Saturday, July 14, 2007

Mohler on Roman Catholicism

Rather than respond to the comments on the last post on Catholicism, I'll let Al Mohler do my talking for me: (HT: Justin Taylor)
It all comes down to this -- the claim of the Roman Catholic Church to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Pope as the universal monarch of the church is the defining issue. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals should together recognize the importance of that claim. We should together realize and admit that this is an issue worthy of division. The Roman Catholic Church is willing to go so far as to assert that any church that denies the papacy is no true church. Evangelicals should be equally candid in asserting that any church defined by the claims of the papacy is no true church. This is not a theological game for children, it is the honest recognition of the importance of the question.

The Reformers and their heirs put their lives on the line in order to stake this claim. In this era of confusion and theological laxity we often forget that this was one of the defining issues of the Reformation itself. Both the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church staked their claim to be the true church -- and both revealed their most essential convictions in making their argument. As Martin Luther and John Calvin both made clear, the first mark of the true Church is the ministry of the Word -- the preaching of the Gospel. The Reformers indicted the Roman Catholic Church for failing to exhibit this mark, and thus failing to be a true Church. The Catholic church returned the favor, defining the church in terms of the papacy and magisterial authority. Those claims have not changed.
Well said, methinks.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Keller on Idolatry in a Postmodern Culture

You can read it here.

Roman Catholics vs. Evangelical Protestants

Justin Taylor, quoting Biola's Robert Saucy on the difference between Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants:
They’re the same as they were at the Reformation. There are three significant ones.

First is the question of final authority. Protestants hold to sola scriptura [Scripture as their final authority]. For Catholics, the final authority is Scripture as interpreted by the church, that is, the magisterium (the pope and bishops). That’s where Catholicism gets its teachings that can’t be found in Scripture, like veneration of Mary, indulgences and purgatory.

Second, Catholics view the church as an extension of Christ’s incarnation. For them, the church is divine as Christ was divine. One result of this is the Catholic proclamation: “Come to the church for salvation, for faith in the church and faith in Christ are one act of faith.”

That leads to the third difference: salvation. The Catholic catechism makes it very clear that you are born again and justified through baptism. That means faith plus a certain rite — which is administered by the church — is necessary for salvation. So, the church essentially grants salvation. Although this salvation is “by faith,” additional grace enables us “to work” to attain eternal life.

And that’s the problem with saying we speak the same gospel. One of them is clear: Christ did it; we can’t add anything to that. The other one is: Christ did it, but to actually avail yourself of what Christ did you have to do this and this.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Carson - What is the Gospel?

Nice summary of D. A. Carson's What is the Gospel? talk from the recent Gospel Coalition conference. Good quote on the problems of simply assuming the gospel while concentrating on other issues (eg. marriage, theology, whatever):
People are most likely to learn what the teacher is excited about. If the gospel is merely assumed while relatively peripheral issues ignite our passion, we will teach a new generation to downplay the gospel and focus on the periphery, be those matters of evangelism, justice, confronting Islam, or what have you.“It’s easy to sound prophetic from the margins, but harder to be prophetic from the center.”
That last sentence is both timely and profound.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

On Seeker Sensitive Churches

This is an article well worth reading: "It's hard to be seeker-sensitive when you work for Jesus."

(HT: Daniel Nairn)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Gospel Coalition Statement of Faith

Wow. Now this is a really good statement of faith, put out by the Gospel Coalition. If you only have time to read a little, jump to the end and read pps 7-12 to see how they apply their understanding of the gospel (but it really is worth reading the whole thing). Anyone know who's behind this? (Answer: Tim Keller and D. A. Carson, among others).

What I like about this is that it combines the theological (what we believe) with the contextual (how we see this applying in ministry). And I think that connection is extremely important - because the gospel is ultimately more than just our theology; it's also a function of how we use apply that theology to a given context, and incorporate that theology as part of our identity.

True theology can still be false religion if I am attempting to use it as the basis for my identity.

Addendum #1 - Reformed News has a description of what this thing is here.

Addendum #2 - notes from Tim Keller's talk at the conference.

Addendum #3 - notes from Sandy Wilson's talk

HT: Reformed News.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Romans 7

An awful lot to say about this chapter - for now I'm just going to focus on 2 things:

1. vs 1-6 - the whole point of this section is that a death has taken place - we have died, because X has died, and we are somehow mysteriously connected to him - so the law is no longer binding (1), we are realeased from the law (5, 6).

