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Welcome to Answers To Tough Questions

ANSWERS TO TOUGH QUESTIONS (ATTQ) orbits around and is stirred by the great commandment (Mathew 22: 34-36) and the great commission (Mathew 28:18-20).  It’s these twin pillars which have birthed my vision.  Answers to Tough Questions exists to strengthen and come alongside the local Christian church in its mission to make disciples of the nations.  This is accomplished in the following ways: Through Seminars, Preaching engagements, Theology courses, Apologetics courses, Ethics courses, Comparative Religion courses, and online resources which focus on: apologetics, theology, philosophy, and culture.

I’m often asked why I focus on these areas.  Here are the following reasons: Apologetics strengthens the Christians’ ability to evangelize winsomely and boldly. Theology strengthens the Believers’ capacity to grasp the Bible’s core ideas. Philosophy strengthens the Disciples’ facility to think critically. Culture challenges Christ’s Followers to live authentically in its milieu. I’m glad you have stopped by.  Take some time to look around the site and the resources that are available to you and your church.  Please let me know how I can serve you.

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Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: John Bunyan”Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”

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Bunyan: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners[1]

In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, during his incarceration, Bunyan writes a spiritual autobiography, where his conversion to Christ is contrasted from his former idolatry.  The son of a traveling blacksmith, Bunyan in 1653 was incarcerated for 11 years because he refused to refrain from preaching.

He starts his autobiography by explaining the former darkness that bound him (Eph. 2: 2, 3) such that a sinful lifestyle became second nature to him.  Yet, thoughts of coming judgment and hell tormented Bunyan around nine or ten years of age.  However, until he married, all manner of vice drowned out the aforesaid fears as he gave himself over to satisfy his every lust.

Experiencing Guilt Yet Not Converted

Bunyan was much vexed with guilt after hearing a sermon on keeping the Sabbath, and in a mystical experience, he heard a voice (supposedly from Christ) challenging him to leave sin for heaven or embrace hell for sin, despair gripped Bunyan, believing that he was beyond Christ’s forgiveness.  After this experience, Bunyan noticed that his speech went from swearing to leaving that pleasantly behind (this happened before he knew Christ).  Yet, while experiencing some outward manifestations of reform, Bunyan was not converted.  He had religion, but without Christ, he was outwardly righteous, but inwardly wicked.  He was pleased with his own righteousness, while ignorant of Christ’s righteousness.  That is, until it was initially revealed to him through women conversing about the new birth and as Bunyan read the Scriptures, his thirst to truly know God grew.

The Gift of Faith

As Bunyan read (1 Cor. 12: 8, 9) regarding the gift of faith, he wondered if he could receive it, moreover, if he actually had it, but simultaneously was puzzled as how to verify whether or not he had faith.  He then wondered how he could know if he was elect which tormented Bunyan, for he understood Romans 9: 16 to say that one’s election is grounded not on one’s desires, nor on one’s willingness, but on God’s mercy.  Hence, unless God elected him, he knew that hell awaited.  The Tempter tormented Bunyan much with this issue, discouraging his soul deeply, but eventually God’s sweet mercy and calling became real to him (Mk. 3:13).  In his soul, Bunyan understood Romans 8:39 and assured him of God’s love for him.

Struggling with Christ’s Exclusivity

He then had to deal with doubts about Jesus being the only Savior, for the Turks also have their scriptures and their savior is Mahomet.  Yet, something within his spirit allowed Bunyan not to doubt Jesus and the Scriptures he had.  But he still had many bouts with doubt, which caused Bunyan much unrest.  Yet scriptures such as (2 Cor. 5:21; John 14:19; Rom. 8:31; Heb. 2: 14-15) comforted him regarding salvation and the rescue from death, all of which are grounded on God’s goodness toward his creatures.

Called to Ministry

Now concerning his call to ministry, Bunyan offers a brief account explaining among other things how his peers recognized God’s hand on him and gladly desired to hear him preach.  After fasting and prayer, he was appointed to a more ordinary and public ministry of preaching.  Bunyan understood that God desired men with gifts to use them for the Masters glory, rather than bury them.   The following Scriptures encouraged him to labor diligently in the ministry of the word (Acts 8: 4; 18:24-25; 1 Pet. 4:10; Rom. 12:6) and also those of church history (Foxes Acts and Mounments).

Moved for the People

When he preached, Bunyan was moved for the people, as they were confronted with the gravity of their sin before a holy God.  In touch with his own wretchedness, Bunyan was amazed and humbled that the people loved him, and that God was using him for preaching the word.

Mode of Preaching

His mode of preaching focused first on the problem of sin in mans’ hearts, and the terror that awaits the ungodly.  Having been under the torment of such a reality himself, Bunyan understood his duty to warn people of God’s coming judgment and Christ’s rescue.  While he received opposition from the doctors and the priests, Bunyan did not shrink back from proclaiming the gospel.  He was not a polemical preacher, but focused primarily on the redemption that is only found in Christ.

Bunyan sensed God’s leading before he embarked going to any particular place.  Moreover, he also understood that where God lead him, the Devil would meet him trying to oppose the work of the gospel.  He desired to go into the darkest places spiritually speaking and preach the gospel among those who had not heard it, interceding much for them.

