27 June 2008

The Gospel of the Glory

I noticed today that most translations provide a built-in interpretation that is more unhelpful than helpful. 1 Tim 1:11 reads, in the ESV, "...in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted." This might be an appropriate understanding of the genitive. But more literally it reads "...in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God..."

Paul says something similar in 2 Cor 4:4, calling the good news "the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."

"...the gospel of the glory of God..."

"...the gospel of the glory of Christ..."

The gospel of the glory. The good news of God's affective enlargement in your heart and mine and, ultimately, in the eyes of every human, in Christ or out (Phil 2:10).

How is that good news? Because, first, God's mercy is mainly what magnifies him. It is God's communicable, not incommunicable, attributes that magnify him, as Edwards has taught me. God looks good not mainly by being big but by being kind. That is what glorifies him. His goodness in light of his greatness, the latter of which makes the former utterly unnecessary and surprising. And second, because when we embrace this gospel, we are freed to give him glory, recognizing for the first time how self-glory directed we had been.

26 June 2008

Titus 1:15 and the Gospel

A thought on a verse.

"To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled." (ESV)

One of the marks of the moralism or legalism or self-righteousness or self-status-establishment infecting my heart in various degrees and ways is how I often mistakenly see Christian growth as outside-in rather than inside-out. Rules are set up to avoid TV and alcohol and caffeine and yelling and arguing and certain films, and to demand certain amounts of giving and service and time spent at church and scrupulous sabbath observance and daily reading 4 chapters of Scripture (rather than however much it takes to feed on God whether it is one verse or a whole book) and daily praying for 30 minutes (rather than to enjoy and admire God whether it takes 5 minutes or an hour) and so on. In all these an object (rule) is expected to transform the subject (person), the external the internal. According to Paul's words to Titus, the subject is meant to transform how he views objects. The internal colors how we view the external. To the one who has been made pure and is being made pure and for whom such purity is the dominant chord of life, all things are pure. The point is not, fundamentally, what one views. The point is what kind of eyes are used to view it.

Certainly there is godly wisdom in avoiding certain domains of worldliness. There are certain movies I simply cannot watch. And I find most TV generally spiritually numbing. That's not the point. The point is that the moment I see abstinence from such things as what will transform, I have begun to shift the locus of spiritual change from internal to external, from divine activity to human acitvity.

Sitting down to a TV show with a big bowl of ice cream may be undertaken by a far more holy person than the one who does not own a TV and spends the evening in prayer. In an odd way, the former might even be more sanctifying. To the pure all things are pure.

25 June 2008

Calvin: The Gospel for All of Life

I'm embarassed to say there's a big chunk of vol 2 of the Institutes I've never read, so I'm working through some of it this week. It's book 4, on the church. I'm skipping most of the refutations of Roman Catholic abuses but enjoying the stuff that more positively sets forth Calvin's theology of the church and the pastorate.

It's interesting to me that in the first several sections Calvin addresses what to do when there are pervasive evidences of sinfulness, even willful sinfulness, in the church. In light of his disgust with Rome, I expected an emphasis on the necessity of separation for the sake of the church's purity. But Calvin repeatedly underscores just the opposite: the need to stay together, united, and to bring to remembrance time and again the need for forgiveness of sins (4.1). I think this was in response to the Anabaptists, who urged separation and an unhealthy demand for what Calvin calls "perfection."

Along this line, here's a statement from 4.1.21 concerning the need for the gospel after, as well as in, conversion. This comes as he defends his point that sin must not overly quickly trigger separation, but rather enjoyment of communal forgiveness among he saints.

"Not only does the Lord through forgiveness of sins receive and adopt us once for all into the church, but through the same means he preserves and protects us there. For what would be the use of providing a pardon for us that was destined to be of no use? Every godly man is his own witness that the Lord's mercy, if it were graanted only once, would be void and illusory, since each is quite aware throughout his life of the many infirmities that need God's mercy."

24 June 2008

Hiatus

Light posting until July 27 as I'm in Nashville on vacation (reading Lord of the Rings, fishing, and playing ping-pong with my brother) and then at Notre Dame for a 3-wk course on Paul. But maybe I'll post the odd Gandalf quote or ping-pong victory.

