The Problem with Cessationism

Cessationists apparently have the reputation of not believing in miracles after the apostolic age:

No issue has been more controversial among Protestants in the past 40 years than the charismatic gifts and the role of miracles in the post-apostolic age. The issue was controversial in previous eras of Protestant history, too, although theological lines were not usually drawn as hard and fast as they are between “cessationists” and “continuationists” today.

In the 1700s and 1800s, suspicion of claimed miracles was connected to anti-Catholicism. Protestant critics saw the Catholic tradition as riddled with fake claims of miracles. Ridiculing the fake miracle claims of Catholics (such as icons bleeding a liquid that turned out to be cherry juice) became a staple of Reformed polemics against the Catholic Church. So when seemingly miraculous events happened in Protestant churches, even sympathetic observers warned against the threat of bogus miracles.

Odd, but the cessationists I know all affirm the ongoing reality of miracles. How could you ever believe in people lost in sin becoming regenerate without resorting to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit?

The real problem comes with the “gift” of speaking in tongues. Why do we need ongoing revelations from God if scripture is sufficient?

1. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing: which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased. (CofF 1.1 emphasis added)

6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. (CofF 1.6 emphasis added)

Continuationists who want to defend tongues are in the same predicament as Roman Catholics who defend the continuing infallible teaching of the magisterium and the authority of tradition. Does God’s word have all we need for salvation and godliness? Or do we need ongoing revelations for becoming right with God? If you make an infallible pope or a Spirit-filled Christian the arbiter of Christianity, you deny the sufficiency of Scripture.

Selah.

Advertisements

The Amazing Holy Spirit – He Goes Wherever You Do

Does word-and-sacrament ministry (or Sunday worship) have a shelf life? Put differently, do you go to church to have your spiritual batteries recharged? If so, will the charge last for an entire week? Or do we need a mid-week service to revive our spiritual energy?

This may be one reason for spiritual retreats or mid-week Bible studies. It may even explain the reason some people have daily quiet times. You never want to be too far away from the spiritual outlet.

This is not simply an evangelical Protestant problem. Turns out the mechanical calculations of the Mass’s effects also turn up among those loyal to the Bishop of Rome:

How long does the fullness of the sacramental presence last? To assert that it perdures for life would be to deny that the Holy Eucharist is our daily bread, and would be inconsistent with our nature as finite, mutable mortals. If one Holy Communion sufficed for life, our time of trial would be an anticipation of Heaven, when our souls will be so transformed, so glorified in the rapturous consciousness of their eternal union with God, as to be invulnerable to change.

At the moment of Holy Communion, we have a very definite sense of the complete possession of Christ — a calm, heavenly absorption of His divine life quickens our souls. But if this condition continued, it would not accord with our spiritual development, which, because we are finite beings, is gradual; and the Holy Eucharist would not be the pledge of eternal life.

Does union with Christ in the Mass totally transform the believer? It better not since humans can’t handle a full blast of grace (or one that makes purgatory unnecessary). It needs to be partial, even daily, if it is going to sanctify the ordinary work a Christian does:

Even if we are not vividly conscious of the presence of our Divine Guest during the performance of our daily duties, it will influence us both interiorly and exteriorly, sanctifying the most trifling commonplace of our unobtrusive lives. It will urge us to imitate His eucharistic life, cost what it may, for the spirit of Christ will sustain us, and His light will not only illumine our own souls, but will also enlighten those “sitting in the darkness and shadow of death.”

Maybe it’s just mmmmeeeeEEEE, but the Protestant doctrine of vocation sure looks a lot less complicated and a whole lot more compelling. By the Holy Spirit Christians offer up sacrifices to God through the duties they perform as part of God’s providential care for his creation. By the Holy Spirit, Christians are priests. By the Spirit, they perform a small imitation of the priestly responsibilities that God gave to Adam in garden when work was synonymous with worship.

No need for a pit stop at the parish before going to the office. Family worship will do.

Why Mencken Matters

He is a reminder that belief is not normal (to fallen human beings).

