Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Two Words that Give Us Hope

Two Words that Give Us Hope
Ephesians 2:1-7

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

It is one of the Apostle Paul’s common teaching tools to paint the worst possible picture, to bring us to despair, to make us think that our situation is beyond relief, and then to use these two little words to show us that there is hope: “But God.”

No matter how bad a sinner we may have been, there is still this ray of light: “But God.”

Every true believer was once in the condition Paul described in Ephesians 2. We were dead in trespasses and sins. We walked according to the course of this world. We conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh. We fulfilled the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath, just like everyone else.

“But God.” None of that previous wickedness goes beyond the infinite reaches of God’s mercy. God has more mercy than we have sin. The gospel is not offered to young sinners, or amateur sinners, or part-time sinners only. The gospel is for everyone who will embrace Christ in all of His offices as prophet, priest, and king.

God does not say, “As long as you have only committed this small number of sins, My mercy extends to you.” He says, “Come.”

“But God.” A person may be impoverished in his or her wickedness, but God is rich in mercy.

Let that always be our response to the enemy our souls when he accuses us with our sin. “You are a great sinner!”

And let our response always be, “But God is a greater Savior.”

Dr. Don Kistler

Friday, February 29, 2008


When it comes to forgiveness we are dealing with both an easy and a complicated subject. We all need forgiveness. Less are willing to grant it.
As relates to our salvation it is a simple matter of faith in Christ whereby we ask for and receive the forgiveness of our sins. Sometimes this is so simple of a concept we want to try and add to the matter by not being willing to forgive ourselves for the things that we have done. It is as if we feel the need to add some sort of penance to God's free grace. But this is not so. Salvation is simple. It is so simple that we don't even have to do anything to contribute to our salvation. Christ has done it all. He bore our sins on the cross--all of them! It is an insult to his death to require more that he has done.
Where things get really complicated, however, is when it comes to human forgiveness rather than divine forgiveness. Forgiveness of the kind that we ask from another and grant to another.
This sort of forgiveness gets complicated when we ask ourselves these questions. Do we only forgive fellow Christians? Do we forgive them only when they repent or regardless of whether or not they repent? Do we forgive those outside of the Christian faith? Do we forgive them only when they "repent" or unconditionally whether they repent or not?
It seems to me that we ought to forgive one another unconditionally and universally. We are obligated to reflect divine forgiveness to believers as well as unbelievers. It is in God's nature to forgive. It is in our nature to forgive. And when it does not seem as if it is in our nature to forgive we must remember that we are commanded to forgive.
The conditional, "if he repents," is surely a given. Of course we forgive a brother if he repents. The Lord taught us to forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors. Again he says that if we forgive others their sins we will be forgiven our sins, but if we do not forgive them, neither will our father forgive us of our sins.
To say that only believers are to be involved in forgiveness as such is to over look the fact that unbelievers do forgive one another--and Christians too! Indeed how can we say we only forgive an unbelieving person who repentantly asks our forgiveness considering that they do not and can not know true repentance? Such reasoning is absurd! Considering that even unbelievers can forgive one another, ought not Christians that have experienced true grace and forgiveness go the extra mile and show love and forgiveness when it is not warranted? What separates us from the unbeliever? It is in that we demonstrate a love that covers a multitude of sins. We turn the other cheek. We love our enemies.