It's interesting to note the structure of the argument here - this release of ours is because our husband (X) is the one who has died (3) - if we tried to set aside the law apart from him, we'd be called an adulterous, but because he has died, we too have died to the law (4), so that we might be given to another (the rez X), in order that we might bear fruit for God (4). The old life could be characterized as "life in the flesh" (5) - the new is characterized as nothing less than "new life of the Spirit" (6).

2. vs 7-20 - Lots of ink spilled over whether this section is hypothetical, past experience, etc. I think the biggest argument in favor of "present struggle for Paul" is that it's "present struggle for us" as well. What P seems to be saying (IMO), is this: given this amazing reality described in vs 1-6, how do we deal with our present experience which is largely characterized as "I want to do what is right, but find myself doing what is wrong instead".

Bottom line - we experience this "new life of the Spirit" not as X does (fullness), but as fallen-yet-redeemed children struggling to be sanctified in the already-not-yet. We are simultaneously saints and sinners. Both of those are true (and if you deny either one, you're going to end up in trouble).

The law is not bad here - it's good, because it reveals our sin for what it is (7).

It's amazing in Romans to follow P's 'by no means' comments, because he is constantly anticipating our attempts to blame shift, to pin the fault on someone else - ultimately, we alone are responsible for our sin, and X alone can save us - we cannot save ourselves (24). And that's precisely the point of this passage. X doesn't just save us from our past sins (and now we save ourselves from our present sin) - no X saves us from past, present, and future sins. We are sanctified in the same way we are justified - by faith union w/ the resurrected X.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Romans 6

It's interesting that while Ch 5 talks a lot about "justification" Ch 6 seems to focus much more on our "sanctification" (vs 1, 4, 6, 12, 19, 22). The flow of thought follows naturally from 5:20 "where sin increased, grace increased all the more". And this leads to a very natural question - well if more sin leads to even more grace, then why not sin? Conversely, we often tend to think that more grace will thus 'cause' more sin - that grace is essentially license.

Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz puts it well:
I used to get really ticked about preachers who talked too much about grace, because they tempted me to not be disciplined. I figured what people needed was a kick in the butt, and if I failed at godliness it was because those around me weren't trying hard enough. I believed if word got out about grace, the whole church would turn into a brothel.
Paul of course, says, "No way!" That raises an interesting question - well why not? And the answer of course, is that grace is not some passive thing - rather its an active thing that unites us to Christ. See this clearly in vs 3-4 - our baptism unites us to Christ, and to the extent that we are united to him, we are enabled to walk in newness of life.

Union w/ X cannot help but change us, because X himself has been changed, and what's ours becomes his and what's his becomes ours. We MUST live if we are united to X because he himself MUST live - he has died and been raised imperishable - death no longer has any dominion over him (9).

What's so interesting about this is that even though this reality for him is definite and accomplished (and thus its guaranteed for us), its still not experienced as definite and complete for us - we're still in the already-not-yet. Hence the need to "consider" ourselves dead to sin (11) - we are to live in light of what X has already accomplished, which in turn is what accomplishes life in us. But this living of ours is active, not passive.

We work, because X has worked - it's his work that accomplishes change in us, but his work is always accompanied by our own working - never as a means or end in itself, but always out of gratitude at what he has done and our own emulation of his work.

vs 14 - law vs. grace - really presented here as something of two different epochs - the period of law (under the OT) vs. the newly inaugurated period of grace (under X). Actually, we know from Rom 4 that even the OT economy was one of grace individually (4:3 - "Abraham believed, and God credited it to him as righteousness"), but as a nation, Israel was charged to live up to the law, and they simply could not do it. And so now, X does this for us - we are no longer under the "law" because he was "under law" for us. This new epoch is gracious for us precisely because it was not gracious for X.

And it's this "being under X" that is so incredibly freeing - not because we no longer need to obey, but because we are in X we are now capable _of_ obeying - we are freed from sin. Important to note this - Scripture does not portray sin as "liberty" (being able to do what I want) but rather as "bondage" (not being able to not want it). This is why the latter part of this chapter (15-23) uses the metaphor of slavery - we're either slaves to sin or to righteousness, but we are never slaves to nothing. We are human, and thus we are meant to serve (even as kinds of all creation).

vs 17 - worth pointing out that real obedience is heart obedience - it's not just what you do, but why you do it (motive, goal).



Monday, March 05, 2007

Romans 5

vs 1 - important to remember that "justified by faith" here is synonymous w/ "justified by Christ, to whom we are united through faith" or "justified by faith-union w/ Christ" - Christ is the one who justifies us, who does all the work - our faith in him is simply the instrument that unites us to him.

