31 December 2009

Yarbrough: Schlatter

For anyone wanting an introduction to Adolf Schlatter, who has meant a lot to me in recent years, I encourage you to listen to the series of lectures on Schlatter by Bob Yarbrough at Covenant Seminary in 1995. Dr. Yarbrough knows Schlatter as well as anyone in the English-speaking world, and it is an illuminating series of talks.

30 December 2009

Calvin: Loving Others

[H]e lives the best and holiest life who lives and strives for himself as little as he can.

--John Calvin, Institutes, 2.8.54

Goldsworthy: According to Plan

Graeme Goldsworthy's According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (IVP 1991) is a very helpful introduction to biblical theology, to reading the whole Bible as a unified story culminating in Christ. For someone not yet convinced, or only fuzzily, that the Bible is a single story with a single Hero, this is the place to start, and to encourage others to start. It is more substantive as well as more satisfyingly christocentric than Alexander's From Eden to the New Jerusalem, less focused only on individuals (and a bit less preachy) than Clowney's The Unfolding Mystery, more accessible than the massive tomes trying to do similar whole-Bible theologies such as Geerhardus Vos' Biblical Theology or Charles Scobie's more recent The Ways of Our God, and is all focused on the beginner--for example, there are zero footnotes, terms like eschatology and biblical theology and covenant are defined, and dozens of charts clarify his ideas. (These other works are, however, all very helpful too, along with, in particular, Bavinck, Beale, Poythress, Greidanus, and Gaffin.)

Most importantly, Goldsworthy is clearer than anyone else I've yet come across in showing two things: (1) that Jesus is the meaning and fulfillment and integrative center of the biblical narrative; and (2) that the gospel is central to the message of the Bible and that this gospel ought not to be confused with its corollaries (such as faith and repentance, etc).

Here's a good representative statement with regard to (1).

Significant figures, such as priests and kings, who mediated salvation for the many in Israel, point to the One who comes as the true Israelite representing the many. On the basis of this interpretation of the prophetic promises, the Jews were waiting for a return of a great crowd of people to the Promised Land. Even the remnant would be a considerable group. They were not prepared for the true people of God to be one man. They could not see that everything that God had intended for Adam and then for Israel was being fulfilled in the perfectly sinless human existence of Jesus. (204)

Stepping out with, not from, the Gospel

Few would argue with the statement that we are converted by believing the gospel. But how does the gospel figure into Christian growth or sanctification? Examination of the New Testament documents shows that growth is not stepping out from the gospel, but rather stepping out with the gospel. Many of the problems dealt with in the epistles arise from a failure to apply the gospel to some aspect of life. The solution to this problem is to restore the gospel to its rightful place at the center of our thinking and doing.


--Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (IVP 1991), 219

Clowney: The Unfolding Mystery

For a fascinating and clarifying look at how several of the Old Testament saints pointed toward Christ, it's hard to beat Ed Clowney's The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament (P & R, 1988). I remember Bryan Chapell in a homiletics course at Covenant Seminary speaking of how Dr. Clowney, who went to be with the Lord a few years ago, was for many years a lone voice crying for Christ-centered preaching in evangelical and reformed pulpits. It is striking to see how his influence, under God, has spread in recent decades, and continues to. I've found the iTunes course he taught in 2001 at RTS ('Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World,' with Tim Keller) very helpful.

Here's a good statement that gives a sense of the flavor of the book, in the course of comparing the testing in Eden with Christ's testing in the wilderness.

Adam and Eve tempted God by daring Him, as it were, to carry out His threatened punishment, for disobedience. Satan wanted Christ to challenge God's faithfulness in a much less direct way, but he wanted Him to act on doubt of the same kind. There would be no other reason to leap from the Temple roof except to determine, once and for all, whether God would keep His promise. To Eve, Satan essentially said, 'Eat, you will not surely die--for God has lied to you.' To Christ he said, 'Jump, You will not surely die--unless God has lied to you.' (pp. 30-31; emphasis original)

Of my Strength and Wisdom Spoiled

The first three verses of 'Jesus, Cast a Look on Me':

Jesus, cast a look on me
Give me sweet simplicity
Make me poor and keep me low
Seeking only Thee to know

All that feeds my busy pride
Cast it evermore aside
Bid my will to thine submit
Lay me humbly at your feet

Make me like a little child
Of my strength and wisdom spoiled
Seeing only in Thy light
Walking only in Thy might

--John Berridge

29 December 2009


The concept of substitution may be said . . . to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.

--John Stott, The Cross of Christ (IVP 1988), 160

Plow Deep

Plow deep in me, great Lord, Heavenly Husbandman,
That my being may be a tilled field,
The roots of grace spreading far and wide
Until You alone are seen in me,
Thy beauty golden like summer harvest,
Thy fruitfulness as autumn plenty.

I have no Master but You,
No law but Your will,
No delight but Yourself,
No good apart from You,
No peace, but that You bestow it.
I can be nothing unless your grace adorns me.

Quarry me deep, dear Lord,
And then fill me to overflowing with living water.

--'The Deeps,' from The Valley of Vision

28 December 2009

From Eden to the New Jerusalem

Really enjoyed Desmond Alexander's recent little overview of biblical theology, showing how the whole Bible fits together as a divinely orchestrated diversity-within-unity. He could have made it more explicitly and pervasively Christ-centered--a strength of, say, Clowney's 1988 The Unfolding Mystery. And I wish the victory over Satan and evil had received slightly less attention and the victory over sin and condemnation slightly more (though of course the two are organically related); he addresses both, but the balance seemed a bit out of sync with the NT as a whole.

But the book is very satisfying as an account of the story of redemption and would be an illuminating entre into Scripture for those whose understanding of the Bible has seen it as a goldmine of wonderful but disconnected nuggets of inspiration rather than a unified story of a divine rescue mission culminating in Christ. Dr. Alexander does in 180 pages what I did not think could be done in so short a space, and he does it in an intriguing and helpful way: he starts at the end, in Rev 20-22, and shows how some of the major themes of the whole Bible, each of which began in Gen 1-3, are integratively summed up in those final three chapters and their vision of the new earth.

The first chapter was especially good, showing how the story of redemption is the story of a return to Eden-and-better-than-Eden, and particularly how the Tent of Meeting, then the tabernacle, then the temple, then Christ himself, then the church as the extension of Christ, are one extended programme to reinstate God's presence on the earth in fellowship with mankind. (In many ways this chapter summarized Greg Beale's fascinating 2004 book The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God)

The Prime of Life for the Whole of One's Life

No one will grow frail by becoming old in the New Jerusalem. Citizens of the new earth will experience and enjoy both wholeness of body and longevity of life. They will have a quality of life unrestricted by disability or disease. To live in the New Jerusalem is to experience life in all its fullness and vitality. It is to live as one has never lived before. It is to be in the prime of life, for the whole of one's life.

--T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Kregel 2008), 156

20 December 2009

Live Upon Him in Your Distresses

Toward the end of Pilgrim's Progress, Christian and Hopeful find that they must cross a foreboding river if they are to get to the Gate. Halfway across the river Christian begins to lose heart. What follows is a moving passage from Bunyan on weathering the emotional and psychological storms of life with the gospel.

Then said Christian, Ah my friend, the sorrows of death have compassed me about, I shall not see the land that flows with milk and honey. And with that a great darkness and horror fell upon Christian, so that he could not see before him. Also here he in great measure lost his senses, so that he could neither remember, nor orderly talk of any of those sweet refreshments that he had met with in the way of his Pilgrimmage. But all the words that he spake still tended to discover that he had horror of mind, and heart-fears that he should die in that River, and never obtain entrance in at the Gate. Here also, as they that stood by perceived, he was much in the troublesome thoughts of the sins that he had committed both since and before he began to be a Pilgrim. . . .

Then said Hopeful, My Brother, you have quite forgot the Text, where it is said of the wicked, 'There is no band in their death, and their strength is firm, they are not troubled as other men, neither are they plagued like other men.' These troubles and distresses that you go through in these Waters are no sign that God hath forsaken you, but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses.

