31 May 2009
Joy tells me that once, years ago, she was haunted one morning by a feeling that God wanted something of her, a persistent pressure like the nag of a neglected duty. And till mid-morning she kept on wondering what it was. But the moment she stopped worrying, the answer came through as plain as a spoken voice. It was 'I don't want you to do anything. I want to give you something': and immediately her heart was full of peace and delight. St. Augustine says 'God gives where he finds empty hands.' A man whose hands are full of parcels can't receive a gift. Perhaps these parcels are not always sins or earthly cares, but sometimes our own fussy attempts to worship Him in our way.
--The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:930-31
29 May 2009
Rom 8:4 - . . . in order that (hina) the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
8:3 tells us what God has done for us, 8:4 what he does in us; 8:3 focuses on Christ, 8:4 on the Spirit; 8:3 on a point in time, 8:4 on a process; 8:3 then, 8:4 now; using the words in the most broadly theological sense, 8:3 on justification, 8:4 on sanctification. And the second of each pair is result (and perhaps purpose)--"in order that"--of the first.
Paul to Timothy: "What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also . . ." (2 Tim 2:2)
Get off the couch, men.
26 May 2009
In 1521 the reformer preached a sermon called 'The Three Kinds of Good Life for the Instruction of Consciences,' found in vol. 44 of LW.
He says there are 'three kinds of conscience and three kinds of sin, as well as three kinds of the good life with three kinds of good works' (235). The first kind 'is concerned only with outward works' (235). 'As a result of this kind of teaching, people become hardened and blind' (236). '[T]heir holiness is circumscribed by their five senses and their bodily existence. And yet, this very holiness shines brighter in the eyes of the world than does real holiness' (238). This is the Pharisee, the person who does the right things but with a rotten heart.
The second kind of person has a well-developed conscience. It understands 'humility, meekness, gentleness, peace, fidelity, love, propriety, purity, and the like' (239). Such people, however, 'set about them in the wrong way' (240). They 'maintain a pious posture not out of their own desire, but because they fear disgrace, punishment, or hell. . . . And this false ground is so deep that no saint has ever fathomed its bottom.' Such people have a sensitive conscience, unlike the first kind, but they follow it not from godliness but self-love. Luther then prepares to transition into the third kind of person. 'God does not just want such works by themselves. He wants them to be performed gladly and willingly. And when there is no joy in doing them and the right will and motive are absent, then they are dead in God's eyes' (240). Luther explains that none of us can rise above this second kind of person of our own ability.
The third kind of person is different not in externals but is qualitatively different in the heart--this person wants to obey. They are characterized by two realities, says Luther: self-denial and the Holy Spirit. He then concludes: 'When the Spirit comes . . . look, he makes a pure, free, cheerful, glad, and loving heart, a heart which is simply gratuitously righteous, seeking no reward, fearing no punishment. Such a heart is holy for the sake of holiness . . . and does everything with joy' (241-42).
The helpfulness and profundity of all these thinkers is their articulation of that middle way, between all-out rebellion and glad gospel obedience, of (where we all live) begrudging obedience that obeys like paying a tax, hoping that afterward we'll have some money to spend on ourselves, and failing to see that such 'obedience' is just as much a rejection of the gospel as open rebellion.
Anyway, here's how the Westminster Larger Catechism explains the first commandment. Though it does not make the explicit link with justification by faith, it's still wonderful and stirring.
Question 104: What are the duties required in the first commandment?
Answer: The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honoring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of him; believing him; trusting, hoping, delighting, rejoicing in him; being zealous for him; calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man; being careful in all things to please him, and sorrowful when in anything he is offended; and walking humbly with him.If we were to do that, would there be any need for any other commandment? Luther recognized--no.
25 May 2009
By sin the New Testament means not social error or failure in the first instance, but rebellion against, defiance of, retreat from, and consequent guilt before God the Creator; and sin, says the New Testament, is the basic evil from which we need deliverance, and from which Christ died to save us.