The reason for that aside is Regis Martin’s article about the stupidity of atheists (trigger warning for the w-w deniers):

…people do not arrive at atheism as a result of hours heuristically spent perusing the philosophical journals. That is because it is not a matter of the intelligence that compels one to choose disbelief, but a movement of the will. One would have to be pretty witless if, on the strength of a syllogism, one were to conclude that there is no God. An atheist can no more eliminate God’s existence by his refusal to believe than a blind man can by his inability to see expel the sunlight. “The essence of God does indeed lie beyond the scope of intelligence,” Fr. Murray freely concedes, “but his existence does not.” And not to know at least that much, “is to nullify oneself as a man, a creature of intelligence.” Because belief in God is, very simply, the bedrock truth upon which everything else depends. To think otherwise, he argues, amounts to “a miserably flat denouement to the great intellectual drama in whose opening scene Plato appeared with the astonishing announcement that launched the high action of philosophy—his insight that there is an order of transcendent reality, higher than the order of human intelligence and the measure of it, to which access is available to the mind of man.”

In which case, we should never trust an atheist or unbeliever with any sort of responsibility (and we should live in a Christendom because only God-affirmers have the bedrock for truth).

But what if faith is not natural? What if philosophical inquiry and logical deduction still don’t make a man or woman believe? What if, get this, Paul was right?

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1)

Imagine that: Reformed Protestants take atheists more seriously than Roman Catholics because of the doctrine of total depravity. If you start with the reality that all people are lost in their trespasses and sins, that their minds are “darkened” as a result, you set your expectations of unbelievers accordingly. But if you look at faith as the bedrock of understanding the world (think w-w), and you need to trust your neighbors not to do irrational things, then you are going to attribute belief in God to them (and meanwhile deny total depravity).

Mencken matters because he’s proof that unbelievers are smart, and that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than reason in giving people faith in Jesus Christ as their savior.

Will A Revival Save Us?

In hopes of understanding my own blindness about race relations in America and what I (me me I I me me) might do to make the nation and me less racist, I listened to Thabiti Anyabwile’s discussion with Carmen Fowler LaBerge. Here’s what I learned. First, I need to acknowledge that whites have treated blacks badly:

We need to acknowledge the ways in which the church has intentionally, historically refused to be the Body of God along the lines of race. Whether it from Virginia’s enactment of laws that if a slave became a Christian did not mean they would be freed from slavery, to the segregation of congregations in the 1800s and into the 1900s, to the Evangelical church just missing the ball in the Civil Rights Movement and other areas. We have to tell the truth- the bone deep truth- about our complicity if we will ever be free from it.

When I taught colonial America last fall, I ended with the point that race is one of the lasting and darkest legacies of colonial slavery. I may need to do more in class. But I think I’ve got this part of it. I understand in part if not in full.

Second, I need to do something:

Pastor T says one tangible step is to pray for revival. Pray that God pours out his Spirit on His church, and that His spirit would graciously bring conviction of sin. That He would quicken His church in repentance and holiness. Pray that God would subdue the hearts of those hearts in rebellion against God and turn to Him.

Pastor T hopes the Lord would use the grief and mourning that has gripped the nation to break our hearts in repentance and so we would draw near to Him in revival.

Here I’m scratching my head. Does Pastor Anyabwile (and Carmen) not know that revivals were incredibly divisive throughout U.S. history? Revivals don’t unify. They divide churches between pro- and anti-revivalists.

If Pastor Anyabwile means that revival might bring sanctification, I appreciate the point. But in the case of cop shootings, does that mean city governments should only hire applicants who have made a profession of faith? If revival saves America, aren’t we still thinking about politics the way Constantinians, neo-Calvinists, Covenanters, and theonomists do? Can we only trust officials who are saved?

