Wednesday, 30 December 2009

more arguments for the iao

A view I'm coming around to is like that postulated by Brian Vickers. That is, although no single biblical text teaches the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's active obedience (IAO) in it's fullness, the doctrine is the result of a tapestry of relevant texts.

Take Romans for instance. In Romans 4:1-8, faith is "credited" or "counted" as righteousness. At the end of Romans 4 in verse 25, all of a sudden we read that Christ "was raised for our righteousness". So faith is counted as righteousness because of Christ's resurrection.

Then into chapter 5:1, we have righteousness "by/through faith" which is also "through Jesus Christ". Then in verse 9, we are "righteous-ed by his blood". In 5:18, 19 we read that it is the obedience of the one man (I think this fits better than "one act of obedience") that makes many righteous. It is tempting to read Romans 4:1-8 and offer the reductionist argument that since faith is credited as righteousness, any kind of place for Christ's righteousness must be excluded. But this argument fails to deal with the complicated nuances each text brings to the complete view.

Furthermore, if we hark back to Romans 3 and assume that the subjective reading of pistis Christou is correct (a grand assumption I realise), the picture is filled out even futher. We read in verse 22 that the righteousness of God is given "through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who have faith." (The idea of the faithfulness of Christ would create a remarkable contrast with unfaithful Israel in verse 3).

So to chronologically sum up:
  • God reckons faith as righteousness apart from works.
  • God reckons us righteous and gives us peace through Christ.
  • God reckons us righteous on account of Christ's resurrection.
  • God reckons us righteous on account of Christ's blood.
  • God reckons us righteous on account of Christ's obedience in place of the disobedient first Adam.
  • God gifts righteousness through Christ's faithfulness, because there are none who are faithful, no not one.
As I've already stated, to assert that since Paul affirms faith is credited as righteousness then it must follow that Christ's righteousness is not in view, is to undermine the complexity of the biblical passages.

arguments for the iao from philippians

Over the festive period I listened again to John Piper's talk on Justification and the Diminishing Work of Christ. In it, he argues for the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's active obedience (IAO) from Philippians. Some interesting points he makes (with some of my own mumblings):
  • The "found" language. Is it any coincidence that Christ was "found" in human form obedient (Phil. 2:8) and that Paul's aim is to be "found" in Christ righteous (Phil. 3:9)?
  • The inadequate language of innocence. Many today equate righteousness with a "not guilty" verdict and believe that if anything at all is imputed to the believer, it is merely the cross work of Christ. After all, if righteousness just means innocence, then Christ's cross is all that is needed. This is something I have wrestled with as I've found the evidence from many passages to be compelling. For example, we read in many Scriptures of being made righteous by Christ's blood (e.g. Rom. 5:9). Nevertheless, such a definition of righteousness does not do justice to Paul's use of it in Philippians 3:9. Imagine submitting "not guilty" for "righteousness" in that passage; it just doesn't make sense, i.e. and be found in him, not having a "not guilty" verdict of my own which comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the "not guilty" verdict which comes from God and rests upon faith. A "not guilty" verdict of my own? Eh?
  • The pesky subjective genitive. Piper doesn't hold to the subjective rendering of pistis Christou i.e. the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. But he acknowledges that if this rendering is correct, then it strengthens the case for the IAO and ties back to chapter 2:5-11 in the most remarkable way. Imagine, 3:9 paraphrased: that I may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through the faithfulness of the Christ who was obedient even to the point of death, the righteousness that comes from God and rests upon faith. Wow! That is powerful. It also strikes a blow for righteousness as 'covenant faithfulness' albeit within a covenantal setting of moral and God honouring responsibility. Perhaps Wrightian insights needn't be demonized but can be made to serve the truths of Reformational Christianity.
All in all, Piper makes a powerful case for the IAO. Give it a listen.

Monday, 28 December 2009

vern poythress and new covenant theology

It's interesting, in the light of my recent discussions over the traditional Reformed view of the law, to see a Reformed theologian articulate a position not all far away from a New Covenant Theology paradigm:
...no simple and easy separation between types of law will do justice to the richness of Mosaic revelation. As we have observed (chapter 8), obviously moral principles are articulated outside the Ten Commandments (Lev. 19:18), while conversely some of the Ten Commandments contain at least minor "ceremonial" or "culturally specific" elements connected with the specific situation of the Israelites. The focus and implications of the Ten Commandments are mostly fully and properly understood only when we read them in the context of the more specific laws elsewhere, and then the ceremonial element can be separated less than ever. In the context of the Books of Moses, the Ten Commandments, the other laws, the priestly institutions, and the events of the exodus and wilderness wandering necessarily interpret one another. And all of these must now be interpreted in the light of their fulfillment in Christ. The entirety of this Mosaic revelation simultaneously articulates general moral principles and symbolic particulars: it points forward to Christ as the final and permanent expression of righteousness and penal substitution (with moral overtones), but is itself in that very respect a shadow (with ceremonial overtones). (The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, Vern Poythress, Chapter 17b)

Thursday, 24 December 2009

is the bible anti-gay?

Superb article from John Richardson on the bible and homosexuality:
Ultimately...the Bible's position on sexuality cannot be defined by listing those things to which it is notionally "opposed". Rather, we need to see it arises from an overarching understanding of the nature of God and his relationship with his creation.The Ugley Vicar: Is the Bible anti-gay?
John has a cracking book on the issue, What God has made clean...

Monday, 21 December 2009

Office Hours - Christ and Culture

The latest offering from the Office Hours team at Westminster Seminary California is a discussion with Robert Godfrey and David VanDrunen about the upcoming WSCal conference Christ, Kingdom and Culture. If, like me, you've ever been bamboozled about the differing Reformed emphases on culture, the 2 Kingdoms, Kuyperian politics, etc, this is a great starting place.

evangelical burdens part 3 - golawspel

The law/gospel distinction is out of fashion. Some Reformed academics dismiss it as 'Lutheran' (as if that's a bad thing!), despite the evidence that the distinction was a staple for all of reformational Christianity. Others see it as an old fashioned idiosyncrasy of the reformation that can be quietly dropped. Yet the Reformers to a man believed that blurring the law/gospel (L/G) distinction was the chief way to corrupt the gospel.

What is the L/G distinction? If one was to express it in a snappy, soundbite, one might describe it thus, in true White Horse Inn style:
The Law is everything that God requires of us. The Gospel is everything God gives us. God gives us everything in the Gospel that he requires of us in the Law.
Yet since such a definition does not do justice to the wide variety of passages in Scripture that speak of "the law" (Gk. nomos), and those who hold to the L/G distinction are aware of the subtle nuances surrounding the phrase nomos.

