31 July 2009

Ridderbos: The Great Future Has Become Present

The whole of Paul's preaching is determined by the all-important fact that in Christ's advent and work, especially in his death and resurrection, the divine work of redemption in history has reached its fulfillment and the redemptive dispensation of the great future promised by God and foretold by prophecy has become present time.

--H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 487

29 July 2009

Luther's Tenderness

In reading through a volume of Luther's letters, one thing that comes out strikingly is the tenderness he was capable of. We know Luther the lion; we rarely hear of Luther the lamb. But it was there, as it should have been, since gentleness is not a spiritual gift and not an option depending on how we are wired but incumbent upon all believers (the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5, not the spiritual gifts of 1 Cor 12, includes gentleness).

For example, in writing to Duke John Frederick in 1528, amid politically tumultuous times when war threatened, Luther writes:

God has promised great mercy to those who seek peace and endure guilt when he says: 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.' War does not gain much, but loses much and risks everything. Gentleness, however, loses nothing, risks little, and gains everything.

A few months later Luther's one-year-old daughter Elizabeth died. He wrote to a friend:

My baby daughter, little Elizabeth, has passed away. It is amazing what a sick, almost woman-like heart she has left to me, so much has grief for her overcome me. Never before would I have believed that a father's heart could have such tender feelings for his child. Do pray to the Lord for me. In him, farewell.

--LW, 49:196, 203

Two Governing Principles

In life there are two governing principles that are at war with one another. The first is law; the second is grace. So powerful are these two principles, so virile and unquenchable, so captivating and irresistible, that all relationships, all human operations, simply lie down before them. The law crushes the human spirit; grace lifts it.

--Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (Eerdmans 2007), 1

HT: Brian Martin

28 July 2009

Eight Years

Eight years ago today I married this wonderful woman (it's the one on the left). You have brought such joy to my life Sweetheart!!

PhD Pitfalls

Good words for me from Carl Trueman in the latest Themelios.

The PhD student needs to realize at the outset a number of things: their training, in and of itself, does not give them any platform from which to pontificate to the church; and their knowledge will not make them immune to falling into error, moral or intellectual. Indeed, they will remain as vulnerable to the former as anybody else, and almost certainly more prone to the latter than the typical church member. (159).


One of the critical ways in which my thinking has been shifting this year is in a more comprehensive view of eschatology. I'm seeing more clearly the way the New Testament describes the future new world as having broken in on this age. Richard Gaffin, Greg Beale, Geerhardus Vos, and George Ladd have helped me see this.

Maybe we can get at it with the word Eschartiology. Eschatology is normally understood as the doctrine of the last things. It is the last 5% of a typical systematic theology. But in fact, with Christ's resurrection (as Gaffin and N. T. Wright have helpfully articulated), eschatology has been proleptically launched back into the present time. Christ is the firstfruits (Col 1), the firstborn from the dead (1 Cor 15), the first of the new order of humanity that will be the only order of humanity after his second coming. Eschatology, in other words, is not just about the 'future'--this is what is so striking about the NT view of things--it is about the present. Every topic in soteriology is eschatological. The NT takes all the hopes and promises of the OT and says: in Christ, what we all longed for in the future has now, in ways we never could have anticipated, been brought into the present.

Eschatology is of course from the Greek eschatos, 'last.' A Greek word for present/now is the adverb arti. And despite being such a seemingly insignificant little word, arti is used in texts to powerfully signify the inbreaking of the new age (e.g. Matt 11:12; John 14:7; Rev 14:13). Eschatology is 'artiology' as much as it is eschatology. Or to combine the two and be more precise (and also risk confusion with a French delicacy): Eschartiology. 'Doctrine-of-the-last-that-has-become-now.'

'. . . for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.' --1 Cor 10:11

Paul and the Reformers

Mike Bird strikes just the right balance in the closing to a chapter on the New Perspective in his 2007 monograph:

It would seem that Augustine and Luther did not misunderstand Paul, though, like all of us, they also interpreted Paul for their own times. Nevertheless, Paul does indeed confront elements of ethnocentrism as a primary factor of his pastoral theology and his ministry must be seen in light of trying to normalize Jewish and Gentile relations in the early church, an aspect which I think post-reformation theology has never really appreciated or prosecuted. However, Paul's entire conception of Christ, the law, and salvation is mystifying apart from the assumption that he also attacked a form of grace-works synergism that was implicit in the attempt to force Gentiles to adopt a Jewish lifestyle. (112)

26 July 2009

A Question

Can anyone find a single instance of 'progressive sanctification,' qualitatively increasing holiness, in 1, 2 or 3 John?

