The Sabbath and Salvation History

It struck me today that there are broad connections between the Sabbath and the entirety of redemptive history. We will take as our starting point the magnificent contribution of Geerhardus Vos to our understanding of the Sabbath, when he said that the Covenant of Works was nothing other than an embodiment of the Sabbatical principle. Just as God worked for six days and rested the seventh, so also Adam was work for the probationary period, and then enter into his eternal rest. Adam had a weekly reminder of this probationary period in the Sabbath. So far, so Vos.

The thing that struck me was that the change of day from seventh day of the week to the first day of the week can then be connected to the change of covenant from works to grace. Now, here we have to be careful, since we can in no way imply that salvation was by works in the Old Testament. Nor are we positing a dispensational understanding of the different eras of history. The Covenant of Grace began in the Garden of Eden after the Fall. However, what we can say is that Adam was told “Do this, and live.” We can expand the sentence to say “Do this for six ‘days,’ and then you will enter your seventh ‘day’ of rest, which is eternal life.” The Sabbath is a weekly sign of that Covenantal promise affixed to the Covenant of Works. OT believers thus lived in a time when the Covenant of Grace was administered in type and shadow, not in its fullness. This might have some implications for the debate on whether the Covenant of Works was republished at Sinai. I would think this Sabbatical principle connected to covenant theology does support a form of republication at Sinai (especially given the rationale for Sabbath-keeping which we find in the Ten Commandments in Exodus, which hearkens back to the time of probation in the garden; and, the people did not celebrate the Sabbath on the first day of the week yet, since the Covenant of Works had yet to be fixed by Christ. The Sabbath pointed towards Christ’s work as bringing true rest). However, just trying to think through how that would work is making my head spin.

The change of day from seventh day to first day at the very least parallels the shift to the time of Gospel, when we hear “Live, and do this.” To be more specific, the connection goes like this: Jesus has now accomplished the fulfillment of the Covenant of Works, and so now the order of events is reversed. Instead of “Do this and live,” we now hear “Live and do this.” Expanding the sentence yields the following formulation: “Celebrate your eternal life on the day of the week on which Jesus obtained it for you, and then work in the light of that salvation afterwards.” Instead of work coming before rest, rest now comes before work.

Furthermore, there is a telescoping relationship of type and antitype in the OT and in the NT. In the OT, the weekly Sabbath telescopes into the seventh year Sabbath for the land, which in turn telescopes into the Jubilee, a pattern of seven times seven. The last implied link is eternity. In the NT, the beginning of this eternity has erupted into time with the beginning of the Sabbath rest obtained for us by Jesus. In the NT, there are elements of “already” and “not yet” with regard to the Sabbath, just as in the OT. The difference is that there is a lot more “already” in the NT than in the OT. We celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday in order to celebrate the new life and salvation we have in Christ Jesus. However, we still have not entered into our bodily eternal rest, even though our souls have, as Christians.

A Critique of “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Lay People,” by Tim Keller

Guest post from Dr. Adrian Keister (Ph.D. in mathematical physics from Virginia Tech). The article from Tim Keller is found here.

What’s the Problem?

The first paragraph sets up the tone for the entire piece: the supposed antithesis between orthodox Christianity with a high view of the authority of the Bible, and evolution. Keller challenges that antithesis in the third paragraph. However, in that third paragraph, Keller evidently equates “evolution” with “science” when he writes, “However, there are many who question the premise that science and faith are irreconcilable.” So Keller has shifted the debate now, and this is a point I would not grant him. It is my firm belief that evolution is not science, any more than the theory of mature creation is science. They are both faiths, because the very method of science, being inductive and absolutely dependent on experiment, excludes questions of origin. Let us suppose, via Karl Popper, that scientific statements are statements that can, in theory, be falsifiable by observation. If that is the case, then questions about origins simply do not fall into that category, as there are no repeatable experiments available to settle such questions. The fact that evolution is considered science by mainstream scientists is neither here nor there. 10,000 Frenchmen can still be wrong. If the mainstream scientists have a vested interest in writing God out of their equations, as it says the natural man wants to do in Romans 1, then we should not be surprised when they come up with theories that exclude God! People do science, not machines, and people are always biased. People can always have a vested interest in achieving certain outcomes, even if they are scientists and the desired outcomes are supposed scientific statements.

