Friday, December 17, 2010


that is, my blogging. I'm going to leave this one up for the indefinite future, I may or may not return to it, but I have a desire to be more focused in my blogging efforts and I am going to attempt this here. So long, for now.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Berkhof's Systematic Theology (Part One Chapter Six): The Incommunicable Attributes

Part One
The Doctrine of God (The Being of God)
VI. The Incommunicable Attributes (God as the Absolute Being)
A. The Self-Existence of God
B. The Immutability of God
C. The Infinity of God
D. The Unity of God

"It has been quite common in theology to speak of God as the absolute Being" (p.57), though the term "absolute" is more common to philosophy than theology. In philosophy, the Absolute is "regarded as that which is free from all conditions (the Unconditioned or Self-Existent)...When the Absolute is defined as the First Cause of all existing things, or as the ultimate ground of all reality, or as the self-existent Being, it can be considered as identical with the God of theology. He is the Infinite One, who does not exist in any necessary relations, because he is self-sufficient, but at the same time can freely enter into various relations with his creation as a whole and with his creatures. While the incommunicable attributes emphasize the absolute Being of God, the communicable attributes stress the fact that he enters into various relations with his creatures" (p.57-58).

A. The Self-Existence of God
"God is self-existent, that is, that he has the ground of his existence in himself...As the self-existent God, he is not only independent in himself, but also causes everything to depend on him" (p.58).

"Additional indications of it are found in the assertion in John 5:26 'For as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself'; in the declaration that he is independent of all things and that all things exist only through him, Ps. 94:8 ff.; Isa. 40:18 ff.; Acts 7:25; and in statements implying that he is independent in his thought, Rom. 11:33,34, and in his will, Dan. 4:35; Rom. 9:19; Eph. 1:5; Rev. 4:11, in his power, Ps. 115:3, and in his counsel, Ps. 33:11" (p.58).

B. The Immutability of God
Berkhof defines God's immutability as "that perfection of God by which he is devoid of all change, not only in his Being, but also in his perfections, and in his purposes and promises" (p.58). This divine immutability is clearly taught in Scripture, but the question naturally arises concerning the incarnation and God's apparent changes of mind toward his creation in certain passages of Scripture. To give an answer Berkhof says "The divine immutability should not be understood as implying immobility, as if there were no movement in God" (p.59). He argues that the incarnation brought no change in God's Being, perfections, or purposes and when Scripture speaks of God changing in some way (repenting, relation to creatures, intention) he reminds us "this is only anthropopathic way of speaking. In reality the change is not in God, but in man and in man's relations to God" (p.59).

C. The Infinity of God.
To say that God is infinite is to say that he is free from all limitations. When we ascribe to God infinity we deny that he can be limited, though Berkhof says it should not "be regarded as a merely negative concept" (p.59) though he admits "that we cannot form a positive idea of it" (p.59). "The infinity of God must be conceived as intensive rather than extensive, and should not be confused with boundless extension, as if God were spread out through the entire universe, one part being here and another there, for God has no body and therefore no extension"(59).

1. His Absolute Perfection. 
"This is the infinity of the Divine Being considered in itself. It should not be understood in a quantitative, but in a qualitative sense; it qualifies all the communicable attributes of God...In this sense of the word the infinity of God is simply identical with the perfection of his Divine Being"(p.60).

2. His Eternity.
God's infinity in relation to time is called his eternity. The Bible represents God's eternity in a way that is a duration through endless ages. This is the way we often conceive of eternity. "But this is only a popular and symbolic way of representing that which in reality transcends time and differs from it essentially. Eternity in the strict sense of the word is abscribed to that which transcends all temporal limitations...He is the eternal 'I am.' His eternity may be defined as that perfection of God whereby he is elevated above all temporal limits and all succession of moments, and possesses the whole of his existence in one indivisible present"(p.60).

3. His Immensity.
God's immensity is is defined as "that perfection of the Divine Being by which he transcends all spatial limitations, and yet is present in every point of space with his whole Being"(p.60). He adds the last words to avoid the idea that God's being is diffused through space. He says that though sometimes immensity and omnipresence are used synonymously, the two terms should be understood as distinct. Immensity points to God's transcendence while his omnipresence points to his immanence.

D. The Unity of God.
There is a distinction to be made in God's unity quantitatively and qualitatively.

1. The Unitas Singularitatis.
In this we understand that God is single, that there is one God and no other beside him. "This excludes all polytheistic conceptions of God"(p.62). See I Kings 8:60; I Cor. 8:6; I Tim. 2:5; Deut. 6:4.

2. The Unitas Simplicitatis.
This refers to the simplicity of God, meaning that God is free from division into parts. Berkhof says that "in recent works on theology the simplicity of God is seldom mentioned"(p.62). "This implies that among other things that the three Persons in the Godhead are not so many parts of which the Divine essence is composed, that God's essence and perfections are not distinct, and that the attributes are not superadded to his essence...Scripture does not explicitly assert it, but it implies it where it speaks of God as righteousness, truth, wisdom, light, life, love, and so on..."(62).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fesko on Baptism and Ferguson on Hamilton

Here are a couple of audio recordings that I have benefited from lately. The first is John Fesko being interviewed about his new book on baptism Word, Water, and Spirit. The second is by Sinclair Ferguson from this past Reformation Day at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA. This year marked the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation and Ferguson discussed the life and impact of Patrick Hamilton and his similarity with the Apostle Paul.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Principles and Elements of Public Worship

Chapter 47 of the Book of Church Order, Presbyterian Church in America
The Principles and Elements of Public Worship

47-1. Since the Holy Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and
practice, the principles of public worship must be derived from the Bible, and
from no other source.

