J.C. Ryle’s Argument for Christianity

JC RYLE

“The religion of Christ must have been from heaven, or it never could have prospered and overspread the earth as it has done.  It is vain for infidels to attempt to answer this argument.  It cannot be answered.  A religion which did not flatter the rich, the great, and the learned,—-a religion which offered no license to the carnal inclinations of man’s heart,—-a religion whose first teachers were poor fishermen, without wealth, rank, or power,—-such a religion could never have turned the world upside down, if it had not been of God.  Look at the Roman emperors and the heathen priests with their splendid temples on the one side!  Look at a few unlearned working men with the Gospel on the other!  Were there ever two parties so unequally matched?  Yet the weak proved strong, and the strong proved weak.  Heathenism fell, and Christianity took its place.  Christianity must be of God.”

Expository Thoughts on Matthew 4:12-25, pg.30

 

C.M. Granger

More from Murray, On the Uniqueness of Scripture

“Scripture is unique, not because it takes the place of God, nor the place of Christ, but because of its relationship to God, to Christ, and to the Holy Spirit. It is unique because it is the only way whereby we come into relationship to God in the redemptive revelation of his grace, and the only way whereby Christ in the uniqueness that belongs to him as the Son of God incarnate, as the crucified, risen, and ascended Redeemer, comes within the orbit of our knowledge, faith, experience, and hope. We have no encounter with God, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit in terms of saving and redeeming grace apart from Scripture. It is the only revelation to us of God’s redemptive will. That is its uniqueness.

Here then is the conclusion proceeding from its uniqueness, its incomparable singularity in the situation that is ours in God’s providence. If we do not accept its verdict respecting its own character or quality, we have no warrant to accept its verdict respecting anything else. If its witness respecting itself is not authentic, then by what warrant may we accept its witness on other matters? By reason of what Scripture is and means in the whole compass of Christian faith and hope we are shut up to what Scripture teaches respecting its origin, character, and authority.”

John Murray–Collected Writings, Vol. 1, The Infallibility of Scripture, pg. 12

I’ve been reading Murray lately, excellent, profound, wise.

In two small paragraphs he dismantles postmodern views of Scripture. I haven’t heard or read a satisfactory response to Murray’s points here, though many books have been written on the subject.

C.M. Granger

John Murray on Scripture

“We do well to peruse our great catechisms and creeds and textbooks and not be carried away by the pedagogical mush to which we are in these days subjected.  But if we rely upon such a reservoir of knowledge we are in a dangerous and slippery position.  Thought and life are too complex to be adequately met by any such reservoir.  The means God has provided for every exigency that may arise is the Word of God itself.”

John Murray–The Study of the Bible

Vol. 1, pg. 7, Collected Writings

 

“pedagogical mush”—my new favorite
term

 

C.M. Granger

mysterium tremendum et fascinans

Roughly translated, “mystery that overwhelms and yet attracts”

“To approach God is to approach an unfathomable depth of reality and truth that, like the sun in the sky, is too intense, too bright to look at, but that nevertheless brings meaning and coherence and beauty to everything else. God is a mystery.”

From the introduction of “The Mystery of God, Theology for Knowing the Unknowable” pg.xiv, Steven Boyer and Christopher Hall

Good stuff.

C.M. Granger

Is It Clear? Frame on the Perspicuity of Scripture

Boat on Clear WaterIn honor of receiving John Frame’s Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief in the mail today, and in light of recent discussions, I’m going to quote Professor Frame on the clarity of Scripture.  Again, the quote is lengthy, but too good to shorten much.

“Since Scripture is God’s word, it is his communication to us.  In Scripture, God speaks, not primarily to himself or to the angels, or to the winds and waves, but to us human beings.  God cannot fail to accomplish his purpose, so his communication cannot be anything less than successful.  If words are unclear, they fail to communicate; they are not communication.  So Scripture must be clear.

