Thursday, March 26, 2009

Greg L. Bahnsen on Justification

Here is a paper demonstrating that the late Greg L. Bahnsen would not have agreed with the federal visionist and that he held a orthodox view of justification:

There is one quote he cites that is rather controversial and hard for me to deal with, but at the same time I think the author shows pretty clearly that at the end of Bahnsen's life he held a orthodox view of justification, which is something that cannot be said of the federal visionist.

This is the quote that the federal visionist cite from Bahnsen when he was doing a lecture on Calvin and James 2:

"I think (this) is rather convoluted … let me very briefly point
out, some people will say James can’t mean the word justify
in a forensic sense, because then he would contradict Paul.
Paul says we are justified by faith, not works. James says we
are justified by works. So if they both mean “justify” in the
forensic sense, there is a contradiction. Well, I don’t think so,
because in Galatians 5:6 Paul teaches exactly what James
does. Paul says we are justified by faith working by love. We
are justified by working, active, living faith. I think that’s
what James is teaching. They mean exactly the same thing.
But nevertheless some people have insisted- and this has
been a bone of controversy in my denomination even,
because a professor at Westminster Seminary insisted James
means this in the forensic sense.
Now … people who don’t like that say, It is to be taken in the
demonstrative sense. The problem is, the demonstrative
sense of the word justify means “to show someone to be
righteous,” and that doesn’t relieve the contradiction between
James and Paul, because Paul in Romans 4 looks at Abraham
as an example of how God justifies the ungodly. James is saying,
Look at how God justifies someone demonstrated as
godly. The contradiction is not relieved. And so what you
really get – and this is crucial, this is a crucial point- modern
interpreters who don’t like what I am suggesting and what
Professor Shepherd is suggesting end up saying that to justify
in James 2 really means “to demonstrate justification,” not
to “demonstrate righteousness.” That is, they make the word
to justify mean “to justify the fact that I’m justified.” And the
word never means that. That’s utterly contrived. It means
either “to declare righteous” or “to demonstrate righteous” It
does not mean “to justify that one’s justified.”
… Am I making myself clear? I’m suggesting that the reason
Paul and James are not contrary to one another is because the only
kind of faith that will justify us is working faith, and the only kind
of justification ever presented in the Bible after the Fall is a justification
by working faith, a faith that receives its merit from God
and proceeds to work as a regenerated, new person."

This is the statement that he made the end of his life when preaching on Romans:

"Justification is not causing someone to have sanctifying grace
in his heart. The Roman Catholic church is simply wrong
about this. For God to justify the sinner is for God to act as a
judge and to declare the sinner righteous. God will also make
the sinner righteous. You say, “Well then what difference
does it make, Dr. Bahnsen; you admit what the Roman
Catholics do, that those who are going to be saved need to
lead new lives.” Absolutely, But that isn’t what the Roman
Catholic church teaches. It teaches that those who lead new
lives will be saved. Don’t think that I am just drawing a very
minor point in English grammar when I put it to you that way
because on that point rests your salvation. It is a matter of
eternal consequences that you get this right. God does make
saved people to be holy but He does not save them by making
them holy."

I really hope he believe the latter rather than the former.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Christian Conceptual Pragmatist Epistemology: Part I

By David Bruner

In this part I will give a brief summary of Lewis’ construal of conceptual knowledge in MWO.

In the opening chapter of MWO C. I. Lewis prescribes the boundaries of the philosophical domain. Unlike the natural sciences, the dealings of philosophy are said to be exclusively in further investigation of what is already known.

“It is not the business of philosophy, as it is of the natural sciences, to add to the sum total of phenomena with which men are acquainted. Philosophy is concerned with what is already familiar.”

Those who practice philosophy are not to rely on collection of empirical data in order to establish the logical and ethical judgments which they are after, nor are they to prophetically forecast constraints upon what will be the actual findings of metaphysical investigation. Rather,

“just this business of bringing to clear consciousness and expressing coherently the principles which are implicitly intended in our dealing with the familiar, is the distinctively philosophic enterprise.”

