30 December 2007

The Inextinguishable Blaze

Over Christmas I read A. Skevington Wood's 1960 book on the Great Awakening, The Inextinguishable Blaze: Spiritual Renewal and Advance in the 18th Century. Dr. Wood was a British pastor with a PhD from Edinburgh.

It is a marvelous and encouraging work. I love this period of history, and Wood does it full justice. I do think at times he overlooks flaws. Two examples are: 1) despite reviewing the remarkable evangelistic career of the Welshman Howell Harris, Wood ignores Harris' late-life eccentricities; and 2) though giving significant space to Edwards' Narrative of Surprising Conversions detailing the 1734-35 local Northampton revival (preceding the trans-Atlantic Great Awakening 6 years later), Wood again ignores the fact that Edwards later reflected on his account and saw that he was a bit overly optimistic about the truly spiritual results of the revival, recognizing that many had fallen away who at that time professed vital spiritual experience.

Now that that's off my chest, I loved the book. Here are 3 of my favorite chunks.

In the 1750s William Romaine was preaching in the Anglican Church in England. He was drawing such huge crowds that the embarassed church wardens refused to turn on the lights, or the heat, or even to open the doors until the very minute the service was scheduled to begin. Wood quotes G. R. Balleine, who writes:

Preacher and congregation had to wait in the street till the wooden giants on the tower had beaten out the hour of seven, and then grope their way cautiously to their seats. This was the only Evangelical service in any of the city churches, and very solemn and impressive it must have been, the crowded congregation sitting or standing in perfect darkness, while Romaine preached by the light of a taper which he held in his hand. (143)

During the Great Awakening there was, of course, lots of revival among the dissenting church, as Whitefield, Wesley and other took to the open fields. But there was also revival in the official church. One such pastor was the slightly eccentric John Berridge, whom Wood claims paved the way for Charles Simeon. One happy anecdote from Berridge's life is told by Wood as follows.

Berridge found himself on the Episcopal carpet more than once. On one occasion he was reproved for preaching at all hours of the day and on all days of the week. "My lord," he replied, "I preach only at two times." And when the Bishop enquired, "And which are they, Mr. Berridge?" he quickly responded, "In season and out of season, my lord." (212)

Finally, I love John Wesley's argument for the divine origin of the Bible. Wood cites Wesley himself explaining why:

The Bible must be the invention of either good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God. (1) It could not be the invention of good men or angels, for they neither would nor could make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, "Thus saith the Lord," when it was their own invention. (2) It could not be the invention of bad men or devils, for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity. (3) Therefore I draw this conclusion that the Bible must be given by divine inspiration. (228)

Pastoral Motivation

Excellent thought from the Jonathan Edwards blog on Edwards' understanding of what motivates ministers in their pastoral call, especially in distinction from the Puritan William Perkins. Just right on.

28 December 2007

New Blog

So glad to see this old friend is now blogging (the one squatting, not lying down). As I told him yesterday, good blogs have two traits: frequency of posting and quality of posting. His has both. (no pressure Pop)




(photo courtesy of www.northamericanwhitetail.com)

27 December 2007

2007: Jesus Paid It All

I have been coming back for several weeks to the words of the old hymn, which express better than anything I could say what I most deeply feel when looking back over 2007.

There have been many joys this year, but this is the joy beneath all joys. There have been many low times, but this is the source of all stable buoyancy this year. There has been lots of unmortified sin, and this is my only hope as I reflect on the pervasiveness and ugliness of my remaining rebellion.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

21 December 2007

Timeout

No posting for the next week or so as my family and I are in Connecticut for the holidays.

18 December 2007

See Promises, not Providences

Grateful for this good reminder from Jon Bloom, a caution to interpret neither prosperity as God's pleasure nor hardship as his displeasure.

12 December 2007

Velvet Elvis = Velvet Theology?

Today I read Rob Bell's book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. Rob is pastor of Mars Hill, a church in Grand Rapids (not to be confused with Mars Hill in Seattle, pastored by Mark Driscoll).

I appreciate the book in many respects. His thoughts on living like Christ in a way that is forgiving and loving instead of harsh and judgmental; his realism about suffering; his reflections on the importance of joy in Christianity; and his emphasis on the mystery of God and the way we can never exhaust him or figure him out and bottle him up like a math problem; these are all true and worthy of reflection.

But this book is exactly why I started this blog in the first place, and it's a perfect example of why I've called it "Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology."

Time and again the book trades in our doctrinal birthright as Christians for a mess of theology-taming pottage. Bell talks about joy and about enjoying God. Yes! What a central and needed message for our age; maybe for every age. But the way he does it is by softening and fuzzying the clear contours of divinely revealed truth mercifully given in Scripture. His end is right; his means is wrong.

I'll cite two examples. In his zeal for people to know just how counterintuitive and surprising and deep and wonderful and freeing God's grace and love are--and they are!--Bell writes that "when Jesus died on the cross, he died for everybody. Everybody. Everywhere. . . . This reality then isn't something we make true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making" (145-46).

We're still scratching our heads with this, wondering if he really means it, when he follows it up with: "Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for" (146).

I think I understand how Bell can say these kinds of things, unambiguously conflicting with biblical witness, from the second example. Bell is talking about the Christian life being more like a trampoline, which you jump on and call others to join you in enjoying, than it is a wall of bricks, with each doctrine being a brick. His point is that we ought not to worry about a single brick falling out and causing the whole wall to crumble, which is the mode in which he sees some conservative Christian operating (18-28).

Point taken. I want to call others to Christianity by enjoying it, not by battering doctrines over people's heads. Personally, I need to grow in this area.

But my response is: won't the height and enjoyment of our jumping be determined by the well-being and sturdiness of the foundational structure of the trampoline?

My conclusion is simply this. Doctrine exists for delight. Just as you don't bake a strawberry-rhubarb pie to stick it on a petry dish to analyze it, so God is meant to be enjoyed, not analyzed. But we still need to have the right recipe. The trampoline structure still needs to be secure. We won't enjoy the pie without the right recipe. Hence the importance of doctrine. It is the Holy Spirit who ignites joy, but he does it with the kindling of Scripture.

I don't want to be a theology-cop. Let's agree to spend our main energies affirming the good in people, not looking for the weaknesses, remembering how blind we ourselves are to our own errors and weaknesses. I have not a shred of doubt that Rob Bell has done TONS of good in this world. Praise God for him. May the Lord bless his efforts. But if you want your people to enjoy Jesus, Pastor Bell, you're softening the very means God has given for them to do it.

Theology exists for doxology. Doctrine exists for delight. We neither skip the head to get to the heart, nor focus on the head without letting doctrine pour into the heart. Rather we embrace and cultivate and defend doctrine, for the sake of the heart. Strawberry-rhubarb theology.

Heidelberg: Providence

Though I am born and bred on the Westminster Confession, a document I love, my favorite confession is that of Heidelberg, for reasons including Questions 27 and 28, on God's providence.

Q 27. What do you understand by the providence of God?
A. Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty--all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.

Q 28. How does the knowledge of God's creation and providence help us?
A. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love. All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.

08 December 2007

Lewis' Counterintuitive Relief

One is sometimes (not often) glad not to be a great theologian; one might so easily mistake it for being a good Christian.

--C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 57 (rediscovered in a citation in Michael Gorman's book on Paul, Apostle of the Crucified Lord, 131)

07 December 2007

The best quote I've read in a year:

Jesus remained silent before Pilate so that ever after he might speak for us.

--John Calvin, Institutes

06 December 2007

Storms: Theology

"I am a Calvinistic, charismatic, complementarian, Christian hedonist," writes Sam Storms. He explains.

04 December 2007

Spiritual Vertigo

A great reflection on spiritual storms by Jon Bloom.

02 December 2007

Calvinism = Arrogance?

In recent days Scot McKnight posted a letter from a young pastor having a problem with vocal, arrogant "hyper-Calvinists" (I'm unsure if that means theologically or generically) which generated a huge response (with McKnight's response here). Responses of widely differing viewpoints regarding Scot's post can be read here, here, and here.

