Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Regulae Fidei (Updated)

Michael Bird posts this excerpt from Paul Blowers on the Rule of Faith:

"My premise here is that at bottom, the Rule of Faith (which was always associated with Scripture itself) served the primitive Christian hope of articulating and authenticating a world-encompassing story or metanarrative of creation, incarnation, redemption, and consummation. I will argue that in the crucial 'proto-canonical' era in the history of Christianity, the Rule, being a narrative construction, set forth the basic 'dramatic' structure of a Christian vision of the world, posing as an hermeneutical frame of reference for the interpretation of Christian Scripture and experience, and educing the first principles of Christian theological discourse and of a doctrinal substantiation of Chrsitian faith" (p. 202)." from Paul M. Blowers "The Regulae Fidei and the Narrative Character of Early Christian Faith," Pro Ecclesia 6.2 (1997)

Since I have been looking at the early church history in Sunday School, I thought this might be helpful to repost this quote.

Update: Here's another quote:
"For Irenaeus and Tertullian alike it is imperative to identify the Canon of Truth or Rule of Faith as Scripture's own intrinsic story-line in order to avoid the Gnostics' double-talk, their propagating of one myth on the philosophical level while still trying, on another level, to commnicate it with pieces of scriptural narrative. Thus when Irenaeus expounds the Rule of Faith for his friend Marcianus in his Epideixis, he does it literally by retelling the biblical story and indicating the underlying nexus between its constitute elements as though he were unfolding the sequences of a drama. The story of creation, paradise, and the fall present a prelude. There follows a long exhibition of redemptive history (christological excurses notwithstanding), beginning with the antediluvia stories of obedience and disobedience, then moving on to the patriarchs, the lawgiving, the exodus and conquest, the message of the prophets - all told, a history of promises fulfilled in the recapitulative work of Jesus Christ. Irenaeus completes his exposition in the Epideixis by setting out a host of ancient prophecies fulfilled in Christ, and at last displaying the glory of the new covenant and the prospective new life in the Spirit opened up to the Gentiles" (pp. 212-13).

Friday, September 25, 2009


So follow the logic with me. Joe Biden says if the GOP take back 35 house seats in 2010:
“If they take them back, this the end of the road for what Barack and I are trying to do,”
And then, according to the report, he says:

Biden said these House seats are Republicans “one shot” at breaking the Obama administration’s agenda. But if Democrats can hold on to those seats, “the dam is going to break,” he said, and a new era of bipartisanship will begin.

“All the hidden Republicans that don’t have the courage to vote the way they want to vote because of pressure from the party … it will break the dam and you will see bipartisanship,” Biden said.

So wait, here seems to be the logic: if we do not have any members of the opposing party we will have more bitartisanship? So as long as no one is around to resist what the President and Vice President want to do we will actually be more bipartisan?

As for bipartisanship, with apologies to Inigo Montoya, I say: "You keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it means."

WTS and Biblical Languages

One of the reasons I specifically went to Westminster Theological Seminary was their commitment to the Biblical languages. I didn't want to waste my time repeating the bulk of my college curriculum, studying the Bible in only the English (aside from the wonderful Greek classes I had in college). If I was going to seriously study the Bible, I wanted to pour my efforts into doing it thoroughly and going deeper than previously done in my academic study. For me that clearly meant the knowing the original languages. I can remember chatting with LBC professor Dr. Steve Nichols, a graduate of WTS, and being assured of the priority of languages at WTS.

The languages should be important for pastors.

One of my favorite professors at Westminster was the late Al Groves. I remember first meeting him at LBC when he came and gave a guest lecture to professors at LBC and I mention to weasel my when in to hear him. When I went to LBC I mentioned I had met him before and he was just the warmest and friendly person. I remember running into him just before graduation and he had been signing diplomas and he had mentioned praying for me and others by name as he went through them.

In one or two of my classes I remember sitting with Professor Groves' wife who was studying for her MAR. I chatted with her once or twice although I doubt she remembers me. I however remember how both Professor Al Groves and Elizabeth Groves were wonderful testimonies to the grace of God. It is delightful to see that she is now a lecturer in Old Testament.

Here is Elizabeth Groves lecturing on the importance of Biblical languages, particularly Hebrew, for pastors and serious students of God's Word.