So what do we do if we are to live with non-Christians? Any policies? Interestingly enough, Pastor Anyabwile faulted Ta-Nehisi Coates in the latter’s piece on mass incarcerations for not recommending any policies:

Coates repeats the significant failure he recognizes in an earlier Moynihan. Coates tells us that the fatal flaw in Moynihan’s infamous report was Moynihan’s decision to omit specific policy solutions. Having seen that so clearly, it’s odd that Coates should repeat that failure so often in the important writing he now undertakes. A mind as formidable as Coates’s ought not stop with descriptive analysis, however compelling its portrayal of the problem. It should push itself to hazard a prescription, to call for some specific redress.

Pastor Anyabwile is of course right. He should also know that revival is not policy.

So what policy is out there? Maybe Peter Moskos is on to something about what California and Chicago police can learn from New York City’s patrol people and their supervisors:

Last year in California, police shot and killed 188 people. That’s a rate of 4.8 per million. New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania collectively have 3.4 million more people than California (and 3.85 million more African Americans). In these three states, police shot and killed (just?) 53 people. That’s a rate of 1.2 per million. That’s a big difference.

Were police in California able to lower their rate of lethal force to the level of New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — and that doesn’t seem too much to ask for — 139 fewer people would be killed by police. And this is just in California! (And California isn’t even the worst state; I’m picking on California because it’s large and very much on the high end.)

Now keep in mind most police-involved shootings are not only legally justifiable, they are necessary and good at the moment the cop pulls the trigger. But that doesn’t mean that the entire situation was inevitable. Cops don’t want to shoot people. They want to stay alive. You give cops a safe way to reduce the chance they have to pull the trigger, and they’ll certainly take it.

I really don’t know what some departments and states are doing right and others wrong. But it’s hard for me to believe that the residents of California are so much more violent and threatening to cops than the good people of New York or Pennsylvania. I suspect lower rates of lethal force has a lot to do with recruitment, training, verbal skills, deescalation techniques, not policing alone, and more restrictive gun laws. (I do not include Tasers on this list.)

If we could bring the national rate of people shot and killed by police (3 per million) down to the level found in, say, New York City (The big bad NYPD shoots and kills just 0.7 per million) we’d reduce the total number of people killed by police 77 percent, from 990 to 231!

The thing is, we don’t need the Holy Spirit’s miraculous powers for this. Providential control is always appreciated.

The Politics of the Holy Spirit

Michael Sean Winters first argues that the Second Vatican Council was revolutionary:

Douthat also insists that there was nothing revolutionary about Vatican II. I do not want to get hung up on semantics. If he wishes to make a Burkean point, that there is a difference between reform and innovation, and revolutionaries innovate, I am mostly in agreement, but while the Council did not itself innovate per se, it reformed a lot. Through much of the nineteenth and the first-half of the twentieth century, Rome carried on an extensive correspondence with the American hierarchy on the subject of interreligious events. The officials in Rome did not like the idea of a Catholic priest saying a prayer at a civic event alongside ministers of other religions. What caused Rome to change its mind? In the postwar era, they recognized that the needed America as a bulwark against communism and that non-Catholics would be needed too. Now, interreligious events characterize all local churches and all papal trips. If that is not a revolution, I am not sure what is and, I dare say, it might even qualify as an innovation, a necessary one to be sure and novel only because previously no country, like the U.S. had experienced the admixture of religious groups to the extent that we did.

And among confessional Protestants like Missouri Synod Lutherans and Presbyterians, participating in interreligious services can still get a pastor in trouble. Separated brothers or more like distant cousins seven times removed.

But Winters thinks the Holy Spirit was responsible for the revolution:

Most egregiously, not once does one grasp in his analysis of Vatican II that the Holy Spirit was active in the deliberations of the Council, and that this is not only testified to by those who participated in it, but by our Catholic beliefs about the Spirit’s presence in the Church. If the Spirit was not active at Vatican II, why should we think it was active at Trent or Nicaea? One can deride, as Douthat does, those who invoked “the spirit of the Council” to justify positions that were actually in conflict with the texts of the Council, but there really was a “spirit of the Council” and Pope Francis is not wrong to invoke it. Yes, the “spirit of the Council” was invoked to justify silly things but not by Pope Francis or Cardinal Kasper.

