Monthly Archives: February 2013

Calvin – Institutes: Eclectic Notes with Comments


Calvin’s argument against the Romish practice of appealing to the institutional Church in determining/validating the Scriptures is brilliant: he argues from Ephesians 2:20 – the doctrine of the prophets and apostles are the foundation of the Church. That being the case, Calvin notes the former must have its certainty before the latter (you cannot justify the former on the basis of the latter).

“Nothing, therefore, can be more absurd than the fiction, that the power of judging Scripture is in the Church, and that on her nod its certainty depends.”


“…that our faith in doctrine is not established until we have a perfect conviction that God is its author.”

Men cannot ascend to God through mere human knowledge; such an ascent will always require the illumination of the Spirit because the “testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason.”


Calvin talks about the rude (read “simple” or “mere”) comprehensibility of Scripture. This is not something to look down on (as some do), in fact, it actually indicates that the “Holy Scriptures are too mighty in power of truth to need the rhetorician’s art.”

Scripture is sufficient. Calvin examines the text and argues from the text why we should believe that Moses was a real servant and prophet from God, etc.


The sheer number of saints who have laid down their life and given their blood is also an indication that these truly are the Holy Scriptures…not as a primary means of certainty but secondary—since only our Father gives a firm faith in Scripture, nevertheless, these secondary helps assist us.


He is combating the errors of the Libertines – “Hence it is easy to understand that we must give diligent heed both to the reading and hearing of Scripture, if we would obtain any benefit from the Spirit of God, and, on the contrary, that any spirit which passes by the wisdom of God’s word, and suggests any other doctrine, is deservedly suspected of vanity and falsehood.”


In Scripture God opposes the gods of the heathens – “The knowledge of God, which is set before us in the Scriptures, is designed for the same purpose as that which shines in creation—viz. that we may thereby learn to worship him with perfect integrity of heart and unfeigned obedience, and also to depend entirely on his goodness.” – the heathens don’t follows the Scriptures, instead, they follow false gods, therefore, they refuse to learn to worship the true God with perfect integrity of heart and unfeigned obedience, this means the heathens are not depending entirely on God’s goodness.


Calvin is discussing the impiety of attributing a visible form to God (which would involve icons/setting up of idols). “But God makes no comparison between images, as if one were more, and another less befitting; he rejects, without exception, all shapes and pictures, and other symbols by which the superstitious imagine they can bring him near to them.”

“God sometimes appeared in the form of a man, but this was in anticipation of the future revelation of Christ…” Typological interpretation, that.

“The Lord, however, not only forbids any image of himself to be erected by a statuary, but to be formed by any artist whatever, because every such image is sinful and insulting to his majesty.” And this is one of many reasons why Protestants still “Protest” today.


Contrary to Romish teaching, images are not books for the unlearned – “…when we teach that all human attempts to give a visible shape to God are vanity and lies, we do nothing more than state verbatim what the prophets taught.”

Calvin is very astute: he notes that errors are not originated by icons/images, however, they are fuel for a fire — a fire of increasing error. “Whosoever, therefore, is desirous of being instructed in the true knowledge of God must apply to some other teacher than images.”

Sound doctrine carries more information/theology than a thousand images; the one cross of Christ vs. thousands of silver and gold crosses/images.

“And daily experience shows, that the flesh is always restless until it has obtained some figment like itself, with which it may vainly solace itself as a representation of God. In consequence of this blind passion men have, almost in all ages since the world began, set up signs on which they imagined that God was visibly depicted to their eyes.” (Calvin’s context is the idolatry noted in the patriarchs, etc., and he is pointing out that images/idols have always been a vice of man.)

Calvin is speaking against those who say, “What we’re doing isn’t idolatry, we don’t call the wood or stone God – we worship the invisible God in the visible image – this image raises our senses/lifts our thoughts to God.” Calvin says, “And your point is???” Calvin says he is only saying what the prophets said: “You people who say you are not doing this are in fact doing this” (read, committing idolatry).


What Calvin is discussing is not a matter of linguistics (difference in words/understanding/inference). He says what is really happening is that the idolaters are throwing dust in the eyes of the ignorant (they are betraying them). Calvin doesn’t care if you want to church it up and call it “servants of images,” he will not budge…he knows that even though you use a different word the content of what you are doing is idolatry, it is worshiping an image.