Mike Horton, in his barn storming, Covenant and Salvation, believes that the term "law" can be understood in two ways, depending on context. Firstly, the law can be understood in its redemptive-historical sense. That is, it can be seen as a body of writings containing promises that point forward to the Lord Jesus Christ. In this sense there is no tension between law and gospel as we move from promise to fulfillment. Indeed the apostle Paul, in this sense, can describe the law as "glorious" (2 Cor. 3:7). Nevertheless:
...when the question was justification and the way a sinner can obtain salvation, law was regarded as a principle or method of salvation in antithesis to promise or gospel - a question of ordo salutis. Such gear shifting [between redemptive-historical and principle] far from arbitrary, is simply a way of interpreting the same term (nomos) in different texts and different contexts. (p89)
So as a covenantal principle, we are under grace not law. The two are mutually exclusive to the extent that the apostle Paul says that "the law is not of faith" (Gal. 3:12). The L/G distinction is merely another way of expressing the works/grace contrast (Rom. 4:4). Too many evangelicals are ignorant of this sharp distinction. It brings clarity to confused minds and results in consolation to bruised hearts. When one recoils as Christ thunders his "but I say to you's" from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel According to Matthew, we hear the Law in all it's condemning power. When we read of Christ's bloody death for his people at the end of Matthew, we see the Gospel, i.e. (Christ taking upon himself our failures to live the Sermon in the Mount) in all it's gracious, life giving power. Let's pray that more evangelical preachers become gripped by this powerful hermeneutic.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Oral Roberts

There's an interesting piece on the late Oral Roberts in Christianity Today. Of particular note is mention of his success in "pentecostalising" mainstream evangelicalism in the US.

HT: Trevin Wax

evangelical burdens part 2 - personal evangelism

You're sitting at the back of your evangelical church and you're sweating. The guest-speaker from the para-church mission organisation is laying it on thick and you're feeling the weight of conviction. "How many people have you led to Christ in the past year?" he intones. You can hear a pin drop. He continues "The past two years? Three years? Are you hiding the light under a bushel?" And then he prophesies(!): "Maybe God isn't using you because you need to sort out your lust problem." It's at that point all the men realise that, if this is the case, then they'll probably never lead anyone to Christ. Doh!

Sound familiar? If you're an evangelical then you've probably had something approaching this experience. Yet is it fair, if I may employ the crudest of metaphors, to expect every Christian to have multiple notches on their evangelistic bed posts? A "close the deal" mentality grips many evangelicals to the extent that they are walking around under a heavy load of condemnation because they believe they are failing as witnesses to Christ in the workplace.

Is every Christian called to "close the deal" evangelism? No; that is a specific duty of the church. In Matthew 28:18-20 Christ says:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (ESV)
If baptising is not the vocational calling of every Christian (1 Cor. 1:17), isn't it safe to assume that evangelism isn't either? Sure we should be ready to offer a reason for the hope we have and we should know our faith well enough to communicate it (1 Peter 3:15). Sure our conduct should mark us out (Phil. 2:15). Sure God may providentially guide lay Christians into "close the deal" situations (Acts 18:26). But it ain't God's ordinary means. Let's generally just leave "conversions" to the work of the preached word. And another thing, when Mr. Para-Church missionary get's his ecclesiology sorted, then I'll sit down and talk evangelism with him.

PS: In the interests of full disclosure, I shamelessly cribbed the Matt. 28:18-20 insight from Darryl Hart in his astonishing interview with Mark Dever, available for download here.

Cordovan Calfskin ESV Study Bible

J. Mark Bertrand's pictures of the new Cordovan Calfskin ESV Study Bible had me salivating. Check them out!

definite atonement gangsta style

For whom did Christ die? Shai Linne explains:

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

John Thomson

My co-blogger John Thomson has launched out on his own over at Cave Adullam. John is a former elder at Greenview Evangelical Church, and IMO the most gifted, most theologically articulate, and learned lay preacher I've ever heard. He writes with a strong biblical theological base and while not confessionally Reformed, John is soteriologically Calvinistic, baptistic and brethren. Well worth a look.

Monday, 14 December 2009

evangelical burdens part 1 - the quiet time

Throw off every weight that hinders; so writes the author to the book of Hebrews. These "weights" are things, not necessarily evil in themselves, which stop us living the Christian life to the full. I've been thinking that sometimes evangelicalism, i.e. evangelical churches, pastors, books, attitudes can contribute to the weighing down process in some way. I plan to do a series of posts on certain teachings, attitudes and assumptions that permeate evangelicalism and that result in the weighing down of those trying to live the Christian life.

Something that has caused Christians great stress/trouble is the evangelical doctrine of 'the quiet time'. Here's my problem with the quiet time mentality:

1. It has become an unchurchly means of grace
If you were to ask your average evangelical to describe how to grow in grace, what do you think the average answer would be? I suspect it would go along the lines of the kids' chorus: "Read your Bible, pray every day and you'll grow, grow, grow!" Isn't it amazing that when a question like this is asked, how few of us mention that gathering with the people of God to have his presence mediated through word and sacrament is most important?

I used to wonder why I needed to go to church when I was "getting much more out of" my private prayer and bible readings. Why not just have a quiet time instead of gathering with those I had so little in common with? Now I've got no doubt that this misconception was 99% my fault and down to my thickness, but I would venture to suggest that some of the influence was from many of the books I'd read as a young believer and perhaps the counsel of equally ignorant peers. So this pietistic assumption prevailed, not just in my mind, but in the minds of friends and family; unless you've got the quiet time 'down', you're not growing.

Yet the amazing thing is that there is no text in Scripture, OT or NT, commanding that we have a daily bible reading. There are texts admonishing that we meditate on God's word day and night (e.g. Psalm 1), but as R. Scott Clark noted in this talk, when these texts were written, none of the hearers had access to Bibles. They either had to gather round the mountain to hear Moses speak God's word or make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to hear the priest teach. Even in the NT, when believers were commanded to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly, they didn't have access to bibles. They were dependant upon what they heard....in church.

Meditation and prayer should arise out of what we hear and experience predominately on a Sunday as the word is preached, eaten, drunk and splashed! I could say more on this, but I must try to keep this short...!

