Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

Chalcedon and Your Christmas

Whether you realize it or not, this Christmas season you are very dependent upon the Council of Chalcedon if you are a Biblical Christian. I do not mean to say or imply that the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation is not clearly contained and defined in the Word of God. Quite the opposite, the virgin birth of Jesus, the incarnation of the eternal Son of God and Christ being like us in 100% true humanity are all doctrines clearly articulated in the Word of God.

Yet, clearly the early church struggled to articulate this as views arouse that were not in keeping with the truth of Scripture. How is it that God became human? How does the humanity and deity come together? 

The early church struggled with some of the articulation of this as church fathers debated against aberrant views. In 451 AD it became necessary for a church council. The Council of Nicea (325AD) and Constantinople (381AD) had already clarified the Bible’s teaching for the whole church that Jesus Christ was truly God and equal with the Father. But in the next century the issue of how Christ’s deity united with His humanity became the crucial issue.

As one scholar writes “Chalcedon is the place in ‘the history of Christian thought where the New Testament compound was explicated in exact balance so as to discourage the four favorite was by which the divine and human ‘energies’ of the Christ event are commonly misconstrued.’” (John Leith, Creeds of the Churches, p. 35, quoting Albert Outlier).

Every time you and I reflect this Christmas season on how the Word became flesh and that Jesus was truly God and truly man, we are indebted not only to the Word of God but also the Council of Chalcedon.

As Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary has recently argued in his book The Creedal Imperative, creeds bring strength to the church and solve debates over the meaning of what Scripture is saying. Creeds are not unbiblical nor are they subbiblical. Creeds are not an authority over Scripture but an attempt to summarize, clarify and expound what Scripture says. The one who argues “I have no creed but the Bible” ironically is being swept away by more current traditions than the one who says “I believe this creed accurately summarizes core Biblical doctrine.”

When you and I come to Christmas, we need to remember who Jesus is (the Son of God) and what he became in the fullness of time (truly human). But how does the divine nature and the human nature come together?

The Bible is clear in its teaching Jesus is truly God. He always was and is truly God. So whatever Jesus does in the act of His coming, we need to be clear that He does not set aside His nature, divine attributes, or divinity. He cannot be truly God, who is unchanging, if He can take deity off like a coat.

But equally true, Jesus cannot truly redeem us if He does not assume our nature. I believe it was one of the Cappodocian Fathers who said “What is not assumed cannot be healed.” Therefore, as Hebrews teaches us, He had to become like us in all things. He had to take on 100% of human nature, yet of course he was without sin since sin was not intrinsic to human nature as God created it.

But how does the divine and human come together? Is Jesus a sort of God-man hybrid? Is he a third thing, a tertium quid? Is Jesus being the God-man sort of a Jewish Hercules?

When I was teaching as a youth pastor, on occasion I would say “Jesus Christ is not Chocolate Milk.” When you mix chocolate syrup (and please use quality stuff like Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup) with milk you get a new product. The chocolate milk contains chocolate and it contains milk. But because of the mixture it is neither pure or fully chocolate, nor is it any longer pure or fully milk. It is a third thing--a tertium quid.

When the divine nature and the human nature come together in the person of Jesus, Jesus Christ is not chocolate millk, i.e. a tertium quid. IF he was then he'd be not quite fully human and not quite fully divine, but a combination.

Enter the doctrine that is crucial for Christmas: the hypostatic union. When the divine and human nature unite in the person of Jesus Christ each retains fully all of its characteristics, properties and attributes. There is no mixture of the two nor degradation of either one. There is a union of the two so that both come together without any changing of attributes or ‘watering down’ of characteristics.

Christ’s humanity is not “added to" because He also is divine. Nor is His deity reduced as if humanity somehow dilutes His divinity. 

When you think of Jesus in the manager, you are to believe that He was at that moment truly God--upholding the world by the word of His mighty power. But at that same moment He was also truly man being held in His mother’s arms, consenting to be weak in His humanity. The one who was sustaining creation in His deity at the same moment needed in the humanity that He took on to be sustained by His mother’s milk.

This is a tremendous mystery, but it is what the Bible portrays. It is also a cause for great worship, marveling and standing at awe before the one who is truly God and truly man. It truly makes Christmas worthy of celebration.

This Christmas, as you think of these truth, you are indebted to Chalcedon.

The Creed says:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable (rational) soul and body; consubstantial (coessential) with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather of the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God, the Word the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning (have declared) concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
The most important words of the creed are arguably: “to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather of the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person...”

I for one am very thankful for the conciseness and clarity of these words. While I submit the Creed to the authority of Scripture, I find that this crystalizes and succinctly states that which the Scripture portray. 

My Christmas reflections into the Word of God and the marvelous acts of that first Christmas are guided and guarded by the words of Chalcedon.

It means something powerful to say that Jesus was truly God yet He assumed true humanity. Praise the Lord, his deity was not diminished. When we sing the words “veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail incarnate deity,” we readily know and understand that it was an assumption of true humanity. To see Jesus was to see the glory of God. 

When you sing carols with words like this, whether or not you know it you are indebted to Chalcedon. Chalcedon is of course itself indebted to Scripture.

The wondrous mystery of God incarnate is why the angels appear to the Shepherds and praise God. This is why the Magi bring gifts and bow before the King.

Chalcedon’s Creed is a powerful reflection on the meaning of Christmas. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Review: Carson's Jesus: The Son of God

D.A. Carson has written a helpful little book that will be of interest to pastors, missionaries, Bible students and aspiring theologians. This book was originally given as a short lecture series delivered at Reformed Theological Seminary, then repeated at Westminster Theological Seminary and Colloque Réformée held in Lyon, France. It is a helpful albeit brief examination of the title Son of God and its relationship to Christology. As we would expect from Dr. Carson it is a model of solid exegesis in order to address pressing theological issues. 

The first chapter is an examination of the title “Son of God” as a christological title. In this brief lecture Carson gives us a scope of the varied uses of the idiom ‘son of’ and how it is translated into English. Here he quickly condenses a lot of Biblical data into general categories. His larger point is that the phrase “son of” is more than a reference to genetic and familial identity as often limited in the English usage of such a phrase. This data is placed into two helpful charts on pages 21 and 23-24.

This discussion lays the groundwork for discussing how “Son of God” itself is used a title in various ways in some cases referring to angels, Israel, the Davidic King and New Testament believers. Anyone familiar with the Biblical data and the Biblical semantics will already be abreast with this treatment. Nevertheless, this work gives one a general survey and could serve as an introduction to the topic. Chapter one concludes with a brief reference to the unique use of the title Son of God, which will build into the next chapter.