If you're in seminary or looking to go to seminary be sure to spend your time in the Biblical languages. If you are a pastor like me, and we know the stress of the daily grind, be sure not the neglect the Biblical languages. I recognize the tyranny of the urgent often over takes us. There can be little immediate payoff of languages for counseling or that grieving family. But your goal is not only meeting those immediate needs. Your long term goal is mastery of God's Word so that you and your church can be mastered by it. This means do not neglect the languages of the Bible in your own study. I saw these things not as one who has mastered the original languages to the level that I would like but as one who has made it my goal to do so because I believe that it is vital for a long term success of preaching the Word of God.

(HT: Tim Challies)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What is Idolatry

One of the best definition of Idolatry:

What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.

Martin Luther Larger Catechism.

My Sin

“For my sin was this—that I looked for pleasures, exaltations, truths, not in God Himself but in His creatures (myself and the rest), and so I fell straight into sorrows, confusions, and mistakes.”

Augustine Confessions I.20

Friday, September 18, 2009

Exchanging God's Glory

Studying for this Sunday's sermon on the Golden Calf "incident". I ran across this passage:

Psalm 106:19-20 19 They made a calf in Horeb And worshiped a molten image. 20 Thus they exchanged their glory [כְּבוֹדָם] For the image of an ox that eats grass.

ESV translates כְּבוֹדָם as 'glory of God' and NIV capitalizes glory to indicate glory is a euphemism referring to God. I think they are right. But this leads me to think that this passage is influencing what Paul writes is paradigmatic of all idolatry: the exchange of God's glory for something far inferior.

Romans 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

While Romans 1 focuses in on Gentile sins in particular until the other shoe drops in Romans 2, it should not go unnoticed that Israel herself had a storied history with idolatry--the zenith of such idolatry is Israel's infidelity at the very moment when God was solidifying His covenant vows with Israel as Moses' was up on the mountain. It's a bit like a bride getting caught at the wedding with another man. And yup, that is the grotesqueness of our sin in God's eyes. Reflecting on that should make His grace appear all the more gracious, loving and forgiving.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Evangelism Statistics

91% of all Christian outreach/evangelism does not target non-Christians but targets other Christians [IBMR Jan 2008, 29]. (HT: Ancient Hebrew Poetry)

97% of Christians die without sharing their faith. (HT: Josh Reich)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Just for fun...

So if you saw the President's speech today Wall Street is supposed to: "to embrace serious financial reform, not resist it."
So what's he saying?
I mean, I'm just saying...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dueling Duo on Atonement & Repentance

So there is this common argument that abounds that says we can't believe in a substitutionary atonement because then God asks us to do something (forgive others unconditionally) that he doesn't do himself (since the cross is a condition of forgiveness). The idea then that people who hold this view would propose is that God can simply forgive and accept repentance without having to punish Christ and pour His wrath out of Christ. They would argue the cross is an example to us of sacrifice not a means by which God's wrath comes upon Christ.

So Brian McLaren says it this way:

At about 1:48 he states:
"Yeah. And I heard one well-known Christian leader, who—I won’t mention his name, just to protect his reputation. Cause some people would use this against him. But I heard him say it like this: The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself. God asks us to forgive people. But God is incapable of forgiving. God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive. God doesn’t say things to you—Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive…. And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else."

So hears the dueling duo (explanation) that I propose in response:

Athanasius The Incarnation of the Word 6.1-3
For this cause, then, death having gained upon men, and corruption abiding upon them, the race of man was perishing; the rational man made in God’s image was disappearing, and the handiwork of God was in process of dissolution. 2. For death, as I said above, gained from that time forth a legal hold over us, and it was impossible to evade the law, since it had been laid down by God because of the transgression, and the result was in truth at once monstrous and unseemly. 3. For it were monstrous, firstly, that God, having spoken, should prove false—that, when once He had ordained that man, if he transgressed the commandment, should die the death, after the transgression man should not die, but God’s word should be broken. For God would not be true, if, when He had said we should die, man died not.

Athanasius The Incarnation of the Word 7.1-5
But just as this consequence must needs hold, so, too, on the other side the just of God lie against it: that God should appear true to the law He had laid down concerning death. For it were monstrous for God, the Father of truth, to appear a liar for our profit and preservation. 2. So here, once more, what possible course was God to take? To demand repentance of men for their transgression? For this one might pronounce worthy of God; as though, just as from transgression men have become set towards corruption, so from repentance they may once more be set in the way of incorruption. 3. But repentance would, firstly, fail to guard the just claim of God. For He would still be none the more true, if men did not remain in the grasp of death; nor, secondly, does repentance call men back from what is their nature—it merely stays them from acts of sin. 4. Now, if there were merely a misdemeanour in question, and not a consequent corruption, repentance were well enough. But if, when transgression had once gained a start, men became involved in that corruption which was their nature, and were deprived of the grace which they had, being in the image of God, what further step was needed? or what was required for such grace and such recall, but the Word of God, which had also at the beginning made everything out of nought? 5. For His it was once more both to bring the corruptible to incorruption, and to maintain intact the just claim of the Father upon all. For being Word of the Father, and above all, He alone of natural fitness was both able to recreate everything, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be ambassador for all with the Father.