2. It feeds a works-righteousness ethic
Another problem is the rank legalism that can accompany the quiet time ethic. To see an example of this, look no further than this bumbling blogger. I remember reading "Why Revival Tarries" by Leonard Ravenhill. He said something like "any elder that doesn't pray for 2 hours a day isn't worth his salt". I reasoned that since I wasn't an elder I, nevertheless, needed to pray for at least one hour daily! When I couldn't keep it up, I doubted my salvation. When my friends didn't live up to this, I doubted their salvation (did I mention that I was a total muppet?) Can you identify with any of this?

Being regaled in books by anecdotes of prayer giants didn't help my inner-Pharisee either. Why are we always being told stories about prayer heroes? How about a series on prayer zeros? Every example on prayer I'd ever read about concerned some super-saint who wore out his knees as he began the day with 7 hour prayer times in tearful intercession for those who farted on his face the day before. By the time many of us fail to live up to the high standards set by these prayer warriors, we feel like we've abandoned the faith and that we should just plunge headlong into sin; in for a penny in for a pound after all.

I'm just thankful that my pathetic, prayer-less life is hidden with Christ in God. To have his righteous status stamped over mine is all I'll ever need.

3. It reflects superstitious attitudes.
Every missed a morning prayer time and worried that your day would be 'wrong' as a result? This is a consequence of point 2 above. God ain't a slot machine. He doesn't need my crappy prayers to pacify him. What he needs is the blood of his son.

Is there a way through this sorry state of affairs? Well, let me first confess that I'm writing this as a prayer zero. I'm not very good at daily prayer or bible reading. Nevertheless, the Lord has been gracious to this numpty by showing him the importance of a focus on the public means of grace. When I see the word and sacrament as my spiritual refreshment I am taken out of myself and forced to look towards God's provision in Jesus. It keeps me from tying myself in emotional knots as I wonder if I have gotten enough peace from my quiet time. Second, just pray. Don't focus on a time or place as much as just doing it. Pray all the time, i.e. driving to work, sitting at your desk, lying on the couch, etc. Third, don't worry about duration. Don't compare time spend watching TV with time spent praying for example. We don't have to give God hours and hours to keep him satisfied. He just wants our hearts. Fourth, don't trust in your prayers, trust in Christ for justification - simple but very effective.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

sacraments - symbolic eating or actual participation?

I mentioned in a previous post my dissatisfaction with the common evangelical/baptistic interpretation of the efficacy of the sacraments with a particular focus on baptism. My argument was that the language of 'symbolism' and 'teaching tools' were too bland to do full justice to the biblical data on water, bread and wine.

I thought I'd offer some rather random thoughts on the Lord's Supper:

Firstly, how should we interpret the language of "participation" 1 Corinthians 10:16? ("The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" ESV) It is quite interesting to look further down 1 Corinthians 10 to verse 18, "Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?" (ESV) The NT practise of eating bread and wine is analogous to the Israelis eating at the altar in that it too is a "participation". Fee notes that Paul is "referring to the meals prescribed in Deut. 14:22-27." (p470) The Jews actually ate portions of the sacrificed food. Yet Fee goes on to make the claim that, since "there is not the remotest hint in Judaism that the sacrificial food represented God in some way" (p470) we can safely discount any sacramental reading of this text. Now I'm not fit to lace Fee's exegetical boots, but surely he's missing the woods for the trees? Could not this Old Covenant eating of the sacrifice be a shadow or type of New Covenant believers actually eating of the bloody NT sacrifice? Far from militating against a sacramental reading, perhaps verse 18 actually strengthens such a reading?

Secondly, isn't it weird that in 1 Corinthians, the only place where Paul talks about the Lord's Supper, the great Apostle makes no qualifying statements regarding the efficacy of the Eucharist? Here's his big chance to say, "Hey you guys and gals, culturally influenced by superstition and mindless paganism; don't read too much into the bread and wine - they're merely symbols." On the contrary, Paul tells them that through the sacraments they "participate" in the body and blood of Christ. "Ah but" interjects Mr Baptist Pastor, "But nothing" answers Paul. In fact, Paul goes further to say that if you eat the Supper without "discerning the body of Christ", you eat and drink judgement on yourself (11:29, 30). As Oor Wullie would say, "Help ma boab!"

Thirdly, while this may or may not appeal to evangelicals, a sacramental reading is the majority report in church history. The Augsburg Confession gives an example of an exposition of John 15 by Cyril of Alexandria (376-444):
Nevertheless, we do not deny that we are joined spiritually to Christ by true faith and sincere love. But that we have no mode of connection with Him, according to the flesh, this indeed we entirely deny. And this, we say, is altogether foreign to the divine Scriptures. For who has doubted that Christ is in this manner a vine, and we the branches, deriving thence life for ourselves? Hear Paul saying 1 Cor. 10:17; Rom. 12:5; Gal. 3:28: We are all one body in Christ; although we are many, we are, nevertheless, one in Him; for we are, all partakers of that one bread. Does he perhaps think that the virtue of the mystical benediction is unknown to us? Since this is in us, does it not also, by the communication of Christ's flesh, cause Christ to dwell in us bodily? And a little after: Whence we must consider that Christ is in us not only according to the habit, which we call love, but also by natural participation, etc.
Fourth, as John Thomson noted in the comments to the first post on this subject, isn't it peculiar that those churches with a supposedly "lower" view of the sacraments (e.g. Brethren - weekly) tend to celebrate the Lord's Supper more frequently than those with the "higher" view (e.g. Presbyterians, Lutherans - monthly)? Why so?

These are just some rambling thoughts. Although I am obviously leaning towards a sacramental view of the supper, I consider my view on this one a work in progress.

Mark Dever in Edinburgh

Charlotte Chapel are hosting a 9marks Conference with Mark Dever from Friday (evening) 12th February to Saturday 13th February. The theme will be, surprise surprise, 9marks of a healthy church. It will be a useful event for elders/ potential elders/ deacons/ ministry leaders to attend. The cost, £20, includes breakfast, lunch and refreshments. You can book online here.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

sacraments - merely symbols?

I remember hearing Billy Connolly justifying his use of profanity by saying, "Sometimes 'go away' just isn't enough." I've been thinking along similar lines with respect to the traditional baptistic interpretation of the efficacy (or lack thereof) of the sacraments. Sometimes the language of symbolism just isn't enough.

Taking baptism as an example, I read in the NT epistles that baptism actually 'does' something. Consider the following verses.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:3, 4 ESV)

...you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:11)

"...let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Heb. 10:22 ESV)

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27 ESV)

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4, 5 ESV)

Baptism... now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21 ESV)

These passages seem to suggest that baptism really accomplishes something, leaving many evangelicals to struggle with the sheer lack of qualifying statements in any of these verses. Imagine your average evangelical re-wrote some of these passages. Romans 6 might read "when we were born again, we were incorporated into Christ's death and this is symbolised by baptism." Galatians 3:27 might read, "those who have clothed themselves with Christ, symbolise this through baptism." 1 Peter 3:21 might read "baptism doesn't save anyone." What makes us evangelicals so nervous about the force of these passages?