23 July 2009

Conservative Congregational Christian Conference

Back with Stacey and Zach from the 4C annual gathering in Iowa. We met many wonderful people who have a heart for Christ and long to serve him and love others with a glad and grateful heart.

For example: Nick Granitsas is the consummate pastor. He has ministered at the same 4C church in Boston for 30 years. His is the only English-speaking church in an incredibly multi-cultural suburb of Boston (Revere). He has learned greetings and one-liners in numerous other languages for the sake of reaching others with the gospel. He and his wife have raised three biological children and four adopted children, and they have raised 28 (that is not a typo) other kids of various nationalities through significant years of childhood. 35 kids total. None of that information was forthcoming until I asked him specifics about his family and church. And perhaps most important of all, he is a kind, happy man. He represents the best of what the 4C represents in this generation.

For those who are considering pastoral ministry and appreciate congregational church polity, I encourage you to consider serving the the 4C's. A small denomination numerically (300 churches, 40,000 members, mostly in New England and Midwest). But the Lord does not count influence or significance as we do.

18 July 2009

Out of Town Again

No blogging for the next several days as Stacey and Zach and I will be at the annual gathering of the 4 C's church (Conservative Congregational Christian Conference), in the exotic location of Waterloo, Iowa.

In the meantime, here's C.J. Mahaney reminding us of the greatest reality in the universe, in a book our small group from church is studying.

Because of God's amazingly gracious heart toward those who thoroughly deserve only His wrath, He both planned for and provided this mediator to resolve the divine dilemma--a mediator who, through His blood, would accomplish a unique assignment utterly unlike any other work of mediation. In the mystery of His mercy, God--the innocent, offended party--offers up His Own Son to death, to satisfy His righteous wrath and save the guilty party from it. (Living the Cross-Centered Life, 70)

Again: Sanctification by Gospel

With the somewhat different set of eyes with which I've been reading the New Testament this year, another passage that seems to affirm the sanctifying nature of justification (theologically, not exegetically, conceived) is 1 Cor 15:1-2.

'Now I would remind you brothers, of the gospel I gospeled to you, which you received, in which you have stood [perfect] and by which you are being saved [present passive] . . .'

Both the perfect 'you have stood' (translated 'you stand' in ESV) and the present 'are being saved' underscore the continuing relevance of the gospel. And what is the gospel referred to? Paul says in v. 3: 'Christ died for our sins.' The death of Christ itself fuels ongoing Christian progress. We functionally treat those two verbs as aorists (simple past tense: 'you stood . . . you were saved'), which is a mistake. The gospel is everyday food for believers.

An online resource that I find very helpful on this topic is the interview that the Christ the Center guys did with Richard Gaffin earlier this year (entitled "Sanctification and the Gospel," though the conversation is more wide-ranging than the particular focus of my blog post here). I find Gaffin to be one of the most steady, Bible-saturated, careful interpreters of Paul and the Gospel today.

14 July 2009

Paul's Essence

Although people nowadays are fond of asserting otherwise, no one understood the real essence of Pauline theology, the salvation given sola gratia, by faith alone, better than Augustine and Martin Luther.

--Martin Hengel, The Pre-Christian Paul (trans. J. Bowden; London: SCM, 1991), 86

This Flabby Generation

This flabby generation to which you and I belong, and which seems to think that we should praise everything, and that we should never denounce anything however false it may be, is about as far removed from the mind and the mentality of the New Testament as anything can possibly be.

--D. M. Lloyd-Jones, 'What Is Christianity?' (most recent podcast at oneplace.com)

The Inevitability of Death

In an undated though early sermon, Jonathan Edwards looked from several angles at the one truth of Ps 10:6, in which the wicked "says in his heart, 'I shall not be moved for I shall never be in adversity,'" and reflected on the way in which "the stupefying nature of sin" lulls us to false security and a blindness to the way hardship is coming to all people in this life, and ultimate hardship is coming in death and hell to the unrepentant.

