Friday, 30 January 2009

D.A Carson on Imputation

The doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness is one of those unfashionable doctrines these days. N.T Wright doesn't like it, Bob Gundry doesn't like it, Ben Witherington III doesn't like it,...I could go on. You can't pass righteousness from one party to another like gas passing accross a room (as N.T Wright argues). The number of exegetical heavyweights who are rejecting the doctrine can leave one with the impression that to persist in holding to it, is akin to the stubborn traditionalism of some Roman Catholic exegetes. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that it is a doctrine not only full of comfort for the conscience but also a doctrine that rests on a carefully nuanced and sophisticated exegetical base. D.A Carson, in response to Gundry, explains.

I cannot too strongly emphasize how often Paul's justification language is tied to "in Christ" or "in him" language - yet this brute fact, far from clarifying matters, has sometimes merely muddied the watters.
On the one hand, justification is, in Paul, irrefragably tied to our incorporation into Christ, to our union with Christ. Thus, as we have seen, in Phillipians 3:8-9 Paul wants to be found in him, not having a righteousness of his own. In 2 Corinthians 5:19-21, we are told that God made Christ who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. It is because of God that we are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). Passage after passage in Paul runs down the same track. If we speak of justification or of imputation...apart from a grasp of this incorporation into Christ, we will constantly be in danger of contemplating some sort of transfer apart from being included in Christ, apart from union with Christ. (D.A Carson, Justification - What's at Stake in the Current Debates, ed. Husbands and Treier, p72)

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Why you should be cessationist

Cessationists are on the back foot these days. They seem to be an unfashionable breed in contemporary NT scholarship. Modern exegetes (and I generalise) are hesitant to state anything akin to the cessationist position. This is in marked contrast to the scholarship of the Reformation and in UK Protestantism in general from the 17th - 19th centuries.

Cessationists also seem to be as common as the dodo in the pastorate and the pew. Ask most pastors from evangelical churches on their position on miraculous gifts and your response will generally range from continuist to "open but cautious". Rarely will you meet an evangelical pastor who will come out with the traditional Protestant response of cessationism. I believe that there are two main reasons for this.

First, there is enormous cultural pressure to accept the charismata. Try suggesting the gifts have ceased! "What? You mean that my private prayer language isn't from God? You think it's psychosomatic babbling? You're so mean and judgemental." Yet the fact remains, the gifts of the Spirit after the death of the apostles generally disappeared. It was only in the narcissistic 20th and 21st centuries that we saw an 'explosion' in claims to charismatic phenomena. Why is this generation the most anointed in history? Why did God withhold his gifts from saints in former times? What makes us so special?

Second, cessationists are dying out because it's totally uncool to be one. You could only be less cool if you were a dog with a wet nose in a nudist colony. You see, there is the perception that cessationists are hard, cold, spiritually dead, mean-spirited Pharisees who delight in raining on the charismatic parade. Cessationists are Spirit-quenchers. Cessationists believe in Father, Son and Holy Bible. Cessationists are highly strung, tightly wound, emotional retards who need to experience the gifts in order to help them lighten up. Only when the Spirit comes with charismatic power, do they experience the power to love and to stop being judgemental jerks. Well, I'm sorry, but this argument is baseless caricature.

