Four Views on Heaven

Wittmer, Michael. ed. Four Views on Heaven. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2022.

Of the Zondervan Counterpoints volumes, this is one of their better ones.  It addresses one of the most practical of subjects, but it also shows the current outlooks on heaven among conservative scholars. The scope of the book is on the final destination of believers, not on the intermediate state. John Feinberg represents the traditional view, Richard Middleton the New Earth view, Michael Allen a heaven on earth view, and Peter Kreeft the Catholic view.

The four views are:

Traditional: John Feinberg. This chapter is the most disappointing in the book. Whatever the traditional view of heaven might be, Feinberg has written a chapter on timelines in dispensational eschatology.  When he actually discusses heaven, I agree.  He affirms an intermediate state, a body-soul duality, and a resurrected body that will exist in the New Heavens and New Earth.  All of that is good. 

Neo-Kuyperian: J. Richard Middleton.  His actual position is “New Heavens and New Earth,” but it is better seen as a Neo-Kuyperian view. 80% of his essay is quite good. He points out, no doubt in line with scholars like Beale, that God is constructing the earth as a cosmic temple and that is where we will be in the New Earth.  To be sure, for Middleton, we will only be on the New Earth. Whatever the New Heavens is, and he is not sure, we will not have access to it. This is where his problems begin, as will be evident in the responses. He also rejects the idea of the soul and intermediate state.

Feinberg’s response: Middleton says we have no access to the New Heavens because, as he notes, Scripture’s language about the New Heavens is metaphorical and we cannot draw any inferences from that. Feinberg points out that he misunderstands what metaphor means.  All metaphors have a referent, and we have cognitive access to this referent. Middleton’s desire is to avoid being too literalistic, yet he also admits that language about the New Earth is metaphorical, yet this does not prevent him from saying we will live there. He cannot have it both ways.

Allen’s response: Middleton should be careful not to dismiss a key teaching of the church without any interaction with the thinkers from that view and the actual texts themselves.  Jesus’s words to the thief clearly teach an intermediate state. Sure, I can grant that Paradise refers to a Garden-like existence, but Jesus actually tells the thief that “today” you will be “there.”

Like many Neo-Calvinists, Middleton downplays the church and corporate worship.What will we be doing in heaven? Cultural activity.  Any kind of worship then (and now) is merely to prepare us for that cultural activity. Middleton’s argument is that the prophets condemn any kind of worship that neglects justice.  However, as Allen points out, the admonitions to justice in the prophets do not actually tell us how to worship God, and in any case the prophets called Israel back to the covenant, not to justice in the abstract.

If I can make an aside.  We all know that there will not be sex or marriage in heaven.  That is a given. However, on the Neo-Calvinist gloss there will still be cultural activity, including “healing the nations” and the “wealth of nations,” if read literally.  So, there will not be sex but there will be business transactions. Or so they say.

Heaven on Earth.  Michael Allen. Allen’s position is close to Middleton’s, but with a few key differences. Both say we will be in resurrected bodies on the New Earth.  For Allen, however, we will also have access to the Beatific Vision and probably to the New Heavens.  I side with Allen in this volume.

Roman Catholic.  Peter Kreeft. Half of Kreeft’s essay is a riff on his lifetime of musing about C.S. Lewis, and for that half it is quite good.  The other half is Purgatory.  That is not good. Kreeft’s argument falls apart if the Reformed claim that “believers at their deaths are made perfect in holiness.”  If I am made perfect in holiness, then I do not need Purgatory.

I truly enjoyed this book and it made me want heaven even more.

Bavinck: Sin and Salvation in Christ

Bavinck, Herman, John Bolt, and John Vriend. Reformed Dogmatics: sin and salvation in Christ. Vol. 3. Baker Academic, 2003.

Bavinck continues his theme that “grace restores nature.” He addresses all of the loci of theology following anthropology, which he dealt with in his previous volume. This volume is not as philosophically heavy as the first two, so it might be easier to read for some.

Origin of Sin

As is the case with most 20th century Dutch writers, Bavinck was quite attuned to the reality of spiritual warfare. “Then we learn that involved in the struggle of evil on earth there is also a contest of spirits and that humanity and the world are the spoils for which the war between God and Satan, between heaven and hell, is waged (Bavinck 35).

