Theses Theologicæ (Theological Propositions)

Since the medieval period, theologians have stated theology in the form of brief, sometimes provocative, propositions to be discussed.

1. Prolegomena

  1. Theology requires proper distinctions.
  2. The Protestant scholastics distinguished properly between archetypal (theology as God knows it in himself) and ectypal theology (theology as God reveals it to us).
  3. Archetypal theology is the understanding which the Triune God has always had of himself, and of every other fact or possibility. Therefore God has a theology apart from our experience of him or his self-revelation to us.
  4. Ectypal theology is God’s accommodated self-revelation in the Word of God written. Because of the ontological distinction between the Creator and the creature God’s self-revelation in the Bible is necessarily accommodated to human finitude.
  5. Failure to distinguish between archetypal and ectypal theology necessarily leads either to fundamentalism (i.e., the illegitimate claim of certainty by identifying the mind of man with God’s mind) or to skepticism.
  6. Because it is ectypal (revealed) theology, Scripture’s anthropomorphic language about God must be understood to be analogical.
  7. Scripture, because it is the product of the Holy Spirit, is the infallible, inerrant, word of God written.
  8. Pilgrim Theology is the apprehension, appropriation, and application of biblical (theologia ectypa) truth.
  9. Revelation is twofold: natural and Scriptural.
  10. Natural revelation is true but not saving.
  11. Scripture is the primary and unique source of theology.
  12. Study of general revelation must inform but not control our interpretation of Scripture.
  13. Theology must always account for the one and the many.
  14. The Christian faith is the most rational thing to believe but Christians do not believe it primarily because it is so.
  15. The Christian must not integrate faith and life as much as refuse to disintegrate what God has already united.
  16. Scripture is the primary and unique authority for faith and life, i.e. sola Scriptura is still the formal principle of Protestantism.
  17. Scripture is composed of two words: Law and Gospel. The Law describes God’s moral demands of his creatures and the Gospel describes God’s gracious provision for sinners.
  18. The Law-Gospel dichotomy is absolutely necessary for a genuinely Protestant and Reformed hermeneutic.
  19. Scripture interprets Scripture, the new interprets the old, and the clear interprets the unclear.
  20. Modernism is a competing sub-Christian religion.
  21. Progressive neo-evangelicalism is a form of “soft” modernism.
  22. Literal is not a synonym for true.
  23. Everything which one must believe for salvation is clearly revealed in Scripture.
  24. Karl Barth was a neo-Modernist, not neo-Orthodox, theologian, i.e. he was expressing Modernity in Christian terms, not Christianity in Modern terms.
  25. Inasmuch as it is a revealed religion Christianity is not susceptible of human revision or rescue.
  26. Progressive neo-evangelicals do not sufficiently value the orthodox Protestant tradition.
  27. There are four necessary mysteries in the Christian faith: God is one in three persons; Christ is one person with two natures; God is absolutely sovereign yet human beings are morally liable for their actions; God reveals himself as desiring what he has not decreed.
  28. The N.T. hermeneutic and interpretation of the O.T. norms our hermeneutic and use of Scripture.

2. Theology Proper

  1. All theology flows from the Doctrine of God.
  2. The God who is revealed in Scripture neither suffers (impassable) nor changes (immutable), in himself.
  3. The biblical God speaks and reveals himself.
  4. Scripture distinguishes between God as he is in himself and God as he is revealed to us.
  5. Reformed theology has both voluntarist and realist elements in its doctrine of God.
  6. Christology must be distinguished from the doctrine of God.
  7. God is one in three, co-eternal, consubstantial persons.
  8. All Christians believe the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.
  9. Both creation and redemption are Trinitarian in character and operation.
  10. The Western Church was correct to condemn Pelagius was wrong.
  11. God the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son (i.e. the filioque is correct).
  12. God has made certain immutable decisions from all eternity.
  13. Divine sovereignty does not preclude human, moral, liability.
  14. All things happen according to God’s fatherly providence.