Keller writes:

However, there are many who question the premise that science and faith are irreconcilable. Many believe that a high view of the Bible does not demand belief in just one account of origins. They argue that we do not have to choose between an anti-science religion or an anti-religious science.

I could certainly agree with the last sentence, but I would agree for different reasons than Keller appears to hold. I would agree because the very nature of science and the scientific method means that the questions science can attempt to answer have nothing to do with the supernatural. Here, I mean that the supernatural is God working through extraordinary means, and the natural is God working through ordinary means. Science excludes itself from questions about the supernatural, precisely because such events are not repeatable and thus there are no experiments. However, for scientists to make the additional leap of logic and claim that the supernatural does not exist, or that supernatural occurrences never happen, is a non sequitur of the first order. Just because the naked eye cannot see past a certain point does not mean there is nothing beyond that point. Keller, on the other hand, appears to hold to this non-antithesis because he believes evolution and orthodox Christianity are compatible. Again, he is placing evolution within science.

Keller’s fourth paragraph, including the van Inwagen quote, seems to me to be irrelevant to the main discussion. Keller’s claim at the end of the paragraph that “This is just one of many places where the supposed incompatibility of orthodox faith with evolution begins to fade away under more sustained reflection” seems to me a bit of a straw man. God is, of course, free to use any means He pleases that do not contradict His nature. However, the main topic of discussion here is whether macro-evolution is compatible with orthodox Christianity. Orthodox Christianity does not need evolution to explain its own existence; it depends for its existence on the Bible and God working to help men understand the Bible.

Keller’s fifth paragraph excludes the possibility that there really is an antithesis, and that those who claim there is an antithesis might be louder and more prominent because they are correct. Yet again, in the second sentence of this paragraph, Keller has equated evolution with science.

Pastors and the People

In this section, Keller lays out four difficulties that he sees laypeople having with evolution. The first is the literalness of Genesis 1, and biblical authority in general. The second is evolution as a Grand Theory of Everything, as per Richard Dawkins. The third is the historicity of Adam and Eve. The fourth is the problem of violence and evil. Keller proposes to “lay out” the first three of these difficulties. To Keller’s credit, he takes on himself and other pastors the hard work of interpreting the Bible, scientists, and philosophers in order to make things real to their parishioners.

Three Questions of Christian Laypeople

Question 1: If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally?

Answer: The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them.

The above question and answer are quoted verbatim from Keller. At first blush, I would react by saying that while I think the answer is a true statement, I do not think it answers the question.

Keller then launches into an examination of whether Genesis 1 is prose or poetry or something else. Keller does not appear to want to take Genesis 1 literally. His first argument is that “…Genesis 1’s prose is extremely unusual. It has refrains, repeated statements that continually return as they do in a hymn or song.” (emphasis original) So far as I can see, this argument is inconclusive. No one, I think, would argue that Numbers 7 is narrative, and yet it definitely has a refrain. His second argument is that “the terms for the sun (‘greater light’) and moon (‘lesser light’) are highly unusual and poetic, never being used anywhere else in the Bible, and ‘beast of the field’ is a term for animal that is ordinarily confined to poetic discourse.” This could be true. However, even if we grant the term “exalted prose narrative” as being descriptive of Genesis 1 (which I do not necessarily grant), this does not imply automatically that “we must not impose a ‘literalistic’ hermeneutic on the text.” (Keller is quoting Francis Collins here.) How is exalted prose narrative supposed to be interpreted? What clear examples do we have of interpreting such narrative?