Sinful Flesh

He gives a careful discussion on the contrast between “spirit” and flesh.” For Rome Adam’s transgression resulted in the loss of the superadded gift (43).  In this case fallen nature is identical with uncorrupted nature. This is one of the reasons that Thomas Aquinas, while perhaps knowing better, gave the appearance of reducing flesh to the physical. Bavinck writes, “In this sense flesh is contrasted with spirit, though not with the human pneuma, which, after all, is also sinful and needs sanctification….but with the Holy Spirit, which renews the human spirit….and also consecrates the body and puts it at the disposal of righteousness” (54).

The Spread of Sin

The Reformation stressed that original sin is not just the loss of something but simultaneously a total corruption of human nature (98).

Good take on free will: Humans have lost “the free inclination of the will towards good” (121).

The Nature of Sin

Sin is not a “substance” or a thing, but an “energeia” (137).

Bavinck has a good section on “The Kingdom of Evil” (146ff). He notes the numerous subordinate spirits, which have their own subdivisions. He explores the connection between “devils” (a most inaccurate word) and the spirits of dead persons (he rejects this identity; it’s just interesting that he explored it).

The Covenant of Grace

Bavinck’s discussion of the pactum salutis is fairly standard, but in it he makes some comments which appear to give the Son an eternally subordinate role.

This doctrine of the pact of salvation… is rooted in a scriptural idea. For as Mediator, the Son is subordinate to the Father, calls him God…, is his servant… who has been assigned a task… and who receives a reward… for the obedience accomplished… Still, this relation between Father and Son, though most clearly manifest during Christ’s sojourn on earth, was not first initiated at the time of the incarnation, for the incarnation itself is already included in the execution of the work assigned to this the Son, but occurs in eternity and therefore also existed already during the time of the Old Testament… Scripture also clearly… sees Christ functioning officially already in the days of the Old Testament (214)

The language of subordination is clearly there.  There is no denying it.  Several other things are going on, though. Bavinck says the Son is subordinate as a mediator, and this mediation preceded time (in one sense).  That’s all Bavinck is saying.  He isn’t trying to drive an ideology with it.  Moreover, in one sense Christ gives up his kingdom to the Father at the end, which would seem that his subordination is tied to that giving up the kingdom. Finally, in the previous volume Bavinck affirms the single divine will and the inseparability of operations, something no advocate of ESS can accept.

Later, Bavinck says that Christ’s mediatorial work is finished when he delivers the kingdom to His Father (481).

Covenant of grace: “The essential character of the covenant of grace, accordingly, consists in the fact that it proceeds from God’s special grace and has for its content nothing other than grace” (225).

Covenant and Election

“The covenant of grace is the channel by which the stream of election flows towards eternity” (229).  Bavinck doesn’t make a strict identity between election and the covenant of grace, but for all practical purposes he does identify them.

The Person of Christ

Bavinck sees the Christological history as “East — unity of person,” West — distinction between natures” (255).

Rome and the East see a communication of divine gifts, but not attributes to the hypostasis.  Lutherans see it to the attributes.

The Reformed say the person of the Son was immediately united with the human nature, and the divine nature was mediately united with it (276, citing Zanchi).

Nature and Person

Hegel said nature and person are related as essence and appearance (306).  This, obviously, will not do.  Rather, nature is the substratum, the “principle by which” a thing is. “Person” is the owner of the nature.  He acts through the nature.

We Reformed say that Christ had an infused knowledge, but that knowledge was only gradually completed. “He did not yet share in the beatific knowledge here on earth” (312).

The Work of Christ

Christ’s Humiliation

 Survey of relevant passages dealing with redemption, sacrifice, etc.

“Christ is the mediator of both creation and re-creation” (363). Christ is a mediator in both natures. 

Christ’s Exaltation

Regarding the atonement, Bavinck points out that intercession and sacrifice have the same range.  If the former is particular, so is the latter (466).

Salvation in Christ

Old Testament righteousness: it was not a personal quality of theirs but the case they represented (494).

Rome: Baptized children receive justification/infused grace.  They receive “sufficient grace” later on (515).  This illumines the intellect.

Reformed:  regeneration, faith, and conversion are not preparations that a person has to meet, but they are fruits which flow from “the covenant of grace, the mystical union, the granting of Christ’s person” (525).

The Reformation captured the idea of grace much better.  There was no opposition between natural and supernatural, but of sin and grace.  “The Reformation rejected this Neoplatonic mysticism” (577).

It is not a substance, but “a restoration of the form of the creation originally imprinted on humans and creature in general” (578).

This is required reading for all interested in the history of dogmatics.

The Certainty of Faith (Bavinck)

Bavinck, Herman. The Certainty of Faith. St Catherines, Ontario: Paideia Press, 1980.

