Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Calvin on Conversion at Old Life

The following (taken from an article at Old Life) is worth pondering:
...Calvin’s understanding of conversion was wrapped up with his conception of the Christian life and the ministry of the church. Take away his understanding of conversion as a life long slow process of dying to self and living to Christ, and you have a hard time holding on to his image of the church as mother, whose nurture is necessary to the Christian throughout his whole life. Immediate, one-time-fix conversions, in other words, leave little room for the means of grace in the word preached and the sacraments administered. This is why the Christian life for those who experience the crisis-styled conversions is usually little more than Bible reading (i.e. the search for daily guidance), seeking other converts (i.e., witnessing) and spiritual retreats where batteries get recharged. Conversion of the quick variety lacks an understanding of the sin that still pervades the believing heart and the need of that heart for forgiveness week-in and week-out.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Genesis 32, Jacob and Jesus

What are we to make of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32? Jacob cried, "I won't let you go until you bless me!" A traditional revivalist/pietist piece of exegesis would go, "We must wrestle with God in prayer until we sense some kind of blessing." But that reading is a derivative application at best and it cuts Christ out of the picture.

Jacob is a type of Christ, who "strives" with God for His blessing, or for the joy set before him according to Hebrews 12:2. Jacob 'sees' God's face (32:30 - probably that of the pre-incarnate Christ), whereas only Christ has seen God's face (John 1:18). Like Jacob, Christ comes away injured after his procuring the blessing. Jacob's side was injured whilst Christ's was pierced. The people of Israel, out of reverence for Jacob's encounter "do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip." (v32) In contrast, the New Israel, in response to Christ's crucifixion, feed on his body and blood (John 6:55).

How should we respond? By realising that Christ has done it all; that he fulfilled the law's demands. All that is left for us to do, is to bask in the glory of the blessing he procured. We bask by feeding on him through the word preached and the sacraments received. We no longer strive for the blessing. Gospel righteousness isn't something to be wrestled down from heaven, or dug up from the grave; rather it's as near as the Christ we confess (Romans 10:5-12). And resting on his accomplishments is the impetus we need as we strive to make every effort to add to our faith all kinds of evangelical virtues (2 Peter 1:5).

Friday, 24 July 2009

Doing Hard Things versus Faith in Christ

Zrim is on fire:
...the Reformed understanding of the doctrine of creation, in which we ascertain the essence of the material world to be “very good” while its condition sinful, is the ground by which we may partake in all things resident to this age, including high and low culture; we understand this age to be evil because it is passing as a result of our sin, not because it is inherently corrupt. It could be that any voice which tries to set up a class system between anything within this age not only misses sight of the correct taxonomy but may also flirt with a form of legalism. If the antithesis is between this age and the one to come then it doesn’t really follow that the antidote to a piety of sustained adolescence is the sanctity of intellectualism. Dualities are a treasured hallmark of the Reformed tradition. But the trick, it seems to me, is to get them right in the first place.
So, should evangelicals be reacting to a 'dumbed down culture' by pursuing a high-brow one? Or is the answer altogether different? Read the rest of Zrim's post here.

Are You In Leadership For the Right Reasons?

Andy Hunter asks the question.

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 15 The Apostle James Says "Paul is my homeboy!"

Fesko is absolutely smokin' in chapter 11 where he tackles "Justification and Sanctification". He starts off:
What is the relationship between justification and works? Are good works necessary for salvation? The answer to this question is, Yes. Good works are necessary for salvation. At the same time, it depends on how one relates justification to good works when answering this question. (p281)
Fesko locates good works within redemptive history, especially the prophecies of Jeremiah (31:31-34) and Ezekiel (36:16-37) where God promises to forgive sins and put a Spirit renewed heart that loves God's law within God's people. Good works are therefore an eschatological phenomenon. We live in the already/not-yet of our redemption. God's work has begun but is not completed, so our good works are always going to be imperfect. This already/not-yet tension means that:
...the ground of the believer's forensic status cannot and does not shift from the work of Christ to the Spirit-led works of the believer. (p289)
The Spirit led works follow, therefore, the believer's justification and are the cause of his justification neither in the present nor the future. Rather, these works are the fruit of faith. In the passages from Jeremiah and Ezekiel, neither do we see God's people first offering their good works and obedience, which then causes God to show mercy to them, nor do we see the pattern of covenantal nomism, where God makes a covenant with Israel, and then on the basis of God's antecedent grace Israel maintains their place in the covenant. (p290)
Fesko resolves the apparent contradiction between Paul and James by noting that the primary problem James is dealing with is antinomianism. He quotes Machen:
The faith that James is condemning is not the faith that Paul is commending. (p220 Machen's Notes on Galatians, ed. John H. Skilton, quoted on p292)
Further, Fesko notes that Paul and James use the term "Justify" differently. This is evidenced by the OT passages to which James appeals and the way in which he interprets these passages. While Paul appeals to Genensis 15:6, James appeals to Genesis 22 in chapter 2:23. James sees Genesis 22 as an almost prophetic-type fulfilment of the righteousness Abraham ALREADY had in 15:6 (p293).
We can restate the differences in Paul and James in the following manner: Paul is interested in explaining how Abraham is justified, whereas James is interested in explaining how Abraham's faith is justified. Abraham is justified by faith alone, whereas Abraham's faith is justified by works. (p294)
So to sum up, I return to the opening question: why are good works necessary for salvation? Why can't we sin so that grace may abound?
...to say that works are unnecessary for one's salvation is akin to saying that the eschatological age has not been inaugurated, the law has not been inscribed upon our hearts, and believers are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This, however is an impossibility, which is why James says: "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead." (James 2:26) (p295)

