Friday, January 30, 2009

Say What?! About the Incarnation

In searching through some of my old files looking for a quote, I recently was drawn back to this statement (you can find it on page 6 here online):
The Church Fathers who formulated the creeds were adamant in insisting that God the Son assumed a sinful human nature in the incarnation. To them, the incarnation itself exploded any so called separation of divinity and impurity. Against the Nestorian heresy, the Church in the year 451 came down squarely on Biblical testimony that Jesus Christ is two natures but one person. The one person aspect is in critical view here, because it keeps us from saying Christ’s divine nature and sinful nature were just two hermetically sealed natures pasted together. Nestorianism was an effort to protect the purity of the divine nature of Christ by separating it out from the human nature. Instead of saying “the human nature of Christ became sin,” or “the human nature of Christ died,” we can say with more orthodox correctness that God became sin, and God died. We must recognize that when we say Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% man, we do not mean that he is made up of two 100%’s glued together; we mean that he is wholly a man “like us in every way” and at the same time wholly God. “Amazing Love, how can it be, that Thou, my God, wouldst die for me?”
This involves a massive misunderstanding of the incarnation.

First, the incarnation does not entail the Son of God assuming "a sinful human nature." This is the grossest misstatement and corruption of the Biblical and orthodox statement on the incarnation, and that's putting in mildly.

1. The Bible tells us that Jesus in his humanity was without sin. Period.

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 7:26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.
1 Peter 2:22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth
Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
The author of the above quote is misinterpreting 2 Cor. 5:21 ("For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin") applying it to the incarnation rather than to Christ bearing the legal guilt of our sins that are transferred to him legally not relationally or ontologically.

The Bible could not be clearly, Jesus became like us in every way with respect to our humanity (i.e. our human nature) but was always entirely unlike us with respect to sinfulness. Jesus assumes are humanity in order to redeem it, but as Athanasius points this does not entail the assumption of our corruption that plagues humanity after the fall of Adam.

2. The orthodox creeds are explicitly clear that Christ was without sin. Since the author references the Creed of Chalcedon, it would perhaps be wise to actually read it:
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin;...

The Church Father were adamant that Christ fully assumed the human nature! They were equally adamant that this entailed human nature apart from sin! Christ's assumption of our humanity never ever entailed the assumption of sinful human nature.

Second, the author is a bit unclear about what he means by referencing Nestorius and then referring to the natures as not "two hermetically sealed natures pasted together." Certainly the hypostatic union entails 100% of each nature united in one person who is 100% person. I used to tell high-schoolers it is not as if Jesus is 50% man and 50% God. We should also not treat the union of the two natures like those bottles of Draino where have the bottle is quartered off for one liquid and the other half quartered off for a reacting and if they touch "presto" we get a third thing.

However, there is, according to orthodoxy no mixture of the natures. We have no mixing of the Godness of the Son and the humanity of the Son. They are united in the person but this union is:
without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ. (Chalcedonian Creed)
We must be careful that in the incarnation the divine nature does not change. It does not mix. The human and divine natures stay distinct. Yet in the incarnation they are not seperated. They are uniquely united in one person.

We need to be clear what we mean by 'two natures'. The Anathemas of the Second Council of Constantinople speak clearly of the two natures along with what we mean by their union:
a difference of the natures of which the ineffable union took place without confusion, a union in which neither the nature of the Word has changed into that of the flesh, nor that of the flesh into that of the Word (for each remained what it was by nature, even when the union by hypostasis had taken place);

The Godiness of the Son does not cease. It is not restricted, bound, or lessened. While the Word becomes flesh, the divine nature of the Word remains divine. In his deity, the Son retains omnipresence. The finite cannot contain the infinite. Yet the person of the Son of God becomes like in all things (yet without sin). He becomes truly human. 1 John tells us that God has come in the flesh--that to touch Jesus Christ was to touch the person of God (obviously God the Son not God the Father). John's gospel tells us that no one has seen God the Father, but 'the only God' (i.e. God the Son) has made Him known.

The mystery of the incarnation is the God the Son would dwell in our midst becoming like us in all things, bearing the guilt of our sin, and being a high priest for us.

Fuzzy thinking about the incarnation leads to fuzzy thing about a whole mess of topics. We disrespect the Son of God if we speak of Him bearing our sinful nature in the incarnation. We deny the continued deity of Christ if we see deity and humanity mixing in a way that either (a) creates a third category or (b) confusses deity and humanity. The deity and humanity are forever in the incarnation distinct yet inseparable. The hypostatic union is indeed a mystery that my God would die for me!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Justification by Faith: Not Eccumenical

In our first essay on this topic, we pointed out the difference between ethnic inclusivity and religious inclusivity. We pointed out that the doctrine of justification by faith is clear inclusive in the former sense and we rejected that it is inclusive in the latter sense. The doctrine is then clear exclusive in the religious sense. It is to this notion of exclusivity that we not turn.

It is interesting how both those who classify themselves as within the NPP and those who mark themselves as opposed to it to one degree of another will still find unanimity in proclaiming how great and wonderfully ecumenically the doctrine of justification by faith really is.

Of course, part of this stems from the some of the unfortunate effects that have carried down through the history of the church. Granted it is unfortunate when Christians have to divide. Yet there are at times issues that are so critical to the life and heath of Christianity that to fall to divide eviscerates the message of Christianity.

Sadly the application that justification is an ecumenical doctrine often flows somewhat uncritically from the implication of justification for Jew/Gentile relationships. The argument is in a nutshell that in the same way that Jews and Gentile were brought together by justification by faith should be applied in a similar fashion to the way various churches relate. Yet as Richard Gaffin notes this is a category confusion of the gravest sort (“Paul the Theologian”, WTJ, 62 (2000) p128).

Paul handles conflict within the church over justification very differently from the way he handles from the way he handles Gentiles who have come into the church from outside the covenant people of God.

We should note immediately that these two issue are not in Paul’s context entirely unrelated. Indeed, the events that prompted the position of the circumcision party were Gentiles themselves joining the covenant people of God (i.e. the church). For the Judaizer, it seems clear that they were most likely not denying the death of Christ but calling those who have received the death of Christ to take upon themselves the requirements of the Law--as the people of faith have always done. In this respect, Abraham was paradigmatic for the Judaizer. In Judaism, Abraham’s faithfulness was integral to his election (cf. 1 Macc 2:52; Sirach 44:19-21). It is reasonably to this that the Judaizer interpreted the mere chronology of Genesis 15 followed by Genesis 17-22 as indicative for how Gentiles should act: Now that you’ve believed (like Abraham), go and getting circumcised in keeping with obedience (like Abraham).

This is on one level quite persuasive and we can see how it might arise within the church as no small dispute. Yet Paul’s response to this aberrant doctrine is not to proclaim unity and ecumenicism. In fact, Paul declares in no uncertain terms that there must be division between this party that has arisen within the church. It is precisely because justification by faith is inclusive of all ethnicity apart from what we do in obedience that Paul is exclusive when people threaten this doctrine.

