29 April 2009

Berkouwer and Gospel-Fueled Sanctification

Here are the quotes from G. C. Berkouwer that I've mentioned a few times which I've found so helpful in understanding how justification is the engine of sanctification, or how the gospel that "Christ died for our sins" is itself what propels growth in godliness. These are from his book Faith and Sanctification. I confess I wish I had heard more of the newly imported foreign power of the indwelling Spirit as that which gives believers new spiritual taste buds to pant after holiness (Berkouwer interacts with Bavinck on this point on pp. 82-84, and I find Bavinck much more convincing); but this hardly detracts from how meaningful I have found Berkouwer to be on this most practical of questions of Christian growth.

Holiness is never a 'second blessing' placed next to the blessing of justification. . . . Our completion is only realized in Christ (Col 2:10) 'for by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified' (Heb 10:14). The exhortation which comes to the Church is that it must live in faith out of this fullness; not that it must work for a second blessing, but that it must feed on the first blessing, the forgiveness of sins. The warfare of the Church, according to Scriptural testimony, springs from the demand really to live from this first testimony. (64)

The Reformed Confessions never teach that believers, having gone through the gate of justification, now enter upon a new territory where they must, without outside help, take their sanctification in hand. It is not true that sanctification simply succeeds justification. . . . there is never a stretch along the way of salvation where justification drops out of sight. Genuine sanctification--let it be repeated--stands or falls with this continued orientation toward justification and the remission of sins. (77-78)

The believer's constant 'commerce' with the forgiveness of sins and his continued dependence on it must--both in pastoral counseling and in dogmatic analysis--be laid bare, emphasized, and kept in sight. (84)
p
The heart of sanctification is the life which feeds on . . . justification. (93)
p
[A]ny view of regeneration, faith, and sanctification, must be weighed and tested by the criterion of whether it does justice to the forgiveness of sins as the only ground and source of sanctification. (96)

And the last paragraph of the book:

In the bond between faith and sanctification we perceive, no less than in the bond between faith and justification, the pulsebeat of the Gospel. If faith will but lift its blossoms to catch the sunlight of God's grace, the fruit will be a life imbued with holiness. (193)

28 April 2009

Webster: Evangelical Theology

The best evangelical theological work emerges from delight in the Christian gospel, for the gospel announces a reality which is in itself luminous, persuasive, and infinitely satisfying. That reality is Jesus Christ as he gives himself to be an object for creaturely knowledge, love, and praise. To think evangelically about this one is to think in his presence, under the instruction of his Word and Spirit, and in the fellowship of the saints.

--John Webster, "Jesus Christ," in Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 60; a wonderful statement which did, to my relief, go on to affirm that "the ultimate resource is the text . . . for the text is an act of God's self-disclosure"

27 April 2009

A Gospel Primer

In Mike Bullmore's excellent workshop at the Gospel Coalition, "The Functional Centrality of the Gospel," Mike commended to us a little book by Milton Vincent called A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God's Love. Milton is a pastor in California. Mike's comments piqued my interests and I immediately ordered a used copy of the 90-page paperback from Amazon when I got home.

The book looks very good. The point of it is just what I've been discovering myself these days (don't know why it's taking me so long--though I expect in 40 years it will still feel like it's just beginning to sink in!) that the gospel is for believers, not just unbelievers. I had never heard of the book before Mike's recommendation but I look forward to diving in this week.

26 April 2009

Religion Humbled Itself to Become Christianity

C. S. Lewis' favorite psalm was Ps. 19 (below for reference). In a 1956 letter to Mary van Deusen he explains why.

First, the mere glory of nature (between the Psalms and Wordsworth - a long gap in history - you get nothing equal to either on this theme). The the disinfectant, inexorable sun beating down on the desert and 'nothing hid from the heat thereof.' Then - implied, not stated - the imaginative identification of that heat and light with the 'undefiled' law, the 'clean' fear of the Lord, searching every cranny. Then the characteristically Jewish feeling that the Law is not only obligatory but beautiful, ravishing: delighting the heart, better than gold, sweeter than honey. Only after that, the (more Christian like) self examination and humble petition. Nearly all that could be said before the Incarnation is said in this Psalm. It is so much better Paganism than the real pagans ever did! And in one way more glorious, more soaring and triumphant, than Christian poetry. For as God humbled Himself to become Man, so religion humbled itself to become Christianity.

