Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dr. Albert Mohler on the Abstract of Principles' Origin

In this blogpost, I highlight three quotes from Dr. Albert Mohler. These quotes are all from early in Dr. Mohler's career as President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary [SBTS]. When these quotes were given, Dr. Mohler was engaging in the struggle of reformation at SBTS, returning the institution to biblical fidelity, as expressed in its confessional basis: the Abstract of Principles. I highlight both the historical origin of the Abstract and the history of reformation at SBTS with three prayers in mind: 1) that the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC] can experience unity in truth, while engaging in gospel-focused theological education and missions; 2) that the churches in cooperation with the SBC will experience continued reformation, hearing the doctrines of God's sovereign grace ever more clearly proclaimed from our pulpits; 3) that SBC-affiliated churches could find increasing opportunities for cooperation with [other] Reformed Baptist churches outside the SBC.

On April 8, 1993, when he was president-elect of the seminary, Dr. Mohler participated in a question-and-answer forum at SBTS chapel. [You can view the entire forum HERE.] In this forum, he said the following about the Abstract of Principles:
"The Abstract of Principles is the confessional document of this institution, and it is (in fact) a contractual document. Every elected member of the faculty has affixed her name or his name to that document, going all the way back to the founders in 1859. As a part of my election as President, and the search process, all of the finalists were asked to present to the Search Committee, and then to the Board of Trustees, an interpretation (a very brief interpretation) of the Abstract... [the Abstract] is the bedrock of this institution. When Basil Manly Sr., who was the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees of this institution, wrote to James Petigru Boyce [the first SBTS president] anticipating the founding of this school, he told Boyce, 'There must be a confession; you must state what you believe and what you will teach.' ... All of us who are assigned responsibility and submit ourselves to the Abstract agree to teach 'in accordance with, and not contrary to' that document... The Abstract is a very straight-forward document. It was written very carefully, based upon the Second London Confession, the Philadelphia Confession, and later recensions that came into Southern Baptist life directly. It was written so that it would be straightforward, and without great ambiguity."
Upon his convocation, on August 31, 1993, Dr. Mohler delivered the famous address, "Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!" setting forth a vision for reformation at Southern Seminary, according to the institution's confessional basis, the Abstract of Principles. Concerning the origin of the Abstract, Dr. Mohler said:
"The most critical role in bringing the Abstract of Principles to final form was served by Basil Manly, Jr., another of the four founding faculty... At Princeton, both Manly and Boyce had studied under the imposing figure of Samuel Miller, a stalwart defender of Presbyterian theological and ecclesiastical standards, who argued the 'The necessity and importance of creeds and confessions appears from the consideration that one great design of establishing a Church in our world was that she might be, in all ages, a depository, a guardian, and a witness of the truth.' 
"That same conviction drove Boyce, both Manlys, John A. Broadus, and those who deliberated with them, to propose an Abstract of Principles based upon the Second London Confession, which was itself a Baptist revision of the Westminster Confession. The Second London Confession had been adopted in slightly revised form by the Baptist associations in Philadelphia and Charleston, and had thus greatly influenced Baptists of both the North and the South."
In 1995 the Founders Journal released a special issue, commemorating the sesquicentennial of the SBC. This issue was handed out to messengers of the 1995 annual meeting of the SBC. In this issue, Dr. Mohler, who was still in the heat of the controversy regarding the reformation of SBTS, wrote an article titled, "To Train the Minister Whom God Has Called: James Petigru Boyce and Southern Baptist Theological Education." In that article, Dr. Mohler wrote:
"The Abstract of Principles came primarily from the editorial pen of Basil Manly, Jr., who had been assigned the task of drafting the confession. Manly drew from the very finest and most faithful Baptist tradition by turning to the Charleston Confession and its Reformed Baptist orthodoxy. The Abstract of Principles stands as a brilliant summary of biblical and Baptist conviction. It is solidly based within the confessional tradition of the Baptists and was, as acknowledged by those who set it in place, a faithful repetition of the central truths found within the Westminster Confession. 
"Thus the great truths of the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace were incorporated within the heart of Southern Baptists’ first theological institution. Here was to be found no lack of doctrinal clarity and no ambiguity on the great doctrines which had united Baptists to this date. Sincere and earnest Southern Baptist who wish to understand the true substance of our theological heritage need look no further than the Abstract of Principles for a clear outline of the doctrines once most certainly held among us. Let there be no doubt that in the years to come Southern Seminary will be unashamedly and unhesitantly committed to these same doctrinal convictions as set forth in this incomparable document."