[1] Bunyan, Graces Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Dr. Alan Gomes, Spring 2002 Biola University, Reformation & Modern Theology Selected Readings, CD ROM Pp. 1-58).

 

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: Arminius Declaration of Sentiments

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Arminius Declaration of Sentiments[1]

In his Declaration of Sentiments, Arminius deals with the doctrine’s of predestination, Divine Providence, the freedom of the will, God’s grace, Christ’s deity, and man’s justification before God.

Many Facets to Predestination Obtain

The bulk of his treatise deals with the many facets of predestination, holding that Calvin’s view on many points is false and impertinent.  Arminius rejects the notions that the decree of God is the foundation of Christianity, salvation, and one’s certainty.  For predestination is not the foundation of the Gospel, Christ is through whom believers are built up into Him.  It’s neither the grounds for salvation, nor it’s certainty, for only those who believe shall be saved.   Arminius sees that the Gospel of Christ and of the Apostles after the ascension is one of repentance and belief, followed by a promise to forgive sins and realizing eternal life. But predestination belongs to neither of these injunctions and is not necessary for a doctrine of salvation; as an object of knowledge, belief, hope, or performance.

The Councils and Divines of the Church Never Held This Predestination View

Arminius continues and points to the early Councils[2] and to the Divines/Doctors of the church, while holding orthodox views, and defending God’s grace against Pelagius, never brought this doctrine forward or approved it.  Moreover, this doctrine is not found in the volume of Geneva[3] and is debatable in others.[4]  And as such, more tolerance of those opposing Calvin’s view should obtain.

Calvin’s Predestination View is Repugnant in View of God’s Nature

Arminius found the doctrine repugnant in view of God’s nature.  It is repugnant concerning God’s wisdom seeing Him decreeing something that is not good nor can be. Concerning His justice it counts against God loving righteousness and hating evil.  And concerning His goodness, it’s repugnant showing God to will the greatest evil.

Again, Arminius understands this doctrine to be contrary to man’s nature, for being created in God’s image with free will, certain commands to obedience cannot be excited in man if he can choose no other alternative (Rom. 10: 5; Gen. 2: 17).  Along the same lines, Arminius sees that determining man’s actions is inconsistent with creation by preventing the free exercise of liberty.  This predestination is totally opposed to the Act of Creation, for that which is by nature good, turns out to be a the determined perdition of the creature.  Reprobation is an act of hatred (Mt.26: 24) creation is the converse.  Creation is a perfect act of God whereby His goodness, wisdom and omnipotence are manifest.

Calvin’s Predestination View is Hostile to the Nature of Eternal Life

This predestination is both hostile to the nature of eternal life (Mt. 5:12; Tit. 3:7; Jn. 1:12), and to the nature of eternal death (Rom. 6:23).  It’s further inconsistent with the nature of Divine Grace because it denies that: grace can be resisted (Acts 7:51); that man can receive or reject it; and that man cannot freely exercise his will.

There are many more disagreements to Calvin’s views that Arminius expresses such as; this doctrine is hurtful to man’s salvation, it’s dishonorable to Jesus Christ, it’s openly hostile to the Gospel’s ministry, it’s subversive to Christianity in particular (dealing with supralapsarianism), etc.  Arminius then deals with a second and third kind of predestination and then positively affirms his position on the doctrine.

God’s Providence Generally and Specifically

He then deals with God’s Providence seeing in it the general care of God for the whole world and particular care for His intelligent creatures and of those who should be heirs of salvation.  For Arminius, his view of providence does not attribute see God as the cause of sin.  Concerning man’s free will, only the regenerate can perform what is truly good since they are delivered from sin’s power.  Concerning God’s grace, Arminius held men could reject it.  Concerning the perseverance of the saints, they can resist Satan and persevere to the end only through the Holy Spirit’s power.  However, certain passages seem to say that one can fall away from the faith, but many other passages buttress the contrary.  Concerning the assurance of salvation, Arminius holds that one can know with certainty that they are saved, but not with the same certainty that we know God exists.

Arminius then concludes with the believer’s perfection, Christ’s divinity, man’s justification before God and ends his treatise with a plea for toleration from those differing with him, for Christianity has had enough schisms.  Said schisms should be diminished and their influence ought to be destroyed.

[1] Arminius, Declaration of Sentiments, Dr. Alan Gomes, Spring 2002 Biola University, Reformation & Modern Theology Selected Readings, CD ROM Pp. 1-36).

[2]  The first six centuries after Christ.

[3]  Which is done in the name of the Protestant and Reformed Churches

[4]  The Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: Trent on Justification (Discussion) & (Canons)

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Trent, On Justification (Discussion)[1]

Pope Paul the III presided over the Council of Trent, which focused on clarifying the significance of Justification.  They understand that man in his state of original sin is incapable of self-rescue.  Said rescue can only be realized through faith in Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice as one appropriates the benefit of his death personally.  This justification is derived from God’s prevenient grace, which one can reject.

