Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Strauss on Masculine Generics

In answering the argument that masculine generic terms were simply part of the grammatical structure of the biblical languages, they (Poythress and Grudem) claim that all of the connotations and associations of the language are divinely established and controlled:

"In a broader sense these passages are all the more meaningful because of the fact that God in his sovereign control of history did choose that just these resources would be available to biblical writers. What is not a choice from the standpoint of a human author [i.e., the presence of masculine generic terms]... is still a choice form the standpoint of the divine author who controls language, culture, and history and uses it as he wills." [bracketed text and second italics are mine]

In other words, P&G are arguing that God intentionally established and ordained masculine generic terms in Hebrew and Greek in order to affirm the priority of males...

...[It won't] do to argue that, because God is absolutely sovereign, he controls the development of all languages. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant to the discussion, since all languages remain imperfect instruments of communication. Gender systems around the world differ dramatically, making it impossible to reproduce the formal gender distinctions of Hebrew and Greek...(P)ersonal pronouns do not have any gender distinctions in the language of the Isan people of Northeast Thailand. Think of the loss of masculine nuances there!

If we suppose that the formal characteristics of the biblical languages are God-ordained, we open an impossible Pandora's box for translators. Greek, for example, does not have a present progressive form. Does this mean we should never introduce a present progressive in English translation so as to accurately reflect God's revelation? Of course not. The ultimate goal of translation is to reproduce meaning, not form. (Mark Strauss, p131, 132 Chapter 4: Current Issues in the Gender-Language Debate, in "The Challenge of Bible Translation" ed Scorgie, Strauss, Voth)

Monday, 30 March 2009

The TNIV and Bible Sales

Over at the Better Bibles Blog, they carry an interesting post regarding the latest Bible sales figures in the USA. What the Blog finds particularly of note is the absence of the TNIV in the top ten. There is some dismay in the comments section at the lack of support the TNIV seems to be receiving from both its publisher (Zondervan) and retail stores. I can't believe this situation. The TNIV has been bullied out of fashion.

I am convinced that gender neutral language with respect to translating pronouns is accurate. You won't hear many folk in the street using generic 'he' in conversation any more. Yet many scholars who should know better, have reacted furiously to the TNIV, accusing it of a politically correct or even feminist agenda. Ok, so when I refuse to use the word 'gay' to describe happy, am I bowing to linguistic pressure from pink-pressure groups? No, I'm merely using common sense. Sure, homosexual pressure groups have commandeered the word and the meaning has changed. But to accuse someone, who verbally adapts to the new change, of succumbing to political pressure is nonsense. I believe the same is the case with masculine pronouns. Go to the TNIV website and you will find a sound linguistic rationale for each and every change from the NIV.

Furthermore, if you read Carson's book on the matter the unavoidable impression you get is that the opponents of the TNIV are naive linguistic fundamentalists. It's rather akin to the movement who opposed the removal of 'thees' and 'thous' in our old versions. Linguistic conservatism is an unnecessary stumbling block to those coming to faith. It creates the impression that we're terrified of feminists and conservative for conservative's sake. Someone might reason, "If they're so extreme and yet so wrong about this issue, what else are they wrong about?" In short, it damages the gospel. The only offense in our words should be the offense of the cross, not the offense of unnecessary and stuffy language. It's hard to find a credible linguistic expert who backs the cause of Grudem, Piper, et al. Those who consider themselves Reformed should back away from this insane fight.

The silly agreement made by the IBS (International Bible Society) not to replace NIV with a gender accurate version should be revoked. It was an agreement made under pressure from linguistic fundamentalists, and is therefore an ungodly and unfair treaty. The TNIV is sliding because of pressure. Up the ante I say and replace the NIV by re-naming the TNIV "The NIV".

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Ryle and the Sabbath

"The Sabbath is good for man's mind. The mind needs rest quite as much as the body: it cannot bear an uninterrupted strain on its powers; it must have its intervals to unbend and recover its force. Without them, it will either prematurely wear out or fail suddenly, like a broken bow. The testimony of the famous philanthropist, Mr. Wilberforce, on this point is very striking. He declared that he could only attribute his own power of endurance to his regular observance of the Sabbath day. He remembered that he had observed some of the mightiest intellects among his contemporaries fail suddenly at last, and their possessors come to melancholy ends; and he was satisfied that in every such case of mental ship-wreck the true cause was neglect of the Fourth Commandment." (J.C Ryle, p322 Knots Untied)

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine Part 5 The Historia Salutis

Fesko begins chapter 3 by stating:

Whenever we consider any doctrine within the loci of systematic theology, we must locate the doctrine within the scope of redemptive history. To restate this principle in technical terms, we must properly locate the ordo salutis within the historia salutis (p93)

Failure to do this can result in a divorce of our system of redemption from the acts of God in salvation history. For example, someone might say, "I'm not too bothered whether you believe in the resurrection or not. I'm bothered about whether you're growing in a personal relationship with Jesus."

Throughout the chapter Fesko presses home that eschatology is not simply the period immediately before the return of Christ, but the entire era from Christ's first appearing through to his second. So the period of the church, in which we all live, is an eschatological period. The OT prophets were expecting the Messiah to usher in the new creation during 'the last days' (LXX Gen. 49:1). The "last days" then, refer to the end of the old era of sin and death and to the beginning of a new creation.

Fesko notes that in the OT, the last days contain both favourable and unfavourable events, blessing and curses, joy and tribulation. These contrasting states hint at the already-not yet aspect of the eschatological age (p98).

In the NT, particularly in Paul's writings, we see juxtapositions of the protologcial and the eschatological, particularly in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 where the first and last Adams are contrasted. The first Adam is of the earth and ushers in death. The second Adam is of heaven and ushers in the re-creating power of the Holy Spirit.

Three implications for justification follow. First that Christology, pneumatology and eschatology are inextricably intertwined (p104). That is, Christ accomplishes redemption, the Spirit applies it and this is the first act of new creation. Second, and this blew my mind, justification is eschatological. Therefore, the judgement of the last day has been brought forward for those in Christ and a "not guilty/righteous" verdict has been rendered on our behalf because of Christ. That judgement is final. We can have complete assurance of entrance to the heavenly kingdom. Third, there is an already-not yet tension to our redemption. We are completely and irreversably justified. Nevertheless, we still struggle with the sin present in our mortal bodies.

