Is Gaffin Orthodox?


Various opinions exist on the positions of Dr. Richard Gaffin, Professor of Systematic and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), especially regarding his stance on the theology of N.T. Wright, Norman Shepherd, and the Federal Vision. The opinion of
some of the members of the Puritan Board (though by no means all, and maybe not the majority but the minority), as well as the opinion of John Robbins (just type in “Gaffin” in the search box here) is that Gaffin is a heretic, probably because he put an endorsement on the back of Norman Shepherd’s book The Call of Grace. There are several considerations that need to contextualize Gaffin’s theology in order for people to see Gaffin correctly. Firstly, Dr. Gaffin is a polite scholar. It is not really his cup of tea to blast his opponents with Luther-like thunderbolts from great theological heights. Don’t get me wrong: I am by no means opposed to such thunderbolts. They are quite necessary for the well-being of the church. However, not everyone’s temperament matches Luther’s. Gaffin’s does not. Secondly, Norman Shepherd was a personal friend of Gaffin’s. Friends do tend to stick together, even if one does not agree theologically (and I have it from Gaffin’s own very careful lips that he does not agree with Shepherd’s theology). Thirdly, Gaffin’s latest book sets the record straight. Gaffin distances himself from all these aberrant theologies. Read the book, and learn from a master.

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The Era of High Orthodoxy

On pp. 73ff, Muller discusses the period of high orthodoxy (ca. 1640-1685-1725), and its relationship to earlier periods of Reformed orthodoxy. Again, he is out to quash once and for all the idea of “Calvin versus the Calvinists.” He says that “the architectonic clarity of early orthodoxy is replaced to a certain extent or at least put to the service of a more broadly developed and even discursive system” (73). By this he means the elaborations of Voetius, Cocceius, and Mastricht (plus their followers). What is important to note, however, is that the later authors used the former authors as a sort of skeleton on which to plan and elaborate their own systems (pg. 74). In other words, they did not abandon the works of former periods, but rather built on them, and elaborated those earlier systems. This can be seen, for instance, in the work of Bernhardus De Moor, who, in his seven-volume systematics, took Marckius’s larger work, and simply commented on it.

Updated Index

I have updated the Federal Vision Index to include most of the important posts, including some which I cannot believe were not on there before, such as Rejoinder to Jonathan Barlow, andthe Continuation of the Debate with Xon, not to mention the much more important paper by Wes White on the visible/invisible church distinction. But they are mostly there now, for ease of reference.

Revelation 20 and Amillennialism

This is not going to be an exhaustive post on Revelation 20, about which several forests have been demolished in trying to explain. I am merely going to argue for the amil position in Revelation 20. The key issue turns on whether Revelation 20:1-10 follows chronologically after 19:11-2, or whether it follows non-chronologically (following a sequence of visions). Here are the two best arguments that 20:1-10 follows a visionary sequence, and not a chronological sequence: 1. The battle in 19:11-21 destroys all the enemies of God. The beast (vs 20), the false prophet (vs 20), and all the rest (vv. 18 and 21) are thrown into the lake of fire. This battle is certainly the final climactic battle, the result of which is that all the enemies of God are destroyed. Well, if they are all destroyed, then who is left for Satan to deceive in 20:3? The terms of 19:11-21 are so final (especially the lake of fire imagery) that nothing is really left after that. Poythress explains how it is that anything follows literarily in the book: 

“In view of the structure of the whole book, it makes more sense to see 20:1-15 as the seventh and last cycle of judgments, each of which leads up to the Second Coming…Thus, 20:1-15 is to be seen as the seventh cycle leading to the Second Coming. It parallels all the other cycles, rather than representing a unique period chronologically later than any of the others” (The Returning King, pg. 179). 

In short, the premil position needs to explain why there are any people left for Satan to deceive in Revelation 20, if that chapter follows chronologically from chapter 19.