The justification of the impious has God as the final cause, God’s mercy as the efficient cause, Jesus Christ as the meritorious cause, the sacrament of baptism is the instrumental cause, and Gods justice as the alone formal cause.  We are freely justified by faith.  It’s the genesis of human salvation.  However, if one demonstrates confidence in that their sins are forgiven, they are not.  For nobody can have such certainty of faith or of perseverance.

Moreover, justification is realized not forensically, but dualistically as faith and good works manifest in a believer.  Furthermore, it is necessary and possible to keep the commandments, for works of righteousness are the means to realize final salvation.  If one falls away from justification, he can again be justified through the Sacraments of penance, confession of sins, sacerdotal absolution, fasts, alms, etc.  And finally, the ultimate fruit of justification is merited eternal life.   

Trent, On Justification (Canons)[2]

The Canons lay out a plethora of anathemas to those in disagreement with Trent’s views.  Such anathemas include those holding: that man’s image in Adam’s was erased, rather than effaced; that God is the cause of evil in man; that justification is by faith alone; that men are just without Christ’s righteousness; that by faith alone absolution and justification are realized; that perseverance is certain, unless divinely revealed; that Jesus is the Savior but does not need to be obeyed; that one cannot lose their salvation; seeing good works as fruit of being justified, rather than the grounds thereof, etc.

[1] Document retrieved through Hanover College, History Department,  Comments to: luttmer@hanover.edu

[2] Ibid.

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: Calvin On Predestination (Institutes)

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Calvin On Predestination (Institutes)[1]

The Doctrine of Election

In Calvin’s treatise On Predestination, he first addresses the doctrine of eternal election, where some are predestined to salvation and others to destruction.  He begins by affirming that neglecting this doctrine essentially impairs God’s glory and produces pride in the individual.  He admonishes both the inquirers and those shunning the doctrine of predestination, to stay within the bounds of scripture, rather than venture into what God has concealed, for everything we need to know is contained therein.  When God ceases revealing, we cease wanting to be wise.  Calvin understood that profane men would scoff and cavil this doctrine, but it is not to deter one from its inquiry.  For scoffers will always find something to poke fun at.

Predestination is the Eternal Decree of God

For Calvin, predestination is “the eternal decree of God by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man,” God testifying his election of Israel in (Dt.32: 8, 9; 4: 37; 7: 7, 8; 10: 14, 15; Ps.47: 4; 33: 12; 1 Sam. 12:22; Is. 41:9 etc.).  God also shows His rejection of Ishmael, Esau, Saul, and Ephraim (Ps. 78: 67, 68; 147: 20; Mal.1: 2, 3; Rom. 9:8; Gal. 3:16; etc.).   Though in the line of Abraham, they were rotten, not the remnant.  Hence, in God’s eternal and immutable council some were elected for salvation, and others to perdition.

Calvin makes a case for election from Scripture contra those who interpret election, as those who God foreknew would not be worthy of his grace.  His election is certainly not based on man’s inherent worth, for it precedes works.  As Paul declares God’s choosing us (i.e., believers) before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4, 5; Col. 1:12; cf., 1 Tim. 2:9).  Jesus himself explicitly demonstrates God choosing us not based on past merits, but on God’s mercy (John. 15:16).  Again, Paul shows that the origin and cause of election proceed not from works of merit, but from God’s good pleasure (Rom. 9:11).  Calvin disagrees with those that assign election to past or future works, for he understands that God finds nothing in man to show him kindness (Rom. 9:15).

Moreover, Peter accentuates God accomplishing the believer’s salvation by his own determinate foreknowledge in Christ’s death (Acts 2:23).   Election is further supported by the Father’s donation to Jesus, “All that the Father gives me shall come to me” (John 6: 37, 39, 44, 45; 17:9; 12; 13:18;).  These texts demonstrate God’s gratuitous adoption of those whom according to his good pleasure, he wishes to be his sons, because God is contented with his secret pleasure.  Calvin then considers the church fathers on this issue (Ambrose, Origin, Jerome, Augustine, and Aquinas) understanding that Augustine got the doctrine correctly in his later years and continues dealing with objections to his position.

Responding To Objections

Calvin deals with several objections to his view and responds accordingly.  He first addresses those who object that God makes anyone reprobate, and reminds his dissenters that Paul does not try to defend God, but simply reminds us that it is unlawful for the creature to argue with the Creator.  Calvin further shows that the reprobate, are those trees not planted by the Father who are doomed to destruction (Mt. 15:13).

A second objection is that it seems unjust and capricious for God to doom some to destruction before they have committed any wrongs.  Calvin’s response is that because of God’s ontological status (being righteous), he does not commit any lawlessness, and by the mere fact of his willing (in election), is necessarily right.  A further objection is that God seems to be a cruel judge by preordaining the reprobate’s sin.  But, Calvin defends the justice of God with Paul’s words, “…O man, who are thou that replies against God…” (Rom. 9:20-21).  This passage couches God’s infinite mind, to man’s finitude.  The last objection we will consider is the charge that Scripture nowhere declares that God decreed Adam’s fall.  Calvin responds that Scripture proclaims all mankind was in Adam, made liable to eternal death.  The decree is dreadful, but it is impossible to deny that God foreknew man’s end before being created.  To do so, is rash and not advised.