There are at least 3 distinct benefits of this "justification" mentioned here...
  1. peace w/ God (1) - what does that say about our relationship apart from Christ? That it's nothing less than war with God (which fits the 'wrath' and 'enemies' language down in vs 9-10).
  2. access to grace (2) - very important to recognize that while there is certainly such a thing as common grace (God's goodness to all), there is also a particular kind of grace (saving grace) which is only available to those who are in Christ Jesus (because he alone is the possessor and conveyor of that grace to us)
  3. hope of glory (2) - in Christ, we actually hope of getting back to where we were meant to be - getting forward, actually - only in Christ do we have the capacity to become fully human, to flesh out what it means to be image of God, to really reflect his glory by becoming truly glorious ourselves
  4. joy in suffering (3-4) - we don't just receive a future hope - we receive eyes to see the purpose of our present suffering - to see that it is for our good, producing something in us - just as faith is the instrument that unites us to Christ, suffering is the instrument that conforms us to Christ - it's the current of the river that wraps us around the rock in the middle of it, plastering us to it, shaping us in his image
vs 8 - vitally important to see how clearly Scripture states that "Christ died for us, while we were still ungodly sinners" - that statement expresses premeditation (eg. cross didn't just happen - God sent X there), and to that we must ask "why?" - Scripture consistently contends that the cross was necessary, purposeful, forordained - and that it accomplishes something.

vs 9 - also worth noting that the results of this act are not described in terms of potential benefits (eg. possiblity of salvation) but in terms of realized benefits (eg. since we have been justified... much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God).

vs 10 - interesting that reconciliation seems to come through X's death, while "salvation" comes through his life - this "salvation" here is not just "now you'll go to heaven when you die" but rather "now you'll have all the life in yourself that is also present in X" - so it's a full, robust, full-fledged salvation. What's his (life) becomes ours - he gives it to us as we are united to him.

vs 12+ - this raises a really interesting question - how on earth is it fair for God to give us all these things, when we ourselves did not earn/deserve them? (of course, most of us never bother to ask THIS question - we don't really care whether its legit for him to give us something, even though we'll protest loudly at the idea that we could be declared to be sinners on the basis of another)

This other is Adam, and Paul draws a clear connection here. Couple of basic points...
  • the historicity of Jesus would seem to demand the historicity of Adam - if A is not historical (real), then how are the effects of his death real? and why would we expect X's effects to be equally real? That said, we're not saved by faith in A - we're saved by faith in X (so someone could believe that A didn't exist and still be a real Christian)
  • whatever we think of salvation/sin, we need to be able to explain this connection between Adam and X - the connection is clearly there. So what is it?
  • the thrust of the argument - sin entered the world through one man, yet all die? How come? especially in light of the fact that there was a time when there was no law (Adam to Moses)? the text seems to be suggesting that they were suffering the judgment of A's sin...
  • death reigned from A to Moses - suggests that there was a law in place for A, nothing until Moses, and then another law in place w/ him ("covt of works") - so there is at very least a works principle in place w/ the Mosaic economy - I'd see it as a covt of works for Israel as a nation, Israel as God's son, but nevertheless a covt of grace for all Israelites as individuals
  • so A is a type of "the one who was to come", X - at the very least, then, we have to admit that both A and X seem to occupy special positions, they are a certain special "type" of people who's actions have consequences for all their heirs
And that brings us to the differences (15) - the free gift is also DIFFERENT from the trespass
  • instead of bringing death it brings life (15)
  • result of one sin was judgment/condemnation (deserved) --> result of X's ultimate act of righteouseness meant that many trespasses led to judgment/justification (gift/grace)
Receiving grace does not just "wipe our slate clean" - it is a rennovating grace - it cannot help but transform us, so that we reign in life - grace does not just get us back to a state of innoncence (eg. pre-fall) - it takes us beyond that to our destiny (to what A was intended to aspire to if he had passed the test).

vs 18 - so when we read "justification" in vs 18, we need to read much more than just "acquittal" - it IS that, but it's really the whole of salvation - it's the righteousness of God, LIFE. Also important to note that the "all men" in this verse is either a) universalistic, or b) shorthand for "all who are in X, as his heirs, which we know only happens through faith". Option B seems to be intended.

vs 20 - purpose of the law is to increase the trespass - to make it more obvious. We are all sinners in A; God proves it again by giving the law, which demonstrates that we are all sinners in ourselves as well.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Romans 4

Romans 3 ends w/ a rhetorical question - does the reality (or prominence of faith) thereby overthrow the law? "By no means!" says Paul (interesting to note that this phrase occurs some 11 times in Romans - 3:4, 3:6, 3:31, 6:2, 6:15, 7:7, 7:13, 9:14, 11:1, and 11:11 - each time as Paul anticipates potential objections).

