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: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, in our previous sessions we have established the importance of salvation and explained that we can’t save ourselves. What would you like to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to review what we’ve covered by means of a syllogism. This will first reinforce one last time this phenomenally important point and it will also lead nicely into our discussion of the nature of salvation.

Marc Roby: Alright. For those listeners who don’t what a syllogism is, it is a formal argument that uses deductive logic to arrive at a conclusion based on two or more premises.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And syllogisms are useful because they have been studied extensively since the time of Aristotle and if you construct one properly the conclusion necessarily follows if the premises are true. The classic example used in a logic course goes like this. The first premise is that all men are mortal. The second premise is that Socrates is a man. And the conclusion is that, therefore, Socrates is mortal. This syllogism is a valid syllogism, meaning that the conclusion is true if the premises are true.

Marc Roby: And I think it is obvious that the premises are true in this case.

Dr. Spencer: That they are. And a valid syllogism with true premises is called a sound syllogism, or a sound argument. If I have made a sound argument, then the conclusion I have reached is guaranteed by the rules of logic to be true.[1]

Marc Roby: Alright. So what is the syllogism that you have in mind to review what we’ve covered so far?

Dr. Spencer: My syllogism is more complicated than the simple example I just gave, but it is still relatively easy to follow, it has four premises. The first premise is that every human being will be judged by Christ. This premise is supported by 2 Corinthians 5:10, which says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”[2] The second premise is that based on that judgment, every human being will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. This premise is supported by Matthew 25:46, where Jesus tells us that the wicked “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And by “eternal life” Jesus means heaven.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he does. It is the only alternative to hell, which is eternal death. The third premise in my syllogism is that you must be perfectly righteous to be in heaven. This premise is supported by 2 Peter 3:13, which says, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” We could supply other verses to buttress this argument, but the righteousness spoken of there is absolute; there will not be any sin in heaven. And the fourth and final premise is that no human being is righteous. This premise is supported by Romans 3:10, where Paul tells us, “There is no one righteous, not even one”.

Marc Roby: Now, let me restate all four of your premises without the biblical support just so that we can have them clearly in mind. First, every human being will be judged by Christ. Second, based on that judgment, every human being will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. Third, you must be perfectly righteous to be in heaven. And, fourth, no human being is righteous.

Dr. Spencer: And the resulting conclusion from these premises is that no one will make it to heaven, or alternatively, everyone will go to hell.

Marc Roby: I don’t like that conclusion.

Dr. Spencer: And neither did God. But God is the God of logic and reason. He is not bound by them as though they were some external authority whom he must obey, but he himself is logic and reason and will not do anything contrary to them because it would violate his nature. As the theologian John Frame wrote, “The laws of logic are an aspect of his own character.”[3] And so, God had to solve this problem. From a human perspective, the syllogism I gave is sound. If God doesn’t intervene in some way, we are all bound for hell.

Marc Roby: But, praise God, he did intervene.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he did. He made a way for us to be saved and he did it without violating his own nature, which is perfectly holy and just and therefore requires both that we be perfectly holy and that our sin be punished.

Marc Roby: Those are the two problems you mentioned last time. We need our sins atoned for and we need perfect righteousness.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And God solved that problem by allowing our sins to be imputed to Christ and his righteousness to be imputed to us.

Marc Roby: Which is the double transaction we have mentioned a number of times and about which Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21 when he said that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. Paul also tells us about God’s solution to the problem in his letter to the Romans. First, in Romans 1:17 he wrote, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” This verse tells us that there is a righteousness that comes from God, which means it is a perfect righteousness, and that it is “by faith”, which refers to the fact that we appropriate this righteousness in some way by faith.

Paul then speaks about this righteousness from God again in Chapter Three.

Marc Roby: Which is the chapter where he lays out the devastating argument that we are all sinners and do not seek God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And he concludes that argument in Romans 3:20 by saying, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

Marc Roby: And when we become aware of our own sinfulness we also know, as Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, that “the wages of sin is death”. And that sounds just as bad as the conclusion from your syllogism.

