Herman Bavinck: God and Creation

As Bavinck in many places is summarizing traditional Reformed teaching, this book is exactly what you would expect on Reformed dogmatics. However, no one ever does theology in a purely Platonic vacuum. Bavinck is within a certain milieu of Western intellectual thought. He knows that and wrestles with it. His result, at least in this volume, is a budding Neo-Calvinist take on the doctrine of God, and more particularly the doctrine of Creation.


Some highlights:

* “All doctrines treated in dogmatics….are but the explication of the one central dogma of the knowledge of God” (Bavinck 29).

* Main point: we have no exhaustive knowledge of God (36). He is apprehended but not comprehended (47).

Bavinck does move the discussion forward on the doctrine of simplicity. He holds to the Augustinian line, yet realizes that we can’t make “simplicity” some sort of metaphysical “ = “ sign.

God’s attributes and being: “one cannot make any real distinction between his being and his attributes” (118). So how does one distinguish the attributes? The names of God differ in thought (125). The attributes of God, though identical, are not interchangeable because his names aren’t interchangeable. This is an important move forward and in it Bavinck avoids the fall into nominalism that would have otherwise happened.

“Simplicity does not describe God as an abstract being….it speaks of him s the absolute fullness of life” (127). This, too, is good. Sometimes doctrines of simplicity, like in some Neo-Thomist accounts, appear to posit a god not unlike a solar disc. He’s there, to be sure, but there isn’t much special about him.

I particularly enjoyed the sections on heaven and creation. Angels: they are animate, personal beings (451). Bavinck breaks with Calvin and sees the Prince of Persia as the guardian spirit of Persia (467), and this makes sense as Michael wouldn’t have been detained with wrestling with a local human ruler in the heavenly places.

Recreation in Christ is founded on the original creation in God’s image (532). Sin does not take away the substance of things nor does grace restore that substance (574).

Bavinck sees Rome as teaching creation of man in a dual sense: pure nature + donum superadditum (541). Bavinck says this is an error of Neo-Platonism which needs an intermediate state between matter and spirit. For the Reformers “original righteousness [was] inseparable from the idea of man as such” (551).

Bavinck affirms but does not explicate the idea of covenant of works (571). That’s for the next volume. Its importance here is that it anchors the idea that Adam had not yet achieved final blessedness.

Conclusion: so the image of God is not a static entity but extends and unfolds itself in the forms of space and time. It is both a gift and a mandate….Only humanity in its entirety–as one complete organism, summed up under a single head, spread out over the whole earth, as prophet proclaiming the truth of God, as priest dedicating itself to God, as ruler controlling the earth and the whole of creation–only it is the fully finished image, the most telling and striking likeness of God” (577).

Definitely a milestone book, but there are a few hang ups. It’s particularly difficult on a first reading because Bavinck is summarizing much of the harder sections of Western idealism. Once you are past that it repays multiple readings.

The Word Enfleshed (Oliver Crisp)

Crisp, Oliver D. The Word Enfleshed: Exploring the Person and Work of Christ.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016.

As with all of Oliver Crisp’s works, this volume brings rigorous analytical clarity to weighty discussions.  Furthermore, the essays are connected.  Some of Crisp’s earlier works (i.e., Retrieving Doctrine) seem more like collections of essays, even though they are quite good.  This is a valuable intermediate-level text for Christology.

Eternal Generation and Paul Helm

Crisp explores some “varieties of Arianism,” so to speak and whether Paul Helm’s criticisms of eternal generation (EG) hold water.

The problem for adherents of EG: “if God the Father eternally causes the existence of God the Son, then his existence is logically dependent on the eternal causal action of the Father” (Crisp 5).

Response #1: Logically dependent isn’t temporally dependent, so Arianism is blocked. Another important point is that since this generating act is spiritual and non-physical–its being generated from within the mind of God–it is “an eternal divine act of internal self-differentiation” (13).  It is a “de re” necessary relation, so Helm’s claim that it moves economy into ontology doesn’t work (though this might be a problem for ESS).

Christ Without Flesh

Crisp rebuts Robert Jenson’s later criticisms of the logos asarkos. Robert Jenson notoriously claimed that Christ is identical to the 2nd Person of the Trinity.  This has the bizarre implication that Jesus’s flesh is eternal.

Jenson might not mean that, though.  He clarifies that Christ is the narrative pattern of Israel

Incorporeality and Incarnation

Problem: how can a simple God the Son possess a material body, yet not be made of parts?  Crisp gives a fascinating discussion of Neoplatonism and panentheism.

Christological Doctrine of the Image of God

Crisp explores the various proposals for the image of God, calling particular attention to the difficulties in the Plato/Calvin view.  If the image of God is what we have to the exclusion of everything else in creation, and I think all sides would agree with that, and if the image is reduced to the soul/rational faculties, then we have the uncomfortable position that angels (and perhaps demons) are also in the image of God.  Few want to go down that road.