I'm not going to dive into this discussion. Instead, one brief comment. It is this. An arrogant or condescending Calvinist is like me trashtalking my two brothers after beating them in a game of 2-on-2 basketball when they both had to play blindfolded while hopping on one foot and my teammate was Lebron James (and he picked me to be on his team) and I didn't score any of the baskets--in fact, the only time I ever touched the ball I dribbled it out of bounds off my foot. Lebron would have been better off without me.
Sure, I may have won. But I had absolutely, positively, and in all other ways nothing to do with it. My boasting in the victory ought to have melted into gratitude to Lebron, and humility at my failure to contribute.

A proud Calvinist is an oxymoron because Calvinism sees more clearly than any other theology that it is sheer and utter grace from first to last that puts anyone right with God. I am a 5-point Calvinist (though I prefer this label), and I don't apologize for my theology. But I am sad about those, including myself at times, who have so manifestly failed to allow this true and right and beautiful doctrine to percolate down into the very fiber of their being, as it should, so that love and wonder and gratitude and downright puzzlement at being saved seep out. When Calvinists get cut, they ought to bleed love.

If you are not a Calvinist, I do not look down on you and I would fellowship with you as a brother or sister with the same ease as I would with those who are closer theologically to me. If you are not a Calvinist and you have experienced the kind of treatment McKnight's letter describes, I am sorry. I have acted that way in the past and I have repented, and I ask you to forgive me for propagating that kind of strange hypocrisy. What a folly. And finally, if you are not a Calvinist I believe with all my heart that if you embrace this theology (call it what you want; it didn't start with Calvin, or even with Paul, but with Genesis 1:1), it will make fullest sense of the world and it will maximize your joy in God.

It has for me.

Rainbow: Way of Salvation

The second Paul book I recently read was The Way of Salvation: The Role of Christian Obedience in Justification by Paul A. Rainbow (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2005). An interesting read indeed! I offer the following reflections.

Have the Reformers set five centuries of Protestantism awry with their banner cry of sola fide? Can the nagging problem of antinomianism that has plagued the church in the wake of the Reformation be traced directly to the Reformers’ biblically partial insistence on sola fide? According to Paul Rainbow, Professor of New Testament at Sioux Falls Seminary (formerly North American Baptist Seminary), the answer to both questions is yes. In this provocative book that is sure to ruffle both Reformed and New Perspective feathers, he makes his case. In Rainbow’s understanding of historical theology, Augustine, and not Calvin and Luther, provides the right balance between faith and good works and how each pertains to the two phases of justification. Rainbow draws preponderantly on Paul with occasional reference to James, proposing that in his soteriological framework the troubling dissonance Protestant exegesis has felt between these two canonical writers disappears.

In the opening pages Rainbow crystallizes the argument of his book: “My thesis in a nutshell is that, though the Reformers had Paul on their side in decrying merit before conversion and rightly emphasized that God freely imputes Christ’s righteousness to a believing sinner apart from prior moral efforts, nevertheless they were wrong to exclude ‘evangelical obedience’ (as the Puritans called deeds produced by divine grace in the lives of the redeemed) from having a secondary role in the way of salvation which we tread thereafter” (xvi). The question of the Reformers’ alleged neglect of “evangelical obedience” aside, there is little here with which any will disagree. The issue, however, is the way in which Rainbow fills out what precisely that “secondary role in the way of salvation” is. For most Reformation and post-Reformation thought, the role of “evangelical obedience” is validation and necessary outworking of a justification based utterly on Christ’s work and appropriated solely through faith—“necessary” due to the inextricably wed legal and transformative effects of union with Christ. Yet for Rainbow, obedience forms part of the ground of justification—it is not mere manifestation of approval with God but constitutive of that approval.

Rainbow argues that while it is true enough that in Paul’s theology the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers when they first trust Christ, final justification will be grounded on both faith and (post-conversion) obedience. Works, them, are certainly excluded from initial justification. Yet there is a reason Paul excludes works beyond the assertion that when he does so he has only initial justification in view. Rainbow posits a clear demarcation between two ways in which Paul speaks of works (chapter five). There are “works of law,” which refer to “works that Adam’s progeny do in their striving under the demands of the law” (79). This brand of works possesses not a whiff of Jewish boundary markers (strangely, J. D. G. Dunn is not cited anywhere in a chapter that is squarely opposed to Dunn’s extensively argumentation for the predominantly nationalistic understanding of Pauline works of the law). More numerous, secondly, are “works of grace,” which are “works done by Christians living out the practical implications of being regenerate under the new covenant” (80). While Paul wholly excludes works of law from playing any role in either phase of justification, works of grace provide a key criterion for final justification.

The book includes twenty brief chapters which fall into three sections. Chapters 1-2 set out the issues and lay the foundation for what is to come. The bulk of the book, chapters 3-16, make the argument. Important components of this section include the old and new covenants, antinomianism, regeneration, numerous chapters on justification, and comparisons of Paul and James. Chapter 17-20 synthesize and draw conclusions, including reflections on how the thesis of the book addresses the topics of the ordo salutis and assurance.

The Way of Salvation possesses unique strengths. First, one appreciates the seriousness with which Rainbow takes the Bible. In a day when historic orthodoxy frequently becomes the engine driving exegesis (I have at times seen this firsthand in confessional Presbyterianism, and I expect a similar thing happens in other groups where confessions are, quite rightly, appreciated) rather than being driven by exegesis, the author’s unmitigated submission to Scripture is refreshing, and a good reminder to us all.

Second, Rainbow is clearly conversant with historical theology and avoids the frequent caricatures of the Reformers (especially Luther) that fills the pages of so many recent treatments of Paul. Rainbow desires that the interpreters of centuries past be understood on their own terms and not written off or used only as fodder for critique.

Third, this book feels no compunction to fall neatly into any particular current Pauline camp. I appreciate his willingness to let the text lead where it will even where that seems to be ground on which no other scholar has trod.

Fourth, Rainbow writes in clear English that is neither verbose nor unnecessarily confusing. His argument itself is not simple; but the language he uses to explain is, for which simple-minded learners like me can be grateful. His generally short chapters (some just seven or eight pages) helps in seeing his progressing argument.

Fifth, Rainbow draws upon a vast corpus of Pauline interpreters, both past and present.

Some weaknesses to the book ought to be mentioned, too. First, Rainbow’s appeal to the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity in legitimating his admittedly complex soteriological system in which one is justified by faith alone initially but not by faith alone finally is not quite a fair comparison. The doctrine of the Trinity is an attempt to comprehend the deity, as is the other great biblical mystery, the hypostatic union. Should we expect God’s provision of salvation for his creatures to possess a comparable degree of mystery? Some, then, will persist in seeing his view as inherently contradictory (in what sense can imputation be meaningful if it must be finally completed by believer’s good deeds?).

Second, one finds a conspicuous lack of reference to the Holy Spirit. Though the Spirit is brought in at a few points (133-34, 144-47, 194), this is not the heading for any of the twenty chapters nor even for any of the subsections within chapters. Rainbow’s emphasis on the deeds of believers forming part of the ground of eschatological justification would seem to call for a more thorough integration of the pneumatological element of salvation—which is precisely what one finds in other writers who see Christian activity as integral to final justification (N. T. Wright, e.g.). Yet the Spirit is not even mentioned in the opening 70 pages of the book.

Third, one wishes for a more nuanced appropriation of the different prepositions used by Paul. Though not an airtight rule, the Apostle generally speaks of justification as being through (dia.) faith, on the basis of or grounded in (evpi.) Christ’s work, and according to (kata.) deeds. Rainbow repeatedly blurs these distinctions, saying explicitly at several points that justification is based on or grounded in deeds (83, 184, 187, 194, 197, 201, 203, 210, 227).

Fourth, ought we not to make a distinction between eschatological justification and eschatological judgment? It seems that Rainbow has at times confused the two, importing the Pauline truth that judgment will be according to works into his view of final justification. I would say that final justification will be one of the potential verdicts at the final judgment. The two are not equivalent.

Fifth, one wishes for a more thorough integration of the place of union with Christ into the book. This reviewer maintains the sneaking suspicion that had this critical Pauline doctrine been more comprehensively incorporated, Rainbow would come less quickly to the conclusion that the Reformers’ understanding of justification leads unavoidably to antinomianism. I suggest that union with Christ is the doctrine which illumines how antinomianism is a diseased form of Paul’s teaching rather than its inevitable result.