Secondly, 20:7-10 is clearly describing the same battle as 19:11-21. The quotations from Ezekiel 38-39 point clearly in the direction of Armaggedon in 20:7-10. But most commentators refer 19:11-21 also to Armageddon, in which case we have recapitulation (for a more extended defense of this position, see Beale’s excellent excursus on the relationship of 20:1-10 with 19:11-21, found on pp. 972-983 of his commentary). For an excellent article exhaustively dealing with the evidence for recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-15, see Fowler White in the Westminster Theological Journal 51.2 (1989), pp. 319-344.

The Word and the Church

Roman Catholicism has always said that the Word of God gets its authority from the church: that the church ratifies the authority of the Word. The Reformers have always said that the authority of the Word is self-attesting, and that the authority of the church is derived from the authority of the Word, not vice versa. Here is a’Brakel on the matter:

If the Word derived its authority from the church, then we would have to hold the church in higher esteem than God Himself, for whoever gives credence and emphasis to someone’s words is superior to the person who speaks them. God has no superior and therefore no one is in a position to give authority to His words.

What is Amillennialism?

Some folk are wondering what in the world is amillennialism, in view of recent comments by John MacArthur consigning all amillennialists to hell.

Amillennialism is the belief that the 1,000 year reign mentioned in Revelation 20 is a true reign of Christ, but that the 1,000 years is symbolic of the entire period in-between Christ’s first and second coming.Many people misunderstand this belief when they say that amillennialists don’t believe in a literal reign. The reign is literal, though the 1,000 years are not. The exegetical question revolves around whether Satan is already bound (Revelation 20:2) or not. Amillennialists point to Revelation 12:7-11, where the blood of the Lamb is what conquers Satan. Furthermore, Matthew 12:29 is an exceedingly strong passage in favor of amillennialism, since the verse describes Christ’s mission while on earth. John 12:31 describes something that happens “now” in reference to the time of Jesus’ statement. Colossians 2:15 makes a similar point. 2 Thessalonians 1 plays havoc with the detailed timelines of premillennialism, not allowing years in-between events, but stating that all happens on one day.

Some objections levelled against amillennialism include the following: 1. The interpretation is not literal. Answer: symbolism is all over the book of Revelation. Numbers in particular are symbolic. Just look at 666, for instance. Debate still rages over what that number really means. Furthermore, in the Bible 1,000 is a symbol of completeness (cattle on a 1,000 hills; 1,000 years is as a day, etc.). We must distinguish between the Bible being literally true versus being true literally. The former means that we interpret each genre of Scripture according to the way in which it should be interpreted. There is much symbolic imagery in Revelation which should therefore be interpreted symbolically. The latter runs one into insuperable difficulties. If every statement in the Bible has to be true in a literal fashion, then Christ is a piece of wood (“I am the door”), or a space of road (“I am the way”), or a piece of bread (“This is my body”). These statements of Christ (as is everything in scripture) are all true. But not all statements in Scripture are true in a literal fashion. “Your eyes are doves” does not mean that one’s oculi consist of a couple of aviary critters from the family Columbidae. That won’t fly in any hermeneutics class in any seminary worth its salt. One would get a failing, dropping, mournful, cooing grade in the class.

Second objection: the events in Revelation 20 seem to follow a certain timeline. This is a much more defensible position exegetically. However, there are several points to note: firstly, Revelation 20 is the only place in Scripture where a 1,000 year reign is mentioned. Secondly, there is evidence of literary recapitulation (rehashing the same events from several different angles in order to come up with a more complete picture) in Revelation (see Beale’s magnificent commentary on Revelation), such that making timelines is quite risky exegetically. In fact, it is quite tenuous. Making doctrinal orthodoxy stand or fall with premillennialism is certainly out of court.

Third objection: Satan really does not seem to be bound right now. He seems to be alive and well in the world. Answer: Satan is bound in the sense that the Gospel has free reign to cover the earth with its message, and try as he might, Satan cannot hinder its progress. Furthermore, Satan, death, and sin were dealt their death blow at the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They are still thrashing around. But they are thrashing around in their death throws, knowing that they are defeated already.

