31 August 2009

For Your Encouragement

I want to be sure any followers of this blog are aware of three other blogs by men I respect and love: my two brothers and my dad.

My older brother Eric teaches Old Testament at Briercrest College and Seminary in Saskatchewan--I wonder if I spelled that right--after grad school at TEDS and the University of Edinburgh. His site Scatterings is updated a few times a week with substantial and thoughtful posts concerning what life in Christ looks like in a fallen world with forays into music and literature. (Eric is by far the wittiest of any of us.)

My younger brother Gavin just finished at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis and is now doing the internship at Capitol Hill Baptist with Mark Dever before looking for a pastorate next Spring. His blog Soliloquium is largely reflections on Scripture, analysis of stuff he is reading, and quotes from favorite writers such as Lewis and Tolkien.

And my dad is pastoring a young Acts 29 church he's recently planted in Nashville. If you want to hear some gospel-riveted preaching that is wonderfully disruptive and strengthening all at once, download the podcast--or see here for a taste. He blogs at Christ Is Deeper Still, updating roughly daily, mostly with life-giving quotes and occasionally addressing gospel living and questions about the Bible from his own store of wisdom.

I mention these guys to spread joy. If you follow them you will be helped. Enjoy, with me!

'A room without books . . .

. . . is like a body without a soul.'


30 August 2009

Life is Short

Archibald Alexander was the first president of Princeton Seminary in the 1800s. His student Charles Hodge held his teacher in such great respect that he named his own son Archibald Alexander Hodge--you might of heard of A. A. Hodge, a Princeton theologian in his own right. Alexander's most well-known work is Thoughts on Religious Experience, in which he says things like this:

[S]o short is the time of man's continuance upon earth, and so infinite the joys or miseries of the future world, that to make much of these little differences would be like estimating the weight of a feather, when engaged in weighing mountains. Who thinks it a matter of any concern, whether the circumstances of persons who lived a thousand years ago were affluent or destitute, except, so far as these external enjoyments and privations contributed to their moral improvement, or the contrary? If we could be duly impressed with the truths which respect our eternal condition, we should consider our afflictions here as scarcely worthy of being named.

--Thoughts on Religious Experience (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1844), 218

The Capacity and Cravings of Our Souls

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. . . . Every part of good that nature craves--honor, wealth, pleasure--he has provided.

--Jonathan Edwards, 'Jesus Christ Is the Shining Forth fo the Father's Glory,' in The Glory and Honor of God: Vol 2 of the Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (ed. M. McMullen; 2004), 235

29 August 2009

Berkouwer: Justification and Sanctification

The following sentence on justification in the reformers, while perusing Berkouwer's Faith and Justification on Google Books, sorely tempted me to immediately order a used copy from amazon. Berkouwer's Faith and Sanctification was critical for me this past spring in coming to understand how justification ignites holiness.

The basic issue is whether justification is the ground of sanctification so that sanctification is continually rooted in justification . . .

Justification . . . was not one specific phase among many on the way to salvation. It was the sweet word of pardon, which was and remained of all-embracing significance for the wholeness of life. Justification may never become a station along the way, a harbor which, once passed through, may be forgotten. On the contrary, only in intimate connection with justification does talk of sanctification make any real sense.

The Reformation, in its defense of the forensic, declarative justification that points us always to the free favor of God, has not endangered, but rescued the confession of true sanctification.

--G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Justification (Eerdmans 1954), 100

Thanks for pointing me to this book, Brian Martin.

Wesley and Spurgeon: Reading

Two good reminders lately, from pastors, on the importance of reading for the church's teachers and preachers, here and here.

Idols and Trust

Up till recently the main verb I associated with idolatry was worship. A better word, I'm becoming convinced, is trust.

Certainly, an idol is something we worship. As Keller puts it, a good thing that we turn into an ultimate thing. A legitimate joy or pursuit that we do not use to funnel up into the glory of God but into which we funnel the rest of our lives. Our emotional north star.

But a better way to describe these things is trust. In what do we trust? It is hard to see how I worship my reputation among academic peers; it is easy to see how I trust in my reputation. It's not intuitively obvious that I worship the idol of a swelling bank account; it's easy to see that I trust that as my deepest functional security. A stronghold of psychological refuge.