Dr. Spencer: It is just as bad. But the very next verse begins in the English with a most wonderful word, the conjunction “but”, which introduces something that contrasts with the conclusion just reached. In Romans 3:21-22 we read, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

And we have to appreciate how significant that opening conjunction, “but” is! In spite of the universal condemnation logically required by our sin and God’s holiness, Paul says “But now”. This is wonderful news! “But now” God is giving us his divine solution to our unsolvable problem. And he tells us again that there is a righteousness from God and that it comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

Marc Roby: And so we see the truth of what Jesus said in Luke 18:27, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

Dr. Spencer: And in Romans 3 Paul explains this further. Let me read Verses 22-26. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Marc Roby: Those verses say a lot!

Dr. Spencer: They most certainly do, but for the moment let’s focus on the last thing Paul wrote. He said that God did this “so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” In other words, God has not denied himself, he stays faithful to his own nature as the just God, and yet he is able to justify those who have faith in Jesus, even though there is no difference, they have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. He preserves his justice because our sins are punished. But it is Jesus Christ who receives that punishment. He is, as Paul wrote, our “sacrifice of atonement”. Or we could say he is the propitiation for our sins.

Marc Roby: That is a beautiful solution to our humanly insoluble problem, but it is very sobering that it required the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ to accomplish it.

Dr. Spencer: And exactly how this all works is the topic of soteriology. We’ve already said a lot about how we are saved, but I want to begin really looking at the doctrine very carefully, piece by piece. And I want to start by asking an answering a very basic question; namely, “What is the ultimate cause of our salvation?”

Marc Roby: And how would you answer that question?

Dr. Spencer: I would say that the ultimate cause of our salvation is the love of God. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John tells us in John 3:16.

The theologian John Murray gives a very brief outline of God’s plan for salvation by making three points. First, “God set his love upon men.” Second, “In consequence he decreed their salvation.” And, third, “In order to achieve this end, he decreed to send his Son to secure their salvation.”[4]

Marc Roby: That’s a very broad-brush overview of salvation, which requires a great deal of fleshing out.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but it is sufficient to make a very important point. Murray notes that “Historically speaking, the distinguishing features of the various theologies appear in their respective constructions of the plan of salvation.” He then goes on to describe four broad categories of theology. The first theology is called “sacerdotalist”. Now sacerdotalism is the belief that priests are needed as mediators between God and man and includes the idea that we are saved through the efficacy of the sacraments. The most prominent example of a sacerdotalist theology is Roman Catholicism. Murry wrote that “The sacerdotalist conception [of salvation] is governed by the thesis that the church is the depository of salvation and the sacraments the media of conveyance.”[5]

Marc Roby: And by “media of conveyance” he means that the sacraments are means by which we obtain salvation. We should point out that this was not the original view of what is now the Roman Catholic church. The church’s view of salvation, as expounded by St. Augustin, agreed with the reformed view, but the view of the church evolved into sacerdotalism over time.

Dr. Spencer: And that movement away from the truth led to the Protestant Reformation. We may discuss both the reformation and the Roman Catholic view of salvation in more detail at a later time, but it will suffice for now to note that the Roman Catholic view of salvation is unbiblical and the Roman Catholic church is not a true church. I’m not saying it is impossible for someone to be saved in the Roman Catholic church, after all, the reformers themselves were all Roman Catholics first. But, if someone is truly saved in the Roman Catholic church, he or she will eventually want to get out of that church and find a church where the true gospel is preached and practiced.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree. But you said Murray described four types of theology in terms of their view of salvation. What are the other three?

Dr. Spencer: The other three all came out of the Reformation and while I think that one of them is the correct biblical view, and that the differences are important, I want to be clear up front that a person can be truly saved and be in any one of these three groups.

Marc Roby: Alright. Well, what are the three groups?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Murray writes, “Among evangelicals there are the Lutherans, the Arminians, and Reformed. The Lutherans and Arminians orient their construction of the plan of salvation to the contention that what God does looking to salvation, he does on behalf of all equally, and the diversity of the issues” and I should say that by “diversity of issues” Murray means the diversity of results. In other words, the obvious fact that not everyone is saved. So, now let me read that last sentence again and complete it this time; “The Lutherans and Arminians orient their construction of the plan of salvation to the contention that what God does looking to salvation, he does on behalf of all equally, and the diversity of the issues depends upon the differences of response on the part of men. The Reformed, on the other hand, maintain that God makes men to differ, and that the diversity of the issues finds its explanation ultimately in God’s sovereign election of some to salvation.”[6]

Marc Roby: And although I’m sure it is obvious to anyone who has been listening to these podcasts, we take the reformed position. Although the Arminian position is, without a doubt, the most common one in the church.