There are a couple of really good books to read if one wants to delve further: Kim Riddlebarger’s book is certainly the most thorough modern treatment in defense of amillennialism, and is well worth picking up. Second, for those who love debate, the counterpoints book is a must. All the positions receive their due weight from proponents of those views. On a more popular level (but still with a great deal of research behind the work) is Poythress’s great book, as well as Dennis Johnson’s book.

Amillenialism

John MacArthur has unfortunately committed a rather bad blunder. He says that Amillenialism is intrinsically Arminian. I personally am stunned that he could possibly be so wrong on an issue, when the majority of Calvinists have been Amil. In view of this, it is a hot topic in the blogosphere at the moment. For those who wish to research the issue, they can do no better than to go to this enormous list of resources (from Sam Storms).

God’s Power For Us

Ephesians 1:20-23

A little town in Texas had a school fire that killed 263 children. That tragedy did not kill the town, however, and the town rebuilt the school. The town expanded, and installed the finest sprinkler system in the world. People would come from all over to see this fine sprinkler system that would prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. Honor students would even be chosen to give tours in this school. Then, an addition was built onto the school, and it was discovered that for all those years when the sprinkler system had been built into the school, it had never been connected to the water supply! As foolish as that seems to us, we often do the same thing when it comes to God’s power. We know that God’s power is there, and we often say that we have this power. However, we are not connected to it when it comes to our daily lives. Do we know the power of God? Do we know that God’s power is for us? That is what Paul is telling us in this portion of God’s word: God’s power is given to us.

Really, our passage is a continuation of last week’s passage. Paul has been telling the Ephesian believers that he has been praying for them. He wants the eyes of their heart to be enlightened to know about the hope of God’s calling us, the riches of the inheritance that God has among us, and immeasurable greatness of God’s power. That last item, God’s power, is something that Paul wants to dwell on, for the benefit of his readers. Remember, the Ephesians were faced with many hostile powers, both physical and spiritual. Paul wants them to know that Jesus reigns over all of these so-called powers. We saw last week just how powerful God is when we saw how Paul piled up all these words for power to describe this reality. This week, we see how it is that God’s power is working on our behalf. Power is frightening. How then do we know that God’s power is for us, rather than against us?

Well, we know that God’s power works for us because God used that very same power in raising Christ from the dead, and making Him to ascend into the heavenly places. There is a problem with many believers today, and it is that we see Christ’s resurrection as a remote event, completely unconnected to us and what God is doing in our lives. Paul here begs to differ. It is the very same power that raised Christ from the dead that is working in our lives. This is explicit in these verses: look at verse 19 which says that God’s power is “for us who believe.” Then, that very same power is, in verse 20, said to raise Christ from the dead. But it is not just that it is the same power. It is also that in some way, it is the same act of God to raise Christ from the dead as it is to raise us from the dead. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ is the first-fruits. That means that the rest is of the same crop. Paul also will say in the very next chapter of Ephesians, in verse 5 that God made us alive together with Christ. So, if we see Jesus Christ risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, we can know what is in store for us: we will ascend also to be with Christ. He is merely one step ahead of where we are.

It is comforting for Paul’s readers that Christ is risen from the dead. However, that bare fact does not exhaust all the implications of God’s power in that act. We also see Christ ascended into heaven. And not only that, but given the rule of the entire universe. Christ is exalted far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. These four words refer, by the way, to evil spiritual powers, not primarily to good angels. The reason we know this is from verse 22, which says that Christ has all things under his feet. To have someone under your foot meant that you had fought with that person and conquered that person. They were on the ground, and your foot was on his neck. That is what it means to have someone or something under your foot. It implies that there had been a battle, a war. And Christ had won that war. All the hostile powers are now subject to Christ. You see, it is not just that Christ has a higher rank than these powers. Christ’s ascension into heaven also means that these powers are actually subject to Christ.