--J. I. Packer, 'The Heart of the Gospel,' in Knowing God
I've said many times before on this blog how enriched I have been by reading those NT scholars with whom I often disagree on fundamentals. So I will simply say, as clearly as I can: Receptive, sober, prayerful, Bible-saturated, psychologically penetrating consideration of this statement, and the addition of 'disunity' and 'ethnic exclusivism' to Packer's list of horizontal problems, would go a long way toward enabling James Dunn, Don Garlington and N. T. Wright to rectify some of the imbalances they are propounding. (I use their names not out of animosity but because they have made their views so manifestly public, requiring public correction.) Theirs is neither 'another gospel' nor heretical teaching (i.e. error that damns); that kind of defensive, entrenched verbal grenade-launching clarifies nothing but the insecurity of those who toss them. Yet the respective explications of the gospel by Wright and others so fuzzy the truth that undiscerning pastors reading their commentaries may propagate a gospel that prevents their people from the absolute and sheer freeness that is theirs in Christ, detracting from the magnificence of God's inexhaustible grace along the way.
1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else.
2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don't implement promises, keep them.
3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean 'more people died' don't say 'mortality rose.'
4. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was 'terrible,' describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was 'delightful': make us say 'delightful' when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers 'Please will you do my job for me.'
5. Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very': otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
One of the joys of reading Lewis is that he follows his own advice.
24 May 2009
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free . . .
The first sentence is how we functionally live the gospel. The second is what Paul actually said.
In listening to my dad's sermon on this text from a few weeks ago I began to see the important connection between the first two verses of Rom 8. Taken by itself, v. 1, despite the 'now,' might be seen as referring to what will really only be true on the last day (It is now decided that you will, at the end, be acquitted). But verse two confirms that the 'now' means exactly what it sounds like it means, because v. 2 says we have been set free, not that we will be set free.
I conclude: the reality as well as the feelings of condemnation that assault us every day, sometimes out of the blue and sometimes resulting from quite concrete sin, have no part in the life of the Christian. But that isn't how we live. We intuitively live as if we've been set free from ultimate condemnation on the last day, but in the meantime a bit of healthy somberness and wincing over our moral failings is in order. 'Thanks, Lord, for freeing us from final condemnation--what wonderful mercy--now let me get back to the little acts of self-indictment that underscore how little I deserve that mercy.'
According to Rom 8:1-2, that is not helping the gospel but denying it. There is no condemnation now because we have been set free. If that's true, then we're not only freed from having our sins articulated against us then, but also now. Sometimes it's others who articulate our sins against us; usually it's our own conscience. But conscience-condemnation is still condemnation, and all condemnation has been eliminated.
In light of the gospel--'Christ died for our sins'--sin is not the biggest problem in our life. There's an answer for sin shockingly readily available: Christ, atonement. Our fierce resistance to embrace the sheer freeness of that atonement is the biggest problem. That embrace is what the New Testament calls 'faith.' And it results in no condemnation--not only then, but also now. Not only doctrinally, but also emotionally.
21 May 2009
Do you think one's vocation which looks so cryptic as a whole, is usually fairly clear from day to day and moment to moment? One usually has an idea of what to do next. Need one know any more? It would be a pity if when He came He found me thinking about my vocation at a moment when I would have been better employed writing a letter, making a bed, entertaining a bore - or something quite dull and obvious.
--Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:781
Paul claims that God's action in the cross is paradigmatic for his action in the present, in that just as God chose the weak suffering Christ, so also he chooses socially inferior people, and a weak suffering apostle. The cross therefore has theological significance for Paul, in that it reveals the way God works now, not just the way he achieved salvation in the past. Paul insists that the God who 'chose' the crucified Messiah also 'chose' the poorer Christians and a weak apostle. . . . Paul's language in [1 Corinthians] implies a new understanding of God, rooted in OT perspectives, of a God who always achieves his purposes through things which in the eyes of the world are weak and foolish. (pp. 100-1)
Hope for me!
Relatedly, the definitive work on crucifixion in the ancient world and how it was understood by Jews and then reworked by Christians is by David Chapman (Covenant Seminary) and was published last year.
19 May 2009
This is the work of the first commandment, which enjoins, 'Thou shalt have no other gods.' This means, 'Since I alone am God, thou shalt place all thy confidence, trust, and faith in me alone and in no one else.' For you do not have a god if you just call him God outwardly with your lips, or worship him with the knees or bodily gestures; but only if you trust him with your heart and look to him for all good, grace, and favor. . . . [T]his faith, this trust, this confidence from the heart's core is the true fulfilling of the first commandment. Without such faith no work at all can satisfy this command. And because this commandment is the very first of all commandments and the highest and the best, the one from which all others proceed, in which they exist and by which they are judged and assessed, so its work (that is, the faith or confidence that God is gracious at all times) is the very first, highest, and best from which all others must proceed, in which they must exist and abide, and by which they must be judged and assessed. (LW, 44:30)
Two critical insights emerge from this densely packed paragraph.