Consider for example Paul’s opening chapter to the book of Galatians. In the book of Galatians, Paul is responding to people who have come the churches in Galatia and either directly or indirectly attacked the doctrine of justification by faith. I saw either directly or indirectly because we cannot know the precise nuances of their argument. Let us summarize what we can tell about their argument by the way Paul responds.

First, they were obviously teaching that circumcision was an integral part of a believer’s status with God. It is probable that these were men who did not deny that Jesus was the Messiah, that he was crucified or that he was raised from the dead. This is of course integral to the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Romans 1:2-4). Given that Paul’s response does not deal with the historical facts of the gospel in this sense it is most likely that this was not a point of contention.

The issue then seems to focus on the role of the Law in the believer’s life. It is clear that the Judaizer’s wanted the Gentiles to embrace the ceremonial law, particularly circumcision. They would not eat with ‘unclean’ Gentiles because they considered them to be in some way inferior, at least until the adopted the pattern of living prescribed by the Law. So, the Galatians having begun their Christian experience by faith were tempted to continue it in a pattern not dissimilar from Jewish practice (Gal. 3:1-3). The opponents of Paul were clearly teaching that the Gentiles should adopt the Law--especially circumcision. Circumcision was of course the key mark of a Law-keeping Jew. Paul’s response is that if one embraces circumcision one makes Christ of no value (Gal. 5:2). The is paramount to seeking to be justified by the law (Gal. 5:4).

It is the great inclusivism of justification by faith, as we spelled out, that means the Gentile does not have to embrace the ceremonial Law of the Old Testament. More than the ceremonial Law is at stake. It seems that the Judaizer was using obedience to Law--an obvious key component of sanctification--to become the mark of full justification. The Judaizer was seeking to boast in the flesh. The problem is that this boast in the flesh and this seeking to embrace the whole requirements of the Law make a mockery out of Christ and the sufficiency of His work, a sufficiency that brings our full justification, adoption and heirship.

Second, consider then what is at stake for Paul. In effect, Paul is preaching one gospel to the church and these opponents are preaching another. For the latter, the ‘godly life’ is predicated on obedience--not Spirit filled obedience as Paul would concur--but on marking oneself by embracing the whole Law and the stipulations of the Old Covenant. It was placing oneself under the requirements of the pre-eschatological conditions of the people of God (one’s the were to be used before the coming of Christ as signs and seals of faith) and then using those pre-eschatological conditions as post-eschatological signifiers. One in effect says unless you do these things you cannot be part of the renew eschatological people of God. It misses a whole host of things that Paul draws out: (1) the Law was a tutor until Christ; (2) heirship is no complete in Christ; (3) full status is received through faith which brings justification and adoption; (4) the Law was temporary to the pre-eshcatological role of regulating the people of God; (5) the law brought curse not life; (6) Christ ends the curse of the Law and fulfills the Law surpassing it; (6) obedience is marked by the Spirit and its fruit not Law-keeping [this is not to deny the ‘3rd use of the Law’ for the the Spirit writes the Law on our hearts so outward circumcision is not needed; and finally (7) there is a radical inbreaking the eschaton with the resurrection and the believer being a new creation in Christ.

Given the ‘place’ in redemptive history that the church now finds itself Paul is completely opposed to what we might call ecumenicism when the debate is over justification by faith. Paul may be inclusive of Gentile because of justification by faith but he is not inclusive of those who would disagree with over justification by faith alone.

Galatians 1:6-9
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
What we see here is that justification by faith is central to the gospel. There is no indication that the Judaizers were denying the death and resurrection of Christ--the key good news of the gospel. However, they were messing with justification by faith either (a) directly rejecting Paul by outright confrontation in their preaching (which is less likely) or (b) modifying faith in Christ and its implication and meshing it so much with Law-keeping that they had effectively distorted beyond what Paul and the apostles had originally taught. The latter is just slightly more likely given the effectiveness this heresy had on Galatia and the often subtle nature and false-teaching the New Testament warns us about in numerous places.

Paul however is quite clear that there were ‘false brothers’ who had slipped into the church to spy out the freedom that one had in Christ (Gal. 2:4). The early Jerusalem church had not entirely broken with the Jewish community and it is quite possible that Jewish people infiltrated the group to assure that this Jewish sect was keeping the Law. Paul never states to what degree these men might have embraced Jesus as Messiah--this might not even have been a point of contention. What was at state was they did not acknowledge the radical sufficiency of the death of Christ. It did not merit full justification; it is not bring in the eschaton in a decisive way that for Paul clearly brought freedom from the Old Covenant Law. Acts 15:1 says these men were teaching that if one was not circumcised, one could not be saved.

For Paul, these people were not to be embraced ecumenically because they were joining the community. They were to be resisted and separated from because they disagreed over the nature of the work of Christ--the gospel itself. The gospel was at stake in a disagreement over how one is justified. Paul’s critique of these men as ‘false brothers’ is an ‘external critique’. He stands and looks at them and says because of their view of justification by faith and because the gospel is at stake we cannot embrace them. He calls them ‘false brothers’. It is quite possible that they themselves did not view their role with such sinister motives. However, Paul is clear that His gospel has come from God. Paul is clear on the decisive eschatological and redemptive-historical role of the work of Christ--to fail to embrace a full justification that comes from this work and is received only through faith in this work--not received through successive obedience to works of the Law--was apostize and preach a whole other gospel.

Third, notice how Paul even confronts Peter’s aberrant behavior. Peter evidently did not embrace everything these false brothers embraced but he did identify himself with their conduct. He withdrew from table fellowship with Gentiles. This made a mockery of their full justification by faith and their heirship in the kingdom apart from ‘works of the Law’ and circumcision. Paul does not embrace such behavior within the church. A huge difference exists and therefore it must be confront. He confronts both the false beliefs of the those teaching differently and the false conduct of Peter who evidently embraced the same gospel Paul taught by evidently lived contrary to that gospel and its implications on this occasion.

Ironically, while Paul is very ‘missional’ to those outside the people of God--even on one occasion circumcising Timothy (Acts 16:3) for the sake of evangelism. Paul did not embrace such compromises as appropriate within the church. Paul did not merely chalk this up to a ‘weaker brother’ ‘stronger brother’ type of attitude. Where justification by faith was at stake Paul released the full fury of the gospel to combat so a destructive force that sought to undermine the very gospel for which Paul stood.

In our contemporary setting, modern debates over justification by faith have not gone away. Sadly, what has gone away is the Paul like spirit to contend for such vital issues. One can fully grant that the contemporary church has been far to willing to divide over non-essential issues. Other times the church has hid hatred and a poor spirit behind doctrinal division. Yet the pendulum has swung the other way. There is a tendency to say that doctrine doesn’t matter and unity must be maintain at the expense of doctrine. Yet it should not be, if we are going to be Biblical, some doctrines that are too large and too crucial to sweep differences under the rug as if they do not matter.