Chapter two is a treatment of select ‘Son of God’ passages as it relates to Christ. The bulk of the chapter is spent in Hebrews 1 and John 5:16-30. Along the way, Carson will drop hints of what his argument would look like if sketched out in the Gospels and other New Testament books. Carson clearly shows how the title ‘Son of God’ as a Davidic reference comes together with a clear reference to deity. So for example, in Hebrews 1, Son of God clearly has a Davidic referent--that Jesus is the Messiah. But the flow of the passage and the use of the Old Testament clearly identifies Jesus as God. Thus, sonship language referring to Jesus “cannot be restricted to a strictly Davidic-messianic horizon” (59). This is not a novel thesis to those familiar with Biblical studies. However, Carson’s work serves as a healthy introduction to the issues.

Chapter 2 ends with a briefer discussion of John 5:16-30. Carson argues that 5:26 where the Father grants the quality of life-in-himself is an eternal grant from the Father to the Son. This sets some exegetical grounds for what becomes known in historical theology as ‘the eternal generation of the Son.’ It is in this discussion, to which Carson will return in the third chapter, that Carson models the connection between exegesis and systematic theology. This modeling will serve students, pastors and even Biblical scholars adverse to making systematizing claims.

In the final chapter, Carson turns his attention to the theological use of the title ‘Son of God’ to tackle a pressing missiological issue that has arisen. In recent years, some Bible translators have suggested that in Muslim contexts the title ‘Son of God’ should not be translated as such because of the potential misunderstanding. Depending on the verse, these translators often suggest a title that emphasizes Jesus’ messianic identity. While the Christian title ‘Son of God’ has never meant God the Father produced a son in union with Mary, seeking to avoid the title to correct this misunderstanding will lead to misunderstandings of its own. Carson draws out the pitfalls and reductionism such translation creates. Carson argues that one cannot reduce a translation of ‘Son of God’ to messianic identity precisely because the New Testament especially in Hebrews 1 uses Messianic identity together with divine identity. In one chapter we have “two analytically differentiable uses of ‘Son’ terminology” (p.106).

Overall, there is a lot of content back in this short book. It is a solid argument that moves along. Readers unfamiliar with the issues will receive a good introduction. The only criticism of this work that I would offer is its brevity. At times I found myself wishing that certain points could be developed more or that certain areas or works of scholarship could receive interaction. Along the way, Carson himself drops hints of what we be needed to fully defend his case or what other twists and turns the argument could take. One would hope that perhaps Carson would consider expanding this work into a full blown scholarly monograph. This is not to take away from the strength of what he has produced.

I would highly recommend picking up this work and reading it.

I wish to thank Crossway books for providing a review copy of this work. A favorable review was not a condition of review.

cross-posted at Christians in Context

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Pulpit and Politics

This past Sunday was an event called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday."

Here is a introductory video:

Certainly when it comes to politics and the pulpit, I agree that faithful preaching of the Word of God must address the moral issues of our day when the text of Scripture addresses them and according to the manner with which the Holy Writ addresses them. We should not cower when it comes to speaking the truth. If anything, the pulpit should be prophetic in the sense that like the Old Testament prophets we boldly proclaim the truth in a culture that largely rejects the truth.

Yet, I would argue that American nationalism and a quest to "save our nation" should not set the agenda for the pulpit. 

The week before Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I was preaching on Jesus' cleansing  of the temple. (I blog posted some thoughts here on the 'Cleansing'). Even though at the time I hadn't even heard of Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I briefly addressed the issue of politics and the pulpit because I believe it was a faithful application of the text.

One of Jesus' concerns in the passage is that the Temple had become a "nationalist stronghold" (C.K. Barrett, D.A. Carson) instead of being a house of prayer. It had been turned into more of a political and revolutionary symbol. It was a symbol of Jewish nationalism and anti-Roman ideology instead of being a place of prayer for Gentiles.

While there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the Temple of old and the church today, I think we should legitimately be concerned about the contemporary preoccupation with turning the pulpit into a place to address American values and American nationalism.

While Pulpit Freedom Sunday is one day a year and we should be concerned that we do not lose genuine freedom of speech from our pulpits, a more pressing concern among evangelicals should be the undo influence coming from those whose concerns are largely political and entail winning, maintaining, and/or recovering political influence. In our attempt to see that the pulpit is set free, we are pandering to a set of political values and the pulpit becomes a means to this end. 

In the applications of my sermon, here's what I said:
The Church in America today has become a place of nationalism and partisan politics. 
When evangelicalism is known more for it’s power as a voting block than for the power of God’s gospel--we have gone of the rails. 
If your concern is to see the pulpit rally the electorate, your priorities are misplaced. 
Let me be clear, Christians should take stands on ethical issues--especially abortion. You do not set your morals aside in the voting booth. We should evaluate the morals and ethics of anyone we vote for. 
But it is not the job of the church of America to save the nation of America--as a nation or a set of laws and ideals. Christians should be a salt and light in the community--but the job of the church is not to push a brand of American politics. 
I love our country and I love the freedoms it embodies. I believe our freedoms are God given rights. I believe despite stains in our history, like slavery, we have pursued our ideals and in pursuing those good ideals many people around the world have benefited. As a citizen, I want to see these rights and ideals preserved--but the church--as Christ’s body and Temple--has a higher calling to a higher Kingdom. 
America is not irreplaceable in the history of the world. America is not an irrevocable promise from God or the climax of God’s history of salvation. We do not nor did we ever have special privilege or pride of place before God. America is not sinless, nor is she mankind’s greatest hope. She is not the greatest force for peace and righteousness--that spot is reserved for Jesus. 
At best, America is a good page in the history of mankind and her preservation and voice for freedom has been used in a small way by God’s hand of providence. 
To the extent that the church today seeks as its mission to ‘save the country’ and support a national agenda is the extent to which we betray our heritage in an eternal kingdom. 
If you greatest fear/worry/ or anger right now is that __________ gets elected the country, you have a false hope. You are looking for man to save mankind. Your hope is largely misplaced. The American dream has never saved anyone and it will not matter one lick for eternity if we lose it.  
Just as Anti-Roman Jewish nationalism had no place inside the Temple because the Temple was to be a house of prayer for people of all nations so forms of American nationalism have no place inside the church.  
Do we value the ministry of the Word? The Word of God will address life issues in every area. The Word of God cannot be held captive to politics and nationalism. 
Is our church a house of prayer? 
Let me ask you this: would you be more interested in hearing a sermon on politics or America’s “Christian heritage” or more interested in coming to prayer meeting?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Father's Love

"Let, then, this be the saints' first notion of the Father--as one full of eternal, free love towards them: let their hearts and thoughts be filled with breaking through all discouragements that lie in this way."
 --John Owen, Communion with God, p.32

Friday, September 28, 2012

Did Jesus Cleanse the Temple?