Lewis points out that study of logic requires the use of logic as a rule and guide, that inquiry about right and wrong requires a moral sense for direction, and that formulation of principles of interpretation of reality must make use of, “principles of interpretation already immanent [inherent] in intelligent practice.” Lewis claims that philosophy exceeds its responsible bounds when it takes up speculation about what transcends experience and that it is rightly limited to reflective consideration of the ways in which we deal with what is already possessed within ordinary experience. So the ethicist will make it his or her ambition to more clearly define the good, the logician to define the valid, and the metaphysician to define the real all in terms of experience already encountered and our attitudes taken toward it. Yet as antecedent clarifiers of the meanings of the terms which are to be used in whatever ampliative propositions one may make, these definitions which philosophy will attempt to elucidate shall be determinative of the way in which we understand experience. Lewis writes,

“So understood, the principles of the categories, which metaphysics seeks, stand, on the one side, in close relation to experience and can not meaningfully transcend it. But on the other side – or in a different sense – they stand above or before experience, and are definitive or prescriptive.”

This is to say that in philosophy we work to analyze only the content of our experience and our relation to it in order to make explicit and to sharpen our decisions about categorizations of the elements of experience, but that these categorizations as explicated and sharpened determine exactly what we will make of the content of our experience and our relation to it. Again on this point, Lewis explains,

“It is through reflective examination of experience (more particularly of our own part in it or attitude toward it) that we may correctly formulate these principles of the categories, since they are implicit in our practical dealings with the empirically given. But they are not empirical generalizations in the sense that some later experience may prove an exception and thus invalidate them. They formulate an attitude of interpretation or discrimination by which what would be exceptional is at once thrown out of court.”

So philosophy, in bringing into focus the blur of our implicit decisions about how to interpret experience, legislates explicit rules of interpretation of experience which experience itself cannot alter. The explicit rules of interpretation determine how any experience whatsoever is to be understood. These rules of interpretation which philosophy is concerned to bring to conscious light in the form of definitions constitute what Lewis refers to as the a priori in his epistemological design.

The mind’s formation and use of legislative rules of interpretation are an integral part of Lewis’ holistic conception of human cognitive experience which I will here recount in some detail. Lewis, in accord with philosophical tradition, cites two distinct elements in the mind’s experience of the world. He states,

“There are, in our cognitive experience, two elements; the immediate data, such as those of sense, which are presented or given to the mind, and a form, construction, or interpretation, which represents the activity of thought.”

Lewis introduces a conception of these two elements and their relation to one another which emphasizes the activity of thought as the mind’s volitional contribution to knowledge. The given element of experience, the immediate data, is recognized as that aspect of experience which we have no part in creating and which we cannot alter by our thinking. The a priori element is that interpretation which we place upon the given – our abstractions of parts of the given from the whole and the associations we make between the parts of the given and parts of past experiences and relations we have observed between our own actions and parts of these past experiences. Lewis at one point recounts an exemplary illustration of the interplay between the two elements of cognitive experience in a description of his experience of a fountain pen:

“At the moment, I have a fountain pen in my hand. When I so describe this item of my present experience, I make use of terms whose meaning I have learned. Correlatively I abstract this item from the total field of my present consciousness and relate it to what is not just now present in ways which I have learned and which reflect modes of action which I have acquired. It might happen that I remember my first experience of such a thing. If so, I should find that this sort of presentation did not then mean, ‘fountain pen,’ to me… This present classification depends on that learned relation of this experience to other possible experience and to my action, which the shape, size, etc. of this object was not then a sign of.

Lewis, upon encountering a certain array of sense data, purports, by his own thought process, to abstract from the array a single object and to ascribe to that object qualities which he does not at present observe in it based on its apparent similarity to objects which he has observed in the past that exhibited these qualities when acted upon in certain ways. He notes that any number of different interpretations could be applied to the same given array of sense data depending upon the individual mind’s past subjective experience or pragmatic interest, thereby showing that the immediate sense data are indeed given by an external source and that the mode of interpretation is indeed volitionally contributed by the mind itself. Thus Lewis views the two elements in knowledge as operating independently of one another to an extent. The given is clearly independent of the mind’s interpretation since no activity of the mind can in any way control or alter its nature; and while the characteristics of the given serve as stimuli for the mind to interpret it by ascribing to it certain presently unobserved qualities, the decision of the mind to correlate instances of objects like the one at hand with a specific set of presently unobserved qualities is made independently of and antecedently to encountering the given object. Even the decision of the mind to abstract from instances of arrays of sense data somewhat similar to the one at hand parts which can be recognized as instances of similar objects is independent of and antecedent to encountering the given array of sense data. Lewis speaks of this basic interpretation of the given saying,