Charismatics do not have sole claim on the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, I would argue, that to experience the true power of the Spirit, you should embrace cessationism and that of the Reformed kind. Why?
  1. Cessationists do experience power. You see, while the cessationist states that the miraculous gifts have ceased, they are not stating that God does not work miraculously for his people. You need only look to C.H Spurgeon as an example. In a previous post, I highlighted Sam Storms citing of Spurgeon pointing out a man in his congregation and miraculously telling him how he made fourpence profit on the Sabbath. Did I mention that Spurgeon was a cessationist? There are examples of similar experiences in the life of John Knox and George Wishart. Again these men were cessationists. That is why I believe Mark Driscoll's rebuke of the Sydney Anglicans for their practical cessationism was uncalled for.
  2. Cessationists don't put God in a box. There is a world of difference from saying that God can't do something and that God probably won't. For instance, could God part the Red Sea again? Of course. Will he do so again? Probably not. We just believe that God isn't in the habit of repeating redemptive history. The gifts of the Spirit being poured out constitute the redemptive historical acts of God, in Christ by His Spirit in the establishing of the NT church throughout the world. To state that we must have the gifts or we are missing out is every bit as 'God boxing' as the cessationist position.
  3. Cessationists preserve the glory of NT miracles. I'm sorry, but contemporary appeals to the miraculous tend to be utter crap. When we Christians go raving about the power at Toronto, Lakeland or at a Benny Hinn rally, we just look like a bunch of idiots when these claims to healings prove false. The world looks on with a mixture of amusement and bemusement. Why should they believe the Bible's claims about Christ's miracles if we're constantly championing contemporary charlatans as examples of Messianic power?
  4. Cessationists believe in genuine experience. Some of the best devotional material has been written by cessationists. I'm thinking of John Owen, Richard Sibbes, C.H Spurgeon, the Bostons, etc. On a personal note, I found that when I stopped chasing charismatic experience, and focused on enjoying the Lord as I prayed and gave thanks I experienced his presence in such a way I couldn't imagine.
  5. Cessationists believe true experience is churchly. Reformed cessationists believe that all true experience has its root in the ordained means, i.e. right preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the sacraments. True piety comes not from chasing piety, but from pursuing God through the means he has instituted. As a result, cessationist experience necessitates coming together with the people of God and feeding on Christ. It is anti-individualist and pro-community. It provides a safe haven for experiencing the Lord away from manipulative hypnotic techniques that prey on the vulnerable.
  6. Cessationists believe that true experience is of grace. So much contemporary experience is tied to works-righteousness. If you will fast and pray, you will get the blessing. If you say 'the Jesus Prayer' 3000 times, you'll experience God. If you go to Brownsville, you'll get power. I'm sorry, but it's all bull. It's Arminian/Pelagian attempts to treat God like a slot machine. The path to true spiritual experience does not say, who will ascend into heaven (or Toronto, etc)?, that is to bring Christ down. Or who will descend into the deep?, that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. True biblical experience is as close as the word of God we confess.

I would normally say something like 'rant over' but I'm trying to prove that cessationists are sweet and nice.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

A "personal relationship" with Jesus isn't Biblical!

Another quote from Richard Muller's incredible essay, "How Many Points?".

The emphasis on adult baptism, being "born again," and "accepting Christ" is connected, in American evangelical circles, with language concerning "a personal relationship with Jesus" or knowing Jesus as one's "personal Savior." In protesting against this language, I know that I will be stepping on a few religious toes — although the protest is not at all directed against piety or Christian religious experience as such. The issue is that this language itself is neither Reformed in its content nor suitable for transfer into a Reformed confessional context. In the first place, the terms are unclear and can tend toward an ill-defined, affective piety that, at its worst, can violate certain of the Christological and soteriological norms of the Reformed community. I have often commented to evangelical friends that, for me, having a personal relationship or knowing someone personally means that I can sit down at a table with him and have a cup of coffee, that I can speak to him and he can respond in an audible fashion. But I can't sit at a table and have a cup of coffee with Jesus. And if I speak to him, he does not answer audibly As an angel once rightly noted, "He is not here: for he is risen," and, indeed, ascended into heaven. Reformed Christology has always insisted not only on the resurrection of Christ's body but also on the heavenly location and finitude of Christ's resurrected humanity. Christ now sits at the right hand of God and visibly rules the church triumphant. The language of personal relationship is, at best, equivocal. At worst, it detracts from the majesty of the doctrine of Christ's kingship.

Baptistic Musings - 3

One of the most compelling arguments for the infant-baptism position, is the historical evidence.

The following quote from Louis Berkhof is illuminating:

Irenaeus, speaking of Christ, says: "He came to save through means of Himself all who through Him are born again unto God, infants, and little children, and boys, and youths, and old men." This passage, though it does not explicitly mention baptism, is generally regarded as the earliest reference to infant baptism, since the early Fathers so closely associated baptism with regeneration that they used the term "regeneration" for "baptism." That infant baptism was quite generally practiced in the latter part of the second century, is evident from the writings of Tertullian, though he himself considered it safer and more profitable to delay baptism. Origen speaks of it as a tradition of the apostles. Says he: "For this also it was, that the Church had from the apostles a tradition (or, order) to give baptism even to infants." The Council of Carthage (A.D. 253) takes infant baptism for granted and discusses simply the question, whether they may be baptized before the eighth day. From the second century on, infant baptism is regularly recognized, though it was sometimes neglected in practice. Augustine inferred from the fact that it was generally practiced by the Church throughout the world in spite of the fact that it was not instituted in Councils, that it was in all probability settled by the authority of the apostles. Its legitimacy was not denied until the days of the Reformation, when the Anabaptists opposed it. (Systematic Theology p635)

You would think that, from a baptist point of view, if the practice was erroneous there would be a little more by the way of historical skid marks?