I've been helped to this by the Heidelberg Catechism, which makes this explicit. In its treatment of the 10 commandments, it explains the first commandment ('you shall have no other gods before me'--a question of worship, right?) like this:

Q 95. What is idolatry?

A. Idolatry is having or inventing something in which one trusts in place of or alongside of the only true God, who has revealed himself in his Word.

Now there's a group of people who understand the human heart. And their Bibles--I was fascinated to discover this week how Psalm 115 speaks of idolatry. After a litany of descriptors of the impotence of idols, the psalmist sings:

Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
O Israel, trust in the LORD!
He is their help and their shield. (vv. 8-9)

Luther was right: the first commandment, the call to worship no other gods than Yahweh, is a call to justification by faith alone. Psychological security by God, rather than psychological security by _________.

28 August 2009

Bavinck: Imputation

[I]t is said in Rom 4:5 and 5:6 that God justifies the ungodly. It is impossible, in this connection, to use stronger language. The opponents of imputed righteousness should not lodge their objection against Luther and Calvin but against Paul. (Reformed Dogmatics, 4:213)

Bavinck's whole discussion of imputation, if we replace the name Bellarmine with some modern ones, is strikingly relevant today. The same objections leveled today against imputation were given a century ago. Bellarmine argued that imputation is nonsensical because it does something only external to someone, and therefore the person is not in fact righteous, and not, therefore, to be called actually righteous if imputation is the controlling concept. See Bavinck deconstruct this false line of thinking on pages 212 to 214 of volume 4 of the Dogmatics. Here's the bottom line:

If God justifies the ungodly, that is not a fiction, a putative imputation, but a present and future reality. . . . For when God justifies the ungodly, he does it on the basis of a righteousness that he himself has effected in Christ. By Christ's sacrifice, against all hostile powers, he has acquired the right to acquit the ungodly. . . . And a justifying faith consists above all in an unshakable trust in that God of miracles with whom all things are possible.

Thank you Herman! I don't think you were nearly as grouchy as you look in all the pictures.

Schlatter on the Galatian Problem

The usual combination of penetrating psychological awareness/theological profundity, on the one hand, with recognition of the crucial social/ethnic questions of first-century Christianity on the other:

The mainspring of the controversy was not national interests or ecclesiastical ambition, but the central question: What does God require of man and how can man be justified before God?

. . . Now the union between Church and Jewry was Paul's ultimate hope. . . . He looked upon the breach between the Church and the Jewish people with deep sorrow and knew better than anyone what a great hindrance it was even to his work among the gentiles. But he brushed aside all ecclesiastical and national considerations. . . . He was solely concerned with the purely religious aspect of the matter in its deepest sense. As he saw it, his opponents had altered the substance of the Gospel by repudiating what had been accomplished by the Cross of Christ.

. . . The God who acted in Jesus was not a God who commands and demands, but a God who gives. Hence Christian piety involved the resolute rejection of every human claim to merit, and an equally resolute acceptance of reconciliation with God. These were the aims which made Paul enter the fray with might and main.

--Adolf Schlatter, The Church in the New Testament Period (1926), 169-71; emphasis original

26 August 2009

Is Your Heart Salivating Yet?

Herman Bavinck on the new creation and the new Jerusalem:

All that is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable in the whole of creation, in heaven and on earth, is gathered up in the future city of God--renewed, re-created, boosted to its highest glory.

The substance [of the city of God] is present in this creation. Just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, as carbon is converted into diamond, as the grain of wheat upon dying in the ground produces other grains of wheat, as all of nature revives in the spring and dresses up in celebrative clothing, as the believing community is formed out of Adam's fallen race, as the resurrection body is raised from the body that is dead and buried in the earth, so too, by the re-creating power of Christ, the new heaven and the new earth will one day emerge from the fire-purged elements of this world, radiant in enduring glory and forever set free from the "bondage to decay". . . . The state of glory will be . . . a re-formation that, thanks to the power of Christ . . . presents the entire creation before the face of God, brilliant in unfading splendor and blossoming in a springtime of eternal youth.

--Reformed Dogmatics, 4:720

25 August 2009

Capable of Seeing It in Anything

One of the ways God is helping me these days is in opening my eyes to the pervasiveness of idolatry, in my own heart and in the world around me.

