Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Theodicy: noun (plural theodicies) the vindication of divine providence in view of the existence of evil.

In Dawkins vs McGrath, author Sacromone in First Things says what McGrath did not assert the sovereignty of God. After all, God is directing all of history, both good and bad things, to their appointed end. Here is a good article.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What is Reformed Theology?

Reformed Theology

God Rules -
The Sovereignty of God

God is in total and utter charge of the world. He is free and independent of every force or being outside of himself. He created, sustains, governs and directs all things. His purposes are always and totally being fulfilled in his sovereign providence, by which one day the marvelous perfect purposes he has had from the beginning, will be fully and finally completed and perfected.

That means, though we cannot always and may never fully understand what God is doing through the world as we see it- especially when we face suffering, or death, nevertheless God never allows things to go out of control. He always has the last word, and therefore can be trusted with our lives.

When God saves, he saves -
The invincibility of God's grace

There is nothing a human being can do to contribute to the incredible undeservable salvation of God. What God does in salvation is not only undeserved (we do not merit it), and unrepayable (we cannot ever become worthy of it), it is a sovereign definite act of God. That is to say, God purposes before the beginning of the world, to elect, create, call, redeem and save specific people- not by giving us a potential to respond to him in faith, but giving us a spiritual new life by which we come alive to him and the fruit of which is faith.

That means, our relationship with God is utterly dependent on Him. If he has begun a work of real faith in our lives, nothing and no-one will be able to prevent him completing it. That gives us the confidence to trust our lives to the one whose love has changed our relationship to God forever.

What God says, (the Bible), is true -
The inerrancy of Scripture

Foundational to Reformed faith is the conviction that the Word of God, the Bible is utterly true and trustworthy, infallible and inerrant. God has ensured that the right people, in the right places, at the right times, have been rightly led to write the right things, so that the Bible gives us the true and trustworthy word of God. The implication of this, is that faith (trust in God) is expressed in our obedience to the Scriptures. God has the last word, not human tradition, reason or experience, and the new Spirit-life of a Christian will confirm to us that what Scripture speaks, God speaks to us. That is in particular true in that the OT law is designed to do more than just show God's righteousness and our sinfulness to lead us to Christ, and to proclaim God's judgment on sin and so restrain evil & promote righteousness living; the law is also given to guide the obedience of our faith, not as a means of life or way to life, but as a way of life- something that reveals, informs and guides the way Christians are to approach their owns lives in their families and nations.

That mean, our only wholly reliable experience and encounter with God, will come through his Word. The way for a deeper experience of the presence and power of God, is through a greater obedience to his Word. The Bible is more than a guide for faith; it is the very Word in whose obedience our faith is truly expressed.

All our life is Christian life -
The integration of life and faith

A sovereign God has rights over every aspect of our life, and so the whole of our life is to be lived consciously before him. True worship is therefore living every moment in such a way that God is honored and will be pleased. It is not that even the best of our actions are in themselves deserving of his pleasure, but he treasures our activities which arise from and express faith, however flawed, (much as parents treasure the artwork of their children- not for their art-worthiness, but their expression of relationship). There is consequently no divide between secular and sacred aspects of life- by faith the exuberant joy of the sports field may be as much worship as the reflective praise of a Sunday congregation.

That means, that what we do in our working life or leisure time is as important to God as the so-called 'religious' activities. We are to have a distinctively God-honoring attitude to everything in which we are engaged. Christians are called to honor God in their politics, their shopping, their choice of TV programs, their sex-lives, and in each the honoring of God will be a blessing to us.

God rules non-Christians too! -
God’s kingdom over the 'secular' world

God is no less in charge of non-Christians as Christians, and he works out his sovereign purposes for the world through all of his creation. That means we are to affirm as part of the good providence of God, much that we see in so-called 'secular' people and institutions. God has not so given-over to evil those who rebel against him that his image in them is erased, so we are to identify the providential hand of God and honor him in the lives of others. In particular we recognize that God has and does work through people whose understanding of him is flawed and through institutions who are deficient in Christian truth; but where the knowledge of God is imperfect, we Endeavour to teach; where practice deviates, we rebuke, correct and encourage godliness; and where the gospel is denied or opposed, we proclaim the judgment of God and call people to repent.

