Freedom of the Will

April 22nd, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

It may possibly be thought, that there is no great need of going about to define or describe the will; this word being generally as well understood as any other words we can use to explain it: and so, perhaps, it would be, had not philosophers, metaphysicians, and polemic divines brought the matter into obscurity by the things they have said of it. But since it is so, I think it may be of some use, and will tend to the greater clearness in the following discourse, to say a few things concerning it.

So begins Jonathon Edwards’ Freedom of the Will. I recently began re-reading the book to prepare for an essay (and an ensuing sunday school lesson) on human freedom (or the lack thereof). The book, though inconsolably dry, has bits of humor, no doubt unintentional. I stumbled across one such ironic passage in the preface.

It [the tendency to name things] may arise from the disposition there is in mankind (whom God has distinguished with an ability and inclination for speech) to improve the benefit of language, in the proper use and design of names, given to things which they have often occasion to speak of, or to signify their minds about; which is to enable them to express their ideas with ease and expedition, without being encumbered with an obscure and difficult circumlocution.

I find this to be a perfect example of irony. His sentence is not self-exemplifying.

P.S. A second essay on depravity is forthcoming. It’s mostly written.

Random quotes

April 10th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

I was listening to a TWIT (a tech podcast), and I heard a great quote: “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but you get a better return from gold in the long run.”

At a track meet yesterday, one of the kids asked, “If girls are lighter, how come they aren’t faster?” (It’s really quite not that complicated, but I feel that this isn’t the place for an explanation.)

Depravity I

April 10th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve been reading and researching the doctrine of Total Depravity for some time now, trying to prepare an essay or series of essays on the topic, but I find myself continuing to struggle with the best method to present the material clearly. Total Depravity is a uniquely Christian doctrine. It is the doctrine which shows man’s helplessness in the face of God’s just wrath, it shows the immense reach of God’s mercy, and it motivates our unadulterated gratitude for the purely divine work of salvation.

But being fully convinced of this fact is somewhat of a handicap for me. To quote Chesterton,

[Being fully convinced] makes it very difficult to do what I now have to do, to describe this accumulation of truth. It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, “Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?” he would look wildly round at object after object and would only be able to answer vaguely, “Why, there is that bookcase…and the coals in the coal-scuttle…and pianos…and policeman.” The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes rely impossible.”

Here I find myself, so full of reasons why one ought to believe in Depravity. There is a wealth of scripture passages. But where do I start? How do I go about explaining the significance of deadness and enslavement in Ephesians 2 and Romans 6? Should I just limit myself to an essay on Romans 1:18 through Romans 2? And what about Job 14:4; John 6:44, 65; Jeremiah 13:23; Matthew 12:33; and I Corinthians 2:14? How do I show them to be contributing to a unified doctrine? (I shy away from just listing them and talking about them one by one, but I struggle to see the best order.)

But yet what about the logical (as opposed the the scriptural) support for the doctrine? At what point should I bring in Edward’s Freedom of the Will and discuss the reality of choice and responsibility, but the truth that we do not have free will? Surely understanding the logical incomprehensibility of free will would be helpful, but I don’t know where to put it in the overarching flow.

So I am a tad bit overwhelmed. I am thoroughly convinced (nay, convicted) that this is a doctrine which is either denied or merely given ignorant lip-service by much of the church. Its historical teaching is misunderstood or mocked as trivially false. Boatloads of Christians stand ready to defend the Deity of Christ and his substitutionary atonement. Throngs of Christ Followers are prepared to rally round the doctrine of justification by faith alone. But there remains only a tattered few who fight for Total Depravity. And though it is neither the beginning nor the end, neither the foundation nor the pinnacle of a solid theology, it is a necessary step if we are to understand ourselves properly, if we are to understand how to grow properly, and if we are to see the depth of the riches of the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and worship him properly in light of what he accomplished.

But I must begin somewhere. In the classical sense, I suppose the best place to start is with a definition. What is this doctrine that is so crucial to orthodox Christianity? Next time, we’ll start right there.

The Sovereignty of God II

April 1st, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

This could be subtitled Sovereignty and Sarcasm, or An Exposition on Psalm 2. Or you can make up your own subtitle and leave it in the comments. For the next 700 words or so, we’ll be taking a look at Psalm 2, a text that gives us an idea of how we might respond to God’s sovereignty. As I won’t mention every verse exactly, nor will I begin with a summary, it might be helpful if you read it quickly before we begin. (Here’s the ESV.)

Permit me to read into the text just a bit, but I think the second psalm begins with God asking a sarcastic, rhetorical question: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” This seems like thinly veiled contempt on the part of God. Perhaps what was really going through his head was, “Look at the idiots! Have they no idea what’s going on?” In their foolishness, the kings of the earth have conspired against God. They say (and at this point I can hear God using his taunting-on-the-playground-voice), “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (“Morons.”)

Next in the text comes the reason for my willingness to read such deep sarcasm into God’s talk about these people: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD holds them in derision.” His contempt is mitigated only by the humor of the spectacle, and only momentarily. “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.'” This earthly plot has no effect on what God has planned. It’s like he says to them, “You have done your thing, and it is laughable. I have done this, and you can do nothing about it. And now you’ve made me mad.”

The psalm has begun with cutting sarcasm, but in verses seven through nine, we see a shift in tone. Because scholars consider this to be a messianic psalm, we can infer that the “Son” to whom “the LORD” speaks is, in fact, the Christ. (This “Son” could refer to an earthly king, too, but we’ll not get into the interpretive issues of typology at this moment.) Though the tone of this section is anything but sarcastic, the content is still quite surprising. Jesus is not portrayed as some comforting savior, but as a militant conqueror who “shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them like a potter’s vessel.” The combination of sovereignty and wrath, even in our loving Savior, if fearsome to behold.

Up to this point we’ve seen that God’s sovereignty and power are so much greater than anything of this earth that any rebellion against him is laughable, and pathetic. The language is much like a giant taunting an gnat. But at verse 10 the psalm becomes suddenly didactic. “Now therefore,” we hear. Instructions are on the way; what ought we to do because of God’s sovereignty over this situation? We will:

Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling
Kiss the Son lest he be angry and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, we read elsewhere, and this same fear is exactly what we should feel upon contemplating his control and authority. He holds our plans and hopes and sadnesses and fears in his grasp and he does what he wills. Before we can learn anything else from God’s sovereignty, we must fear him.

But it is the final line of the psalm that is its most surprising. After verses of contemptuous questions and sarcastic laughter, after learning of the wrath of the Messiah and a warning to serve him in fear, the psalm changes suddenly, just as it ends. I like to think that the Psalmist, after meditating fearfully on the sovereignty of God and writing all this, suddenly paused, trembling, wrote this last line, and then walked away perfectly calmed. After this gnashing meditation on the wrath of a sovereign God, the Psalmist says simply: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

These are the two response that we should have when we recognize the sovereignty of God. The unregenerate in particular must fear his wrath. We who are saved should still fear, recognizing that we still sin. Though God’s wrath is no longer directed towards us, in his love, he will bring chastisement to the fullest degree. But after we arrive at fear, suddenly the sovereignty of God becomes our refuge, and a blessing to us. We who find shelter in God, we are blessed.

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