It was refreshing to read an approach to salvation that is so Christ focused and historically grounded. What an antidote to the mystical piety of those who sing, "You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart." Bull. I know he lives because of the self-authenticating word of God, confirmed by the outpoured Spirit of the resurrected Christ. I know he lives because he is ushering in a new creation, of which believers are the firstfruits. I know he lives because I'm counted righteous in Christ, forever, apart from my works. I know he lives because I struggle with sin in this already-not yet state. Before it wasn't a struggle. I just did it. Dude, if you're uncertain of your faith and wondering whether you're a Christian or not, you need to get a grasp of the doctrine of justification.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Church Fathers and 1 Corinthians 7

At the Reformed Forum, the latest discussion is with "Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin, professor of church history and Biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, about the importance of studying the early church fathers and reading them as the Protestant Reformers did."

What I found interesting was Haykin's citing Cyril of Jerusalem's exegesis of 1 Corinthians 7:5. The passage says:

Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (TNIV)

Cyril saw the passage as a conjugal concession that some Christian couples might wish to make in order to give themselves to prayer. Yet Cyril held that the prayer involved was not the quiet time, Every Day With Jesus sort. It was special prayer assemblies called by the church sort. Sometimes the church, as a body, will come together more often than usual to pray about certain issues, and as a result, married couples won't get the same time for horizontal jogging. I found this interpretation quite jolting. My reflex was to read that passage through Western-individualist eyes. Another blow, struck this time by the Fathers, for a corporate Reformed piety.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Tyranny of the Weaker Brother 2

What happens when the weaker brother/Pharisee is one of/all of your elders? What happens when you get an elder's visit for going to a football match, the cinema, drinking alcohol, etc? This is not a situtation beyond the bounds of reality in some quarters (particularly in some brethren churches).

If an elder must be apt to teach and he is coming down on the flock in matters of indifference, then it's clear he doesn't get the gospel, justification, etc. It is HE who should face discipline, not the guy/gal who was reported for drinking a Baby Sham. If this freedom quenching is a collective spirit in the eldership and not the views of a maverick, you are left with only one option, leave.

It was for freedom that Christ set you free. Stand firm then, and do not allow yourself to be burdened by a yolk of slavery.

The Tyranny of the Weaker Brother

Another cracking White Horse Inn podcast this week. On the Christ and Culture theme, Horton and co. have been analysing Christianity in the pre-Christian culture of Corinth. This week, they were looking at issues involving the freedom of the believer. They quoted Calvin's classic remark:

... the knowledge of this freedom is very necessary for us, for if it is lacking, our consciences will have no repose and there will be no end to superstitions. Today we seem to many to be unreasonable because we stir up discussion over the unrestricted eating of meat, use of holidays and of vestments, and such thing, which seem to them vain frivolities.

But these matters are more important than is commonly believed. For when consciences one ensnare themselves, they enter a long and inextricable maze, not easy to get out of. If a man begins to doubt whether he may use linen for sheets, shirts, handkerchiefs, and napkins, he will afterward be uncertain also about hemp; finally, doubt will even arise over tow. For he will turn over in his mind whether he can sup without napkins, or go without a handkerchief. If any man should consider daintier food unlawful, in the end he will not be at peace before God, when he eats either black bread or common victuals, while it occurs to him that he could sustain his body on courser foods. If he boggles at sweet wine, he will not with clear conscience drink even flat wine, and finally he will not dare touch water if sweeter and cleaner than other water. To sum up, he will come to the point of considering it wrong to step upon a straw in his path, as the saying goes.

Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.19.7

Christian freedom is a necessary consequence of justification. If we start enslaving our conscience or the conscience of others in matters indifferent, then we've betrayed justification and betrayed the gospel. We've committed the error of those in Colossae:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (TNIV Col. 2:20-23)

Those who think like this, according to Paul, have "lost connection with the head" (v19). Freedom is a gospel issue. To forsake it is to forsake Christ.

Therefore, if I need to refrain from drinking beer in an evangelistic context in order not to cause unnecessary offense, so be it. If, though, I'm expected to refrain from beer so that brother so and so isn't offended, then I'll say "Pass the Stella, and give me a pipe while you're at it."

On the WHI they made the point; why is the 'weaker brother' so often the most vociferous? The reason is because he's often a self-righteous Pharisee. So if I need to protect the weaker brother, I'll curtail my freedom, but I won't curtail my freedom for older/wiser saints who have foolishly confused worldliness with random practices they conveniently dislike anyway (e.g. cards, cinema, dancing, etc).

Monday, 23 March 2009

Incarnation: Glorious

Thanks to everyone who commented on my Trinity post.

In reading and reflecting on the comments I have realised that it is deficient to write about Trinity without including Incarnation. Or, put another way, I have confused Trinity and Incarnation.

In the Trinity post I referred to a song with a line that states that Jesus gave up his glorious throne. I have not found a verse in Scripture that explicitly states this same idea. What I have been been reminded of today is Wesley's thought: "He left his Father's throne above,- So free, so infinite his grace- Emptied himself of all but love-"

My problem with the two songs is as much a problem of christology as it is theology.

In the Incarnation (John 1:14, Phil 2:5-11), God the Son revealed another form of God's glory (John 13:31,32; 17:1-5). In coming from the Father the Word's "throne" moved with him and he was "enthroned" as king by being lifted up on the cross. The Post-Reformation Reformed tradition understood this in terms of a fairly well developed and subtle understanding of Christ the Mediator, the Chalcedonian God/Man (see e.g. WCF VIII). In trinitarian terms God the Son never gave up his throne. Christ the Mediator was lifted up as the Mediator King over all of God's creation. He was exalted in the heavenly realm. And he will hand over a new kingdom to God the Father (1Cor15:24).

Palm Sunday is coming up... sermon fodder for you all.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Bible Translation Conundrum

I've got Bible schizophrenia. I like 2 translations. I oscillate between them to such a degree that I don't memorise either. It bugs me. I'd like to commit to one and refer to the other, but like Paul, I'm hard pressed between the two. Is it just me?

I like the TNIV. It reads well because it has a very sophisticated and nuanced translation philosophy. It translates the way we speak. Like it or not, the English language has changed/is changing. I would never speak using a masculine singular generic pronoun (i.e. his, he, him, etc). I would always use the plural pronoun in a singular context. For instance, I would never say, "Each pupil opened his jotter", but rather "They all opened their jotters". The TNIV speaks in a way that I speak. I dig it. Using antiquated forms of language in our Bibles is a sure fire way to convey to our kids that the faith is something stuffy and old fashioned (as opposed to ancient). I don't buy into the ideological arguments against gender neutral (or accurate) language.

Further, the TNIV has some cool editions. I'm currently plodding my way through "The Books of the Bible" reading plan. It's a Bible with no chapters or verses. You just read by page number. It really rocks my world.

I also own The Bible Experience, which is quite simply a breath-taking audio of the TNIV. I really have never heard anything quite like it.

I also know the NIV pretty well and given that the TNIV is only a 7% revision, memorising it isn't too difficult either.