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 14 Legal Union and Mystical Union

How does one relate 'union with Christ' to 'justification'? That question has caused no small debate in Reformed circles. Fesko points out those, like N.T Wright and Rich Lusk, who argue that the doctrine of union with Christ makes the imputation of Christ's righteousness redundant. He explains:
We may summarize this current trend in some portions of the Reformed community as a rejection of the imputed righteousness of Christ because the filial aspect of God's relationship to his people is primary. Justification of the believer, therefore, is reached, not through imputation, but through union with Christ. (p269)
Fesko notes that the filial and forensic categories are not antithetical, but complementary and interconnected (p274). He cites examples such as Paul's language of adoption, where we see a legal concept tied to a relational one. To pit the legal against the filial aspects of union, seems to be an analogous argument to that of the man who won't marry his girlfriend because he "doesn't need a piece of paper to prove his love."

Other, more moderate Reformed re-workings of union, includes the work of men like Richard Gaffin of Westminster Theological Seminary Philadelphia, who attempt to make mystical union with Christ the centre of Paul's theology. A recent video by WTS Associate Systematic Theology Professor Lane Tipton affirmed this position. He was concerned that some make the forensic aspect of salvation so central that it "eclipse(s) the person of Christ. You first possess Christ and then in Christ you are justified." (about 3minutes and 10 seconds in). Fesko quotes Berkhof:
...this view fails to distinguish between our legal unity with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely, of the doctrine of justification. Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing condition [emphasis mine], but on that of a gracious imputation - a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. ( Berkhof, ST p452 quoted on p278)
Fesko then quotes Calvin (who seems anachronistically to disagree with Tipton's take on Calvin!):
By faith we not only acknowledge that Christ suffered for us and rose from the dead for us, but we receive Him, possessing and enjoying Him as He offers Himself to us. This should be noted carefully. Most consider fellowship with Christ and believing in Christ to be the same thing: but the fellowship we have with Christ is the effect of faith. (John Calvin Ephesians 3:17, quoted on p279)
Why is it important to see the forensic aspect of union as foundational? What's the problem with pitting mystical union first? Isn't it quibbling over words? The problem with it is that it subtly undermines the Reformed doctrine of God justifying the ungodly. God doesn't justify someone because they are in mystical union with Christ. That would be to justify on a pre-existing condition of the sinner. No, God justifies the ungodly by imputing righteousness to them. God "calls into existence the things that do not exist (Rom. 4:17)". I'll leave the last word with Fesko:
This conclusion [i.e. the priority of forensic union] plays a key role in the differences between the Reformed and Roman Catholic understanding of justification and salvation. For the Reformers, salvation came about because of the declaration of righteousness in justification, whereas for the Roman Catholic Church, even to this day, it is inverse: transformation precedes the declaration, the transformative is the judicial ground for the forensic. (p280)

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Bad Science Bad Theology

My friend Donald sent me this link to an article in The Spectator.

I liked the quote at the very end of the article... ‘If you’d asked any scientist or doctor 30 years ago where stomach ulcers come from, they would all have given the same answer: obviously it comes from the acid brought on by too much stress. All of them apart from two scientists who were pilloried for their crazy, whacko theory that it was caused by a bacteria. In 2005 they won the Nobel prize. The “consensus” was wrong.’

I'm not sure if I agree with Plimer's thesis that 'anthropogenic global warming' is a false hypothesis. But I'm pretty sure that the damage done has been done, and that the only reason for cleaner non carbon energy is preparation for the day the carbon fuels run out.

There was a catastrophe theology during the nuclear arms race... we are all doomed, etc etc. And the same thing surrounds the global warming conversation... a bad theology that defies God's promise to preserve the world until his purposes for it are fulfilled.

O ye of little faith, slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Piper and Bunyan on the Imputation of Christ's Righteousness

John Piper in a sensational talk given at the Evangelical Theological Society on "Justification and the Diminishing Work of Christ", quotes John Bunyan:

One day as I was passing into the field... this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [=lacks] my righteousness, for that was just [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today and, and forever.”...

Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God [e.g. Hebrews 12:16-17] left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.

Seems that the truth does indeed set you free; that's why Piper's ready to fight for it.

Hurt Mail or Hate Mail?

Carl Trueman has an excellent essay at Reformation 21 here on the culture of hurt feelings in the church. Is 'Hurt Mail' the new 'Hate Mail'?