Some will tacitly acknowledge the difference but seek to embrace in warm ecumenicism despite differences. I am not saying we should hate those who we disagree with although we should despise all such doctrines that make a mockery of Christ and the sufficiency of His work. In a context where people were changing justification by faith, Paul tells us that those who preach a difference gospel are to be considered ‘anathama,’ ‘accursed’. Just because someone comes preaching ‘gospel, gospel’ does not mean we embrace them. We should not pretend to agree and accept where their are radical differences and where the nature and working of the gospel itself are at stake. Justification by faith is not an ecumenical doctrine. It does not absolve radical differences over the nature of justification and it does not bring together those who teach and preach different gospel.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Justification by Faith: An Inclusive Doctrine

It is important that in the New Testament we pay attention to the sociological implications of the doctrine of justification by faith. Whether or not we agree with the whole scope of the New Perspective(s) on Paul [NPP], they have rightly pointed to a important factor related to Paul’s articulation of justification by faith: its sociological implications for Jew/Gentile relations.

In Paul’s preaching of justification by faith, he is quite clear that this grand truth of the gospel means that Gentiles are equal with Jews as they are apart from their embrace of the ceremonial Law of the Old Covenant. We will simply state at the outset that we agree fully with the so-called ‘Lutheran Paul’. More accurately, my personal position on justification by faith is the Reformed tradition that teaches that a person is right with God through faith alone. Justification is the declaration of my righteousness through faith as the righteousness of Christ is reckoned/imputed to me. It is clearly a legal verdict--yet it must be rooted within covenant theology and a fully orbed conception of our union with Christ. The riches of this gospel has radical implications for society and the community of believers--aka the church.

When we say the that the doctrine of justification by faith is “inclusive” we mean that it is open to any who would have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We mean that the only thing one must do is have faith in Jesus Christ and his saving death and resurrection. It is open to all who would but believe. It is not restricted to those who first take upon themselves extra requirement and/or submit themselves obedience of the Law. We further mean that it is inclusive in the sense that it is not restricted to those who are ethnically Jewish or proselytize to the Jewish law.

We deny however that it is “inclusive” in the sense that one can be ‘justified’ apart from faith in Christ. Thus, it is not ‘inclusive’ in a religious sense. The whole Bible is quite clear that outside of faith in Jesus Christ there is no salvation. It is unfortunate that in our day and age such ethnic and cultural inclusivity is equivocated with religious inclusivity. Ethnic and cultural inclusivity says that God is no respecter of persons and that all can come to Him if they just believe in Jesus Christ. Those who are religiously inclusive would say that all faiths are equal and it does not matter who or what one believes.

Let’s focus on a few Biblical text to illustrate the manner in which the doctrine of justification by faith in an inclusive context, keeping in mind that we have defined our usage of ‘inclusivity’ both by what it is and is not.

Let’s briefly illustrate what we have said with a few texts:

Romans 3:28-30 “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles also? Yes, the Gentiles also, since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.”

While it is outside our immediate scope to tease out the nuances and nature of “works of the Law” we should point out that this includes elements of ceremony (such as holy days, sacrifices, and circumcision) and other elements that are moral (i.e. murder, love, etc.) One’s righteous standing before God--a legal verdict declared from God--the throne judge--does not come through ‘works of the law’. Rather this justification comes by faith alone. God justifies both Jew and Gentile through faith--not through whether or not the adopt the pattern of the law (ceremonies) or are able to keep the ‘weightier’ matters of the law.
Romans 2:25-27 “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law your circumcision because uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, nor by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”

Again, we will not tease out the nuances here. It is important to note that Jeremiah and Ezekiel serve as the background for this passage. The distinction Paul makes between the letter and the Spirit in 2 Cor. 3 is illuminating to this passage. The focal point of this passage is “who are the people of God”--the true Jew.

While Paul does not mention justification by faith specifically, it is clear that Gentile have come to have an equal inheritance in the kingdom apart from circumcision. This means that they are equal inheritors without the proselytization and adoption of the law. In this sense justification by faith alone is ethnically and culturally inclusive. One need only have faith in Christ.

Romans 4 bears out this thesis. Especially, we not that in Romans 4:5--”And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” It is precisely apart from individuals ‘faithfulness’ and adoption of the ceremonial law that people come to be justified before God. Thus, as Paul fleshes this out--Abraham is made the father of many nations (4:17-18). Abraham is the father of us all--meaning both Jew and Gentile (qua Gentile). This is predicated of course of both Jew and Gentile who have faith in Christ.

In Galatians 3, we see that Paul is clear that Paul justified the Gentiles by faith. Galatians arises as some of the ‘circumcision party’ were coming to Galatia and preaching the Gentiles must be circumcised. If we consider the process of mirror reading to reconstruct what the opponents said by how Paul responds (much like figuring out a conversation by hearing only one side of the phone)--it is most likely that Paul’s opponents were not intentionally preaching that one abandon Christ per se but that now that the Gentile has believed (like Abraham) they now embrace the requirements of the law, especially circumcision so that they produce fruit in keeping with justification. This teaching, of course, undercuts the reality of justification--that one is righteous before God apart from embracing the Law. One does not need to embrace the law--indeed to do so under this pressure nullifies the grace of God.

The status one has before God as adopted ‘sons of God’ comes by faith (3:26). Both Jew and Gentile are ‘sons of God’--heirs of the royal kingdom through belief not through obedience, works of the Law, and social distinctions such as circumcision. In Christ “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female...”

Through justification by faith the blessing given to Abraham--and his ethnic descendants--extends inclusively to all--both Jew and Gentile. Gentiles were to be treated as equal members of God’s people. They had received the full rights of inheritance. They did not need to embrace the ethnic markers of Judaism and proselytize adopting the whole Law. They did not need to ‘finish’ the work of God either through moral obedience or through social identification.

When we understand this inclusive implications for justification by faith--we quickly see that there are no second class citizens in God’s kingdom. For example, modern evangelicalism has often made those deemed less spiritual who aren’t living the ‘surrendered’ life as some how inferior in their standing before God. While Scripture has rebukes for Christian’s walking in habitual sins--and it warns of such unrepentance--we see that a Christian struggle with sin is not less in his status before God and His relationship with God.

If we might further take an example from history, it was William Wilberforce who grasping the radical implications of justification by faith who championed the end of slavery in England well before the days in which it was ended in America. If justification by faith is truly grasped shameful practices like apartheid are seen to be the reprehensible evils that they are--particularly when supported and upheld in the church. Even more the American superiority that dominates American evangelical worldviews should be undercut as we join with brothers and sister from around the world.

What we have articulated here is not at all to undercut the doctrine rediscovered by the church at the Reformation. It is to point out that today the implications of justification by faith are not carried through. The NPP on Paul points to the ecclesiological implications of justification by faith. These are an added stress when we fully grasp the soteriological content of justification by faith.