This week I'm preaching on Matthew 21:12-17. The passage is familiar to us all as Jesus goes into the temple and turns over the tables of the money changers.

This question dawned on me: Does Jesus cleanse the temple?

I don't mean to question the historicity of the act, rather the nature of what Jesus did.

(1) 'Cleansing the temple' implies that there was a minor problem with the temple and that all Jesus had to do was get rid of the greedy people abusing the temple.

But notice that in Matthew, Jesus' justification for his actions is a quote from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.

As a good rule of thumb, whenever the Old Testament is quoted you should always look at the context of the Old Testament.

Isaiah 56:6 “Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath And holds fast My covenant; 7 Even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” 8 The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, "Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.” ...
10 His watchmen are blind,  All of them know nothing. All of them are mute dogs unable to bark, Dreamers lying down, who love to slumber; 11 And the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied. And they are shepherds who have no understanding; They have all turned to their own way, Each one to his unjust gain, to the last one.  
Jeremiah 7:9 “Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, 10 then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—that you may do all these abominations? 11“Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the LORD. 12 “But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. 13 “And now, because you have done all these things,” declares the LORD, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer, 14 therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. 15“I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim. 

These two passages juxtapose two themes: (1) The LORD returning to His people to bring them grace and mercy. (2) The temple (in Jeremiah's day) was so far gone and the people we so dependent upon it in false dependence, that it would be judged.

Jesus was, I think, also confronting the religious leaders of his day. Consider how both Isaiah 56:10-11 and Jeremiah 7, is a rebuke on the false leaders who were leading the people astray.

In this respect, I agree with N.T. Wright in his Jesus and the Victory of God, Jesus was like the prophets of the Old Testament who was enacting something symbolically. Jesus was not cleansing the temple as a fix of what was wrong, Jesus was prophesying the destruction of the temple.

"Cleansing [the Temple] is not enough; what is required is destruction -- not simply because a new Temple must be built, but because the present one is utterly corrupt." (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p.419).

(2) Jesus saw himself as the one ministering the deliverance the downtrodden needed just as YHWH said he would do. Consider this, immediately after overturning the money changers, we read "14 And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them." This is not a free floating act unconnected to the symbolism of what Jesus has just done. 

Jesus is doing something like what Isaiah 56:8 speaks of "The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, "Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.” He is gather the lowly and needy. Those excluded from the courts of the temple because of ceremonial uncleanliness, like the eunuchs in Isaiah, were now cleansed and restored.

Jesus is offering a more powerful salvation than the Temple offered. It may hint at his replacing the Temple. Jesus, not the Temple, is the one around whom the eschatological people of God will gather around. This puts those loyal to the temple on the wrong side of the work of God. Jesus' quote of Psalm 8:2 in response to the leaders' indignation makes this clear.

Thus, Jesus doesn't cleanse the temple, he symbolically enacts it's destruction. This destruction was fulfilled in AD70 by the Romans. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Trinity and Creation

Preparing for Sunday school on the Trinity and Creation, I found this great quote by Thomas Boston:

All the three persons are one God; God is the Creator; and therefore all the external works and acts of the one God must be common to the three persons. Hence, when the work of creation is ascribed to the Father, neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit are excluded; but because as the Father is the fountain of the Deity, so he is the fountain of divine works. The Father created from himself by the Son and the Spirit; the Son from the Father by the Spirit; and the Spirit from the Father and the Son; the manner or order of their working being according to the order of their subsisting. The matter may be considered in this way: All the three persons being one God, possessed of the same infinite perfections; the Father, the first in subsistence, willed the work of creation to be done by his authority: "He spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast."-In respect of immediate operation, it peculiarly belonged to the Son. For, "the Father created all things by Jesus Christ," Eph. 3:9. And we are told, that "all things were made through him," John 1:3. This work in regard of settlement and ornament, particularly belongs to the Holy Ghost. So it is said, Gen 1:2, "and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters," to embellish and adorn the world, after the matter of it was formed. This is why it is also said, Job 26:13 "By His Spirit He adorned the heavens."

Boston follows the principle "opera ad extra trinitatis indivisa sunt" --the works of the Trinity ad extra or outside the Godhead are indivisible.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What is the Righteousness of God?

“The righteousness of God, consequently, to which a saintly Israel constantly appeals in its oppression is an appeal to that attribute according to which, by virtue of His covenant, the Lord is obligated to deliver His people from all of their enemies. It is not so much an obligation which rests upon God because of His people, but it is an obligation which rests upon Him because of Himself. He is not longer free; He freely related Himself to His people, and so He owes it to Himself, to His own covenant and His own oath, to His own word and promise to remain the God of His people despite all their unrighteousness. Hence we so frequently read that it is for the sake of God’s name, of His covenant, of His glory, of His honor, that He gives His people the benefits which He has promised to them. Even though the people may become unfaithful and apostate, He remembers His covenant and keeps it in force forever. The righteousness of God to which pious Israel appeals does not form a contrast to His goodness and salvation but is related to it and stands in close connection with His truth and faithfulness. It confines God to His own word and promise and obliges Him, out of sheer grace, to save His people from all their oppression.”

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith: A Survey of Christian Doctrine, p.446-7.

This sounds remarkably similar to some of the points the New Perspective on Paul tries to make about the phrase 'righteousness of God' and its Old Testament background.

Friday, July 27, 2012

When Do We Set Aside Our Rights?

We live in a culture that tells us that we had better seize our rights or we will get trampled. We are bombarded with messages that tell us stand up and seize what is yours. Meek is weak. 

Several weeks ago, when track and field runner stopped to help a fallen competitor finish the race (video) people's views were divided. Many people felt like she did the decent human thing. But there were some that felt like she had done the wrong thing because she didn't seize the obvious advantage. Some felt it should have been survival of the fittest.

There are times in life when the advantage and triumph is ours to seize. There are times when we have the right to something. But do you ever consider giving up our rights for the sake of others? Do you ever consider setting aside a position or advantage that is rightfully yours so that others might be served?

It is interesting that when it came to paying his own temple tax Jesus had this approach.

In Matthew, Jesus tells us that because he is the Son, he is exempt from paying the temple tax.
Matthew 17:25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” 
The obvious answer is that taxes are not collect from sons of the king but from strangers.

So Jesus, who is greater than the temple and who is the Son of the King (i.e. God) is completely exempt from the temple tax. It is his right not to submit to the temple tax. It does not bind him in any way.

Yet Jesus sets aside his right and pays the tax.
Matthew 17:27 “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.” 

