Thursday, November 27, 2008

Psalm 138

Giving thanks before God involves acknowledging His goodness and humbling ourselves.

It is interesting that this Psalm begins right after Psalm 138 where the people of God were exiled in Babylon. Since it is a Psalm of David, we can be sure this psalm was written first. But the tenor of the Psalm of David would have been a helpful reminder to give thanks to God despite their suffering in the exile. Note these features:

  • Verse 1, David is willing to give thanks to the LORD before other gods. Israel would need encouragement in Babylon when she was surrounded by idols.
  • Verse 3, David remembers how God remembered Him. Israel would need the same encouragement in her exile when she felt like God abandoned her.
  • Verse 4-5, Hits at God’s purposes for His glory. David knew that God would bring the nations to worship the true God. This would be a powerful reminder to Israel in the exile.
  • Verse 7, there are obvious encouragements to Israel as she too is in trouble and looks for God to judge her enemies. Here we think of Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s great pronouncements against Babylon.
  • Verse 8, David expresses confidence that God would fulfill His purposes with David and His house. This would have been hard for Israel to see when she has no king on the throne, indeed no royal city.

This is not the place to get into the structure of the psalter, but suffice it to say, many scholars feel that it has an eschatological bent to it and its structure may parallel the history of Israel in some limited degree. In short, the Psalter has a theological and doxological structure.

In this Psalm David comes before the Lord and gives thanks to Him.

1) David comes before God to give thanks with His whole heart, bowing before God.

Psalm 138:1-2 Psalm 138:1 OF DAVID. I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; 2 I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.

a) When David was alive the temple was not yet built. This could be David bowing towards the tabernacle or towards God’s heavenly temple. We might also be reminded of how during the exile Daniel bowed towards Jerusalem, God’s city.

b) Notice that David bows down before the Lord, which is important in light of verse 6 and what David says about humility.

c) David is specific in His thanksgiving. He gives thanks for who things: God’s covenant love (hesed) and God’s faithfulness/truth. In Psalm 136, we have that refrain “your lovingkindness (hesed) endures forever. This is an important Biblical word which denotes God’s love and faithfulness to keep His word, particularly used to describe God’s loyal love in keeping the covenant. Of course, Israel in exile (Psalm 137, Psalm 89) would have lost site of this on an almost daily basis as she faced untold pressures of living far from the promised land.

d) David bows precisely because God is exalted. When I recognize the majesty and glory of God my true response is to humble myself. I cannot come before the Lord in thanksgiving if I am not willing to bend my new. I will never delight in God so long as I am unable to lower myself before Him. What does John the Baptist say: I must decrease so that He might increase.

2) David knows the power of God upon the soul when God answers our prayers.
Psalm 138:3 3 On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.
a) In thanksgiving David acknowledges how God keeps His Word to Him. David was answer. We are not given the specifics of the request but it does not take long at looking at David’s life to realize how often the Lord protected David. The Lord did not abandon David, but caused His faith to shine upon Him.

b) God answering us brings strength to our soul. Anyone who has labored in prayer and been worried in prayer before God about a particular situation knows the sweet release and strength that comes when the request is answered.

3) David acknowledges God’s missional purposes for God’s own glory.
Psalm 138:4-5 4 All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth, 5 and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.
a) It is not, at the end of the day, only David or Israel who will give thanks to God. Rather, David is given thanks when surrounded by foreign gods but David envisions the defeat of these God’s and a multitude of kings coming before the Lord. The kings of the nations in the OT worshiped foreign gods. But one day they will come and worship the LORD having heard of God.

b) The kings will sing to the Lord. They will sing because of God’s great glory. God’s plan and purpose—His mission—is to cause His glory to fall over all creation. This is the great hope of the new heavens and the new earth. Isaiah and other prophets envision the nations streaming to Zion when God’s glory dwells there. So too, David is a prophet here.

4) David humbles Himself before God and resigns Himself to God’s plans.

a) David lowers Himself before the exalted God—but acknowledges that God’s great majesty causes Him to care about the lowly and humble.
Psalm 138:6 6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.
i) In our day, as in David’s day, the way to get noticed by a king, the boss or the head honcho is to make yourself stand out. You have to “sell” yourself. Puff up, look good. Make a good show. If you don’t act like you’re a ‘somebody’ you don’t get respect.

ii) It is the exact opposite with God. God “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”—He tries near to those who make themselves low.
Isaiah 57:15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Psalm 113:4 The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! 5 Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, 6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? 7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap,

James 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

iii) If we truly know who God is then we recognize that we cannot stand before Him and make ourselves a somebody. All we can do is bow and hold ourselves at the mercy of the court.

b) David knows God is with Him when His enemies are all around.

Psalm 138:7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.

i) God is to be thanked for how He preserves our life.

ii) He does this in two ways: (1) protecting us and (2) destroying that which threatens us.

c) David confesses that God will not cease to accomplish His purposes because God doesn’t abandon His lovingkindness or those in whom He is working.

Psalm 138:8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

i) David trusts that God will fulfill His purpose.

ii) God’s steadfast love, his bond of covenantal love does not break. When God is working to redeem His people, He does not set them aside or give up. The gospel of John tells us that Christ will raise up His people in the last day, and when the sheep are in His hand, no one can take them away.

5) Christotelic Reading

a) The way the God ultimately fulfills His purposes for David is in the Lord Jesus Christ—the Son of David. Like David, Jesus walks into the midst of troubles and yet God does not preserve Jesus’ life. He lets it get struck down. However, Jesus is delivered. In the resurrection He is raised up to defeat death and triumph. In the power of God on the cross, God stretches His hand against out enemies—the chief enemy which is death and Satan—the powers.

b) In this way, God keeps His promises of lovingkindness both to His Son Jesus and to His people. Kings themselves come before the Lord. In Acts—Paul proclaims the gospel to Festus. He eventually, according to Philippians, saw some in Caesar’s own household believe. Paul anticipates kings coming to the gospel:
1 Timothy 2:1-3 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,

c) Application:


i) We need to bow before the Lord this season as we thank God.

ii) We must not lose sight of God’s faithfulness when we go through troubles. This faithfulness extends to us through Christ in the gospel.

iii) In Christ, we find our prayers are answered. God may not answer a ‘yes’ to every individual prayer that you offer—but God’s plans, God’s promises are not thwarted. In fact, these are answer yes.

iv) God does not give up on you no matter how much you wander. God does not forsake you. Those who are truly His will not be lost. If you are wandering, if God seems distance the appeal is “return, repent”. The person cannot claim to be a Christian and wonder from God rebuking him and expect to get a fire insurance card. Yet from the true believer who does struggle with sin, and face person crises that stir up fear and doubt: trust God. Return to His loving arms. Humble yourself and acknowledge who He is.

v) This is a season of Thankgiving. Give thanks. Do not give thanks haphazardly. Give thanks with your whole heart. Ask Christ to improve your soul so that you might better give thanks. Meditate on the cross and all the good benefits that flow from it. Be rigorous in giving thanks.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Bible, Homosexuality and Honesty

Yesterday, Tony Jones pulled a comment out of his blog's combox and posted it as a representation of a comment that is a 'thoughtful comment that moves the conversation forward.' Here is an excerpt:

For our Bible says so crowd, I suspect you know your argument is completely flawed. I suspect you know dozens of behaviors condoned by the Bible that you do not accept (slavery & polygamy) and restriction you reject (women speaking in church & wearing clothing of mixed threads). I'm not sure why you would bother posting something so dishonest. You did not open the Bible and discover a revelation that homosexuality was wrong.