The solution to the recovery of the implications of justification by faith is to return to preach an unadulterated gospel. We should not back away from justification by faith alone and the glory of the gospel in Christ. We must lift up the work of Christ and appeal to men to believe. We must teach (1) the result status with God that results thanks to Christ’s work and (2) the effects that it brings within the Christian community. Justification by faith leads to nothing less the doctrine and moral reformation of the church. It is the article of a standing or failing church.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

EJ Young and OT History

It is often supposed by opponents of Christianity that if they can prove there is a textual background to elements of the Pentateuch such as the Ten Commandments then they have proved that there was not a ‘divine origin’ to the Old Testament and it is therefore not authoritative.

The conservative Christian perspective is often misrepresented as naive and even ignorant of ancient documents that contains similar law codes and covenant treaties. The fact of the matter is that the conservative Christian position is well aware of the ancient literature that bears both similarities and differences. It is not outside of the scope of divine authority for the OT text to contain elements that are not formally unique to the OT. It is naively assumed that the Christian position is that the whole of Scripture fell from the sky instead of the Biblical doctrine of inspiration, which Warfield classifies as a doctrine of concursus.

The doctrine of concursus states that generally speaking God uses the personality of the human author--his personality, vocabulary and literary style--in the writing of God’s Word. The text bears the authority of God as the writers are “carried along” and the words are “God-breathed” (theopneustos).

In relationship to the Old Testament, this means that there can be a related culture background that influenced the way Moses wrote what he did--both in structure, form, vocabulary and genre. This also does not minimize the authority of the final form of the text and preclude it from being ‘God-breathed’ so that the text is exactly what God wanted to communicate.

In representing the historical Christian position, E.J. Young says this:
“To maintain that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch does not imply that he received by direct divine revelation everything that he wrote. Quite probably large portions of the Law had existed in written form before the time of Moses. If this were so it would account for some of the variations in style and emphasis which are often erroneously attributed to different documents. Moses may very well have pieced together different fragments which had been written long before his time. In a certain sense he may have engaged in the work of compiling. He, however, was responsible for the finished work, and in composing this finished work, the writings which we call the Pentateuch, he labored under the superintendence of the Spirit of God.” --The Infallible Word. “The Authority of the Old Testament” p. 65-66

Many assume that the conservative Christian position is naively unaware of that fact that the Pentateuch records the death of Moses. The position that Moses wrote the Pentateuch is easily caricatured by the obvious fact that Moses could not record the events of his own death after it had occurred.

Young also did not disagree that Moses obviously did not write the account of his death. He held to what me called “essential Mosaic authorship” of the Pentateuch.
“Traditionally, both Jews and Christians, Moses has been regarded as the author of these books. We believe that tradition is in this point correct, that the essential Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch may be maintained. There may indeed be certain few minor additions, such as the account of Moses’ death, which were inserted into the Pentateuch under divine inspiration by a later edition, but this by no means runs counter to the common tradition that Moses is the author of these books.” --The Infallible Word. “The Authority of the Old Testament” p. 65

Apart from what some would have us believe, these questions and the answers to them in relationship to the authority of the Old Testament are not exclusively historical. The question and the answers one derives in relation contain a vital theological component. The conservative Christian position regarding the origins of the Old Testament and its divine authority is not naive to the historical difficulties but also is acutely aware of the theological component. It is precisely this theological component that is ignored by the agnostic and/atheist. When one is bent on proving that the Old Testament is not a divine revelation one will go to great lengths to use every piece of evidence as assertive proof that the text cannot be what it claims. In this respect, where you start determines to a large degree where you end.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Stay Out of Theology If...

Those who cannot stomach calling others “wrong” and being called to the carpet for “wrong” interpretations and theological views should stay out of the theological profession as well as the pastorate--and even the ministry.

If the Biblical text does not stir up conviction within you to “speak the truth in love” and bring the courage to call things what they are--you should again stay out of the theological and ministerial profession.

This does not mean that one has to be a discernment ministries blogger or a rapid dog in the heresy fox hunt. It does however that this whole notion of “offensive” and your “tone” needs to be set aside. If you do not have a bit of tough skin, do not get into debates or seek to advocate any theological/Biblical position.

Again there are some who are just mean and nasty and that is inexcusable. However, if you are an overly sensitive sort and you incessantly worry about offending others. If your first response to every confrontation is to take offense at the person’s tone or attitude, you impute sinister motives to all you disagree with you, or worst of all you assume people disagree with you because they do not understand then please by all means stay out of ministry and the theological profession.

I fully grant that the minister and theologian must be kind and gentle. He must be wary of the bruised reed and the smoldering wick so as not to bruise or snuff them out respectively. At the same time there far too many who are theological weenies and wimps supposing this is for the sake of love and grace. Nothing could be more opposed to the Biblical doctrines of love and grace. For the teacher who truly loves and true shows grace considers his higher calling to God and is unafraid to speak clearly of the nature of God’s grace and love persuasively by expressing concern for those who might be torn to and fro by every wind of doctrine that whips us like a dingy on storm tossed sea.

If you want to handle the truth be sure you can handle the truth.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Should We Wear Clothes?

Apparently this is a topic I should be blogging about more, especially if I want to drive up my hit count:

Maybe I could even start a new post label. I could really get into some trendy marketing: WWJW-- What would Jesus Wear. Or for the ladies: "Purpose driven clothes shopping". Since recovery the creation mandate is so vital to many people, maybe we can all dress like Adam and Eve did before the fall. I mean is clothes are a result of our sinfulness--maybe we should put them off (it wouldn't be too much different than a lot of the over-realized eschatology we see today).

Historicity and the Bible

Art Boulet, a student at Westminster Theological Seminary, has an interesting quote from N.P. Lemche's Prelude to Israel's Past over at his blog: finitum non capax infinitum.

[as an aside the blog name: 'the finite cannot contain the infinite' is a wonderful line with a heritage in Reformed theology--it is quite applicable to among other things: Christology. But that's another blog post]

I won't reproduce the whole excerpt from Lemche (read it here)... but here are a few pertinent points.

It should at the same time be underscored that the members of this research school do as a matter of fact attempt to create a new basis for the Bible’s legitimacy or its larger place in the Christian consciousness. Thus Christians continue to see the Bible as an inspired source of information for themselves as the people of God, although the formerly undisputed historical rationales for their beliefs have been effectively destroyed...
If the narratives of the Pentateuch have nothing to do with history but are no more and no less than what they promise to be—namely, stories—this does not mean that these narratives are not true in their own intention. AS long as they do not claim to be history in the modern sense—something their authors obviously never intended—the idea of reading them as literature will cause no serious trouble....
As far as historicity is concerned, critical scientific analyses of the Bible prove that its claims to absolute authority and undeniable truth cannot stand. Yet its dialectic importance remains intact inasmuch as it presents ideas and thoughts that are just as valuable to present-day readers as to the audience for which it was originally written. It only demands that its readers accept its testimony. Not everyone today considers the Bible an unshakable or unassailable authority...

There is much that could be said about this 'minimalist' view of history. Certainly we should interpret the OT based upon the intentions of the authors but there are certain things in the text that destroy a Biblical faith if the "historical rationales for their beliefs have been effectively destroyed".