One thinker who had a profound understanding of the way idolatry captures the essense of sin in a holistic way as few other biblical-theological motifs do is Blaise Pascal. In his Pensees he talks about how resiliently and perversely sinful we are in that we continue to go back to our sins despite the fact that they have failed us every time; we convince ourselves that this time the sin (the idol) will satisfy. Then he says:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

God alone is man's true good, and since man abandoned him it is a strange fact that nothing in nature has been found to take his place: stars, sky, earth, elements, plants, cabbages, leeks, animals, insects, calves, serpents, fever, plague, war, famine, vice, adultery, incest. Since losing his true good, man is capable of seeing it in anything, even his own destruction.

--Pensees, X.148

24 August 2009

Gospel Coalition on iTunes

298 messages and interviews from the Gospel Coalition going back to 2007 are now available at iTunes. Some are only audio; most are both audio and video. Link available here.

An extremely encouraging and helpful resource.

23 August 2009

Good Advice

[A]n essential part of the ordination exam ought to be a passage from some recognized theological work set for translation into vulgar English--just like doing Latin prose. Failure on this exam should mean failure on the whole exam. It is absolutely disgraceful that we expect missionaries to the Bantus to learn Bantu but never ask whether our missionaries to the Americans or English can speak American or English. Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test.

--C. S. Lewis, 1958 letter to the editor of The Christian Century, Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:1006-7

C. S. Lewis on Paul Tillich

. . . one of those sincere semi-Christians who are now a greater danger to the Faith than the open unbeliever.

--The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:1012

The Genius of the Gospel

Jonathan Edwards in a sermon on peace from Luke 2:14 ('Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace . . .'):

We shall never find any rest anywhere in the world till we come to Christ. Wherever we go, we carry our guilty, accusing consciences with us. Men may still the cries of a condemning conscience by stupefying them and hardening themselves in sin, but that is curing the distemper by killing the man. But in Christ the cause malady is removed. The guilt of sin is forever abolished, and the soul is restored to a rational and well-grounded peace. . . .

It is the nature and genius of the whole frame and construction of the gospel that it is peaceable.

--'A Glorious Foundation for Peace,' in The Glory and Honor of God: VOl 2 of the Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (ed. M. McMullen; 2004), 187-88

21 August 2009

C.J. Mahaney and James MacDonald: Am I Really the Worst Sinner I Know?

Great interview of C.J. Mahaney by James MacDonald and a few of his staff guys from a conference here in Chicago last October. Fascinating interchange in the final 7 minutes of this 20 minute clip. Just fascinating. I'd be curious to know anyone's thoughts. (Those of you who know Newton's famous statement, 'I am a great sinner--but I have a great Savior' will especially appreciate the final moments.)

20 August 2009

Luther: Theology and Music

One of the delightful things about Luther is the way he speaks frequently of the spiritual power of music. He did not share Edwards' cautious approach, which wanted always to be careful to discern whether music was enhancing authentic affections or only arousing 'animal spirits.' Luther seems to have felt no such reticence. In a 1530 letter to Louis Senfl, a leading composer and conductor, the reformer writes:

There is no doubt that there are many seeds of good qualities in the minds of those who are moved by music. Those, however, who are not moved I believe are definitely like stumps and blocks of stone. For we know that music . . . is odious and unbearable to the demons. Indeed I plainly judge, and do not hesitate to affirm, that except for theology there is no art that could be put on the same level with music, since except for theology music alone produces what otherwise only theology can do, namely, a calm and joyful disposition. Manifest proof of this is the way the devil, the creator of saddening cares and disquieting worries, takes flight at the sound of music almost as he takes flight at the word of theology. This is the reason why the prophets did not make use of any art except music; when setting forth their theology they did it not as geometry, not as arithmetic, not as astronomy, but as music, so that they held theology and music most tightly connected, and proclaimed truth through psalms and songs. . . . [M]y love for music, which often has quickened me and liberated me from great vexations, is abundant and overflowing.

--LW, 49:427-28

Powlison: Small Talk

'On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak . . .' --Matt 12:36

In God's view, there is never an inconsequential word that someone says. Every word counts. . . . When you climb into anything a person ever says, you actually find profound things revealed about what they're about, what they're after, what their intentions are, what their worldview is. Even in small talk, there is a revelation of the heart that God is searching out; he is weiging the intentionality of small talk. Small talk is counsel.