Election Confirmed by God’s Calling

Calvin deals with election confirmed by God’s calling and the reprobate bring upon themselves the righteous destruction to which they are doomed.  Calvin admits that election is God’s secret, but is manifest in his effectual calling.  He then deals with the metaphysics of said calling and concludes that it is founded on God’s free mercy.  He then illustrates aforementioned and understands that this calling is grounded on Christ.  He further considers objections to his position that the elect sometimes fall away and responds accordingly (e.g., the son of perdition passage, many are called but few are chosen, etc.)

[1] Calvin’s Institutes: Chapters 21-24, (This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College. Last updated on May 27, 1999. Contacting the CCEL).

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD_Martin Luther: On Christian Liberty, Justification, the Church Fathers and the Scriptures

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Luther, On Christian Liberty[1]

In his letter On Christian Liberty, Luther addresses Pope Leo X and

affirms that he has never thought any evil concerning his person, but regards him highly and his dispute is not over morals, but over the word of truth.  The Church of Rome “Babylon” doesn’t want reform, and the pope is as Daniel in that Satanically ruled city, the “seat of all pestilence”.  He views Luther’s chief nemesis, John Eccius, as the enemy of peace, evidenced by their exaltation of the Pope (i.e., only via his authority one can be saved, and he alone has the right to interpret Scripture).  Instead of trusting those who exalt him, Luther implores the Pope to trust the ones who humble him.

The Christian is the Freest Lord of All

For Luther, the Christian is the freest lord of all, and subject to none, but is also the most dutiful servant of all and subject to all (Paul’s example used: 1 Cor.9: 19; Rom.13:8).  He argues that mere outward pious acts do not make one justified or liberate the soul, but rather the risen Christ and his word (Jn.11: 25; Mt.4: 4).  The soul can do without everything but the word of God.  Through the word salvation is realized (Rom.1; 10:9; 10:4; 1:17) and the sinner liberated (Rom.3: 23).  This justification is by faith alone, hence, the Christian’s primary concern must be to grow, not in reliance on works, but in strengthening one’s faith.  Luther cites Jesus when confronted by the Jews what the work of God was, “to believe on Him whom He hath sent…” (Jn.6: 27-29).

Commands Teach Us What is Good, But They Do Not Help Us Obey

Precepts (commands) teach us what is good “thou shall not…” but it does not empower us to obey.  Once one understands the aforementioned, that person is ready to believe the promises of God, which by faith aids the obeying of commands, “the promises of God give that which the precepts exact” p.11 (see; 1 Tim.1: 9).  To disbelieve God’s promises is the highest form of insult toward Him, while the converse is the greatest honor toward the Almighty (1 Sam. 2:30).  Among other things Luther makes a case for the priesthood of all believers and sees the system that separates “laity” from “priest”,  “clergy” etc., as bad because the notion is not biblical.

Why Are Good Works Commanded?

To the objection: “if faith is everything, and by itself suffices for justification, why then are good works commanded?  Are we then to take our ease and do no works, content with faith?”  Luther affirms no!  Pertaining to his freedom, man is justified (inwardly) subject to none, but concerning his works (outwardly) he is subject to all and the servant of all.  For Luther, those who belong to Christ crucify the flesh (Gal. 5:24), in his words: “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works” p.18 (Mt.7: 18).  He continues and asserts that good works prior to justification profit the non-believer nothing concerning salvation.  But Luther wholeheartedly embraced the doing and teaching of good works to the highest degree, especially directed toward others (Phil.2: 1-4) as imitators of Christ (Phil.2: 5-8).   The works, which overflow from the joy of being justified, the believer is not concerned with recognition or recompense from friend or foe.  Luther then uses the Virgin Mary, and St. Paul as examples of the aforesaid life.

Justification is the Grounds for Love

For Luther, the man justified by faith in Christ is the one who serves his neighbor by love.  The liberty of the justified is a freedom from all sins, laws, and commandments (1 Tim.1: 9), and a liberty from believing that good works makes one right before God.

 Luther, Table Talk on Justification[2]

In Luther’s Table Talk on Justification, he begins by asserting that it is impossible for the papist to understand this article.  One remains a child of God even though periodically he sin or be tempted, for he is the Shepherds lamb.  Christians make the best use of natural wisdom and understanding because through faith, their reason furthers their understanding of things divine, not so with the unregenerate.  Their understanding is darkened because it strives against faith.

For Luther, the workmen who continuously is improving his craft, is like the righteous who constantly strive to increase their faith.  Faith and Hope are distinguishable in that, among other things, the former; it looks to the word and promise of truth, whereas the latter; looks to that which the Word promises (i.e., the good or benefit).  Again, faith is necessary for salvation because man is justified by it before God through Christ the Lord.  Justification is the key doctrine for all theological disputation; one cannot merit it, it is an inheritance from the Father, it bears the fruit of generosity toward neighbor, it produces virtues (the greatest being patience) and good works in the believer.  Luther understands that a believer’s good works are incompletely good, because they proceed from a weak obedience.

