Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Growing Assault on Physical Resurrection

One of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith that is quietly under assault both in scholarly and popular opinion is the doctrine of the physical resurrection of the body. This is a distinguishing doctrine of orthodox Christian faith. 

Unfortunately, much of popular entertainment draws more from neo-platonic and neo-gnostic views of the afterlife than they do from the Bible. Even many believers speak of the afterlife as if our souls float off to heaven where they live forever in disembodied bliss. Or they talk as though separation from our material bodies is itself a form of spiritual liberation. I recently read that 55% of those who identify as Christian are either unsure of or outright deny physical resurrection. This erosion of confidence in physical resurrection is not only resulting from popular culture. It is also taking root among the teachers of the Church.

Not too long ago I wrote a series of posts to deal with this issue in response to a couple of local Bible Study teachers who were enamored with preterist interpretations. These teachers were particularly influenced by James Stuart Russell's preterist arguments in his book The Parousia published in  1878. Russell is a convincing writer and clearly an intelligent man but unfortunately his interpretive paradigm led to heretical conclusions. Even orthodox teachers such as R.C. Sproul have felt it necessary to address Russell's work (Sproul tried to acknowledge some of Russell's points while offering an orthodox alternative to his conclusion). In the age of the internet this type of material is resurfacing at an accelerated rate forcing the Church to re-address arguments it has long-ago resolved.

The assault on resurrection, however, is not only coming from preterists or the "people in the pews". Some scholars have also rejected the historical doctrine. The latest scholar to do so is David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian who is no stranger to marginal theological opinions. I wasn't planning to mention his arguments because Hart isn't likely to be much of an influence in the thinking of many people in churches I know. Essentially, Hart argues that our modern assumptions prevent us from properly understanding what ancient people would have understood by the language of resurrection. That is a common tactic lately of those who wish to instantly establish their own novel positions against traditional interpretations. He then argues for his own unique view of what resurrection means.

I had no plans to ever mention Hart or his views but today I read a response to Hart by theologian Brian Mattson that I thought was excellent. I thought Mattson was effective in using very basic observations to punch a Volkswagen sized hole in Hart's assumptions. He does a very good job of showing that physical resurrection has been the doctrine of the Church since the beginning. 

If you are interested in the topic it is worth the read:

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Fragments of Truth (Re)Released!

Ultimately, the Christian faith stands or falls based upon the reliability of Bible. If the message of the Scripture is not true then we have no basis for Christianity. The truth claims of the faith are inseparably linked to the text of the Bible. This is why the enemy of men’s souls exerts so much energy attacking it. From the very beginning Satan has aimed to cast doubt on the Word of God thus cutting at the very root of faith. The very first words of the enemy that are recorded are “did God actually say...” (Genesis 3:1 ESV)

His tactics have not changed. The enemies of the Gospel do not always need to directly attack the message, sometimes they can be very effective simply by casting doubt upon whether we actually even possess the message. Nearly every believer has or will eventually run into several common attacks upon the reliability of the New Testament.

We hear nonsense about how we can’t trust what it says because translation is like some sort of giant game of “telephone”. People who know virtually nothing about Church history will confidently repeat the gross untruth that the Emperor Constantine chose books that only supported his view to be included in the Bible at the Council of Nicaea. We hear that the early Christians transformed the stories about Jesus the rabbi into stories about Jesus claiming to be God. Some will simply claim that the early copyists were uneducated and sloppy so our copies are unreliable.

Most of the popular distortions are so lazy and riddled with obvious mischaracterizations that they have little impact other than to reinforce the misconceptions of people who already agree with them. There are, however, more well thought out and sophisticated questions about the integrity of the biblical text. There are scholarly and better-argued positions from which these popular tropes devolve. So then, how strong are the skeptical arguments? Did God really say what our modern Bibles record?

For those who want to learn more about the texts from which our current Bibles are translated I highly recommend this faithlifeTV video. It was a single showing release several months ago and I missed it. I was happy to see that it was re-released this week. You can buy it to stream on FaithlifeTV or you can buy it as a DVD. If you are curious about what is behind the text of your Bible or want to know more about the manuscripts used in textual criticism and analysis you will find this worth the time. The video covers several aspects of important New Testament manuscripts including how they were produced, how they are dated, the extent to which they agree with one another, etc.

