Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thoughts on Archeological Data

The debate over the archeology and the Bible will always rage. There are of course a range of options including:
  1. The reliability of the Biblical text should interpret archeology.
  2. The reliability of the Biblical text which can be further supplemented by archeological data. Harmonization does not threaten but further illuminates the Biblical text.
  3. The archeological data can call into the question the Biblical text. Harmonization may cause serious reevaluation of key points in the text.
  4. The archeological data general creates a picture of radical skepticism over the Biblical text.
This is of course a layman's summary of the differing positions. My own stance from my admittedly limited reading in the subject would be along the lines of #2. Cultural study and archeological data can illuminate the text. It can seriously temper our exegesis--but the Biblical text as a whole is reliable.

Part of the problem is the the relationship between textual data and archeological data. This is a dilemma that plagues all study of the Ancient Near East (ANE). Generally in ANE studies textual data is assumed reliable unless archeological data over turns it. Often the archeological data will temper the reading of the text. Nevertheless, it is understood that archeological data never preserves a complete picture. There are times where texts are clearly ideological. Assyrian texts often whitewash history--and as a rule ancient historians never record big losses. A critical reading of the text will often carefully weed through the details. In some causes, ideological biases do not mean the text is totally unreliable as a witness to history.

When it comes to the Biblical text there are number of things we can say. First, often times there is an inherent biased against the Biblical text. Some Biblical scholars whose first field is in ancient history, men like K.A. Kitchen, James K. Hoffmeier (and here) and John Currid, have shown how we can read the Biblical text in concert with the archeological data in a manner that does not necessarily take a skeptical approach. Their approach is to interpret the text in light of its ANE context. Kitchen in particular has shown that the skeptism and radical questioning of the text by some Biblical scholars goes beyond critical theory that we find in other historical disciplines in ANE studies. The Biblical scholars often go out of there way to prove the unreliability of the Biblical text.

Second, the nature of archeological data is such that 100% of the data is never preserved. We never have all the information that we would like. This means that just because something in the Biblical text cannot be verified by archeological data does not mean the it is an unreliable text.

Third, archeology is not like TV with CSI where they just follow the evidence. In fact, the problem with this show is it rules out the necessary interpretative process of all facts and evidence. This is hardly postmodern radical skepticism. Some interpretation are more valid than others. Indeed we cannot merely impose our reading on evidence. However, just because we have evidence in archeology does not mean we have a neutral starting point over and against a "biased" text.

Fourth, while I believe the Biblical text is factual and reliable I need to admit two things. (1) As an interpreter I am biased and can make errors in interpretation. (2) The Biblical text is itself biased--and that is a good thing. What I mean that it gives us God's revelation. It gives us God's perspective and often "God's interpretation" of events. It shows us His hand, His involvement, His redemptive history. The Biblical text is biased but it is reliable and trustworthy. God wants us to have his perspective of the events that took place. The Bible is not just bare history. The history is intertwined with theology. Of course, we cannot go to far the other way and say that because it is theological it is historically unreliable--this too is naive.

With those things said, and acknowledging the debate over archeology and Biblical history of Israel will never be fully resolved, we should point out that archeologist are often recovering information that challenges the radical skepticism. Here is one example:
An Israeli archaeologist said Monday that ancient fortifications recently excavated in Jerusalem date back 3,000 years to the time of King Solomon and support the biblical narrative about the era.

If the age of the wall is correct, the finding would be an indication that Jerusalem was home to a strong central government that had the resources and manpower needed to build massive fortifications in the 10th century B.C.

That's a key point of dispute among scholars, because it would match the Bible's account that the Hebrew kings David and Solomon ruled from Jerusalem around that time.
There has been some other data that has given us indication that there was a "house of David," as recorded in the Bible--though not without its own debate. One of the problems is the archeological lack of evidence on a strong kingdom during the dates David and Solomon purportedly reigned. It is important to note the axiom "absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence." Even more, we should be cautious of making demands about what the evidence should be (1) because evidence does not always survive as history marches on--and in some cases, over it; (2) sometimes we falsely paint a pre-conceived picture over what a massive kingdom must have been like--we make it quite alien from the time and place. (For example: K.A. Kitchen, in On The Reliability of the Old Testament, discusses this as it relates to Joshua's incursion on the promise land. Archeologist often note a lack of destructive campaigns at the time--but Kitchen notes they are often looking for something massive beyond what the Biblical text describes.)

Returning to our AP story, note:
Speaking to reporters at the site Monday, Mazar, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, called her find "the most significant construction we have from First Temple days in Israel."

"It means that at that time, the 10th century, in Jerusalem there was a regime capable of carrying out such construction," she said.

Based on what she believes to be the age of the fortifications and their location, she suggested it was built by Solomon, David's son, and mentioned in the Book of Kings.

The fortifications, including a monumental gatehouse and a 77-yard (70-meter) long section of an ancient wall, are located just outside the present-day walls of Jerusalem's Old City, next to the holy compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. According to the Old Testament, it was Solomon who built the first Jewish Temple on the site.
Of course, note how the article ends:
"Aren Maeir, an archaeology professor at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said he has yet to see evidence that the fortifications are as old as Mazar claims. There are remains from the 10th century in Jerusalem, he said, but proof of a strong, centralized kingdom at that time remains "tenuous."

While some see the biblical account of the kingdom of David and Solomon as accurate and others reject it entirely, Maeir said the truth was likely somewhere in the middle.

"There's a kernel of historicity in the story of the kingdom of David," he said. "
Read the whole thing.

As Christians we need to be careful. Archeological data has to be weighed and analyzed. We should not for apologetic purpose jump to closely to conclusions so long as they support our theory and beliefs. The reliability of the Biblical text does not hang on the archeological data although we acknowledge that it can be helpful supporting evidence.

A careful student will find clues and helps in data outside of Scripture that supplements and further illuminates the Biblical text and our understanding of it. It is of course encouraging when we read about archeological discoveries that help us better understand the picture we have in the text--even confirming the Biblical view over the enemies of radical skepticism that reject notions of Biblical authority and truthfulness.


Addendum:
If you'd like to start reading K.A. Kitchen, you can find on of his early works "Ancient Orient and the Old Testament" here, download it for free. Kitchen is one of the preeminent Egyptologists of our day.

You can find 6 Kitchen Lectures here:

Kenneth A. Kitchen, "The Old Testament in Its Context: Part 1," Theological Students' Fellowship Bulletin 59 (Spring 1971).View in PDF format
On-line Resource Kenneth A. Kitchen, "The Old Testament in Its Context: Part 2," Theological Students' Fellowship Bulletin 60 (Spring 1971).View in PDF format
On-line Resource Kenneth A. Kitchen, "The Old Testament in Its Context: Part 3," Theological Students' Fellowship Bulletin 61 (Summer 1971).View in PDF format
On-line Resource Kenneth A. Kitchen, "The Old Testament in Its Context: Part 4," Theological Students' Fellowship Bulletin 62 (Autumn 1971).View in PDF format
On-line Resource Kenneth A. Kitchen, "The Old Testament in Its Context: Part 5," Theological Students' Fellowship Bulletin 63 (Summer 1972).View in PDF format
On-line Resource Kenneth A. Kitchen, "The Old Testament in Its Context: Part 6," Theological Students' Fellowship Bulletin 64 (Autumn 1972).View in PDF format

Friday, February 26, 2010

Penal Substitutionary Atonement as Central to the Gospel

The last two days (here and here) we've been looking at the concept of the atonement. What did Jesus do when He died? We've argued that Christ's work on the cross, the shedding of his blood is penal and substitutionary. Christ dies in our place and He dies under the curse that you and I deserve. This is, of course, not the only aspect of the Cross of Christ but it is indeed a central one. In fact, it is crucially central to the gospel.

The penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) is central and of "first importance" to the gospel.

Occasionally one can find comments that PSA is not central to the atonement. We will find some rejecting it, others will affirm it with hesitancy and/or qualification. Consider, it is possible to argue that PSA is derivative of another motif--namely Christus Victor. Certainly, it is right to take our cue from Genesis 3:15 and see a 'redemptive historical' pattern that God has to defeat evil. In one sense, there is a difference between following the plotline of the whole story (historia salutis--history of salvation) vs. following the personal aspects (ordo salutis--order of salvation). But I would submit that Christus Victor is a product not just of the cross but of the resurrection and ascension as well. Christus Victor as a product of the atonement is narrow in scope in terms of the Biblical attention it receives.

Atonement cannot be divorced from our understand of the 'reign of God,' what the gospel srefer to as the "kingdom of God". Christ comes as the Second Adam, the 'Son of Man' who will receive a kingdom. He will defeat the enemies of the kingdom--and redeem the people of the kingdom. His cross and resurrection are central to this mission. Indeed, this hope is the climax of the history of the Old Testament. God is constantly working to reveal Himself in a giant plot line that comes to a head or a climax in the work of Christ. Christ ushers in the kingdom, works to set things right not only in all creation (since its fall in Gen 3) but also in the lives of specific people and individuals. We would whole heartedly concur with this quote from Graham Cole: "Evangelicals in my view need to do more justice to the Christus Victor theme and in so doing find that penal substitution is integral or central to it."

Given our careful qualification and commendation of the Christus Victor approach as a valid aspect of the atonement, I want to suggest that PSA is more basic and central to the cross of Christ. For this we turn to Scripture.

First consider 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
Let's make several comments here on this passage--
(1) In the context Paul is reminding the Corinthians those issues of the gospel which are "first importance". In the larger context, we find out that the Corinthians were denying the resurrection of the dead. This is a travesty. Indeed, it is impossible to be a Christian and deny the bodily resurrection since core to Christian proclamation is the resurrection itself. In a general strategy of attacking this grave error. Paul lays out some items of "first importance" to the gospel itself.
  1. "Christ died for our sins"
  2. "He was buried"
  3. "He was raised on the third day"
  4. These things were "according to the Scriptures" --specifically in mind is the Old Testament.
Of course, Paul goes on to list the witnesses to the resurrection--especially the apostles and himself.

(2) The central event of the gospel centers on two acts: Christ's death and Christ's resurrection. These are events that happen in the "fullness of time". For Paul these are the center of human history. In these "this present evil age" has its fate sealed. A "age to come"--the great eschatological hope of 'God's reign' has dawned. Of course, this is only a D-day, a first stage victory... an inauguration.

(3) Most important for our comments here what is of "first importance" is not merely that Christ died but that "Christ died for our sins (Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν)". On the little preposition "for" we hang a major hinge of the gospel. His death was "ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν (for our sins)". The little preposition "for" "huper, ὑπὲρ" denotes substitution--in the place of. It means on behalf of or for the sake of our sins. Why did Jesus die on a cross since the cross clearly means He was cursed by God? He took our place. The one word, ‘huper,’ points us to a concept we see throughout the New Testament: Jesus died as our substitute. The full weight of the penalty that we deserve for our sins was placed upon Jesus’ shoulders. The penalty of sin is death. The payment we deserve when we sin is condemnation by death (Rom. 6:23). Everybody sins (Rom. 3:23). God lays out how we should live in His Law and when obey it in its entirety we are under a curse (Gal. 3:10).

In this Tyndale Bulletin essay, R.E. Davis discusses the importance of prepositions, particularly the preposition huper for the atonement and the gospel:
In the light of this brief survey, it is extremely strange that many scholars are so loth to admit the substitutionary meaning into those statements in the New Testament which speak of Christ's death ὑπὲρ σοῦ, etc. There are about twenty passages in the New Testament which speak of Christ suffering or dying for us using the preposition ὑπέρ where the meaning includes ‘in the place of’ as well as ‘for the sake of’. We do not intend to mention them all, but merely to note the most important ones. (pp.84-85).
He goes on to discuss key passage in 1 Peter, John's Gospel and Paul. We find further support that "huper" means in the place of or instead of in places where the atonement is not discussed but substitution is clearly in view based upon context. In writing his conclusion, he stresses the specificity we find in the use of this preposition:
In attempting to summarize what we have found, we would give the following statement: the preposition ἀντί always has the idea of equivalence, substitution or exchange present; it never has the more general meaning 'on behalf of, for the sake of'. Therefore Mark 10:45 can only mean that the life of Christ given up in death was given in exchange for the forfeited lives of the many. The preposition ὑπέρ may and often does include the stricter idea 'instead of and if the context warrants, we may so understand it.

If we ask why ὑπέρ is used so much more frequently than ἀντί, the answer would appear to be twofold: firstly, in the New Testament period ἀντί suffered a great reduction in use; secondly, in the words of R. C. Trench: 'The prepositon ὑπέρ is the rather employed, that it may express both these meanings, and express how Christ died at once "for our sakes" . . . and "in our stead": while ἀντί would only have expressed the last of these.' In other words, while ἀντί could express the fact that Christ died in our place, it could not of itself state that this death was for our benefit and for our good, and therefore ὑπέρ, which can express both these ideas, is used. [p.90, emphasis mine]
Paul therefore is telling us what is a matter of first importance to the gospel: Christ died in the place of our sins. This is nothing other than the penal substitutionary atonement. Christ died in our place taking on the condemnation that our sins deserves. This is not the sum of the gospel, indeed Paul tells us if Christ is still dead we are still in our sins. What too many of us fail to realize is that although he speaks all of 1 Cor 15 defending the bodily resurrection because of the specificity of that error in the Corinth church, the Apostle Paul gives same priority to PSA that he gives to the bodily resurrection--it is a matter nonnegotiable "first importance". Had it been this aspect of the gospel under denial in Corinth, we can imagine an equally passionate defense . Obviously, the PSA means little without the resurrection. The reverse is also true. When all is said and done: the core of the gospel can never have less than the PSA.

At this point we are not merely taking about models for understanding the cross--although such language is not entirely inappropriate. What we are taking about is a truth that is at the core of "good news" that is to be proclaimed: Christ died for sins. When one puts their faith and trust in Christ's death we understand that "Christ died for our sins".

Because 1 Corinthians is clear to tell us what is "first importance" this should be enough for us. Nevertheless let us turn to one other passage.

Second, let us consider the opening of the book of Galatians 1:1-5:
Galatians 1:1-5 1 Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), 2 and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.

We choose this passage not arbitrarily but because in the churches of Galatia, Paul's gospel is again under assault--not over the resurrection this time but over the role of the Law and obedience in our salvation. The trouble was producing a fundamental misunderstanding of "justification by faith"--so much so that Paul could say that the church was turning away to another gospel over these issues. In outlining the true gospel, Paul must defend his apostleship because the opponents were attacking the nature of the gospel he was preaching. Only one version of the gospel could be right--and in turn only one side could be authorized by God Himself.

We see some of the same cores here in Galatians that we say in 1 Corinthians:
  1. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
  2. Jesus 'giving Himself for our sins'
  3. Our rescue from this present evil age.
In Paul's gospel there is never the absence of "eschatology"--the inauguration of the age to come. Thus, we see this 'Christus Victor' in a sense that we see the dawn of the reign of God. Yet central to this whole reign of God is not that Christ has one a nebulous victory--or even a victory over the kingdoms of the god of this age--but even more specifically Christ is rescuing people for this evil age. How did He do this? Specifically Jesus Christ, the Son of God "gave Himself for our sins". He died in the place of our sins. He was the sacrifice of atonement dying the penalty we deserved so that our sins could be paid for.