The Scriptures forbid the worshipping of God by images, or in any
other way not appointed in His Word, and requires the receiving, observing,
and keeping pure and entire all such religious worship and ordinances as God
hath appointed in His Word (WSC 51, 50).

47-2. A service of public worship is not merely a gathering of God’s
children with each other, but before all else, a meeting of the triune God with
His chosen people. God is present in public worship not only by virtue of the
Divine omnipresence but, much more intimately, as the faithful covenant
Savior. The Lord Jesus Christ said: “Where two or three are gathered
together in My name there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

47-3. The end of public worship is the glory of God. His people should
engage in all its several parts with an eye single to His glory. Public worship
has as its aim the building of Christ’s Church by the perfecting of the saints
and the addition to its membership of such as are being saved -- all to the
glory of God. Through public worship on the Lord’s day Christians should
learn to serve God all the days of the week in their every activity,
remembering, whether they eat or drink, or whatever they do, to do all to the
glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

47-4. Public worship is Christian when the worshippers recognize that
Christ is the Mediator by whom alone they can come unto God, when they
honor Christ as the head of the Church, who rules over public worship, and
when their worship is an expression of their faith in Christ and of their love
for Him.

47-5. Public worship must be performed in spirit and in truth.
Externalism and hypocrisy stand condemned. The forms of public worship
have value only when they serve to express the inner reverence of the
worshipper and his sincere devotion to the true and living God. And only
those whose hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit are capable of such
reverence and devotion.

47-6. The Lord Jesus Christ has prescribed no fixed forms for public
worship but, in the interest of life and power in worship, has given His
Church a large measure of liberty in this matter. It may not be forgotten,
however, that there is true liberty only where the rules of God’s Word are
observed and the Spirit of the Lord is, that all things must be done decently
and in order, and that God’s people should serve Him with reverence and in
the beauty of holiness. From its beginning to its end a service of public
worship should be characterized by that simplicity which is an evidence of
sincerity and by that beauty and dignity which are a manifestation of

47-7. Public worship differs from private worship in that in public
worship God is served by His saints unitedly as His covenant people, the
Body of Christ. For this reason the covenant children should be present so
far as possible as well as adults. For the same reason no favoritism may be
shown to any who attend. Nor may any member of the church presume to
exalt himself above others as though he were more spiritual, but each shall
esteem others better than himself.

47-8. It behooves God’s people not only to come into His presence with
a deep sense of awe at the thought of His perfect holiness and their own
exceeding sinfulness, but also to enter into His gates with thanksgiving and
into His courts with praise for the great salvation, which He has so graciously
wrought for them through his only begotten Son and applied to them by the
Holy Spirit.

47-9. The Bible teaches that the following are proper elements of worship
service: reading of Holy Scripture, singing of psalms and hymns, the
offering of prayer, the preaching of the Word, the presentation of offerings,
confessing the faith and observing the Sacraments; and on special occasions
taking oaths.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Monday, November 15, 2010

A Faith to Confess

The Origin and Formation of the Westminster Confession of Faith

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Necessity of Scripture

Belief in God's existence has never been an obstacle for me. Even during the darkest years of my life, when my depravity was on open display I was convinced from the light of nature, providence, and my own conscience that there was a God and he was the maker of heaven and earth. This general revelation testifies to God's existence "for what can be known about God is plain...because God has shown it...his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made" (Romans 1:19-20). God is revealed in all that he has made as the heavens are declaring the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). There is a sensus divinitatis which is common to all men. 

This has never been a problem for me. My push back has always been with what God reveals about himself in Scripture and it is interesting to me that I am now seeing the same thing in my oldest son. He has no problem believing there is a God who is Creator and sustainer of all things. He sees it everywhere. This is not to say that he is without questions concerning general revelation, but he readily accepts this as fact. He also knows that he is a sinner, his own conscience condemns him and although he is only six he understands that there is a harmony between Scripture's testimony of human sin and the testimony of his own conscience. The true questions (as well as doubt or outright unbelief) come when Scripture reveals that which finds no affirmation by our natural conscience or by what may be seen and observed. Case in point: the doctrine of the Trinity. The Scriptures reveal to us that God is one yet in three - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three are referred to as God and ascribed that which belongs to God alone. For instance, all are said to have created all that is yet the Scripture does not lead us to believe that there are three gods but rather teaches that there is but one only, the living and true God. We don't gather this knowledge from nature or the moral understanding of our conscience, we know this from Scripture. Here we find the reason why we need the Scriptures. Natural revelation is not enough to lead us to a Trinitarian understanding of God, neither can we be saved through natural revelation. The law we understand for their is a moral order to creation, but the gospel is only given to us through God's special revelation; that which has been revealed in Scripture and by the advent of his Son. 

Natural revelation and rational apologetics only go so far. What is revealed in natural revelation gives great testimony to God's existence and to his law, but it can never lead us home. Ultimately, natural revelation leaves us with a guilty knowledge of God, a sense of the condemnation we are under for violating the law of God written on our conscience, and finally without hope as we face death. The Scriptures alone proclaim the only comfort we may find in life and death, for this is where we find that the Father has loved the world so that he sent his Son to obediently live and die in behalf of the unrighteous, to rise again from the dead, ascend to heaven, and send the Holy Spirit to apply his purchased redemption to his own who are scattered across the globe.

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” (Romans 10:13-16 ESV)

Listen to "The Necessity of Scripture" by Jim Wilkerson, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Brunswick, Georgia.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Letter to the Pope

Martin Downes has posted part of a letter written by Charles Hodge to the pope in 1869.

