Zombie Depravity

Sin, after all, is lawlessness. The state in which humans are born either corresponds to God’s law or deviates from it; it is good or evil, sinful or not sinful. There is no third category. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics III, p. 91.)

One of the “great debates” in Christian theology is over the nature of man’s sinfulness. I call it great because while not continual throughout history, it continually resurfaces. I call it great not because it is valuable, but because it is essential. As Calvin wrote at the beginning of his Institutes,

“We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him” (I.1).

We cannot begin to know God rightly if we have not begun to know ourselves rightly.

The core of the debate is an answer to the simple question, “Is the unconverted sinner spiritually dead.” At one end of the spectrum are those who simply answer “no.” Man is born into the world in the same condition as Adam, completely able to choose the good and forsake the evil. At the other end of the debate are those who answer, “yes.” Man is born in a state of deadness and is able to do nothing to lift himself up to God. Occupying the vast middle are those—a la Miracle Max in The Princess Bride—who assert that man is only mostly dead, or partially dead. Sin has afflicted man, warped him, inhibited him, but he still has the strength and ability to overcome it on his own power and come to God.

What does the Bible say?

The teaching of Jesus concerning the new birth seems to assume it. Jesus told Nicodemus that man must be “born again,” or born from above. Jesus strengthened this metaphor by saying it “must” happen. The statement that man must be born again seems to correspond with the teaching that man is spiritually dead. In line with this would be Peter’s 2 references to being born again (1 Peter 1:3, 23); and Paul’s statements regarding new life (2 Cor. 3:6) and new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

Even more clear is the teaching of Jesus in John 5:21-24:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

The one who believes has new life, not just an improved life. He has not passed from good to better. He has not passed from sick to well. He has passed from death to life. So it comes as no surprise to hear Jesus teach at the conclusion of the parable of the Prodigal Son, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:24,32).

Apparently the apostle John was paying attention to this teaching for he repeated it in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” The state of spiritual deadness is not so much taught as it is assumed. John takes it for granted that his readers accept the fact that the state of those who do not believe is “death.” Those who do not love the brothers demonstrate their continued life of death.

Paul weighs in on the subject in Ephesians 2:1-5:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved…

So, to paraphrase the quote at the beginning just a bit, man is either dead or he is not. God either gives “new” life or he does not.

There is no third category.

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Herman Bavinck on Total Depravity…But God

For the next time you think you aren’t that bad:

It is the human heart that is corrupt (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Ps. 14:1; Jer. 17:9; Ezek. 36:26; Matt. 15:19); from it flow the springs of life (Prov. 4:23). It is from the human heart that all iniquities and all sorts of incomprehension flow (Mark 7:21).

The mind of humans is darkened (Job. 21:14; Isa. 1:3; Jer. 4:22; John 1:5; Rom. 1:21-22; 1 Cor. 1:18-23; 2:14; Eph. 4:18; 5:8).

The human soul is guilty and impure and needs atonement and repentance (Lev. 17:11; Ps/ 19:7; 41:4; Prov. 19:3, 16; Matt. 16:26; 1 Pet. 1:22).

The human spirit is proud, errant, and polluted and therefore has to be broken, illumined, and cleansed (Ps. 51:19; Prov. 16:18, 32; Eccles. 7:9; Isa. 57:15; 66:2; 1 Cor. 7:34; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 5:23).

The human conscience is stained and needs cleansing (Titus 1:5; Heb. 9:9, 14; 10:22).

The human desire, inclination, and will reach out to what is forbidden and is powerless to do good (Jer. 13:23; John 8:34, 36; Rom. 6:17; 8:7; 2 Cor. 3:5).

And the body, with all its members—the eyes (Deut. 29:4; Ps. 18:27; Isa. 35:5; 42:7; 2 Pet. 2:14; 1 John 2:16), the ears (Deut. 29:4; Ps. 115:6; 135:17; Isa. 6:10; Jer. 5:21; Zech. 7:11), the feet (Ps. 38:16; Prov. 1:16; 4:27; 6:18; Isa. 59:7; Rom. 3:15), the mouth and the tongue (Job. 27:4; Ps. 12:3-4; 15:3; 17:10; Jer. 9:3, 5; Rom. 3:14; James 3:5-8)— is in the service of unrighteousness. In a word: sin is not located on and around humans but within them and extends to the whole person and the whole of humankind. (Reformed Dogmatics, III p. 80-81)

And for the next time you think you are without hope:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1Cor. 1:27-31)

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:6-8)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4-7)

But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2Tim. 2:19)

God does not offer band-aid salvation. The depths of God’s mercy are only plumbed when the depths of your depravity are realized.

Is the Structure of the government of America biblical?

In a word, “no.”