Art sums up this way:
I think this is a good example of how people have not understood minimalism. The ‘pop’ understanding of minimalism is that ‘minimalists undermine the authority of the Bible.’ I think Lemche shows here, as well as in other places, that that understanding is not only unnuanced, but completely false. What minimalism does, in my opinion, is read the Hebrew Bible on its own terms and affirms, or seeks to affirm, only what the Hebrew Bible meant to affirm. It’s more of a deconstruction of modernist assumptions of the Hebrew Bible than of the Hebrew Bible itself.

Since Art asks for any thoughts, I decided to weigh in. Here's what I said:

I think we have to be careful that we do not use ‘literary artifice’ to undermine historicity.

I agree that there are some who have not understood “minimalism” and I agree we should read the text with the intention of the text in view–including it’s genre. I also agree that biblical history is not dispassionate, unattached, “objective” history. But that’s not the same as saying it’s ‘non-historical’.

I think Lemche gives way to much credit to the ‘neutrality’ of the historical critical approach as if it is just “following the facts”. In my estimation, in this quote, Lemche throws way too much out. We shouldn’t say that because the ancients didn’t see themselves as writing history in the modern sense that they didn’t see themselves recording past events that actually occurred. Of course they had a vested interest in how they told the account and the perlocutionary effects they sought to achieve. Yet, they also had a vested interest in whether or not these things happened–take Exodus as an example.

Historical study of a document should seek to understand the document the way the ancient reader understood it. Yet if the ancient reader said “This happened” (and assuming we are in narrative-historical passages not an obvious parable or the like)– if we are going to take the Bible as authoritative, we have to take it as referential to actual history.

Lemche himself seems in this quote to fall into a modernist trap by saying let’s interpret the Pentateuch as stories and therefore not historically referential. I think it is too tall of a case to substantiate that the ancient reader would have understood this as community forming stories that were at the same time referring to things that did not happen. In redemptive history the power and effect of the accounts is often dependent on the actuality of their occurrence.

I mean what if the Hebrew Bible is actually affirming that these things actually occurred? I would point out that many minimalists (perhaps not all) would say there are points where the Hebrews did believe this happened or pointed to an event but we now know that it didn’t happened (at least as recorded). This would then to undermine Biblical authority.

I do think that on the one hand the minimalists openly speak of retaining Biblical authority, the problem is twofold: (1) there is a redefinition of Biblical authority. Lemche himself is quoted as saying "it remains authoritative, that is, a valid and respected source of information and guidance for people who accept it as their Bible". Yet if the Bible records a 'redemptive history' that is filled with referents to things that actually occured--then there is no redemption without the history. (2) This redefinition of authority actually undermines authority at key points. As Lemche points out: "The Bible presents a way of understanding itself, God, and the world: we may affirm this view or reject it, for we—like Martin Luther—should not submit slavishly to everything in it (Prelude to Israel’s Past, 230-32).". I concur--but then should we not submit to the points where it makes historical claims? To fail to do so is to fall to actually submit to Biblical authority.

I am sure that Art has more readers than I do, but any thoughts?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Links of the Week

NT. Wright's New Book is coming out in the UK in February and here in the States in June. Here is an interview with N.T. Wright (link).

Here are some responses: Denny Burk and Mark Jones over at Thomas Goodwin. My own take on Wright's interview is (1) it is just a net interview so I'll have to wait for the book; (2) yet his remarks about eschatology and such are odd especially for those of us who follow a more Vosian/Ridderbossian 'Reformed view'. For example, Richard Gaffin's essay "Paul the Theologian (WTJ, 62 [2000] 121-41) points out calling the Reformed view ahistorical is unfair and overstated--albeit an often leveled charge. Again even for it's brevity, it strikes me as no small caricature.

Michael Heisner points is to this classic essay by Donald Hagner on The Old Testament in the New Testament. Worth printing and reading.

Michael Bird is doing some posts on Revelation this weekend. Good stuff.
"Revelation Bonanza" part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Entering the debate on A Theology of Preaching. Particularly this links to some stuff over at XI Marks discussing Dialogue vs. Monologue. My own short take: preaching and proclamation must be dialogue. Yet in evangelism, apologetics, and convincing the belief there is room for dialogue, interaction and questions. For example: I have one fellow at my church who often brings a litany of things to interact on after the message. Monologue in proclamation is a must but it doesn't have to shut out dialogue.

Two good ones on Family Worship:

On Leadership: What Does a Leader Do?

So, what does a leader do? Buckingham’s answer is:
Great leaders rally people to a better future.
A great leader does not control people, he rallies them. He rallies them to realize and bring about a vision of a better future. Buckingham especially emphasizes the future-oriented nature of leadership:
The two key words in this definition are “better future.” What defines a leader is his preoccupation with the future. In his head he carries a vivid image of what the future could be, and this image drives him on. This image, rather than, say, goals of outperforming competitors, or being individually productive, or helping others achieve success, is what motivates the leader.
Don’t misunderstand. An effective leader might also be competitive, achievement oriented, and a good coach. But these are not the characteristics that make him a leader. He is a leader if, and only if, he is able to rally others to the better future he sees. (The One Thing You Need to Know, pp 59-60.)

Trek thought of the Week:
Our universe could be a giant hologram. Which is exactly what Captain Picard pondered at the end of the is Star Trek episode:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tony Jones' Gnostic Charge

Gnosticism is a long-standing religious predilection, popular in Jesus' day, and popular in our own as well...In all cases, more "truth" is available to those who have progressed in the secret knowledge of that particular religion.It seems to me that conservative Christians aren't all that different. Some say that special things happen when a person prays with glossolalia or uses the phrase "In Jesus' Name" almost like a magical incantation. Others say it comes via the rite of the Eucharist. Still others claim that it's belief in a certain set of doctrines that ushers one into the special knowledge.

Two points of historical correction:
(1) I think most scholars are now pretty confident that Gnosticism was not a religious movement popular in Jesus' day. Yes certain religions perhaps had 'gnosis'/'mystical' tendencies but that's not Gnosticism. Jones's chronology is a bit like saying Martin Luther King Jr. was a popular writer in Abraham Lincoln's day.

(2) To my knowledge, Mithra was not, as Jones states, "a gnostic sect of the time." But a lot of this has to do with how you classify and date gnosticism. Particularly, what is Gnosticisms relationship to Zoroastrianism? We must question Iranian theories of origins for Mithraism. As Everett Ferguson notes, "Recent studies on Mithraism have sough the explanation of Roman Mithraism not in old Iranian religion but in the astral religion of the Hellenistic and Roman periods" (Backgrounds of Early Christianity, p.289). This can be a pretty technical in-house debate. While is possible (but I do not think likely based on what I've read) that Gnosticism is derived from Zorastrianism and Mithraism; to call Mithra a "gnostic sect" seems to me to be a category error--at best a bit like saying Platonism was a Aristotelian sect.