Faith does not obviate the law - it upholds it (3:31). What's interesting is that Rom 4 doesn't follow that line of argument, eg. trying to explain or illustrate HOW faith upholds the law - instead, it simply asserts that reality (for now) and skips forward to a different question - was our great forefather Abraham justified by faith or by works? (4:1-2).

Of course the classic passage for this is Gen 15:6 (3:3) - "Abraham believed God and he credited it to him as righteousness". What's interesting here, however, is that P also connects this same faith principle to David, is Psalm 32 (3:7-8). This psalm is interesting, not only because it talks about forgiveness, but because this forgiveness comes simply through heartfelt repentance (and thus through faith) - there's no "work" to earn God's favor, not even sacrifice.

The key point for P's larger argument here (that BOTH Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith) is that this blessing to Abraham on the basis of his faith comes BEFORE he has been given the "work" of circumcision (the key mark that distringuished Jews from Gentiles) (10).

Interesting that circumcision has both a "sign" function (illustrating something), as well as a "seal" function (guaranteeing something). Won't explore either of those in detail right now. Also interesting to note that the "purpose" of sign following faith here is to make him the father of all who believe, w/ or w/out circumcision (11).

vs 14 - interesting how this verse - "if it is the adherants of the law who are to be heirs, faith is null and promise is void" - seems to juxtapose strongly w/ what we saw back in 2:6 - "he will render to each according to his works"

vs 16 - "that is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring" - there can be no guarantee (no promise) unless it can be ensured for offspring - but if it depends on their works, its really a possibility at best, not a promise - this statement wouldn't seem to be possible if Paul actually was an Arminian (or Open Theist) - and grace wouldn't really be grace

vs 17 - the whole point of Abraham receiving the promise of an heir, is that at the age when he believed it he was functionally dead - so he is incapable of "responding" or "doing his part" - he's too old. That's precisely the point of course - only God can fulfill the promise, because he is the one "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist" - faith is simply the conviction that God will do what he has promised (21).

vs 23 - this was all written, not just for his sake, but for ours - we're supposed to look at Abraham and draw conclusions about our own situation

vs 25 - passive and active obedience of Christ - he was given up for our trespasses, he was raised for our justification - seems hard to suppose that his death was simply exemplary (let alone accidental). Paul seems to see something much more concrete and significant in both his death -AND- his rez - not only does he HAVE to die, but he also HAS to be raised. I think "justification" here is much more than just "our legal standing, entry into salvation" - it's synecdotal for everything we have in Christ (our sanctification, our worship, everything).

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Romans 3

Ch 3 starts by anticipating a question - "Ok, Paul, you are telling us that this gospel of yours is powerful, that it actually works salvation (1:17-18). Well what about the Jews? They received all these promises of old, these benefits, these signs, and yet you also seem to be saying that there is no real difference between them and the Gentiles - was there any tangible value to circumcision and the law, if it could not keep them from being condemned by God (just like the Gentiles, who didn't have those things?"

And P answers this by saying - "Absolutely! Of course there is value!" (3:1-2) The real problem, it would seem, is not that circumcision and the law have not worked, but rather that they have not worked as we expected them to. It's not an issue of their impotance, but rather of our expectations. The purpose of the law is not to justify, but to convict, to stop our mouths because we realize that there is no one righteous (especially not ourselves) (19-20). This is just as true for the Gentile as it is for the Jew (even though the law takes a different expression for each).

vs 21+ - If the law simply convicts then (and there are none righteous, as a result), how then can anyone be saved? The answer, of course, is that God's righteousness [not just his legal justice, although that's a part of it (cf. Col 2:14), but also his goodness, his rightness, his kingdom] is has been revealed in a new and surprising way (although its not really new, since the Law and the Prophets were pointing to it all along) (21) - this righteousness comes through faith in Christ to all who believe (22). Couple of considerations here...
  • classic Christian emphasis on the 'problem of sin' often gets dissed these days (and in some ways, rightly so; after all, this is an organic, wholistic, practical, concrete salvation - never simply abstract, intellectual, or theoretical) - that said, it seems pretty hard to deny, though, that personal sin is at least part of the equation - and the problem here is not merely ethical (that some people aren't acting right) - it goes much deeper than that (NO people act right, the law is meant to convict of that, and "belief" in Christ somehow addresses that)
  • this 'righteousness' is seen as something we a) lack, b) desperately need for salvation - we "fall short" of God's glory (23) (and the glory we were meant to have as those created in his image) - we are "justified" (24) (made right, restored) by a) grace, b) which is given to us, c) through some kind of "redemption" which is located in Christ Jesus - so it would seem that salvation consists of some kind of transfer - where something that resides in Christ (and doesn't reside in us) is somehow applied to us, by faith.
  • this 'by faith' part (25) is key - it demands some kind of attitude towards Christ - an allegience, an identification, an "I'm with him" way of thinking, where we see ourselves as his followers. Faith in some generic goodness of God towards all men is simply insufficient.
vs 25-26 - this "salvation" which God has provided actually serves to demonstrate God's own "righteousness" as well - on the one hand, it answers the question raised earlier in Ch 1 "why isn't God acting against ungodliness and unrighteousness" (cf. 1:18). And the answer of course, is that he is - not simply by judging against it, but also by overcoming it. And the way that he overcomes it is by bearing the punishment which that unrighteousness deserves - so God is just (punishing all sin, measuring out justice for all wrongdoing) and justifier (he actually saves sinners, just as he promised) (26). As Anselm says, "Why is the incarnation necessary? Because only man ought to pay our debt, but only God is able to pay it. Hence the need for the god-man Jesus Christ..."