Then I saw in my Dream, that Christian was as in a muse a while. To whom Hopeful added this word, Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole; and with that Christian brake out with a loud voice, Oh I see him again, and he tells me, When thou passest through the Waters, I will be with thee; and through the Rivers, they shall not overflow thee. Then they both took courage, and the Enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. . . . Thus they got over.

--John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress (Lake English Classics ed., 1906), 234-35

18 December 2009

Age-Old Longings

[T]he apostles were conscious of standing at the consummation of the ages and were vividly aware that the events that precipitated this watershed in history were the incarnation, obedience, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth. The coming of the Messiah fulfilled ancient promises and age-old longings for deep redemption and an eternal Ruler who would reign in holy justice and in mercy. It filled up and filled in previous patterns and shadows in Israel's communion with her covenant Lord, and this filling process also entailed a transformation of ancient institutions into new forms better suited to more intimate interactions between the King and his joyful subjects.

--Dennis Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (P&R 2007), 16-17

17 December 2009

Luther's Christocentrism

Luther on what the Bible is about:

[H]e who would correctly and profitably reads Scripture should see to it that he finds Christ in it; then he finds life eternal without fail. On the other hand, if I do not so study and understand Moses and the prophets as to find that Christ came from heaven for the sake of my salvation, became man, suffered, died, was buried, rose, and ascended into heaven so that through him I enjoy reconciliation with God, forgiveness of all my sins, grace, righteousness, and life eternal, then my reading in Scripture is of no help whatsoever to my salvation.

I may, of course, become a learned man by reading and studying Scripture and preach what I have acquired; yet all this would do me no good whatever.

HT: Justin Holcomb

15 December 2009

Jeremiah 33: The Center of the Bible?

I wonder if Jer 33 provides something of a "center" to the Bible as a whole. Not "center" in an absolute way--Christ himself is the center of the biblical story. But "center" in that I know of no comparable passage in which such a striking cluster of biblical-theological themes converge. Jer 33 seems to be an intersection of sorts to the whole OT and even, if read with a christocentric lens, the whole Bible. Influence in recent years by Beale, Clowney, Keller, Goldsworthy, Greidanus, Bavinck and Vos has opened up to me a deeper way of reading the Bible and led me to read this text in a new way this past week.

Jer 30-33 is an extended passage promising restoration, culminating not in the famous Jer 31:31-34 but in 33:14-26 (a passage unfortunately omitted from the LXX). Admittedly, Jer 31 is the text picked up explicitly in the NT (Heb 8), not Jer 33. But consider the macro-canonical themes that crop up in 33:14-26:

Promise and Fulfillment (vv. 14-16)

A righteous "Branch" (15)

The notion of "the Lord our righteousness" (16)

Abrahamic covenant (22; cf. 26)

Davidic covenant (21, 22, 26)

Creation (20, 25)

Kingship (particularly striking in light of Jeremiah's pessimistic view of the kingship: ch's 21-23 e.g.) (17, 21, 26)

Priesthood (18, 21, 22)

Temple (18, 21; cf. Zech 6:12-13)

Sacrifice (18, 21)

Election (24, 26)

I'm finding little attention given to Jer 33 in OT theologies and NT theologies alike. But in considering this passage this past week, it seems that this text as much as any in the whole Bible gives us a canonical peak from which to view virtually the entire panorama of the biblical storyline, pointing backward to what has happened up till the sixth century B.C. and forward in anticipation to what lies ahead.

And in various ways, I believe Christ himself sums up (Eph 1:10; 2 Cor 1:20) each of the above intercanonical themes.

14 December 2009

Not a Philanthropist

In continuing to try to fit the whole Bible together, I find myself coming back again and again to some texts in seminary I was exposed to, but largely in a theological vacuum, and therefore had difficulty placing them and appreciating what they were saying--in particular, Vos, Ridderbos, Calvin, Dumbrell, and Palmer Robertson. Here's a statement from Vos' Biblical Theology which I read tonight in his opening to the prophets:

God is not a philanthropist who likes to do good in secret without its becoming known; His delight is in seeing Himself and His perfections mirrored in the consciousness of the religious subject. No compromise is possible here. The only other comprehensive principle is that man finds his supreme pleasure in seeing himself and his excellencies recognized and admired by God. He who chooses the latter standpoint will never understand the prophets.

--Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Banner of Truth 1975), 235


A good statement from David Sills, missiologist at Southern:

Some mistakenly believe that contextualization means making Christianity look just like the culture. However, contextualization is simply the process of making the gospel understood. . . . In fact, much of what many call contextualization is simply an effort to be trendy or edgy.

Read the whole thing.

HT: Juan Sanchez

A Theological Tree of Life

All eschatological interpretation of history, when united to a strong religious mentality cannot but produce the finest practical theological fruitage. To take God as source and end of all that exists and happens, and to hold such a view suffused with the warmth of genuine devotion, stands not only related to theology as the fruit stands to the tree: it is by reason of its essence a veritable theological tree of life.

--Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, 61

12 December 2009

'A benefit no mind can fully comprehend or believe...'

--Herman Bavinck on justification, in the second sentence to his treatment of justification in Reformed Dogmatics, (Baker 2008), 4:176.

11 December 2009

Vos: 'Supernormal' Resurrection

The basic thesis of Geerhardus Vos' The Pauline Eschatology (1930) is that in considering the structure of Paul's thought we ought not to view eschatology as that which has to do with the very end of time, last things, the final 10% of a systematic theology text. Rather, eschatology has been launched back into the present and pervades every dimension of soteriology. Eschatology is the presence of the future, now--it is not just eschat-ology but esch-arti-ology--in Vos' helpful words, the kingdom is here provisionally, though not yet absolutely (258-59).

Here's some good stuff on the resurrection, a theme running through the whole book.

Bodily the resurrection certainly is, and every attempt to de-physicize it, so often inspired by a dislike of the supernatural on its material side, amounts to an exegetical tour de force, so desperate as to be not worth losing many words over. . . . There is not a simple return of what was lost in death; the organism returned is returned endowed and equipped with new powers; it is richer, even apart from the removal of its sin-caused defects. The normal, to be sure, is restored, but to it there are added faculties and qualities which should be regarded supernormal from the standpoint of the present state of existence. . . . According to 1 Cor 15:45-49 believers shall bear after Christ the image He Himself obtained in his own resurrection.

--Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Princeton University Press, 1930; repr., P&R, 1994), 154-55

Packer: Evangelicalism

A helpful sentence from J. I. Packer's 2003 address at the Desiring God conference remembering Jonathan Edwards.

Evangelicalism is neither more nor less than authentic Christianity--Christianity without additions, such as you find in Roman Catholicism; Christianity without subtractions, such as you find in Protestant Liberalism.

Listen or watch here.

09 December 2009

Putting the Universe Back Together

It is of first importance to recognize that the biblical story embraces all of reality, namely God and the realm of creation. While it focuses on only certain aspects of reality, the whole is represented either directly or indirectly. The created realm is in turn shown to have its pinnacle in the human race. Only human beings are described as created in the image of God and as having dominion over creation. . . . When Adam and Eve sinned, the entire universe fell with them (Gen 3:17-19; Rom 8: 18-23). Redemption has its goal in a new race of humans and a new creation. Sin fractured all relationships except those within the Trinity. Redemption in Jesus Christ puts the universe back together again as a new creation. How is this achieved? The gospel shows us that it is done in a way that involves the promise of new things (the bulk of the Old Testament), the representative restored reality in the actual person of Christ, and the summing up of all things in Christ and the consummation.

. . . Jesus is thus the representative new creation. . . . Christology in the New Testament shows Jesus to be the comprehensive expression of reality in the purpose of God. The notion of the cosmic Christ rightly applies to the incarnate Son because he is representative reality.

--Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation, 248-49

07 December 2009

Bockmuehl: Inalienably Theological

[I]n dealing with the New Testament's inalienably theological subject matter there can be no objetive history--and certainly no neutral historian. . . .