--C. S. Lewis, Collected Letters, 3:701-2; emphasis original (on the parenthetical statement in the first sentence, I assume he never read Edwards!)

Psalm 19
To the choirmaster. A psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
4 Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

The Great Contradiction

"Glorious ruins." --Pascal's definition of fallen humanity

"It seems to me that one can hardly say anything either bad enough or good enough about life." ---C. S. Lewis, reflecting on his autobiography Surprised by Joy

25 April 2009

Waltke: The Center of the OT

In his OT theology (Zondervan 2007), Bruce Waltke helpfully suggests that "the center of the Old Testament, the message that accommodates all its themes, is that Israel's sublime God, whose attributes hold in tension his holiness and mercy, glories himself by establishing his universal rule over his volitional creatures on earth through Jesus Christ and his covenant people" (p. 144).

HT: Hassell Bullock (who is currently working on his own OT theology)

Back from the Coalition

A great time.

20 April 2009

The Role of Duty

Isn't duty only a second-best to keep one going until one learns to like the thing, and then it is a duty no more? When love fulfills the Law, Law (as such) flies out of the window. Isn't that part of what St. Paul meant by being free from the Law? And of what St. Augustine meant by 'Have charity and do what you like'?

--C. S. Lewis, letter to Mary Van Deusen, Dec 16, 1955 (Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:685)

2 Peter 1:9 and the Gospel

Some of you know I'm working through the connection between the gospel and growth, or justification and sanctification.

2 Peter opens with a reminder that God's "divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness," then exhorts us to "make every effort to supplement" our faith with: virtue, knowledge, self-control, and so on. The point is, this is dealing with the general theological area of sanctification. Growth.

And in light of what I'm slowly becoming convinced of this year--that, against our instincts, it is the gospel itself that fuels sanctification--I was arrested by the principle Peter puts beneath all this "effort": "For (gar) whoever (universal statement) lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins" (1:9).

Amazing. Not growing in virtue, self-control, godliness . . . ? You've forgotten the very gospel that got you in in the first place. You were cleansed from those former sins. As you remember that (note "having forgotten"), "these qualities are yours and are increasing" (v. 8).

Off to the Gospel Coalition tomorrow. At the end of the week I'll get up some quotes from Berkouwer's Faith and Sanctification that have further hammered these nails home.

The Best Available Religion?

According to Theopedia, German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, who is proving helpful to me as I write a paper on the Trinity, in high school "experienced an 'intellectual conversion' and decided that Christianity was the best available religious option."

On the one hand, I understand what is meant here and I receive it. I know that "religious" is being used here in a generic way. And I acknowledge that for many (C. S. Lewis e.g.) conversion feels largely intellectual. Certainly, God does not (normally) bypass the brain when mediating grace.

Yet this is just the kind of statement that propagates a deeply defective view of Christianity. Christianity is not the best available religious option; it is the one religion in which we are freed to give up on religion. It is the only faith that grants access via the door of self-despair and failure rather than self-actualizing success. Jesus didn't come to tell us about the best religion; he came to end all religion. He is God's alternative to religion. Religion and Christianity are mutually-exclusive options.

Technical Difficulty

A few of you were wondering what happened to the posts from Mar 13 to Apr 13. I finally figured out that if you view this blog via Internet Explorer, those posts do not appear (and only the first paragraph of the Unlocking Romans post). If you use Firefox, no problems. Weird.

This issue aside, I have been much more satisfied with Firefox than Explorer and encourage you to switch if you haven't already.

19 April 2009

Killer Whales

Imagine yourself standing on the beach at 1:33.