“The absolutely given is a specious present, fading into the past and growing into the future with no genuine boundaries. The breaking of this up into the presentation of things marks already the activity of an interested mind.”

For Lewis the most fundamental singling out of specific parts of experience from the rest of consciousness involves the mind’s working independently of what is given.
Since its operation is independent of the sense data given to the mind, Lewis views the element in knowledge comprised of the mind’s interpretational contribution as, in itself, entirely abstract from sense data. He claims that the interpretations made by the mind consist of, “concepts,” or terms with specific logical intensions or connotations. Considered in isolation, these concepts are not tied to any specific sense data. Lewis extricates the conceptual element in knowledge from the sensorially given for us by describing it, for expository purposes, as, “that meaning which must be common to two minds when they understand each other by the use of a substantive or its equivalent.” This manner of describing the purely conceptual is illustrative of its purely logical character since it is obvious that despite considerable idiosyncrasy in different minds’ sense data, people still understand one another. Lewis at one place inserts an example of a logical conceptual interpretation bridging the gap of possible sensory variation between two minds:

“What I would point out is, rather, that in the determination of common concepts, the conveying of ideas, such possible idiosyncrasy in the correlated sense feelings is entirely negligible. You and I mean the same by, ‘red,’ if we both define it as the first band in the sun’s spectrum, and if we both pronounce the same objects to be red. It does not matter if neither the red rug nor the first band of the spectrum give to the two of us identical sensations so long as we individually discover that same sense-quality in each thing which we agree in describing as, ‘red.’ ”

So we see that on Lewis’ view concepts in their pure and shareable form are not references to given sense data but consist in logical definitions. Lewis does hold that these logical concepts would be meaningless if they were not referred to specific aspects of sensory experience by each mind that employed them. However, as sharable between two minds, the concept is not necessarily correlated to any specific aspect of sense. He points out that,

“no such concept ever existed, apart from imagery and sensory material, in any human mind. For each individual there must be a correlation of concept with specific sense-quality. But this correlation is intrinsically individual; if it, too, should be shared, we could not verify that fact, and it is not in the least essential to common understanding that it should be.”

For Lewis the mind’s interpretational work is active in the whole of our cognitive experience bringing logical conceptual shareable meaning to given experience. Even the most basic recognitions of facts in experience are said to be supplied a cognitive significance by a concept’s denotation of them. As Lewis remarks,

“The end-terms which for us are thus understood directly by reference to sense and feeling, have still a conceptual meaning; they are not indefinable. This conceptual meaning is shareable; our imagery is essentially not. Thus the end-terms of such analysis are no different than the beginning terms.”

If the mind’s activity of thought in interpreting experience is thus construed, it becomes apparent that what form our completed knowledge will take is up to us to decide. It is up to us to enumerate whatever specific types of sensory occurrences we choose by means of specific concepts and it is up to us to declare these basic concepts to be related to one another in whatever ways we choose. The sum of these decisions about what our attitude will be in interpreting experience amounts to Lewis’ a priori, the clarification and conscious apprehension of which constitutes his proper domain of philosophy.