To put it simply: if we're just chatting small talk, at heart it is either a way for me to say 'I don't want to know you and I don't want you to know me, so I'm going to keep it light, and make it as quick as possible, and see you later.' Or, small talk is a way to say, 'I care about you. I'd like to get to know you.' We can talk about the football team, or the weather, and it's actually an expression of two human beings making that connection, but it's because we love each other or want to know each other. And small talk is going to be judged by God for the kind of deep intentionality that there is. In other words, small talk is counsel.

--David Powlison, in an interview with C.J. Mahaney, available here

19 August 2009

A God of Fools

If the opinions on my little book vary, don't be disturbed. My God is a God of fools, and is used to ridiculing the wise; therefore I don't care for them either.

--letter of Martin Luther to Philip Melanchthon, June 5, 1530, LW 49:318, referring to a book he wrote exhorting the clergy who had gathered at the Diet of Augsburg

Covenant Theology or Apocalyptic?

One of the discussions these days in NT studies is whether Paul's fundamental hermeneutic in reading his Hebrew Bible and then making sense of Christ was salvation history/covenantal (stressing continuity) or apocalyptic (stressing discontinuity). N. T. Wright makes a most helpful comment on this in his little 2005 book on Paul.

We cannot expound Paul's covenant theology in such a way as to make it a smooth, steady progress of historical fulfillment; but nor can we propose a kind of 'apocalyptic' view in which nothing that happened before Jesus is of any value even as preparation. In the messianic events of Jesus' death and resurrection Paul believes both that the covenant promises were at last fulfilled and that this constituted a massive and dramatic irruption into the processes of world history unlike anything before or since. And at the heart of both parts of this tension stands the cross of the Messiah, at once the long-awaited fulfillment and the slap in the face for all human pride.

--Paul: In Fresh Perspective (Fortress 2005), 54

Sweeney: Edwards and Losing our Lives

Along with Steve Nichols' and George Marsden's (the small 2008 one), Doug Sweeney's new introduction to Edwards is another short, accessible entre into Edwards' life and thought, and is cause for rejoicing. Each has its own thrust; Sweeney's is the way Edwards' life was built around the Bible (though this is not as pervasive a theme as the title indicates). But like Nichols and Marsden, Sweeney understands the power of the vision of God Edwards preached and wrote about. These are books we read and find ourselves strangely stabilized.

My favorite passage came in the midst of Sweeney's seven 'theses for discussion' in light of Edwards' life.

Edwards shows us how God uses those who lose their lives for Christ. Those who live for themselves will lose themselves (Mt 10:39). But those who live for Christ, who die to themselves and cling to the cross, find themselves and their fulfillment in the One who loves them most. Edwards lived as a real martyr--a literal witness to his Lord--not a man with a martyr complex. He lived 'with all his might' for 'God's glory' while he lived. He shows us how to get over ourselves. . . . [H]e tried to let the Scriptures set the agenda for his daily life and ministry, refusing to make decisions out of inordinate self-concern.

--Douglas Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought (InterVarsity 2009), 198

18 August 2009

Not an Addition

[H]oliness, or sanctification, is not an addition to justification but its actualization.

--Michael J. Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology (InterVarsity 2009), 111; emphasis original

'What Do You Want Me to Do for You?'

In Matthew 20 James and John come to Jesus. He asks them: 'What do you want me to do for you?' They wanted to sit at his right and left hand in Jesus' glory. In the next pericope Jesus comes to Jericho and is verbally assaulted by two blind beggars (one of whom is probably Bartimaeus: see Mk 10). Asking for mercy, Jesus approaches them and asks: 'What do you want me to do for you?' They wanted to receive their sight.

Two stories. Two pairs of men. Two times Jesus asks: 'What do you want me to do for you?' And both pairs of men are blind. James and John could see physcially but were blind spiritually, evident in their request for glory. The two beggars were blind physically but could see spiritually, evident in their request for mercy.

And Jesus granted it. In fact he not only granted the beggars sight, he brought along James and John, too. We'll be able to talk with all four of these men in the new earth someday. But why? How can it be that such blindness, whether physical or spiritual, can be healed in sinners like James and John, like the beggars, like you and me?