We believe in unconditional election. Why do we fumble the ball at this point and say now that forgiveness is conditional. Christ loved us while we were yet sinners. What unbridled pride is there in that we would have people earn our forgiveness when our Lord himself did not require so much from us. Our hearts show its vengefulness, hatred, and bitterness when we are called upon to forgive unconditionally and we refuse. We want to get even. No we want to get more than even. We want the upper hand and to punish the one who has offended us. How uncharacteristic of Christ this attitude is.
Objection: How is justice to be preserved and served if we are so forgiving? Answer: Is God so small that he does not know of injustices? Is he so small that he cannot right wrongs? "Vengeance is mine," says the Lord. One day we will all give an account of our words and deeds.
Objection: Aren't we required by God to uphold some form of justice in this world? Answer: Of course we are. We must take measures of self preservation and we are obligated to uphold the civil and penal laws of the land. A balance must be found. God is pleased with mercy as well as justice.
Forgiveness does not preclude the prosecution of the criminal. The wife that is beaten and in danger must flee to safety. And a war must be fought with good advice. Restoration and reconciliation are matters of a different sort.
One has the right to call for justice and the full measure of the law. But does one have the spiritual maturity to ask for mercy and offer forgiveness on the part of the offender? Ultimately God will require of man that he be answerable to him. At such a time even eternal punishment awaits those that are not in Christ. Furthermore, it is true that what we bind on earth will be bound in heaven. And it is true that we pray for the destruction of God's enemies. But it is also true that we love our enemies and pray for their salvation. For we too were once the enemies of God.
Objection: I am requiring more than God has required in that we forgive all unconditionally. There will be some whom Christ has not forgiven. Answer: God's eternal election and the forgiveness of man's sins is not so closely related to us in this sense. Man has offended eternal God. He has sinned infinitely. Our sins against one another (though infinitely directed against God) are finite. We can forgive all such offenses that come our way. We cannot see into God's secret decree. But we do know that we as humans created in God's image are forgiving creatures. We are not perfect like God. We cannot bear the weight of an unforgiving spirit. It will eat at our souls and make us men most miserable. Unbelievers understand this. This is demonstrated in even the worst cases. We find that many times an unbeliever will say, "I want you to know that I have forgiven you," to those who have without conscience taken one of their loved one's life, or done great harm to them personally, or to their property etc.
Objection: We are not explicitly commanded to forgive unconditionally. Answer: It is admitted that this argument is based more on the teaching of scripture as a whole than on specific examples. This does not invalidate the argument, however, but on the contrary challenges one's true character as a Christian. Let us ask ourselves where our hearts lie on the matter? Can you pray as Christ did? "Father forgive them. They no not what they are doing." Or as Stephen did? "Do not hold this sin against them."
Objection: We are given the option to forgive unconditionally apart from repentance on the part of the offender as Christ and Stephen did, but we are not required to. Answer Where is the proof for such a notion? Again doesn't this appeal to man's pride and vanity? Doesn't this attempt to raise him to the level of God who is discriminating in his forgiveness? God's election is secret to man, therefore, we preach to all. Why be presumptuous and selective at this point?
Objection: Christ prayed this prayer in his humanity and not in his divinity. Answer: Perhaps he did. Does not this prove my case?