Lewis’ a priori consists in designations of criteria by which to classify certain parts of experience into categories. When a sensory experience is inducted into a category on account of its displaying a satisfactory amount of the criteria associated with that category, all of the criteria of that category which are not at the moment displayed in the experience are also attributed to the experience. The category is a complete set of characteristics, the fullness of which may be ascribed to a sense experience when enough of the characteristics are present in the sense experience to safely judge that it may be assumed that the rest will be near in following. Categorizing experience is a matter of examining experience for signs cluing us to the applicability of certain categories and if certain of these categories are applied, predicting that other specific experiences will be forthcoming in connection with what is presently experienced, should certain changes take place. So the a priori designation of criteria by which to classify certain parts of experience into categories takes the form of conditional statements. Lewis uses the statement, “If this is round, then further experience of it will be thus and so (the empirical criteria of objective roundness)” as an example of an a priori designation. A more lucid example would be the statement, “If it is an apple, it will feel smooth, appear smallish, round, and red, and have a sweet taste.” The category, “apple,” is designated a priori to denote an experience which exhibits the criteria of being smooth, smallish, round, red and sweet etc. If an experience is encountered which exhibits a good many of these criteria (smoothness, smallness, roundness and redness), I may a posteriori (upon discovery in the world) apply the category of apple to it and in doing so assume that the present experience will lead directly to other experiences such as an experience of a sweet taste if I act in certain ways or if other changes occur.

Monday, March 23, 2009

3 Reasons Evangelicals Should Accept The Essence-Energies Distinction

Over the next year or so I will be exploring the concept of the "energies" of God. This is an ancient Christian doctrine that goes back to the Early Church Fathers. While it remains an integral part of the doctrine of God in the Eastern Orthodox churches, it never truly took hold in the Latin West and seems to have been almost entirely forgotten until the Reformers. Both John Calvin and the Reformed Scholastics (such as Francis Turretin) made frequent use of the essence-energies (E-E) distinction in their theology. Sadly, this began to fall out of practice even in Reformed circles, so that today virtually no Western Protestant has even heard of the energies of God.

So, what are the energies? Crudely speaking, they are the "activites" of God. Because God's essence is wholly other, outside of the realm of space and time, incomprehensible, we cannot come into direct contact with it. And yet God is a God who intervenes in his creation and enters into relationship with his creatures. It is the energies of God that we come into contact with. God's glory and love and goodness are all energies. According to Mike Horton:

God's energies are radiations of divine glory, but are no more the divine essence than rays are the sun itself. God's uncreated glory emanates, but the essence does not. ...[The energies are] God-in-Action... They are not God's essence, but a certain quality of God's self-revelation and saving love.
(Covenant And Salvation, 268.)

But we must also keep in mind that the energies are not ontologically separate from God's essence, nor are they parts or pieces of God. They are God.

This may seem a bit confusing, and I have not even begun to do the topic justice. This is merely an introductory post that, I hope, will show that such a distinction is desperately needed in Western Protestantism today. All that is important at this point is that idea that there is a distinction between God as He is in Himself (His essence) and God as He manifests Himself to His creation (His energies).

Now then, three reasons Evangelicals need to start thinking about this distinction:

1) Pantheism (or Panentheism)

There has long been a tendancy in the West toward a kind of Pantheism. Medieval mysticism and its quest for the Beatific Vision was an extreme form of this. If God is absolutely simple and "only" an essence, how do we come into contact with Him without in a sense become a part of Him? What does the Apostle Peter mean when he says that we will "partake" of the divine nature? Do we partake directly of God as He is in Himself? At the very least, this seems to imply some sort of Panentheism, which is the belief that God is contianed within and permeates all of the natural world, as if He were the "world soul." By positing the doctrine of the energies of God, we can explain how it is that we come into direct contact with God and even partake of Him without falling into this dangerous tendency of Western theology.

2) Stoicism

This is not as dangerous of a problem for Protestants today, but it is always a potential. If God is, as traditional Christian theology has always maintained, unchanging and impassible, not affected by his creation (as He says in Samuel, He is not a man that he should repent), one could easily come to the conclusion that God is like the great Stoic philosopher in the sky. After all, impassible could mean "cold" and "unfeeling." Perhaps God is just an impersonal being from which all reality flows, a being who doesn't care about us or love us (certainly not enough to save us from our sin). Again, the E-E distinction saves us from such extremes. God in His essence is simple, unchanging and impassible. But his energies are manifold. Through His energies He comes into contact and enters into relationships with his creatures, and in an analogous way He feels with them, responds to their pleas, etc.