[T]he historically situated New Testament documents themselves in fact give no encouragement whatever to the idea that a quest for history 'behind' the texts promises access to their 'real' meaning and significance. True enough, the authors deliberately allude to events outside their narrative and sometimes bring the gospel into explicit relation with wider economic or political developments that can be usefully explored. But the story they tell is inalienably theological. Their vested interpretation of the events is never an optional extra, a kind of religious topping sprinkled on a phenomenological sundae that could just as easily be consumed without it. . . .

[A]fter a quarter century of reflection on often genuine gains, it may now be permissible to ask if the study of the New Testament primarily as literature, narrative, or rhetoric will not inevitably turn out to be a somewhat impoverished exercise. . . . [T]he texts . . . do not present themselves as concerned with either literature or rhetoric. To view them primarily (rather than en passant) in this fashion is rather like using a stethoscope to examine a lightbulb: it can be done and does produce unfamiliar results, but it offers an analysis that does justice neither to the object nor to the instrument.

--Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study (Baker 2006), 45, 47, 48-49

02 December 2009

Hudson Armerding (1918-2009)

Today Duane Litfin announced that last night Dr. Armerding, former president of Wheaton College, entered into the joy of his master. He was 91.

I remember my dad telling me of Dr. Armerding's gentle, strong godliness, and of the times they shared in prayer together when Dad was a Wheaton undergrad in the 70's. I remember meeting Dr. Armerding at Dad's installation in Augusta in 1998 and seeing such things for myself. Thanks be to God for another man who fought the fight well and finished the race well.

Dr. Litfin writes:

'Several years ago in Wheaton's Chapel, Hudson shared the story of a conversation with an aging friend from Quarryville Presbyterian Home, who rather than seeing the season of aging and dying as "walking into the sunset," believed God's Word in Proverbs 4:11, "The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day." In that Chapel service Hudson challenged Wheaton students to understand a Christian's death is walking into the sunrise.'

Freeing Holiness through Grace

Zack Eswine helpfully reminds us of the secret to holiness from Gal 5 in this Nov 15 message at Riverside Church in St. Louis.

01 December 2009

A New History

The end of history is the cross. The cross is also the beginning of a new history. The failure of history is nailed to the cross so that the new may emerge from the tomb on the third day. Thus through the resurrection of Jesus we are born again to new life, to a new history (1 Pet 1:3).

--Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 228

The New Perspective in 2009

Despite the claims of some that the New Perspective is losing steam--and so many substantive critical responses have been made that it is virtually impossible to promulgate the NP as it was 20 years ago (witness the pseudo-retractions in Dunn, New Perspective on Paul, p. 480 fn 45, 46)--monographs and articles continue to be written interacting in varying degrees with Sanders, Dunn, Wright, and others. Here are some only from 2009. Many more from '08 could be cited (Kirk, Dunn, and Southall come to mind).

Bachmann, Michael. Anti-Judaism in Galatians? Exegetical Studies on a Polemical Letter and on Paul's Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Beale, G. K. "The Overstated 'New' Perspective?" BBR 19 (2009): 85-94.

Campbell, Douglas. The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic of Justification in Paul. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Das, Andrew. "Paul and Works of Obedience in Second Temple Judaism: Romans 4:4-5 as a 'New Perspective' Case Study." CBQ 71 (2009): 795-812.

Elmer, Ian J. Paul, Jerusalem, and the Judaisers: The Galatian Crisis in Its Broadest Historical Context. WUNT 2/258. Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.

Garlington, Don. "'Even We Have Believed': Galatians 2:15-16 Revisited." CTR 7 (2009): 3-28.

Gorman, Michael. Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Meyer, Jason. The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline Theology. NAC Studies in Bible and Theology. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2009.

Middleton, Paul, Angus Paddison, and Karen Wenell, eds. Paul, Grace, and Freedom: Essays in Honour of John K. Riches. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2009.

Rainbow, Paul. "Justification according to Paul's Thessalonian Correspondence." BBR 19 (2009): 249-74.

Visscher, Gerhard. Romans 4 and the New Perspective on Paul: Faith Embraces the Promise. Studies in Biblical Literature 122. New York: Peter Lang, 2009.

Wright, N. T. Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009.

Yinger, Kent. "The Continuing Quest for Jewish Legalism." BBR 19 (2009): 375-91.

This is to say nothing of the conference papers, online dialogue, audio lectures, book reviews, and sources in German (and to a lesser degree French) that have been produced this year.

Christ: Preparation then Revealing

The Old Testament tells us what the Christ is; the New Testament, who he is.

--Wilhelm Vischer, The Witness of the Old Testament to Christ, Vol. 1 (trans. A. B. Crabtree; London: Lutterworth, 1949), 7; quoted in Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 167

29 November 2009

Goldsworthy: Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics

Yesterday got my first Graeme Goldsworthy book in the mail, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation. I've dipped into various books of his, always finding him helpful, but have yet to plow through a book of his cover to cover. So far I'm finding what I expected: he brings together the gospel, biblical theology, salvation history, unapologetic evangelical confessionalism, and christocentrism in fruitful cross-pollination that is, in a word, exciting, and fills out much of what I've learned from Greg Beale and others the past two years. Miles Van Pelt reviews/summarizes this book at Ref 21 here.

Here's a typically good statement on the hermeneutical priority of the gospel itself.

The Bible makes a very radical idea inescapable: not only is the gospel the interpretative norm for the whole Bible, but there is an important sense in which Jesus Christ is the mediator of the meaning of everything that exists. In other words, the gospel is the hermeneutical norm for the whole of reality. All reality was created by Christ, through Christ and for Christ (Col 1:15-16). God's plan is to sum up all things in Christ (Eph 1:9-10). In him are all the treasures of wisdom and understanding (Col 2:2-3). As a result, the ultimate significance of all non-biblical literature can be summed up in biblical-gospel terms. . . . The atoning work of Christ has redemptive ramifications for the whole universe. . . . [T]he ultimate interpretation of the meaning of everything is found only in Christ. (p. 63; emphasis original).

Leading as God Has Wired Us

Good stuff from Sean Lucas (a fellow INTJ) on a new book outlining how to serve and lead in the church as an introvert.

28 November 2009

Edwards: 'All This Vast Inheritance'

Today I reread one of the most powerful statements by one of my dearest friends, Jonathan Edwards (though it's a one-way friendship for now) that I've ever read, first discovered Dec 17, 2004. Have you ever thought of your union with Christ like this?

By virtue of the believer's union with Christ, he doth really possess all things. That we know plainly from Scripture. But it may be asked, how [doth] he possess all things? What is he the better for it? How is a true Christian so much richer than other men?

To answer this, I'll tell you what I mean by "possessing all things." I mean that God three in one, all that he is, and all that he has, and all that he does, all that he has made or done--the whole universe, bodies and spirits, earth and heaven, angels, men and devils, sun, moon and stars, land and sea, fish and fowls, all the silver and gold, kings and potentates as well as mean men--are as much the Christian's as the money in his pocket, the clothes he wears, the house he dwells in, or the victuals he eats; yea more properly his, more advantageously his, than if he could command all those things mentioned to be just in all respects as he pleased at any time, by virtue of the union with Christ; because Christ, who certainly doth thus possess all things, is entirely his: so that he possesses it all, more than a wife the share of the best and dearest husband, more than the hand possesses what the head doth; it is all his. . . .

Every atom in the universe is managed by Christ so as to be most to the advantage of the Christian, every particle of air or every ray of the sun; so that he in the other world, when he comes to see it, shall sit and enjoy all this vast inheritance with surprising, amazing joy.

--Jonathan Edwards, Miscellany ff., in Vol 13 of the Yale edition of JE's Works, p. 183

If you're united to Christ, not only is justification yours; Saturn is yours.