Here is my response that I actually posted:

RE: the second paragraph addressed to the "Bible says so crowd." What I would like to know is how is it "a thoughtful comment that truly adds to the conversation" to blatantly mock any interpretation of the Bible that finds the Bible prohibiting homosexual behavior? The comment sadly ignores the complexity of the argument by irresponsibly marshalling examples of slavery, polygamy, and prohibition for two kinds of threads as if this solves it. Those who argue that the Bible bindingly prohibits homosexuality are far more judicious in handling such difficulties than the person who uses such examples to flippantly and off-handedly dismiss far clearer statements in Scripture. I recognize a blog comment box isn't the best place to mount a full-scale exegesis of all the complex examples but neither is it the place for such cavalier and condescending dismissal. One has a responsibility to fairly represent one’s opponents even in the most rigorous of disagreements.

How is it not Pharisaical to claim to love open dialogue and conversation while openly assaulting one side as being intentionally and deliberately dishonest at the same time offering only little more than a haughty disregard of the position and counter arguments that they actually articulate? It is bearing false witness to call someone dishonest in one breadth and completely ignore their actual treatment of such issues in another. Physician heal thyself.

Let me add a few comments about the Biblical issues:

  • The Bible itself is clear with respect to which commands are binding to what degree. Only interpretation within the original context first and second taking into account all of Scripture should rule which commands are binding today. Scripture not me sets the parameters for if, when and how long a command is binding. So for example, some commands are clearly for the Old Covenant economy and/or a point at which the kingdom of God is coterminous with a national government. The commands regarding meat are clearly revoked under the New Covenant. The commands about corporal punishment enforced by stoning were clearly for a time although "do not murder" is still binding. However some commands and moral laws have not been rescinded, revoked or altered for the New Covenant. For example: commands to make sacrifices are clearly for the "shadow" not the ultimate reality of Christ ministering in the heavenly temple. Some commands are clearly symbols of purity (cloth with two threads) while others have stronger prohibitions of "abomination". Here is the thing: let the text tell you.

  • This follows with the obvious: we must exegete the Holiness code of Leviticus within its context. Obviously some of the purity codes are symbolic others however are not. Careful examination of the text in Leviticus and the whole of Scripture needs to cause us to be more judicious in how we weigh these--yet it is not done with mere slight of hand (as if often the case with pro-homosexual arguments).

  • Not all the commands and prohibitions convey the same seriousness of violation. So the codes in Leviticus 18 are clearly more severe and condemned as abominations before God. This is far more severe than other prohibitions regarding clothes, shell fish and other items. We cannot pick by preference what items are more severe than others, a Christian must let the text guide them in such determinations.

  • Just because other Bible passages rebuke a multitude of other sins at Sodom and Gomorrah does not entail an ignore or approval of their homosexuality. It is often cited from Ezekiel 16 especially vv. 46-59 that Sodom and Gomorrah's sin was their lack of hospitality and their luxuriant lifestyle (v.49). This fails on several levels--first Ezekiel is quite clear that this led to Sodom committing "abominations" before God (v.50). Abomination is clearly the word used to describe homosexual sin in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13--so Ezekiel in no way rules these things out. In fact, Ezekiel's point seems to be that arrogance, prosperity, abundant ease leads idle hands to engage in sexual revelry of the worst sorts. Second, logically, focus on a particular brand of sins without mentioning other kinds does not make for the absence of such sins. If one text mentions one kind of sin (e.g. homosexual behavior) and another mention another list (e.g. opulent living) this is no indication that both sins were not prominent. Even worse, focus on the latter set in one passage does not give us the right to deny the former went on and was condemned by God when another text is clear. Third, Ezekiel is clear that it was the gross abomination sins that Sodom was judged for (and now Israel was worse). Leviticus 18 is clear that it was the abominations that the Canaanites committed that left them judged and if Israel did the same she would be spewed out of the land too, which is precisely the situation in Ezekiel.

  • Describing certain behavior without announcing immediate consequences does not mean ultimately approving certain behavior. This should be obvious but it is sometimes overlooked. Reference to a sin, without specific reference to God's rebuke does not equal condoning it. For example: David had a harem. It doesn't mean God condones such activity.

  • God withholding judgment on divorce and polygamy in the Old Testament while increasing the ethical demand in the New Testament is not a paradigm for how we handle homosexuality. God's moves to a stricter kingdom ethic while pro-homosexual advocates champion the opposite with respect to God's prohibition of homosexuality.

  • Permitting a behavior under certain circumstances is not condoning it under all circumstances. Nor is permitting one behavior under some circumstances proof that a totally different behavior is permissible if the interpreter decide so willy-nilly. For example, Jesus says that God allowed divorce under the Old Covenant because of the hardness of the people's heart. It seems we could probably make the same case for polygamy too. Yet Jesus Himself goes to the "one flesh" principle of Genesis for marriage only between a man and a woman to make his argument for the sexual ethic of the kingdom.

  • It is well acknowledged that the Bible's permissiveness of slavery under certain circumstances is different than the history of slavery in the Western world. First, Biblical permissiveness of slavery no where approaches the racial enslavement and personal ownership without rights that we find in American history. Second, it is often noted that slavery in ancient Israel and in some cases in the Roman world was often more akin to indentured servanthood where the person had opportunities for freedom. For example, slaves could own property and buy their freedom. In this respect, culturally it is more akin to contracted employment than Western practices. (This is not of course to deny that the ancient world had its problems or that certain slaverholders in the Roman Empire and ancient Israel could not be abuse--in fact the Bible rebukes just such actions.) Third, William Wilberforce (in England), abolitionists in America, and countless others have made Biblical cases against slavery that did not involve a sort of trajectory hermeneutic. They rejected that the Bible condones owning human beings as property.

  • The highest command is to love God first and then your neighbor as yourself. You cannot trump love for God--and God's commands--with love for your neighbor. Indeed, you are not loving your neighbor if you condone their violation of God's commands.

  • The prohibitions of Paul in Romans 1, 1 Timothy 1:10 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 are clearly not simple because of Greco-Roman lusts in obscure circumstances (contra Peter J. Gomes). In other words, the prohibitions are not against certain types of homosexual relationships (e.g. abusive, with minors, etc.) but instead the prohibitions are against the very activity of homosexual relations. Clear detailed exegesis bears this out rather than flippant dismissal based upon presupposed contexts that have no textual weight.

  • The issue is not whether or not two individuals can have love but who gets to define what love is. Love is more than just emotion and passion. Love is not only sacrificial towards each other but towards God. I am sure many homosexual couples believe they can have sacrificial love towards each other and so they desire the right to enter marriage covenants. However, the issue for Christians is does the Bible define love or not? How does the Bible define homosexual behavior regardless of how people might profess to feel towards each other?

