Cornelius Van Til and Classic Reformed Theism (Jeff Waddington)

Cornelius Van Til, former professor of Christian apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, professed to have stood on the shoulders of classic Reformed theological giants such as Abraham Kuyper, Benjamin B. Warfield, and Herman Bavinck.1 While not everyone is agreed on how consistently he stood on the shoulders of those men,2 I wish to underline–in this article–the fact that Van Til stood squarely on the shoulders of theologian extraordinaire Geerhardus Vos.3 Vos was, like his friend and old Princeton colleague Benjamin Warfield, a polymath and renaissance man, expert in exegesis, biblical, systematic, and historical theology.4 Vos proves to us that you can be adept at all of these and allow each to mutually reinforce and inform the other disciplines. Van Til often said that Vos was his favorite seminary professor. He kept a framed photo of Vos in his office at the seminary as proof of his love and esteem.5

In recent years some have given the impression that Van Til did not uphold so-called classical theism. As long as classical theism is not equated with any single theological influence (say, Thomas Aquinas to the exclusion of other equally profound thinkers), I can affirm without fear of contradiction that Van Til upheld classical theism, or more accurately, classic Reformed theism. This is not to suggest that he merely parroted the tradition (whatever that might actually mean), as if he did not suggest improvements and creatively construct theological formulations. He is known, after all, for his creative approach to apologetics. Even here I would suggest that the more one reads in Dutch Reformed orthodoxy the more one will see that Van Til extended its insights to apologetics. In other words, Van Til was committed to the deeply rich theological vision of the likes of Geerhardus Vos.6 That Vos is little known is a true disappointment. I am convinced that we are the poorer for this neglect.7

For the sake of this …

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Private and Personal or Public and Ecclesial? (Nick Batzig)

God calls His people to be truth-loving and truth-speaking people–which is why it’s disheartening to see many self-professed Calvinistic and Reformed ministers downplay doctrinal teaching, preaching and transparency. Many years ago, a pastor of an Evangelical and Reformed Presbyterian Church intimated to me that the church he pastored reserved teaching on the doctrine of election for adult Sunday School classes. He said, “We believe that more mature Christians need to hear about those doctrines. The Worship service is for a much larger group of people, including a large number of new believers, seekers or unbelievers. We wouldn’t want to run them off by teaching about doctrines that are for mature believers.” Sadly, the doctrine of election was rarely–if ever–taught in an adult Sunday School class in that church. Not all that long ago, a pastor of a large community church–who professes to be a Calvinist–told me, “Our people don’t need a sermon on limited atonement; they need to know how to have a better marriage.” Statements like these reveal that for many pastors biblical doctrine is functionally a private and personal matter rather than a public and ecclesial matter. 

To be sure, there will always be stage-cage Calvinistic pastors who annoyingly manage to make almost ever sermon they preach fit a five point outline that follows the five points of Calvinism. There will always be those who, by the emphasis they place on the Westminster Confession of Faith and Heidelberg Catechism, functionally put them on par with Scripture. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is unfathomable that anyone who has spent any amount of time in any church anywhere on the planet could ever conclude that the great problem in most pulpits is that there is too much doctrinal teaching, preaching and transparency. I have never had a congregant visit another church while on vacation only to come back and say, “You know, they were just too doctrinal in their preaching there.” I…

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The Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology can’t be stopped! (Robert Brady)

While PCRT was in Grand Rapids, Sunday morning arose to a thick glaze of ice covering cars and making travel hazardous. Sadly but safely, the session of First Christian Reformed Church (of Byron Center) made the hard call to cancel the final meeting of PCRT.That’s when Dawn Yingst had a great idea – what if that final meeting was held right there at the hotel? She approached Rick Phillips, asking if he’d preach. The Westminster Brass was engaged to bring the music.  Word got to Pastor Tom and nine folks from the host church braved the elements.In all, 33 Alliance members closed out the 2018 PCRT in Grand Rapids at Sunday morning worship right there in the Hyatt hotel! What a great idea! You need to join us next time!…

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When Your Child Sins, Good News! (David Prince)

Too often, parents respond to their child’s sin by focusing on how our child is letting them down. They make it clear that the child is failing to live up to the family standard of righteousness. Such an approach fails to clarify God’s standard of righteousness and fails to pave the way for clarity about the good news of salvation. Uncovering a child’s sin provides a strategic opportunity for the Christian parent to say something like, “You sinned. I am not surprised by your sin. The Bible calls your sin ________. I have sinned too, but I have been forgiven of my sins by faith in Jesus Christ, and I am praying that the discipline you receive will remind you that sin has consequences and that you need to seek forgiveness in Jesus Christ.”Framing discipline in an anti-gospel way places children on a performance treadmill. Their lives are based on meeting your expectations. And the only outcome of that approach is defeat and despair. Conviction of sin will bring no joy. It will only bring shame because they will reason, “I have failed my parents who thought I was a good person. Now, they know I am not a good person because I have these thoughts and act this way. I must be worthless.” Constant accusation without the gospel is hellish, not holy.As Christian parents, we need to make sure our words and actions match our doctrine when we discipline our children. Every instance of parental discipline is a strategic opportunity to expose our children’s true identity (and ours too)–sinners who need a Savior. That is what is so powerful about gospel-focused discipline. When a parent clarifies the sin, points to the gospel, administers the discipline, and then embraces the child joyfully and forgivingly by declaring, “I love you no matter what!” the child gets a small taste of the glorious and absolute freedom offered in the gospel (Gal. 5:1).Christian parents often fall into the trap of merely parroting the culture’s expectations for our children’s lives. We often raise our k…