The video does a good job of showing the remarkable story of the transmission of God’s Word. As a Christian, it was a great reminder of how absolutely unique this Book is in every way. Not only its contents, but its history as well. No other ancient book can come close to the stability the New Testament text. God has spoken... and quite clearly.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Using Interlinear Bibles

Over the past 30 years the combination of the growth of the internet, cell phones, and the development of Christians as a distinct end market for publishers has led to an overwhelming flood of Bible study materials. Although general Bible knowledge is decreasing, those who are interested can now freely access materials that would have been available only to scholars and specialists (if at all) only a generation ago. One of the tools that have increased in popularity are interlinear Bibles. They can be a very useful tool when used properly, but can also create confusion when they are not.

Interlinear Bibles have the Greek and/or Hebrew text of the Bible with additional information appearing in between the lines of original language text (thus the name interlinear). The amount of additional information varies but there is a standard format that is typically used. Also, these tools are now increasingly used by people who do not have any training in Greek or Hebrew but knowing a few basic things about the translation process is needed to get the most out of the tool.

I have been asked a few times through the years if I could explain why a translation differs from what is in the interlinear. Recently, I was asked if I could help someone explain why English Bibles show John 1:1 as

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

While the interlinear says:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word.”

Obviously, these two are vastly different in meaning and implication. So, what is going on in this verse?

The first thing we need to understand is that interlinear Bibles are not translations. Many include a translation but the “interlinear” data that causes confusion are usually not the translations. Let’s look at our example from the second half of John 1:1. It probably looks something like the following in your interlinear although it might be arranged in a slightly different order.

Line 1:     καὶ



Line 2:      καί
Line 3:      CLN
Line 4:      kai
Line 5:      and
to be
Line 6:      and
Line 7:      89.92

Let’s walk through what we have here…

Line 1: This is the actual Greek text of John 1:1b

Line 2:  This is the “lemma” or dictionary form of the Greek words. Since Greek words change
depending upon how they are used, adding this lexical form allows the reader to quickly locate them in a Greek lexicon or other reference tools.

Line 3:  This line provides codes that explain the part of speech and grammatical
function of the word. The “CLN” under the first word (the Greek word for “and”) tells us that it is a Conjunction-Logical-coNnective. Interlinear’s that includes this kind of information will have a key that explains what the codes mean.

Line 4:  This line is a transliteration of the Lemma or dictionary form. This is simply changing the
 lexical/dictionary form of the word from the Greek alphabet to the English alphabet.

Line 5:  This line is the lexical value of the dictionary form found in line 2. It is not a
translation of the verse. It is just providing an English equivalent for the dictionary form of the word. Notice, for example, that the verb “to be” appears in the present tense whereas John used the past tense in the actual Greek text.

Line 6:  This is where the trouble usually starts. This line is often referred to as a “word for
word” translation so people assume that this is somehow more accurate than their English translation. This is really only a translation in that it gives an English rendering of each word in the Greek text but it is not a completed translation and is not more accurate than what you have in any good English Bible. Since Greek functions differently than English you cannot simply translate the words themselves. If you look closely, you will notice there are small numbers below several of the words in this line. Those numbers indicate the order the words need to be in for it to convey in English the same meaning that is in the Greek. If you are using the interlinear properly you will see that it is actually telling you the same thing as the English translation. There is no conflict whatsoever.

Line 7: This line includes cross references. In this case, it is to the Louw-Nida Greek-English
lexicon. You will often see Strong’s numbers or cross references to other well-known lexicons and translation tools.

Your interlinear may have more or less information but what we have looked at here is typical of what you are likely to see. An interlinear is a very helpful tool once you understand how they work. If not used properly, however, they can lead to confusion. In English we use word order to convey meaning. For example; we know that the sentence “Jack gave the teacher an apple” is not the same as “the teacher gave Jack an apple” even though the same words are used. In Greek, however, the word order does not determine who is doing what to whom. In Greek, you could say “an apple the teacher Jack gave”, “gave Jack an apple the teacher”, or any other variation. Rather than word order Greek uses changes to the form of the words themselves and the use of other indicators such as the article to show the reader their function in the sentence.

In our example from John 1:1b even though the word order in Greek is “and God was the Word”, that sentence does not communicate what we would mean by the same word order in English. When we look at the way John wrote this sentence we know for certain that a Greek speaker would understand the sentence to mean “and the Word was God”. In this case the words God (θεὸς) and word (λόγος) are both written in the form they would have if they were the subject (nominative case). You can also see this indicated in the interlinear by the “NN” indicating they are nouns in the nominative case. Even though this is the case, we know that God is not the subject because of the way John uses the Greek article (). The fact that the word for “God” does not have the article but the word for “Word” does tells us right away that the subject of the sentence is “Word” rather than “God”. To express this in English we have to change the order and put “Word” before the verb in the sentence.