Dr. Spencer: There is no doubt that it is the most common view today. And it is the view that I think virtually everyone likes the best when they first hear about the differences because it appears to be fair, it treats everyone the same.

Marc Roby: And we all like fair play.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. But we need to be careful. If we think about it for a minute, it should be clear that we don’t want God to deal with us fairly. If he deals with us fairly, we are back to the syllogism I gave; we are all doomed to go to hell. God is just and holy, and while I certainly don’t want him to stop being just and holy, which is impossible anyway, I do not want him to treat me with justice. I want him to treat me with mercy.

Marc Roby: I see your point. Justice would demand that we all pay the penalty for our own sins, which we can never do.

Dr. Spencer: No, we can’t. We can spend all eternity in hell and the debt is still not paid; in fact, it will have increased because we will have continued to be rebellious toward God. But that would be fair. The critical thing that many don’t seem to think through is that we don’t want God to be fair and just when it comes to our salvation. We want him to be merciful.

Marc Roby: But the Lutheran and Arminian positions certainly agree that God’s saving us is a merciful act. They agree that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.

Dr. Spencer: They do agree on those important points, and that is why I said a person can hold to those positions and be saved. But, think about it for a minute carefully. If God truly makes salvation equally possible for every person, but not every person is saved, then we can conclude that there must be something the people who are saved did that gained their salvation.

Marc Roby: Well, that logic seems sound, but I know that Lutherans and Arminians will agree that they did nothing to earn their salvation.

Dr. Spencer: They will agree with that statement, but there is a problem. They will usually say something like this; “God freely offers salvation to every person and only those who steadfastly reject it will be lost.” Now that sounds like those who are saved haven’t done anything positive to gain their salvation, but notice that they did avoid doing something negative! They did not steadfastly reject the offer. So they did, in fact, do something to gain their salvation. What they did was to not reject it.

In the end it doesn’t matter whether we word it in a positive or negative way, the conclusion that Murray stated is true. He said that “the diversity of the issues depends upon the differences of response on the part of men.” In other words, our salvation depends on our response. It depends on us. We would have something to be proud of. But Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9 that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” And given that this podcast will appear on Thanksgiving day, it is particularly appropriate to give thanks to our glorious God for his gift of salvation.

Marc Roby: I agree, we should be and are eternally thankful. But we need to explain how it is we can be saved and not have it depend on our response. We don’t have time today to start a new topic, so we had better stop now. Therefore, let me first take this opportunity to join you in wishing all our listeners a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving, and then remind them that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to reply.

[1] V. Poythress, Logic – A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought, Crossway, 2013, pp 48-49

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 518

[4] J. Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 124

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Last time we started going through the statement in Chapter IV, Paragraph 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says in part, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”.

Dr. Spencer, last time we discussed the fact that man was created male and female and with a reasonable and immortal soul. The next thing noted in this statement is that we were endued with knowledge. What do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: I’m going to treat the next three things listed, which are knowledge, righteousness and holiness, all at the same time. In order to do this, I want to examine three verses from the Bible, which are, by the way, the verses cited by the Confession itself at this point.

Marc Roby: If I may begin, the first verse the Westminster divines cite is Genesis 1:26, where we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” [1]

Dr. Spencer: That is also the verse we began with in our previous session and which led to the discussion of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

And the second verse they cite is from the New Testament, Colossians 3:10. But, in order to have a complete sentence, let me read Colossians 3:9-10. Paul wrote, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: And the final verse they cited was Ephesians 4:24. I’ll read Verses 22-24 in order to get a complete sentence. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And let me begin our examination of these New Testament passages by pointing out that both of them speak about an old self and a new self. The old self, of course, refers to an unregenerate person, in other words, a person who has not been born again. In other words, an unbeliever, someone who is still an enemy of God as Paul says in Colossians 1:21, where we read, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”

And then, both passages also speak about a new self, which refers to a person who has been born again. The passages then tell us some things about the change that takes place when a person becomes a believer.

