Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Pilgrim Song

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labor night and day
To be a pilgrim.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 7 The Work of Christ

In chapter 5, Fesko focuses on the work of the eschatological Adam. Where the first Adam failed, the second Adam succeeded. He explains the problems introduced by the first Adam which need fixed by Christ:

First, he brought sin and death into the world by his one act of disobedience, which required the shedding of blood in sacrifice to make atonement for sin (Heb. 9:22). Second, there is still the unfinished work of the covenant, the work of the dominion mandate undergirded by obedience to God's commands, completing that labor and entering the eschatological rest of the seventh day. It is this twofold problem that requires resolution, and this is the work of the second or last Adam, Jesus Christ, who comes to remedy the failed work of the first Adam. (p138)

The rest of the chapter is an exploration as to how Christ completes the dominion mandate and the nature of his obedience.

The passages Fesko cites as speaking to Christ fulfilling the dominion mandate are 1 Cor. 15:18-20, 35-49 and the book of Revelation in general. During his explanation of Revelation, Fesko also cites Psalms and Isaiah:

In looking at the results of the consummated kingdom in the Psalms one reads that Christ will "have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!" (Ps. 72:8) Likewise the prophet Isaiah writes concerning Israel as God's servant, a reality that finds its ultimate significance in the work of Christ: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel: I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth" (Isa. 49:6;cf John 8:12) Clearly, Christ will fulfill the dominion mandate - he will produce offspring that bear his image, the image of God, and fill the new creation to the ends of the earth. The last Adam will extend the temple to the ends of the earth as well, the second aspect of the dominion mandate. (p142)

What a rich, biblical theological and covenantally rooted perspective on the work of Christ. The Reformers were finding echoes of Scripture in the writings of Paul well before Richard Hays' classic work.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Righteousness of God

Michael Bird notes that during the SBTS panel discussion reviewing N.T Wright's new book on justification, none of the panelists agreed on the meaning of the term "the righteousness of God".  This struck me too as I listened to the different views according to Schreiner, Seifrid and Vickers.  The discord seemed to, inadvertently IMO, concede advantage to N.T Wright's tight definition of the term as God's 'covenant faithfulness'.  I like this definition.  

For a start, it is by definition thoroughly covenantal and takes into account the single purpose of God to deal with sin, sinners and the sin damaged cosmos through Abraham's seed.  Second, this single plan of God gives one a sense of the meta-narrative of Scripture marching towards God's glorious conclusion.  The sovereign plan of God in Christ is the focus of all narrative.  (Why don't us Reformed guys like this?)  Thirdly, given that God's covenant is about righting wrongs, i.e. judging sin, justifying sinners, defeating evil, restoring the cosmos, "the righteousness of God", when defined as "covenant faithfulness" is still thoroughly forensic as it denotes a thoroughly forensic covenant.  It can and should protect the doctrine of justification sola fide.  Fourth, the sheer scope of the definition of the covenant answers a lot of the evangelical/western individualism that the Reformed community are rightly anxious to counteract.  If the covenant is about dealing with sin, sinners and the cosmos, then surely all the "me and my personal experience of Jesus" stuff gets drowned in the utter magnitude of this covenantal tidal wave?

Through this definition, the imputation of Christ's righteousness need not be abandoned but can be understood even more clearly.  If God's covenant faithfulness accomplishes the righting of wrongs through the faithfulness of the last Adam/Israel, then this highlights even further that Christ accomplished by his works what Adam and Israel failed to do.  

Maybe NTW, Dunn and Kaesemann have given us a tight exegetical answer to the question posed by "the righteousness of God".  Maybe they haven't, I'm not too sure.  

Now if NTW could just sort out his understanding of justification.  Schreiner is absolutely correct to state that he didn't manage to answer the question Piper posed in his book, i.e. how does Wright's view of final justification according to works, while being justified by faith in the present actually fit?  How does it work?  I've read a large chunk of Wright's book, and I still see no answers.  Maybe he doesn't know himself?!  Whatever way it works, it sure doesn't sound like (the) good news.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 6 The Covenant of Works

Fesko begins chapter 4 by stating:

Foundational to any understanding of the doctrine of justification is the work of Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection and its application in justification, or redemption accomplished and applied. One cannot begin, however, with the work of Christ. Paul calls Christ the eschatological Adam (1 Cor. 15:45); additionally, Paul states that Adam is a type of the one to come (Rom. 5:14). The connection between the two Adams means that one must begin with the work of the first Adam before one can appreciate and understand the work of the last Adam…The (Westminster) divines write: “The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience” (WCF 7.2) (p107)

Fesko spends some time arguing that Genesis 1-3 provides ample evidence that Adam was in a covenant with God, despite absence of the word itself. For instance, the creation narrative mentions nothing about a covenant when God creates day and night. Yet in Jeremiah 33:20-21 we read, “If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers.” (ESV) Further evidence is marshalled, including the presence of God’s hovering Spirit:

In other covenantal contexts, the Holy Spirit is present as a witness to God’s covenantal activity: the exodus, baptism of Christ, and the consummation (p113)

After gathering evidence from Genesis 6:18, Hosea 6:7 and Romans 5:12-19, Fesko moves on to discuss the substance of the covenant of works. Interestingly, Fesko sees Adam as an archetypal Levite and the Garden as an archetypal temple. Inside the garden, there was order, outside disorder. Adam’s work was:

(1) multiply the image of God through procreation; (2) fill the earth with the image of God and expand the garden-temple to fill the earth – to bring the garden-order to the earth where there was no order – to subdue the earth; and (3) expand his vice regency throughout the whole earth by having men, made in God’s image, rule over the entire creation. (p124)

The Sabbath rest was a pointer to the fact that Adam’s state in the garden was not to be permanent and that, had Adam fulfilled the obligations of the covenant, he would have eaten of the tree of life and entered into a glorified state.

Fesko takes issue with critics of the term ‘covenant of works’ (including John Murray and anachronistically John Calvin) and sides with John Owen who maintain the need of the doctrine to protect the absolute necessity of Christ’s saving work.

Further, maintaining that works could justify Adam before the fall necessitates that works are totally excluded from justification after the fall. The only one who could be justified by works is Christ himself, who fulfilled Adam’s creation mandate. He was justified by works so that we could be justified by grace. How so?

Well, it's clear from Romans 5:12 that Adam represented not only himself but also all who were ‘in him’; Adam’s guilt was imputed to his descendants. Therefore, in like manner, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to his descendants. More on this in chapter 5.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Phillip Jensen

Bookmark it, link it, read it, listen to it. Hot diggity, it's phillipjensen.com. Phillip Jensen is Dean of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and has got to be one of Australia's greatest Bible teachers. He wrote the best book I ever read on guidance and is a church planter extraordinaire. He's got guts too, regularly taking on the Anglican establishment, not to mention his face to face opposition of the Kansas City Prophets all those years back. Theologically, he's predestinarian and (I think) Amyraldian. Well worth your time and attention.

HT: Gordon Cheng

Schreiner, Vickers, Burk and Seifrid respond to Wright

You can find info here

HT: John Thomson

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Restless...

Vows are spoken
To be broken
Feelings are intense
Words are trivial
Pleasures remain
So does the pain
Words are meaningless
And forgettable

Enjoy the Silence.
Depeche Mode

Been thinking in particular about the last two lines above today... given that my whole occupation comes down to words words and more words. And given that I am now looking for a job as a holy wordsmith I'm wondering what the game is really all about.

When people find out what I do for a living conversation often quickly gets round to the topic of change. It seems to be a basic assumption that ministers introduce change to congregations. I held to that assumption for most of my training. I have several draft memos filed away... strategies for change.

Maybe I'm just tired. Or restless. But today I'm thinking that the only thing I have to offer is words. That might be a change in itself.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Inward Looking Soteriologies and N.T Wright

I am reading NTW's latest book on justification in parallel with Fesko's majestic tome. His writing style is sensational, no doubt about it. The delightful ease with which you pour through his pages kind of hooks you into his arguments before he's even made them. He possesses a remarkable ability to politely make his critics look really stupid. On page 9 he states:

I am not, in other words, simply appealing to my critics to allow my peculiar interpretations of St Paul some house room, or at least permission to inhabit a kennel in the back yard where my barks and yaps may not be such a nuisance. I am suggesting that the theology of St Paul, the whole theology of St Paul rather than the truncated and self-centred readings which have become endemic in Western thought, the towering and majestic theology of St Paul which, when you even glimpse it, dazzles you like the morning sun rising over the sea, is urgently needed as the church faces the tasks of mission in tomorrow's dangerous world, and is not well served by the inward-looking soteriologies that tangle themselves up in a web of detached texts and secondary theories...