Luther, Table Talk on the Church Fathers[3]

In Luther’s Table Talk on the church Fathers, he does not want to be too critical of the Fathers.  He considers Chrysostum a rhetorician whose exegesis goes awry concerning the message of the text.  On the one hand, Luther’s disgust with the following fathers are because justification is nowhere to be found: St. Jerome; for his writings are cold, Ambrose; for his books are poor, Augustine; for his inattention to faith in Galatians or Romans and his apparent siding with the Church’s authority.  On the other hand, Luther appreciates the writings of Epiphanius; who compiled a church history, and Prudentius; who is the best of Christian poets.

The Fathers must be read with caution.  Luther asserts this because: First, their exegetical methods draw attention away from the Gospel of Christ.  Second, their writings are used in a way that undervalues the teaching of Christ’s apostles.  Third, Augustine noted; the laws of the Jews brought less trouble to the church than the ordinances and traditions of the bishops.  For Luther, faithful Christians must heed the words of Christ and those who stray from them in their teaching, should be shunned.

Luther, Table Talk on the Scriptures[4]

In Luther’s Table Talk on the Scriptures, he views the Bible as the highest and best of all books.  He understands that rulers have tried to destroy the Bible, and its survival is seen as an act of God alone.  Luther compares it to the writings of Homer, Virgil, and the like, and concludes that there is no comparison, regardless of how fine and noble these antiquated books may be.  He is thankful that finally, the Bible is written in the German language for all to read and understand.

Part of the reason Luther sees the Bible as superior to the rest is because of it’s divine content of virtues and gift’s.  The Scriptures abound in comfort for those undergoing trials and tribulations.  They should be studied and judged not by mere reason alone, but in humility bathed with prayer.  Moreover, for Luther, the one who has mastered the principles of the text will not err in its interpretation, but will rather silence his adversaries.  He also affirms that the Bible is to trump the authority of the fathers, regardless of their value.  Again, Luther sees that the knowledge of God in Scripture supercedes any of the other sciences whether philosophers, or jurists for the effect it has on our eternal destiny.

Luther understands that there is no harder discipline of knowledge to master than that of divinity, even though worldly wisdom would hold the contrary position.  He sees the worse thing that could possibly happen to Christians is for the Word of God to be taken from them or falsified.  Among other things, Luther continues lauding the Scripture’s magnificence and comments on the many books of the Bible with the respective authors intended message (Judges, Proverbs, John, Paul, etc.), and the is a discussion on the different genres (example: Gospel parables).  For Luther, the ablest teacher of the Word is the one who so familiarizes with its every text, that the context, verse, and meaning of the passage are known.

[1] Concerning Christian Liberty: by Martin Luther 1520, “The Harvard Classics”, Volume 36 (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1910, Pages 353-397)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD_Aquinas: Summa Theologica 1.1. The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine[1]

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“Science: The Only Means of Knowledge”

In Aquinas’ The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine, he deals with ten points of inquiry.  First, he answers the view that philosophical science is the only means we need to get at knowledge, because to seek anything above reason is prohibited (Ecclus.3: 22).  Moreover, knowledge is grounded in ontology, even the knowledge of God.  Aquinas points out that inspired Scripture (2 Tim.3: 16) instructs us in the knowledge of God, the grounds of which is not human reason, but divine revelation.  It is specifically sacred doctrine that is necessary for salvation.  Again, Aquinas understands that natural and sacred theology, have their respective means of discovery and their epistemic complementary value.

“Sacred Doctrine Cannot Be Science”

Second, there is the objection that sacred doctrine cannot be science for all sciences come from self-evident principles, whereas sacred doctrine proceeds from articles of faith, which are not self-evident nor do all men accept them (2 Thes.3: 2).  Furthermore, science deals with facts and does not concern itself with personal biography, as does sacred doctrine.  Aquinas references Augustine and asserts that sacred doctrine is the only science that begets saving faith.  It not only nourishes and protects said faith, but it also strengthens it.  We must also remember that two kinds of science obtain; the science that is known through the natural light of intelligence (i.e., arithmetic or geometry), and that which proceeds from the higher light of science (i.e., the science of God).  Moreover, the principles of any science are self-evident or can be reduced to the conclusions of higher science.  Again, the principal reason individual facts are treated in sacred doctrine, are for moral exhortation, so that the authority of the men handing down divine revelation may be established.

“Sacred Doctrine Cannot Be One Science”

Third, there is also the view that sacred doctrine cannot be one science, because science treats only one class of subjects, whereas sacred doctrine considers both creator and creature.  Hence it cannot be one science.  However, Aquinas asserts that sacred doctrine primarily focuses on God, and on his creatures secondarily, so far as to accentuate God as their originator and sustainer.  Aquinas appears to have a more integrative approach to science.

Other issues Aquinas tackles considers whether or not sacred doctrine is speculative or practical, whether it is the same as wisdom, whether it is a matter of argument, how it is compared with other sciences, etc

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas: The Summa Theologica, Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, (Benzinger Bros. Edition, 1947).

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD:  Anselm, Cur Deus Homo[1]

 

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In Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, he divides the work into two short books.  The first book contains objections raised by unbelievers because of their view that the faith is unreasonable, and responses by Anselm to their objections.  The second book contains the purpose for which man was created and accentuates that its realization can only be obtained in the God/Man.