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Spurgeon, the Prophetic and Gaffin's Deadly Pen

What are cessationists to make of arguments from contemporary experience? In Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, Sam Storms (outlining the Third Wave view) quotes (p201, 202) from the autobiography of Charles Spurgeon as an example of contemporary prophecy.

While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, "There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!"

The quote goes on to verify the story from the convicted shoemaker's point of view and how this experience led him to faith in Christ.

What should the cessationist make of this? The following response from Richard Gaffin is interesting.

This incident, if it happened as reported, is an instance of Spirit-prompted insight that occurs incalculably and sporadically. But it is hardly evidence...for the lingering presence in the church despite denial and spiritual lethargy, of the gift of prophecy or the word of knowledge. We should note that Spurgeon did not seek this insight, nor did that capacity mark his ministry (he can recall no more than a dozen such instances, remarkable as that may be). And these experiences had nothing to do with seeking anachronistically to replicate the worship scenario of 1 Corinthians 14. (Gaffin, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today p294)

In a footnote on the same page, Gaffin remarks: As a (seriously meant) aside, if Spurgeon's insight is a genuine prophecy, are not Pentecostals and charismatics who are nonsabbatarians obligated to abandon that view? Does not Spurgeon's "prophecy" settle for the church a matter that, according to many evangelicals and others, Scripture does not teach or even teaches the opposite, namely, that the Lord's Day is the Christian Sabbath? Or did Spurgeon get that part wrong? Or am I missing something?

This seems to make sense of the experience IMHO. I've had similar experiences myself. Nevertheless, to say that this is an example of prophecy is way off. Why? Well if prophecy is still here, where are the other gifts? I haven't seen anyone raised from the dead of late. Nor have I heard someone offering a prayer in Medieval French, seen a blind man receive his sight or been transported by the Spirit into evangelistic situations.

Confessionalism and Prophecy

Is the cessationist position necessary to be confessionally Reformed? Douglas Oss (a Pentecostal scholar) quotes Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish Presbyterian framer of the Westminster Confession as saying: "in our nation of Scotland, Mr George Wishart foretold that Cardinal Beaton should not come out alive at the Castle of St. Andrews, but that he should die a shameful death, and he was hanged over the window that did not look out at, when he saw the man of God burnt; Mr. [John] Knox prophesied of the hanging of the Lord of Grange; Mr. John Davidson uttered prophesies, known to many of the kingdom, diverse Holy and mortified preacher in England have done the like." (Oss, p168, 169 Four Views)

Oss goes on to quote Rutherford espousing a view not unlike Grudem's. "Rutherford offered guidelines for differentiating between true and false prophecy: First these post canonical prophets 'did tye no man to beleeve their prophecies as Scriptures. Yea they never denounced Iudgement against those that beleeve not their predictions'; second 'the events reveled to Godly and sound witnesses of Christ are not contrary to the word'; and third 'they were men sound in the faith opposite to Popery, Prelacy,..., Arminianisme, and what else is contrary to sound doctrine.'" (Oss p169 Four Views) (I love the bit about rejecting prophecy if it comes from an Arminian -ouch!)

The Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6 says "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture,or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture:unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men."Oss believes that: "In the light of Rutherford's belief about revelation, the line 'new revelations of the Spirit' may be understood to refer to non-canonical but actual utterances that are subordinate to and judged by Scripture, and which may not be added to the canon. Canon, not prophecy, is the issue." (Four Views p169)

Monday, 26 January 2009

The destabilization of the biblical text - Romans 1:5

While not altogether appreciative of all the arguments Leland Ryken advances against what he describes as 'dynamic equivalent' translations in his book 'The Word of God in English', he certainly has a point in chapter 11. There he accuses modern translations of playing fast and loose with the original text to the extent that the same verse in different dynamic translations (e.g. NIV/TNIV, NLT, CEV)differ wildely with respect to meaning and so destabilize the biblical text. His argument is that the more formal translations (e.g. ESV, NASBU, NKJV) keep a stable text given that most formal renderings are, in many cases, almost identical.

