How I'm Feeling About Our Election PDF Print E-mail
News - Theology
Written by Tim Black   
Monday, 05 November 2012 12:21

A Canadian relative of mine asked,

How are you feeling about your election ;-(

I replied with the following.

I don't know if hope is a feeling, but I'm hoping Christians recognize they should not "approve of those who practice" (Romans 1:32) homosexuality, murder, and the other sins listed in Romans 1, and that the Democratic platform explicitly approves of the practice of homosexuality and murder.

I'm hoping Christians realize that when the Democratic platform says "Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way," it contradicts Exodus 21:23, which says the man who kills a baby in the womb has committed murder, and so should die at the hand of the government, "life for life."

In context, that passage reads,

22 "When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.
23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Last Updated on Monday, 05 November 2012 12:26
Is Sola Fide Biblical? PDF Print E-mail
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News - Theology
Written by Tim Black   
Wednesday, 08 August 2012 01:57

Is the doctrine of Sola Fide biblical?  Yes, despite the objections Roman Catholics raise against it.  A lady asked me this today, and my response is below.  She wrote,

I am struggling to understand Sola Fide and am hoping you can help me in my attempt to gain a better understanding of it.  I am clear on the "dictionary" definition of Sola Fide

I must ask whether you really are clear on the definition, because there is not only one definition of Sola Fide; instead, there are at least two!  Do you mean by "Sola Fide" that we are a) saved by faith alone, or b) justified by faith alone?  A common problem in this discussion is that the Reformed definition of Sola Fide is not the same as the Lutheran definition of Sola Fide, and this causes people to misunderstand each other--sometimes Catholics wrongly assume the Reformed hold the Lutheran definition, and sometimes those who are otherwise Reformed actually do hold the Lutheran definition.

The Lutheran definition sometimes says that we are saved (rather than only justified) by faith alone when it equates "justification" with the whole of "salvation," because it holds that after faith, all other benefits of salvation flow from justification, so the order of salvation is faith, justification, union with Christ, adoption, sanctification.  For example, Luther evidenced this mistake when he said "Works are necessary for salvation but they do not cause salvation; for faith alone gives life." (Ewald M. Plass, "What Luther says," page 1509, quoted at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_fide#cite_ref-21.)  Luther was right to imply that our works do not cause justification (in the sense of a contributing or efficient cause), but wrong to say our works do not cause salvation (as a material or constitutive cause).  Further, if as Luther said, "Works are necessary for salvation" as a (as Richard Gaffin helpfully put it in a lecture when I was in seminary) "necessary attendant circumstance" of justification, they are a cause even of justification itself, because a necessary attendant circumstance is rightly termed a "necessary cause."  The failure to specify which forms of causality are excluded by the word "alone" remains even in Reformed theologians as capable as Michael Horton, as this review of Horton's Systematic Theology by Richard Gaffin demonstrates:  http://opc.org/os.html?article_id=141 (titled “Covenant and Salvation,” published in Ordained Servant, March 2009.)1

The Reformed definition of Sola Fide is that we are justified by faith alone, where "alone" means "not on the ground of our own meritorious works."  In other words, the Reformed definition specifies the scope of the meaning of "alone" so that the causality denied by the word "alone" is only the causality involved in the nature of a meritorious ground for justification.  This sense is evident throughout the Westminster Confession's (ch. 11.1, 2:  http://opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_11) and Larger Catechism's discussion of justification (http://opc.org/lc.html).  In contrast to the Lutheran definition, the Reformed definition of Sola Fide does not deny, but affirms, that in addition to faith and justification, sanctification and repentance are also "saving graces" (Westminster Larger Catechism 75, 76), so while justification is "received by faith alone" (Westminster Larger Catechism 70), salvation is not by faith alone.

