The Liberty of the Will (Muller)

“The freedom or liberty of nature; viz., the liberty that is proper to a being given its particular nature.  No being, not even omnipotent God, can act contrary to its nature.  In man, this ‘libertas naturae’ can be distinguished into four distinct categories or states:

  1. The ‘libertas Adami,’ or freedom of Adam, before the fall – this is the ability or power not to sin, potentia non peccandi, and Adam and Eve are described, in the traditional Augustinian terminology, as ‘possse non peccare’, able not to sin.
  2. The ‘libertas peccatorum’, or freedom of sinners, a freedom that is proper to and confined within the limits of fallen nature and is therefore an absolute ‘impotentia bene agendi’, inability to do good or act for the good, with the sinner described as ‘non posse non peccare’, not able not to sin,
  3. The ‘libertas fidelium’, or freedom of the faithful, a freedom of those regenerated by the Holy Spirit that is proper to the regenerate nature and is characterized by the ‘potentia peccandi et bene agendi’, the ability to sin and to do good; the regenerate, because of grace, can be described as ‘posse peccare et non peccare’, able to sin and not to sin;
  4. The ‘libertas gloriae’, or liberty of glory, a freedom proper to the fully redeemed nature of the ‘beati’, who, as residents of the heavenly kingdom, as ‘in patria’, are now characterized by ‘impotentia peccare’, inability to sin, and as ‘non posse peccare’, unable to sin.

Richard Muller, Dictionary, p. 176.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


The Two-Book Fallacy? (Or Barth and Fundamentalism Together!)

Someone recently pointed out an article to me on the topic of creation and Scripture called “The Two-Book Fallacy” by Jason Lisle, a director at the Institute for Creation Research.  In the article, Lisle very clearly and very firmly says that the Reformation teaching of God’s “two-books” is fallacious and unbiblical.

In other words, Lisle argues that Christians should not call creation one of God’s books because it doesn’t say anything with words and propositional statements.  Further, Lisle doesn’t like the two book view because some people use it to defend evolution or an old earth.  Still further, he writes, “Interpreting the Bible in light of some other ‘book of God’ is a distinguishing characteristic of cults.”

Lisle also says that nature “is not a book or record that contains propositional truth,” and that rocks or fossils “don’t literally mean anything because they are not statements made by an author who is intending to convey an idea.”  In other words, nature doesn’t tell us anything because it doesn’t use words or grammatical phrases.  “The primary purpose of nature is not to teach, but to function.”

Though Lisle attributes the two book view to Francis Bacon, it is actually used in the Belgic Confession (1561) which was written well before Bacon lived:

“We know [God] by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God, even his everlasting power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says (Rom. 1:20).  All which things are sufficient to convince men and leaven them without excuse.  Second, he makes himself more clearly and fully known to us by his holy and divine Word, that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to his glory and our salvation” (BCF 2).

I’m not going to give a full review and critique of the article here.  However, let me encourage you to read it (HERE), check out yesterday’s blog post (HERE) and also consider these responses:

1) Referring to creation/nature as a “book” is an analogy based on clear Scripture teaching.  For example, Psalm 19 says that the heavens “declare” God’s glory (cf. Ps 8), Romans 1 says that God has revealed his divine attributes clearly in creation (cf. Acts 14:17).  Solomon tells us to go to the ant and consider its ways (Prov. 6:6).  This also has to do with the fact that all humans (who are created beings) are made in God’s image with a sense of the divine (Ecc. 3:11, Rom. 1:18ff, 2:15).  It is an example of biblicism to say the term “book of nature” is unbiblical.

2) Denying that nature contains truths, facts, and information about God the creator is a denial of general revelation reminiscent of Karl Barth (“Barth” and “fundamentalism” together!?).  Lisle is essentially saying that God only reveals himself in words and propositional statements.  To be sure, God does reveal himself using words, but the Bible also describes God revealing himself in and through nature.  Consider (along with the above Scripture references) the OT stories of when God (extraordinarily) revealed himself in the storm, whirlwind, fire, earthquake, and other theophanies.  Indeed, God is sovereign in such a manner that he can and has revealed himself in creational ways.  I’m wondering how creation scientists can study rocks and fossils and make scientific conclusions if, as Lisle says, “they don’t mean anything.”  Isn’t Lisle sawing away at the tree branch on which he is sitting?  (As a side, consider how, in church history, general revelation has functioned in apologetics – could there even be Christian apologetics if God didn’t reveal himself in creation?)