Given some of these lines of arguments, I would thank pro-homosexual advocates not to accuse my position of dishonestly handling Scripture. The irony is that for many so seeped in postmodernism, they do not see their arguments for what they are: powerplays. The rhetoric is a powerplay of the worst sort. It relabels and brands all opponents. It postulates moral superiority to argue one's case is morally superior. Tolerant indeed. To illustrate how far off key the pro-homosexual advocates go, lets just consider how the arguments are repainted as the commenter finishes on Tony Jones' blog:

The world is evolving out of this prejudice. Soon, we will look back at this as we know looked back on prohibitions against interracial marriage. Then, as now, people called the relationships unnatural and worried about the children. Then, as know [sic], there were many hateful bigots attacking people with wickedness in their hearts. But, then, as now, there were people genuinely concerned and worried for the fellow humans. I disagree strongly, but I respect the position.


First, how has my position been respected if I've been called a liar? Second, notice how the issues are repainted into civil rights issues. This is our "evolving perspective". It seems that ethics are not governed by a norm (namely what Scripture actually says) but the evolving conscience and consciousness of man.


There is a chronological snobbery here of the highest order--that as humanity moves along its perceptions and judgments are inherently better. No one will deny that prohibitions against interracial marriage are wrong. But what corrects us? Is it the change of perspective in a new generation? Hardly, for how can a new generation's change been seen as morally binding and even assured that the past conduct was reprehensible. Something beyond haughty superiority of a new major must serve as the basis. No one gets mad at the animal kingdom for its savagery when they believe we have evolved beyond such behavior. Everyone recognizes that a child matures in their understanding so that their accountability grows. Yet if our perspectives truly evolve, why such deploring of the less 'advanced' morals? Without a basis it is nothing more than a windbag airing its supposed superiority...as soon as a new majority determines you are wrong you too could be branded. Morals without basis or by mere majority are nothing more than intolerance of the worst sort.


Notice also the polarization that goes on. There is an air of certainty and moral pronouncement--of course there were bigots but then there are those who are "genuinely concerned and worried for the fellow humans." Those who uphold Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality are suddenly labelled as unconcerned with fellow humans. They are "bigots" who 'attack people with their heart.' Obviously no Christian opponent of homosexuality should hold hatred in their heart--if they hate the sinner they do not understand God's grace. Such behavior though is nothing less more powerplays of which the avowed professors of postmodern ethics are surprisingly ignorant lacking a certain self-critique, as if they have a log in their eye.



This, however, should not stop of the Christian from calling evil that which the Bible calls evil and condemns. In fact, it is a care for humanity and a deep care for the image of God that should cause us to speak out against sin. God made the image of God male and female. Part of being in the image of God means existing in covenant community under God and with other image bearers. One of the highest reflections of image bearer is marriage as a male and female enter the covenant union of marriage and become 'one flesh'. God has defined His image upon us. It is precisely out of a deep care for humanity that the Christian should speak up against homosexual marriage. At stake in the marriage debate is not only God's definition of marriage but God's definition of what it means to bear His image.



This is precisely the line of argument Paul takes against homosexuality in Romans 1. We exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man. Man is made in God's image and therefore knows God. But it is a suppression of that knowledge of God--that very thing that defines us as human--that leads to being handed over to "degrading passions". According to Paul natural relations (men with women and vice versa) are exchanged for unnatural relations (women with women and men with men)--Romans 1:26-27. God defines that as bearers of His image the natural function of our sexuality is men with women and women with men. It is unnatural according to Biblical standards to have any sexual contact of any kind that is men with men and/or women with woman. The language is clear--this is not some prohibition of rare cases (such as abuse, or adult/minor, or prostitution, or without love, etc.) instead this is prohibition of all cases. Paul is clear:

Romans 1:26-27 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

Yet, we should recognize Paul does not single out homosexuality, although he is clear it is sin. We are handed over to all levels of unrighteousness--homosexuality being the most prominent example of degrading passions.

Romans 1:28-32 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.


This is by no means an exhaustive treatment of the argument and counter arguments. However, the issue is on I believe the Bible is clear on. Where the Bible is clear the Christian must be clear. We must speak the truth in love. Sadly, speaking the truth will always make us seem intolerant and unloving when we fail to condone and encourage certain practices. Of course, the Christian must let their actions speak louder than words--the must labor hard to treat everyone fairly and show hospitality and compassion to all--even those with whom they disagree. The Christian must never assume that someone else's particular sin is worse than their own. We must like Paul, acknowledge with our heart that we are the worst of sinner (1 Timothy 1:15) yet we must never relabel as good what God has labeled as evil (Isaiah 5:20).



Here is an excellent video by Robert Gagnon that responds well to these issues of Biblical interpretation. (HT: Justin Taylor)


Pure Passion Season 3 / Episode 2 - Robert Gagnon from Pure Passion on Vimeo.


Notice he takes on the Biblical prohibition and addresses those issues like "Jesus never prohibits it" and "the Bible tells us not to wear clothes made with two threads" etc.

Sadly, these polemics get used by the pro-homosexual crowd but they rarely handle the meat of the text. There is little careful and judicious thinking when this type of rhetoric abounds. Moving the conversation forward indeed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hey Now--Play Fair UPDATED

I recently ran across a post by Denny Burk commenting on Francis Beckwith's reference to Westminster Seminary's Carl Trueman as a reason for his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

Trueman says:

“Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic” (Carl Trueman quoted by Beckwith).


To which Beckwith adds:

“Professor Trueman’s reasoning would serve as a catalyst for reorienting my sense of whether the Catholic Church or I had the burden in justifying the schism in which I had remained for over thirty years” (p. 83).

To make matters worse... Beckwith shows up and leaves a comment in the comment box:

I guess I should not surprised at these sorts of comments [responding to someone else]. I am all too familiar with enthusiastic Christians, both Protestants and Catholics, who read not to learn, but rather to find talking points to provide ammo for their heresy hunting. (They are, to use an analogy, not unlike rabid Star Trek fans who occupy their parents’ basements and endlessly discuss the meaning of Kirk’s comments in episode 4 season 2 and how they are similar to Picard’s diatribe against the Klingon admiral in the Next Generation’s fourth season).



Convert to Rome if you want, but leave Star Trek fans out of it, what did they ever do to you? Besides, when did Picard ever have a diatribe against a Klingon Admiral in the fourth season? I seriously doubt that anything Kirk said to Spock in the mirror universe rivals anything Picard ever said to the Klingons even when he fulfilled his duties are arbitor of succession , mediated at the Krosian System or installed Gowron as chancellor of the high council. :)


Still, it's funny how much mileage some theologians and evangelical philosophers get off of Star Trek. I'm reminded of some of Stanley Grenz's comments about the difference between modernism and postmodernism illustrated between Star Trek TOS and TNG, especially Spock and Data.


Here's what I want to know: How many closet Trekkies are there at ETS?
UPDATE: GLW Johnson weighs in:
For those who do not have green blood and pointed ears, a close reading of that basement dwelling trekkie -John Calvin- and his take on the Canons and decrees of the Council of Trent will disspell the misguided notion that Beckwith’s embrace of RC and Rome’s denunciation of the Reformation’s understanding of ’sola fide’would have met with favor in Reformed circles that still think highly of that Spockian like Reformer (link)
Now there is something I didn't think I'd ever read: a comparison between Spock and Calvin. Does this make Luther 'Kirk'ess in his personality? What next a comparison between John Knox and Scotty?

Sermon Applications 11/23/08

Text: 1 Chronicles 16:7-36

Main Point:
MAIN POINT: WE ARE TO GIVE THANKS TO THE NAME OF THE LORD.