All things are yours. --1 Cor 3:21

27 November 2009

Psalm 116

Stacey and I have been reminding each other this weekend of the overwhelming mercies, of all sorts, washing into our lives in recent years, uninvited and undeserved. Too innumerable, and too un-capture-able with words, to speak of here. God is so good. Challenges deeper than what we've yet faced doubtless lie ahead; but even that can only speed us on our way to Christ more deeply. As the three points of a sermon Edwards preached in 1722 when he was 19 put it: in Christ, all your good can never be taken away from you; all your bad can only be turned for good; and the best is yet to come.

Hallelujah; praise the Lord.

Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. . . . What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?
--Psalm 116:7, 12

Him We Proclaim

Among other things Dennis Johnson's helpful book with this very title has brought home to me this past year the programmatic nature of these three words in Col 1:28 and the light they shed, along with other texts like Luke 24:25ff., on the way Christ himself illumines the whole Bible.

What was new for me this morning was noticing the organic connection between Christ-proclamation and the rest of the verse--

. . . him we proclaim, instructing all men and teaching all men in all wisdom in order that we might present all men perfect/mature/complete [teleois] in Christ.

Progressive sanctification--bringing other people to spiritual maturity--took place, as Paul understood his ministry, by proclaiming Christ. Not only in our evangelizing unbelievers but also in our instructing and admonishing and teaching believers, it is Christ that we proclaim.

26 November 2009

Don't Move On

. . . but now he has reconciled you in the body of his flesh through death to present holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, if indeed you continue in the faith established and steadfast and not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard . . . (Col 1:23)

The ongoing relevance of the gospel for believers.

24 November 2009

Why Do We Like Movies?

Because we're made in God's image; because God, with whom we are indelibly stamped, believer and unbeliever alike, is a God of story. All of human history is structured with a beginning (creation), a problem (sin), a thickening of plot (salvation history and one failed human deliverer after another), a climax (Christ), and a resolution (the new earth). Movies, novels, having personal goals, making sense of our lives, having a sense of meaning that helps us hit the alarm and get out of bed one more day, all derive from this. Hollywood is big because of salvation history.

Vern Poythress has me thinking about these things. Tonight I read:

Redemption by Christ is a story. It is a story of something that really happened in history, in space and time. Because it is at the heart of God's purposes for the world, it is the one central story. So, in the end, all the other stories about working out human purposes derive their meaning from being related to this central story. We should not be surprised that the categories for stories in general analogically reflect the character of redemption, that is, the one central story. (Poythress, In the Beginning Was the Word: Language: A God-Centered Approach [Crossway 2009], 206)

This is not, by the way, story instead of propositions as a way of accessing truth. It's not Hodge and Henry or the Wright brothers (Chris and Tom). It's a both/and. Human bodies only function if they have fleshy, squishy parts and a rock-solid skeleton. Not an either/or. Both are very different, but equally needed.

Luther: A Mediator

Reflecting back on the first time he was called upon to officiate at mass as a young priest, Luther wrote:

When I stood there during the mass and began the canon, I was so frightened that I would have fled if I hadn't been admonished by the prior. For when I read the words, 'Thee, therefore, most merciful Father,' and thought I had to speak to God without a Mediator, I felt like fleeing from the world like Judas. Who can bear the majesty of God without Christ as Mediator? In short, as a monk I experienced such horrors; I had to experience them before I could fight them.

--Martin Luther, 'Table Talk,' in LW 54:234

Again: Wright on Justification

David Mathis of Desiring God helpfully weighs in on Wright's Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision in the latest Themelios. Thanks David.

23 November 2009

Justification by Union

Richard Gaffin nails it in one of his concluding statements to his book on the resurrection in Paul's soteriology.

Not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps most prominently) is the central motif of Paul's applied soteriology.

Gaffin footnotes Jonathan Edwards, who had written:

What is real in the union between Christ and his people, is the foundation of what is legal; that is, it is something that is really in them, and between them, uniting them, that is the ground of the suitableness of their being accounted as one by the judge.

--Richard Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul's Soteriology (2d ed.; P&R 1987), 132

Psalm 95

Yes, it's unsettling that all the Hillsong people are so uncannily good-looking. Yes, it's a bit showy, glamorous, Hollywoodish. Fine. Still wish I was there. And I just wonder: the Bible calls us to make loud noises with our voice boxes in light of what God has done for us. When was the last time we did that? When was the last time I did that? I would like to grow in this area. My affections are pathetically out of proportion to what has happened to me; God has launched us out of this present evil age and into the new creation, the new world in which all the desires and longings of this world will one day be consummated, forever, all sin having been eradicated by God's own initiative. The nightmare of this fallen world is fading; dawn is rising. Aslan has landed. The result: not all prayers are meant to be whispered. Stoicism is as unbiblical as blasphemy.

'Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!'
--Psalm 95:1-2

Warfield: Calvinism

He who believes in God without reserve, and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling, willing--in the entire compass of his life-activities, intellectual, moral, spiritual, throughout all his individual, social, religious relations--is, by the force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist.

--B. B. Warfield, "Calvinism," in Calvin and Calvinism, vol. 5 of The Works of B. B. Warfield (repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 354-56; quoted in Mark Noll's introduction to B. B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought (P&R 2007), p. 10

12 November 2009

Back on the 23rd

No posting till the other side of ETS/SBL in New Orleans next week. Till then, remember the gospel!

10 November 2009

Chalmers: The Treacherous Quicksand of Helping Out God's Opinion of Us

Thomas Chalmers is quoted in a footnote by the editor of Calvin's commentary on Romans, during the course of Calvin's discussion of Rom 3:21 ('But now apart from law . . .'), about which Calvin writes:

. . . the consciences of men will never be tranquilized until they recumb on the mercy of God alone. (p. 135)

Chalmers is then quoted (without reference) as saying:

The foundation of your trust before God must be either your own righteousness out and out, or the righteousness of Christ out and out. . . . If you are to lean upon your own merit, lean upon it wholly--if you are to lean upon Christ, lean upon him wholly. The two will not amalgamate together; and it is the attempt to do so, which keeps many a weary and heavy-laden inquirer at a distance from rest, and at a distance from the truth of the gospel. Maintain a clear and consistent posture. Stand not before God with one foot upon a rock and the other upon a treacherous quicksand. . . . We call upon you not to lean so much as the weight of one grain or scruple of your confidence upon your own doings--to leave the ground entirely, and to come over entirely to the ground of a Redeemer's blood and a Redeemer's righteousness. (135 n. 2)

Something I forget every day--and even the forgetfulness is forgiven.

09 November 2009

Calvin on Romans

Calvin opens his commentary on Romans with an 8-page or so explanation of the flow of the argument. Here's the first paragraph of that introduction.

With regard to the excellency of this epistle, I know not whether it would be well for me to dwell long on the subject; for I fear, lest through the recommendations falling far short of what they ought to be, I should do nothing but obscure its merits: besides, the epistle itself, at its very beginning, explains itself in a much better way than can be done by any words which I can use. It will then be better for me to pass on to the argument, or the contents of the epistle; and it will hence appear beyond all controversy, that besides other excellencies, and those remarkable, this can with truth be said of it, and it is what can never be sufficiently appreciated--that when any one gains a knowledge of this epistle, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture. (p. xxix)

06 November 2009

Bavinck: Regeneration

In reading stuff on the Great Awakening, the transatlantic revival of the early 1740s, two doctrines seem to have fueled that movement of God, emerging again and again in the writing and preaching of Edwards, Whitefield, the Wesleys, and the Tennents: justification and the new birth. Yet while justification is as front and center today as any other doctrine, regeneration is, it seems to me in my limited view from the nosebleeds, strangely neglected.

It is stabilizing and clarifying, therefore, to discover how our most reliable guides from the past understood the new birth. Bavinck is one who does it justice. It's difficult to imagine, for instance, how to improve on his concluding summary of the new birth as taught throughout the whole Bible. (I find especially intriguing Bavinck's correlation between Christ's resurrection and our new birth)

[I]n the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, while there is a difference between them in language and manner of presentation, there is essentially complete agreement. Whether rebirth is called 'the circumcision of the heart,' the giving of a new heart and a new spirit, 'efficacious calling,' a drawing by the Father, or birth from God, it is always in the strict sense a work of God by which a person is inwardly changed and renewed. It has its deepest cause in God's mercy; it is based on the resurrection of Christ and is brought about in communion with Christ, to whom the Word bears witness, and manifests itself in a holy life.