And here's a song about a rapper with hurt feelings:

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Orthodoxy on a Knife Edge

Staying true is difficult. Holding on to the truth of the gospel is a battle. It was never meant to be easy, but you know, no one ever warned me it would be thus. Carl Trueman, in Martin Downes excellent Risking The Truth, agrees:
Belief in the truth is always difficult - doctrinally and morally. We believe not because we find it easy or straightforward but because we are commanded so to do. Yet evangelical culture often fails to acknowledge the level of struggle involved in being orthodox and thuse creating unrealistic expectations for the Christian life. (p34)
Yup, I concur; bitter experience has convinced me that holding on to the truth of the gospel will always be a battle for those of us with sinful hearts so (un)naturally opposed to God's truth. Paul alludes to this struggle when he writes to the Colossians:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. (1:21-23 TNIV)
Moving from "the hope held out in the gospel" is a real danger according to Paul. Gospel faith needs establishing and firming up. We need outside resources to keep us 'resting on Christ and his righteousness' through faith.

Kim Riddlebarger noted on a recent WHI podcast that if Paul calls the gospel 'foolishness' then we should not be surprised when sensible people within the church attempt to 'correct' the gospel to make it less foolish. The way I see it, heretical 'correcting' impulses can be boiled down to the following sins: reductionism, biblicism, antinomianism, legalism/moralism.

How do we establish and firm up our faith? Let me take each of the above heretical impulses in turn:
  • reductionism - sometimes 'tight' exegesis of a passage leads one down a dark path. Sometimes the obvious meaning of a passage isn't obvious. Many have gone down the path of being faithful to what the 'text says' and ended up denying the Trinity (e.g. Mark 10:18). A similar thing is happening today with reference to the imputation of Christ's righteousness. When faced with an, at first glance, outstanding yet novel piece of exegesis ask yourself, "Has this been done before? Has this been refuted before?" Don't just read modern commentaries. Read the old stuff. Ask yourself, how has the church catholic interpreted such a verse? Which leads me to the next heretical impulse:
  • biblicism - so much of our problems in evangelicalism come down to a 'me and my Bible' mentality. A deep suspicion of anything that smells of tradition is esteemed a virtue in most evangelical churches. Reformed Christians have never been opposed to tradition; only the unbiblical sort. According to Carl Trueman in the aforementioned book, the Westminster standards were drafted by men who'd taken the best of the Patristic and Medieval period and refracted it through a Protestant lens. Confessionalism recognises there is a heretic in us all waiting to get out and that we need our individualist-biblicist monster tamed by ecclesiastically binding documents. Get to know these great confessions of the church.
  • antinomianism/legalism - the gospel of sola gratia and sola fide is counter intuitive. Staying true to it is like walking on a knife edge. It's easy to fall off into the emergent 'shag anything as long as you're monogamous' attitude or the covenant moralist 'start by grace finish by obedience' error. Heck, even the apostle Peter struggled with this one! (Gal. 2:11) I've found my understanding of justification sharpened by becoming acquainted with the arguments over it (indeed, many of the NT letters/doctrines were written and framed in polemical contexts). Read good books on justification (particularly this and this).
A theme running through all of these morally bankrupt impulses is that articulated by the Apostle: bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33). Sometimes reading is bad for you. Sometimes keeping abreast of theological error (particularly on the internet) can wear one down. Paul warned the Galatians:
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (6:1 TNIV)
So if you're continuously checking on what Baalzeblog (i.e. Tony Jones) is saying, don't be surprised if you start to doubt even the basics. Your heart is opposed to truth and loves lies. Sometimes it is better to ignore the heretics and just feed ourselves on Christ through word, sacrament and the great old writers.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 13 Justification & 1 Cor. 1:30

Fesko continues chapter 9 by tackling NTW's argument that 2 Cor. 5:21 only mentions "the righteousness of God" as opposed to the "righteousness of Christ":
Wright's objection at this point borders on what can only be called a literalistic biblicism. Yes, he is correct to state that it is "God's righteousness" to which Paul refers. Nevertheless, Paul also emphasizes that God's righteousness comes en auto ("in him"), in Christ. It is not possible to separate the righteousness of God from the righteousness of Christ unless one wishes to posit a radical tritheism, a separation of the ontological Trinity. Contra Wright, we see an example of the unity of attributes of the Trinity in 1 Corinthians 1:3-4: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus." We see that grace comes both from the Father and the Son, but that the grace of God comes en Christo. Likewise, the righteousness of God comes en auto (cf. 2 Peter 1:1). (p253)
I was hugely impressed by Fesko's careful reading of "the righteousness of God"; I've never heard it put quite that way before, especially in the light of 1 Cor. 1:3-4.