On the other hand, attempts to get rid of any “substance talk” concerning the image of God and/or human nature don’t work, either.  For those who hold that the image is connected with ruling and dominion (which I think it is), we still have substance ideas.  Someone who is ruling has the metaphysical properties and capacities for ruling.  I think the dominion idea is correct, but you can’t avoid substance-talk.

Desiderata for Models of the Hypostatic Union

Pace Bruce McCormack, we have to deal with substance.  Even Barthians like McCormack make claims about the properties or concrete particulars of Christ (78).

The problem: Does Chalcedon commit us to a particular metaphysics?  

Answer: Probably.

Some conclusions:
(1) The Son didn’t assume a personal human nature.  This is the an/enhypostatic distinction.

(2) For Chalcedon, a hypostasis “was essentially a particular individual within a universal species, identifiable as such or such a thing by the qualities” it/he/she shares with other individuals (Daley, quoted by Crisp, 86). 

(3) Persons are concrete things. A person is a substance (or supposit) that instantiates a substance-kind by a de re relation.

(4) This does not entail Nestorianism, though.  While almost all human natures are human persons, they don’t strictly have to be. In philosophy a proper part of a person isn’t a person.  There is the famous Tibbles-the-Cat experiment.  Tibbles is a cat with all of the properties of a cat.  He has 1,000 hairs on his fur.  He also has the property part of all of Tibbles’ hairs-minus-one (T -1). Does that constitute a new cat?  What if he also has the part T -2, and so on until T -999? 

(4*) Therefore, God the Son, though he has the property of human nature, is still only a divine person and not also a human person.

The Union Account of the Atonement

What’s the difference between a “model” of the atonement and a “metaphor,” with the latter term being more popular today?  A model of the atonement is a thicker description.  It actually–with varying degrees of success–attempts to explain the “mechanism” for how the atonement works.  Metaphors don’t do that.  Crisp (rightly) opts for models in this chapter.

Aulen: Ransom/Christus Victor.  Gustav Aulen’s historiography has been thoroughly criticized.  So does his claim work on the deeper level?  No. It seems that the ransom is being paid to the devil.

Anselm: Satisfaction.  God’s nature requires that he be satisfied for the wrongs against him. Human sin was committed against an infinite good and requires an infinite sacrifice. The strength of this view is that it actually explains the mechanism better than earlier views.  There are some problems, though.  Nothing is said about penal substitution.  It isn’t necessary for Anselm’s view, so Protestants might balk at this point.

Crisp then discusses the moral and penal views, with the standard arguments pro and con.  His own view, so it seems, is what he calls a “Union Account.”  He has Augustine’s philosophical realism do “all the heavy lifting” (130). If traducianism (T) holds (and I think it does), then there is no injustice in God’s punishing me for Adam. I am metaphysically united to Adam.

There are some difficulties at this point, though none of them are fatal.  If T obtains, then there isn’t any need for imputation language.  Further, are souls fissile?  Crisp says no.  I think they might be, so that’s not a problem for my traducianism.  Further, if T obtains and if the issues resolving sin and human nature are resolved, this doesn’t explain anything about the actual atonement.  T only works regarding sin, not righteousness.

Crisp then augments his view with a “mystical union” account. He doesn’t actually develop it in this chapter.  He does pick up some ideas in the following chapter on the Spirit and Christ.

The Spirit’s Role in Union with Christ

This section gets interesting as Crisp ties in Nevin’s realism with Edwards four-dimensional ontology and identity with time.


There is some overlap in the book and Crisp does use material from previous essays.  Nevertheless, there is a conceptual “flow” to the book.  

Transhumanism and the Image of God


Shatzer, Jacob.  Transhumanism and the Image of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2019.

Jetsons Fallacy:  humans can remain unchanged with hyper-advanced technology and robots.   As Shatzer argues, “Radical technological change will radically shape humans as well” (Shatzer 1).  His thesis is a bit deeper, though. Technology can change us at our deepest root, and this includes discipleship as Christians.

He gives a neat illustration: time. We tell time differently than humanity used to. We move backwards from watches to clocks to hourglasses to candles to calendars. “Hours were marked by natural time and days by religious time” (4). If you would have asked a man in 100 AD what time it was, he wouldn’t have said “4:32 PM.”  Would he even have known what that was? Here is the kicker: technology changes the way we experience time.

Time also has a public nature.  A common time allows people to “synch” with each other.  More concretely, it is also embedded in power relations and market relations.

Posthumanism is the futurist’s goal.  Transhumanism aims at posthumanism. As one puts it, “We aren’t evolving. We are upgrading” (Peter Novak).  You might say, “I don’t plan on becoming a robot.” That’s good, and you probably won’t. However, technology disciples us.