In 1869 the aged Professor Charles Hodge of Princeton Seminary wrote a letter to Pope Pius IX "explaining why the Presbyterian church was declining an invitation to send a representative to the Vatican Council of 1870" (David Calhoun, Princeton Seminary Vol 2: The Majestic Testimony, p. 32).  

You can read the full text of the letter at the Banner of Truth Trust site, the first part of the letter is below:
To Pius the Ninth, Bishop of Rome,

By your encyclical letter dated 1869 you invite Protestants to send delegates to the Council called to meet at Rome during the month of December of the current year. That letter has been brought to the attention of the two General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Those Assemblies represent about five thousand ministers and a still larger number of Christian congregations.

Believing as we do, that it is the will of Christ that his Church on earth should be united, and recognizing the duty of doing all we consistently can to promote Christian charity and fellowship, we deem it right briefly to present the reasons which forbid our participation in the deliberations of the approaching Council.

It is not because we have renounced any article of the catholic faith. We are not heretics. We cordially receive all the doctrines contained in that Symbol which is known as the Apostles' Creed. We regard all doctrinal decisions of the first six ecumenical councils to be consistent with the Word of God, and because of that consistency, we receive them as expressing our faith. We therefore believe the doctrine of the Trinity and of the person of Christ as those doctrines are expressed in the symbols adopted by the Council of Nicea AD321, that of the Council of Constantinople AD381 and more fully that of the Council of Chalcedon AD451. 

We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are the same in substance and equal in power and glory. We believe that the Eternal Son of God became man by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, and so was, and continues to be, both God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever. 

We believe that our adorable Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the prophet who should come into the world, whose teachings we are bound to believe and on whose promises we rely. He is the High Priest whose infinitely meritorious satisfaction to divine justice, and whose ever prevalent intercession, is the sole ground of the sinner's justification and acceptance before God. 

We acknowledge him to be our Lord not only because we are his creatures but also because we are the purchase of his blood. To his authority we are bound to submit, in his care we confide, and to his service all creatures in heaven and earth should be devoted.

We receive all those doctrines concerning sin, grace and predestination, known as Augustinian, which doctrines received the sanction not only of the Council of Carthage and of other provincial Synods, but of the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus AD431, and of Zosimus, bishop of Rome.

We therefore cannot be pronounced heretics without involving in the same condemnation the whole ancient church.

Neither are we schismatics. We cordially recognize as members of Christ's visible Church on earth, all those who profess the true religion together with their children. We are not only willing but earnest to hold Christian communion with them, provided they do not require, as conditions of such communion, that we profess doctrines which the Word of God condemns, or that we should do what the Word forbids. If in any case any Church prescribes such unscriptural terms of fellowship, the error and the fault is with that church and not with us.

But although we do not decline your invitation because we are either heretics or schismatics, we are nevertheless debarred from accepting it, because we still hold with ever increasing confidence those principles for which our fathers were excommunicated and pronounced accursed by the Council of Trent, which represented, and still represents, the Church over which you preside.

The most important of those principles are: First, that the Word of God, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. The Council of Trent, however, pronounces Anathema on all who do not receive the teachings of tradition pari pietatis affectu (with equal pious affection) as the Scriptures themselves. This we cannot do without incurring the condemnation which our Lord pronounced on the Pharisees, who made void the Word of God by their traditions (Matt. 15:6).

Read the rest here

Friday, November 5, 2010

Joel Beeke on the Heidelberg Catechism

From the Meet the Puritans site (which is great btw)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Junker Jorg

Every night at bed time my boys beg me to tell or read them a story. So last night I told them one which I knew would be right up their alley. It involved a fugitive on the run, kidnapping, a fast ride through a forest, and a castle with a knight. In the story, ML was the name of the main character and the face. The heel was simply known as "the organization." The organization was out to get ML and found him guilty of treason. ML was a fugitive on the run and in order to keep him safe, his friends staged his kidnapping and hid him in a castle disguised as a knight. Just the kind of story a young boy would like.

Sound familiar? If it does, it may be because the story is true. ML is Martin Luther, the organization is the Catholic Church. When Luther left the Diet of Worms his friends kidnapped him to keep him safe from those who sought his life. He was taken to the castle in Wartburg where he grew a beard and disguised himself as Junker Jorg (Knight George). It was here that Luther was allowed to work and translated the Scriptures into the German language.
The bearded Luther, Junker Jorg

Friday, October 29, 2010

Behold, I Show You a Mystery

Last night, we took the boys down to the Jacksonville Zoo for their big "Spooktacular" Halloween event. It was a lot of fun for the kiddos, but most of the attraction had nothing to do with the zoo itself. Staff members handed out candy at stations along the way and the pathway was lighted appropriately for the holiday. We did see a few animals, however. The highlight of the night was watching one of these guys (a black Jaguar) investigate a pumpkin in the pool area of his habitat. 

What I noticed from those around me is that this black Jaguar was continually referred to as a black panther, like Bagheera in the Jungle Book. But here's the thing, there is no such thing as a black panther - at least according to the experts. What is known as a black panther is the black Jaguar pictured above. What is called a "panther" is actually a cougar or smaller version of a mountain lion (Florida Panther pictured below).
According to studies, there are fewer than 100 panthers in Florida and most of them are all near the everglades, but I'm pretty sure that I could come up with 100 people in the North Florida area who claim to have seen one in the wild. Perhaps there are more than estimated and they could be more widespread. That can be understood, but what is strange is that out of every sighting that I know of no one has seen the cat in the picture below but the one in the picture above. Here is the explanation given: What people are seeing is actually a black bobcat which they think is a panther. One problem: as evident in the name the bobcat has a very short tail, the panther does not and those I ask are quick to assure me that the cat they saw had a long tail. Claims of black panther sightings are common in North Florida, Middle Georgia, and throughout the Southeast. I remember being with my grandfather in a rural area as a young boy and seeing something dart across the road in front of us. He told me it was a black panther. My parents, my father in law, and my wife all claim to have seen one. In fact, my wife had a rather close encounter with one, the thought of which still gives her chills. So at the zoo watching the black Jaguar I began to ask her if - but before I could finish my question she said, "Yes, that is what I saw."