Underlying both the Reformed and Lutheran definitions of Sola Fide is a deeper concern to deny that the ultimate origin of man's salvation is in any way found in man himself, and the doctrine of Sola Fide is intended to protect against this error of autosoterism in the details of the doctrine of justification.  The Roman Catholic view that God's grace infused into man resulting in good works forms, or allows those works to form, a meritorious ground of forensic justification and the material cause of infused justification ("justice"), despite its attempt to ground God's grace in God alone, nevertheless is in the final analysis a form of autosoterism, because due to its dependence on Aristotle's view that lower forms (entities that are "hylomorphic" or form/matter composites) are not pure form/actuality, such infused grace is not purely from God, but is also from man.

but where my confusion lies might be best captured in the following questions:

1. Is sola fide an essential element of the gospel?

Yes.  Galatians 1:6-9 and 2:16 make this clear:

Gal. 1:6-9  "6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."

Gal. 2:16 "yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified."

The word "by" in "not justified by works of the law" in Gal. 2:16 is the Greek word ek, which commonly means "out of," naturally indicating here a legal basis or ground, rather than the Greek word dia, which commonly means "through" or "because of," which would more naturally indicate an instrumental or material cause.  The word "through" in "but through faith in Jesus Christ" is the Greek word dia, which naturally indicates the function of a receptive instrument  (not 1) a creative instrument, because in this context, faith is first “in Christ” the Savior, so implies an ultimate dependence on Christ’s power and agency rather than a creative power inherent within faith itself, and not 2) a meritorious ground, because diaindicates an instrument rather than a ground).  So it is proper to limit the scope of the word "sola" or "alone" to deny that good works are a meritorious ground of justification, and to affirm that faith is the "alone instrument" (Westminster Confession of Faith 11.2) by which God's legal declaration imputing Christ's righteous standing to us is received by a believer in justification.

So Paul says the doctrine that one can be "justified by the works of the law" (Gal. 2:16) is "not" (Gal. 2:16) the "gospel" (Gal. 1:6-9), but is a "distortion" (Gal. 1:7) "contrary" (Gal. 1:8, 9) to the gospel, and results in its followers being "accursed" (Gal. 1:8, 9) by God.  Correlatively, Paul says the true gospel is that justification is received by faith alone--by faith as the "alone instrument" by which justification is received.

2.  If anyone rejects sola fide (and knows what they are saying) then have they rejected the gospel?

Yes.  If they don't actually believe in Christ as their only Savior (and so also, at least implicitly, in Christ's righteousness alone as the ground of their justification) at some point in their beliefs, they are not saved.  Yet people can be, and are, inconsistent in their beliefs, and in their profession.  They may reject sola fide knowingly at one point in their beliefs, yet because they truly receive and rest on Christ's righteousness alone for justification at another point in their beliefs, they are in fact believing the true gospel, and truly believing in Christ as their Savior, and so are saved.

3.  Can Acts 15:5 be used as a passage that could teach that those that knowingly reject sola fide still be believers?

Yes, they may have been believers while, inconsistent with their true saving faith, they rejected sola fide, but no, they only continue to demonstrate themselves to be believers if they are willing to be corrected when they are shown that rejection of sola fide (understood to mean justification is received by faith alone, and is not on the legal ground of meritorious good works) was an error.  The individuals in Acts 15:5 were in fact in error, seeking to "put God to the test" (v. 10), as the final decision of the Council of Jerusalem later in that chapter (vv. 28, 29) demonstrates--the Council did not require the Gentiles to be circumcised as a meritorious ground, or even a necessary attendant circumstance, of justification, and salvation.  Acts 16:3 teaches that Gentiles are permitted to be circumcised out of kind deference to Jews who are "weak in faith" (Rom. 14:1), but Gal. 5:2-6 teaches that it is wrong to consider circumcision a meritorious ground for justification.

If you could help me by answering these questions I believe that it would benefit me greatly and I would very much appreciate it.

I do hope this has helped you, and welcome further questions if I can be of further help.

In Christ,

Pastor Tim

1.  See also Mark Garcia’s review article “No Reformed Theology of Justification?” at http://opc.org/os.html?article_id=66, published inOrdained Servant, October 2007, the reply by W. Robert Godfrey and David VanDrunen, “Response to Mark Garcia’s Review of Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry” at http://opc.org/os.html?article_id=80, published in Ordained Servant, December 2007, his “My Review Article: A Clarification” at http://opc.org/os.html?article_id=79, published in Ordained Servant, December 2007, John Fesko’s review article “A Tale of Two Calvins” at http://opc.org/os.html?article_id=139, published in Ordained Servant, March 2009, Gaffin’s reply “A Response to John Fesko’s Review” at http://opc.org/os.html?article_id=140, published in Ordained Servant, March 2009, and Cornelius Venema’s review article “Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin’s Theology” at http://opc.org/review.html?review_id=219, published in New Horizons, May 2009.