“Each tool pushes us toward the goal that the tool is best made for” (7).  We say “when you are a hammer, everything is a nail.” What about if you are a smartphone?  Everything is a status update. All of this is to say that technologies have the power to shape.  This is what Heidegger called “gestell,” or en-framing.

Technology and Moral Formation

Binocularity: the way we shape our tools and the way they shape us (18). Take Google, for instance.  Shatzer points out that “studies are beginning to show that our technology is changing us on a neurological level: our brains are changing” (19; cf. Greenfield, Mind Change). As Mary Aiken notes, technologies always come into contact with predispositions and behaviors: they amplify and escalate (Aitken, Cyber Effect, 22).

What is Transhumanism?

Definition: transhumanism seeks “to improve human intelligence, physical strength, and the five senses by technological means” (Michael Plato, “The Immortality Machine”). Posthumanism is the product.  Transhumanism is the highway (Shatzer 41). Posthumanism seeks to get beyond the limits of being human.

My Body, My Choice: Morphological Freedom

We need to make a distinction between therapy and enhancement. Wearing glasses to fix eyesight is not the same thing as enhancement.  I am fixing a defect. Enhancement is when I augment my body to escape the limits of being human. Futurists argue that this is a basic right along the following lines:

  • They begin by saying we have a right to life and right to happiness (Sandberg, “Morphological Freedom,” 56ff).
  • From this follows the right to freedom.  Because I have to survive, I have to act freely in my own interest.  And since different people have different conceptions of happiness, I get to do what I want.
  • This means I have a right to my own body.  This means I get to augment it.

The futurists throw a bone to those who might not be on board: not everyone has to accept this right.

The Hybronaut

Augmented reality: it is the overlaying graphics on the real world (Platoni, We Have the Technology, 204).  Shatzer points out that we don’t simply act on tools: our consciousness reacts to tools as well (Shatzer 75). “Human minds and bodies are essentially open to episodes of deep and transformative restructuring” (Platoni).  This is similar to what the German philosopher and mathematician Edmund Husserl called “overlapping consciousness.”

How so? When we use a new device, we create an interface between our minds and neural activities and the device.  It “creates a circuit between the agent and the and the world that is different from previous circuits” (Shatzer).  You can do this with something as simple as a stick. Your brain as a result can better distinguish between “near-space” and “far-space.”

Shatzer introduces a crucial distinction here: body image and body schema. A body image is a conscious construct that informs thought and reasoning about the body” (76).  A schema is a suite of neural activity as a response to new technology.

Meeting Your Mind Clone

Goertzel: extend technology into the domain of consciousness (“Artificial General Intelligence and the Future of Humanity,” 128). We have always prized our consciousness as something that is “inner” to us.  Futurists such as Yuval Harari are quite candid that view is on the way out. But is it really possible to create the type of artificial intelligence that will react to new scenarios in a way different from typical computer programming?  Yes, but it will be what you think. It will start out as some sort of network or interface between human brains and artificial intelligences (Shatzer 94).

The goal isn’t simply to change human brains. It is to create a global brain or intelligence.  According to Shatzer, “This idea stems from the observation that the various minds on the earth are gradually becoming more connected into a greater mind” (94).  This will lead to a mental explosion, which Ray Kurzweil calls “the singularity.”

Uploading Your Mind: Can Brains be Digitized?

Mind uploading: starting with a human mind and ending with a digitized one (98). In a rather surprising move, one of the transhumanists gives a very Christian account of the mind-brain dualism.  Our mind is the totality and manner in which our thoughts take place. Our brain is the underlying mechanics (Koene, “Uploading to Substrate-Independent Minds,” 152). In other words, our brains traduce our minds.

The logic is very simple: if our brains and minds are separate, can’t we simply upload our mind to a different brain?  This is why Koene says our minds are “substrate-independent.” How, if indeed possible, this plays out is beyond me. What is interesting, though, is that it generates a new vocabulary and grammar:


The main problem with all of this is it reduces the human mind to a function (Shatzer, 105). Functions, moreover, can be measured on a material scale.  

Shatzer ends with counter-liturgies, practices that we can do to stop technology’s discipling of us.  We aren’t getting rid of technology, which is probably impossible. We are simply limiting the ways it can shape our spirits (and our brains).


“Futurists don’t want a technological future; they want a technosocial one” (Vallor, quoted on 9).

Technology has its own trinity: access, data, and speed (22).

The Dominion Covenant (North)

North, Gary.

This is his commentary on Genesis. It’s not a textual commentary.  It’s more of worldview analysis.

Cosmic Personalism: our universe is created and governed by a speaking God.