18 April 2009

Goppelt: Advance Signals

Leonard Goppelt, who wrote a dissertation on typology in the 1930s that became the foundation for the twentieth century's understanding of typology from a salvation-historical perspective, in his NT theology:

The typological understanding of the Old Testament was not an exegetical method but a distinctly defined angle of vision. . . . Looking back from the Christ event Paul observed in persons, institutions, or events of the Old Testament advance signals of God's activity in the end time. These types were not something like historical analogies. They were God's connections to the human being that were witnessed to by the Old Testament and that announced--positively or antithetically--a corresponding but at the same time eschatologically elevated, final connection. The announcement character rested on God's loyalty to his promise.

--Theology of the New Testament (Eerdmans 1982), 58

This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord . . . --Ephesians 3:11

16 April 2009

The Doctor

I've been listening to Lloyd-Jones for the past year or so (when I discovered the podcast), and normally he has a unique gift to put me to sleep. Not sure why. His written sermons are different--helpful, gripping, moving. But for some reason I have the hardest time staying with him mentally when I listen to him.

But this morning I listened to the Mar 15 broadcast from the Martin Lloyd-Jones Recording Trust, "The Refuge of God Part 2," available here. I think I see now what all the fuss is about--why Piper, at the Gospel Coalition two years ago, called him the greatest preacher of the twentieth century.

13 April 2009

Unlocking Romans

Just read Daniel's Kirk's fascinating Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God (Eerdmans, 2008), a revised dissertation written under R. Hays at Duke. His thesis is that the pervasive underlying theme of and hermeneutical key to Romans is resurrection, through which Paul reinterprets the stories of Israel en route to justifying the ways of God (i.e. a theodicy). If I had to summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the book, here's what I would say. (I would be helped by the corrections of others who have read the book. Two other online reviews of the book, by Jim West and Guy Waters, can be found, respectively, here and here.)

This book has many strengths. Kirk's writing is clear and moves along at a good clip without getting bogged down, even at texts crucial to his argument--something I need to take to heart in my own dissertation writing. He reiterates his central theses time and again in a way that keeps both him and his reader on track, with one eye ever on the forest even as he tackles the thorniest of trees. Secondary literature is appropriately consulted yet without letting the footnotes get out of hand (don't bother with the name index in the back, though--it includes only a small fraction of the actual occurrences of names). An irenic tone throughout is refreshing and an ever-appropriate word in season for me. The continued recovery of the importance to Paul of Jew-gentile issues remains timely and important to current issues facing the church. Above all, Kirk has put forth an intriguing thesis as to the hermeneutical key to Romans, fleshing out a neglected dimension of Paul's theology, that of resurrection.

I must confess that it is just here, though, that at least two red flags are raised in my mind. For while the book has certainly unearthed a sorely neglected theme (excluding Gaffin) of Romans in particular and a core soteriological dimension to Pauline theology in general, he pushes his thesis to the point that it is difficult to escape the sense that he has overpressed his argument. On a macro level, how clarifying is it to proclaim resurrection to be the 'hermeneutical key' (83, 162, 209) to Romans when this entails largely ignoring 1:18-4:8? While previous generations have overly centralized these chapters, the relative inconsequentiality of resur. in these ch's may not have sufficiently sobered Kirk's claim to have unlocked Rom with this interpretive key. On a micro level, Kirk's exegesis is at times similarly strained. Is 'the one who is righteous by faith' of Hab 2:4/Rom 1:17 (47-48) or 'the one who has died' of Rom 6:7 (113) really referring to Jesus?

A similar imbalance occurs, second, in the explication of the 'gospel.' On the one hand, Kirk's emphases are most welcome. He reminds us that according to Paul, the gospel is not merely a conscience-alleviating salve for the soul but includes the good news that Christ has been raised from the dead as Lord over all. Again, though, too much is, to quote Jerry Jenkins, left behind. While he identifies legitimate neglects in evangelical Paul scholarship, Kirk's cure, if swallowed, will leave us worse off than the disease. For his gospel is all solution and no plight. While sin is mentioned at times (69, 76-80, 104-5, 207, 222), the gospel is repeatedly defined in reductionistic terms, as good news that God has raised Jesus in accord with God's promises to Israel and resulting in a unified church consisting of both Jews and gentiles (e.g. 38, 45, 130, 163-69, 206, 217). All this is true enough, and wonderful, but only 'good news' to one who sees one's own treasonous rebellion against God, divests oneself of all self-resourced efforts at partial moral recompense, and looks in trusting faith to Christ. Then one can consider, e.g., the ethnic openness of the gospel.