So what are people seeing? The Florida Panther can sometimes be darker in color, but there is no evidence (that I am aware of) of a black cougar. Are there Jaguars roaming the southeastern United States? Or is the black panther merely a legend with scores of undocumented sightings like the Sasquatch? This mystery has perplexed me for a long time. In the meantime, check out the videos below.

Got Your Hammer?

In honor of Reformation Day this Sunday, Gene Veith invites you to nail your theses to his blog!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Heidelberg Rap

Yeah, that's right. I'm not sure what to think about this but here it is.

Under Care

October 18-19, 2010.
I traveled with my pastor, one of our ruling elders, and another young man in our church to Augusta, Georgia for the fall meeting of the Savannah River Presbytery. On Monday evening I met with the Candidates and Credentials Committee at Westminster PCA to give them a testimony of my conversion and sense of call to the ministry. They had a few questions for me and another who was being brought under care as well and on Tuesday morning we stood before the presbytery at Lakemont PCA to be received (or denied, but thankfully we were received). This was the first and easiest step in the process of becoming a minister in the PCA. In the Baptist Church (where I was formerly ordained) the process was shorter and less strenuous. As an outsider I always admired the high requirements of the Presbyterians for their ministers, though I never thought I would be going through the process myself. I have been forced to eat my share of humble pie as of late. Going from a place where you are considered someone to be looked up to as a spiritual leader to having no reputation is difficult. The people in my church and the leaders around me are not impressed with me, and this is a good thing. It is as though I am a recent convert learning the faith all over again and in some ways I truly am. In a sense, I have been reduced to the status of a child - literally, I am learning the same catechism as my children! There are issues that I will have to work through; for one, the theological education I received doesn't exactly match up with the uniform curriculum of the PCA. I am just glad for now to have taken a step, though a small one, to what I believe God is calling me to.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Glory of Christ in Deuteronomy

A few years ago I was in a discussion with a pastor-friend over his next preaching series. He was expressing to me his ideas of certain topics or books of the Bible that he was considering preaching about or through. I threw out this question "Why don't you preach through Deuteronomy?" He laughed. It was almost unthinkable for him to do that. Matthew, John, a Pauline letter - sure. Deuteronomy - no way. Maybe it was too much material, maybe he didn't know how to tackle that genre of literature, or maybe he didn't think his congregation would receive it well. Whatever the reason may have been, he didn't choose Deuteronomy. He probably went with I Peter or something of the like. 

Deuteronomy is not a book that we hear quoted from often (much less preached from), but interestingly enough, Jesus did. When tempted by the devil, Jesus answered the temptations with Scripture from Deuteronomy. 

What is this book about? The title (deutero - second, nomos - law) implies the second giving of the law and it would be possible to sum the book's content up in that way, but the book is about more than that; it is about the glory of Christ. We can be sure of this because of the words of Jesus who said that the Old Testament spoke of him, that Moses wrote of him, and in his Emmaus hermeneutics class he took two disciples through the Old Testament declaring from the law and the prophets the things testifying of the Christ who was to come (Luke 24). Why should pastors preach through a book like Deuteronomy? Because it is about Jesus Christ. Consider the following outline.

I. Moses speaks of Israel's history (1-4)
II. Moses speaks of God's law (5-26)
III. Moses speaks of blessing and cursing for covenant obedience/disobedience (27-33)
IV. Moses dies (34)

This book is divided into sections of Moses speaking as God's prophet. In the midst of speaking as God's prophet we are told of a greater prophet who was to come (18:15), fulfilled by the Lord Jesus who comes as our prophet, priest, and king.

I. Moses speaks of Israel's history (1-4). Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel's history. He is the true Israelite, brought up out of Egypt, passing through waters of baptism, and taken in the wilderness to be tested. Only, where Israel failed and wandered for forty years, Jesus withstood the temptations for forty days as a faithful son. 

II. Moses speaks of God's law (5-26). Jesus did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it, and he did just that. Like Moses, he speaks as God's prophet the law of God from the mountain (Matt 5-7). He is also the faithful covenant keeper who loved the Lord his God with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength and who loved his neighbor as himself.

III. Moses speaks of blessing and cursing for covenant obedience/disobedience. Inaugurating the kingdom, Jesus dispenses covenant blessings and curses as the king ("Blessed are" or "Woe to you"). He is the one who deserves to hear the blessings from Mt. Gerazim for his obedience, but was the cursed man hung on the tree receiving the curses from Mt. Ebal in order to bring blessing upon his people. 

IV. Moses dies (34). Moses could not bring Israel into their inheritance. According to the author of Hebrews, Joshua could not give them rest either. Yet Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath (rest) comes to bring Israel into the promised land of the new heaven and new earth. Like Moses, Jesus died, but he rose from the dead on the third day assuring his people of what he accomplished. 

This book is glorious, for it testifies of the glory of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (Part One, Chapter Five): The Attributes of God in General

Part One
The Doctrine of God (The Being of God)
V. The Attributes of God in General
A. Evaluation of the Terms Used.
B. Method of Determining the Attributes of God.
C. Suggested Divisions of the Attributes.