Purpose, Order, and Sovereignty

Gen. 1:14-18 is more offensive than Gen. 1:1 simply because it can’t be allegorized and it ruins any attempt to harmonize creation with evolution.

The Dominion Covenant

Man is God’s image bearer and so has limited sovereignty over creation (North 29).

Economic Value: Objective and Subjective

“The doctrine of imputation lies at the heart of creation” (37). It is objectively good because it conforms to God’s decree.  It is subjectively good because God, the speaking subject, announced it as good.

Marginalist revolution in economics:  acting men impute value to scarce economic resources. See diamond-water paradox.  We never buy “water in general” or “diamonds in general.” Men do not trade indeterminate aggregates (North 40).

The value of the marginal unit determines the exchange value.  However, marginal utility cannot be applied among two or more individuals.

Subordination and Fulfillment

Man and nature–thesis:  dominion requires a division of labor (85).  Adam receives a helpmeet.

God-designed Harmony of interests

Thesis: the heart of man’s being is not his sexuality, but his calling before God (90). The marriage-sexual covenant is subordinate to the dominion covenant. If Eve is a help-meet, then we already see a division of labor.

Contra Marx, on class warfare.  The history of all societies is not class warfare, but ethical warfare against a sovereign God (98).

Costs, Choices, and Tests

Value is subjective because man is a personal  being. God, also, is a personal being. He imputes value to His creation.  Man imputes value to creation within a hierarchy of values (101). Is it worth giving up x to get y?  Choice requires preference, and preference requires standards, and standards require an authority structure.

Scarcity: Curse and Blessing

Common Grace, Common Curse

Linear growth overcomes cyclical stagnation.  Because the ground is cursed, men must allocate resources and divide their labor.

The Burden of Time

The meaning of life forces us to consider the meaning of time (118-119). Time is the god of paganism and chance is its throne.  Time is “dead necessity.” For biblical man time is opportunity (120).

Godly Deception

Everyone gives Rahab trouble for her lie (even though James says she was justified for that very act).  But as North points out, her lie is irrelevant, analytically speaking. She committed high treason and no one bats an eye at that (184-185).

Jael lies, too.  In fact, she violated her husband’s international treaty with Sisera.  She lied to him and drove a spike through his head. Rather than anguishing over the “Nazis at the door question,” the Holy Spirit, speaking through Deborah, says “Most blessed of women is Jael” (Judg. 5.24).

Towards a review

Do not approach this book as an exegetical commentary.  It’s nothing of the kind. North begins with the presupposition that all ancient (and modern gnostic) cosmologies die upon the rock of the speaking, self-contained God.  From there he shows that such disciplines as economics can’t consistently exist in a random universe which worships the chaos gods.


*Any serious claim to godhead must maintain the unity of the Godhead. Since man is god, he must be made to unite.  We see this with covenant-breaking man and the United Nations. Man, collective man with the scientific elite at the top, must be unified.

* Pagan cosmology, both ancient and modern, is committed to the chain of being. God is part of this chain.

*Evolution requires several leaps in being.  One, to get the process of life started. And another leap to develop consciousness distinct from the atoms bumping into each other.

*Cyclical views of time are connected with ancient chaos rituals.  In doing so, the participants engage in a drama of the creation of the world from the unformed (and hence chaotic) hyle.  It is a demonic power from below.

Covenantal Apologetics (Oliphint)

Image result for covenantal apologetics oliphint

I’ve long suspected that we need to ditch the term “presuppositional.”  I don’t think Van Til ever really used it and among both his defenders and critics, engaging the term often reveals hopeless ineptitude.  So right off the bat we can judge Oliphint’s book a marginal success, even if he doesn’t get anything else right. But I think he does.

This is a marked improvement upon his Battle Belongs to the Lord, which was so elementary that it was helpful to a very few. I should note my sympathies. While I am an anti-Thomist, I don’t consider myself in the “Van Til” school.  I’m rather more of a mix between Bavinck and Schilder. I have affinities with Van Tillianism, but nothing more.

We comend Oliphint for always wanting to go beyond mere “slogans” and platitudes.

Ten Tenets of Covenantal Apologetics

(1) The faith we defend must include the Triune God, not an abstracted Being of Being. Oliphint notes that when we “being with” the Triune God, this doesn’t necessarily mean in a temporal sense.  It doesn’t mean we have to begin each apologetic session with “In the Name of the Transcendental Argument.” This point is surprisingly lost on most young Van Tillians.

(2) God’s covenantal revelation is authoritative by what it is.

(3) The truth of God’s covenantal revelation brings a change in man.

(4) Man as image of God is in covenant with the Triune God for eternity.

(5) All people know God and knowledge entails covenantal obligations.

(6) Those in Adam suppress the truth.

(7) There is a covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and its opposite.

(8) Suppression of the truth is total, but not absolute.

