Friday, April 30, 2010

Covenant and Election (More from Jean)

Further to my post a couple of days ago, here is another extract from Hoekema's article in CTJ:
The distinction between covenant membership and particular election is explicitly stated in the following words:
But that the general election [generalis electio] of a people is not always firm and stedfast, a reason readily offers itself: because to those with whom God makes a covenant God does not invariably (Hoekema's trans. of protinus) give the spirit of regeneration by virtue of which they would persevere in the covenant even to the end; but the outward change [externa mutatio] without the interior efficacy of grace which might have availed to keep them is a kind of middle way [medium quiddam] between the rejection of mankind and the election of a small number of the godly.
Here Calvin clearly teaches that the adoption of people into the covenant of grace does not mean that each covenant member will invariably be saved. Rather he calls the covenant here a kind of middle way (medium quiddam) between the rejection of mankind and the election of some. You could say that covenant membership is here pictured as a circle wider than particular election, but narrower than mankind as a whole.
[A A Hoekema, 'The Covenant of Grace in Calvin's Teaching', CTJ 2/2 (1967)]
Perhaps a couple of points. First, this is essentially the understanding of covenant found in Shepherd, which I referred to earlier, and definitely that found in Marcel, whose work on baptism was so influential in my finally adopting a presbyterian theology. This understanding of covenant is to a large degree my understanding, and resolves the difficulty that some presbyterians still seem to have in delineating the doctrine of baptism. Secondly, Calvin's distinction between general and particular election does raise again in my mind Paul's use of eklegomai in Ephesians 1:4. I have posted before on Paul's use of pronouns in Ephesians 1 and 2 and must confess that it seems at least possible to me that in 1:4 Paul is writing of the choice of the nation of Israel. That point, however, is likely to be more controversial!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tom Wright back to Academia

I read with some surprise on the Times Mobile site last night that Tom Wright is resigning from his post as Bishop of Durham to return to academia at St Andrews. Although a loss to the diocese, this must be good for those awaiting the final volumes of NT's magnum opus and further popular volumes from Tom. Anyway, here's a link to read.

Covenant and Election

The current Reformed Theology module has given a chance to read more on the above subject, on which I've posted before, and also before that. Here is a quote from A A Hoekema, tracing the idea that the covenant of grace is a wider category than election back to Calvin himself.
As is well known, certain Reformed theologians have insisted that, strictly speaking, membership in the covenant of grace is identical with membership in the circle of the particular elect— in other words, that only the elect in this particular sense are members of the covenant of grace. This position was held, among others, by Abraham Kuyper in the Netherlands and, more recently, by Herman Hoeksema in this country. It has even been contended by proponents of this view that the conception of the covenant just described was the only one which was genuinely Reformed. I propose to show, however, that this view of the covenant of grace is not the one we find in Calvin.
In Book III of the Institutes, Chapter 21, sections 5 to 7, Calvin makes clear that he does not identify membership in the covenant of grace with particular election. (With the exception of two paragraphs, the material found in these three sections was added in the 1559 edition; it therefore represents Calvin's mature theological thought.) In III, 21, 5 Calvin asserts that God's choice of Abraham and his posterity was an example of his gracious election. He means here, not election in the usual theological sense, as referring to individuals chosen from eternity to be saved, but election in a wider sense, as the choice of a nation to be the recipient of God's special revelation and the object of his special care. In section 6, however, Calvin introduces a distinction into his conception of election:
"We must now add a second, more limited degree [gradus restrictior] of election, or one in which God's more special grace [gratia magis specialis] was evident, that is, when from the same race of Abraham God rejected some but showed that he kept others among his sons by cherishing them in the church."
The "more limited degree of election" must mean what we have previously identified as particular election.

[A A Hoekema, 'The Covenant of Grace in Calvin's Teaching', CTJ 2/2 (1967)]

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Natural Evil

I've recently been grappling with the Problem of Evil for an essay for the Reformed Apologetics course. Most theodicies or defences discriminate between moral evil and natural evil. For example, the Free Will Defence of Plantinga focusses on moral evil, but also addresses natural evil. Plantinga's proposal that natural evil is also a consequence of the actions of non-human free moral agents seems to me a little bizarre. A more fundamental question is: is natural evil actually evil? I'm sure that a nuanced answer is required, but my own view is that things that are often labelled as 'evils' are not in fact evil. Here's Henri Blocher on sin being the worst evil, the foremost evil, the essence of evil, the thing that makes humanity susceptible to all other evils:

Of course, this proposition appears exaggerated or strained to some: was it not God who created viruses and volcanoes? Did not the law of the jungle shed blood for thousands of centuries before the human race appeared on the scene? These objections are not insuperable. In his original, sinless and flawless state, mankind was bursting with health, so that viruses and other pathogens, which are all the more dangerous when an organism is weakened, caused him no harm whatsoever. He no doubt had intuitive wisdom and such finely tuned premonitory senses - far sharper than those of the most amazing of today's animals - that volcanic eruptions were incapable of causing him any danger. As for the manifestations of violence in the animal kingdom which shocked Wilfred Monod so profoundly, it is debatable whether they can be considered as evil...

The idea that before mankind's creation Satan might have caused the transformation of peaceful, loving animals into parasites and predators, or even that the fall in Eden was its cause, finds no support in the Scriptures; the speeches in the book of Job (38:39ff.; 39:29f.; 40:25ff.) and Psalm 104 (vv. 21 and 27f.) reveal in the behaviour of the carnivores the wisdom of God the Creator. This wisdom gives us a sense of wonder indeed, when science unfolds the intricate ordering and complex control of various ecosystems. Pain undergoes a radical change of category, depending whether there is or is not a reflecting consciousness that is able to relate sensations and experiences to a personal centre ('I'). Where there is to be found a similar consciousness, suffering certainly seems evil - that is, in human beings; but you cannot draw the hasty conclusion that it is the same in the case of animals. Evil and the Cross, 58-59.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

He has Risen!

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him.

Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.

Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them,

"Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘ He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’ "

They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?

At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice,

which is translated, MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME? When some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, "Behold, He is calling for Elijah." Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, " Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down."

And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.