Til. This is unfortunate because he omits the 1968 resolution of the OPC’s Presbytery of Southern California (comprised of Murray’s and Van Til’s students), which we believe has not been surpassed as a summary of the biblical and confessional teaching on creation. We republish those eight affirmations in hopes that they will gain a greater reading:

1. The one true and living God existed alone in eternity, and beside Him there was no matter, energy, space or time.

2. The one true and living God, according to His Sovereign decree, determined to create, or make of nothing, the world and all things therein, whether visible or invisible.

3. God performed His creative work in six days. (We recognize different interpretations of the word “day” and do not feel that one interpretation is to be insisted upon to the exclusion of others.)

4. That no part of the universe nor any creature in it came into being by chance or by any power other than that of the Sovereign God.

5. That God created man, male and female, after His own image, and as God’s image bearer man possesses an immortal soul. Thus man is distinct from all other earthly creatures even though his body is composed of the elements of his environment.

6. That when God created man, it was God’s inbreathing that constituted man a living creature, and thus God did not impress His image upon some pre-existing living creature.

7. That the entire human family has descended from the first human pair, and, with the one exception of Christ, this descent has been by ordinary generation.

8. That man, when created by God, was holy. Then God entered into a covenant of works with the one man Adam. In the covenant Adam represented his posterity, and thus when he violated the requirement, all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him and fell with him into an estate of sin.

CONTEMPORARY CRITICS OF these affirmations might charge them with sanctioning a “poetic” creation account. If so, it bears noting that, contrary to the slippery-slope fears of the Sabbath-creationists, neither Murray’s eternal Sabbath nor the presbytery’s interpretive openness have cultivated in the OPC, thirty years later, a “poetic Sabbath,” that is, observable decline in Sabbath-keeping. The lesson to be drawn, it seems, is this: if Sabbath-breaking is the ultimate concern of the watchdogs from Taylors, South Carolina, they had better look for causes elsewhere than in one’s interpretation of the days of Genesis one and two.

William Hayward Wilson

Is Creation for Evangelicals and Neo-Reformed what Donuts Are for Homer Simpson?

I am noticing a trend, trend-spotters that historians are, and it does not appear to be promising.

Over at Christianity Today, Scott Sabin, author of Tending to Eden, connects the dots among – hold on to your baseball cap – evangelism, “compassionate justice ministry,” and earth care.

On a global scale, restoration is a monumental task. We are unlikely to achieve it this side of Christ’s return, any more than we are likely to bring about world peace by turning the other cheek. However, kingdom thinking can serve to guide our planning and our individual choices. At Plant with Purpose, we have seen restoration happen. Rivers and streams that had withered have begun to flow again due to upstream solutions. They have become powerful illustrations of God’s ability to redeem and restore, both for us and for the farmers with whom we are striving to share Christ’s love. . . .

Much of the world is either directly suffering as a result of environmental degradation or reacting in numb despair to gloomy predictions. Both groups desperately need the hope of Jesus Christ. It is the hope they long for, a hope that speaks directly to the redemption of all creation and reminds them that God loves the cosmos.

The gospel is for everyone—from dirt farmers to environmental activists. It is good news that God cares about all that he has created.

Pete Enns picks up on those same connections between creation and redemption in a piece for Biologos.

Psalm 136:1-9 is similar. The psalmist praises Yahweh for creating the cosmos using language reminiscent of Genesis 1. But in v. 10, without missing a beat, this “creation psalm,” brings up the exodus. Then in v. 13 we read that Yahweh “divided the Red Sea asunder.” Again, this calls to mind Genesis 1:6-8, where, in creating the world, God divided the water above from the water below (see also Psalm 74:12-17 where God “split open the sea”). “Dividing” the sea is a theme the Old Testament shares with other ancient creation texts, as can be seen in the link above.

Creation and exodus are intertwined. The creator was active again in delivering Israel from Egypt. . . .

What we see in the Old Testament is raised to a higher level in the New. God’s redemptive act in Christ is so thoroughly transformative that creation language is needed to describe it.

John’s Gospel famously begins “In the beginning was the Word….” The echo of Genesis 1:1 is intentional and unmistakable. Jesus’ entire redemptive ministry means there is now a new beginning, a starting over—a new creation. This Jesus, who is the Word, who was with God at the very beginning, through whom all things were made, is now walking among us as redeemer (John 1:1-5). Those who believe in him are no longer born of earthly parents but “born of God” (vv. 12-13). They start over. The language of “born again” later in John (3:3) points in the same direction. . . .

Redemption is not simply for people; Jesus’ redemptive program is cosmic, as we can see in Romans 8:19-21. Creation itself awaits its chance to start over, its “liberation from bondage.” Cosmic re-creation finds its final expression in Revelation 22:1-5. In the beautifully symbolic language that characterizes the entire book, we read that the cosmos has become the new Garden, complete with not one but two trees of life, where there is no longer any curse.

The Bible ends where it begins, at creation. The goal of redemption all along has been to get us back to the Garden, back to the original plan of the created order. To be redeemed means to take part in the creative work of God. The hints are there in the Old Testament, and the final reality of it is ultimately accomplished through the resurrection of the Son of God.

To round out the redeeming creation line-up, David Koyzis yields the especially helpful service not only of connecting creation and redemption but also neo-Calvinism and Roman Catholicism.

Perhaps readers of Evangel also read On the Square, but if not, permit me to direct your attention to a wonderful article by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, which, but for a few sentences here and there, could easily have been written by an evangelical Christian of the Reformed persuasion: Fire On The Earth: God’s New Creation and the Meaning of Our Lives. I am struck by his redemptive-historical reading of scripture, which many of us may tend to think is the exclusive preserve of the Reformed tradition. Archbishop Chaput is to be commended for disabusing us of this misconception. Here’s an excerpt:

A simple way of understanding God’s Word is to see that the beginning, middle and end of Scripture correspond to man’s creation, fall, and redemption. Creation opens Scripture, followed by the sin of Adam and the infidelity of Israel. This drama takes up the bulk of the biblical story until we reach a climax in the birth of Jesus and the redemption he brings. Thus, creation, fall, and redemption make up the three key acts of Scripture’s story, and they embody God’s plan for each of us.

To be sure, the God who creates is the deity who redeems. But to miss the difference between creation and redemption, and to rush to identify them with a Homeric blessing – “mmmmmmmm redeemed creationnnnnn” – is to miss the import of this little thing we call sin. The creation was and is good. It did not fall. It does not need to be redeemed. Only fallen creatures need redemption. In which case, to miss the ways that creation and redemption differ is to repeat the same collapsing of categories that Protestant progressives effected one hundred years ago when they threw out the distinctions between natural and supernatural, divine and human, sacred and secular, to brew an ideology that would save the world.

For that reason, two-kingdom and spirituality of the church advocates are eager to either warn evangelicals and progressive Reformed types about the danger of their view, not only because confusing the creational and redemptive functions of Christ blurs a category that has been crucial to the Reformed tradition. It is also because such confusion inevitably mistakes improvements in standard of living for the fruit of the Spirit.