Just like any other tool an interlinear can be very helpful if used properly. If you plan to use an interlinear in your studies be sure to read the introduction and “how to use” sections so you can get the most out of them. Growing in knowledge of the original languages can be very beneficial for picking up on emphasis and nuance in the text but the greatest Bible study tool for the vast majority of people is going to be a good translation of the Bible into whatever language they can read most fluently because there is no substitute for time in the Word.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Interview with Douglas Douma: Author of the Recent Biography of Gordon H. Clark

Douglas Douma is among those unique Christian scholars who is able to bring a broad and varied range of intellectual perspective to his analysis and writing. He has an engineering degree from the University of Michigan, an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University, and an Mdiv from Sangre de Cristo Seminary. That he claims to have learned far more from books than in school is certainly a testament to his curiosity and passion for learning. I mentioned that his writing in the book was well done and I enjoyed reading it. There is also a lot of interesting information on his blogsite and I commend it to you.

In the previous post, I reviewed his recent biography of Gordon H. Clark titled The Presbyterian Philosopher. Mr. Douma was kind enough to take time to answer questions about Dr. Clark and his book. I am pleased to share that interaction with you. I pray it will be of interest to those who want to learn more about Dr. Clark.

1)     Could you briefly share a little bit about your background and how you first encountered Dr. Clark or his work?

I grew up in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Though having read Christian theology books since I was 14, I had very little knowledge of philosophy. I took just two philosophy courses in college (at the University of Michigan). One on Logic and one on Knowledge. This was years before I came across Clark's writings.

While considering seminary, particularly the Lutheran one – Concordia Seminary in St. Louis – I began to ask deeper questions of the faith. Not finding much in the realm of intellectual Lutheran books I broadened my search. I read a lot of Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross, Francis Scheaffer, and a number of others. Yet I was not very satisfied with them. Most of what I found in “Reformed Epistemology” was merely a defense of Theism. This was of little interest to me while I was considering a life in the Christian pastorate.

The time of my intellectual “awakening” was in 2007 and the cliché “it started with Ayn Rand” largely applied to me. I read about ten of Ayn Rand's books while also getting into Libertarianism and especially the Austrian School of Economics. I read everything I could find of Ron Paul, Ludwig von Mises, and Murray Rothbard, among others.

Though largely agreeing with the Austrians on Economics, I was dissatisfied with Rand's more general philosophy and still saw Christianity (in the limited form I knew it) to be a better solution.

I came across and then read a book called “Without a Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System” by John Robbins. This basically completed my falling away from interest in Rand. At the end of Robbins book also I saw what I thought was an overly praiseworthy note about someone named “Gordon H. Clark,” a Calvinist. Calvinism was still a scary word for me.

Sometime later, searching for “Christian intellectuals” and “Christian Philosophy”, I came across Gordon Clark's “An Introduction to Christian Philosophy.” Having seen his name in the Robbins book I thought I'd give him a chance. And still to this day “An Introduction to Christian Philosophy” is the single most influential thing in my mind outside of Scripture.

Over time, for 4 years I read nearly all of Gordon Clark' 40+ books during my evenings, during my lunch breaks, and wherever I could sneak in the time.

2)     Why did you think it was important for there to be a biography of Dr. Clark and what motivated you to be to be the one to do it?

After reading many of Clark's books I realize that he spent 90% of the time critiquing opposing views, and then only 10% of the time formulating his own theories. My first idea was to write a book summarizing these “10%” bits from all of his books. This way, I figured, one could read just one book instead of all 40. I quickly realized, however, that much of Clark's theology intertwined with the historical circumstances of his life and work in the church. To give proper context to the theology I realized a biography was necessary. At first I could find very little biographical information but as the project continued the information came in a steady stream until just the right about necessary for the biography was found. It would be difficult I believe to write a biography on a person less prominent than Dr. Clark unless the person saved many of their own papers.

So, I attended a Reformed seminary based on Clark's influence on my thought. And I chose Sangre de Cristo Seminary as Gordon Clark's papers were housed there. The decision to write the biography coincided with my decision to attend seminary. And, frankly, I probably worked on the biography as much as I worked on my seminary studies.

3)     What was the most surprising thing you learned during your research about Dr. Clark?

I was most surprised to find Dr. Clark's unpublished Systematic Theology. Actually, Andrew Zeller, President of Sangre de Cristo Seminary found the manuscript while searching for papers for the biography.

Of Dr. Clark, himself it might be considered surprising to learn that he did not drive an automobile until sometime in his 40s.

4)     What would you say is the most misunderstood aspect of Clark’s work?

