Establishing the Boundaries of a Biblical Worldview

Calvin

“Alfred declares that when Christ came to the Mediterranean World (or ‘Middle Earth’), He Himself did “approve” the “judgments” alias the judicial laws. Very far from ever having abrogated or destroyed them — He Himself therefore still requires that at least their ‘general equity’ be observed.” Dr. F.N. Lee, in his history of Alfred the Great.

R.J. Rushdoony said that the people who study history are the ones who are interested in the future.

And a study of history reveals a different view of the OT law than is popular today.

Dr. Lee has done a great service by writing this history of Alfred, for it provides the theological backdrop to our Anglo-Saxon culture. The shires (counties), hundreds courts, property rights,and much, much more. And Alfred, it should be said, was not the first. The political backdrop known as “federalism” has its roots in the Old Testament and is related to the word “covenant”. These are not popular facts today, because they put the Old Testament into a different light.

Now Alfred lived quite a few centuries before the words “general equity” made their way into the language of Christianity via John Calvin and the Westminster Confession of Faith. So it is drawing a long bow to suggest here that Alfred — the only English king ever called great — is referring to a much, much later view of the OT law. Perhaps Alfred was not referring to a “general equity thereof” but rather the “literal application thereof.” For that’s how his laws read.

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“Jesus gave a higher standard than the ten commandments … Jesus disobeyed the law.” —Pastor Melissa Scott (Monday Night TV, March 15, 2010)

Rewind your time clock to the second century. Justin Martyr has just written a book, Dialogue With Trypho. In this dialogue, Justin attempts to address accusations that Christians, who claim they are the seed of Abraham, are not keeping the laws handed down to the Israelites.

Justin’s Dialogue leads to the conclusion that Christians don’t have to keep the Torah. Why not? Because those laws are for the Israelites in Israel, and if you’re not an Israelite living in Israel, then there’s a different set of laws for you.

Naturally you’re never told what these replacement laws are. There are some vague “motherhood” statements, but nothing specific. Only one this is certain: you don’t have to keep the laws found in the Torah.

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“The Old Testament is literal, because promulgated without the efficacy of the Spirit: the New spiritual, because the Lord has engraven it on the heart. … The Old is deadly, because it can do nothing but involve the whole human race in a curse; the New is the instrument of life, because those who are freed from the curse it restores to favour with God.” —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 11, Section 8.

Did the title of this e-zine get your attention? I hope so. I discovered something recently by reading John Calvin, in this case. I’m not sure he got it right on this occasion. In fact, I know he got it wrong.

If you are a Calvinist, this e-zine may offend you. I apologize if it does. It is not my intention to offend. It is my intention to try to understand and draw conclusions from what Calvin says. And on this occasion, I do not agree with Calvin.

Calvin is at one of his weakest moments in this chapter of Book 2, when he deals with the relationship between Old Testament and New Testament. Calvin does not mince his words. He is no milquetoast when it comes to disagreeing with those who do not agree with his viewpoint, as evidenced in his polemics against the Anabaptists and Libertines.

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Neoplatonism, with its division of worldy and spiritual realms, has played havoc with Christian belief. Not even a great scholar such as John Calvin was completely devoid of its influence.

For example, in the introduction to his Harmony of the Four Last Books of the Pentateuch, he makes these comments. He claims that “God protests that he never enjoined anything with respect to the Sacrifices: and he pronounced all External Rites but vain and trifling.”

The first part of this statement is rather startling. God never “enjoined” (i.e. imposed) Sacrifices? This statement is an amazing misrepresentation of the Torah. If there is one thing that is very clear, Sacrifices were not only commanded, but also expected, from God’s people.

Did God really pronounce “all External Rites but vain and trifling”? There’s a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ answer to this question. It is certainly clear that God says that External Rites without faith have no meaning and value in his sight. Time and time again God tells his people that he does not want sacrifices that were external only. The sacrifices were to come from a life of faith and obedience. But this does not mean that God did not want the sacrifices; he just wanted them done the right way and in the right spirit.

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“Luther himself began with victory and ended in defeat, a self-tortured, guilt-ridden, and bloated man. He who had been the hope of the Christian poor had been denounced by them as Herr Luder, Mr. Liar, decoy, law scoundrel, or carrion. Luther could rightfully plead that his was not a theology of social revolution, but he had raised false hopes among the peasants. ‘Sola Sciptura’ was his standard: the word of God alone. This to the people meant not only justification by faith but also the sovereign law of God. To that law they appealed, and Luther denounced God’s law in favor of statist law. . . .

“Calvin also made possible the revival of natural law by his loose views of the law of God. The Puritans for a time saved Calvinism from itself by their emphasis on Biblical law, only to succumb themselves to the intellectual climate of neoplatonism and also the lure of the natural law. The Reformation as a whole moved form victory to defeat, from relevance to irrelevance, from a challenge to the world to a surrender to the world or a meaningless withdrawal from it. Rome, Geneva, Wittenberg, and Canterbury retreated also into an ineffectual pietism. They were all now of the world but not in the world.”[1]

See also:
Why I Am Not (Always) A Calvinist.
Calvin and Usury.
The Myth of Calvinism.
Neopolatonism and Calvinism.

Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. R.J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, Volume 1, p. 659.↵back

In a previous series, “Why I am Not (Always) A Calvinist” I quoted from Calvin’s Institutes concerning his view about the Old Testament. He spoke disparagingly of the Old Testament, putting it on a lower level than the New Testament. This view immediately creates a problem with the unity of God’s Word.

Later in his Institutes, Calvin made these comments about the Old Testament law and its place in the life of any nation in the New Testament period. “For there are some who deny that any commonwealth is rightly framed which neglects the law of Moses, and is ruled by the common law of nations. How perilous and seditious these views are, let others see: for me it is enough to demonstrate that they are stupid and false”(John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, 20:14).

Calvin wrote at a time when it was common to speak clearly, unlike today where misleading and obfuscation are the order of the day. The idea that any commonwealth is to be ruled by the law of Moses is a “stupid and false” idea. Now Calvin is not completely denying the law of Moses, or is he?
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