20 June 2008

What Is the Gospel?

Can't imagine a much better short delineation of the gospel than this.

18 June 2008

JE: Intimacy with Christ in Heaven

Two great quotes in reading Edwards today on heaven:

He whose arms were expanded to suffer, to be nailed to the cross, will doubtless be opened as wide to embrace those for whom he suffered.

As God will have no manner of regard to the welfare of the damned, will have no pity, no merciful care, lest they should be too miserable; they will be perfectly lost and thrown away by God as to any manner of care for their good, or defense from any degree of misery; there will be no merciful restraint to God's wrath; so on the contrary with respect to the saints, there will be no happiness too much for them; God will not begrudge any thing as too good for them; there will be no restraint to his love, no restraint to their enjoyment of himself; nothing will be too full, too inward and intimate for them to be admitted to.

--pp. 629-30, Vol 2, Hickman edition

Certified

Last night after winning the NBA championship, Kevin Garnett expressed what every human heart is after when he said, twice in a row, through tears, "I'm certified."

Kevin, well done this season. I love your intensity. It images God. In the months ahead, though, the joy that that ring promised will inexplicably fade and slip through your fingers (as Tom Brady confessed). It is a fleeting approval. The only lasting certification--approval--acceptance--validation--knowing we're ok--comes not from any human certification but from God's, freely available in Christ. Horizontal approval never lasts. Vertical approval never fades. Thanks for reminding me of the magnitude of the gospel.

17 June 2008

Tolkien: The Preciousness of Unity

In slowly rereading The Lord of the Rings I'm wondering how I've made it in recent months having forgotten heaven's joy, so beautifully portrayed and drawn out in this book! It is a joy I ought to have from the more simple, regular disciplines of discipleship, but for some reason this story draws it out in a uniquely powerful way.

I read this today--a picture of current Protestantism--as the elves of Lothlorien insist that Gimli the dwarf be blindfolded, a request met with impertinent stubbornness on the dwarf's part. Heated inter-racial argument ensues. The lead elf of Lothlorien remarks--

"Folly it may seem. Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him." (p. 339)

A quote for a sermon on John 17.

And the resolution to the apparent impasse between elf and dwarf? Aragorn proposes that instead of Gimli alone being blindfolded, all eight members of the party of the ring be blindfolded, even Legolas the elf. Only in this way is unity then restored, lives spared, and progress rejoined. Fodder for evangelical reflection, full of echoes of Romans 14.

13 June 2008

Edwards: Looking Back from Heaven

What will we think of all our sin as we look back on it from heaven? Jonathan Edwards reflects.

Though the saints in heaven will see their exceeding folly and vileness in much of their behaviour here in this world, will see a thousand times as much of the evil and folly of sin as they do now; yet they will not experience any proper sorrow or grief for it, for this reason, because they will perfectly see at the same time how it is turned to the best to the glory of God, or at least will so perfectly know that it is so; and particularly they will have so much the more admiring and joyful sense of God's grace in pardoning them, that the remembrance of their sins will rather be an indirect occasion of joy.

That is right, and a huge relief to me.

--Works (1834 Hickman ed.), 2:621

Eswine: The Spirit

Excellent message by Zack Eswine on the Holy Spirit, from Galatians. The sermon was preached at Christ Church (PCA) in Normal, Illinois, where Bob Smart is pastor. Under God, Bob led Zack to Christ in 1987.

HT: Joab Rico

09 June 2008

'Not for Any Merit'

Reading Lord of the Rings at the moment and reminded how different, and how much more powerful, the book is than the (wonderful) films. Lewis defined 'myth' as a story that we all recognize even when we're hearing it for the first time. This is true of Tolkien's marvelous creation. As Tolkien himself said, he's not trying to create an allegory. He doesn't have to. He's simply tapping into the fundamental longings of the human heart and portraying them and exploiting them and showing one snapshot of redemption and joy after another. Anyhow, here's a great passage early on, as Frodo is trying to rid himself of the burden of the ring by offering it to Gandalf.

'I do really wish to destroy it!' cried Frodo. 'Or, well, to have it destroyed. I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?'

'Such questions cannot be answered,' said Gandalf. 'You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.'

