Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Questions for Further Reflection (Chapters 1-5)

Here are some issues that I think deserve further reflection. It is profitable to explore the implications of as well as to clarify the meaning of Calvin's words. Many more could be asked, but here are a few:
  1. What is the significance of Calvin beginning his work of systematizing the Christian faith with the doctrine of the "knowledge of God?" This is not a common starting point for systematic theologies, at least from a brief survey of ones on my shelves: Berkhof starts with the "Doctrine of God", so does Hodge; Reymond with Revelation, so does Erickson. Is there significance to the "starting point" of a theological work?
  2. Calvin demonstrates from Scripture the fact that all men are "naturally endued" with the knowledge of God. This would include, of course, atheists (who claim there is no God) and agnostics (who claim that we don't or can't know that there is a God). How do Calvin's statements concerning the unbeliever having a knowledge of God affect our approach to an unbeliever. In other words, how does this truth affect apologetics?
  3. In discussing man's knowledge of God, Calvin uses phrases like "idea of a God" (3, II), "idea of a Deity" (3, III), or "persuasion of the Divine existence" (3, III). Does Romans 1:20 teach simply that every man has a notion of a Deity? Or does Calvin use phrases like these as synonymous with knowledge of the true God? Or is there another explanation?
  4. What does Calvin mean when he uses the word "religion?"
  5. Would you ever have seen a connection between Psalm 104:2 ("He covereth himself with light as with a garment;") and creation? Calvin applies the psalmist's statement by saying "that his first appearance in visible apparel was at the creation of the world..." (5, I). Is this an appropriate use of Scripture?
  6. Given the time period in which Calvin wrote, that is, before our "scientific" understanding of astronomy, what do you think he meant by:
  7. In disquisitions concerning the motions of the stars, in fixing their situations, measuring their distances, and distinguishing their peculiar properties, there is need of skill, exactness, and industry; and the providence of God being more clearly revealed by these discoveries, the mind aught to rise to a sublimer elevation for the contemplation of his glory (5, II).

    How is the "providence of God" revealed in a study of the stars? Or, again:
    But the powers of the soul are far from being limited to functions subservient to the body. For what concern has the body in measuring the heavens, counting the number of the stars, computing their several magnitudes, and acquiring a knowledge of their respective distances, of the celerity or tardiness of their courses, and of the degrees of their various declinations (5, V)?

    What kind of knowledge do we acquire by understanding the stars' distances, speeds, or "degree of their various declinations?"

  8. Finally, by the end of Chapter 5, Calvin begins questioning how an unbeliever really "knows" God. Calvin had been demonstrating that he indeed does know God, or what he calls and idea of Divinity. But yet he moves on to point out that Paul says that the Ephesians were "without God" (2:12) and that unbelievers "became vain in their imaginations" (Rom. 1:21) (5, XIII). In what sense(s) does an unbeliever know, and in what sense(s) does he not know God?


Blue Dog Daddie said...

This is an interesting question. Calvin kept referring to a "spark of the divine". Could it be that he believed that even in the fallen state, man has an awareness of the divine, but because of the fall, and absent redemption and of course the scriptures, he is dragged only kicking and screaming on occasion to confront the many revelations of deity which Calvin discusses. Hmmmm!

BlueDog said...

If Romans 1:18-23ff is talking about all men indiscriminately, then it seems pretty clear that Paul indicates that it is God Himself whom men know. Though they "suppress the truth" (v. 18), yet they indeed do know God (v. 21), the one true God. In other words, I think that it is more than simply an "idea of divinity" or, even more generally, "eternity in their hearts." No doubt in most cases, knowing God, even in an unbeliever, includes these less specific ideas, but Scripture indicates more than that. I suspect that this is what Calvin would say also, since he uses the less specific phrases interchangeably with God Himself.

It is on the basis of this idea-- that all men, in some sense, know God-- that I would see huge implications in apologetics. Many apologetic methods approach an unbeliever as if his main problem is not enough information. So they attempt to find common ground with him and give him enough information or evidences that will persuade him to believe in God. Incidentally, this is not the approach that Paul took in Athens.

Why do these approaches end up working in some cases? Because the Holy Spirit uses these "evidences" to show the unbeliever the weight of truth that he is suppressing. He isn't convinced that God exists. Rather, he is convicted of the sinfulness of disobeying God and repents of his unbelief.

In our "apologetic encounters" with unbelievers, we have a leg up on them. We know something about their innermost being. We know they have a knowledge of God and are doing what they can to suppress it. The Gospel is a proclamation of a new kingdom. The kingdom is not entered merely by intellectual assent. It is entered by a change in loyalty, a change in authority. Thus, our "apologetics" should not be merely defensive (as the word implies) but a proclamation of the true King and his claim of rule over their lives.

Blue Dog Daddie said...

O yeah, Bill Boulet at Word of Life would agree ... We need to present God, not as another post-modern alternative in our society, but as Paul did in Acts 17 ... as the Creator, and therefore as Someone answerable to, and therefore Someone to be obviously feared. I think that Calvin has been running this thread through the first 5 chapters. Paul also presented God as angry with sin, and thus in need of propitiation.