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 August 2012 16:02
Christians Bring Their Faith to Work PDF Print E-mail
News - Theology
Written by Tim Black   
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 12:30

I don't leave my faith behind in the marketplace, and neither should you. "Faith without works is dead." (James 2:26) What is work without faith? Pagan.

The quote regarding judge Kane and the Newland case below is interesting in connection with the current discussion of Reformed two kingdom theology and the differences between Sabbath worship and 6-day work. I expect the legal arguments against the Newland family/Hercules Industries cannot hold up in court. From http://www.frc.org/washingtonupdate/kane-no-crutch-for-obamacare,

"In keeping with the President's support of the narrow freedom of worship, versus the freedom of religion, the government's attorneys argued that men and women who enter the marketplace must leave their faith behind. 'As a for-profit, secular employer, Hercules cannot engage in an exercise of religion.'"

I believe this indicates not that US law is generally opposed to biblical morality, but that there is a real battle in our society between citizens pushing an agenda of secularism and citizens seeking to practice biblical morality. The solution Kane is following is correct--within its rights as a family-owned business, despite its unbiblical Roman Catholic opposition to all contraception, it is practicing biblical morality by refusing to pay for abortions, by refusing to pay for those parts of ObamaCare, and is doing so in accord with its own articles of incorporation, which wisely were written with the prescience to protect the company and strengthen its position in just this sort of situation.

Business owners, are you taking similar steps now to practice Christianity in your business? Or are you capitulating to a murderous secularism, and paying for abortion?

Yes, I'm stirring the pot today, and of course, willing to be corrected where I'm wrong.

Tim Black
Pastor, Caney Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Owner and Web Developer, Always Reformed Web Development. I prefer to hire Reformed Christian subcontractors, unapologetically!

Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism - A Review PDF Print E-mail
News - Theology
Written by Tim Black   
Wednesday, 27 October 2010 11:57

A fellow pastor on the URC discussion list asked,

Someone in my congregation asked about this series and particularly some of
those named as contributors to it. Could anyone give a recommendation or
comments by way of review of this series?


We showed the video and used the printed study guide, one chapter per week, at our Wednesday night Bible study & prayer meeting recently.  It worked well in that format.  Several points of review:

  1. In general it's very well done--a correct presentation of scripture, theology, and church history, making good use of the Westminster Standards and Three Forms of Unity (and the London Baptist Confession, but it isn't given the most prominent position), in an attractively produced video.
  2. To my surprise, I learned that its host, Eric Holmberg, was also the host of the video called "Hell's Bells" back in the early 90's.  He claims to be an ordained minister (I don't know in what denomination, but I have no reason to doubt the claim), and has lots of videos on YouTube under the username "VorthosForum," in some of which he's doing street evangelism / street preaching.
  3. Many of the people in the video are professors or students at Knox Theological Seminary, so they lean in the direction of Evangelism Explosion and postmillennialism (and maybe theonomy?), though those emphases are not very evident in the video.  So, though I have nothing against Evangelism Explosion, I would hesitate to recommend our church members go and read more works from each of those professors with an uncritical eye, yet I have no serious qualms about the accuracy of their presentation of Calvinism itself.
  4. I wasn't excited about the presence of many Calvinistic Baptist speakers in the video, but I recognize that may help Calvinism gain traction with Arminians by helping to give them the impression that Calvinism is not restricted to NAPARC churches alone, but is maintained by other kinds of Christians too.
  5. A fellow OPC pastor who is studying for a D.Min. at Knox said he wished the presentation of Calvinism was more focused; I agree.  Yet the presentation is still quite good.
  6. The DVD is a very appropriate way to promote the Reformed faith to friends--give them the DVD to watch at home, or invite them over to watch it with you.  It doesn't have to be posed as a Bible study; it's just watching a DVD together.  I do think Bible studies are one of the best outreach methods we have today, but for those who don't like reading books as much as watching a DVD, and who have worries about the commitment involved in a Bible study--and that probably amounts to the majority in today's culture--a DVD may be just the right vehicle for reaching them.
  7. The study guide is well-written, but doesn't include questions for discussion.  Rather, it is mostly a transcript of the video, and it includes blanks for key words which you can fill in as you watch the video.  It does include occasional topical excurses whose content is not found in the video.  At some points I found that the video and the study guide did not actually present the content in the same order, but that wasn't too bothersome.  At some points I also found the video's transition between one chapter and the next went by without my noticing the transition; that problem can be fixed by paying careful attention to the playing time of each chapter, which is written at the beginning of each chapter in the study guide.
  8. For those who do like to read books, I recommend Joel Beeke's "Living for God's Glory:  An Introduction to Calvinism," for two great reasons:  1)  Beeke's presentation is more squarely in line with what NAPARC churches consider to be consistent Calvinism, so can be recommended without hesitation, and 2) (which is almost the same point) Beeke's book shows that Calvinism is much more full-orbed than just the 5 points of Calvinism--it is richly biblical, deeply orthodox, fully faithful Christianity.  Its chapters are numerous but manageable in length:  each is 10-15 pages long, and ends with study questions.  I'd be interested in other people's reviews of Beeke's book; I'm trying to find the best way to use it in our congregation.
A Review of Islam: What the West Needs to Know PDF Print E-mail
News - Theology
Written by Tim Black   
Wednesday, 21 July 2010 14:51
If you have time for two movie nights in a row, you might want to watch the following two (long) videos.