This is one of those rare books that is able to make profound epistemological points while always remaining at the level of the layman. Reformed people might claim they are above the charismatic desire for “experience” and “emotion.” I suggest many are on the same level. If your faith is pointed towards the intensity of your emotions, if you don’t like celebrating the Lord’s Supper often (not necessarily weekly) because it wouldn’t be spay-shul, then I suggest you are much closer to the charismatic than you might want to admit.

Bavinck’s profound insight is that knowledge isn’t the same thing as certainty. He writes,

Truth is agreement between thought and reality and thus expresses a relation between the contents of our consciousness and the object of our knowledge. Certainty, however, is not a relationship but a capacity, a quality, a state of the knowing subject. One’s spirit may assume different states in reaction to different statements or propositions (Bavinck 19).

If you can’t grasp and appreciate this distinction, then you will be fair game for all sorts of philosophical con artists. In other words, how I feel about the truth is quite irrelevant to the truth or falsity of the proposition.

Pietism: The Harbinger of Humanism

The early Reformers certainly had their doubts like us. There was a crucial difference, though. Bavinck writes,

But the difference between the Reformers and their later disciples was that they did not foster or feed such a
condition. They saw no good in it and were not content to remain in doubt (39).

We can add one more point: you can look to the intensity of your emotions or you can look to Christ (corollary: The Lord’s Supper helps. Take it). Bavinck doesn’t mention it but this is the problem of the terrible Halfway Covenant. You didn’t look to Christ. You had to convince the sessions of the intensity of your emotional experience. The sick irony is that the membership requirements for Halfway members were the same as the membership requirements of full members in the better Calvinist churches on the continent.

A few pages later Bavinck notes that this pietism paved the way for secularism. He is correct but he doesn’t develop the point. I think it can be argued like this. This leads to common-ground, emotionally-based political orders. While it isn’t clear how that then leads to liberalism, it almost always does.

I truly hate pietism with all my heart.

Bavinck has a side line on the nature of revelation that is sometimes controversial but nevertheless correct: “Revelation is an organism with a life of its own” (61). He doesn’t mean it evolves evolutionistically or in a Hegelian fashion (fun fact: Hegel was actually skeptical of evolution, if only because he didn’t come up with it). Rather, it ties all facts together under a single idea. It is its own idea by which it must be grasped.

Another fatal problem with experience-based religion is that none of the essentials of the Christian faith can be deduced from experience. Nothing in my day-to-day life tells me of substitutionary atonement, the Trinity, or the Resurrection.

Faithful to covenant thinking, Bavinck contrasts experience-based religion with that of judicial, ethical choice. I either choose to believe in Christ or I don’t. Experience isn’t all that relevant (78ff). If faith includes understanding, either I believe in the promises or I don’t. I don’t have to answer “Do you know that you know that you really know” type questions.

That doesn’t mean emotions are wrong. Far from it. Bavinck is working with a creational view of man: man believes with his heart, his totality of existence (including both reason and emotion, the latter never controls the former).

The Mechanics of Faith

For more info, see Bavinck’s Prolegomena.

“Promise and faith are correlates. They address themselves to one another” (83). Moreover, “Faith is not the ground which carries the truth, nor is it the source from which knowledge flows to him. Rather, it is the soul’s organ.”

But can faith be certain? Answering this question might be tricky. We’ve already established that I can have varying degrees of certainty regarding something. Bavinck, however, suggests that faith can be absolutely certain. What is he getting at? This certainty is not something added on from the outside. Rather, it “is contained in faith from the outside and in time organically issues from it” (85). In other words, I do not trust salvation on the grounds of my faith but through it.

Bavinck has an admirable final section on the sacraments. It’s strange (well, not really) that many discussions on certainty and assurance often ignore the sacraments. The sacraments seal the promise of God to me (89). The final two pages end with the “cultural mandate,” though Bavinck doesn’t call it such. I share in Christ’s anointing and am a prophet, priest, and king.

Christian Church and the Old Testament (Van Ruler)

Van Ruler, A. A. The Christian Church and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. trans. Bromiley.

The book’s initial purpose is to justify the Christian’s use of the Old Testament. He does, however, put the brakes on more fanciful readings. For the reader today much of it is dated, as is most OT work post-Vos (and certainly post-Beale). Nonetheless, there are a few fascinating and controversial sayings that are worth engaging.

He wisely points out that the OT’s identifying God as “Yahweh” and even “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” puts to rest any generic “God-in-general” god of the ecumenical movement (Van Ruler, 17; the comments on the ecumenical movement are mine, not his).