So will Winters allow that the Holy Spirit was also behind the U.S. Constitutional Convention or England’s Really Exceptional Glorious Revolution? Lots of churches adjusted to liberalism. American Presbyterians did in 1789. It took the Vatican longer. But why invoke the third person of the Trinity for something so ordinary?

The dangers of exceptionalism are everywhere.

The Spirit Disconnected

When you decouple Word and Spirit, you can find the Spirit blowing almost anywhere:

There are so many good things going on in our world today, so many pulls and tugs. The Spirit’s gift of prudence is really an important one to make sound decisions. You can’t be right 100 percent of the time, but to really do your best to be prudent in your decisions.

The importance of consulting, getting consultation, hearing how the Holy Spirit is working within others within the local church. The importance of listening, and therefore to be a good listener. The importance of being flexible….

I think it really speaks about the importance of listening to the Holy Spirit at work throughout the whole church.

I think that was a wonderful idea. And I think the pope’s call for transparency, for people to speak from their heart and to say what the Spirit is prompting them to say while assisting the synod fathers in discerning the Spirit at work in our church in coming up with a document or an approach in all these matters is going to be helpful to families and couples and people….

Imagine if the bishops had been that open to the Spirit’s breeze when deciding on Martin Luther.

Sometimes actions speak so loud they change doctrine.

Would the PCUSA Hire Me?

What if I claimed to be channeling God’s Spirit, the way that More Light Presbyterians say the Holy Spirit descended upon the PCUSA’s General Assembly during its recent vote to allow Presbyterians ministers to officiate at same-sex marriages in state’s where gay marriage is legal. (If you’ve got the Spirit, feathers and all, why does state law restrict your ministry?) I mean, by those Spirit-led rules, why would a search committee object to an Orthodox Presbyterian trying to secure a post on the pastoral staff of a PCUSA congregation? Sure, it would be odd. But the economy has yet to rebound fully and the PCUSA still marshals lots of financial resources. Even more, the PCUSA, as it indicated in its recent vote, tries not to discriminate against the marginal and oppressed. The OPC may not be oppressed, though the PCUSA’s 1937 suit against the OPC for choosing a name (i.e., Presbyterian Church OF America) too close to the mainline denomination’s collection of initials sure looked like sour grapes. But Orthodox Presbyterians are surely not mainstream. If the PCUSA wants real diversity and to demonstrate real love, why not call an Orthodox Presbyterian? This would be perfect, by the way, because the Greek and Hebrew I learned and have long since forgotten would not be needed in a church that runs according to the Spirit.

Could it be that the PCUSA actually discriminates against religion the way that a team of researchers recently found:

Résumés that made no religious reference, that listed a generic student group, received about 20 phone calls and e-mails from employers for every 100 résumés sent. This was 20 percent more callbacks than the average of the other seven groups.

The Muslim résumés were the big loser. Résumés that listed involvement in a Muslim student group received only 12.6 phone calls and e-mails from employers for every 100 sent. This was about 40 percent fewer callbacks than the control group résumés. Simply adding Muslim to a résumé decreased employer interest substantially.

The remaining six groups fell in between the control group and Muslims. Among them, the pagan résumés did relatively well, the atheist résumés did relatively poorly, and Jews, evangelicals, Catholics, and Wallonians were in the middle. (Our New England findings were published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility in 2013; our Southern research was published recently in Social Currents.)

So yes, religious discrimination in hiring seems to be very, very real. Our study seems to confirm a social norm in America: that religious expression should be compartmentalized and private, something kept at home or brought out only in specific, limited circumstances. Publically identifying oneself with a certain belief system can be a faux pas with real and negative consequences. This norm applies to a wide range of religious and irreligious expressions. As such, both the proselytizing evangelical and the adamant atheist are suspect.