A. Evaluation of the Terms Used.

Berkhof prefers the term “properties” over against “attributes” as pointing to that which is proper to God alone. However, even this term has its own weakness as some of the attributes are communicable and not proper to God alone. Even more so, he likes the terms “perfections” or “virtues” though in using the latter it must be clear that these virtues are not added to the being of God but that his virtues reveal his Being. “They may be defined as the perfections which are predicated of the Diving Being in Scripture, or are visibly exercised by Him in His works of creation, providence, and redemption” (p. 52).

B. Method of Determining the Attributes of God.

The scholastics sought to determine the attributes of God in their understanding of natural theology and did so largely in three ways:

via causalitatis - determining the ultimate cause from the effects we see in the world.
via negationis - removing from God all of the imperfections seen in his creatures to understand him as the perfect Being.
via eminentiae - the relative perfections found in man are ascribed to God in absolute perfection.

Modern theologians seek to understand the attributes of God through experimental theology. In this concept “we may begin with our intuitions of the reality of God, those unreasoned certitudes which are firmly rooted in immediate experience” (p. 53). One way of doing this is to understand man’s needs and see God as the one who meets those needs.

To these methods Berkhof writes that they “take their starting point in human experience rather than in the Word of God. They deliberately ignore the clear self-revelation of God in Scripture and exalt the idea of the human discovery of God…the only proper way to obtain perfectly reliable knowledge of the divine attributes is by the study of God’s self-revelation in Scripture” (p. 53-54).

C. Suggested Divisions of the Attributes.

There have been many suggestions by theologians as to how to divide the attributes of God. “The most common distinction is that between incommunicable and communicable attributes. The former are those to which there is nothing analogous in the creature, as aseity, simplicity, immensity, etc.; the latter those to which the properties of the human spirit bear some analogy, as power, goodness, mercy, righteousness, etc” (p. 55).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Concerning Berkhof

In posting the outlines and brief summaries of Berkhof's points from his classic theology text, my purpose is to do just that; to give a summary of what he is saying. I'm not seeking to interact with Berkhof so much at this point, but to boil it down to his main ideas. In doing so I hope to use it for a frame of conversation to speak about these topics with my family, to have a short and concise treatment at hand, and to help my own memory as to what I have read by writing these summaries.

If Berkhof's work is a sum of Bavinck's dogmatics, then what I am posting is a sum of that sum ;)

Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (Part One, Chapter Four): The Names of God

Part One
The Doctrine of God (The Being of God)
IV. The Names of God
A. The Names of God in General.
B. The Old Testament Names and their Meaning.
C. The New Testament Names and their Interpretation.

A. The Names of God in General.
“While the Bible records several names of God, it also speaks of the name of God in the singular…In such cases ‘the name’ stands for the whole manifestation of God in his relation to his people, or simply for the person, so that it becomes synonymous with God” (p. 47).

“In the most general sense of the word, then, the name of God is his self-revelation. It is a designation of him, not as he exists in the depths of his divine Being, but as he reveals himself especially in his relations to man” (p. 47).

B. The Old Testament Names and their Meaning.

1. ’El, ’Elohim, and ’Elyon.
These names speak of God as being first, lord, strong and mighty, the object of fear, or the elevated one. It should be noted that these names are not proper to Jehovah alone, for they are also used of pagan deities and rulers.

2. ’Adonai
“This name is related to the preceding ones…points to God as the almighty Ruler, to whom everything is subject, and to whom man is related as a servant” (p. 48).

3. Shaddai and ‘El-Shaddai.
This name of God reveals God as the one who has condescended to enter into relations with his creatures. This is the God who has all power in heaven and earth. This name “while it stresses the greatness of God, it does not represent him as an object of fear and terror, but as a source of blessing and comfort” (p. 49).

4. Yahweh and Yahweh Tsebhaoth.
“It is especially in the name Yahweh, which gradually supplanted other names, that God reveals himself as the God of grace. It has always been regarded as the most sacred and the most distinctive name of God, the incommunicable name” (p. 49).

This name is often referred to as Jehovah. The original meaning and pronunciation of this name is not known. God reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush with this name and its meaning “I am that I am” (Ex. 3:14). This name is used of no one but Israel’s God, for it is proper to him alone, stressing his covenant faithfulness to his people.

“The name Yahweh is often strengthened by the addition of tsebhaoth [Lord of Hosts]. It is rather hard to determine to what the word tsebhaoth refers. There are especially three opinions:” (p. 49).

a. The armies of Israel. 
Berkhof thinks this interpretation is highly doubtful. The prophets, in using this name “Lord of hosts” do not refer to Jehovah as the God of war. The armies of Israel are referred to in the singular but the Lord of hosts in the plural

b. The stars.
Again, Berkhof says that when speaking of the host of heaven Scripture always uses the singular and never the plural. He says “while the stars are called the host of heaven, they are designated the host of God” (p. 50).

c. The angels.
“This interpretation deserves preference” (p. 50) according to Berkhof. This name is often found in connection with angels, those who surround the throne of God. “Jehovah of hosts, then, is God as the King of glory, who is surrounded by angelic hosts, who rules heaven and earth in the interest of his people, and who receives glory from all his creatures” (p. 50).

C. The New Testament Names and their Interpretation.

1. Theos.
According to Berkhof the New Testament has the Greek equivalents of the Old Testament names. Theos, like ‘El, ‘Elohim, or ‘Elyon is the most common name for God and at times is used of heathen gods.

The basic meaning of kurios is Lord. It is derived from kuros, which means power. “This name designates God as the Mighty One, the Lord, the Possessor, the Ruler who has legal power and authority. It is used not only of God, but also of Christ” (p. 50).

3. Pater.
Berkhof argues against the notion that the New Testament introduced a new name for God in the use of Pater (Father). Heathen religions applied father to their gods and the Old Testament presents God as the Father of Israel.