He argues that Calvin used the model of progressive revelation (II.x.2). On one level this is obvious. God didn’t give Adam and Eve a complete canon of Genesis-Revelation. That sounds silly, I know, but there are super-internet-covenanters today who say that any use of “history” or “organic” or “progressive” = pantheism. I leave that to you. On a more substantial note, however, we must question how glibly we can say that “Jesus” is in the Old Testament. He certainly is (1 Cor. 10; he is the Rock from which our fathers drank). Here’s the problem, though. If Scripture (and texts in general) have only one meaning–the meaning for the original audience is the intended meaning–then we need to ask if the original audience saw Christ as the rock. Indeed, that’s a tall (but not impossible) claim. Van Ruler questions that we can simply put Jesus wherever we want in the OT, since such knowledge, at least for the original audience, needed the death and resurrection at the very least (21).

Good quote by Kuyper: If our ideas of the Old Testament can’t incorporate national Israel in them, then those ideas are wrong” (Uit het Woord, II, 1, 180). Outstanding. In our conservative circles we might not realize how radical this claim is. A particular Israel is hard to square with “universal messages” or “timeless truths” or the ecumenical movement.

If you are somewhat familiar with Van Ruler, then you know the dangerous area he is now taking us. “The whole concern with Scripture is not with Jesus Christ” (69). That’s a fairly startling claim. What does he mean by it? He says the Spirit embraces more than Jesus does. That’s a vague statement and I am not sure how to take it. He then echoes 1 Cor. 15 that the Son’s mediatorial kingdom will come to an end. (Side note: Berkouwer claimed in The Return of Christ that Van Ruler said Jesus’s humanity will fade away, but Van Ruler doesn’t say that here). Van Ruler does leave us with a startling suggestion, though: “Jesus Christ is an emergency measure that God postponed as long as possible.” Suffice to say he probably isn’t a supralapsarian.

He does point out the wisdom of Reformed Christology and how it is anchored (and further develops) in Reformed anthropology. We believe that original righteousness “was natural rather than supernatural.” Rome believed in a pure nature to which was super-added a gift of grace. So far this is standard dogmatics. From it Van Ruler draws the inevitable but not always obvious conclusion: this means that Jesus doesn’t add a “higher life” dimension to created life. This is why with Reformed we say that grace restores, rather than perfects nature.

Book Review: The Word of God and the Mind of Man (Nash)

Nash, Ronald.  The Word of God and the Mind of Man. Zondervan: 1982. Reprint by Presbyterian and Reformed.RonNash

The possibility of our having cognitive knowledge about God was denied on three grounds:  God is too transcendent; 2) human knowledge is de jure problematic; 3) human language was de jure problematic.

Question of the book: Can the human logos know the Logos of God (Nash 14)?

Hume’s Gap: our pivotal beliefs must rest on something besides knowledge.

Kant’s wall: there is a wall between the world as it is and the sense world.

For the Neo-Orthodox, revelation is always an event.  It is never cognitive knowledge about God.

Defense of Propositional Revelation

(A)  All S is P                                             (E) No  S is P

(I)  Some S is P                                         (O) Some S is not P.

(A) All revelation is propositional       (E) No revelation is propositional

(I) Some revelation is propositional    (O) Some rev. Is not propositional

We can rule out O as irrelevant to the discussion.  The Neo-Orthodox thinks that all evangelicals hold to A, but that’s false.  We hold to I.  Further, holding to I doesn’t entail the claim that all revelation is propositional.

In short God reveals knowledge to his creation and some of this knowledge about himself is contained in the form of propositions (45). And even if one wants to claim that revelation is personal, saving faith still presupposes saving faith about something.

The Christian Logos

This is the heart of Nash’s project. Key idea: “Jesus Christ, the eternal Logos of god, mediates all divine revelation and grounds the correspondence between the divine and human minds” (59).

The Christian Rationalism of St Augustine

Augustine has some sort of interplay between the uncreated Light of God and the mutable light of the human mind (81). How can the human mind understand the eternal Forms within God’s mind?  Nash suggests three ways:

(1) The human intellect is both passive and active with respect to the forms (85). It is passive, pace Kant, in that it doesn’t create the conditions for knowledge. It is active in the sense that it judges and receives.

(2) The forms are and are not separate from the divine mind.

(3) The human mind is and is not a light that makes knowledge possible.

While Nash had a fine discussion on how Augustine modified Plato’s essentialism, and I don’t necessarily disagree, the chapter just feels “short.” I know he wrote a book on the topic and it is worth pursuing there.