Maybe these passages are being squeezed to accommodate our soteriologies. Now I know that God is not bound to use water to accomplish his purposes (e.g. Cornelius' household received the Spirit before baptism). Nevertheless, I believe baptism is ordinarily God's means of grace to either accomplish or seal his regenerating purpose.

Another possible reason for this evangelical/baptistic nervousness is unease about God actually using something 'physical' to accomplish something 'spiritual'. This unease is not shared by Mike Horton:
Throughout church history, "baptism" has always meant one and the same thing: The sign (water) and the thing signified (regeneration by the Holy Spirit). But in our day, many who otherwise insist on taking the Scriptures literally and "at face value" will argue that passages such as this one and others, like Titus 3:5 ("He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously . . ."), refer merely to a spiritual baptism and not to water baptism. One must beware of a gnostic dualism that separates spirit from matter, as if it is somehow less than spiritual for God to bring people into his family through a common, everyday liquid. To be sure, there is a danger is attaching superstition to rituals and material signs, but God reveals himself and saves us through matter, not in spite of it. God "became flesh," wrote a book with ink and paper, and confirms it with water, bread, and wine. He does communicate his heavenly grace through the earthly creations that he sets aside by Word and Spirit for sacred use. (God's Grandchildren: The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism, (c) 1995 Modern Reformation Magazine/ACE)
Robert Kolb, responding to baptist Thomas J. Nettles in Understanding Four Views on Baptism (ed. John H Armstrong), writes:
Finding baptism to be no more than a "teaching tool" (p. 31) seems to me to deny that God is at work, effecting his will to save, not just picturing it, when he comes at us with his word in all its forms - oral, written, and sacramental. Relegating forms of his word to the role of only pointing to heavenly realities seems to me to reflect the ancient Greek philosopher Plato's definition of a great gap between spiritual or heavenly reality and the material created order....Baptism consists of the word of God joined with water. The water is placed within the setting of God's command. (p49)
Perhaps the Bible doesn't share our squeamishness over sacramental efficacy.

religious movies

A good blog on the top ten religiously themed films of the decade. Was unaware of the abortion one.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

why blogs fail

Lutheran pastor and Executive Director of Editorial Division at Concordia Publishing House, Paul T. McCain, offers some penetrating insights as to why some blogs fail. More than once I had the sense that he'd been reading the rubbish here before he decided to vent! A couple of reasons offered are:
They offer little more than constant axe-grinding and carping on a particular subject. This is one of the more spectacular ways blogs qualify for “epic fails.” I’ve seen it over and over again. If a blog site is nothing but a litany of rants, whines and complaints, particularly about one given topic, they generally dwindle away after the temper-tantrum is over and the emotional zeal wears thin. Now, this is not to say a blog devoted to a broad social concern is not going to work, and it may often be offering critiques. What I have in mind here are blogs that come off as whining. I’ve not seen many of these blogs stay around for long.

....They lack focus and purpose. Blogs that do not pick up and run with a main theme or interest tend to die a slow death. An initial enthusiasm for blogging, with frequent posts, slowly fades as the person struggles to know what to say. A sure symptom of impending demise are the posts that begin, “Well, I have not posted anything for a while…” or “Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted something.” If a blog does not have a unifying “meta narrative” or does not understand what its niche is, it will fizzle.
Since I discovered Paul's blog, CyberBrethren, it has become one of my daily clicks. It has certainly helped inform this previously ignorant Reformed-ish blogger on all things Lutheran.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Office Hours - David VanDrunen

The latest podcast from the dudes at Westminster Seminary California looks promising. David VanDrunen, Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics talks to RSC about all things Reformed/ A must listen and a worthy addition to your podcast subscription.

The Faith of Jesus Christ Again

An interesting post by Loren Rosson gives arguments against the subjective genitive.

HT: John Thomson

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Faith of Jesus Christ

Being a layman I'm dependent on experts in Greek linguistics when it comes to translating the phrase "pistis Christou" in various passages of Scripture e.g. Romans 3:22, Galatians 2:16, etc. There is a bit of a scholarly dingdong abroad regarding whether we should interpret the phrase "faith in Christ" or "the faithfulness of Christ". Aparently the phrase, literally "faith of Christ", can be interpreted either way.

What interests me about those who tend to advocate the latter reading (e.g. N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington III) is that they tend to deny the imputation of Christ's active obedience (IAO). On the other hand, the staunchest defenders of the traditional former rendering, (e.g. D.A. Carson) tend to affirm IAO. Weird! Why so?

Well, firstly, I'm not suggesting that we adapt our exegesis/translations in order to cater to our theological shibboleths. Nevertheless, I'd have thought that those partial to the IAO would see the force in being justified through "the faithfulness of Christ". In my opinion, if the phrase, "pistis Christou" is best translated "faithfulness of Christ" then the arguments for IAO are settled in favour of said doctrine hook, line and sinker.

It seems Michael Horton agrees. In his, excellent, Covenant and Salvation, he writes:
What makes all the difference is whether one is legally incorporated into a promise-covenant or a law-covenant. What is transferred to the believer, therefore, is not the inherent person of God or Christ, but the record of a perfectly acceptable life that has been lived, offered up, received, and raised again for us. It is a verdict declared because of Christ's faithfulness to the covenant....While it is far from nomistic, such a representational view of justification is surely, from beginning to end, covenantal.

...Longenecker thinks that, in Paul's view, Christians participate in Jesus' covenant fidelity by faith. This is why Paul says in [Gal.] 2:16b: 'We believed in Christ Jesus, in order that his covenant faithfulness might be effective for us'" - as also 3:22. "Paul's 'faith' language in these verses is fundamentally language of participation." So justification (i.e. covenant membership) is based for Paul now not on the law but on Jesus' covenant faithfulness, which he receives by faith. His faithfulness is "rubbish"; "only Christ's faithfulness [is]....the mark of his covenant membership before God." (p112)
Powerful stuff. I can't imagine any more debates over IAO if we read Romans 3:22 saying "the righteousness of God is given through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe."

Friday, 4 December 2009

reading the bible for all it's worth

Many evangelicals have a grasp of their faith that leaves a lot to be desired. It is not that they do not read the Bible. They do, or most do. They read a few verses or even a few chapters, probably daily, yet are still, despite years of reading, still fairly insecure about what the biblical perspective and message really is. The problem is how they read.