Marc Roby: There is also an interesting difference in the two passages that is worth pointing out before we go on. In Colossians 3:9-10 the past tense is used. We are said to have “taken off” our old self with its practices and to “have put on the new self”. Whereas, in Ephesians 4:22-24 we are commanded to “put off your old self” and “to put on the new self”, which describes something we are to do, not something that is a completed past event.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an interesting and important difference. There is a very real change that takes place when a person is born again and confesses Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the apostle Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” And so, when the past tense is used, it is a clear indication of this change. It is evident in the life of a believer immediately.

Marc Roby: And yet, we are certainly not immediately made perfect.

Dr. Spencer: No, we’re not. And that is why the Bible also uses the present tense to talk about the continuing change that must take place in the life of a believer. Hence, we can be said in Colossians 3 to have taken off our old self, and then in Ephesians 4 be told to put off our old self. Both are true. And we will discuss this in more detail later, but for now I want to focus on the changes that are being made because they all tell us something about the image and likeness of God.

That image was radically defaced in the fall, but in Christ it is being restored. And so, as we already read, Colossians 3:10 says that we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: And so, clearly, knowledge is a part of the image with which man was originally made.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we must note that for our knowledge to be in any way the image of God’s knowledge, it must be true and correct knowledge. The fall caused man to believe in lies. Paul tells us about unbelievers in Romans 1:21-23 and says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”

Marc Roby: That is the exact opposite of the progression taught in our schools today. Pagan religions that worship images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles didn’t come first and Christianity didn’t evolve from those religions. True worship came first and those pagan religions came when man rebelled against God. They are a perversion of true worship, not the first step in an evolution of religion.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. Mans thinking became futile and our foolish hearts were darkened. We didn’t start out that way in the Garden. We became fools as a result of sin.

Marc Roby: And we read in Psalm 14:1 that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the denial of God is the essence of foolishness and rebellion. And it is the source of our knowledge being corrupted by lies. This does not, of course, mean that an unbeliever is incapable to having any correct knowledge. Unbelievers can know many things that are factually correct and can use that knowledge to make useful objects and do useful work. But, at the core of the worldview of an unbeliever there is a lie. And that lie does corrupt many specific areas of knowledge as well, certainly including anything having to do with eternal realities, the nature of God or the nature of man.

Marc Roby: Very well. We have established, I think, that to made in God’s image includes the fact that man was made with true knowledge. Although that knowledge certainly was not exhaustive knowledge about our world.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. We aren’t told exactly how much Adam and Eve knew before the fall and it isn’t really important for us to know that. But what they knew, was true and correct. And, most importantly, their knowledge about God, however extensive it was, was true and correct.

Let me quote the theologian Charles Hodge about this knowledge. He wrote that “Adam knew God; whom to know is life eternal. Knowledge, of course, differs as to its objects. The cognition of mere speculative truths, as those of science and history, is a mere act of the understanding; the cognition of the beautiful involves the exercise of our aesthetic nature; of moral truths the exercise of our moral nature; and the knowledge of God the exercise of our spiritual and religious nature.”[2]

Marc Roby: And we could add that Adam not only knew moral truths, but he lived in accordance with them.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite right. In fact, Hodge also wrote that “The knowledge here intended is not mere cognition. It is full, accurate, living, or practical knowledge; such knowledge as is eternal life, so that this word [knowledge] here [in Colossians 3:10] includes what in Eph. iv. 24 is expressed by righteousness and holiness.”[3]

Marc Roby: And that quote provides a perfect segue to our discussion of the next verse cited by the Westminster Confession, which is Ephesians 4:24. This verse says that we are “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And we can again conclude that since the new man is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”, that must also have been the case for Adam and Eve prior to the fall. In redeeming his people from their bondage to sin, God is restoring the image that sin defaced, and that image included our being like God in righteousness and holiness.

Marc Roby: I think most people have a fair idea of what it means to be righteous, it is to do that which is right. And to be holy means, in this context, to be morally pure or blameless.

Dr. Spencer: And it is important to add that to be righteous is to do what is right in the sight of God, not what man thinks is right. Although the two terms righteousness and holiness can certainly be distinguished, Hodge points out that “These words when used in combination are intended to be exhaustive; i.e., to include all moral excellence.”[4]

Therefore, we can conclude by saying that when the Westminster Confession says that God “endued [man] with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image”, it means that man was created with a true and proper understanding of who God is and who man is and that he was morally upright and faultless. He obeyed God’s precepts perfectly.