In point of fact, everyone discriminates (especially when they buy a car) and Americans might live together a lot less frustratedly if they gave up the hokum about being open minded and simply advertised truthfully about what goods or truths they actually believe and advocate. The PCUSA’s problem (as if there’s one) isn’t that it discriminates. It’s that it doesn’t know that it does.

The Limits of Logic and the Benefits of Geography

Jason Stellman continues his brief for Roman Catholic superiority with the twist of posting at his own blog and, making his membership in Jason and the Callers complete, at at Called to Communion. Apparently, Bryan Cross and Sean Patrick will now edit comments on Jason’s posts so that Jason can do more televised interviews. The funny thing about this arrangement is that posting at CTC has not united Bryan’s logic with Jason’s style. In fact, if Jason’s first post is any indication, Bryan’s scholasticism has taken a back seat to Stellman’s intuition. But the oxymoronic ecumenical (call to communion) polemics (we’re better than Protestants) abide.

It turns out — surprise — that Roman Catholicism makes better sense of the incarnation than Protestantism. The simple logic is that since Christ assumed and maintains a physical body that could and can be seen, an ecclesiology that features visibility beats one that invokes invisibility. But the logic of Jason’s argument is almost as confusing as his understanding of geography.

If there is a connection between Christology and Ecclesiology (Umm, hellooo ? The Church is the Body of which Christ is the Head, so I’d label this connection as “uncontroversial”), then the idea that the eternal Son assumed human nature and took on a real, flesh-and-blood body just like ours, is more consistent in a visible-church paradigm than in an invisible-church paradigm. The physical body of Christ was visible; you could point him out in a crowd or identify him with a kiss as Judas did for the Roman soldiers.

The key word here is was. Jesus’ body is no longer on earth and cannot be seen. And by sending his Spirit to be with the church after he left planet earth, Jesus could very well have been teaching that the nature of the church, its bonds of fellowship and its worship, is going to be spiritual, not visible (like Old Testament devotion was with the altar, sacrifice and priests — sound familiar?). In fact, Jesus tells the woman at the well that the new pattern of worship emerging is one where place matters less than spirit and truth. And then Jason has the problem of being so insensitive to believers whose relatives have died and no longer have bodies. Are they visible? Are they excluded from the church because they don’t have bodies? Or is it the case that an ecclesiology that so features physicality is shallow compared to one that recognizes a fellowship among those saints who are both seen and unseen. (Hint: if God the Father is spirit and cannot be seen, fellowship with the unseen is important. Duh!)

Not to be tripped up by such theological or logical subtleties, Jason stumbles on to give two big thumbs up to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist.

Is Christ present at the Table or not? Like with the question “Is the church visible or not,” the answer here is, “It depends.” If the worshiper is a worthy receiver, then yes, he indeed feeds spiritually and truly upon the body and blood of Christ. But if the worshiper is unworthy and faithless, then what he is eating and drinking is not Christ’s body and blood, but simply ordinary bread and wine. This also smacks of Docetism, as if Jesus of Nazareth could have been truly present with Zaccheus, partially present with Nicodemus, and completely absent with Judas, even though they were all standing right in front of him in the flesh.

First, Jason gets the Protestant position wrong. The unworthy receiver eats and drinks judgment. The last time I had ordinary bread and wine, I was not sinning overtly or deserving judgment. But that inaccuracy notwithstanding, second, the idea that Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper to everyone equally, just like he was to the people with whom Christ lived, walked and talked, commits some sort of Christological error — can’t remember which one — because the nature of a body is being limited in time and space, and if Jesus is not here then he can’t be here in the same way that he was here to Zaccheus. And since Jason doesn’t mention the Spirit, the person of the Trinity that helps Protestants understand Christ’s real presence in an omnipresent way, his bad logic suffers again from poor theology.

Jason’s last point exhibits a Romophilia that makes chopped liver out of the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople.