That means that there can be no ghetto mentality for Christians. In all of life, we need to look out for the signs God is working, even amongst non-Christians. We are called to challenge things that are wrong, not just keeping our heads down for a quiet life; but we are also to be affirming of things that are right, even when they bear fatal deficiencies with respect to saving faith. Even as all life is worship, so all the world is God's work.

God speaks when the Bible is preached -
The priority of biblical preaching

Central to understanding the necessity for the gathering of Christians as the church is the preached Word of God. Preaching is more than just exposition and application of the Bible; it is the Spirit-given and Spirit-empowered proclamation of God to his people. For that reason preachers are to be first and foremost obedient disciples, conscious of their accountability to God, and made accountable to others called to Word-ministry, so that God's truth is proclaimed with a Spirit-given life-transforming power. Similarly the gathering of Christians is to be Word-centered in its structure and activity, so that nothing will distract or divert or mislead people in the Word of God. It is God's Word which constitutes the church, as the means of its spiritual life, the focus of its sacramental activity, the guide for its praise and prayer, and the power of its encounter with God.

That means, that sermons need to be taken on board not taken when bored. Christian gatherings are not to be judged by their style or music, but by their effectiveness in humbling us before God through his Word. Ministry is to be honored and supported because of the continual challenge and spiritual battle involved in bring challenging truth to a rebellious people and world. So a 'church' that denies God's Word, is denying that which makes it a true church.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Moral Imperative of the Week

The biblical concept of truth is that a true statement corresponds with or matches objective reality. While human knowing is corrupted by sin, knowledge of the things that matters most - divine and human - is possible.

From Douglas Groothuis

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cornelis Venema Coming to All Saints'

Are we getting the gospel right? What if we don'? Does it matter? And if we are getting it right, how do we get it out? These are some of the questions our guest speaker, Dr. Cornelis Venema will be addressing when he visits us October 12-14.

The first session will be Friday at All Saints' (corner of 8th and F in Anchorage, 907-279-3924) from 7-9 pm (babysitting available).

The second session will be Saturday at Church in the Wildwood, 16832 Hansen Drive, Eagle River (907-694-2089)

Professor of Doctrinal Studies

B.A., Dordt College, 1975
M.Div., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1978
Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary, 1985

How does God reveal Himself? What are the natures of Christ? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in sanctification? What are the scriptural principles for the organization of the church? What does the Bible teach about the millennium and the last judgment?

These are some of the questions discussed in the systematic theology courses taught by Dr. Cornelis P. Venema. The course work ranges from the foundations of theology, to extensive studies of the three persons of the Trinity, to discussion of church government, to exploration of Scriptural teaching regarding personal and general eschatology.

While studying at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1979-1981, Dr. Venema was a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Theology. He served as pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church of Ontario, California, for six years before coming to Mid-America.

Dr. Venema serves as President of the Seminary in addition to his systematic theology teaching responsibilities. He serves as an elder in his church and preaches on a regular basis. Dr. Venema also speaks and teaches in a variety of church and conference settings.

His special interest lies in Reformation theology, particularly the work of the Reformers John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger. Dr. Venema's most recent book, Heinrich Bullinger and the Doctrine of Predestination: Author of "The Other Reformed Tradition"?, reflects this interest. He is the author of several other books including But for the Grace of God: An Exposition of the Canons of Dort; What We Believe: An Exposition of the Apostles' Creed; and The Promise of the Future. Dr. Venema is a co-editor and frequent contributor to The Outlook and the Mid-America Journal of Theology.

Wisdom from Fitz

ps - This is Fitz Allison's response to an earlier article by Sarah Hey.  
Even if one never read Sarah's article, I think Fitz' response is still understandable.

Sarah Hey's critique seriously misrepresents Steve Noll's
position when she claims he advocates leaving the Anglican
Communion. The fact is that the Episcopal Church is in the
process of leaving the Anglican Communion and has already
departed in polity and doctrine. The Episcopal Church has been
given a deadline of the 30th of September to repent. A score of
Anglican Primates have already declared themselves out of or in
impaired communion with the Episcopal Church. If the Archbishop
of Canterbury sides with the Episcopal Church against the stated
policy of the Windsor Report and against a majority of the
Primates and the Dar es Salaam agreement where will Sarah stand?

If the Anglican Communion is defined simply by polity and not

by faith then she and Ephraim must follow the example of the
Jansenists in Roman Catholicism, suffer, endure and die.

