“The Light of Nature” in the Westminster Standards

Last week I wrote a piece for Ad Fontes on what the Westminster Standards have to say about natural reason, natural theology, and natural law through their teaching on the “light of nature”:

It is sometimes said that general revelation (or the light of nature, to keep Westminster’s wording) is not sufficient to save, only to condemn. Without desiring to be pedantic, I would note that while it is true that it is insufficient to save, it is not the case that its only function is to condemn. The light of nature has other uses beyond saving or condemning, some of which are attested to within the Standards

Read the rest here.

My Kingdom Is Not of This World

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

– John 18:36 (NKJV)

John Calvin comments:

My kingdom is not of this world. By these words he acknowledges that he is a king, but, so far as was necessary to prove his innocence, he clears himself of the calumny; for he declares, that there is no disagreement between his kingdom and political government or order; as if he had said, “I am falsely accused, as if I had attempted to produce a disturbance, or to make a revolution in public affairs. I have preached about the kingdom of God; but that is spiritual, and, therefore, you have no right to suspect me of aspiring to kingly power.” This defense was made by Christ before Pilate, but the same doctrine is useful to believers to the end of the world; for if the kingdom of Christ were earthly, it would be frail and changeable, because “the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Corinthians 7:31); but now, since it is pronounced to be heavenly, this assures us of its perpetuity. Thus, should it happen, that the whole world were overturned, provided that our consciences are always directed to the kingdom of Christ, they will, nevertheless, remain firm, not only amidst shakings and convulsions, but even amidst dreadful ruin and destruction. If we are cruelly treated by wicked men, still our salvation is secured by the kingdom of Christ, which is not subject to the caprice of men. In short, though there are innumerable storms by which the world is continually agitated, the kingdom of Christ, in which we ought to seek tranquility, is separated from the world.

We are taught, also, what is the nature of this kingdom; for if it made us happy according to the flesh, and brought us riches, luxuries, and all that is desirable for the use of the present life, it would smell of the earth and of the world; but now, though our condition be apparently wretched, still our true happiness remains unimpaired. We learn from it, also, who they are that belong to this kingdom; those who, having been renewed by the Spirit of God, contemplate the heavenly life in holiness and righteousness. Yet it deserves our attention, likewise, that it is not said, that the kingdom of Christ is not in this world; for we know that it has its seat in our hearts, as also Christ says elsewhere, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). But, strictly speaking, the kingdom of God, while it dwells in us, is a stranger to the world, because its condition is totally different.

My servants would strive. He proves that he did not aim at an earthly kingdom, because no one moves, no one takes arms in his support; for if a private individual lay claim to royal authority, he must gain power by means of seditious men. Nothing of this kind is seen in Christ; and, therefore, it follows that he is not an earthly king.

But here a question arises, Is it not lawful to defend the kingdom of Christ by arms? For when Kings and Princes are commanded to kiss the Son of God (Psalm 2:10-12), not only are they enjoined to submit to his authority in their private capacity, but also to employ all the power that they possess, in defending the Church and maintaining godliness. I answer, first, they who draw this conclusion, that the doctrine of the Gospel and the pure worship of God ought not to be defended by arms, are unskillful and ignorant reasoners; for Christ argues only from the facts of the case in hand, how frivolous were the calumnies which the Jews had brought against him. Secondly, though godly kings defend the kingdom of Christ by the sword, still it is done in a different manner from that in which worldly kingdoms are wont to be defended; for the kingdom of Christ, being spiritual, must be founded on the doctrine and power of the Spirit. In the same manner, too, its edification is promoted; for neither the laws and edicts of men, nor the punishments inflicted by them, enter into the consciences. Yet this does not hinder princes from accidentally defending the kingdom of Christ; partly, by appointing external discipline, and partly, by lending their protection to the Church against wicked men. It results, however, from the depravity of the world, that the kingdom of Christ is strengthened more by the blood of the martyrs than by the aid of arms.

Notes on First Principles

I am slowly working through Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae. As I do so, I will share quotes that I find intriguing and may want to reference later. I am reading this Latin edition and using Alfred J. Freddoso’s new English translation as needed.

In I, Q1, A6, Aquinas addresses the question of whether sacred doctrine is wisdom–utrum sit sapientia. Thomas affirms, but my interest is less in that as in the statements he makes regarding first principles:

Continue reading Notes on First Principles

On Baptizing Babies

In a previous post, I explained how I came to change my mind on infant baptism. That post was semi-autobiographical, attempting not so much to persuade others as to indicate some of my own thought-processes. I originally intended it just for friends and family members who may have heard that I became Presbyterian and wondered what that was all about. Unforeseen to me, it ended up having a much wider audience than I had originally envisioned. To date it is my most read blog post. No other posts even come close.