Moreover, the Catholic paradigm makes much better sense of the Incarnation by its gospel demonstrating the need for the ongoing and continual humanity of Christ. If salvation consists largely (almost exclusively to hear some Protestants tell it) in the forensic imputation of the active and passive obedience of Christ by which the sinner is legally justified in the divine court, then the need for Jesus’ humanity can be said to have expired after the ascension. But if, as the Catholic Church maintains (echoing the fathers), salvation consists primarily in the deifying participation of humanity in the divine nature, which happens by means of Christ’s glorified humanity and risen flesh, then what happened at the Incarnation was a much bigger deal than some Protestants realize.

The deifying participation of humanity in the divine nature is what the Eastern Churches call theosis. In fact, Jason’s entire post may vindicate his personal decision to leave Presbyterianism but his boosterism apparently blinded him to the substantial difficulties he raised for his own ecclesiology from Eastern Orthodox challenges. After all, Jesus never made it to Rome to found a church — if we take the physicality of the incarnation seriously. He did though found a church in Jerusalem. If Jason wanted to talk about the Jerusalem Catholic Church he might have a point. But since he wants to root, root, root for his new home church, he needs help from Bryan to make his argument coherent.

Meanwhile, Jason may want to pay more attention to what’s going on in his visible church than tilting at Protestant windmills:

I think it is obvious that Wuerl belongs to the more traditional, pilgrim model and always has. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the prophet model was invoked mostly by liberal theologians to justify their positions. In the 1990s and first decade of the 21st century, it was conservatives who claimed the prophetic mantle for themselves. Both groups forgot that in the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets were reluctant to accept the mantle. Both groups forgot that the dominant Catholic mode of leadership has almost always been the pilgrim model, and when the prophet model dominated, ruin came: Savonarola, Saint- Cloud, Pio Nono. The Church is not at Her best when Her leaders are busy hurling epithets or indulging what Pope Francis has called a “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism.” Wuerl strikes me as one of those bishops who does not over-inflate his own significance. Yes, he takes his job seriously and expects his collaborators to do so as well. But, like Pope Francis, he leaves room for the Spirit to do its work. Let us have more bishops like this in the coming year. The first test will, of course, be Chicago. No need for extensive previstas from the nuncio on this nomination as all of the candidates will be well known. The rumors of any particular names have dried up, which usually means those who are being consulted are shifting from speculation to decision. I have no idea who it will be but I will venture one prediction: Some jaws will drop. . . .

The divisions within the Church are not going away, but they are likely to change in the coming year. I predicted early on that you would begin to see cleavage within the Catholic Left between those who are thrilled by the Holy Father’s focus on the poor, and for whom that focus is enough, and those who argue for changes where no change is likely to be forthcoming, the ordination of women, same-sex marriage, etc. And, on the Catholic Right, you will see a similar cleavage between those who will allow themselves to be challenged by Pope Francis and those who will shift towards a rejectionist position, either completely gutting the pope’s words of their obvious meaning and import as Morlino did in the article mentioned above or, for the more extreme members, moving towards schismatic groups. The Left, when it gets disaffected, just walks away. The Right causes trouble. In 2014, many bishops will face the prospect of clear, unambiguous dissent on the Right and it will be curious to see how they respond.

Regeneration, Intelligence, and Philosophy

May we have a little clarity on the nature of regeneration, puh-leeze? Sorry to pick on the neo-Calvinists again, but a common construction of regeneration among those who stress the antithesis is to attribute to the supernatural work of the Spirit the intellectual genius of believers. This interpretation is strongest among the neo-Calvinists who are philosophically inclined. Because they can unearth the epistemological roots of an idea or argument, and because they operate in what at times seems like a Manichean universe divided between the knowers (of Christ) and the ignorant, these neo-Calvinist philosophers believe they hold the keys to discerning the work of the Spirit. Regeneration removes the noetic effects of the fall and now allows Christians to interpret reality correctly, and even see the philosophical basis for all things.