Next to 1 Cor. 1:30, where Wright contends that if we are going to speak of the imputed righteousness of Christ, then we must also speak of the imputed wisdom of Christ, the imputed sanctification of Christ and the imputed redemption of Christ. Fesko answers this by saying:
What unifies the four qualities is not their instrumental means of communication but the material means, namely being en Christo. When one is united to Christ he receives the wisdom of God through calling, righteousness through imputation, sanctification through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and redemption through the cross. (p255)
I found Fesko's treatment of 1 Cor. 1:30 the most compelling exegetical case for reading the passage. Superb stuff. I'm still not sure where I stand on 2 Cor. 5:21 as I feel that there is a good half-way house to be got at between NTW and Fesko. More to come on my thoughts on this passage.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 12 Challenges to Imputation & 2 Cor. 5:21

In chapter 9, Fesko focuses on challenges to the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, particularly as seen in the work of N.T Wright. In the recent debate over imputation, Wright argues that there are only two passages to which one might appeal: 1 Corinthians 1:30 and 2 Corinthians 5:21: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (p243)

Wright argues that 2 Cor. 5:21 cannot support the traditional Reformed understanding of imputation for a variety of reasons. Among those reasons:
  • The passage speaks of God's righteousness, not Christ's
  • "Righteousness" means covenant faithfulness
  • To read the passage in terms of imputation does not make sense of the overall context and provides the reader with a somewhat detached gospel statement
Regarding "righteousness" as meaning "covenant faithfulness", Fesko states: If his [Wright's] offered interpretation regarding the covenant faithfulness of God is correct, in what way is God faithful to his covenant? What does covenant faithfulness actually mean? Would it not entail the forgiveness of sins? Would not God's covenant faithfulness entail the atonement of Christ? Would it not involve soteriology, the salvation of sinners? Even if his contention regarding the proper understanding of the righteousness of God is correct, it is unclear how he can excise or underemphasize the soteriological aspects from this passage. (p252)

Fesko also cites Beale's argument that Isaiah 53 is the specific subtext to 2 Cor. 5:21. We see the dual ideas of forgiveness and imputation, for example, when we read "the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6b) and "by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities" (Isa. 53:11) Contra Wright, therefore, God imputes his righteousness in Christ, which means the righteousness of Christ to those who are saved. (p252)

We'll look at 1 Cor. 1:30 in the next post.

Is the NLT Suitable for Preaching?

A pastor in Tennessee reckons it is (here and here). I'd be interested to hear other thoughts on this.

HT: NLT Blog

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 11 The New Perspective on Paul

Fesko does a good job on N.T Wright in chapter 8. He answers the following questions:
(1) does the term "righteousness" mean "membership in the covenant"; and (2) does Scripture speak of justification in terms of vindication or being "in the right"? (p220)

Regarding the term righteousness, Fesko looks at Psalm 7 as an example. When David prays, "Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness" (v8) he is requesting that God declare him innocent of wrongdoing, rendering a "not guilty" verdict....covenant membership is not in view, but legal status, namely David's righteousness. (p222)

The example of Phinehas is also interesting. His spearing of the Israelite fornicators, according to Psalm 106:31, was counted to him as righteousness from generation to generation forever (ESV). Fesko affirms that Phinehas acted in faith (ala Heb.4:2, so Phinehas was justified by faith, evident in his works) and that he and his descendants were rewarded with a perpetual priesthood (Num. 25:12-13). Fesko sees in Phinehas a type of Christ who's righteous act is imputed to his descendants. I think this is a biblically satisfying view of the text.

In terms of "vindication" NTW is constantly banging on about the heart of justification being a declaration of "who's in" the covenant community and thus being a vindication of the true people of God before their enemies. Arguing from the thrust of Romans, particularly expressed in ch 5:1, Fesko concludes: Paul shows no concern for what the enemies of the people of God might or might not think; Paul shows concern only for what God will say concerning the one who stands before his throne. (p235) Stirring stuff.

ESV Study Bible in Calfskin Photos

I love finely bound bibles. I'm thinking of investing in the ESV Study Bible in Calfskin, and these photos have whetted my appetite no end. There's 100 of them, so take a look before taking the expensive plunge.

HT: ESV Blog

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The promise of healing?

Nicky has recently let rip on the blog about prophecy and cessationism. The question of healing is related, because I think at least one New Testament passage on healing combines that theme with prayer and prophecy.

If you have to, remind yourself of James 5:14,15 and then try and follow my argument.

My thesis is this... Christians can only pray "in faith" for a specific healing if there is a specific promise. Indeed we can only pray "in faith" for anything if there is a promise. In general, we can pray for anything that we think is good... but we should not expect what we request unless there is a promise.

Without checking the relevant experts I think James 5:14,15 is an interesting test case for my thesis. I understand these verses in this way... verse 14 talks about the general pastoral care of all who request such care... verse 15 is talking about prayers for healing offered in faith, that is, prayers offered up upon a supernaturally Spirit revealed promise.

The application of this is that Christian pastors must be very clear with people seeking prayers for healing. Pastors dare not promise what they do not know. Pastors dare not pray certainly for what they do not know. If they do they will soon lose credibility. At the very least they will be very poor pastors.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Britain, Paedos and Michael Jackson

I read the following by Richard Littlejohn in yesterday's Daily Mail:

Watch out, watch out, Paedos About!