The phrase "for our sins" is again "ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν"--so we should keep in mind all that we said about "huper" above. This idea is repeated in Galatians in two other places:
Galatians 2:19-20 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. 20 It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Here Paul has used an autobiographical "I" to describe what is common to all Christians. There is a participation in Christ's death. What He has done, He has done for me. We place our faith and trust in Jesus and we are "justified" (declared righteous)--this entails forgiveness and the pronouncement of being legally 'not guilty' but also a positive verdict of being legally in good standing with God (Gal. 2:16). The believer is justified "in Christ" (2:17). Of course, some were seeking to go back to God's law as a means of justification before God--as if obedience sets us right with God. Paul argues that because Christ died, and we've died with Christ--we've died to the Law (2:19). Justification is not found through the Law (2:21). We live by faith in God's Son--this is the tremendous liberty of the Christian life.

But why do we enjoy this liberty? How can I have this verdict of justification in Christ? How do I enjoy this new status before God? Christ gave Himself for me. Christ's death entails Him handing Himself over for me.

If we cannot obey the Law of God it brings a curse, not life. This curse is of course upon Israel in the history of the OT as she constantly fails to obey God. It is upon us as we fail. But Christ bears this curse.
Galatians 3:10-13 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." 12 But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"-
Here again is the core of penal substitutionary atonement. Christ takes upon Himself the curse that I deserve. In arguing for our justification by faith, we see in a secondarily in the course of Paul's argument how central to Paul's gospel the PSA really is. There is no justification before God if Christ Himself does not bear the curse for us. If Christ bears the curse, there are implications as to the power and role of the Law in the Christian life over and above the role of the Law in the life of the Old Testament saint. This is not to deny the Law if God's Word or that it is applicable to us--yet it does not mandate our life in the same way. It is no longer a covenant over us but something written on our hearts by the Spirit. Pursuing these thoughts would take us too far afield. Consider as we consider Christ's death for us as both penal and substitutionary:
Colossians 2:11-14 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Our concept of PSA can never leave behind how this gospel is applied--which is through being united to Christ. His work for us and in our place effects a union whereby what happened to Him--in His death and resurrection--works itself out as I am united to Him. I die to sin. I die to the penalty of sin. I am given new spiritual life. I become a "new creation"--In the future I receive resurrection as a final inbreaking of the effect of my union to the King.

Conclusion
Our argument here has been simple that PSA is central to the gospel. We continue to point out that PSA isn't the sum total of the gospel--but the gospel cannot be had with something less that the PSA. Paul tells us that Christ dying for our sins is central to the gospel: it is "first importance". When the gospel is under attack on the issue of justification by faith--Paul launches from the PSA to defend and articulate our justification by faith that comes from the work of Christ on our behalf.

With PSA there would be no dawning of the age to come. There would be no great victory in the kingdom of God. There would be no reconstituted people of God who are forgiven and free. Most importantly, on a more individual note, there would be no forgiveness of sins and justification before God.

While we should neither lose sight of the cosmic effects of the gospel nor the personal effects of the gospel--both corporately and individually--we must also be clear with boldness the it is of first importance to the Gospel that Jesus Christ died in our place as substitute to bear the penalties and condemnation we deserved for our sins.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Logic of Penal Substitution

If you haven't read it, of the best brief treatments of the "penal substitutionary atonement" is a 1974 Tyndale Bulletin essay entitled "What did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution." You can download it here. (You can find Tyndale Bulletin here, where you can get hundreds of their published scholarly papers.)

Packer deals with a number of issues, including a brief discussion of the nature of mystery as it relates to theology. In fact, despite what currents critics of evangelicals say in their straw man and ad hominem misrepresentations, Packer writes:
The passion to pack God into a conceptual box of our own making is always strong, but must be resisted. If we bear in mind that all the knowledge we can have of the atonement is of a mystery about which we can only think and speak by means of models, and which remain a mystery when all is said and done, it will keep us from rationalistic pitfalls and thus help our progress considerably. (12-13)
All of God's revelation is "condescension" and therefore includes the use of parable, model and word pictures to help us get a small inkling of it means when we say "the immortal dies" or "Christ redeems us". As Packer acknowledges even with revelation at some point this breaks down into a mystery.

On substitution:
Stage one is to declare Christ's death substitutionary. What does this mean? The Oxford English Dictionary defines substitution as 'the putting of one person or thing in the place of another'. One oddity of contemporary Christian talk is that many who affirm that Jesus' death was vicarious and representative deny that it was substitutionary; for the Dictionary defines both words in substitutionary terms! Representation is said to mean 'the fact of standing for, or in place of, some other thing or person, esp. with a right or authority to act on their account; a substitution of one thing or person for another.' And vicarious is defined as 'that takes or supplies the place of another thing or person; substituted instead of the proper thing or person.' So here, it seems, is a distinction without a difference. Substitution is, in fact, a broad idea that applies whenever one person acts to supply another's need, or to discharge his obligation, so that the other no longer has to carry the load himself. (17)
Packer is further clear that penal substitution has never denied other aspects of the atonement and it is the critics of PSA that make these items mutually exclusive. Furthermore, PSA does not deny representation, union with Christ (the participatory) and all views affirm the necessity of the resurrection. In fact, Christ cannot be our exemplar if he does not also remove our sins.

On the use of the word "penal"
Now we move to the second stage in our model-building, and bring in the word 'penal' to characterize the substitution we have in view. To add this 'qualifier', as Ramsey would call it, is to anchor the model of substitution (not exclusively, but regulatively) within the world of moral law, guilty conscience, and retributive justice. Thus is forged a conceptual instrument for conveying the thought that God remits our sins and accepts our persons into favour not because of any amends we have attempted, but because the penalty which was our due was diverted on to Christ. The notion which the phrase 'penal substitution' expresses is that Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory. To affirm penal substitution is to say that believers are in debt to Christ specifically for this, and that this is the mainspring of all their joy, peace and praise both now and for eternity. (25)


Packer will go on to argue that the legal and forensic is not cold and impersonal, as some opponents have said.