Monday, October 17, 2016

Teaching a Text: Focus and Feeling

Yesterday, at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, Pastor Mitch Chase preached from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5. The text involves the Day of the Lord, a topic which carries themes of judgment and destruction for those who are opposed to the Truth. Mitch did an excellent job exploring these themes and urging the congregation to consider the coming judgment. In light of this, you might think that the sermon would be so focused on the threat of Hell and the call for repentance as to be oppressive to its hearers. However, this was not the case at all; instead, I found Mitch's preaching from this text to be deeply encouraging.

In expositional preaching (that is, preaching from the Scripture passage-by-passage, taking the points of the sermon directly from the passage), it is crucial that the preacher explain the meaning of the words in the text, giving the grammatical meaning and historical context. The preacher must also apply the text to the congregation's current situation. With a burden for people's eternal state, the preacher must always call his listeners to consider whether they have repented and are trusting Christ. While engaging the congregation with this kind of teaching, the preacher must also make sure to retain the tone and the overall intended purpose of any given text. Yesterday, I was once again impressed with how well Mitch models this kind of preaching.

The "Day of the Lord" passage from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5 certainly calls for serious self-reflection. On the other hand, these five verses begin and end with encouraging words. These verses indicate that when the Lord comes, bringing judgment, those who trust in Him will be found safe. If we are able to stand firm in the Day of the Lord, how much more should we consider ourselves fully equipped to withstand the (comparatively) lesser trials that we face in this life.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Re: Newt Gingrich

I posted the following on 11/29/11 during the Republican Primary leading into the 2012 presidential election.
As I write this, it appears that Newt Gingrich [?!] is the non-Romney frontrunner in the GOP Primary. But I won't be voting for him either. Because usually I wouldn't quote Ann Coultier (although if her political positions were put on a checklist, I might agree with a good number of them) because she regularly presents her points of view in a rude, uncharitable, fear-mongering manner, but in the following quote re: Newt Gingrich (given via Dan Phillips), I have to admit that she sums up conservative objections to Gingrich nicely:
In addition to having an affair in the middle of Clinton's impeachment; apologizing to Jesse Jackson on behalf of J.C. Watts - one of two black Republicans then in Congress –- for having criticized 'poverty pimps,' and then inviting Jackson to a State of the Union address; cutting a global warming commercial with Nancy Pelosi; supporting George Soros' candidate Dede Scozzafava in a congressional special election; appearing in public with the Rev. Al Sharpton to promote nonspecific education reform; and calling Paul Ryan's plan to save Social Security 'right-wing social engineering,' we found out this week that Gingrich was a recipient of Freddie Mac political money.
The "affair" mentioned above led to Gingrich divorcing his second wife and marrying the younger woman, just as he had divorced his first wife after having an affair with a younger woman. Gingrich's third wife convinced him to convert to Roman Catholicism (Newt had been a lifelong Southern Baptist). Gingrich's marital and religious infidelity - his unfaithfulness to the most sacred of relationships - seem to mark him out as a fundamentally untrustworthy individual.


Monday, October 03, 2016

The Case for the Preservation of the Saints

(The following blogpost was originally a series of posts that I published here beginning on 1/7/06. I re-published part of this material after an evangelistic conversation that I had on 9/25/13. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been involved in a couple of discussions where this topic has come up again.)

Can a person who has truly come to faith in Christ- who has been justified in the sight of God and has been brought into a state of salvation- can such a person ever fall away from the faith and thus lose their salvation?

Christians have asked this question for centuries: some ask it for academic reasons, others because they realize the frailty of their own hearts and are concerned that they may one day lose their salvation, and some because they know of some one (perhaps a friend or loved one) who once claimed to be a believer and later rejected the Christian faith.

In answering the question of whether someone can ever lose their salvation, Christians must turn- as in all things- to God’s Holy Word, the Bible, for,

The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, (The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith).

