15 June 2010

#8 A Hermeneutical Key from Augustine

Augustine of Hippo completely baffled Louis Berkhof. If you read his 'The History of Christian Doctrines' you can sense his frustration with the 5th century African theologian. Augustine has been called the father of both Medieval Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation. There is a sense of course in which this is true. For with him you have both the seeds of sacerdotalism and of a Grace based system of Justification by Faith grounded in Divine Election. How can they be reconciled? Berkhof, a creature of post-Enlightenment rationalism could not, but for Augustine there was no conflict.

The Scriptures exhibit this dynamic or dialectic everywhere. One problem is that we are post-Enlightenment westerners and tend to think as Aristotelians…as Nominalists, when it comes to so many issues. We do it without even thinking about it, it's part of our cultural wiring. This is not entirely bad, but we must have a Biblical Epistemology (shaping our hermeneutic) for interacting with the world and interpreting the Bible. Classicists struggle with this because the conventional two dimensional Laws of Logic cannot reconcile certain aspects of Divinely revealed metaphysics. Van Til's system is Monistic and cannot seem to acknowledge how these Divinely Revealed Metaphysics can be limited in scope of application to the temporal physical realm. That is another discussion.

The Jews are unique in that conventionally they had what we would call a very western mindset when it came to rationality. It's part of the renowned Judeo-Christian philosophical legacy. I loathe the term Judeo-Christian but in this case, it is what it is. This was abandoned by many Jews and later on they began to embrace mysticism. But I would make that point that for the most part they too did not really understand these dynamics. Paul argues as much in Romans.

The starting point for understanding this dynamic is undoubtedly Christology for it is in Christ Himself that we see the Image of God. Others like Frame and Poythress have developed a triadic epistemology derived of course from the Trinity. There are reasons I have for appreciating this and yet ultimately rejecting it. The Bible is about Christ from beginning to end, on every page. He is the Key. Triadic perspectivalism brings in an epistemological aspect that I cannot describe as other than subjective. The triads are often forced, assumptive, even arbitrary. It becomes a house of cards, or at the very least, another form of meta-system.

With the Incarnation we have an orthodox doctrine declaring His full humanity and His full Deity. Not 50/50, nor any other division. The 100/100 as it were, is not illogical, rather it is supralogical. We are in the upper tier of special revelation, accessed only by faith. To grasp this level of discussion and revelation we must be born again. Once we are on this side of the line, the dividing line of faith, we can indeed presuppose the veracity of the revelation given to us, it does not require proofs in the same sense that we would require in the Natural Realm, ruled by Natural Law revealed in General Revelation bound by space and time. We accept the Bible because Jesus validated the OT, promised Apostolic inspiration in John 14 for the New Testament, and we believe He has preserved the perfect, complete, inerrant text for us. Once we cross the line, the division between those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, we now no longer need the laws of logic to validate truth. We use them(subordinate to revelation) because they are part of the creational structure which we as creatures employ to communicate and discern, but there are some things…is it a surprise?... that are beyond our ken. Things that supersede two dimensional equation? The doctrine of the Incarnation is a violation of the law of non-contradiction. It is valid to raise this concern below the line…the metaphysical/eternal/spiritual line that separates the realm of Divine Revelation and Eternity from that of Natural Revelation and space/time. In the lower register we employ laws of logic to discern the world. As Christians we interact with the upper realm, but we must be careful not to force or impose temporal tools if they come into contradiction with Divine revelation. Revelation supersedes the laws of logic in the Supernatural Realm. I realize this is a huge problem for some. They would consider logic as a universal, or part of the character of God. I would argue logic can only be understood in light of the created order. Since the creation reveals order, there is a sense in which logic (the tool to understand the order) reveals something of God's character, but with Rationalists like John Robbins…..well, he makes it sound as if there is nothing about God that we can't understand. I am always astounded whenever I listen to him. I just don't know what God he worshipped.

We accept the Incarnation by faith recognizing our inability to grasp it. Christ the Incarnate Lord certainly straddles the realms of the Already-Not Yet….as we, His body also do. It's not illogical. It's supralogical.