Keller then claims that Genesis 1 and 2 cannot both be taken literally because there would be incompatibilities. The examples Keller brings up seem quite weak to me. Keller’s first example is that there is light before any natural sources of light. My brother Lane thinks that this may be a polemic against the Egyptian sun god Ra. Of course there can be light without the sun, moon, or stars: see Revelation 22:5. Then Keller claims that vegetation before atmosphere or rain is impossible. I would divide that question into two. Vegetation before atmosphere might or might not be possible, but at the very least, Keller appears to claim that the atmosphere was created on Day 4, whereas in my reading, Day 1 seems a better candidate. As for vegetation before rain, Keller either does not know about canopy theory (Genesis 2:6 is relevant to that discussion), or dismisses it. However, canopy theory is quite plausible, although I would claim it is not science. As for Genesis 2:5, it by no means necessarily teaches that God followed a natural order, precisely because of Genesis 2:6. The entire creation was supernatural! God made the rules in creation, and He acted by following His own good pleasure. Finally, Keller claims that “evenings and mornings” are not natural, given that the sun is created on Day 4. However, this is a strange way to argue: that something is not natural means we can’t interpret a passage literally. Or even, giving Keller the benefit of the doubt, that if all the characteristics of one passage are not natural, and all the characteristics of another passage are natural, that we must then interpret them differently. Would he make the same claim about passages in Exodus, that alternate between supernatural and natural? I simply do not see any clash between Genesis 1 taken as literal history, and Genesis 2 taken as literal history.

Keller writes, in summary, that “Genesis 1 does not teach that God made the world in six twenty-four hour days.” In this paper, he appears to come to this conclusion because he thinks Genesis 1 is not meant to be taken literally. However, even if we grant that Genesis 1 is not to be taken literally (which I do not grant), that does not mean that a day is not a 24 hour day. Nonliteral passages can still have literal elements to them. Keller seems to point to non-literalness in every element of Genesis 1.

Question 2: If biological evolution is true – does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?

Answer: No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a worldview.

Keller makes a distinction between evolution proper (the biological process) and “perennial naturalism”, which is Alvin Plantinga’s term. Perennial naturalism is clearly antithetical to orthodox Christianity, and I think Keller thinks that, too. However, it is not clear to me how this helps Keller’s overall case. Let us recall that Keller’s thesis is that biological evolution (not perennial naturalism) and orthodox Christianity are compatible. So, let EBP be the statement that macro-evolutionary biological processes occur. Let PN be perennial naturalism, and let OC be orthodox Christianity. Keller would agree that PN AND OC is false. Ah, but EBP does not imply PN, like the new atheists claim. Therefore EBP AND OC? The conclusion is not warranted. By that reasoning, we could say that anything that does not imply PN is compatible with OC, which is clearly false. Gnosticism does not imply PN, but it is antithetical to OC. As to whether EBP does or does not imply PN, I will defer to others, since I have not studied the matter.

Keller writes:

Many Christian laypeople resist all this and seek to hold on to some sense of human dignity by subscribing to ‘fiat-creationism.’ This is not a sophisticated theological and philosophical move; it is intuitive.

I am not sure whether Keller means to demean “fiat-creationists” by calling them unsophisticated (I would tend to think so, given the nature of Keller’s ministry, but I do not impute motives) or whether he is merely making an impersonal remark about the nature of “fiat-creationists”. Moreover, Keller does not define the term “fiat-creationist”. If by “fiat-creationist” he means simply someone who believes in a literal Genesis creation story, where God creates by divine fiat, then I would certainly place myself in that camp. I do not see either that such “fiat-creationism” is unsophisticated merely because it rejects all forms of macro-evolution, nor do I see that even if it is unsophisticated, that that is a bad thing. It is a rather puzzling comment, so I will refrain from further critique.

Question 3: If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?

Answer: Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in an historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views.

Since Keller takes a literal view of Genesis 2, and believes in a literal Adam and Eve, there is less in this section with which I would quibble. I probably would not have quoted N. T. Wright favorably, as his theology is highly problematic, although the statement in question seems unobjectionable. Keller certainly does argue for some of the more orthodox positions in this section.

