The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section V.1

“God, the great Creator of all things, does uphold (Heb. 1:3), direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions and things (Job 38-41; Ps. 135:6; Dan. 4:34-35; Acts 17:25-28), from the greatest even to the least (Mt. 10:29-31), by his most wise and holy providence (Ps. 104:24; 145:17; Pr. 15:3), according to his infallible foreknowledge (Ps. 94:8-11; Acts 15:18), and the free and immutable counsel of his own will (Ps. 33:10-11; Eph. 1:11), to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness and mercy (Gen. 45:7; Ps. 145:7; Is. 63:14; Rom. 9:17; Eph. 3:10).” The doctrine of God’s providence is at once also a significant part of a biblical perspective on history. God both created history, and sustains it for his own purposeful end, seen most definitively in biblical redemptive history, which includes all the elements above and below (Heb. 1:2; 11:3).

“The Scriptures explicitly declare that such a providential control is exerted – (a) Over the physical world [a] In general. Job xxxvii. 6-13; Ps. civ. 14; cxxxv. 6, 7; cxlvii. 15-18. [b] Individual events in the natural world, however trivial. Matt. X.29. (b) Over fortuitous events. Job v.6; Prov. Xvi. 33. (c) Over brute creation. Ps. civ. 21-27; cxlvii. 9. (d) Over the general affairs of men. Job xii. 23; Isa. X. 12-15; Dan. Ii.21; iv. 25. (e) Over the circumstances of individuals. 1 Sam. Ii. 6-8; Prov. Xvi. 9; James iv. 13-15. (f) Over the free actions of men. Ex. Xii. 36; Ps. xxxiii. 14, 15; Prov. Xix. 21; xxi.1; Phil. Ii. 13. (g) Over the sinful actions of men. 2 Sam. Xvi. 10; Ps. lxxvi. 10; Acts iv. 27, 28. (h) Especially all that is good in man, in principle or action, is attributed to God’s constant gracious control. Phil. Ii. 13; iv. 13; 2 Cor. Xii. 9, 10; Eph. Ii. 10; Ps. cxix. 36; Gal. v. 22-25.” (Hodge, 94)

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section IV.1-2

Creation, and providence to follow, are the outworking of God’s decrees, as noted in the previous sections. “It pleased God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; 33:4; Jn. 1:2-3; I Cor. 8:6), for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom and goodness (Ps. 104:24; 33:5-6; Is. 44:24; 45:12; Jer. 10:12; Rom. 1:20; Rom. 1:20), in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good (Gen. 1; Acts 17:24; Col. 1:16).” The creation of all things must be understood to have two aspects. On the one hand the triune God created something out of nothing. Everything in creation had a beginning. Only God is eternal. Secondly, God then created the world, beginning in the rest of the first 24 hr day, and then in the other five successive days (Ex. 20:11). The first days, not being declared as different from those described with ‘day’ and ‘night’, are in fact defined by those elements which were created to in effect be that which rules ‘day’ and ‘night’ – being sun and moon.

We also are told that God’s creative work involved all three persons of the trinity. We read that God said ‘let us’ create man after their image. This rules out the only other persons that may be referred to, namely the angels, for humans only are described as being created in his image. As it is the chief end of man to glory and enjoy God for ever, even so the whole of creation was a work of God for the manifestation of his glory. Creation also conveys that knowledge of God that all humanity has of God, namely “his eternal power, wisdom and goodness.” God created both the things visible and invisible, and because of this, we ought not to forget that there is an invisible realm every bit as much as there is a visible realm. Since God is goodness himself, all that he had made he described as being ‘good’, and ‘very good’. As we will also see when looking at God’s providence, God also created time and history (Heb. 1:2; 11:3). Since creation is regarded as the outworking of his sovereign will and purpose, we know that the whole of creation, and the study and care of it, are guided by his will and purpose.

“After God made all other creatures, he created man, male and female (Gen. 1:27), with reasonable and immortal souls (Gen. 2:7; Ec. 12:7; Lk. 23:43; Mt. 10:28), endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image (Gen. 1:26; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24-25).” Besides stating that humans are created immediately by God, the Confession affirms that God created them as male and female. This is the beginning of a person’s personal self-identity, and there are only two possibilities. Second, we learn that humans are both physical and spiritual in nature. Third, the human soul is reasonable, and thus that which pertains to the soul is not anything contrary to reason, that the rational ability of humanity is more than just biological activity of the brain. Fourth, although the soul, as well as the body, have a beginning, they will have no end. Fifth, each human being is programmed with certain software, so to speak, that is both epistemological (the study of knowledge), and moral (ethics) in nature. All of this and more is part of what it means to be created in the image of God.

It is no coincidence that the fathers began the definition of the image with knowledge, for this is the first axiom of our existence. We could not function as image bearers of God if we did not have that knowledge which is from God, in this case innate and ‘a prior’, that is, the reasoning ability to deduce propositions prior to observations or experience. We are also taught that humans are moral agents who, as part of being the image bearers of God, evidence such in “righteousness, and holiness.” “Having the law of God written in their hearts (Rom. 2:14-15), and power to fulfill it (Ec. 7:29); and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change (Gen. 3:6; Ec. 7:29).” Human beings, from the moment of creation, had a knowledge of God’s law which was compatible with the ability to reason truthfully, and to obey it fully. Sixth, human beings, from the beginning, had a freedom to obey or disobey the knowledge of God and his law, that was given in their very constitution as his image bearers, and a conscience to make this distinction.

“Besides this law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:8-11, 23); which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures (Gen. 1:26, 28).” Seven, part of being created in God’s image is to live happily in harmony with God. Eight, all these character distinctives, which together set humanity apart from the rest of creation, equipped humanity to exercise dominion under God as his stewards. The fact that Christ appeals to the initial creation of humanity as male and female, in opposition to free divorce, supports the truth that this also was a part of humanity’s original state (Mal. 2:15; Mt. 19:4-5). This first human pair, in covenant representation in Adam, were placed in the position of having God’s law within and in a special revelatory word. By this we ought not to forget that God’s word was given for more than just redemption, occurring as it did before the fall, being the law disobeyed.

Scripture and the Confession are also emphatic that the creation of man did not come via an evolutionary process. It is also clear that the definition of the image, in which we were and are created, cannot be reduced to one aspect only. The image involves both body and soul, the visible and the invisible or physical and spiritual, the internal and external, the epistemological and moral, the inherent and the functional. We have the task of dominion stewardship, and the make-up in order to fulfill this role. Part of the image, stated here in our being created male and female, is that we have personal identity, and are designed to live in community. As was noted in the treatment of the doctrine of the trinity, only if Moses and the first recipients of the Genesis account understood the differing personalities in the Godhead, in the ‘let us’ and ‘our’, could they understand this personal and relational truth. Of course, in the creation of man by God, we also learn that there is a qualitative difference between God and humanity.

