Saturday, 23 January 2010

when local government attacks the faith

Andy Hunter has an excellent article regarding the treatment of Bridget McConnell, the head of Culture & Sport in Glasgow and head of the department which helped fund the controversial MOMA exhibition that included an invitation for gay people, who felt excluded by Scripture, to record their names in the margins of an open bible. As you can imagine, some of the name recording turned into vitriolic comments against Christianity. Unfortunately, some Christians have responded by sending Bridget McConnell "hate mail" (you get the impression she is loving the publicity). Andy explains why this approach is stupid to say the least.

Would a healthy dose of two kingdom theology save Christians from such madness? I dare say it would.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

american missionaries in scotland

David Robertson has advice for prospective missionaries coming from America to 'bring revival to Scotland':
Avoid the danger of Romanticism. Scotland is not the land of Mel Gibson, Brigadoon, quaint wee redheaded Highland lasses, Eric Liddell running in the Glens and John Knox preaching in the pulpits! Equally Scots going over to America sometimes get the 'grass is always greener on the other side of the fence' syndrome. To be in large churches, with extensive programs and great wealth, who also seem to be making a significant impact upon their community - that is quite an experience and one which sometimes leaves the Scot feeling a) inferior and b) thinking ‘this is it. This is the way God wants us to work'. The result is that some of us come back with the notion that the Americanisation of the Church will be its salvation. That is patently not true. Likewise American missionaries who come over here thinking that all Scotland needs for revival is for things to be done the way they are back home, will not get very far. Having that attitude will do a great deal of harm - not least by causing an opposite reaction whereby anything new is seen as American and thus de facto to be rejected. Cultural sensitivity is a basic requirement for any missionary.
Give it a read.
HT: Iain D. Campbell

Monday, 18 January 2010

john thomson reads meyer

My good friend John Thomson is finding interesting stuff in Jason C. Meyer's The End of the Law. Another book on my "to read" list.

paedobaptism in 1 corinthians 10

I've been thinking through paedobaptism (pb) recently and am currently reading The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, edited by Gregg Strawbridge. I'll post one or two thoughts on the book in due course. It's a topic that has consumed me for the last 5 years or so. Some days I think I'm convinced and other days not. Sorting this one out is on my 'to do' list this year. One interesting proof-text used by paedobaptists is 1 Corinthians 10:1, 2:
For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea..
In this typological baptism, all Israel were baptized into Moses as they passed through the Red Sea. That's all Israel; men, women, children and babies. (I also heard it said that the only example of baptism by immersion here was the Egyptian soldiers drowning!) An interesting passage, and probably one of the strongest arguments for pb.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

ezra and observance of the law

I came across this little gem in my signed copy (gush!) of D.A. Carson's adaption of the McCheyne readings, For the Love of God, Volume 2:
Ezra devoted himself to the observance of the Law. For some people, study is an end in itself, or perhaps a means to the end of teaching. But even though the subject matter is Scripture, for these people there is no personal commitment to living under its precepts - to ordering their marriage, their finances, their talk, their priorities, their values, by the Word of God. They do not constantly ask how the assumptions of their age and culture, assumptions that all of us pick up unawares, are challenged by Scripture. The study of Scripture, for such people, is an excellent intellectual discipline, but not a persistent call to worship; the Bible is to be mastered like a textbook, but it does not call the people of God to tremble; its truths are to be cherished, but it does not mediate the presence of God. Ezra avoided all these traps and devoted himself to observing what Scripture says. (January 7)

Friday, 8 January 2010

word-faith craziness

HT: Mockingbird

was the mosaic law gracious? - part 2

It would be dishonest of me to say, after the last post critique-ing Doug Wilson's views on the character of the Mosaic Law, that I don't have questions about the law as a covenant of works. These are:

First, how could Zechariah and Elizabeth walk blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord (Luke 1:6 ESV)? I thought the law was un-keepable?

Second, it says in Deuteronomy 30, in relation to law-keeping:
11"For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 14But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (ESV)
Paul quotes this passage in Romans 10 in relation to the simplicity of trusting Christ. How does this fit?

