St. Paul and Antimonianism: Part I

The series on Presbyterianism (Intro) will deal with the role of the Law in the Christian faith. For now, I want to put this aphorism out into the world, as it will be the crux of the forthcoming post on the appearance of antinomianism in St. Paul's thought:

We live within law,

not by law

The charge of antinomianism against Paul is supported by the "not by law" part of the statement. But the charge of antinomianism is ultimately defeated by the "within law" part. The forthcoming post will show how this is so.

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Presbyterianism: Intro

Several weeks ago in Sunday School, before class started, I was asked if I was Presbyterian. I really didn't know how to answer the question. On the one hand, I'm Calvinist in the sense that I hold to at least four of the five points of Calvinism. On some days I affirm all five and other days I affirm four1; still this basic understanding is a prerequisite to Presbyterianism. On the other hand, I've read the Westminster Confession of Faith, agree with some parts of it, disagree with others, and find myself wondering about whether or not I've read it correctly in the first place. Parsing the Westminster Confession can sometimes be as difficult as trying to understand whether or not the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution really provides for individual firearm ownership2. Words can be obtuse, readers can be obtuse, and sometimes both hold. Presbyterians may hold to the "perspicuity of Scripture"3, but the same can't be said about the Confession. To further confuse the issue, I was told recently by the pastor of a Presbyterian church that I am "more Presbyterian" than most in the congregation. He didn't mean that as an insult, but I had to ask, since I've been told that the defining characteristic of Presbyterians is that they like to argue.

So, upon recommendation, I read "
On Being Presbyterian" by Sean Lucas. Written for the laymen, it's a clue as to how Presbyterians understand the Westminster Confession and Scripture. Now, it starts well:


The gospel of the Reformation, which proclaimed that God's righteousness teousness shall come to those who live by faith alone, fundamentally challenged the basis of medieval religion and piety. If salvation came by faith alone in Christ alone, and if this provided an effective removal of religious guilt and anxiety...

But what I find with having been around Presbyterians for some time is that, in my opinion, religious guilt and anxiety is very real. (This isn't limited to Presbyterians, but they are the focus of this series of posts). My thesis is that this is because the Westminster Confession gets several things wrong in critical areas. If orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy (as I believe the Bible affirms), then heterodoxy can lead to heteropraxy4.

Two recent examples of this deal with the doctrine of "irresistible grace". The first error is thinking that, if grace is irresistible, then not only do Christians not need to evangelize, but the elders of a congregation do not need to shepherd the flock. The response to this is, certainly, God does not need us to advance His Kingdom. As far as we know, no missionary came to Abraham. Still, God delights to work through us, imperfect though we may be. We are told to make disciples
5, elders are told to tend the flock6. The second error is thinking our falling short of living the Chrstian life -- our hypocrisy, our hardness of heart, and all of our other failings -- impede the spread of the Gospel. "They won't believe me because I fall short" denies irresistible grace. Irresistible grace should be one ingredient that calms our fears; that is does not means that doctrine and practice haven't been fully integrated.

The next several posts in this series will deal where I dissent from Presbyterianism in the areas of:
  • means of grace
  • the role of law
  • Baptism and Communion
  • Corporate Identity
  • Miscellaneous

Note that I will restrict my musings to topics covered in Lucas' book.



[1] Limited Atonement. I'm so glad we aren't saved because of our correct knowledge.
[2] If the Supreme Court decided
Heller by a 5-4 split, what hope do laymen have?
[3] Westminster Confession of Faith, I.VII
[4] We can sometimes do the right things for the wrong reasons.
[5] Matthew 28:19
[6] 1 Peter 5:1-5


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Shaping Reality


You must first be in touch with reality before you can shape reality.

-- wrf3

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2018 Reading List

1On Wings of SongThomas M. Disch
2The Left Hand of DarknessUrsula K. Le Guin
3Humanity PrimeBruce McAllister
4Fahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury
5Till We Have FacesC. S. Lewis
6Seeking Allah, Finding JesusNabeel Qureshi
7Nicaea and it’s LegacyLewis Ayres
8After Things Fell ApartRon Goulart
9The Truth About Uri GellerJames Randi
10Flim-FlamJames Randi
11Ship of FoolsC. R. Hallpike
12The Future of the People of GodAndrew Perriman
13The Last Days According to JesusR. C. Sproul


Still reading: Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko; Lost in the Cosmos, by Walker Percy; The Female Man, by Joanna Russ; Common Lisp Recipes, by Edi Weitz; The Letter to the Colossians and to Philemon, by Douglas Moo; Infinity and the Mind, by Rudy Rucker.
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Goto considered harmful

Y-Combinator recently had an item about The History, Controversy, and Evolution of the Goto Statement [pdf]. The .pdf considers the "right" way to implement code that computes the average of integers read from the standard input, where the value 99999 is used to denote end-of-input. Code written in C is presented on page 10 and is offered as a good solution. It avoids an explicit goto by using a break statement but, in so doing, misses the forest for the trees. It entangles obtaining data with processing the data and this is almost always a bad idea. But C makes it hard to write better code because C doesn't have built-in support for lists. The following Lisp code separates concerns, promotes code reuse, and the only explicit loop construct is the recursive call by read-input to collect data up to the end-of-data sentinel. C needs constructs like for, break, and continue because it's weak on data structures and memory management. It's also a strongly typed language: variables have types and types have values. In Lisp, however, variables have values and values have types which makes it easier to write generic code.


(defun read-input (&optional (result nil))
(let ((value (read)))
(if (equalp value 99999)
(reverse result)
(read-input (cons value result)))))

(defun average (numbers)
(let ((n (length numbers)))
(if (zerop n)
nil
(/ (reduce #'+ numbers) n))))

(defun main ()
(let ((avg (average (read-input))))
(if avg
(format t "~f~%" (float avg))
(format t "no numbers input. average undefined.~%"))))



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