Sixth, at times Rainbow is simply sloppy in his scholarship. For example, he cites the view of Caron, Moo and Morris on the relationship of James and Paul: “It is to this garbled form of Paul’s teaching that James responds because he is writing before he had opportunity to learn from Paul himself just what Paul means by the doctrine” (Introduction to the New Testament, 413). Rainbow comments, “I do not perceive that James garbled Paul’s doctrine, as should become clear from the exposition below” (214 n3). Now this is not at all what Carson, Moo and Morris have stated—they say James is responding to a garbled form of Paulinism, not that James himself garbled it. Less than careful wording infects more substantive issues, too. Is it accurate, for example, to baldly assert that “the Reformation’s rigid exclusion of Christian good works from saving faith is invalid” (xxi)? As I read Calvin, I understand him to be saying on the one hand that moral activity in no way contributes to the basis for justification (whether initial or final, if such a distinction can be upheld to the degree Rainbow asserts), yet on the other hand that fruit-filled lives of obedience can be excluded from saving faith no more than the heat of the sun can be excluded from its light.

We could sum up this book by pointing out that many readers will remain unconvinced by Rainbow’s work due to two overarching questions. First, has he read the Reformers faithfully? Despite the many explicit quotations lifted from Luther and Calvin, it is far from clear whether Rainbow has enfolded a representative sample of their thought. Second, even if Rainbow has indeed accurately portrayed the thought of the Reformers, the question remains whether the Reformers or Rainbow are reading Paul aright. In order to sign on with the proposed thesis, then, both of these hurdles must be cleared. Few will be able to make the leap.

I am grateful for Rainbow’s labors and for the stimulating study he has put together in The Way of Salvation. I do, however, remain unconvinced of his thesis that works form part of the basis of final justification, and, for the sake of their own spiritual well-being as well as the glory of the God who provides all believers need for final exoneration, I hope few in the Church adopt his argument.

01 December 2007

Finally!

Today is our first snow here in Wheaton. It's coming down as I type. As far as I'm concerned Narnia's "always winter and never Christmas" is only slightly worse than "always winter and never snowing."

30 November 2007

Bird: Saving Righteousness

This weekend I'm writing up reviews of two Paul books, before I forget what they're about entirely! The first is Michael Bird's The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective (Paternoster, 2007), an enjoyable read which breaks some new and refreshing ground.


Michael Bird is New Testament Lecturer at Highland Theological College in Scotland. With his first major monograph, Bird reiterates and synthesizes some lines of thought already worked out in a few major articles, having to do with the perennial Pauline topics of righteousness, justification, and the New Perspective on Paul (hereafter NPP). What makes this book so refreshing is that Bird has plugged a real gap in Paul studies, offering a revitalizing presentation that steers clear of the rancor and biting argumentation that fills the footnotes of so much recent published work on Paul. Not only is Bird downright comedic at points (“As far as I can tell the only topic that John MacArthur and Rudolf Bultmann agree on is that the noun pi,stij implies faithfulness and obedience” [176]), he also writes with the aim of engendering rapprochement where possible and seeks to soothe, rather than stoke, the flames of Pauline controversy ignited in 1977, and with an irenic tone to match. Bird injects the discussion revolving around the NPP with a solid dose of hope that agreement, in broad strokes if not in jot and tittle, may indeed be a realistic aim. At the least, we might put to death various nagging misportrayals on both sides.


Excluding an introductory and concluding chapter, six substantive chapters comprise the book. These somewhat unrelated essays do not form a linear, progressive argument due to the fact that chapters three through six are republications of earlier journal essays. The only element that truly ties them together is that each of them broaches a perennially thorny topic.


Chapter two, “The Riddle of Righteousness,” opens by arguing that Catholic and Protestant views of justification are finally irreconcilable (8-9) and that we ought not to make too strong a distinction between righteousness as a moral norm or as relationship (10-12), but rather see God’s righteousness as possessing both elements: “[t]he righteousness of God then is the character of God embodied and enacted in his saving actions which means vindication (for Israel and the righteous) and condemnation (for the pagan world and the wicked)” (15). Bird then examines numerous scholars in the field of Pauline studies over the past century on his way to arguing that “justification is the answer to both Jewish particularism and any kind of grace/works synergism” (35). The proposal of God’s righteousness as essentially his covenant faithfulness, then, is true yet incomplete—to it must be added “a forensic verdict” (39).


Bird seeks to show in chapter three that the NPP has performed a salutary service for Paul studies with its reinvigoration of the importance of Christ’s resurrection for Pauline soteriology. Examining several key texts, Bird argues that one ought to view the resurrection as “far more intrinsic to justification” (42) than merely vindicating Christ or authenticating his work. To say “[t]he cross without the resurrection is sheer martyrdom” (57) may be overstating his case, and Bird’s conclusion that “the resurrection transforms the verdict into vindication both now and in the future” (58) sounds little different that what he is arguing against. Yet taken as a whole the chapter is clear enough that Bird is arguing that God’s salvific righteousness, manifested in the justification of Jesus at his resurrection, provides the means whereby those united to Christ are themselves justified. Hence the resurrection’s critical role in justification.


Tackling the topic of imputation in chapter four, Bird reproduces his important 2004 JETS article which argues for an approach he labels “incorporated righteousness.” After rehearsing the history of imputed righteousness in the theology of Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, the Puritans, and Wesley, Bird enters the firestorm sparked by Gundry’s 1999 Christianity Today article and the responses by Seifrid and John Piper. The author argues that “believers are incorporated into the righteousness of Christ” and that union with Christ provides the “matrix for understanding justification” (70, emphasis original). Interacting heavily with Piper, Bird suggests that imputation ought to enjoy a happy home in the realm of systematic theology, but it cannot be sustained exegetically as the language of the NT writers—rather, “incorporation has more exegetical mileage in it than imputation” (87, emphasis original).


Chapter five is entitled “When the Dust Finally Settles: Beyond the New Perspective,” and it will be clear to even the casual reader that Bird lives up to the claim of his subtitle with considerable more success than Francis Watson’s recent revision of his 1986 doctoral thesis which bears the same subtitle (Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective [Eerdmans, 2007]). Bird gets immediately to the heart of the matter in his observation that some NPP proponents may be allowing uncritical post-Holocaust proclivities influence their exegesis, while traditional Reformed exegetes may equally uncritically dismiss the NPP simply due to its seeming novelty. Bird’s strategy in the chapter is then to address “areas of critique (89-104) followed by “areas of concurrence” (104-111). Bird helpfully extracts the best of both Reformational exegesis as well as that of the NPP, concluding that while the former has neglected the pervasive social dimensions of Paul’s theology, the latter has neglected the quite real and problematic soteriological synergism with which Paul is embattled in Romans and Galatians.


“Justification as Forensic Status and Covenant Membership” is the title of chapter six, the longest in the book. Through a close look at Galatians 2-3 (119-40) and Romans (140-52), Bird attempts to hold together both the Reformed understanding of justification as solving an individual’s guilt before God as well as the NPP emphasis on justification as Paul’s means of arguing for the inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God. Thus both the scope (the horizontal category) and the content (the vertical category) must be held together in delineating Pauline justification (152). “Ethnocentric nomism” (117) is Bird’s proposal to replace Sanders’ “covenant nomism.” What remains unclear, however, is the precise relationship between the two—which is subsumed within which? Or are both to carry exactly the same proportional weight?


Finally, chapter seven investigates the question of works in relation to justification, Romans 2:12-16 providing the platform for discussion (Bird sees 2:13 as speaking of Gentile Christians). The main point of the chapter is to suggest that “[w]orks as christologically conceived, pneumatically empowered, and divinely endowed are necessary for salvation in so far as they reveal the character of authentic faith expressed in the form of obedience, love, faithfulness, righteousness and holiness” (178).