It seems very difficult to me to do justice to this text without arriving at something fairly similar to a classic reformed understanding of justification (eg. Luther and Calvin). We are justified by grace, through faith, and even that is a gift of God (Eph 2:8-10).

vs 28 - it's important to point out that this "justification by faith" is not a matter of something we possess, which thereby justifies us on its own - faith is an instrument of our union with Christ - Christ is the one who justifies us, and we are united to him through faith. We are justified by our faith union with Christ. We use this same sense, then, when we talk about "sanctification by faith" and "worship by faith" - we are not talking about something that exists alone within us (eg. if I just have enough faith, I'll be sanctified), but rather, we are using biblical shorthand - just as we are justified, so too we are sanctified and our worship is perfected, all by our faith union with Christ. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. So too, his sanctification becomes our sanctification. His perfect worship perfects our own worship. All that is his becomes mine, and all that is mine becomes his.

Faith is not just the entry point to the Christian life, it IS the Christian life, start to finish, because faith alone unites us to Christ.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Romans 2

vs 1 - Very interesting to note that vs 1:32 mentions "approval" (they give approval to those who practice wickedness w/ them) - this is immediately followed up in 2:1 with numerous references to "judging" (which can also be translated "condemning"). Point here is that this is actually quite a telling characteristic of this world - if you do not approve, you are condemned. Relationship is contingent on agreement (and approval). This is true for both the liberal (anything goes) and the fundamentalist (my way or the highway) - both demand approval for their position, because that is where they are putting their hope. Many are quick to reject the church on account of hypocrisy, but the whole point is that we are ALL hypocrites, believers and unbelievers alike.

SUM: We tend to read these opening references to "judgment" in Ch 2 along the lines of "discern/decide" - how does it change if we read them more along the vein of "condemn"?

vs 4 - interesting to note that God's kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (in much the same way that Christ's signs were meant to bring repentance, not confidence - cf. Mt 11-12)

vs 6-8 - these have always been a little puzzling / troubling to me, probably because it sounds like "salvation by works" - of course it becomes something of a moot point later on, when we learn that there is no one righteous, not even one... (3:10-12). One of the things that is interesting about God's judgment here (in contrast w/ men's) is that it is righteous (vs 5), and the nature of judgment hinges on obedience (8). Kind of hard not to see some kind of judgment or hell in this passage. What is most interesting though, is that the dividing line (of someone's in-ness or out-ness) is no on the basis of their ethnicity (Jew vs. Greek), but rather on the basis of obedience and righteousness (10-11).

vs 12+ - of course the rightness of such judgment (of both Jew -AND- Greek) in the first place, hinges on the fact that there seems to be a law in effect for both of them - for the Jew its written on tablets of stone; for the Greek its written on their hearts, in their consciences (15). Seems to suggest something fairly profound about "the law" - that what we find in the OT is not the fullness of the law, but rather an expression of the law - not the thing in itself, but something which points us to the reality. This might be a minor distinction, but it seems important, to keep us from improperly clinging to the OT law (and note that Rom 12 effectively recapitulates that law as well).

It seems important to keep in mind that whatever Paul seems to be saying in Ch 2 (eg. via his logical argument), the point (or thrust) of these words seems to get summarized in 3:9-10 - we are all under sin, both Jews and Greeks. So as we read Ch 2, we need to keep 3:9-10 in view as a hermeneutical key.

