Darryl Hart’s Response to My 2 Kingdoms Essay

Dr. Hart has given some of his thoughts about my recent critique of VanDrunen over at Old Life Theological Society.  I almost never agree with Dr. Hart, though he almost always makes me laugh.  Laughter is a gift from God, and so too, I suppose, must Darryl Hart be.  I appreciate his willingness to engage with the common folks (like me), though I do find this particular instance fairly unimpressive.  It doesn’t seem that he’s clearly read my argument, but has instead lumped me into broader groups that he can more quickly dismiss.

1) It seems like Dr. Hart is characterizing me both as a Federal Visionist and a Theonomist.  He never calls me this directly, but he does engage in some guilt by association.  And of course, no critique from the Westminster California theologians would be complete without the obligatory reduction to Roman Catholicism.  However, he has failed to note a few aspects of my paper which would clearly distinguish me from each of these groups.

a) The guiding theological principle in my paper is a distinction between the visible and invisible church.  This is hardly a Federal Vision approach.  I argue that the two kingdoms correspond with the invisible church and the rest of the world, with the visible church being one institution of the temporal kingdom.  This is my strongest criticism of VanDrunen, and Dr. Hart lets it go by without comment. Continue reading

Christianity is Paganism’s Fulfillment

Herman Bavinck anticipates Lewis in his his section on General Revelation in the Prolegomena to his Reformed Dogmatics:

In the Middle Ages Thomas not only asserted that as rational beings human beings can– without supernatural grace– know natural truths but also testifies that it is impossible for there to be “some knowledge which is totally false without any admixture of some truth” and in this connection appeals to the words of Beda and Augustine: “There is no false doctrine which does not at some time mix some truth with falsehoods.”  The Reformed theologians were even better positioned to recognize this by their doctrine of common grace.  By it they were protected, on the one hand, from the Pelagian error, which taught the sufficiency of natural theology and linked salvation to the sufficiency of natural theology, but could, on the other hand, recognize all the truth, beauty, and goodness that is present also in the pagan world.  Science, art, moral, domestic, and social life, etc., were derived from that common grace and acknowledged and commended with gratitude.  As a rule this operation of common grace, though perceived in the life of morality and intellect, society and state, was less frequently recognized in the religions of pagans.  In the latter context the Reformed only spoke of natural religion, innate and acquired, but the connection between this natural religion and the [pagan] religions was not developed.  The religions were traced to deception or demonic influences.  However, an operation of God’s Spirit and of his common grace is discernible not only in science and art, morality and law, but also in the religions.  Calvin rightly spoke of a “seed of religion,” a “sense of divinity.”  Founders of religion, after all, were not impostors or agents of Satan but men who, being religiously inclined, had to fulfill a mission to their time and people and often exerted a beneficial influence on the life of peoples.  The various religions, however mixed with error they may have been, to some extent met people’s religious needs and brought consolation amidst the pain and sorrow of life.  What come to us from the pagan world are not just cries of despair but also expressions of confidence, hope, resignation, peace, submission, patience, etc.  All the elements and forms that are essential to religion (a concept of God, a sense of guilt, a desire for redemption, sacrifice, priesthood, temple, cult, prayer, etc.) though corrupted, nevertheless do also, occur in pagan religion.  Here and there even unconscious predictions and striking expectations of a better and purer religion are voiced.  Hence Christianity is not only positioned antithetically towards paganism; it is also paganism’s fulfillment.  Christianity is the true religion, therefore also the highest and purest, it is the truth of all religions. What in paganism is the caricature, the living original is here.  What is appearance there is essence here.  What is sought there can be found here.  Christianity is the explanation of “ethnicism.”  Christ is the Promised One to Israel and the desire of all the Gentiles.  Israel and the church are elect for the benefit of humankind.  In Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

~Reformed Dogmatics Vol.1, 319-320

Limited Atonement (Repost from 2007)

As R L Dabney points out in his Systematic Theology, the very term “atonement” is unclear. What do we mean by this word? It comes from the older English, literally at-one-ment, which would imply reconciliation. We can also recall various “atonement models,” which include Christus Victor, the ransom theory, and penal substitution. Dabney, as well as Warfield, also include postmillennialism in many of their understandings of the “world” passages, and thus we could add the cosmic eschatological atonement to our list.

Most people, however, (at least in Reformed circles) usually mean “expiation” when they say atonement. If this is the definition, then we most certainly do not hold to “limited atonement.” Dort is clear on this matter:

Since, however, we ourselves cannot give this satisfaction or deliver ourselves from God’s anger, God in his boundless mercy has given us as a guarantee his only begotten Son, who was made to be sin and a curse for us, in our place, on the cross, in order that he might give satisfaction for us.

It continues:

This death of God’s Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.

And it gives a reason for this infinite value. It is not due to an amount of deeds, but rather the value of the single divine person:

This death is of such great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered it is–as was necessary to be our Savior–not only a true and perfectly holy man, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Another reason is that this death was accompanied by the experience of God’s anger and curse, which we by our sins had fully deserved.

This is, consequently, one reason why we need to have proper Christology prior to engaging in the question over the “extent of the atonement.” Christ’s “merit” or his “worth” ultimately stems from his deity, a fact that Calvin was keenly aware of (see here and here). Continue reading

The Apolitical Barth

Karl Barth is often held up as an exemplar of Reformed theology’s commitment to the “lordship of Christ” and political activism.  His protests against the Nazi ideology in Germany is offered as the clearest proof of this.  William Bartley, however, gives a different explanation:

Barth never would have sympathized with Hitler, but one rather doubts that Barth would have gained any notoriety as an anti-Nazi had Hitler not attempted to interfere with the doctrine of the Protestant churches in Germany.  Indeed, had Hitler left the churches to go their own ways, at least doctrinally– had he not imposed his new order on the old religion– it is not inconceivable that Barth would have behaved in a way which would have permitted him even to retain his chair.  But toying with the intellectual tradition of Legarde, Langbehn, and Moeller van den Bruck, Hitler attempted for a time to use the churches as vehicles of a “German-Christian” Nazi ideology.  It was principally this Nazi policy that Barth opposed, and for essentially the same reason that he opposed Protestant liberalism in 1918 and the idea of the “Christian West” after World War II.  According to Barth, it is contrary to the basic commitment of the theologian to the Word of God to allow any cultural ideology or morality, good or bad, to be incorporated into, or blended with, Christian doctrine.  Autonomous Christianity stands alone, in judgment on culture.  The communists, unlike the Nazis, did not attempt to commit this particular sin: frankly atheistic, they were ready to destroy the churches if the opportunity presented itself, but were rarely disposed to create a “Marxist Christianity”.  Barth anticipated that through skillful diplomacy and tact the churches could achieve a viable “live and let live” accommodation with the communists.  In this he may well have been politically naive, but he was utterly consistent– even if one may sense a kind of madness about that very consistent order of priorities.

~The Retreat to Commitment 48-49

This seems to make more sense of Barth’s larger product, holding as he did to the absolute otherness of God and the impossibility of identifying Christianity with any culture.  Barth too, it seems, is among the liberals.

We might even say that held to a spirituality of the Church.