Applications:
1) THE APPLICATION OF THANKSGIVING: IN CHRIST THE BELIEVER TODAY; HAS FAR MORE TO BE THANKFUL FOR THAN KING DAVID.

a) Christ is our fulfillment. David cried for Israel and with Israel “Save us”. The nations were to say “Our God reigns” (v.31). It is this reign that is now in the gospel announced to the nations. Salvation has come—the day is at hand. In the Lord Jesus Christ we declare the good news of the gospel we declare “our God reigns”. He has displayed this reign. He has conquered sin, death and the evil forces of this world.

What’s more, is that it is in Jesus that God draws near to us.

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Greek word for ‘dwelt’ is literally ‘tabernacled.’ God set up His tent. To touch Jesus in the flesh was to touch the living God—the only begotten who was with the Father. It was to behold the glory of God. David may have experienced God’s presence in the ark and tabernacle but even more we experience God’s presence in Christ. Christ Himself is the mercy seat—that lid of the ark where the blood of the atonement is spread.

b) Response:
i) Give Thanks by seeking (v.11), remembering (v.12), declaring (v.24) and singing (v.9 and 23). Four ways to give thanks:
  • Give thanks this week by seeking God’s face. No one can see God’s face and live—but in Christ we have forgiveness and we can seek God. Pray to Him. Marvel at His holiness. Seek to meditate upon the great truths of the gospel. Devote your heart to thanking God first and the foremost for His mighty work in the gospel. All that David saw God do he was overwhelmed in thanksgiving. How much more so have we seen the work of God in Christ.
  • Remember. Take account of the things that our Triune God has done for you. Remember how He keeps His Word—He kept the Abrahamic covenant and He fulfilled it in Christ. He kept David safe all those years on the battlefield so that David could have a descendant who would save the world. God declares His love to you in Christ. Remember how unbreakable God’s Word and unfailing His oaths. Take time to write down a number of the Biblical promises this week that are given without fail to all Christians. Thank God! Thank Him specifically. Consider that no matter what your circumstances—God will keep His Word. There is no cause for despair. The Lord is faithful.

    ESV 1 Chronicles 16:34 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

  • Declare. Announce specifically in thanksgiving how good God is. Do not just meditate in your mind on His goodness—speak it. At Thanksgiving maybe go around the room and describe one good thing about God—but keep going until you run out. Announce to a loved one how good God is—not just in personal circumstances—but how God is in saving us, in sending Christ, in reconciling the world. Think globally—the Lord reigns—declare the goodness of His reign.
  • Sing. Sing some songs this season.


ii) Ascribe Greatness. Once you have given thanks, marvel at the character of God. Ascribe to Him greatness. Give Him glory. Reflect on how a mighty and Holy God actually descends to be with the lowly and downtrodden to show mercy upon sinners like us. To “ascribe” means merely to give. You acknowledge and give credit where credit is due. You and I acknowledge in word, deed and song what is rightful God’s.

iii) Tremble. As you think about God’s greatness and all you owe Him for. Tremble. God is holy. He should have destroyed Adam and Eve when they first sinned. God’s power and majesty are beyond comparison. God has laid the foundations of the earth. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Lord. The Bible describes God as a consuming fire—His wrath burns. Tremble. When one is in the presence of greatness one bows. If we say “The Lord reigns” we must tremble. We must bow before His reign. We tremble not in terror but as loyal subjects. We tremble like the creatures tremble before Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. The world knows how to tremble before great men and powerful armies—but do you and I tremble before the living God?

iv) Cry out. Anticipate the coming salvation. God’s grace has won this all in Christ’s work. We live in an in-between time. It is like standing between two great battles. The lion has been slain as a lamb—yet in resurrection He triumphed. “Our God reigns”. We are to cry out “Save, Come Lord Jesus.” As you give thanks—do so with anticipation to what God will yet do.

1 Chronicles 16:35-36 35 Then say, "Save us, O God of our salvation, And gather us and deliver us from the nations, To give thanks to Your holy name, And glory in Your praise." 36 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, From everlasting even to everlasting. Then all the people said, "Amen," and praised the LORD.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Good Prayer

A friend of mine in college had this hanging in his dorm room:
My Prayer:
Dear Lord, Please never allow my passion for your truth to be fueled by my vigilante pride. Amen.
--Ben Boehm

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Around the Blog

I don't normally do this but here's some stuff from the blogsphere I liked this week:
  • Al Mohler has a great post of high school graduates thinking to much about themselves (here).
  • He offers another one contrasting Biblical meditation with eastern spirituality/meditation. It's a little brief but right on.
  • Carl Trueman lands another one square on the chin (here).

Second, am I alone in being sick to death of all the trendy talk about `culture'? A biblical approach to reality seems to involve, first and foremost, a commitment to the notion of essences. Culture is very real but, as a social construct it is not the ultimate reality; nor is it, therefore, the ultimate reality. This seems to me the problem with much postmodernism: it's obsession with culture at the expense of essence has created moral chaos. For example, how can one have inalienable human rights when there is no inalienable human nature? Hence the silliness on the left these days where -- surely to Marx's horror!--moral equivalence arguments are made between feudal genocide, as in Saddam's Iraq, and poverty in post-feudal democracies. Any Marxist knows that capitalist democracy, for all its faults, is superior to feudalism in every way. Christians should take a leaf from the books of the palaeo-Marxists and return to talking about nature and essence, not culture.

  • Great post on the importance of the pastor being a shepherd here.
  • Another one on bully pulpits, the two kingdoms and its imporance for preaching (here) (HT: R. Scott Clark for those two).

The nature of the office of minister is such that I am ordained to bind the consciences of my people, but with a catch: I can only bind their consciences concerning those things that God specifically addresses in his Word...Though I have lots of pastoral deficiencies, my people should at least thank me profusely for keeping earth out of heaven. I mean, it’s all fun and games until your culturally prophetic minister starts prophesying falsely, crying, “Universal Healthcare! Universal Healthcare!” when there is no universal healthcare.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the first celebration we learn of is a chocolatier called Blaise Poyet who "believes he has captured the essence of the Protestant reformer Jean Calvin in special chocolate pralines". He acknowledges the difficulty of representing theological ideas in taste, "But the key thing for Calvin is the glory of God, his excellence, his perfection. So we chose a chocolate that we chocolatiers find rare and flawless..."

This book came this week and I'm looking forward to getting into it:

Unlocking Romans: The Resurrection and the Justification of God by J.R. Daniel Kirk.

No...not that Kirk)... Should be a good read for when I teach Romans in Sunday School this winter. I heard Dr. Kirk lecture at WTS a few years back when I was there. I still have the notes, I think. If I remember the lecture in chapel introduced us to some of his key themes. It is interesting how much he took from Dr. Gaffin as he looked at Romans. Very good lecture as I recall. You can follow Daniel Kirk's blog here.

And in the world of Trek:

For those who haven't seen it yet, here is the new Star Trek trailer:





You can download the trailer or watch it in high def here.

Over at Triablogue there is more than one person who is a "Friend of Trekkies". Although I have to admit Genembridges might be overstating the role model aspects of the movie a bit too much--I guess will have to wait and see. Although, based on some of the stuff I've read from J.J. Abrams the movie will not be dark like Batman which will, in my estimation be both good and bad--good in keeping to the vision of ST but bad in that ST is too hopeful and as it is humanistic never really grapples with the reality of sin and evil beyond a vague hope that the goodness of man will triumph.