In Defense of Logic

When Nash wrote this book, the Dooyeweerdian school in Toronto was a force to be reckoned with (one sees something similar in John Frame’s works).  Nash gives a fine rebuttal to the Dooyeweerdians: if human reason is valid only one one side of the cosmonomic boundary, “then any inference that God is transcendent must be an illegitimate application of human reason” (99). In other words, if God is transcendent, you are in error for saying he is transcendent!

Conclusion

The Logos of God has created the logos of the human mind in such a way that that it can receive cognitive, propositional knowledge about a transcendent God.

 

Review: Vanderwaal, Job-Song of Songs

I’m normally skeptical of Bible surveys and introductions. You can find the book online. They usually never get beyond surface level and are written with the grace of a dictionary. Fortunately, Cornelis Vanderwaal’s material isn’t that. He gets to the point but he also gives you depth. And he brings the covenant to the front. For him covenant is real. It isn’t just a heuristic device.

Job

There is the standard fare here, which I won’t go into detail. He does note that Job contrasts with Babylonian wisdom. For Job wisdom begins with the fear of God.

Psalms

Vanderwaal highlights the covenantal langauage in the Psalms. A covenantal interpretation is not a “spiritual” (read: Platonic) one (Vanderwaal 47). Psalm 10, for example, doesn’t focus on man in general, but on the covenant servant David.

Imprecatory psalms are those of covenant judgment. God is the Lord of the Covenant who judges in covenant judgment. Take the word “arise” in the Psalms. It is tabernacle language, but it is also the language of God’s covenant. When God “arises” he Judges.

The cursing language is drawn from the Covenant. Even the Christ joins in the cursing (Ps. 69). Peter applies verse 25 to Judas in Acts 1.20. Paul applies verses 23-24 to the Jews (Rom. 11.9-10). Thesis: Yahweh avenges his servants because of the statute of the Covenant.

Even nature itself bears witness to the Covenant. In Psalm 19 the creation witnesses to the covenant, sun and moon.

Song of Songs
fountain
A beautiful section on married sexuality. No Greek or Gnostic darkness here. He does point out (but not develop) Garden-City motifs pointing to the New Jerusalem.

Grace restores nature.  This is the problem with the current fascination with Reformed Thomism.  Thomas knew exactly what he was doing when he downplayed married sexuality.  It wasn’t a medieval hiccup.  For him, grace perfects nature.  For us, it restores. I know that the Calvinist International guys like Bavinck.  I just think it is pouring new wine into old wineskins.

Also, see here and here.

Notes on Schilder’s Christ and Culture

by Klaas Schilder, 1890-1952.

Translation of Christus en Cultuur

ISBN 0-88756-008-3

The numbers represent the sections in the book.

(2) The Christian must engage culture because we are prophet, priest, king. It is our task.

(3a) Part of our difficulty is that we deal in abstractions when we speak of “church and culture.”  The cultural ideal cannot be a master key that opens any door we want.

(3c) Whenever we come up with programs like “Christ and x” or “Christ and y,” we almost always devalue both.

(3e) What is culture? Must we go to the world’s culture-philosophers for a definition?

(4) Schilder indirectly critiques Kuyper here.  He notes those who want to promote Christ in “all areas of life.”  He argues that it is a big leap from “law of nature” (the direction of a certain sphere) to the specific sovereign in that sphere.

(6a) Part of the difficulty in “Christianity and culture” is that “Christianity” is an abstraction.

(7) Schilder’s reading of Revelation posits a struggle between the Seed of the Woman and the seed of the serpent.

(8) Jesus is not a “concept” for culture.  He cannot be abstracted from his work and atonement.  We cannot isolate “Jesus” from “Christ.”

(9) The church has often abstracted the four gospels from the larger narrative.

(10) Jesus didn’t give us anything about a theory of the arts.

(11) We gain knowledge of our cultural task from the office of Christ.

(12) Not everything Christ does is meant to be imitated.  His office is his office alone.  We must first see the justice flowing from Christ’s office before we see it imitated in the marketplace.

(13) A Two Adam Christology can help us here.  The first Adam’s task involved the creative unity of cultural work.  Christ, as Second Adam, takes up the first Adam’s office.

(14) thousand years: the dominion of peace in which Christ equips his office-bearers.

Schilder: As the Logos-Mediator-Surety He is the hypostasis, the solid foundation, the original ground, the fulfiller, redeemer, and renewer of culture—a cultural sign which shall therefore be spoken against.

Translation: the debate between Christ and Culture can only happen on Christ’s terms.

(15b)  Covenant: God’s speaking to Adam was of mutual relation of promise and demand. The Second Adam recapitulates the dominion order of the First Adam.