Packer discusses PSA under five heads:
  1. substitution and retribution;
  2. substitution and solidarity;
  3. substitution and mystery;
  4. substitution and salvation;
  5. substitution and divine love.
On this last point, Packer takes on a common objection:
The penal substitution model has been criticised for depicting a kind Son placating a fierce Father in order to make him love men, which he did not do before. The criticism is, however, inept, for penal substitution is a Trinitarian model, for which the motivational unity of Father and Son is axiomatic. The New Testament presents God's gift of his Son to die as the supreme expression of his love to men. 'God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son' (John 3:16). 'God is love. . . . Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins' (1 John 4:8-10). 'God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us' (Rom. 5:8). Similarly, the New Testament presents the Son's voluntary acceptance of death as the supreme expression of his love to men. 'He loved me, and gave himself for me' (Gal. 2:20). 'Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends . . .’ ( John 15:13f.). And the two loves, the love of Father and Son, are one: a point which the penal substitution model, as used, firmly grasps. (pp.39-40)
Packer, following Scripture and the great theologians, takes it one step further: PSA shows us a greater love than we could imagine.
Furthermore, if the true measure of love is how low it stoops to help, and how much in its humility it is ready to do and bear, then it may fairly be claimed that the penal substitutionary model embodies a richer witness to divine love than any other model of atonement, for it sees the Son at his Father's will going lower than any other view ventures to suggest. That death on the cross was a criminal's death, physically as painful as, if not more painful than, any mode of judicial execution. that the world has seen; and that Jesus endured it in full consciousness of being innocent before God and man, and yet of being despised and rejected, whether in malicious conceit or in sheer fecklessness, by persons he had loved and tried to save—this is ground common to all views, and tells us already that the love of Jesus, which took him to the cross, brought him appallingly low. But the penal substitution model adds to all this a further dimension of truly unimaginable distress, compared with which everything mentioned so far pales into insignificance. This is the dimension indicated by Denney—‘that in that dark hour He had to realise to the full the divine reaction against sin in the race.’ Owen stated this formally, abstractly and non-psychologically: Christ, he said, satisfied God's justice 'for all the sins of all those for whom he made satisfaction, by undergoing that same punishment which, by reason of the obligation that was upon them, they were bound to undergo. When I say the same I mean essentially the same in weight and pressure, though not in all accidents of duration and the like . . .’Jonathan Edwards expressed the thought with tender and noble empathy: 'God dealt with him as if he had been exceedingly angry with him, and as though he had been the object of his dreadful wrath. This made all the sufferings of Christ the more terrible to him, because they were from the hand of his Father, whom he infinitely loved, and whose infinite love he had had eternal experience of. Besides, it was an effect of God's wrath that he-forsook Christ. This caused Christ to cry out . . . "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" This was infinitely terrible to Christ. Christ's knowledge of the glory of the Father, and his love to the Father, and the sense and experience he had had of the worth of his Father's love to him, made the withholding the pleasant ideas and manifestations of his Father's love as terrible to him, as the sense and knowledge of his hatred is to the damned, that have no knowledge of God's excellency, no love to him, nor any experience of the infinite sweetness of his love.' And the legendary 'Rabbi' Duncan concentrated it all into a single unforgettable sentence, in a famous outburst to one of his classes: ‘D'ye know what Calvary was? what? what? what?' Then, with tears on his face—It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.' It is precisely this love that, in the last analysis, penal substitution is all about, and that explains its power in the lives of those who acknowledge it. (pp.40-41)
Here then are what we find in the Biblical notion of the PSA, according to Packer:
  1. God, in Denney's phrase, 'condones nothing', but judges all sin as it deserves: which Scripture affirms, and my conscience confirms, to be right.
  2. My sins merit ultimate penal suffering and rejection from God's presence (conscience also confirms this), and nothing I do can blot them out.
  3. The penalty due to me for my sins, whatever it was, was paid for me by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in his death on the cross.
  4. Because this is so, I through faith in him am made 'the righteousness of God in him', i.e. I am justified; pardon, acceptance and sonship become mine.
  5. Christ's death for me is my sole ground of hope before God. 'If he fulfilled not justice, I must; if he underwent not wrath, I must to eternity.'
  6. My faith in Christ is God's own gift to me, given in virtue of Christ's death for me: i.e. the cross procured it.
  7. Christ's death for me guarantees my preservation to glory.
  8. Christ's death for me is the measure and pledge of the love of the Father and the Son to me.
  9. Christ's death for me calls and constrains me to trust,to worship, to love and to serve. (pp.42-43)
Packer's article is well worth a careful read and you can find it here. As I mentioned it is probably one of the best places to start in a study of PSA but certainly such reading should not be the finish of study.

The Bible teaches us a concept of Christ's death that includes at its core the notion of PSA. In fact, the Biblical picture is both clear and understandable. It is core to the gospel: Christ died for our sins. This accomplishes a great victory for God and His people. To sum finally in a footnote (p.28 n.28) we find this quote: "'the Christian religion has thought of Christ not only as Victor and as Victim, but also as "Criminal"', and all three models have biblical justification". All true thinking about the atonement and the PSA should begin and end with such biblical justifications.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why Substitution is Penal

When it comes to the atonement often times you will see someone write something like "I believe the atonement is substitutionary though not necessarily penal." This kind of thinking needs to be challenged both on a Biblically level and the logical/theological level.

The basic question for such a "non-penal substitutionary" (NPS) view is what does Christ do as our substitute?

We can define "penal" substitution following J.I. Packer:
The notion which the phrase 'penal substitution' expresses is that Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory. To affirm penal substitution is to say that believers are in debt to Christ specifically for this, and that this is the mainspring of all their joy, peace and praise both now and for eternity. [J.I. Packer "What Does the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution" Tyndale Bulletin 25 (1973) 3-45; quote p.25]
Penal substitution means that Christ suffers the curse of divine judgment in you place and mine. Our argument is that the very nature of Christ's death is an objective indication that it is 'penal'. The larger question then in early Christian theology that developed in the earliest Christian wasn't so much an argument on whether or not this Messiah was cursed but "why was he cursed". Put another way--no early Christian or first century Jew would have questioned the penal nature of death on a cross--penal from God's perspective--what was harder to grasp is why. Penal would have been recognized, the innocence of Christ and His substitution for His people would have been the developing point of contention. Thus, we eliminate the "penal" aspect because it is tough for our modern minds we quickly find (a) we have denied the object nature of the event and what a cross testified to and (b) there is little that is actually being substituted.

Why Substitution is Penal:
(1) The basic assumption we begin with is that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. A curse is pronounced upon all creation--particularly all humans--because of sin. That curse is death.

(2) Death is a curse that God has subjected His creation to. God prosecutes a judgment and a curse against His creation because of the sin of Adam. The Biblical God is not a deist who just winds up the world like a clock and lets it run. Death is not a natural part of creation but is the result of the curse. The curse is a personal curse that God Himself exacts upon His creation. While Scripture portrays death as an enemy, and it tells us that the devil has the power of death (Heb. 2:14). Yet--Genesis 3 is quite clear that this curse is from God Himself. The major point is that God prosecutes penal law already against His creation and death is that verdict. Physical death is a reminder here to us that there is an even greater death: punishment in hell, exile from God's presence.

(3) Does Christ die? This is of course a no-brainer. If Christ dies then in some way--either by accident or by plan he suffers the curse that is put upon creation. Not only this but Jews and early Christians were quite aware that GOD curses those who hang on a tree. Jews despised the cross and they considered, according to the OT, that one who is hung on a tree is cursed by God. In the first century, even when Rome hung some Pharisees on a cross--these men were considered cursed by God and never revered like those martyrs in Judaism who suffered other kinds of death and persecution.
Galatians 3:13 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"
Deuteronomy 21:23 23 his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.
Scripture tells us that it is not an accident that Jesus hung on a tree but not by accident:
Acts 2:23 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
Anybody put on a tree to die regardless of the circumstances is at the end the day under a curse from God though not just man. First century Judaism bears this out. So for example, Seyoon Kim points to pre-Christian understanding that the cross was a curse:
"But 4QpNah. 3-4,I.7f and the Temple Scroll of Qumran 64.6-13 show that already in the pre-Christian period Dt. 21.23 was applied to crucifixion and that the crucified was regarded as accursed by God." [Origin of Paul's Gospel (1981), 46].
Here is the 64.6-12 from the Temple Scroll:
Thus you shall eradicate all evil in your midst, and all the children of Israel shall hear it and fear. If there were to be a spy against his people who betrays his people to a foreign nation or causes evil against his people, you shall crucify him and he will die. On the evidence of two witnesses and on the evidence of three witnesses shall he be executed and they shall crucify him. If there were a man with a sin punishable by death and he escapes amongst the nations and curses his people, the children of Israel, he also you shall crucify and he shall die. Their corpses shall not spend the night on the tree; instead you shall bury them that day because they are cursed by God and man, those crucified; thus you shall not defile the land which I give you.
Most scholars agree that early Jews would have rejected Jesus as the Messiah because crucifixion was scandalous to Jews. For the Jew, based on the OT itself, it was self-evident by the nature of Jesus' death that God had accursed Him--a penal, legal, forensic judgment. Simple put: Jesus dying on the cross was prima fascia evidence that a verdict from God had been prosecuted against said man. The verdict: guilty, accursed.