The strengths of the book are clear. First and most importantly, rather than line up neatly on either the Lutheran-Reformed side of the debate or on that of the NPP, Bird has genuinely sought to harvest the best of both approaches and blend them together into a faithful portrayal of the Apostle’s thought. Though few will sign on with all for which Bird argues, the irenic and impartial model of scholarship he portrays, avoiding the innate tendency to tendentiously and prematurely pick what “side” one is on which characterizes so much current Pauline discussion (“I am of Luther,” “I am of Wright,” etc.), commends itself as a fruitful path forward. Second, Bird helpfully draws on obscure though important sources, such as Paul Rainbow’s provocative 2005 monograph on the role of obedience in justification. The incorporation of both well-known and more obscure players in Pauline scholarship gives Bird’s work a fresh and well-rounded flavor. Third, one appreciates the firmness with which the author rightly insists that we must not separate the resurrection from the crucifixion, a timely reminder and one that ought to be heeded.


Though far outweighed by the strengths, three weaknesses ought to be mentioned. First, one wonders if Bird has at points sacrificed mutually exclusive interpretations of Pauline texts on the altar of peacekeeping. Without detracting at all from the admirable and successful highlighting of valid points from both sides of the debate, some will remain skeptical that various contentious passages in Romans and Galatians are really so neatly harmonized. At times, we must frankly acknowledge that either traditional Reformed exegesis gets it basically right or NPP exegesis does. Second, though typographical and syntactical errors ought not to be cited as a major weakness, the obnoxious number of such mistakes quickly grew to a comical proportions, making for extremely distracting reading, and potential readers ought to be warned. One can only wonder how so many errors passed through editorial work. On the upside, this did afford the reader the occasional delightful pun—for example, I presume Bird was not commenting on Professor Dunn’s vanity when he introduces the venerable scholar with, “In this vain James Dunn declares . . .” (180). Third, the unique bibliographical strategy (194-211) backfires despite its worthy attempt to helpfully section off various sub-categories of Pauline scholarship—“Introductions to the New Perspective,” “Works Written by E. P. Sanders,” “Justification,” etc. Due to inevitable overlap between these categories, one finds oneself frequently flipping through all the subcategories in search of a work that defies neat categorization. A single, all-encompassing bibliography would have served his readers better.


All things considered, however, Michael Bird has made a significant contribution to Paul studies and in both tone and content provides an example for aspiring and senior scholars alike.

29 November 2007

Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder

Two of my favorite verses from one of my favorite hymns, which arrested me again this morning--

Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior’s name,
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched Mout Sinai’s flame.

Let us wonder! Grace and justice
Join and point to mercy’s door;
When through grace in Christ our trust is,
Justice smiles and asks no more.

Dr. Edman: 40th Anniversary

On November 14, 1967, Dr. V. Raymond Edman, the fourth president of Wheaton College, was preaching a chapel sermon on "Being in the Presence of the King." At the close of that message, Dr. Edman collapsed and died right on stage. He closed his message by experiencing exactly what he was preaching about.
Wheaton College has recently commemorated that incredible day and has posted the audio of that message. Dr. Edman begins speaking at 32:45.

It's amazing to listen to a man preach, knowing that he is minutes away from standing before God. Would that we would preach each sermon as if that were about to become true of us.

27 November 2007

The New Birth

I love to see that Dr. Piper is beginning a new sermon series on the new birth. I've been wondering for a few years why this has been so neglected in our time compared with the preaching of the Puritans (Sibbes, Owen, Charnock, Howe et al) and that of the two Great Awakenings (Edwards, Whitefield, Wesleys, Nettleton et al). I went to sleep last night listening to a sermon of my dad's which closed with an offering of the gospel in which the new birth and the awakened spiritual taste buds which go with it was explained, and I was thinking about how that was right on but rarely heard today.

Free Religious Affections

This month, Christian Audio is allowing free downloads of Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections.

(HT: SM)

26 November 2007

Witherington on Schreiner's Self-Glorifying Deity

Sam Storms responds.

Helpful Reading

With all the down time the last week or so with both ETS and Thanksgiving, I got to read some books unrelated to my studies. I enjoyed all of them and thought I would pass on a comment on them in case it would intersect any of your interests. All of these are books I got at ETS.

The first thing I read (naturally) was a book I found on Jonathan Edwards, specifically on his understanding of revival, by Michael Haykin, who recently moved from Toronto to teach at Southern Seminary in Louisville: Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in Revival. It was all right. Haykin goes through the most pertinent works Edwards did concerning revival, with chapters on Religious Affections, Thoughts Concerning the Revival, Distinguishing Marks, and Surprising Narrative, and shows how JE navigated the waters between James Davenport and the Enthusiasts on the one hand and Charles Chauncey and the rationalists on the other. Haykin was certainly interested in pointing out the link between JE and later Calvinistic Baptists, as he brought this up at several different junctures. Nothing particularly groundbreaking, just a good solid review of Edwards' revival writings. I would have enjoyed it if he had connected Edwards' work more explicitly with today's needs for authentic, God-sent revival (as for example this work and this one does more generally). Granted, it was a historical study, but I was longing for more bridge-building into today's church.

The next thing I read was Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. I've been trying to understand the Emerging Church lately and this book swims in that pond, so I thought I'd give it a read. I confess that though I was skeptical when I started it, I ended up loving it. Miller lives in Portland and goes to Rick McKinley's church there. It is a rambling autobiography that is well-written and addresses lots of aspects of Christian living. At times I squirmed a little bit (e.g. statement that belief is about what you do not what you say--a false dichotomy that is reacting to a true problem but does it by overreacting). But overall I think this book will do and has done lots of good. The depiction of sin was right and true, which is often not true of Emerging writers. And the thoughts on how to reach unbelievers, by loving rather than condemning, was of course good. I'm still digesting the book.

Then I read two small books by Steve Nichols that Crossway has published in the last two years. The first is The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World. I loved this book because Nichols effectively brings history to life. I now have a book I can enthusiastically put in the hands of people who want to understand the Reformation but are not avid readers or who find history generally boring. The second book was Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards' Vision of Living in Between. I appreciated this one very much too because, as I wished Haykin had done, Nichols explicates an aspect of Edwards' thought and then transplants it into our world today, painting a picture of what it looks like, with Edwards as our teacher, to live on earth in light of eternity in heaven. This book is also one small contribution toward putting to death what we were all taught in high school lit, that Edwards was an angry, misanthropic fire-and-brimstone preacher and nothing else.

John Piper's The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright was next, which I got for free because at the ETS Crossway lecture in San Diego Crossway handed out 900 free copies. This was much shorter than I expected, which is good because it will be less formidable to everyday believers who have benefitted from Wright yet don't know how much to swallow and how much to spit out. It was fair and helpful and I think it did the job it intended to do. The clarification that Paul's Gospel is essentially "Christ died for our sins" and not "Jesus is Lord," and that the latter is only good news in light of the former, was especially helpful.

Lastly I read the recent work on penal substitution by three men assosiated with Oak Hill Theological College in England: Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. It was originally published by IVP in Britain but Crossway just put it out for American readers. I am very grateful for this book. It is thorough and unique--unique because the last third of the book, 125 pages, is devoted to answering critiques of penal substitution. Dozens of objections are addressed, quoting those who have voiced them so as to leave no confusion and to avoid knocking down straw men. The book is divided into exegetical defense, theological coinherence, pastoral implications, historical corroboration, and the objections answered. I found the theological defense to at times spend time filling out unnecessary theological points, I thought the historical section had some glaring omissions (Luther, Edwards, Wesley), and I found the pastoral section a bit thin, but the exegesis focused on a good selection of passages from both OT and NT, and the objections answered makes the book worth reading if nothing else does. The book explicitly says it is meant to be something between scholarly writing and popular writing, which I appreciated and at which the authors succeeded. And it clarified many things that were a bit fuzzy in my own mind and I find myself more sure than ever that Jesus died as my substitute to pay a penalty I deserved, satisfying God's righteous wrath. The authors rely heavily throughout on D. A. Carson and John Stott, as well as several old-timers such as Owen and Calvin. The idea that penal substitution is the answer as to how the evil powers are overcome, and that we ought not to elevate the latter over the former as many are today, was especially illumining.

Now back to dissertation reading! Next up is Paul Rainbow's The Way of Salvation, which just arrived in the mail from Amazon and argues for a more critical place of works in justification than the Reformers allowed, done through exegesis of Paul and James.

24 November 2007

Witherington, Piper, Schreiner: Divine Selfishness

Dr. Piper responds briefly to Ben Witherington's discouraging negative reaction to Tom Schreiner's NT Theology text, the underlying thesis of which is properly asserted to be God's desire to magnify himself in Christ. Denny Burk did his PhD under Schreiner at Southern and responds in more length.

