Tuesday, 29 September 2009

First Things (2)

You are Paul, the apostle, passing the baton of leadership to the next generation. What is your counsel?

No rewards here. A scan of 2 Timothy supplies the answer.

Justified by Faith and Judged by Works

This blog follows from Nick's below. It is not a statement but a question, intended to further focus the dilemma.

If asked at the gate of heaven (throne of judgement), 'Why should you be allowed entrance to Paradise', the conventional evangelical answer would be, 'because I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Saviour'. If, however, the final judgement is about our works (which Scripture certainly teaches), is the evangelical answer mistaken?

Or, to frame the dilemma another way, how do we reconcile the following texts.

Rom 4:5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

Rom 2:6-10 He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Schreiner on Faith and Obedience in James

The apparent contradiction between Paul and James on justification is a perplexing one. Paul states that one is justified by faith apart from works (Romans 4:5) whereas James states that one is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:24). There have been a variety of methods employed by exegetes to get round this. The Roman Catholics and more recently, New Perspective advocates, have explained the apparent difference by insisting that Paul and James use the word "works" differently. While James is talking about moral works, they insist, Paul is talking about ceremonial works (circumcision, food laws, etc). Yet this does not do justice to the way Paul uses the term "works" as a summary glance at a variety of passages (e.g. Romans 4:4, 5, Ephesians 2:8-10) demonstrates.

Others have insisted that while Paul is talking about justification salvifically in the divine court, James is talking about justification demonstrably in the human court. Yet this does not fit the evidence either. James frames the question of justifying faith salvifically in 2:14 (i.e. can such faith save them?). Further in verse 21 when speaking of Abraham's justifying faith, James nowhere mentions a 'human court'. In his epistle James presents justification always with reference to God (e.g. 2:23).

I have found Tom Schreiner's New Testament Theology very helpful in this regard. Schreiner doesn't look for traditional "pat" answers and, certainly in this instance, seems to let the text of Scripture breath without imposing a framework on the passage. According to Schreiner the apparent tension can be resolved by seeing Paul and James responding to different circumstances and situations. While Paul is concerned to demonstrate the extra-ordinary gift of righteousness that comes to sinners, James is more concerned with the problem of antinomianism. It is a mere difference in emphasis; while Paul emphasises gratuity, James emphasises obligation.

Further, the apparent tension can be resolved in a proper definition of faith. While faith and works can (and must!) be conceptually distinguished, in practice they cannot. One can conceptually distinguish between the sun's rays and the sun's heat, but in reality they are never separate. For James, God honouring works are so bound together with true faith that it's almost impossible to distinguish the two. Living faith is a faith that "works". Thus James can say, "You see that people are justified by what they do and not by faith alone" (2:24, TNIV). Thus Paul can say, "You are not saved by works. Nevertheless, you are saved FOR works." (Ephesians 2:8-10) To the extent that we miss James' emphasis, we also get justification wrong. I wonder how many Protestant denominations would haul James before a disciplinary committee to explain his remarks? I conclude with Schreiner:
The faith that saves, according to Paul, embraces Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, placing one's life entirely in his hands. James criticizes a "faith" that notionally concurs with the gospel but does not grip the whole person. In other words, James does not disagree with Paul's contention that faith alone justifies, but he defines carefully the kind of faith that justifies. The faith that truly justifies can never be separated from works. Works will inevitably flow as the fruit of such faith. Faith that merely accepts doctrines intellectually but does not lead to a transformed life is "dead" (James 2:17, 26) and "useless" (James 2:20). Such faith does not "profit" (ophelos [James 2:14, 16 RSV]) in the sense that it does not spare one from judgement on the last day. Those who have dead and barren faith will not escape judgement. True faith is demonstrated by works (James 2:18). James does not deny that faith alone saves, but it is faith that produces (synergeo) works and is completed (teleioo) by works (James 2:22). The faith that saves is living, active and dynamic. It must produce works, just as compassion for the poor inevitably means that one cares practically for their physical needs (James 2:15-16). (p602, 603 New Testament Theology, Thomas R. Schreiner)

Sunday, 27 September 2009

First Things

You are a Christian leader of indeterminate age. You realise that your responsibility to lead is almost over and you must shortly pass the baton of responsibility to a new generation.

What, in a few sentences, is the counsel you give to the ensuing incumbents?

Correct answers will be rewarded in heaven.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

New Covenant Theology by Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel Part 3 The Law of Christ

Wells believes that the New Covenant Community is governed by the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2) and not directly by the law of Moses. If Christ is the God-man and all authority in heaven and earth belongs to him, then the Christian church must hold to the logical priority of Christ (p67).
This means they [Christians] have no moral and ethical allegiance to anything, including the OT and its laws that is logically prior to Jesus Christ.(p68)
This means in practice that we must read our Bibles with the NT having the final say on every issue it addresses (p6) and giving it logical priority over the OT. There are numerous problems when we give the OT a logical priority. Wells illustrates:
What will happen if we start at Genesis and build our doctrine of the people of God from consecutive readings of the OT? Among other things, we will have a pretty thorough and extensive idea of who the people of God are, long before we come to the NT. The people of God is Israel, the physical descendants of Jacob and, before him, Abraham.