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Deafening Silence: The Argument from Silence and Infant Baptism

The argument from silence (argumentum a silentio) is a logical fallacy. In what sense is it a fallacy though? Generally the fallacy goes something like this: We know that God does not exist. We simply have not formulated the right proof yet. In this case one is silent due to the appeal of knowledge that is yet to be brought to light. The "proof" is of no substantive use. Or x is not mentioned therefore x is or is not the case. This is the more common form of the fallacy.
But practically speaking there may be silence because something is not the case or there may be silence because something is indeed the case. Here are more examples. It is true that Martians do not exist because we have not seen them and they have not contacted us (probability seems to be on our side regarding this truth claim). I do not have a bibliography in my book or paper because it is not the case that I know what I am talking about. But this is not necessarily the truth. Though the lack of a bibliography may indicate that I am ignorant, it may not. It could mean I am really wise beyond my years, smart-a born scholar--an authority! Also consider that I do not have to say that I am human for you to know that a human wrote this blog post. A computer program may have generated the blog post, but odds are a human did it. One would be justified in believing, saying, reasoning, arguing, and concluding that a man named Robert wrote this article. The last time I checked there weren't many computers named Robert doing philosophy and theology (no offense intended to my AI friends).
The point I wish to make is that an argument from silence is not always and necessarily a fallacy. Indeed much can be implied and inferred from silence given the right circumstances. Though we do not have certitude with arguments from silence in this respect we do nevertheless have probability that lends support for or against what it is that is being argued. This cannot be ignored. Let me illustrate this point.
The word "trinity" is "silent" in the bible. You cannot look it up with a concordance. There is not a single proof text, but the doctrine of the trinity is clearly taught. It would be an argument from silence to say that because the word is silent the doctrine is false. The "regulative principle" is not in the bible, nevertheless, the principle is biblical. When it comes to an argument from silence, the truth or falsehood of a matter is contingent on reality. The thing may be either true or false.
The phrase "Infant baptism" is not explicitly mentioned in the bible, but does this mean that because the words themselves are not mentioned the doctrine is false? Silence in this respect is no refutation to the doctrine. The same is true by contrast. It is not sufficient to say that because there is no explicit mention of a verse condemning infant baptism the doctrine is to be taken as true. An argument from silence is completely useless for both applications in this respect. It is appropriate to bring to light fallacious reasoning in these instances.
Again does this mean that there is no usefulness for an argument of silence and that all arguments from silence are fallacious? No. We may find a suitable non fallacious use for an argument from silence if we use it in light of probability. If we take into account the context, available evidence, and relevant information such as already proven truths, we build upon the foundation of pre-existing knowledge. We make use of what we have to work with abductivley (inference to the best conclusion) and inductively (much evidence is given in support). Probability gives much for us to consider. There is much to be said about silence, rather what is not said and why it is not said. Caution must be used, however. It is granted that one must be careful of unbridled speculation.
What if we were told that John is going to preform a baptism, administer the Lord's supper, and preach this Sunday, would we be wrong or unjustified in concluding that he is a minister, even though the term "minister" is silent? No. The conclusion that John is a minister is true unless he is really a plumber who has lost it mentally, and done something extreme like taken the leaders of the church hostage, coercing everybody to go along with him as he plays out his deluded fantasies. Technically we may or may not be right in saying John is a minister but we would have good reason to believe he is. There is room for the possibility of error. But what are the odds?
If a group of secular paleontologist contend that evolution is true, they just have not found the transitional fossils in the fossil record as of yet to use as proof, silence is weak as an appeal for support of their truth claim. We could conclude just as easily that the fossil record is silent because transitional fossils do not exist. The only way we could be absolutely sure (because we have not looked everywhere and at all dispensations of time) is if for example, the scripture, something we know to be true, does not allow for evolution as such. In this case there is no room for possible error in that we have a known rule of truth to verify our conclusion. Probability is not even a factor in this case. We have gone beyond silence to knowledge in this case.
As for infant baptism, we find that there is so much evidence in support of the doctrine that we cannot deny it even though the words themselves are not mentioned. I contend that a proper view of covenant theology leads to a proper view of baptism (infant). I would argue that in one sense we have an example in like kind to the one above. The evidence is overwhelming and is not related to an argument from silence. However due to the nature of the debate on the issue, namely in that proponents of infant baptism are accused of having to resort to arguing from silence, I will show that we are by the contrary supported by what silence there may be in scripture, rather than hindered in our position on the matter. Though it is not necessary for me to make the case of infant baptism solely by using an argument of silence I will, nevertheless, demonstrate the possibility of doing so having given clarification as to what is meant by an argument from silence.