(9) True covenantal knowledge connotes God’s mercy, which allows for persuasion.

(10) Every fact is covenantally conditioned.

God as “I Am”

Creation doesn’t change God’s aseity, but it does introduce a new relation.  God’s covenant binds him, as it were (Heb. 6:17-18). God has taken an oath, which is judicial, covenantal language.

Paul’s Apologetic

The language in Acts 17:24ff is covenantal: God appointed boundaries, created the world, is close to us (which entails obligations).

Image, Knowledge, and Lordship: By virtue of being created, we are vice-regents. God has committed himself to his covenant and his creation.

Key points:

* If man’s mind is derivative, then self-consciousness always presupposes God-consciousness.

* Everybody is related to a covenant head, either Adam or Christ.  Even apart from sin’s entrance into the world, man is in covenant relationship with God (WCF 7:1).  Covenantal Apologetics, therefore, explores how this relationship affects our reasoning processes.


*  The book’s style is uneven.  It goes from dialogue to an evaluation of philosophical essays on eternity, with little warning.  And while it makes good points concerning Owen’s distinction between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit, it seemed tangential to the chapter.

** While the section on the problem of evil was very good (more on that later), his dialogue between Christian and unbeliever seemed more like an essay.  This is not how people talk.

*** I agree with him on opposing the false elemental philosophy of the age (Col. 2:8), but this is far more than simply saying no to the Zeitgeist.  If we are going to bring up the stoichea, then we need to really develop the thought: elemental spirits, principalities, etc.

**** The danger in writing manuals on presuppositional apologetics is one of the One and the Many (if I may engage in extended punning). None of these books can stand alone.  A presup author will say, “X religion fails to account for y.” And since this isn’t a book on X religion, this claim is almost never developed, which calls for a book on y or z.  To an extent that’s only natural. At this point, though, the apologist must either engage in the particulars of Islam or Mormonism, or simply concede that he is just quoting bible verses.  He has to show why X is false on its own terms and not simply chant “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.”

To be fair to Oliphint, though, his dialog with the Muslim was pretty good.  There are some very interesting suggestions on Allah’s simplicity, which Oliphint doesn’t pursue.  Oliphint’s interlocutor does provide some hints:

“Let’s suppose that Allah is absolute oneness, as you say. That means that there is no differentiation in him whatsoever. This means, as you say, that even the revelation of his will, the Qur’an, is his eternal speech. But I remain puzzled as to how the transcendent One can have speech at all? If it is identical to him, it cannot be differentiated. “

And Oliphint gives the conclusion: What is speech where there is no difference?

Pro Rege volume 1 (Kuyper)


Kuyper, Abraham. Pro Rege volume 1. Lexham Press. Kindle.

This book falls under the category of “Good Kuyper.” This is the Kuyper of the antithesis, not the abstracted Kuyper of common grace (though, admittedly, elements of the latter are present). The book begins on a strange note: The Dutch Empire and Islam. Kuyper remarks that the Queen of the Netherlands ruled over more Muslims than she did Christians. Kuyper saw the writing on the wall: no longer could anyone pretend to be a “Christian Netherlands.” How are you going to enforce Article 36 of the Belgic Confession? How can you have a Christian voice in society without committing to either theocracy of secularism?


This book is a series of meditations on Christ’s kingship. It is not sustained analysis. Kuyper analyzes Christ’s kingship according to his exaltation and its operation. Of particular importance is Kuyper’s analysis of the spirit realm. Granted, our understanding of ancient near eastern texts and languages is much more sophisticated today, and there are some things Kuyper couldn’t have known, but still–he was probably the most insightful prior to recent developments. He writes, “Nothing has done more damage to the church’s confession of Jesus’s kingship than the marked increase in indifference towards the spirit world, whether toward angels or demons” (loc. 427).

Christ as Organic Head

Kuyper has received a lot of unnecessary (and often inept) criticism on his use of organic metaphors. Supposedly this is “pantheism” or “Hegelianism” or some rot. It’s biblical. It’s John 15. Kuyper writes, “The Head of the body is a mystical-organic concept, and it points to the organic communion of those who are one in faith, hope, and love” (loc. 1015). While there is an external aspect of his work (preaching of the gospel and a righteousness extra nos), there is an organic aspect: we really are connected to each other via our head.

Something that arises from the very processes of life is organic. Now, if Kuyper is arguing that Christ arises from the human processes of life, and only that, then yes, he is a pantheist. But that is specifically not what he is arguing. Christ’s organic kingship will one day organically communicate itself to us that we will be kings and reign with him (5348).

The Typology of the World City

Kuyper read the signs of the times and saw a systematic darkening of culture. This is manifested in the “world cities,” which in themselves focus the evil. By rejecting the unity of Christ, it seeks a unity of its own (loc. 1750). These are antitypes of Babylon.