J I Packer has commented well on this.

'Let us read the Bible then — if we can. But can we? The truth is that many of us have lost the ability to read the Bible. When we open our Bibles, we do so in a frame of mind which forms an insuperable barrier to our ever reading it at all. This may sound startling, but it is not hard to show that it is true.

When you sit down to any other book, you treat it as a unit. You look for the plot, or the main thread of the argument, and follow it through to the end. You let the author's mind lead yours. Whether or not you allow yourself to "dip" before settling down to the book properly, you know that you will not have understood it till you have been through it from start to finish, and if it is a book that you want to understand you set aside time to read it in full. But when we come to Holy Scripture, our behaviour is different. In the first place, we are in the habit of not treating it as a book — a unit — at all, but simply as a collection of separate stories and sayings. We take it for granted before we look at the text that the burden of them — or, at least, of as many of them as affect us — is either moral advice or comfort for those in trouble. So we read them (when we do) in small doses, a few verses at a time. We do not go through individual books, let alone the two complete Testaments, as a single whole. We browse through the rich old Jacobean periods of the Authorised Version, waiting for something to strike us. When the words bring to our minds a soothing thought or a pleasant picture, we feel that the Bible has done its job for us. It seems that the Bible is for us not a book, but a collection of beautiful and suggestive snippets, and it is as such that we use it. The result is that we never read the Bible at all. We take it for granted that we are handling Holy Writ in the truly religious way; but in truth, our use of it is more than a little superstitious. It is the way of natural religiosity, perhaps, but not of true religion.'


How do we read the Bible? Do we read it as a 'dip and pick'? Do we read it as a 'promise box' looking for a 'pick-me-up' to get me through the day? Or do we seek to read it like we read any book, as a unit, with a view to grasping its big picture? Only by reading it in this latter way is it possible to gain a mature understanding of our faith.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Transformers

In Christ we come face to face with God. Jesus is God revealed - not a shadow of God or a part of God but the very essence of the self existing 'I am' who created and sustains the universe. To be a Christian is to be involved in a life changing encounter with the Triune God.

The life of the Christian is linked to the life of God through Christ. I am not the person I would have been had I not encountered God in Christ [though of course it was God who reached down to me in sovereign grace]. I am not just talking about the benefits of Christ's death, which amaze me, but the transforming power of his life and Resurrection. To be a Christian is to be a changed person. I am far from perfect but everything I believe and everything I do has Christ as its reference point. God will not leave me be. His life invades every part of my being – my hopes, my beliefs, my ambitions and my actions.

God not only transforms individuals but He transforms relationships. I can no longer ignore other people or dismiss their needs, for God has reminded me that I am part of His creation and part of His people. I do not stand alone, autonomous. I am under God and part of something bigger than myself. That means I must strive to apply NT principles in every circumstance.

I Corinthians 13
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Not that it is easy to ruthlessly apply the standards of Christ. MLJ used to talk about Christians living a 'D Day' life [sorry, I teach history]. As soon as the Allies had established the beach heads in France the war was effectively won - the enemy would fight ferociously, like a cornered animal, but the Victory celebrations were just around the corner.

I have hope. Even if I fail - Christ is always my standard. Perhaps I am naïve, but if I settle for less - in my personal life, my home life, my work, my church, my bloging - then I have surrendered and stopped thinking and acting as a Christian. There are no exceptions or get out clauses.

God is the Transformer. He changes people, relationships, institutions and cultures. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I studied Moral Philosophy. One of the first lectures focused on ‘the moral ought’ or the ‘is/ought’ fallacy. It is always wrong to argue from the way things are to the way they ought to be. Because something is the case doesn’t mean it ought to be the case. Christians are a people of the moral ought. They are always putting ‘is’ under the moral spotlight. Or perhaps it is better to say that God puts our ‘is’ – the way we live, think and act – under the spotlight of His holiness. It is no excuse to say that ‘this is simply the way things are’ or ‘this is the way I am’. The Christian always asks if it is the way it ought to be – if I am the person I ought to be.

I have met God and He has changed me forever. Thank God. I am by nature selfish, amoral, sarcastic, angry, though I can sometimes be kind or patient. Grace has changed me from the inside so that the voice I hear first now urges me to follow the example and teachings of my Lord though I can sometimes be selfish, amoral, sarcastic and angry. I still have a fight on my hands but the outcome was decided before the world was formed when the Sovereign God determined to redeem me.

Don’t believe the enemies propaganda. They can pass laws, attack the gospel and mount advertisement campaigns. But they cannot win the war.

Therefore, [in the words of Dylan] ‘I'm pressing on -To the higher calling of my lord.’

Saturday, 28 November 2009

om

An interesting article at Newsweek shows how Hindu assumptions influence beliefs and culture in the West nowadays more than Christianity. An acute observation is how cremation has gained ascendancy as Judeo-christian beliefs on the significance of the body have declined.

preaching keller

Here is an excellent blog by Keller on the need for preachers to be pastors,and not just preachers.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Another Doctrine of Justification = Another Religion

Darryl Hart has the following Machen quote over at Old Life:
. . what was the difference between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of the Judaizers? What was it that gave rise to the stupendous polemic of the Epistle to the Galatians? To the modern Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul. The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah; there is not a shadow of evidence that they objected to Paul’s lofty view of the person of Christ. Without the slightest doubt, they believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead. They believed, moreover, that faith in Christ was necessary for salvation. But the trouble was, they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer’s own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical – not even, perhaps, the temporal – order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern “practical” Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm. What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances! Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him . .

Paul saw very clearly that the difference between the Judaizers and himself was the difference between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the difference between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. . . . Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

From J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (1923)

I challenge you to find even 5 evangelical churches in Glasgow preaching from a conviction like this.

depart from me, I never knew you

Our churches, by this I mean our evangelical churches, may well be full of false believers who will be eternally lost. I am not trying to be melodramatic or controversial. I write with heaviness of heart.

How can I know I am saved? How can I be sure I am not eternally lost? Both biblical words and biblical questions.

The answer is, I must have a faith in Jesus and his saving work that turns me away from sin and enables me to wholeheartedly repent if it does, through carelessness, erupt in my life. Saving faith enables me to hate sin and love holiness.

The gross sins of the flesh simply do not belong in a believer's life. They are alien and incongruous. If they are habitually present I can have no confidence that I am a believer and require to urgently deal with the matter. This may mean speaking to church elders and seeking help.