There are a number of controversial points regarding Clark's theology. (Such as the incomprehensibility of God, the Free Offer of the Gospel, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, the primacy of the intellect, the nature of the incarnation, his views on emotion, and his view of faith as assent to understood propositions).

Perhaps the biggest error is to call him “a rationalist.” I find this term to be utterly lazy and contrary to fact. Though Clark put a high value on logic, it was the Scripture which was his ultimate authority.

As far as misunderstanding, I've read very few who understand Clark's views on the incomprehensibility of God. One frequent error to say Clark believe man's knowledge to be “identical” to God's knowledge. On the contrary, Clark repeatedly denied this accusation. Instead he held that though any proposition known by man was the same proposition known by God, the knowledge is not identical in all aspects because God knows a greater quantity of knowledge than man, and (most importantly) God knows in a different way (or mode) than does man. (God's mode being intuitive and man's mode being discursive.) Along with this misunderstanding is the near universal mistake of those who have written on the Clark – Van Til Controversy to not realize that the very center of the conversation and possibly solution revolved around the definition of “content.”

5)     As you know, there is some debate about the extent to which Clark’s views changed over time. Did your research indicate whether there were any significant modifications to his thought?

I'm familiar with Ryan Hedrich's arguments to the effect that Clark's view on Divine Simplicity changed over time. That is, Ryan believes Clark was opposed to it early on and in favor of it later on. To the extent I've studied the topic, I believe Ryan has made some interesting points, but it is not necessary to conclude that Clark ever opposed Divine Simplicity.

Clark did change his view on the Incarnation. Just a few years before his death he was saying things very much in line with the Chalcedonian Creed's view of the incarnation. However, in Clark's book “The Incarnation” written in the last months of his life, he attempted to improve Chalcedon's formulations. I have high regard for Clark's work, but if there is one thing I'm unsure of the truth of in his writings it is his work in this last book.

An interesting article few know of is Mary Crumpacker's “Clark's Axiom, Something New” where she indicated that Clark's “Wheaton Lectures” (1966) are merely an extension and clarification of his earlier work, and not a radically new proposal.

For the most part, however, I see a strong continuity of thought throughout Clark's life. Most of his major ideas can be seen in his letters and writings in the 1930s and 1940s. 

6)     I mentioned in my review that I would have liked you to have further explored the potential influence of Van Til’s work on Clarks own apologetic. Can you share any further insight into this?

As to your wish that I had explored the relationship of Clark’s thought to that of Van Til’s thought more, I must point out that the record is quite scant. John Frame has said that he heard years ago that Clark and Van Til would take walks together discussing philosophy back in the 1930s in Philadelphia. But other than what I’ve written, and this comment from Frame, there isn’t any extant information about their relationship at the time. One might surmise some things from their theological writings, but the connections are difficult to determine.

One thing of interest you might want to look into is the letters between Van Til and J. Oliver Buswell. Buswell makes something of a 3rd leg of the tripod in the Clark – Van Til discussions. There are more letters between Buswell and Van Til than between Clark and Van Til. There is also a dialogue between them in “The Bible Today” in the late 1940s. I'm not sure this will be of much benefit though as Clark and Van Til are much closer to each other in thought than either is to Buswell.

7)     You had an excellent observation in the book that since Clark primarily worked at secular institutions rather than at a seminary the trajectory of his work proceeded with a higher degree of independence than that of many other Christian scholars.  In what ways do you think that was a benefit and in what ways do you think it was a hindrance?

Clark's relatively isolated studies really helped to avoid “group think.” He wasn't part of the “Westminster faculty” or in on the Bible Presbyterian bandwagon.

The hindrance for Clark was largely with his job prospects, book sales, and connections in the Christian world. Had he been at a Christian Seminary he would have been much more well known.

8)     How would you assess Dr. Clark’s legacy?

I tried to some in the last chapter of the biography. Even doing that I had some difficulty saying much. It is important to realize that much of Dr. Clark's work and tenor was not the same as the aggressiveness you see in the internet debates today. Part of the purpose of the biography is to show who Clark was. In fact, of 915 extant letters only in 4 or 5 of them does Clark write with an aggressive or mean tone.

9)     Which of Dr. Clark’s books would you recommend as a starting point to someone looking to start reading him?

This question comes up from time to time on our Gordon H. Clark Discussions forum on Facebook. I think the most frequent answer — and one with which I agree — is Clark's "Religion, Reason, and Revelation." One of the great things about this book is that from the very start you can see Clark's emphasis on the importance of definitions. His discussion on "What is Religion" was eye-opening to me. 