...What would be the consequences of this reading?...We might easily assume that since there is one people of God, God would only have one covenant with them and one sign of the covenant, circumcision. When we arrived at the Major Prophets, if we were particularly perceptive, we might make some small adjustments. Of course the NT, when we came to it, would change our convictions on these matters, but we would have a predisposition to find as little change as possible. After all, we know there is one people, one covenant, and one covenant sign. (p9)
What would then follow would be the inclusion of the Gentiles in Israel; a flattening out the two covenants so that they become two administrations of the same covenant; and finally an identification of the old covenant sign (circumcision) with the new (baptism). A similar problem is faced when Sabbath observance becomes a binding ordinance for Christians, despite the NT insistence to the contrary (see Romans 14:5).

Despite efforts by Reformed theologians, the Decalogue cannot function as a compact summary of all moral law. The contrived efforts of the Westminster Divines to shoe-horn an implicit command for obedience to every human authority under the fifth commandment is an example of this (see Shorter Catechism q64 and 65)

No, the law that governs Christians is the 'law of Christ' i.e. the teachings, warnings and commands of Christ embodied in the New Testament writings (gospels and epistles). The law of Christ must have absolute priority in the church and even OT commands must not be read apart from it's authoritative glory. What of the OT? Wells recommends:
...the re-examination of the OT with the idea in mind of finding those things that are moral laws in the light of the NT and that are in keeping with the explicit demands of the Lord Jesus Christ in the NT. (p75)
In the light of what's been said about Israel and the law, Wells defines what he means by the New Covenant:
The New Covenant is the bond between God and man, established by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, under which all who have been effectually called to God in all ages have been formed into the one body of Christ in NT times, in order to come under his law during this age and to remain under his authority forever. (p75,76)
Next, what about not one jot or tittle passing from Moses in Matthew 5:17-20?

Friday, 25 September 2009

When Application in a Sermon is Bad

Kevin DeYoung is on the ball. He was preaching a sermon on Jesus' baptism in Mark 1:9-11 and struggled to think of a fitting conclusion. He writes:
So how would you end a sermon like this? You could say “Look at the idols in your hearts. You need to love this Christ more.” Or, “This Jesus is worthy of all our obedience. Go live for him and keep his commandments.” Or, “Why don’t we share the good news about such a great Savior? Tell your neighbors this week about the Son of God.” All of those are fair points and it would not be wrong to connect the text to these thoughts at some point during the sermon. But if we land the plane on these points I fear we are missing the point of the passage. These three verses are here to give a glimpse of the glory of Christ. My fellow preachers and I should not hesitate to land right there. Are we so afraid of not being relevant or prophetic that we can’t end a sermon by exalting in the person of Christ? No application is needed to finish off this sermon. The last word ringing in people’s hears should be something along the lines of, “Behold your God!”

Maybe we just aren’t as passionate about the person and work of Christ as we are about getting in people's faces (which, trust me, I also do). Or maybe we think people will be bored if they don’t get some good practical advice on their way out the door (and it’s possible they are more eager to hear three points of application than ponder the glory of Christ). Again, I’m not saying no text can end with imperatives. "Repent," "believe," "obey" are all biblical injunctions. But we must let the text determine the mood of the sermon and not tack on honey-do lists at the end of every message. Preachers ought to rebuke when necessary, when the text calls for it. But it makes for bad preaching and beat-up congregations when every sermon concludes with exhortation. Sometimes it’s ok to end the sermon by simply telling the people about Jesus.
HT: Gospel Coalition Blog

Thursday, 24 September 2009

New Covenant Theology by Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel Part 2

If dispensationalists have tended to deny all connections between Israel and the church, while covenant theologians have tended toward an identification of the two as on entity, NCT has sought to forge a more basic typological connection. Wells points out:
...it is evident that the writers of Scripture read the terms of the Abrahamic covenant in two different ways. Old Testament writers often see the promises as fulfilled to the literal nation of Israel while NT writers find their fulfillment in the church. (p60)
Wells contrasts Joshua 21:43-45 with the perspective of the author of Hebrews. The passage in Joshua states:
43 So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. 44 The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD gave all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one of all the LORD's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. (TNIV)
Whereas we read in Hebrews 11:39-40:
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Such a tension between the authors can be resolved by seeing the typological nature of the land of Canaan. It pictured the larger "country" which therefore was also contained in the promises. (p62) We don't make a precise identification of Canaan and the larger country, just as we would not make a precise identification between the OT prophets, priests and kings and Christ himself, i.e. Christ is not a prophet in precisely the same sense as an OT prophet, and Christ is not a priest in precisely the same sense as an OT priest, and Christ is not a king in precisely the same sense as an OT king. The OT type must give way to the NT anti-type.

