Answering Some Deep Questions About Reformed Theology and Philosophy – The Garrett Ashley Mullet Show
A friend of a friend asks you if the following statements are true according to your beliefs, and has several other questions about Reformed theology and philosophy. Your friend reaches out to you, and you write out some (hopefully) helpful notes for how you would answer the questions posed by a highly educated, intelligent, and earnest asker.
God’s Love and Our Good Works
For starters, your friend’s friend asks if the following statement is true according to your beliefs: ‘God does not love you because you do good works, but rather, that you do good works because God bestows that gift to you.’
The short answer you give them is ‘Yes,’ and that is well. But the longer answer is found in passages like John 14:15 and 1 John 4:19.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
“We love because He first loved us.”
Reformed, Protestant, Catholic
Your friend of a friend continues on, asking you to define generally the concept of your Reformed Church as it relates to the general Protestant Church as a whole, and whether your church is a subset of the general Protestant Church.
Here again, the short answer is ‘Yes.’ And the longer answer is that the concept of the Reformed Church is that it actually relates to the Catholic Church in the traditional sense of the “Catholic Church” being the Universal Church, or Christ’s Church.
The Reformed Church was, and remains, one among several concerted efforts to call what we typically refer to now as the Roman Catholic Church to repentance and revival along the lines of the Biblical text as our only infallible source of truth for Christian life and doctrine.
That said, God alone knows perfectly all the names which are written in The Book of Life, and these alone ultimately are those who actually comprise the Church proper and for all eternity, who will rule and reign forever with Christ in eternity future by God’s grace.
It is important to note that the object of our saving faith strictly speaking is not this or that tradition or church itself, nor can it be. Rather, our faith is in Christ, whose atoning sacrifice restores us to a right relationship with the Father, and God’s grace through faith alone grants us access to eternal life.
Preordination and Predestination
But this friend of a friend has still more questions, and now asks whether the word “preordained” describes the concept of being chosen by God at birth.
And to that you must say that both “preordained” and “predestined” refer to the mysterious concepts spoken of in passages like Romans 8:29-30.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
There is also Ephesians 1:3-14 to consider, which says in part:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him."
Thus the concept of being chosen by God is not merely at birth, but before the foundation of the world. Admittedly, this is a thing mysterious, and known fully by God alone. Yet if this is neglected by any sincere Christians of good faith through the past two millennia, that is to our peril, since it is Scripture, and not just conjecture and sophistry.
Covenantal Theology and God’s Chosen People
Your friend’s friend next asks whether this is similar to the covenant that the Jews say exists between the Jewish people and God.
The answer to this is in the affirmative also, with the caveats which are typical of both the Old Testament and New Testament narrative.
That is, we as Christians do not disagree with Christ, who said he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill the Law, since he is the one the Prophets and the Law were pointing to.
Jews often claim to be “the chosen people” of God, it is true. But God’s plan has always been to reconcile His chosen people from all nations to Himself.
Therefore, we can readily admit that God’s chosen people included not only the Jews, but also non-Jews – like Rahab and Ruth, for instance – whose faith was credited to them as righteousness just as the author of Hebrews writes.
Reconciling Competing Timelines of Human History
Your friend of a friend also wants to know about Adam and Eve, and whether their story should be understood as allegory.
As he says, we have two competing theories for the timeline of man’s existence on Earth – one held by Christians at about 6,000 years, and another held by positivistic science where man as Homo sapiens is between 100-200,000 thousand years old.
But who would know better than God? And where the genealogies added up give us an age for humanity from Adam and Eve to the present of perhaps 6,000 years, we should dig deeper into what unfounded assumptions and presuppositions underly the dating of Homo sapiens by the positivists.
In other words, what are their views predicated on? At root, they are predicated on the presupposition that we must explain these things without divine or special revelation – i.e., referencing the Bible.
In many places, this has turned into a mandate to try to prove the Bible wrong and ridiculous by coming up with complicated alterative theories, then interpreting all evidence according to unproven assumptions, then insisting that all the evidence fits because they say it does.
Yet we Christians should admit symbolic and poetic significance to the Genesis account while at the same time questioning why that cannot be held to at the same time as we hold to a “literal” interpretation.
In Augustine of Hippo’s unfinished commentaries on Genesis, he lists at least three possibilities – including one or the other of these two, plus also both being true simultaneously.
The Sin of Pride
Next, your friend of a friend asks you to define pride, and suggests perhaps that there are two kinds of pride.
Pride, you tell him, has to do not so much with thinking too often about ourselves. Rather, it has to do with thinking about ourselves more highly than we ought in relation first to God, thereafter and subsequently in relation to our fellow man created in God’s image.
Whereas the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, pride interferes with this by putting our own interests at odds with subordination to the Most High God to whom we belong and both by whom and for whom we were made.
But the second command which is like the first, as Jesus says – to love our neighbor as we love ourselves – and pride gets in the way here too by feeding us the lie that we need not love our neighbor as we love ourself because we are far more important than our neighbor.
Your friend’s friend is right, then, that there are two kinds of pride. The one kind is in relation to God – and this interferes with obedience to the first and greatest commandment; the second is in relation to our neighbor – and this interferes with obedience to the second greatest.
Substitute Philosophy for Religion
At the last, your friend of a friend quotes Bertrand Russell without comment, but apparently wants to know your thoughts on what the giant in contemporary thought had to say about philosophy.
“Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination, and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.”
Yet you note a kind of nihilism inherent to this by Russell, and it stands in contrast to Ecclesiastes where we read that all is vanity and a chasing after the wind, until we come to the 12th chapter, where the conclusion of the matter is this:
“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
We should want to get wisdom and knowledge, then. Yes. But all of this is meaningless except in the proper context in relation to God and man.
Being finite creatures, none of us can know perfectly and completely in the way we are fully known; only God knows fully in that way, being infinite. And this does not mean that the point is the questions themselves, as Russell concludes. Rather, we should value and esteem the humility that comes with grappling with the daunting nature of the questions of true and godly wisdom.
Our conception of what is possible must relate to what is actual in order for it to be profitable. And the closer our apprehension of the possible adheres to the actual, the more it can be said of us that we know truth and have wisdom, since that is what philosophy is – literally, the “love of wisdom.”
Yes, imagination and speculation are good insofar as they help us to arrive at truth by testing and discerning; but wherever they take us farther away from the truth, or wherever we may embrace them because we are suppressing the truth through ungodliness, we cannot say that is good.
Greatness along the lines Russell is talking is a value judgment, then. But what we should concern ourselves with is fidelity and virtue on God’s terms. And that is the highest good for the Christian.
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