Larger Catechism Class

Yesterday was the first class in a proposed 3-quarter (3x13wk) class on the Larger Catechism at EOPC, taught by (it’s all about) me. For anybody that’s interested, resources and recordings can be found online. Yesterday’s class on historical introduction was a lot of fun, but I expect it will settle down as we dive into the catechism itself starting next week.

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Vos Study #8

In Vos Study #8, we have the first half of Ch 5, “The Development Leading Up to the Noachian Revelation”. This section of scripture is summarized in Vossian understatement as “revelation here bears on the whole a negative rather than positive character,” watching the Cainite line slide into ever-increasing depravity, and even take the Sethite line with them (Vos explains how the “Sons of God/daughters of men” passage is Sethite men taking Cainite wives). The podcasters go into great length about how the Cainites’ city-building is sinfully autonomous, with only one concession from Bucey that “not to say that all cities are inherently evil, since Zion is a city.” I was missing what I found in Vos of picking out a thread of common grace. Continuing on from the quote above,

It contents itself with bestowing a minimum of grace. A minimum could not be avoided either in the sphere of nature or of redemption, because in the former sphere, without at least some degree of divine interposition, collapse of the world-fabric would have resulted, and in the latter the continuity of the fulfillment of the promise would have been broken off. … Had God permitted Grace freely to flow out into the world and to gather great strength within a short period, then the true nature and consequences of sin would have been very imperfectly disclosed. …

The narrative proceeds in three stages. It first describes the rapid development of sin in the line of Cain. In connection with this it describes the working of common grace in the gift of invention for the advance of civilization in the sphere of nature. It shows further that these gifts of grace were abused by the Cainites and made subservient to the progress of evil in the world.

The podcast concludes with a discussion of the “120 years” passage, which does not mean that God will limit the age of individuals to 120 years (many in the genealogies live much longer than that, even after the flood, including Abraham); rather it is a deadline, 120 years is the limit of God’s patience (cf 2 Pet 3:9), after which judgment comes in the form of the flood, which will be discussed more next time, for the back half of the chapter.

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Vos Study #7

In Vos Study #7, Dr. (congrats!) Bucey and Dr. Tipton cover all of the small chapter 4, The Content of the First Redemptive Special Revelation, which focuses on the results of the Fall.

First off is nakedness and shame, which is the result of “how Special Revelation attaches itself to General Revelation”. Previously GR showed God’s glory through creation, but now it reveals Adam & Eve’s sin and guilt. (See also Rom 1).

On to the curses. Most of the discussion on the podcast centered on “seed of woman vs seed of serpent”; noting how it is “obviously” collective at first, but then turns singular at “he will crush your head”. This was related to Gal 3:16 with the “seed” vs “seeds” stuff. (And that in turn related to the Christocentric vs Christotelic discussion which is currently occupying a lot of the blogosphere.) One especially nice point from Vos is how God shows his initiative with “will put enmity…”. Says Vos,

The essence of the deliverance consists in a reversal of the attitude assumed by man towards the serpent and God respectively. Man in sinning had sided with the serpent and placed himself in opposition to God. Now the attitude towards the serpent becomes one of hostility; this must carry with it a corresponding change in man’s attitude towards God. God being the mover in the warfare against Satan, man, joining in this, becomes plainly an ally of God.

The curses towards Eve and Adam (note curses are given in order of sin; serpent, Eve, Adam) are treated much less. But it is interesting that Vos finds the gospel even in the curses; obviously the protoevangelion in the serpent’s curse, but in cursing Eve with painful childbirth, God is promising childbirth; and in cursing Adam with hard labor, he is promising sun, and rain, and bread.

One off-handed comment got my goat; discussing the collective seeds of the woman and serpent, Bucey jokes “Those are the first two kingdoms, ha ha”; but Tipton follows up enthusiastically with, “Yes, if you want to properly consider the two kingdoms…”. It seemed like me to be a backhanded swipe at 2K, even though obviously, it’s not proper 2K if one of the Kingdoms is the Kingdom of Satan. But I’ll give them a pass, as the rest of the episode had lots of good things to say about Kline, both in Kingdom Prologue and Images of the Spirit.


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Dr. Strange Love; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Animus Impotentis

Sometimes you have to write a blog post just for the sake of a good title. Episode 337 of Christ the Center featured Dr. Alan Strange, discussing “Animus Impotentis”. Dr. Strange is rather a cut-up, and makes this discussion of a dry-sounding topic almost as entertaining as rodeo-skydiving a nuclear warhead!

A few highlights I recall:

Dr. Strange relates how 6×24 YECs like to insist that the confessional language “in the space of six days” means “in the space of six ordinary, twenty-four hour days” (or equivalently, the animus imponentis of the language means “ordinary 24-hour”). The only reason, they say, “24-hour” is not in the confession is because that phrase is modern, and it would be anachronistic for us to expect them to speak that way. However, in researching the minutes of the Assembly, Dr. Strange found a case where there was a debate over whether the 7th day of Creation is eternal and continuing, or “24 hours”. Maybe the phrase was even “24-hour day”, I don’t recall. I think how it went was, there was a motion to assert that the 7th day was a 24-hour day, and the motion was debated, voted on, and rejected. The point being, “24-hour”-ness was in their vocabulary.