--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:52

Schreiner on Jewett's Romans

I continue to consult and profit from Robert Jewett's 2007 Romans commentary (Hermeneia), which is especially illuminating in its interaction with Greco-Roman sources contemporary to Paul (though 'illuminating' easily becomes 'controlling'). But my sense is that Tom Schreiner's recent BBR review of Jewett hits the nail right on the head. Dr. Schreiner calls Jewett's work 'a stunning achievement' for various reasons, but concludes:

Jewett's microscopic reconstruction of the Roman situation fails to convince. It seems to betray an almost modernist confidence in determining the historical circumstances of the letter, and he fails to heed cautions that have been raised about reconstructing the situation in NT epistles. Jewett's commentary is full of insight and helpful discussions of individual verses. Still, it is doubtful that the fundamental contribution of the commentary will be considered to be anything other than a period piece, reflecting a particular kind of historical-critical scholarship at this juncture in history.

--BBR 19 (2009): 448

03 November 2009

Edwards: The New Earth

Listen to Robert Jenson's synthesis of Edwards' vision of the new earth, in Jenson's 1988 America's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards. Jenson is drawing out how earthy a vision of the new earth Edwards had, how physical, yet how inexpressibly glorious and happy it would be. Both--the sheer corporeality of heaven and the unspeakable joys of heaven--seem to be hazy concepts in evangelicalism today. Jenson focuses on Edwards' understanding of vision in the new earth. Fascinating--take just our eyes, our sight: what will it be like to have real, actual, physical eyes in the new earth, yet transformed eyes--'the perishable will take on imperishable' includes our eyes! Quotes are of Edwards, drawn from the Miscellanies (ellipses are all Jenson's).

This 'end is obtained by Christ's Incarnation, viz., that the saints may see God with their bodily eyes.' And this seeing also is among all mutually: 'in all probability . . . there shall be external beauties . . . altogether of another kind from what we perceive here, and probably these beauties will appear chiefly as the bodies of the man Christ Jesus and of the saints.' The very medium of heaven 'will be the light of the brightness of Christ's glorious body . . . , ravishingly sweet to . . . the external perception or sense' which the elect will indeed have. (181)

Obviously, Edwards here must struggle for language and concepts. What is to be posited is that, as bodies, 'in heaven the glorified bodies of the saints will be . . . most flexible, moveable and agile, most easily susceptible of mutation, both from the acts of the indwelling soul and also from the influence of Christ'; and that, as they are consciousnesses apprehending these bodies, both 'the medium' of sight and hearing 'be infinitely fine and more adapted to a distinct and exact representation,' and the 'organ . . . be immensely more exquisitely perceptive.' Edwards once speculated: the saints 'will be able to see from one side of the universe to the other' because they will see not 'by such slow rays of light that are several years traveling . . . from the fixed stars to the earth,' but by the light 'emitted from the glorified body of Christ.' (181-82)

What Is Romans About?

Leon Morris' conclusion to his essay 'The Theme of Romans' in the F. F. Bruce festschrift:

[T]hroughout the Epistle there is a tremendous concentration on God. . . . Paul's treatment of themes like justification or sanctification or predestination have so caught the imagination of scholars and others that they have tended to concentrate on them and to overlook the dominance of the God-theme. Partly, too, this has been helped by the fact that of necessity God is prominent throughout the NT. The whole Bible is a book about God. We tend to think that Romans in this respect is just like any book in Scripture.

The point I have been concerned to make in this essay is that it is not. God comes more prominently before us in Romans than in any other part of the NT (with the possible exception of 1 John). Elsewhere Paul dwells on Christ and what Christ has done for men. This theme is not absent from Romans; but as long as we concentrate on it to the overlooking of the stress on God, we do not quite get what Paul is saying to us. Romans is a book about God and we must bear the fact in mind in all our interpretation of what it says. Otherwise we shall miss some of the wonderful things it says. (p. 263)

31 October 2009

Like Lacking Bread

In a December 1961 letter, two years before his death, C. S. Lewis reflects on the death of his wife.

To lose one's wife after a very short married life may, I suspect, be less miserable than after a long one. You see, I had not grown accustomed to happiness. It was all a 'treat,' I was like a child at a party. But prolonged earthly happiness, even of the most innocent sort, is, I suspect, addictive. The whole being gets geared to it. The withdrawal must be more like lacking bread than lacking cake.

--Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:1303

30 October 2009

Bavinck: Not a Second Creator

The closing paragraph to the introduction of Bavinck's discussion of calling/regeneration, which captures something Bavinck has been teaching me this year--namely, the restorative nature of redemption. God does not start all over; he is restoring, resurrecting, re-enlivening, awakening, renewing, the created world and, supremely, human beings:

The purpose of regeneration is to make us spiritual people, those who live and walk by the Spirit. This life is a life of intimate communion with God in Christ. Though believers are made new creatures in Christ, this does not mean that their created nature is qualitatively transformed. Believers remain fully human, fully created image-bearers of God as in the beginning. As in creation itself, no new substance enters into the world with redemption; the creature is liberated from sin's futility and bondage. Sin is not of the essence of creation but its deformity; Christ is not a second Creator but creation's Redeemer. Salvation is the restoration of creation and the reformation of life.

--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:32-33

26 October 2009

Justification: An Attempt at Definition

In preparing to teach on justification this week in an M.A. class on NT theology here at Wheaton, I'm trying to assemble a working definition of justification. If anyone has any thoughts on what I'm proposing, I'd be grateful to hear them.

Justification is the single, eschatological, forensic declaration of full acquittal and a 'righteous'/'just' status proleptically brought into the present and freely given to those who place their trust in Christ's redeeming and vicarious work, all of which is ultimately due to God's sovereign grace.

UPDATE: Here's another shot at it after feedback.

Justification is the single, eschatological declaration of forensic acquittal and a 'righteous'/'just' status proleptically brought into the present, grounded in Christ's redeeming work in history, consisting of Christ's own righteousness, freely given to those who are united to Christ through self-divesting faith in him, and due ultimately to God's sovereign grace alone.

UPDATE 2: one last shot.

Justification is the single, eschatological declaration of forensic acquittal and a 'righteous'/'just' status proleptically brought into the present, grounded in Christ's redeeming work in history, consisting of Christ's own righteousness, freely given to moral failures united to Christ through self-divesting faith in him, and due ultimately to God's sovereign grace alone.

The Transcendent Relevance of Paul's Letters

Does the preaching of the forgiveness of sins no longer shock modern man when it touches him personally? Will the crucified Christ which Grunewald painted ever lose its frightfulness? Strangely enough, Christianity has contrived to draw so many pious veils over all this that it has quite ceased to give offense. For Christianity has long told a story of salvation which justifies the institution of the church as the community of 'good' people. The muted colours of our church windows transform the story of the Nazarene into a saint's legend in which the cross is merely an episode, being the transition to the ascension--as if we were dealing with a variation of the Hercules myth. . . .

Our task is to ask: what does the Jewish nomism against which Paul fought really represent? And our answer must be: it represents the community of 'good' people which turns God's promises into their own privileges and God's commandments into the instruments of self-sanctification.

--Ernst Kaesemann, "Justification and Salvation History," in Perspectives on Paul, 71-72

The Actual Beginning Has Dawned

Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. --1 Cor 15:20

[T]he resurrection of Jesus has the bodily resurrection of 'those who sleep' as its necessary consequence. His resurrection is not simply a guarantee; it is the pledge in the sense that it is the actual beginning of the general event. --Richard Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption (1987 ed.), 35

24 October 2009

Powerless When the Heart Is Evil

Shall we give men new motives, or ask God to give them a new power? Shall we improve the world, or pray God to create a new world? The former alternatives have been tried and found wanting . . . good motives are powerless when the heart is evil. Struggle as we may, we remain just a part of this world until, by faith, we cry: 'Not by might, nor by power, but by Thy Spirit, O Lord of Hosts.'

