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Preach the Word

Revealing Revelations

Previously I asked, Why does God reveal truth? And what do we learn about authority by how God used His? The answer has far reaching implications.

God used His authority to reveal truth because the essence of authority, the way the Triune God really is, is to expose Himself, share Himself, and invite us into an intimate relationship with Him to share His joy. The truth, as revealed by God, is that true authority gives, overflows, and participates. The essence of true authority, therefore, is not distance, isolation, and demands.

Let’s see if we can blow away some of the smoke and see God’s revealed truth about revealed truth and what authority is good for. Today we’ll look at the first of four aspects of God’s revelation.

Creation

The mere fact of creation shows the reality of God’s eagerness to share Himself, and of God’s giving, overflowing use of authority. As Carl Henry wrote in his work, God, Revelation, and Authority, God gave up His privacy, and the thing He gave most was Himself. Henry’s first thesis was:

Revelation is a divinely initiated activity, God’s free communication by which he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality. (Vol. 2, 17)

There are things about an infinite God that are mysterious, yes.[1] There are things that are above and beyond us because God didn’t make us gods. But He did make us to know Him, learn about Him in creation, learn about Him in providence, learn about Him in His Incarnation, and learn about Him in His Word. Revelation, giving us truth, opens Himself to us.

The way God created and revealed truth also shows the giving nature of authority. His first five and a half days of work prepared a glorious place for the crown of creation. He formed and filled a pristine, lush, and repeatedly “good” home for man. God interrupted Adam, parading all the animals before him, to teach Adam that he was alone. Adam didn’t even know what he was missing because he was busy enjoying all the other good gifts.

God also gave man purpose: to be bear His image in responsibility and in relationships. His authority overflowed as He shared His image; He didn’t distance Himself from men or take things from them to prove His superior position. The way things really are, the truth, is that God shares the best things with His creation.

That includes Himself. The pre-fall relationship between God and man was about sharing fellowship, not filling Adam’s mind with footnotes for a systematic theology book. The serpent’s lie was that God was holding something back with His authority. The truth is, God was giving them life. Disobedience took fellowship and life away.

Knowledge is not enough when it comes to the truth (revelation) of creation. It is inadequate to say that God revealed truth simply so that others could know it. Adam didn’t stop knowing the truth when he disobeyed, he stopped the enjoyment of God in truth. The truth is that knowing truth is not the end. The demons know the truth, things as they really are. More than that, every man knows the truth. According to Romans 1, all men know the truth and “suppress” it (1:18).

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (1:19-20)

They know who He really is. So what is their problem? It isn’t a knowledge problem.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him. (1:21a)

How they responded to what they knew, dare we say, how they felt about the truth, was the problem. Failure to thankfully worship brought the revelation of wrath. What is implied about revelation is that the reality of things is that God is so open and giving that it is totally unacceptable to reject it.

The truth expects the right response. But the expectation is not a taking expectation, it is a giving expectation. It expects us to receive what is given, not that we have to give something. Truth invites life, and life abundant. Creation reveals the truth that God, in His supreme authority, invites us to relationship with Himself and with each other. Sin ruined the fellowship, but God gave His only Son that we might have it again.


  1. Henry’s third thesis was: “Divine revelation does not completely erase God’s transcendent mystery, inasmuch as God the Revealer transcends his own revelation.”
Categories
Preach the Word

Revealing Definitions and Questions

In my last post about truth I stated that problems come when truth-lovers are not totally truthful about God and about His authority. What am I talking about? There are more thoughts to come but, for now, the quick answer is: God’s revelation of truth reveals the true essence of authority. Today I’ll start building toward that answer with some definitions and questions.

Revealing Definitions

The first key word is TRUTH: things as they really are; facts not fiction or, when regarding future events, how things will be really, not what we imagine we’d like the future to be.

Where did truth come from? GOD. Things are as they really are because of God. There isn’t anything that exist–no person, no principle, no nothing–without Him. “By Him all things were created–all things were created through Him and for Him…and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-18). We couldn’t know real things unless we were made real by God and made by Him to really know, including brains and senses and breath that keeps the learning process oxygenated.

We speak about can-be-known things from God as REVELATION. Revelation comes in two types, general (creation) and special (Incarnate and written Word). “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). “[I]n [Christ] the fulness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19) and though “no one has ever seen God,” the Word made flesh “has made Him known” (John 1:18). “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16).

And the reality (or truth) that revelation depends on God and is made known by God means God/truth has AUTHORITY. Truth always wins (at least in the end) because that’s what is real. Fall out of a tree and you will fall. Resisting God’s gravitational authority is futile. When the wrong person ate fruit from the wrong tree the whole human race was condemned. That’s reality. That’s revealed. That’s authority at work; it’s all true.

