The Accident of Two Legs
December 19, 2014
We come now to the last of our Ten Tenets. The Ten Tenets are these:
- The faith that we are defending must begin with, and necessarily include, the Triune God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- who, as God, condescends to create and to redeem.
- God's covenantal revelation is authoritative by virtue of what it is, and any Covenantal, Christian apologetic will necessarily stand on, and utilize, that authority in order to defend Christianity.
- It is the truth of God's revelation, together with the work of the Holy Spirit, that brings about a covenantal change from one who is in Adam to one who is in Christ.
- Man (male and female) as image of God is in covenant with the Triune God, for eternity.
- All people know the true God, and that knowledge entails covenantal obligations.
- Those who are and remain in Adam suppress the truth that they know. Those who are in Christ, see that truth for what it is.
- There is an absolute, covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and any other, opposing, position. Thus, Christianity is true and anything opposing it is false.
- Suppression of the truth, like the depravity of sin, is total but not absolute. Thus, every unbelieving position will necessarily have within it ideas, concepts, notions, etc that it has taken and wrenched from its true, Christian context.
- The true, covenantal, knowledge of God in man, together with God's universal mercy, allows for persuasion in apologetics.
- Every fact and experience is what it is by virtue of the covenantal all-controlling plan and purpose of God.
A number of years ago I had to see the doctor about a nagging back injury that I had sustained. As he went through the process of diagnosis, he wanted me to recognize why such an injury was so persistent. "The problem," he said, "is that we were never meant to walk upright. Once we transitioned from using all four appendages to using only two, injuries like yours were inevitable." The doctor went on to diagnose the problem and prescribe a fix. His interpretation of the cause of the problem, however, was completely off the mark.
This is a good example of the importance of Tenet Ten, the last in our series. One of the things that we all need more and more to instill in our everyday thinking is the reality of God's plan and purpose in all that takes place in the world. This can be a difficult task, since virtually everything that surrounds us, in one way or another, tempts us to move in the opposite direction. Notions of "freedom" and "equality," just to pick two American idols, are supposed to be understood without reference to God and His Word. The idea that true freedom can only be found in service to our Creator and Redeemer, or that "equality" eclipses our God-given mandate to think of others as better than we are, would never enter the mind of the average person, perhaps not even of the average Christian.
Part of what it means to love the Lord our God with our minds is that we are meant to interpret the world around us, the people we meet and see, ourselves and our relationships, in light of the sovereign plan and purpose of God. In other words, we are to interpret these things as they really are, and not as somehow irrelevant or inapplicable to Christianity.
In his masterful work, The Gravedigger Files, (since republished as The Last Christian On Earth), Os Guiness creatively illustrates how the Christian faith, which has had substantial and significant influence in the development of the modern world, can, if not careful, become its own gravedigger. In the book, "Operation Gravedigger" is initiated to subversively undermine the Christian faith. Those in charge of the Operation are tasked with amplifying some of the central weaknesses of Christianity in order, in the end, to render it completely ineffectual and irrelevant. In "Memorandum 4," entitled, "The Private-Zoo Factor," the "Operation" is directed to ensure that those who hold to the Christian faith do so only within their own spiritual cages. If they want to claim to be Christians, all well and good. But they should never be allowed to think that their Christianity has any relevance outside of their personal Christian cages; they are welcome to believe what they want, as long as they keep their beliefs and practices within their own private zoos.
It would be tempting to argue that Guiness' private zoos are now thriving, even more than when the book was originally written. Whole theologies have developed in order to support such ideas. But the point to be made here is that it is all too tempting for us to erect private zoos in the way that we think about, and view, the world around us.
Note, just to use one example, of the way Scripture encourages us to think about the world around us:
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man's heart.
He made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until the evening. (Ps 104:14-15, 19-23)
Scripture takes some of the most "common" and "mundane" events in the world and affirms them all as illustrative of God's work in the world, and of His majesty (see v. 1). Even the grass that grows -- which is sometimes used metaphorically as a symbol for the utterly boring -- is described as being caused by God and as promoting the life of the animals He has made. The glass of wine that we enjoy is given by God for encouragement. The animals seek their food from God. Even the routine of our daily work is a sign of God's majesty and glory.