Also, some good people translated it. Doug Moo, for instance, was on the translators' committee.

These are all good reasons for making the TNIV my primary bible. Nevertheless, I do have some reservations. Some of its translations irk me. If you've ever read John 17 (in the TNIV or NIV) and compared it to a literal translation, you will be shocked. Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne compared the ESV with the NIV on this chapter and I really lost a lot of confidence in the NIV.

I like the transparency of the ESV. Whenever I'm not using it, I feel like I'm missing out on some subtle nuance in the Greek/Hebrew that the ESV would make a little more transparent.

I like the Bible words the ESV encourages us to use, i.e. propitiation, glorification, flesh, Sheol etc. I like its consistency of translating various words and terms. I like the fact that it translates connectives and rarely misses important ones (compare Romans 1:18 in the ESV and TNIV). I like the fact that it preserves multiple meanings in the text (e.g. righteousness of God, law of liberty). I like the fact that I have it in a beautiful, 3 ribbon goatskin edition which is unlike any Bible I've ever owned. I like the fact that every expository preacher I've ever respected tends to use it.

I don't like the unnecessary archaisms. I don't like the gender masculine pronouns (I am complementarian by the way). I don't like the fact that my wife doesn't like it (ideally, I'd memorise texts with her). I don't like some of the turgid narrative or prophetic books. I don't like the emotional pressure that inadvertently bears on Reformed-ish folks to use it, a pressure that comes from ESV zealots running down other good versions.

Maybe I'm not alone in my Bible conundrum.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Trinity

I'm thinking, at a very basic level, about the doctrine of the Trinity, in preparation for one or two talks I need to give over the next few days. One aspect of these talks is to give reflections on how God as Father Son and Holy Spirit affects our Christian living. Part of my thinking has been focused on our praise and worship in song as Christians.

Here's my genuine question. In what sense can we sing the following lines, taken from a song that I sang in a Christian setting recently:

As Angels looked on You humbled yourself; Gave up your glorious throne;


Is it ever proper to talk about Jesus giving up his glorious throne? I'm not sure. My knowledge of the Scriptures is very poor, so I cant think of an obvious passage that the song alludes to. (Johannine ideas perhaps? Philippians 2 certainly does not fit.) My gut instinct is to feel that I know what the song is getting at. But my theological head tells me that not for one moment did Jesus give up his glorious throne. The Son of God has always been, and will always be, enthroned in heaven.

Thoughts? Offers of help?

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Sanctification: the Fear of the Lord

I'm a wee bit scared of God, and you know what? I think that's the way he wants it. It is the beginning of wisdom after all.

There's good reason to fear God from the testimony of Scripture. In the OT, for instance there's plenty to bring us out in a sweat. Take the fall of man in Genesis. God curses creation and puts a flaming sword between him and Adam. Do you want to feel the presence of God Adam? The only thing you'll feel is a sharp flaming machete ripping your flesh.

Then in Exodus, God, after annihilating the Egyptians with furious plagues, gives his law at Sinai to his covenant people. He warns the people not to get too close. "Even if your beloved pet lamb touches the mountain of my presence, smash its skull with a brick" says God. There's thunder, smoke and a voice so awesome the people beg God to stop speaking. "Oh Lord, we were have such a great time singing 'Shine, YHWH Shine'. Please stop speaking!" Even godly Moses was terrified.

Futher, the story of Uzzah shows that God is not to be trifled with. He said that the ark of the covenant must be carried by Levites. Instead the Israelites put it on a cart and when the oxen pulling the cart stumbled, Uzzah merely put out his hand to steady the ark. Yet you know what? God didn't see Uzzah's heart for the safety of the ark. He saw irreverence; he saw a lack of fear and he struck Uzzah down. Even King David was dumbfounded. "He was a good bloke Lord! Why?" Yet God made no apology for his actions.

As we look at NT examples, there's nothing of the new meek and mild Jesus compared to the angry OT God. Paul says to the idolatrous Corinthians, "Don't test Christ". Why? Because the Israelites tested the pre-incarnate Christ and he poured out his fury on them in the form of destroying angels and snakes (yes I know! It was gentle Jesus killing these people! 1 Cor. 10:9, 10). The warning to Corinth is, "This is the same Christ you're testing here." Some had already tasted his stern discipline for profaning the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:29, 30)

(Indeed, if we're going to be proper Trinitarians, the wrathful God of the OT was the wrathful Father, Son and Spirit. An explicit example of the wrath of the Spirit is seen in the slaying of Ananias and Sapphira. They tested the Spirit of the Lord and he killed them (Acts 5:1-10).)

Perhaps the scariest example of God's fury is seen in Revelation 14. In verses 19 and 20 the wine press metaphor is employed. Instead of grapes being stamped on, its people. Instead of wine rushing out of the press, it's blood and the blood runs at about the height of a horse's neck for 180 miles. Guess who's doing the stamping? Gentle Jesus, meek and mild (ch 19:15).

If we are to fear God aright, the best place to look is the cross. When we think about the cross, a mixture of fear and relief should take hold of us. We fear the dreadful wrath of God when we see that he wouldn't even spare his beloved Son after making him to be sin for us. Yet we see that while God hated us, he loved us. While he should have poured out his fury on us, he took the blame himself and bore the wrath in the body of his dear Son. We fear God's hatred of sin. We fear the sin that still clings in our fallen bodies.

It's ok to be a little scared, yet not in the craven sense. We're not slaves to fear (Rom. 8:15) and God's love has driven craven fear away. We don't fear in the way a wife fears an abusive husband returning from work after a few drinks. But Paul tells us there is a good fear of God that will motivate our holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1) It's a fear of falling short. A fear that we will prove to be false professors. It's a fear that admits it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

This biblical picture is a million miles away from our limp-wristed charicatures of a god who is so middle class in his manners, he would have negotiated the Ten Commandments and sent the Israelites to the naughty step instead of exile. We don't have a God who commands, who rules and who pours out fury on unbelievers. We've got a heavenly social worker who champions the rights of the disaffected instead of killing them for their nauseating cynicism.

I'm tired of singing crappy kids choruses to the tune of the Flintstones during worship. I'm tired of smirking chairmen. I'm tired of trendy youth leaders. I'm tired of singing homo-erotic hymns. Even though God has shown his love for us, we still must worship with reverence and awe. He is a consuming fire after all (Heb. 12:28, 29)

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 4 The Ordo Salutis

Still in the prolegomena, Fesko now considers how justification relates to the rest of the ordo salutis (i.e. predestination, regeneration, effectual calling, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification). Fesko outlines the misguided attempts of some theologians to trash the idea of the ordo salutis. He points out that if you reject the concept of an ordo salutis then you step into the problem of viewing justification as one metaphor for the redemptive act (p82), something that Fesko earlier demonstrated as hogwash.