It is my belief that the Bible teaches that a person who truly comes to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will never, in fact, lose their salvation. In the words of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith:

Those whom God hath accepted in the beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect unto, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved, seeing the gifts and callings of God are without repentance, whence he still begets and nourisheth in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit unto immortality; and though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon; notwithstanding, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sensible sight of the light and love of God may for a time be clouded and obscured from them, yet he is still the same, and they shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being engraven upon the palm of his hands, and their names having been written in the book of life from all eternity. (John 10:28,29; Philippians 1:6; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:19; Psalms 89:31,32; 1 Corinthians 11:32; Malachi 3:6)

This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with him, the oath of God, the abiding of his Spirit, and the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof. (Romans 8:30; Romans 9:11,16; Romans 5:9,10; John 14:19; Hebrews 6:17,18; 1 John 3:9; Jeremiah 32:40)

And though they may, through the temptation of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein, whereby they incur God's displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to have their graces and comforts impaired, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves, yet shall they renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end. (Matthew 26:70,72,74; Isaiah 64:5,9; Ephesians 4:30; Psalms 51:10,12; Psalms 32:3,4; 2 Samuel 12:14; Luke 22:32,61,62)

The Teachings of Christ

In the clearest terms possible, our Lord Himself has taught that all who come to faith in Him will, in fact, persevere in their faith, saying,

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, `AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. (John 6:44-47 NASB)

In this passage, the Lord Jesus gives two doctrines that directly support the idea that a person who is “saved” cannot be “unsaved:”

1. Jesus teaches that He will raise up (resurrect) all who come to faith in Him. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." As He teaches elsewhere:

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. (John 11:25b NKJV)

Jesus said, “I will raise him up on the last day” and “he shall live.” The certain connection of a person’s coming to faith to their eventual resurrection- based upon the drawing of the Father- ensures that a person who comes to true faith in Christ will never lose their salvation.

2. Jesus teaches that those who believe are given eternal life at the time of their belief. "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life." As He teaches elsewhere:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 KJV)

That the life we possess when we come to Jesus in faith is everlasting- or eternal- should indicate to us that we cannot lose it. If we could lose eternal life, then it would not really be eternal.

An Objection Raised

But someone will point to a “problem passage” such as Hebrews 6:4-8, which reads:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (NKJV)

Does this teaching contradict that of Jesus in John 6:44-47? Not at all. For the Word of God here declares the glory of Christ’s atonement of sinners by introducing a hypothetical situation- the texts says “if they fall away.” By this statement we cannot then automatically infer that this is something that in fact ever does happen. As the Word makes clear in the verse following the passage mentioned above:

But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. (Hebrews 6:9-20 NKJV)

By this verse, the author of Hebrews tells us that he was speaking in a peculiar manner, and that he was confident of those things which actually accompany salvation in the lives of his believing readers. This phrase, “though we speak in this manner,” at the end of this passage along with the word “if” at the beginning of the problematic portion indicate to me that the Bible is, in fact, utilizing a hypothetical situation contrary to that which ever actually occurs in order to make a significant point: that of teaching gratitude. As Charles Spurgeon illustrated in his sermon, Final Perseverance:

The chemist tells us, that if there were no oxygen mixed with the air, animals would die. Do you suppose that there will be no oxygen, and therefore we shall die? No, he only teaches you the great wisdom of God, in having mixed the gases in their proper proportions. Says one of the old astronomers, "There is great wisdom in God, that he has put the sun exactly at a right distance—not so far away that we should be frozen to death, and not so near that we should be scorched." He says, "If the sun were a million miles nearer to us we should be scorched to death." Does the man suppose that the sun will be a million miles nearer, and, therefore, we shall be scorched to death? He says, "If the sun were a million miles farther off we should be frozen to death." Does he mean that the sun will be a million miles farther off, and therefore we shall be frozen to death? Not at all. Yet it is quite a rational way of speaking, to show us how grateful we should be to God. So says the Apostle. Christian! if thou shouldst fall away, thou couldst never be renewed unto repentance. Thank thy Lord, then, that he keeps thee. [Emphasis added.]

So in Hebrews chapter 6, when it is written "if they fall away" in verse 6, a hypothetical situation is being presented that- in fact, by God's grace- never actually occurs. In other words, no one who has truly become a partaker of the Holy Spirit (cf. Heb. 6:4)- whose indwelling in our lives guarantees that we will remain sealed in Christ (cf. I Cor. 1:21-22)- not one of these will ever actually "crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Heb. 6:6b).

What of Those Who Do Seem to "Fall Away?"