In naming the animals we also see that Adam was created from the beginning with the innate ability to speak intelligible words, which gave expression to his thinking and reasoning ability and process. Adam’s innate cognitive ability enabled him to engage in the discipline of science, examining the other creatures and giving them names that fit their distinctive characteristics. As will be stated more fully concerning the fall, though the image may be in a sense marred by the fall, it still remains, an idea which must guide our relations with all people (Js. 3:9). Furthermore, we also understand that this image is being renewed by the Spirit to be in conformity to the image of Christ, “in knowledge” (Col. 3:10), “true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). It should not be missed that there is an understanding that sin also affects our thinking, what is called the noetic effects of sin, and why we must be renewed in our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). We should also not miss the point that all races are included in our first parents, and therefore there can be no grounds for racism of any kind.

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section III.6-8

God predestines the means as well as the end, in his good providence. “As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto (Eph. 1:4-5; 2:10; II Th. 2:13; I Pet. 1:2).” There is an order to the salvation of the elect in history. “Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ (I Th. 5:9-10; Titus 2:14).” It is by being included in the covenant made with Adam, that all humanity sinned in his sin, and thus all are fallen (Rom. 5:12). All are born in a sinful state, not by physical birth, but by covenantal inclusion. It is the same basis by which we are redeemed in Christ, by being in covenant with him. This is the context of our union with him, being ‘in Christ’. This union takes place at our effectual calling, which by grace includes our repentance and faith. We are “effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season.” ‘Due season’ is the working out of our salvation by providence in our history.

Effectual calling is the beginning of what has come to be called the ‘ordo salutis’, or order of salvation, as it pertains to the application of redemption which was planned before we were born. From this beginning there follows on an equal plane the three actions and states of adoption, sanctification, both definitive and progressive, and justification. We “are justified, adopted, sanctified (Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:5; II Th. 2:13), and kept by his power through faith unto salvation (I Pet. 1:5).” The saints, the elect, will persevere to the end for a complete salvation in glorification. “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only (Jn. 17:9; Rom. 8:28; Jn. 6:64-65; 8:47; 10:26; I Jn. 2:19).” Again, the ‘ordo salutis’ is typically seen in sequential terms only, but adoption, justification, and definitive sanctification should be seen as concurrent, directly sequential to effectual calling, and progressive sanctification as flowing upon definitive sanctification.

This one paragraph in the Confession also includes, either directly or indirectly, what has come to be understood as the ‘tulip’ understanding of salvation. Total depravity is made mention of in our fall in Adam, unconditional election and limited atonement in the elect here as those “redeemed in Christ” and “the elect only,” irresistible grace in our effectual calling, and perseverance “being kept by his power.” There is also a distinction drawn between being redeemed and being saved, as not being synonymous. This section represents the elect as “their redemption by Christ as being effectually called unto faith in Christ. Their justification, adoption, sanctification and final salvation are just the blessings which constitute the deliverance obtained through the death of Christ; and, therefore, their redemption by Christ must signify, not the deliverance itself, but the payment of the price which procured their deliverance.

Their redemption by Christ is already complete – it was finished by Christ on the cross; but their actual deliverance is to be effected “in due season,” namely, when they are united to Christ by faith. In this section, then, we are taught: 1. That Christ, by his death, did not merely render the salvation of all men possible, or bring them into a salvable state, but purchased and secured a certain salvation to all for whom he died (John 17:4; Heb. 4:12). 2. That Christ died exclusively for the elect and purchased redemption for them alone (Jn. 10:15, 28-29). 3. We are further taught that salvation shall be effectually applied by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 6:37; Acts 13:48).”1 This salvation is also affirmed as a trinitarian work. “Thus our Confession, agreeable to Scripture, represents each of the divine persons as acting a distinct part in the glorious work of human redemption, and as entirely concurring in counsel and operation.”2

In regards to Section VII and VIII, and as stated in the previous sections, grace was and is required for the elect to have the repentance and faith that is necessary, but the reprobate are simply left in the condition that all men fell into in our rebellion in the Adamic covenant. However, in that the predestination of both the elect and the reprobate happened before either were born, it is also true to say, in harmony with the scriptural testimony, that he did also ordain the reprobate to be objects of “dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice (Mt. 11:25-26; Jn. 3:36; Rom. 9:17-22; Eph. 5:6; II Tim. 2:19-20; Jude 4; I Pet. 2:7-8).” For some, grace is withheld, that in them the just punishment for sin might also be to God’s glory. “There is nothing whatever in men that provides God with a reason for electing one man and passing by another.”3

The doctrine of predestination (Sec. VIII), some argue is arbitrary, but it is not really arbitrary, because God predestines according to his own good pleasure. Also, some want to avoid this doctrine, but it has been given to us to know it by divine revelation for a purpose (Dt. 29:29; Lk. 10:20; Rom. 8:29-33; 9:20; 11:5-6, 20, 33; Eph. 1:3-14; II Pet. 1:10; . “The truth is that when the doctrine is not taught with care and prudence the danger of false presumption is increased. But when the doctrine is taught without reservation the desired diligence and humility is the God-given result. The evidence certainly does not show that neglect of this doctrine has produced that humility, diligence, and abundant consolation, that has marked the Church in better days when this doctrine was so handled.”4 “So shall this doctrine afford a matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence and abundant consolation, to all that sincerely obey the gospel.”

“Aside from the fact that God has commanded his servants to preach all his revelation, one great reason for preaching on the eternal decree is that a knowledge of sovereignty, election, and predestination is necessary in order to understand many other doctrines. If God has not from all eternity decided to preserve me in grace, do I have any spiritual power in myself to persevere to the end? And if I have such power, would not salvation be achieved through my own efforts and by my own merits, rather than by God’s grace.”5 These doctrines also have a bearing on the biblical view of history, including the fulfillment of prophecy. “Given the sovereignty of God, his omnipotence and omniscience, predestination follows by logic alone. Given the creation of the world by an Almighty Creator, it necessarily follows that history must accord with the eternal decree.”6

“Salvation is declared to be in its very essence a matter of grace; and if of grace, the selection of its subjects is inalienably a matter of divine discretion. Lam. Iii. 22; Rom. iv. 4; xi. 6; Eph. i. 5-7; John iii. 16; 1 John iii16; iv. 10.”7 “The principle of divine sovereignty in the distribution of grace is certainly revealed in Scripture, is not difficult of comprehension, and is of great practical use to convince men of the greatness and independence of God, of the certain efficacy of his grace and security of his promises, and of their own sin and absolute dependence.”8 However, Hodge is also right to stress that “this truth ought not, moreover, to be obtruded out of its due place in the system, which includes the equally certain truths of the freedom of man and the free offers of the gospel to all. The command to repent and believe is addressed to all men indiscriminately, and the obligation rests equally with all.”9