This whole caricature against penal substitutionary atonement is a tired old straw man. It actually shows little or no reflection on what the opposing view holds and how they'd respond. So much for open dialogue. The above argument against penal substitution makes a category error in equating our sins against man and our sin against God. Indeed, it misses the larger issues at play in redemptive history and the effects of the fall. My sins against man on a human level is a mere shadow of the offense and consequences of my sin against God.

Mere repentance is not enough. As Athanasius argues in chapter 8, 9 and 10, the debt of the law must be satisfied by the death of Christ. The law which causes ruin because of the transgression of men must be undone. When Christ offers up his body, made like us in every way except without sin, he thus "satisfied the debt by his death." Of course, the atonement is impossible unless Christ is truly human.

When your conception of 'the kingdom of God' has little use for substitutionary atonement and you run roughshod over the whole of church history, might it not be time to rethink your conception?

Far from having a 'gospel of sin management', Athanasius understood the original goodness of creation and what was neccessary to restore it and bring it to its final state of glorification. Thus, incarnation, atonement and resurrection were intertwined. This too was not divorced from the effects on the individual who placed faith in Christ.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Silence is Golden

"It is better to be silent and be real, than to talk and not be real" --Ignatius of Antioch Letter to the Ephesians 15.1

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Health Care, Government, and the Kingdom

It is a common argument that because the Kingdom of God is concerned with elevating oppression and healing the sick and alleviating the poor that the Christian must out of moral obligation support the current policies of the administration. Perusing Jim Wallis' Sojourners and one will find such arguments. While it is neigh impossible to be committed to the kingdom of God and neglect showing love and compassion for the poor, widow and orphan as true religion must we all agree on the means of reaching such an end?

Christians can have legitimate debate over Republican versus Democratic policies on issues such as alleviating economic injustice and providing stable health care. There is legitimate division over means. Where Scripture is silent we must exercise wisdom and short of glory we will legitimately disagree and I would argue we can do so without violating key Christian principles (despite what Liberty University might say about the democratic party). Where we cannot disagree is over Biblical mandates as part of citizen's of God's kingdom that we must care for the poor and reach those who are truly helpless. The early church has a strong history of reaching the poor. Would that our government complained about the church the way the Emperor Julian did: "when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the [pagan] priests, the impious Galileans [aka Christians] observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence...the impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us."

Yet, I am not convinced that partnering with the government is equally helpful in order to reach this end. I recently had opportunity to respond in an online chat to a friend. He made several arguments namely that (1) the kingdom of God mandates we take care of the poor [agree]--we certainly have the task of caring out the eschatological victory won. (2) That when the church doesn't have the resources it should (must?) be taken up by the government and (3) health care for profit is horrendous because profit motive will alway overtake priority for care [as a Reformed type I do want to be skeptical of the human heart--but always?].

Here were my thoughts. My personal context comes from one committed to Reformed Theology and a Biblical theology worked out by Vos, Ridderbos and Klein, although I have gleaned insights from many outside that stream including N.T. Wright among others. I tend to favor conservative policies of government but I also want to be concerned with the higher calling of Christ for the poor and injustice perpetrate upon both the poor and the rich (often missed today is the the Bible warns against injustice against the rich too). I sight the work of Brown, Gilder and Richards but fully confess I am still absorbing their work so I don't really elaborate. Here it is:

I appreciate the emphasis on the kingdom of God and as well as the imago dei. Caution should be advised when we think about linking the state with KoG issues. First, consider Luke 4:18-19 and the mandate that the KoG "proclaim liberty to captives" and "set at liberty those who are oppressed". I believe this of course includes both physical and spiritual realities--but most of us would decry associating this with Bush's invasion of Iraq. It would be crass to argue that since the state has better resources to liberate captives, the church can defer to it when liberty from oppression is at stake. Second relying on the state to usher in eschatological realities would seemingly be critiqued heavily by the apocalyptic theology of Revelation (despite how that's slaughtered a la Left Behind). Indeed rival kingdoms set up a false hope that pursues a false trinity (Satan and Beasts) that rivals the true eschatological in breaking. Note well Revelation critiques bald greed and earthly authority structures that oppress. Now matter what claimed motives are we should be wary. Third, I would note the early church met the needs of the poor but was actually hindered by the rise of Constantine and his partnering with the church to meet the needs of the poor. As Peter Brown argues in Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire, the state was able to keep the church in check seemingly as they worked together for the poor, essentially the state funneling money through the church. The point being: partnership does not have a good history.