But someone will point to an experience that they have had that seems to contradict the teaching that no one who has been granted eternal life will ever truly "fall away." For many of us sadly know someone who professed faith in Christ, and who even seemed to take great joy in the things of God, and yet later came to repudiate his or her belief.

But the Scripture specifically addresses the subject of how we should understand our experience of seeing people who claimed to be Christians yet later turn to skepticism or other various forms of unbelief. For I John 2:19 declares,

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (NIV)

In this verse, the fact that someone turns their back on the Church is taken as proof that they had never really come to belong in the Church- by faith- to begin with. And it is easy for someone to come into the Church without faith, for when someone hears about the peace, love and forgiveness found in the gospel- if the benefits of the gospel are presented well- then it is only natural that that person would want to profit from these benefits. But when the harsher reality of the life of faith becomes evident- namely, that "all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Tim. 3:12 HCSB)- then many are shown to have no true, enduring faith in the Lord.

And this is the reality that Jesus indicated in His parable of the soils, when He spoke of the seed that fell on the rocky ground:

And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, immediately they receive it with joy. But they have no root in themselves; they are short-lived. And when affliction or persecution comes because of the word, they stumble immediately.(Mark 4:16-17 HCSB)

These 'rocky-ground hearers' receive the preaching of the Word with joy, but since "they have no root in themselves"- they have no true faith- they end up fruitless and dead. These 'rocky-ground hearers' may deceive others for a time and they may even be self-deceived for, as the prophet Jeremiah declared,

The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV)

What is even more frightening is the fact that since the 'rocky-ground hearers' do NOT really "want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus," they may avoid persecution for their entire lives- and even do great, seemingly spiritual works- and then face judgment before Christ as self-deceived unbelievers. As Jesus warned,

Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV)

And so it becomes clear why James, the brother of our Lord, can confidently instruct us to

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (James 1:2-3 NIV)

Trials or persecutions that come into our lives reveal who we really are. For those who are making a show of faith, but have no real heart for God, persecutions reveal unbelief. But for those with true faith in Christ, trials test our faith and develop perseverance. There is no chance that trials will cause the faithful to lose our faith- and thus our eternal security- otherwise the command to consider trials to be pure joy would be nonsense and the promise that "the testing of [our] faith develops perseverance" would be in doubt.

But praise be to God that we, like the Apostle Paul, can be "confident of this very thing that He who began a good work in [us] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6 NKJV).

Preservation: A Trinitarian Work

In conclusion, we should examine the underlying theology behind the teaching that all who are brought into a state of saving grace will be preserved in that state eternally (again: the doctrine of Eternal Security is necessitated by the phrase eternal life itself).

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6 NASB)

For salvation is entirely the work of God, depending in no way upon sinful Man.

So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (Romans 9:16 NASB)

And our salvation, both in coming to Christ in faith and in being preserved in Christ eternally, is based wholly upon the character of God. And each Person of the Trinity works to ensure that all persons chosen by God for salvation will be saved eternally.

The topic of the work of the Trinity in our salvation has been examined masterfully by Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega ministries- a ministry devoted to Christian apologetics and theology- in his article, "Eternal Security: Based in the Tri-Unity of God."

In this article, Dr. White examines the words of Jesus recorded in John chaper 6, verses 37-39:

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. (NASB)

Concerning these verses, White makes the following exegetical comments:

Jesus presents the complete sovereignty of God in salvation. All that the Father gives to Jesus - everyone - will come to Him. The operative factor in answering the question of why some come and others, presented with the same opportunity, do not, is simply the nature of the Father’s choice. The Father "gives" persons to the Son - a gift of love, to be sure. When the Father gives to the Son a person, that person will come to Christ (as the one avenue to the Father). There is no question that if a person is so given to Christ (or, to use the terminology of verse 44, is so "drawn" by the Father) that he/she will come to Christ. This is the "Godward" side of salvation - absolute certainty and security. Yet, He says that they will "come to Me” which speaks of the human response - not that the human can change the decision of God - but that the response is there all the same. Man is not pictured simply as a “thing” that is bounced around like a ball, but rather a vastly important person who comes to Christ for salvation, all as the result of the gracious working of God in his/her life.

Jesus continues by stating that when one is so given to Him by the Father, and comes to Him, that one is secure in their relationship with Him He will never cast them out, The aorist subjunctive of strong denial makes it clear that rejection of one who seeks refuge in Christ is a complete and total impossibility. What words to a sinners heart! Those who come to Christ will find Him a loving Lord who will never cast out those who trust in Him!