We should point out that scholars typically distinguish 'gnosis' ideas--come across the ancient world-- from 'gnosticism' itself. The latter is a second century phenomenon extending onward.

Jones has, of course, leveled this charge of gnosticism against evangelicals before.

All-in all Tony Jones resorts to *cough* a reductio ad Gnosticum. You know I've been dying to use this phrase. The comparisons look good on the surface but they don't even run skin deep. Come on--can't we expect better from a Princeton Grad?

By the way, I wouldn't privilege those who call emerging/emergent folks 'gnostics'. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Disagree on theology all you want but both sides should cut the Gnostic slanders, at least until some real gnostics emerge.

Here's Why I Don't think these charges stick, particularly against confessional evangelicalism:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

John 3:16 and Google

Yesterday on my feedreader, I read this article with the headline "Biblical Literacy Reaches New Low"

The writer points to the fact that this week John 3:16 was the most googled item on the web. Why?

"Oddly, because of last night's BCS Championship football game between the Florida Gators and the Oklahoma Sooners. Florida's quarterback, Tim Tebow, came out to play the game with "John 3:16" written on his eye black ("John" under one eye," "3:16" under the other—hopefully in the right order). "

The writer then queries:

"Isn't it awfully telling that people actually had to look up John 3:16 on Google to know what it says?
Before you think I'm an idiot, let me be clear that I know America is biblically illiterate. But have we reached a new low? It used to be that you could bank on people knowing at least a few biblical texts, and John 3:16 was one of them."

This got me thinking:
  1. What other areas in our Christian presentation do we assume people know when they actually do not? So many of our gospel presentations begin with "sin"--and we cannot minimize the reality of sin for a second, I'm not going softy liberal here. But when you and I talk about "sin" with do so within a Biblical worldview--one that for the culture no longer exists. So our talk of sin can make 'god' look like a prick who gets a bit peeved and then blows a gasket--leaving our culture to say "who does God think he is?" Obvious the rebel will always rebel but it might go a bit further is making known the sinfulness of sin if we started with "God" and "creation". So missionaries go to a foreign land and teach a tribe...they often have to start with much more of the Biblical story before you get to "cross".
  2. The core message of Christianity is without a doubt the love of God in sending Christ to be crucified...but is it possible that we are so good as Christians as stating what we are against (abortion, homosexuality, violence, etc.) that people have lost sight of what we actually stand for? We know people think Christians are smug arrogant judgmental folks. While we should not minimize God's judgment on sin for a second, do we (a) freely and openly acknoledge God's condemnation of us and (b) acknowledge God's deep love that causes the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to covenant together for the sacrifice of the Son of bear the just wrath on us. In short, do people know what we are against but not what we are really for. It is what we are "for" that should define what we are "against"--but typically the latter gets our effort and our PR.
Of course, this opens us to attack and insults from all sides. You will have the old guard that may accuse of being soft on sin and associating with sinners. You will have the new religious establishment that will mock us for clinging to outmoded view of God, wrath and sin and mocking penal substitutionary atonement won at the cross that we cherish. You will have at all points people deriding us for sticking to "Christ and him crucified." But if we make it clearly and we suffer for its sake, I'd say we are in pretty good company.

The challenge:
(1) How can we be better at presenting the gospel?
(2) How can we take a page from say Obama's book and rally people around what we are for?
(3) How can we better do these without comprimise? (e.g. Niebuhr's defintion of liberalism "a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.")

Any thoughts?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Archeology, the Bible and YouTube

Discovery of the oldest Hebrew inscription:

The possibility of discovering Copper Mines of King Solomon. It used to be thought that the activities mentioned in the Bible about David, Solomon et al regarding the early iron age history of Edom were a myth; these recent discoveries of iron smelting dating to 10 cent BC overturn that:

You can read more about King Solomon's mines here at National Geographic and here at the LA Times.

These discoveries are helpful in reasserting the authenticity and historicity of the OT Biblical narratives.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ephesians 4:9

The fact that Jesus ascended into heaven is only possible if Jesus had first descended.

NAU Ephesians 4:9 (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?

There are two interpretations of ‘descended’. One more novel interpretation suggests that the ‘descent’ refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit. It means that if Christ ascended then he also must descend to give gifts in the Spirit. This is interesting but ultimately not the most faithful. While the view is very nuanced, verse 10 seems clear ‘He who descended is He who ascended’. The subject is Christ not Christ and the Spirit. Second, the traditional view is that Christ can only have ascended into heaven if He first descended. The grammar and word order, particularly of verse 10, make this the most likely.

Notice that Paul says “He who descended is Himself also He who ascended.” (o` kataba.j auvto,j evstin kai. o` avnaba.j). Some are quick to point out the unity of the work of Christ and the Spirit (1:13 with 4:30 and 1:23 with 5:18). Certainly the work of Christ and the work of the Spirit cannot be separated. In Pauline theology, Christ is a ‘life-giving Spirit’ who as the exalted second Adam, imparts the Spirit. This bears deeper reflection yet this is not the main point of Paul in Ephesians 4:9. Aside from Spiritual gifts and Christ’s grace giving the gift, the ‘Spirit’ is not the direct referent in the passage. The focus is what happened to Christ and what Christ has done. The most logical way to read the passage that read the least amount into this particular verse is to see Christ as the one who descended first before He descended. There is of course much Biblical reflection on the linking between Christ’s ascent and descent.
John 3:13 13 "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.
There are in the Old Testament and in Second Temple Literature people who ascend into heaven: Enoch, Moses, Elijah, etc. However, the NT associates Christ’s ascent closely with His descent because of the uniqueness of His person. They do not primarily see Him as a mere man who ascend, like the paradigm of exalted figures in Second Temple Judaism. Of course, Christ’s ascension is in full humanity… but this one who became fully human was nonetheless true God—He was identified as part of the divine identity (cf. Richard Bauckham’s God Crucified).

There are two views for interpreting “lower parts of the earth”. One view suggests that the ‘lower parts of the earth’ refers to Hades or Hell—somewhere ‘under earth’. This interpretation was quite popular in some of the church fathers. It means that Christ could not ascend until He had first gone into hell. Some then viewed Jesus as leading captives out of hell in redemption. The grammar here is not in favor of this interpretation. The text here ‘earth’ is a ‘genitive of apposition’. Simply put, the word “earth” examples the phrase “lower parts”. Paul means that Jesus descended to the ‘lower parts, namely the earth’. The lower parts to which Jesus descended is the earth itself. The focus is Christ’s humiliation—which is the incarnation and His death. God the Father did not exalt Christ until after He had descended.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Psalm 68:18 and Ephesians 4:8


The verse Paul quotes here by quotation is Psalm 68:18. There is a difficulty that arises when we go back to both the Hebrew text and the Greek translation (LXX) of this verse. Both read as the English translates it:
Psalm 68:18 You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, Even among the rebellious also, that the LORD God may dwell there.