Because Jesus said 'What do you want me to do for you' a third time. Nestled into Matthew 20 (and Mk 10) is Jesus' statement that he came to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus asked the Father what he wanted, and submitted to it, laying down his life for the sheep. In other words: Jesus was the one person who ever lived who was, from the womb, seeing. And in giving his life as a ransom for many he allowed himself to be made blind so that you and I, blind beggars asking for glory, can see. For free.

Justification by Faith vs. Justification by Men

J. Gresham Machen, 1925:

I am not at all ashamed to speak, even in this day and generation, of 'the doctrine of justification by faith.' It should not be supposed, however, that that doctrine is an abstruse or intricate thing. On the contrary it is a very simple thing, and it is instinct with life.

It is an answer to the greatest personal question ever asked by a human soul--the question: 'How shall I be right with God; how do I stand in God's sight; what what favour does he look upon me?' There are those, it must be admitted, who never raise that question; there are those who are concerned with the question of their standing before men, but never with the question of their standing before God; there are those who are interested in what 'people say,' but not in the question what God says. Such men, however, are not those who move the world; they are apt to go with the current; they are apt to do as others do; they are not the heroes who change the destinies of the race. The beginning of true nobility comes when a man ceases to be interested in the judgment of men, and becomes interested in the judgment of God. (What Is Faith? p. 163)

This is wonderfully helpful. Machen is connecting the dots for us between justification by faith and one of the greatest struggles in this life, the temptation to seek the approval of people, something I'm thoroughly acquainted with myself. Justification by faith is not the idea that as long as we maintain the minimum intensity of faith, we'll be justified. 'Just have enough faith!' That is to turn justification by faith into its opposite. It is to make this doctrine self-dependent, the very thing the doctrine is turning upside down. Justification by faith is 'justification by God' and justification by works is 'justification by self.' Faith says: I will find my okay-ness in God's solid and sure gift of Christ rather than the wavering and fickle but alluring promises of idolatry, such as man-approval. Justification by faith gives us the resources now, emotionally and psychologically, to relinquish the need for human approval. Machen saw that.

Maybe Machen's insight helps us see why Paul begins Galatians, his charter on Christian liberty, his clearest statement of justification by faith, by declaring that he is not now trying to win the approval of men (1:10).

17 August 2009

Jesus in the Lions' Den

Tonight for his animal story as we lay in his bed Zachary made his most frequent request--Daniel and the lions. I've told that story dozens of times this past year. Tonight was the first time I didn't teach it moralistically.

Usually I tell Zach the story and emphasize that Daniel feared God more than men; that's why he prayed his usual prayers despite the new law prohibiting it. Which is true, of course. But tonight it dawned on me, and I explained to Zach, that the reason Daniel could disobey the king and obey God, the reason beneath the deeper fear of God, the reason Daniel was spared, was that there was someone who was thrown into a den of lions and torn to shreds. When Jesus went to the cross, he was punished so that you and I can know that whether we are spared the lions or eaten, it can only be for our good, out of love over us, not for our punishment, out of wrath over us. Daniel prayed in his room, and was thrown into the den, but spared--only because Jesus prayed in the garden, was denied and thrown into the den, and not spared.

Carnell: Love

E. J. Carnell was one of the early leaders (and one-time president) of Fuller Seminary. One emphasis to which he returns often in his 1959 book The Case for Orthodox Theology is the primacy of love in Christian living. At one point he says--

Everything decent traces to love, everything indecent to a lack of love. The gas chambers of Dachau are only a more frightful exhibition of man's refusal to love God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself. (p. 89)

16 August 2009

Katie Luther

On Oct 4, 1529, Luther was at a conference discussing the significance of the Lord's Supper with Zwingli and Oecolampadius. He wrote home to his wife, calling her "Dear Sir Katie!" The editor footnotes:

To the modern reader this form of address may sound quite awkward, especially since Catherine Luther was neither a doctor nor a preacher. These phrases lose their point, however, if they are interpreted as jokes, or as an allusion to Catherine's noble birth. Catherine had become for Luther a person of extreme importance, not only as mistress of his house, or as mother of his beloved children, but, and this above all, as spiritual companion. In her quiet, direct, confident, and sometimes blunt way she was both preacher and teacher to Luther, their children, and their friends; more than once she helped Luther to deal with his religious tensions and fears. (LW 49:236)

Who would Luther have been without Katie? How many of the great names through the ages made such a powerful mark on history largely due, under God, to their wives? I think of Sarah, for instance, Jonathan Edwards' wife.