Friday, November 21, 2008

missionAL

These three videos are helpful to think about "missional". This has some humorous critique about the fad that missional has become and some correctives about what it should really be about.




The last video, Ed Stetzer has some great thoughts about how we don't need the next big thing. We don't need a new fad. We really need to be about fulfilling God's plan to spread the gospel into all the world. God's mission is to make Himself known to bring people from every tongue tribe and nation to Himself. At the end of the day, God's chief end is to glorify Himself. We need to be about that so that God's name is know in all creation.


(HT: Ed Stetzer)
At the end of the day, I think this is why missional theology needs Reformed theology. Reformed theology is about God and soli deo gloria. Missional theology needs a shot straight through of Jonathan Edwards' The Ends for Which God Created The World. Reformed Theology needs to have the zeal of a George Whitefield who not only preached the gospel to countless individuals, he also loved the orphan (actually starting an orphanage). In this respect, Missio Dei in my estitmatation cannot exist without a truly good old fashioned covenantal theology since covenant theology summarizes God's plan for the world to head up all things in Christ and restore all creation into its ended covenantal union with God, but that's another thought for another day.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Book Review: Getting to Know the Church Fathers

Brian Litfin is associate professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute. This book is primarily written as an introduction to the church fathers and is written at the level that a college student in a survery of church history could handle.

This was a helpful introduction to some of the major church fathers. Not only did Liftin introduce you to the church fathers but he introduced you to significant events that went on in their life and times. It is a helpful primer on the early church. Liftin works hard at connecting the reader to the life and times of these men (and one woman). He ends the books with the image of us standing on the bow of a ship: we press towards the future but we are driven by what is behind us. This is a good metaphor for how Liftin handles the church fathers. He is excellent at inspiring the reader by the weightiness of some of these men yet he does not gloss over their failures.

To deal with the church fathers for evangelicals, Liftin already has a hurdle to over come. He begins by debunking three common misconceptions about the church fathers: (1) that they were not biblical; (2) that the Roman Catholics; (3) that they represent the "fall" of Christianity. For those who tend to read church history from Acts straight to the Reformation, this book is a welcome.

This was obviously an introduction and so was too brief at times, particularly in discussing Augustine and Pelagius. Liftin had some excellent discussion of early Trinitarianism and Christology. The book places the issues in context without overwhelming the reader while at the same time imparting the true significance to the events. He surveys of the martyrs and early apologists are impresses upon the readers the true passion of these early heros. When he discusses Chrysostom and the asceticism of early monks, he does a good job of clearing the brush of prejudice that a twenty-first century Christian might have against such rigorous bodily discipline. Liftin will not let the reader simply write off such devotion as 'legalism'. The brief introduction to Alexandrian and Antiochene hermeneutics is helpful. Liftin often writes with decisive visual images for those who are not technician in church history. At points he effectively draws the reader to identify with the devotion of the particular church father.

As a pastor, I found myself often highlighting and marking the book not so much for content (although it is certainly not void of it) but for the illustration of the church father and the reflection on devotion or how the modern church is void of someparticular point that was common to the early church.

Overall Liftins writing is helpful particularly for a layperson or college student. I could easily see this being a recommended reading for a church Sunday School class on the church fathers. Each chapter had an introduction that was usually a story from contemporary life so as to bridge the gap to the past.

I would recommend this book to someone with little or no familiarity to the church fathers but if you are looking for a more substantive treatment other books would be better. Liftin is helpful in having questions to ask at the end of each chapter. A big resource is the recommended reading at the end both in primary sources and important biographies or secondary sources. This is a plus for those who are looking to get more. Also each chapter has a small 2-3 page excerpt from the Church father's writings themselves. Overall a good book although this reviewer wished it had said more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sermon Applications 11/16/08

Text: Ephesians 4:1-6
MAIN POINT: WE ARE TO WALK ACCORDING TO OUR CALLING.

NAU Ephesians 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,

1) FIRST, WE ARE TO WALK ACCORDING TO OUR CALLING BY BEING HUMBLE.

NAUEphesians 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,
NIV Ephesians 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Application: How do I develop humility out of the gospel?
i) There is nothing more humbling than knowing who you are in Christ. You and I bring nothing to the table. When I understand that I am a sinner—it humbles me. Remember—

James 4:6-7 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Most often our pride comes from thinking how good we are. Sometimes we think we are morally better than others… other times we think our doctrine is superior. Let me just say this: I love Reformed theology and Calvinism… but if I truly understand Reformed theology (and think it is the most faithful Biblical system) it should leave me to be the most humble person. Reformed theology does not puff us up—it cuts us down. Reformed theology, the most faithful representation of Biblical truth, proclaims the immensity and pervasiveness of our sinfulness.

Tim Keller in his book The Prodigal God talks about the story of the ‘Prodigal Son’. Looking in depth at the elder brother—who is marked by pride. He writes:

“Pharisaical repentance doesn’t go deep enough to get to the real problem. What is the problem? Pride in his good deeds, rather than remorse over his bad deeds, was keeping the older son out of the feast of salvation. The elder brother’s problem is his self-righteousness, the way he uses his moral record to put God and others in his debt to control them and get them to do what he wants. His spiritual problem is the radical insecurity that comes from basing his self-image on achievements and performance, so he must endlessly prop up his sense of self-righteousness by putting others down and finding fault. As one of my teachers in seminary put it, the main barrier between the Pharisees and God is “not their sins, but their damnable good works.””[1]

Doesn’t that just describe many of us? We can’t be gentle. We put others down—maybe our spouse, our children, our leaders. We have to keep reminding ourselves—I’m better, at least I didn’t do that sin. It is a failure to grasp the gospel! It stirs up pride.

ii) Humility is marked by submitting to others:

1 Peter 5:5 5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.

How often do we see someone trying to go “toe to toe” with an authority figure? Sometimes it’s a policeman or a judge in court—Romans 13 tells us to submit to the government—at the time the government was ruled by pagan, a Caesar who proclaimed himself ‘Lord’ and ‘God and Savior.’ I once encountered a man who felt that he had the authority to choose not to submit to a leader—He thought the leader was in the wrong—and maybe the leader was… but the man was unable to show humility and be subject to the leader. It was pride: “I am more right than you.” I read another story of a man who said he couldn’t be in a church because pastors were always intimidated by him—he carried himself with pride thinking he was better than them, in fact, he would not submit unless he felt they could ‘go toe to toe’ with him.

Tonight as we install new elders: will you submit to them?

iii) Humility is marked by how you treat others:
  • Husbands: do you speak gently to your wives? Are you tender or forceful and rough? Pushing through our ways, ideas, and agendas. Husbands wrongly understand the Biblical model if they think they are to force their wives to submit.
  • Wives—how do you submit to your husband? How often do you cut him down with your words—humiliating him? How often to you nag and gripe when he doesn’t do what you want?
  • Parents—how do you speak to your children? Do you fly off the handle?
  • With your speech—speak gently; speak the truth in love.