At first read you might think, ouch! Inward looking soteriolgies, secondary theories, ooh that hurts. Maybe us Reformed guys need to listen to our critics and take some bad medicine. But think about it, we've heard this kind of thing before have we not? i.e. "There's a dying world out there. Let's kick our petty doctrinal naval gazing to the kerb and focus on evangelism."

Liberals have been doing that kind of thing for years in an effort to shut up conservatives regarding 'offensive' doctrines. Yes there is a dying world, but does that mean we should all get together and approach the dying with a band aid and a cup of tepid water instead of a few going out with a life-support machine and the strong wine of the gospel?

While I have massive respect for NTW, I simply cannot understand why he seems to punch those who should be his friends and puts his arm round those he should punch. For instance, he'll endorse a Steve Chalke book while battering the good guys at Oakhill for publishing a concerned response. And, worryingly, he'll happily have Brian McLaren or Rob Bell endorse his latest book. Eh? Maybe a bit more doctrinal/soteriological naval gazing is required on his part if he's happy to have these dudes on his cover. It's kind of like asking Jeffrey Dahmer to endorse your fine cookery book, because after all, food connoisseurs of all types need to get together and help fine cuisine endure the credit crunch.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Priceless

Compare this site with Carl Trueman's review .

Mark Driscoll is a client of Docent.

How very very strange... "Would the true Reformed evangelicals in the room please stand up..."

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Parky on Jade Goody

Michael Parkinson says some hard-hitting things about Jade Goody.

Conspiracy and Currency

Conspiracy theorists/dispies will love this. I'll need to consult my 'Left Behind' series to see if this is a harbinger for the mark of the beast.

What to do with the TNIV

The relatively poor sales of the TNIV have been documented elsewhere. Now while these figures may be skewed (e.g. sales on Amazon are not accounted for), as a regular reader of this fine translation, I am somewhat troubled by this. The TNIV needs a re-launch and a re-brand. Here's what I'd recommend Zondervan do FWIW:

1. Scrap the name TNIV. It's almost a 'soiled' trademark to some and needs ditched. Wayne Leman suggested (in the comments section of the above link) that it be called the NIVu (u - updated), rather in the same spirit of the NLTse (second edition). I like that.

2. Scrap the NIV. Just stop making them. Put full weight behind the NIVu.

3. Give it a radical translational make-over. Be more free in some parts and more literal in others, like a gender-accurate HCSB. For example, on the literal side, change "sinful-nature" to "flesh" every time it occurs in the TNIV; change Romans 1:5 to "obedient faith"; change John 17:6 to "I have revealed your name"; change John 17:11 from "protect them by the power of your name" to "keep them faithful to your name"; change 1 Timothy 3:17 from "all God's people" to "the servant of God"; change 1 Kings 18:27 from "busy" to "relieving himself".

On the free-er side change Romans 3:25 from "sacrifice of atonement" to "wrath bearing sacrifice"; include verse 21 with the rest of Ephesians 5:18-20 (like the NLTse); change Matthew 6:9 from "hallowed be your name" to "may your name be regarded as holy"; change "LORD Almighty" to "LORD of heaven's armies" or "Yahweh over heaven's armies" everywhere in the OT.

4. Have mouthwatering editions for pastors/bible-geeks. Stop producing mainly crappy kiddy/teenager versions. Make them so beautiful that pastors have GOT to have one (ooh forbidden fruit). Have various quality bindings like goatskin, calfskin, pigskin, deerskin, etc. Use quality paper with minimal bleed through. Don't do red-letter editions; they are theologically suspect and horrible to look at. Have wide margins, single column setting with a sans-serif font; oh and do have smith sewn pages. In fact, Zondervan could do no better than appoint J.Mark Bertrand as head of production quality.

5. Produce a new study edition. Forget the old NIV/TNIV Study Bibles. Produce an NIVu Study Bible. Get D.A Carson to head this up (he doesn't like study bibles - tell him he has full control of notes). Failing Carson, Doug Moo would be the man. Assemble a dream team of scholars and produce a study bible that will blow the rest out of the water.