The New Testament uses the title to refer to God as the originator and creator of all things, as the relation in which the first Person of the Trinity stands in relation to the second, and as the relation of God “to all believers as his spiritual children” (p. 51

Thursday, September 30, 2010

To Laugh or to Cry, That is the Question

I often meet people who were a part of or grew up in a similar church atmosphere as I did. It is good to speak with those few who are familiar with many things that so many just aren't. The type of church I was reared in was of the fundamentalist brand, the fundamentals not being certain truths revealed in Scripture like the ones J. Gresham Machen stood for in the liberalism controversy of the 1920s and 1930s, but basically certain standards of conduct. I meet people quite often who have been in these circles. However, our brand of fundamentalism was a little different. In fact, most of those I meet are not so familiar with some of those things I grew up around. I grew up a Baptist, but I'm sure we looked Pentecostal to most. It wasn't all that uncommon to see people running the aisles, waving the Christian flag, screaming and shouting at the top of their lungs, or dancing in the church. It was embarrassing to watch confused visitors gather their belongings and leave when it "broke out" in the church or just sit there and endure the awkward moment . These services usually contained no preaching, so folks weren't leaving because of the offense of the cross, they undoubtedly thought we were crazy.  A friend of mine, who happens to be a former prison guard, sat on edge through an entire worship service when a lady behind him let out a bloodcurdling scream in "praise" to the Lord.

I do have to say that the video below beats everything I have ever seen. A friend (who has also been a part of this atmosphere) sent this clip to me and at first it brought back many memories. I honestly wondered if I knew some of the people or was familiar with this particular church. But about half way through the video, I asked the same question you will ask. Did he just...? The answer is yes, yes he did. My first reaction was to laugh. I mean, never in the long history of nonsense have I seen such chaos in a place where things are supposed to be done decently and in order. Now that I have had time to reflect, I think tears may be the proper response. Oh, I almost laughed to the point of crying, but tears of sorrow may be more appropriate. 

I can't find any relation in the clip above to what we are to understand regarding the nature of worship from the following passage of Scripture. 

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:18-29)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Office Hours

Scott Clark has recently interviewed two ministers from the Savannah River Presbytery (the presbytery of the PCA that our church is a part of), David Hall and Terry Johnson. The interviews are for Office Hours, the podcast of Westminster Seminary California.

David Hall on Tributes to John Calvin (July 21, 2010)

Terry Johnson on Reformed Worship (September 22, 2010)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (Part One, Chapter Three): Relation of the Being and Attributes of God

Part One
The Doctrine of God (The Being of God)

III. Relation of the Being and Attributes of God
A. The Being of God.
B. The Possibility of Knowing the Being of God.
C. The Being of God Revealed in His Attributes.

Some dogmaticians have separated the being of God and the attributes of God. “Others prefer to consider the Being of God in connection with His attributes in view of the fact that it is in these that He has revealed Himself” (p. 41).

A. The Being of God.
“It is quite evident that the Being of God does not admit of any scientific definition…At most only an analytical-descriptive definition is possible. This merely names the characteristics of a person or thing, but leaves the essential being unexplained” (p. 41).

“The Bible never operates with an abstract concept of God, but always describes Him as the Living God, who enters into various relations with His creatures, relations which are indicative of several different attributes” (p. 41).

To speak of the being of God is to speak of his essence. While our knowledge of his essence is most limited, Berkhof points to two passages in Scripture where his essence is defined: “An indication of the very essence of God has been found in the name Jehovah, as interpreted by God Himself, ‘I am that I am.’ On the basis of this passage the essence of God was found in being itself, abstract being. And this has been interpreted to mean self-existence or self-contained permanence or absolute independence” (p. 42). He also points to the words of Jesus in John 4:24 where Jesus speaks of the spirituality of God. “God is Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

B. The Possibility of Knowing the Being of God.
“The consensus of opinion in the early Church, during the Middle Ages, and at the time of the Reformation, was that God in His inmost Being is the Incomprehensible One” (p. 43).

Can we truly give answer to the following questions? “What is God? What is the nature of His inner constitution? What makes Him to be what He is?” (p. 43). We as creatures are finite and unable to comprehend the infinite. Berkhof goes on “Apart from the revelation of God in His attributes, we have no knowledge of the Being of God whatsoever. But in so far as God reveals Himself in His attributes, we also have some knowledge of the His Divine Being, though even so our knowledge is subject to human limitation…We know God only in so far as He enters into relations with us” (p. 43). The Reformers held that the Divine essence is incomprehensible.
Calvin’s take on the matter is considered and Berkhof speaks of his understanding when he says “this knowledge cannot be obtained by a priori methods, but only in an a posteriori manner through the attributes, which he regards as a real determination of the nature of God” (p. 44).

“The question, therefore, is not as to the possibility of a knowledge of God in the unfathomableness of His being, but is: Can we know God as He enters into relations with the world and with ourselves? God has entered into relations with us in His relations of Himself, and supremely in Jesus Christ; and we Christians humbly claim that through this Self-revelation we do know God to be the true God, and have real acquaintance with His character and will” (p. 44).

C. The Being of God Revealed in His Attributes.
Some have gone so far as to say that God’s attributes are God himself. While this safeguards “the unity and simplicity of God by maintaining that the whole essence is in each attribute” to do this “is a very dangerous extreme…moving in the direction of Pantheism” (p. 45). This rules out all distinctions in God. “Thomas Aquinas….asserted that the attributes do not reveal what God is in Himself, in the depths of His Being, but only what He is in relation to His creatures” (p. 45).