However, in getting to the subsubsection entitled “A model”, Keller runs into some difficulties. It is not entirely clear to me whether Keller holds to Kidner’s views of a pre-Adamic race or not, but that is clearly what is in view here. And if there is a pre-Adamic race, then there was death before the Fall of Man. The difficulties of having death (really, of any animal, whether in the pre-Adamic race, or other animals) before the Fall of Man are several. One is that the wages of sin is death. That is, sin implies death. Can we say that not-sin implies not-death? That would be the converse. Equivalently, can we say that death implies sin? If we can, then death before the Fall flies in the face of God’s goodness. It is not that man inherently deserves life, and that God must, in justice, give it to him if he obeys. Instead, it is a matter of God’s Word. God said to Adam, “Do this and live, do that and die.” The antithesis seems to me to indicate that we can conclude the converse. Furthermore, in Isaiah 11:6-9, we see the picture of a restored earth. No animal seems to be hurting any other animal. If the restored earth is to be a return to the Garden of Eden, how can there be animal death before the Fall?

This “model” seems to give away much too much to the scientists. In fact, this is a general trend I noticed in Keller’s writing. As Gordon Clark once said, “Science is a collection of useful falsehoods.” Useful, but not “true”. That is, since science is based on the inductive method, which is technically a fallacy, science can really only ever make probabilistic statements. Science can never arrive at the truth, since its method is inherently flawed. That does not make science worthless, as it does have immense predictive value in its domain. But that’s precisely the point: questions about origins of the universe are not within the domain of science. You can hypothesize all day about origins, and scientists have, but the bottom line is there are no repeatable experiments to reproduce what actually happened. Therefore, science simply cannot contradict the Bible, at least in questions of origin. The Bible says something about origins, and science cannot. This is, in general, why I have not seen any tension between true science and Christianity. Science, while competent in its areas to say some things (subject to the limitations I mentioned before), cannot rise even to the level of addressing anything supernatural. And since what the Bible says about natural processes is perfectly accurate, and science corroborates it, there are no conflicts whatsoever.

Keller’s view is not technically one of the four accepted views that the PCA allows for TE’s. The Metro NY Presbytery has probably ruled that Keller’s views do not strike at the fundamentals of the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards. That is a question I have not studied, but I believe there is cause for concern, and it warrants investigation.

Two Verses, Twelve Questions

(Posted by Paige)

Here’s a whimsical Bible puzzle for you to bat around. These two verses have recently caught my attention and raised a handful of questions in my mind:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

Here are twelve of my many questions. Tackle any that interest you, too!

1. What did the disciples assume about faith?

2. Were they correct in their assumption?

3. What did they assume about Jesus?

4. What did they expect Jesus to accomplish for them?

5. Is Jesus’ response intended as an affirmation or a correction of their request?

6. What does Jesus imply about faith?

7. Why a mulberry tree? Is there any symbolism here?

8. Is Jesus describing something that might literally happen, or is he using poetic hyperbole?

9. If hyperbole, what’s his point?

10. Is this the same message that Jesus intends in Matt. 17:20 (“…if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”)

11. Why is this exchange recorded here in Luke (i.e., in this particular location in the Gospel)? Are the apostles reacting to something, or has Luke collected similar material together?

12. How is this exchange related to what has come before and what will follow?

Bonus question: What would you emphasize if preaching from this passage?

Hebrews and Real Warnings

by Reed DePace

This evening a friend sent me a link to an excellent article on the warning passages of Hebrews (found here). In the article Colin Hansen of the Gospel Coalition Q&A’s Dr. Peter O’Brien (Professor Emeritus, Moore College, Sydney, Australia). Dr. O’Brien provides an exceptional explanation, demonstrating that the key issue is between real faith and spurious faith.

Real faith is described at that which perseveres in adherence to and reliance on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Spurious faith is described as that which knowingly rejects sole reliance on Christ and returns to some form of self-reliance (in the case of Hebrews, expressed via the Mosaic system).

O’Brien’s description of spurious faith is consistent with the idea of temporary faith discussed here in the past at length.

This article deserves your attention.

Posted by Reed DePace (H/T: Dr. R. Fowler White)

Ultimatum to Publishers

My sincere apologies to my readers for the less than sporadic posting over the past few months. With the move, and the lack of high-speed internet, it is extremely difficult and frustrating to blog frequently. I am working on getting high-speed internet, but until then, blogging will be a bit sporadic, though I hope to do better than the last few months. Anyway, my thoughts on footnoting versus endnoting received a very pleasant and amusing boost by a post to which my brother directed my attention. Michael Fox is an extremely well-respected Jewish Old Testament scholar, incidentally, in case you were wondering. I suggest you read the whole thing, and then consider whether it might not be best for the publishing world if all writers point-blank refused to publish unless footnotes were the only allowable practice. Endnotes are unbelievably inconvenient, not to mention barbaric.