It is unbecoming of churches to posit images other than “those living symbols which the Lord has consecrated by his own word: I mean the Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, with the other ceremonies.”

Calvin wonders: Why use the devices of man, or rely upon the wit of man? Isn’t God’s will good enough? Aren’t Christ’s commands enough?

Relying on images is idolatry because they become a crutch…the believer relying on them as much as (and in contradiction to faithful belief) on the living God.


Light of Divine Providence will set a soul free, giving it comfort and freedom in the safety of the Lord (confidence too). The Lord is at work everywhere; therefore, our confidence never fails. The greatest of miseries are contributed to a weak understanding/ignorance of God’s providence.


Calvin gives several Biblical illustrations of God’s providential hand at the helm, directing the wickedness of men and devils (and the Satan): it is God who blinds men, especially the reprobate (we cannot say it is Satan blinding them, he has no power in and of himself to do so) — “The sum of the whole is this, — since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.”

Bible and History (and the Historical-Critical Method)

Since “[t]he faith of Israel and the faith of historical Christianity is founded not in lofty ideas or ideals but in God’s acts in human history” (24), and since, that is, ever since, Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) paved the way for the open display of presuppositions which have become the routing logic and functional architecture that back the historical-critical method (e.g., “Troeltsch insists that this principle [the principle of criticism and probability] be applied impartially to all historical traditions, including biblical traditions (25)”), then we should find it no surprise that there is a conflict between the former’s view, that the Bible is unique (since it is God’s self-revelation of His acts in human history), and the latter’s view, summarized by Sidney Greidanus, that “the Bible is to be treated like any other document.”

Greidanus, in The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature, addresses this antithesis, and commits an entire chapter to examining the historical foundations of biblical preaching. Look it up, it is a good read.

In the first half of the chapter, Greidanus provides an appraisal and critique of the historical-critical method, demonstrating that the assumptions provided by Troeltsch have been above, beneath, and around this initiative since the get go. Greidanus then, in the second half of the chapter, goes on and provides an alternate “holistic historical-critical method,” which, if we want to do justice to the Scriptures, he insists “must make a radical break with the assumptions held by Troeltsch.”  Therefore, what we have are two views: the view that  “God acts in human history” vs. the Troeltshian view of a historical-critical method shaped by Troeltsch’s assumptions.

Greidanus airs his concerns:

The accepted historical-critical method shows its bias when it first eliminates God as a factor in history and then declares certain reported events unhistorical because they speak of God’s acts in history. Aside from pointing out the obvious circularity in this argument, I would make the following observations: If a historical-critical method, by definition or otherwise, cannot acknowledge all factors in history, it loses the right to make subsequent judgments concerning the historicity of reported events. Now the historical-critical method, as a matter of fact, has been making probability judgments regarding the historicity of reported events. That being the case, the method–if it is to be credible–must of necessity take into account all possible factors that may be operative in history. 

Greidanus hits the nail on the head. Contrary to Troeltsch, the Bible is a radically different document. Therefore, if the assumptions of Troeltsch remain above, beneath, and around the historical-critical method, then the answers posed by the historical-critical method will, in the end, be found to have already resided in the questions asked by the historical-critical model.

Purity of Man: Work of God

In 1 Timothy 4:1-3, Paul said:

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

 Here Paul provides a warning to counter false teachers. Paul is telling the original audience (his readers) that false leaders teach that purity is attained (and maintained) by adherence to rules and the external observance of ceremonies. Paul was no fool, and he knew that ceremonies laid line upon line upon line is a stack of nonsense. Rubbish, that.

Mere adherence to rules and external observance of ceremonies, when attempted in order to secure personal purity, is absolute nonsense. It’s simple really: man’s problem is located in the heart, hence, the problem can only be resolved with a solution that is also located in heart (and addresses and fixes the heart). King David understood this. In Psalm 51 he said:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin….Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop [which was used to sprinkle the doors of the Israelites in Egypt (Ex. 12) and for purification and sacrifices (Lev. 14; Nu. 19)], and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow….Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Create in me a clean heart! That is the heart-cry of every Christian, those who have the unction and knowledge provided by the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20). Christians call out to God, “Create in me a clean heart!”– and it is only the Holy Spirit who enables and empowers them to do so, because in Christ they’ve been adopted by God. Christians call out to God because they know that only God, who is the One that looks at the heart, can change the heart — Christians know this because God did it, to them!

