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The Doctrine of Election

Dr. Cornelis Venema speaks about the doctrine of election. His book, Chosen in Christ: Revisiting the Contours of Predestination, is available in Mentor’s Reformed, Exegetical, and Doctrinal Studies series. Venema addresses the subject from exegetical, historical, contemporary, and pastoral vantage points. In this conversation, he addresses the doctrine of election in the Old and New Testaments, the relationship between covenant and election, the polemical discourse between Augustine and Pelagius, and the revisionist doctrine of Karl Barth.

Dr. Venema is President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana. He is the author of several books, including Promise of the Future, Christ and Covenant Theology, and Children at the Lord’s Table? Assessing the Case for Paedocommunion.


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Evangelicals and Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism

Leonardo De Chirico speaks about evangelical responses and assessments of Roman Catholicism post-Vatican II. Vatican II was an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church held from 1962–1965 and widely interpreted as bringing the Catholic Church into a new relationship to the world and other religions.

De Chirico analyzes the several prominent evangelical scholars, including G.C. Berkouwer, Cornelius Van Til, and John Stott, in order to identify various strengths and weaknesses in evangelical perspectives on modern Roman Catholicism. De Chirico concludes that evangelicalism typically misses how two foundational aspects of Catholic theology (the relationship of nature to grace and a Christological ecclesiology) serve to undergird an entire theological system.

Leonardo De Chirico planted and pastored an Evangelical church in Ferrara (northern Italy) from 1997 to 2009. Since 2009 he has been involved in a church planting project in Rome and is now pastor of the church Breccia di Roma. He earned degrees in History (University of Bologna), Theology (ETCW, Bridgend, Wales) and Bioethics (University of Padova). His PhD is from King’s College (London) and it was published as Evangelical Theological Perspectives on Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism (Bern-Oxford: Peter Lang 2003).


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Vos Group #56 — The Mode of Reception of the Prophetic Revelation

We turn to pages 212–213 of Vos’ book Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments to discuss the mode of reception of the prophetic revelation. In the fourth section of his book, Vos continues to contrast the modernist conception with that of confessional orthodoxy. He stresses that revelation does not originate naturally but is in its essence, “a real communication” from God to the prophets.

Our study of Vos is focused on biblical theology, or what Vos termed “the history of special revelation.” A modernized conception of revelation construes history as natural and mechanical in character. History is encased in patterns of natural cause and effect. It is a closed reality. For the Kantian, the mind of man imposes rational categories onto nature. Others view the mind and discovering natural and immutable laws, which don’t exhibit any variation. It is an anti-supernaturalist conception of history. For the modernist, supernatural revelation cannot exist in the sphere of natural history.

Vos, however, is unwavering in his commitment to the self-attesting word of God, which is a supernatural word from the transcendent God, who nevertheless condescends voluntarily to speak to those made in his image.


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Cessationism

Glen Clary and Camden Bucey speak about the ministry of the Holy Spirit and cessationism. We discuss how the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is a unique event of redemptive-history just as unrepeatable as the death and resurrection of Christ. As individuals are effectually called and united to Christ by faith, they are incorporated into the Spirit-baptized body of Christ.


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John Gerstner and the Renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism

Jeffrey S. McDonald speaks about his book, John Gerstner and the Renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism in Modern America (Wipf & Stock, 2017). It is published in the Princeton Theological Monograph Series.

John Gerstner (1914–96) was a significant leader in the renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed evangelicalism in America during the second half of the twentieth century. Gerstner’s work as a church historian sought to shape evangelicalism, but also northern mainline Presbyterianism. He wrote, taught, lectured, debated, and preached widely.

Jeffrey S. McDonald is the pastor of Avery Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Nebraska and an Affiliate Professor of Church History at Sioux Falls Seminary, Omaha.


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Thinking through Creation

Christopher Watkin speaks about his book Thinking through Creation: Genesis 1 and 2 as Tools of Cultural Critique. Watkin looks to the early chapters of Genesis for foundational doctrines about God, the world, and ourselves. In so doing, he advocates for a robust engagement with others about contemporary culture and ideas.

Dr. Watkin completed his Bachelor’s and Doctoral degrees at Cambridge University. He lectured at Cambridge for a couple of years before moving with his family to Australia, where he now works as a lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne. He is the author of a number of academic books in the area of modern European philosophy, including Difficult Atheism (2011) and French Philosophy Today (2016), both with Edinburgh University Press. Over the past few years he has written four books published by P&R Publishing. Three of them are in the Great Thinkers series: Jacques Derrida (2017), Michel Foucault (2018) and Gilles Deleuze (forthcoming).

Links to Thinking through the Bible


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Vos Group #55 — Did the Later Prophets Create an Ethical Monotheism?