What really matters is obedience, and none of us measures up in that area. So any time we condemn someone else (and thus approve of ourselves) we are engaging in an act of hypocisy, for which we ourselves will be condemned. We can never look to our own "keeping of the rules" (law) for our rightness - 3:20 - "for by works of the law, no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin". The law (however we define it) constantly reminds me of my inability, my shortcomings, my own unrighteousness. It too is a means of grace, meant to drive me to repentance.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Romans 1

I am currently working through Romans in the mornings, and I've decided I may try capturing my thoughts here on it. A running notepad, so to speak, where I'm primarily looking at the book in terms of the light it sheds on the gospel... (and the first couple of chapters are going to be kind of light, because I'm writing about them in retrospect).

vs 16 - interesting to note that the reason P is not ashamed of the gospel is because it is a source of power - we don't typically think about the gospel in those terms - we tend to think about it theologically, abstractly, technically - and yet P is saying that first and foremost, the gospel makes a difference - not in terms of what we should do, but in terms of our ability to do it. The gospel frees us, it provides what we lack. It's not just an entry point to salvation, it's the very substance of salvation.

vs 17 - for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith - I need to look at the Greek for this, but I wonder if the whole 'from faith to faith' part is really saying something to the effect of 'by faith, from start to finish' - ESV suggests an alternate translation which seems to fit w/ this - 'beginning and ending in faith' - if this in fact what it's saying, then it fits very well w/ the whole concept of justification by faith, sanctification by faith, and worship by faith. Everything in the Christian life is by faith - start to finish - because it is by faith that we are united to Christ (think Gaffin's union w/ Christ (UWX) here). This also fits well w/ what follows - "The righteous shall live by faith" (Hab 2:4).

vs 19-20 - for what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and his divine nature have been clearly perceived since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. - interesting how several times in the last week I've had non-Christians say to me that the believe in God, that he exists, simply because of what they see in nature. I think this statement resonates w/ unbelievers. They know that something is there. Not sure what they'll think about the 'without excuse' part though...

vs 21-32 - what's interesting about this section is how well it describes the effects of our fall into sin:
  • folly - claiming to be wise, they became fools... (22) - the mind falls
  • idolatry - and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images... (23) - the gaze turns from God inwards, our worship is corrupted
  • desire - therefore, God gave them over to the lusts of their hearts... (24) - their desires are twisted, corrupted
  • wickedness - for this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions... (26), ...God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice (28-29) - their own behavior follows
  • strife - they are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, etc (29-32) - not only are they themselves corrupt, but this flows over into their relationships with other people
So what you see here is really a fruit-from-root relationship, where each problem flows from that which proceeds it. And at the source, is an issue of false worship, of idolatry, which flows from arrogant foolishness (which is ultimately from pride and rebellion, a refusal to submit and be revelation receivers rather than wise in our own sight) - at the end of the day, we all want to know good and evil on our own terms. We want to be God and decide what is right and what is not. And that is impossible to do, and still acknowledge him as God.

Also interesting to note how the fruits of our sin are all described in terms of "God giving them over" - God is not "punishing us" by making us sinful - he is giving us what we want, even though it will destroy us. He is like a parent who says, "Ok, go ahead and touch that stove. Only then will you learn to listen when I say, 'don't touch! It's hot!'"

vs 32 - interesting that it mentions approval - at the end of the day, that's at the heart of all false religion - both elder brother lawlessness and older brother religiousity. We want approval for what we do, or on the basis of what we do, and we reject those who will not give it to us. So our acceptance is always contingent on someone elses' agreement or conformity. It is never based on who they are. So neither of these is the gospel.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Chesterton on Tradition

Justin Taylor quotes Chesterton on tradition:
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.(Orthodoxy, pp. 64-65)
(NOTE: Normally I wouldn't just copy the whole post and repaste it here, but its short, and I'm having trouble viewing it in Firefox on Justin's site)

A Timely Word For Seminaries

A friend of mine is currently helping out at a Peacemaking conference for seminaries in Bangladesh. He sent out an email update earlier this morning, with some reflections by Manfred Kohl on the nature (and dangers) of theological institutions.
Manfred Kohl’s opening remarks were very edifying and challenging. While directed at theological institutions, it’s not a leap to apply them to the local church. The title was Trends and Critical Issues in Theological Education.