(16) Covenant and Culture: man’s covenantal role is to cultivate the earth.  The world God made must unfold.

(18) Common grace:  it is true that sin is being restrained.  But by similar logic the fullness of Christ’s eschaton is not fully experienced.  Apparently, it is restrained.  If the first restraining is “grace,” then we must–if one is consistent–call the restraining of the blessing “judgment.”

Schilder then advances the argument that “development” and “corruption” belong to nature, not grace.  They are temporal.  And if it is nature, it can’t be grace.  Hence, it can’t be “common grace.”

NB: Schilder comes very close to a nature-grace dialectic.

Key argument: There is indeed “common” grace in culture (grace for more than one person). But there is no universal (or general) grace for all men. Therefore Abraham Kuyper’s construction was wrong. There is indeed also a “common” curse in cultural life (a curse shared by more than one person). But there is no universal (or general) curse. “Common” can sometimes be the same as universal, but it is not necessarily always so. Something can be common to all people, but it can also be common to more than one person, not to all. In the present scheme “common” is intended to mean: shared by many, not by all people. There is a common (not: universal) grace in culture, as far as the redeeming work of Christ is shared by all those who are His—which grace has an effect upon their cultural achievements.

Bottom line:  common grace is common to the elect, not to all.  They share the common grace in culture.

(19) Yet Christ’s person, in taking upon humanity, is connected with culture. There is grace, but it is not a lowest-common denominator common grace.  These gifts are eschatologically tied to Christ’s purpose.

(20) God is holding back both the full manifestation of Satan and the full manifestation of a godly culture.

(21) On Antichrist:  real, future figure.

(24) Conclusion: To establish koinonia in the sunousia, as members of the mystical union of Jesus Christ, that is Christian culture.

(25) “First of all, we must emphasize that, since there is a cultural mandate that existed even prior to sin, abstention from cultural labour is always sin.”

(26) Common grace revisited: our cultural mandate is common command, common calling, not common grace.

(27) Nature, too, has a history.  Christ is guiding that history.  By implication, he is King of the World.

(28) Some conclusions: One’s awareness of his office will always urge him to turn to the revelation of God’s Word, in order to learn again what the norms are.

 

Review: Berkouwer’s Half Century Theology

This is partly GC Berkouwer’s theological autobiography.  Rather than giving an analytical review, I’ll post my observations:

  1. The book is heavily influenced by Bavinck.  This is significant.  Bavinck’s stature had a kind of stabilizing influence among those otherwise influenced by Barth.
  2. The second chapter apologetics has some helpful reflections on Dooyeweerd.
  3. Harnack was irritated with Barth that he read guys like Cocceius.
  4. The best chapter was on election (Heart of the Church).  Here we seen Berkouwer moving away from traditional Reformed thought. He wanted to avoid positing any kind of “behind the back” of God. God’s actions are not in a dark hinterland, but are revealed in Christ.
  5. Vollenhoven rejected an impersonal human nature (anhypostasia).  An impersonal human nature is not a complete human nature.  Otherwise, it is an instrument of the Logos.

This really isn’t an inspiring read.  20th century theology, especially in its critical manifestations, is one colossal failure of nerve.  The only bright spots–in this volume anyway–are the Dutch Neo-Calvinists.  And Oscar Cullmann.

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.

Paradox

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.  

COMMON GRACE IN DEBATE

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.

PARTICULARISM AND COMMON GRACE

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.

Notes on Berkouwer’s anthropology

From his Man: The Image of God

On the broader/narrower distinction: man, despite his fall, was not beastialized (38).  By narrower man lost his communion with God.

  • the broader sense reminds us of what was not lost in the fall.
  • Perhaps better to speak of a duality between Old and New.

Should image of God be read as “active” (conformitas) or ontic (essence)?

Berkouwer on Eastern Orthodoxy

  • He doesn’t give the best discussion of EO, either in what they believe or in how to critique it.  Though he does hint that EO thinkers aren’t always able to clearly state the connection between inheriting Adam’s curse of death and why we always do sinful things, but yet refusing to call it Original Sin.

Klaas Schilder

Schilder sees man’s creation as the pre-condition for the image, but not the image itself (Berkouwer 54).  The actual image lies in the officium created man receives (I don’t think this is the full picture, but there is some truth to this, especially if we connect the imago dei with man’s dominion, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism hints at).

  • Thus, the image is dynamic and is rooted in the Covenantal God’s Relation with man.
  • the word “image” implies “making visible.”
  • Schilder resists any abstracting the image.
  • The glory of the image shines forth in service to God (56).

