T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to New Jerusalem

Jim Hamilton notes that T. Desmond Alexander has written a new book, From Eden to New Jerusalem. The table of contents and an excerpt can be seen here.

The publisher’s website contains this endorsement from Graeme Goldsworthy:

This is thematic biblical theology at its best. Dr Alexander has done us all a great service in providing this succinct, inspirational and compelling examination of some of the great themes of the Bible. In doing so he gathers up many different threads in the biblical story and shows with skill their inter-relatedness, their fulfilment in Christ, and their consummation in the New Jerusalem. Rich pickings in a short space!

Van Til on the noetic effects of the Fall

[The intellect of fallen man] may be compared to a buzz-saw that is sharp and shining, ready to cut the boards that come to it. Let us say that a carpenter wishes to cut fifty boards for the purpose of laying the floor of a house. He has marked his boards. He has set his saw. He begins at one end of the mark on the board. But he does not know that his seven-year-old son has tampered with the saw and changed its set. The result is that every board he saws is cut slantwise and thus unusable because too short except at the point where the saw made its first contact with the wood. As long as the set of the saw is not changed, the result will always be the same. So also whenever the teachings of Christianity are presented to the natural man, they will be cut according to the set of sinful human personality.

Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., 97

This is a very helpful metaphor for understanding the Reformed idea of the noetic effects of sin. The saw (analogous to our reasoning faculty) does indeed work; it is the same saw that was previously set correctly. Because of its faulty setting, however, even though it works, it always cuts with the wrong slant.

Note by K. Scott Oliphant in Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., 97, n. 18.

Lloyd-Jones on Ephesians 1:4

There are many Christian people today, it seems to me, who claim to be believers in the inspiration of the Scripture but who nevertheless quite deliberately avoid large portions of Scripture because they are difficult. But if you believe that the whole of Scripture is the Word of God, such an attitude is sinful; it is our business to face the Scriptures. One advantage in preaching through a book of the Bible, as we are proposing to do, is that it compels us to face every single statement, come what may, and stand before it, and look at it, and allow it to speak to us.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, 84.

Economist on Christians in China

The current issue of the Economist has an informative article about Christianity in China. Here are a few significant paragraphs.

On the number of Christians in China:

ZHAO XIAO, a former Communist Party official and convert to Christianity, smiles over a cup of tea and says he thinks there are up to 130m Christians in China. This is far larger than previous estimates. . . . If so, it would mean China contains more Christians than Communists (party membership is 74m) and there may be more active Christians in China than in any other country. In 1949, when the Communists took power, less than 1% of the population had been baptised, most of them Catholics. Now the largest, fastest-growing number of Christians belong to Protestant “house churches”.

On the growth of the house churches:

House churches have an unclear status, neither banned nor fully approved of. As long as they avoid neighbourly confrontation and keep their congregations below a certain size (usually about 25), the Protestant ones are mostly tolerated, grudgingly. Catholic ones are kept under closer scrutiny, reflecting China’s tense relationship with the Vatican. Private meetings in the houses of the faithful were features of the early Christian church, then seeking to escape Roman imperial persecution. Paradoxically, the need to keep congregations small helped spread the faith. That happens in China now. The party, worried about the spread of a rival ideology, faces a difficult choice: by keeping house churches small, it ensures that no one church is large enough to threaten the local party chief. But the price is that the number of churches is increasing.

On the need for educated pastors:

Abundant church-creation is a blessing and a curse for the house-church movement, too. The smiling Mr Zhao says finance is no problem. “We don’t have salaries to pay or churches to build.” But “management quality” is hard to maintain. Churches can get hold of Bibles or download hymn books from the internet. They cannot so easily find experienced pastors. “In China”, says one, “the two-year-old Christian teaches the one-year-old.” Because most Protestant house churches are non-denominational (that is, not affiliated with Lutherans, Methodists and so on), they have no fixed liturgy or tradition. Their services are like Bible-study classes. This puts a heavy burden on the pastor.

On Christianity as a private or public matter in China:

So far, Christianity’s spread has been largely a private matter for individual believers. The big question is whether it can remain private. The extent of its growth and the number of its adherents would suggest not. But at the moment, both Christians and Communists seem willing to let a certain ambiguity linger a while longer.

“Christians are willing to stay within the system,” says Mr Zhao. “Christianity is also the basis for good citizenship in China.” Most Christians say that theirs is not a political organisation and they are not seeking to challenge the party. But they also say clashes with public policy are inevitable: no Christian, one argues, should accept the one-child policy, for example.

Van Til’s Point

Here’s the point Van Til was driving at in the previous post (though the whole argument is worth reading, even if it is a bit long).