Further, Fesko demonstrates that the ordo is biblical and essential to the integrity of the gospel. He leaves us with two options, either the Bible presents a coherent understanding of the truths of the gospel or it doesn’t (p86). If we believe the bible to be God’s infallible word then we must believe in an ordo. If careful distinction and logical ordering of the constituent parts of redemption is unbiblical, then it doesn’t matter whether good works follow or precede justification and it doesn’t matter if justification and sanctification are merged in some nebulous way. If we trash the ordo, we trash the gospel. Right on Fesko.

Within the Reformed tradition, Fesko notes that there are tensions as to how we should view the logical ordering of the ordo salutis. On p84 he quotes the conundrums posed by A.A Hodge and Richard Gaffin. Gaffin’s beef is basically: if at the point of entry to salvation union with Christ is prior to the other acts, and if union with Christ means possession of all Christ’s benefits, then what need is there for the other acts of the ordo? On the other hand, if the other acts are prior, then union with Christ is improperly subordinated.

How do we relate union and justification? Which has priority? Though union with Christ undergids the entire ordo salutis, Fesko argues that this does not imply its priority. He points out that although the Holy Spirit is the agent of our regeneration and the one who brings union with Christ, the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people could not happen until the legal-forensic fulfilling of the law in the work of Christ. Therefore, union with Christ is based upon the justifying work of Christ at Calvary.

PS: For some debate about the relation of justification and union between Fesko and Gaffin, read here and here. HT: Scott Clark

Good Verse

Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise;
in all His words most wonderful;
most sure in all His ways.

O loving wisdom of our God!
when all was sin and shame,
a second Adam to the fight,
and to the rescue came.

J.H.Newman

Here is the context.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 3 The First Among Equals

In chapter 2, Fesko continues exploring presuppositions regarding justification. He is exploring whether justification is at the centre of Paul's theology. Yet to talk of a 'centre' is a little ambiguous. One needs to define what one means by 'the centre' first. Fesko dismisses the mistaken notion of 18th century 'Reformed' theologians who described justification as a central dogma. He describes a central dogma as: "a principle of sufficient reason" upon which the entire system could be built. This means that from one principle, an entire system of thought could be logically deduced. (p73) This means in effect that justification becomes the key that unlocks everything (Tillich was an example of a theologian who constructed a 'system of justification'(p73)).

Fesko argues that this way of thinking was not the thinking of the 16th and 17th century Reformers and that it was an historically anachronistic way of doing theology (p74) for the Reformers and by extension, the apostle Paul. The Reformers organised their theology around various loci as opposed to gathering into a cohesive whole only those doctrines which relate to particular dogmatic premises (p73 - quoting Richard Muller). The dogma theory was a gift for liberals. They could quietly eject doctrines they didn't like because they didn't relate to the central dogma, and it gave them God-like knowledge (trampling over the archtypal and ectypal distinction) as they had this controlling presuppositional key unlocking everything.

In contrast Fesko states that it seems more reasonable to say that there are central emphases in Scripture, or especially in Paul, as we look to place the doctrine of justification in his thought and within our theological system (p75).

We should view justification as a first among equals. It IS the article by which the church stands or falls (p79). Fesko reminds us that it was so important to the Reformation because it is at the heart and proclamation of the gospel (p78). Justification marks the entry point to the great salvation. Fesko reminds us that whenever the question of "what must I do to be saved" is raised in Scripture, as in the story of the Phillipian jailer, it is not union with Christ, sanctification or predestination, or all of the other elements of the ordo salutis that come to the fore (p78). (Wow. Smokin' hot stuff!) Paul doesn't remind the Galatians of their union with Christ when faced with the Jadaizing threat. He points them to justification.

The clarity and force of Fesko's argumentation really is astounding and enthralling.

Faith and Sanctification

Since faith embraces Christ, as offered to us by the Father - that is, since he is offered not only for righteousness, forgiveness of sins, and peace, but also for sanctification and the fountain of the water of life - without a doubt, no one can duly know him without at the same time apprehending the sanctification of the Spirit. Or, if anyone desires some plainer statement, faith rests upon the knowledge of Christ. And Christ cannot be known apart from the sanctification of his Spirit. It follows that faith can in no wise be separated from a devout disposition.

Institutes(1559) III.ii.8 John Calvin

Friday, 13 March 2009

Sanctification: Why bother? (Part 2)

Why, if we're justified, should we go on to a life of holiness? What's the point? If God sees us as clothed with the righteousness of Christ and if his wrath against our sins has been exhausted at Calvary, why bother with holiness? Surely there's no need for us to bother with holiness if our sins are covered? Surely if I keep on sinning, God will keep on forgiving and getting glory?

After preaching the gospel in Romans 1-5, the apostle counteracts the charge of antinomianism he anticipates. Indeed, if you're not charged with antinomianism at some point, according to Martyn-Lloyd Jones, you're probably not preaching the gospel. In Romans 6-8, Paul fleshes out the work of Christ in fuller detail in order to counteract this charge.

The Bible speaks of sactification in two ways. I suspect that the meaning we are most familiar with is the idea of progressive sanctification, i.e. growing in grace, fruit-bearing, etc. Yet there is also a sense in which the Bible speaks of sanctification as a once for all act (indeed, when we see the word 'sanctification' translated in our bibles, it predominately means this sense). In Romans 6:1-3 Paul speaks of sanctification in this once for all sense:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (TNIV)

Baptism into Christ is a sign and seal of our baptism 'into his death' so that we no longer 'live in' sin. Throughout Romans 6, we see sin personified as something of a slave master who pays death wages (v23) to those who labour under his power. The death of Christ definitively sanctifies. It takes one from under sin's dominion and puts you in a place where you can walk in 'newness of life' (v4). Further on we read in chapter 8 1-4:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in human flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (TNIV)

Look at the logic. We're no longer condemned if we're in Christ. Why? All for whom Christ died have been transported to the realm of the life-giving Spirit. Why does this mean we're not condemned? Because those who walk in the Spirit are those for whom God fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law. Verse 4 is not prescriptive (i.e. walk in the Spirit and God won't condemn you) but descriptive (those who walk in the Spirit are those whom God has counted righteous).

The point of my argument is this, you can't have imputed righteousness without having been transported into the realm of the life-giving Spirit. This is the double grace (duplex gracia) of the work of Christ, i.e. justification and sanctification.