Wells however, believes that typology cannot quite exhaust the relation of Israel to the church. (p63) He says in the same paragraph:
Covenant theologians have often insisted on an "organic" relation as well, and in one sense they are right. From the standpoint of eternity future, looking back, the church will prove to have been God's elect individuals from every era.
Wells points us to Paul's olive tree metaphor in Romans 11 as speaking of the creation of the church. The church was formed as God got hold of an olive tree, broke off the unbelieving branches to leave only the true/spiritual children of Abraham, and then added to this tree both believing Jews and Gentiles. I conclude with Wells:
First, ancient Israel with her unbelieving branches was never the church of Jesus Christ. Second, Paul does not contemplate unbelievers being added to the olive tree. If God had intended that, he would have had no reason to strip off the unbelieving branches to begin with. Third, there is nevertheless an organic relation between the church and God's individually elect people from ancient Israel. We who are believers in Jesus Christ are now part, with them, of the olive tree as it exists today, i.e., the "invisible" or "universal" church of God. (p65, 66)
For our next post, what type of law must govern this new covenant community?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

New Covenant Theology by Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel

In their book New Covenant Theology, Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel present an exegetical challenge to the traditional Reformed approach to Covenant Theology:
In Reformed circles one often hears of "one covenant with two administrations," language that reflects the Westminster Confession (chap. 7, sec. 5) that says, "This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel...." Behind this language lies the idea that in redeeming fallen man, God has made a single covenant, "the Covenant of Grace." Arrangements between God and man that come later than the Fall must be thought of as phases ("administrations") of this single covenant. In the words of the Confession (chap 7, sec. 6), "There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations." (p44)
While the authors laud the assertion of the unity of God's purpose through the ages, the "covenant" terminology causes many problems.
The reason for this is simple: in the NT the word covenant is almost always used to assert discontinuity. The evidence for this is overwhelming, as well over ninety percent of the occurrences of covenant in the NT are demonstrably used to assert discontinuity. (p45)
Far better, according to the authors, is an approach which comes to the text seeing two covenants as opposed to two administrations. But even then, the new-ness of the New Covenant must not be reduced to contrasts between the New and the Old, "but between the New Covenant and all that preceded it" (p50).

For instance, in contrast to traditional Covenant Theology which sees the church of God spanning both covenants, NCT sees the church as being specifically founded in the NT. There are many texts which point to the fact that the church was founded in the NT. I'll limit this post to 2 texts cited by Wells. First, when Jesus said "I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18) he was using a future tense verb. Second, if the presence of the church is dependent upon the initiatory presence of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13), then a pre-Pentecost church becomes an impossibility.

What should one make of OT Israel? Rather than seeing OT Israel as God's pre-Pentecost church, NCT views Israel as a type of the NT church. And that will bring me to the discussion in the next post, i.e. viewing the NT as the fulfillment of the typologies and promises of the OT.

Monday, 21 September 2009

New Covenant Theology

Some of you may have noticed that yours truly has gone somewhat quiet over recent weeks (perhaps months). The last year and a half or so has seen something of a paradigm shift in my thinking as I have come to appreciate the Reformed understanding of justification sola fide. After I had a bad bout of depression, to discover that I'm justified simply by receiving and resting on Christ was like a cold drink of water on a hot day. I needed to discover more of this Reformed stuff and I noticed that the same gents who brought me into the light of full assurance through the gospel also confessed the substantial unity of the covenant of grace. I devoured Reformed literature in the aftermath of this.

Nevertheless, deep in my soul lurked some reservations about some aspects of Reformed theology. I could never completely call this blog "Restless and Reformed" because I had nagging doubts about the following:
  • The Reformed distinction of the law as comprising ceremonial, civil and moral aspects.
  • The Reformed emphasis on the Decalogue as the pinnacle of God's moral revelation.
These doubts were further compounded as I picked up a book by Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel entitled New Covenant Theology. It is an absolute barn stormer of a book and has halted my march towards embracing a covenant theology as exemplified by the Westminster Standards.

Over the next day or two, I'll be blogging some thoughts on the book. Stay tuned.

Between Two Worlds

Turns out Justin Taylor, the Don Corleone of the evangelical blogosphere, has moved here to the Gospel Coalition site. Apparently more blogs will be moving to the GC in the near future as the site undergoes a revamp.

The Dangers of Great Music

Gregg Gilbert at the Gospel Coalition blog gives us a timely reminder of the dangers confronting depraved sinners engaging in worship to 'excellent music'.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Is the Reformation over?