In verse 21, we see God naming the powers. God ordains every power that exists. God ordains every ruler. And God also names every power, rule, authority, and dominion on earth and in heaven. Naming something in the NT times was a way of exercising control over whatever or whoever it is that you named. So God exercises rule over the powers not only in terms of their continuing existence, but also in terms of the very constitution of their power. They have power because God has named them. As Martin Luther said, “Satan may be a devil, but he is God’s devil.” This is a further display of God’s power over the evil powers.

But again, as we have asked before, we do not yet see all things subject to him, as Paul would say in Hebrews. There seem to many things that are simply chaotic in this world, and are anything but subject to Christ. What does this mean? It means that Christ’s rule and authority have been inaugurated, but have not come to their consummation. A good biblical example can be found in David. David was crowned king of all Israel. However, he ruled in Hebron for seven years before he came to Jerusalem. His rule had been inaugurated, but he still did not have all of Israel subjected to him. The same is true of Christ. He already rules. However, not everything is completely subjected to Him yet. However, this raises a problem for us. If Christ rules, but doesn’t rule, then is God not sovereign over the world? The answer is that God is indeed sovereign. The Father is sovereign over all things. However, that sovereignty is not the same thing as having all rebellion quashed.

Another way to look at it is to remember Jewish expectations about the coming ages. Paul here says “not only in this age, but also in the coming age.” Jews thought of history as being divided into two ages: the present age, and the future age. The coming of the Messiah would mark the transition from one age to the next. Paul recognized this Jewish expectation, and he held to it. However, he had to modify that scheme just a little bit, since he saw that the present age had not passed away, even though the future age had actually come with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, for Paul, there is an overlap of the ages. When Christ came the first time, the future age started. However, the present age has not ended yet. The present age will not end until Christ comes back the second time. When Christ comes back, there will only be the future age. So, we live in this time of overlap. Christ has reigned, but He does not yet fully reign; God has conquered sin in our lives, but there still remains sin; we are victorious, but we are not yet victorious. Theologians call this the “already/not yet” of salvation. Our souls are resurrected already, but our bodies are not yet resurrected.

However, this understanding of what Paul is saying does not in any way undermine the present reality of God’s power in our lives. Paul, after all, does speak of all these things as happening in the past. Furthermore, these things are for the church. The church, after all, is the body of Christ. Christ is the head, and the church is the body. This can be illustrated by an interchange that my daughter Ila had with Sarah. Sarah wanted Ila to spend some energy by playing chase. Ila wanted Sarah to put on her nightgown so that she could go to bed. Sarah didn’t want to do that, so she told Ila that she could play chase with Daddy with her dress on, and that she didn’t need the nightgown. Then Ila said that she could play chase with her feet on. Sarah then said that it would be difficult to take her feet off. Ila then said, “You can’t take them off; they’re stuck on.” Christ and His church are stuck together, much like a foot on the leg. Paul’s exact metaphor is that of head and body. Christ is the head, and the church is His body. That means that whatever happens to the head happens to the body as well. If Christ was persecuted, so will the church. If Christ had His cross, so will the church. If Christ was dead, buried, raised, and ascended on high, then so will the church be dead, buried, raised, and ascended on high.

The last phrase of this verse is rather difficult. I will just tell you what I think it means. The text says that it is the church which is the fullness of Christ. However, the idea here is not that the church completes and fills Christ, as that Christ fills and completes the church. The entire passage has been talking about the power of God. It would not really prove Paul’s point if Jesus was seen to be lacking in something. So when the church is the fullness of Christ, the text is saying that the church is like a container which Christ fills. Christ, after all, fills all in all.