There are, of course, more dramatic and significant events that take place each day. There are wars and conflicts, murders and deaths, disasters and destruction. One small dose of the daily news can be almost overwhelming to us.
The question that Tenet Ten is calculated to evoke is, "Do we understand the most mundane facts, as well as the most monumental ones, as expressing the sovereign plan and purpose of God in and for this world?" Do we remember when we're watching or reading the news that it is all a part of God's comprehensive plan, or do we think in our hearts that the world is out of control? It is a necessary part of our sanctification in Christ that we begin to see everything -- the good and the bad -- as having its origin and its sustenance in the all-controlling activity of the Triune God.
But there is another reason that Tenet Ten is important, especially as it relates to our defense of Christianity. Once we set in our minds the fact that all facts are what they are in relation to God's sovereign plan and purpose, we will immediately begin to recognize that it could not be any other way. In other words, it simply is not the case that the Christian view of things is just my "private-zoo" view. Instead, the Christian view of things is the actual truth of the matter, for me and for anyone else. A denial of God's existence, or of the gospel, or of the Christian faith in no way changes the facts of the matter. Not only so, but such denials, by definition, distort the facts of the matter, because the "facts of the matter" are Christian facts; they are what they are because of who the Triune God is and because of what He has done.
When we see this, we begin to see that, although people can function in this world without acknowledging the true God, their "functioning" is itself evidence that Christianity is true. So, my doctor could diagnose and fix my back injury, but his diagnosis depended on the fact that the human body could only be what it is, and work as it does, because God has originated and now sustains its virtually infinite complexity. A theory of the human body that assumes it accidentally transitioned from all fours to two legs could, if consistent, have nothing to say about the predictable and structural coherence of medicine. Accidents eschew predictability. But, because of God's universal mercy to those who oppose Him, and because my doctor is in covenant with God (since he is in Adam), made in God's image, even his errant interpretation of the cause of my malady did not prohibit him from helping me. But -- important to note -- his helping me was owing, not, in the first place, to his understanding of medicine, or to his own expertise, it was owing to the kindness and mercy of God. Given his own interpretation of my injury, he would have no means available to him to fix my problem.
As George W. Robinson put it in his hymn, "Loved With Everlasting Love," -- "Something lives in every hue, Christless eyes have never seen." Tenet Ten is calculated to give us, not Christless eyes, but the mind of Christ. It is meant to instill in us a universal vision for the meticulous sovereign purpose of God in everything that has happened, is happening and will happen in the world. This is what Paul has in mind in Ephesians 1:3-14. In this one long, doxological sentence Paul moves from eternity past to eternity future. God is to be praised, he tells us, because he has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world (vv. 3-4). This activity of God's is according to His sovereign will and all to the praise of His glorious grace (vv. 4-7). He does all of this according to the counsel of His own will (v. 11).
Toward the end of this doxological declaration, Paul takes us to the end of history. He tells us that God has been doing all of this in order to make "known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth," (vv. 9-10). The goal here is all-important. The entirety of creation (things in heaven and things on earth) is going to be united in Christ. When the "fullness of time" comes, on that last appointed day of human history, the Father will take "all things" and bring them together in order to unite them, eternally, to His Son. No more comprehensive and Christ-centered picture of the cosmos could be given than this. The sum and substance of all things is found in Christ, and in Him alone.
So we see all things now as having their sum and substance in Christ. We recognize that the growing of the grass as well as the groaning of the disgruntled are what they are because of who God is. We resolve to take our every thought of every thing captive to the obedience of Christ. Then, as God allows, we seek persuasively to show our friends that without this comprehensive vision of Christ nothing but utter darkness remains. And so we pray, as we are reminded at this time of year, that the people walking in darkness will see that Great Light (Is. 9:2), who alone is able to abolish the darkness of eternal death.
K. Scott Oliphint is Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. His latest book is Covenantal Apologetics (Crossway, 2013)