RC Sproul makes a short but pertinent contribution to the 'Death of the Reformation' debate. Sproul is always worth reading. Check it out.

Is the Reformation Over? by R.C. Sproul

Is the Reformation over? There have been several observations rendered on this subject by those I would call “erstwhile evangelicals.” One of them wrote, “Luther was right in the sixteenth century, but the question of justification is not an issue now.” A second self-confessed evangelical made a comment in a press conference I attended that “the sixteenth-century Reformation debate over justification by faith alone was a tempest in a teapot.” Still another noted European theologian has argued in print that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is no longer a significant issue in the church. We are faced with a host of people who are defined as Protestants but who have evidently forgotten altogether what it is they are protesting.

Contrary to some of these contemporary assessments of the importance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, we recall a different perspective by the sixteenth-century magisterial Reformers. Luther made his famous comment that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the article upon which the church stands or falls. John Calvin added a different metaphor, saying that justification is the hinge upon which everything turns. In the twentieth century, J.I. Packer used a metaphor indicating that justification by faith alone is the “Atlas upon whose shoulder every other doctrine stands.” Later Packer moved away from that strong metaphor and retreated to a much weaker one, saying that justification by faith alone is “the fine print of the gospel.

”The question we have to face in light of these discussions is, what has changed since the sixteenth century? Well, there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that people have become much more civil and tolerant in theological disputes. We don’t see people being burned at the stake or tortured on the rack over doctrinal differences. We’ve also seen in the past years that the Roman communion has remained solidly steadfast on other key issues of Christian orthodoxy, such as the deity of Christ, His substitutionary atonement, and the inspiration of the Bible, while many Protestant liberals have abandoned these particular doctrines wholesale. We also see that Rome has remained steadfast on critical moral issues such as abortion and ethical relativism. In the nineteenth century at Vatican Council I, Rome referred to Protestants as “heretics and schismatics.” In the twentieth century at Vatican II, Protestants were referred to as “separated brethren.” We see a marked contrast in the tone of the different councils. The bad news, however, is that many doctrines that divided orthodox Protestants from Roman Catholics centuries ago have been declared dogma since the sixteenth century. Virtually all of the significant Mariology decrees have been declared in the last 150 years. The doctrine of papal infallibility, though it de facto functioned long before its formal definition, was nevertheless formally defined and declared de fide (necessary to believe for salvation) in 1870 at Vatican Council I. We also see that in recent years the Roman communion has published a new Catholic catechism, which unequivocally reaffirms the doctrines of the Council of Trent, including Trent’s definition of the doctrine of justification (and thus affirms that council’s anathemas against the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone). Along with the reaffirmations of Trent have come a clear reaffirmation of the Roman doctrine of purgatory, indulgences, and the treasury of merits.

At a discussion among leading theologians over the issue of the continued relevance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Michael Horton asked the question: “What is it in the last decades that has made the first-century gospel unimportant?” The dispute over justification was not over a technical point of theology that could be consigned to the fringes of the depository of biblical truth. Nor could it be seen simply as a tempest in a teapot. This tempest extended far beyond the tiny volume of a single teacup. The question, “what must I do to be saved?” is still a critical question for any person who is exposed to the wrath of God.

Even more critical than the question is the answer, because the answer touches the very heart of gospel truth. In the final analysis, the Roman Catholic Church affirmed at Trent and continues to affirm now that the basis by which God will declare a person just or unjust is found in one’s “inherent righteousness.” If righteousness does not inhere in the person, that person at worst goes to hell and at best (if any impurities remain in his life) goes to purgatory for a time that may extend to millions of years. In bold contrast to that, the biblical and Protestant view of justification is that the sole grounds of our justification is the righteousness of Christ, which righteousness is imputed to the believer, so that the moment a person has authentic faith in Christ, all that is necessary for salvation becomes theirs by virtue of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The fundamental issue is this: is the basis by which I am justified a righteousness that is my own? Or is it a righteousness that is, as Luther said, “an alien righteousness,” a righteousness that is extra nos, apart from us — the righteousness of another, namely, the righteousness of Christ? From the sixteenth century to the present, Rome has always taught that justification is based upon faith, on Christ, and on grace. The difference, however, is that Rome continues to deny that justification is based on Christ alone, received by faith alone, and given by grace alone. The difference between these two positions is the difference between salvation and its opposite. There is no greater issue facing a person who is alienated from a righteous God.

At the moment the Roman Catholic Church condemned the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, she denied the gospel and ceased to be a legitimate church, regardless of all the rest of her affirmations of Christian orthodoxy. To embrace her as an authentic church while she continues to repudiate the biblical doctrine of salvation is a fatal attribution. We’re living in a time where theological conflict is considered politically incorrect, but to declare peace when there is no peace is to betray the heart and soul of the gospel.