6. Re-record the Bible Experience in the new translation and offer it as a dirt cheap download (e.g. $10). The B.E is the greatest Bible recording ever. If they re-make it as a cheap download, the amount of people potentially exposed to the NIVu will be massive.

7. Have a decent web-service. Commit some people to managing a blog devoted to the NIVu. Don't let it get into a state of dis-use like previous TNIV offerings.

8. Find the most conservative pastors/teachers who like the NIVu and get them to promote it. Make detalied promo videos involving these guys. I'm thinking Keller, Carson, Stott, etc. Get the hearts of the pastors and the sheep will follow.

9. Seek wide consultation for translation changes. Invite the TNIV/NIV's most prominent critics on-board for translation suggestions. For example, N.T Wright isn't exactly a fan. Ask him for his input.

I am neither a marketer, nor the son of a marketer, but these suggestions are hardly rocket science.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Owen's challenge to the Universalist

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight:

“If the LORD should mark iniquities, who should stand?” Psalm 130:3. We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty,” Isaiah 2:20, 21.

If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.

If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief, they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will.

From Chapter 3, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ(1647) John Owen


The logic that Owen expresses above might explain why I have yet to read a universalist theory of the atonement that is also penal and/or substitutionary.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Questions

I need an answer to the following questions before tomorrow evening:

Why should we follow a king who rides on a donkey to his death? Could anything be less cool than that? Could anything be more ridiculous than that? That’s what Jesus did, and he expected that his followers would live similar uncool ridiculous lives.

How do you sell that to non-followers, to non-Christians, especially men?

Weird

I had a weird experience today when I saw an old man in Glasgow city centre preaching the gospel while two young associates handed out tracts. It seemed like a blast from the past. In this super tolerant (neo-fascist) age in which we live, it was almost bizarre to hear a preacher publicly challenging passers-by on matters of eternity. So I decided to speak to him and encourage him.

"What church are you from?" I asked.

"We're not from any church. We meet in my living room." he replied. (Cue alarm bells) "Just make sure you stay away from these happy clappy churches."

"Yes, they encourage emotionalism as opposed to true spirituality." I remarked.

"Worse than that." he replied. "A young man approached me this week. He said he'd been to Church X (name blanked out) and that they'd laid their hands on him to receive the gifts of the Spirit. Since having this experience, he'd started hearing voices in his head. The voices were telling him to cut his wrists. He pulled back these fluffy wrist bands and showed me his scarred wrists. I told him he had a demon. When he asked me to cast it out, I told him I didn't possess apostolic power and could only pray for him. I told him to leave the charismatic church and find a good one."

Maybe having church in his own living room isn't so crazy after all!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Santification and Apostasy

A typical shot fired at Calvinists by Arminians relates to how the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints provides any motivation for holiness. If a saint is guaranteed heaven, they ask, then what is the point in struggling against the world, the flesh and the devil in pursuing a life of holiness? Isn't it rather more conducive to holiness to warn a saint that he or she must continue in a life of godliness or they will forfeit their salvation and suffer eternal destruction? Surely it's much better to state that we won't be eternally secure until we're secure in eternity? Charles Wesley thought this way. He wrote a hymn, formerly listed in the Methodist hymn book under 'For Believers Watching', which contains the following:

Lord with trembling I confess,
A gracious soul can fall from grace;
The salt can lose its seasoning power,
And never, never find it more.

Lest that my fearful case should be,
Each moment knit my soul to thee;
And lead me to the mount above,
Through the low vale of humble love.

What a rotten hymn. I'm glad the Methodists had the sense to ditch it. Wesley's words betray a piety motivated by craven fear and works/righteousness. It's this craven fear piety that many Arminians believe is essential to sanctification.

One of the classic Arminian errors is pointing to the warning passages in Hebrews as examples of true believers committing apostasy. My contention is that although the biblical writers do indeed wax darkly lyrical about the terrible fate of those who fall away, they always return to the fact that those to whom they write have been saved by grace and will persevere to the end.