Never mind that the arguments for Christian schools contradict this understanding of regeneration. If regeneration does produce a new w-w, then why is education necessary? Shouldn’t the regenerate already have the tools, by virtue of the illuminating power of the Spirit, to understand all things correctly? But if covenant children and the w-w challenged need to appropriate the value added material that comes from the w-w cognoscenti, then is the Spirit’s work in regeneration really responsible for a new outlook on the world? Or could it be that a w-w is much more the product of human instruction about the fundamental truths of epistemology and metaphysics, or Christian teachers who give a faith-based reading of the arts and sciences?

Another wrinkle here, by the way, is the folly that apparently afflicts believers not only about the world but also about the faith. Remember that Paul call the Galatians and Corinthians foolish even while considering these folks to be saints, that is, people who had experienced the work of the Spirit in regeneration. Also, consider that a w-w does very little justice to catechesis. In fact, in communions where w-w has expanded, catechesis has generally declined. At the same time, regeneration is no solution to the hard work of memorizing a three-figure set of doctrinal answers. It takes time, discipline, and memory.

So what we need is clarity about the noetic effects of regeneration. And we also need to distinguish among those effects, the native intelligence of persons that comes providentially from genes, family environments, and temperament, and academic proficiency in a particular area of human investigation. Clarity may start with a reminder about the nature of the spiritual illumination in regeneration. According to the Shorter Catechism:

Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel. (WSC 31)

. . . when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds. (Dort III/IV, 11)

What sure seems clear to me is that regeneration has a narrow effect — it allows a person who had no interest in Christ to understand his need and to trust the work of Christ. It is a kind of knowledge, but it is not even necessarily knowledge of well-formulated doctrine. At the same time, regeneration does nothing to take someone from a low to a high IQ. Nor does regeneration place someone all of a sudden as a graduate of a Masters-level curriculum in western philosophy. Regeneration removes the noetic effects of sin. It does not change the brain or a person’s mastery of a body of thought.

At the same time, neo-Calvinists enraptured by western philosophy may want to remember what Calvin and Kuyper, Mr. Paleo- and Mr. Neo-Calvinist, had to say about the learning of pagans.

If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. What then? Shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancient jurists who established civic order and discipline with such great equity? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation and taught us to speak reasonably? Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of the mathematical sciences? Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are. But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God? Let us be ashamed of such ingratitude, into which not even the pagan poets fell, for they confessed that the gods had invented philosophy, laws, and all useful arts. Those men whom Scripture [I Cor. 2:14] calls “natural men” were, indeed, sharp and penetrating in their investigation of inferior things. Let us, accordingly, learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human nature even after it was despoiled of its true good. (Institutes II.2.15)

. . . the unbelieving world excels in many things. Precious treasures have come down to us from the old heathen civilization. In Plato you find pages which you devour. Cicero fascinates you and bears you along by his noble tone and stirs up in you holy sentiments. And if you consider your own surroundings, that which is reported to you, and that which you derive from the studies and literary productions of professed infidels, how much more there is which attracts you, with which you sympathize and which you admire. It is not exclusively the spark of genius or the splendor of talent which excites your pleasure in the words and actions of unbelievers, but it is often their beauty of character, their zeal, their devotion, their love, their candor, their faithfulness and their sense of honesty. Yea, we may not pass it over in silence, not infrequently you entertain the desire that certain believers might have more of the attractiveness, and who among us has not himself been put to the blush occasionally by being confronted with what is called the “virtues of the heathen”? (Lectures on Calvinism, 121ff)

What is important is that Calvin does attribute to the Spirit the knowledge that pagans possess. Truth, wisdom, and intelligence do not exist independent from God. At the same time, the wisdom of pagans is spiritual work that does not include regeneration. It is in effect another iteration of the doubleness that 2K tries to maintain. In the same way that Christ rules the work of redemption differently from the order of his creation, so too the Spirit works upon the minds of people differently, with the illumination of regeneration providing a knowledge distinct from understanding politics, the liberal arts, or even neo-Calvinists’ beloved philosophy.

So once again, neo-Calvinism’s failure to follow Kuyper and figure out how to affirm a common realm that exists somewhere between the holy and the profane bites them in their argumentative backsides. Without that common realm, believers — whether fundamentalist or neo-Calvinist — will try to baptize everything and turn all truth and wisdom into the blessings of redemption and special grace.