Paul says unequivocally,

1 Cor 6:9 '... the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.'

In Galatians we are reminded of some other blatant sins that are quite inconsistent with any claim to be a believer.

Gals 5:19-21 'Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.'

If you are a sexual sinner, get drunk, are envious, jealous and coveteous of others, or greedy do not be sure you are a Christian, you may well not be.

If you feed a need to be better than others, are abusive to others (wife, children, colleagues, church members) do not assume you are saved for Paul tells us people like this do not inherit the Kingdom of God. Uncontrolled erupting temper is no trivial matter that can be blamed on genes or upbringing; it is a sign of a seismic spiritual problem of eternal life proportions.

We cannot afford to be casual about such sins in our lives. Indulged and continued they will damn us, of this we can be certain. And all the religious enthusiasm in the world will not compensate.

You cannot authentically sing for Christ while serving the flesh. You mock the gospel and the very God you profess to worship. You cannot proclaim Christ (in word or song) and parade in your life the ugly realities of the flesh. People who are not Christians will mock such hypocrisy. How do you think God will reract when you blaspheme his name?

These are serious matters. Of course we may fail in any of these matters and be forgiven. But forgiveness involves turning away from them. It means putting these practices off. It means being ruthless with sin and staying far away from those sins in particular we know we are susceptible to.

The Christian life is not a garden party. It is a fight and a fight to the death; either we kill the flesh or the flesh will kill us.

How terrible to have been one of the busiest people in church and on the day of judgement to hear the cosmically final words, 'Depart from me, I never knew you'.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

gospel old and new

There is a 'must read' on the difference between the 'old and new gospel' over at Kevin de Young's blog.

Monday, 23 November 2009

I wish this wasn't in the bible but....

How many times have we heard well meaning preachers, when confronted with exegeting a passage on the eternal punishment of the wicked, say something like "Now I wish this part wasn't in the Bible. I wish it wasn't true, but it's there, and I have to preach it." Such an expression is ungodly and wicked.

It is ungodly because it betrays unbelief in the righteousness of God. The eternal punishment of the wicked is absolutely just. It is just, because our father Adam longed for eternal life without the giver of life (Gen. 3:10). It is just, because Adam believed the devil rather than God (Gen. 3:6). It is just, because we are Adam's children (Gen. 5:3). It is just, because God has continually showered the good gifts of natural creation upon his ungrateful creatures who have continued to hate him (Matt. 5:45). It is just, because every expression of the thoughts of our hearts are only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). It is just, because even our best deeds (never mind our idolatry, murders, genocides, rapes, lies, adulteries, occult practises, gossipping, greed) are like filthy tampons (Isi. 64:6). God's eyes are so pure (Habb. 1:13) that even when he looks upon our best deeds, our humanitarian efforts, our charity work, etc, all he sees is actions dripping with menstrual blood. It is just, because we killed the second Adam, God's dear Son, for daring to challenge our sin (Luk. 20:13). It is just, because God could have annihilated creation long before now, but he didn't. In his great mercy he has prolonged the day of salvation and still mankind rages on in rebellion (2 Cor. 6:2, 2 Pet. 3:9).

Not only is such a sentiment ungodly, but it is wicked. It fails to love what God loves and hate what he hates. When God's people are born into the new covenant, he writes his laws upon their hearts (Heb. 8:7-13). No longer is the law booming from outside to fearful sinners who can't keep it (Heb. 12:18). Now, having been fulfilled in Christ, it becomes the heart of the new believer through the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). To hate final judgement is to be ambivalent about sin and therefore, about God and the agony Christ suffered. It is to hate the law that is supposedly engraved on the believers' heart. No, the Christian loves the law; even the sentences against sin that it pronounces (Rom. 1:32).

So when the Christian reads of God's judgement in Scripture, he finds with Ezekiel that even God's words of 'lament and mourning and woe' (Eze. 2:9) taste 'as sweet as honey' (Eze. 3:3). Indeed, when God judges the earth, the cry of God's people isn't, along with Brian McLaren, a pietistic lament that attempts to sound more compassionate than God. No, they sing hymns rejoicing in the righteousness and goodness of God's judgement (Rev. 19:1-3). Can you imagine one of our boyband worship leaders penning a hymn about the destruction of the whore of Babylon with a chorus going: "Oh Babylon, gonna get some shocks. God's gonna dash your babies heads on rocks." (Ps. 137:9)?

While the Christian never takes delight in the death of the wicked (Matt. 23:37, Eze. 18:32), and while he yearns for those who don't know Christ and are headed for destruction (Rom. 9:1-5), he still has a correlating sense of sweetness and joy in the doctrine of eternal punishment.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

holy ground

Chris Castaldo, a converted Roman Catholic who has written a book, 'Holy Ground - Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic' is interviewed by Doug Phillips at his blog. Here is an extract where Chris expresses his concerns about the average Roman Catholic.

'Of more immediate concern to me is the penetration of the biblical gospel—the message of divine grace accessed through faith alone—into the hearts of Catholic people who haven’t a clue why Jesus died, much less how salvation is appropriated. Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft describes this problem:

“There are still many who do not know the data, the gospel. Most of my Catholic students at Boston College have never heard it. They do not even know how to get to heaven. When I ask them what they would say to God if they died tonight and God asked them why he should take them into heaven, nine out of ten do not even mention Jesus Christ. Most of them say they have been good or kind or sincere or did their best. So I seriously doubt God will undo the Reformation until he sees to it that Luther’s reminder of Paul’s gospel has been heard throughout the church” (Peter Kreeft. “Ecumenical Jihad.” Reclaiming The Great Tradition. Ed. James S. Cutsinger. [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997]. 27).'

Romans Seven

Romans Seven has been and will no doubt continue to be a chapter in Scripture over which controversy will rage. Who does it describe?

Does it describe a Christian? But how can it? In the light of Ch 6:14, how can a Christian possibly say, 'For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin'? Does it describe someone who is not a Christian? Seems highly unlikely. What non-Christian is described in Scripture as someone who, 'delights in the Law of God in the inner man'?

The key to Romans Seven is 7 v 6.

'But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. '

Paul's concern is not distinguishing between two anthropologies (Christian or non-Christian) but between two epochs (Law and grace). His concerns are redemptive-historical, that is, he is describing the difference between life under the old covenant of law and life in the new covenant of grace. It is, as 7v6 makes eminently clear, a question of 'how we serve'. Romans Seven describes service under 'the old way of the written code'. It is equivalent to Gals 3:23-4:3. It is a service of effective slavery. Romans Eight describes service 'under the new way of the Spirit'. It is Gals 4:5,6. It is the freedom of sons.