(1) What is the first commandment, with its prohibition of idolatry? A call to justification by faith. The only alternative to justification by faith alone is idolatry--justification by an idol. The OT says 'You shall have no other gods before me'; the NT says 'We hold that one is justified by faith.' It boils down to the same dynamic of the heart.
(2) Any breach of commandments 2-10 is necessarily at the same time a breach of commandment number one. To commit adultery, e.g., is not simply to break a rule; it is to have another god (sex) before Yahweh. It is justification by sex. The first commandment is the umbrella under which the others subsequently fall.
--Gerhard Forde, Where God Meets Man: Luther's Down-to-Earth Approach to the Gospel (Augsburg 1972), 24; emphasis original
But God . . . (Eph 2:4)
We are familiar of course with the great Christ-hymn of 1:15-20. But every discussion comes back to Christ and his preeminence and sufficiency. "Him we proclaim." "God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures . . ." "the circumcision of Christ." "These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." "Your life is hid with Christ." "When Christ who is your life . . ." "Christ is all, and in all." "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." "Whatever you do, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus."
Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. (Rom 2:27).
Paul mentions condemning (katakrino) twice in Rom 2. The first tells the moral man/Jew not to judge others, since he does the same things; the second goes even further, declaring that the outsider/gentile will be the very one who does the condemning. The point: God's pleasure over our lives, founded ultimately on Christ, rests not in the advantages we are given at birth but in what we do with whatever God does give us. In fact, inherited social and religious advantages can be positively blinding (2:17-23).
18 May 2009
Nothing pleases a man so much as self-love, when he has a passion for his own wisdom. The cupidity of a greedy man is as nothing compared with a man's hearty pleasure in his own ideas. (sermon preached Jan 17, 1546, in LW 51:377)
The devil so rides these people [the "wise" of Matt 11:28] that all they want from the Holy Scriptures and God's Word is a big name and their own praise and honor, and they want to be more than other people. But here we ought to say: Dear heavenly Father, speak thou, I am willing to be a fool and a child and be silent; for if I were to rule with my own understanding, wisdom, and reason, the cart would long since have been stuck in the mire and the ship would long since have been wrecked. (sermon preached Feb 15, 1546, the last sermon he ever preached; in LW 51:388).
I find myself rebuked.
Feb 19, 1533 - I advise you young fellows: Beware of melancholy, for it is forbidden by God because it's so destructive to the body. Our Lord God has commanded us to be cheerful.
Spring, 1533, Luther giving advice on how to help a depressed young man - He ought to think about Christ. You should say to him, 'Christ lives. You have been baptized. God is not a God of sadness, death, etc., but the devil is. Christ is a God of joy, and so the Scriptures often say that we should rejoice, be glad, etc. This is Christ.'
A Christian should and must be a cheerful person. If he isn't, the devil is tempting him. I have sometimes been grievously tempted while bathing in my garden, and then I have sung the hymn, 'Let us now praise Christ.' Otherwise I would have been lost then an there. Accordingly, when you notice that you have some such thoughts, say, 'This isn't Christ.' . . . This is a command of God: 'Rejoice!' I now preach this, and I also write it, but I haven't as yet learned it.
--Table Talk, in LW, 54:75, 96
to give us his Son as our Intercessor,
let us not leave him for another--
or rather seek, without ever finding.
For when God gave him to us
he knew well that we were sinners.
--Belgic Confession, Article 26
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)
17 May 2009
I'm immersed in Luther at the moment and, among other things, have been struck with Luther's awareness of (1) Jew-gentile issues in the NT; (2) the relevance of the gospel not only "to get me to heaven" but for this life now; and (3) most importantly regarding the above reviews, the way in which the gospel, for Luther, was constantly bringing him to interact with social and political issues of the day--the very opposite of the portrait Wright paints of Luther in his latest.
On (2), e.g., I just read this today in Gerhard Forde's Where God Meets Man: Luther's Down-to-Earth Approach to the Gospel: "The gospel is the joyful message that in Christ this new creation has already and actually broken in on us, and the promise that it will be carried to its completion" (16). That doesn't sound like abstract theologizing to me. Sounds like Wright himself. Sounds like the NT.