Responding To the Contemporary Critics: “It’s Dishonoring to God”

Book One: Responding to the Objections Raised by Infidels.  This work begins with Boso (the one asking the questions) raising the objection that “we do injustice and bring dishonor to God…” when we claim that Jesus was born of a virgin, needed the nourishment of men to grow, grew tired and fatigued, and last of which was crucified among thieves.

Anselm’s response: we neither dishonor nor bring upon God any injustice by those things we claim, but instead we do praise and proclaim the inexpressible height of his mercy.  Through the incarnation, God does more deeply demonstrate his mercy and love toward us, for, as by one man’s disobedience death reigns, so also by one man’s obedience life should be restored.  Moreover, as sin had its cause in woman, so also it was fitting that through woman the author of righteousness be born from her, and in the same way the devil conquered the first Adam by the eating of the tree, so also the last Adam vanquished Satan by his suffering on the tree.  Again, Anselm explains that redemption could not have been realized through any other being other than God (whether angelic or human) because if any other being should rescue man from eternal death, man would rightly have to be that redeemers servant.  The problem however is that both angels and man were designed to serve only God through eternity.

“The Incarnation Seems Inconsistent with Reason”

Another objection raised against the incarnation by Boso is that it seems inconsistent with reason for the Almighty to “stoop to things so lowly, that the Almighty should do a thing with such toil”.

Anselm responds by accentuating that God’s will ought to be sufficient reason for whatever he does because his will is never irrational, regardless of our inability to understand.  Furthermore, to think that it is unreasonable for the Almighty to stoop so low and embrace so much toil is to misunderstand our faith.  For we assert that the Divine nature is indubitably impassible, He cannot be un-exalted, nor does he toil in anything He desires to effect.  Moreover, the Lord Jesus Christ is very God and very man, one person who has two natures.  Hence, when we speak of God enduring humiliation or suffering, it only refers to the feeble human constitution, which Jesus assumed.  In the incarnation, there is no debasing of the Deity, but rather there is the exaltation of man’s nature.

 “Why Should the Most Just Man be Punished for the Guilty?”

Something that also seems unjust and lacking wisdom for Boso is that the most just man should be punished for the guilty.  Not only does God deserve condemnation for such an act, but this also argues against his omnipotence and justice.

Anselm responds by asserting that God neither put the innocent to death for the guilty, nor impelled Jesus to die and suffer against his own will for man’s salvation.  Instead, Jesus willingly laid down his life.

Boso objects by citing many texts that demonstrate Jesus’ submission to the will of the Father, and as such, that this act was one of obedience to the Father’s will, not Jesus own free will.  Anselm clarifies the misunderstanding between doing something at the demand of obedience as opposed to what he suffered because of his perfect obedience.  For every rational being owes the demanded obedience to God and the Father claimed it from Jesus (in his humanity).

It would be unjust for God to demand death of a sinless man for whom God created to be happy in Him.  Furthermore, it would not be right for God to make miserable by death a creature who is without fault, for that is not the goal of his creation.  Rather than being compelled by God to die, Christ suffered death of his own accord, and by yielding up his life, Jesus is not offering an act of obedience, but rather on account of obedience in maintaining his holiness, he met death.

And when a scripture like “God did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all”, it simply means that God did not rescue him, not that he sent him to die.

“Sin’s Meaning & It’s Relatedness to Satisfaction”

Now concerning the meaning of sin and how satisfaction for sin is realized, Anselm first explains that sin is not rendering to God his due.  The debt man owes to God is to be subject to His will.   By neglecting the aforesaid, man robs God and dishonors Him, thus sinning.  To make satisfaction for the offence and be cleared of fault, a repayment of honor to God must be made in return.  This is a debt every sinner must settle, yet is unable to repay on his own.  Anselm continues the theme by pointing out that God would be unjust not to punish the unjust for their sin.  For by not executing his justice, God would then not differentiate between the guilty and the innocent, and this is unbecoming of Him.

Anselm also deals with how God’s honor exists in the punishment of the wicked, how man cannot be redeemed without satisfaction for his sins being made, and how Jesus the God/Man necessarily realized the rescue for mankind.  Moreover, how it’s impossible for the devil to be saved and how great God’s compassion really is.

[1] St. Anselm, “Cur Deus Homo,” Basic Writings, (Translated by S. N. Deane, Pp.191-302, © 1962 by Open Court Publishing Company, 2001 Printing).

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD_ St. Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict[1]

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The Centrality of Prayer

In his Rule, St. Benedict starts off the prologue by placing fervent prayer as the pre-eminent act before starting any good work so that it may be brought to perfection.   He then admonishes his disciples to not harden their hearts as the Israelites did when they heard God’s voice, to learn the fear of the Lord, and to work while it is still day.  Yet, like Paul the apostle (1 Cor.15: 10) as they see the progress and fruit of their work, they are not to boast of themselves, but are rather to give thanks to God for supplying the grace needed to accomplish their tasks.  Since disciples are in a battle, critical to holy obedience is the preparation of both heart and body.  And that which is impossible by nature, the disciple is to ask the Lord for his grace to help.  The purpose of the regulations is not intended to be harsh, nor burdensome, but where strictness obtains, it is to safeguard love and amend faults.