'But I have so little of any of those things!' (p. 60)

I know exactly what you mean, Frodo my friend!

'Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may tabernacle upon me. . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.' (2 Cor 12:9-10)

05 June 2008

Justification: Paul and James

Helpful discussion on the already-not yet tension in justification by Doug Moo from a trip to Denver Seminary to lecture in Feb.

The Lamb Is the Shepherd

. . . because the lamb in the center of the throne will shepherd them and guide them to the life of springs of water . . .

Rev. 7:17

04 June 2008

Jesus vs. Religion

Great brief explanation of the gospel by Mark Driscoll in Seattle ("Jesus vs. Religion").

Machen and the Emerging Church

In reading Machen's Christianity and Liberalism (1923) and William Hutchison's historical analysis (The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism; pp. 262-65 e.g.) in the wake of reading those associated with the emerging/emergent church, it is fascinating to see one clear connection after another between the ways 1920s liberals and present day emergents disparage clear doctrinal commitments in the name of authentic Christian experience. (The one glaring difference, of course, is that emergents have no problem at all accepting the supernatural.)

Self-Establishment vs. Self-Emptying

Self-Establishment:

One’s pride will bring him low . . . (Prov 29:23a)

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. . . .'" (Luke 18:9-12)

Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. . . . (Rom 9:31-32)

I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. (Rom 10:2-3)

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled . . . (Luke 18:14a)

Self-Emptying:

. . . but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor (Prov. 29:23b)

. . . But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. (Luke 18:13)

. . . What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith . . . (Rom 9:30)

. . . but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:14b)

* * *

Aren't these three texts, and so many others like them, while in many ways different, deconstructing the same core reality?

Obama Nominated

The irony of Senator Obama is that the injustice that his candidacy overcomes (the slavery and racism that excluded black people from the human community) is exactly what undermines his moral credibility as a candidate (his pro-choice opinion that excludes the unborn from the human community).

An excellent sentence from Denny Burk.

03 June 2008

Charismatic Calvinist

Though I don't want to go where he goes epistemologically and philosophically in many ways (such as in this award-winning book), I was grateful for this brief article by Calvin College prof James K. A. Smith in CT. It's one example of the kind of thing I mean by 'strawberry-rhubarb theology.' He opens:

It can be a little intimidating in a Reformed context to admit that one is Pentecostal. It's a bit like being at the ballet and letting it slip that you're partial to NASCAR and country music. Both claims tend to clear a room. And yet I happily define myself as a Reformed charismatic, a Pentecostal Calvinist.

Carson: Christ and Culture Revisited

Just read this eye-opening (for a cultural novice like me) passage in Dr. Carson's recent book on Christ and Culture.

On the face of it, we seem set, at least in America, for an unyielding confrontation between modernism and postmodernism, between foundationalism and postfoundationalism - a "take no prisoners" war in which there can be only winners and losers.

But there is another way. A chastened modernism and a "soft" postmodernism might actually discover that they are saying rather similar things. A chastened or modest modernism pursues the truth but recognizes how much we humans do not know, how often we change our minds, and some of the factors that go into our claims to knowledge. A chastened postmodernism heartily recognizes that we cannot avoid seeing things from a certain perspective (we are all perspectivalists, even if perspectivalists can be divided into those who admit it and those who don't), but acknowledges that there is a reality out there that we human beings can know, even if we cannot know it exhaustively or perfectly, but only from our own perspective. . . . [I]t remains self-refuting to claim to know truly that we cannot know the truth. To set such a modest modernism and such a chastened postmodernism side-by-side is to see how much alike they are.

--pp. 90-91

02 June 2008

Thielman: The Law in the NT

Most discussions of the role of the Mosaic law in the NT orbit around Paul. Not Frank Thielman's The Law and the New Testament: The Question of Continuity (1999). I found this book to be extremely helpful. In 180 pages, he discusses 5 dominant voices in the NT on the law: Paul, Matthew, John, Hebrews, and Luke. Throughout, he is asking if these writers express deeper continuity or discontinuity regarding the Mosaic law. His conclusion is that discontinuity is the major theme.