Later on Trypho the Jew brings this objection against Justin Martyr:
Then Trypho remarked, “Be assured that all our nation waits for Christ; and we admit that all the Scriptures which you have quoted refer to Him. Moreover, I do also admit that the name of Jesus, by which the the son of Nave (Nun) was called, has inclined me very strongly to adopt this view. But whether Christ should be so shamefully crucified, this we are in doubt about. For whosoever is crucified is said in the law to be accursed, so that I am exceedingly incredulous on this point. It is quite clear, indeed, that the Scriptures announce that Christ had to suffer; but we wish to learn if you can prove it to us whether it was by the suffering cursed in the law.” [Dialogue with Trypho 89]

“Bring us on, then,” said [Trypho], “by the Scriptures, that we may also be persuaded by you; for we know that He should suffer and be led as a sheep. But prove to us whether He must be crucified and die so disgracefully and so dishonourably by the death cursed in the law. For we cannot bring ourselves even to think of this.” [Dialogue with Trypho 90]
For those who take Scripture seriously, the very nature of the cross is already penal. It is no dodge to say I believe in substitution just not "penal". NPS undercuts what a cross was and what it means to hang on the cross. If God had wanted NPS he would have had something else happen to Christ.

So (a) Christ dies--which itself coming under and curse and (b) Christ dies in such a way that He is clearly according to the OT and 1st century Judaism that it was understood this person claiming to be God's Messiah had come under a curse from God. It then is no dodge to say "I believe in substitution but not penal substitution. The problem with this is not simply that it waters down the nature of the substitution but instead it waters down what the very events of death and specifically death on a cross objectively represent according to the Old Testament and Judaism: a penal sentence prosecuted against persons.

(4) Why does Christ die? Scripture is clear that Christ does not die because of His own sin. Christ is innocent without sin and blemish. So an innocent man goes to His death. But in Scripture this is not merely a senseless tragedy. Of course Christ takes the fate of the cosmos upon Him and more importantly the fate of his people. But this is not merely participatory on Christ as an exemplar. He does not merely suffer to show that he 'identifies' on a psychological level. His suffering is not merely empathetic. Again: death is a penal curse--especially death on the cross. So while it is true according to Hebrews that Christ is made like us in all things--including human weakness (yet without sin), it is equally true that death is not merely a product of human weakness.

Hebrews tells us:
Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings
Hebrews 2:14-15 14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
Christ is God's eternal Son and yet as a human he goes through obedience for our sake. This obedience perfects him--not in a moral sense but in an eschatological sense. He ushers in the eschaton for His people by his 'one act' as 'Second Adam'.
Hebrews 5:7-9 7 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. 8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,
So Christ as the perfect Son stand as the perfect High Priest but lays Himself down as the perfect sacrifice:
Hebrews 9:11-15 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
Here Hebrews begins to link ascension, tabernacle and covenant with atonement and redemption. Christ secures eternal redemption and proceeds into heaven in ascension based upon that work. His death took place for the "redemption of the transgressions committed under the first covenant". Clearly his death is penal. He pays for and redeems people from breaking the Law of God.

Thus Hebrews concludes the argument that Christ dies and bears sin:
Hebrews 9:27-28 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
Notice the connections that Hebrews is weaving together. Christ is like us--human in every respect (Heb. 2). Human beings face judgment upon death--clearly penal. Christ however "offers himself up--dying under death (again Hebrews 2) in order to bear sins of many. Thus we see that not only does he under go a penal process but His is our substitution for sins committed--transgressions, breaking of the Law/covenant.

Paul, of course, makes similar arguments albeit with different emphases and in differing contexts.
Galatians 1:4 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
Galatians 3:13 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"

Romans 3:22-26 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The very notion of propitiation is that the wrath God has for sin is poured out upon the sacrifice. There are echoes here to the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant and the day of atonement. Christ's work at Calvary is nothing other than the day of atonement carried out with eschatological finality. The OT type repeated points to the "once for all time" event. This then gets at the idea of what is mean for Christ to "give Himself for our sins". The preposition "for" denotes clearly the idea of substitution. But no Biblical writer or first century Jew would have understood this nature of "giving" as anything other than in line with OT sacrifices handing oneself over to suffer a penal (legal, forensic) consequence in the place of someone else. This is of course not to deny that there is indeed more going on in atonement than the forensic and penal but we must affirm there is not less than this going on.

Just a few other Biblical writers:
1 Peter 2:24 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
(notice here the forensic and the participatory & healing).
1 John 2:2 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
1 John 4:10 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Lastly we notice Isaiah--that O' so important passage for understanding the role of the suffering servant:
Isaiah 53:8-12 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? (penal, substitution) 9 His grave was assigned with wicked men (penal), Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief (penal); If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, (penal) He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. (penal substitution) 12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death (penal), And was numbered with the transgressors (penal); Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors. (penal substitution)

Conclusion
There you have it. Penal substitution is not the sum total of the gospel but it is certainly basic and central to the gospel. The cross is the center of redemptive history. It is a real even that was witnessed by numerous individuals. The nature of the cross and death itself is a public display a of penal sentence not just from the Roman government but more importantly and basic it was seen as a penal judgment from God Himself. This is the nature of death on the cross. The argument of the earliest Christian preaching is not "how" the death is penal but "why" the penal death is. They argued from the recognizable penal prosecution of God's justice (based on the OT) to the logic of substitution. This 'so-called' Messiah was indeed both innocent and the true Messiah. This is a scandal but the witness of the resurrection affirmed this. The curse was exhausted--God raised Him up even though He had indeed cursed Him. This was "for us and our salvation."

Furthermore, we gain nothing and lose everything when we say "I believe in substitution but not penal substitution." NPS suffers from a lack of seeing the cross for what it is--it is not nothing less than penal. The controversial aspect of the cross is not that it and the death it bring is penal--that is a given for the OT and the first century Jew. The controversy is that a Messiah should be cursed. That the Messiah should stand in the place of His people.

Indeed--what was the point of His death? It has to be penal for that is the very nature of death. We cannot say "he is standing in my place, but the death he gets is somehow unrelated to the death I deserve". It will not fly in an theology that asserts itself to be Biblical.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gospel & the Poor 2

Since I posted on this topic yesterday, I thought I would take a moment to point to this Tim Keller essay entitled "The Gospel and the Poor". It is a well argued essay. It is broad both in terms of covering relevant Scriptures, speaking to current issues and being informed by both systematic theology and history theology. In particular, Keller relies on some of the points of a sermon by Jonathan Edwards entitled "Christian Charity".

In particular, it avoids the traps of watering down the gospel in favor of social programs and equally opposite danger of Word-centered ministry without compassion for physical needs [of course inside the church these ministries are divided up--but the church as a whole is not to do one to the exclusion of the other].

It is often said by opponents of the gospel, that the more we believe in the substitutionary atonement or the forensic 'justification by faith' the less we will be compassionate. On one hand people will argue then there is no motive for love and obedience. On the other hand, we are told that this ignores "kingdom" practice of Jesus in favor of "theology"--the fabled orthodoxy over orthopraxy. Nothing could be more false to true gospel belief. Granted not all true believers live out the implications of the gospel as well as they could. Yet it simply does not follow that the substitutionary atonement does not cause radical implications for behavior and gospel-obedience.