    Ephesians 4:25-26 25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. 26 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger,

    Speak truthfully in your relationships—when something angers you be clear and state it—but speak it gently. Speak it in love. Do not fly off the handle—do not be driven my mere emotions. Right actions will stem from humility.


iv) Humility recognizes its own faults first so that you can be patient when someone wrongs you since you know God is patient with you when you sin.


v) When I really know and constantly recognize through the gospel that I am no better than anyone else—suddenly I start treating people as better than me. I treat them with respect and dignity. I think humbly of myself and it allows me to treat others better.

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

NIV 1 Timothy 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the worst.

Can you truthfully say that about yourself the way Paul spoke of himself?

2) SECOND, WE ARE TO WALK ACCORDING TO OUR CALLING BY BEING PATIENT.

NAU Ephesians 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,
NIV Ephesians 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Application:
i) If you want to learn to be patient with others—learn about how God has been patient with you.


ii) Seek to me more grateful for the patience you have been shown.
iii) Steps to being patient:

  1. Recognize how often you have wronged God. Sometimes it helps to write yourself a list of the ways you’ve sinned. Or open up to a Biblical passage describing sin and meditate on how much your behavior mirrors such an account.
  2. Being willing to sacrifice your “rights”. –Often our inability to be patient comes because we demand perfection. This stems from pride—“I am right” and a sense that no one can ever or should ever wrong you.
  3. Be willing to help others in their growth. Part of loving people and being longsuffering is bearing their burdens. Sometimes, changes in our habits and our attitudes help people. Example: When a wife stops constantly making demands of her husband and in turn starts to encourage him—often times he is more willing to be the kind of husband he should be. Or- when the husband is gentle and encouraging and speaks gently without ignoring her—often time she will more responsive to him or kinder with her words. Being calm, cool and gently when wronged takes the heart of one who has cultivated patience. Only the work of the gospel cultivates patience.


3) THIRD, WE ARE TO WALK ACCORDING TO OUR CALLING BY PRESERVING UNITY.

Applications:
i) Ken Sande in book The Peacemaker offers some suggestions of attitudes that are the enemies of peace. “I’ve got to look out for number one.” “God helps those who help themselves.” “Surely God doesn’t expect me to stay in an unhappy situation.” “I’ll forgive you but I won’t forget.” “Don’t get mad, get even.” “I deserve better than this.”[2]

ii) These are attitudes of what Paul labels ‘the flesh’. They are not from the Holy Spirit. The key to building unity in our attitudes is to recognize the unity that we already have with fellow Christians.

(1) In our own heart and in our conversations with others we must draw people’s attention to these common bonds. For example, when someone comes to you with an attitude and they want to “share” with you and be “comforted”—first you should probe to understand why the person is sharing it, sometimes sharing stirs up trouble under the guise of ‘a prayer request’ or ‘a concern’.

(2) If the concern is genuine, listen to it—but don’t leave on that note: turn the person’s eyes onto something positive. If someone complains about something you are not making peace by letting it sit their; you are not being supportive by merely listening. You can respond, “Did you ever think about how much that persons loves the church?” Or “Did you ever think about the sacrifices they make?” Or even simply: “Did you ever think about something from their point of view?” In this respect you should be a seed for positive conversation…work hard at keeping the peace—this is only done by putting out little brushfires.

(3) The more you merely listen to “concerns” the more the person thinks they can spread them around. Sometimes the concerns are very real and they must be dealt with—do so. Deal with them. Help that person deal with. Do not think that by merely listening you have been ‘bearing their burden’. Sometimes our concerns are like little fires…they may be real—but if we spread them around, or if we become party to those who spread them around they become big fires. Soon everything is burning and no one remembers what the real issue was. But if we handle the real issue right away, we are like a firefighter—we put out the fire—we keep the peace.

(4) BE DILIGENT AT KEEPING THE PEACE.

iii) When you are ready to fight in a conflict begin to list all the things that you and the other person have in common, such as: a common God, a common faith, one Lord, one hope, one forgiveness in Christ, one peace with God. Reminding ourselves of our unity in our vertical relationship to God should change our motivation for our horizontal relationships.

iv) In Conflict:

  • Be clear on what the real issues are.
  • Examine your motives.
  • Check your ego at the door. Most conflicts explode not from the actual issues but from the egos of the persons involved.
  • Consider the interests of others.

    Philippians 2:4 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

v) Ken Sande in The Peacemaker suggests the acronym “PAUSE” for conflict resolution[3]

  1. Prepare –praying, getting the facts right, study the Biblical response, plan ahead. Think through what your going to say, how your tone is going to be, what issues are most crucial—how you will handle potential responses.
  2. Affirm relationships –acknowledge your relationship to the person and to God. Speak it clearly to the other person. "I love you." "We are brothers/sisters in Christ."
  3. Understand interests. Ex. I remember being in a fight with my dad one time over some issue (and he was probably right) and I just screamed something like—“Just listen to me”. My mom injected herself. She may not have agreed with me—I don’t remember the issue—but she understood where I was coming from and why I was getting so angry. To resolve conflict you have to understand why someone is so worked up and there are times where their interests are more important than your own stakes in the issue.
  4. Search for Creative Solutions.
  5. Evaluate the options objectively and reasonably. Sometimes we make issues a matter of life and death when in reality we loose nothing if we compromise. Sometimes we become stubborn and want to "win" not matter the cost. How ungodly to seek to win the fight while we loose the war.
4) Conclusion: Our vision is to be a church that ‘glorifies God and enjoys Him’. Listen to this benediction from the Word of God:

Romans 15:5-6 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The goal of unity is to glorify God with one voice. Walk according to your calling.

[1] Keller, Prodigal God, p.77
[2]The Peacemaker. Second Edition. P. 43-44.
[3] Pp. 206ff.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Patience

“He deserves not the name of patient who is only willing to suffer as much as he thinks proper, and for whom he pleases. The truly patient man asks (nothing) from whom he suffers, (whether) his superior, his equal, or his inferior…But from whomever, or how much, or how often wrong is done to him, he accepts it all as from the hand of God, and counts it gain!”
--Thomas A' Kempis (source)

Monday, November 17, 2008

On Being a Theologian

"A theologian who cannot communicate is a theologian who cannot teach; and a theologian who cannot teach is a theologian who perhaps missed his real calling as the writer of those 2,000 page user-friendly word processor manuals."
--Carl Trueman (source)
AMEN! I think that there should be much less of a dichotomy between theologians and pastors than we tend to see in our modern day setting. Theologians should be churchmen along with their academic calling. Pastors should be theologians like the lives of their flocks depend upon it--indeed lives are at stake.

Justification and Forensic-Legal Imagery

Justification is undoubtedly forensic. The background is law court. Even N.T. Wright in What Saint Paul Really Said p. 117 notes that the background in law-court.

Of course, many people complain that the "legal" or "transactional" nature of justification is either (a) Greek (i.e. non-Jewish) or (b) medieval Latin or Western.

A couple responses:

(1) In the Greek 'diakiao' clearly connotates foresnic elements. In Paul, righteousness is clearly forensic. Interestly, it was the translation to Latin and 'iustitia' that caused confusion to enter. The Greek clearly has the sense 'to declare righteous' while the Latin has a sense of 'to make righteous' and righteous is then not conceived only forensic lines by along participatory lines.