Monday, 7 September 2009

New Podcast

I love podcasts. Ye they provide sweet fellowship for me on the half-hour drive to and from work each day. Where would I be without the White Horse Inn? Or Desiring God's stuff? Well folks, there's a new beast of a podcast for you to subscribe to and it comes from the good gents at Westminster Seminary California. It is named "Office Hours" and each monthly episode consists of Scott Clark interviewing the faculty of WSC.

The first 2 interviews with Bob Godfrey and Julius Kim are belters. I love it when RSC cuts to the chase and asks "how did you become Reformed?" If that was the only question he asked then Office Hours would still be worth subscribing to, but of course Scott goes deeper and we get some fascinating biographical stuff from Godfrey and Kim.

The breakdown of episodes goes:
Episode #1 August 31 - Bob Godfrey President and Professor of Church History

Episode #2 August 31 - Julius Kim, Associate Professor of Practical Theology

Episode #3 October 5 - Mike Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics

Episode #4 Nov 2, 2009 - Steve Baugh, Professor of NT

Episode #5 Dec 7, 2009 - David Van Drunen, Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics

Episode #6 Jan 4, 2010- R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology (Mike Horton hosts)

Episode #7 Feb 1, 2010 - Joel Kim, Assistant Professor of NT

Episode #8 Mar 1, 2010 - John Fesko, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology

Episode #9 Apr 5, 2010 - (1) Josh Van Ee, Assistant Professor of OT and (2) David Zadok, A retired major in the Israeli Army, a WSC graduate, and elder in a Reformed congregation in Israel.

Episode #10 May 3, 2010 - Dennis Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology

Episode #11 June 7, 2010 - Bryan Estelle, Associate Professor of OT.

The contact email for the program is: officehours@wscal.edu

Listeners cans subscribe to Office Hours on iTunes and via the website.

Don't know about you, but I can't wait to hear what unfolds!

Are you a biblicist?

Some good comments from John Frame on 'biblicism'.

'The term "biblicism" is usually derogatory. It is commonly applied to (1) someone who has no appreciation for the importance of extrabiblical truth in theology, who denies the value of general or natural revelation, (2) those suspected of believing that Scripture is a "textbook" of science, or philosophy, politics, ethics, economics, aesthetics, church government, etc., (3) those who have no respect for confessions, creeds, and past theologians, who insist on ignoring these and going back to the Bible to build up their doctrinal formulations from scratch, (4) those who employ a "proof texting" method, rather than trying to see Scripture texts in their historical, cultural, logical, and literary contexts. I wish to disavow biblicism in these senses. Nevertheless, I also want to indicate how difficult it is to draw the line between these biblicisms and an authentic Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura. Consider, first, (1): Sola Scriptura is the doctrine that Scripture, and only Scripture, has the final word on everything, all our doctrine, and all our life. Thus it has the final word even on our interpretation of Scripture, even in our theological method. '

Link here

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Poorly Constructed Kitchens

I have just returned from helping a friend fit a new cooker to his kitchen. Unfortunately it was impossible to make the cooker perfectly flush with the worktops on either side. The reason being the worktops at each side were a different height. To make the cooker fit flushly would have meant leaving it at a dangerous angle for cooking. This was not the only piece of shoddy workmanship I may add.

My friend has just bought the house. A few years previously, the house belonged to a now famous preacher. The preacher fitted the kitchen. I thought, since he was/is a preacher a few applications may not go wrong.

  1. When we fail to follow the guidelines we go astray. Perhaps the preacher-kitchen-builder decided to ignore the instructions or perhaps he thought a few logical deductions of his own were safe to follow. Build your kitchen (for kitchen read theology for the allegorically bewildered) on ignoring the revealed instructions or adding your own deductions (imputed righteousness!) and you can go seriously astray.
  2. The faults in the kitchen didn't show up immediately. However, one small error led to another and another. The putting in of the cooker eventually revealed the mistakes and the workman is exposed and left ashamed. The story of faulty theology is surely the same.
  3. Kitchens need to be built carefully. The building is not for the amateur or carelessly inclined. It requires skill, knowledge and integrity. Theology requires the same respect as does preaching the theological Word.

I trust the famous preacher is better at building God's temple than he is at building kitchens (I know he is).

Piper Protest

Not sure of the validity of copying a complete post. But well worth reading and reflecting on. It creates a storm of protest - many by recognised evangelicals.

The Tornado, the Lutherans, and Homosexuality

August 20, 2009 | By: John Piper | Category: Commentary

I saw the fast-moving, misshapen, unusually-wide funnel over downtown Minneapolis from Seven Corners. I said to Kevin Dau, “That looks serious.”

It was. Serious in more ways than one. A friend who drove down to see the damage wrote,

On a day when no severe weather was predicted or expected...a tornado forms, baffling the weather experts—most saying they’ve never seen anything like it. It happens right in the city. The city: Minneapolis.