This "3R's" book is a nice place to start because it is interesting without being too challenging philosophically. Following that I'd recommend "A Christian View of Men and Things," "Three Types of Religious Philosophy," "An Introduction to Christian Philosophy," "Thales to Dewey," and "God's Hammer." These are some of the books of Clark's which address broader topics. Following the reading of these, one can then pick up various books Clark wrote on more specific topics, whether they be on secular philosophers ("Dewey," "William James"), religious thinkers ("Karl Barth's Theological Method"), or Clark's own Christian constructions such as "Historiography," "Language and Theology," "The Trinity," "The Incarnation," and various other topics. This plan would have one read from the more general to the more specific, and generally increasing in rigor. 

10) Many of us have the Trinity Foundation to thank for keeping Dr. Clark’s works published but we now have an entire generation of Christian scholars and pastors that maintain a substantial portion of their libraries electronically. If Dr. Clark is to remain accessible, it seems that it would be advantageous to have his collected works published on Logos. Are you aware of any possibility of that happening? (If not, perhaps a worthwhile suggestion to The Trinity Foundation)

I don't have any information on this question. I'd be glad for Clark's works to be made more accessible electronically. I know from a pastor-friend of mine who is a missionary in remote Cambodia that digital libraries are the only way to go in places where you can't carry dozens of boxes in.

11) Is there anything else you would like to share either about Dr. Clark or the process of writing the book?

I like to emphasize the availability of Clark's lesser known and unpublished writings which I've posted to the Gordon H. Clark Foundation website.

I'd be glad to see scholars engage with these papers more.

12) Any other books planned at this time?

A contract has been signed for “Selected Letters of Gordon Haddon Clark” which I've compiled and which will be edited by The Trinity Foundation.

I have an interest in writing a few more books in my life, but am struggling to find anything worth dedicating multiple years of effort towards. I'm glad for suggestions.

13) Before we leave off, I would like to give you the opportunity to share a little about Sola Appalachian Christian Retreat (

We're working on starting a hiker hostel and Christian retreat center on the Appalachian Trail. I see a great need for evangelism there and an opportunity in which I believe we can with the Lord's provision be effective. We plan to offer accommodation and meals to long-distance hikers attempting thru-hikes of the trail. Through evening hymn-sings, morning bible studies, making available small Gideon's New Testaments, being there to answer questions regarding the faith, and living in a way honorable to God, we hope to influence those who visit us to come to know the Gospel.

In the non-hiking season, I hope we'll be able to conduct a 2 or 3 month “term” in a style similar to L'Abri Christian Fellowship and invite hikers back whom we have positively affected during the past year so that they can learn more of the faith.

My wife and I are actively speaking at churches and continuing to raise funds as missionaries. We'd be glad for readers of this interview to consider supporting our mission.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Book Review: The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark by Douglas Douma

Gordon H. Clark was one of the most important and influential Evangelical thinkers of the 20th century. His influence was particularly strong in the areas of Christian philosophy and apologetics but his contributions, even in those fields, are frequently neglected. I wrote about this nearly 7 years ago in a post titled “The Invisible Giant”. At that time, I remarked to a friend that someone ought to write a biography of Clark since he was not only an influential Christian scholar but was also directly involved in several critical developments in the history of 20th century Evangelicalism. Finally, someone has done just that. Douglas J. Douma’s book The Presbyterian Philosopher fills a significant gap in scholarship related to 20th century Christian history and will hopefully call additional attention to Clark’s work.

 The book is well researched and well written. As is often the case with authorized biographies, it is written with a somewhat sympathetic tone, however, it is not uncritically venerative. Douma does not hesitate to point out areas where even many of Clark’s admirers are hesitant to follow him. Douma writes with skillful clarity, walking the reader through both the convoluted intrigues of Presbyterian politics as well as the complexities of various theological controversies in which Clark was engaged.

Clark became an important influence for me when I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan trying to develop an intellectually coherent understanding of Christianity in light of the critical and postmodern arguments I was encountering. I have read many of Clark’s books and have listened to hours of his recorded lectures and never got the impression of him as the emotionless, humorless, rationalist that his critics often claimed he was. In this book, Douma has brought to life the Gordon H. Clark that seemed most familiar to me; a brilliant, if sometimes difficult, champion for the truth of the Bible as he understood it. I appreciated learning more about the circumstances that made him who he was. The additional background particularly helped me to better understand the polemical elements in Clark’s work.

 The book is broken down into the following 13 chapters and 3 appendices.