Two things stand out: Paul changes the “You” to “He” which is not all the much of a problem when we realize that Paul is making the reference to Christ in this Psalm clear. However, more problematic is the difference between “You have received gifts among men” to “He gave gifts to men.” Is Paul misquoting the Old Testament?

How do we understand Paul’s problematic quote?

First, this Psalm is a Psalm of victory. It is detail the power and might of God over Israel’s enemies and how God delivers Israel.

Psalm 68:19-22 19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation. Selah. 20 God is to us a God of deliverances; And to GOD the Lord belong escapes from death. 21 Surely God will shatter the head of His enemies, The hairy crown of him who goes on in his guilty deeds. 22 The Lord said, "I will bring them back from Bashan. I will bring them back from the depths of the sea;

The Psalm is also about the ascent of God into Zion, the temple Mountain. In the original context, this triumphant battle victory would have secured the victor gifts.

Psalm 68:24 24 They have seen Your procession, O God, The procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary.

This makes the theological context a point of connection: Paul would see the paradigm of ascending to the temple mount fulfilled by Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father.

Second, the larger context of the Psalm does specifically speak of God giving gifts to His people. In verse 10, God provides for the poor. It is his gift to deliver His people. In verse 35, God gives strength and power to His people.

Third, some scholars suggest that the reason Paul refers to Jesus giving gifts rather than receiving gifts is that Paul is reflection on how God took the Levites as a gift and gave them back to Israel.

Numbers 18:5-8 5 "So you shall attend to the obligations of the sanctuary and the obligations of the altar, so that there will no longer be wrath on the sons of Israel. 6 "Behold, I Myself have taken your fellow Levites from among the sons of Israel; they are a gift to you, dedicated to the LORD, to perform the service for the tent of meeting. 7 "But you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything concerning the altar and inside the veil, and you are to perform service. I am giving you the priesthood as a bestowed service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death." 8 Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, "Now behold, I Myself have given you charge of My offerings, even all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual allotment.
The argument goes like this: when YHWH takes gifts from His people, He also takes the Levites as His possession and gives them gifts so that they can oversee the religious duties of worship. First, this help explains where Paul goes with the nature of the gifts given. His focus will be on the gifts of leadership and teaching. The problem is that in Psalm 68:18 and in Paul’s use those taken captive seem to be enemies and foes not future servants.

Fourth, by far the best explanation of this text is that Paul is doing what the Rabbi’s called pesher. It is a way of interpreting the text that focuses not some much on original words but leaps from the text to a pertinent contemporary explanation. In the fourth and fifth century there was an Aramaic Targum—a Jewish work that interpreted the Psalm--where they said “you gave gifts” rather than “received”. In the Hebrew you only have to switch one letter of the word “receive” (xql; lqh) to have the word “give” (qlx; hlq). It was not unusual for first century Jewish interpreters to make such word plays. It is quite possible that Paul knows of this tradition. Some evidence suggest that Jews used Psalm 68 at Pentecost, the feast of Booths. If this is true, it would be quite natural for Paul to take a Psalm used at Pentecost and apply it to the true fulfillment of Pentecost:

Acts 2:33 33 "Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.
Finally, regardless of why Paul uses the verse the way that he does, he is writing as an apostle inspired by God and so the words we have in Ephesians 4;8 are ‘God breadthed’. With such authority, Paul is under no obligation to quote a text word for word from the Old Testament but may use it as part of a partner or paradigm.

Conclusion: Paul uses the passage to refer to the ascent of Christ into heaven. Christ’s ascent into heaven triumphs over the rulers and authorities of this age—as he puts them under His feet. Christ also dispenses special gifts from heaven to build and support the body which is specially united to Him.

Ephesians 1:19-23 9 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

i) The ascension is a display of God’s power.

ii) First the power is displayed in defeating the rule and authority, power and dominion. Everything is in subjection to Him.

iii) As head over the church he dispenses this power in giving gifts.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sermon Applications 1/4/09

Text: Ephesians 4:7-10


You and I must rethink how we think about and use our spiritual gifts.In the parable of the talents, the one who has less of a gift doesn’t use his gift:

Matthew 25:16-18 16 "Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. 17 "In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. 18 "But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

Matthew 25:24-27 24 "And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 'And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.' 26 "But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. 27 'Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.

How often do we fail to use our gift because we see it as “little” or “insignificant”? So someone will say: “I am not a teacher like you pastor, there isn’t much I can do in the church.” But you have a gift and you are to use it for God’s glory. In the same way, a pastor might think: “I’m not a Charles Spurgeon, I’m not going to serve until I have the opportunity for a large ministry and can reach thousands and tens-of-thousands.”

The church is held captive to celebrity and the temptation to seek renown. Call it ‘superstar syndrome.’ There is a joy that comes when you find your gift and use it in the local body. It may be simple most unnoticeable: running sound, shoveling snow, driving an elderly to church, praying tirelessly, encouraging others. Or it may serve to build up Christian through teaching and preaching. When you look for the celebrity gifting and you seek renown through your gift—you are denying the grace of God.

There are two ways people have superstar syndrome:
  1. This is obvious: they seek fame, fortune and ‘a name’. Men like Whitfield, Spurgeon, and MacArthur has such things thrust upon them by God’s grace. They would be the first to tell you how insignificant they are. But then there are those who want to “be somebody”—they climb ministry like a corporate ladder—this makes a mockery of God’s gift.
  2. This is hidden danger: people who refuse to serve because they think: “what can I do for God”. –the answer is the same for everyone: YOU can do nothing; but GOD has gifted you. When you are ashamed to step up and use your gift because you think it is “humble” to think lowly of yourself, you have actually bought into the ‘celebrity’ culture—“I have one talent—what can I do with that”. This too makes a mockery of God’s grace to you. Fear to use your gift whether it is fear of failure, inadequacy, insignificance or the fear of standing out all stem a failure in our hearts to fully see the liberating power of the gospel and God’s grace.


Christ gives His gift to you by virtue of His ascension. The KING has given you a spiritual gift. It is Jesus Christ who has ascended into heaven and filled all things—most especially the church who gives you your gift. The gift He gives you was won through his defeat of your enemies. He now shares the spoils of war with you. The way that Christ exercises Lordship in our local body is by giving everybody here a gift to use to serve Him. Our service is for the benefit of others.

Imaging, you are little child on the playground and you have nothing really. You come from a poor family and you are constantly picked upon and beat up. You don’t have a nice backpack like everybody else. Now imagine one day after you are throne into the mud by bullies, a big high-schooler comes over—who is the crossing guard. He picks you up and dusts you off—but your clothes and school supplies are ruined. He says, “Wait here”. He goes off and he beats those bullies up. He takes their jacket and their fancy backpack off and they run away scared, humiliated and defeated. He comes back and hands you the backpack with all the books and supplies. When you get to class do you use your gift? Of course—the one who gave it to you, gave it in grace and gave it out of his power and authority. You are delighted to use it.