Silence does not take away from the doctrine of infant baptism, but is a helpful ally when used abductively and inductively. As mentioned there can be little or no support when dealing with arguments of silence, but there can also be useful support. Plausibility cannot be ignored.
We find support when considering that it would be completely foreign to God's people to not include their children in receiving the sign of faith whether it be circumcision or baptism. This was such a given in the cultural beliefs and practices of the Hebrew people that there was no need of explicit mention of the need for children to receive the sign of the covenant. To readdress the concept anymore than the scripture had already done would to be redundant for the apostles and outside the scope of the common understanding of God's people and everyday religious experience. This concept is so elementary that it is not heavily reiterated in the new testament. It was clear in the minds of the people.
If I say the Landrums went to church Sunday it would be out of the ordinary for you to think that I am not including my children--infants too. In fact, you would think I was taking a mental vacation if I did not include my children by extension. Similarly, if we are painting a house and we have primed all of the wood that is to be painted and have now began to paint, it would be absurd to keep priming. Paint has now taken the place of primer and as such the transition is easily made without confusion and incident, or at least with very little confusion. There is no more need for primer. As a painter you would not think it strange that the primer was now replaced with paint, but it would be redundant for me to explicitly state the obvious, telling what is already perceived to be the case.
So it is with circumcision, baptism, and the children of the covenant people of God. Circumcision was replaced with baptism. This transition was so easily made that there is no need of an explicit explanation. Silence in this case gives support rather than vitiates. The silence of the matter indicates the transition between the signs of the covenants from old to new was without incident. What problems that did arise were dealt with explicitly, namely, having to do with whether or not circumcision was still required. As we know, it was no longer a requirement for God's new covenant people.
What would have caused a major commotion, on the other hand, in the early church would be the notion that the people of God were no longer to include their children in God's covenant. But that some how after they exhibited faith they were to include them. This would be nonsense in the mind of the people of God. The silence of this in the new testament is deafening!
To exclude children in the new covenant is to turn everything we know about our covenantal relationship with God upside down. It is because God initiates a covenant with us that our faith is qualified. He is the greater and we are the lesser. The covenant is offered by the greater to the lesser with promises of blessings and warnings of curses. Our faith does not validate or invalidate God's covenant, it only determines our position in or under it, in the overall scheme of the plan of redemption. In this sense God's covenant is not contingent on man whatsoever. If anything, we are covenant breakers, not covenant keepers! We are only covenant keepers in light of God's grace on our hearts. This is partly why the old covenant became obsolete and there was need of a new covenant. Adam fell and Moses foreshadowed a better covenant and is considered old in the light of the new. As fallen man we do not initiate and propose a plan of redemption to God. Pure "covenant theology" began long before man was graced with the gift of life and existence--ipso facto--the pactum salutis. (More on the subject of covenant theology in another post.)
I am sure I will be accused of committing the very fallacy of which I am discussing. But as I think I have proven, there can be sources of knowledge (other evidence) that lend a helping hand of probability and relevance to an argument of silence . The argument of silence is a fallacy only in that there is no certitude. It is simply not a good argument in this respect. It is not that the argument cannot be valid in any sense whatsoever.
Silence has no ontological value. It is nothing. It has no being. It is the lack of something, viz, sound. It is the absence of time and space to God, but in our temporal existence we live subject to time and space which are marks of God's creation. So we can use that which is not binding to God for our benefit. An empty glass may be filled. A pause in the chronological order of things helps us to make a point, as is the case with public speaking. And so silence can and is used to our advantage. Such is the way in which the lack of something can be used practically. While being interrogated by the Sanhedrin Jesus remained silent when accused of being able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days. His silence in the matter indicated that he was indeed the Christ. He was condemned on the basis of his silence in the matter. To remain silent is sometimes the equivalent to an open truth claim. My children are sometimes silent in giving me an answer when they have done something wrong. This is a powerful testimony to their guilt.
Surely we cannot rest on fallacious reasoning, arguing from fallacies, but we also cannot deny the relevance of what is implied by silence no more than we might say an appeal to authority is fallacious when referring to God as the authority. Let us then avoid falling prey to bad argument that asserts that the bible is silent on infant baptism and that we must therefore be mistaken on the matter.