1. The Presbyterian Heritage of Gordon Clark
2. Gordon Clark’s Intellectual Influences
3. Gordon Clark and the Formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church
4. Gordon Clark at Wheaton College
5. The Origins of Presuppositionalism
6. Origins of the Ordination Controversy
7. The Arguments of the Ordination Controversy
8. The Continued Controversy and Its Results
9. The Butler University Years
10. Four Theological Contributions of Gordon H. Clark
11. “Clark’s Boys”
12. Persons, the Trinity, and the Incarnation
13. Gordon Clark’s Later Years

Appendix A Life Timeline of Gordon H. Clark
Appendix B Notes (mostly chronological information)
Appendix C Studies of the Doctrine of the Complaint

As unique as he was, Clark did not appear out of a vacuum and Douma begins by describing the background to Clark’s intellectual development. This is helpful in understanding the trajectory of some of the later controversies. For example, the conservative “Old Princeton” Presbyterianism in which Clark was immersed not only contributed to his alignment with Machen in the formation of the OPC but Douma convincingly argues it was also a factor in the later controversy with Van Til that has perhaps been underappreciated.

Frequently, discussions on presuppositionalism tend to focus on Clark, Van Til, or subsequent thinkers. I was encouraged to see Douma’s chapter on the development of presuppositionalism acknowledged the basic concepts did not originate with either of them. He points out that James Orr and Abraham Kuyper had already laid much of the foundation of a presuppositional and worldview approach a generation earlier. Douma acknowledges the influence of these earlier thinkers on Clark but suggests that Clark essentially developed his apologetic method independent of that of Cornelius Van Til.

I wish Douma had developed this relationship a bit more. Although he cites elements of Clark’s unique method as being discernable by the early 1930’s, he confirms that Clark was using some of Van Til’s works for a course he was teaching while at Wheaton in 1937. I am unsure why Douma did not explore this as a potential indication that Van Til’s work may have been further along and taken into consideration by Clark as he refined his own.

Throughout the book, Douma carefully explains the events or issues that help the reader to better understand Clark’s writing and/or positions at particular points of his life. He does an excellent job of helping the reader to see Gordon Clark the man in addition to Clark the combatant. The reader can begin to understand that in addition to his attempts at modeling a comprehensive Christian worldview in his scholarship, he also had a vision of a broader cooperation among conservative Christians. Through each controversy, Douma helps us to understand Clark’s motivations as well as the personal challenges each presented.

I was frequently saddened by the many political and ecclesiastical intrigues that Clark was caught up with. To be sure, he did not always respond in a way that helped the situation but on many occasions the treatment of him was shameful. One is left to wonder what was lost to the Evangelical movement as a result of Clark being run out of Wheaton, or to what degree the witness of conservative Presbyterianism was weakened by the fall-out between the Clark and Van Til camps. I was, however, encouraged to learn that apparently, Clark and Van Til seemed to have no personal animosity toward one another later in life. Perhaps that might be an encouragement to those who to this day are still passionately fighting this battle that serious and important theological disagreements among Christians need not degenerate into personal attacks.

Regardless of their personal feelings toward each other, the controversy between the Clark and Van Til camps related to Clark’s ordination is the most well-known controversy in Clark’s career. Douma does a good job of unpacking the various motivations that led to the complaint and the subsequent controversy. Douma clarifies a number of common misunderstandings related to the process itself as well as providing clarification of the positions of Clark and the complainants. Douma is clearly sympathetic to Clark and some will no doubt not appreciate what they will see as Douma’s bias. Nearly 75 years later, this remains a contentious issue in some circles. While clearly in agreement with Clark, I think Douma’s treatment is fair. Several years ago, I read through all the relevant documentation I could get and came to essentially the same conclusion as he did. Perhaps this section of the book could have been improved had Douma more fully developed the concerns of the Van Til contingent but even so, it is an excellent overview of the controversy and the issues involved. 

Overall, The Presbyterian Philosopher is a thoroughly researched and well written survey of the life of one of the most important Christian thinkers of the 20th century. Clark was there from the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the 1920’s through the battle of the Bible and the fracturing of Neo-Evangelicalism in the 1970’s. I recommend this book to anyone interested either in Gordon Clark in particular or Evangelical history in general.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Principled Non-Participation: A Worldview Observation

Over the past several weeks there has been a lot of coverage related to supposed controversy over the booking of entertainment talent for president elect Trump’s inauguration celebration.  The band of Talledega College, a historically black school, encountered widespread criticism after announcing they would perform. Country star Toby Keith was also criticized despite explaining that he has performed for several presidents irrespective of their political party or platform.