The heart is the foundation of our will, the heart is back of every human desire, and the disposition of the heart is determined by one’s nature. Therefore, human will and desire is the overflow (flows from) the heart which is controlled by one’s nature. What are the implications of this? For starters, if we are still in our sin/our fallen nature (if we are still in the first Adam),  then we can’t even ask God to cleanse us, or give us a new heart, or renew our spirit, etc. We can’t ask for those things because we don’t have the appetite for them; we lack desire for purity. However, if we have a new nature (i.e., if we are justified, if we are in the second Adam, Jesus Christ), then we can cry out, by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and ask God to sanctify us — ask God to cleanse us, to renew, that is, to make pure.

Remember what Paul said above — if someone is teaching purity is attained by or the result of adherence to rules and maintaining ceremonies, instead of being a result of God changing our heart and renewing our spirit, then they are a false teacher and they are “speaking lies in hypocrisy.” Therefore, avoid the lies, run away from any attempt of works righteousness/purity, and run to God, the one who knows the heart and can change the heart! The purity of man is and can only be a work of God.

Adam: Whose Sin Became Our Sin

“[T]he problem with the human race is not most deeply that everybody does various kinds of sin. Those sins are real, they are enough to condemn us, and they do indeed play a role in our condemnation. But the deepest problem is that behind all our depravity and all our guilt and all our sinning there is a deep mysterious connection with Adam, whose sin became our sin and whose judgment became our judgment. And the Savior from this condition and this damage is a Savior who stands in Adam’s place as a kind of second Adam (or “the last Adam,” 1 Corinthians 15:45)” (John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ, 102-103).

Man: Created in the Image of Speaking Triune Lord

From the introduction and conclusion of an article discussing a recent study’s findings that premature babies process speech even as neurons are migrating into place (!!!) — written by John Timmer at Ars Technica:

The human brain has a remarkable capacity for interpreting speech, with large areas of the brain given over to tracking the sound and interpreting it as language. The neurons that manage this capacity are put in place during our embryonic development, and these are able to respond to sounds shortly after birth. But now, a new study looked at brain activity in premature infants, and it showed the networks that respond to syllables are already active well before most infants are normally born.

It’s often difficult to distinguish between the things our brains are structured specifically to do and things our brains are structured to have the capacity to learn. The fact these areas of the brain can pick out speech differences even before the final structure is in place, however, provides some support to the idea that some capacity to speech is inherent to the brain.

Some capacity to speech is inherent to the brain, indeed. Milton Terry understood this:

Language is not an accident of human nature; else might it utterly perish like other arts and inventions of man. It is an essential element of man’s being, and one which distinguishes him from the brute (Biblical Hermeneutics, 71).

So did A. W. Tozer:

Thought and speech are God’s gifts to creatures made in His image; these are intimately associated with Him and impossible apart from Him. It is highly significant that the first word was the Word: ‘And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ We may speak because God spoke. In him word and idea are indivisible (The Knowledge of the Holy, 2).

And Christian evangelists know that speech is inherent to our brains (that it is inherent to a physical aspect of our nature). No surprise there. After all, Jesus Christ instructed us to use speech to teach and call sinners to repentance and baptism in the name of the Triune Lord: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). Evangelism and preaching is all about speech (perhaps we could even say evangelism/preaching assumes “some capacity to speech is inherent to the brain”).

God spoke creation into existence, and God speaks (has spoken) the new creation into existence. I think this is what the doctrine of justification is all about, really. Insisting and echoing what we’ve been told: that the Triune Lord is consistently a God of not only creation-making speech but also redemptive speech. That He is a Lord who not only creates but restores and saves a sinful and fallen creation, and that He does so by the power of His declarative word, which he declared before the foundations of the world according to His good pleasure when He chose/spoke that Christ (the Word) would provide atonement for our sins. God said, “I saved you.” Our response is to echo God, “God saved me!” When you boil down basic Christian teaching — i.e., in the words of J. I. Packer, “Adoption by propitiation [atonement]” — we only teach that which the Father has already spoken through the Holy Spirit about His only begotten Son/the Word.