The tornado happens on a Wednesday...during the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's national convention in the Minneapolis Convention Center. The convention is using Central Lutheran across the street as its church. The church has set up tents around it’s building for this purpose.

According to the ELCA’s printed convention schedule, at 2 PM on Wednesday, August 19, the 5th session of the convention was to begin. The main item of the session: “Consideration: Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality.” The issue is whether practicing homosexuality is a behavior that should disqualify a person from the pastoral ministry.

The eyewitness of the damage continues:

This curious tornado touches down just south of downtown and follows 35W straight towards the city center. It crosses I94. It is now downtown.

The time: 2PM.

The first buildings on the downtown side of I94 are the Minneapolis Convention Center and Central Lutheran. The tornado severely damages the convention center roof, shreds the tents, breaks off the steeple of Central Lutheran, splits what’s left of the steeple in two...and then lifts.

Central Lutheran's broken steeple

Let me venture an interpretation of this Providence with some biblical warrant.

1. The unrepentant practice of homosexual behavior (like other sins) will exclude a person from the kingdom of God.

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.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

2. The church has always embraced those who forsake sexual sin but who still struggle with homosexual desires, rejoicing with them that all our fallen, sinful, disordered lives (all of us, no exceptions) are forgiven if we turn to Christ in faith.

Such were some of you. But 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 Corinthians 6:11)

3. Therefore, official church pronouncements that condone the very sins that keep people out of the kingdom of God, are evil. They dishonor God, contradict Scripture, and implicitly promote damnation where salvation is freely offered.

4. Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados.

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:41)

5. When asked about a seemingly random calamity near Jerusalem where 18 people were killed, Jesus answered in general terms—an answer that would cover calamities in Minneapolis, Taiwan, or Baghdad. God’s message is repent, because none of us will otherwise escape God’s judgment.

Jesus: “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)

6. Conclusion: The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.

Is Piper right? I think he is, so long as we remember that every disaster that comes our way is intended to make us stop and think. We may decide God is judging for some specific sin or we may decide he is pruning us in a more general way that we may share in his holiness. Whatever we decide, trials should be weighed and not simply ignored (Hebs 12:5).

Link : Here

Friday, 4 September 2009

Biblicistic good or bad?

The 'Between Two Worlds' web site has an excellent discussion of N T Wright and the New Perspective. Mark Seifrid, however, who is one of the panel and a writer I find very helpful says something that jars.

I more or less quote
, 'Wright is somewhat biblicistic... that is to say he holds on to a text without regard for context and the history of Protestant tradition and theology... He’ll have to be answered at some level in terms of the Bible itself.'

The context is a discussion on Wright's view on imputation. He accuses Wright of ignoring context and where this is so Wright is indeed culpable. He then defines 'biblicistic' as a disregard for the history of Protestant thought and theology. A much lesser charge in my view. What if Wright has considered it and rejected it? Certainly Protestant thought is not uniform on the issue of imputation. Seifrid then concedes that Wright and others (here I include myself) will not be satisfied with the logic of systematics or the dogmas of confessions. Seifrid says, 'He’ll have to be answered at some level in terms of the Bible itself. '

Exactly. No posturing or pontificating or huffing and puffing is a substitute for Scripture. If imputation is such a critical issue and so integral to the gospel let it be shown to be taught in Scripture. If it is biblicist to insist a belief is clearly biblically based then I am biblicist.

The NIV2011, the Gospel and Controversy

What hope does the NIV2011 have when we have evangelical leaders making the following statements:
The issues of concern related to the TNIV remain. For the sake of the Gospel, we must hope and pray that we do not confront these same issues in the updated NIV. At the same time, we must avoid reckless talk. Even where we must disagree, we must recognize that everyone involved in this discussion will face the judgment of God for how this disagreement is conducted. (HT: TC Robinson)
That was the normally incomparable Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I must object to Dr. Mohler's sentiment in the strongest possible terms. In fact, I would go so far as to say that his objection, along with those aired by other misguided linguistic conservatives, is damaging the Gospel. Why? First, they are opposing God's word being translated in the language of the common people. The English language has changed, end of story. Whether or not it was a feminist agenda that changed the way we speak is irrelevant. We are stuck with a gender-neutered pronoun laden English tongue like it or not. These men are betraying their Reformational and Protestant heritage with such opposition. They promote an elitist translation (the ESV) replete with archaisms and with a strong literary feel. The ESV is fine for your average theological geek, but I've found that the average Christian finds it a difficult read.