Britain is in the grip of advanced paedomania, spying kiddie-fiddlers round every corner.

In department stores at Christmas, children are not allowed to sit on Santa's knee, because of the risk that he might not be able to resist the urge to touch them up.

This week there has been another reminder that teachers aren't permitted to rub sun-screen lotion onto their pupils' faces and arms, despite the constant propaganda about taking the proper precautions to avoid skin cancer.

Mustn't risk any 'inappropriate' contact.

In Devon, mums and dads are stopped from taking pictures at their children's sports day, just in case the photos turn up on the internet inflaming the passions of those who would like to see the age of consent lowered to six months.

And in Bedfordshire, adults are banned from a school sports day altogether over fears that a child might be abducted by an undercover paedo posing as a parent. Can't be too careful.

At the same time the world has been busy deifying a 50-year-old pederast pop star, who built a paedophile's playground in his back garden and was famous for enjoying 'sleep-overs' with prepubescent children.

Am I missing something?

(PS: To my American friends, if you're ever talking about a "paedo" to a Brit, they won't think you're describing someone who believes in infant baptism)
(PPS another interesting article on Wacko here HT: Carl Trueman)

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 10 By Faith Alone

In Chapter 7, Fesko's contention is that justification is (1) by faith alone; (2) the remission of sins; and (3) the imputation of Christ's righteousness (p210).

Of particular interest to me was Fesko's explanation of Romans 1:17 in relation to point (1) above. The text says: For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith." (ESV).

Fesko interprets the phrase from faith for faith as meaning both the instrumentality of faith in the reception of righteousness upon all who believe (Murray) and as a rhetorical combination that intends to emphasize the exclusivity of faith (Moo) (p197).

Interestingly, Fesko is emphatic on how one should interpret Habakkuk 2:4 (i.e. is it faith or faithfulness) insisting that while there is a difference of opinion...it appears that Paul authoritatively interprets (p199) the passage. He goes on to quote John Murray:

The specific quality of faith is trust and commitment to another; it is essentially extraspective and in that respect is the diametric opposite of works. Faith is self-renouncing; works are self-congratulatory. Faith looks to what God does; works have respect to what we are. It is the antithesis of principle that enables the apostle to base the complete exclusion of works upon the principle of faith. (p200)

Fesko then argues for points (2) and (3) giving particular attention to 2 Cor. 5:19-21 and the great exchange; remission of sins and the reception of righteousness.

After arguing for this three-fold view of justification, Fesko is careful to examine the doctrine in its historical outworking in the resurrection of Christ. Ever been puzzled as to why Romans 4:25 speaks of Christ being raised FOR our justification? Fesko sees this passage primarily in terms of Christ's resurrection confirming and authenticating our justification (p207). This happens since Christ's resurrection not only secures victory over Satan, sin and death, but it also authenticates the victory as well (p208). Fesko sees the resurrection as God's confirmation of the efficacy and acceptability of Christ's sacrifice.

Fesko also sees in Christ's resurrection the bringing forward of the day of judgement for God's people. He sees that through Christ, the eschatological judgement of 'righteous' is issued in the here and now on behalf of believing saints.

A question I have in all this is, is the resurrection merely authentication and confirmation of Christ's atoning sacrifice or can we say that his resurrection actually IS his justification? I think Fesko is alluding to this, although I'm not entirely sure. If resurrection IS Christ's justification, it means that through union with Christ, this resurrection/justification is ours too. IMO, this seems to provide a tight understanding of Romans 4:25.

Protestant Psychophants

8 "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.(Matthew 23 TNIV)

In the Kingdom of God, of which the church is the earthly manifestation, there are only three ranks; God, Christ and then the people of God. Sure, the risen Christ, when he ascended gave gifts to his people, like apostles, prophets, etc. Nevertheless, these gifts were given as offices, not ranks. They were never meant to be ends in themselves as much as sign-posts to the risen Christ.

Modern examples, where this kingdom ethic is turned on its head are not difficult to spot. For instance, take the blaspheming despot that sits in Rome, lording it over the masses and receiving honour that belongs to Christ alone. A clearer breach of Matthew 23 you will not find. Nevertheless, those of us in Protestantism can't afford to be smug. We have our own, less obvious, but equally odious kinds of veneration.

What about the psychophant in all of us that readily drools over titles? We just love dudes with Phd's don't we? "Today we have Doctor So and So preaching", whereas last weeks non-Phd endued preacher was just introduced as "Bob Smith".

Or what about the fawning over ministers by attaching the prefix "Pastor"? "Ooh, Pastor Vance is just soooo anointed." "Pastor la Vista will now bring us God's word". I'm sick of smooth talking Pastors.

I hardly need mention our celebrity culture. Oooh Pastor Piper. Oooh Dr Carson. "Pastor X has the fastest growing church in the least churched city. He's so like, funny and like awesome blah blah blah."