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A Time to Listen, A Time to Speak (Gabriel Williams)

In recent days, social media has been inundated with podcasts, articles, and videos in which individuals have sought to speak to the issues surrounding ethnic tensions and relations. While there has been much controversy, there has also been growing hostility and contention regarding ethnic strife within American conservative evangelical churches. In this post, I wish to briefly address those who may be reticent about discussing this topic publicly.

First, we need to be honest about the true state of affairs regarding ethnic tension within our society in general. It is certainly true that there has been substantial progress over the past fifty years regarding the protection of minorities under the law and in the public perception of racism. However, there are still many layers of stereotyping and prejudice that affect interpersonal relationships among ethnic groups. Some of this can be explained by ignorance, but at the heart of this, there is genuine enmity between different ethnic groups, which has consequences within American society. This is not merely white racism towards minorities; this also involves the perception of white southerners among minorities. Within the church, this manifests itself in the lack of openness, uneasiness, and mistrust between various ethnic groups.

Striving for Unity

Second, we must acknowledge that the New Testament only addresses this topic within the context of the Church. The major source of ethnic tension in the Scriptures is centered around Gentile-Jewish relations and Paul spends a great deal of time addressing this topic. Central to Paul’s discussion in Ephesians is the unity of the Church. From Paul’s perspective, the glory of the gospel is that there is one Church composed of Jews and Gentiles. Thus, two groups who were formerly hostile to one another have been brought together through the blood of Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:11-22). This unity is the basis behind Paul’s exhortation to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the…

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The Mechanics of Neo-Apollinarian Christology (Derek Rishmawy)

I have been, and in many respects always will be, a fan and student of William Lane Craig. Any kid who was into apologetics and contemporary philosophy of religion had to be.

That said, like others, I’ve recently had to come to grips with some of the odder aspects of his theology proper and Christology, which appear to be less than orthodox. Nick Batzig calls attention to one element which has been raising eyebrows in some circles, of late: his “Neo-Apollinarian” Christology.

Now, I’d heard something about it before, but never looked deep into it until now. He goes into it an clarifies his position in this podcast transcript. In a nutshell:
1. We agree with the Council of Chalcedon that in Christ we have one person with two natures – human and divine.

2. The soul of the human nature of Christ is the second person of the Trinity, the Logos. The human nature of Christ is composed of the Logos and a human body.

3. The divine aspects of the Logos are largely concealed in Christ’s subconsciousness so that he had a waking conscious life that would be typical of any human being and that like the mass of an iceberg submerged beneath the surface so in his divine subconsciousness there lay the fullness of divinity. The waking consciousness was typically human.
The aim is to affirm the two natures of Christ, but avoid the possible Nestorianism (in his view) of the Chalcedonian definition. So he takes the heretic Apollinaris and gives him a tune-up:
“Apollinarius’ original view was that Christ didn’t have a complete human nature. He had a human body but he didn’t have a human soul. He didn’t have a human nature. As a result he wasn’t really truly human. That calls into question the reality of the incarnation and also the effectiveness of Christ’s death on our behalf since he did not share our nature.

What I argue in my Neo-Apollinarian proposal is that the Logos brought to the human body just those properties whi…

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PCRT Reading Recommendations (Richard D. Phillips)

This weekend we kickoff the 2018 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, meeting April 13-15 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Our theme this year is The Spirit of the Age: The Age of the Spirit. I am excited to welcome Conrad Mbewe and Danny Akin and looking forward to exploring the mighty work of the Holy Spirit in the age of the gospel. Especially exciting is our privilege to hear the teaching of Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., whose teaching on the resurrection Spirit literally changed my life when I sat under his seminary teaching. Friday will be a priceless opportunity to hear Dr. Gaffin lecture on Pentecost and the Work of the Spirit Today.

Now, for some book suggestions related to this important theme.

First, I can turn to no other than Dr. Gaffin himself. For a more academic version of his essential work, Perspectives on Pentecost, will open up his teaching on the difference that Christ’s sending of the Spirit has really made.

For a less academic, but mind-expanding work on the gospel, Gaffin’s By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation is an classic that I cannot recommend too highly.

Other books that will inform the topic of our time as the Age of the Spirit are Geerhardus Vos’ classic, The Pauline Eschatology and Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future. One of our previous PCRT conferences tackled this theme in book form, These Last Days, edited by me and Gabriel Fluhrer.