A friend forwarded this video to me, which I found a very interesting, even convincing presentation of the threat posed to the West by radical Islam:


Then I watched this second video, which responds to many of the points made in the first video from a peaceful Islamic perspective:


It appears to me that BOTH forms of Islam - radical and peaceful - exist.  After watching the second video, I was reminded of a question a brother asked me at GA:  Is God a theonomist?  He wanted me to answer "Yes."  But I answered "No."  Theonomists are ungodly, when in regard to the death penalties in the OT, they are unwilling to require human civil courts to maintain the principle of "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth." (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21)  That principle, called the Lex Talionis (law of the tooth), God made universally binding on all men in the covenant with Noah in Gen. 9:6, therefore it is more foundational than God's temporary delegation to human courts under Moses of His divine court's right to punish sins less than murder with death, which delegation was ended when God removed the Davidic monarchy by sending His people into exile.  If theonomists ruled our civil courts, I believe the West would have some of the same opposition to theonomy which it has to Shariah law.

I find it more compelling to consider not whether Islam is violent (1st video says "yes"), or unjust (2nd video says "no"), but whether it has any true mercy.  Islam claims "Allah is merciful," but by denying Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, has no way for Allah's mercy to be extended to man and retain any semblance of justice--Allah's supposed mercy is arbitrary and capricious, perhaps promised to some men in general but not guaranteed to particular men in particular on the basis of an atonement for their particular sins that satisfies Allah's justice.

The good news that Christianity offers is that "Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3)--not for the sins of every man in general, but for the sins of the elect--those particular people whom God chooses to save.  This is the 3rd of the 5 Points of Calvinism, called "Limited Atonement," or "Particular Redemption."  It is just, because our sins are truly paid for in the atonement, AND because that payment is truly applied to the accounts of those particular people for whom Christ died, so that Christ who said "I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:15) can also say "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out" (John 6:37), and "they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:29).  Through the work of Jesus Christ, God is both just and merciful--"just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."  But Allah is not merciful, because he has no way of justly paying the penalty our sins deserve, and so has no payment to apply to our accounts.  In Islam, man must pay for his own sins, and attempt to cancel out his evil deeds by doing enough good deeds, as the second video also makes clear--Allah loves the one who is righteous.  But Christians must admit what Muslims will not--"None is righteous, no, not one...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:10, 23)  We sinners cannot make ourselves righteous by our own works, as Islam expects us to do.  Because we have sinned.  Praise God for giving us a Savior, who saves us from our sin!

So I don't think the first video's possible implication that the West must defend Christianity with the sword is really the right solution.  Rather, Christianity must save the East and West with the gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 July 2010 16:17
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