More specficially, he argues that, among certain distinctions of emphasis (Paul and Matthew on the ethical role of the law, John and Hebrews on a wholescale replacement of the law with Christ, and Luke on salvation history), these 5 authors are united on the following 3 convictions:

1) The Mosaic law no longer regulates the lives of God's people.
2) A new "law" has taken its place
3) The Mosaic law remains valid, but in a new way. (p. 176)

Hillsong: Saviour King

Verse 1
Let now the weak say I have strength
By the spirit of power that raised Christ from the dead
Let now the poor stand and confess
That my portion is Him and I'm more than blessed

Pre-chorus
Let now our hearts burn with a flame
A fire consuming all for your Son's holy name
And with the heavens we declare
You are our king

Chorus
We love you Lord, we worship you
You are our God, you alone are good

You asked your Son to carry this
The heavy cross our weight of sin

I love you Lord, I worship you
Hope which was lost, now stands renewed
I give my life to honor this
The love of Christ, the Savior King

Verse 2
Let now your church shine as the bride
That you saw in your heart as you offered up your life
Let now the lost be welcomed home
By the saved and redeemed those adopted as your own

Testimony of the Beloved Disciple

I recently read Richard Bauckham's fascinating book, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007). Below is a review.

The only thing more impressive than Richard Bauckham’s 2006 award-winning study, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, is its author’s refusal to rest content in its warm reception. Bauckham’s most recent work explores further some lines of thought already developed at some length in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses as well as in various previous publications. Indeed, twelve of the thirteen chapters are reworked publications from earlier research. Nevertheless, the collection as a whole, while not a tightly progressing argument, provides a unified, integrated and convincing portrait of the Gospel of John that diverges in numerous ways from recent prevailing trends. Bauckham has just concluded a long and fruitful tenure as professor of New Testament studies and Bishop Wardlaw Professor at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

The aim of Testimony of the Beloved Disciple is to challenge what Bauckham labels “the dominant approach” of Johannine study since the 1970s, inaugurated by J. Louis Martyn’s 1968 study History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel and significantly advanced by Raymond Brown throughout the 1970s. The opening pages of the introductory chapter outline seven characteristics of this approach: (1) a neglect of patristic voices; (2) reading John as theology, not history; (3) a confidence in source criticism; (4) seeing a Johannine community as central to the Gospel’s formation and reception; (5) viewing the Gospel as having emerged from this Johannine community; (6) an impulse to reconstruct this community’s history through accounts in the Gospel; and (7) a belief that that the Johannine community was predominantly Jewish. Bauckham divulges that in recent years (due largely to the influence of Martin Hengel) he has been “abandoning one by one all of these elements of the dominant approach” (12). He then crystallizes his own perspective: “the Gospel is an integral whole, including both the prologue and the epilogue, and was designed as such by a single author. I have returned to the traditional view that the distinctiveness of the Gospel . . . is due . . . primarily to a theologically creative and literarily skilled author” (ibid). Insisting that the Gospel’s genre be put front and center of any serious study, Bauckham writes that “what most Johannine scholars have notably failed to take seriously is that the Gospel’s theology itself requires a concern for history” (14, emphasis original). The remainder of the introduction summarizes what is to follow in the chapters ahead, divided into discussions of the Gospel’s authorship (ch. 2-3), genre (ch. 4), audience (ch. 5-6), historicity (7-10), theology (11-12), and literary unity (ch. 13).

Bauckham first examines external and internal evidence to suggest that the author of the Fourth Gospel—the “beloved disciple”—is not John son of Zebedee but John the Elder, a Jerusalem disciple (though not one of the Twelve), who administered as high priest for a short time. Chapter two inspects external evidence from Polycrates and Papias, while chapter three turns to internal evidence, commending an understanding of the beloved disciple not as ideal disciple but as ideal witness. Challenging the common maxim that John’s Gospel is not history but theology, chapter four observes traits of ancient historiography to argue that this Gospel, on the contrary, would “have looked considerably more like historiography than the Synoptic Gospels would” to a competent first-century reader (112). Chapter five upends another alleged misunderstanding of the Fourth Gospel, fueled largely by J. Louis Martyn: that it was produced by and for a specific sectarian community, unlike the more broadly targeted Synoptic Gospels. Bauckham argues that John is actually more universal in scope than the Synoptics, writing not only to the entire Christian community but also to unbelievers. Chapter six adds that John has written to Jews, and that his light/darkness imagery ought not to be rooted in a similar dualism found in the Dead Sea Scrolls but in the Hebrew Bible.