Marc Roby: And the result of his perfect obedience was perfect happiness and perfect fellowship with God.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely.

Marc Roby: Your statement that man was created with a proper understanding of who God is and who man is also reminds me of the first line to Calvin’s great work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which says that “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: And the similarity to his statement was quite deliberate. Properly understanding the Creator/creature distinction is crucial for us to be good image bearers. An ambassador always has to remember his place. He represents his government and country. He has no authority to do or say what he wants to do or say.

Marc Roby: That’s a good analogy to keep in mind. As Christians, we are to always represent Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. But let’s get back to the statement from Chapter IV, Paragraph 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It says that “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”. We have now discussed all of this except the last phrase, which says that man was created having the law of God written in his heart and with the power to fulfil it.

Having the law written in the heart is again an aspect of being endued with knowledge. That knowledge, as we have seen, includes moral knowledge.

Marc Roby: So the thing that is added by this last phrase is that man was created with the power to keep the moral law.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Theologians, as is often the case, have a Latin phrase that they use for this. Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were posse non peccare, which means that it was possible for them to not sin. Of course, they were also posse peccare, which means that they were able to sin. God did not prevent their sinning.

In any event, the Confession is right in telling us that man was created with the power to keep the moral law. If that were not so, Genesis 1:31 would not be true. We read there that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Marc Roby: How sad it is that it didn’t remain very good.

Dr. Spencer: That is very sad indeed. All of the troubles we experience are the result of human sin. God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory, not the immediate pleasure of man. We will get to the effects of sin as the last topic in our study of anthropology, but for now I want to continue looking at our being made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: Very well, we’ve finished looking at the statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith, so what is next?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to read a fairly lengthy passage from Charles Hodge about what is called the essential image of God in man. But before I read it, I need to tell our listeners about Aristotle’s distinction between the essential nature of something and the accidental nature.

The essential nature, or essence, of a thing is its fundamental nature.[6] If you take away the essence, you take away the thing itself. The accidental nature of a thing includes all of those aspects that are not essential to its being.[7] So, for example, the essential nature of a chair would include the fact that you can sit on it. Its accidents might include the fact that it is made out of wood, or metal, or that it has four legs as opposed to a single large pedestal.

Marc Roby: Alright, that makes sense. So what is the quote from Hodge?

Dr. Spencer: Hodge wrote, “While, therefore, the Scriptures make the original moral perfection of man the most prominent element of that likeness to God in which he was created, it is no less true that they recognize man as a child of God in virtue of his rational nature. He is the image of God, and bears and reflects the divine likeness among the inhabitants of the earth, because he is a spirit, an intelligent, voluntary agent; and as such he is rightfully invested with universal dominion. This is what the Reformed theologians were accustomed to call the essential image of God, as distinguished from the accidental. The one consisting in the very nature of the soul, the other in its accidental endowments, that is, such as might be lost without the loss of humanity itself.”

Marc Roby: If I might try to summarize and explain, Hodge is saying that both man’s original moral perfection and his being a rational, volitional being are essential to his being made in the image of God.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s accurate. I’m not absolutely certain what would be considered accidental in this context, but I suppose the physical form of man; namely that we have a head, two arms, two legs and a torso might be the sort of thing that is meant. In any event, what is important, and the reason I read the quote, is that it tells us that reformed theologians have emphasized man’s original moral perfection and the fact that he is a rational, volitional being as being essential to our being made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: Is there anything you want to add before we conclude for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, one thing. The fact that we are moral, rational creatures is also essential to our performing the one function that clearly distinguishes us from the animals. The great Puritan theologian John Owen wrote that “The approaching unto God in his service is the chief exaltation of our nature above the beasts that perish.”[8] He also wrote, in the Greater Catechism, “Was man able to yield the service and worship that God required of him? Yea, to the uttermost, being created upright in the image of God, in purity, innocence, righteousness, and holiness.”[9]

Marc Roby: That’s wonderful. Our being made in the image of God is what distinguishes us from all other creatures and it is what enables us to worship and serve God, which is our greatest joy.