The government of the universe is not democratic, not aristocratic, not republican, not constitutional, but monarchial. To God belongs the undivided legislative, judicial, and executive power. His sovereignty is original, eternal, unlimited, abundant in blessing. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 19:6).
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics II, p. 616.

Now that is not to say that the government of the U.S. is unbiblical. To the extent that the government punishes wickedness and fosters righteousness; to the extent that it protects its citizens; to the extent that it promotes justice, kindness, and humility; to the extent that it does not interfere with Scriptural obedience to God and his word; the government of America is biblical. But all of this applies to the government of China and England just as well.

God has only ever chartered one political nation- and it was a monarchy. God only has one people who will inherit the earth- and it will be a monarchy. God does not rule by popularity, consensus, or compromise. Psalm 2:6, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

Herman Bavinck: The Earth is still at the center of the Universe

In his discussion on the six days of creation, Herman Bavinck concludes with wonderful devotional thoughts on the centrality of earth in the universe:

But we must state the matter sill stronger: even if, in an astronomic sense, the earth is no longer central to us, it is definitely still central in a religious and ethical sense, and thus it remains central to all people without distinction, and there is not a thing science can do to change that. Here the kingdom of God has been established; here the struggle between light and darkness is being waged; here, in the church, God is preparing for himself an eternal dwelling.

The self-loathing of atheistic scientists is perplexing to me. Biologists want us to believe that man is nothing more than monkey 2.0 and astronomers are eager to find intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Why? Because neither can allow the idea that man is unique. Neither can allow for the idea that this planet does have a purpose. Because if man and this planet have purpose, Someone must have granted it. Man cannot be special because the Bible cannot be true because God cannot exist. So we are evolved primates, hoping there are other evolved life forms out there somewhere.

How gloriously humbling is the teaching of Scripture! Man is the image of God and God is restoring that image in and through the kingdom of his dear Son. Until then, “the whole creation” groans. Even if this planet is not at the center of the universe, it is central to God’s design.

Did the Early Church believe in Evolution or Creation?

…listen to the words I am about to say to you. God, who dwells in the heavens and created out of nothing the things that are, and increased and multiplied them for the sake of his holy church… (The Shepherd of Hermas, I.1)

What would be remarkable if God made the world out of preexistent matter? Even a human artisan, when he obtains material from someone, makes whatever he wishes out of it. Bur the power of God is revealed by his making whatever he wishes out of the nonexistent, just as the ability to give life and motion belongs to no one but God alone. For a man makes an image but cannot give reason or breath or sensation to what he makes, while God has this power greater than his: the ability to make a being that is rational, breathing, and capable of sensation. As in all these instances God is more powerful than man, so he is in his making and having made the existent out of the non-existent’ he made whatever he wished in whatever way he wished. (Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycum, II.4)

…God, according to His pleasure, in the exercise of His own will and power, formed all things (so that those things which now are should have an existence) out of what did not previously exist. . . They do not believe that God (being powerful, and rich in all resources) created matter itself, inasmuch as they know not how much a spiritual and divine essence can accomplish. . . . While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point pre-eminently superior to men, that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, II, 10)

Now, with regard to this rule of faith – that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend – it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word… (Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics, XIII)

I am fully aware that the contrarian might come along and dispute that these quotes only speak of the initial creation of matter and do not necessarily preclude God using an evolutionary process to guide the progress of creation. They focus on pixels only to ignore the picture.

Theistic evolutionists- whether they hold to the day-age theory, gap theory, literary framework view etc.- wish to impress us with scholarly credentials and argument; the need for cultural relevance; a desire to harmonize, reconcile, correlate science and Scripture. For all of this, they miss the big picture of Scripture:

Elohim is not presented in Genesis 1 as a cosmic sculptor who, in human fashion, with preexisting material, produces a work of art, but as One who merely by speaking, by uttering a word of power, calls all things into being. And with that view the whole of Scripture chimes in. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, p. 417)

You do not have to be a narrow-minded, literalistic, simpleton to read the Bible and come away with the impression that God instantaneously created all things out of nothing by his powerful word. In fact, you have to fight against the Scripture to come away with any other impression.