If we are to be truly courageous Protestants who live and breathe Scripture, let's crucify our fallen instinct to attach Popish titles to those whom we love and respect. Let's set apart Christ in our hearts and in our words as the One who deserves honour, rank and blessing.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Everyone needs to read Bavinck...

"The moment God's justice is denied, and there is no longer any belief in a moral world order that is elevated far above human beings, the right and essential character of punishment immediately collapses as well, even when the word "justice" is still retained."
H. Bavinck,Reformed Dogmatics,III,163

Of course, I'm not sure I would agree with Bavinck's practical understanding of civil law and order.

There can be no such thing as proper punishment under human judicial systems. I think prisons are a social and political problem for this very reason... we are told they exist for the purposes of punishment deterent and rehabilitation, when the only good reason for prisons is to keep dangerous people safely under control.

But there is no question that Bavinck's thinking is a wonderful antidote to the empty god-less thinking that has engulfed the Western developed nations.

Calvin on the proper celebration of the Lord's Supper

Recently I finished reading the Institutes. However I confess to not reading the last two chapters... I just wasn't interested enough, and I wanted to start my new Bavinck volume instead.

But who knows what I might have missed because Calvin always throws you unexpected morsels to chew on, morsels that often illustrate his attempts to remain as true to the Scriptures as possible.

One example in my latest reading of Book IV comes from his comments on the Lord's Supper in IV:XVII:43. I've long held to Calvin's view that the Lord's Supper should be administered frequently. In fact, I tend to think that Calvin probably believed that the Supper should be shared at every gathering of the church... how else can we understand his comment "at least once a week"? I think it is wrong to separate the preaching of the word among God's people from the adminstration of the supper that God gave us.

In recent conversations with people I've compared notes on how we celebrate the eucharistic meal, in particular thinking through the question of the rights and wrongs of using alcoholic wine.

Funny, then, that Calvin doesn't comment on the alcohol issue at all... what he does comment on is something that I'd never considered... the matter of the colour of the wine. Calvin states that it makes no difference if the wine is red or white.

I dare someone with the proper authority to use White Grape Shloer at their next celebration. Of course you'd be breaking God's law if you did... but not because of the whiteness of the grape... isn't hermeneutics fun?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Phillip Jensen - Prophecy Gone Wrong

Here Phillip Jensen gives some personal testimony regarding the dangers of the modern prophetic (or modern pathetic) movement. If you don't come away with your blood boiling and wanting to punch the bloke who made the second 'prophecy' you're a better person than me. I'll give Phil the last word:

It is not enough to write off these latter day ‘prophets’ as eccentrics, for they damage the sheep of Christ, and in their public statements often bring dishonour upon the name of our Lord and Saviour. In their teaching and training, they misrepresent the work of evangelism and the message of God in this world. We must not do nothing as John Wimber comes to town again to continue spreading new ways of being in touch with God. We have to warn, teach and publicly disassociate ourselves from these ministries, for ultimately it is a different Christ and a different gospel that they preach.

Mark Seifrid - Piper 'nearly Tridentine' on Justification

Given the way in which Piper's thought parallels that of Melanchthon, it should come as no surprise that some of his own statements appear to stand outside a Reformational framework in much the same ways as the problematic statements of Melanchthon do. He is able to argue, for example, that within the justified God produces "experiential righteousness" of "habitual obedience and faith", which is not as "filthy rags" (Is 64:6), but truly please God. Although he regards this "experiential righteousness" as mere evidence of justification, he understands justification at the final judgement to be contingent on an inherent righteousness: good works are a conditio sine qua non for justification! Here, he appears to me to be not only close to the untamed Melanchthon, but, in fact, nearly Tridentine in his understanding of justification. (p150 Justification: What's at Stake in the Current Debates ed. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier)