And for those who speak Science, this is the abstract from the recent study referenced in the Ars Technica article:

The ontogeny of linguistic functions in the human brain remains elusive. Although some auditory capacities are described before term, whether and how such immature cortical circuits might process speech are unknown. Here we used functional optical imaging to evaluate the cerebral responses to syllables at the earliest age at which cortical responses to external stimuli can be recorded in humans (28- to 32-wk gestational age). At this age, the cortical organization in layers is not completed. Many neurons are still located in the subplate and in the process of migrating to their final location. Nevertheless, we observed several points of similarity with the adult linguistic network. First, whereas syllables elicited larger right than left responses, the posterior temporal region escaped this general pattern, showing faster and more sustained responses over the left than over the right hemisphere. Second, discrimination responses to a change of phoneme (ba vs. ga) and a change of human voice (male vs. female) were already present and involved inferior frontal areas, even in the youngest infants (29-wk gestational age). Third, whereas both types of changes elicited responses in the right frontal region, the left frontal region only reacted to a change of phoneme. These results demonstrate a sophisticated organization of perisylvian areas at the very onset of cortical circuitry, 3 mo before term. They emphasize the influence of innate factors on regions involved in linguistic processing and social communication in humans.

Justification and Sanctification

“Our only hope of progress in gradual sanctification (growing in likeness to Jesus) is that we already have a right standing with God by faith alone. By this justification we are accepted into God’s favor and enjoy a reconciled position. This right standing establishes the very relationship in which we find the help and power to make progress in love” (John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ, 49).

What Some are Calling a “Seminary Bubble”

One of the articles featured today at The Aquila Report linked-through to an OP/ED piece by Jerry Bowyer on what some are calling the problem of the “Seminary Bubble” — an article which originally ran at Forbes. Notwithstanding some oversimplifications, the article does provide insight to a contemporary issue within the American Church, that ministerial training has become a very, very expensive undertaking. And, I believe, it is still a mounting issue, at that.

Mr. Bowyer’s follow-up to the original article was titled “Bursting the Seminary Bubble, Part II“, wherein he highlights by contrasting that it was none other than Christ who chose the “Hebrew rabbinical method of teaching: apprenticeship.” Throughout his article he provides reasons which he finds to be persuasive for urging the American Church to work her way back to the apprenticeship model. Penultimate to his conclusion he says,

Some critics seemed to be under the impression that I thought that theology is not important. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I think theology is so important that I’d like to see it taught efficiently, at low cost, to far larger numbers of people. There’s nothing particularly theological about a load of debt which is excessive relative to income prospects. I’m a supply-sider, who believes that a better system of theological instruction will produce more, not fewer theologians.

No mincing of words, that. He cogently expresses his dissatisfaction with and disapproval of the Mainline model for Seminarian Training. Again, notwithstanding some oversimplifications, this was a good follow-up article, particularly because in his conclusion he provided a myriad of links to different web-based resources for theology, bible study, aids for learning the original Biblical languages, etc. The resources to which he links enforce his conclusion in his first article, “That technology is the pin that is beginning to burst the seminary bubble.”

Also, Dr. Ken Schenck, the Dean of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, recently provided some thoughts on how technology is shaking things up for the traditional-Seminarian programs. However, from a different point of view.

Peter J. Leithart: Trinity [House] Institute, Again

In September-2012, I posted that Peter J. Leithart (and many others) were founding a new “study and theological center” in Birmingham, Alabama. Since that original post they’ve modified the center’s name — it is now called “Trinity House Institute” — and they’ve launched a website.

In January, Trinity House Institute sent out its first issue of their newsletter, In Medias Res, which included articles by Peter J. Leithart and James B. Jordan; the latter contributing a translation and commentary on Psalm 62. If you haven’t already signed up for the newsletter, I encourage you to hurry over to the THI homepage and sign-up/register/opt-in, as soon as possible!