Herman Bavinck on the Apalling Reality of Calvinism

The difference between Augustine and Pelagius, Calvin or Castellio, Gomarus and Arminius, is not that the latter were that much more gentle, loving, and tenderhearted than the former. On the contrary, it arises from the fact that the former accepted Scripture in its entirety, also including this doctrine [of reprobation]; that they were and always wanted to be theistic and recognize the will and hand of the Lord also in these disturbing facts of life; that they were not afraid to look reality in the eye even when it was appalling. Pelagianism scatters flowers over graves, turns death into an angel, regards sin as mere weakness, lectures on the uses of adversity, and considers this the best possible world. Calvinism has no use for such drivel. It refuses to be hoodwinked. It tolerates no such delusion, takes full account of the seriousness of life, champions the rights of the Lord of lords, and humbly bows in adoration before the inexplicable sovereign will of God Almighty. As a result it proves to be fundamentally more merciful than Pelagianism. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, p. 394)

Two of the names Bavinck mentioned were unfamiliar to me. Here is what I found about them:

Sebastian Castellio– Castellio worked under Calvin in Geneva for several years. Castellio opposed the execution of heretics and wrote a work endorsing the freedom of conscience, limited government, and separation of church and state. From the little I have been able to find out about him, I find Bavinck’s reference a bit curious.

Francis Gomarus– Today we speak of Calvinism and Arminianism in a way that leads some to think John Calvin and James Arminius opposed each other. Such was not the case. Calvin died when Arminius was 4 years old- so the two obviously never met. It was actually Gomarus who opposed Arminius and the teaching that man cooperated with God in his salvation. It was the controversy between Gomarus and Arminius that led to the Synod of Dort in 1618 and the classic statement of the “5 points of Calvinism”— nearly 55 years after Calvin’s death.

Something to keep in mind while reading Hebrews from Herman Bavinck

People can only know whether they are predestined from their having persevered to the end. God has included in the membership of the church some people who are not elect and do not persevere in order that the predestined should not be proud and seek out a false peace.
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, v. II, p. 351

The book of Hebrews is noted for having multiple warnings against falling away from the faith. While the above quote does not come from a discussion about the book of Hebrews, I believe it is a helpful guideline for those who might struggle with some of the difficult passages the book contains.

The Bible speaks very clearly about the eternal security of the believer. It warns just as clearly about the danger of falling away. Bavinck’s statement does a good job of reconciling those two strands of data.

How To Know and Understand the Trinity

Finally, then, it seems best to me to let the images and the shadows go, as being deceitful and very far short of the truth; and clinging myself to the more reverent conception, and resting upon few words, using the guidance of the Holy Ghost, keeping to the end as my genuine comrade and companion the enlightenment which I have received from him, and passing through this world to persuade all others also to the best of my power to worship Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the one Godhead and power. To him belongs all glory and honor and might forever. Amen. (Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Orations, V.33).

A thing may be reasonably proved either by going to the root of the matter and producing a cogent demonstration…or by accepting it and then showing the consequences of the evidence…
The first method of proof is serviceable in dealing with such truths as God’s unity. But the second must be adopted when we would show forth the truth of the Blessed Trinity. We start with acceptance, and then afterwards mat give recommending reasons, not that they sufficiently demonstrate the mystery. (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia.xxxii. 1)

Now over against all those who want to base the doctrine of the Trinity on rational grounds, we must undoubtedly maintain that we owe our knowledge of this doctrine solely to God’s special revelation. Scripture alone is the final ground for the doctrine of the Trinity. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, 329).

The doctrine of the Trinity is presuppositional. That is to say, one cannot demonstrate the necessity or veracity of the doctrine from reason alone. Not only is it a supernatural dogma, it is a supra-natural doctrine, and as such can only be understood as it is supernaturally revealed by God in Scripture.

Gregory, Aquinas, and Bavinck all are saying the same thing: the Trinity is only first and compellingly known through Scripture. Though there are countless analogies, there are none that are adequate. As Gregory writes in the statement immediately preceding the above quote, “In a word, there is nothing which presents a standing point to my mind in these illustrations from which to consider the object which I am trying to represent to myself, unless one may indulgently accept one point of the image while rejecting the rest.” If there were a perfect analogy for the Trinity, the Trinity would not be perfectly unique. The Trinity would not be God.

To know what God wishes you to know about the Trinity, you need not plumb the depths of metaphysics, philosophy, mysticism, etc. God has revealed what you need to know about the Trinity in Scripture. You will never comprehend the Trinity: just as you will never comprehend the Father, or the Son, or the Spirit. But you will apprehend all God wishes you to know by studying the revelation of the Trinity in Scripture. While every text that says something about any of the Persons reveals something about the Trinity, there are multitudes of texts that speak of the Three. Search these texts out. Study them. Acquaint now thyself with God and be at peace.

Bavinck v. Kuyper? Paging Ron Gleason, Richard Gaffin, et al

In conjunction with reading Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, I am reading Ron Gleason’s biography of Bavinck: Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian. I think it has been helpful so far and will continue to be so. During my last reading of Gleason, however, I was surprised at the content of footnote 15 on pgs. 230-231.