What Kind of King?

Evidently Kuyper was already familiar with the false spiritualism of “not of this world.” While it is true that his kingdom is not earthly, the contrast, spiritual, does not mean something nebulous like “gushy pious thoughts.” It means, but not limited to, power of the spirit realm and revelation of knowledge. Echoing George Gillespie, Kuyper rightly argues that political authority does not flow from Christ as mediator, but from God in creation (loc. 2240).

The Essence of Dominion Man

Kuyper, anticipating Klaas Schilder, links man’s essence with dominion and the royal charter (2515).


While he is a cessationist, Kuyper pushes back against the claim “Miracles don’t real no more.” On a more serious note, Kuyper, following the New Testament, notes that Christ’s power to do miracles usually stems from his human nature, not his divine. That’s why he did stuff “in the power of the Spirit.” Indeed, “it remained a human power to the very end” (2914).

While Kuyper is most famous for common grace, and I think that eventually dooms his project, he makes a very pertinent observation that undoes his whole take on common grace: “there is a process that grows in intensity. Similar events return again and again, but every time they return, the same struggle manifests itself with increasing ferocity. The outpouring of God’s wrath begins” (7829). In other words, the eschatological war against the wicked is intensifying in history. Gary North and Klaas Schilder could have written that exact paragraph.


We commend Lexham Press for getting this in English. We further commend them for making it easily accessible at $5.99 on Kindle. We don’t agree with everything Kuyper said. But this is a pretty good volume. My main criticism is that it is too wordy. Some chapters probably could be excised and others could be shorter.

Notes on Heiser’s Supernatural

This is a cliffs-notes version of his longer Unseen Realm.

Key argument: “In at least some cases, God decrees what he wants done but gives his supernatural agents freedom to decide what it means” (23).

Image of God

Genesis says God says “Create in our image” and it says God created in his image.”  Since God is speaking to the Divine council and not the Trinity, this means that the Council and God (and presumably we) have something in common (29). We are to image God’s rule on earth.

Divine Rebellions

The Old Testament never says there was an angelic rebellion (37).  Revelation 12:7-12 is talking about the birth of Christ.  There was another corporate transgression, but it was the beings in Genesis 6. Peter and Jude say that these angels are placed in eternal darkness under chains. If we take 1 Enoch seriously (and Peter and Jude) did, then from these beings came the Nephilim, and when the Nephilim died, their spirits became demons.

The physical descendants of the Nephilim are called the Anakim and the Rephaim (Numb. 13:32-33; Deut. 2:10-11; some of these Rephaim show up in the underworld realm of the dead (Isai. 14:9-11).

Cosmic Geography

Deuteronomy 32 Worldview:  Geography in the Bible is cosmic (52).

  • Daniel 9-10: foreign nations are ruled by divine princes.
  • 1 Sam. 26:19: David fears being in a land of foreign gods.
  • 2 Kgs 5: Namaan takes Israelite dirt back
  • Paul uses a range of terms for divine, hostile beings–thrones, principalities, powers

Nota Bene:

  1. Angels don’t have wings.  Cherubim do, but they are never called angels (Heiser 19).
  2. Any disembodied spirit is an elohim (Gen. 1:1; Deut. 32:17; 1 Samuel 28:13; Heiser 20).
  3. God has a supernatural task force (1 Kgs 22:19-23; Ps. 82:1).

Opening notes on Heiser’s Unseen Realm

This study outline is kind of like a middle east targum.  It is combination paraphrase/outline. For a general idea of this type of thinking, see the following

Satan’s Psy Ops.

unseen realm

God’s Entourage

Job 38.4-7 identifies the heavenly host, the morning stars, with the sons of God (Heiser 23). He isn’t saying that the stars are little gods.  He is simply noting that there are moving entities “up there” in the heavenly realm.

divine council

Angels aren’t exactly the same thing as the beney elohim, as the former are lower-level messengers.

God’s Household

Layered authority: high king → elite administrators → low-level personnel.  Psalm 82 is the clearest example in the OT (25). The first Elohim in 82:1 is singular, since it has a singular verbal form (stands).  The second is plural, “since the preposition in front of it (“in the midst of”) requires more than one.”

Chapter 4: God Alone

Divine Beings are not human

The divine beings in 82:1 can’t be the Trinity, since God says they are corrupt.  It can’t be human, since Jewish elders weren’t given authority over the nations (28). Further, God’s divine council is in the heavens, not on earth.

Other biblical passages:

  • Job 1.6: the beney elohim came to present themselves before God.
  • Judges 11:24; 1 Kgs 11:33.  Gods of other nations
  • Dt. 32.17; demons (shedim)
  • 1 Sam. 28.13; the deceased Samuel
  • Gen. 35.17; angels or Angel of Yahweh.