Robert Reymond quoting John Murray says that for the Christian there exists:

a cleavage, a breach, a translation as really and decisively true in the sphere of moral and religious relationship as in the ordinary experience of death. There is a once-for-all definitive and irreversible breach with the realm in which sin reigns in and unto death....In respect of every criterion by which moral and spiritual life is to be assessed, there is absolute differentiation. This means that there is a decisive and definitive breach with the power and service of sin in the case of everyone who has come under the control of the provisions of grace (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p757)

Why bother with sanctification is a question asked by those who don't understand the nature of Christ's redeeming work. If you are in Christ, you have been justified for sure, but you have also had your old slave master, Sargeant Sin, killed. You have experienced a 'Definitive Sanctification' that is the alpha point for progressive sanctification. You now breath the air of the life-giving Spirit, and the fruit of this is a life of killing sin's deeds and fruit bearing.

Which Comes First, Theology or Exegesis?

We are all idealists are we not? Have you ever heard someone say, "Well I can't find such and such a doctrine in MY bible". The assumption is that all we need is our Bibles. The assumption is that we are not bringing assumptions to the text of Scripture. Darryl G. Hart has a peach of a post on the relationship between theology and exegesis. If you haven't bookmarked his blog, Old Life Theological Society, you should. Not many guys write with such penetrating analysis on evangelicalism. He's also irreverent and hilarious. Check it out.

Here we go again...(sigh)

Guess who's back? Back again? Guess who's back? Tell a friend. Guess who's back, guess who's back, etc? The not-so-slim shady character Todd Bentley is back.

My co-blogger David Shedden warned me/prophesied to me, that he'd be back. He warned that after a period of repentance Todd would return givin it "In the name of the Father, Son and BAM!" Well here is the ground being prepared for his return. He's undergoing restoration under the watchful eye of Jack Deere.

What is it about the charismatic movement that makes sane people lose their marbles? After it was announced that Bentley was leaving Lakeland due to some marital problems, the female (ahem) pastor of the church took the time to blame the critics of the 'revival' for Todd's demise. Her message was, 'Words have power. Words of Christians have special authority and power. So when Christians criticize fellow brothers, something happens in the spirit realm.' In other words, 'It was the critics what made 'im do it'. It was words to that effect. I heard it straight from the horse's (ahem) mouth on God TV.

I'll make a bold claim: much of the charismatic movement and much of the church is antinomian. Jesus commanded us not to divorce. He said that remarriage after divorce should be the exception, yet we've made it the norm and made staying single the exception. What message does it send to the church when twice-divorced Paula White is back on the screens preaching her prosperity/therapeutic crap? How long will it be before big Todd's at the centre of another 'revival'? Do the idiots who give these idiots a platform give a rats bottom about our Lord's commands? I realise that as our sin-sick culture deteriorates, increasing numbers in the church will have legitimate grounds for remarriage after divorce (indeed, I have a couple of friends in this position). Yet putting illegitimately divorced preachers back on the platform legitimises divorce of any kind in the eyes of the church. It emboldens weaker brothers and sisters to follow the world in dumping their marriage partner for any and every reason (e.g. we've just grown apart, we rarely make love, we've got nothing in common, etc).

I'm sorry, but those who teach will be judged with greater strictness according to James. Should that not give those of us who preach or those who give a platform to those who do, pause to think?

(HT: Adrian Warnock)

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Sanctification: Why bother? (Part 1)

I love the doctrine of justification by faith. Understanding it aright saved my Christian life and I've been banging on about the importance of it in this blog for a while now. It was a breath of fresh air to this moralistic/legalistic evangelical. You see, I've always been attracted to Pharasaism. I loved the idea of beating people, especially at religion. So if I could out pray them, out fast them, out give to the poor them(!), etc I'd give it a right good try. The appeal of legalism from the outset of my faith-awakening was overpowering.

Soon after my conversion, I read "Why Revival Tarries" by Leonard Ravenhill. As he spoke of the church's "overstating the Sovereignty of God and blundering on in a state of stagnant dispensationalism" as a reason for revival tarrying, I was filled with incredible zeal. I resolved to pray for an hour every day and planned to make it to two hours eventually. Who knows, I might even get 'the anointing'. I smashed many of my non-Christian music CDs with a hammer (while looking down on those who didn't), quoted the KJV to my friends (I was 18) and stressed the importance of healing, signs and wonders. I genuinely thought I was some sort of prophetic witness to the church (could I be one of the two from Revelation?). In short, I was a tool.

It took a couple of years for the Lord to show me the error of my ways. Even when embracing a Calvinistic soteriology, I was still stuck in a pietist rut. I believed forgiveness came by faith, but God still needed 'stroked' by a weekly fast and daily devotions. Anyhow, my Reformed conversion taught me the error of my ways. There's only one sold-out victorious Christian and his name is Jesus. Only by resting in him through faith and hiding our pathetic lives in him will we be able to please God. Yet it is important to note that, as Ephesians 2 says, while we are not saved BY good works we are certainly saved FOR good works.

Over the next wee while I'm going to post on sanctification. A recent comment from Michael suggested I do this, and in a spirit of the fear of the Lord/Michael, I'm going for it! Posts will cover the different senses in which Scripture speaks of sanctification, our role and God's role in sanctification, apostasy, the antecedent necessity of justification, Christ-like motivation and maybe some other stuff too.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Practical and Powerful Preaching

The dudes at the White Horse Inn have done it again with another peach of a podcast. This week worldly wisdom was compared with the folly of God in the gospel. Horton and co. were again discussing the Corinthian church and the problems faced there. Horton mentioned that Corinthian culture was invading the church and doing violence to the gospel.

In Corinth, oratory skills were prized. Motivational speakers would pack out arenas where they would wow the crowds with their eloquence. Much of the time, it wasn't the substance of what they said that was important as opposed to the way in which it was said. Many of the messages focused on getting ahead in life and advancing in finance, work, etc.

This cultural baggage had found its way into the Corinthian church where sexy-speakers were wowing the congregation with their 'life skills' talks and engaging style. They spoke a message of worldly wisdom. Paul contrasts their message with his in chapter 2 where he describes his gospel as the 'message of the cross'. 'Jews look for signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.'

So we have to ask ourselves, what message are we cleaving to? I trust that readers of this blog aren't clinging to the charismental Benny Hinn-style sign seeking approach. I would guess that we are more susceptible to looking for a 'wise' message by this world's standards.

How often do you hear in church, 'I just want a practical message' or 'I prefer practical preaching'. Too many of us want life skills taught from the pulpit. We want relationship advice or love makin' tips or child rearing advice. In contrast, the message of the Scriptures is simply, as Machen put it, a grand indicative.

This indicative is the message of Christ, crucified, buried and raised for his people. To be honest, you get very little 'practical' teaching in the NT. Sure you get general principles like, 'husbands love your wives' etc, but even these are only issued in the light of the gospel 'e.g. as Christ loved the church'. We want law, we want principles, we want purpose driven lives. We want to know how to find the equilibrium and stay there. We want to know how much money to give to the church, how much time we should pray each day, blah blah blah.