Paul hints at a similar line of reasoning in Romans when he says not all who are Israel are of Israel. If they are, then they cannot be both at the same time. 'A' cannot be 'A' and 'non-A' at the same time…….sometimes.

Paul is saying that there is a visible temporal Israel of which some members who are actually part of Israel (in the visible) are not really part of Israel (in the invisible/actual)

Not a contradiction, simply a truth that spans the two realms. We only live in the one realm. We can't tell who is actually Elect. God knows this, but He has given as forms by which the temporal is administered and governed. Since He does not intervene in every specific case, we live by what He has revealed, not by His decretive Will, which we cannot know in the particulars. We know something of it on a macro level, viz. what He has revealed in Scripture.

Some have spoken of this division as Covenant and Election but this label is not helpful because those terms can be used on either side of the line.

For example, Paul writes an epistle….to a visible church. He calls them Elect, Christians, members of the Covenant, but at the same time says that among them are wolves and deceivers. Outwardly professing Christians are Elect, in Covenant, while at the same time something much different might be the case on the eternal/invisible side. They might be non-elect, not in Covenant. But we're not told this information for specific individuals today.

There are times it's as if God opens a window into eternity and we are permitted to see the inner workings……..Jacob have I loved, Esau I have hated. There's an instance where we KNOW Esau was non-elect. Yet outwardly Isaac in obedience to God's command, brought Esau into covenant. Now, in his case we know because we are specifically told he was not actually in. But we can't know that past the pages of the New Testament. We live in light of the revealed. Today we can only say with certainty, one is either IN(visibly) or OUT(visibly).

Another dynamic, another dialectical truth: Can we be outside the will of God? Yes and no, of course. Yes, when I sin, I am OUTSIDE His revealed will…but in terms of His decretive will, of course not.

How do we know someone is a Christian? What are the demands of the gospel? Repentance and belief. If you are doing these things I have no reason to doubt you are a genuine believer. But if in twenty years I find you in a back alley with a needle hanging out of your arm and I ask you, "What happened? What about Christ?" And you answer, "Oh, it's all rot. I don't believe that rubbish anymore." Well, at that point I would have no basis to believe you are a Christian. You've fallen from grace, broken covenant. What actually happened in eternity? I don't know. It's not for me to know. John says you were not 'of' us. And yet there are those who die professing Christ and go to hell. We know this from Matthew 7…Lord, lord, right? So in sense they were not 'of' us but they did visibly continue 'in/of' us. I think the passage in 1 John has been abused a bit.

So outwardly one can be IN covenant, Elect and also be in the eternal sense IN covenant and of course thus Elect.

There are some who OUTwardly are IN covenant, and thus Elect, but actually are NOT IN covenant, and reprobate.

Unusual but possible, but some can be outwardly out….perhaps due to circumstance and yet be actually in. That would be an exception and we don't live by exceptions.

These are not contradictions. These are critical fundamental tools to understanding theology. The Bible absolutely comes alive and 'problem texts' largely disappear. Let the Scriptures speak. Quit trying to systematize.

A friend and I worked these things out in the mid-90's reading the Bible and theological works, and we were pleased to return to the United States and discover there were others saying similar things. Sadly few have understood them…and sadly I must take grave exception to some positions espoused by the Federal Visionaries. These principles however I believe we do share to a large extent.

So when I listen to Scott Clark, Robbins, Otis, and others who attack them….it is more than a little frustrating because they are not grasping these fundamental principles of how logic works in relation to the Bible.

They end up asserting such absurdities like, "Just because someone is Baptized it doesn't mean they are in Covenant."

When Presbyterians say things like this they reveal that they are nothing less than Baptists who get babies wet. I was so pleased to see Schlissel say this in the Beisner edited Auburn Theology Book. My friends and I have been saying this for years. Most Presbyterians are Baptists.

The promise was to Isaac, that's a circumstance where we are told the particular. Isaac was the covenant seed…it was kind of important to understand that. Nevertheless Ishmael was in covenant also. Not eternally in, but visibly in. So was Esau…else he would have had no birthright to sell. Hyper-calvinists like Scott Clark and Robbins can only seem to grasp the one level. Their way of reading the Bible does not delve very deep!

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