Encountering Lincoln’s Melancholy

(Posted by Paige)

I recently finished reading this intriguing study by Joshua Wolf Shenk (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), and thought it worth flagging for you. His descriptive subtitle – How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness – reflects only part of his ambitious project, as this book is not only biography but also a history of the understanding of melancholia in America and a commentary on the artful science of historiography. Though I am not widely-read enough on Lincoln to verify this, the author identifies his work as a unique contribution to the literature on our sixteenth president; certainly it is a rich encounter with the man and his times.

Shenk’s premise, that Lincoln struggled with depression at least since his young adulthood and that in his maturity this psychological pain ennobled his character, drives his research into mental illness, the agendas of presidential biographers, and the details of Lincoln’s public and inner life. Although perhaps the most cumbersome and technical part of his presentation, Shenk’s portrait of what in the 19th century was termed “melancholy” offers a fascinating glimpse of a culture’s developing understanding and (often horrific!) treatment of what we now call “clinical depression.” I’d guess that his explanations of current trends in psychology will try the patience of those who just want to know about Lincoln; but actually my favorite insight about depression comes from Shenk’s discussion of a study of “depressive realism” done in the late 1970’s. Apparently the depressive realists, like Lincoln, have the cockeyed “can-do” optimists beat when it comes to reading the times. I loved this bit:

…one standard definition of mental health is the ability to maintain close and accurate contact with reality…But research shows that, by this definition, happiness itself could be considered a mental disorder. In fact, “much research suggests that when they are not depressed, people are highly vulnerable to illusions, including unrealistic optimism, overestimation of themselves, and an exaggerated sense of their capacity to control events.” (135, quoting the researcher Lauren Alloy)

Thus a personality that tends towards melancholy has perhaps a greater chance of assessing what is really going on in this fallen world – which is, of course, insight that even non-depressives might gain beginning with Gen. 3.

In assembling his supporting data on Lincoln’s emotional health, Shenk apparently uncovered a sort of historiographical subplot: the distorting or suppressing of information in favor of a view of Lincoln that dismisses the possibility that he was melancholic. Thus Lincoln’s various biographers come in for scrutiny throughout this volume, especially in an extended appendix (“What Everybody Knows”). Shenk writes,

To some extent, it is an inherent flaw of biography that, in order to wrestle a figure onto the page, three dimensions get turned into two. Rough spots are ironed out. Minor conflicts are magnified to suit the needs of a dramatic narrative. There is good reason to speak of “Herndon’s Lincoln” or “Sandburg’s Lincoln,” because the real man can only be approximated in any of these works, and the imagination of the biographer obviously plays a large role. (237)

Armchair scholars of Lincoln might enjoy crossing swords with Shenk as he evaluates the work of the president’s major biographers; the rest of us can at least appreciate an example of the very real challenge of distilling a life into words – and perhaps marvel again at the “four-dimensional” view of a life provided to us by the Gospels.

While biographers of Lincoln have sometimes found the fact of his chronic depression expendable when composing their accounts, it is harder to tell this man’s story without some attempt to explain his relationship to God, the Scriptures, and faith. Shenk, writing from a secular perspective, evaluates Lincoln’s encounters with Christianity (especially during his presidency) in terms of the psychological benefits of religious belief and practice, rather than giving any weight to the veracity of a religion’s truth claims (see esp. pp.193-195). I suspect the author would also attribute at least some of Lincoln’s depressive tendencies to his Calvinistic upbringing. Yet even he is struck by the wisdom that Lincoln seems to have gained from close study of the ancient words of warning, judgment, and lament; and his treatment of the faith-dimension of Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses is both thoughtful and respectful (pp. 191-210).

So, worth a look. I’d love to hear from anyone else who has read the book, or any insights you armchair scholars have about Lincoln’s Christianity.