Duncan and Common Cause will be an integral part of the Anglican
Communion perhaps one not centered in Canterbury and whose
Primate is not the appointment of a prime minister elected by an
aggressively secularized Western post-modern culture.

If Common Cause members were anti-Anglican Communion as she
alleges why do they go to such trouble to be under, ordained by
and part of Anglican Provinces? And why would these Provinces
accept, encourage and oversee these Communion desiring
constituents if the Communion itself was not mutually seen as a
lynch pin in their identity?

Archbishops of Canterbury have had a tradition of being dragged
out of derivative and outmoded polity commitments. Both
Canterbury and York forbade Seabury's going to Scotland.
Canterbury asked White not to include Seabury in the
consecrations, which advice White ignored. It was Canterbury
that changed regarding the necessary polity and function of
bishops. This was also true regarding missionary bishops in the
19th century when Canterbury had to respond to initiatives for
which he had no precedents (since the early church). Another
example of Canterbury's change following unprecedented
developments is George Carey's change of mind regarding AMIA.

The criticism of Common Cause partners for being against the
Communion is way off the mark. When a sizable portion of the
congregation of the Cathedral in Arkansas asked the Spong/Borg
affirming bishop to allow them to become a mission in the
Diocese they were told no, that they were exclusive in an
inclusive diocese so they had to be excluded. Believing in the
Anglican Communion, they asked to belong to an Anglican Diocese
in an Anglican Communion Province, Rwanda.

Ephraim and Sarah's position would be that such a congregation
is expendable and lost to the Anglican Communion (as well as ten
congregations in the Diocese of New Westminster, Canada.)

If they were not pro-Anglican Communion they could with much
less trouble have merely set out on their own. Sarah's
observation that there needs to be a "center other than
doctrine" for Anglicanism to flourish is correct. Any
incarnational faith must be institutionally organized but the
latter cannot flourish without Christian doctrine (faith) or it
will fly apart centrifugally, as it is now doing. Institutions
must be continually judged, amended and pruned that the faith
and doctrine not be lost. And that too is happening.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Clarity from Peter Toon: Has TEC overthrown the Foundation of Christ as the only Savior?

That September Deadline for The Episcopal Church

And how “the judicious Mr. Hooker” from yesterday may help us today.

Peter Toon

The Anglican Primates’ Meeting set a deadline of September 30 for the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church [TEC] to respond in the affirmative or negative as to whether it will abide by the recommendations of The Windsor Report (2004) on sexuality. Before this deadline, there will be a meeting of the House of Bishops, which will be addressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is desirous to bring the American Bishops into general conformity with the mind of the global Anglican Communion.

Obviously, if the House of Bishops decides by a majority vote to stay with the present position of TEC, then this will mean that TEC will probably walk apart from the global Anglican Communion in the immediate future. Already not a few provinces have declared themselves out of communion with TEC or with specific bishops and dioceses within it and so there is a division already.

If the TEC House of Bishops decides to maintain the status quo then their position will raise a matter of conscience for some members of that house, together with clergy and laity. They will have to decide whether to stay within TEC or secede from it, as have not a few of their friends done in the last few years.

What guidance can be offered to such people as they face this question of conscience?

One possible source of help is to go to the writings of Richard Hooker (d.1600), who addressed with care and erudition in 1586 a question not too different from that faced by Episcopalians today. So let us see what he had to say.

Enter Hooker

He lived at a time when the Church of England faced pressures from within and without to change radically—that is to abandon the Elizabethan Settlement of Religion of 1559. From within were the Puritans (or Anglican Presbyterians) pressing for reform of the Church of England towards the Genevan model of a Calvinistic Presbyterianism; and from without were the Pope and Spain seeking to restore Ecclesia Anglicana to the governance of the Papacy (and threatening force as came later in the Armada).

Both Hooker and the Puritans believed that the Church of Rome taught and confessed many heresies and errors, but they disagreed over whether or not this Church could be called a Church of God. This difference was the root cause of a controversy in which Hooker published a Tractate of some 20,000 words, with the title A Learned Discourse on Faith, and Works, and how the Foundation of Faith is overthrown. >From the content of this Tractate we can discern what Hooker believed about the Church of Rome and whether or not it was right to secede from it. Here in summary form are the positions Hooker expounded and in them is the basis for guidance for present-day Episcopalians:

The Church of Rome publicly teaches many heresies and errors which do great harm to souls. These vary from extraordinary claims about the Pope and the Eucharist to false teaching about how a sinner is justified by God the Father through Jesus Christ.