Sorry, but this is the last thing we need. The history of Israel should tell us that life skills will only condemn us when we fail to practice them. 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to do them' (Gal 3). Whenever we hear our hearts moan for law lite, we need to preach Christ to ourselves. He was justified by his works so we could be justified by grace. Our living should be an overflow of the grace we've received in Christ. The only imperative you get in the NT is, as Augustine affirmed, 'love God and live how you like'.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Shai Linne - The Atonement

Have you ever heard someone rap about the covenant of works?! I have. Recently I downloaded Shai Linne's album The Atonement and I don't have enough superlatives to describe it. If I told you that I was listening to rap by a Christian guy, what would spring to mind? Normally, you would picture a bunch of middle class white guys bustin' some moves and rappin' about hard knocks and how much they love 'the J man'. It's enough to make you cringe so bad you could pick up a needle with your ass-cheeks.

Shai Linne is a different kettle of fish. For once I'm listening to music by a Christian that is genuinely good. (I'm not calling it 'Christian music' by the way. So often the prefix 'Christian' is a euphemism for crap. It's also a mistaken theology of the two kingdoms which says we must have 'Christian' music, or redeem music for God etc. All music is good by virtue of creation. Crap production and spiritual lyrics don't make it any more Christian.)

The Atonement is a concept album charting the imputation of Adam's sin (yes, he raps about the imputation of Adam's sin and tells those who think it isn't fair to shut up) to the resurrection of Christ and the church. I never thought I'd hear reformed rapping, never mind brilliant reformed rapping.

I've never listened to music that preached the gospel to me and applied it warmly and with a challenge til I listened to this. You really have to hear it for yourself. Let me make a bold statement, it's the best 'Christian' stuff I've ever heard.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The Apostle Paul in Christianity Today

Oh this is good, very good.

HT: John Mowat

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 2 Metaphors

In Chapter 2, Fesko wishes to establish some presuppositions before entering into his treatment of justification. Three questions asked in this chapter are: 1. Is justification merely one metaphor among many other equal metaphors which shed light on our redemption? 2. Is justification Paul's and the NT's central dogma? 3. How does justification relate to the ordo salutis (the order of salvation)? Does it have priority in logical ordering or not?

On the question of metaphors, if you can read this chapter and still describe justification as one among many, you really are a dufus. Fesko, in my not so humble opinion, absolutely and brilliantly annihilates this way of thinking. If a metaphor is: "a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity", then to describe justification as a metaphor of our redemption is to say that justification "does not literally denote" our redemption. For example, if you were to describe me as a fat pig, you would be assigning me pig like qualities like obesity, piggy nose, poor hygiene, etc. It doesn't mean I actually have 8 nipples and role in the mud. I am not a literal pig.

Metaphor is a cool/liberal/emergent hermeneutic with an ecumenical pulse. Fesko notes, "If, for example, the forensic language of justification is but one way to image our redemption, then it is not the only way to do so....we may choose to emphasize other metaphors." (p65) If this is the case, then who gives a rip about which metaphor is best? They're all equally valid. The Reformed talk of forensic justification while the Eastern Orthodox talk of theosis. They're simply noncompeting pictures of what God has done in Christ. Therefore we can forget the reformation, just be friends and share a wafer.

Au contraire argues Fesko. He makes the point that if justification is a metaphor then it's corollary, condemnation, is a metaphor too! That would make sin a metaphor, judgement a metaphor, etc. "If atonement and justification are merely metaphors...propitiation is God's metaphorical way of dealing with a metaphorical problem." (p66) What nonsense. Take this thinking back to the OT era. Do you think the Isrealis saw the Babylonian invasion as a metaphor? As Chaldean troops laid waste to the town, ripped open pregnant women, raped and pillaged I can't imagine a disemboweled Isrealite's last words going something like, 'this is a painful metaphor, if only we'd been metaphorically righteous, aaaaahhh.'

I won't give any more of Fesko's tasty stuff on metaphors away. You'll have to buy it yourself. Next, Fesko on the central dogma.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Dream Church Plant

I'd love to see a good Reformed church plant in Glasgow.

Preferable would be a plant with a morning and evening service each Lord's Day. During the morning, something like Calvin's liturgy would be used to ensure that the gospel would be kept the central theme of the service. There would be a public prayer of repentance issued by the pastor/teacher to which the congregation would add an amen. After the intermingling of a-capella Psalm/Inspired text/theological hymn singing and extemporaneous prayers/Scripture readings from the men of the congregation, the word would be opened and a warm biblical/theological exposition would prepare the congregation for the Lord's Supper. Following the sermon, the congregants would line up to receive communion and the pastor/teacher would then assure the congregation of God's pardon to those who ate in faith, and a issue a warning to the unrepentant.

The evening service would combine biblical theological preaching and exposition of the Westminster Standards.

The kids would stay for the sermon and to observe communion, in the hope that the presence of the risen Christ would work miraculously beyond the cognitive limitations of our young.

There would be little 'religiousity'. The only offence to outsiders coming in will be the offence of the cross. Talk would be straight and big theological words explained. Doctrine would be labored over, heretics gored ferociously and weak believers fanned into flame by the clear promotion of comfort giving word/sacrament piety. People could dress as they please and dress to please the Lord. The minister would be free to wear a gown or not. No consciences would be held captive over matters indifferent.

There would be no choir except the congregation. There would be a Psalm of the month where the congregation learn to sing in three-part harmony.

Lord's Day observance would be applied with brutal/loving force. There would be no Sunday School during the sermon, no committee meetings, no evening youth group (maybe the parents of teenagers could have them round houses on an informal and rota'd basis), no proliferation of programs, no strong-arming the hard-working congregants into strength sapping, faith draining ministries. Instead there would be a complete focus on letting God work to renew His people for being salt and light in their secular, God-pleasing vocations.

The Regulative Principle for Worship would be applied with brutal/loving force. No one's cheesy or trendy preferences (no, not even the pastor/teacher's) would influence the form and content of sacred assemblies. Only what the word requires would be required.

Finally, it would not be a niche demographic making up the church. It wouldn't be a church for the young, the old, the hip, the not-so-hip or Reformed guys in their 20s with no girlfriend and a penchant for theonomy and downloading porn. It would be filled with people from accross the classes, races, ages and sexes.

Sounds good doesn't it? Am I naive? Probably.

N.T Wright and the New Perspective on Paul - Part 2

The second part of Guy Prentiss Waters' analysis on NTW's new book on justification is available here.

A stand still Christ?