11 May 2009
10 May 2009
Now, in my present situation, now that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face. . . . It has something to do with incarnation. You feel your obligation to a child when you have seen it and held it. Any human face is a claim on you, because you can't help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it. But this is truest of the face of an infant. I consider that to be one kind of vision, as mystical as any. (p. 66)
It has been my experience that guilt can burst through the smallest breach and cover the landscape, and abide in it in pools and danknesses, just as native as water. (p. 82)
08 May 2009
It has frequently been asked why Paul speaks often of faith, seldom of repentance. It cannot be said that he did not know the meaning of repentance. . . . But for Paul faith is not essentially a matter of turning away from a bad way of life; it is equally, and at a deeper level, a turning away from a good life in which one depends on one's own achievement, one's own works done in obedience to the moral law. . . . In order to believe man repudiates not only his bad morals but his good morals. Repentance is a term that would not adequately cover this.
--C. K. Barrett, Paul: An Introduction to His Thought (Westminster John Knox 1994), 102
07 May 2009
06 May 2009
C. S. Lewis discovered forgiveness.
In December of that year, he wrote to his priest (in Latin):
. . . during the past year a great joy has befallen me. Difficult though it is, I shall try to explain this in words. It is astonishing that sometimes we believe that we believe what, really, in our heart, we do not believe.
For a long time I believed that I believed in the forgiveness of sins. But suddenly (on St. Mark's Day) this truth appeared in my mind in so clear a light that I perceived that never before (and that after many confessions and absolutions) had I believed it with my whole heart. . . . Jesus has cancelled the handwriting that was against us. Lift up our hearts! (Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:151-52)
Five years later, in another letter, Lewis related the experience more fully to a woman who had freshly discovered the awe-full reality of Christ's incarnation.
Almost exactly the same thing that happened to you about the Incarnation happened to me a few years ago about the Forgiveness of Sins. Like you, I had assented to the doctrine years earlier and would have said I believed it. Then, one blessed day, it suddenly became real to me and made what I had previously called 'belief' look absolutely unreal. It is a wonderful thing. But not, on inferior matters, so very uncommon. We all in one sense 'believe' we are mortal: but until one's forties does one really believe one is going to die? On the edge of a cliff can't one believe, and yet not really believe, that there's no danger? But certainly this real belief in the truths of our religion is a great gift from God. When in Hebrews 'faith' is defined as 'the substance of things hoped for,' I would translate 'substance' as 'substantialness' or 'solidity' or (almost) 'palpableness.' (ibid., 751)
04 May 2009
--N. T. Wright, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision (InterVarsity 2009), 215
Every preacher needs to ask this question. Every preacher is a human being who once was a child needing to grow up, whose stories are mistures of tragedies and triumphs. Every preacher is a human being who has given wrong answers, prayed incorrecly, misquoted the Bible, daydreamed, and longed for things that now embarrass or have hurt other people. And it was there as such a person in such environments that God came and found us. Anything good we ever preach has been made possible by a prior testimony of God's mercy. We've dreamt of making a difference. But what if differences are made by remembering where we'd be without God and then ministering to others out of that knowledge? What if preaching requires something prior to homiletics?
. . . Until we remember that God drew us to himself and nourished us before we even knew where to find the book of Exodus in the Bible or that such things as Arminianism and Calvinism even existed, we will withhold from others the same mercy that was required for us to learn what we now know.
--Zack Eswine, Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons that Connect with Our Culture (Baker 2008), 11
Zack's own messages are invariably helpful, softening, humble, real, Christian. He pastors Riverside Church in St. Louis. Listen here.
To Jews who read my book I would like to give a special message: I love you. Through your ancestors and through your people I received the most beautiful book in the world, the Bible. Through that book I came to know the true God, the God of your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I am one of those people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah who was promised in the Torah and the Prophets. Through Jesus I have come to know about that Torah that God gave to Moses and to submit to it. I am deeply sorry for the harm that has come to your people through Christians who thought that they were serving Jesus. I am convinced that they were doing the very opposite of what He commanded. (p. xi)
A model for us all.
03 May 2009
02 May 2009
How would you fill in the blank? "It ought to be the primary goal of every Christian to ________________."
Pursue personal holiness? Lead others to Christ? Serve others in love? Cultivate the spiritual disciplines?
Here's Luther's answer: "It ought to be the primary goal of every Christian to put aside confidence in works and grow stronger in the belief that we are saved by faith alone" (The Freedom of a Christian [trans. M. Tranvik; Fortress 2008], 55). The primary goal of every Christian.
01 May 2009
--Martin Luther, as quoted in Mark Tranvik's new translation of Luther's classic, The Freedom of a Christian, which I read for the first time today and rejoiced in