3) Open Theism

I saved the best for last! Of the three reasons I've given, this one is obviously the biggest potential danger for contemporary Protestantism. After considering Stoicism, it should be easy to see how the E-E distinction will help here, since Open Theism is simply the opposite problem. Open Theists want a God who can feel our pain, react to our cries for help, and genuinely respond to our prayers. Ignoring for the moment that the incarnation of Christ solves many of these problems (Hebrews specifically addresses how Christ can empathize with our struggles with sin, for example), the E-E distinction does as well. God's essence can remain unchanging while His energies remain manifold. His essence is simple while His activities in creation are varied.

So, are you interested yet? At any rate, I hope you can see how potentially important this distinction can be for the problems facing modern Protestantism. As I said, I will continue to explore this theme in greater detail over the next year. This is only the tip of the iceberg. If I've managed to whet your appetite, you can hear more on the E-E distinction in Mike Horton's systematic theology lectures (click here), specifically the most recent lectures on the incommunicable attributes of God. For a slightly more detailed introduction to the topic and its relation to the early Reformers' theology, check out the last section of Dr. Horton's book Covenant And Salvation (click here to buy the book online).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Fine Argument Against Donatism

Here is a Biblical Argument against Donastism, a ancient Hersey that taught that the effective administration of the sacrament was based on the ministers holiness. In Philippians Paul teaches against such thinking:

Philippians 1:15-18 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

Here Paul is saying that the motive behind preaching the Gospel is not of concern, but rather that the Gospel is preached correctly.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Perfect Being Theology And The Classical Western Conception of God

Anselmian Perfect being theology and philosophy argues for the Divine properties from the conception of God being the greatest possible being. In this blog post I will argue for the traditional western conception of God on the basis of Perfect being theology and philosophy.

The formula to determine what properties God has in Anselmian Perfect Being theology is the following propositions:

P1: God is the greatest possible being

P2: God being the greatest possible being entails that he will have every property that is better to have rather than not.

P3: It is better to have x rather than not

C: Hence, God has x

This is an example of how this would work in practice: Reformed Theology wants to say that God is omniscient which means He knows all true propositions even future ones.

Lets apply this to the argument formula provided above:

P3: It is better to have omniscience rather than not

C: Hence, God is omniscient

This seems pretty reasonable considering that we think that it is better to know things rather than being completely ignorant. Thus, it seems more reasonable than not to think a greater being would know every truth rather than not.

From this example we see that the concept of God as the greatest possible being acts as a sort of divine properties generating machine; that is to say: we can apply this formula to warrant many of the properties we would want to predicate of God.

Here are some more Divine Properties that God has in Reformed Theology and in Traditional Western theology:

Divine Properties:

1) Omnipotence: being able to do anything that is logically possible and great (this is a good combination of Anselm's and Aquinas's Definition of omnipotence)

2) Morally Perfect: Being of the highest moral perfection and grounding moral perfection it-self

3) Omnipresent: God being conscience of ever event and point in History, God is not bound to any particular historical event but is boundlessly present at every point in the natural world.

4) Immutability: God's essential, necessary, and intrinsic properties are such that they are not subject to any sort of change.

5) Impassibility: No one can act on God, God only acts on all things. Thus, God in his Divine nature cannot be destroyed, suffer, or be injured.

6) Atemporal: God is timeless. He is not bound by time or bound inside of time.

7) Eternal: God does not begin to exist, but he always exists.

8) Aseity: God is only dependent upon himself.

Reasons for believing 1-8 (the numbers below corresponds with the numbers above)

1) When we think of a great being we tend to think of him being able to a lot of great things rather than being able to either do a) really bad things or b) nothing good at all all.

2) This one is perhaps the most obvious a perfect being is better than a evil being.

3) A God that is everywhere at once is better than a God that is limited to time and space.

4) If God is already the greatest possible being then why would he need to change if he already is the greatest.

5) A God that can be damaged and is not the source of action on everything is not as good as a God who cannot be damaged and acts on everything.

6) A God who is bound by time is not as great as a God who is not constrained by time or atemporal.

7) If God is the greatest possible being then it would be better if he always existed rather than not because this makes him unique from his creation and the it is better for the best to always be existing.