The problematic nature of these imbalances manifests itself in various ways. Justification, e.g., is said to be for 'those who submit to the reign of this resurrected Messiah' (54). Yet is submission to Christ a means, as Kirk seems to say, or a result of justification? Regarding final judgment, 'those who so serve God by virtue of the resurrection life of Christ are assured of final vindication' (130; similarly 204, 226). Yet is our own service the locus of assurance in the Christian life? The crucifixion, despite an attempt to alleviate this concern (45 n57), is unavoidably muted in the hermeneutically controlling fixation on the resurrection. Might we not assimilate a rejuvenated appreciation of the resurrection while duly remembering that, e.g., Paul came to Corinth intent to preach nothing but Christ and him crucified (not Christ and him raised)? And historically, Kirk falls prey to the current epidemic of Luther-persecution which has become a veritable initiation rite into the magisterium of NT studies, trotting out the usual caricatures of the reformer and reading the rest of the Reformation through this muddy lens (3-4; cf. 7, 10).

Has Kirk unlocked Rom for us? To be sure, his fascinating study gives us one very useful and neglected key for unlocking the many doors that line the Rom hallway. Yet to speak of resurrection as the hermeneutical key creates just the kind of overly controlling lens the author eschews in past generations' readings of Rom through a single lens (e.g. justification by faith). Chock full of illuminating insights and well argued exegetical proposals, Unlocking Romans ultimately fails to provide a cumulatively convincing alternative reading of Rom, pushing an otherwise helpful thesis too far and distorting several crucial elements of Paul's thought as a result.

Sanctification by Gospel

Shortly I'll note some statements made in Berkouwer's Sanctification by Faith on how justification fuels sanctification, something I'm studying these days. For now, here's a quote from a famous old sermon, "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection," by Thomas Chalmers.

The freer the gospel, the more sanctifying the gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness.

HT: Of First Importance

Who Is the Sermon on the Mount for?

Schlatter:

Jesus pitched the Sermon on the Mount against those who condemned murder and avoided adultery as sin, not against those who murdered and followed every lust . . . against those who loved the friend, not against the selfish who loved merely themselves; against those who were ready benefactors and fasted and prayed, not against those who neglected to do so. . . . Jesus did not call the pious to repentance simply because he rejected their sin, but also because he condemned their righteousness. (The History of the Christ, 149-50)

Jesus was not preaching to the perilously immoral but the perilously moral. Not to those outside the church but inside. All through the Sermon, Jesus contrasts two kinds of people, but in each case it is not the disobedient and the obedient, but two kinds of obedience--true fasting and false fasting, true prayer and false prayer (not fasting vs. gluttony or prayer vs. prayerlessness). It is disobedient obedience and obedient obedience.