3. Anthropology

  1. We were created in imago Dei.
  2. In the fall the image was marred but not lost entirely.
  3. Scripture precludes the possibility of evolutionary ancestors.
  4. Denial of the special creation of humanity jeopardizes the doctrine of Christ’s federal headship.
  5. There is universal, indiscriminate, divine benevolence this side of the consummation.
  6. It is true both that we are the image and we possess it.
  7. The image consists in our rational, volitional, affective faculties, and in our bodies.
  8. The image is renewed only by union with Christ.
  9. Augustine was right on sin and Pelagius was wrong, i.e., Post-lapsum non posse non peccare.
  10. We sin because we are sinners.
  11. The Christian is simul iustus et peccator.
  12. Entire perfection, in this life, is impossible.
  13. Post-lapsum we are unable to cooperate with divine grace toward justification.
  14. Adam is the federal head of all humanity, to wit, “In Adam’s fall, sinned we all.”
  15. Human beings are morally liable for their actions because of God’s sovereignty.
  16. Anyone who denies the prelapsarian covenant of works jeopardizes the Biblical and Protestant doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

4. Christology

  1. Jesus Christ is an historical person.
  2. The gospel accounts of Christ are true and reliable.
  3. All Christians believe the orthodox doctrine of Christ summarized in the catholic creeds.
  4. All Christians believe Jesus’ virgin conception and birth.
  5. Christ has two natures in one person.
  6. Jesus’ humanity had no existence prior to the incarnation.
  7. Jesus is a person and did not adopt an existing human person.
  8. Christ has two sources of consciousness and one center of self-consciousness.
  9. Jesus was self-consciously the God-Man.
  10. Christ expiated the sins and propitiated the divine wrath for all his people.
  11. Christ had to be fully God and fully man to accomplish redemption.
  12. Christ is federal, representative head of all his people.
  13. Jesus came to be the surety for all his people by his active and passive obedience.
  14. The Reformed doctrine of the communication of the properties (communicatio idiomatum) is this: What can be said of the two natures can be said of the person but what can be said of the person cannot ipso facto be said of the two natures.
  15. God the Son was and is extra Christum and was present with his people prior to the incarnation and by the Holy Spirit after the incarnation.
  16. Jesus’ humanity was glorified but not overwhelmed by his Deity, in the ascension.