I have no doubt that conference attenders will be delighted to hear Conrad Mbewe, and readers will be blessed to consider his book, Pastoral Preaching: Building a People for God.

When we think of the work of the Spirit in our age, we inevitable turn to the Spirit’s power in the inspired Word of God. If you have not read Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word, you will be soundly instructed in this brief commendation of the Bible.

Kevin has also authored a meaty booklet on The Holy Spirit, that is an ideal introduction to this theme.

Finally, some years ago we held a memo…

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Unorthodox Christology (Nick Batzig)

Recently, it has come to light that William Lane Craig, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, propagates an unorthodox view of Christology. Craig has explicitly stated that “the soul of the human nature of Christ is the second person of the Trinity, the Logos. The human nature of Christ is composed of the Logos and a human body.” Craig states, “If you have a rational soul and a humanoid body, you have a human person. That is all it takes. So if you say that Christ had a merely human soul and a human body then why wasn’t there a human person, Jesus? Yet orthodoxy denies that. Orthodoxy says there is only one person in Christ (or who is Christ), and that person is divine. There is no human person, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is a divine person with two natures. I can’t make sense of that if we say that Christ had, in addition to his divine person, a merely human soul conjoined with a human body. That seems to me to be sufficient for another person in which case you have two Sons – one the divine Son and the other a human Son.”1Craig’s proposal opposes the orthodox Chalcedonian statements about Christology– including that later doctrinal articulation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that “Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.”Rather than avoiding the Appolinarian heresy, Craig embraces a form of it which he personally calls, “Neo-Appolinarianism.” How very sad that we are re-living the early church heresies in our own day. Instead of staying with the orthodox notion that Christ is fully God and fully man–two natures in one person, “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation”–Craig amalgamates into the human nature of Christ a divine soul. With regard to how easily men may fall into unorthodox errors in Christology, Geerhardus Vos has aptly noted:

“C…

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Easy Like a Midweek Small Group (Justin Poythress)

Consistent throughout Scripture is the idea that the impossibility of perfection does not loosen its claim on us. God’s vision of the bride of Christ, as of a people without spot or blemish, translates to an annoying shortage of loopholes. That means that when someone complains: “Shouldn’t we be doing more in evangelism?” One cannot respond, no matter how many church profiles have been filled out, “I’m sorry, that’s not in our target marketing zone.” Everything is in your target zone. In a sense, every gospel believing church owes a debt to every person in the world, and to transform every facet of life to the glory of Christ.

If you think this is an exaggeration, listen to Paul’s description of why God has given an assortment of gifted people among his churches. The point is: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12-13)

Pretty simple, right? All your church needs to do is make sure everyone, everywhere attains the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. With such a lofty goal, one might fear that many churches would throw up their hands and say, ‘Who is sufficient for such things?’ and start praying for the grace of Christ and the power of His Spirit. Don’t worry, it rarely comes to that. Rather, the answer lies in more programs, more committees, more ministries. Once you create a ‘unity of the faith committee’, a ‘knowledge of the Son of God committee’, and a ‘mature manhood committee’, you’ll be well on your way.

After we’ve finished poking holes in our excuses of abdication, and our short-sighted self-sufficiency, where are we left? Church leaders and Christian believers must still wrestle with a calling to be all things to all people, combined with the inadequacy of a programmatic response, which leans toward an ingrown experience of me…

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Insider Language and the Mission of God (Nick Batzig)

Through much of middle and high school, I woke up every morning and had my quiet time watching Craig Kilborn on ESPN’s Sportscenter. I could tell you every stat about every baseball, basketball and football player. I knew the language of just about every major sport. When I would watch sports with friends who weren’t that interested in whatever sport was being played, I would seek to explain the language of the sport to them (i.e. the rules, the terminology and the strategies). In my late teens, I lost interest with much of that–turning my attention to girls, music and drugs. I learned to speak the language of the world regarding those things. When I wanted to indoctrinate someone in any of those things, I taught them the language associated with those things. After I was converted, a seminarian welcomed me into his home and mentored me. He used the language of the academy and the church–language with which I was unfamiliar (words like epistemology, dialectic, hermeneutics, eschatology and homiletics). He spoke about the Westminster Assembly, the Auburn affirmation and Mercersburg theology. When he prayed he used biblical language with which I was not familiar (e.g. “Oh that you would rend the heavens,” “put a hedge of protection around,” etc). This was a strange new world for me and one with which I was not entirely comfortable. I felt like I was treading water to stay afloat miles out in an ocean of unfamiliar language. I went to a theological conference not long after I was converted and everything I heard flew 30,000 feet over my head because of the dialect. I left feeling discouraged–wondering why those I was around now weren’t speaking language that my unbelieving friends could understand. I was zealous to see my old friends come to know Christ and I concluded that this was not the way it would happen.Over the next two years, I grew in my appreciation for biblical and theological language because I was studying God’s word and reading the…

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