In it, I promised a future post in which I would “more directly explain my views on infant baptism, address some related issues, and share a fuller, annotated bibliography of resources I found helpful.” This is that post. Again, this is not my Treatise on Infant Baptism. I am not going to say everything that can be said. I wouldn’t even say that I am writing this with the primary intent of persuading others or making a full-fledged case. My goals are more modest. This will primarily be informative, aimed at helping interested readers understand how I view infant baptism, what I think it does, and what further resources may be consulted on this matter. Continue reading On Baptizing Babies

On Becoming Presbyterian

During seminary I became convinced of infant baptism. This might come as a surprise to some folks, since I have been somewhat discreet on social media about this development. This is mainly because I was still a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an active member at a Baptist church as I wrestled with this issue, and I did not want to appear divisive. But as of last October my wife and I joined a Presbyterian church here in Louisville, last December I graduated from Southern, and this May I came under care of the Ohio River Valley Presbytery in the PCA and began a one-year pastoral internship. So it now seems appropriate to write about this topic.

This post is a semi-autobiographical account of how I came to change my mind on this issue. Initially, the need for a post like this was impressed on me after a couple different people I know, upon hearing that Ivy and I have become Presbyterian, wondered if we had gone liberal. This is understandable, since the PCUSA is the largest Presbyterian denomination in America. But the notion that I have drifted leftward is mistaken. After graduating seminary, I am even more, not less, convinced of issues like the inerrancy of Scripture, male-only eldership, and the sinfulness of homosexuality. I am currently a candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which is a theologically and morally conservative Presbyterian denomination. Nothing on that front has changed.

More generally though, I wanted to write this post so that family and friends can have a better idea of what exactly has changed in my views and how that change came about. Continue reading On Becoming Presbyterian

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father

George Whitefield is a well-known figure who has been assessed from a number of different vantage points. Recent scholarship assesses the supposed impact he had upon commerce, the development of the “religious celebrity” persona, and in fostering conditions that would lead to the American Revolution. Thomas Kidd comes at Whitefield from another angle in his George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father: while not discounting the arguments of other approaches wholesale, he thinks that these “do not really focus on Whitefield’s primary significance or the way he viewed himself.”[1] Kidd argues that “George Whitefield was the key figure in the first generation of Anglo-American evangelical Christianity,” and his biography seeks to place him “fully in the dynamic, fractious milieu of the early evangelical movement.”[2] Eschewing both naive hagiography and cynical contempt, Kidd presents a balanced view of Whitefield both in his strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. Continue reading George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father

The Extent of the Atonement and the Extent of Reformed Orthodoxy

Few theological questions today gender such impassioned debate as the question, “For whom did Christ die?” Just about every Christian has a view on this issue, and likely holds to it quite strongly. The question itself can be understood in different ways. On the broad scale, the question can be read against the backdrop of universalist readings of the atonement versus more exclusivist readings of the atonement. The universalist understanding posits that Christ’s death is universal in application: the sins of all men are already forgiven through the cross. All that is left is for unbelievers to simply recognize that they are already forgiven and justified. The exclusivist understanding, typical among evangelicals, holds that Christ’s death is limited in application: it is applied only to believers.

More narrowly, within evangelicalism a different sort of debate with regard to the extent of the atonement occurs. This debate takes the shape of general atonement versus limited atonement, and it runs down a dividing line between Calvinist and Arminian views of soteriology. While both sides agree that the atonement is limited in its application to believers, they disagree on whether God effectually intends to save the elect alone through Christ’s atonement. Arminians deny this, while Calvinists affirm it. This debate has spawned a number of books, both scholarly and not-so-scholarly, and is a source of no small contention for the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical denomination in the U.S., which allows for both Arminian and Calvinist viewpoints in their membership. Continue reading The Extent of the Atonement and the Extent of Reformed Orthodoxy

Reformation Worship Blurb

Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey’s Reformation Worship fills a big gap among Reformed evangelicals, among whom I number myself. We don’t know how to do liturgy well. If I could snap my fingers, I would make every seminary student read this.

Continue reading Reformation Worship Blurb

The Dereliction of the Son

The dereliction presents us with an unthinkable scenario: the eternally beloved Son of God cries out to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How ought this astonishing reality be understood? Has the divine nature suffered? Or might it be said that the person of the Logos himself did not suffer, but only the human nature which is associated with him? Did the Father—however briefly it may have been—turn his back on his eternally beloved Son and switch to hating him? As inconceivable as it may seem, in the dereliction the eternal Logos is experiencing, through his human nature and as a representative substitute, a sense of the withdrawal of the divine love and delight, and a sense of the divine judgment—and this so that the judgment and wrath hanging over sinful man would be taken away forever. First I will place the dereliction within the broader story of Scripture in order to cast light on its meaning and significance, then I will deal with some mistaken views of the dereliction. Continue reading The Dereliction of the Son