Second, their wrong-headed certitude in this matter compromises them when they express certainty over issues that DO matter. For instance, I just heard Dr. Mohler rightly putting N.T. Wright under the spotlight over his doctrine of justification. Do you think sympathisers with NTW's erroneous articulation of the doctrine will take Dr. Mohler's concerns seriously given his muddle-headed rhetoric over the TNIV? Or how about Piper the next time he defends penal substitution? Is the temptation not for some to think, "well he thinks just as strongly about translating Scripture into the language of the people and he's way off on that. Is not this attachment to penal substitution just another example of mis-guided zealotry?" Piper and Mohler and stalwarts and true defenders of the faith; I love them dearly. I just wish they'd back out of this needless fight.

Dr. Mohler is correct, we will all be judged by God for how this disagreement is conducted and also how it impacts on the gospel. I just pray that he, and the other leaders who created such controversy when the TNIV was released will see the error of their ways before publication of the gender accurate NIV2011.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

In praise of the unpraised.

Wise words from Carl Trueman

'I worry that a movement built on megachurches, megaconferences, and megaleaders, does the church a disservice in one very important way that is often missed amid all the pizzazz and excitement: it creates the idea that church life is always going to be big, loud, and exhilarating and thus gives church members and ministerial candidates unrealistic expectations of the normal Christian life. In the real world, many, perhaps most, of us worship and work in churches of 100 people or less; life is not loud and exciting; big things do not happen every Sunday; budgets are incredibly tight and barely provide enough for a pastor's modest salary; each Lord's Day we go through the same routines of worship services, of hearing the gospel proclaimed, of taking the Lord's Supper, of teaching Sunday School; perhaps several times a year we do leaflet drops in the neighbourhood with very few results; at Christmas time we carol sing in the high street and hand out invitations to church and maybe two or three people actually come along as a result; but no matter -- we keep going, giving, and praying as we can; we try to be faithful in the little entrusted to us. It's boring, it's routine, and it's the same, year in, year out. Therefore, in a world where excitement, celebrity, and cultural power are the ideal, it is tempting amidst the circumstances of ordinary church life to forget that this, the routine of the ordinary, the boring, the plodding, is actually the norm for church life and has been so throughout most places for most of the history of the church; that mega-whatevers are the exception, not the rule; and that the church has survived throughout the ages not just - or even primarily - because of the high profile firework displays of the great and the good, but because of the day to day faithfulness of the mundane, anonymous, non-descript people who constitute most of the church, and who do the grunt work and the tedious jobs that need to be done. History does not generally record their names; but the likelihood is that you worship in a church which owes everything, humanly speaking, to such people.'

More Bible Wars On The Horizon?

With the announcement that the NIV is to be re-booted (with some sweet little updates) after 25 years, I must confess to having a sense of foreboding regarding Biblica's latest offering. I'm not worried that the NIV2011 won't be accurate; heck, Doug Moo is president of the translating committee! I'm not worried that the NIV2011 will use gender-inclusive language; darn it, I hope it does! I'm not worried about whether it'll sell; the general Christian public will always buy anything labelled 'NIV'! I AM worried about the opposition it will no doubt receive.

You see, I'm sure that the translators of the NIV2011 will endeavour to give us a translation that reflects the language SPOKEN by your average joe. Doug Moo says:
The committee exists to ensure that the NIV continues to articulate the words of God, as we find them recorded in the original languages, in a form of English that is comprehensible to the broadest possible audience. As a committee, our response to this challenge has always been to follow the example of the original Bible writers who wrote in forms of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that reflected the language spoken by the everyday working people of their day. Just as the New Testament is written in 'Koine' or 'common' Greek, our aim with the NIV Bible is - and has always been - to translate the Bible into what you might call 'Koine' or 'common' English.
If the translation is to reflect the language spoken by 'the common people' then I'm afraid that gender-inclusive language will be a necessity. Like it or not, in the West, we just don't speak using masculine generic pronouns anymore (i.e. he, his, him). For instance, every time I hear the masculine generic pronoun 'he' used in conversation, it is always qualified with 'or her'. More often than not, the generic plural pronoun (they, theirs, them) is employed.

The TNIV and the NIVI before it received pelters from godly scholars and preachers who opposed these translations on the grounds that they presented readers with "unjustified rendering[s] of the gender language of the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible." So speaks Ligon Duncan, current chairman of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). Yet despite all the arguments of those associated with the CBMW, their basic philosophy is that in order to be faithful in translating Scripture into English, one must NOT translate it in the language of the people (i.e. gender-neutral common English), but in an archaic form of English that has long since disappeared from street parlance.