“The salvation of the elect is wholly ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’, and the condemnation of the non-elect is ‘to the praise of his glorious justice’. Calvin justly remarks: ‘That those things which the Lord hath laid up in secret, we may not search; those things which he hath brought openly abroad, we may not neglect; lest either on the one part we be condemned of vain curiosity, or on the other part, of unthankfulness.’ Were this doctrine either dangerous or useless, God would not have revealed it, and for men to attempt to suppress it, is to arraign the wisdom of God, as though he foresaw not the danger which they would arrogantly interpose to prevent. ‘Whosoever,’ adds Calvin, ‘laboureth to bring the doctrine of predestination into misliking, he openly saith evil of God; as though somewhat had unadvisedly slipped from him which is hurtful to the church.’”10

1. Shaw, (93)

2. Ibid., (95)

3. Williamson, (38)

4. Ibid., (39-40)

5. Clark (47)

6. Ibid., (47)

7. A.A. Hodge, (75)

8. Ibid., (76)

9. Ibid., (77)

10. Shaw, (97-98 Cf. Calvin’s Institutes, book iii, ch. 21. Sec. 4.)

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section III.3-5

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.” (3) This third part to section III states the biblical truth that God is completely sovereign. Before anyone were born, he determined their futures, “even the wicked for the day of doom” (Pr. 16:4 Cf. Pr. 8:23). Paul referred back to Jacob and Esau. “As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’” (Rom. 9:13) The death of the wicked is what all humanity deserved, based upon the covenant made through Adam, and the choice we all made to rebel. Therefore, the wonder is that mercy should come to any (Eph. 1:4-5). “What if God, wanting to show his wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of Hid glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory.” (9:22-23)

From the account of the Fall, we learn that there was a prior ‘fall’ of the angel Satan, and with further revelation we learn that others fell with him, but there are elect angels as well (Mt. 25:41; I Tim. 5:21). “These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished (Jn. 13:18; I Tim. 5:21; II Tim. 2:19; II Pet. 2:4).” The Lord knows who are his own, who are predestined unto election, whereas the wicked are predestined unto reprobation. “Those of mankind that are predestined unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, has chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory (Eph. 1:4, 9, 11; Rom. 8:28-30; II Tim. 1:9; I Th. 5:9).” There is also a particular election of the remnant within the larger elect nation of Israel (Mt. 24:22; Rom. 11:5).

“Out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto (Rom. 9:11, 13, 16; Eph. 1:4, 9), and all to the praise of his glorious grace (Eph. 1:6, 12).” The elect are such by grace through faith, all of which is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9). The elect will also not be lost. “We are assured from Scripture that they who believe ‘were ordained to eternal life’ and that they were ‘chosen to salvation’ (Acts 13:48; 2 Thess. 2:13).”1 “Election itself originated in divine sovereignty, and had no other cause than the good pleasure of God’s will (Eph. 1:5). The divine purpose is one, embracing the means as well as the end; but according to our conception of the operations of the divine mind, the end is first in intention, and then the means are appointed by which it is to be carried into effect,…that God had a respect to the mediation of Christ.”2

1. Shaw, (87)

2. Ibid., (92)

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section III.1-2

“God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” “The Bible says that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, not just some. And the Reformers did not draw back from the difficult passages on predestination, foreordination, and God’s eternal decrees. Really, these passages are not difficult to understand, though many people find them difficult to believe. But if they are God’s words, then we should study, believe, and preach them.”1 Some of these passages are 9:15, 18; 11:33; Eph. 1:9, 11; Heb. 6:17. “By the decree of God is meant his purpose or determination with respect to future things; or, more fully, his determinate counsel, whereby, from all eternity, he fore-ordained whatever he should do, or would permit to be done, in time.”2

“That God must have decreed all future things, is a conclusion which necessarily flows from his foreknowledge, independence, and immutability. If God be an independent being, all creatures must have an entire dependence upon him; but this dependence proves undeniability that all their acts must be regulated by his sovereign will. If God be of one mind, which none can change, he must have unalterably fixed everything in his purpose which he effects in his providence.”3 “The decrees of God are ‘free’. He was not impelled to decree from any exigence of the divine nature; this would be to deny his self-sufficiency. Neither was he under any external constraint; this would be destructive of his independence. His decrees, therefore, must be the sovereign and free act of his will. By this is not meant to insinuate that they are arbitrary decisions; but merely that, in making his decrees, he was under no control, and acted according to his own sovereignty.”4

“He needs not to deliberate, or take counsel with others, but all his decrees are the result of unerring wisdom.”5 His freedom and wisdom is however not separate from any of his other attributes, including his holiness. God is ‘set apart’ in his thoughts and actions, both in his being and his moral perfection. His counsel, furthermore is trinitarian, that to which all three persons of the triune God are in agreement. “The decrees of God are ‘absolute’ and ‘unconditional’. He has not decreed anything, because he foresaw it as future; and the execution of his decrees is not suspended upon any condition which may or may not be performed.”6 “It has been objected to the doctrine respecting the divine decrees taught in our Confession, that it represents God as the author of sin. But the Confession expressly guards against this inference by declaring that God has so ordained whatsoever comes to pass as that he is not the author of sin.

The decree of God is either effective or permissive. His effective decree respects all the good that comes to pass; his permissive decree respects the evil that is in sinful actions. We must also distinguish betwixt an action ‘purely’ as such, and the sinfulness of the action. The decree of God is effective with respect to the action abstractly considered; it is permissive with respect to the sinfulness of the action as a moral evil.”7 “The same infinitely perfect and self-consistent decree ordains the moral law which forbids and punishes all sin, and at the same time permits its occurrence, limiting and determining the precise channel to which it shall be confined, the precise end to which it shall be directed, and overruling its consequences for good: “But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Gen. 50:20.”8 See also Gen. 37:28; 45:7-8; Is. 10:5; Js. 1:13, 17; I Jn. 1:5.

“This does not mean that violence was done to the will of the creatures (II Sam. 17:14). But it must be noted that God established psychological processes just as truly as he established physical processes. This ties in with the next phrase, “nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” God has established such processes for the purpose of accomplishing his will. He does not arrange things or control history apart from secondary causes. God does not decree the end apart from the means. He decrees that the end shall be accomplished by means of the means. The importance of section ii becomes much clearer when later the idea of grace alone is examined.”9 See also Pr. 16:33; Mt. 17:12; Jn. 19:11; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28.

“The free actions of men are also predestined by God. Please note: these acts are both ‘free’ and ‘predestined’. That is, those who commit these acts do so because they want to. And yet those acts which they do are predestined by God so that Scripture says they ‘must’ happen. Christ said, “it must needs be that offenses come: but woe to that man by whom the offense comes.” This statement recognizes two things: (1) the certainty of the occurrence of a future event, and (2) that those who will perform the act will do so freely and therefore with guilt. As God predetermines evil actions which are freely performed, so he predetermines good actions which are also freely performed. Christians repent, believe and seek to do the will of God because they want to. But in this case “it is God which works in [them] to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). There is, in this case, an internal operation of God’s Spirit, which is wholly absent from the wicked. But this still does not mean that the good (converted) any more than the wicked (unconverted) are not free in doing what God has predestined that they shall do.