The danger with Schilder’s approach is that it makes the image too “dynamic” with an emphasis on conformitas.

What is the relationship between man’s humanness and God’s Image?  Berkouwer wants to deny that fallen man images God (57).  He says he can do this without rejecting what it means for man to be man.

  • Passages like Genesis 9:6 are not proof-texts for some abstract view of the image analogia entis.  They deal with a humanness in the context of God’s plan of salvation.
  • The truth of the matter is Scripture doesn’t focus that much on the distinction between wider and narrow, important though it is.
    • traditional discussions have always focused on image as defined by person, will, reason, and freedom.  Scripture, on the other hand, is concerned with man-in-relation-to-God.
  • A synthesis between the ontic and active aspects of the image is impossible when using concepts like “nature” and “essence” (61).

Analogia Fides

  • The danger in abstracting the imago dei is that the body is usually not included in what it means to be God’s image.  This means that only part of man is creted in the image of God.
  • Such discussions lose focus of the humanness of man.  They forget that man is man-in-his-apostasy.

The Meaning of the Image

Origen expounded the view that man was created in God’s image but grows into God’s likeness (De Principiis, 3.4.1; Bavinck calls this the naturalistic view).

Calvin, on the other hand, sees the two terms as an example of Hebrew parallelism.  Berkouwer gives the best critique:  “And if God’s plan for man (that man should have both image and likeness) was only partially realized by man’s creation in his Image (As Origen and others claimed), then it is difficult to explain Genesis 5, which speaks of man’s creation in God’s likeness (demuth) and after his image, tselem (Berkouwer, 69).

The image-concept and the Second Commandment

2Comm. deals with a prohibition against arbitrariness which man tries to have God at his beck and call (79).  The 2C is not primarily trying to protect the “spirituality” of God but to show that God is not at man’s beck and call (though, of course, God is spiritual).

The creation of man is directly related to the prohibition of images:  “For in worshiping images, man completely misunderstands God’s intentions and no longer realizes the meaning of his humanity (84).

Biblical usage:  The NT speaks of humanity as whether it is the “New man in Christ” or not.  To the degree it speaks of conformitas, it speaks of the new conformitas in Christ.

While the analogia entis is certainly wrong, we need to be careful of speaking of an analogia relationis, pace Barth and Dooyeweerd.   Berkouwer wisely notes that Scripture doesn’t speak of a “relation” in the abstract, but of a “relation as it becomes visible in the salvation of Christ” (101).

Even if one were to speak of an analogia entis, the biblical presentation of “being like God” has nothing to do with the natural state of affairs but rather shows forth the wonder of the new birth (1 John 3:9).  The “imitation of God” forms the pendant of our witness to the world, in which word and deed are joined in an unbreakable unity (102).

The Corruption of the Image

How do we reconcile language of corruption with hints of “remnants?”  There is a difficulty in saying that sin is “accidental” to man.  It cannot mean that sin is merely peripheral to man’s existence.  Rather, it affects all that he does.  The Formula of Concord says that sin is an accident, but one that produces man’s spiritual death (133).  When Flacius Illyrius saw the term “accident,” he interpreted it as meaning that sin is relative and external.

The problem is that substance/accidents language cannot do justice to the NT reality of sin. Berkouwer suggests we can rise above the dilemma “only when we see man’s nature, his being man, in his inescapable relation to God” (135).

We also need to be aware of positing “any remnant in man which can escape divine indictment” (135).  Whatever else we may think of substance/accidents, “Scripture constantly makes it clear that sin is not something which corrupts relatively or partially, but a corruption which full affects the radix, the root, of man’s existence, and therefore man himself” (104-141).

  • Gen. 6:11-12; the sin is referred to as “great.”
  • Gen. 6:5; man’s heart is evil
  • Gen. 8.21 (man’s imagination is evil from his youth)
  • Life outside of Christ is pictured as “under God’s wrath” (

“The power of sin since the fall is like an avalanche, and it results in the intervening judgment of God” (141).  The Old testament gives us a picture of total corruption but a limited curse (God doesn’t wipe us out completely).

“The jubilation of salvation corresponds to the real condition of lostness” (144).

Humanness and Corruption

Discussion about common grace.  When Calvin says man has “no worth” he means no merit before God’s judgment.

The Whole Man

Scripture doesn’t talk about man in the abstract, but man in his relation to God (195).

Biblical use of the word “soul.”