Note: There are some evolutionist that claim to have transitional fossils now.
Note: It is difficult to talk of an argument from silence without having a bit of overlap with the argument from ignorance. Context is determines my meaning and choice of fallacies.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Adoption Process Complete

First let me say that my last post seems a bit more preachy than I intended it to. I was hyped up for our trip to the Ukraine!
Secondly, I have some developing ideas floating around in my head on the topic of adoption and missions which I hope to be posting in the near future. So stay tuned.
Also, I just realized that I overlooked linking up to our adoption journal. If one is not familiar with our blogs, it may have seemed as if the worldview ministries blog had been abandoned. It has not. We have primarily been posting our adoption endeavours at kristinasstory.blogspot.com. Sorry for any confusion.
Finally I want to say that after a year and a half we have finally completed the adoption process! Kristina Hope Landrum is formally and practically a member of our family.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Adoption as Missions

The Worldview Ministries "team" (my wife and I) are going to Ukraine for a few weeks next Sunday. I want to answer the question why? We are not going to vacation though that would be nice. We have work to do. I have only been out of the country twice and that was a country in close proximity to the US. In fact, I have only been to seven or eight states. So why would we travel five thousand miles from home? We are going because we are commanded by God to go. Jesus said "Go make disciples of all nations" (Mat. 28:19). This is a command not a suggestion!
All are called to do missions. I would not say that the bible mandates everyone in particular to leave the soil of their homeland. One can do missions by contributing financially so another can go. By the way thank you again to all that helped to support us in this endeavor whether big or--I was going to say small, but your support was no small matter. Also, one can do missions by giving prayer support for those on the mission field. If you cannot go then pray. Pray that god will send laborers into the field (Mat. 9:38). In one way or another we all should and can participate in missions both foreign and domestic.
In this particular case we are trying to adopt. I want to urge everyone to consider adoption in light of missions. What better way to do missions than to bring someone into a covenant family? I do not make mention of this to make me look good. I fall short on more accounts than I get things right. I say this to exhort those of you that may read this to consider adoption as an act of missions. Not that one must adopt as such, but to be involved in some way!
If I have missed the mark by relating adoption to missions, forgive me. I don't thing I have though. God has always had a soft spot for a few particular groups of people, the elderly, blind, stranger in the land, foreigner, and I think especially the fatherless.
Regardless the scripture is clear that pure religion consists of visiting the fatherless (James 1:26). I am convinced that this is the greatest area of concern for missions in our day. We hope to set up a continuing mission to Ukraine even after the adoption. Join Worldview ministries in making this a reality.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Element of Mystery in John Owen

"It is a basic proposition that God can only be known through God" (John Owen, Biblical Theology, Pg.8).

The monolithic principle of all true theology is that God is the source of all knowledge of himself and of his creation. This is true both immediately when God makes himself known directly to our understanding through regeneration, and mediately when we use methods of science, philosophical reasoning, natural theology, natural revelation, and apologetics as instruments of knowledge for the advancement of our own understanding, persuasion towards belief of unbelievers, and for proofs of various sorts. In all of these things it is God that appropriates knowledge of himself to the heart.
We must be cautious not to stumble at this point. Good theology and apologetics are good only insofar as they accurately reflect the true character and nature of God, as well as our nature as fallen man (It is on this subject that Calvin notes in the opening of the Institutes that "without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God."), as seen in the light of and in accordance with scripture. There is much thought that does not harmonize with the authority of scripture, and so far as this sort of knowledge is unfaithful to scripture, it is not true knowledge. There is much learning, but never the attainment of divine truth.
It is a foundational and fundamental truth that it is God who awakens us in our knowledge of him, his attributes, and what he requires of man. There is danger in taking too high of a view of man's faculties of reason. No natural man has ever attained to a true knowledge of God by mere intellectual ability, no matter how grand one's science is or how magnanimous one's quality of genius may be.
There are none that have attained to such a high level of insight that they are among a privileged esoteric and even academic priesthood of some unusual sort. Such a notion resembles that of the ancient pagan priesthoods. Arrogance has poisoned the the roots of this tree and though it seems to be alive it is in reality dead.
The origin of Christian knowledge as regards theology is mysterious, but only in that the mystery is revealed to us all by God. No element of a cultic mysticism of any fashion can be found in Christian theology. Owen says, "It is for no such reasons as this that the gospel is ever called a 'mystery,' but rather that the reality of the gospel, as revealed to us men, exceeds all our human reason (1Corinthians 2:7, 14). In order for a man to receive and understand this 'secret and hidden wisdom,' it is first necessary that he himself become a Christian initiate" (John Owen, Biblical Theology Pg. 11). We are convinced by scripture that in the final analysis it is God who gives sight to the blind. It is God that convicts the heart, awakening us to the reality of his divinity, the beauty of his goodness, and the blessings that are in store for those that know him. Unless we are born again we cannot see the kingdom of God.
The matter of a theology secular to scripture falls short and is in the final analysis inert. "This may be scholastic, but it is not founded in faith" (John Owen, Biblical Theology Pg. 12). Good theology, is summarized by Owen in these words: "All of our theology, therefore, flows from that act of divine will by which He wishes to make known this truth to us" (John Owen, Biblical Theology Pg.15). Furthermore he says, "No one can speak or feel worthily about God, or about divine matters, unless he is aided by God, and neither does anyone know God except by His own self-revelation through God the son: nor yet does God wish to be worshipped in any manner but that which He has ordained" (John Owen, Biblical Theology Pg. 16). And again I quote, "True theology is of heavenly origin, declares its own pedigree from above, and must have nothing of man admixed (Matthew 21:25)" (John Owen, Biblical Theology Pg. 16).

Saturday, September 15, 2007