The key to the transformation between the slavery of Ch 7 and the freedom of Ch8 is 8:1-4

'There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For jGod has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son nin the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.'

In the parallel passage in Galatians the key to the transformation between the infancy (effective slavery) of Gals 3:23-4:3 and Ch 4:5,6 is 4:4

'But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.'

The decisive change lies in the death of Christ. There a key redemptive-historical act takes place. The old age of flesh finishes and the new age of the Spirit arrives.

Romans Seven describes OT believers under the old covenant of Law. Romans Eight describes NT believers under the new covenant in the Spirit.

Do you agree?

Friday, 20 November 2009

redeeming culture

I'm still gnawing away at this 'redeeming culture' notion. In part it's a semantics issue but underlying the semantics is an important matter - what is the church's responsibility to society and what can it hope to achieve.

The Kuyperians (not a Star Trek race but followers of A. Kuyper a dutch calvinist) believe the task of the church is to transform the structures of society and through this advance the Kingdom of God cosmically. Some use language about 'redeeming' culture.

I have big problems with this. The first is a singular lack of emphasis on such a mission in Scripture. We read the epistles in vain for Christians to renew, redeem or rescue culture. Redemption in the 'already' of the Kingdom is emphatically of individuals. It is the church who are described as 'the redeemed' and no one (and nothing) else. In fact they are described as 'redeemed from the earth' (Rev 14:3).

Even for believers redemption is presently partial. For example, they await the 'redemption of the body'.

There is to be sure a 'day of redemption' still to come. It is a reference to the consummation of the Kingdom when God's people will be fully rescued from all that oppresses and the creation itself will be 'set free' from its bondage to corruption (Roms 8:21). However, Scripture carefully distinguishes between God's liberating of creation and his judging of culture.

Human culture in a fallen world is, in Scripture, the world in opposition to God. It cannot be redeemed nor does Scripture give any encouragement to try to redeem it. God does not intend to redeem it but judge it; it is Babylon that will 'fall in one day' (Rev 17,18). The best that Christians can do for culture is a kind of 'law-work'. Indeed, a law-work is all that God himself does. In common grace God institutes structures and authorities to limit evil and punish wrongdoing (Roms 13). Christians, acting as salt, can be part of this law-work. They can work for fairer structures in society and be involved in humanitarian causes. But these, we should never forget, are bandages not a cure.

We should never confuse these with 'redeeming society'. In fact what they do, with greater or lesser insight and effectiveness non-Christians do to and non-Christians are certainly not redeeming society.

God is not redeeming society or culture or the world. He is redeeming a people 'out of the world', 'ransomed from every tribe and tongue and people and nation' (Rev 5), to be his chosen 'peculiar' people, and he does so by the gospel.

It is important to use biblical concepts carefully. When we get too loose and cavalier we end up with a skewed theology and a church with a skewed agenda. It is not our job to christianize culture. Nor is there such things as a Christian economics policy; a Christian political policy; a Christian Social policy. There is only Christians active in culture seeking to stem evil and promote good according to their sanctified abilities.

Sometimes the myth is sold that if only Christians forgot doctrine and concentrated their energies on societal reform they would be united. But it is a myth. For, in practice, when Christians try to agree such policies they end up in much greater disagreement than they even do over matters of the gospel. The reason is simple; the Bible tells us what the gospel is (which at least limits disagreement) but it says nothing about political, economic or social theory at all (therefore grounds for difference are boundless).

Let biblical words bear their proper biblical weight and intention. God is presently redeeming for himself a people out of the world; he is not redeeming culture. Let the church preach the gospel of redemption and let redeemed Christians not forget as they evangelize to 'do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith'.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Sarx - Flesh or Sinful Nature?

I am neither a C1 Greek scholar, nor the son of a Greek scholar, so when it comes to NT bible translation issues, I completely at the mercy of the translators. One issue that has kept me awake at night is how different translations render the Greek word sarx (lit. flesh).

Now according to Doug Moo, in The Challenge of Bible Translation, sarx has a range of meanings depending on the context. I'm more interested in how to translate it in instances when the NIV renders it 'sinful nature'. Many Greek scholars are unhappy with this kind of rendering (including Moo himself). Moo, in the aforementioned publication, mentions James D.G. Dunn:
He [Dunn] argues that the meanings of sarx in Paul do not fall into separate, watertight categories but occupy a spectrum of meaning. In contrast to scholars who suggest that Paul may have derived his more neutral sense of sarx from the Old Testament and the Jewish world and the more negative sense from the Greek world, Dunn, along with many others before him, traces the spectrum o Paul's usage to the Hebrew basar, with its sense of "human mortality." One implication of this conclusion is that a certain negative nuance often clings to sarx, even when Paul uses it in apparently neutral senses. (p369)

Most of the scholars who have protested against the NIV/TNIV rendering "sinful nature" would probably agree with James D.G. Dunn: "A much more satisfactory rule of translation would be to recognise that sarx is an important and technical linking term in Paul's letters and is therefore best translated consistently by the same term, 'flesh.'" (p374)
I am sympathetic to this view. One need only see what is lost to TNIV readers when they compare Romans 8:1-4 with the ESV/NRSV/NASB/HCSB in this regard. Nevertheless, more often than not, when I hear preachers teaching from a formal translation and they come to the word 'flesh' they end up explaining it using 'sinful nature' type language. For example, Hywel R. Jones in his article 'Justification by Faith Alone' in the magnificent 'Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry' says:
What is flesh? The term has more than a physical connotation in Scripture. It is more than a body....It is..associated with deeds and words of the body but also with its "desires," even strong ones (Gal. 5:16-17, 24). Flesh is therefore the unrenewed nature of the justified believer. (p303)
So perhaps for readability and comprehension, "sinful nature" ain't too bad. Yet re-reading Jones' quote leaves one with the impression that perhaps the "sinful nature" language fails to encompass that sarx means much more than strong desire, but also includes the idea of a mortal body. Hmm.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Office Hours - The Law is Not of Faith

The latest podcast from the Westminster Seminary California 'Office Hours' team is a peach. RSC interviews J.V Fesko, David VanDrunen and Bryan Estelle on the work they edited 'The Law is Not of Faith.' They discuss the sheer Reformed-ness of the idea that the Mosaic law was a republication of the covenant of works. Gripping stuff and well worth your time.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

transforming culture

Some evangelicals believe that the task of the church is to transform culture. They believe the church is called to 'redeem culture'. Nature, they say, is restored by grace.