He made three general observations and seven points of urgency. I will share them as follows:
  • A. Theologians (substitute noun for your context) within theological institutions like to talk and debate, often with few results. It seems that action or change is to be avoided at any cost.
  • B. Theologians within theological institutions like to focus on the past. To plan ahead, to think futuristically, seems to be outside their comfort zone.
  • C. Theologians within theological institutions seem to have difficulties with issues of management, fundraising, and outcome-oriented assessment.
Here are his seven points:
  1. Theological education (TE) must give more attention to the schools’ constituent churches and their needs. (The need for shepherds > peacemaking > HIV help > how to reach and minister to the young. (50% of all Asians are under 18 years of age.)
  2. TE must be more mission oriented. Mt. 28 must be practiced. Theology has no reason to exist w/o missions. Reach out to the poor and the super rich, both of whom are poverty-stricken w/o Christ.
  3. TE must put greater effort into spiritual formation as a part of ministry skills. (Jesus not only taught but also practiced everything He taught His disciples. He was not a theorist. He taught prayer and practiced prayer, etc. etc.)
  4. TE must focus on training outcomes, on the effectiveness of graduates in ministry. (Assessment of effectiveness: 4 questions. 1) How helpful? 2) What was most valuable? 3) What missing? 4) Least valuable?)
  5. TE must rediscover the value of practical mentorship. (The medical training paradigm; students not only hear but they watch. Who am I mentoring? My children? My ministry?)
  6. TE must address the needs of the laity. (Involvement in the marketplace, the job, business, professional, politicians; lay training.)
  7. TE must start its renewal from the top. (Renewal – change – starts with me. Business world: outcome-oriented assessment. Team effort – retreats, reflection.)
His Summary: Jesus’ seminary, 12 full time students, 70 part time. What subjects did He teach and demonstrate?
  • a) Prayer. Very few schools have a required course on prayer.
  • b) How to serve. Again, very few courses on how to serve. One school issued a certificate and a towel upon completion!
  • c) Stewardship. Giving/sharing. He took his students and observed the offering box; he addressed the rich young ruler.
  • d) Unity. Imagine a course on unity!
  • e) Worship. (Sacraments; love of God; Christ centered, grace driven)
  • f) Peacemaking
  • g) Mission
I would add ministry of the Word as developed by Apostles.

I confess I feel a little out of place. As I was thinking, “What am I doing here?” it occurred to me to be observant and look for someone off by himself. During our first break I noticed a westerner standing by himself. (Turned out to be an American from Chicago). I approached him and had a wonderful conversation. He shared that he felt out of place, as he didn’t know anyone other than Manfred, who invited him; he was not part of any school, but was working with indigenous believers in [Asia] in the house church movement.

I shared a little about Bangladesh and he asked if we had encountered any signs and wonders. As I pondered on how to respond, it occurred to me that an indigenous led, visible church planting movement throughout a Muslim country, with public baptisms and gatherings (in other words, courageous believers living out their faith under great pressure) was surely a sign and a wonder. Anyway, it was a blessing to talk to this brother. Please pray for me to be open and sensitive to others...
Very timely words, not just for theological institutions in Asia, but also for those right here at home, especially in a place like Westminster...

The Grandest of Excuses

Wow, just in case you haven't seen it, Mark T has just posted one of the best excuses EVER for a late paper. You will be awed (and tempted to use it for yourself someday down the road... ;-) Thanks for sharing Mark!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Scot McKnight at WTS

Art Boulet has summarized Scot McKnights introductory lecture at WTS on the Emerging Movement. Worth reading if you're interested in this thing...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Books I Just Ordered

So here's what I just ordered from the WTS bookstore today:
Ah, to be able to read for FUN again! Woo hoo! I'm looking forward to it...

And here's what I WANT to order (but haven't yet):

Friday, October 06, 2006

WTS Gospel & Culture

[Note: The Gospel and Culture Project now has it's own website -]

Now this is extremely interesting - Mark Traphagen has posted a summary of the Gospel & Culture seminars, and I find it extremely interesting. Here's a snippet to whet your appetite...
The biblical message is that God has been with and for the creation since the beginning. To be human and made in the image of God is to be a human who eats, sleeps, creates, works, gardens, talks, etc. Christ did not come with a message limited to the saving of indivdual souls. His disciples are culture formers from the very start.

American Christians have tended toward two polar opposites: either God’s kingdom is an old Israel restored in the future, or God’s kingdom is a new Israel (i.e., the United States). In fact, it is neither. It is a global kingdom, encompassing the whole world, all of creation, and every culture.

Too often we are focused on the means to bring the Kingdom rather than on its King. We are to have Christ and his Kingdom first, then the means.
Recent Christian youth movements have issued a call to “redeem the culture.” As well-intentioned as this is, it is not really the call of Christ. It is not us redeeming culture and then offering it up to Christ as our gift to him, but rather our recognition that we are but servants of the Christ who judges and who himself redeems, not just our culture, but every culture of the world. We serve his kingdom, wherever we do so, as humble, repentant sinners, people who live out of deep gratitude. There is no shortcut to the redemption of all things. No political party, no economic plan, can bring it about. Neither is there a shortcut to global Christian unity. We must see ourselves neither as Americans first nor as anti-American, but rather first always as Christ’s disciples, ambassadors to all the world.