5. Soteriology

  1. The God of the Bible relates to his creatures covenantally.
  2. Covenant or federal theology is so of the essence of Reformed theology that to revise it is to revise the substance of Reformed theology.
  3. Classical Reformed theology teaches three distinct covenants: the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis), the covenant of works (foedus operum), and the covenant of grace (foedus gratiae).
  4. The pre-temporal covenant of redemption (pactum salutis) stands behind the covenant of works and covenant of grace.
  5. The covenantal arrangement of the history of redemption and the covenantal progressive revelation of Scripture is not a mere convention, but rather a reflection of the intra-Trinitarian covenantal relations among the persons of the Deity.
  6. The pre-lapsarian covenant may be called a covenant of works in respect to its terms, a covenant of life in respect to its goals, and a covenant of nature in respect to its setting. All three names describe the same covenant.
  7. In Reformed theology, the covenant of works is identical to the Law which says: Do this and live.
  8. In Reformed theology the covenant of grace is synonymous with the Gospel.
  9. Monocovenantalism or refusal to distinguish between the covenants of works and grace implies a confusion of Law and Gospel.
  10. When we speak in covenantal terms we should always specify to which covenant we refer.
  11. The Gospel is not a promise that one is elect. It is a statement of fact, that Christ obeyed, died, and was raised for the justification of his people and a promise that whoever has true faith in the Savior is justified and redeemed.
  12. Election is the superstructure of our ordo salutis, but not itself the application of redemption.
  13. Though election and predestination are essential to Reformed theology they are not in themselves sufficient conditions for Reformed theology since many theologians have held and taught them without being Reformed.
  14. Election and predestination are best used a posteriori to explain how one came to faith. Reformed theology is not deduced a priori from the doctrines of election and predestination.
  15. Therefore, typically, we do not reason from election to our salvation, but we reason from our saving faith in Christ to our election.
  16. The doctrine of union with Christ is best understood as an analogue to the doctrine of predestination. Salvation is impossible without union with Christ but we do not deduce our system from it any more than we deduce our system from predestination. The Reformed doctrine of union with Christ serves as an a posteriori explanation of how believers have come into possession of the benefits of Christ (i.e., justification, sanctification, and glorification)
  17. It is best to distinguish two aspects of our union with Christ: federal and vital. The elect have a federal union with Christ from eternity by virtue of the decree.
  18. Believers are brought into vital union by virtue of their federal union with Christ.
  19. The first benefit of vital union is the application of redemption in the Spirit’s work of regeneration (awakening from death to life) by the Spirit through preaching of the gospel.
  20. Because we do not come into possession of the benefits of that union until we believe, our confessional documents usually associate union (or communion) with Christ closely with faith in Christ (defined as receiving and resting).
  21. The doctrine of union with Christ should not be used to obscure the nature of faith in the act of justification or to marginalize faith as the sole receptive instrument in the act of justification.
  22. Jesus Christ fulfilled the covenant works in his active and passive obedience to God’s law on behalf of his people.
  23. The slogan “in by grace, stay in by works,” is nothing less than the Galatian heresy condemned by the Apostle Paul.
  24. The covenant of grace was inaugurated in the garden, post lapsum.
  25. The covenant of grace is principally between God and the elect.
  26. The covenant of grace is monopleural in origin and dipleural in administration.
  27. The term covenant of grace can be used broadly and narrowly. When used broadly, it refers to everyone who is baptized into the Christ confessing covenant community. When used narrowly, it refers to those who have received the double benefit of Christ: justification and sanctification.
  28. All baptized persons can be said to be in the covenant of grace in the broad sense. Not everyone who is baptized receives the substance or benefits of the covenant of grace.
  29. There is a just and necessary distinction to be made between those who are in the covenant broadly (externally) and those who are in the covenant both broadly and narrowly (internally).
  30. The pactum salutis is distinct from and the basis of the covenant of grace.
  31. In the history of redemption, the covenant of grace was renewed in Abraham such that he is the father of all who believe.
  32. The term “Old Covenant” as used in Scripture refers to the Mosaic epoch not every epoch before the incarnation nor to all of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures indiscriminately.
  33. The Old Covenant was temporary and typological of the New Covenant.
  34. The New Covenant is a renewal of the promise made to Adam (Genesis 3:14–6) and the (Abrahamic) covenant of grace.
  35. The Christian religion is exclusivist because it teaches that Jesus Christ is and always has been the only Savior for sinners.
  36. The Law and the Gospel are necessarily dichotomous since the former only condemns and the only justifies.
  37. Sinners are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
  38. We are sanctified because we are justified, not vice versa.
  39. Good works are logically and morally necessary for the justified, i.e. they are nothing more or less than the evidence that one is indeed justified.
  40. Anyone who says that good works are part of the instrument or ground of justification has denied the Gospel of Christ.
  41. Christ’s active and passive obedience is the only ground for the justification of sinners.
  42. Justification (sola gratia, sola fide) is still the material principle of Protestant Christianity
  43. Saving faith is faith which alone apprehends Christ, his righteousness, and merits.
  44. Faith, in the act of justification, is not an infused virtue, but a divine gift and the sole, adequate, trusting, receiving, resting, simple, apprehensive instrument of justification.
  45. The power of faith, in the act of justification, lies only its object which is Christ and his righteousness.
  46. In the act of justification, faith does not contain “all other saving graces,” but rather is accompanied by them. To make faith, in the act of justification, to contain “all other saving graces,” is to adopt the Roman definition of faith as “formed by love.”
  47. Any definition of faith which contains more than one element (e.g., faith and works) or any other object than
    Christ and his finished work is sub-Biblical and sub-Protestant.
  48. The doctrine of “obedient faith” (or “covenant faithfulness”) as formulated by
    Norman Shepherd teaches a complex instrument of faith in the act of justification whereby we are not justified only on the ground of Christ’s righeousness imputed received through faith resting in and receiving that righteousness alone and therefore denies sola fide and solo Christo.
  49. Justifying grace is not a substance but unmerited divine favor.
  50. Divine grace is grounded in the sovereign will of the immutable God and is therefore irresistible.
  51. God freely imputes our sin to Christ and his righteousness to sinners.
  52. The Reformed ordo salutis is not a speculative construct but a biblical doctrine.
  53. Much of so-called neo-evangelical soteriology has been and is sub-Protestant and therefore not truly evangelical as that adjective is defined by the 16th- and 17th-century Reformation theologians.
  54. Assurance is of the essence of saving faith.
  55. Christ’s obedience and the divine promise is the ground of assurance.
  56. The practical syllogism may supplement the divine promises.
  57. Evangelism is properly defined as the public, official, proclamation of the Gospel.
  58. Evangelism is a Dominical mandate.
  59. Every Christian has an obligation to give witness to the faith and to his personal appropriation of that faith.
  60. God reveals himself as desiring the redemption of all though he has decreed only the salvation of the elect.
  61. The free, universal, well-meant, offer of the gospel does not imply universal ability to believe.
  62. Not everyone will be saved.
  63. Only the elect will believe.
  64. None of the elect will be lost.