What?! How many times does Jesus show a willingness to offend the religious Pharisees of the day? He often confronts them. He rebukes them. He even provokes them because he speaks plain and simply truths. Jesus is more than a mere revolutionary or shock-jock looking to offend just because he can. For those who like Jesus as a contrarian and revel in the power of the his confrontations as he 'sticks-it-to-the-man' we should ponder his humility here. Ponder how and why he avoids offense.

Jesus shows us that he does not go about provoking people for provocations sake. He did not revel in offending just to 'put people in their place.' His focus is the coming cross. So he avoids provocation and offense here. This is not his time and this is not his battle. We could all learn from this.

Consider: the Son was fully in his right to refuse to pay the tax to the temple. Yet whose interests is he thinking of here? What kind of meekness is he showing? There is a divine wisdom here in not provoking, even though if they got upset with him for their lack of knowing him as the Son it would have been their fault.

JESUS FORGOES HIS RIGHT! How unlike human nature. We assume that if we have a right we must exercise it--and if we do not we are weak. But that is precisely the humility and meekness Jesus shows.

This passage is not really about our duty to pay taxes. Paying taxes really is our duty. We submit to the state because God put the state in authority (Rom. 13)--we don’t get an exemption. This passage is about someone (Jesus) who has an exemption--but sets it aside.

1. Next time you are fully within your rights to gain something, take advantage of something or be exempt from something--will you consider foregoing your rights for others?

2. How can we follow Jesus example by living at peace with people and avoiding unnecessarily offending?

3. Is there some area of your life God is calling you to forego a right you have in order to serve others for the sake of the gospel.

The best way to diagnose the area you need to deal with is ask yourself what is the area or situation in life that you are saying, “I don’t need this stress.” “I am tired of putting up with _____.” “It’s not worth it.” “I don’t know why I bother.”  --you feel like you’ve put yourself out there, sacrificed for the cause, made the effort, but you’ve been disrespected, rebuffed or treated unfairly.

Maybe its at a job, in a relationship or friendship, maybe it is with your church, or maybe you are at a stage of life where you figured you are "owed" a little bit of rest--like retirement. Maybe you really have been wronged or put under undo pressure. You have a right for relief or a right not to 'pay the dues' in a particular area. But is God calling you to this precisely because it will involve self-sacrifice on your part. Did you ever consider: does God want to make me more Christlike in character by my staying in the situation? 

The only reason Jesus pays the temple tax is so people would not get offended. Sometimes the only reason we have in forgoing our rights is to avoid offending someone. Sometimes we sacrifice because we are seeking peace at all costs. Sometimes we are seeking to adorn God and the gospel rather than exercise our own rights.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Envy & Success in Ministry

What happens when you see other ministries and you think "I wish I could have that/be like that..." Can the dream distract you from what you have and where you are being called by God to serve?

Great thoughts on ministry, envy, coveting and the ministry.
How to fight ministry pornography from Ed Stetzer on Vimeo.

Book Review: Liberating Ministry from Success Syndrome

This is an excellent book to read. It has been around since 1987 and reprinted many times. For me it just came yesterday, I started glancing through it, then reading it. I soon found that I could not put it down. I finished it in one day. This book is golden. It is one of those rare books that I dare say it is one that every pastor should read.

If you are in ministry you know well the discouragement it can bring. This book challenges you to take God's view of what success is. It both will lift your soul and challenge you in all the right ways.

Success can be an idol in our culture, most especially in ministry. It is a cruel enslaving master. After Kent and Barbara Hughes spend a few chapters describing their 'dark night of the soul,' in ministry were they felt like failures we are lead on a journey of what caused them to recover and how they learned God's measures of true success. Kent Hughes describes seven measures: (1) Faithfulness; (2) Serving; (3) Loving; (4) Believing; (5) Prayer; (6) Holiness; and (7) Attitude. Each of these is dealt with in a chapter. Then there are five chapters of encouragement (1) from God; (2) from 'the Call] [to ministry]; (3) from the Ordinary; (4) from Fellow Workers; and (5) from the future heavenly reward.

Every pastor can identify with the experiences described in this book but every pastor needs to read the wisdom and instruction from the Hughes.

If you are a lay leader or elder at your church, you should read this book as well. It will give you insight into pastors stresses but it will also give you the tools to ask: "is my measure of success for my pastor the same as God's measures?" 

There is also a helpful chapter for pastor's wives and another chapter for church members. 

This book should not only be read by current pastors, future pastors, pastor's wives but also church members so that they understand a bit of the stress of ministry. They will learn how to evaluate the success of ministry from God's eyes rather than human standards.

I can't recommend this book enough. Five out of five stars.

Excerpt 1:
"Think of it [prayer] this way: our lives are like photographic plates, and prayer is like a time exposure to God. As we expose ourselves to God for a half hour, an hour, perhaps two hours a day, his image is imprinted more and more upon us. More and more we absorb the image of his character, his love, his wisdom, his way of dealing with life and people. As servants of Christ, that is what we need and that is what we receive from him." (pp.72-73)

Excerpt 2:

"Paul summarized the secret of his ministry by referring to the ancient custom of hiding priceless treasure in common earthen, clay pots beneath the earth. The "treasure" was the gospel, and the "jars of clay," a penetrating metaphor for frail humanity. Thus the glorious gospel is committed to common, frail human beings--so that the immensity of the power may be seen as God's and not man's! Clearly then, an awareness of one's weakness, one's ordinariness, can be an asset in the gospel ministry, for such an awareness may more easily depend upon the power of God. Conversely, it can be a disadvantage to be extraordinarily gifted, because one can be tempted to rely upon natural gifts to achieve supernatural ends.
There have been many preachers who, because they were so naturally gifted, never came to be the preachers they could have been. Their reliance upon their natural eloquence fostered a regrettable independence from God in respect to prayer and preparation...Being an ordinary Andrew [the apostle] is not a disadvantage in serving God. It can even serve as the basis for profound dependence upon him and yield extraordinary usefulness in ministry." (pp.137-137)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Martin Luther on God's Sovereignty

This is one of may favorite quote from Martin Luther:

I would also point out, not only how true these things are…but also how godly, reverent and necessary it is to know them.   For where they are not known, there can be no faith, nor any worship of God. To lack this knowledge is really to be ignorant of God―and salvation is notoriously incompatible with such ignorance. For if you hesitate to believe, or are too proud to acknowledge, that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe, trust and rely on His promises? When he makes promises, you ought to be out of doubt that He knows, and can and will perform, what He promises; otherwise, you will be accounting Him neither as true nor faithful, which is unbelief, and the height of irreverence, and a denial of the most high God! And how can you be thus sure and certain, unless you know that certainly, infallibly, immutably and necessarily, He knows, wills and will perform what He promises? Not only, should we be sure that God wills, and will execute His will, necessarily and immutably; we should glory in the fact as Paul does in Rom. 3- “Let God be true, but every man a liar’ (v.4), and again, ‘Not that the word of God has failed (Rom. 9.6), and in another place, ‘The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his’ (2 Tim. 2.19). In Tit. 1 He says: ‘Which God that cannot lie, promised before the world began’ (v.2). And Heb. 11 says: “He that cometh, must believe that God is, and that he is a rewarder of them that hope in him’ (v.6). 
 If, then, we are taught and believe that we ought to be ignorant of the necessary foreknowledge of God and the necessity of events, Christian faith is utterly destroyed, and the promises of God, and the whole gospel fall to the ground completely; for the Christian’s chief and only comfort in every adversity lies in knowing that God does not lie, but brings all things to pass immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, altered or impeded. (The Bondage of the Will; pp. 83-84.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Is the Church Today Dying?