In an astonishing climb-down, Biblica CEO Keith Danby said of the TNIV:
"We fell short of the trust that was placed in us. We failed to make the case for revisions and we made some important errors in the way we brought the translation to publication. We also underestimated the scale of the public affection for the NIV and failed to communicate the rationale for change in a manner that reflected that affection."
Cited in the same article, Zondervan president Moe Girkins said:
"Whatever its strengths were, the TNIV divided the evangelical Christian community. So as we launch this new NIV, we will discontinue putting out new products with the TNIV."
I don't think the TNIV divided the evangelical Christian community; Christian leaders did. Let's call a spade a spade. Piper, Grudem, Mohler, Duncan and other outstanding (and godly) men campaigned against this translation for it's gender related changes. It's not as if the TNIV publishers at its publication, simultaneously released some polemical propoganda in order to discredit 'archaic' translations that follow the Colorado Springs Guidelines. No, the division came from evangelical leaders, not the TNIV. In short, these men opposed God's word being translated into the spoken language of the people and unnecessarily divided evangelicals before a watching world. As D.A. Carson said:
"Thirty or forty years from now, I suspect, most evangelicals will have accepted the TNIV as a 'standard' translation, and will wonder what all the fuss was about in their parents' generation — in the same way that those of us with long memories marvel at all the fuss over the abandonment of 'thees' and 'thous' several decades ago."
The above link to Ligon Duncan's article leaves me with no doubt that should the NIV2011, as expected, stick with translating in the language of the people, we will surely witness the third installment of "Bible Wars", with books being published on why the NIV2011 is unfaithful to God's words and ridiculous websites cropping up and opposing the translation of Scripture in a way that resonates with the man (or woman) on the street.

PS I should mention that I dearly love Lig Duncan, Wayne Grudem, John Piper and Al Mohler. These are 'my' guys. I just believe them to be dead wrong in this area.

The NIV Is Dead - Long Live The NIV!

Astonishing news as Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society) has announced that the text of the NIV is to be updated after almost a quarter of a century. The revision will be completed by 2010 and will be published in 2011. As of that time the 1984 edition NIV and the TNIV will be discontinued and the new publication, to be called simply The NIV, will take centre stage.

What will the new translation look like? Ted Olson's article in Christianity Today quotes Doug Moo, president of the CBT:
"I can predict that this is going to look 90 percent or more what the 1984 NIV looks like and 95 percent what the TNIV looks like," he said. "The changes are going to be a very small portion of the whole Scripture package."
If I were a betting man, I reckon the new translation will look a lot like the present TNIV, gender-inclusive/accurate language and all. It's a shame that the IBS didn't just replace the NIV with the TNIV back in 2005.

The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) has set up a website: NIVBible2011.com in order to provide a forum where suggestions for revisions can be made by scholars and laymen alike. All suggestions made before the end of the calendar year will be reviewed.
Beyond Scripture

Are we, when constructing a biblical theology, obliged to restrict ourselves to biblical language or can we go beyond scripture and apply reason and logic in order to construct a systematic theology? Now, I know that systematic is a bad word today and we all have to be organic but let’s leave that aside for the moment.

The Westminster Confession states:

'VI. 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.'

So, the Westminster Confession affirms that we are free to go beyond what is ‘expressly set down in Scripture’ and base aspects of our theology on ‘what by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture’. Is it right? As Rocky would say - absolutely.

The Confession is not speaking here of typology or allegorical interpretations but of the application of reason to revelation with the caveat that scripture itself sets parameters for our deductions – it is reason in the service of Revelation. But why is this necessary?

Jaroslav Pelican in his book ‘Credo’ points out that this question has been asked from the beginning of Christian theolgising and the formation of the early creeds. The problem was that it was the meaning of the biblical language itself that was in dispute. What did it mean to say that Christ was divine? The very first task of Christian theology was to go beyond the words of scripture – examine their implications and so clarify their meaning for the believer. By the time of the fourth ecumenical council we had arrived at this definition of the person of Christ: 'recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.'

Chalcedon went beyond the words of Scripture in order to illumine their meaning and remains recognised as the orthodox definition. It is worth remembering that when working out the doctrine of the person of Christ the Church Fathers were always aware of its relationship to the work of Christ. What must Christ be like to be our saviour?

I would like to conclude by suggesting two possible applications and encourage engagement with them.

In the debate over imputed righteousness - is it legitimate to argue that rationally only the imputed righteousness of Christ can provide the kind of salvation [psychologically and forensically] Scripture says I need – whether this is expressly stated or not. In other words, is imputed righteousness [at the very least] a necessary consequence that may be deduced from Scripture.

Does this principle extend to the idea of ‘accomodation’ as expressed by Calvin, subsequent Reformed theologians, and applied to the contemporary debate over Faith and Science?

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

God in a Box

I keep hearing how we don't want to put God in a box. What the user normally means is he/she doesn't want to put God in a box he or she doesn't like. More, God has placed himself in a box - the box of his revealed Word, Scripture. Again, to be cynically honest, the box folks seem keenest to resist is the box of Scripture, or those parts of Scripture they don't like.

To refuse the 'box' of Scripture is not humility but humbug, indeed the high road to heresy. Let's have more honesty, if we don't like what the Bible teaches, let's just say say so and nail our liberal colours to the mast instead of hiding behind pseudo-humility.