I found Witherington's post to be more of a slap in the face than usual because of all the things I've heard leveled at the idea that God seeks to exalt God most, I've never heard the accusation that this is recreating God in humanity's image. I thought that critique was supposed to argue the other way!

23 November 2007

Carl Henry: Christians in the World or Worldly Christians?

I've been going to sleep to Mark Dever interviews lately. Last night I was listening to a 1997 interview he did with Carl Henry, one of the key pillars in the middle of last century of a new evangelicalism which was neither theologically compromising (liberalism) liberal nor culturally retreatist (fundamentalism), and a member of Capitol Hill Baptist for 40 years. One of the key books was his 1947 The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. His single point in that book is that Christians need to once again get out into the world to transform culture rather than being so fearful of being stained by the world that they lived with a basic aversion to all things non-Christian. A needed point for 1950's American Christianity. But he made a fascinating, backhanded comment at one point after describing this book. He said,

"The problem today is just the opposite. We no longer need to get the Christians out into the world. We need to get the world out of the Christians."

I have been wondering about this for a few years, as I try to understand the Emerging Church, some young church planting networks, and, I confess, many churches in my own denomination, the PCA. I think he is exactly right. The pendulum has swung the other way in much of American Christianity.

22 November 2007

EC: CTS

Just got back from ETS. Enjoyed it (mostly the sun and skipping lectures to read outside).

Good report from Darrin Patrick on a class he did on the Emerging Church at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis this Fall. My brother goes to The Journey (Darrin's church) and loves it.

07 November 2007

Hiatus

I will not be posting anything until Monday, Nov. 19 at the earliest. Blessings to you all.

31 October 2007

C. S. Lewis: Humility

In working on a scholarly book on 16th century English literature, C. S. Lewis remarked in a 1951 personal letter to a friend that he is fearful that he'll make some dreadful mistake and it will only be discovered once the book is in print. He responds to his own thought by writing:

This, I suppose, is good for one's soul: and the kind of good I must learn to digest. I am going to be (if I live long enough) one of those men who was a famous writer in his forties and died unknown--like Christian going down into the green valley of humiliation. Which is the most beautiful thing in Bunyan and can be the most beautiful thing in life if a man takes it quite rightly--a matter I think and pray about a good deal. One thing is certain: much better to begin (at least) learning humility on this side of the grave than to have it all as a fresh problem on the other. Anyway, the desire which has to be mortified is such a vulgar and silly one.

--Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:150

Bird: Imputation, CT

Fascinating and, of course, humorous piece by Mike Bird on imputation, responding to Phil Ryken's recent piece on justification/imputation/union with Christ at Reformation 21. Having just finished Bird's book on the subject (this one) I find myself in almost total agreement (despite the book's extraordinarily distracting amount of typos and syntactical errors), though I do at times wonder about the sharp divide he wants between dogmatics and exegesis--is it really such a neat divide? Nonetheless I think the conclusion that imputation is theologically coherent in light of Scripture, though almost nowhere explicitly stated, is right. I say 'almost' because of 2 Cor 5:21 which, contrary to Bird and Gundry, I do think contains both 'halves' of imputation. Anyway, a great book, a good post, and both typically irenic. I am grateful for Mike Bird.

Also, interesting comments on 2 CT articles, including one on Hillsong (excerpt: "For American readers, Hillsong is perhaps understood as a cross between Crocodile Dundee and Joel Osteen").

27 October 2007

Cheerful Insecurity

I stopped by Jerry Root's office on the 4th floor of the Billy Graham Center a few months ago and as I walked out the door he said "Wait! I've got to give you something, because every time I met with your grandfather he gave me something on the way out!" So he gave me the 1700-page volume 3 of C. S. Lewis' collected letters, edited by Walter Hooper.

So I've been picking it up from time to time and going through the letters and it is just fascinating. They are letters of all sorts, short and long, thanks and advice. I could cite many portions. Here's one. After his mother has died--which Lewis admits is quite a relief--Lewis realizes he has been quite drained of funds as a result of hospital bills, and expresses worry to a friend. Then he says:

But it would be very dangerous to have no worries--or rather no occasions of worry. I have been feeling that very much lately: that cheerful insecurity is what Our Lord asks of us. Thus one comes, late and surprised, to the simplest and earliest Christian lessons!

--p. 79, emphasis original

21 October 2007

Augustine: Enjoying God

Just read this in Augustine's On Christian Teaching, which arrived in the mail from Amazon this week:

So what should we do in sharing the love of God, whose full enjoyment constitutes the happy life? It is God from whom all those who love him derive both their existence and their love; it is God who frees us from any fear that he can fail to satisfy anyone to whom he becomes known; it is God who wants himself to be loved, not in order to gain any reward for himself but to give to those who love him an eternal reward--namely himself, the object of their love. (1.64)

17 October 2007

V. Raymond Edman on Delight

There is satisfaction in serving the Lord Jesus; sweetness in suffering for His Name; blessing in bearing His reproach; pleasure in becoming a pilgrim; delight in doing His bidding. To have every natural delight: face, form, education, erudition, personality, position, achievement, and acclaim of others is to need the discipline of delight, that every gift be acknowledged as from the Giver, that every talent become a sacred trust, that every honor become a humbling of heart before Him, in order that He have all the glory. Then, like Moses of old, with lowly heart and veiled face, we shall walk where he leads, shall be thankful for daily manna, shall endure as seeing Him who is invisible, shall believe Him when every other friend fails. Then comes to pass the word, "Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart" Psalm 37:4).

--V. R. Edman, former president of Wheaton College, The Disciplines of Life, 89

13 October 2007

Wright--I mean Luther--on the Gospel

My jaw dropped when I read the following statement and discovered it was written not by N. T. Wright but Martin Luther.

The gospel is a story about Christ, God's and David's Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell.

--Martin Luther, "A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels," Luther's Works, ed. E. T. Bachmann (55 vols.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1960), 35:118. Cited in M. F. Bird, The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2007), 69. Thanks Mike.

11 October 2007

'Everything Glorious'

Just got Passion's 2006 live album in the mail from Amazon.

Tracks 4, 9, 13: WOW.

07 October 2007

Goal: Joy

I noticed today that Paul says a very similar thing in both Philippians and 2 Corinthians in describing his pastoral labors.

Phil 1:25 - I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy of faith.

2 Cor 1:24 - We work with you for your joy.

His goal was his peoples' happiness. He prayed that the Colossians would be strenghened with all endurance and patience with joy (1:11).

Worth reflecting on. I acknowledge and agree that the glory of God is the highest purpose in everything, the supreme goal of all we do, whether pastors or not. But I wonder if on a horizontal level there could be any higher purpose in pastoral work than the pursuit of the joy of those in our sphere of influence (and that, yes, this is a fundamental way in which God is in fact glorified).

Cambridge Interview

Fascinating interview of Simon Gathercole (Cambridge NT prof) and Pete Williams (new warden of Tyndale House at Cambridge) by Mark Dever (done Nov 20, 2006).

(HT: BTW)

05 October 2007

Happy 304th


We thank God for you.
Desiring God offers JE birthday discounts.
See also Sam Storms' 5-set course on Edwards, in CD or DVD ($30). Sam did his dissertation on JE on original sin at U of Texas.

30 September 2007

Did Jonathan Edwards Tell Jokes?

"In the evening, after tea, he customarily sat in the parlour, with his family, for an hour, unbending from the severity of study, entering freely into the feelings and concerns of his children, and relaxing into cheerful and animated conversation, accompanied frequently with sprightly remarks, and sallies of wit and humour."

--Sereno Dwight, great-grandson of JE (Hickman ed. of Works, I:ccxxviii)

How I would love to have been there!

The Gospel of Ezekiel

Yahweh tells Ezekiel of his role as Israel's watchman, to turn the wicked from his way, since Yahweh has no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. Then he tells Ezekiel:

"And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered . . ."
--Ezekiel 33:12-13

It seems many of the Jews of Paul's day, with whom he was in dialogue and by whom he was flogged five times, extracted passages like Lev. 18:5 and some passages from Deuteronomy and left behind passages like this one.