We turn to pages 206–211 of Vos’ book Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments to continue our discussion of critical theories of prophetism. Vos tackles a modernist, critical theory of the development of monotheism under the prophets. Vos wants the reader to enter into a modernist world–a critical world. In that world, there are three main things you will face:

  • A finite and developing conception of deity
  • A mechanical and purely natural conception of history
  • An errant and merely human conception of the Bible

These are the key features of a “critical” approach to the prophets. But, as Machen pointed out so clearly, these three conceptions represent a different religion: a fundamentally Pelagian conception of religion.

Vos helps us see, by contrast, that the kingdom of God and the demand that he be worshipped exclusively is built into man as the image of God. Adam, from the start, was bound to God in a religious relation by creation that the covenant of works was to advance. Man, from the beginning, exists to worship God–to glorify and enjoy God forever in covenantal fellowship. For the liberal to reverse this relation and insist that God must serve the purpose of man is to lay bare that the critics truly do have a different religion. On this, Vos and Machen are one.


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Reformed Apologetics

J. V. Fesko has written Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Baker Academic, 2019). In the book, Dr. Fesko criticizes, among others, Cornelius Van Til. In this conversation, we interact with the book and compare its claims with those of Van Til. A central claim of Dr. Fesko’s is that Van Til rejects “common notions.” He writes:

in the middle of the seventeenth century, philosophers such as John Locke (1632–1704) rejected the idea of common notions. In the twentieth century, this rejection made its way to liberal and conservative Reformed theologians alike, including Karl Barth (1886–1968) and Cornelius Van Til (1895–1987).”[1]

He draws particular attention to Van Til’s discussion of authority and reason on pages 168–169 of Defense of the Faith (3rd edition).[2] On those pages, Van Til makes an important distinction:

A word must now be said about the idea of ‘common notions’ referred to in the quotation given above. The present writer made a distinction between notions that are psychologically and metaphysically, that is revelationally, common to all men, and common notions that are ethically and epistemologically common.[3]

Van Til continues, “All men have common notions about God; all men naturally have knowledge of God.”[4] So, what is Van Til getting at? There are notions common to all men, but there are some things common to believers and others common to unbelievers. Van Til explains what is also common to natural man as a consequence of total depravity:

It is this actual possession of the knowledge of God that is the indispensable presupposition of man’s ethical opposition to God. There could be no absolute ethical antithesis to God on the part of Satan and fallen man unless they are self-consciously against the common notions that are concreated with them. Paul speaks of sinful man as suppressing within him the knowledge of God that he has. . . . It is these notions of human autonomy, or irrational discontinuity and of rationalistic continuity that are the common notions of sinful or apostate mankind.[5]


[1] J. V. Fesko, Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), 24.

[2] Fesko, 24n56.

[3] Cornelius Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: P & R Publishing, 1967), 168.

[4] Van Til, 168.

[5] Van Til, 168.

[6] Van Til, 168.


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Reformed Forum, the Church, and the Great Commission

Reformed Forum exists to present every person mature in Christ (Col. 1:28). We do that specifically by supporting the Church in her God-ordained task of accomplishing the Great Commission. In this episode, we discuss our mission and vision and share exciting news about the future of our ministry including Camden Bucey’s transition to become our full-time Executive Director.

Reformed Forum is an organization committed to providing Reformed Christian theological resources to pastors, scholars, and anyone who desires to grow in their understanding of Scripture and the theology that faithfully summarizes its teachings. We are committed to the principles of the Reformation and a redemptive-historical approach to Scripture. We believe these faithfully represent the teachings of the Bible, which is our only standard for faith and practice.

During the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy of the early twentieth century, E. J. Young wrote to J. Gresham Machen, the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary and key figure in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which had yet to be formed:

Within the church there should be an organization, entirely independent of the formal church, which would act as leaven. This organization should be composed of ministers, elders and laymen of the new church alone, who not only believe the Westminster Confession but who are on fire with it. The purpose of this organization should be to propagate and to defend the Reformed faith, to point out the errors of modernism, sacerdotalism, premillennialism, Arminianism, Trichotomy, and so much of the anti-Scriptural evangelism of today. Furthermore, this group would seek to propagate Reformed literature, such as your book, Christianity and Liberalism, Boettner’s book and works of that type. It would seek to propagate this literature not only among the clergy but also among the laity. In other words, it would be a missionary agency whose primary field is the church. Further, it would eventually seek to promote truly Reformed Bible Conferences and Evangelistic Campaigns, would seek to start Reformed Bible classes and prayer meetings and would seek to encourage Reformed radio broadcasts, etc.

E. J. Young, letter to J. Gresham Machen, October 2, 1935.

Seventy-three years passed before Reformed Forum was founded and much has changed regarding technology, but providentially we have become such an organization. There is a need today just as there was then, because the theological challenges persist. We are committed to be faithful to Scripture to the end that Christ would be glorified in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.


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All Israel Shall be Saved: Interpretations of Romans 11

Many different interpretations have been offered regarding the phrase “all Israel shall be saved” in Romans 11. In this episode, we speak about five different interpretations, focusing on the three that are represented in confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian Churches.

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