Here's what Tim Keller argues, relying on Edwards:
Another text Edwards looks to more than once is Gal 6:1–10, especially verse 2, which enjoins us to "bear one another's burdens." What are these burdens? Paul has in view, at least partially, material and financial burdens, because Gal 6:10 tells us to "do good to all men, especially the household of faith." Edwards (rightly, according to modern exegetes) understands "doing good" as including the giving of practical aid to people who need food, shelter, and financial help. Most commentators understand "burden-bearing" to be comprehensive. We share love and emotional strength with those who are sinking under sorrow; we share money and possessions with those who are in economic distress. But what does Paul mean when he says that burden-bearing "fulfills the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2)? Edwards calls this "the rules of the gospel."Richard Longenecker agrees, calling this "prescriptive principles stemming from the heart of the gospel." As Phil Ryken points out, the ultimate act of burden-bearing was substitutionary atonement in which Jesus bore the infinite burden of our guilt and sin. Again we see Paul reasoning that anyone who understands the gospel will share money and possessions with those with less of the world's goods.
And if it is the gospel that is moving us to help the poor, Edwards reasons, our giving and involvement with the poor will be significant, remarkable, and sacrificial. Those who give to the poor out of a desire to comply with a moral prescription will always do the minimum. If we give to the poor simply because "God says so," the next question will be "How much do we have to give so that we aren't out of compliance?" That question and attitude shows that this is not gospel-shaped giving. In the last part of his discourse, Edwards answers the objection "You say I should help the poor, but I'm afraid I have nothing to spare. I can't do it." Edwards responds,
In many cases, we may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others, when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves . . . else how is that rule of bearing one another's burdens fulfilled? If we never be obliged to relieve others' burdens, but when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor's burdens, when we bear no burdens at all?
Edwards is arguing that if the basis for our ministry to the poor was simply a moral prescription, things might be different. But if the basis for our involvement with the poor is "the rules of the gospel," namely substitutionary sacrifice, then we must help the poor even when we think "we can't afford it." Edwards calls the bluff and says, "What you mean is, you can't help them without sacrificing and bringing suffering on yourself. But that's how Jesus relieved you of your burdens! And that is how you must minister to others with their burdens."
In the most powerful part of the discourse, Edwards answers a series of common objections he gets when he preaches about the gospel-duty of giving to the poor. In almost every case, he uses the logic of the gospel—of substitutionary atonement and free justification—on the objection. In every case, radical, remarkable, sacrificial generosity to the poor is the result of thinking out and living out the gospel. To the objection "I don't have to help someone unless he is destitute," Edwards answers that "the rule of the gospel" means that we are to love our neighbor as Christ loved us, literally entering into our afflictions. "When our neighbor is in difficulty, he is afflicted; and we ought to have such a spirit of love to him, as to be afflicted with him in his affliction."He then goes on to reason that, if we do this, we will need to relieve the affliction even if my neighbor's situation is short of destitution. To wait until people are utterly destitute before you help them shows that the logic of the gospel has not yet turned you into the socially and emotionally empathetic person you should be. [Keller, The Gospel and the Poor]
Next semester in our Sunday School, I am going to be exegeting the book of Galatians. One thing that sometimes we loose focus on is how the book of Galatians ends with a proper emphasis on gospel-obedience. In other words, sometimes while we focus on the truth of justification by faith that Paul deals with, we forget then that Paul had to teach right obedience to the Galatians church. Of course, the Judaizers argument was probably focused on how to obey God--namely become circumcised. This of course was making a mockery of the gospel because the believer is justified not by obedience but by faith. To hold off provisionally a person's status in the kingdom until they meet some sort of sanctification requirement makes a mockery of the justification by faith. YET, this does not mean that the Christian has no 'Christian duties'.

The sacrifice of Jesus in the gospel calls us to an even higher sacrifice of obedience than can ever be found in the letter of the Law. Indeed it is harder to obey out of the inward writing of the Law on our heart than it is to obey out of an outward legal obligation. This too his how we should think of taking care of the poor. The gospel calls us to a new level of discipleship.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gospel & the Poor

In preaching, I have been working through Matthew's Beatitudes. One of the issues that comes up is the difference between Matthew and Luke. Particularly: Matthew's "blessed are the poor in spirit" and Luke's "blessed are the poor". While not solving the difficulty here, I believe the solution lies in the OT where "poor" has overlapping context of economically poor and "spiritually" poor. It isn't entirely correct to say that Matthew "spiritualize" poverty, particularly given some of the American and 21st century connotations behind the word "spiritual". It is accurate to say that Luke does focus on economic issues. Matthew is focusing on our destitution before God, one who recognizes their condition of our heart before God. There is a inward disposition that characterizes the people of God. We recognize, no matter our economic condition, our destitution before God. We have great need of the kingdom and that's why when the kingdom of God comes the call is: "repent for the kingdom of God is at hand".

Along these lines, Timmy Brister has this excerpt from the book A Gospel Primer for Christians:

Like nothing else could ever do, the gospel instills in me a heart for the downcast, the poverty-stricken, and those in need of physical mercies, especially when such persons are of the household of faith.

When I see persons who are materially poor, I instantly feel a kinship with them, for they are physically what I was spiritually when my heart was closed to Christ. Perhaps some of them are in their condition because of sin, but so was I. Perhaps they are unkind when I try to help them; but I, too, have been spiteful to God when He has sought to help me. Perhaps they are thankless and even abuse the kindness I show them, but how many times have I been thankless and used what God has given me to serve selfish ends?

Perhaps a poverty-stricken person will be blessed and changed as a result of some kindness I show them. If so, God be praised for His grace through me. But if the person walks away unchanged by my kindness, then I still rejoice over the opportunity to love as God loves. Perhaps the person will repent in time; but for now, my heart is chastened and made wiser by the tangible depiction of what I myself have done to God on numerous occasions.

The gospel reminds me daily of the spiritual poverty into which I was born and also of the staggering generosity of Christ towards me. Such reminders instill in me both a felt connection to the poor and a desire to show them the same generosity that has been lavished on me. When ministering to the poor with these motivations, I not only preach the gospel to them through word and deed, but I reenact the gospel to my own benefit as well.

Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love (Bemidji, MN: Focus, 2008), 38-39.

This book is on my wishlist, although it's been moving down. Looks like it just go bumped to the top.

This quote pastorally handles some of the issues with the difference between Matthew and Luke. It should also cause us to rethink some of the effects of the prosperity gospel. It certainly is a problem when we assume God promises material blessings and so a sign of God's favor--indeed the expectation I should have of God's favor--is health, wealth and all kinds of prosperity. The bigger problem of the prosperity is if you work backwards from material to the condition of the heart--under this skeme I assume that because God is blessing me my heart is ok before Him.

In other words, a true understand of the gospel is just like Vicent says, "When I see persons who are materially poor, I instantly feel a kinship with them, for they are physically what I was spiritually when my heart was closed to Christ." But if in the prosperity gospel I look at the rich person and see God's hand of blessing, I begin to make certain assumptions about spiritual conditions. Either (a) they have material blessing because they are spiritually health or (b) God 'owes' me because of a certain condition that is true of me or can be made true by my own effort. The focus on material blessing undermines our understanding of true spiritual poverty.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

False Christs

This spam came to my inbox today:

So apparently this 'Jesus' doesn't like press, can't handly impromtu meetings, or difficult questions. And he came back in secret...


Matthew 24: 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Victory of Reason

This is one of those books that busts some myth about history that are out there. It is commonly assumed that Christianity lead the 'dark ages' and it wasn't until the Enlightenment that we had the rise of the West and its successes. In this myth Christianity held culture and society back for roughly 1,000 years. One problem: it's just not a historical argument--or at least one with much weight.

The thesis of the book is simple: Christianity encouraged the use of reason which lead the rise of freedom and capitalism. In this book Stark takes on the sort of post-enlightenment lore that Christianity led to the dark ages and reason did not spring forth until post-Renaissance and even later until the dawning of "enlightenment".

In fact, Stark shows the the "dark ages" were hardly dark. This is not a new thesis to historians of the middle ages, as a number of recent studies have shown--yet this thesis has hardly caught on in pop culture.

The book is divided into two sections: (1) Foundations and (2) Fulfillment. In the foundations section, he seeks to demonstrate that the fundamental dignity of a human person, security of personal freedoms and personal property did not and indeed could not arise under ancient Greece and Roman. Rather it was the tradition of Christian theology and their firm belief in the gift of human reason that lead to these developments. Rather than holding the world back--it actually moved civilization forward in some key ways.

