Living in Wonderland or Lost in Wonder, Love and Praise
As we make our monthly way through the Ten Tenets, Tenet 7 is one that can be simply put, but remains complex in its application. Tenet 7 is this:
There is an absolute, covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and any other, opposing, position. Thus, Christianity is true and anything opposing it is false.
This tenet has a host of ideas supporting it, and it may help to clarify the terms used in order to make explicit some of those ideas. When we think of the antithesis as "absolute," we are pointing to the fact that the ground or foundation of the antithesis is not measured on a relative scale. For example, the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian does not depend on how each one is acting at a particular time. It is not measured by how much "good" a non-Christian accomplishes, or how much sin a Christian commits. The way in which God has chosen to identify mankind, since the fall, is that one is either in Adam or one is in Christ. So, when God looks on the host of people on the earth, he sees those who either abide under wrath, by virtue of being sinful in Adam, or under grace, by virtue of being counted righteous in Christ. There is no third "place" to be. There is no sliding scale with God. No one can be partially in Adam and partially in Christ. One's foundation before God is defined by one of these two "Adams," the first or the last (I Cor. 15:45). Because of this, we all operate -- we live and move and have our being -- in terms of the one to whom we are united.
To use a biblical metaphor, the antithesis is like the foundation of a house. It may be that a house has glorious rooms, ornate and majestic furnishings, and gorgeous architecture. But if that house is positioned over a sinkhole, all that it is and has is inches away from total ruin. That same house, with the foundation of a rock, can stand the realities of a tumultuous world. Even if its rooms and furnishings are damaged, the foundation will remain, and remain strong enough to support whatever repairs are needed.
It is important to keep this in mind in the face of prevailing ideas of heaven. One prevailing idea is that all that is needed for one to get to heaven is to die. Behind this idea, often, is the notion that the deceased was not a bad person, or not as bad as others we could name, or that he accomplished much that was good. These things might be relatively true. The house, in other words, might have some nice rooms, or rooms that are nicer than others. It might be that, on a certain scale, the person who died was not a "bad" person, or that he accomplished much that was, again on a relative scale, good. I remember well my grandmother telling me, at an early age, that as long as I didn't murder anyone I would be acceptable to God.
But the antithesis cannot be relativized in this way. One either dies in Adam or dies in Christ. The fruit that we produce, to use another metaphor, does provide pointers and signals to the root cause. But the only definitive point for anyone who dies is to whom he is united. God has so orchestrated his creation that our identities are not our own; they have their roots planted in only one of two pots. And the plants that grow from each of these pots will one day be decidedly, and eternally, separated (Matt. 25:32ff.).
This helps us understand our second adjective which qualifies the antithesis. The antithesis is "covenantal." By that, we mean both a positive and a negative. Since the negative is not explicit, but is rather entailed in the positive, we should be explicit about it here. The antithesis does not negate, but rather presupposes, that man (male and female) is made in the image of God. It is just because we are image that we are identified with one of two covenant heads.
Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. Once Adam's sin ruined creation, including man, that image became distorted and perverted, in need of redemption. But it was not erased. As image, it is the responsibility of every person to show forth the nature and character of God, to be holy even as he is holy. Those who are and remain in Adam bear that responsibility. They are shackled with the chains of meeting the demands of God's law, without in any way having the ability to do so. No matter what fruit they might produce, they produce it from roots that are rotten, decaying and full of poison. The fruit might well-adorn a bowl on the table, but it should never be eaten; it has no lasting, nutritional value within.
This is part of Paul's point to the Athenians and philosophers on Mars Hill:
Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man (Acts 17:29).
Paul is appealing to his audience in terms of their being made in the image of God. Since they are God's offspring, and therefore his image, why in the world would they think that they themselves should or could make an image that would show who God is? Paul masterfully confronts them with their own devastating inconsistency. And he does this based on the fact that they are God's, and they are responsible to be like him.