Some people use “freedom in another sense, however, which is false in the extreme. They mean, by the “freedom” of man, that man has the ‘power’ to do good or evil at any moment of time. To say that a man is ‘able’ to do good or evil, is very different from saying that a man is ‘at liberty’ to do what he desires. We believe that man has liberty but not ability to do what is right. For the truth is that man, while free from coercion from the “outside” is ‘not free from the control of his own nature’. He who is evil by nature must of necessity do evil (just as a corrupt tree must of necessity produce corrupt fruit, Mt. 7:17-19). Just as we may say that God is good and therefore cannot do evil, so we may say that man (by nature) is evil and cannot (of himself) do good.”10

“All God’s works of creation and providence constitute one system. No event is isolated, either in the physical or moral world, either in heaven or on earth. All of God’s supernatural revelations and every advance of human science conspire to make this truth conspicuously luminous. Hence the original intention which determines one event must also determine every other event related to it, as cause, condition, or consequent, direct and indirect, immediate and remote. Hence, the plan which determines even the minutest element comprehended in the system of which those ends are parts. The free actions of free agents constitute an eminently important and effective element in the system of things. If the plan of God did not determine events of this class, he could make nothing certain, and his government of the world would be made contingent and dependent, and all his purposes fallible and mutable.”11

Supplementary scripture: I Kgs. 22:1-40; Ps. 33:11; Pr. 16:33; 19:21; 21:1; Is. 10:5; Mt. 10:29-30; Acts 15:18; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4ff.; 2:8-10; 3:11; Phil. 2:13 II Th. 2:13.

1. Clark, (36-37)

2. Shaw, (81)

3. Ibid., (82 Cf. Is. 23:11-12; Mt. 11:21-23; Acts 15:18)

4. Ibid., (83 Cf. Rom. 9:11-18)

5. Ibid., (83)

6. Ibid., (84)

7. Ibid., (85)

8. Hodge, (65)

9. Clark, (38 Cf. ‘Religion, Reason, and Revelation’ Ch. 5)

10. Williamson, (30-31)

11. Hodge, (64)

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section II.3

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section II.3

After treating of the attributes of the one only true God, the fathers went on in this third section to address what is most unique to the Christian doctrine of God, namely the Trinity. It is true that the word ‘trinity’ is not found in the scriptures, nevertheless the doctrine certainly is. In the history of treating this fundamental and essential doctrine concerning the godhead, the distinction has been made between the ontological understanding of the Trinity, namely that in regard to their oneness, they are “of one substance, power, and eternity.” This simply reiterates the general heads of what is found in the first two sections. One is forced to mine the words of any language, in this case English, to come up with what may best express the understanding of what and who God is. This is an important point, the scriptures would have us understand what it reveals of both what and who God is.

In this respect the Westminster Standards cannot be unjustly charged with being to academic or clinical, because it is important to make this distinction. A lot of discussion necessarily occurred in the history of this doctrine to arrive at this clear unambiguous understanding. When the Scriptures refer to that which pertains to the “substance, power and eternity” of the godhead, we are to understand this as pertaining to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit equally. That there are these three who are referred to as equally the only one and true God, the scriptures make abundantly clear (Mt. 3:16-17; 28:19; II Cor. 13:14; I Jn. 5:7). We can also be thankful that the church fathers chose the word ‘person’, coming from the Latin ‘persona’. No word is perfect, for there is the connotation in the word of an actor who wears a mask, but here the meaning is deeper and more contemporary.

When taken in the context of the doctrine of the trinity, the word ‘person’ has the more specific meaning of a genuine personhood as we would understand the word today. Incidentally, it is worth noting, that it is in fact this Christian conception of personhood which has such theological significance to the biblical understanding of that which is part of the image of God of humanity. We have personhood, because we are created in the image and likeness of God. The Christian ought to have a biblical conception of human personality. The fact that there is a trinity of persons in the godhead, is also the creational basis for our constitution as creatures who, as image bearers of God, live in community with others, which is foundational to a biblical conception of society and sociology. The idea of personhood also ties into the idea of the roles we play. We all have differing roles but this does not detract from our equality of substance as humans.

This is what is conveyed here, namely that as regards to substance, the godhead shares a ontological equality, or their being as God. “The word ‘Godhead’ signifies the divine nature. This is a scriptural term (Rom. 1:20; Col. 2:9).”1 However, as to the distinction as separate persons, including the roles that they each play, there is three, or what has come to be referred to as the economical understanding of the Trinity. It is necessary to understand their distinct roles and functions, because this is what we find in the testimony of the scriptures. To this end the fathers also highlighted the interaction of the three persons with each other, namely, first of all, that “the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding.” Again, these are points having to do with how the three persons are related to each other as regards the economical understanding.

The Father is the ultimate source of their unified purposes, whereas the Son, who “is eternally begotten of the Father” (Ps. 2:7; Jn. 1:14, 18), executes their will. Thus, the son proceeds from the Father to bring into reality said purposes. Finally, the Spirit eternally proceeds “from the Father and the Son,” to the same end (Jn. 15:26; Gal. 4:6). It is absurd to seek to argue for a kind of generic theism, because the Christian biblical doctrine of God is radically different from all others. “There are many passages in the Old Testament which prove a ‘plurality’ of persons in the Godhead; such as those passages in which one divine person is introduced as speaking of or to another. To these we can only refer (Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Ps. 45:6; Ps. 110:1; Is. 6:8; 61:1).”2

There are a number of evidences that show the equality of substance of the (Son) with the Father, and of the [Spirit]. They share the same ‘names’ (Nu. 21:6-7; Is. 4:6; 6:1; 40:3; Jn. 1:1, 23; 12:41; Rom. 4:5; Titus 2:13; I Jn. 5:20), [Is. 6:8-9; Acts 5:3; 28:25; I Cor. 3:16], ‘attributes’ (Mic. 5:2; Ps. 102:25-27; Mt. 28:20; Jn. 2:24; 21:17; Phil. 3:21; Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8; Rev. 1:8), [Gen. 1:1-2; Ps. 139:7; I Cor. 2:10-11; 12:11], ‘works’ (Mk. 2:5; Jn. 1:3; 5:17, 27-29; Rom. 14:10; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3; 9:12), [Gen. 1:2; Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30; I Cor. 6:11; Titus 3:5, ‘divine worship’ (Jn. 5:23; Acts 7:59; 2 Cor. 12:8; 2 Thess. 2:16; Heb. 1:6), [2 Cor. 13:14; Rev. 1:4,5], ‘equality’ between the Father and the Son (Is. 42:1; Zech. 13:7; Jn. 5:18; 10:30, 38; 14:28; Phil. 2:6).3

“While (1) the Old Testament believer was to know that the true God was one, (2) that yet the Angel of God (and sent by God) was God, (3) there was also a clearly recognized presence of God the Holy Spirit (Ps. 51:11; cf. I Sam. 16:13,14 etc.) distinct from either “God” or “the Angel” Thus while the Old Testament believer did not yet see so full a manifestation of the three Persons as we have seen (in Christ becoming incarnate, and the Holy Spirit’s being poured out at Pentecost), yet undeniably the God who is being revealed in Old Testament history (little by little) is this God and no other.”4 There is no such generic theism. From the perspective of special revelation, the scriptures, there is the one only living triune, and everything else is man-made and conceived.