"The preaching of the new gospel is often described as the task of "bringing [people] to Christ" - as if only [people] move, while Christ stands still. But the task of preaching the old gospel could more properly be described as bringing Christ to [people], for those who preach it know that as they do their work of setting Christ before [people's] eyes, the mighty Saviour whom they proclaim is busy doing His work through their words, visiting sinners with salvation, awakening them to faith, drawing them in mercy to Himself."

From J.I. Packer, in an essay first published 1959, I think. At that stage in his life 32 year old Packer already had some experience as a pastor, writer, teacher and theological scholar. But could the mighty Saviour's work in the second half of the second sentence be better attributed to the Holy Spirit?

Thursday, 5 March 2009

It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian

More than anytime before us, an American today believes 'I must write the script of my own life'. The thought that such a script must be subordinated to the grand narrative of the Bible is a foreign one. Still more alarming is the idea that this surrender of our personal story to God's story must be mediated by a community of fallen people we frankly don't want getting in our way and meddling with our own hopes and dreams. (It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian, TE Bolsinger)

HT: Andy Hunter

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Indicatives and Imperatives

If you haven't yet subscribed to the White Horse Inn podcast then you need to repent. This week, Horton and co. were discussing the first century church in Corinth and the problems faced there. Corinth was a city of libertines and the church, to an extent, reflected the madness of the culture. There were factions for a start. The believers in Corinth were playing the teachings of one preacher off and against that of the other (see 1 Cor. 1:11, 12). Some were gathering round Paul, others round Apollos and some even around Christ (red letter Christians?)!

They was so much in-fighting, Paul described them as Christian babies and 'fleshy' (3:1-4). That's not all. A man was sleeping with his step-mother (ugh!), they were suing each other in the courts ruled by unbelievers, they were abusing the poor, getting drunk at communion, abusing spiritual gifts, allowing demons to speak in worship (12:3) and to top it all, some were denying the resurrection.

How would we expect Paul to react to a church like that? He could maybe say something like, "I DOUBT WHETHER ANY OF YOU ARE SAVED!", or read some statistics from Gallup to show how cases of immorality in the church are almost as prevalent as that of the world. He doesn't do that. He opens by writing, "To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people" (v2 TNIV). He continues in verse 8 "He will keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." (TNIV)

WOW! We might ask, where's the motivation to holy living in that? We'd have preached the law. Instead Paul reminds them of the Gospel. He starts with the Gospel indicatives (i.e. who they ARE in Christ, what God has DONE in Christ) and from THERE moves to imperatives (therefore do this etc).

These verses are proof positive that the Gospel is counter-intuitive. I know what I'm like; I would have thanked God for the Galatians and called down curses on Corinth. Further evidence that I need to beat the truth of justification into my own sin sick heart/mind.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 1

J.V Fesko's book on justification promises to be a more rigorous treatment of the topic than recent offerings. "Recent monographs on the doctrine have largely focused upon the ordo salutis. While this is a necessary connection to explain, as much of the debate surrounding justification concerns the relationship of the doctrine to good works, at the same time a more thorough treatment of the doctrine is needed."(p2)

Some questions that need further exploring include, "How does justification relate to protology, that is, man as he was originally created, and Christology, the work of Christ? Related to the question of the first and last Adams is the greater question of the structure of redemptive history. Few make an effort to place justification in the historia salutis or relate it to biblical theology." (p3) Furthermore, in the light of recent controversies in Reformed circles fueled by ecumenism, the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision, Fesko believes a Reformed re-articulation of the classical doctrine is timely.

In his opening chapter, the author looks to "survey the history of the development of justification , summarizing the characteristics that dominate each period's expression of the doctrine and identifying key issues that must be addressed in the exegetical and theological exposition." (p7)

Something that struck this reader as he traced Fesko's history of the doctrine from the Patristic Era to the period leading up to the Reformation, was the confusion of categories that marked the expressions of this doctrine. In the Patristic Era, one can find some embryonic references to justification as a forensic term in the writings of Chrysostom and imputation in the writings of Justin Martyr (both page 8). There were also many voices affirming sola fide (faith alone). For instance, Fesko quotes Origen:

A man is justified by faith. The works of the law can make no contribution to this. Where there is no faith which might justify the believer, even if there are works of the law these are not based on the foundation of faith. Even if they are good in themselves, they cannot justify the one who does them, because faith is lacking, and faith is the mark of those who are justified by God. (p9)

Nevertheless, not all the church fathers were as consistent (e.g. Tertullian) in affirming faith alone. Some saw faith and works as "co-instrumental in ones salvation" (p10). Fesko quotes Scott Clark:

This is not an indictment of the fathers. To criticize the fathers for failing to use Luther (or Calvin's) language is rather like criticizing Aquinas for not using Einstein's physics. (p11)

It took the Augustine-Pelagius debate to bring greater clarity to the church's understanding of justification. Yet even Augustine didn't have it quite right. Fesko quotes Calvin:

Augustine's view...we must not entirely accept. For even though he admirably deprives man of all credit for righteousness and transfers it to God's grace, he still subsumes grace under sanctification, by which we are reborn in newness of life through the Spirit. (p23)

A likely reason for Augustine's confusion is rooted in his realism. "Augustine understood original sin and its transmission in realistic categories, in that sin is transmitted through natural descent. Conversely, the grace of God is infused into the sinner to counteract the effects of original sin." (p13, 14) In contradistinction, the Reformers would understand justification and original sin in purely forensic categories, i.e. we are legally counted sinners in Adam, and legally counted righteous in Christ.

Fesko goes on to survey the counter-Reformation, the Post-Reformation and contemporary understandings of justification. I'm am neither a historian nor the son of a historian, but it was pretty impressive and informative.

It was startling to read of the amount of fights, even Reformed in-fights, over this doctrine (I didn't mind though - Glaswegians like a fight). Fesko contends that throughout history, the church's understanding of the doctrine of justification has swung between two poles: antinomianism (lawlessness and licentiousness) and neonomianism (legalism and moralism). Even in the Scottish Kirk the Marrow Controversy (1718-1723) highlighted that even the established Reformed Church didn't understand the law/gospel hermeneutic essential to the preservation of the gospel. Church leaders, who should have known better, accused the book The Marrow of Modern Divinity of advocating antinomianism (the apostle Paul was accused of the same, as will everyone who rightly articulates the doctrine).

Fesko highlights even Jonathan Edwards' confusion over the doctrine, giving greater weight to the claim that Edwards wasn't Reformed! Even Edwards confused sanctification and justification. You've got to read this book.

