The Inherent Weakness of Reformed Theology

Christopher Cone is incisive in his critique of Reformed Thought. Cone has earned three doctorates and is a great communicator. While I do not hold to his Dispensationalism, I do affirm Pre-Millenialism which was held by the Primitive Church. I, along with Cone, hold that authority is found in the Bible alone instead of the church development (“historic theology” in the article) of the Reformation and Roman Catholic Church of which Reformed Theology wants to find connection. God does build His Church but this is apart of any organizational or institutional inputs. Here I refer to the statement of Jesus in Mt. 16.17b-18a: “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven!  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” The antecedent to “rock” is the revelation from the Father which Peter received and not Peter himself.

The Roman Catholic position on this verse is that there is a word play in the Aramaic that Jesus was speaking. They claim that Peter (petros) becomes the rock (Petra), and so a human institutionalism is created, with the church built on Peter (and his successors). So the Roman Church says that grace is dispensed from their institution instead of the risen Christ of which the scriptures affirm. This is an argument from silence as the text, which is inspired (see 2Tim.3.16, 2Pet.1.21) was recorded in Koine Greek. No, the entire scriptures affirm salvation is from God alone now mediated by Christ alone and apart from any institutional agency. Reformed Theology want to merely reform Roman Catholicism instead of finding authority solely in God and His word.

Two Deficiencies of Reformed Epistemology:  A Brief Commendation and Critique of Cornelius Van Til’s Epistemology

Here is why I argue that reformed epistemology isn’t sufficient on its own, and that dispensational epistemology must be distinct from it:Cornelius Van Til is brilliant on what I would call the first three pillars of Biblical epistemology (#1: Biblical God exists, #2: He has revealed himself authoritatively, #3: Natural man’s incapacity to receive), but his epistemology falls short in that he does not account for hermeneutics (Pillar #4) within his epistemology. In fact, in his Th.M thesis, “Reformed Epistemology,” he never once even discusses Biblical interpretation. Much of his critique of other thinkers, like Kant, includes considerable discussion of their deficiencies in the interpretation of experience, but not a word about interpretation of Scripture. Not one. How can Van Til build such an outstanding foundational framework on special revelation and then totally ignore the centrality of hermeneutic method for understanding that revelation?

VanTil-teachingYou see, it all has to do with where one places hermeneutics: I consider Biblical hermeneutics as an absolutely necessary component of epistemology. Hermeneutics falls within the realm of epistemology. Van Til does not seem to share that conviction, even though he critiques the hermeneutics of others’ bases of authority (i.e., experience) within an epistemological context.

Still, while not considering hermeneutics an integral part of epistemology, he does give hermeneutics attention elsewhere. In his The New Hermeneutic, for example, Van Til concludes, with these words, “…we would appeal to the Cahier’s men, to Wiersinga and to others, to build their hermeneutical procedures on the theology of Calvin, Kuyper, Bavinck, etc., (emphasis mine) and then in terms of it to challenge all men to repentance and faith in the self-identifying Christ of Scripture instead of making compromise with unbelief” (pp. 180). Notice his prescribed hermeneutical procedures are grounded in historical theology, rather than literal grammatical-historical. In short, Van Til is marvelously consistent in his epistemological method until he arrives at the hermeneutic component. At that point his writing shows, in my estimation, two deficiencies: (1) he does not grant hermeneutics its proper and necessary place in epistemology, and (2) when he does consider hermeneutics, he prescribes historical theology as the orthodox hermeneutic, rather than literal grammatical-historical – an unfortunate contradiction of his own expertly stated first principles.

The Biblical epistemological model does not share these two deficiencies, and leads me to consider that while Van Til is outstanding up to a point, we cannot simply adopt his reformed epistemology without ourselves walking more consistently down the reformed path.

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Contra Universalism (All Will Eventually Go to Heaven)

Here is an article by Dr. C. Cone which explains clearly the lie of Satan with the resultant death of all humanity in Adam. Jesus described Satan in this same way in John 8.44b: 

He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies.

While it is important to speak against the error of Universalism, another error is found oppositely in Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) of the wicked. In another post I will further expand the bible’s teaching on Conditional Immortality, or Conditionalism. This is the view of Edward Fudge in The Fire that Consumes.

The doctrine (ECT of the wicked) by its nature, has been neglected by theologians probably because the theologians themselves were not stakeholders of this judgment, and so, left it to philosophical ideas instead of biblical truth. Unfortunately, many doctrinal statements affirm ECT and with theologians having to toe institutional lines, cannot disclose their true stance for fear of their livelihood. I say this because from reading the exegesis and exposition these theologians affirm that immortality is something that was promised and not inherent in the human condition (see 2Tim. 1.10). Also, in 1Tim. 6.16 Paul gives his amen to that only God is immortal: He alone possesses immortality and lives in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see. To him be honor and eternal power! Amen.