So if God reveals truth then God is the authority. That’s, in fact, exactly what He’s revealed as true: the truth that truth depends on Him.

It’s one of the reasons we insist on sola Scriptura, that Scripture is the ultimate authority, that the Bible tells reality with more reality than any man or group of men. It’s why we hammered our tent pegs in this truth-loving camp. Men depend on revelation; revelation doesn’t depend on men (see 2 Peter 1:19-21). I love John Piper’s explanation of the “external Word”:

[I]t is objective, fixed, outside ourselves, and therefore unchanging. It is a book….You can take it or leave it. But you can’t make it other than what it is. (The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, 78)

That’s why we have sentiments like, “We love truth no matter how you feel about it.” That’s mostly true.

Truth was true before we existed, before creation. God was. Reality doesn’t need our corroboration. Truth had authority before anyone was around to question it. It’s hard to imagine what that would be like? No doubters. No questioners. No scoffers. Truth in full glory with no dings in its authority. We may not be able to imagine it, but God was there. Truth was His alone to do with whatever He wanted. Of course He could, He was the authority.

Revealing Questions

What did He do with His truth? How did He use His authority? He created a universe of revelation to reveal the reality about Himself and His authority and how good He is.

At this point I’d bet our conservative camp is largely in agreement, but we’re not done. After all, I’ve barely given any Bible verses, and how about sola Scriptura and all? But what I mean by saying that we’re not done yet is that we haven’t said the most helpful things. Our answer isn’t wrong but neither is it complete. We haven’t seen the flower in full bloom yet. To say that God, in His authority, revealed truth is no more than what we would find on the back of an elementary school flashcard. We need a junior higher to ask, “Why?”

Why did God reveal truth? What is His reason and purpose? We can answer, “for His glory,” and we’d be correct but, again, not complete. Maybe I could ask it a different way. What do we learn about authority by how God used His authority? What do we learn about the truth and about the purpose of truth by considering God’s purpose for truth? The next step in the series is to consider the why in the what of God’s revelations.

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Preach the Word

Truth Revealed – The Essence of Authority

The last five summers I’ve taught at a Reformation Conference for a church near my hometown in Ohio. Our relationship began at a youth camp in 1998 and developed due to similar theological and ministry convictions. I’ve taught through the Solas and the Reformers as well as through Edwards and The Religious Affections. Then, upon their request, I (enthusiastically) worked through the Five Points of Calvinism and two summers ago five more messages on the implications of Calvinism.

I went to lunch with some of the church leadership after the implications conference and they invited me back again to address the issue of truth, in particular truth and how it’s connected with Calvinism.

I knew exactly what they wanted. I knew what they wanted because the challenges they’ve faced are the same problems I’ve run into, the same sort of criticisms our small piece of the Evangelical pie usually encounter. We are the truth-loving, truth-talking bunch. David Wells wrote a book a few years ago titled, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World. We’re not the seeker sensitive types and we’re also not meeting in a warehouse with black ceilings wearing designer print t-shirts (with or without skulls on them).

We luv us some truth. We’re the book-reading, long-sermon listening, personal Bible-studying people. We like our theologians dead and our exegetical coffee black. We attend the churches we do because we ourselves have been, or know others who are, driven by emotion and the changing winds of cultural digestion. We don’t want that. Give us truth or we die. Without the truth, we will.

Strangely enough, we truth-lovers are not everyone’s cup of tea. Sure, we occasionally get into public clashes because we call homosexuals sinners. We more regularly encounter hostility from neighbors and co-workers who think our truth is good as long as we don’t say that it is true truth, that is, true for them, too. But what surprises us most, what disappoints and frustrates us the most, are those within our midst who express concern about our truth and tone, some of whom leave for other churches that “feel” more open or accepting or exciting. That’s what really upsets us, and it probably should, at least when we get the feeling that their feelings trump truth.

Ours is a “We love the truth and we don’t care how you feel about it” perspective. And, that’s partially true. It’s also not entirely true. We have feelings for your feelings. The truth is, we want you to have true feelings. Your feelings aren’t the problem, your feelings being wrong are the problem. That’s where truth comes in. But the truth also is, that’s not what always comes across.

I’m almost ahead of myself here, so let me step back and knock on a different door to the same house.

I’ve always thought that a person who acknowledges God’s sovereignty in salvation is in the best position to appreciate truth and to appreciate the fact that with truth comes authority. Calvinists have a mental category for truth because we have a category for authority. God controls history. God ordains salvation. God can and does whatever He pleases. He has authority. That is true.