8) Everything outside of God is not as great so it seems that a being that is only dependent upon himself as the greatest possible being would be the greatest possible being.

All one has to show is that there is more reason to believe that 1-8 is greater to have rather than not in order to show that God has these properties. The way we justify that these properties are better to possess rather than not is our intuition. Intuition is basically our mental seeing. We sort of just see that 1+1=2 and we just sort of see that murdering infants for fun is in fact wrong. We cannot give arguments for these sort of things but they are reasonable to believe. This is just like it is reasonable to believe that you see a tree in front of you and that you believe rightly that a tree exists in front of you. You cannot give any argument apart from saying "look and see the tree is in front of me". Likewise, you cannot give a argument for these apart from just using your mental conception to see that one is better to have rather than not.


The Divine properties 1-8 are properties had by the traditional Western concept of God and since these properties are more reasonable to believe rather than not then we are warranted in believing that a God such as this exists.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Problem For The New Perspective

One of the major tenants of the New Perspective on Paul is that the phrase "works of law" only refer to the specific Jewish identity markers in law. As James Dunn (1) puts it:

"‘Works of law', 'works of the law' are nowhere understood here, either by his Jewish interlocutors or by Paul himself, as works which earn God's favor, as merit-amassing observances. They are rather seen as badges: they are simply what membership of the covenant people involves, what mark out the Jews as God's people; other words, Paul has in view precisely what Sanders calls 'covenantal nomism.' And what he denies is that God's justification depends on 'covenantal nomism,' that God's grace extends only to those who wear the badge of the covenant."

In this blog post I will give two counter examples to what Dunn argues here about the phrase "works of law", I will show that the term means more than the narrow definition of mere Jewish identity markers.

Counter Example 1:

Romans 2:14-15 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them

Explanation: Here Paul is teaching us that us that the gentiles lack the Mosaic law, which would include these Jewish identity markers like circumcision and so on. But yet Paul says that even though they do not have the Mosaic law they have another law, namely, the Law that is written on their heart, this would be the natural law. But Paul uses the Greek phrase argon tou nomou or "work of the law" to describe this natural law. Thus, this shows us that the phrase "work of the law" is not refering only to the narrow use of the Mosaic law but the general natural law instilled on all mankind.

Counter Example 2:

Romans 3:19-20 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Explanation: At this point Paul has shown that both Gentiles (Romans 1) and Jews (Romans 2) both stand condemned before God. Romans 3:19-20 offers a summary statement of this universal condemnation to lead us to the Gospel of Justification by faith alone. Paul begins in verse 19 to remind us that all are held accountable to God because they are under the law. This cannot be referring to just the Mosaic law alone because only the Jews are held accountable to the Mosaic law, but not the Gentiles and then, if this were true, the whole world would not be held accountable under the law. But Paul seems to be stressing that the whole world is held accountable and thus the phrase "under the law" has to be referring to the moral law of God by which everyone is subject to; both Jew and Gentile. Paul continues in verse 20 to say that no one will be justified in his sight by "works of the law". Paul has just shown that all are held accountable to God and then he goes on to argue that because of this no one will be justified in his sight because of being under the law. Paul uses the phrase "works of the law" to title this universal law by which Jews and Gentiles stand condemned. Thus, the phrase works of law have a much broader meaning than just the narrow identity badges of the Jewish people.


We can see from this that the New perspective on Paul is unreasonable because it ultimately rests on unbiblical presuppositions. But I think Paul's traditional Reformed message is worth considering. Paul tells us that we are all condemned before a Holy God. But the question that we must think about is this: How are we to be made right before a Holy God that is terribly angry at the countless sins we have committed ? I think Paul answers this question clearly:

Romans 3:21-22 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

And again:

Romans 4:5-8 5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."

Thus, the Word of God teaches us that we cannot be made right before God by works, but by Faith in Jesus Christ who imputes to us his works (Phil. 3:9).

*** For more useful material on this subject read Douglas Moo's commentary on the Book of Romans***


1. Cf. Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press), 1990; Romans; The Epistle to the Galatians (Black's New Testament Commentary; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), 1993.

Does everyone believe in God?