Do you believe that Jesus' plan for the world today is the church? Far too many evangelicals today think far too little of the church. It is quite common today for people to interpret Jesus more like an anti-establishment 1960s radical who just liked to 'stick it to the man' than actually paying attention to the Jesus of the gospels. So people with a chip on their shoulder will tell people "love Jesus and leave the church."

WWJD? "We'll he'd call you to leave the church" is the answer we hear. After all Jesus is toughest on the religious Pharisees.

Here's the problem: Jesus promised to build the church. Those loyal to Jesus should not be trying to tear it down. I would even suggest if you run into someone tearing down the church, seriously consider: "how loyal are they to Jesus?" If someone was verbally bashing my wife, I wouldn't consider them my friend.

Of course, the church isn't perfect--that's the point of Scripture: Jesus has to clean His bride. We can be a poor representative of Jesus. But Jesus did promise to leave an organization in place of His absence. This is not to discount his promise to send the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit would come upon the people of God. He would form a body of Christ by uniting people to Christ. The Holy Spirit is the divine cleaner working on God's people to apply the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Jesus' message on earth was to preach the kingdom of God. Upon His death and resurrection, the Kingdom is ushered in and inaugurated. He now has all authority in heaven and on earth--it is authority He bears and exercises in His humanity. What does Jesus do in His absence? Well he is the mediator at the right hand of the Father. He stands for his people. 

But with the inauguration of the Kingdom, he builds the church. The Kingdom produces citizens and the citizens gather together. In their gathering, God sets up an order and means by which to administer the church with elders and deacons (see the pastoral epistles). Hence, despite the negative connotations some draw from this: the church is an organization.

In the New Testament as a whole Jesus' plan is to build the church. The church is equipped with gifts for the service of the body and its ministry. But it is ultimately Jesus who builds the church. The church is not a temporary plan until Jesus can return. It is thee plan. He will build the church with such power that death itself will not defeat the church.

Let's take a look at what Jesus says in Matthew 16:18: “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

‘Gates of Hades’ is a way of translating an rare OT phrase: ‘the gates of Sheol’. Death is personified as a power. The realm of the dead or the grave is describe as sheol. So metaphorically it has gates that close around people, locking them in death. Just like Jonah describes cords of death/sheol entangling him.
Isaiah 38:10 I said, “In the middle of my life; I am to enter the gates of Sheol; I am to be deprived of the rest of my years.”  
Psalm 9:13 Be gracious to me, O Lord; See my affliction from those who hate me, You who lift me up from the gates of death, 

I'm a Star Trek fan. In the movie Star Trek Generations, the villain Dr. Soran (played by Malcom MacDowell) says the following about time: “It's like a predator; it's stalking you. Oh, you can try and outrun it with doctors, medicines, new technologies but in the end, time is going to hunt you down... and make the kill. ” 

We would say this is a good picture of death. Death is an enemy. It advances, it destroys. It is a predatory. Yet we are told... death cannot stalk and overpower the church.

Our incredible hope is realized as the church is resurrected over death.
1 Corinthians 15:54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 “O death, where is your victory? O  death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Jesus gives the victory to His church. In every age God is growing the church.

Are you worried? Do you lack confidence in what God can do in and through the church? Are you worried about your local church? Do you say to yourself--can God do that here?

Today we are bombarded with arguments that the church must change or die. Secularists tell us the church's doctrines are old and stodgy. Prophets arising within the church proclaim we must embark on new forms, methods and actions or the church will be left behind. Change or die is the message. Yet all this is nothing new. Every generation has had prophets of doom telling us the church will not survive this generation. We call them heretics. 

The church has always and will alway have its critics. People has always been saying “leave the Church, love Jesus.” It is the problem in 1 John all the way to today. What age has the church as a whole not been under assault or struggles? Look at Revelation 2-3. But here the church is called to repent and go back to Jesus. He promises restoration.

The church, as a whole, will not be destroyed. Even if your local church closes up shop, the church universal will live from now until eternity. If the church is stomped out or crushed in one area or town, God will not fail to raise it up somewhere. Jesus will always be building His church. It's His plan but it's also His promise to us. 

In every age God keeps converting people, raising up churches. Why? Because that resurrection power is active now in our midst as God raises sinners from the dead. Our hope is the resurrection. Gates of hades --death itself cannot advance against us. Just as death could not hold back Jesus, so also death cannot hold down the body of Christ which is united to Jesus.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Christians & Poverty

There is no doubt in my mind that Christians should be concerned with poverty. We should be concerned about eliminating it.

But often times such statement too quickly assumes that the best way to eliminate poverty is through government intervention, programs and redistribution. Equally it is often assumed that the cause of poverty is free markets.

I do not believe that we should slander the poor and assume that all poverty is caused by laziness. That's not to say that there aren't some poor people who remain poor because of genuine laziness (as opposed to other causes like lack of opportunity)--rather it is to argue that life is not always black and white. Causes and solutions are not always monotone.

Christians should be concerned with poverty, aiding the poor, and helping to eliminate poverty. I however think that free markets in distinction from government intervention is the best way to aid the poor and increase income mobility. This is hardly the notion of "pull yourself up by your own boot straps" --nor should it be. Rather it is more like teaching someone to fish and aiding them personally rather than fishing for them.

Here is a good video that outlines this "alternative" perspective on poverty and how best to help the poor.

I am personally not an economist, more of someone with a passing interest when it comes to this area. Perhaps this is the most dangerous kind--a little knowledge in any field can sometimes be more dangerous than someone with no knowledge.

That said my plea would be this: Christians should be concerned about poverty but that should not necessary mandate we take one position on how best to deal with it. In fact, because we care about poverty we should investigate and make arguments into the best and most effective way to deal with the issues.