“Naturally, we should guard against separating the divine essence and the divine attributes or perfections, and also against a false conception of the relation in which they stand to each other” (p. 45). Berkhof quotes Shedd who speaks of the divine attributes as “an analytical and closer description of the essence.” Berkhof will say that “”because of the close relation in which the two stand to each other, it can be said that knowledge of the attributes carries with it knowledge of the Divine Essence…These qualities cannot be altered without altering the essential Being of God. And since they are essential qualities, each on if them reveals to us some aspects of the Being of God” (p. 46).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Those Tricky Presbyterians

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Berkhof's Systematic Theology (Part One, Chapter Two): The Knowability of God

Part One
The Doctrine of God (The Being of God)

II. The Knowability of God
A. God Incomprehensible but yet Knowable.
B. Denial of the Knowability of God.
C. Self-Revelation the Prerequisite of all Knowledge of God.

A. God Incomprehensible but yet Knowable.
“The Christian Church confesses on the one hand that God is the Incomprehensible One, but also on the other hand, that He can be known and that knowledge of Him is an absolute requisite unto salvation” (p. 29)

“Reformed theology holds that God can be known, but that it is impossible for man to have a knowledge of him that is exhaustive and perfect in every way…it is maintained that man can obtain a knowledge of God that is perfectly adequate for the realization of  the divine purpose in the life of man. However, true knowledge of God can be aquired only from the divine self-revelation, and only by the man who accepts this with childlike faith” (p. 30).

B. Denial of the Knowability of God.
Berkhof takes up the arguments of agnoticism and defines it as follows: “The fundamental position is that the human mind is incapable of knowing anything of that which lies beyond and behind natural phenomena, and is therefore necessarily ignorant of supersensible and divine things” (p. 30). Agnosticism allows for the possibility of God’s existence, but not for knowledge of him.

Four of the arguments he takes on are:

(1) Man knows only by analogy.
To this argument Berkhof replies: “while it is true that we learn a great deal by analogy, we also learn by contrast. In many cases the differences are the very things that arrest our attention” (p. 32).

(2) Man really knows only what he can grasp in its entirety.
“This position proceeds on the unwarranted assumption that partial knowledge cannot be real knowledge, an assumption that would really invalidate all our knowledge, since it always falls far short of completeness” (p. 32).

(3) All predicates of God are negative and therefore furnish no real knowledge.
This is false. There are positive ideas of God including “love, spirituality, and holiness” (p. 32). Even in that what we know of God may be in negative form, what we know may also convey something positive.

(4) All our knowledge is relative to the knowing subject.
“It is said that we know the objects of knowledge, not as they are objectively, but only as they are related to our senses and faculties…because we know things only through the mediation of our senses and faculties, we do not know them as they are. But this is not true; in so far as we have any real knowledge of things, that knowledge corresponds to the objective reality” (p. 32-33).

C. Self- Revelation the Prerequisite of all Knowledge of God.

1. God communicates knowledge of himself to man.
“In the study of all other sciences man places himself above the object of his investigation and actively elicits from it his knowledge by whatever method may seem most appropriate, but in theology he does not stand above but rather under the object of his knowledge…Without revelation man would never have been able to acquire any knowledge of God. And even after God has revealed himself objectively, it is not human reason that discovers God, but it is God who discloses himself to the eye of faith” (p. 34-35).

I Corinthians 2:11 tells us that there is an archetypal knowledge of God that no man can know. There is also an ectypal knowledge of him given to man by revelation.

2. Innate and acquired knowledge of God.
Innate knowledge of God (called by some ingrafted or implanted) is that knowledge of God implanted in man be his creation in the image of God. Acquired knowledge is  “obtained by the study of God’s revelation” (p. 35).

3. General and special revelation.
Berkhof contrasts what these two distinctions have been called throughout Christian history. He argues that all revelation is supernatural if it comes from God so natural and supernatural may not be the best ways to describe them. General revelation is God’s revelation of himself in creation, providence, and the human conscious (innate knowledge), while special revelation is what is revealed to man in history of God’s redemptive purpose, that which we find in Christ and in Scripture.

He quotes Warfield on the two forms: “The one is addressed generally to all intelligent creatures, and is therefore accessible to all men; the other is addressed to a special class of sinners, to whom God would make known his salvation. The one has in view to meet and supply the natural need of creatures for knowledge of their God; the other to rescue broken and deformed sinners from their sin and its consequences” (p. 37 - quoted from Revelation and Inspiration).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Berkhof's Systematic Theology (Part One, Chapter One): The Existence of God

Part One
The Doctrine of God
(The Being of God)

I. The Existence of God
   A. Place of the Doctrine of God in Dogmatics
   B. Scriptural Proof for the Existence of God
   C. Denial of the Existence of God in its Various Forms
   D. The So-Called Rational Proofs for the Existence of God

Berkhof''s Systematic Theology has been heralded as the standard textbook for the seven loci of theology. Louis Berkhof (1873-1957) was born in the Netherlands and (like so many others) moved to Grand Rapids, Michingan in 1882. He was a graduate of Calvin and Princeton Seminaries, pastored two Reformed churches, and eventually became president of Calvin Theological Seminary.