1. Shaw, (74)

2. Ibid., (75-76)

3. Ibid., (78-9)

4. Williamson, (27)

Schaeffer’s Epistemology – Contra Van Til And The Van Tillians.

Schaeffer’s Epistemology – Contra Van Til And The Van Tillians.

In my humble opinion, their is a huge swath of reformed thinking on the subject of epistemology, or the theory and study of knowledge, or knowing how we know anything, that recklessly followed uncritically the theory of Van Til’s analogical conception. This is well known with regards to Clark’s critique of Van Til’s conception of the incomprehensibility of God, especially when Westminster Seminary had to be disciplined for wrongly accusing Clark of departing from the biblical testimony in this regard. In fact, a strong case could be made that it was Van Til who departed from the scriptures in this area. This was proven very ably by Clark, but it was also repudiated by Francis Schaeffer. The evangelicals, myself included, can be thankful that we had Schaeffer to explain biblical epistemology, but the irony is that Schaeffer was a reformed Presbyterian, when it was Van Til who caused the OPC and Westminster to lean toward the quasi-reformed perspective of Calvin College and Seminary, and the Christian Reformed Church.

One could write a treatise on how the analogical theory of Van Til has tainted what would could have been a far more significant contribution to the reformed tradition in our culture than it had. As it is, it was the men who had a biblical conception of epistemology who were able to construct a comprehensive worldview to meet the modern and post-modern worldviews head on. Men like Clark, Henry, and Schaeffer were able to put forward what is the only justification of true knowledge possible, namely that which is rooted in the scriptures and a thorough conception of its theology, and a full orbed conception of what it means to serve God as his image bearers. Like Clark, Schaeffer argued that even though our knowledge of God and all he has made, is not exhaustive, nevertheless, based upon the revelation of holy scripture, what we do know is true knowledge because it is univocal with God’s revelation of what is true. In his ‘He Is There And He Is Not Silent’, Schaefer dealt with the subject of epistemology, in the form of a primer.

Although he does not name Van Til or those who espouse his view, he did clearly oppose his conception of incomprehensibility. Van Til could not seem to get his head around the idea that although God is indeed ontologically separate from humanity he created, this did not mean that we have a different epistemological conception of truth. In fact, it is part of being created in his image that we are able to receive that which God has chosen to reveal, in both general and special revelation. To suggest otherwise actually makes it impossible for humanity to have any confidence that there is in fact ‘true truth’ as Schaeffer put it. In an age that is submerged in the post modernist soup of relativism, Van Tillians have no answer to the biblical conception of true truth. In the above work alone we find the following. “In the Reformation…we find that there is someone there to speak, and that he has told us about two areas. He has spoken first about himself, not exhaustively but truly; and second, he has spoken about history and about the cosmos, not exhaustively but truly.”(62)

Schaeffer made the point that one need not have exhaustive knowledge to have true knowledge. In this sense, any subject is incomprehensible to us. In other words, our knowledge is quantitatively different from God’s but not qualitatively different. “We cannot even communicate with each other exhaustively, because we are finite. But he tells us truly – even truth about himself.”(79) On this point we have something else to show the absolute necessity of special revelation for any justification for true knowledge, namely that one can only have true knowledge if one does receive this knowledge from someone who does know all things exhaustively, and brings this to each subject of knowing. We have logical grounds for stating that the only grounds for true knowledge, is the special revelation of holy scripture, since it was given by one who does have exhaustive knowledge. This knowledge is qualitatively the same as that received by his creatures, who are able to receive it because they have been created in his image. What obscures that true truth is the fallen nature of humanity which seeks to suppress that truth in unrighteousness.

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section II.1-2

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section II.1-2

The authors of the Confession realized the obvious, that contrary to the popular view of some, one must begin with the question of how we know anything, especially as it pertains to theology and philosophy from a Christian perspective. They grounded the Christian worldview in the revelation of God, both natural and special, but with the preeminence given to the scriptures. It is laughable that in the area of apologetics, for example, a Christian should supposedly argue for a generic theism, when everyone knows that such a theism is really one founded upon scripture. Besides being duplicitous, it is an insult to any thoughtful person that it presupposes what it seeks to prove from some supposed objective standpoint. The fact is there is no neutral facts as such, for all humans bring to the data given a certain worldview about truth and reality. Therefore, besides being the teaching of scripture, it is also the honest position to state that this is in fact our starting point, our one chief axiom of all thought.

So the fathers begin with epistemology (the study and ground for knowing anything), before moving on here in chapter two with ontology, or the study of being. To this end, the scriptures teach that God is the supreme being, the Creator of all things, and the Redeemer of some. The first thing to acknowledge is that this God is one. Moses, by divine inspiration, reiterated to the covenant community that “the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Dt. 4:35; 6:4; 32:39; Mk. 12:29-32; I Cor. 8:4-6; I Tim. 2:5). He is also the ‘only’ God, therefore the first commandment was given, namely “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:2; Dt. 5:7; Is. 43:10; Gal. 4:8). Furthermore, unlike other gods and idols, the LORD is living and true. All human conceptions of a god and idol are but lifeless products of a fallen imagination. We also learn here that the LORD is truth itself (Jer. 10:10; I Th. 1:9). The true God “is infinite in being and perfection” (Job 11:7; 26:14). The biblical God “is a most pure spirit” (Jn. 4:24), “invisible” (I Tim. 1:17).

Our God is also “without body parts” (Dt. 4:15-16; Jn. 4:24; Lk. 24:39), “or passions” (Acts 14:11, 15), “immutable” (Mal. 3:6; Js. 1:17), “immense” (I Kgs. 8:27; Jer. 23:23-24), “eternal” (Ps. 90:2; I Tim. 1:17), “incomprehensible” (Ps. 145:3). As indicated by the psalmist, this incomprehensibility refers to God’s greatness. In this sense our knowledge of God can never, in a quantitative way, grasp in totality the depths of everything about God, or in any of our knowledge per se. However, since God is true, and truth itself, what he has revealed to us is true, and in this sense our knowledge of something is the same qualitatively as God’s, otherwise we would have no true conception of anything. Our God is also “almighty” (Gen. 17:1; Rev. 4:8), “most wise” (Rom. 16:27), “most holy” (Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8); “most free” (Ps. 115:3-7), “most absolute” (Ex. 3:14), “working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will” (Eph. 1:11).