It would appear then that the theory of being that we have presented fits in with the notion of the Bible as an authoritative revelation of God. Such a being as the Bible speaks of could not speak otherwise than with absolute authority. In the last analysis we shall have to choose between two theories of knowledge. According to one theory God is the final court of appeal; according to the other theory man is the final court of appeal.

Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., 58.

Van Til on the Relation between Metaphysics and Epistemology

It is just as important to have a Christian theory of knowledge as it is to have a Christian theory of being. One cannot well have the one without at the same time also having the other. Modern thought is largely preoccupied with the theory of knowledge. As Christians we shall therefore find it necessary to set the Christian theory of knowledge over against the modern form of the non-Christian theory of knowledge. Even so we shall have to make it plain that our theory of knowledge is what it is because our theory of being is what it is. As Christians we cannot ask how we know without at the same time asking what we know.

. . . . . . . . . .

If the being of God is what, on the basis of Scripture testimony, we have found it to be, it follows that our knowledge will be true knowledge only to the extent that it corresponds to his knowledge. To say that we do not need to ask about the nature of reality when we ask about the nature of knowledge is not to be neutral but is in effect to exclude the Christian answer to the question of knowledge.

That Singer [a University of PA philosophy prof.] has in effect excluded from the outset the Christian answer to the question of knowledge appears from the fact that in his search for an answer to this question he affirms that we must go to as many as possible of those reputed to have knowledge (p. 5). The notion of going to One whose opinion may be more valuable than the opinion of others is not even considered. In paradise, Eve went to as many as possible of those who were reputed to have knowledge. God and Satan both had a reputation for knowledge. Apparently God did not think well of Satan’s knowledge and Satan did not think well of God’s knowledge, but each thought well of his own knowledge. So Eve had to weigh these reputations. It was for her a question as to, How do we know?

The problem that Eve faced was a difficult one. God told her that she would surely die if she ate of the forbidden tree. Numerically there was only one in favor of one  and only one in favor of the opposite point of view. Thus she could not settle this matter of reputation by numbers. She herself had to decide this matter of reputation by a motion and a vote. God claimed that he was the Creator. He claimed that his being was ultimate while Satan’s being was created and therefore dependent on God’s being. Satan said in effect that she should pay no attention to this problem of being. He told her that she should decide the question, How do we know? without asking the questions, What do we know? He said she should be neutral with respect to his interpretation and God’s interpretation of what would take place if she ate of the forbidden tree. Eve did ignore the question of being in answering the question of knowledge. She said she would gather the opinions of as many as she could find with a reputation for having knowledge and then give the various view presented a fair hearing.

We should observe that in doing what she did Eve did not really avoid the question of What do we know? She gave by implication a very definite answer to that question. She made a negation with respect to God’s being. She denied God’s being as ultimate being. She affirmed therewith in effect that all being is essentially on one level?

At the same time she also gave a very definite answer to the question How do we know? She said we know independently of God. She said that God’s authority was to be tested by herself. Thus she came to take the place of ultimate authority. She was no doubt going to test God’s authority by experience and reflection upon experience. Yet it would be she, herself, who should be the final authority.

Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 4th ed, 55-58.

Calvin on the Fall

Let no one grumble here that God could have provided better for our salvation if he had forestalled Adam’s fall. Pious minds ought to loathe this objection, because it manifests inordinate curiosity. Furthermore, the matter has to do with the secret of predestination, which will be discussed later in its proper place [3.21-24]. Let us accordingly remember to impute our ruin to depravity of nature, in order that we may not accuse God himself, the Author of nature. True, this deadly wound clings to nature, but it is a very important question whether the would has been inflicted from outside or has been present from the beginning. Yet it is evident that the would was inflicted through sin. We have therefore no reason to complain except against ourselves. Scripture has diligently noted this fact. For Ecclesiastes says: “This I know, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices.” [Ch. 7:29.] Obviously, man’s ruin is to be ascribed to man alone; for he, having acquired righteousness by God’s kindness, has by his own folly sunk into vanity.

Institutes, 2.1.10

Calvin on Original Sin

For, since it is said that we became subject to God’s judgement through Adam’s sin, we are to understand it not as if we, guiltless and undeserving, bore the guilt of his offense but in the sense that, since we through his transgression have become entangled in the curse, he is said to have made us guilty. Yet not only has punishment fallen upon us from Adam, but a contagion imparted by him resides in us, which justly deserves punishment.

Institutes, 2.1.8

AP Definition of Fundamentalism

The Associated Press Stylebook has a decent working definition of Fundamentalism (even if most reporters don’t heed it):

fundamentalist The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians. In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.