Sometimes it is “nefesh,” meaning life and can refer to man himself.  Berkouwer rejects that “soul” is a “localized religious part of man” (201).  The Bible’s interchangeable usage between soul and life should draw attention to the fact that the “heart” is of primary importance:  “The heart shows forth the deeper aspect of the whole humanness of man, not some functional localization in a part of man which would be the most important part” (202-203).

Concerning anthropological dualisms

Such a view sees the soul as the “higher” part, closer to God.  Leads to ascetism.  However, evil in the bible is never localized in a part of man.

Bavinck attacks trichotomy because Scripture knows of no original dualism between spirit and matter (209).    The trichotomist sees the soul as mediating between body and spirit (find Damascene’s comment that the soul is higher point, cf Bruce McCormack, Engaging the Doctrine of God).

Dualism and duality are not identical (211).  We can speak of a duality in God’s creation man and woman, without positing an ontological dualism between them (this is where Maximus and Jakob Boehme err).  “Duality within created reality does not exclude harmony and unity, but is exactly oriented towards it” (211).

Does soul and body involve a tension, and if so that would make it a dualism?  If it does involve a tension, we must reject not only trichotomy, but dichotomy.

Per the confessions and creeds, “there is a great difference between non-scientific references to a dual aspect of human nature and a thesis that man is composed of two substances, body and soul” (213-214).

The Dooyeweerdians

It opposes the idea that all the rich variation of humanness can be forced into two substantial categories.

Stoker defines substance as the “systatic core of man, that which functions in all spheres” (H.G. Stoker, Die nuwere Wijsbegeerte aan die Vrije Universiteit, 1933, 40ff.).

For the Dooyeweerdian critique, matter can never be an independent counter-pole to form.

Immortality of the Soul

Genuine and real life in Scripture is life in communion with God.  The philosophical notion of “immortality of the soul” calls death a lie and misunderstands the judgment of God (250).

The main contention of Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd whether there was a natural immortality based on an essence abstracted from its relation to God, from which we can draw further conclusions, such as the soul’s “indestructibility” (249).

Per Van der Leuw, there is no continued existence of the soul as such after death, “but a continuation of the contact point by God even though death” (Onsterfelijkheid of Opstanding, 25 quoted in Berkouwer 252).

  • The problem of what happens when we die does not involve a purely spiritual salvation but can only be answered in the context of death and the Day of Judgment (Althaus).

Is immortality of the soul correlative with the substantial dualism of mind-body?  This dichotomy raises substantial (pun?) problems and questions (255):

  • When the “soul” is separated from the body, what activities is it still able to carry out?
  • If the body is the organ of the soul (as in Aquinas), and the soul needs the body to carry out its functions, how can the soul know or do anything after death?
    • Dooyeweerd notes that the psychic functions are indissolubly connected with the total temporal-cosmic relationship of all modal functions and cannot be abstracted from this relationship.
    • Thus, we have a “living soul” which does not live.
    • Rather, with Dooyeweerd we should speak of a duality which is supra-temporal in the religious center of man (heart) and the whole temporal-functional complex.
    • Dooyeweerd does say that the soul continues as a form of existence with an individuality structure (Berkouwer 257n. 33).

Does Dooyeweerd’s school give us a “psychology without a soul?”

  • No, for Dooyeweerd says we cannot view man’s essence “in itself” and then tack it onto a relation with God.

The Reformed confessions’ use of soul and body is not to give a systematic anthropology but to show that expectation of salvation surpasses death (271).

Creationism and Traducianism

Berkouwer sees the problems with Creationism:

  • it finds the soul’s origin in another dimension than the “other” part of man, which finds its origin…from its parents (294).

Human Freedom

Freedom in the New Testament is not a “possibility,” but an actuality, the actuality of being free (Gal. 3:13, 4:4). Defining freedom as “double possibility,” as freedom of choice, arises from an abstract and irreligious and neutral anthropological analysis of human freedom (334).

irony and tension: if freedom is defined as choice, then we see that the choice for sin becomes a manifestation of human freedom–though we (and the Bible!) then go on to speak of sin as actually being slavery (335)!

Choosing Ba’al is not an ontological freedom of the will, but an endangering of freedom and the acceptance of an enslaved will (Deut. 30:18). How can we speak of a neutral and autonomous freedom of will when Jesus commands us to accept his yoke and his burden? (348)

Man of God

In the Old Testament it refers to a relationship with God (349).  Such a term can never be one of an abstract and neutral man.  It is man drawn out of darkness and into light.

“The magnalia Dei does not exclude true greatness, but calls it forth” (352).  [Think Stonewall Jackson]