But I’m afraid that is only partially true, depending on what we mean. I think a break in the line often happens right here. We truth-lovers are not being totally truthful about God, about His authority and, therefore, we are not totally truthful about truth. Ironic.

Failure to worship God with a true understanding of His sovereign authority upends marriages. It exasperates kids. It needlessly offends unbelievers. And it causes sheep to consider finding another fold. In our camp, much of this usually happens with a big “truth” button pinned on our chests.

We should examine our own work first. We may have higher grades than other students, meaning that we may have more accurate exegesis and systematic theology than other denominations or groups or churches, but the truth doesn’t work on a bell curve. We, the people of the Book, should be held up to the truth of the Book, striving to avoid false feelings of esteem that come from false comparisons.

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Every Thumb's Width

Truth Can Handle Structure

To affirm of any human production that it contained many great and instructive truths which it would be impossible to systematize without weakening each separate truth, and frustrating the design of the whole, would be a serious reflection upon the author’s wisdom and skill! How much more to affirm this of the Word of God! Systematic theology is to the Bible what science is to nature. To suppose that all the other works of God are orderly and systematic, and the greater the work the more perfect the system; and that the greatest of all His works, in which all His perfections are transcendently displayed, should have no plan or system, is altogether absurd. If faith in the Scriptures is to be positive, if consistent with itself, if operative, if abiding, it must have a fixed and well-defined creed. No one can say that the Bible is his creed, unless he can express it in his own words.

—Charles Spurgeon, quoted by Ian Murray in The Forgotten Spurgeon, 9.

Murray includes the quote above from Spurgeon to explain why Spurgeon did not shy away from calling himself a “Calvinist.” Murray himself affirms:

As long…as there is such a way of thinking about the gospel as is historically associated with Arminianism there is need of a theological term to denote that way of thinking. The hiding of the word is of no help to anyone; and if a man, as for example the eminent John Wesley, has thought through his Arminianism he is not ashamed of the title. To him it represents scriptural concepts. Similarly if there is a body of evangelical truth, rediscovered largely at the Reformation period, and if this differs in certain major respects from a more comprehensive and later evangelicalism, there is need of a term to mark the difference. It is almost an accidental fact of history that Reformation theology became known as ‘Calvinism’ but the name once established has served an important purpose: to the one who believes it, it is a scriptural system and its association with the name of the 16th century leader is merely incidental. This is the sense in which Spurgeon uses the term ‘Calvinism’. For him it was a faith which belonged as much to Augustine and Paul as to the Genevan reformer. While we thus repudiate the use of these names as divisive labels, their occasional use in discussion is probably essential in the interests of clarity. It is pointless to claim to be merely Biblical when the whole question is, What do the Scriptures actually teach on certain issues? (emphasis added, ibid., 7)

Murray adds:

[The] same school which has taught humility of mind before God has also been the strongest in affirming the Church’s duty of holing a system of theology and there is no inconsistency here because the science of systematic theology concerns the derivation of truths from Scripture and the formulation of them, as far as possible, in a connected body of doctrine. To reject this science as an intrusion of reason upon Scripture is to pre-suppose that Scripture provides no adequate material or guidance for the formulation of what may justly be called a Biblical system. This presupposition, which has not infrequently been regarded as preserving the Scripture from ‘human systems’, is itself unbiblical. (ibid., 9)

In other words, biblical truth can handle structure and a name. Even false teachers aren’t foolish enough to stand up and say, “What I’m about to tell you cannot be found anywhere in the Bible.” Virtually everyone claims to be biblical. That’s why distinguishing what kind of biblical we are by name is important.

Update – September 29 at 2:09PM: I re-listened to Piper’s biography on Athanasius while running this morning. The following quotes are from that message turned book, Contending for Our All. Piper states we ought to learn from Athanasius that:

The truth of biblical language must be vigorously protected with non-biblical language.

“Bible language can be used to affirm falsehood….[Some] use the slogan, ‘The Bible is our only creed.’ But in refusing to let explanatory, confessional language clarify what the Bible means, the slogan can be used as a cloak to conceal the fact that Bible language is being used to affirm what is not biblical.” (64-65)

Piper then quotes R. P. C. Hanson:

Theologians of the Christian church were slowly driven to a realization that the deepest questions which face Christianity cannot be answered in purely biblical language, because the questions are about the meaning of biblical language itself. (emphasis his, 65-66)

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Enjoying the Process

I Don’t Do Découpage

It’s been more than three months since my last post. Fantastic. The long absence moved one friend to ask via email if I had abandoned the Void. I did go on a Google Reader fast from May 13 to June 26. Little did I know that break from blog reading also would include a break from blog writing. I have done a few things since April 1st.