Saturday, 4 July 2009

A Little Cessationism is Good for the Soul Part 3

Cessationism is good for the soul. Why? Well I gats some more reasons:
  1. It respects the biblical miracles. Cessationists refuse to take our questionable experiences and import these back into biblical text. For someone to just 'speak out' in the faith that God the Spirit will give the words, and then to equate that inane babbling to the biblical gift of languages discredits the biblical testimony to the veracity of the gifts. To take Benny Hinn's 'healing' of someone's sore back and equate that to the works of power in the NT, is to tar the apostolic testimony with the same dodgy brush that Benny uses (presumably that same dodgy brush he uses to achieve his massive comb over - now that is miraculous). The world looks on at our dodgy claims and loses respect for the authenticity of the biblical miracles. If Christians are quick to believe a Todd Bentley, why should the world take seriously our belief in Christ?
  2. It keeps one looking outside of one's self. Many in the church struggle with depression. They need led out of the maze of emotional entanglement. To ask a depressive person, "What is God saying to you?" and then expect them to respond with some personal 'word', only contributes to keeping that person locked in the maze. To be told that Christ is outside of one's self, that his word is objective and that interpreting providence is impossible, is to offer a cool drink of soul-satisfying water to the saint with emotional imbalance. So therefore,
  3. It saves one from trying to interpret providence. The question 'What is God saying to you?' betrays the attitude that God's word to the Christian is not supremely embodied in Scripture but must be sought by trying to interpret what God is 'saying' through life's events. As R. Scott Clark said in Recovering the Reformed Confession, the proper response to the question, 'What is God saying to you?' should be a relaying of the contents of last Sunday's sermon, or a description of the significance of baptism or the Lord's Supper. Anything else is a dead end and a detraction from Christ.
  4. It respects the Reformed doctrine of a liberated conscience. If we are to assume the continuing validity of revelatory gifts, then surely my conscience will become enslaved to whatever God told you? For instance, I remember one time listening to a sermon by Charismatic preacher David Pawson. He spoke of the value in 'interrogatory prayer'. During a time of such prayer, he asked God "What do you hate?" God responded to Pawson "Christmas". As a result, Pawson abandoned celebrating Christmas. Now if this is a true revelation, then why is it not binding on all Christians? If God has revealed his hatred for Christmas (to Pawson) then we are all obligated to follow Pawson's example are we not? No no no. This refusal to celebrate Christmas could be put down to a weak conscience (as per Romans 14), but not to the voice of God. If we are to have truly gospel strengthened consciences, then it is imperative that we bin this 'God told me' piety for a mind made strong by God's word.

A Little Cessationism is Good for the Soul Part 2

Cessationism is good for the soul. It is not a mere belief that the miraculous gifts of the NT gradually ceased after the close of the cannon. It girds a whole approach to piety. I got some more reasons why it's good:
  1. It guards the church from wackos. Why is it that charismatic gifts seem to attract Christians who seem about as balanced as a Labrador puppy on Viagra? For every godly charismatic Wayne Grudem-type, there are ten Paul Cain's who are surrounded with craziness and questions over their moral integrity. Even the most sensible continuists wouldn't distance themselves fully from Todd Bentley until it all went pear shaped. Even the most sensible continuists were popping off to Toronto to fall down laughing like a hyena. Even the most sensible continuists embraced the Kansas City Prophets before they were exposed as wicked men and sexual predators. No, cessationists reject these muppets at first base because of our theology of the work of the Spirit, which in turn helps protect the integrity and purity of the bride of Christ.
  2. It values the integrity of Christian speech. Wayne Grudem's views on NT 2nd order revelation has provided fuel to the fire of nutters ready to jump on the 'fallible prophecy' bandwagon to justify all their erroneous utterances. I remember one of the Kansas City Prophets telling Phillip Jensen that God was going to kill him. He's still here and the 'prophet' has been discredited. During one of Grudem's talks at a Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, he warned against accepting prophecies that predict the future! If the gift is still being given, then you have to ask why? Is it because they are invariably wrong? No, the speech of the Christian should always promote truth. Salt water and fresh water cannot spring from the same well.
  3. It keeps the main thing the main thing. Like it or not, if we are to assume the continuation of prophecy, words of knowledge, etc, then they become de facto the dominating factor in our church gatherings. Despite all the warnings and safeguards put in place by those who practise 'prophecy', the Gospel gets sidelined and the work of Christ becomes a mere stepping stone to experiencing the power of God. Would that be the case if these were genuine works of the Spirit? Perhaps, as in the Corinthian abuse of tongues. Nevertheless, true prophecy in Corinth, I believe, functioned the way that Scripture does in our churches, i.e. to bring the words of God to the congregation. That's why tongues had to be interpreted, otherwise they were a meaningless word from God. Now, post-cannon, we ALREADY have God's words in our hands. Any further prophecies detract from the sufficiency of that word and the Gospel.
There might be a Part 3 if the Lord leads...

Friday, 3 July 2009

Justification Questions

I'm still trying to work through what constitutes a sound biblical and Reformed theology of justification. I got questions.
  1. Is justification an effective word from God? Mark Seifrid in Christ Our Righteousness and, I'm reliably informed, Mike Horton in Covenant and Salvation affirm that while justification is a forensic declaration of 'righteous', this declaration becomes effective in producing what it declares. Just as when God said, 'let there be light' and there was light, when he declares someone 'righteous', then that person actually begins to conform to that imputed righteousness; progressive sanctification carries the person towards experiential conformity to that forensic declaration. This view seems to make sense of many Scriptures. For instance, Paul says, "Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." (1 Cor. 5:7) Become what you ARE as a result of Christ's work. Darryl Hart makes the point that if Adam's guilt issues in our corruption, then surely the justification offered in Christ issues in our sanctification (see here and here).
  2. On the other hand, is justification purely forensic, nothing more? Dick Gaffin would answer in the affirmative. He recently criticized Horton's formulation of justification, implying that the idea of an effective word inevitably blurs the essential boundary between justification and sanctification. Gaffin advocates what some call the 'duplex gratia'. He believes that when one is incorporated into Christ, one recieves the double grace of justification and Definitive Sanctification (DS). Neither has a logical priority. Justification is purely forensic and DS is concerned with our being ushered into the life of the Spirit. In a recent interview at the Reformed Forum, Mark Garcia insisted that Gaffin's doctrine of the duplex gratia, in keeping justification as purely forensic best preserves it from error.
Hmm. Weighty issues. I'd be interested to hear any thoughts.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 9 Justification in History