Another interesting creation-related tidbit, from the OPC Creation Report (for which Dr. Strange was a committee member). (See lines 2859ff in the report.) In 1954, there was a Dr. Edwin Monsma who wrote a tract If Not Evolution, What Then, which he requested that the OPC Committee on Christian Education publish. “The way that he sets forth his view is quite irenic. … He summarizes his position on the length of creation days this way: ‘Without categorially dismissing all other views, it does seem that this one [6x24] is most easily harmonized with Scriptures and with the whole of special revelation.” And yet, the response of the committee was: “[the committee] has reluctantly concluded that it would not be desirable for the Committee on Christian Education to publish it because of the dogmatic position taken on the controversial issue of the length of creation days.” The Report’s conclusion : “Certainly it seems to indicate that almost twenty years after the formation of the OPC, the denomination remained unwilling to publish anything under its auspices that set forth the length of the creation days as being of ordinary duration.” (See also Robert Strimple’s historical reflections on the OPC and views of creation.)

Finally, to show that animus imponentis is not only about creation, Dr. Strange discussed its relation to other topics as well. One that stuck out for me was an assertion that, Limited Atonement is not nailed down by our confessions, but the common understanding that it is a non-negotiable doctrine is a matter of animus imponentis. Apparently Hodge wrote something that tried to prove that L is indeed in the confessions but Strange considers Hodge to have used somewhat weak, overreaching arguments, and Fesko has written something more recently that does a better job.

Anyways, it was a good discussion, and you should go listen to the whole thing!




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Vos Study #6

This time, for Vos Study #6, they cover the back half of chapter 3, The Content of Pre-Redemptive Special Revelation. The first half of the chapter was about the principles of life (Tree of) and probation (ToKoGaE). The two remaining principles are

3. the principle of temptation and sin symbolized in the serpent;
4. the principle of death reflected in the dissolution of the body.

As always, an interesting discussion. As is Vos’ habit, he first dispenses of erroneous views before proceeding to a correct view. The first erroneous view that the serpent is completely allegorical and ahistorical “is contrary to the plain intent of the narrative; in Gen 3:1, the serpent is compared with the other beasts God had made; if teh others were real, then so was the serpent. In vs. 14 the punishment is expressed in terms requiring a real serpent.” The other erroneous view goes to the other extreme; that there was merely a serpent, but Vos rejects that because “The Bible always upholds against all pantheizing confusion the distinction between man who speaks, and animals who do not speak; Balaam’s ass forming the only exception on record. It therefore becomes necessary to adopt the old, traditional view according to which there were present both a real serpent, and a demonic power, who made use of the former to carry out his plan.”

Vos talks about how Satan approached Eve rather than Adam, not because Eve was weaker, but because she was not the direct recipient of God’s prohibiting Word. That put me in mind of the importance of disseminating the Word (either by Adam in his role as prophet, or our pastors today), and the importance of accepting that Word (again, by us as well as Eve).

Another point was that Adam was with Eve throughout this whole scene, and watched her fall without intervening. This made me think of (spoiler alert!) the penultimate episode of Fargo, where Lester knows Billy Bob Thornton is after him, so he cowardly sends his wife inside, wearing his distinctive bright orange down coat with hood. So also Adam knew there was danger, but let his wife taste anyways. After his beefeater took the first bite and nothing apparently happened, then Adam also ate. Speaking of which, Vos’ understanding of “In the day that you eat you shall surely die” is in the sense of “As surely as you eat, so shall you die.”

The final “principle” is death. Vos has sharp words for some scientists who claim that death was always part of the evolutionary history of man: “At present many writers take exception to this [that death is the penalty of sin], largely on scientific grounds. With these as such we have here nothing to do. But, as is frequently the case, strenuous attempts are made to give such a turn to the Biblical phrases as to render them compatible with what science is believed to require, and not only this, some proceed to the assertion that the Scriptural statements compel acceptance of the findings of science. Attempts of this kind make for poor and forced exegesis. Scripture has a right to be exegeted independently from within; and only after its natural meaning has been thus ascertained, can we properly raise the question of agreement of disagreement between Scripture and science.” So Vos died in 1949; I wonder how much input he had into his student Kline’s Framework Theory?

Vos closes the chapter with a discussion of various senses of mortal/immortal, which correspond to the fourfold estate of man. Man’s soul is and always was immortal. Pre-fall Adam’s body was mortal in the sense it could be crushed by a rock (externally), but not in the sense that it had death at all internally (like a disease). Fallen man is mortal in a stronger sense; “whereas before he was liable to die only under certain circumstances, he now inevitably had to die.” Total immortality belongs to “the regenerate, here already in principle, and, of course, in their heavenly state”.