The Rule’s Impact

Benedict calls it a rule because it regulates the lives of those who obey it.  He starts off the rule by explaining the four different kinds of monks that exist and that his order (the cenobites) live in a monastery and serve under a rule and an abbot.  The Abbot must exemplify the character of Christ and make Jesus’ teaching the anchor of all that’s instructed to the disciples, understanding that God’s stricter judgment awaits those who teach.  The primary manner in which the Abbot is to teach is not by mere words, but rather through example.  Furthermore, the Abbot is to show no favoritism and when teaching, he must use argument with the undisciplined, he must use appeal with the docile and obedient, and with the negligent and disdainful he must use reproof and rebuke.  Above all else, the Abbot must not treat lightly his duties by being distracted with the temporary things of the world.

Tools for Good Works Grounded in One’s Love for God

Concerning the tools for good works, Benedict points out that the great commandment on which all good deeds are grounded: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  The restraint of speech is especially cherished so that sin is avoided (Prov.10: 19) and vulgar speech is abated.  Moreover, the twelve steps to humility first begin with the fear of the Lord.  One is to constantly remember that God sees their deeds and motives.  The second step is for a man to not delight in his desires or will, but rather to make God’s will his desire (Jn.6: 38).  The third step requires one to submit to his superiors in all things for the love of God, while the fourth step admonishes the disciple to submit even though being unjustly treated, for it is the one who endures to the end that will be saved.  Again, whether verbal, mental, or actual’ all sins must be confessed to the Abbot, the disciple must be grateful for the lowest tasks and see himself as a poor and worthless workman.  Furthermore, this workman must realize and confess that he is inferior to all and of less value than they.  The eighth step to humility is that the monk is only to do what the common rule of the monastery endorses and the example set by his superiors.  Again, a monk must control his tongue and remain silent unless spoken to.  He must not speak loudly with laughter or raise his voice, but instead he is to speak gently, seriously, and with becoming modesty.  Finally, the monk is to walk about with his head down at all times judging himself as a sinner who desperately needs Gods mercy to save him.  All these steps can only be realized through the power of the Holy Spirit’s grace being imparted to one.

The Reading of Scripture

Among other things the rule emphasizes the way, manner, and the days in which one is to read the scriptures and the catholic fathers.  Much attention is given to the Psalms and text memorization.  There is a specific procedure for the evening, morning and midday prayers, for the singing of the psalms, and for how one is to do their work.  Moreover, how to deal with the poor and excommunicated brothers is also addressed, as well as the proper and improper way for monks to interact with each other in the monastery.  Benedict ends his rule by reminding the monks that the rule is only the beginning of perfection, but by displaying the virtues in the rule, one displays that he has the beginnings of the monastic life.

[1] The Rule of St. Benedict In English; Editor Timothy Fry, O.S.B., (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1981 by the Order of St. Benedict).

Reflections From 1 Corinthians_CHAPTER 7:12-16 MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST Part 2  

1-corinthians

Paul now addresses the spouse married to an unbeliever.  The married are to remain married but if there’s desertion or divorce they are to remain as they are and not cling to another.  To the unmarried, they are to remain single, but if they lack self-control, they are to marry.  To the married who are with an unbelieving spouse Paul says:

12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.

For Paul, when one spouse converts to Christ it’s their duty to stay together and not divorce because of conversion so long as the spouse consents to live together.  This issue was difficult then and remains unto today.  Emotions run high, words are spoken, insults are unleashed, and at times physical abuse occurs.  This can be a difficulty and tricky situation to navigate but there’s a reason for the command:

14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.

Puzzling as it may be, here’s my best shot at getting the point.  Biblically one is not redeemed because of another’s trust in the living God.  For personal repentance is required of each one to be rescued from God’s wrath.

Second, the allusion to “unclean” and “holy” are OT themes where being set apart is a sign that one is part of the covenant community and thus  males were to be circumcised, the people were to eat kosher foods.

Third, taking part of said activities were signs one was part of the covenant community but did not guarantee one was part of the remnant (i.e., real regenerated believers in heart evidenced by their obedience to Yahweh).  That is, not all Israel was saved evidenced by their recalcitrant lives and while their lineage is Jewish not all were sons of Abraham (i.e., not all had the faith of Abraham).

Fourth, as it was then, so it is today where people partake of the covenant communities activities but remain unbelievers.  So what does Paul mean by “unclean and holy”?  Perhaps being around the believing community does offer an opportunity for genuine faith to arise in both spouse and children.  Again, even if they don’ have genuine saving faith, the Christian theist’s worldview has an impact on them that aids mirroring the image of God and somehow they are “clean and holy”

This text is tough to decipher, nevertheless when a text in Scripture is puzzling, the wise way to proceed is to use what is clearest in Scripture to deal with and try to understand the more difficult passages.  Paul continues:

15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

Paul notes several things here.  First, the previous verses on “clean and holy” can’t mean someone is in the covenant family because he addresses the issue of “saving” one’s spouse.  Personal repentance and faith is a necessary condition for salvation, thus one can’t be “saved” on another’s faith in Christ (e.g., your parents faith).

Second, Paul wants believers in this situation to understand that while being in this present evil age, believers married to non-believers will at times experience desertion or divorce.