Plural Elohim Does Not mean Polytheism

Would any Israelite believe that these Elohim were on the same ontological level as Yahweh?  The term elohim is not a set of attributes–that would be polytheism. It means an inhabitant of the spiritual world.

Are They Real?

Dt 32 seems to imply they are. If you believe in the reality of demons, then these elohim/shedim (v. 17) are real.

The “denial statements” (no God besides me) don’t mean that they don’t exist.  Similar language is used of human cities (Is. 47.8 and Zeph. 2.15), yet Nineveh and Babylon aren’t the only cities that exist (34).

What’s the point of even saying God is greater than these elohim if they don’t exist?  It’s like saying, “Among the beings we all know don’t exist, there is none like Yahweh.”

Idols: the ancient world didn’t seriously believe the idol was real, but that demons inhabited them (1 Cor. 10:18-22).

What About Jesus?

Does this mean Jesus wasn’t the only divine Son?  Monogenes doesn’t come from mono + gennao, but from mono + genos (class kind).

As in Heaven, So on Earth

Image/imager: If Gen. 1:26ff doesn’t refer to the Trinity but to the divine council, this doesn’t mean we are created by other Elohim. The following entail:

  • Both men and women are equally included
  • Divine image bearing is what makes us distinct from animals.
  • We either have the image, or we don’t.  It isn’t incremental.

We normally define image of God in the following ways:

  • Intelligence
  • Reasoning
  • Emotions
  • Communication
  • Sentience
  • Language
  • soul/spirit
  • Conscience
  • Free will.

The problem with the above class is that animals have some of these, too (41). The problem with “soul” (nephesh) is that animals also have a nephesh (Gen. 1.20).

The key to the image of God is in the Hebrew preposition in. In English “in” can mean location or result of action.  In Hebrew we are created as God’s image. It is not a capacity we have but a status (42). Klaas Schilder said the same thing.

God’s Two Family Household Councils

We are created to function as God’s imagers on earth.  But God also created administrators for the unseen realm.

Gardens and Mountains

That the image of God is a status, not a set of attributes, is evident from the fact that we are to take dominion over creation, making earth an Eden.  

Key idea: God decrees his will and leaves it to his administrative household to carry out those decrees (1 Kgs 22; Daniel 4:13, 17; 23).

Only God is Perfect

Key idea: The worldview of the biblical writers was ‘Where Yahweh is, so is his divine council” (54ff).

Who is the Satan in Job?  Heiser suggests he is the prosecutor within the divine council (56).

Peril and Providence

Key idea: divine foreknowledge does not necessitate divine predestination (64).


Trouble in Paradise

Argument:  The serpent (Nachash) is a substantival adjective.  He is a serpentine being. This bothers people for some reason.

Why wasn’t Eve afraid of a talking snake, if we take the story literally?  Eve was in the garden, which was the meeting place between the heavenly realm and earth.  She knew she was talking to an elohim. Ancient man knew that animals really couldn’t talk.

Another common sense observation: if the enemy in the garden was a supernatural being, then he wasn’t a mere snake.

Ezekiel 28: the prince of Tyre considers himself an el, who sits in the moshab elohim.

Verse 10: why does God tell him he will die the death of uncircumcised strangers?  He is (presumably) a Phoenician and would be uncircumcised anyway (77). The answer: he is sent to the underworld where there were uncircumcised warrior-kings (Ezek. 32.21; 24-30; 32; Isa. 14.9). This is the place of the Rephaim.

He leaves the garden of God and goes to the underworld. Is the prince a serpent?  He is “shining” and “radiant.”

Even the claim that God said the snake will “eat dirt” doesn’t mean Nachash was a real serpent.  Heiser writes, “The nachash was cursed to crawl on its belly, imagery that conveyed being cast down (Ezek. 28.8; 17; Isa. 14.11-12, 15) to the ground.  In Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14, we saw the villain cast down to the ‘erets, a term that refers literally to dirt and metaphorically to the underworld” (91).  Anyway, snakes don’t actually eat dirt.

The Nephilim

The Sethite thesis doesn’t make sense out of the language of Jude and 2 Peter 2.  

Daniel 4 describes one of the holy ones of Yahweh’s council as a “Watcher.”

Divine Allotment

God scattered the nations in Gen. 11; Deut. 32:8-9 describes it as disinheriting.

Key idea: God gave ownership of the Table of Nations to the divine council (113). Deut. 4:19-20 makes this clear. Psalm 82 judges these elohim for doing a bad job, and then urges God to rise up for he shall inherit the nations.

Cosmic Geography

David’s dilemma: 1 Sam. 26:17-19; David thinks if he is forced to leave Israel, he will leave Yahweh’s inheritance (117).