Early on Edwards describes the inevitability of death. It is hard to imagine listening to this single sentence and going on as undisturbed about the surety of death as before.

[The wicked] are not wont to dwell in their thoughts upon death, the sinking of nature under the oppressing weight of dying pains, the gradual creeping of cold death upon them, their breaths becoming shorter and shorter, the increasing of the oppression of their vitals together with the decay of their strength, till they can fetch their breath no longer, the struggling for life under the last agonies, till nature is even forced to yield, and the lungs cease to perform their office, the pulse of the heart ceases, and the blood stops and no longer continues to circulate, and the frame of the body dissolves, and the union between body and soul is broken . . . while pale ghostly death sits upon the face of their corpse and they are laid in the dark and silent grave, and begin to corrupt, and the worms begin to take them till they turn to dust and rise not again till the heavens be no more.

--The Glory and honor of God: Vol 2 of the Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, ed. M. D. McMullen (B&H 2004), 69

13 July 2009

A Change Deeper than Morality

Paul's conversion did not make a morally good man out of a morally bad man; he had not been a morally bad man. . . . its primary effect was in his understanding of God and of his own relation with God. . . . Negatively, Jesus was the end of the Law as the means by which man might be related to God; positively, he was the beginning of the realization of the eschatological hope of Israel.

--C. K. Barrett, Paul: An Introduction to His Thought (WJKP 1994), 11

11 July 2009

He Fights Back

I shall answer Erasmus, not for his sake, but for the sake of those who abuse his authority in their glorying against Christ. . . . But Christ reigns--to say nothing of the fact that he fights back.

--Martin Luther, writing to Nicholas Hausmann, Nov 17, 1524, LW 49:88-90

10 July 2009

An Electric Atmosphere

Hearts doubtless warmed upon the first reading of the opening of all Paul's letters in the various churches, even the screw-ups in Corinth, upon whom Paul heaped admiration and joy--all, that is, except the Galatians. 'I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting . . .' (Gal 1:6) What would it have been like to be there? James Dunn is right:

The atmosphere in the congregations in Galatia when the letter was first read out to them must have been electric. Their own astonishment and upset at the charges already levelled against them would ensure careful attention to and careful scrutiny of what he was about to say. The tactic was no doubt deliberate.

--Galatians (BNTC, 1993), 51

09 July 2009

Hus: Impervious Joy

In late 1412, Czech reformer John Hus wrote to a rector of a university from his prison cell. Hus would be burned at the stake three years later.

I assure you, venerable lord rector, that persecution never causes me sorrow, if my sins and the disorders of the Christian people did not so affect me. What harm indeed the loss of the riches of the world, which are but dung, can cause me? What matters the loss of worldly favor, which can draw us away from the way of Christ? What matters infamy when humbly endured, which purges and illumines the sons of God, so that they 'shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father'? What if I be deprived of this miserable life, which is death; if one loses it, he is rid of death and finds the true life.

--The Letters of John Hus (trans. Matthew Spinka; Manchester U. Press, 1972), 88-89

N. T. Wright and Jonathan Edwards: Justification

I'm struck by the similarities between N. T. Wright on justification/righteousness and Jonathan Edwards' main opponent in more than one treatise, John Taylor. Such comparisons tend toward anachronism, requiring caution. But it is striking how JE's criticisms of Taylor land equally squarely on Wright today.

For instance, both Wright and Taylor speak of "works" as in some sense the basis or ground of final justification; both create an unhelpful bifurcation between an initial justification and the eschatological justification (a bifurcation that goes beyond, in my opinion, a healthy distinction between the two aspects of justification); and both describe God's righteousness as being his salvific activity, his faithfulness to the covenant.

Here's what Edwards said in response to the last point, which I find curiously relevant and helpful regarding today's swirling discussions about justification (these statements do not come from Edwards' most well-known treatment of justification, the 1734 sermon series that sparked the first local revival, but from a collection of notes JE kept throughout the 1740s and 50s entitled simply "Controversies"; the former is in vol 19 of the Yale works, the latter vol 21).