Those who are in Christ are themselves ruined images, but the reality of "Christ in you" (Co. 1:27) means that the ruined image is in the process of total restoration, and that it now comes from roots that are pure and of lasting value. There is a renewal of that image, a renewal to true knowledge (Col. 3:10), true righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24). The ruined image that needed to be restored is more than restored. It is remade and redeemed, and it is moving toward total conformity to the one who himself is now the visible image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). So, the antithesis applies to one and all.
But the way the tenet reads, it is "Christian theism," and not people, which defines the antithesis. The reason it is stated this way leads to the next statement in the tenet: "Thus, Christianity is true and anything opposing it is false." What this means for the Christian should be fundamental to our basic confession, but it is often not recognized in its depth and breadth. There are many reasons why its basic meaning might be obscured or veiled, but the preeminent reason is the relativism that pervades all of humanity, since sin entered the world. Think of the original temptation. God had spoken. What he said was clear and non-negotiable. It defined the Garden for Adam and Eve, and it defined their responsibility in tending God's creation. It was one negative command, and one tree. How difficult could it be to obey?
As we now know all too well, it only takes one, and the one could not be obeyed. The one negative command and the one tree became the one target of Satan's attack. But he didn't begin the attack by explicit opposition; he would get to that shortly. He began more subtly (Gen. 3:1). He began by asking Eve to consider what God had said. Once Eve considered it, she was deceived by Satan (2 Cor. 11:3) into thinking that what God had said might be in need of her affirmation, interpretation and evaluation before it could be acted on. In other words, she was deceived into thinking that God's Word was not sufficient for her to act; it was in need of her own input. It was, at best, incomplete, and it might prove to be totally in error. This is relativism. Satan convinced Eve, and Adam with her, that whether the Word of God is the Word of God, and, if it is, whether it should be followed, affirmed, believed and obeyed, was up to Eve, and then to Adam. And the rest is, literally, (redemptive) history.
The rest of redemptive history is taken up with God's declaration that the transgression of the one command concerning the one tree can only be overcome by the one God who condescends to redeem one people, his people, from the sin that we brought on ourselves. The theism of the Old and New Testaments has always been exclusive in that way. It is a theism that brooks no rivals (Is. 45:22). It is a theism that alone can properly define the world and those who occupy it. Any other view that opposes this God and his interpretation of his world is, by definition, flatly and flagrantly false. In other words, and to avoid a temptation toward relativism, Christian theism is true, not because we believe it, but because of who God is, whether we believe it or not.
Part of what this means is that those who believe something other than Christian theism are not able to give an account of themselves or of the world "out there." How could they? Once there is a denial, either outright or otherwise, of the God who made and sustains all that is, false beliefs and ideas have no place to rest, they float around aimlessly, often knocking against each other, unable to land anywhere. The truth of Christianity, in other words, is not simply a collection of propositions that we affirm (though we must affirm them), but it is the way the universe actually is. To deny such a thing means to deny reality, which is an expensive and dangerous trip right to the heart of Alice's Wonderland. It produces all kinds of "realities" that vie for acceptance, but which have no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
To think of Christian theism this way means, at least in part, that there is no possible way that an opposing position, belief, idea, concept, action, lifestyle, can "make sense" in terms of the people who hold or do such things and the world in which we all live. It is God's world. Like the Garden and the trees within, he identifies and defines their meaning and purpose. Outside of that identification and definition, no purpose or meaning can be had. All that's left is vanity and striving after the wind.
This will help us as we seek to speak to those who remain in Adam. We may not know precisely what they believe, what positions they adhere to, what lifestyle they embrace. They themselves may not be able to articulate such things in any precise way. But, as we try to help them see their own plight, we can be assured, going into any discussion on any topic, that unless it has its foundation and ground in "rock" of the God who created and in his Word, there is no hope available to them. Philosophy can be intimidating to many, and intricate belief systems can sometime overwhelm us. But this much we know: though the devil may be in the details, he is not absent from the most basic, simple, rejection of God and his Word. He is right there, smack dab in the middle of it, when any philosophy or intricate belief system begins by asking, "Has God really said?" The options are only two: either Wonderland, or Wonder, Love and Praise.
K. Scott Oliphint is Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. His latest book is Covenantal Apologetics (Crossway, 2013)