I'll take a few posts to give examples of verses he has noticed which have been destabilized by dynamic translations. I'll let Leland do the talking from here:

"To get a handle on how the unidentified mixture of translation and interpretation destabilizes a text, I list below a range of how modern translations have rendered Romans 1:5. The question I would ask my readers to ponder as they read through the list is how they can differentiate what the original actually says from interpretation by a translation committee. In each case I have italicized the key phrase for purposes of the comparison.
  • 'Through him I received the privilege of an apostolic commission to bring people of all nations to faith and obedience in his name' (REB).
  • 'Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith' (NIV).
  • 'Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all teh Gentiles to faith and obedience for his name's sake' (TNIV).
  • 'Jesus was kind to me and chose me to be an apostle, so that people of all nations would obey and have faith' (CEV).
  • 'Through Christ, God has given us privilege and authority to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name' (NLT).
  • '... through who we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations' (ESV)." (p193, 194)

Even the most ardent critics of Ryken must concede he has a valid point here. Surely by resolving the ambiguity, the dynamic translations create even more ambiguity. What if Paul means (and I suspect he does) 'the obedience that consists in faith'? That option is completely out of the question unless the translation goes 'obedience of faith.'

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Muller - How many points?

Over at Riddleblog, you can read this essay by Richard Muller on what constitutes Reformed theology. Is it sufficient to the name 'Reformed' to hold to a merely predestination viewpoint or the five points? Even more to the point, is the tag 'Reformed Baptist' an oxymoron? I found the following quote quite profound and challenging:

"Salvation does not arise out of human merit but by grace alone through the acceptance, by graciously engendered faith, of the sufficient sacrifice of Christ for our sins. Baptism, rightly understood from the human side, signifies the placement of our children into the context where the promised grace of God is surely at work. And who more than an infant, incapable of meritorious works, can indicate to us that this salvation is by grace alone? By way of contrast, the restriction of baptism to adult believers who make a "decision" and who come forward voluntarily to receive a mere ordinance stands against recognition of baptism as a sign of utter graciousness on the part of God: Baptism here is offered only to certain individuals who have passed muster before a human, albeit churchly, court — or to state the problem slightly differently, who have had a particular experience viewed as the necessary prerequisite to baptism by a particular churchly group. If grace and election relate to this post-decision baptism, they can hardly be qualified by the terms "irresistible" and "unconditional." There is an inescapable irony in refusing baptism to children, offering it only to adults, and then telling the adults that they must become as little children in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven. "

Baptistic Musings - 2

Quite topical, what with all the talk of the regulative principle for worship (RPW) on the blog these days, is the argument advanced by baptists against infant-baptism.

The argument goes, if the Reformed community are to be consistent with the assumptions under-girding the RPW, then surely they may only do that which is explicity commanded in Scripture with respect to the sacraments. Since Scripture doesn't advocate infant-baptism explicitly, the Reformed shouldn't do it.

I suppose then, that if the baptists are being consistent with this argument, they should insist upon the Reformed community forbidding women from receiving the Lord's Supper? After all, there isn't an explicit text directing women to partake at the table.

How d'ya like them Apples?

Check out this link to a celebration of Apple computers over the years.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Recovering the Reformed Confession Part 6 - Out with the new, in with the ancient

In chapter 7, the most dense of the book, Clark begins by saying "There can be little question whether Reformed worship is in trouble and perhaps everywhere." (p227) Quoting W. Robert Godfrey he notes that, "the last thirty years or so have seen the most dramatic and speedy changes in Protestant worship since the Protestant Reformation." (p227)

On p228 he goes on, "as Terry Johnson notes, 'the way we worship today will determine the shape and substance of our piety for generations to come.' The fact that many Reformed Christians alive today have never seen or participated in a worship service that Calvin, the Heidelberg Reformers, or the Westminster divines would recognize does not bode well for the future of Reformed theology, piety and practice."