Third, sometimes spouses believe that if they persevere in the marriage they will be able to save their spouse via example, but Paul reminds them that this is never a guarantee.  It may happen, but it may not.

Fourth, the bondage that such a believer may experience is not what God has designed for them but instead His peace.  What could this mean?  Minimally, once we were God’s enemies but now are his friends because of Christ, wrath is no longer ours to bear.  This peace is to be mirrored in our relationships.  He’s saying, “If they want to leave, let them go and cling to Christ”.

SDG

Reflections From 1 Corinthians 7:6-11_MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST Part 1

1-corinthians

 

Paul continues to develop his thought on marriage and singleness and considers: whether one is married to an unbelieving spouse or not, whether one came to Christ from Jewish or Gentile roots, whether they are redeemed being a slave or a freedman, whether they are a virgin or not, he considers when one is permitted to remarry and by implication when remarriage is prohibited.

Whatever state in life the believer finds themselves in, they are to primarily concern themselves with pleasing the Lord.  Paul aims to encourage Christians to let the eternal kingdom of God be the governing factor in their lives instead of the temporal situations in which they find themselves.  He starts off by saying:

But this I say by way of concession, not of command.”   

What’s the difference between these two terms?  A concession is permission to do something, or being allowed to act a certain way (L&N §13.141), whereas a command here does not infer the giving of detailed instruction but of having the right and authority to command subjects to obedience (L&N § 37.42).  Paul is making it clear that if what he refers to (the forthcoming concession), the Corinthian believers do not obey, they are not violating God’s decree which the apostles have been distinctly charged to dispense as Christ’s authoritative ambassadors.

Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.”    

The term “wish” is a way of describing desire which is a state of affairs that does not necessarily exist, one which may even be impossible, but nevertheless it is felt.  When Paul says, “I wish that all men were even as I myself am”, I don’t think he is referring to his apostleship, nor to his character traits, but to him being unmarried where his devotion to Christ is less distracted.

Paul reveals that he is not married (we are not sure if he was married, a widower, abandoned by his spouse because of his conversion to Christ, etc.) and desires that the Corinthian church not only be single but also self-controlled.

It is not unreasonable to think that Paul was previously married and abandoned because of his conversion to Christ Jesus.  Being a Hebrew of Hebrews, zealous for the Jewish traditions unlike any of his contemporaries, he would have been an amazing “catch” in that culture, the pride of family, wife and nation.  Yet this monotheistic zealot was converted on that appointed day and his world was turned “up-side down”.

If that was the case and more, then may the weightiness of his words not escape us where elsewhere he declares, “I have counted all things as rubbish for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ…”, “to live is Christ and to die is gain…” etc.  Paul’s supreme treasure above all else was truly Christ; above status, possessions and human relationships.

This is who is speaking and we do well to carefully consider what he is saying and what he means.  Thus, while Paul discloses his personal desire, he understands that not everyone is like him because God (the infinite self-existent one and source of all life) gifts us all with varying talents and abilities.  He now addresses the unmarried and widows:

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.  But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion

Note that in verse 1 Paul affirms that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” (i.e., not commit sexual immorality), and uses the same phrase “it is good” for the unmarried to remain single.  Paul is not disparaging marriage but rather accentuating something that seems to be counter-intuitive—in an age of sexual immorality, if you are single believer, then stay single.

While it’s good to abstain from fornication and adultery God has nevertheless given the human race sexual desire that longs to express itself.  Is Paul encouraging abstinence at all costs?  No.

While it is good to remain single, if there’s a lack of self-control, Paul says get married.  It’s better than burning in passions and falling into sexual expression that is outside the confines of marriage.  Now Paul addresses those married:

10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

Several items stand out here.  First, Paul here makes a distinction between the Lords instruction and his.  This could be understood to mean that the former is to be obeyed, and the latter can be dismissed.  The problem with that interpretation is that Paul is clearly God’s called apostle, his authoritative spokesman in a way the rest of us are not.  So to think that Paul’s views are a “take it or leave it” proposition does not logically fit.

Second, one could see verse 6 linked to this where Paul distinguished between a command and a concession, between what must be obeyed and what may be obeyed.  The problem though is that the Lord’s instructions, as Paul’s instructions, come with authoritative force which a concession does not possess.

Third, many understand this distinction between the Lord and Paul to mean that Jesus himself previously addresses the issue and thus taught on it (e.g., Mt.5:32; 19:3-9; Lk.16:18, etc.) and thus Paul gives the Master’s instructions on said topic.  Yet, when the Lord Jesus does not give instruction on a particular topic Paul says, “I not the Lord”.
That is, the distinction is not one of authority but one of subject.  This third option seems to make the best sense.

Moving on Paul discourages the immoral act of abandoning one’s husband, and the husband is also commanded not to divorce his own wife.  Both husband and wife are in a position to act immorally by severing the union and both are in a position to honor Christ in their marital union.

Marriage is an amazing gift that like others requires maintenance, care, nurture and sometimes restoration. When the required care and understanding (here time must be invested) are not practiced, like a car needing an oil change before the engine blows, so too the marriage union when it’s neglected the immorality of desertion and divorce seem to follow.