God’s sovereign will is absolute (Dan. 4:35), and “for his own glory” (Pr. 16:4; Rom. 11:36). He is also “most loving” (I Jn. 4:8, 16), gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7; Nu. 33:19). He is “the rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6), “and withal most just and terrible in his judgments” (Dt. 32:4; Ne. 9:32-33; Rom. 7:12), “hating all sin” (Ps. 5:5-6), “and who will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:7; Nah. 1:2-3). From these sections, it was important for the fathers to make clear that the one and only God of scriptural revelation is decidedly not some generic general theism to be conceived in the human imagination. Our God is not lifeless idol, but rather, he is living and powerful, as is his word (Heb. 4:12). In all these descriptions of the attributes of God, it must be understood that each is also defined by the whole, the comprehensiveness of the whole being such that we need the revelation to truly understand each.

The second paragraph of this chapter carries forward the authors treatment of theology proper, namely the person and work of God, with particular emphasis on his unique attributes. Again, we must remind ourselves that this conception of God comes from the Holy Scriptures, although there is indeed a true knowledge of God in the heart of every man, and in the whole of creation, which although not sufficient for salvation, does leave people without excuse for the suppression of that knowledge. For this reason the authors rightly began the Confession by positing the Scriptures as the primary axiom of all thought, especially as it concerns how we are to understand natural revelation, and here the being of God more particularly. In him is all “life” (Jn. 5:26), “glory” (Acts 7:2), “goodness” (Ex. 33:18-19; 34:6; Ps. 33:5; 106:5; 119:68; 145:9), “blessedness” (Rom. 4:5; I Tim. 6:15), “in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he has made” (Acts 17:24-25).

Robert Shaw in his commentary, gave what amounts to a primer on systematic theology concerning this chapter, one to which the reader would surely prophet from (60-80). Suffice here to highlight the scriptural proof given for these various attributes, and some high points as it were. Of particular note is the subject of the attributes of God, which Shaw sees in the word ‘perfection’. “The perfections of God are called his ‘attributes’, because they are ascribed to him as the essential properties of his nature. They have been called incommunicable and communicable attributes. Those attributes are called incommunicable, of which there is not the least resemblance to be found among creatures; and those are called communicable, of which there is some faint, though very imperfect resemblance to be found among creatures.”1 Should one wish to expand on these attributes further, one can hardly do better that Charnock’s work by this title.

“As he has life in himself, so he is the author of that life which is in every living creature. ‘In him we live, and move, and have our being.’ All the life of the vegetative, animal, and rational world, the life of grace here, and the life of glory hereafter, are of him, and derived from him. ‘With him is the fountain of life’ – of all sorts of life. ‘Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things’ (Rom. 11:36).”2 God does not derive his glory from any of his creatures, although our chief and highest end is to give him glory (Job 22:2-3). “But only manifesting his own glory, in, by, unto, and upon them: he is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things” (Rom. 11:36), and has most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleases (Ps. 103:19; Dan. 4:25, 35; I Tim. 6:15; Rev. 4:11).

In his sight all things are open and manifest (Heb. 4:13); his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature (Ps. 139:2-4; Pr. 15:3; 147:5; Rom. 11:33-34), so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain” (Ez. 11:5; Acts 15:18). “He knows the most contingent events: the actions of free agents, and all events concerned in them, were always known with certainty to him; so that, though they be contingent in their own nature, or ever so uncertain as to us, yet, in reality, nothing is to him contingent or uncertain.”3 We can also add, that he is aware of all contingencies, because everything is subject to his own sovereign will and purpose, as already noted. “He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands (Ps. 89:35; 145:17; Is. 6:3; Rom. 7:12). To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, he is pleased to require of them (Rev. 5:12-14).”

1. (Ibid., 63)

2. (Ibid., 64)

3. (Ibid., 67)

‘Creation Regained’ by Albert M. Wolters

One will find this work referred to often in works on the worldview concept. The title highlights a significant point of any Biblical worldview, that it involves the regaining of a worldview that takes into account of the need to begin where the bible begins, with creation. The word ‘regained’ speaks to the central paradigm of this work, in that any biblical worldview must also take into account the fall, and redemption which has the full scope of regaining or restoring the whole of the created order. This also has the advantage of showing that the scope of redemption is something more than personal salvation. Getting ‘saved’, so to speak, extends beyond the private sphere of the individual, to include a call to properly fulfill the original creation mandate to exercise dominion as God’s stewards in the world.

Wolters seeks to argue that this is ‘a reformational worldview’, and it is important to bear in mind that this is not ‘the’ reformed worldview. In other words, there can be different reformed worldviews, just as there may be different ‘Christian’ worldviews, and even different ‘Biblical’ worldviews. To this end it is important to point out that Wolters’ worldview is that which stems from the Dutch tradition that he lists as having its roots in the thought of Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Herman Dooyeweerd, and D.H.T. Vollenhoven (1). It is important to note however, that these men still had their own unique contributions. The fact is, the school which Wolters represents, owes more to Dooyeweerd than to anyone else, as any cursory examination will show.

One should commend the “deep desire to be obedient to the Scriptures in all areas of life and service.” (1) Wolters’ basic definition of what a worldview is a simple one and succinct – “the comprehensive framework of one’s basic beliefs about things.” (2) Nevertheless, his so-called ‘reformational’ perspective is not without its flaws. A key flaw, as this reviewer would suggest, is the positing of the idea of ‘law’ to include all those matters that reformed authors in the past have explained more specifically through other more consistently biblical terms and perspectives. For example, he wants to use the word ‘law’ for what has always been referred to as God’s ongoing active work of providence. Ironically he posits a so-called ‘law of creation’ that he argues will help guard against a concept of creation that may slip into Deism, when the very idea of ‘law’ is more likely to be subject to this danger (12-18)

He has to refer to terms used in the past, like ‘providence’, and ‘wisdom’, and ‘word’ to explain his novel conception of law, when the former speaks far more to the personal active living activity of God as we find it in the scriptures themselves. The fact of the matter is, reformed scholars spent a great deal of time in the past, continuing to the present, to disabuse people of thinking of God’s sovereign personal activity in sustaining the whole of creation against an idea of the so-called ‘laws of nature’, as simply the normal way in which God’s is active in the world. It is the biblical and reformed understanding of providence, and in particular the idea of covenant, that emphasizes the personal nature of God’s sovereign rule in and over all things. It is this personal aspect that is so much missing from the various secular conceptions of reality that make of God’s sovereign activity idols of their own construction.