11 April 2009

Psychological Self-Flagellation


This is a picture of a Maundy Thursday service in San Fernando city in the Philippines two days ago, in which Filipinos engage is self-flagellation (HT: Boston Globe, Andy Naselli). Click to enlarge.
q
Some of us are (quite rightly) saddened by such a picture, knowing that the need for this kind of self-inflicted pain has been wonderfully eradicated by Christ's own suffering.
q
But I wonder if we really take to heart what is wrong about such a practice. Is it not a constant temptation for Western Christians to engage in such self-flagellation psychologically and emotionally, if not physically? What's your response when you are aware of your sin? If you're like me, you know Christ died for that, and you're grateful. But just to show how grateful you are, or to seal the deal, you do a bit of psychological self-inflicted pain to top it off. Not, of course, to self-consciously add to Christ's work. Heaven forbid. Just to let him know how much you care. Make it clear that you're a serious Christian. Nothing physical. Just a bit of extra externalized obedience or formal service or sucking on the guilt. (This is not my distant past; I'm thinking, for instance, of a pattern of thought and action last night.)
q
It is utter folly. The New Testament tells us over and over that if we're going to add a cherry of self-contribution on top of Christ's work to really be okay, we have to provide the whole sundae. All or nothing. And the tragedy is that though we assent theologically we can't add to Christ's work, we try to put ourselves emotionally at ease by helping the Lord out a bit--yet adding something to seal the deal is, oddly, precisely what will create uneasiness about whether the deal ever really is sealed. What if we don't seal the deal well enough?
q
That innate instinct to help out God's opinion of us by self-medicated doses of humanly generated recompense is so sensible. So reasonable. Intuitive. Duh. How else would we live? But the glory of the gospel is that this attempt to help God out is not only unnecessary, it is a stiff-arm to God's offer in Christ.
q
We will sin. I will sin in various ways later today. Some of it I'll be conscious of, most of it I won't. And the way to deal with that is not to self-flagellate. Neither physically nor psychologically. That isn't a strengthening of God's opinion of me but a rejection of it. And it will make us grouchy and tense instead of humble and free.
q
That's why we celebrate this weekend.

10 April 2009

Barth and Redemptive History

In reluctant accord with the annoying trendiness of Barth in evangelicalism (or is it just here at Wheaton?), I'm reading through the engagement with Barth from an evangelical perspective of mostly British scholars and edited by a recent grad of Aberdeen (under Francis Watson) and a theology prof at Oak Hill in London. The essays have been very helpful. Mike Ovey's in particular I appreciated (on the Trinity), as I'm in a doctoral seminar at the moment on the Trinity and Barth has been our most recent theologian of discussion.

Anyhow, Andrew McGowan contributed on Barth and (what else?) covenant theology, and something he said in his conclusion was very helpful and put words to an uneasiness I've been feeling myself in my forays into Barth this year.

Barth's natural instinct to give priority to Christ over Adam is understandable. Adam was a 'type' of the one who was to come and therefore in some fundamental sense we must view Adam in the light of Christ. Nevertheless, Christ is also the second (or last) Adam. In his desire to be Christocentric, Barth has failed to take the biblical account of history seriously. Indeed, it can perhaps be argued that one of the overall weaknesses of Barth's theology is a lack of proper 'grounding' in the redemptive-historical context set out for us in Scripture.

--A. T. B. McGowan, "Karl Barth and Covenant Theology," in Engaging with Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques (London: T&T Clark, 2008), 134

09 April 2009

C. S. Lewis: Biblical Theologian

Ok not exactly. But if this wouldn't make Ridderbos and Cullmann smile I don't know what would. Love it.

Christ's isolation is not that of a prodigy but of a pioneer. He is the first of His kind; He will not be the last.

--C. S. Lewis, Miracles (repr.; San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001), 221

07 April 2009

Real Wine

Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine. Not a healing, not a resurrection, not an exorcism. Providing a few extra Coronas for the party.

In the midst of the wedding, Jesus' mom comes to him and lets him know they're all out of the good stuff. How does he respond? "So? My hour has not yet come" (Jn 2:4). What's his point? He does, after all, actually respond to his mom by providing more wine, so his point is not that it was not his time to do a miracle.

Edmund Clowney has shown me that in the midst of this wedding, Jesus was looking ahead to his own wedding, where real wine would be enjoyed. He was looking ahead to his death, and, through his death, to his ultimate union with his Bride, you and me, purchased by his death. That will be the party to end all parties. Here's one of the most striking sentences from any sermon I've ever heard--Clowney says, "Jesus sat amidst all the joy sipping the coming sorrow, so that you and I today can sit amidst all this world's sorrow, sipping the coming joy."

06 April 2009

Yarbrough on Schlatter

A few years ago Bob Yarbrough returned to his previous place of employment, Covenant Seminary, and gave a series of lectures on Adolf Schlatter. They can be freely downloaded here.