In chapter 6, Fesko focuses on 'Justification In It's Historical Context' with particular attention paid to the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Central to the NPP was Ed Sanders work on Second Temple Judaism in 1976. Sanders contended that, contrary to traditional Reformed exegesis, the Jews of the NT period were not legalists, i.e. trying to justify themselves before God by law-keeping. No, said Sanders, the Jews believed in grace. They believed that they were elected to salvation by grace and 'stayed in' the covenant by obedience to the law. Sanders would point out that the law never required perfect obedience since atonement for sin was built in to the covenantal framework to cover those with less than perfect obedience.

Others, including most notably N.T Wright, developed this further by saying that if the Judaism of Paul's day was not a self-help legalism, then the context in which Paul framed his doctrine of justification was different than that assumed by traditional Protestant exegetes. As a result, the doctrine of justification was not about 'how someone gets saved' by grace as opposed to by law keeping. No, according to NTW, justification was about who belonged to God's covenant community.

Again, according to NTW and Dunn, the Jews were not legalists but racists who wanted to keep the Gentiles from experiencing God's salvation (and to think the NPP was supposed to save the church from anti-Semitism!). The argument goes that when Paul spoke of justification apart from 'works of the law' he was not speaking about keeping the law in order to be saved. No, says NTW, 'works of the law' speak of the badges of who's in the covenant, i.e. badges of Jewishness like circumcision, Sabbath keeping, etc. According to Wright, faith is the only covenant badge post-Calvary, so therefore Gentiles can be included in the people of God. So Wright believes that justification is about ecclesiology, i.e. who is part of the church, as opposed to soteriology i.e. how you come into saving relationship with God. The implications of this are huge and I don't have time to go into them here.

Safe to say, Fesko gives this daft view a proper kicking in chapter 6. Works of the law clearly means obedience to the law as a whole.

One of the more valuable insights he provides is NTW's inability to deal with the 'works' passages in Ephesians 2. Works do indeed seem to be equated to legalism in this chapter as opposed to justification. NTW recognises this,but attempts to get around this by pointing out that Paul in Ephesians speaks of 'salvation' not 'justification' and that Paul only contrasts legalistic righteousness with the word 'salvation'. So Wright is able to tenuously hold onto the claim that racism is the polemical backdrop to the word 'justification'. I'll let Fesko have the last word:

While it is certainly possible to distinguish justification from salvation, they cannot be separated. Contra Wright, whether one wants to speak of justification, an element within the broader picture of salvation, by works, or salvation by works, Paul rejects both. Moreover, in the overall flow of Paul's argument in Ephesians 2 he deals with the same issues as in Romans and Galatians, namely the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles by faith alone, not works. (p184)

A Little Cessationism is Good for the Soul Part 1

I believe that a firm belief in the cessation of the charismatic gifts is good for the soul. In true Piper style, I've got three reasons:
  1. Cessationism guards the soul from fleshy piety. Far from removing a person from the vivifying activities of God the Spirit, cessationism merely rejects the modern desperation to experience Pentecost by parodying the gifts. I recently downloaded this talk by Terry Virgo, UK Charismatic leader extraordinaire, on how to be baptised in the Holy Spirit! He kind of hooks you in by describing wonderful experiences of the Spirit in Acts (ch 2, 8, 10, 19). He then makes the startling admission that he prayed for 'the baptism' to no avail until he realised that 'God wouldn't speak in tongues FOR him'. As a result he spoke out in faith, believing that God would give the words. In other words, nothing happened until Terry started aping the gift. Remarkable.
  2. Cessationism makes room for genuine works of the Spirit. If we are able to spot and reject the counterfeit, then we are able to appreciate true works of God the Spirit, i.e. his power in mortification of sin, his flooding the soul with 'joy unspeakable', his growing fruit in the lives of Christians, his power in sharing the gospel.
  3. Cessationism saves us from subjective tyranny. Christians too often lie awake at night in a sweat worrying about what God is saying to them in their hearts/heads while ignoring what he is shouting at them in Scripture. Too many Christians are enslaved in every decision they make by hankering after 'feelings of peace' or 'leadings of the Spirit' or 'inward nudges'. This is a piety inherent to our fallen-ness. We believe that our emotions are a hotline to the deity and that if something doesn't 'feel right' then God isn't in it. No no no. We are called to freedom. Freedom to act with sanctified common sense. God wants wise sons and daughters who, through constant practise, learn to distinguish good from evil. He doesn't want retards that he has to yank this way and that through inward leadings. Stand firm then and do not allow yourselves to be burdened again by a yoke of emotional slavery.
I think God's leading me to stop at the number 3 (Part 2 to follow)...