In the footnote, Gleason alludes to differences between Bavinck and Abraham Kuyper. He cites Richard Gaffin to mention Abraham Kuyper’s rejection of biblical theology in name and concept. Gleason then writes, “Bavinck, on the other hand not only rejected Kuyper’s Neo-Kantian tendencies but Kuyper’s disdain for biblical theology.” Such a statement is surprising to me because in volume one of RD Bavink writes,

But such a conception of “biblical theology,” besides being practically impossible, is also theoretically incorrect. Scripture is not a legal document, the articles of which only need to be looked up for a person to find out what is in view in a given case. It is composed of many books written by various authors, dating back to different times and divergent in content. It is a living whole, not abstract but organic. It nowhere contains a sketch of the doctrine of faith; this is something that has to be drawn from the entire organism of Scripture.

Now I have no reason to believe that Ron Gleason, Richard Gaffin, or any Bavinck scholar frequents my blog. But if someone with greater knowledge on this matter than I posses stumbles across this post, I would be interested in hearing more. It seems to me that Bavinck shares Kuyper’s disdain for biblical theology. Am I missing something in RD? Or did Bavinck write something to the contrary somewhere else?

Bavinck on the Omnipresence of God and if God is always present why is he sometimes far away?

He is not “somewhere,” yet he fills heaven and earth. He is not spread throughout space, like light and air, but is present with his whole being in all places. . . . There is no place or space that contains him; hence, instead of saying that he is in all things, it would be better to say that all things are in him. Yet this is not to be understood to mean that he is the space in which all things are located, for he is not a place. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II.4)

In his discussion about the omnipresence of God, Bavinck offers a good reminder: a caution to help guide out thinking. God’s omnipresence is not just a function of his bigness. God is not everywhere simply because he is bigger than all things.

For a good portion of the day the sun shines on both Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon. Yet while the sun is shining in both places at the same time, it is never present equally and simultaneously in both places. God’s presence is not like this. God is everywhere, and he is wholly everywhere.

But Bavinck is honest with the evidence and with our own experience. While God is present everywhere, his presence is multi-form and variously manifested. Was God not in the wilderness before he indwelt the tabernacle? Had he been absent from Jerusalem before Solomon’s dedicatory prayer of the temple? Did Ezekiel really see God leave Jerusalem and leave it void of his presence until an itinerant teacher from Galilee entered its courts to cleanse it? So Bavinck is right to go on to say, “…in another sense God is present in his creatures in different ways. There is a difference between his physical and his ethical immanence. To suggest an analogy: people too, may be physically very close to each other, yet miles apart in spirit and outlook.”

So what explains this experience? If God is present everywhere, why are there times he seems close and others when he seems far? The second century Greek apologist Theophilus provides an answer:

All men have eyes, but some have eyes which are hooded by cataracts and do not see the the light of the sun. Just because the blind do not see, however, the light of the sun does not fail to shine; the blind must blame themselves and their eyes. So you also, O man, have cataracts over the eyes of your soul because of your sins and wicked deeds.

Just as a man must keep a mirror polished, so he must keep his soul pure. When there is rust on a mirror, a man’s face cannot be seen in it; so also when there is sin in a man, such a man cannot see God. So show yourself to me. Are you not an adulterer? a fornicator? a thief? a swindler? a robber? a [sodomite]? insolent? a reviler? quick-tempered? envious? a braggart? disdainful? a bully? avaricious? disobedient to parents? one who sells his children? God does not become visible to those who do such things unless they first cleanse themselves from all defilement.

All this brings darkness upon you, just as when a flux of matter comes over the eyes and they cannot see the light of the sun. So also, O man, your ungodliness brings darkness upon you and you cannot see God. (Ad Autolycum, I.2, Trans. Robert M. Grant)

A fitting commentary on Isaiah’s declaration in Isaiah 59:1-2, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” God is everywhere, but he does not dwell with sinners. Light has no communion with darkness. Therefore James counsels, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10).

When you want to do something bad, you withdraw from the public and hide in your house where no enemy may see you; from those parts of the house that are open and visible you remove yourself to go into your own private room. But even here in your private chamber you fear guilt from some other direction, so you withdraw into your heart and there you meditate. But he is even more deeply inward than your heart. Hence, no matter where you flee, he is there. You would flee from yourself, would you? Will you not follow yourself wherever you flee? But since there is One even more deeply inward than yourself, there is no place where you may flee from an angered God except a God who is pacified. There is absolutely no place for you to flee to. Do you want to flee from him? Rather flee to him. (Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms)

“There is no place where you may flee from an angered God except a God who is pacified.” Ponder this simply amazing truth. The only refuge you have from the fierce wrath of God against you and your sin is the fierce justice of God offered to you in Christ and his righteousness. Do not flee God. Do not push him away. He is the only one that can save you from his consuming anger. The mercy that is in Christ is greater than the sin that is in you.

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?