The second section reads more like a historical primer to the rise of capitalism more specifically. Stark debunks Max Weber's thesis that the Protestant work ethic lead to capitalism by showing that capitalism was budding early in the 11th-12th centuries and beyond. He also discusses the reasons in flourished and did not flourish. Particularly: where freedom was not secure, despotism reigned or rights were not protect--capitalism did not flourish.

The second section is helpful. He clearly shows the fruit of the worldview Christianity imparted. Yet at times, he does not tie his argument closely enough to his overall thesis. One could almost read the second section as a stand alone.

The book is well documented and aside from a few minor weaknesses, his argument is solid. He relies on a number of important studies.

There is a tendency in history to make sweeping claims. One such sweeping claim that has stood for far too long in popular lore is the idea that Christianity held the world back from true progress. Built of the shoulders of historians, Stark challenges the common assumption by taking us back to basics and redrawing this picture with the primary sources of history and sociology. This book is worth the time and investment of a careful read.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Morgan Lynn


On a personal note:
Morgan Lynn, born 2/13/10 10:50pm

Not sure what this will mean for my blogging, I may be doing more of this:


For those keep score, not counting Mom and Dad, the Bertolet household is now: Girls-4; Boys-0

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bored to Death

So apparently you really can be bored to death. Not to mock serious science and real research but the title is just a bit humorous. I'm putting this under the "everything I know I learned from Star Trek." Or is this one of those scientific discoveries Star Trek anticipated?

In humorous Deep Space Nine episode In the Cards, Jake and Nog encounter a Dr. Giger who thinks he can build a machine that will extend life indefinitely. Even for the world of science fiction, it is portrayed as quack science--only the gulliable Weyoun is taken in. Why? Because Dr. Giger is going to build a machine that entertains the cells in our body--his diagnosis is that we all die from boredom.
Weyoun (left) and Dr. Giger (right)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bonhoeffer, Liberalism & Totalitarianism

In our day, it is common on the internet for arguments to degenerated to the level of calling someone a Nazi. The name the fallacy has taken is "Reductio ad Hitlerum."

While not wanting to fall into that fallacy, I found this in the Memoir section of Deitrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship.

Both modern liberal theology and secular totalitarianism hold pretty much in common that the message of the Bible has to be adapted, more or less, to the requirements of a secular world. No wonder, therefore, that the process of debasing Christianity as inaugurated by liberal theology led, in the long run, to a complete perversion and falsification of the essence of Christian teaching by National Socialism....Thus, all kinds of secular totalitarianism which force man to cast aside his religious and moral obligations to God and subordinate the laws of justice and morality to the State are incompatible with his conception of life. --G. Leibholz, Memoir, in The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: Touchstone, 1959) p. 30.
This is not equating the morals of a liberal theologian with the morals of a National Socialist. Rather, speaking historically, the goal of their objectives were the same with regard to the future and use of Christianity: change it so it better fits this age. Of course they disagreed on what best fit this age, of course there are differences between the two visions. But for both Christianity was seen as malleable to the modern will of man.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Righteousness in Matthew and Romans

Here is a short essay I have written detailing the difference between Paul's use of 'the righteousness of God' in Romans and Matthew's use of 'righteousness'.


Righteousness in Romans and Matthew

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Righteousness, Matthew & Reformed

The term righteousness in Matthew and Paul are not used the same way. Obviously, it is the same word. Righteousness in Pauline theology and in Matthew share a common background in the OT and it's concept. But righteousness in Matthew focuses on the ethical, while the phrase 'righteousness of God' in Paul focuses on the forensic and the saving activity of God. Most New Testament scholars recognize this today, including those within Reformed theology.

Every now and then, you run into a bit of bashing that suggests that the Reformed camps have not figured this out. Since Reformation theology is passionate about justification by faith, it is assumed by critiques that every mention of the world "righteousness" is interpreted by the Reformed as a discourse on justification by faith. In other words, a common charge is that we read the Gospels through the lens of Paul. Of course, there are probably more than a view who have not made the distinction--but this is probably not limited to the Reformed camp.

It is ironic that the best and brightest in the Reformed heritage have long avoided this charge.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes on Matthew 5:6:
Much more important and much more serious from the truly Christian standpoint is, I think, the fact that it is not right to define righteousness in this connection even as justification. There are those who turn up their concordance and look at this word 'righteousness' (and of course you will find it in many places) and say it stands for justification. The apostle Paul uses it like that in the Epistle to the Romans, where he writes about 'the righteousness of God which is by faith'. There, he is talking about justification, and in such cases the context will generally make it perfectly plain to us. Very often it does mean justification; but here, I suggest it means more. The very context we find (and especially its relation to the three Beatitudes that have gone before) insists, it seems to me, that righteousness here includes not only justification but sanctification also. In other words, the desire for righteousness, the act of hungering and thirsting for it, means ultimately the desire to be free from sin in all its forms and in every manifestation. (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 65)
While I do not think exegetically the desire for righteousness includes justification, Lloyd-Jones is careful not to collapse righteousness down to justification. In fact his last line makes it clear it is a desire to be free from sin. Of course, the Christian does desire to be free from the guilt of sin and this is an aspect of justification.

Lloyd-Jones is not the only Reformed writer who understands Matthew's use of righteousness. Consider Gerhardus Vos:
"It would be historically unwarranted to read into these utterances [Matthew 5:6,10; 6:33] the whole doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ." (The Teaching of Jesus, 116).

"Our Lord's doctrine is the bud in which the two conceptions of a righteousness imputed and a righteousness embodied in the sanctified life of the believer still lie enclosed together. Still it should not be overlooked, that in more than one respect Jesus prepared the way for Paul by enunciating principles to which the latter's teaching could attach itself. He emphasized the in the pursuit of righteousness the satisfaction of God should be man's supreme concern." (117)
Vos is clear that the Lord's teaching do natural lead to the unfolding of the doctrine of justification but he understands that you cannot interpret Matthew by the Pauline usage. His discussion does an excellent job of linking kingdom and righteousness and connecting it to the OT background. Referencing the OT background he writes:
"To Jesus righteousness meant all this and much more than this. It meant such moral conduct and such a moral state as are right when measured by the supreme norm of the nature and will of God, so that they form a reproduction of the latter, a revelation, as it were, of the moral glory of God." (Teaching, 105)
Lastly, we turn our attention to Herman Ridderbos. Commenting specifically on Matthew 5:6 he writes:
"The Greek definite article already suggests that the expression refers to something supra-personal, to righteousness "in the full sense of the word," divine righteousness. And it is precisely this divine righteousness which is again and again represented in the Old Testament as the hope and the consolation of the poor and oppressed. It must not be understood in the Pauline sense of imputed forensic righteousness, but as the kingly justice which will be brought to light one day for the salvation of the oppressed and the outcasts, which will be executed especially by the Messiah." (The Coming Kingdom, 190).

Ridderbos goes, commenting on Matthew 6:33: "It may rightly be said, therefore, that kingdom and righteousness are synonymous concepts in Jesus' preaching. " (286)

This brings into question the relationship of eschatology (the kingdom of God) and ethics (righteousness). Ridderbos writes later:
"The norms of the righteousness demanded by Jesus are not founded in an earthly ideal of God's kingdom, nor in the future and transcendent character of the kingdom... It rests solely on God's own communication. Jesus' "ethics" does not consist in some doctrine concerning "goods," nor asceticism. It is the "ethics" of obedience in the full sense of the word. That which is "righteousness," and may be taught as such, is always to be traced back to God's own words." (290).
Our point here has been to spot check a couple Reformed writers on their understanding of righteousness in Matthew. There views are more nuanced and refined then our brief overview. Suffice it to say that they were well aware that we should not collapse Jesus, or Matthew's account of Jesus, into the Pauline concept of righteousness. This is of course a danger that we too should avoid because it such avoidance it the right exegetically step to avoid crashing on the rocky shoals of eisegesis.