Thus, I have often read the arguments that make the leap from "care for the poor" to the assumption that this will/must entail government solutions. But in these cases one assumes the latter in order to justify it as the necessary consequence of the former. But you have to make the argument rather than assuming it. Even more, you cannot slander other Christians as not caring for the former because they reject the later as the most viable and effective means. This is indeed a bridge to far.

If time permits, this post will serve as a set up for dealing with the arguments here by Michael Bird and here by my good friend Jim McGahey as economics relates to healthcare and Christian theology.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Review: Date Your Wife

Justin Buzzard has written a helpful book entitled "Date Your Wife" which I would like to commend to you.

The premise of the book is quite simple: men should date their wives. Before marriage husbands often pursue their wives, once they are married, as Justin points out, we often stop dating and pursuing our wives. Once we "have them" as it were, we stop pursuing them and cultivating a relationship with them. We often leave our marriage in maintenance mode.

While the premise of the book is simple and straight forward as the title suggest, the path by which the reader is taken is one that we often would generally not expect when it comes to most treatments of the topic of dating. Justin is thoroughly gospel centered. I never thought I would see a book that expounds how and why to date one's wife so undergirded with a basic "two-Adam" scheme that is central to the gospel story line. To this I cannot say "Bravo" loud enough.

Justin writes out of a rich theology that is found in the pages to Scripture yet his style is conversational, down-to-earth, and pastoral. This means those who like theology will be enriched, but those who rarely read books and hate theological tomes will find this book winsome, applicable and engaging. 

The basic plot line of the book is creation-fall-redemption-restoration although the actual divisions are titled: "Good" (two chapters on God's creation of marriage), "Bad" (three chapters on what's wrong with husbands), "The New" (six chapters, first with the gospel, then with practical applications for action) and "The Perfect" (a final chapter on the goal of marriage and the future of our glorification).

If you are expecting a book that makes you feel guilty, this one will but not in a legalistic sense. Most relationship books make you feel guilt for all you are not doing by telling you everything you should be doing. This book gets right to the heart of the problem: the problem is sin. The problem is that every husband is in Adam. The problem is every husband has a "religious" view of marriage. We think if we just try harder God will bless our lives.

Justin Buzzard challenges us to find our sufficiency and identity as men and husbands in Christ and his work. The best part about the book is how it takes you back to the gospel at the core. So when Buzzard convicts you and motivates you it is always with an eye to Jesus.

As I read this book, I was impressed by how personable and relatable the book was. Often the basic content is wrapped in a story or example. The book is also quite practical with actionable solutions to build an "air war" and a "ground war" in cultivating your marriage. Each chapter concludes with a series on introspective questions. There is an appendix of 100 suggestions for dating your wife. The creative husband will be pushed to think of more in order to tailor things to his marriage.

I highly recommend this book. I would give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

This is the kind of book that you can give to husbands but pastors can give in the expectation that it not just builds husbands but will build disciples. This is also the kind of book you can read quickly without getting bogged down but you can also read richly finding deep gems to ponder. Justin's first main goal is to make you love Jesus more--and the book accomplishes that task while it teaches us how to date our wives.

Three minor theological points of question or disagreement:

1. Buzzard makes Genesis 2:15 as central to the husbands mission that he guard and cultivate his wife. Technically though, Genesis 2:15 is not instructions for how we relate to our wives but how Adam (and humanity) relate the the Temple-Garden and exercise vice-regency. The wife is the helpmate to that mission not the object of it. Justin's point is right (men should guard and keep/cultivate their wives by ministering to them) but his use of this Scripture is at best an implication rather than the command of Genesis 2:15 he wants to make it. That said, husbands should guard and cultivate their wives. One would probably be better making the point from Song of Songs or Ephesians 5 since Genesis 2:15 relates to the garden of Eden.

2. Buzzard confused me with his imprecise notion that there was "gospel" given in the pre-fall state. He writes the following:
"Adam's Genesis 2:15 calling was meant to flow out of Adam's Genesis 1:31 identity. God told Adam what he thought about him; he gave Adam his approval--before Adam lifted a finger in the garden. Adam received his God-approved identity before he had a chance to do anything to prove himself. This is what we call grace, or the gospel--the good news of receiving favor from God that we don't deserve or earn." (p.73)
Buzzard is right that Adam had a royal endowment as being made in God's image. Adam had an identity in God. However, Adam was, I think, put on probation. Not all theologians and scholars agree with a covenant of works, but if true Adam was certainly not created in the eschatological glory state. His full identity was not there yet. So Adam's job obediently finished would have secured the garden had he obeyed (see Beale's A New Testament Biblical Theology). Adam didn't have it all and even then failed. Thus, Christ had to be second Adam passing the covenant probation by offering Adamic-obedience as well as atoning for sin. Buzzard seems to have a notion that Adam's fault was he tried to earn his identity, a salvation by works. But this to me misses the clear covenant probation in the garden.

More important, while Adam was gifted with a role in the garden, and that was from the kindness of God, it was neither grace nor gospel. Grace should clearly be seen as post-fall. Grace is generally defined as favor extended where wrath is deserved. There was God's favor in the garden on Adam pre-fall but not grace, which is post-fall. There is certainly not gospel until Genesis 3:15. That said, Buzzard's over all point seems true that Adam should have believed and accepted his identity as an empowering to do the task he was given.

In his attempt to get sinful husbands today to stop thinking they will "earn" their marriage's health and cultivate it in religion's 'salvation by works,' I think Buzzard pushes the "we can't earn it" paradigm too far back into the garden where clearly covenant works were both possible and noble.

3. Buzzard states the following about God's resolution in Genesis 3: 
"God listens. Then God curses. God doesn't curse Adam; God curses the Serpent" (p.75)
Buzzard's larger point is there is gospel in this passage when the serpent is cursed. The seed of the woman will crush the seed of the serpent. Amen. Yet it is a misstatement and false to say Adam is not cursed. Yes, the passage surprises us that Adam is not cursed first and even given hope in the curse of the serpent. But Adam is cursed. This is why cultivating and guarding is a failed endeavor in creation now. This is why Adam is removed from the garden. This is why there is death in creation.

With those concerns, the book is still excellent. It grounds dating one's wife in Biblical theology and the story of the gospel. It gives practical advice. It motivates not through guilt but through the sufficiency of the cross. It relies on justification: my identity is secure in Christ, I have all I need because of His work. It relies on sanctification: the Holy Spirit empowers us and changes us to respond to our wives.

Over all, again, a very good book. I would gladly pass it on to men in my church. Husbands: please get this book.