Scripture represents that clarity by describing how near God is to us in his Word.  So the clarity of Scripture represents the existential perspective, the lordship attribute of divine presence.  God says to Israel:

For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Neither is it beyond the sea , that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you.  It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deut. 30:11-14)

Paul paraphrases this passage to speak of the presence of Christ in the gospel:

But the righteousness based on faith says, Do no say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  But what does it say?  ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim). (Rom. 10:6-8)

In these passages, the clarity of God’s word engages our responsibility.  If we disobey or disbelieve, we cannot complain that God hasn’t spoken clearly.  Like God’s word in nature (Rom. 1:20), the clarity of his word in the gospel implies that we are without excuse.  So the clarity of God’s word has an ethical thrust.

To speak this way, however, raises problems.  For it seems that in some respects Scripture is unclear.  Many people say that Scripture is too hard for them to understand, and that therefore it is unclear to them.  And Scripture itself notes certain kinds of unclarity:

1.  Scripture is unclear to the unregenerate.  As I indicated earlier, the Word hardens them, until the Spirit changes their heart.

2.  Some doctrines of the faith are mysterious (Job 38-42; Rom. 11:33-36).  Although we can speak of them, even regenerate people cannot understand them in depth.  This is the limitation of our finitude.

3.  All parts of Scripture are not equally clear.  Peter says of Paul’s letters, ‘There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures’ (2 Pet. 3:16)

How can we reconcile our confession of the clarity of Scripture with these senses in which Scripture is unclear?  The Confession answers this way:  [Frame cites WCF 1:7, as quoted in my previous post]

So the Confession makes a distinction between things that are ‘necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation’ and those that are not.  The former must be clear; the latter may not be.  And the Confession adds another limitation on the clarity of Scripture:  many things in Scripture, even among those necessary for salvation, cannot be understood by everybody without help.  Understanding in those cases comes through ‘a due use of the ordinary means.’  Those means presumably include the normal educational resources of the church, such as preaching, teaching, and prayer.  So if you are a regenerate person, and there is something in Scripture you don’t understand, that is either because (1) the matter is not necessary for salvation, or (2) you haven’t made a due use of the ordinary means.

As to the first possible reason, I hesitate to try to distinguish in Scripture between what is necessary for salvation and what is not.  Certainly the atonement is necessary for salvation in a way that the number of David’s troops is not…

The second reason reflects the polemics of the Reformation period…..The Confession does not deny the importance of teaching.  It presupposes teaching in its reference to ordinary means.  But it says that our need of teaching does not justify withholding the Scriptures from ordinary people.  Any adult of normal intelligence can understand the basics of the atonement, for example, if he is willing to undergo some simple instruction.

But I would add a third reason why believers sometimes find Scripture to be unclear.  That is that believers differ greatly from one another in their callings and responsibilities.  When a child is four years old, there is not much of the Bible that he understands, even if he makes maximum use of the ordinary means of grace available to him.  Even doctrines that are easily described as necessary for salvation, such as the doctrine of the atonement, may be obscure to our four-year-old believer.  How can it be that such a believer is baffled by the clear word of God?  The answer should be obvious:  a four-year-old child is not able to master the doctrine of the atonement, and he is not responsible to do that.  He is not called to that kind of reflection.  He is called to obey his parents, a biblical command that he can understand well enough, and with their guidance to grow in his knowledge of the Bible.

I noted earlier that the clarity of Scripture has an ethical application.  It takes away excuses and establishes our responsibility to grasp what God’s Word says.  But a four-year-old child has much less responsibility of this sort, than, say, a twenty-year-old with normal mental gifts.

That reflection suggests a principle:  the clarity of Scripture is relative to one’s responsibilities….

Scripture, then, is clear enough to make us responsible for carrying out our present duties to God.  That principle seems to me to summarize what the Bible implies about its own clarity.”

The Doctrine of the Christian Life, pp. 147-150

And to that I say “Amen”!