Others have been shamed into backtracking from their initial acceptance of the invitation to perform. The Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli backed out of consideration after allegedly saying he was “getting too much heat”. Just a couple days ago, Broadway star Jennifer Holiday also backed out and issued an apology, saying her initial acceptance was an example of a lack of judgment and that her “only choice must now be to stand with the LGBT Community” and not perform.

If reports are to be believed, there have been several others who have refused to participate ranging from Elton John and Adam Lambert to high school marching bands and even individual members of the Rockets and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Before we go on any further, I want to point out that I do not really have a problem with individuals deciding not to participate in the event because they believe their participation would somehow compromise their integrity. I also do not have a problem with those who decided to perform or have done so for previous administrations. This article is not about the politics whatsoever. Rather, what I want to point out is a particular observation of how the interaction between worldview and culture influences the perceived ethical or moral value of the decision itself.

Many who are associated with liberal or progressive agendas are horrified by the thought of Donald Trump taking office as the President of the United States. Several of these performers see performing for Trump as somehow legitimizing the event and would rather use the opportunity to highlight the antithesis between certain values he appears to represent and their own. Many ordinary people who are fans also see the participation of cultural icons, particularly those they identify with, in his inauguration as somehow betraying important values they hold dear.

Frankly, as a Christian there are many things that Mr. Trump appears to represent that I also find quite concerning, but what I find more interesting is the way that these withdrawals and public refusals are being portrayed and responded to. It seems that it is now a virtuous act to stand on principal and refuse to participate in adding the perception of legitimacy to a cause that is morally opposed to liberal and progressive convictions. Those supposedly standing up for their “principals” are praised for their courage and integrity.

What is interesting about this is that the underlying logic has so frequently been denied to Christians whose convictions have run afoul of the quickly changing cultural mores. We have seen the criticism levied at company and charity executives who do not “get with the program” regarding company policies support various progressive agendas. We have seen it with pharmacies who are not comfortable with dispensing drugs to end pregnancies. We have seen it related to doctors who choose not to perform certain procedures and we have seen it with photographers and bakers who choose to not participate in homosexual weddings.

The idea that one should stand upon principal and refuse to participate wherever values would be compromised is something that is increasingly only seen as virtuous if the values are those of the new morality. Indeed, to take similar stands for traditional values is often decried as hateful and even criminal.

For example, it was not long ago the State of Colorado ruled that Masterpiece Cake Shop must supply cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies despite the fact that the proprietor was a devout Christian and felt that to do so would compromise his moral convictions. The court ruled that “his religious objections to the practice did not trump the state's anti-discrimination statutes.” Since the shop sold wedding cakes, they could not refuse a client that wanted to purchase one. Cultural progressives applauded this (and other similar decisions) as a triumph of equality. However, when high end fashion designers Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs refused to design a dress Melania Trump, this logic seemed to disappear.

Although the First Amendment is specifically concerned with political and religious speech, the roar of the crowd is growing stronger by the day. Cultural revolutions are not complete until the new consensus is enforceable through the coercion of the crowd and/or the power of the state. The divisions that this election has highlighted (and perhaps deepened) are complex and varied. Attempts at reducing them to simple explanations are bound to fail. What is clear, however, is that we are seeing more clearly the response of a new and still insecure orthodoxy when it perceives itself to be challenged and the picture is troubling for those who wish to proactively engage the culture but whose convictions are antithetical to its newfound morality. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Bodily Resurrection: Part 3 (Theological Significance)

Things have finally settled down enough for me to get to the next installment in the series. In the previous posts, I have attempted to show that both the Old Testament and New Testament clearly teach a physical bodily resurrection. I think there are perhaps better theological arguments against full preterism (that I may explore in future posts) but I have focused on physical resurrection because I think it is the clearest and most straightforward exegetical argument. Even so, physical resurrection is theologically significant in its own right. My goal in this post is to highlight several elements of the theological significance of physical bodily resurrection.

In my view, the most significant theological implication of denying the physical resurrection is that it undermines the role of Christ as redeemer. If the work of Christ merely creates an escape for righteous souls, then sin and death have succeeded in eternally undermining the work of God in physical creation. In preterism, rather than redeeming the fallen creation, Christ simply evacuates His people. It turns the physical and fully human incarnation of Christ into a theological oddity rather than a logically necessary part of the redemptive plan of God. Why become human in the full sense if the mission is merely to provide escape for the soul?