(Cross posted at "Christians in Context")

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why I believe 29 Year Old Divorcees Should Be Forbidden to Write About Marriage

Ok, I don't really believe that 29 year old divorcees should be forbidden to write about marriage. But it is strange that this article actually got published at all:

Editorial standards aren't what they used to be.

In fairness here are my stats:
Current age - 32
Happily Married for just shy of 12 years
Blessed with four kids (the first one came when I was 23).
Met my wife at age 17.
Married at age 20.

So maybe I have an axe to grind, but then no more than the author of the aforementioned essay.

If this article is the standard bearer for thoughts on marriage eligibility, perhaps we should forbid allowing anyone under the age of 30 to write anything for public consumption. Or better, perhaps we should forbid people 29 year old with such ideas from voting--so that we don't have to suffer from their stupid ideas becoming law.

Of course, everybody would agree with that this is the wrong solution to the problem of one bad essay. But isn't that the point: we see the obvious when you put it that way---yet this author is able to seriously argue that marriage should be forbidden before the age of 25. What's the evidence? Essentially: a bunch of people do it wrong.

The lines of argument for the essay are basically two fold.
(1) Personal experience.
While personal experience builds connection with an audience, it isn't supposed to be an argument for serious thoughts on any subject. The obvious reason is obvious: personal experience varies widely. Anyone equipped to pass a freshman course in logic or public speech should recognize this--if someone can't well lets make a mandatory age of 30 for graduating college. Fair is fair. 

(2) Argument from statistics.
To validate the personal experience, the author then turns to statistics. Statistics can be good. They are certainly more solid that personal experience. However, statistics are tricky things. Here's why this author essentially misuses them:

(a) Correlation does not equal causation. Again, freshman logic classes should have drilled home this point. Just because you can show that many young people get divorced doesn't mean that you have proven that the reason they are getting divorced is caused by the age at which they get married. 

The author's argument is a young person hasn't matured enough to make decisions. Unfortunately, statistics do not prove this. Typically this argument should be made from social sciences. Other articles have made that case. But I was flabbergasted that the typical argument: "it's unwise to get married young" [which may be true in some cases] has now moved to: "it should be illegal to get married young."

(b) "Is" doesn't equal "ought" or "ought not". This argument is a bit tricker because it involves ethics and metaphysics... twenty-nine year olds can't be expected to grasp such subtleties of these disciplines since we don't legislate them.

Here's the problem: the author argues from "is" e.g. "approximately 60 percent of marriages in which the couple marries between age 20 and 25 will end in divorce" and makes the leap to "ought not" e.g. it's best if "we could change the law to prevent couples from getting married before the age of 25."*awkward record scratch*

The buried presupposition is divorce is bad/evil or at least undesirable and we should therefore eliminate it. But a statistic doesn't prove that. Not even a statistic that says "85% of divorced people are unhappy" can help you make that leap. After all, sometimes even unhappy stretch us and cause us to grow.

What about Personal Liberty?
Since the article is bad all around, maybe we should limit the free speech. Too much sarcasm? 

As someone who is politically somewhere between conservatism and classical liberalism, I bristle at the very suggestion that the government should make another law to regulate private individual behavior. Besides isn't it always the progressives telling us the government can't "legislate morality"? But apparently we can legislate paternalism to protect people from making free choices. Hey where'd my 16oz soda go?

Puppy Love vs. Covenant Love
The ending to the article takes the cake for foolishness:
"Who knows? Maybe there are 20-year-olds that get married and stay madly in love for their whole lives. Maybe puppy love can last forever. 
Could be. Maybe there is such thing as fairies and unicorns too. 
Just saying..."

Well, of course puppy love doesn't last forever. As a pastor, with those I do pre-marital counseling I always try to ferret out the differences between naive starry-eyed puppy love and the true love that builds covenant commitments. The pastor who married my wife and me did the same for us.

True love, should be like God's unchanging steadfast loyal covenant love. The Bible uses the word hesed to describe this concept. 

In marriage this love is built over time. You change but you change together as a couple. Of course at 20 I knew very little about the world and even myself. But I made a covenant commitment to walk with my wife. We agreed to grow together. Our souls were being knit together by God.

I can honestly saw, I love my wife much more now then I ever did at 20. We still have our seasons romance and puppy love. But it grows out a covenant commitment and those things take work. They aren't just magic. But what do I know... maybe I should quite blogging and go feed the unicorns in the backyard with my wife. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

God's Immutability, Covenant Condescension & Bavinck

For Sunday School I am currently teaching a class on the attributes of God. This has provided me with fruitful meditations of the character of God. 

For simplicity's sake, in the class I have stuck to the classic distinction in the attributes of God of incommunicable attributes and communicable ones. I realize theologians offer different ways to organize them {such as moral and non-moral}. I also realize that even this incommunicable/communicable distinction is problematic because it can lead to thinking that incommunicable attributes are qualitatively different {e.g. we have 'presence' in space but God has omni-presence} while communicable ones are quantitative {e.g. we have 'love' and God has 'love' but just more of it}. This is insufficient and the danger must be guarded against. For reasons I won't expound here, we should think of the attributes of God in a way that holds archtypal and ectypal distinctions in all our relationships to God. 

Nevertheless, introductions to the attributes need to stay introductory. The incommunicable/communicable distinction is helpful for remember how God is fundamentally unlike us but also how we truly can bear the image of God.

Before I started the class I started reading this book just for my enjoyment. Having finished it, I find it incredible helpful in a key area regarding the doctrine of God and God's relationship to all his creation. I believe it offers a helpful and correct theological grid for thinking about some of the knotty theological and exegetical problems such as how can God in Scripture be described as both changing and unchanging. How can God be beyond time and eternal but also interact with his creation. In full disclosure, I did study in seminary under the author, yet I do find his paradigm of covenant condescension and the appeal to Christology and the incarnation to be precisely the "key" to unlocking thorny issues that come up in the doctrine of God.

So when it comes to God's immutability, God does not change in His nature yet because God has freely and willingly connected Himself to creation and taken on covenant attributes, God is in real relationships with his people. This involves God's response within creation without compromising His Lordship and absolute perfection over it. Thus God's aseity, immutability, eternality, infinity, etc. are all left uncompromised.

It is amazing to me how God's immutability is a doctrine that has fallen out of favor in contemporary evangelicalism whereas in Scripture it everywhere grounds the promises, reliability and trustworthiness of our great God.

Even more it is assumed that once we show a few passages of Scripture where God is described as changing we have defeated the doctrine without any references to clear passages where God does not change (Mal. 3:6; James 1:17; Numbers 23:19, etc.) Such shoddy handling of Scripture will not do.

We should not think that 'immutability' is a philosophical doctrine or that the traditional approach ignored a host of Scriptures related to God's seeming 'changeability.'