And now I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d appreciate hearing from you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 101

[3] Ibid, pg. 100

[4] Ibid, pg. 101

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, pg. 4

[6] John Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 751

[7] Ibid, pg. 739 (see page 150 and especially footnote 59 for further explanation of essence and accidents)

[8] Quoted in: Beeke, Joel R. & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 670

[9] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes.  Dr. Spencer, we finished with God’s wisdom last time, so are we moving on to the next attribute examined by Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are. The next attribute he examines is God’s truthfulness.[1] Which immediately brings to mind Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”[2]

Marc Roby: It also brings to mind Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

Dr. Spencer: You had to bring that up, didn’t you?

Marc Roby: Well, it is a question that is extremely relevant in this day and age.

Dr. Spencer: I have to admit that. In a 2001 poll, Barna found that only 22% of Americans believed in absolute truth.[3] Then, in a 2016 poll, he found that only 59% of professing Christians believed that moral truth is absolute and that only 15% of people listing no religion thought so.[4] These results seem inconsistent to me, and there are others out there that vary widely too, but all of them show a very disturbing pattern that many, if not most, people in the United States reject the idea of absolute truth, at least with respect to morality. So, it is certainly well worth taking some time to discuss what truth is.

Marc Roby: I agree. So, how would you define truth?

Dr. Spencer: As with many questions there is a short answer and there is a very long answer. Let me begin with brief summary of the very long answer. But first, let me preface my comments with a disclaimer. I’m not going to try and give a detailed, exhaustive or precise presentation, I’m just going to give the general flavor of the arguments because it will lead us to an important conclusion.

Marc Roby: OK, your disclaimer is duly noted.

Dr. Spencer: The question of how we define truth is, not surprisingly, one that philosophers have spent a considerable amount of time on. There are three major theories I’d like to look at. The correspondence theory of truth, the coherence theory of truth and the pragmatic theory of truth. There is significant overlap among them as we will see, but virtually all other theories boil down to some version or combination of these three. Now, when I say that I have to add that I am simply ignoring so-called theories of truth that deny the existence of absolute truth.

Marc Roby: You mean like the idea that all truth is relative?

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. All the postmodern ideas that deny the existence of absolute truth are complete failures of human reasoning. Let me quote from The Great Ideas, which is a summary analysis of the great books of the western world. It summarizes the arguments against any view that is skeptical about the existence of real truth claims. It says that “Across the centuries the arguments against the skeptic seem to be the same. If the skeptic does not mind contradicting himself when he tries to defend the truth of the proposition that all propositions are equally true or false, he can perhaps be challenged by the fact that he does not act according to his view. If all opinions are equally true or false, then why, Aristotle asks, does not the denier of truth walk ‘into a well or over a precipice’ instead of avoiding such things.”[5]

Marc Roby: That’s a great quote. I think it is extremely important to point out that the idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth is self-contradictory and, frankly, silly.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. If there is no such thing as absolute truth, then that statement itself is also not an absolute truth, which means that absolute truth can exist. Or, as the Great Ideas put it, if someone says that all propositions are equally true or false, then that proposition itself is also equally true or false, which negates it.

That is why I’m not going to spend any time dealing with these postmodern ideas. And it is also why I find the poll results I noted at the beginning so disturbing; our educational system has failed in a massive way if a majority, or even a large percentage, of people in this country do not believe in absolute truth. As I noted before, that is a complete failure of human reasoning, it is irrationality.

Marc Roby: Very well, let’s get back then to the correspondence, coherence and pragmatic theories that you mentioned. Can you give a brief synopsis of these three?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. The pragmatic theory of truth simply says that whatever works is true. But that obviously begs the question of what you mean by saying that something works.

Marc Roby: It seems to me that it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to give a completely general description of what you mean by saying that something works.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And, in fact, that idea can lead you far astray. For example, if I were to define what works by saying that a given statement is true if it gets me out of some difficult situation, then I’m in serious trouble in terms of defining truth, because a lie will often work to get me out of some difficult situation. Therefore, I would be saying that a lie is true.

Marc Roby: That is, unfortunately, true.

Dr. Spencer: Nice pun. In one sense the pragmatic theory is the least important of the three precisely because it is difficult to define what you mean by saying that something works. On the other hand, both the coherence and correspondence theories could be thought of as versions of the pragmatic theory with specific definitions for what it means for something to work. So, if I look at it that way, I could say that the pragmatic theory is the only theory of truth.

Marc Roby: OK, so what are these other two theories then?