Why will the Lord never cast out those who come to Him? Verse 38 continues the thought with the explanation - the Son has come to do the will of the Father. And what is the will of the Father? That “of all which He has given Me from Him I lose nothing hut raise it up at the last day.” Can we doubt that Christ will do what He promises? Will the Lord Jesus ever fail to do the Father’s will? Here is eternal security beyond dispute. But note that again all is pre-eminently balanced - the security of the person is based on two things - the will of the Father that none he lost, and secondly, the fact that those who are not lost are those who are given to the Son by the Father Himself. So, in reality, there is security in the Father (He gives us to Christ) and security in the Son (He always does the Father’s will).

The realization of the co-operation and interaction of the Father and the Son in the salvation of each individual Christian is an awesome thing! It is self-evident why so many soteriological systems cannot deal with eternal security - it is based on the understanding that salvation is completely the work of God! Man is the object of salvation, the object of God’s sovereign grace. The gospel is the message of grace, and grace is something given totally on the basis of God’s desire to give it. Such is terribly damaging to man’s “self-esteem” and to any concept of our being able to save ourselves or even to “help God along” in our being made righteous. We must realize that we come to God wholly unworthy of His love and grace, totally incapable of effecting even the beginning of His work in our hearts.

Once we rest ourselves in God’s provision of salvation, however, we see that our position in Him is one that is based upon the sovereign act of the Father in giving us to the Son, and in the eternal obedience of the Son to the Father in effecting our salvation! Can we possibly picture a more secure situation than this? I think not! But wait, there is more...

Dr. White next turns to examine the role of the Holy Spirit in securing the preservation of the saints, appealing to the text of Ephesians chapter 1, verses 13-14:

In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation--in Him when you believed--were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory. (HCSB)

Of this passage, White notes:

We find the fact that the Holy Spirit is described in two important ways relevant to our eternal security. First, we are said to he “sealed” by the Holy Spirit of promise. This term was used in secular documents to refer to the act of placing a seal upon one’s possessions to mark them as one’s own. In this case, the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life is God’s way of sealing that person as His own. The believer is shown to he God’s “own property” - His possession.

Paralleled with this is the phrase “who is the down-payment of our inheritance." Both phrases speak of the same fact. Here the Spirit is described by the Greek term arrabon- a term used in secular documents to refer to guarantee money. The giving of an arrabon contracted the giver to finish the process of payment. In our context, this would refer to the fact that the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life is the guarantee on the part of God the Father of completing the work which He has begun in that life (Philippians 1:6). Both phrases are then tied together by the paralleling of “promise" and “inheritance.” These terms are used by Paul of the completion of God’s work of salvation in our lives in the end time.

Hence, we see that the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is God’s way of “this person is mine - I have begun of salvation in his/her life, and by placing My Spirit in this life. I am telling all that this person belongs to Me, and I will finish the work I have begun!”

We learn from other discussions of the role of the Spirit in the believer’s life (e.g., Romans 8) that the Spirit empowers and sanctifies the believer as well. So it is clear that each of the Divine Persons is vitally involved in the work of salvation. The Father sovereignly and unilaterally chooses us for salvation. He gives us to the Son, who, in obedience to the Father’s will, saves those who are joined to Him by the Father, and raises us up to eternal life. The Spirit of God is placed in our lives to empower and seal us as God’s own possession. Salvation, then, is of God - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Since salvation is of God, and is God’s work, its eternal character is simply the reflection of the nature of its author - God Himself.

Dr. White closes out his article with the following sentence, which I would also like to use as the conclusion for this post:

Each of the three Persons [of the Trinity] is intimately involved in bringing about the salvation of the elect, and that salvation is eternal and secure.

Glory to God alone!


Saturday, October 01, 2016

Sye Ten Bruggencate and Matthew Isaacs: Notes from Their Debate

On Thursday, September 29, starting at 6PM, Christian apologist Sye Ten Bruggencate debated atheist Matthew Isaacs at CrossRoad Church in Georgetown, Indiana. I took the following notes during the debate. Except for the material in quotation marks, these are not direct quotes from the speakers. Much of what you read below involves summary statements. If anyone reading this was at the debate, I certainly welcome additions/corrections.