In the earlier post, I quoted some Scriptures that I believe drive a truck through Doug's system. Perhaps the texts I've offered in this blog post drive a truck through mine, perhaps not. In situations like these, what we have to do is work out whether we've understood the texts or whether our systems need tweaking to bring them into line with Scriptural truth. I'd be interested in feedback.

was the mosaic law gracious?

I've been trying to do a (very) wee bit of reading up on the Federal Vision (FV) controversy recently in order to understand the issues. In so doing, I came across this quote by Doug Wilson, a big player in the FV conversation, in describing the Mosaic Law during his dialogue with interlocutor Lane Keister (aka Green Baggins):
For the regenerate heart, it is all grace, nothing but grace, grace from top to bottom. All God's words, all God's intentions, all God's promises. For the unregenerate, it is all demand, all law, all "do this and live." Now, who understands God and His Word rightly? And who distorts it? Correct, the regenerate man understands it all correctly. But God anticipates and uses the incorrect understanding, and He uses it to bring people to Himself. The Law works them over, and Christ saves them.
Elsewhere, Doug quoting the WCF in support for his views says:
"This covenant [of grace -- DW] was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament "(WCF 7.5).

An OT Israelite who did not have the faith of Abraham was abusing the covenant of grace. He belonged to the covenant of grace, so that if he did not have evangelical faith, this meant that he was a covenant breaker.
He makes some interesting points about the Mosaic Law, but I'm unsure that his arguments prove that the Mosaic Law was a gracious covenant. Let me tentatively offer reasons for my doubts:

Firstly, it's interesting to note in WCF 7.5 that there is no mention of the covenant of grace being administered through moral commands. It seems that the covenant of grace is administered through the types, prophesies and promises of the law. How is the covenant of grace administered through, for instance, "the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name"?

Secondly, and related to the above, surely the fact that there are gracious elements to the Mosaic Law (i.e. pointers to Christ) does not nullify the fact that the over-arching covenantal structure is one of works, i.e. "do this and live"?

Third, perhaps the works principle of Moses was related to the continuance of Israel in the promised land and referred to temporal blessings in order to highlight gospel truth? The works principle demonstrated that there was none righteous (no not one!) and that salvation was always through faith alone. The law was a school master, showing Israel (and thus the world) of the need for Christ. So for instance, even Moses failed to enter the promised land (despite the fact that we know he will enter the heavenly Jerusalem). If even this giant failed to keep the ordinances of the law, it is no wonder that the land vomited Israel into exile.

Fourth, if Moses is gracious to the regenerate man, why does Paul say that "the law is not of faith" (Gal. 3:12)? Note, Paul doesn't say that the law is abused by the unbelieving. The law itself is not of faith. IMHO, I've yet to read a NPP/FV advocate who knows what to do with that verse.

Fifth, if Moses is gracious to the regenerate man, why does Peter describe him as "a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear" (Acts 15:10 ESV)? Could the experience described here (i.e. of the godly under Moses prior to the eschatological Spirit) provide interpretation to that described in Romans 7? I suspect so.

Doubtless there are some holes in my arguments here and there, and I, for my profound thickness, cannot see them. Yet, with this disclaimer in place, I can't see past the above. The issues are weighty and deserve careful pondering.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

office hours - rsc takes centre stage

Now I'm back at work I'm again listening to podcasts on my commute. Today I listened to the second from last offering from the faculty at WSC where the tables were turned on regular host R. Scott Clark. Mike Horton interviewed RSC in a fascinating discussion. I'd rate this one my joint favourite so far (along with the Mike Horton interview). RSC's passion for the gospel and the Reformed faith shines through as he discusses why history is important to doing theology, why the church isn't merely a gathering of people who love Jesus and why modern notions of "spiritual" are more Gnostic than biblical. Give it a listen.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

justification and union with Christ

In the past I have explored the relationship between justification and union with Christ. There has been a healthy debate between faculty members of WSC and WTS as to which doctrine has theological priority. For instance, R. Scott Clark argues for justification in response to a video by WTS prof Lane Tipton.