The preterist theology is far less comprehensive with regard to God’s glory in creation than is orthodox theology. In the end, it is much more aligned with a Platonic or Gnostic worldview than the holistic redemptive flow involved in the promises to Adam, Eve, and the prophets. If all prophesy was fulfilled in 70 A.D. and physical bodily resurrection is denied, there is no vindication of God in creation. The notion of redeeming the creative work is essentially discarded. In contrast, notice that in Paul’s theology the restoration of the physical world is part of the broader redemptive work and is closely connected with the glorification of our physical bodies.

"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:19-23)

Unless there is physical salvation as well as spiritual salvation, Christ is not a redeemer of the fallen creation and Christ's role as a second Adam is severely truncated.

Connected to this distortion of Christ’s redemptive role resulting from a denial of physical resurrection is the particular problem of the scope of Christ’s atoning work in relation to the believers as whole persons. Although it is common for people to speak about Christ’s blood being the price paid for our souls, the Bible extends the blood bought purchase and subsequent union with Christ to the whole person, including the body. In 1 Corinthians, while discussing the importance of holiness with regard to our bodies, Paul says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:15) He explains further “… your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

This is tremendously significant. Since our bodies are members of Christ and have been purchased with Christ’s blood it would be most strange that something bought with such a high price and sanctified to the glory of God be discarded to rot in the ground. Even more profoundly, since our bodies are members of Christ, to deny physical resurrection is to assert that sin, death, and the grave retain power over the members of Christ! The implication is that the conquest of Christ over these enemies is either a spiritualization or is incomplete. It is only by recognizing the future fulfillment of the fullness of redemption, including physical resurrection, that we find any meaning or hope in the statements of Paul that “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:26). The hope of the faith is fixed upon that day when the graves are opened and “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:53, 54)

This obviously raises several questions, not the least of which is the implications it has for the restoration of human beings as image bearers. People were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and as image bearers were designed to reflect the glory of God. As a result of sin, all now fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and thus fail to properly fulfill one of the purposes for which we were created. Christ, however, who is the second Adam is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). As believers are conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) through the Spirit of God (2 Corinthians 3:18) we are being restored to the fullness of humanity which is a reflection of the glory of the Creator. The biblical promise of physical resurrection in glorified bodies involves the full restoration of humanity as image bearers. Christ, who is the perfection of humanity now has a glorified body (Luke 24:39). It was in this body that He ascended to Heaven (Acts 1:9). At the Last Day when believers are changed into their glorified state our restoration as perfect image bearers will be complete (1 John 3:2).

All of these things connect to a major biblical theme that is directly connected to the hope of the resurrection. Throughout the Bible, and the New Testament in particular, the resurrection is connected to an insistence on holiness and purity. The physical body is important in orthodox theology and is a vessel that God is redeeming and setting apart for His glory. Time and again the apostles conclude from their references to resurrection the importance of living well in this body. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and are the means through which we glorify God both now and more perfectly in the future.

Both the rewards and punishments of our life in the body will be justly given in the body. As the early Christian writer Athenagoras pointed out over 1,800 years ago,

“… if faults are judged, is the soul dealt fairly with, supposing it alone to pay the penalty for the faults it committed through being solicited by the body and drawn away by it to its own appetites and motions, at one time being seized upon and carried off, at another attracted in some very violent manner, and sometimes concurring with it by way of kindness and attention to its preservation. How can it possibly be other than unjust for the soul to be judged by itself in respect of things towards which in its own nature it feels no appetite, no motion, no impulse, such as licentiousness, violence, covetousness, injustice, and the unjust acts arising out of these?” [1]

We might forgive Athenagoras as being a bit simplistic in his theology if it were not for the very physical emphasis in the teaching of our Lord Himself regarding judgment. Consider the following warnings of Christ,

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matthew 18:8-9 ESV)

“In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13)

Biblical theology is not merely spiritual. Historically, one of the distinguishing characteristics of Christianity from other religions is a dual emphasis on both the spiritual and the physical. It fends off epicurean and hedonistic tendencies with a profoundly developed spiritual metaphysic, but it likewise pushes back against escapist worldviews that view the physical world as unimportant or illusory. 

Biblical Christianity places a strong emphasis on the goodness of creation and the final redemption of it by God. This is why it is so significant that God does not work out the plan of salvation from the outside-in. Rather than a transcendent salvation, we have an immanent salvation. Amazingly, God determined to redeem His creation from within it!

The doctrine of physical resurrection has profound theological importance on many levels. Although we have only been able to touch on a couple of the more obvious ones in this post I pray it will be food for thought for those who are interested in the topic.

[1] Athenagoras, “On the Resurrection of the Dead,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. B. P. Pratten, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 160.