Joseph Spurgeon: Moderator: keep the applause/jeers until the end, so that the debate can be between Sye and Matthew.

Does God exist?

Sye [15 min.]:

“Jesus Christ is King.” Either “by choice or by force” every person will one day acknowledge this. 

“I’m not here this evening to win this debate… I’m here merely to present the truth in what I hope is a loving way.”

Sye is, by profession, a factory worker.

Many who reject God demand evidence for His existence. Sye makes it clear that he will not be depending on various evidential proofs for God's existence.

Problems with evidentialism:

  1. We all already have evidence. If we assume that God has not given enough evidence, we are calling God a liar.
  2. Relying on evidence makes people the judge of God.
  3. We must all interpret the evidence that we are given; the beliefs that we bring to the evidence determine our interpretation

Instead of evidence, Sye focuses on the following line of thought: many reason quite well who say that they reject God; the question is: can they justify their reasoning?

Correspondence theory of truth: “truth is that which corresponds to reality.” This is the position taken by Matthew. Sye's response is that in order to know what is true, you would have to know what is real. To know what is real (vs. an illusion) one would have to either be God or receive revelation from God, “The proof that God exists is that without Him, you cannot prove anything.”

Matthew [15 min.]:

Matthew is with an organization called: “Reality and Reason.” The stated purpose of the organization is to bring the tools of philosophy to common people.

Matthew asserts that epistemology is where the discussion needs to happen. Matthew says he is not an anti-theist; he does not think Christians are stupid. Matthew claims that he used to be a Christian. “I don’t have an allegiance to atheism; I have an allegiance to truth.” “I once believed that there was a God who loved us and that He wouldn’t let people suffer more than what they can endure.” Matthew says that he used to think about theodicy, as a Christian, but it did not cause him to doubt. He follows this by saying that it did become a problem for him. Matthew claimed that the Bible promotes slaughtering parents and raping children. Matthew admits that Christians, based on Scripture, were instrumental in the abolitionist movement, but he wants to assert that Old Testament slavery laws make Scripture self-contradictory on this point.

“I believe ethics exist, I believe beauty exists, I believe truth exists.”

Matthew asserts that if we reason through the contradictions of Scripture, we are establishing religion on the basis of our reason rather than based on God’s revelation.

Sye [10 min.]:

“What we heard just now was not 15 minutes of a presentation arguing against the existence of God.” I heard a testimony about why he doesn’t like God.
“If you can reason out of your faith, it shows that God was not the Lord of your reasoning.”
Matthew is asking God to meet his burden of proof.
“To an atheist, there is no problem of suffering.”
“If evolution is true, our thoughts don’t give us truth and falsehood.”
“We’re familiar with suffering, but we know that there is a purpose.”

Matthew [10 min.]:

“I didn’t say that the Bible condones slavery.”
“I said that people take both things from it.”
“Numbers 31, you can just read."

“Sye is a presuppositionalist... I used to be one... I was more into Francis Schaeffer... [Re: Sye's presuppositionalist argument,] I do not think, fist and foremost, that Sye is being a trickster... [The way that presuppositionalist arguments work is that] you see presuppositionalism, because you are on their side [when it come to certain aspects of how presuppositions work].”

However, reasonable people know that becoming knowledgable means acquiring new knowledge.

“God is not the basis for knowledge; truth is the basis for knowledge.”

One of Sye’s premises is that he does not owe us evidence.

Knowledge exists on a spectrum. Knowledge is acquired in different ways. Example: preferences can’t be wrong; even if I am a brain in a vat, I know that I prefer cookies.

“I want to be clear that I’m not using logic to prove logic; I’m not using science to prove science.”

If I drop a pen and it flies upward, “our knowledge is incomplete.”

“Sye’s assertion is circular.”

Sye [5 min.]:

All claims to ultimate authority are necessarily circular.
How does anyone know to any degree of certainty that his reasoning is valid?
“Do all claims have to be falsifiable in order to be valid?” If yes, is that claim itself falsifiable?

Matthew [5 min.]:

We do not have to actually falsify the claim that all claims have to be falsifiable, we just have to be able to imagine what reality would be like if the claim were falsified. We can, to some degree, image falsifying the claim; reality itself would become chaotic.