(2) Justifcation (declared righteousness; a righteousness outside ourselves) and sanctification (inwrought righteousness; a righteousness inside ourselves) cannot be made to radically oppose the others. Most who deny the forensic nature or the transactional elements of justification then make sanctification do all the work. Sanctification does all the work--this is true of Roman Catholicism and to some degree some within the emerging church who decry legal categories. In our union with Christ, we recieve a forensic verdict and a righteousness outside ourselves (justification) and we are transformed which produces righteousness (sanctification) inside of us (albeit never perfection that we need before God). In this respect justification and sanctification are always distinct but always inseperable. The end of union with Christ is of course full glorification. This union is experienced through faith alone although it evidences itself through the fruit of the Spirit.

(3) One cannot abandon all forms of legal categories as unbiblical and then turn to argue that everything is particapatory and non-legal. Let me give two examples of the legal and paticapatory wed together in our salvation: (a) Covenant is one of those images that in the Bible weds the legal with the familial. Covenants have legal concepts in the Old Testament especially when you consider the covenant lawsuit of the prophets. Covenants also have relational (you might say familial) overtones as well–particularly as you think of the marriage supper of the Lamb and other Biblical covenants. (b) Adoption. Adoption with its Greco-Roman background clearly has legal connotations. There is status and inheritance award upon adoption. This is by its very nature 'transactional'. Yet adoption clearly is also familial. One calls God "Abba, Father" through the Holy Spirit.

Final thought: I have not teased out all the nuances of justification, sanctification, union with Christ, covenant and adoption. My point here is that to right of the legal and transactional nature of justification is not only wrong head it creates a domino effect on the rest of Biblical redemption. Those who want to eliminate legal/forensic in favor of 'participatory' and 'relational' are mounting polemics rather than conducting solid exegesis. They need to go back to the Biblical text and even maybe learn from the wisdom of those who have teased out this issue before--and did not without either (a) being reductionist or (b) making the whole ball of wax a legal transaction. The Reformers and their heir come to mind.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

We Got One of These

So yesterday, I get this e-mail for this group telling us that we got one of these awards:

{Full disclosure: I did check with another Board member just to make sure we were on the same page} Well, I have to admit, that might be a good way to boost morale at a small church--or maybe it would boost pride... hmm. I did find this link. One place did say the group was offering "vanity awards." So what kind of award is it if you have buy it? And what does a church do with a plaque like this? Hang it up for bragging rights?

I guess they will know we are Christians by the plaques we hang in our foyer. Ironically the website said that their vision was to "Promote the best practices in the industry." Physician Heal Thyself!

Friday, November 14, 2008

On Sola Fide

Michael Spencer, iMonk, had a good post yesterday on that all important evangelical and Protestant doctrine: Sola Fide. Here were some of the great points, in my humble estimation:
  • "Evangelicals have gone pretty soft on salvation by faith ALONE."
  • "Sola fide doesn’t sit very well with a lot of evangelicals. In fact, I’m not sure they believe it. I’m quite sure that a sizable group has thought it over and they don’t believe it."
  • "Works of any kind, including any conception of faith as a “work,” is extraneous to justification per se, but not extraneous to the reality of faith. So faith is accompanied by imperfect but genuine repentance, love, obedience, confession and perseverance. None of these things are identical with faith and all partake of the both faith and works."
  • "Mixing “faith alone” with anything else produces a bastardized notion of salvation; a synergism that is eventually going to be tilted toward works in a way that will sink the ship on the rocks of despair, legalism or intellectualism."
  • "Sola fide is like Nehemiah’s wall. Build it. Build it before you do anything else. Build it if you have to fight while you build it. Build it if you have enemies outside the walls and subversives within. (You’ll have both.)"
  • "The burden of sola fide seems to be too much for many of us. We glibly talk as if it is really nothing unusual if we add our theological preferences, our politics or our social/cultural causes to what “must” be believed. Our own astonishment that someone would feel/act/believe differently than we do intrudes into sola fide with such ease that we ought to be shocked and ashamed. But we’re not."
  • "If you put the human element- even in the guise of theology, or culture transformation or politics- into the Gospel, I’m doomed and damned. If works or sincerity or character change are in there at all, I’m toast. "
Here's the comment I left:
I really appreciated this article. As a pastor, I completely agree that we have lost sight of what is so essential to the gospel. Now we have a generation that is raised craving issues that aren't even secondary or tertiary. Having been feed a diet of junk food long term, it is like they can expect no less. Thanks for the reminder that getting this issue wrong leaves people “toast” and “damned”—after all these things have eternal consequences.

Sola Fide used to be a hallmark of evangelicalism, a non-negotiable, and a thing by which we fundamentally defined ourselves by (whether you were Calvinist, Arminian or didn’t know the difference). It is sad the something so essential has been relegated to the back room, put away like a fading old family photo now sitting in a musty closet.

While I only had time to read some of the comments, I thought I might at my two cents about the history of sola fide. It is interesting that Joseph Fitzmyer (a Roman Catholic) in his commentary on Romans notes that a number of early authors before Luther understood the sense of Romans 3:28 to mean "sola" with the word faith. Including: Origen, Hilary, Basil, Ambrosiaster, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Bernard, Theophylact, Theodoret, Thomas Aquinas, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Marius Victorinus and Augustine. Fitzmyer notes that Pelagius wrote against the phrase 'sola fides' which evidences the phrase was already in use at the time (particularly significant if he had to mount an argument against it).

Granted Protestants have always recognized that the only statement of "faith alone" in the Bible is in James 2:24. However (1) this fails to distinguish the context of James and his argument from the argument the Reformers were making--they too were aware of such things (Calvin for example handles James 2 quite well) and (2) denying 'faith alone,' in my opinion, fails to take seriously the force of "apart from" (choris) in Romans 3:28.

Anyways thanks for the great pastoral theology--would the more Christian today head such advice. I hope an essay like this light a fire under more people’s bottoms. We need to keep the main thing the main thing.
It is a great article that I recommend that one read. The concept of sola fide states that one is saved by trusting in Christ alone. It is essential to salvation. If you lose this, you have lost the gospel. That is, as Protestants and others note, not to say that one is saved by believing in sola fide. One is saved by believing only in Christ. But we must not water down that concept that only faith in Christ saves the sinner. That faith must trust in Christ--nothing else required. As iMonk puts it: "Mixing “faith alone” with anything else produces a bastardized notion of salvation." All I can add to that is a hearty "Amen."

She's HERE: The NEW Enterprise

Here's is the new design for the Original Enterprise to be seen in J.J. Abrams' new movie.