There are a number of mistakes in this analysis it seems to me. I want to focus only on one. I think the idea that nature is restored by grace is flawed. It implies that what the gospel ultimately achieves is merely a return to Eden. This is far too limited a perspective. The gospel is about 'new creation'. New creation is not simply the old restored it is the birth of a new plane of being and existence.

Nowhere is this distinction more clearly and succintly made than in 1 Cor 15

1Co 15:45 Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

The First Creation is energized by the 'soulish', the earthy the Second is energized by the 'spiritual', the heavenly. Adam, even in pre-fallen condition, was not the ultimate; the ultimate is Christ in resurrection, the Lord from Heaven.

Eschatology precedes everything. God's first plan was always the Second Man, the Last Adam. God's goal for humanity is not the reinstated image of the earthly Adam but the 'image of the man from heaven' His is the spiritually energized life that truly images God in righteousness and holiness.

This world in its unfallen state was transient, and in its fallen state is condemned. It is passing away. God's vision from before the beginning was a new creation and that vision gives to his people. They live here as pilgrims looking for a city built without hands whose builder and maker is God. They pant as aliens for a better country, that is an heavenly one. They look by faith to 'a new heavens and new earth' that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. That is their vision, their goal, and their home.

Of course, this does not mean they selfishly neglect the world in which they live. Rather the opposite. They seek the welfare of the city in which they live as aliens. They seek to show compassion to its citizens. They help them where possible and more, strive to introduce its citizens to the world to come that will never pass away. But they are under no illusions. They know this world and the fashion of it is destined for destruction. Their primary and most urgent task is to call others to flee from the City of Destruction, Babylon the Great, and begin a pilgrimage to the Celestial City, the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, that comes, not by redeeming culture, but 'comes down out of heaven from God'.

God's plan is not that grace may restore nature but that grace will birth from the death of the old a new creation unspeakably more glorious and vibrant where the former things are no more. Grace does not restore nature, or transform nature, it transcends and eclipses nature in its vision of the future. A vision summed up by John in Revelation when he says,

'Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away... the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."'

Monday, 16 November 2009

Should We Divide Over 1 Timothy 2:12?

You hear from time to time in conversation and from articles in the blogosphere that Christians need to unite around the 'essentials', whatever they may be (BTW in many cases you'll find that one man's essential doctrine is another's expendable inconvenience).

One issue that rears its ugly head as an 'expendable' is that of women's ordination/preaching/leadership. "There's a world out there that needs the gospel," goes one argument, "and it's tragic that Christians are divided over such trivialities as women in leadership." As such, churches that hold to opposing views on female ordination are encouraged to put aside their petty differences and work together in evangelistic rallies, political endeavours, social justice campaigns, etc, for the good of the gospel.

Here again, we see the twin headed beast of egalitarianism and modern tolerance trumping the text of Scripture. I believe that the biblical writers would affirm the contrary, that for the good of the gospel, churches should not work with others that are in error in this matter. One may ask, why this tight ass approach? Well, with long broom stick protruding from my bottom, I simply reply that female ordination betrays an attitude to the word of God that, given time, will spew it's unbelieving vomit all over even those 'essentials' we've united over.

Lig Duncan once remarked that if there was a text in Scripture which stated, "I do not permit you to baptise infants" then the whole paedobaptism argument would be settled. Yet we have such a text in 1 Tim. 2:12 regarding female ordination and many in the church still find ways around it. It's phenomenal to read the exegetical hoops some commentators jump through in order to make the text say, "I utterly affirm that women should teach and have authority over men. In fact, I think it's splendid."

If one can make black say white in 1 Tim. 2:12, why not do it elsewhere? Why not make 1 Cor. 6:9 say that "fornicators, gossips and homosexual offenders WILL inherit the kingdom of God"? Why not make Isaiah 53:5 say that "punishment wasn't necessary to bring us peace. There is no central motif in the Messiah's death"? Why not make Rev. 22:18 say, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: don't see these words as timeless truths. Try to hear what the Spirit is saying in your own faith community"? Why not make John 1:1 say, "the Word wasn't God"? Why not make 1 Cor. 15:14 say, "And if Christ has not been raised, it shouldn't effect whether you believe in God or not. Rob Bell says the Christian faith is a trampoline to enjoy, not a brick wall preserving doctrine"? Why not make Gal. 1:8 say "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, give him a fair hearing. Truth after all is plural and he's probably bringing a fresh perspective"? Why not make Rom. 4:5 say, "However, to anyone who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, that person should be more concerned about social justice"?
The hermeneutic which affirms female ordination in 1 Tim. 2:12 is a ravenous beast that is not content to let sacred truths abide unscathed. If we are to guard the gospel we must be willing to make hard choices regarding those individuals and denominations who affirm female ordination. We must not commune them, fellowship with them, share a platform with them, or work with them. And if this hurts their feelings so be it.

casino faith


Christians have a right standing with God by faith. Faith is both objective and subjective, that is, it is as much about what we believe as believing itself. Who and what we trust is as important as the fact that we trust. Sometimes the 'who and what we trust' is referred to as 'the faith'. Jude, the brother of Jesus, refers to it as 'the faith delivered once and for all to the saints'.

What I find remarkable is how many people seem to be willing to push the boundaries of this 'faith delivered to the saints'. Folks who call themselves Christians, even evangelical Christians, seem quite cavalier in what they dismiss or distort in the Bible. They boldly champion 'beliefs' that plainly conflict with clear statements of gospel faith revealed in the Bible.

For example, we find people claiming to be Christian who 'believe' that God is all love and has no wrath, despite the Bible's unequivocal and regular statements about God's wrath and judgement. Some claim there is no hell, others that all will be saved. Some suggest that there is saving truth in other religions, even in no religion. Some evangelicals believe and teach that homosexual stable partnerships are acceptable to God. All these 'beliefs' fly in the face of 'the faith' as revealed in the Bible.

The question is just how often can one 'believe' what is contrary to the Bible before these beliefs constitute 'unbelief' and make one an 'unbeliever'.

Many seem blithely prepared to believe and advocate what the Bible condemns and risk perdition. They seem willing to drive close to the edge and even with wheels spinning over the edge. Theirs is a foolhardy faith, a profligate faith. It is an irresponsible casino faith that gambles recklessly with the most expensive chips of all, their own souls.

Saving faith is not faith itself, not even faith in Christ since we are all too accomplished at creating Christs that suit us; it is faith that submits to the Christ revealed in the Bible and what God has revealed in Christ. It is faith in 'the faith delivered to the saints.'