6. Ecclesiology

  1. The church is both the universal and local Christ-confessing covenant community.
  2. There are divinely prescribed and described offices and ecclesiastical courts with teaching, ministerial, and judicial authority.
  3. God has ordained three special offices in the Christ-confessing covenant community: minister, elder and deacon.
  4. These three offices have distinct functions. The ministerial office is prophetic, the presbyterial office is kingly, and the diaconate is priestly in nature.
  5. The marks of the true church are the pure preaching of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of discipline.
  6. The preaching of the Gospel is the chief means of grace and that through which God the Spirit creates saving faith among the elect.
  7. The function of the sacraments is to confirm saving faith among the elect.
  8. The sacraments are signs and seals of the covenant of grace.
  9. As signs they point to the reality of salvation.
  10. The word “seal” may be taken in two senses.
    1. If “seal” means “promise,” then it is a promise to all whom it is administered that whoever believes in Christ is justified.
    2. If “seal” is taken to mean “guarantee,” then it is a guarantee to the elect that everything signified by the sacrament shall actually be true of and for them.
    3. Taken in the latter sense, the sacraments are signs to all but seals only to the elect.
  11. As signs and seals of the covenant of grace, they are Gospel not Law.
  12. The sacraments are divinely ordained means of sanctifying not justifying grace.
  13. The only divinely ordained sacraments are baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
  14. The sacraments are God’s Word visible.
  15. Scripture teaches the baptism of covenant children.
  16. We do not baptize covenant children on the presumption of their regeneration, but on basis of the divine command and promises attached to baptism.
  17. Baptism does not itself regenerate.
  18. Baptism does not unite every baptized person “head for head” to Christ.
  19. Since union with Christ is the headwaters of the ordo salutis (i.e. the application of redemption), to teach that baptism necessarily unites the baptized to Christ is to say it ex opere operato confers the application of redemption upon every baptized person. This is a gross error.
  20. To say that baptism necessarily unites the baptized to Christ obliterates the Biblical and Reformed distinction between the church considered as a visible institution and as an invisible organism.
  21. Baptism does not promise that all the baptized are or will necessarily be regenerated (awakened from spiritual death to life).
  22. Baptism is a sign to all who baptized, whether regenerate and elect or not.
  23. Baptism promises to the believer that as certainly as water washes outwardly, so also has Christ’s righteousness been imputed to him.
  24. The mode of baptism is morally indifferent though effusion is exegetically and historically preferable since, in the history of salvation, the only ones who were immersed were those who were not on the Ark with Noah and Pharaoh and his armies. Baptism is an identification with Christ and his death, not an identification with the reprobate.
  25. The Lord’s Supper is the divinely instituted sign and seal of covenant renewal.
  26. By the operation of the Holy Spirit, through faith, Christ feeds believers with his proper and natural body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.
  27. Reformed Christians do confess Christ’s true, real and local presence. His humanity is truly, really and locally present in heaven and, by the Holy Spirit, we are taken to feed on his true, proper and natural body in the Supper.
  28. Rome says that the elements of the Supper become Christ’s body.
  29. Lutherans say that Christ’s body is with the elements.
  30. Zwinglians and the Evangelicals say that the Supper reminds them of Christ’s body.
  31. Calvinists alone can say that the Supper is Christ’s body and blood.
  32. The system of the catechism is opposed and superior to the system of the anxious bench.

7. Eschatology

  1. History is a creature and has a telos and a terminus.
  2. Salvation is eschatological inasmuch as it entails deliverance from judgment to final glorification.
  3. Eschatology is about ultimate things as well as “last” things.
  4. We have been in “the last days” since Jesus’ ascension.
  5. Biblical eschatology was revealed progressively.
  6. Postmillennialism and Premillennialism are both forms of a theology of glory or over-realized eschatology.
  7. Biblical eschatology is Christocentric not Israeleocentric.
  8. Postmillennialism and Premillennialism are both essentially chiliast.
  9. There will be no earthly millennial reign of Christ.
  10. Christ has always had only one people.
  11. Christ will return bodily, visibly, audibly, to consummate salvation.
  12. No one on this earth knows when Christ will return.
  13. Christ reigns now as sovereign Lord over all.
  14. There will be a final resurrection and judgment.
  15. The body and soul are distinct but separated unnaturally at death.
  16. The body and soul will be reunited at the resurrection.
  17. The bodily resurrection will occur at Christ’s return.
  18. There was an angelic lapse.
  19. Satan is a fallen angel
  20. Heaven is a place or experience of eternal blessedness.
  21. Hell is a place or experience of eternal torment.
  22. The reprobate and Satan will suffer eternal punishment in hell.