Dr. Spencer: According the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the coherence theory says the truth of a given proposition “consists in its coherence with some specified set of propositions.”[6] Of course, that leaves us with the problem of defining this set of propositions, or statements. But, at the very least, we can certainly say that whatever set of propositions we consider to be true the statements should all be consistent, or coherent, with one other.

Now I must say that I don’t see how this theory can stand by itself. You need to say what the “specified set of propositions” is, and there is no guidance provided by this theory as to how you guarantee those propositions are true. You can imagine concocting a set of propositions that are entirely self-consistent, that is, coherent, and yet are false.

Marc Roby: In other words, that theory is missing any notion that our ideas have to, at least in some way, correspond to the physical world.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And that leads us to the correspondence theory of truth; which says that whatever corresponds to reality is true. Personally, I think that at the end of the day a good definition of truth has to have a combination of correspondence and coherence. Certainly, any statement we make that can be tested must correspond to reality to be called true, but it also seems that all of the statements you believe to be true must be consistent, in other words, they must cohere.

To give a couple of examples, if I tell you that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you can easily test to see whether or not what I have said is true. But, if I tell you that murder is wrong, how do you check to see if that corresponds to reality?

Marc Roby: I don’t think there is any observation or test I could make to answer that question.

Dr. Spencer: I don’t think there is. But I am quite confident that it is true that murder is wrong. And, as a Christian, I would defend that statement by saying that God tells us it is wrong.

Marc Roby: But that statement obviously begs the question of how you can know that God exists and that he tells the truth.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. In previous sessions we have discussed the fact that the Bible claims to be the infallible word of God. And we have given a large amount of extra-biblical evidence to corroborate that claim. We have also shown in other ways that the biblical worldview is coherent and corresponds to reality. In fact, I would say that the biblical worldview is the only worldview that is completely consistent and in accord with reality. But let’s put off that discussion for another time.

Marc Roby: That sounds reasonable, we could obviously spend far more time than we want to right now discussing that.

Dr. Spencer: We certainly could. The study of how we know what we know and how we can determine if our beliefs are rationally justified is called epistemology. It is a very important field and we will get into it in more detail in a later session. But the question Pilate asked, “What is truth?” is often used to avoid a meaningful discussion. In fact, in one sense the question is a waste of time.

Marc Roby: Now hold on a minute, you just offended the philosophers in our audience. How can you make such a statement?

Dr. Spencer: I first said that such inquiries are very important, so hopefully the philosophers will forgive me. But when I said that the question is, in one sense, a waste of time, what I meant is very easily illustrated.

Suppose someone throws a rock through my living-room window and I run outside and find a five-year-old boy in the front yard playing with rocks. If I ask him, “Did you throw the rock that just came through my window?” Do you think he knows the difference between telling me the truth or a lie?

Marc Roby: Well, any normal five-year-old certainly would.

Dr. Spencer: And that is precisely my point. On a very practical day-to-day level we all understand what truth is. It is that which corresponds to reality. If he had, in fact, thrown the rock that went through my window he and I both understand it would be a lie for him to say he had not done so. And we also both know that he would be telling the truth if he admitted that he had done so. Now, we must grant that it can be far more difficult to deal with the meaning of truth when we get to some other topics, but most of the time it is obvious.

Marc Roby: I see your point. And so I assume this is also the short answer to the question that you noted at the start; that the truth is that which corresponds to reality.

Dr. Spencer: That is the short answer, yes.

Marc Roby: Have you said all that you want to for now in response to the question, “What is truth?”

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. There is an incredibly important related point to discuss here, and that is the subject of worldview. I used that word a minute ago without definition because most people have a reasonable idea of what it means, but I think Phil Johnson, who is a retired law professor from UC Berkeley, gives a wonderful definition. In his forward to Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth he wrote that “Understanding worldview is a bit like trying to see the lens of one’s own eye. We do not ordinarily see our own worldview, but we see everything else by looking through it. Put simply, our worldview is the window by which we view the world, and decide, often subconsciously, what is real and important, or unreal and unimportant.”[7]

Marc Roby: That is a great definition, and it explains why our worldview is so important, it affects everything we think.

Dr. Spencer: And because our worldview has such a pervasive influence on what we believe to be true, it is an important thing to examine. We should ask ourselves whether or not our worldview itself is true! Phil Johnson said it is a bit like the lens of our eye, and we know that if the lens is bad, our vision will be bad. We will not see things correctly.