Naaman asks for dirt (2 Kgs 5): Naaman views the holy land as holy ground.

Daniel and Paul: Dan. 10. In acts 17:26-27 Paul says that God determined not only the boundaries of the old world, where they could blindly search after God.

The LXX in Daniel 10 refers to the “prince” (sar) as an archonton.  Other Greek translations even older describe both Michael and the enemy as archons, which matches Paul’s language of the rulers of this age (1 Cor 2:6, 8) in the heavenly places (Eph. 3.10).

Heiser then draws the following conclusion: Paul’s terms–principalities/arche, powers/exousia, dominions/kyrios, thrones/thronos–are terms that are used of geographical domain rulership (121).




Common Grace and the Gospel (review)

The Christian Philosophy of History

Metaphysically, we have all things in common with the unregenerate.  Epistemologically, we do not.

Universals of non-Christian thought are ultimately non-personalist.

For the Reformed Christian God’s counsel is the principle of individuation.


God’s being and his self-consciousness are co-terminous (9).

Abraham Kuyper’s Doctrine of Common Grace

distinction between constant and progressive aspects of common grace.  


Recent Developments

Schilder on the importance of thinking concretely.  Common grace shows us the importance of seeing historical development and progression (31).

Danger of Abstract Thinking

Kuyper:  all creation-ordinances are subject to the will of God (35).    Kuyper was unclear on the relation between universal/particular.

  • universals themselves exist as a system.  They are organically related to one another.  But how can they be related to one another and still remain universals?  Whenever universals “overlap,” they begin to admit of “change,” which seems to deny what a universal is.  This was Plato’s problem.
  • Plato ascribes the transition between universals as “chance.”
  • The Christian can begin to allow for transitions between universals because the universals are ascribed to the counsel of God.  No abstract staticism and no abstract change.
  • Therefore, the Christian reasons analogically with respect to these relations between facts.  Facts never exist as facts;  they always exist as facts-in-relation (and this is where Hegel did have correct insight).    Reasoning analogically, if the being and self-consciousness of the ontological Trinity are coterminous, may we not also say that facts and universals are corelative in the counsel of God (40).  

Bavinck:  there is one principle in theology.

  • What is the Christian notion of mystery?  For the Greeks “god” is abstracted to the point of an empty concept (moving up on the chain of being).  
  • Bavinck does not fully break with this concept of mystery.  

Hepp: sought to build a general testimony of the Spirit

  • Difference between psychological and epistemological.
  • If we take the original human nature and the sinful human nature and realize that everywhere both are active, we are done with the natural theology of Rome.

Positive Line of Concrete Thinking

  • Even prelapsarian man was confronted with positive revelation.  God walked and talked with him.
  • Natural revelation is a limiting concept.  It has never existed by itself as far as man is concerned.
  • To insist that man’s relation with God is covenantal is to say that man deals with the personal God everywhere.
  • After the common comes the conditional; history is the process of differentiation.  It is a common-ness for the time being (74).  
    • The offer comes generally so that history may have differentiation.
    • Per Platonism, the conditional can have no real meaning.


Socrates was correct: men and gods agree as long as we talk about general principles.

  • Pace Aquinas, to sing the praise of being in general is to sing the praise of man as well as God.
  • On the neo-Orthodox analogy of faith scheme, God and man are correlative.  

Interestingly, Van TIl says he does not reject Old Princeton’s epistemology; simply it’s apologetics (155).

SUmmary of Van Til’s Position contra critics (158-159):

  • all facts in the unvierse are exhaustively revelational of God.
    • This is true of the environment, nature, and history.
    • This is true of man’s constitution (perhaps there is a correlation with Reid’s belief-creating mechanism).
  • All men unavoidably know God.
    • natural knowledge and sense of morality are not common grace.  They are the presuppositionof Common grace
    • The “starting point” is not the absolute ethical antithesis, but rather the imago dei.
      • This image contains actual knowledge-content.
      • Protestantism is a matter of restoring man to his true ethical relation.
      • The immediate testimony of the spirit has to terminate on man.  It has to be mediated to man through man’s own consciousness (178).  
      • The Antithesis is ethical, not metaphysical.  
        • The Romanist (and others) cannot really grasp this point because on the chain of being there are only gradations, not separations.
  • The Image of God in Man
    • Kuyper:  image in wider sense is the essence of man, which remains unfallen.  The image in the narrower sense consists of true righteousness, knowledge, and holiness.  It can be lost/marred/defaced.
      • Does this distinction really work?  Is the “narrower” sense so loosely/accidentally related to man that it can be lost without effecting that image at all?  This looks a lot like donum superadditum.
      • This is what happens when we use concepts like “essence” and “Nature” loosely.
      • The image must be used in an analogical sense (205).  
        • each concept must be subject to the whole of the revelation of God.