The Bible is contradicted by obvious knowledge and experiences, for example:
Wine does not make the heart glad; it is a depressant.
God does not have His eye on the sparrow; species go extinct.
God does not reveal His wrath to the wicked; the wicked prosper all the time.

All modes of acquiring knowledge have to have something to check them against.

It is unreasonable to suggest that God’s existence is the basis of reason.

Cross examination, Sye of Matthew [10 min.]:

Sye: Can anything happen?
Matthew: I would doubt that all things are possible.
Sye: Give me an example of something you would consider impossible.
Matthew: a married bachelor.
Sye: what will prevent the language from changing to make it possible?
Matthew: apart from the language, it’s illogical.
Sye: can the laws of logic change?
Matthew: they can be modified.
Sye: what prevents logic from changing?
Matthew: it can be modified.
Sye: what prevents logic from changing?
Matthew: it’s axiomatic.
Sye: on what basis do you hold that the laws of logic do not change? What is your basis for assuming that logic will not change?
Matthew: logic may be able to be modified.
Sye: how do you know what’s actually real?
Matthew: my presupposition is that there are ways of knowing what is real.
Sye: how do you know a universal abstract invariant law?
Matthew: it would be in the universe…
Sye: how do you know anything is universally true?
Matthew: I can be sure I like cookies; I can be sure other minds exist.

Sye: before there were human minds to create language, could the universe have both existed and not existed in both the same time and in the same way?
Matthew: no.
Sye: logic is not, then, just a human construct.

Cross examination, Matthew of Sye [10 min.]:

Matthew: how do you know that you are not just dreaming?
Sye: Christians know it on the basis of God’s Word.
Matthew: do you use your eyes to read the Bible?
Sye: my eyes are the apparatus, but the methodology may remain mysterious.
Matthew: should we try to explore the apparatus?
Sye: Christians should be the only ones who can do science.
Matthew: in Numbers 31…
Sye: God does command genocide, but not rape.
Matthew: the text says, “Do with them what you will,” how is that not rape?
Sye: based on other Scripture, which expressly forbids rape, we know that rape is not intended. While it is not rape, even if (as it certainly not) it were rape, that would not be an argument against God, it would just mean that you do not like Him.
Matthew: [the point he seemed to be driving at was that the picture of God in Scripture, in his understanding, is self-contradictory]
Sye: we have a God who is both just and loving.

Cross examination, Sye of Matthew [5 min.]:

Sye: are all things known empirically?
Matthew: I’m not a logical positivist, but empirical information helps.
Sye: how do we know anything, if we do not know it empirically?
Matthew: I do not think that you can use one tool in the empirical toolbox to prove or disprove itself.
Sye [re: the assertion that all valid reasoning must be falsifiable, at least hypothetically]: in order to falsify your ability to reason, wouldn’t you need to have valid reasoning to apprehend that it has been falsified?
Matthew: we can be sure of many things; if my reasoning is invalid, things in the outside world still work.

Cross examination, Matthew of Sye [5 min.]:

Matthew: why is it that once science comes about, everyone’s view of a fixed earth changes?
Sye: I’m not sure that’s true. People can read the Scripture wrong.
Matthew: Jesus said, “If I bear witness of Myself, then my witness is not true.” That seems like a direct statement against pre-suppositionalism.
Sye: I don’t understand the question. I trust that there is a resolution to this question.

Closing argument, Sye [10 min.]:

Too many Christians give a terrible response to the problem of evil.
The answer to this problem does not lie in ‘free-will.’
The answer is not in the display of the goodness of God.
The reality of Heaven betrays these two answers.
The privation of good argument fails, because the question remains as to who controls whether good or an amount of good exists in a given situation.
“When horrible things happen, I trust that God has a plan for that.”

Closing argument, Matthew [10 min.]:

Matthew begins his closing argument by showing a picture of a starving child. He asserts that he is not appealing to emotion. A starving child illustrates that the universe is indifferent to us and that we should care for each other. Sye’s contention is that God is revealed to all of us and that if we do not see Him, then we are just suppressing it. Does God reveal Himself to the child who starves to death in Africa?

Matthew says that an image like that seen through Hubble makes him want to question whether there is a God, but the God we encounter in Scripture (to be real) has to be consistent and consistent with what we actually see in the world.

Q&A [30 min.]:
In the following notes, I first list the question posed to the debater from an audience member, then I give a summary of the debater's response, along with the response from the other debater (if the other debater responded). I may have missed some questions or parts of questions.