Therefore, he argues that "an essential part of recovering the Reformed confession is to recover the Reformed principle and practice of worship." (p228)

This is a chapter where many who wish to associate with Reformed theology will spit the dummy. They just won't like it. How do I know? Well, as an evangelical I didn't like it, but I had to ask myself, "why?"

In this chapter, Clark asserts that you cannot separate Reformed theology from Reformed worship. Worship and theology are mutually serving and shaping entities. If you worship like a charismatic it's because, deep down, you think like a charismatic. To embark on a recovery of Reformed Christian theology will take you on a trajectory towards a reformation of the worship service.

Many who associate with the Reformed movement advocate the principle of sola Scriptura with respect to theology but not with respect to the worship service. Yet as Clark notes again and again, the Reformed churches advocated the regulative principle of worship (RPW). The RPW is the principle that we may worship God in a way only that is explicitly asked of us in Scripture. In contrast, Anglicans, Lutherans and most evangelicals believe that we may do what is not expressly forbidden. The Reformed community, in response, have traditionally pointed to examples like Nadab and Abihu who thought it was fine to offer a sacrifice not explicitly commanded.

Essential to reformed worship as confessed by the WCF for instance is, "Gods Word (21.5) and prayer (21.3-4). It treats the sacraments under the heading of the Word because they are the gospel made visible." (p230) These are the 'elements' of worship, i.e. the essentials. Other things like where we meet, what we wear, at what time, etc are to be treated as 'circumstances'.

Clark argues again and again that God's Word and prayer are ALL that God has required of us during worship. Many will breath a sigh of relief. At last, no more crappy drama skits. No more cheesy chairmen gags. No more announcements. No more sentimental Powerpoint slideshows that make you cringe so bad you pull a muscle in your butt cheeks.

But the implications are more wide reaching. Clark argues that if we wish to truly reform worship, we must sing only inspired texts (i.e. Psalms, the Decalogue, the Magnificat, etc). After all, if the service is about Word and prayer, it must not only include the Word read/preached but also only the Word sung.

And if the worship leader gasps as Clark removes the photocopied chord sheet of 'The Days of Elijah', he positively palpitates as Clark very gently asks him to hand over his guitar and rainbow strap too. You see, the majority report in the Reformed churches was that musical instruments belonged to the old covenant. Lest we think this a legalistic Reformed innovation, Clark has evidence that the earliest postapostolic churh rejected uninspired singing and musical instruments as pagan. (p246)

Again I'll say, I didn't like this chapter. But again, I ask myself "why?" Has having a band really become such a sacred cow to me? Am I attending worship for my personal excitement? Am I at church for the "liver shiver" or the QIRE? In most evangelical churches, try getting rid of the sermon for a couple of weeks and you'll get minimal unrest. Suggest, on the other hand, ditching the band and you become as popular as a hang-glider with diarrhoea.

I couldn't help thinking as I read through the chapter that I've never sung a Psalm in worship in my life, and I don't think I'm alone in evangelicalism. To those of us who wish to Reform our theology, piety and practice, but can't stomach Clark's bold proposals with respect to worship, we should at least consider taking some steps in this direction. For instance, perhaps start singing and prioritising the Psalms. Chuck out the "My Jesus, My Boyfriend" hymns. If someone proposes to do in worship anything that isn't explicitly Word or prayer, reject it and tell them to save it for the school show.

I'm still thinking through the issues here, but it's very difficult to argue with what Clark has done in this chapter. Everyone I've asked about the RPW with respect to musical instruments, Psalm singing, etc seem to come back with a similar response "it sounds biblical and is hard to argue with, but I just don't like it." Well, I'm sure the Israelites didn't like the idea of letting go of their beloved bronze snake before reformer Hezekiah broke it in pieces. Maybe it's time we metaphorically smashed some stuff to please our Lord.

I've gone on, but it's a long chapter. Read it for yourself.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Baptistic Musings

I've been wrestling with paedobaptist arguments for at least a couple of years, but even more of late since undergoing a personal renewal due to Reformed theology literally saving my Christian life through the doctrine of justification. After a trying time with my health, it was Reformed writers that brought me into the glorious understanding of "receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness through faith." If God used these dudes to bring me into the fuller light of the gospel, I want to get to grips with the theological covenantal framework that helped them do so.