'Tis true, the mercy God extends towards people is often in Scripture called his righteousness, on several accounts. . . . In [some] places where God's mercy is called his righteousness, there is plainly a reference to God's covenant, and his acting a just and faithful part in fulfilling his covenant obligations and gracious promises. 'Tis a part of justice or righteousness in two parties in covenant to be faithful to their covenant, and if either party is deceived by the treachery of the other, and so fails of that which he had a right to by covenant, he is unrighteously dealt with. . . .

Yet Edwards then goes on to fill out the "righteousness of God" by placing it in a larger semantic context which is, I believe, more accurate of what we find in Romans.

There are many things make it exceeding plain that the Apostle don't, by the terms righteousness and justification, intend merely God's mercy and grant of favor and deliverance from a great calamity, and bringing into a state of great privilege. The Apostle in these places sets righteousness expressly in opposition to condemnation, sin, disobedience. He speaks of the justification of sinners. . . . The Apostle speaks of imputing righteousness without works (Rom 4:6)--how absurd is the expression 'imputes salvation,' 'reckons deliverance.'

"Righteousness" in Romans, Edwards concludes, is used "in its most proper sense, or to signify proper righteousness, or a standing morally right." ("'Controversies': Justification," in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Yale ed., vol 21, pp 335-38; emphasis original)

Edwards later examines instances of the Hebrew words of 'righteous' and 'righteousness' in the OT and argues that the most common denotation has to do with the juridical or forensic setting or the lawcourt. He then returns to the question of whether God's righteousness is his "covenant faithfulness" with a penetrating observation.

These words ['righteous' and 'righteousness' in the OT] seem oftentimes to be putting much of the same signification as mercy and goodness, favor, etc. [list of texts] . . . But then, if we carefully observe the places, the words have respect to such mercy or goodness as is exercised in protecting the innocent and righteous, and appearing to defend and save them from those that unjustly accused, condemned and oppressed them. (ibid, 347)

In other words, even when the righteousness of God denotes God's faithfulness to the covenant, there is an even deeper reason this is called righteousness--namely, the vindication of that which is right and just.

08 July 2009

Fulfilling and Transcending the Ancient Covenant

This captures the heart of something I've been seeing more and more clearly the past six months:

The Kingdom of God is at work, not in general but at a precise point, in a person, in Jesus, in his words and sovereign deeds. . . . As divine Man and true Adam he is engaged in reversing the whole course of the history of Adam. He has conquered Satan in the desert; he has bound the strong man and is beginning to pillage his domain. By his healing miracles, by his stilling the storm and raising the dead, he stands forth as King of creation. When he says 'But I say unto you . . .' he places himself above Moses as the Lord of the Torah, who is both fulfilling and transcending all that the ancient covenant promised. A greater than Solomon is here: the wisdom of God embodied in a Person; more than Jonah: here is the true prophet who has been speaking in all previous prophets. He can forgive sins, a privilege which belongs only to God. In a word, in him the new world of the resurrection makes an irruption into the old.

--Theo Preiss, 'The Vision of History in the New Testament,' in Life in Christ (trans Harold Knight; SBT 13; London: SCM, 1957), 68

The Fundamental Nature of Justification

[Justification's] importance lies particularly in its accentuation of the objectivity of the good news of salvation, its givenness, before any consideration of the subjective aspect. People . . . are justified because God justifies. . . . To speak of justification is to speak of the ground of salvation extra nos, in a salvific event that expresses the righteousness of God - especially the 'right-setting' act of God in Jesus Christ - without regard to any claim of our own, not even our faith. Justification is fundamentally about how God deals with humans and the broken, sinful world in which they live. It is above all about grace.

--Christiaan Mostert, "Justification and Eschatology," in What Is Justification About? (Eerdmans 2009), 185-86; emphasis original

There never was, and there never can be, any true Christian church without the doctrine of justification.

--Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei (Cambridge U. Press, 1986), 1

07 July 2009

Back At It

Back from a great vacation. A week in Orlando at the annual gathering of the PCA, two weeks in Nashville with my parents listening to some of the best preaching available (here), and a day with my dear friend Brian Martin (pastor here) and his family. Thank you Lord!