Sye: How do you define truth? "Truth is whatever conforms to the mind of God."

Matthew: Doesn’t you position make you the ultimate arbiter of what is true? [Matthew returned to speaking about theodicy and asserted that he had already been an atheist regarding other gods.] Sye: when he explains losing his faith; God did not meet Matthew’s standard.

Matthew: can you explain to me what is wrong with rape, if you are the ultimate authority? God, as presented in the Bible, was far away and detached, then He became a human and had a mood swing. The difference between us is that I don’t require a supernatural judge.

Matthew: can you prove that there is not a god? When it comes to the God in Christian Scripture, I am a hard atheist due to the law of non-contradiction. If I try my best to put into practice some parts of Scripture, then I run into other parts of Scripture.

Sye: if you were to put a child on an island with no literature, would he know about God? Yes, every person has sufficient knowledge for condemnation but not for salvation.

Matthew: you don’t believe in miracles? I don’t believe in the supernatural acting on the natural.
What about the sun being darkened during Jesus’ crucifixion, which is confirmed by extra-biblical sources? I see no reason to believe in scriptural miraculous accounts.

Matthew: couldn’t reasoning be a crypto-theism? I could see how someone could say that I worship truth. I don’t think reason is the ultimate authority; external reality is the ultimate authority.

Matthew: you believe in objectivity? Yes, but not in an Ayn Rand sense.
How do you determine who is good and who is bad? It’s not for me alone to determine who is bad and who is good.
Is it possible that your reasoning for what is good and bad is wrong? I can’t help but know that it would be wrong, without some massive utilitarian pay-off, to harm another human being.
Is it possible that your understanding that Romans 1 is wrong? Yes: as it stands right now, there are many parts of the Bible I have a problem with, and it would require massive evidence to convince me otherwise.

Matthew: what do you believe about Jesus, who would also cry out against injustice; what’s your stance on the historicity of the resurrection? I take no stance on the historicity of the resurrection. [At the end of the time he did say: “I don’t believe in the resurrection.] The writer “Paul” seems to present different pictures of Jesus at different times. I agree with you on the compassion heart of Jesus, but it runs counter to Joshua, where you can find so many killings. Sye: if the universe is indifferent, why isn’t Matthew?

Sye: do we have to believe that Jonah and the whale literally was true? That is not a prerequisite for salvation, but Jesus believed in Jonah, and I believe it is a slippery slope. Matthew: taking the Bible literally, if one is to take it at all, would seem to be the way to do it.

Matthew: you made multiple claims that you were previously a Christian, but the Bible says not to lean on your understanding; knowing that you decided to trust in yourself rather than God, how can you make the claim that you were actually a Christian? I literally, out of compassion, sold everything I own and gave it to the poor. Sye: whatever reason he gives, he must admit that God was not the foundation of his reasoning.

Sye: why should an atheist be convinced of the Christian God in particular? My position is that you already are.
How can you be sure that the Christian God is the one? I am sure the same way that you are, due to His revelation. Christianity is not going from unbelief to belief, but from suppressing the truth to accepting it. We should not argue over other religions when neither of us believe in those other religions.

Matthew: how do you know the Bible is not true? the law of non-contradiction

Sye: how do you know the Bible is true? due to the impossibility of the contrary; if it were untrue, then your question would be unintelligible

Matthew: you appear to hold to a strong form of empiricism, wouldn’t such a worldview make the belief in a statistically impossible chance universe unreasonable? If we were in a different state than we are now, we would be dealing with a similar set of questions.

Matthew: why, if there’s not a God, should we do good to others? Because we value it. Doing good comes from our values that come from within. Sye: in an atheist worldview, doing good is arbitrary.

Matthew: why are you picking apart the Bible, claiming some things are true, but denying the resurrection? There are some true things in the Bible. The Sermon on the Mount contains good morality. The virgin birth is doubtful. Sye: clearly, Matthew is the arbiter of what is true.

Matthew: do you believe in absolute morality? Yes.
Who determines what is moral? The one to whom the action is done.
If your belief in what is moral comes into conflict with someone else’s, then who determines? We have to look at results of the actions.

Sye: how do you define an atheistic worldview (when atheists claim not to have a worldview), and how do you avoid creating a straw-man? Whether you claim to have a worldview, you have positive claims to believe in truth without God.