There seems to be good arguments on both sides of the baptism debate. I'll be posting some random arguments from either side and inviting comment from anyone who cares enough to read these posts!

My good friend John Thomson brought my attention to 1 Timothy 6:12 where Paul charges Timothy, "Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." (ESV)

What is this good confession? The baptist may well ask, when else would Timothy (a third generation believer), make a "good confession" in the presence of many witnesses other than at his baptism as a professing believer?

I have a hunch as to the paedobaptist response. Perhaps at his first communion? Nevertheless, both interpretations involve arguing from silence. I'd be interested to hear responses.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Believer's Circumcision

I'm wrestling with issues like the unity of the covenant, infant-baptism, etc. You know what, it's true that many of the arguments levelled against infant-baptism could be used against infant-circumcision. Imagine a group of Israelites practising believer's circumcision (ouch!) drawing up the following confession:

"As believer's in craedo-circumcision, we affirm the following:

a. That circumcision seals the righteousness one has through faith. As little children are incapable of faith, we as a covenant community wait for them to make a decision to follow YHWH before circumcision and admission to the passover.

b. There is no existential reality for a man circumcised as a baby. He needs to experience the reality of conversion and circumcision as a means for him to publicly declare his faith in YHWH.

c. The necessity of the purity of Israel. Mass circumcision of Israelite sons encourages nominalism and loose living. As point b. shows, if there is no existential reality, no conversion, Israel will become a corrupt community mixed with believers and unbelievers. Waiting for those who make a decision to be circumcised as adults, means that only true believers will make up the covenant community."


Sunday, 18 January 2009

Horton on worship

I'm continuing to have my proverbial evangelical socks blown off by Reformed theology, piety and practice. This time the Reformed yoda comes in the form of Michael Horton. Follow this link and download his 14 or so talks on worship immediately! I'm only at about the third talk in the series, but already, I'm having my categories pummelled and reshaped.

Something which struck me as he spoke was his insistence that we should not attend church to experience 'the liver shiver'. God has promised only to work through ordained means (word and sacrament) and he has not promised the miraculous as a means of growth (note - he has not promised the miraculous). We attend church to feed on Christ through the gospel preached and the sacraments served. We're there on the basis of God's promise to grow us through the ordained means. As a consequence, we won't always feel blessed. We might think we're not getting much out of it, or that our children are bored. Doesn't matter says Horton, as what Christ felt in our place is what matters.

God has promised to bless irrespective of our state of mind. The one who eats the Lord's Supper with tears is no more blessed than the one who's eaten while struggling with a wandering mind. Why? It's about God's promise, not about our worth.

He's the first preacher I've heard admit that sometimes real, authentic word/sacrament church will be boring! Sometimes it will seem humdrum. Yet we meet with the sure and certain hope of blessing through the ordained means. It may not be as exciting as Hillsongs, or "hands-down if you want a coffee" worship, but it's the only way God has promised to bless his people. The irony is that those who attend meetings for other reasons (alter-calls, falling over, eyes-closed singing/eyes-open prayer, shouting of "alavabeer, sheelavashandy") miss out on what God's doing because he hasn't promised to bless these things.

He's promised to bless the means of grace. Church isn't a show, it's a banquet. We come to feed on Christ. Not every meal will feel like dining at a Michelin star restuarant. Our kids won't like the taste of the food all the time. We won't be able to look back at many meals and say, "that one really helped my muscle growth". In contrast, over time, as we feed on Christ in the gospel and through the sacraments we'll experience slow yet marked growth.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Moo on hell

A curious statment from Doug Moo on hell. My friend John Thomson sent me the following email:

"In a footnote comment on Ch1:20 'Christ reconciling all things' in his recent commentary on Colossians (pillar series) Moo writes the following: 'The implications of this reconciliation for unbelievers is not entirely clear from Scripture... Scripture... forbids us from concluding...that all unbelievers will be 'saved'. Nor is the idea that that unbelievers will one day be annihilated a biblical concept. Perhaps, however, we might tentatively think that reconciliation will mean that that unbelievers will themselves, through suffering the torments of hell, nevertheless cease to sin and express remorse for their sin?'Wow! Is this an evangelical purgatory? How can sinners, hostile to God cease to sin? Will God leave sinless people in hell? Is this unfounded speculation or what?"