C.M. Granger

 

 

John Frame on Postmodernism

post modern

I’ve been reading John Frame’s Doctrine of the Christian Life with a few brothers from church, and as always with Frame’s work, it’s been very edifying.  What follows is a lengthy quote about postmodernism, but it is succinct and perceptive:

“The postmodern school (including such thinkers as Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Richard Rorty) has not focused much attention on ethics, but in the late twentieth century it became famous for its skepticism about ‘grand narratives’ or world-view based thinking….

These thinkers come largely from backgrounds in linguistics, reacting against the structuralist linguistics of the 1960s and 1970s.  In their view, there is no master structure common to human minds that generates all language.  Nor does language refer to reality in any direct way.  When we ask for the meaning of a word, we get, as a definition, other words.  So words refer to other words, not to any objective reality.

So the task of the philosopher is ‘deconstruction’:  to break down the connections that people think they are making between language and reality.  Indeed, nobody can serve as an authority as to the meaning of a piece of language.  Even the author is incompetent to tell what his language means.  For once he writes or speaks it, it enters into a community, and the meaning of his words is determined by the hearers.  To people in that community, the text may convey much that is contrary to the author’s intention, such as racial prejudice, gender oppression, and so forth.  It may thus refute its own ostensible purpose, once deconstructed.  Thus it is hopeless to try to find objective truth in language.

Like Nietzsche, postmodernist writers tend to see language as an expression of the will to power.  Like Marx, they tend to read everything in the context of class warfare.  Once deconstructed, language tends to be almost entirely about oppressors trying to dominate their victims and victims trying to fight back.  So the discussion quickly turns to racism, feminism, speciesism, and so on.

These are, of course, ethical topics.  But the views of postmodernists on these topics are rarely argued; they are merely presupposed.  The postmodern conception of language rules out patient and careful argumentation about such topics, for every argument is a piece of language demanding deconstruction.  Such arguments are dismissed as mere exercises of power.

The problem is not that postmodernists are skeptics in a general way.  They oppose ‘grand narratives’, but not ‘little narratives’  They debunk large worldviews, but they claim to accept the simple facts of everyday experience.  But ethics requires a worldview, a grand narrative.  It is not just about the simple facts of everyday experience.  Rather, as we have seen, it claims to deal with principles that are universal, necessary, and obligatory.  If we reject worldview thinking, as postmodernism does, then we reject ethics in any meaningful sense of the word.

I do not deny that language expresses the will to power.  Scripture often speaks of the power of God’s word, not only its meaningful content (Is. 55:11; Rom. 1:16).  Human beings, created in God’s image, use the power of their language both for good (Rom. 1:16) and for evil (Gen. 11:5-7), and they certainly have used it to oppress other people.  It is also true that when people think they are simply stating facts objectively, they are often stating them in such a way as to increase their power over others.

But language is not only about power.  It is also about meaning.  It not only makes things happen, but also communicates truth or falsehood from one person to another.  The first does not in any way exclude the second.  So we must not only observe what language does to people, as postmodernists do; we must also discuss in meaningful words what language ought to do.

Furthermore, postmodernism, like many other ideologies, tends to exempt itself from its own critique.  If arguments against postmodernism must be deconstructed as attempts to gain power, why shouldn’t arguments in favor of postmodernism be deconstructed in the same way?  But if all such arguments are to be deconstructed, then truth about such issues (even the ‘little’ ones, if postmodernists are willing to discuss them) will permanently elude us.”

John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, pp. 88-90

C.M.Granger

The Bible the Book of Mankind

 

greek-bible-pharmakeia1

“Other books may belong to a people, an age, a stage of human development; this book belongs to all peoples, all ages and all stages of growth, whether of the individual or of the race—unifying them all and welding them into one vitalized and vitalizing whole.  The Bible is, by way of eminence, the book of humanity.”