3) Just because some have supposedly used the two book view to prove evolution doesn’t make the view wrong (I believe this is called the Domino Fallacy in logic).  And hinting that the two book view is wrong because cults interpret the Bible in light of some other “book of God” is also poor logic (I believe this is called the Faulty Analogy  – it’s like saying Christians shouldn’t use the KJV because Mormons often use it).

I suppose this article is one of the many reasons I’m not a fundamentalist and why I am instead Reformed.  Based on Scripture, I’d say the Belgic Confession is right and this article is wrong.  In fact, if you read the article carefully, you’ll notice (ironically) that the author didn’t use Scripture to make his point for Scripture and against general revelation!

It is true that the book of general revelation does not tell us about our guilt, God’s saving grace, and our response of gratitude, but that doesn’t mean we should deny the fact that God reveals himself in nature.  Denying general revelation is a very dangerous move in Christian theology; it’s not a trivial matter!   I’ll end with these great words by Herman Bavinck:

“Whether God speaks to us in the realm of nature or in that of grace, in creation or in re-creation…it is always the same God we hear speaking to us.  Nature and grace are not opposites: we have one God from whom, through whom, and to whom both exist.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics II.75.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Materialism, Wealth, and Idolatry

Product Details This is quite the book – a truly deep and thought-provoking read.  Although it was written around 30 years ago, the message is still relevant.  Schlossberg takes the reader through the main things in American culture that serve as people’s idols.  At first I thought it was going to talk about how Christians end up making idols out of certain things in our culture, but the book is broader than that.  He simply lines up the main things American’s “bow down to” and gives proof, citation, and critique.  The chapters include idols of history, humanity, Mammon, nature, power, and religion.  He ends with a few “application” chapters.  Below is a part from his last chapter, a constructive account of how Christian pilgrims should live in and interact with this idolatrous culture, specifically on the topic of materialism and wealth.

“Materialism, coupled with the productivity of machinery and electronics, has brought us to the universal expectation of More, first rising expectations and then rising entitlements.  This is what the Bible refers to as covetousness, which is condemned from the original Ten Commandments through the whole biblical literature.  The common observation that prosperity tends to bring spiritual complacency, pride, and moral decline goes back at least as far as the Pentateuch.  The wicked are identified as those who trust in riches rather than in God.

The biblical outlook on wealth seems odd only because we have adopted as normal a way of life that is hopelessly unable to produce what it promises and has demonstrated that inability to almost everyone.  As little children we learned that the doll or the game we invested with the aura of desire, and of which we thought we would never tire, inevitably palled on us after a time.  The same is true of all the world’s glittering satisfactions.  What they have in common is that, after the initial flash of gratification, they fail to satisfy, leading us to seek further for the next bauble. 

We ought instead to reconsider the basic assumption.  For if past acquisitions and attainments have not satisfied us, perhaps it is not in their nature to provide more than fleeting satisfactions.  This is the insight that led the prophet to inquire: ‘Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread…?’ (Is. 55:2).  For the greedy there is no conceivable level of wealth that would be enough, for greed is insatiable.  That is why trying to satisfy it, giving in to the love of money, causes such intense suffering (1 Tim. 6:10).”

Here’s his exhortation. 

“Christians need to renounce the systems by which their fellow citizens plunder each other, either within or outside the law.  …They should learn to give without receiving anything in return, reversing the process by which society is reducing itself to poverty.  They should be wary of the temptation to have ever more of the world’s goods, for that desire is what takes away personal freedom, delivering people into the clutches of those who want power. …The early Christians were said to have ‘joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] property’ (Heb 10:34); but this could only have happened to people who regarded themselves as pilgrims, content with whatever they had, having renounced the quest, on which their neighbors had embarked, for ever more goods to consume.  For them the statement of net worth was valueless in determining human worth.”