The bottom line: the best Reformed scholars the tradition has to offer have been excellent exegetes. The caricatures of reading the word "righteousness" in Matthew and imputing (pun intended) all the Pauline meaning of the term into Matthew have sufficiently been avoided by better exegetes. One cannot help but wonder if sometimes the rhetoric is driven not so much by a desire to see Matthew rightly read but a personal uncomfortableness with any doctrine of imputed righteousness.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Coming Out

Not that kind of coming out--it seems there is a sort of theological coming out. Mike Wittmer is blog through Brian McLaren's new book. I commented in another post the other day. Mike has come back and left the following comment over on his blog.
The issue is that Brian is now openly saying what he used to only ask–even he says that “the cat is now out of the bag” so he feels free to say what he really thinks.
Just a comment on the emerging movement. There are some within who have had better theology than others--witness men like Dan Kimball and Scot McKnight. While we may have disagreements--they do not deny the basics of orthodoxy and the Rule of Faith. In other words, while they are trying to reach a new generation, even adapting and applying 1 Cor 9:19-23 to a young culture. They've done this, as near as I can tell, without changing the gospel.

What is sad and disheartening is that for a number of years a number for respected people have cautioned about the directions some within the movement were heading. Responses were often "we don't like the tone of your critiques," others have assured us "this is just a conversation." So we were told there was just a healthy questioning--asking "what ifs". Throughout this period, people have said these are more than just honest questions--they stated the tactics of some (not all) were designed to push Christianity away from historic orthodoxy. "No, no, you just don't understand us; you're not listening;" etc. etc. Those watching were assured there were no duplicitous motives--that orthodoxy was not being revised--and it never would be.

Consider this article, where we are told 'we affirm orthodoxy.'
no, we are not moral or epistemological relativists any more than anyone or any community is who takes hermeneutical positions – we believe that radical relativism is absurd and dangerous, as is arrogant absolutism; yes, we affirm the historic Trinitarian Christian faith and the ancient creeds, and seek to learn from all of church history – and we honor the church’s great teachers and leaders from East and West, North and South; yes, we believe that Jesus is the crucified and risen Savior of the cosmos and no one comes to the Father except through Jesus;
If indeed "the cat is now out of the bag"--what does this say about the methods and motives of those who have over and over called for patience, gentleness, and offered assurance that they were not opposed to orthodoxy and the Rule of Faith. What is saddening is that the resorted to such underhanded message. They may have spoken in parables to hide what they believed from the masses--but they were hardly Christ-like.

This reminds me of a parable that I once read in a different context. It went something like this:
There were some Bedouins out in the cold desert at night. Their camel camp to the tent and said "please let me in". The Bedouins responded, "You cannot come in, you will not fit." The camel asked "please just let me get my nose in so I will not be so cold--that's all I want." So the Bedouins let the camel get his in. A little later: "But my ears are still so cold, just let me have my head in--just my head, no more". Reluctantly, the Bedouins agreed because after all they could make room for the head. In the early hours of the morning when the winds picked up, the camel ask: "Oh please, it is so cold out here, can I just get my neck in--it is just my head and neck." Again the Bedouins agreed. Now camels have very strong necks. Upon bringing his neck into the tent, the camel through his neck around pushing the Bedouins out into the cold night. The camel pulled his whole body into the tent, leaving the Bedouins out in the cold.
I cannot help but think that this was the method of some of the emergent leaders who knew the whole time where they have wanted to go with theology--all the while assuring us they were just exploring within the big tent of Christianity.

Finally, here's a post from Jeremy Bouma a guy within emerging camps who is going to be taking the emergint theology to task. He seems to have had a more positive sort of 'coming out'. He questions the legitimacy of the new theology being produced. For example, he is going to be comparing Pagitt to Pelagius' writing. I would just add that these new theologies has been the concern of many of the critics from the beginning a number of whom were immediately dismissed as rapid heresy hunters. Those who knew a little history had said in effect 'we've seen this before'--this path will lead to nothing good. Interestingly Bouma writes:

I’m not exactly sure when my saucy love affair with emergent and liberal Christianity ended. My “I don’t” isn’t as crystalized as my “I do.”


Maybe it was when I read Pelagius‘ writings and realized much of Emergent theology really does mirror his 5th century theology.


Maybe it was after the former head of Emergent Village, Tony Jones, rejected original sin, a historic part of the Rule of Faith, claiming that it is “neither biblically, philosophically, nor scientifically tenable. “.


Maybe it was when I read Fredrick Schleiermacher and realized his and modern liberalism’s vapid, gospel-less faith are being repackaged and popularized to an unsuspecting, ignorant Christian community as a wholesome alternative to what has been.


Maybe it was after I read Karl Barth and realized the natural theology pushed by popular emergent theologians is not revitalizing Christian faith, but killing it; it is the same kind of faith Barth so vociferously fought against in order to preserve the historic Rule of Faith.


Maybe it was after reading a leading emerging church voice suggest that God and grace and the Kingdom of God are not tied directly and exclusively to Jesus Christ; ultimately its not really about Jesus, but about a vanilla, generalized World-Spirit god (lower-case “g”).


Regardless, what I’ve come to realize is that while Emergent may believe it is believing differently—and consequently believe it is offering the world a different Christianity that is more believable than the current form—in reality the emerging church simply believes otherly; the form of Christianity that this version of Christianity pushes is neither innovative nor different: it is a form of Christianity other-than the versions that currently exist but mirror those that have already existed.

Amen for the honesty. Those of us who are conservative still, this isn't the time for theological beat down as if we are rabid fundamentalists. We still need a humble orthodoxy. This is about what God's Word says--and seeking to following Christ and His teaching. For those who are becoming disenfranchised with emerging--this is not the time for "I told you so"--we win no one to the cause of Christ by puffing out our chests in triumphalism. We thank God for small gospel victories--we welcome those to through the Holy Spirit are seeing the gospel and the lack there of in some Emergent circles. We pray for deeper repentance and speak the truth in love. We rejoice where the truth of God's gospel is spreading.



UPDATE: Here is another post over at Novus Lumen, recounting more of the personal story of Jeremy Bouma whose post I quoted above. Here's an interesting line:

As I explained a few days ago, I’ve been part of the emerging church conversation for half a decade but have grown increasingly uncomfortable and saddened by the theological trajectory of the project. Deeply saddened, actually. This isn’t disillusionment. This is a deep sadness and heartache over what is happening from the top ranks. And what is that? A departure (perhaps deliberate?) among the leaders of Emerging Church Inc. from the historic Rule of Faith and a fashioning together of a new, fresh version of Christianity built on “other forms” of Christianity that have been deemed foreign to that Rule.

That version questions God’s “clear and certain” self-disclosure/revelation;1 minimizes actual individual culpability in rebellion;2 ignores the deity of Christ; downright denies the exclusivity of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ;3 reduces the cross to simply an example of love;4 denies real judgment and universalizes salvation,5 among others....

Over the past year or so, however, it seems like the later (missiology) has faded and the former (theology) has shifted. I have been struck in recent months by this realization: now that we’ve gotten the missional response to postmodern culture down, many believe the time for theological construction has begun; we “get” postmodern ministry, now we need an alternative Christian faith built on an alternative Christian theology. (emphasis original)

So began this new era of theological construction.

Again the more serious critiques of emergent have been questioning it's theology--not from some stodgy ivory tower doctrinaire--but from a living, life giving, gospel of Jesus. It is precisely this critique that has driven some of have responded to the emerging/emergent church: that they were proffering a new alternative Christian theology as opposed to the faith handed over the saints once for all time.

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...