You and I should not be fearful about stepping forward and using our gifts. We should not hold off because we are too small. If Christ has won the victory, we should not hold back thinking: “what good will it do” or “I might exhaust myself and see no fruit.” Just like the staff of the president says, “I serve at the pleasure of the president” so we should look at our gifts and say, “I will serve at the pleasure of my King.”


Christ’s gift-giving role is more vital and more gospel-centered than we think. Gifts come through His grace as part of the work of the death-resurrection-ascension. Gifts comes as part of Christ exercising supremacy. Gifts comes to us as Christ’s fullness is imparted to the church.

i) Do you in your practice take seriously Christ as a gift-giver. Some of us need to confess. I belittle Christ when I don’t use my gift. I belittle Christ when I think me and my gift are superior to all others. I belittle Christ when I don’t see the gifting that he has given others (when I have “superstar syndrome”). I belittle Christ when I don’t cherish other gifts.

ii) Do you see the great cost at which the gifts were won? This obligates us at a whole new level. The cost of my gift was Christ’s own descent—the humiliation of Christ in become humble as a human and dying on a cross. I am obligated not because I can ever pay Christ back but because I cannot pay Him back. He is God. He is LORD. He is not my equal. We do not set out to serve Him saying, “I have a debt to pay back”—that makes us God’s equal—that makes us like a contract worker… contract workers can pick a choose what contracts to enter into. If we think we have a debt we can pay back, we look and say, “I’ll do this but not this, because if I do this we’ll be even.” If my gifts are won with a price that cannot be paid back my obligation is to a LORD who owns my very life. I truly am a bond-servant to a new level.

iii) Some of us are fearful… we are afraid to use our gifts; we are afraid to volunteer. Our fear comes because we do not see the sufficient of Christ—God’s grace is sufficient, that means his spiritual gift that Christ gave you is more than sufficient to enable you to serve where He wants you. Fear stems ultimately to trust the ascended Christ; we fail to see with our hearts the sufficiency of His cross. In defeating His enemies He has won the spoils of war—He shares them in gifts to us. When we grasp God’s grace there is no fear to serve.

iv) Maybe we do not even know where to begin.

  1. Step #1: Pray both in confession and for opportunity.
  2. Step #2: Serve in little ways first. For example, many people often start serving in areas they can do. Can you babysit? Can you clean a little? Are you organized? Are you a bit of a handyman? Can you walk an aisle and hold a plate? All provide areas to begin serving.
  3. Step #3: Humbly, seek more opportunities to serve. Once you are serving, look for other areas. Challenge yourself “I’ve never tried that before”. Train someone to fill your role and then you can serve somewhere else.
  4. Step: #4: Ask.

v) How you use your spiritual gift and your attitude about your gift are by-products of how we see the gospel and Jesus’ exaltation in the gospel. Do you serve with or sit on your gift?—the answer shows how you grasp the gospel. Are you confident in Christ or confident in yourself? Are you fearful of failure or fearful of the Lord—the latter says “God, you are so awesome, I can never pay you back—but I want to delight in what you have given me so I will use my gift you gave with grace.”

Monday, January 5, 2009

Book Review: "The Jesus Legend"

This was an excellent book for those interested in the study of the historical Jesus. It tackles the issues for those who postulate that Jesus is nothing more than a myth and the gospels are filled with glaring historical inaccuracies. It is fairly comprehensive in its treatment of the issues.

It relies heavily on theories of oral transmission and debunks form criticism and radical redation criticism. It deals with the theories that Jesus is a legend, Paul was silent on Jesus, deals with external evidence for Jesus, and defends the composition of the gospels.

This book is fairly technical and has detailed footnotes. The authors argue their case clearly and persuasively. Their weighing of historical facts and arguments is careful and reasoned. They take on the major areas where the Synoptic Tradition has been attacked. It is well worth a careful read. Unlike some works on the Gospels, which are more in house works on the historical Jesus or Synoptic issues, this work has the advantage from working first through the radical theories (some that are even beyond the 'Jesus Seminar') right down through to the reliability of the Synoptic Witness. This created a multipronged attack and defense for the historical reliability of Gospel witness and the orthodox conception of Jesus.

The first major chapter entitled "Miracles and Method" takes on the issue as whether a historian can talk about miracles or whether they are a priori ruled out. Eddy and Boyd adopt a self-critical stance that begins with the openness to the possibility that there are things beyond our ability to evaluate scientifically. Their treatment is helpful at this point as they take on philosophical presuppositions but also bring sociological studies to bear. They argue that those who reject miracles simple on Enlightenment philosophy are less scientifically uncritical (and hence more narrow-minded) they often portray themselves to be.

In chapter 2, they take on the "Yahweh Embodied" myth--that Christianity arose out of pagan influences on first-century Judaism. This methodology is typified by the history of religions school--both the old and new. The chapter concludes with a discussion on the monotheism of the first century Judaism.

Chapter 3 discusses whether Jesus is just one legend among many. They discuss and debunk the "parallels" of mythic heroes, Greco-Roman mystery religions, dying and rising gods, and other historical figures such as Apollonius of Tyana. This section is particularly helpful in the post Da Vinci code era of pop-religion where speculative theories on the history of religion and mythological parallelomania abound. In most scholarly guilds, these theories were debunked more than a generation ago but unfortunately have now found new life, a redivivus, in a world of blogs, youtube and movies like Zeitgeist. The proliferation of information does not correspond to increase in knowledge and historical, logical reasoning. The Jesus Legend is a breadth of fresh air into this dank corner of postmodernity conspiracy theorists.

Chapters 4 and 5 take on the 'silence' of secondary sources and the 'silence' of Paul respectively. The authors handle the secondary sources carefully, even engaging in discussions of authenticity particular with relevant passages in Josephus. These issues are nothing new to historical Jesus studies, but the authors have compiled a helpful overview and discussion. Accounting for the context of the ancient historians the alleged "silence" is not as damning as it first appears given that Christianity was a fledgling movement that started as a Jewish sect. The authors continue that Paul is not as silent as we are often led to believe by radical Jesus scholarship.

The real muscle of an already strong book comes in part 3: "Between Jesus and the Gospels: The Early Oral Tradition of Jesus" and part 4: "The Synoptic Gospels as Historical sources for Jesus." The authors dive into the mounds of research on oral cultures that have been produced in the latter half of the twentieth century. Like Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Eddy and Boyd show that form criticism was developed in the laboratory of a post-Gutenberg world and does not account for what we actually know (a) about early Christianity and (b) the transmission of story within oral culture. The authors are careful in their discussion of how memory and orality works. They do not overextend their claims but are able to debunk a number of assertions of form criticism and the problems in Synoptic studies that developed into overly zealous redactionary theories. The authors then discuss the genre and nature of the gospels and finally evaluate the Synoptics as historical sources.

Overall, the work is careful with source, historical methodology and judicious argumentation. This book is highly recommended. It is written at a technical level but a rigorous student who will read carefully and put in some hard study should have no problems accessing the information. It is a helpful work for those interested in apologetics and would make a solid addition to any pastor's library. Highly Recommended.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...