Here I find this extended quotation from Bavinck to be very helpful and thought provoking:

"This immutability, however, should not be confused with monotonous sameness or rigid immobility. Scripture itself leads us in describing God in the most manifold relations to all his creatures. While immutable in himself he nevertheless, as it were, lives the life of his creatures and participates in all their changing states. Scripture necessarily speaks of God in anthropomorphic language. Yet, however anthropomorphic its language, it at the same time prohibits us from positing any change in God himself. There is change around, about, and outside of him, and there is change in people's relations to him, but there is no change in God himself. In fact, God's incomprehensible greatness and, by implication, the glory of the Christian confession are precisely that God, though immutable in himself, can call mutable creatures into being. Though eternal in himself, God can nevertheless enter into time and, though immeasurable in himself, he can fill every cubic inch of space with his presence. In other words, though he himself is absolute being, God can give to transient beings a distinct existence their own. In God's eternity there exists not a moment of time; in his immensity there is not a speck of space; in his being there is no sign of becoming. Conversely, it is God who posits the creature, eternity which posits time, immensity which posits space, being which posits becoming, immutability which posits change. There is nothing intermediate between these two classes: a deep chasm separates God's being from that of all creatures. It is a mark of God's greatness that he can condescend to the level of his creatures and that, though transcendent, he can dwell immanently in all created beings. Without losing himself, God can give himself, and, while absolutely maintaining his immutability, he can enter into infinite number of relations to his creatures." (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 2 pp.158-59.)
This to me is the way forward in thinking about the doctrine of God and theology. God is infinite yet He condescends in covenant. But then I think that way because my seminary professor drilled Westminster Confession 7.1 into our heads:

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him, as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Calvinism in Conversation

When the debate over Calvinism and Arminianism comes up, it can often lead to intense vitriol. I think this conversation is a good example of how to defuse what can quickly become and intense wrangling over theological terms and concepts. It is a good way of 'taking down the daggers' as it were.

If you are a Calvinist, like me, this is a good example of how to be winsome in our defense of it.

A conversation between Charles Simeon and Charles Wesley on Dec. 20th 1784

Simeon: “Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions... Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?”

Wesley: “Yes, I do indeed.”

Simeon: “And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?”

Wesley: “Yes, solely through Christ.”

Simeon: “But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

Wesley: “No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.”

Simeon: “Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?”

Wesley: “No.”

Simeon: “What, then, are you upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?”

Wesley: “Yes, altogether.”

Simeon: “And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?”

Wesley: “Yes, I have no hope but in Him.”

Simeon: “Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where we agree.”

quoted from J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God pp13-14.

I don't totally agree with Simeon if he means that we should set aside differences. However, I think this is a good way of pointing out a key emphasis in Calvinism is that salvation is all a work of God. Some Arminians agree with that even if they parse the specifics differently. For those that claim Calvinism makes God into a devil, I think this conversation is quite instructive about the intentions, purposes, motivations and heart of Calvinism (without reference though of the texts that support this position).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Homosexuality and the Evolution of Progress

The web is abuzz with responses to President Obama's statement regarding his position on homosexuality. Although in are day it is never far from discussion, it seems that in a number of ways and in a number of venues the topic has recently risen to the attention of many. With that in mine, I am reposting an short essay that was written by a pastor friend of mine named Davis Duggins. Pastor Davis is the Pastor at the Berean Bible Fellowship Church in Stroudsburg Pa. He posted this earlier today on facebook and I think it deserves a wider audience. I post it here with his permission.

I commend to you this essay by Pastor Davis.

The President’s statement on same-sex marriage stirred quite a bit of discussion this week. In many ways, his “evolution” mirrors the changing views of society.

In 1996, I was part of a smaller debate in Oak Park, IL. Municipal officials in that Chicago suburb were discussing a registry for same-sex domestic partners. Our community was one of the first in the nation to consider such a “progressive” step.

At a local hearing, I spoke out against the plan. I said such a registry would represent a major shift for government – no longer tolerance of homosexuality but endorsement. My comments were quoted briefly in the Chicago Tribune and on the local TV news. I suppose I was the token conservative included for balance.

A lot has changed in 16 years. Today the debate is not just same-sex registries or even civil unions. Today we are discussing marriage itself. 

The proponents of same-sex marriage say it’s a matter of equality and civil rights. Some even claim it’s a matter of moral necessity. They say the rest of us shouldn’t worry. Homosexual marriage is no threat whatsoever to heterosexual marriage. Besides, they point out, we heterosexuals don’t have the best track record for marriage ourselves. Who are we to tell other couples they shouldn’t be married? 

I’m not convinced. The radical changes of the past 16 years seem incredibly reckless to me. Are we so sure of ourselves, so confident in our moral superiority, so contemptuous of the past, that we are ready to experiment with this most basic of human relationships?

I’m not convinced that all sexual activity is equally beneficial.

I’m not convinced that all family structures are equally nurturing to children.

I’m not convinced that Biblical moral standards are no longer relevant.

I’m not convinced that the government has the right to expand the boundaries of marriage.

Some things are strengthened when boundaries expand. For instance, music often thrives when artists combine various styles and instruments. Other things, however, are weakened by expanding boundaries. If my concept of color blends green and red, you will say I am color-blind. I have lost something beautiful because I cannot see the distinction.

What makes us so sure that we won’t lose something by expanding the boundaries of marriage? No past society has pushed the boundaries this far. What if those old-fashioned boundaries are actually beneficial? What if they preserve something beautiful? Are we ready to risk that?

If marriage is nothing more than a contract between two people who love each other, then maybe same-sex marriage makes sense. But marriage aims higher than that. It’s something better and more beautiful. Marriage is supposed to be the union of two opposites, a partnership that combines the unique strengths of both genders. It creates a synergy that no other relationship can match. 

As a Christian, I see marriage as part of God’s creation pattern (Genesis 2:21-25). It was God who made us male and female. It was God who designed the synergy of marriage. It was God who instituted the rules governing sexual relationships. He gave us those rules for our good, to protect the beauty of marriage. Societies flourish when they honor marriage and define it by the Creator’s standards.

So no, Mr. President, I do not think your evolution on this issue is a sign of progress. I think it lowers our view of marriage and therefore weakens society.

Proponents of same-sex marriage claim that it poses no risk to the rest of us. What they fail to understand (or purposely ignore) is how much social norms affect individuals. If our society accepts homosexual marriage as the moral equivalent of heterosexual marriage, it will change the way individuals think about sexuality, relationships, the role of government, and even our Creator. Those changes will hurt us all.

by Rev. Davis Duggins.
reposted at Christians in Context
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...