A. Place of the Doctrine of God in Dogmatics
According to Berkhof, we begin theological study with two presuppositions, (1) that God exists, and (2) he has revealed himself in his divine Word. Systematic theology is the study of God throughout in all its ramifications, from the beginning to the end. Without these presuppositions the study of theology cannot commence. The study of theology should begin with the doctrine of God and this was the norm until Schleiermacher introduced his new method by beginning with the religious consciousness of man. This reverses the order and leads to a rational search for God instead of God's own self disclosure to man. He writes, "Faith in Scripture as an authoritative revelation of God was discredited, and human insight based on man's own emotional or rational apprehension became the standard of religious thought. Man ceased to recognize the knowledge of God as something that was given in Scripture, and began to pride himself on being a seeker after God." (p.20)

B. Scripture Proof for the Existence of God
Scripture proves the existence of God is this way, namely that it assumes God's existence. "The assumption is not merely that there is something, some idea or ideal, some power or purposeful tendency, to which the name of God may be applied, but that there is a self-existent, self-conscious, personal Being, which is the origin of all things, and which transcends the entire creation, but is at the same time immanent in every part of it." (p. 20-21) The God of Scripture must be received by faith, this is what Scripture sets forth. Surely, there are evidences of God in creation (Rom. 1) but there is no natural proof that leads natural man to embrace God's existence beyond all doubt.

C. Denial of the Existence of God in its Various Forms
The idea of God is practically universal in the human race even in the most uncivilized nations and tribes, yet there are those even in Christianized lands who deny the existence of God as he is revealed in Scripture.

     1. Absolute denial of the existence of God.
There are two types of atheism; theoretical and practical. We are familiar with both. The former deny God based upon some scientific or philosophical reason. The latter deny him in their lives though giving assent to his existence. Theoretical atheists can be distinguished in at least three categories which often overlap, (1) dogmatic, (2) skeptical, and (3) critical. Berkhof notes that agnosticism respecting the existence of God, while allowing the possibility of reality, leaves us without an object of worship and adoration just as much as dogmatic atheism does." (p.23)
     2. Present day false conceptions of God involving a denial of the true God.
There are many false conceptions of God "which involve a denial of the theistic conception of God." (p.24) By "theistic" Berkhof means the Christian conception of God or that which is revealed in holy writ. Theism has always believed in a God who is both transcendent and immanent.

     a. An immanent and impersonal God. While Deism removed God from his creation and denied his immanence and Pantheism failed to recognize God's transcendence, Schleiermacher's focus on man's religious experience ignores God's transcendence and also does away with God's immanence in that man's religious conscience is dependent attributes of God that are merely symbolic with no reality.

     b. A finite and personal God. The concept of finite gods are nothing new. For those who believe in a God who is personal but finite, certain realities make it impossible to believe in an infinite or omnipotent God, namely the miserable condition of the world. "Because of the evil that is in the world, he [God] must be thought of as limited in knowledge or power, or in both. The existence of a larger power which is friendly to man and with which he can commune meets all the practical needs and experiences of religion." (p.25). Berkhof notes the idea of a struggling and growing God, which seems to be the understanding of proponents of today's open theism.

     c. God as the personification of a mere abstract idea. The old statement is given that God created man in his image and man has thus returned the favor ever since. Many who profess faith in God, create a god of their own imaginations. I see how this is possible in both theoretical and practical atheism. God may be seen as a quality, a goal, the spirit of some great desire or hope. God is seen by some to be needful for human evolution but that mankind is approaching a time when God will no longer be necessary. In this view God is a projection of the human mind.

D. The So-Called Rational Proofs for the Existence of God.
Berkhoff gives the five most common rational proofs of God, some of which, he says, were in essence suggested by Plato and Aristotle but added to and developed later by students of philosophy and religion. These so-called "proofs" cannot by themselves prove anything, they may be more accurately labeled "testimonies" rather than arguments, yet he acknowledges that they have some value for believers as testimony to divine revelation and while they do not prove beyond doubt the existence of God "they can be so construed as to establish a strong probability and thereby silence many unbelievers." (p.28)

     1. The Ontological Argument.
Credit for developing this argument is generally given to Anselm. The basic argument is that man can conceive of a perfect being, therefore a perfect being must exist. This is true in that all men have some knowledge of God by virtue of being made in his image, but of course conception cannot prove absolute existence. The argument cannot stand alone.

     2. The Cosmological Argument.
Every effect must have a cause, though some would argue this point given certain supposed discoveries at the quantum level, but nevertheless we understand cause and effect. The universe is an effect of something, there must be a cause and it is reasonable to assume an adequate cause, that being God. Again, this is a true testimony to Scriptures account of creation, but the push back to this argument when standing alone is that we cannot assume that God is eternal and that the universe is not. If everything must have a cause, as Kant pointed out, then God must have a cause which results in an endless regress.

     3. The Teleological Argument.
This argument seems to be the best of the five, that the order we find in the universe proves a grand architect, but again according to Kant this does not lead an orthodox understanding of God.

     4. The Moral Argument.
This is a popular one today, that man's moral standard is derived from a moral being. The law of God is written upon the heart of man and he is therefore accountable to it. This presupposition is necessary. The new atheists seem to have no problem harmonizing their denial of God and their own moral standards. Berkhof writes, "While this argument does point to the existence of a holy and just being, it does not compel belief in a God, a Creator, or a being of infinite perfections." (p. 27).

     5. The Historical or Ethnological Argument.
To every place one may go and find man throughout history, one will find religion. Man is a religious being.

To these arguments, Berkhof says that believers do not need them. Though this may sound harsh, he does not trash them completely (as I previously commented). His point, and I think a right one, is that if believers are willing to stake their faith on rational arguments they refuse to accept the testimony of God's Word. These arguments are not to stand alone and cannot by themselves lead to faith in the God of Scripture, but can be seen as accurate interpretations of general revelation and supplements to special revelation. As Schaeffer rightly said, "all truth is God's truth."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reformation Worship Conference

The historic Midway Presbyterian Church in Powder Springs, Georgia is hosting a Reformation Worship Conference October 21-24. Here is the purpose statement from the website:

The schedule includes many workshops and two public worship services on Friday and Saturday nights which will make use of the Genevan liturgy of John Calvin and the Scottish liturgy of John Knox.