Marc Roby: It seems as though our worldview is something which is formed mostly unconsciously though, so how could we examine it?

Dr. Spencer: We can test whether or not some of the fundamental tenets of our worldview are true or not.

Marc Roby: And so, we get back to the definition of truth.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do.

Marc Roby: Can you give me an example of how we can test our worldview?

Dr. Spencer: I’d love to. Suppose, for example, that I am convinced that there is no God. In other words, my worldview is an atheistic worldview, matter and energy and the laws of physics are all that exist. If that worldview is true, then there are certain conclusions that simply must be true.

Marc Roby: Such as?

Dr. Spencer: Such as the conclusion that there cannot be any such thing as a moral absolute.

Marc Roby: Why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because the laws of physics certainly do not contain any moral commands, they simply specify how matter and energy can interact. Moral laws require authority. If you tell me that I’m not allowed to take my neighbor’s car for example, I can ask, “Who says I can’t take my neighbor’s car?”

Marc Roby: I assume that your neighbor, for one, wouldn’t like it very much.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that’s true, but suppose I’m much stronger than my neighbor and I take it anyway. Who is to say that is wrong? Obviously, our society has laws that say it is wrong, but why should I obey those laws?

Marc Roby: Well, because you’ll end up in jail if you don’t.

Dr. Spencer: And that makes my point nicely. The ultimate test of a moral law is whether or not someone has authority to enforce it. So, ultimately, without authority, there is no moral law. But, without God, the only authority that exists is raw human power. Either the power of an individual, or the power of some group.

Crudely speaking, our government is founded on the principle that the majority should decide the laws. So, the authority of the government is actually the authority of the majority, which is based, ultimately, on the power of the majority. But there is no moral law that says majority rule is right and a dictatorship is wrong for example. So, if I am an atheist, I cannot say that a dictatorship is immoral. I can say that I don’t like it, but I cannot be logically consistent and say that it is morally wrong. And now, let me take this argument to the final step. If I am an atheist, I am being logically inconsistent, in other words irrational, if I claim that what Hitler did in the holocaust was morally wrong.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that statement will raise a few hackles.

Dr. Spencer: I hope it does, because my point is to try and shock people into thinking carefully. If you don’t believe in God, you cannot rationally believe in moral absolutes. The conclusion is that morality is defined by whoever has the power to enforce the rules.

Marc Roby: In other words, might does make right.

Dr. Spencer: If you’re going to be a logically consistent atheist, yes, you have to say that. You can certainly say that you don’t like what Hitler did, and you think it was wrong and, by the way, I would certainly agree with you. But, if there were no God, Hitler, if he were still around to answer for himself, could simply say, “Who are you to tell me what is right or wrong?”

Marc Roby: Of course, World War II sort of answered that question. The ones who were telling Hitler what he was doing was wrong were the ones who defeated his armies and removed him from power.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In other words, it is another example of might makes right in a human sense. But Hitler died and then he faced the only perfect judge of all men and received his final, eternal judgment.

Marc Roby: That is a sobering thought. You said at the beginning that discussing the meaning of truth would lead us to an important conclusion. Can you state that conclusion now?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I can. The important conclusion is that at the end of the day truth really does depend on power because it depends on authority. The word authority comes, of course, from the word author, which means the person who creates something. We give the word authority a broader meaning based on power. For example, one dictionary I looked in says that authority is the power to give orders or make decisions. But, the greatest authority comes from being the one who creates something. If I author a book, I can make it say whatever I want it to say. And God is the author of the universe. He created it to be exactly the way he wanted it to be. And he sustains it and governs it to continue to be exactly the way he wants it to be. So, he has ultimate authority and, in a very real sense, he is truth. Whatever God thinks is true, is true because he has the power to make it be true.

Marc Roby: And so we get right back to John 14:6, which you quoted at the beginning, Jesus saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Truth, in the ultimate sense, is not a property of a statement, it is a person. It is God.

Marc Roby: That seems like a great place to end, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 195

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] See http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_poll5.htm

[4] See https://www.barna.com/research/the-end-of-absolutes-americas-new-moral-code/

[5] The Great Ideas, A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, Vol. II, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, pg. 915

[6] See https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-coherence/

[7] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth; Liberating Christianity form its Cultural Captivity, Crossway Books, 2004, pg. 11

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