Wolters even admits to this weakness in the following two-point admission of his novel use of ‘law’. “The first is that the word ‘law’ has to be stretched somewhat from its ordinary meaning to accommodate the sense of “particular command.” We do not usually use ‘law’ in this sense, although it is clearly very close in meaning to “command” and does bear this wider meaning in expressions such as “his word is law.” The second is that the universal validity of God’s law reflects his constancy in dealing with his creatures. We must not understand universal validity as entailing the absolute sense of a metaphysical determinism divorced from God’s personal characteristics of faithfulness or trustworthiness (Hebrew ’emet, “truth”) in his dealings with others. Though God may surprise and amaze us (and often does; we then speak of “miracles”), this does not suggest that we cannot depend on him; on the contrary, it underscores his utter reliability. In other words, there is no tension between the universal and particular in God’s law.” (18)

Why “stretch” the word ‘law’ when in fact it can have the effect of subtracting from the subject the idea of God’s personal living providential sustaining of his own creation. Why not stick with the biblical word ‘command’ which as a verb, clearly denotes this active superintendence? The word ‘providence’ has the advantage of referring to something of ‘universal validity’, but one that necessitates the needed corollary of resting upon the faithfulness of the Creator as personally actively sustaining his creation in a normally predictable way. It is the very idea of God’s faithfulness to his creation in his providence, that the secular worldview has sought to drive out of the discussion, but which alone can explain the very personal existence of humanity itself. It is  the personal nature of humanity, among many other things, that the secular worldview cannot explain, which is foundational to the biblical understanding of God as both the Creator and Sustainer of the whole of reality.

One might concede the use of the word ‘law’ when used in the area of hard sciences when speaking of ‘the laws of nature’, partly because it is so entrenched, but even here we must stress providence and not an autonomous view, or deistic view of law. However, Wolters wants to further “stretch” his definition of ‘law’ to absorb the perfectly adequate and superior words such as ‘norms’ or ‘principles’ or ‘standards’ of the more metaphysical sciences. In doing so he creates the very thing he warned against, “a metaphysical determinism divorced from God’s personal characteristic of faithfulness or trustworthiness (Hebrew ’emet, “truth”) in his dealings with others.” Wolters seems determined to remove the personal nature that the bible preserves further when he reinterprets the biblical conception of wisdom in personal terms, ie., personified as a woman (Pr. 1:22-23; 8:4, 22-23, 27-30), and reduce it also to his broad extra-biblical conception of law (25-27).

Another flaw in Wolters perspective has to do with how his concept of ‘law’ is founded upon the presupposition that the scriptures do not in fact give us sufficient principles or wisdom to guide us in the various academic disciplines. “In these areas, too, the Bible does not give more than general parameters.”(30) This is diametrically opposed to the broader evangelical and reformed work in the area of worldview formation and analysis, which has endeavoured to in fact establish a Christian worldview in every area of life on universal biblical principles. It is the logical fruit of Dooyeweerd’s conception of so-called sphere sovereignty and the so-called particular laws pertaining to them, that this tradition effectively creates areas where God’s word in fact has no place. It is a bald statement that in these so-called spheres, that the revelatory word is irrelevant (30).

Again, in another twist of irony, Wolters draws a parallel to the Christian seeking guidance to fulfill God’s will for one’s life, in particular one’s ‘calling’. It is ironic because it is an example which his conception in fact throws overboard with respect to an overall worldview. He states, with regard to seeking guidance that one must “continually check back with Scripture to make sure his bearings are right” (30-32), but these same scriptures give only “general parameters” for specific areas of study (32). His quote from Calvin, in which he uses the common worldview image of spectacles, in fact disproves his theory of natural autonomous sphere law. Calvin is clearly making the point that scriptural presuppositions are in fact necessary to not only understand the world, but the scriptures themselves (32, Calvin Inst. 1.6.1). The other image he refers to is ‘light’, but his perspective throws a basket over the scriptures as light (Ps. 119:105).

What is even more remarkable is he proceeds to turn to scripture to in effective disprove his hypothesis. In a wonderfully inconsistent glimpse of this light Wolters states the following. “In a way, therefore, the scriptures are like a verbal commentary on the dimly perceived sign language of creation.” (33 Cf. Ps. 19:3) It is more than odd that Wolters can then refer to his ‘law’ as a blueprint for building, when it is in fact the Scriptures which are the blueprints for a truly Biblical Christian worldview (34). Wolters called the wisdom of Proverbs 8 as “a kind of living blueprint preceding creation” (27), but then calls his autonomous law the ‘blueprint’, and the Scriptures as nothing more than ‘parameters’ in his ‘reformational’ worldview (30). Wolters states that without his conception of a blueprint (‘law’), the builder is at a loss “to puzzle out in general terms what the blueprint indicates.” (34) This is a radical departure from the vast majority of reformed and evangelical thinkers who in fact view the scriptures as providing the blueprint to properly understand general revelation, in every department of life.

The following summarizes the prime fallacy in this so-called ‘reformational’ worldview. “It is in this way that we must continue to try to discern, through empirical study and historical experience, what God’s specific  norms are for areas of human life that the Scriptures do not explicitly address – industrial relations, for example, or the mass media, or literary criticism.”(34) He firmly believes that “to say this is not to downgrade the authority of Scripture” (34), but that is exactly what he has done. Another truly astounding thing from Wolters is his interpretation of Mt. 5:17. He argues that the law of Moses has a ‘double reference’, the fulfillment of his so-called ‘creational law’ or its ‘deepest meaning’, which is the ‘substance’ which replaces the so-called ‘Jewish’ cultural context of the biblical law’s application. In the very passage where Jesus states categorically that he did not come to abrogate biblical law and the prophets, Wolters has the temerity to teach that his conception of ‘creational law’ replaces the biblical application!

Whereas reformed men like the puritans and Dr. Bahnsen sought to be guided by the application of the law as found in the scriptures, in applying the law in the current context, Wolters throws out this application as culturally irrelevant, and superceded by his conception of ‘creational law’! It is no wonder that he disparages the scriptures as at best only providing so-called ‘parameters’ for  Christian worldview. For one who claims a tradition in opposition to human autonomy, it is remarkable that he would even suggest such an ‘interpretation, and follow it with the following. “Another way of saying this is that God did the implementing for his people in the Old Testament, while in the New he in large measure gives the freedom in Christ to do our own implementing.”(35)

He arrogantly thinks that we are not apprentices like Moses’ first recipients, rather we are journeymen able to come up with our own constructions of his nebulous ‘creational law’. His view is like the baby in his analogy of the first two chapters of Genesis in relation to the third. It “contracts serious chronic disease for which there is no known cure”(39). There is a cure though, it is to give the scriptures the place that God has given them to us for our view pf life and the world. This is the only “process of healing” that will cure the sickness of this ‘revelational worldview’. By rejecting the LORD’s own application of his biblical law, constructing a theory of ‘creational law’, and finally by postulating so-called’ ‘positive’ law, that is, man-made applicational of man-made ‘creational law’, Wolters has drifted so far from scripture that it cannot be grouped with anything like a biblical worldview (43).

It is therefore inconsistent and illogical for him the conclude his chapter on ‘Creation’ with the following. “the most striking illustration of the goodness of positive law can be found in the Mosaic law. As we have indicated earlier (35), this is God’s own positivization of creational norms for ancient Israel. The books of the Old Testament never tire of praising its goodness and of stressing that safety and shalom can only be found by a return to the Torah. The longest psalm, Psalm 119, is one long paean of praise for the law of God in this sense.” (43) This final paragraph completely repudiates everything he has been arguing for up to this point. This is remarkable indeed.