I mentioned yesterday that in the latest Confessional Presbyterian Journal, Richard B. Gaffin Jr. reviews Cornelius P. Venema's revised/updated doctoral dissertation Accepted and Renewed in Christ. The "Twofold Grace of God" and the Interpretation of Calvin's Theology. I mentioned that while Gaffin generally appreciated the work, he did have some quibbles.

One of Gaffin's concerns relates to how Venema places union with Christ within Calvin's soteriology. He says:
Where one might most expect an accent on union, however, it is missing. So for instance, the Summary (148-149) to the (important and helpful) chapter on the relation of justification and sanctification states that "these two aspects of God's grace in Christ...remain inseperably joined by virtue of their common foundation in Christ's redemptive work through the power of the Spirit." That, of course, is true as far as it goes. But for Calvin, especially by way of summary, it is true only as union with Christ is indispensable for mediating that common foundation and only as the inseperability involved exists as an integral consequence of that union; justification and sanctification (in its initiation and continuation) are inseperable (as well as distinct) only as they are, coordinately, the immediate fruit of union. (p272)
Gaffin quotes the following from Calvin as support for this statement:
...we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us. (3:1:1, quoted p273)
A powerful quote indeed and at first glance seems to back up Gaffin's thesis. Yet the arguments are complex and worth ploughing through. Did Calvin hold to this? This interchange between Gaffin and J.V Fesko (of WTS and WSC resp.) will provide further food for thought.

evangelistic services?

My former co-blogger and considerably-older-than-me-friend Donald Ferguson has launched a new blog A Diet of Worms. Donald is a teacher in a Glasgow secondary school (thus he believes in purgatory of sorts) and knows more theology/bible than most in vocational ministry! Theologically, Donald is baptistic and soteriologically Reformed. His latest post is a belter and asks the question as to whether evangelistic services on the Lord's Day are biblical.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

new year resolutions

If I was the type of bloke to do new year resolutions (I'm not), I'd set myself up for a fall by perhaps resolving:
  • to post shorter articles on the blog
  • to cultivate and exibit humility
  • to know my own limitations as a reader and blogger
  • to reign in my martial impulses
  • to avoid "ready, shoot, aim" blogging, i.e. make sure I understand an argument before I criticise it
  • (related to the above) to be less dogmatic on an issue if I've only read one side of the argument (even if that argument seems compelling)
  • to listen a lot more to "balanced" Christian leaders e.g. John Stott, John Frame, D.A. Carson
  • to avoid unnecessary alienating rhetoric
  • to avoid reactionary theology, i.e. just because I let go of a former cherished belief, don't swing too far in the opposite direction
  • to stop eating rubbish (I mean sugary foods - not refuse)
  • to exercise more
  • to sleep more
  • to be more patient with my children
  • to read more bible
  • to memorise more bible
  • to find a job less draining than (maths) teaching
Thankfully, I'm not in the resolution business.

justification and the double grace

Previously, I've discussed issues surrounding the controversial doctrine named by John Murray as "definitive sanctification." Well, I've come across a related Calvin quote.

In the latest volume of the, superb, Confessional Presbyterian Journal, Richard B. Gaffin Jr. reviews Cornelius P. Venema's revised/updated doctoral dissertation Accepted and Renewed in Christ. The "Twofold Grace of God" and the Interpretation of Calvin's Theology. On the whole, Gaffin commends the work as an aid to better understanding Calvin. Yet he has some quibbles.

One of his concerns is that Venema is "not entirely clear" (p270) whether Calvin considers "justification to be the cause of sanctification". (p270) Then Gaffin offers the following quote from Calvin's institutes:
Christ was given to us by God's generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ's blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by his Spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life. (Battles translation, 1:725 - quoted p271)
Gaffin notes that in this quote, not only reconciliation (here equivalent to justification) but also sanctification is definitive and settled. While Calvin no doubt regularly treats sanctification (regeneration) as an on-going, life-long process in the believer, here it appears to be otherwise. (p271)

Interesting stuff. Did Calvin articulate "definitive sanctification" before John Murray coined the phrase? Gaffin's argument seems to carry some weight.

Tomorrow I'll post some stuff on justification and union with Christ from the Gaffin review.