29 September 2007

Isaiah 66:2

Here is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

I can't get over that.

26 September 2007

Philippians 3:1-11

A great sermon from Zack Eswine last year at Covenant Seminary, on Philippians 3, called "What Do You Most Want? Eternity Is Coming."

Southeastern Conference

Interesting message from Mark Driscoll at last week's "Convergent" conference at Southeastern Baptist Seminary. He mainly addresses 3 figures and his disagreements with them: Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell.

'But my God lives'

Just finished Edwards' letters. Some of the family correspondence leading up to and in the wake of his death is very moving. I love especially the short note--short because she was debilitated by a "great deal of pain in her neck" (according to one of her daughters)--Sarah wrote to her daughter Lucy after hearing the news of Jonathan's unexpected death.

My very dear Child,
What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a very dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.
Your ever affectionate mother,
Sarah Edwards

23 September 2007

Strength in Weakness

McCheyne had some of us in 2 Corinthians 12 today.

Therefore in order that I might not be puffed up, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan, in order that he might torment me, in order that I might not be puffed up.

It's quite irrelevant what the thorn actually was (physical infirmity, persecution, temptation, etc). I wonder if Paul was deliberately ambiguous so that we wouldn't be distracted and miss his real point: not the content of the thorn, but the intent. He says it twice (some translations only have it once): "in order that I might not be puffed up."

On behalf of this three times I exhorted the Lord in order that he might take it away from me. And he has said to me, "Sufficient for you is my grace, for my power is completed in weakness. All the more gladly, therefore, will I boast in my weaknesses [general heading, followed by increasingly difficult experiences?] in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in anguishes, on Christ's behalf; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

I'm prompted to post this passage just because every time I read it (unless I'm too sleepy and not concentrating) I find it extremely deconstructive of my heart. Strength is found not by avoiding, overcoming, or denying weakness, but in it. It is a truth that is so counterintuitive. You think you've grasped it only to find a week later you're right back living out of strength, frustrated at the weaknesses in your life which seem to be keeping you from your goals. And Paul says, "You're denying yourself joy by resisting the very thing that will bring it. Living out of your own strength in order to make a difference with your life is like stopping up your cavities with sugar. So stop drawing attention to your strengths. Exult rather in your weaknesses. And then the pipes of your heart will be cleaned of all the self-sufficiency that has been clogging them up and real power will be able to flow."

What a blow to my pride, but what a comfort too! Because it means anyone qualifies. There's no minimum standard to acquire God's power. All it takes is weakness. And everyone has that. The only thing that disqualifies you is thinking you (yourself) qualify. The only thing that qualifies you is knowing you don't. Think God can't use you? There you go: he can. Think God needs you and that you have a lot to offer him, as I often do? Your pipes are clogged. Power won't flow.

I spent the last year of my life trying to figure out this passage. It's still sinking in and has a long way to go. But let's agree not to forget it. The world washes us in the message that strength is in strength. But the cross definitively tells us the folly and misery and emptiness of such a pursuit, giving us the supreme example of strength in weakness (2 Cor 8:9).

We sinned and thorns came up from the ground (Gen 3). Jesus wore a crown of thorns so that Paul's thorn, and ours, could strangely yet wonderfully result in good and fruitfulness. Praise his name.

22 September 2007

19 September 2007

Althaus: Conversion

Found this wonderful statement from the German theologian Paul Althaus (1888-1966) while working on my German, from the first volume (1959) of Zeitschrift fur Systematische Theologie. It ties in to two projects I'm working on, one on motivation and one on Paul's understanding of zeal in Rom 10 and Phil 3. The title of the article is "Die Bekerung in reformatischer und pietischer Sicht" ("Conversion in the Reformational and Pietistic View"). Describing the Reformation's understanding of conversion, Althaus says:

Conversion is therefore much more than an ethical turning or reversion, for example the turning from ethical looseness or neglect to moral seriousness, from contempt of the commandments of God to obedience to them. Such an ethical conversion is also possible without Christ and the gospel and is not uncommon—for this one does not need Jesus Christ. Conversion in the Christian sense will also include concrete instances of ethical conversion, but certainly not in every case, as the example of the Apostle Paul demonstrates: conversion can also be for a "good man," a Pharisee, therefore an ethically superior person. Here too is it conversion of a sinner. But the sin is in this case not the lack of an ethic, but on the contrary the empty noise of morality, precisely in one’s height, the "erecting their own righteousness" (Rom. 10.3), and so the sin is against the first commandment. Conversion in this sense has a meta-ethical character, and so in this way it is a wholly "becoming new" of a man, a new birth. The man has now come out of unbelieving into believing, out of either unethical or ethical self-glory and security into the humble foundation of grace alone; out of reliance upon his own morality into the vibrant desire of God’s favor only in Christ. This means a transformation of life in the very depth of who he is. It is not to understand growth or development as simply a new step, not as simply a breakthrough into greater depth, stronger earnestness; it leaves its only mark as a break, as a total turning out of spiritual death into life.

16 September 2007

Bonhoeffer: Listening

And a good, pastoral encouragement to listen by Bonhoeffer (especially for one who is not naturally a good listener: just ask my wife!) from Disruptive Grace.

Barth Inscription

Fascinating post from Ben Myers' Faith and Theology site exhibiting (credit: Kurt Johanson) a great handwritten note Karl Barth jotted down on the inside cover of a book owned by Klaus Bockmuehl (father of Markus Bockmuehl, NT prof at Oxford, formerly St. Andrews, formerly Cambridge, and author of this excellent book).

13 September 2007

Samuel Hopkins: Regeneration

Discovered this today in the sermon "Regeneration and Conversion" on John 1:13 by Samuel Hopkins (1721-1803), disciple of Jonathan Edwards and New England pastor:

This regeneration of which I am speaking consists in a change of the will or heart. The truth of this observation appears from the foregoing, as it is a plain consequence from it. If the depravity and corruption of the heart is the only ground of the necessity of regeneration, then regeneration consists in removing this depravity, and introducing opposite principles, and so laying a foundation for holy exercises. But depravity or sin lies wholly in the heart, and not in the intellect or faculty of understanding, considered as distinct from the will, and not including that. So far as the will is renewed or set right, the whole mind is right; for sin and holiness lie wholly in this. If moral depravity does not lie in, or properly belong to, the faculty of the understanding or the intellect, as distinguished from the will, or heart, then that operation of the Spirit of God, by which this is in some measure removed and moral rectitude introduced, does not immediately respect the understanding, but the will or heart, and immediately produces a change in the latter, not in the former. It is allowed by all, I suppose, that regeneration does not produce any new natural capacity or faculty in the soul. These remain the same after regeneration that they were before, so far as they are natural. The change produced is a moral change, and, therefore, the will or heart must be the immediate subject of this change, and of the operation that effects it; for every thing of a moral nature belongs to the will or heart.

As depravity or sin began in the will, and consists wholly in the irregularity and corruption of that, so regeneration, or a recovery from sin in the renovation of the mind, must begin here, and wholly consists in the change and renewal of the will. There is not, nor can there be, any need of any other change, in order to the complete renovation of the depraved mind, and its recovery to perfect holiness. Therefore, I think I have good grounds to assert, that in regeneration the will or heart is the immediate subject of the divine operation, and so of the moral change that is effected hereby. The Spirit of God in regeneration gives a new heart, an honest and good heart. He begets a right and good taste, temper, or disposition, and so lays a foundation for holy exercises of heart.


--E. Hindson, ed., Introduction to Puritan Theology: A Reader (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 179-180.

10 September 2007

Paul and the Law

For some time I've felt dissatisfied with the tripartheid division of the law in which the ethical demands remain in full validity while the ceremonial and civil ones fall away under the New Covenant--as explained, for example, in Van Gemeren's contribution in this volume. It seems quite artificial to me. Yet there has also seemed to me to be something about the more moral injunctions of the Mosaic code which can be claimed to appeal to something beyond the Mosaic code itself--as if God's (preceptive) will, eternal, unchanging, fixed, utterly real and objective in itself, came down to earth 3500 years ago to a people called Israel, and while some of the laws laid out for this people were extremely tied to that particular culture and locale, others were much closer to that eternal divine will--and therefore can in no way be "abolished," despite all the radical changes that come with the dawning of the new day wrought by Jesus' death and resurrection. In fact, they are confirmed.