--J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith, 218

And I will give you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will put with in you . . .

--Ezekiel 36:26

Jungel: Faith and Works

Faith, which is nothing other than receiving, is a taut coil springing creatively into action for the common good. For believers know that since God has done enough for our salvation, we can never do enough for the good of the world. So we are justified by faith alone, but faith never stays alone; it strives to, it has to become active in love: 'faith alone is never alone' (Paul Althaus). There is no more liberating basis for ethics than the doctrine of justification of sinners by faith alone.

--Eberhard Jungel, Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith (trans. J. F. Cayzer; T&T Clark 2001), 259

22 October 2009

Oden: Self-Justification

Thomas Oden's The Justification Reader argues that the doctrine of justification by grace through faith was manifestly upheld by the church fathers and therefore provides a solid doctrinal core around which all Christians--Eastern, Roman, Protestant--can unite. His brief section 'Why Do We So Fiercely Resist Hearing this Good News?' was particularly clarifying.

We in our self-assertiveness would much prefer to justify ourselves rather than receive God's free gift. So it is characteristic of the fallen, pride-driven human condition that we continue to seek to justify ourselves by our own individual works and righteousness, instead of receiving it as a gift.

Sex role assumptions play heavily into modern forms of works-righteousness. Women often try to justify themselves by their beauty or attractiveness or nurturing abilities. Men more often justify their existence by their prowess or productivity, their athletic ability or wealth.

The message of justification is difficult to accept because it seems too good to be true. It says: Stop trying to justify yourself. You do not need to. There is no way to buy or deserve God's love or acceptance. You are already being offered God's love on the cross without having to jump through hoops or pass tests. You are already there, where you think you are not.

--Thomas C. Oden, The Justification Reader (Eerdmans 2002), 51-52

The Wrong Question

What are we to make of Jesus Christ? This is a question which has, in a sense, a frantically comic side. For the real question is not what are we to make of Jesus Christ, but what is He to make of us? The picture of a fly sitting deciding what it is going to make of an elephant has comic elements about it.

--C. S. Lewis, 'What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?' in God in the Dock (1970), 156

The Gospel

Very helpful, and in my opinion both correct and needed, delineation of the biblical gospel today by Jeff Purswell over at Sovereign Grace.

'. . . although the gospel calls me to respond to what Jesus has done, strictly speaking it doesn’t include my response—repentance is not the gospel.'

20 October 2009

Eustace's Transformation

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the story of a bratty little boy, Eustace, and his journey from having the heart of a dragon in the skin of a child to having the heart of a child through the experience of having the skin of a dragon.

HT: Jerry Root, in this helpful Wheaton Grad chapel message

Warfield: Faith

It's difficult to imagine a more satisfying description of biblical faith than Warfield's in his very helpful essay 'Faith' in the third volume of his collected writings, Biblical and Theological Studies (P&R 1952). Of OT faith he says:

It is a reverential and loving faith, which rests on the strong basis of firm and unshaken conviction of the might and grace of the covenant God and of the trustworthiness of all His words, and exhibits itself in confident trust in Jehovah and unwavering expectation of the fulfillment of, no doubt, all his promises, but more especially of His promise of salvation, and in consequent faithful and exclusive adherence to Him. In one word, it consists in an utter commitment of oneself to Jehovah, with confident trust in Him as guide and saviour, and assured expectation of His promised salvation. It therefore stands in contrast, on the one hand, with trust in self or other human help, and on the other with doubt and unbelief, despondency and unfaithfulness. From Jehovah alone is salvation to be looked for, and it comes from His free grace alone. (410)

Later he synthesizes the OT and NT teaching; just before emphasizing that the specific object of faith is Jesus Christ, he defines faith synthetically as

the going out of the heart from itself and its resting on God in confident trust for all good. But the scriptural revelation has do to with, and is directed to the needs of, not man in the abstract, but sinful man; and for sinful man this hearty reliance on God necessarily becomes humble trust in Him for the fundamental need of the sinner--forgiveness of sins and reception into favour. In response to the revelations of His grace and the provisions of His mercy, it commits itself without reserve and with abnegation of all self-dependence, to Him as its sole and sufficient Saviour, and thus, in one act, empties itself of all claim on God and casts itself upon His grace alone for salvation. (423)

19 October 2009

Lewis: Our Morbid Enjoyment

Some people say it is morbid to be always thinking of one's own faults. That would be all very well if most of us could stop thinking of our own without soon beginning to think about those of other people. For unfortunately we enjoy thinking about other people's faults: and in the proper sense of the word 'morbid', that is the most morbid pleasure in the world.

We don't like rationing which is imposed upon us, but I suggest one form of rationing which we ought to impose on ourselves. Abstain from all thinking about other people's faults, unless your duties as a teacher or parent make it necessary to think about them. Whenever the thoughts come into one's mind, why not simply shove them away? And think of one's own faults instead? For there, with God's help, one can do something. Of all the awkward people in your house or job there is only one whom you can improve very much. That is the practical end at which to begin. And really, we'd better. The job has to be tackled some day: and every day we put it off will make it harder to begin. (C. S. Lewis, 'The Trouble with "X",' in God in the Dock, 154)

Wise words from C. S. Lewis. How easy to elevate others' weakness and overlook our own! How much better to elevate our own weakness and overlook others'. The gospel gives us reources for this, and joy awaits.

17 October 2009

Risk Time

This week I'm returning to John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life. What a helpful little book. Clarifying, stabilizing. As Stacey and I look toward the next season of life, this book is helping us think through the upcoming decisions clearly and wisely and defiantly and upside-down-ly. Not as the world thinks.

"Jesus said, 'Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.' In other words, it is better to lose your life than to waste it. If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full. This is not a book about how to avoid a wounded life, but how to avoid a wasted life." (p. 10)

16 October 2009

A Paradox

Because we love something else more than this world we love even this world better than those who know no other.

--C. S. Lewis, 'Some Thoughts,' in God in the Dock, 150

On this theme see Steve Nichols' good little book, Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards' Vision of Living in Between.

14 October 2009

The Indictment of Goodness

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. --Philippians 3:7

Notice now that he does not only say, But what was gain to me I later saw as indifferent, as unimportant--no: as loss. To repent . . . does not mean to be liberalized, to become indifferent to what we formerly were, to the former objects of our devotion and the former conduct of our lives, but to be horrified by it all. . . . Recognition not of some imperfection but precisely of the guiltiness, perversity, and reprobateness of his glorious Pharisaism, irreproachable and upright as it was en sarki (in the flesh), recognition of the indictment not on his wickedness but on his goodness--that is what came upon him dia ton Christon (for the sake of Christ), that was the meaning that Christ's work had for his attitude to these things.

--Karl Barth, Epistle to the Philippians (Westminster John Knox 2002), 97

11 October 2009

Brief Hiatus

Off for a few days to meet with the great guys involved in the SAET. Back middle of next week.

10 October 2009

Psalm 145 (Shane Barnard)

I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you and praise your name
forever and ever.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The LORD is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.
--Psalm 145:1-9

The Demon is in Too Deep

At the 2006 Desiring God national conference, Tim Keller gave a message in which he referenced a sermon by Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Mark 9:28-29 - 'this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.'

The audio of this sermon series, a series on revival, has begun to be posted over at oneplace.

09 October 2009

Godly Leadership

Four marks of real leadership from Asa's spiritual awakening in 2 Chronicles 15.

Part 1 - courageous risk-taking
Part 2 - hatred of idolatry
Part 3 - concrete action
Part 4 - gathering others

Wonderfully helpful.

08 October 2009

Luther: The Strange Blessings Gathered by the Labors of Another

I am a sinner, but I am borne by his righteousness which is given to me. I am unclean, but his holiness is my sanctification, in which I ride gently. I am an ignorant fool, but his wisdom carries me forward. I deserve condemnation, but I am set free by his redemption. . . .