8. Ethics

  1. True Christianity cannot be privatized or isolated and must be lived in the Christ Confessing Covenant Community.
  2. Christ is the Lord of nature and of grace.
  3. The greatest struggles of the Christian life are two: accepting divine grace and divine providence.
  4. The decalogue is the general equity of God’s law. Christ summarized the decalogue in Matthew 22.37–40.
  5. The law of nature is substantially identical to the decalogue and was revealed in Eden and is known naturally by all humans such that all are without excuse before God.
  6. God’s law (whether expressed in the Old or New Testament) is the norm for the Christian’s moral life.
  7. There are three types of law in the Old (Mosaic) Testament: moral, civil and ceremonial.
  8. Because civil and ceremonial law were specifically and intentionally tied to the Old (Mosaic) covenant, they were fulfilled in the Kingly and Priestly work of Christ and are therefore no longer binding on the Christian.
  9. The Mosaic civil law, because it was specifically and intentionally tied to the temporary and typical Old (Mosaic) covenant, it was never intended to serve as norm for any other state than Mosaic–Davidic theocracy.
  10. Any attempt to reimpose the Mosaic civil laws or their penalties fails to understand the typological, temporary, national character of the Old (Mosaic)
  11. The moral law, to the degree it expresses the substance of God’s moral will and is not tied to the ceremonies of the Old covenant continues to bind all
    human beings.
  12. There are three uses of the Law: the pedagogical, the civil and the normative.
  13. The pedagogical use drives sinners to Christ.
  14. The civil use norms the state.
  15. In the New Covenant, only the second table of the Law can be said to bind the state.
  16. There are two kingdoms: that of the right hand and that of the left.
  17. Both kingdoms are under the authority of Christ, but are administered in diverse ways.
  18. In each Christians live under Christ’s lordship according to the nature of that kingdom.
  19. The kingdom of the Right hand describes the ministry of Word and sacrament.
  20. The kingdom of the left hand describes the exercise of power in the ecclesiastical and civil realms.
  21. Because of the distinction between the two kingdoms and because the Decalogue is substantially identical with natural law, Christians should advocate laws and policies in the civil realm on the basis of the universal, natural knowledge of the second table of the law.
  22. The third use of the law norms the Christian life.
  23. Denial of the third use of the Law (tertius usus legis) leads to antinomianism.
  24. The third use of the law, like the first use, also drives us to Christ.
  25. Because it cannot be known apart from divine revelation in Holy Scripture, no one may bind our conscience with any law other than that revealed by God.
  26. Sanctification is as gracious as justification.
  27. Sanctification is the result of justification.
  28. The revelation of God’s moral will in Scripture does not eliminate the need for wisdom in the interpretation and application of divinely revealed moral norms in the Christian life whether in the church or in civil life.
  29. The Christian life flows from the right use of the means of grace.
  30. There is a proper distinction between God’s hidden (decretive) and revealed (moral) will. The latter has been revealed in Holy Scripture and must be known and obeyed. The former is only known ex post facto.
  31. There is no secret revelation of God’s decretive will.
  32. It is more helpful to consider that prayer is the chief part of thankfulness than a means of grace considered narrowly.
  33. Broadly considered, prayer may be described as a means of grace since it is a divinely instituted element of worship through which God has promised to operate.
  34. Theonomy is not a Reformed ethical system.
  35. Only that should be done in worship which is explicitly taught or implicitly required by Scripture.
  36. The Christian life flows from and is impossible without theology.
  37. The Spirit must never be divorced from the Word. Any such separation is fanaticism.
  38. Inasmuch as modern evangelicalism (from c. 1720) is driven primarily by religious experience and not objective revelation as revealed in Scripture and confessed by the church, the Reformed may be described as evangelical but we are not modern evangelicals.

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