And so I think Stephen Westerholm expresses my mind best on the subject, from what I have found so far. Toward the end of his most central piece on Paul, Perspectives on Paul Old and New, he writes:

The traditional interpretation that sees believers free from the "ceremonial" but not the "moral" demands of the law is not quite Pauline, but at the same time it is not without a point. Paul himself never makes such a distinction; his declarations of freedom from the law include all its demands without further specification; they mean, not simply that believers are delivered from the obligation to observe particular (ceremonial) statutes, but that they serve God in a new way, not "by the letter" but "by the Spirit." On the other hand, the distinction between ceremonial and moral is not without a point, since Paul does think the (moral, patently not the ceremonial) commands of the Mosaic law embody the expectations of goodness inherent in the human condition. And Christians, too, are to do the "good." Their doing so, however, should be very different from a formal compliance with requirements externally imposed; rather, it should represent an expression of their submission and devotion to God and of the fruit his Spirit bears in their lives. (p. 437)

Richard Gaffin provides an equally helpful statement on the topic in his wonderful little By Faith, Not by Sight:

It is undoubtedly true that almost always when Paul refers to "law" or "the law," he has in view the body of legislation given by God through Moses to Israel at Sinai, that legislation marking out the period of covenant history until Christ. He is also clear that, as a specific codification belonging to that era, the law has been terminated in its entirety by Christ in his coming (e.g. Rom. 6:14; 7:6; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:6-11; Gal. 3:17-25). At the same time, however, it seems difficult to deny that in a statement like Romans 7:12 . . . or in Romans 13:9, where several of the ten commandments function as exhortation incumbent on the church . . . Paul recognizes that at its moral core, the "Torah in the Torah" as it could be put, the Mosaic law specifies imperatives that transcend the Mosaic economy. Included within that law are imperatives that are bound up with the indicative of the creator-creature relationship from the beginning and, so, are enduring because of who God is. In its central commands the law given at Sinai, notably the Decalogue, reveals God's will, inherent in his person and so incumbent on his image-bearing creature as such, regardless of time and place, on non-Jew as well as Jew. (31-32)

Yes!

09 September 2007

Wheaton Fall Special Services

Dr. Piper's messages from this week here at Wheaton are up.

Biblical vs. Systematic Theology

Michael Bird has a second great post in a row. It echoes some of the exact same things I've been thinking about current discussions in the PCA--e.g. the distinction between one's authority being Scripture as understood by confession and one's authority being Scripture alone and confessions only secondarily and derivatively. And even where I don't always agree with Bird (even in this distinction: is it so neat and simple to say we can come up with our own theology and then see which confessions are really true to it? Or can confessions help us, in the first instance, make sense of Scripture?) at least he consistently makes me laugh!

08 September 2007

Bird: Gathercole & Wright

Interesting post from Michael Bird on Simon Gathercole's similarities with N. T. Wright on (1) final judgment vis-a-vis works and (2) imputation.

07 September 2007

Paul: Apostle of Liberty

Just finished Richard Longenecker's 1964 Pauline theology text. It is, I think, the best book on Paul I've (yet) read. (And no, I don't think Sanders is fair to it on pp. 56-57 of Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Longenecker was remarkably balanced in his groundwork on Early Judaism, especially in light of the fact that he wrote pre-New Perspective, and did not succomb to the imbalanced view of Weber/Boussett/Billerbeck, as Sanders asserts.)

He writes in a very clear and balanced way; his explanation of Romans 7 is very convincing (I think he may have converted me from post-conversion bio to neither pre- nor post-conversion but an argument for human inability in a post-fall, law-existent world); his understanding of continuity/discontinuity in OT/NT is very helpful; his sections on "in Christ" and "the law of Christ" are extremely illumining; and I think he gets the balance between law and freedom in the life of the Christian just right.

I don't agree with everything; and he's a bit too Lutheran for me at times. But it is just excellent. So many light bulbs went on for me as I read.

03 September 2007

Gospels & Greco-Roman Bio's

A good summary of the distinctions between the Gospels and one proposal for their literary basis--Greco-Roman biography (Plutarch's Lives or Suetonius' 12 Caesars)--from Raymond Brown, a Roman Catholic NT scholar:

In fact, considerable differences exist between Greco-Roman biographies and the Gospels, specifically in the latter's anonymity, their clear theological emphasis and missionary goal, their anticipated ecclesiology, their composition from community tradition [though see Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses!], and their being read in community worship.

R. E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, 103

28 August 2007

This Fall

Classes start tomorrow at Wheaton. I discovered that Richard Bauckham will be here in November, and the doctoral students will get a chance to sit down with him at one point. And Andrew Das will be in our class on Romans taught by Doug Moo for a discussion in a few weeks. Whew! What a rich privilege to be here.

19 August 2007

Fearing Sin, Desiring God: The 18th Century Methodists

The Methodist preachers in eighteenth-century England were reacting to a dry nominalism that largely placed a higher priority on fineness of preaching rather than simple preaching straight to the heart. Many of these upstart Methodists were criticized, however, for their lack of advanced education. Wesley rightly defended them. At one point he declared,

"Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergy or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell, and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth."

--Cited in Iain Murray, Wesley and Men Who Followed, 87

Here are a few other gems from Murray's book, which I was re-perusing this afternoon. All those cited were Methodist preachers who followed in Wesley's wake.

Wesley "wanted strong, bright Christians - men and women for whom God 'is their one desire, their one delight, and they are continually happy in him.'" (Wesley quote inside a Murray quote) (93)

"A little religion can never keep us happy. Slow singing, long prayers, long meetings [signify] a low state of grace." --William Bramwell (121)

"Long praying is, in general, both a symptom and a cause of spiritual deadness." --David Stoner (121)

On working hard, and resting, in pastoral ministry: "Know your chain, and determine to go to its length. But also determine not to break it." --William Bramwell, to a young preacher (128)

"O how I sink, yea, I lie before the Lord! Everything that I say or do, preaching, praying, etc, etc, seems to me to be nothing compared to what it should be. Here I am, here I live, wondering that even the Lord himself should notice me for one moment." --William Bramwell, in a letter to a friend (131)

"I saw Jesus - Jesus the Saviour of sinners - Jesus the Saviour for me. I saw Him as the gift of the love of God for me. Jesus loved me, and gave Himself for me, and I knew - yes, I knew - that God had forgiven me all my sins; and my soul was filled with gladness and I wept for joy." --Gideon Ouseley (147). As a young man Ouseley had been accidentally shot in the face in a pub and lost the sight in his right eye and horribly disfigured the rest of his life.

"Have a horror of sinking into a tattling, twaddling, trivial sort of man, talking much and achieving nothing. Steer clear of a young man's rock, self-importance. Walk humbly with God. Acts of self-condemnation are, next to acts of faith in Christ, the most profitable of devotional exercises. I have grown best and done best when most frequent in them." --Thomas Collins, in his personal resolutions (212)

"Fisherman seek after fish; but we find those who are called fishers of men waiting for the fish to seek after them." --Gideon Ouseley (173)

12 August 2007

This Wide Wilderness

In 1753 Jonathan Edwards was in Stockbridge and experiencing all sorts of turmoil as the Indians were leaving in droves due to the bickering of some money-hungry whites associated with Edwards' ministry. On October 18 he wrote a letter to Thomas Gillespie, a Scottish pastor and a man of integrity who had been kicked out of the Church by the General Assembly for unjust reasons. This is the last paragraph of the letter.

As we, dear Sir, have great reason to sympathize, one with another, with peculiar tenderness; our circumstances being in many respects similar; so I hope I shall partake of the benefit of your fervent prayers for me. Let us then endeavour to help one another, though at a great distance, in travelling through this wide wilderness; that we may have the more joyful meeting in the land of rest, when we have finished our weary pilgrimmage.

--Hickman ed., 1:cciii.

11 August 2007

In Wheaton

Last week we finally arrived in Wheaton, after a good summer in Nashville with my parents and some siblings. I will be working on a New Testament degree, researching specifically Paul's theology of zeal in Rom 10:2, Gal 1:14 and Phil 3:6 and its anthropological implications. (Send along any insights you have for me!) Stacey and I have not ceased wondering at, and reminding each other of, the Lord's mercies in bringing us here.