Here is how she appeared in the original series:


Here's one of the digitally remastered views:


Here's the tech spechs:


My thoughts on the new ship:

  • Definetely upgraded for the movie, which is good.
  • Looks like she could be an earlier refit of the Enterprise, especially when you consider the later refit of the ST:TMP, ST II:WOK; ST III:SFS (they same model as NCC-1701-A of Movies IV, V, VI)

  • The saucer section of the new model looks about the same, especially from the movie era.
  • The vertical piece that attaches the saucer to the secondary hull, is different. It goes back a bit further onto the secondary hull. (I'm not so sure I like the feature, it seems to minimize the secondary hull).
  • The deflector dish is similar to the style of the original era.
  • The warp engine are different. I think you can expect a ship to go through warp coils faster. In fact, these warp nacelles actually make the Enterprise look like more of a hot rod. Might even kind-of reflect that 'Wild West' atmosphere of the original era.
  • The secondary hull doesn't look quite the same, it slops back, whereas the original era ship was more tubular then cut up more sharpely at the end for the shuttle bay.
  • I'm not sure I like the struts holding up the nacelles. I don't like how at the bottom they extend all the way back the shuttle bay.
  • BOTTOM LINE: FOR ME--I like it overall. There are a few stylistic features that right now I don't prefer. Yet the real test will be to see her in "action" so to speak. To paraphrase Bones-- she's a good ship, and it they (Abrams' and company) treat her like a lady she'll bring 'um home (giving the hard-core fans, quasi-fans and even non-fans a box office success).
For a look at all the Enterprises, see here, including the new version of the original. Here are some comments from the new designer and check out some really good comparison shots.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Psalmist is a Bibliolater?

Bibliolatry is a charge often leveled at people when they hold a high esteem for the Word of God. It is a charge brought up for numerous beliefs, including those who:
  • believe that a written word is the Word of God.
  • believe in devoting their life in obedience to the Bible.
  • are willing to sing about the wonder of the Bible.
  • put their hope in the actual words in the Bible as they are the Word of the Living God.
  • believe the Bible should be taken literally as the original authors intended it to be understood.
  • people find joy and delight in the Word of God and even *gasp* sing about it.

Those who use it often draw a false dichotomy saying we should follow Jesus or God but not be enslaved to a book. A simple response could be: which Jesus? Whose God? How do I know them. To say we should follow Jesus and not the Bible or Jesus more than the Bible is a radical dichotomy of the worst sort. Jesus teaches us that all of the Scriptures point to Him. Jesus Himself uses the Bible authoritatively--i.e. in a way that those leveling the charge of bibliolatry consider idolatrous. In fact, the Bible is the only infallible marker to Jesus Christ. It is a covenant treaty that is given to God's people...almost like a marriage certificate. It is a treaty from our Great Kind announcing to us that He is reconciling Himself to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. In short, we have no kingdom charter without the text of Scripture... no way of being sure if the kingdom of God has indeed dawned in the Son.

Here is a good article by S.M. Baugh of Westminster Seminary California asking: Is Bibliolatry Possible?

What I think needs to be noted, though, is that in all the ways some will level the charge of "Bibliolatry", the Psalmist was indeed a Bibliolater:
  • Psalm 119:74 Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word.
  • Psalm 119:77 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight
  • Psalm 119:81 My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word.
  • Psalm 119:92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.
  • Psalm 119:97 Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
  • Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
  • Psalm 119:107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word
  • Psalm 119:111 Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.
  • Psalm 119:113 I hate the double-minded, but I love your law.
  • Psalm 119:131 I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments.
  • Psalm 119:143 Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight.
  • Psalm 119:147 I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words.
  • Psalm 119:162 I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.
  • Psalm 119:163 I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law.
  • Psalm 119:167 My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly.
  • Psalm 119:172 My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.
  • Psalm 119:174 I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight.
By all the standard charges of Bibliolatry, the Psalmist is a Bibliolater. This just goes to illustrate how trumped up and out of step with the Word of God (and Biblical theology) such charges really are.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Dueling Duo on Reforming

Here's what a dueling duo is. Here is another one:

Quote 1 by Rob Bell:

"Luther was taking his place in a long line of people who never stopped rethinking and repainting the faith...In fact, Luther's contemporaries used a very specific word for this endless, absolutely neccessary process of change and growth. They didn't use the word reformed; they used the word reforming. This distinction is crucial." Velvit Elvis, p. 11-12, emphasis original.

Quote 2:

"ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei" or...
"The Church reformed always reforming according to the Word of God."

The whole phrase really goes together. The church had definetely changed or reformed to something. The Reformers did not see themselves endlessesly revisting and repainting issues. However, they knew they might not have finished the work of reforming. BUT, and this is crucial, the reforming work was only ever according to the Word of God. It wasn't some endless revisioning project based upon changing culture.

Bell's comment on history along with his emphasis of the subtle word distinction are so bizarring inaccurate they are almost laughable.

Here is a helpful post where the author concludes:

Being Reformed means being radical in precisely that sense, for it means not that we're always becoming something new, nor that we're always changing, but that we're always being conformed and reconformed to the unchanging standard of the Word of God, which means of the character and will of the one "whose beauty is past change," as Hopkins put it. It means not that we adapt to this world, but rather we're pulled away from adapting to this world; the goal is not to let this world squeeze us into its mold, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It means accepting that we don't set the agenda, but rather that we're called to surrender to God's agenda, and thus recognizing that we're people under authority—the authority of God, and thus of his revelation to us in his Word—and that we must bow to that authority even when we don't like what we hear, rather than trying to find ways to rationalize what we want to do instead.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Church Statistics

I'm often cautious about church statistic when we think they should instruct us on how to conduct our church. Only the Word of God can give us the authoritative basis for how the people of God should conduct themselves when they gather. We cannot be polling to find where people's ears itch just so we can best scratch them.

However, statistics can track trends. They can expose patterns, like charting the course of lemmings running to a cliff. Statistics can expose bad habits (not with the same authority that the Word of God has).

Here are some helpful statistics that come from Thom Rainer's book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them.

Top 13 Reasons that Unchurched People Choose a Church(research conducted by Ranier)
  • 90% - Pastor/Preaching
  • 88% - Doctrines
  • 49% - Friendliness of Members
  • 42% - Other Issues
  • 41% - Someone Church Witnessed to Me
  • 38% - Family Member
  • 37% - Sensed God’s Presence/Atmosphere of Church
  • 25% - Relationship Other than Family Member
  • 25% - Sunday School Class
  • 25% - Children’s/Youth Ministry
  • 12% - Other Groups/Ministries
  • 11% - Worship Style/Music
  • 7% - Location

Top 9 Reasons that Church-Attenders Choose a Church(research conducted by the Barna Group in 1999)

  • 58% - Doctrine/Theology
  • 53% - People Caring for Each Other
  • 52% - Preaching
  • 45% - Friendliness
  • 45% - Children’s Programs
  • 43% - Helping the Poor
  • 36% - Denomination
  • 35% - Like the Pastor
  • 26% - Sunday School

Top 6 Things that Keep the Formerly Unchurched Active in the Church(research conducted by Ranier)

  • 62% - Ministry Involvement
  • 55% - Sunday School
  • 54% - Obedience to God
  • 49% - Fellowship of Members
  • 38% - Pastor/Preaching
  • 14% - Worship Services
It shouldn't overly surprise us that when the church dedicates itself to doing what God calls the church to do, He causes it to grow. It should make us more zealous for preaching with doctrinal content and proclaiming a robust Biblical theology in our church. It should also make us zealous to be shot through and through with love so that we might bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2).

We don't need statistics to tell us what we must do. And we shouldn't do these things simple because now the statistics show they work. Nevertheless, we shouldn't be surprised that when obedience in those areas the church growth gurus have said 'drive people off' [like doctrine, theology and preaching] are actual part of the things that God blesses in faithful churches. If the gospel is the wisdom of God, why are we surprissed when God uses it? (I'm not dissing the title of the book, quite the contrary--I applaud the effort to show that God actually does what he promises to do when the church actually lives like the church).
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...