The power of God as given to us in Christ means several things for us. The first is that we can be confident of salvation if we are in Christ. If we trust in Jesus Christ, then we can know the power of God, which holds in subjection all other powers. God is more powerful than all other forces in the universe. Therefore, there is no way that we can lose our salvation. Paul says that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. We can know that we are saved. We can have assurance of our salvation. We know that when we get to heaven, we will see Jesus, the God-man, seated on the throne. It is like when the brothers of Joseph get to Egypt, only to find Joseph their brother on the throne, and willing and able to do all things for them. Secondly, we can know that we have access to this incredible power. Do you need power to endure in difficult times? Here it is, ready and waiting. Thirdly, know what a great privilege the church is to us. The church is the body of Christ! Is that how you see the church? Do you see it as the greatest institution in the entire world? The world looks down on the church, because the church is not a road to worldly success. The world would certainly say that Microsoft is a greater institution than the church. And yet, the church continues on, doing the work of Jesus Christ in the world. Do you view membership in the church as the greatest privilege possible in this life? Do you see the church that way? It is only as you are connected to the body of Christ that you are connected to Christ. It is impossible for someone to be a believer and yet be separated from the body of Christ. If someone says, “Sure, I believe in God, and in Jesus Christ, and that He died for my sins,” but does not believe in the church, does not attend, views the church with contempt, then he is a liar. As John Calvin said, echoing Augustine many centuries earlier, “You cannot have God for your father, without having the church for your mother.” So, are you connected to the water supply? Are you connected to Christ’s body, the church, and thus connected to Christ Himself? Only then will you have the sprinkler system needed to put out the fires of hell, when they assail you and tell you that you do not belong in heaven. Then, you will be able to respond, “I have the power of God in me, because I belong to Christ, and to His true church.”

Some Basic Reformed Books

I have been asked by Juan about some books on the Reformed faith. So here is a fairly short, affordable list of books that would get one started on the Reformed faith.

The first book has to be Sinclair Ferguson’s book The Christian Life. This book is a gem, since it ties together very closely what we believe, and what ought to be the concrete result in our lives of that belief. Also, it is short and inexpensive. The best place to start, in my opinion.

For a more thorough approach, one should read Calvin’s Institutes. Yes, they seem long (two volumes). However, Calvin has a gift for getting to the heart of the matter. These books were written for lay-people, not primarily scholars. This is essential reading for any Christian, in my opinion.

Finally, after Calvin, one should read Wilhelmus a’Brakel’s four-volume set entitled The Christian’s Reasonable Service. This set is amazing. It is readable (recent translation), practical, doctrinal, exegetical, and altogether admirable (except for his views on eschatology, which is only a minor blemish). This does what Ferguson’s book (mentioned above) does, but on a far vaster scale. This set was also written for laymen. So, in terms of reading order in systematic theology, read Ferguson, then Calvin, then a’Brakel.

And then, one will need books on the Bible. I think that Goldsworthy is a great place to start. This will give you an overview of the Bible, especially focusing on how to read the Bible. After Goldsworthy, I would recommend Dever’s two-volume set The Message of the Old Testament, and The Message of the New Testament. This will give you one sermon on each book of the Bible. Dever does a great job of explaining each book, and how we see Christ in every book of the Bible. After that, one will want an introduction to the OT, and an introduction to the NT. This gives you very helpful background information on every book of the Bible. It is essential to have good reference works that will help you get information in different ways. The best alphabetical helps are this Bible dictionary, and this Bible encyclopedia. And then, one will need canonical helps. I would start with a good study Bible. The best one is the Reformation Study Bible. Then, one should get a good Bible commentary. Matthew Henry is the best one-stop resource commentary, available for sale here. Even though he is older, I would still recommend him highly. He is still read avidly by believers today. This ought to be enough to start off anyone in the Reformed faith. Ask me if there are more specific issues/books you would like me to address.

Clickable Pictures

Thanks to Mark Horne, I was finally able to achieve what had seemed impossible (I had spent hours on it!): having a picture that was clickable! In the previous post, the James commentary picture is clickable. If you would like info on how to do it, email Mark or myself.

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