As in all things:
Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

23 July 2007

Raymond C. Ortlund, Sr.: 1923-2007


“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
--Hebrews 13:7

Last night at 7:15 in California, my grandfather, one of the most remarkable men I've ever known, entered into the joy of his master. He is now better off. The world is now worse off.

There are times in life when the barrier between this world—what we can feel, see, touch—and the next world are thick. Sometimes it’s in the wake of deliberate sin, sometimes it’s in a period of prolonged spiritual dryness. Sometimes it's inexplicable. God seems distant, and all this stuff we say we believe about God and the Bible and eternity seems vague and surreal.

There are other times when just the opposite is the case. Something happens that makes that wall between this world and the next, between earth and heaven, which at times felt miles thick, become just a few inches thin, and heaven and hell and eternity stare us in the face in an unavoidable way (“and the things of earth will grow strangely dim”).

This is one of those moments, for me.

My grandfather is, with a few possible exceptions, the most remarkable man I’ve ever known. As my dad put it yesterday, he is the definition of a godly man. I could never come close to communicating the weight of what my grandfather has taught me, mainly by example, about walking with Christ, and joy, and spiritual tenacity that is fueled by gospel joy rather than Galatianism.

Despite the frustration of not adequately doing justice to God's abundant work of grace in his life, I list eight things I've learned from Grandpa. And am still learning.

My goal in listing these is not to erect a picture of a perfect man, which would only discourage, but to “consider the outcome of his way of life, and imitate his faith.” I want others to feel the weight of what God did with this very ordinary man and, with me, to be stirred. This is not exalting a man instead of Jesus but exalting a man because of Jesus. Grandpa is the last person who would want his own name to overshadow that of Christ.

1. The Centrality of Love. When he came and spoke to the pastors of Missouri Presbytery of the PCA in 2004, with the chance to pick any text he wanted, he chose John 13: "A new commandment I give you: that you love one another." It was vintage Grandpa when halfway through his message he stopped and instructed the guys present to go around and tell their brothers that they loved them. A simple "I love you" from one pastor to another, face to face. Imagine.

2. The Importance of Joy. Nothing was more tragic, to Grandpa, than a morose believer. He was himself one of the happiest people I've ever known. And not without a good deal of heartache of his own.

3. The Bible as Food. Grandpa did not read the Bible mainly for information but to feed his soul. In one of his books he writes, "You don’t get food for your soul by osmosis! You can hear others talk of it; but until you yourself regularly take in that delicious Word of God, you’re undernourished!” I possess a Bible of his from the 1980s. Every page is marked. Including 2 Chronicles and the second half of Joshua.

4. The Critical Place of Prayer. Sometimes we would be together as a family and Grandpa would say, “Let’s stop and pray about this.” No spiritual gamesmanship with the man. Zero posturing. Just honest, earnest talking to and pleading with the Lord.

5. The Secret Value of Repentance and Humility. One evening in Nashville when we were together as a family Grandpa had been telling me about how Fuller Seminary started in his church, and mentioned some of the big-wigs involved. The next morning, the first thing he said to me was: "Dane, I need to apologize to you about something. I was putting myself forward last night when I was talking about Fuller and those guys, and it was prideful. I want to tell you I am sorry. Will you forgive me? I don't want to be a self-promoter." He was 82, had spoken to crowds of 100,000 in India, had had an interational radio ministry, and written over 20 books. And he wanted to apologize to his grandson for being a self-promoter.

6. The Importance of Loving My Wife. In 2004, sitting in a booth at Chili's in St. Louis, Grandpa gave me a stinging rebuke for not studying Scripture with my wife. That day was a turning point for our marriage.

7. The Incomparable Worth of Singlemindedness. Some of Grandpa's favorite phrases were “tiger for Jesus,” “great exploits in Jesus’ name,” “there’s nothing in life outside of Jesus,” and “go hard after God.” He was a tiger for Jesus, he did great exploits' in Jesus' name, and he did go hard after God. He also eschewed normalcy. He wrote: “Your danger and mine is not that we become criminals, but rather, that we become respectable, decent, commonplace, mediocre Christians. No rewards at the end, no glory. The twenty-first-century temptations that really sap our spiritual power are the television, banana cream pie, the easy chair, and the credit card. Christian, you will win or lose in those seemingly innocent little moments of decision.”

8. Strength in Weakness. Grandpa exemplifies the counterintuitive biblical truth that when we are weak, then we are strong. He was dyslexic and therefore a very slow reader. He often felt huge waves of insecurity. He wrestled with what he called an "inferiority complex" early on in life, battling deep feelings of inadequacy. Yet God used him remarkably. Supernaturally. I believe it was not in spite of his weaknesses but because of them. They forced him to yield himself to the Lord in utter dependence. And I take much consolation in that, as a weak person myself. Grandpa knew that to say “I don’t have what it takes” is exactly what it takes.

I summarize the life of this man with Jesus' words to Peter in Matthew 16: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Grandpa lost his life. And therefore found it.

I love you, Grandpa. Thank you for exalting and enjoying Christ above all. What a work of grace he did in your life.

The joy was yours. The honor was his. The blessing is ours. I can't wait to enjoy the new earth with you.

My dad shares thoughts on his dad.
John Piper remembers his former pastor.

21 July 2007

Gospelized Boasting

I needed this today, as I prepare to start this phd--

Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who practices steadfast love [hesed], justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, says the LORD.
--Jeremiah 9:23-24

The word "understands" is better translated "looks at" or "ponders" or "considers." Don't "look at" your own wisdom, might, etc. but at the wisdom, might and riches of God (all 3 are lavishly ascribed to God in the doxology at the end of Romans 11). Which is, isn't it, the gospel? Seeing that the problem is inside us and the solution outside us, rather than, as the world and the flesh whisper to us, the problem outside us and the solution inside us (as Al Mohler put it)?

Thank you for this needed and happy rebuke, Lord. I testify to your unending wisdom, triumphant might, and unfathomable riches.

A Word of Caution

"Your danger and mine is not that we become criminals, but rather, that we become respectable, decent, commonplace, mediocre Christians. No rewards at the end, no glory--'saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire' (1 Cor. 3:15)!

"The twenty-first century temptations that really sap our spiritual power are the television, banana cream pie, the easy chair, and the credit card. Christian, you will win or lose in those seemingly innocent little moments of decision.

"Pray this with me: 'Lord, make my life a miracle!'"

(Ray/Anne Ortlund, 'Lord, Make My Life a Miracle,' 130-31)

20 July 2007

Fire Fall Down @ Passion 07 (C. Tomlin)

Nourishment

"Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart."

--Jeremiah 15:16

14 July 2007

Psalm 138

" . . . great is the glory of the LORD. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar."

A reminder to me that God's glory is not bound up so much in his greatness--omnipotence, infinitude, etenality--but in the fact that, being these things, he deigns to shower his silly creatures with grace upon grace.

At a recent Christian event I heard a wonderful message by a well-known evangelical speaker on the greatness of God, in consideration of the stars and galaxies and the size of God and his universe. An awesome reminder of an important and awe-inspiring truth! But it was a decapitated message, because God is not glorious mainly because he is great but because in that greatness he is good, when he has every reason to turn the shoulder and vaporize us.

I have learned this mainly from Jonathan Edwards. He wrote of this in many places, such as:

"But especially are the beams of Christ's glory infinitely softened and sweetened by his love to men, the love that passeth knowledge. The glory of his person consists, pre-eminently, in that infinite goodness and grace, of which he made so wonderful a manifestation in his love to us." (Hickman's ed. of Works: I, clxxxii, in a letter to a bereaved woman)

Elsewhere he writes: "When infinite goodness is joined with greatness, it renders it a glorious and adorable greatness. ("The Excellency of Christ," Works: I, 688).

Last summer in Switzerland I discovered that Calvin agreed: "There is no honoring of God unless his mercy be acknowledged, upon which alone it is founded and established." (Institutes: 3.16.3)

Let us humbly acknowledge the unsurpassed glory of the Lord today, wherever we may be, "founded and established" on his inexplicable mercy to wretches like you and like me.