The inattention to culture is just as prevalent in the Reformed world as it is elsewhere in the Church.
You really ought to go read the whole thing. The second part on African American culture is just as good. Thanks for sharing this Mark!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Digesting the New Perspective(s)

Just have to say that I picked up a book on the New Perspective(s) last night that I would like to strongly recommend to anyone looking to get their arms around the whole New Perspective of Paul - it's called Getting the Gospel Right - Assessing the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul, by Cornelius Venema. Its very short (<100 pages), extremely well written (you can read it thoughfully in under two hours), and, most importantly, I think it's extremely fair to proponents of the NPP (if any NPP fans want to contest that, please let me know).

If you are looking for a great entry point into the salient problems of NPP (and this is not to deny that there are very many good insights), as well as a great summary of the distinctives of the Reformation perspective, I'd really encourage you to check this book out. If you only have time to read one thing on NPP, this would be it.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Jesus and the Sabbath (Lk 6:1-5)

Since the question of Jesus and the Sabbath came up recently over on SLD, I thought I'd post an old paper that I wrote on Luke 6:1-5. Here's a somewhat provocative snippet:
In a nutshell, most Christians assume that both David and Jesus cannot actually be breaking the law; there must be some mitigating circumstance, which is then located in “human need” (the definition of which happens to be conveniently vague). Unfortunately, such an interpretation fails to do justice to God’s word on at least two essential counts.

First, it fails to take the OT commandments seriously enough. God explicitly stated that the bread of Presence was only for the priests, and He as Lawgiver provided no exception clauses. David really was breaking God’s direct commandment (and I would argue this is precisely Jesus’ point). God is equally concerned about Sabbath observance: it is not even permissible to build a fire on the Sabbath (Ex 35:2). We would do well to remember the events of Num 15:32-41, where a man caught gathering sticks on a Sabbath is stoned to death. He certainly seems to have as much of a claim to “human need” as David did – why then did God order his execution?

Second, this interpretation also fails to take Luke’s account seriously enough. Jesus and his disciples may have been hungry, but certainly mere hunger does not constitute ‘necessity for physical well being.’ Is it really possible they could not deny themselves for a mere 8-10 hours for the sake of honoring God’s law?1 Likewise, how do we explain the pericope that follows in 6:6-11? The Pharisees seem to have a point – the man with a withered hand (6:6) is in no impending danger; neither is the woman who has had a disabling spirit for eighteen years (13:10-17). Neither situation seems correlative with the ox fallen into the well (14:5).
Of course, if you want to see where I go from here, you're going to have to go read the whole thing.

The Missional Gospel

For those of you who are interested, here are some audio links to how I understand the gospel, and how that understanding drives our sense of mission, of church planting.
As always, comments and feedback welcome. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Dever on Complementarianism

Mark Dever offers some interesting comments on complementationism (and the difference between older and younger generations on the issue).

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Donald Miller On Charity (Love)

Steve McCoy has a great snippet from a recent interview with Donald Miller, talking about how the church tends to use love as a commodity:

We sometimes take a Darwinian approach with love—if we are against somebody's ideas, we starve them out. If we disagree with somebody's political ideas, or sexual identity, we just don't "pay" them. We refuse to "condone the behavior" by offering any love.

This approach has created a Christian culture that is completely unaware what the greater culture thinks of us. We don't interact with people who don't validate our ideas. There is nothing revolutionary here. This mindset is hardly a breath of fresh air to a world that uses the exact same kinds of techniques.

Miller is precisely right here, and his critique not only applies to evangelical Christians in general, it applies to our theologians and leaders in particular - we place a great emphasis / confidence in "getting it right," and then we place a great burden / pressure on others to agree with us about it. If they do, we reward them lavishly - they are our friends, the good guys, they are in. But if they don't, they are the enemy, the bad guys, they are out. As a result, not only do we not know what others think of us, but we don't care either.

I see a lot of these same attitudes at work in the recent responses to Presbyterians & Presbyterians Together and it concerns me deeply - it sees "charity" as a gag; it fails to remember that "love" was the way Christ reached out to us in the first place, even while we were still enemies...

If I want to convince someone who disagrees with me, I need to start by understanding him on his own terms, by seeing what I look like in his eyes, and by loving him for his own sake, whether or not he ever comes into my camp or agrees with my position. In short, I need identify with him. I need to love him the way Christ does, the way Christ loves me. And if I truly love someone well, it will change the way I disagree with him.

At the end of the day, I having this nagging suspicion that the reason so many people are against charity is that they don't really know what it means to love...