[I]n [this] we are lifted up not only above our evils, but even above our blessings, and we are set down in the midst of strange blessings gathered by the labors of another. . . . We are set down, I say, in Christ's righteousness, with which he himself is righteous, because we cling to that righteousness whereby he himself is acceptable to God, intercedes for us as our mediator, and gives himself wholly to us as our high priest and protector. Therefore, just as it is impossible for Christ with his righteousness not to please God, so it is impossible for us, with our faith clinging to his righteousness, not to please him. It is in this way that a Christian becomes almighty Lord of all, having all things and doing all things, wholly without sin.

I was stunned by the next sentence.

Even if he is in sins, these cannot do him harm; they are forgiven for the sake of the inexhaustible righteousness of Christ that removes all sins.

Really? No harm at all? Is this another of Luther's exaggerations for the sake of effect? Gloriously not. 'Inexhaustible' is just the right word. Listen to that sentence again.

Even if he is in sins, these cannot do him harm; they are forgiven for the sake of the inexhaustible righteousness of Christ that removes all sins. . . . He who does not believe this is like a deaf man hearing a story. He does not know Christ, neither does he understand what blessings are his nor how thye may be enjoyed.

--Martin Luther, "Fourteen Consolations," written to Elector Frederick the Wise when Frederick fell deathly sick, in LW 42:164-65

The Path is not Long

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. --Matt 7:14

All must joyfully venture forth on this path, for though the gate is quite narrow, the path is not long. Just as an infant is born with peril and pain from the small abode of its mother's womb into this immense heaven and earth, that is, into this world, so man departs this life through the narrow gate of death. And although the heavens and the earth in which we dwell at present seem large and wide to us, they are nevertheless much narrower and smaller than the mother's womb in comparison with the future heaven.

--Martin Luther, "A Sermon on Preparing to Die," LW 42:99

07 October 2009

Luther: A Constant Guest

From someone who knows the human heart:

Therefore whoever knows well how to distinguish the Gospel from the Law should give thanks to God and know that he is a real theologian. . . .

For so far as the words are concerned, the distinction is easy. But when it comes to experience, you will find the Gospel a rare guest but the Law a constant guest in your conscience, which is habituated to the Law and the sense of sin.

--Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, commenting on Gal 2:14, LW: 26:115, 117

06 October 2009


Justification brings life in its train (Rom. 5:18).

--Herman Bavinck, on why justification and sanctification can never be separated (Reformed Dogmatics, 4:249)

05 October 2009

Edwards: All of It Comes from God

[T]he apologetic impulse to reconcile Scripture with other forms of human knowledge is ancient, but that task . . . has become nearly boundless in its scope and challenges. For Edwards, the solution was elegant in its simplicity. For him, ostensive reality is God's reality. Human history is God's history. The Word is God's word. All of it comes from God, fashioned in the mind of God. Therefore, all of it is revelatory, and all of it is complementary. Any one avenue of revealed knowledge, whether scientific or historical or textual, led, ultimately, to all other revealed knowledge. Scriptural interpretation, then, was much more than an exposition of words on a page. To Edwards, it was a vast enterprise that set the interpreter with the extraordinary task of mapping the mind of God

--William Tooman, 'Edwards's Ezekiel: The Interpretation of Ezekiel in the Blank Bible,' Journal of Theological Interpretation 3 (2009): 38

Bavinck: 'the Reformer'

A dominant chord struck again and again in Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics is the notion of grace restoring (rather than re-creating from scratch) nature. Here's a comment on the regeneration of the cosmos (Matt 19:28).

[T]he re-creation that will take place in the renewal of heaven and earth is not the destruction of this world and the subsequent creation out of nothing of another world but the liberation of the creature that is now subject to futility. Nor can it be otherwise, for God's honor as Savior hinges precisely on his reconquest from the power of Satan of this human race and this world. Christ, accordingly, is not a second Creator, but the Redeemer and Savior of this fallen creation, the Reformer of all things that have been ruined and corrupted by sin. (Reformed Dogmatics, 4:92; emphasis original)


Bavinck: Alien Salvation

All religions seek a way of salvation; all human beings long for happiness because the human heart is created for God. Unique to the Christian religion is the reality of Jesus Christ and the redemption he brings as fully God's initiative; all other religions seek redemption through human action. However the human problem is conceived, it remains human beings who must satisfy the deity and fulfill its demands or law. All religions or philosophies other than the Christian faith are autosoteric.

The biblical viewpoint is radically different; salvation is solely a gift of grace.

--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:485

01 October 2009

Bavinck's Christocentrism

Get a load of this.

The OT was not abolished but fulfilled in the new dispensation, is still consistently being fulfilled, and will be fulfilled, until the parousia of Christ.

Christ, therefore, is the true prophet, priest, and king; the true servant of the Lord, the true atonement (Rom. 3:25), the true circumcision (Col. 2:11), the true Passover (1 Cor 5:7), the true sacrifice (Eph. 5:2), and his body of believers the true offspring of Abraham, the true Israel, the true people of God (Matt 1:21; Luke 1:17; Rom 9:25-26; 2 Cor 6:16-18; Gal 3:29; Tit 2:14; Heb 8:8-10; Jas 1:1, 18; 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 21:3, 12), the true temple of God (1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:22; 2 Thess 2:4; Heb 8:2), the true Zion and Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22; Rev 3:12; 21:2, 10). Its spiritual sacrifice is the true religion.

--Reformed Dogmatics, 4:661

The OT, not the NT, is the Interlude

Bavinck makes a fascinating point in arguing against dispensationalism (what he called 'chiliasm'). He argues that the historical interlude is not the New Testament period, as dispensationalism teaches, but the Old Testament period. Israel's special calling as God's people is the means to the calling of the nations. God called Adam and Eve to fill and subdue the earth; he called Abraham and Israel; then Christ came as the fulfillment. Ethnic Israel here fills the middle spot, and not, as dispensationalism teaches, the front and then the end, between which the Church age is bracketed. I had never thought of it like that but I think he's right and this bears reflection.

[T]he New Testament is not an intermezzo or interlude, neither a detour nor a departure from the line of the old covenant, but the long-aimed-for goal, the direct continuation and the genuine fulfillment of the Old Testament. (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:662).

Good Meat

The favor of God procured a soul-satisfying happiness answerable to the capacity and cravings of our souls: good meat for the nature of man who has a spirit and therefore needs a spirit of happiness. . . . Every part of good that nature craves--honor, wealth, pleasure--he has provided.

--Jonathan Edwards, "Jesus Christ Is the Shining Forth of the Father's Glory," in The Glory and Honor of God: Volume 2 of the Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, 235

Bavinck: Creation's Rebirth

The world, according to [Scripture], consists of heaven and earth; humans consist of soul and body; and the kingdom of God, accordingly, has a hidden spiritual dimension and an external, visible side. Whereas Jesus came the first time to establish that kingdom in a spiritual sense, he returns at the end of history to give visible shape to it. Reformation proceeds from the inside to the outside. The rebirth of humans is completed in the rebirth of creation.

--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:718

...the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay...

--the Apostle Paul

30 September 2009

Not a Moral Discovery

[O]nly serious ignorance of Jewish and Pagan culture would lead anyone to the conclusion that it is a radically new thing. Essentially, Christianity is not the promulgation of a moral discovery. It is addressed only to penitents, only to those who admit their disobedience to the known moral law.

--C. S. Lewis, 'On Ethics,' in Christian Reflections (Eerdmans 1967), 46-47

HT: Jack Collins, Covenant Seminary

29 September 2009

Machen: God Himself

We are subject to many pressing needs, and we are too much inclined to value God, not for His own sake, but only because He can satisfy those needs. . . .

[Food, clothing, companionship, and inspiring work] are lofty desires. But there is one desire that is loftier still. It is the desire for God Himself. That desire, too often, we forget. We value God solely for the things He can do; we make of Him a mere means to an ulterior end. And God refuses to be treated so; such a religion always fails in the hour of need. If we have regarded religion merely as a means of getting things--even lofty and unselfish things--then when the things that have been gotten are destroyed, our faith will fail. When loved ones are taken away, when disappointment comes and failure, when noble ambitions are set at naught, then we turn away from God. We have tried religion, we say, we have tried prayer, and it has failed. Of course it has failed! God is not content to be an instrument in our hand or a servant at our beck and call. . . .