Where's Waldo Wednesday: Too Much of a Good Thing?

. . . In the fifth place, is it wise to use the language which is often used in the present day about the doctrine of “Christ in us”? I doubt it. Is not this doctrine often exalted to a position which it does not occupy in Scripture? I am afraid that it is. That the true believer is one with Christ and Christ in him, no careful reader of the New Testament will think of denying for a moment. There is, no doubt, a mystical union between Christ and the believer. With Him we died, with Him we were buried, with Him we rose again, with Him we sit in heavenly places. We have five plain texts where we are distinctly taught that Christ is “in us.” ( Romans 8:10; Galatians 2:20; 4:19; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 3:11.) But we must be careful that we understand what we mean by the expression. That “Christ dwells in our hearts by faith,” and carries on His inward work by His Spirit, is clear and plain. But if we mean to say that beside, and over, and above this there is some mysterious indwelling of Christ in a believer, we must be careful what we are about. Unless we take care, we shall find ourselves ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit. We shall be forgetting that in the Divine economy of man’s salvation election is the special work of God the Father – atonement, mediation, and intercession, the special work of God the Son – and sanctification, the special work of God the Holy Spirit. We shall be forgetting that our Lord said, when He went away, that He would send us another Comforter, who should “abide with us” forever, and, as it were, take His Place. ( John 14:16.) In short, under the idea that we are honoring Christ, we shall find that we are dishonoring His special and peculiar gift – the Holy Spirit. Christ, no doubt, as God, is everywhere – in our hearts, in heaven, in the place where two or three are meet together in His name. But we really must remember that Christ, as our risen Head and High Priest, is specially at God’s right hand interceding for us until He comes the second time: and that Christ carries on His work in the hearts of His people by the special work of His Spirit, whom He promised to send when He left the world. ( John 15:26.) A comparison of the ninth and tenth verses of the eighth chapter of Romans seems to me to show this plainly. It convinces me that “Christ in us” means Christ in us “by His Spirit.” Above all, the words of St. John are most distinct and express: “Hereby we know that He abides in us by the Spirit which He has given us.” ( 1 John 3:24.)

In saying all this, I hope no one will misunderstand me. I do not say that the expression, “Christ in us” is unscriptural. But I do say that I see great danger of giving extravagant and unscriptural importance to the idea contained in the expression; and I do fear that many use it now-adays without exactly knowing what they mean, and unwittingly, perhaps, dishonor the mighty work of the Holy Spirit. If any reader think that I am needlessly scrupulous about the point, I recommend to their notice a curious book by Samuel Rutherford (author of the well-known letters), called “The Spiritual Antichrist.” They will see there that two centuries ago the wildest heresies arose out of an extravagant teaching of this very doctrine of the “indwelling of Christ” in believers. They will find that Saltmarsh, and Dell, and Towne, and other false teachers, against whom good Samuel Rutherford contended, began with strange notions of “Christ in us,” and then proceeded to build on the doctrine antinomianism, and fanaticism of the worst description and vilest tendency. They maintained that the separate, personal life of the believer was so completely gone, that it was Christ living in him who repented, and believed, and acted! The root of this huge error was a forced and unscriptural interpretation of such texts as “I live: yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20.) And the natural result of it was that many of the unhappy followers of this school came to the comfortable conclusion that believers were not responsible, whatever they might do! Believers, forsooth, were dead and buried; and only Christ lived in them, and undertook everything for them! The ultimate consequence was, that some thought they might sit still in a carnal security, their personal accountableness being entirely gone, and might commit any kind of sin without fear! Let us never forget that truth, distorted and exaggerated, can become the mother of the most dangerous heresies. When we speak of “Christ being in us,” let us take care to explain what we mean. I fear some neglect this in the present day. (From the Introduction to Holiness, by J. C. Ryle; tip of the hat to our southern correspondent)