Anyway, a point of application for us is that there is nothing new under the sun. There is always some sexy exegete coming along with a 'fresh' perspective on things, that in the end confuses the church and destroys the hope-giving comfort that a right understanding of justification supplies. The devil has been desperate to destroy knowledge of this doctrine like the dragon trying to consume the man-child in Revelation. Ever since Galatia the evil one's been at it. We must be jealous for the gospel and willing to contend for justification, even if it makes us look mean. Why is Guy Waters so mean to N.T Wright? Why is Scott Clark so mean to Doug Wilson? Why is Don Carson so mean to Jimmy Dunn? You could ask, why was the apostle Paul so mean to the apostle Peter?

Swearing by God's Name in Mark 5:7

Bill Mounce has some interesting stuff about Greek grammar here.

Big Churches

In Glasgow we don't have any 'mega' churches. If I'm right, we have a couple of large churches (congregations numbering from 400-700), but thankfully none of Joel Osteen proportions. When I hear of churches in the US with congregants numbering in the 1000s, I scarce can take it in. Even the neo-Reformed (e.g. Driscoll - whose preaching abilities I admire greatly) seem to have bought in to the 'mega church' model.

In my opinion, it is near impossible for a large church to function as it should from a NT standpoint. First and most obviously, how do you administer communion in a setting with thousands present? How do you guard the Lord's Table from unbelievers? To abuse the Supper is to invite judgement upon your assembly, yet it must be nigh impossible for ministers/elders to be on their guard when giving out the Supper weekly to faces they've never seen before.

Secondly, how does a mega church 'do' discipline? I suspect that most don't. Nevertheless, it is easy for those needing church discipline to disappear into the throng. Hundreds could be involved in sin that would make Ted Haggard blush, yet they'd remain unaccountable, while swaying with eyes closed singing love songs to Jesus. That's not to mention those who need discipline for non-attendance. How do you even tell who is and who isn't there?

Third, what about mutual accountability and loneliness? Church is a place for the downtrodden, the low in society, the depressed, the socially awkward, etc. The kingdom of God is for such as these. How are people to form godly relationships, to be 'forced' out of their little shells into loving mutual accountability and to find loving support in such a massive crowd environment.

Fourth, what about the problem of the biblicists? Big churches attract wackos who've been punted or moved from church to church. Most big churches employ the use of 'house groups' to solve the relationship problem I mentioned in my third point. During these house groups, any Charles Manson with a Life Application Study Bible can voice his heretical/biblicist views.

Fifth, big churches create celebrity pastors. If I see another pastor on TV with a radio mike in his ear and fake tan rubbed around his surgically enhanced jowl's I'm going to, in true Elisha style, pray for some angry bears. I'll also pray for locusts and point them to the glossy church magazines. Large crowds feed the celebrity aspirations of many pastors and church becomes all about their 'performance' rather than a place where the saints are fed with the body and blood of the risen Christ.

In my opinion, churches start to lose their intimacy and ability to function effectively when the congregation reaches between 200-250. Imagine a church that planted another church every time the roll reached 200! I'd much rather have a city with 30 churches of 200 people than one with a mega church of 6000.

Monday, 2 March 2009

N.T Wright and the New Perspective on Paul

This is a great discussion where Guy Prentiss Waters critically analyses N.T Wright's latest work on justification. If you're needing a wee introduction to Wright, this is a good place to go.

HT: Darryl G. Hart

D.A Carson and Mark Dever

I dig Don Carson. I don't think I've ever heard a better exegete in the pulpit. At New Word Alive 2008, his talks on 1 John were remarkable. Time and again, his writings have conveyed the sane voice of God to many in troubled theological waters. Anyway, he's been interviewed here by Mark Dever (pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church Washington DC). It's really worth a listen.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Confessional Outhouse and John Piper

Seems that Restless and Reforming has been offered a toilet roll over at the Confessional Outhouse. In the true spirit of mutual back slapping, I'd like to point readers of RandR to an excellent and thought provoking post by Zrim (Steve Zrimec - he is freakishly articulate and his posts/comments regularly make me laugh out loud). Time and again the Outhouse guys aren't afraid to gore evangelicalism's sacred cows with delicious cynicism and point us back to the comfort-giving lifestyle of word/sacrament simplicity. Click and read.

Clothes, Allegories and Imputation

The Bible's got a bit to say about clothes. What it says about them can serve to highlight the truth of the gospel; that's if we take the statements about clothes allegorically of course. And since allegorical interpretation is about as fashionable as the pope in leather chaps, I'm going to do it.

The book of Genesis for instance has a few things to say about clothes. Right at the beginning when Adam and Eve fall, we read, "the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves." (Gen. 3:7 NIV) Works-righteousness has a long history folks. Here, our sinning parents realise the mess of their situation and try and sort it out for themselves. Despite the Lord's curse upon humanity, look at the little gospel picture at the end of chapter 3, "The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them." (v21 NIV) A beast of some sort was obviously killed by the Lord so that it's skin could cover the nakedness of the man and woman. No matter what we do to 'bridge the gap', it won't suffice. It takes the Lord to provide the solution. Christ was killed so that his garments could cover our shameful nakedness. Put away your pathetic little works-righteousness fig-leaf garment making machine (how about that for allegory?!).

As we reach chapter 9 of Genesis, we come to the story of Noah. He was a picture of the baptised believer living in God's new creation (1 Peter 3:20-22). Wow! What comes next? Does Noah build a Bible College out of the ark wood? Does he found "New Creation Ministries"? Not exactly. "Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent." (v20, 21 ESV). He got drunk and naked instead. Noah was still a sinner, no matter what mighty acts the Lord had wrought in saving him. He still needed covered by God's grace. "Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness." (v24, ESV). We are constantly hearing about personal transformation or spiritual formation these days. It's as if that's what the Christian life is all about. It isn't. It's about sinners finding grace with God. And guess what? There isn't always a nice before and after picture. On our best days, we're still like Noah, disorientated and naked, needing a covering.

In Genesis 27, Jacob steals Esau's blessing by wearing his clothes. Isaac, due to poor eyesight, doubted whether it was Esau standing before him. "Then his father Isaac said to him, 'Come near and kiss me, my son.' So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, 'See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed!'" (Gen. 27:26, 27 ESV) Jacob gets Esau's blessing by wearing his clothes. That is a practical picture of the imputation of Christ's righteousness. We, rotten scoundrels, enter into the blessing of our brother Jesus by wearing his garments and giving off his aroma before our heavenly Father.

It's possible for us to wear Christ's garments because on the cross, he bore our nakedness. He was cursed and we are blessed and all because of God's sovereign holy love. Now, through baptism, we have clothed ourselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27) and hidden ourselves in him (Col. 3:1-3). Take heart. Your naked, ugly, sin ridden flesh is hidden by the clothes that are unspeakably beautiful in the sight of God. Blessed be the Lord.