B.B. Warfield

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A Culture of “Peter Pans”

I was reading the latest issue of IMPRIMIS today, and was struck by a brief piece by a young teacher, Jason Barney. He quoted Cicero in Latin, and then translated it…

Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum. “Not to know what happened before you were born, that is to be always a boy, to be forever a child.”

Jason Barney went on to observe the following about our culture — and I think he hits the bullseye.

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“Too many citizens of our country today are, in Cicero’s terms, forever children. If knowledge of the past matures the soul, it is not something we can afford to marginalize or sideline. Unfortunately, the hard work of gaining knowledge, eloquence, and wisdom is all too often skirted by teacher and student alike. Because we have neglected knowledge of the past and the great tradition of historical understanding, we live in culture of Peter Pans, flying free in Neverland with no past and no future, only the ever-present game, the mock battle against pirates or Indians. Wendy’s stories, with their plot of real challenges to be overcome, only reveal to us our immaturity, the fact that we are forever children who won’t grow up.”
[read the whole Jan. 2013 issue here]

We see this immaturity not only in the culture at large (and it is, sadly, very hard to miss), but we also see it in modern theological inquiry. There are many who are giving their two-cents on the church, or Scripture, or the Trinity, etc., without an awareness of what has been discovered or established (or ruled-out) long before them — both in the content of the doctrine being discussed, as well as in the realm of methodology employed.

This is very sad to see, given the clear charge of Jesus to His disciples — to make disciples (not merely converts) and to teach them everything He commanded. In the church, as in the culture at large, the older generation bears much of the blame for the present deficiencies. Thankfully, there are an increasing number of bright, culturally-engaged scholars and pastors (such as Kevin DeYoung), on the scene who give me hope.

May the Lord have mercy, and help us recover and restore what has been lost.

 

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The Bible is God’s Word

What Scripture says, God says; for, in a manner comparable only to the deep mystery of the Incarnation, the Bible is both fully human and fully divine. So all its manifold contents — histories, prophecies, poems, songs, wisdom writings, sermons, statistics, letters, and whatever else — should be received as from God, and all that Bible writers teach should be revered as God’s authoritative instruction. Christians [indeed, all men] should be grateful to God for the gift of his written word, and conscientious in basing their faith and life entirely and exclusively on it. Otherwise we cannot ever honor or please him as he calls us to do.

~ J. I. Packer, Concise Theology (IVP 1993, p. 5; emphasis added)

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What’s in a name?

Our thinking of God should begin with His name(s) as found in the Bible. Theology itself should begin here too. In his massive book, THE DOCTRINE OF GOD, Dr. John Frame writes on “Biblical Descriptions of God” beginning with a simple — yet profound — chapter on the ‘names’ of God. It’s a great chapter to study, and a model of doing clear, biblical thinking about God.

Here are two key paragraphs which ought to stir you and help you to know God better.

God’s name is his self-revelation. NAME, in the general sense, is a virtual synonym of word. And, like word, it is a way of referring to God himself. There is an identity between God and his name, as between God and his word. As we sing praise to God, we sing praise to his name (e.g., Pss. 7:17; 9:2; 18:49); we give to him the glory due his name (29:2); we exalt his name (34:3) and fear it (61:5). God’s name is an object of worship. Since in Scripture God alone is the proper object of worship, this language equates the Lord’s name and the Lord himself.

Similarly, the name of God defends us (Ps. 20:1) and saves us (54:1). We trust in him name for deliverance (33:21). His name endures forever (72:17; 135:13). It “reaches to the ends of the earth” (48:10). It is holy and awesome (111:9). god guides us “for his name sake” (23:3). In Isaiah 30:27, it is “the Name of the Lord” itself that comes to bring judgment on the nations and blessings on his people. So God’s name has divine attributes and performs divine acts. In short, Scripture says about the name of God virtually everything it says about God.

~ Dr John M Frame, The Doctrine of God, page 348.

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