If I can add a quick illustration, we’re like that creepy dude in those treasure hunting movies – the foil to the main character who gets way into the cave to see all the jewels and gold.  We, like that guy, cram our pockets full of golden chains, saucers, and coins only to be stabbed for our idiocy by that spear-trap falling from the cave’s ceiling.  If only we could keep our hands off that glittering treasure!

Quotes above taken from Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 311-312.

shane lems

sunnyside wa


The Radical Duality of Anabaptist Ecclesiology

One thing that Bavinck did so well was put his finger on the pulse of the radical Anabaptist theology in the post-reformation era.  Here’s one of his many penetrating insights into the Anabaptist dualism.

“Anabaptism proceeded from the premise of an absolute antithesis between creation and re-creation, nature and grace, the world and the kingdom of God, and therefore viewed believers as persons who in being born again had become something totally different and therefore had to live in separation from the world.  Its program was not reformation but separation: Anabaptism wanted a separated church.  For centuries [they said] there had been no church but only Babel, and Babel had to be abandoned and shunned.  In Munster it was said that there had been no true Christian in 1,400 years.  The true church was a church of saints who, after making a personal profession of faith, were baptized, and who distinguished themselves from others by abstaining from oaths, war, government office, and a wide assortment of worldly practices in food and drink, clothing, and social contact” (Reformed Dogmatics, IV.292).

This is pretty significant to understand, especially in light of an earlier post here concerning the conversion experience.  Over and over Bavinck reminds us that grace restores nature; it does not work against or remain outside, above, or beside nature “but rather permeates and wholly renews it.”  In other words, conversion experiences are as diverse as the scores of people who have been converted: there is no one that trumps the others.

This is where the conversion experience and the doctrine of the church go hand in hand: if one sharply distinguishes grace from nature, he sees conversion as a separation from (or destruction of) nature instead of a renewal/reformation of it.  When it comes to the church then, it has to be made up of only those who are separated from nature and show it by their sharp distinction between themselves and everything else.  In pretty blunt terms, it is as if conversion is a lightning-bolt-supernatural-shock which results something totally different, and those who are totally different make up a totally different church (almost an a-natural church).  In Reformed terms (and Bavinck’s terms), this is a dualistic principle that underlies a bunch of sects that emerged within protestantism following the Reformation.

What is the Reformed response?  It is quite detailed, but a the first thing to note with Bavinck is the organic working of grace, the way grace restores and works through, in, and with nature.  We see this principle 1) in the writing of Scripture (God didn’t destroy the personalities of the author, but used them for his purposes), 2) in the unfolding promises of his covenant of grace (his ordinary way of working is through the natural means of parents and their seed), 3) in conversion (which is a renewal [not destruction] of the imago dei), 4) in sanctification (God reforming his people – including their various personalities and emotions), and 5) in the church (he uses natural things like speaking, bread, wine, and discipline – the 3 marks of a true church – to help his people).  These are just five areas – there are more.

There is a pastoral side to this.  Just as with conversion we don’t always need to see the “hell to heaven” experience that one can pinpoint (though those are fine), so too with sanctification and the doctrine of the church.  In a church, we’re going to find a whole bunch of people with different personalities, different ways of struggling with sin, different methods of speaking about Jesus, and so forth.  Since grace renews nature, we should expect to see one parishioner fight sin with tears, another fight it with a more upbeat attitude, and yet another fight it quietly behind the scenes while a fourth sings a favorite Psalm to combat sin.  When I counsel a believer who struggles with some type of addiction, for example, though we follow general Scriptural principles, he may not fight that addiction like I would.  This sometimes frustrates me, since I tend to be Luther-like, fighting sin with fists flying.   When Bavinck reminds me that grace restores nature, I can rest at night knowing that God’s gracious renewal gives us the same weapons to fight, but we all use those weapons in different ways.   Just because the sinner-who-is-a-saint doesn’t throw fists at sin like I do doesn’t mean he isn’t fighting it!  Just because a church is made up of people who are at different stages of struggling and have different methods of struggling doesn’t mean the church is impure!   A church is made up of a bunch of sinners using the same weapons to fight sin, only they wield the weapons differently.  Grace renews nature!

This post is too long already, but this also has implications for preaching!

shane lems

sunnyside wa