I'll give a couple of examples from Hebrews. Chapter 6 is to the Arminian what Romans 9 is to the Calvinist. It's the typical Arminian proof-text:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (6:4-8 TNIV)

"There you are" yells the Arminian, desperately trying to control his excited bladder, "True believers can fall away." I'm sorry, well maybe I'm not sorry, but this passage teaches nothing of the sort. Read on to the next verse and we find the author stating:

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. (TNIV)

The spiritual experiences of verses 4-8 did not have anything to do with salvation. It's possible to experience genuine spiritual power and not know Christ. Look at Saul, Balaam and Caiaphas prophesying for instance. So the author is saying something like "There are some who taste the goodness of the Spirit when they hear the word preached and take the sacraments, but they're not saved because they don't continue to believe; you on the other hand have persevered in faith."

Furthermore in chapter 10 verse 37, 38 we read:

"In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay." And, "But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back." (TNIV)

Yet before you excitedly spoil another undergarment, Mr Arminius, read verse 39.

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (TNIV)

In other words, God is unhappy at the one who doesn't persevere in FAITH. "Yet Hebrews, you still believe because you are saved" encourages the writer. The author to the Hebrews is beginning to sound like Calvin. Especially when he says:

We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold firmly till the end our original conviction. (3:14 TNIV)

I'm claiming Hebrews dude for our team. He can have a cool beer over at the White Horse Inn while the Arminians spend time examining their souls reading William Law.

What's my point in citing these verses and being quite mean to Arminians in the process? The point is that when the Biblical writers encourage the saints to persevere in holiness they are first and foremost encouraging Christians to continue in FAITH. They're not saying first and foremost to continue in quiet times or sexual purity or whatever. As good as these things are they should not be the focus of our piety. The author to the Hebrews is banging on about persevering in faith. Continue feeding on Christ he says. Don't neglect meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, because by doing so, they miss out on their faith meal of word and sacrament.

Only by holding to faith in Christ does holiness flourish. Indeed, without faith, it is impossible to please the Lord. You can pray, meditate and witness with an evil heart of unbelief. You can do it all to establish a righteousness outside of Christ. Don't let go of the gospel, only false converts do that.

The Perseverence of the Saints was never meant to mean the "Preservation of the unrepentant". Those who asked Jesus into thier hearts, walked an isle, signed a card, yet still believe that wilful sin is acceptable are not saved. You however...

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Evangelicals and Protestants should be pariahs

I got given a book by one of my friends very recently, Papers of a Pariah. It is a collection of essays and papers written by Robert Hugh Benson, a rather strange turn of the 20th century fellow. Benson's story is becoming more and more familiar to me. Benson went from being Protestant (Anglican) to being Roman Catholic. He died as a monsignor.

There has been a steady trickle of high profile Protestant conversions to the Roman Catholic Church. Read about some of them here. Tony Blair is a more obvious example for those of us in the UK. All this along with the attraction of Eastern Orthodoxy among tired and disillusioned evangelicals. It's worth asking: what is actually going on?

Two general thoughts.

Protestantism in general, and evangelicalism in particular, lack coherence. Whether doctrinal or intellectual coherence, or emotional and aesthetic coherence, or the coherence that comes from a sense of common heritage and identity, being Protestant or evangelical doesn't mean anything any more. I doubt few people outside of Northern Ireland and West Central Scotland describe themselves as Protestant these days. And if it means anything, being evangelical simply means being a fundamentalist nutter who gets animated about evolution and the wrong kind of sex. But even those subjects now fail to distinguish the evangelicals at your dinner party from the crowd.

Protestantism in general, and evangelicalism in particular, lack credible ecclesiologies. Take as an illustration the recent Dever Baptism Debate. Reformed and evangelical commentators exploded in outrage at Dever's statement of an historic Baptist position i.e. people who baptise infants sin in that belief and practice. Only people with no concept of the church as an organised and ordered society of Christian people would be offended by Dever's position. As disillusioned Protestants and evangelicals think through where they belong, only the older traditions offer the appearance of a solid house in which to pray.

People - whether they are high profile or not - want to belong to something that is bigger and better and longer lasting than themselves. Problem as I see it is that followers of Jesus are called to be pariahs. It's not simply that we are to identify with the poor and the marginalised. In this world we are the poor and the marginalised. If we don't feel that way then there is something wrong. If we don't feel that Matthew chapter 5:1-11 describes us then we have a stunted understanding of the gospel. That's why protestants and evangelicals are in culture shock. We've failed to embrace our pariah pilgrim status.