The wicked will be punished commensurate with their sin in hell and then be no more, this is the second death. Let us now consider Dr. Cone against Universalism:

Hell No?

Satan’s encounter with Eve in the Garden is fascinating and very important for us to understand. His temptation of Eve, recorded in Genesis 3, represents several firsts:


It is the first instance of an epistemological alternative to God’s design. Satan offers to Eve a different way to have God-like knowledge. Satan argues that God is actually deceiving Eve into ignorance by keeping her from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan’s plan was both clear and appealing: Be like God by the assertion of your own will, and be free from God’s restrictive design. Declare your independence from God by doing it your own way – the result will be the same.

Satan’s temptation of Eve is also the first instance of a hermeneutic alternative to God’s design. Satan’s temptation of Eve was the first recorded instance of a non-literal interpretation of God’s word. Satan asks Eve, “Has God said…?” and then proceeds to distort what God had actually said (3:1). In contrast, Genesis 1-12 represents roughly 2,500 years of history, and during that time, of the roughly 31 references to God speaking, this is the only instance (besides Eve’s fumbling in response to Satan’s challenge) in which God’s word isn’t taken at face value.

These two firsts are hugely significant for how we think, how we know, and how we understand God’s word. But there is another important first: the dialogue between Satan and Eve represents the first denial of God’s judgment. In Genesis 2:17 God had warned Adam that if he ate the fruit from this particular tree (all the rest were permissible, but Adam was not allowed to eat from this one) in that day (Heb., b’yom) he would die. Well, we know the rest of the story: Adam and Eve ate, and Adam lived to be 930 years old before he died (Gen 5:5). Did God mean what he said, or was Satan actually right? According to Paul in Romans 5:12, through Adam death spread to all (Gr. pantes) men – even those who are still alive and have not yet experienced physical death. The death promised in Genesis 2:17 was not physical death – that was promised in Genesis 3:19 (“…to dust you shall return”). The death God promised Adam is the same death Paul described in Romans 5. The condition of that “spiritual death” is that we were enemies of God (5:10) who were condemned (5:18).

Satan simply and straightforwardly denies what God had promised: “You shall surely not die” (Gen 3:4), Satan said. But what happened? Romans 5 explains that all died “spiritually” (meaning they became enemies of God and were condemned), and Adam and Eve did indeed die physically, as God directly intervened to ensure that fate (Gen 3:22-24).

Through the years there have been echoes of Satan’s denial of God’s judgment – most recently by men such as Henry Emerson Fosdick and Rob Bell. These men deny God’s right to judge through the consequences of hell, because it is outside of their expectations for God’s character. The essential premise of these contemporary denials is simply that a “good” God could not possibly condemn a person forever. But we find many examples in Scripture where God makes judgments that just don’t generally match what we might tend to do. So we have a choice. We can argue that God must fit our own moral sentiments, or we can take Him at His word, and discover who He describes Himself to be.

Before presupposing (based on sentiment) that God shouldn’t have a hell, perhaps it would be better to avoid the Satanic temptation to deny God’s prerogative and promise to judge. God did promise death. Not only that, but He promised a second death – the lake of fire (Rev 20:14-15, Gr. limne tou puros). This concept was first discussed in the final verse of Isaiah (66:24), and was later reiterated by Christ Himself in Mark 9:47-48 (where the Gr. gehenna is used).

Satan’s epistemology was a lie. The knowledge Eve gained by following it brought only death. Satan’s hermeneutic maneuver was a lie. It didn’t bring clarity to God’s word, instead it brought deception and confusion. Likewise, Satan’s prescribed personal eschatology – his claim about Eve’s future ­– was also a lie, and was disproven directly by God’s own actions. Satan’s lies are just as destructive today as they were then.

Of course the Biblical teaching of hell, death, judgment, and condemnation are awfully distasteful if we misunderstand God’s sovereign rights as the Creator – when we so disregard His holiness that we feel He has no right to make demands of that which He has created. But let’s look at things from God’s point of view (i.e., the view He revealed in Scripture) and we draw a different conclusion – a conclusion, by the way, He never asks us to like, but one He demands we understand.

In so doing, we can understand the great power of His grace, His love, His compassion. As Jesus said, “…he who is forgiven little loves little.” We need to realize of what great offenses we have been forgiven, and the kind of love with which we ought to respond, and what is really at stake in our lives and the lives of others.

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Ken Penner on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls

This interview illumines many issues in biblical linguistics. I hope many will be helped from reading and studying this discussion.

With Meagre Powers

Ken Penner talks about his recent research on Qumranic Hebrew—that very specific type of Hebrew that sits between the various styles of Biblical Hebrew and later Mishnaic Hebrew. This is one for the die hard Hebrew nerds.

The full interview can be found here:

Brian W. Davidson Interviews Ken Penner on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls — CACS.

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