Romans 1:18-21 says that all people believe in God:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

1) It seems that there are people who are unbelievers. 2) Paul says that all people believe in God in Romans 1. Does not 1 in conjunction with 2 seem like a contradiction? In this post I will argue that there is no contradiction here.

I think the contradiction disappears when one understands the distinction between believing *in* and believing *that*. Believing *in* would be trusting in someone, this would be a non-propositional personal relationship. On the other hand, believing *that* would be believing that a certain proposition or state of affairs is true. So for example, when I say I believe that my girlfriend is watching I love Lucy at 12:35 am on Sunday, this is a example of believing that a proposition is true. But when I say I believe in my girlfriend to be faithful to me, this is a non-propositional trusting relationship I have. Thus, the distinction is between believing that and trusting in.

Clearly Romans 1 is teaching that all people believe *that* God exists but certainly it is not teaching us that unbelievers believe *in* God and have a relationship because this is something that is only true of a believer who has faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus, it is clear that there is no contradiction here.

But there is another sort of problem that has been answered By Greg L. Bahnsen in his famous dissertation on the paradox of self deception. The problem is that atheists claim that they do not believe *that* God exists. In other words they reject that they believe the proposition that God exists. If they are right then this means the bible is unreasonable in what it says about unbelievers. But there is no reason for thinking this, as Bahnsen has argued they might be very well self-deceived. Here is what that possibly might look like. The unbeliever possibly believes:

P1: S believes that p is true

P2: S believes that he is not the kind of person to say that he believes that p is true.

Let us say that S would stand for subject or person; P would be the proposition that God exists. Thus, this shows us that there is no contradiction between what Romans 1 has to teach and what an atheist has to say. Because a atheist is self-deceived and from what I have shown from P1 and P2 in conjunction it seems that self-deception is certainly possible. But why would a unbeliever do this? Well perhaps it is because they hate God and the worst thing they could do to God in their mind is say that he does not exist. It is sort of like if I were to pretend that my father did not exist anymore, certainly this would be a hateful action I would perform in order to cause disrepute to my father. Likewise unbelievers do the very same thing, they hate God so they say that he does not exist. It is reasonable to think this, that unbelievers hate God because John says that they love the darkness:

John 3:19 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.

In light of this, it seems that Paul's teaching in Romans 1 is reasonable.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Can a Christian Struggle With Sin?

The short answer to this question is yes, a christian can and does struggle with sin. In fact, I would go so far to say that if one does not struggle with sin in this life then he or she is not a christian. The reason I say this is because the more holy one becomes the more they hate their sin and the sins they commit even if they have grown in their walk with Christ. But unbelievers do not struggle with sin because they do not care about whether or not they violate God's law. Thus, I believe, with the majority of Reformed Christians that Christians in this life always struggle with sin.

The main biblical text that justifies this position is Romans 7:14-25. In this blog post I will offer three of the strongest reasons for thinking that the person in Romans 7 is Paul, a believer, rather than a unregenerate Jew struggling with the law.

Reason 1: The person in Romans 7 relies and gives thanks to Christ and then continues to struggle.

Romans 7:25 - 8:1 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

A unregenerate Jew does not have this sort of relation with Christ, rather only a believer has this sort of relation with Christ, a relation that is such that one gives thanks and relies on Christ in the midst of their struggles.

Reason 2: The person in Romans 7 is speaking in the first person and in the present tense.

This makes a good case that if this person is speaking in the first person and in the present tense that this is in fact Paul and that this is his normative experience as a believer.

Reason 3: The person in Romans 7 delights in the law of God and wants to do the good.

These two characteristics are not true of unbelievers but only believers.

For John writes of unbelievers:

John 3:19 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.

But Paul writes of the person in Romans 7:

Romans 7:15-18 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

And again Paul Writes in Romans 7:

Romans 7:22 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,

It is pleasing to God that we love and delight in his law, but unbelievers cannot please God as Paul writes in the very next chapter:

Romans 8:7-8 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Thus, given these reasons it seems that it is most reasonable to think that Paul is speaking of himself in Romans 7 and thereby showing that this is the regular life of the Christian.