Moving to issues of historicity, chapter seven proposes that Nicodemus was a member of the wealthy Gurion family, independently referenced by both Josephus and rabbinic sources, both of which are meticulously analyzed. In chapter eight Bauckham asserts the historicity of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in John 11-12, appropriating Gerd Thiessen’s “protective anonymity” hypothesis to explain the absence of this striking miracle story from the Synoptics. Based on internal evidence, comparisons with the Synoptics, and Patristic sources, chapter nine defends the historicity of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet in John 13—a study that provides much food for thought for any pastor preparing to teach on this passage. Chapter ten demonstrates that “John knew pre-70 Jewish Palestine accurately and intended to set his story of Jesus plausibly within that chronological and geographical context” to argue that this Gospel is more reliable than the Synoptics not only historically but also in its portrait of first-century Jewish messianic expectations (238).

Transitioning from history to theology, chapter eleven develops some elements of Bauckham’s 1999 study God Crucified (1999), identifying seven signs, seven “I am” predicate statements, and seven “I am” absolute statements. Bauckham proposes Deuteronomy 32 and Isaiah 40-55 as the soil from which these “I am” statements have sprouted (rather than Exodus 3:14). Chapter twelve explores the holiness of Jesus in this Gospel and how that holiness extends to his disciples in light of Jewish understandings of sanctity and purity. Chapter thirteen, finally, tackles the perplexing issue of the significance of the 153 fish in John 21, suggesting that this number can be seen on multiple levels to affirm this final chapter as part of the original Gospel.

Many strengths of this work could be mentioned. First, Bauckham conscientiously places himself under the text, submitting his own thinking to the aims and theological substructures of the biblical writer. This willingness to observe and receive the biblical text rather than look through and reconstruct it, echoing the core conviction of Adolf Schlatter a century ago, is a methodological word-in-season to contemporary biblical studies. Second, these studies consistently exhibit the extensive grasp of both primary and secondary material that we have come to expect from Bauckham (without flaunting this knowledge in a wearisome or counterproductive way). Third, in his analysis and explication of the primary sources, particularly the Patristics, Bauckham expertly combines meticulous care with unimpeachable good sense, making his proposals very convincing indeed. Fourth, he writes in clear and uncluttered prose, rendering his lines of reasoning traceable even to the uninitiated.

The cumulative value of this collection of essays makes the identification of weaknesses uncomfortable indeed. Beyond the well-known identity of the author of the Fourth Gospel as John the Elder, a thesis few in Johannine scholarship appear to be swallowing, I will mention just one. Despite a valiant attempt to alleviate such concerns (283-84), Bauckham’s proposals regarding numerical significances at times stretches the credibility of even the most open-minded reader. Noting, for instance, that the Hebrew numerical value of “John” is 129, he writes: “The 129th word from the beginning of the Gospel’s epilogue is the first word (o`) of the phrase ‘that disciple whom Jesus loved’ . . . which is the first reference to the beloved disciple in the epilogue (21:7). By means of the techniques of word-counting and gematria the name of the beloved disciple has been cryptically encoded in the narrative” (282). The breathtaking discernment such a claim requires of the reader (or worse, hearer!) of John’s Gospel may indicate eisegetical ingenuity more than exegetical insight.

The bottom line, however, is that the collective force of these thirteen studies pave a way forward in Johannine scholarship which navigates the Scylla of pre-1970 scholarship that frequently ascribed the source of John’s theological categories to Greek thought (Dodd, Bultmann) and the Charybdis of post-1970 thinking that often envisioned the Fourth Gospel as generated by and written to a small sectarian movement cut off from the Jewish synagogue (Martyn, Brown), all the while blowing the trumpet for a theologically informed yet historically trustworthy reading of the Fourth Gospel. If Bauckham’s thoughtful exploration receives what it deserves, it will be widely read and appreciated.