Much of my time in April and May was spent preparing for June, because in June I spoke 25 times in 21 days starting June 5th with the Grace Academy high school graduation. The next morning I flew to Fresno to meet up with my friend Greg Perkins, youth pastor at Grace Community Church in Madera. We headed to Silver Spur Camp and Retreat Center in Tuolumne for his junior high and high school summer camp titled, Branded: What it means to live like Christ. The following Thursday I flew from Fresno to Columbus for our seemingly annual summer trip to Ohio (see my posts from 2006, 2007, and 2008). Mo and the kids flew from Seattle on Friday to meet me. The next speaking go-round was for the Reformation Conference at Faith Bible Church. Last year they asked me to preach on the five points of Calvinism. This year they asked for follow up messages. I titled the series: We Are Not Our Own: The Implications of Calvinism, driven by this quote from Calvin in his Institutes:

We are God’s: let us therefore live for Him and die for Him. We are God’s: let His wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward Him as our only lawful goal. (3.7.1)

The audio for each session is available if you’re interested.

The Heart of Calvinism – How to Live Like a Whole-Hearted Calvinist

God May Perhaps Grant Repentance – How to Correct Opponents Like a Calvinist

For the Sake of the Faith of God’s Elect – How to Tell THE Story Like a Calvinist

Created to Walk in Good Works – How to Obey Like a Calvinist

Born Again to a Living Hope – How to Suffer Like a Calvinist

After the church conference I traveled with the youth from Faith Bible to Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley, West Virginia, home of the best Gino’s pizza parlor. This year was the tenth time I’ve spoken at their camp and I covered The Myth of Adolescence. We flew back to Washington a week ago tonight, but returning home has been little rest. One of the things requiring much work is the serious remodel at our house. I took the following video on my (new 3GS, yeah, that’s right) iPhone to provide a small glimpse into our new, but hopefully only temporary, look.

That’s it for now. It was something, and that’s the deal I made with myself earlier today. If you’re reading this in Google Reader or the like and are thinking about clicking through to leave a comment about how glad you are to see a post from me or share some other encouraging word, don’t bother. Comments are now closed indefinitely. Maybe I’ll have more to say about that decision later, maybe not. For that matter, the old Void posts are absent, though they will eventually reappear from the www abyss. Feel free to email me if you have questions or concerns or well-wishes, or send me a Facebook message, though you should probably keep in mind that I don’t do Facebook any more than I do découpage or herbal tea.

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A Shot of Encouragement

Heidelberg One

Q: What is thy only comfort in life and death?

A: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yeah, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth to live unto him.

The First Question and Answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, read in Mouw, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, 99.

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Every Thumb's Width

Resources for Studying Calvinism

When Phil Johnson taught on Spurgeon at the 07SR he referenced some of Spurgeon’s contentions regarding Calvinism. I thought it would be helpful for some of our youth staff and students to get a better grasp on what Calvinism really is, so I began a brief series entitled “God Saves Sinners” during our Sunday morning meetings (see the end of this post for links to that material). We are more than halfway through and I thought now would be as good a time as any to suggest some additional resources for those interested in studying Calvinism on their own.

Online Resources

Books

The first two of these are in my top 10 list of most influential books. If you’ve been waiting for a good time to start your theological library, wait no longer.

  • The Five Points of Calvinism, by Steele, Thomas, and Quinn. I’d recommend the newest version that has an updated typeface and some additional articles in the back. If you are going to buy just one book, this is the standard.
  • The Sovereignty of God, by A.W. Pink. You can also read this book online, or print it out for free, though it is worth having on your bookshelves–after you’ve read it, of course.
  • The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, by Loraine Boettner. Likewise, you can read this online.

Online Audio

If iPod listening is your thing, I wholeheartedly recommend:

And though I haven’t listened to any of these, and though it is only focused on the “L” of TULIP, I’m planning on listening to:

My own material is obviously not the first, nor is it the best, nor will it be the final word on Calvinism. Yet it is my attempt to explain it.

God Saves Sinners

2008 Faith Bible Church Reformation Conference

We Are Not Our Own

UPDATED [August 20, 2009]: These are messages I preached at the 2009 Faith Bible Church Reformation Conference. In 2008 they asked me to preach on the five points of Calvinism. These are follow up messages. I titled the series: We Are Not Our Own: The Implications of Calvinism, driven by this quote from Calvin in his Institutes:

We are God’s: let us therefore live for Him and die for Him. We are God’s: let His wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward Him as our only lawful goal. (3.7.1)

The audio for each session is available if you’re interested.

If you have other recommended resources for studying the sovereignty of God in salvation, please share those suggestions in the comments.