[I]f we possess God, then we can meet with equanimity the loss of all besides. Has it never dawned upon us that God is valuable for His own sake, that just as personal communion is the highest thing that we know on earth, so personal communion with God is the sublimest height of all? If we value God for His own sake, then the loss of other things will draw us all the closer to Him; we shall have recourse to Him in time of trouble as to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.

--J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith? pp. 73-74

John 9: You say, 'We See'

Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, 'Are we also blind?' Jesus said to them, 'If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, "We see," your guilt remains.' --John 9:40-41

The Pharisees' blindness was not their error. 'If you were blind, you would have no guilt'--i.e. if you were merely blind, or, if you knew yourselves to be blind. The Pharisees' problem was not that they were blind but that they thought they weren't--'you say, "We see."'

The mystery of the gospel, so deeply counterintuitive: guilt is taken away not in claiming sight but in acknowledging blindness. All because the one Person who ever came into this world truly seeing allowed himself, on a little hill, to be made blind, so that you and I, blind, can see, for free.

28 September 2009

Luther: The Bible

The number of books on theology must be reduced and only the best ones published. It is not many books that make men learned, nor even reading. But it is a good book frequently read, no matter how small it is, that makes a man learned in the Scriptures and godly. Indeed, the writings of all the holy fathers should be read only for a time so that through them we may be led into the Scriptures. As it is, however, we only read them these days to avoid going any further and getting into the Bible. We are like men who read the sign posts and never travel the road they indicate. . . . [T]he Scripture alone is our vineyard in which we must all labor and toil.

--LW, 44:205

27 September 2009

Like No Other Teacher

'What are we to make of Christ?' There is no question of what we can make of him, it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept ot reject the story.

The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, 'This is the truth about the Universe. This is the way you ought to go,' but He says, 'I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.' He says, 'No man can reach absolute reality, except through Me. Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved.' He says, 'If you are ashamed of Me, if, when you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise. If anything whatever is keeping you from God and from Me, whatever it is, throw it away. If it is your eye, pull it out. If it is your hand, cut it off. If you put yourself first you will be last. Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right. Your sins, all of them, are wiped out, I can do that. I am Re-birth, I am life. Eat Me, drink Me, I am your Food. And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole universe.' That is the issue.

--C. S. Lewis, 'What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?' in God in the Dock (1950), 160

24 September 2009

God's Surprising Hostility

No indeed, my dear man. If you want to be cured of sin, you must not withdraw from God, but run to him and pray to him with much more confidence than if some physical distress had overtaken you. God is not hostile to sinners, only to unbelievers.

--Martin Luther, Treatise on Good Works, LW 44:64

A Gospel Paradox of Leadership

We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. --The Apostle Paul (1 Cor 4:10)

"I have been hurt too deeply, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger; some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them." --Frodo Baggins (The Return of the King, p. 1006)

23 September 2009

Dodd: 'Fulfillment'

One of the key figures this past year in helping me put the whole Bible together is C. H. Dodd. Dodd had a profound and penetrating understanding of the way the NT fulfilled the Old - but it is a 'thick,' not a 'thin,' kind of fulfillment. Most evangelicals read the OT as a massive, convoluted, mysterious narrative that has occasional nuggets of prophecy that can be culled from the indecipherable mines and which point to Christ; maybe one percent of the OT speaks of Christ? Dodd has shown me that 100% of the OT speaks of Christ, though in greater or lesser, more direct or less direct, ways. Listen to how he describes 'fulfillment.'

The early church believed that with the coming of Christ, his death and resurrection, the Day of the Lord had dawned. To elucidate and justify this belief they appealed to prophetic descriptions, not only of the Day itself, but of the essential elements in the process which led up to it. Here all the various prophetic descriptions are relevant; for the Day of the Lord is fulfillment, not merely in the sense that it is the end of a process whose stages may now be put out of mind. It is fulfillment in the sense that the true meaning of all the strange and often tragic experiences of God's people in via is now at last made clear and those experiences in turn give depth and richness to the Christian understanding of the consummation that Christ has brought.

--C. H. Dodd, The Old Testament in the New (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1963), 23; emphasis original

22 September 2009


Sometimes I interact with Christians who speak of the value and goal of remaining 'broken' as a believer. Some brothers I respect deeply from my seminary days spoke this way.

I reject it. My response is: if by 'broken' you mean 'not triumphalistic or arrogant,' then, of course, amen and amen. But if by 'broken' you mean (as I think is often what is meant) remaining in a perpetual state of spiritual pursed lips, emotional languishing over sin, calling to mind one's failures, dwelling on one's shortcomings, this is not spiritual health but a victory for the enemy, the Accuser. That is not what Christ came to win for us. It is a hollow maturity that appears humble but in fact spits on the cross. It is actually a form of self-parading, a subtle way of drawing attention not to the Savior but to our own mock spirituality.

Here's Bavinck:

[T]o this day one encounters in the church a great many Christians who year after year complain about their sins but almost never enjoy the heartfelt joy in God through Christ nor ever arrive at a peaceful and quiet life of gratitude. . . . Those who encourage grieving over one's sins . . . are abandoning the gospel, which is the message of joy and gladness in God, and fail to do justice to God's grace and the perfect sacrifice of Christ.

[Real Christianity is] faith in the reconciliation accomplished in the blood of Christ, a quiet and childlike resting in the grace of the Lord, knowing oneself secure in the wounds of the Lamb, and a joyful and lively feeling of the love of the heavenly Bridegroom.

--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:158, 159-60

In ______ We Trust

The remarkable emphasis [in the NT] on the need for a transformed life does not cancel out the priority of faith. Instead, it helps readers discern the authenticity of faith so that genuine faith can be distinguished from mere notional faith--faith that resides in the intellect but has not penetrated the heart and life. All good works flow from faith and thus do not become an occasion for human boasting. The changed lives of believers simply reveal the object of their trust. (Tom Schreiner, New Testament Theology [Baker 2008], 616).

That last sentence has a world of wisdom in it, and is something I've just been coming alive to in recent months.

18 September 2009

Schreiner Interview

Helpful, clarifying interview of Tom Schreiner by our Christ the Center brothers. Dr. Schreiner's comments on biblical theology, salvation history and typology caused me to rejoice, as it taps into things I've been learning in recent years. Something that was new for me, and made me think, was Schreiner's defense of a Paul-centered approach to biblical theology. The focus is Schreiner's recent NT theology text.

17 September 2009

Idolatry Defined

1:35 to 2:55, the close of Jordan's 21-minute acceptance speech into the basketball hall of fame this week.

Thanks, Mike, for the great memories, and thanks for the poignant display of the ugliness that comes from giving in to the tug in all our hearts to build our identity on Self rather than Grace. Had I been in your shoes, there is no doubt in my mind that apart from an intervening work of God I would be even more arrogant and empty than you are. May God grant you to become so miserable in the days ahead, as is clearly happening as the sun sets on your basketball career, that your heart awakens to humble yourself and seek the solid joys of Christ instead of the candy-like and empty pleasures of Self. If one day thirty years from now I'm pastoring a church in your neck of the woods and you attend as a broken-down old man, here is what I will say to you: We are both desperately wicked and equally deserving of God's unending punishment in light of the way we have consistently given him the finger and embraced instead the hollow pleasures of Self. But the God who created you and me and on whom we were meant to run became one of us and suffered to bring us back home to the one who will forgive us if we let him down and satisfy us if we trust him and seek joy in him--neither of which, as you now well know if you will only admit it, basketball can do.

You said many times in your acceptance speech that all that mattered to you was winning. I want you to know that Jesus Christ is the one person who walked this earth who truly deserved to win. And on the cross he allowed himself to lose, so that you and I can be part of the ultimate win. Lay down your self-worship and be free.