There is another subject that overlaps into his next chapter on the fall, and that is the subject of theology. Wolters from the beginning wanted to stress that everyone has a worldview, but not everyone has a fully developed theology or philosophy, and hence why we need to keep this distinction in mind. Many would argue just the opposite, that in fact everyone does have a philosophy and theology that is part of their worldview, whether consciously or not. The knowledge of God and the logos or biblical philosophy, many would argue are innate, that in fact part of the corruption of sin is humanity’s effort to suppress this knowledge in unrighteousness. However, it is the very subject of theology which Wolters refers to when he defends the concept of ‘common grace’ (50).

This has been the traditional way that reformed people have explained how the order of creation is maintained to both the redeemed and the unredeemed, seen in his providential goodness and faithfulness in sun, rain, the changing of the seasons etc. This he wants to posit a different conception, that of the ‘structure’ or order of creation being preserved, while acknowledging that the ‘direction’ that one takes with this order is where sin comes in (49-52). In other words, one can behave as a good steward of the environment, directing it the glory of God as his servants, or one may direct it in opposition to what God intended. This, it must be said, is a good point, but may be clouded by introducing the terms ‘structure’ and ‘direction’ which may indicate more than has been traditionally understood. It becomes confusing when he regards ‘theology’ as ‘direction’ (9).

No doubt there is good and bad theology, but to say such is to admit that theology is indeed integral to everyone’s worldviews. It only becomes more obfuscated when he refers to the spiritual commitment of one’s heart as the subject of religion, and decidedly not theology. Additionally, he wants to draw a distinction between philosophy and theology, but it is not clear whether he sees a distinctly biblical philosophy, or if this is in the realm of ‘creation law’, and what part it therefore plays then in the ‘direction’ of things. All of this betrays what is a truly artificial construction, one unique to the Dooyeweerdian perspective, and frankly most unhelpful in seeking to form a biblical worldview. Surely a biblical Christian worldview must incorporate a full orbed biblical theology and philosophy.

It is commendable that Wolters stresses that sin is abnormal, and that the goal of redemption is the restoration or regaining the original good purpose of a good creation. In this sense the threefold paradigm is beneficial, but one must realize, not at all unique to the ‘reformational worldview, and frankly one of the few good things it affirms. Wolters also states another obvious element which is found in most efforts at constructing a biblical Christian worldview, that being the rejection of a ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ dichotomy, such as is found in secularism. To this end it is also an accepted truism, that when the bible speaks of ‘the world’, it is acknowledged to be referring at times to an unbiblical worldview and practice (52-54), and not to the created order as such, seen in our need to be in the world, but not of the world.

Another related point of clarification needs to be made. Several times Wolters, like many others, refers to the fall as a result of “Adam’s failure to heed  God’s explicit commandment and warning” (44), or “Adam through his disobedience” (47), when a biblical covenantal view of the fall is better expressed when he wrote that the fall is as a result of “ourselves in Adam” (49). For one who wants to guard the goodness of God’s creation ‘structure’, it is puzzling why he would not want to emphasize the biblical and reformed conception that all humanity changed the ‘direction’ in Adam, and that this original sin is not passed down by the unbiblical notion of simple human procreation. We cannot blame Adam, since we were regarded by God as being in covenant with him. For this reason also we cannot blame our parents for the simple act of procreation, and indirectly then, of one of God’s creation ordinances.

Wolters rightly notes the role of Satan, and the spiritual battle that the LORD’s people wage (54-56 Cf. Jn. 12:31). By the same token, we must affirm that when God executed his judgments after the fall, he did not judge a snake, which had no volitional accountability. Rather the entire judgment of Satan included him being lowered to the level of a snake, and metaphorically placed in a position of forever licking the dust, so to speak, of submission to both God and redeemed humanity (Gen. 3:14-15; Rom. 16:20; I Cor. 15:25). Evil is therefore ultimately spiritual, but affects the whole of the created order. The creation is therefore in bondage, as is fallen humanity, such that only in the redeemed is the creation also freed from bondage (Rom. 8:19-20).

It is not coincidental that the most fruitful contribution of this work is found in Wolters’ final chapter on redemption, for here he turns to the scriptures throughout. It is however somewhat ironic, because in doing so he is practically suggesting that that the bible is only concerned with salvation. Happily, he is inconsistent here, for he rightly emphasizes the scope of redemption as including the whole of the created order, the very things that are embraced in a comprehensive world and life view. He also points out that the key words referring to salvation all denote a restoration of what has been lost. He only mentions in passing what is surely a key point in other conceptions of a biblical or Christian worldview, and that is the issue of discipleship. He writes that the above two points “are pregnant with important consequences for Christian discipleship.” (57)

He also rightly raises the topic of the kingdom, that as the reign of the King it is to include the whole of his domain. This is what we pray to come, on earth as it is in heaven. Sadly, he leaves the door open to the idea that Christ will need to come physically in his second advent to complete this work, when the scriptures clearly indicate that he will only return when the work is complete already (I Cor. 15:25). He rightly criticizes any notion of two-realm theory (65). However, as part of the notion of ‘creational law’ and so-called ‘sphere sovereignty’, he actually does limit the scope of scripture, and thus the scope of Christ’s kingdom. His final chapter concerns his elaboration of the construction of ‘structure’ and ‘direction’ referred to earlier.

A significant amount of time and space has been devoted to this work, mainly because it figures so prominently among many other thinkers, but sadly there is very little here that is unique, and what is unique is either to be rejected or irrelevant to a truly biblical Reformed Christian worldview. Again, by far the best portion of this work is where Wolters directs his attention to the scriptural revelation in the scope of redemption (57-64).

The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section I.10

“The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.” The scriptures, being authored by the Holy Spirit, are the supreme judge for truth and error. It does not matter who has received a word they claim has authoritative, how long opinions have been held and codified, or whether they can be traced to ancient times – the scriptures are the supreme judge as to their truthfulness. It is for such an examination by the scriptures alone in which we can rest. Contrary to some so-called evangelical proponents, the Holy Spirit is here taken as the author of every word in the whole of the canon, and not just that which interpreters decide are the words of the Spirit extracted from what is left as only a human husk.

“Reformed Christianity refuses to allow the conscience to be bound by anything except the infallible Word of God itself, as it interprets itself to the individual conscience of the believer. It is the task of the church to express, set forth, or declare what the Word of God says so that the individual believer will be able himself to prove what the will of God is (Rom. 12:2).”1 Synods and councils are dealt with more extensively in chapter XXXI. Suffice it to say that “it belongs to them to explain and enforce the doctrines and laws contained in the Word of God, yet their authority is only ministerial, and their interpretations and decisions are binding on the conscience only in so far as they accord with the mind of the Spirit in the Scriptures (Isa. 8:20; Matt. 22:29).”2 We must also note that we should not ‘rest’, as this paragraph points out, until everything we believe and confess is confirmed as true by the authority of the scriptures.

Supplemental scripture: Mt. 22:31; Acts 28:25; Eph. 2:20.

1. (Williamson, 20)

2. (Shaw, 58)