  1. However, the same Church does maintain the true foundation of the visible Church of God—i.e., that Jesus Christ is the one and only Saviour of mankind, and the one and only Mediator between God and man.
  2. Some of the heresies and errors of Rome do by logical deduction and inference indirectly overthrow the foundation of this same Church. Yet they do not directly overthrow it. (The distinction between directly and indirectly is assumed by Hooker to be an important distinction.)
  3. By the mercy and providence of God alone, it is possible to be saved everlastingly while a member of the Church of Rome, despite the presence of heresies and errors.
  4. The safest and surest way to obtain salvation and be a faithful child of God is to depart from the Church of Rome and be a member of a Reformed Catholic Church where the pure Gospel is proclaimed and where heresies and errors of Rome do not exist.

Unlike the Puritans, Hooker was not prepared to say that the Church of Rome was totally engulfed in infidelity and fully gone into apostasy. But he did believe that the body of this Church hung on to Christ by a very thin and tiny thread! It was a visible Church of God that like Israel of old which often departed from the Lord its God.

So Hooker addresses Episcopalians today from across the centuries, but within the communion of the saints, with these questions as they ponder what they ought to do on or after September 30:

A. Is TEC still a visible Christian Church in the sense that the fact of Jesus Christ as the one and only Saviour is clearly and unambiguously affirmed by her?

B. Assuming that TEC is truly a visible Church of God (even if united to Christ the head by a thin thread) does She teach and propagate such heresies and errors as directly overthrow this foundation of Christ the only Saviour?

With respect to A, it can be claimed on the basis of her constitution that TEC is committed to the Creeds and thereby holds on to Christ the only Saviour. Yet on the basis of many weekly sermons this claim could be challenged.

With respect to B, it can be argued that despite the Creeds, there is also widespread acceptance of universalism (“all will be saved in the end and there is no hell”) by the leadership of the Church, as well as the claim that all religions sincerely practiced lead to God. But do they contradict the Foundation indirectly or directly? Then there is the acceptance of new sexual ethics and practice which again has to be evaluated as to whether it represents an indirect or a direct overthrowing of the foundation!

So Hooker would say, I thin, that the first thing to get clear is whether or not TEC actually and really maintains the true and living Foundation. Then the second thing to work out—if indeed the Foundation is apparently maintained—whether any of the TEC heresies and errors in worship, doctrine, morality and discipline actually overthrow the Foundation directly? If the answer to the latter is yes then secession is morally required immediately! However, if any overthrowing is not direct but by implication and thus indirectly then secession becomes more a question of prudential judgment, than of a distinct moral duty.

[Please note that the Preservation Press of the PBS of the USA will publish in September 07 this Tractate of Hooker’s under the title On Salvation and the Church of Rome, and in a contemporary form of English, in order to help the reader quickly receive Hooker’s teaching and not have to labor over his complex original style. Send $7.50 to The Prayer Book Society, P O Box 35220, Phildelphia, PA. 19128-0220.]

Friday, August 17, 2007

Evangelical, Catholic, Reformed and Protestant

From Gervase Duffield:

"The faith of the Church of England, then is Evangelical because it proclaims the Gospel, Catholic because it is in accord with apostolic doctrine, Reformed both because it partook of the rediscovery of biblical truth at the Reformation, and also because Anglicans are more nearly aligned with the Reformati than with the Lutherans, and Protestant because it affirms publicly and solemnly the absolute supremacy and finality of the Bible over tradition and all church teaching. Such a faith is set forth in the Thirty-Nine Articles.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I'm Concerned - James 3.1

James 3:1 (ESV)
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

The first time I read this verse was after I told a friend I was going to seminary. He sent me a note which included this verse. I thought that was a very strange thing to do! However, I'm glad he did. It made me think; and it still makes me think, years later. What a privilege, and what a responsibility to those of us who are pastor-teachers.

All this came to mind as I was just looking on our diocesan web page at pictures of all the recent ordinands. I wonder if they know that they are committing themselves to a life of teaching!