The notion that profit motive inherently evil is not necessarily true either. Yes, Adam Smith argued capitalism is motivated by self-interest and yes that can run amok to Christian morals turning into a pure Darwinian or Nietzschean approach. But if I understand Gilder (Poverty and Wealth) a bit, and I confess I must read him more thoroughly, he argues that capitalism is [can be?] altruistic. The choose of profit over care is a false dichotomy. Yes it can become that but it is not necessarily inherent. Part of the argument seems based on the myth of capitalism is a 'zero-sum game'--e.g. someone is always exploited (see Richards' Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution Not The Problem). Second from a Christian perspective those who serve are allowed to earn for their service, 1 Cor 9:8-11. It does not make gospel ministry/service exploitive because one collects any more than it makes public service in the government exploitive because not only does one get a paycheck but one gets lucrative book deals, speaking engagements and banquets.

This is difficult issue and no matter what party you support you can agree that it must be dealt with. Christian convictions should drive us. But imago dei covers issues of liberty over oppressive government as well. The eschatological benefits of the kingdom are concerned with both individual salvation and systemic issue (social justice AND oppression by power). I struggle personally with if and how we should legislate such items. Martin Luther King Jr. was right to argue that while the law cannot make a man love it can keep him from lynching.


If however profit can take priority over care what about systems and bureaucracy taking priority over care?

So how do we care for the poor and avoid systemic oppression both from big corporation (note Revelation 18) and empowered socialized government? The first rule of medical triage is to do no harm--we have to be equal wary unintended consequence such as oppressing people in further poverty. Sometimes we have to say "if you do not work, you shall not eat" --and not because we are Neitzschean capitalists sloth is equally degrading to the imago dei. Indeed the imago dei dignifies work, and wealth can be pursued for mutual benefits. Note I am not arguing that all poverty results from sloth, that would be foolhardy--but does a system designed to do good produce more disaster? Sometimes we have to eat our lumps other times we can pursue a greater excellence.

When I speak of eating our lumps I am reminded of Jonathan Edwards in a sermon entitled "Christian Charity" remarking that sometimes we have to give money to a wasteful parent for the sake of the children. In what I believe is a must read essay, Tim Keller interacts with it helpful in his "The Gospel and the Poor". Keller helpful raps up:

In summary, many "conservatives" are motivated to help the poor mainly by compassion. This may come from a belief that poverty is mainly a matter of individual irresponsibility. It misses the fact that the "haves" have what they have to a great degree because of unjust distribution of opportunities and resources at birth. If we have the world's goods, they are ultimately a gift. If we were born in other circumstances, we could easily be very poor through no fault of our own. To fail to share what you have is not just uncompassionate but unfair, unjust. On the other hand, many "liberals" are motivated to help the poor mainly out of a sense of indignation and aborted justice. This misses the fact that individual responsibility and transformation has a great deal to do with escape from poverty. Poverty is seen strictly in terms of structural inequities. While the conservative "compassion only" motivation leads to paternalism and patronizing, the liberal "justice only" motivation leads to great anger and rancor.

Both views, ironically, become self-righteous. One tends to blame the poor for everything, the other to blame the rich for everything. One over-emphasizes individual responsibility, the other under-emphasizes it. A balanced motivation arises from a heart touched by grace, which has lost its superiority-feelings toward any particular class of people. Let's keep something very clear: it is the gospel that motivates us to act both in mercy and in justice.

Recently, I heard a quote second hand that was attributed to one of my mentors: "The Republican party does not set the agenda for the church." I think this is accurate. Indeed no political mechanism should set the agenda for the church. We should think carefully about these issues as Christians which means a return to the Scriptures. Equally all parties could learn a lot from history of the church, particular the Early Church on how to handle issues of kingdom, poverty, and state.

One blog post will not resolve the current state of affairs or add deeply to our theology/philosophy for solutions to the complex problems but hopefully it adds some things to think about.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...