I'm hesitant to take on the great man. If Carlsberg made NT scholars, they'd make Doug Moo. I can see the attraction in this redemptive view of hell, yet it just doesn't sound quite right.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Recovering the Reformed Confession Part 5 - I must confess I still believe

Chapters 5 & 6 of RRC explicitly deal with the subject of confessionalism. Clark contends that confessionalism is essential to the recovery of a reformed identity. The very idea itself is biblical. "The practice and theory of confession are closely connected to the biblical notions of covenant and oath-taking." (p155)

After mapping out, convincingly IMHO, the biblical basis for confessions, Clark makes the stark point that, "confessions, however limited they may be, are inescapable. Even 'no confession' is a confession of sorts. Everyone who associates with a 'no confession' church confesses that there is 'no confession'. Anyone in a 'no confession' congregation who attempted to impose a longer or different confession would run into opposition from all those who confess 'no confession.'" (p159)

The normal New Covenant Theology response at this point would be, "The danger is that confessions become the authority over Scripture." The reformed response to such an argument would be: "Scripture is indeed the norm which norms all norms. Nevertheless, that norm must be read and understood within a given community (i.e. the church), and that community must come to some agreement about what Scripture teaches and implies and how it is to be read and applied within the church." (p159)

COWABUNGA! I found this point absolutely stunning. Maybe there's so much confusion in young evangelical minds (including my own) because we've abandoned the principle of sola Scriptura (reading the Bible in community) for solo Scriptura (me and my Bible is the ultimate authority). Surely confessionalism would be salvation indeed for wavering evangelicals who consider the latest book they're reading to be THE guiding influence on their theology, piety and practice? Wouldn't it be liberating to just read Scripture with the church?

This is the way evangelicals should be going according to Clark in chapter 6. While citing examples of prominent figures leaving evangelicalism for Rome and the eclectic church practices of former evangelicals associated with the emergent/emerging church, he argues that Christians leaving evangelicalism should consider the Genevan road instead (p195)

Clark believes that the virtues of being confessional include being biblical, catholic, vital, evangelical and churchly.

He concludes, "To postevangelicals, this chapter has tried to signify that, at their best, the Reformed theology, piety, and practice are not just another version of fundamentalism or revivalism, that we belong to neither of these movements. Rather our roots, our confession, our theology, piety, and practice are not well classified as 'evangelical' or 'fundamentalist' in the modern sense. As Darryl Hart has argued repeatedly, there is a third party in American religion: confessionalists." (p225)

Restless and Reforming verdict: Clark makes a convincing case for confessionalism. Perhaps the third way for evangelicals burned out by 'the quiet time' law, starved of Biblical preaching, tired of being blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine, confused about the gospel, bored of buddy-Jesus worship, annoyed that no liturgy means the rut - perhaps the way out is to become confessional. This evangelical dude has a lot of thinking to do.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Recovering the Reformed Confession review and other stuff

It's been a while since I last posted. I apologize to all those who've been checking for my review of RRC. My health hasn't been great and this has held things up somewhat. Anyway, look out for my next two (soon to be posted) reviews on Prof Clark's take on the virtues of confessionalism and the RPW.

Other reviews for the coming year include John Eldredge's "Walking With God" and Scot McKnight's "Community Called Atonement".

Happy new year to all.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Just a Bible Thought: No 1

Because of my consistent failure to keep reading through a yearly Bible plan, my knowledge of the O.T. prophets is poor. So this new year I've decided to start with Isaiah, in the hope I get through the prophets while I'm still on a roll.

Part of my reading this morning was Isaiah chapter 3. A difficult text, because it is full of stuff that reads a lot like anti-female rhetoric. I imagine many commentators have used the text to illustrate the Bible's oppression of women.

I considered, and imagined myself listening to a paper on Isaiah 3's victimisation of the female at the hands of the male. How would I respond? How could I answer the charge that this scriptural text was loaded with hate towards the fairer sex?

Isa 3:25 helped me understand. I realised that the chapter hardly mentions the men. They are largely absent. They ain't around to suffer what the women suffer. Because they are no more. In Isaiah 3 the men have largely been slaughtered.

Just a Bible Thought: No 1 - Never assume that all is well with those types and characters hidden within a story.