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Vos Study #5

Vos Study #5 is out, covering half of chapter 3, The Content of Pre-Redemptive Special Revelation. Chapter 2 on The Mapping Out of the Field of Revelation gave an outline of the forthcoming chapters; this is the first installment. Chapter 3 begins by listing “Four Principles”:

  1. the principle of life in its highest potency sacramentally symbolized by the tree of life;
  2. the principle of probation symbolized in the same manner by the tree of knowledge of good and evil;
  3. the principle of temptation and sin symbolized in the serpent;
  4. the principle of death reflected in the dissolution of the body.

This episode only discusses the first two; the latter two will be next time. (I thought it was interesting that these four principles are arranged chiastically (and I thought it would be impressive if I used the word ‘chiastically’) with outer and inner pairs of principles being mirror-images of each other.

For the first principle, Vos begins by asserting that Eden is not man’s home, but rather “The Garden of God,” a place of worship, a temple, which concept was later picked up and exhaustively expanded up on by Greg Beale. Most of the rest of this discussion brings in other passages that illustrate the sacramental nature of the Tree of Life (Rev 2:7, Ps 65:9, etc).

Vos spends more time discussing principle 2, for “There is more mystery and hence far greater difference of opinion concerning this tree than the tree of life.” Vos first sets up the worst option, “mythical interpretation. … The idea is a thoroughly pagan one, that of the jealousy of the gods lest man should obtain something felt by them to be a private divine privilege.” Vos mocks and dismisses this approach in short order, noting how silly it would be for God to plant the very tree that causes him to worry that man might eat of it.

The second option is more plausible. “This view attaches itself to the linguistic observation that Hebrew ‘to know’ can signify ‘to choose’. The name would then really mean ‘the tree of the choice of good and evil’. Vos’ principal objection to this is that it doesn’t make sense to talk of ‘choice’ (an act) rather than ‘knowledge’ (a state) before the probation, when the in the consequence, “nakedness stands not for an act but for a condition.” A quick note about this view though; “Others give a peculiar sinister sense to the word ‘knowing’, making it to mean ‘the independent autonomous choice over against God’s direction of what was good and what was evil for man.” That statement seems to me to be Vos warning against an (anachronistic) over-van-Tillian approach to the question.

Finally, Vos introduces the correct interpretation: “the tree is called the tree of ‘knowledge of good and evil’, because it is the God-appointed instrument to lead man through probation to that state of religious and moral maturity wherewith his highest blessedness is connected.”

Vos stresses the arbitrary nature of the command. If God were to have issued a command that had an inherent moral component, then Adam might have (been expected to) figure out what to do ‘by instinct’. But Vos contends, “The pure delight in obedience adds to the ethical value of a choice. In the present case it was made the sole determinant factor, and in order to do this an arbitrary prohibition was issued, such as from the very fact of its arbitrariness excluded every force of instinct from shaping the outcome.” So the probation test is purely a test of obedience, with the only ‘reason’ (Vos speaks of the ‘unreasoned will of God’, and the ‘unexplained, unmotivated demand of God’) being: because God said so.

Next time, the rest of ch 3, and the remaining two principles of pre-redemptive special revelation (temptation and death).



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Luther vs Calvin(?) on Images

First off, here’s Luther (described by Heiko Olbermann, quoted by RSC):

With regard to Luther’s judgment on images, we are not in the dark. In his report to his confidant Nikolaus Hausmann on the situation he found in Wittenberg, he was unambiguous: “Damno imagines.” The elimination of images, however, should be brought about by means of a consensus grounded in the faith. As far as the intended action goes, Luther’s posture was in 1522 appears no different from the position Erasmus had counseled six years earlier—images should be tolerated until they can be removed sine tumultu. On March 17, having just arrived from the Wartburg, he summarized his strategy on images this way: “They would fall of themselves if people were taught and knew that before God symbols are nothing.

And now here’s Calvin, quoted (paraphrased?) by R. C. Sproul, against Bob Godfrey, HT Jesse Light:

53:24 — Calvin’s view was to wean the people away from the idolatrous use of images and icons in Rome. But it was not an absolute principial objection; he thought it was a temporary, prudential need to change the worship culture of the church from the idolatry that was rampant in Rome, and the Roman use of images, Bob, you know that, and that’s why I’m saying, if we’re going to be Calvinistic, if you’re going to follow Calvin on this point, Calvin theoretically allowed for the use of images — prudentially — after a moratorium to liberate a generation of people from that stuff.

So Luther’s Reformation was temporarily for images, with an end goal of eliminating them, but Calvin’s Reformation was temporarily against images, until they could be allowed in appropriate uses?

Personally, although I think Sproul’s words well describe the actual situation of the early Reformed churches wrt idolatrous Rome, I have never seen any writings that would back up this actually being Calvin’s documented position. If there are any, I wish I knew about them three years ago, they would have come in really handy!

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