And I am reminded what a gift of mercy my own dear Stacey is, such an encouragement and help to me.

A Common Mistake

[T]heologians should not take their own significance as seriously as they do their theology.

--Sinclair Ferguson, Baptism: Three Views (InterVarsity 2009), 177

14 August 2009

Bavinck: Sanctification

This past year I've been dipping into Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics, recently translated from the Dutch into English under a board led by Joel Beeke in 4 volumes published by Baker (2003-2008). Part of my motivation in familiarizing myself with Bavinck was the way my theology prof Mike Williams spoke of Bavinck, and also Henri Blocher's comment here at Wheaton that Bavinck is the most significant reformed thinker since Calvin himself.

(Packer said: 'Bavinck's Dutch masterwork was the Everest of which the textbooks by Louis Berkhof and Auguste Leoerf were foothills and Berkouwer's studies in dogmatics were outliers. Like Augustine, Calvin, and Edwards, Bavinck was a man of giant mind. . . . Bavinck's magisterial Reformed Dogmatics remains after a century the supreme achievement of its kind.')

So in my attempts to relate (progressive) sanctification to justification this past 12 months or so I've recently gone to Bavinck. I'm finding him extremely helpful (the translator, John Vriend, has done a great job by the way) on this and other things (e.g. his discussion of 'all Israel' in Rom 11:26 is wonderful; and it is remarkable to see a systematic dogmatician so comfortable with not only Greek and Hebrew but the intertestamental Jewish literature--before Bibleworks!).

Anyway here are a few statements from his duscussion of how santification and justification go together. These deserve careful and submissive reflection. Italics are mine.

All the sects that arose in Protestant churches more or less proceeded from the idea that the confession of justification by faith was, if not incorrect, at least defective and incomplete and had to be augmented with sanctification. Pietism prescribed a specific method of conversion and then gathered the devout in small sealed-off circles . . . marked by a rigorous but also in many ways narrowly defined moral life. Methodism not only advanced a specific method of conversion but also gradually arrived at a special doctrine of sanctification. John Wesley not only distinguished justification from sanctification but separated the two. . . . (4:245)

To understand the benefit of sanctification correctly, we must proceed from the idea that Christ is our holiness in the same sense in which he is our righteousness. He is a complete and all-sufficient Savior. He does not rest until, after pronouncing his acquittal in our conscience, he has also imparted full holiness and glory to us. By his righteousness, accordingly, he does not just restore us to the state of the just who will go scot-free in the judgment of God, in order then to leave us to ourselves to reform ourselves after God's image and to merit eternal life. But Christ has accomplished everything. He bore for us the guilt and punishment of sin, placed himself under the law to secure eternal life for us, and then arose from the grave to communicate himself to us in all his fullness for both our righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor 1:30). The holiness that must completely become ours therefore fully awaits us in Christ. Many people still acknowledge that we must be justified by the righteousness that Christ has acquired but believe or at least act in practice as if we must be sanctified by a holiness we bring about ourselves. If that were the case, we would not--contrary to the apostolic witness (Rom 6:14; Gal 4:31; 5:1, 13)--live under grace and stand in freedom but continue always to be under the law. Evangelical sanctification, however, is just as distinct from legalistic sanctification as the righteousness that is of faith differs from that which is obtained by works. . . . (4:248)

[F]aith is not intellectual assent to a historical truth but a practical knowledge of the grace that God has revealed in Christ, a heartfelt trust that he has forgiven all our sins and accepted us as his children. For that reason this faith is not only needed at the beginning in justification, but it must also accompany the Christian throughout one's entire life, and also play a permanent and irreplaceable role in sanctification. In sanctification, too, it is exclusively faith that saves us. . . . (4:257; see also 3:528)

Faith . . . is the one great work Christians have to do in sanctification according to the principles of the gospel (John 6:29); it is the means of sanctification par excellence. . . . Faith breaks all self-reliance and fastens on to God's promise. It allows the law to stand in all its grandeur and refuses to lower the moral ideal, but also refrains from any attempt, by observing it, to find life and peace; it seizes upon God's mercy and relies on the righteousness and holiness accomplished in Christ on behalf of humans. It fosters humility, dependence, and trust and grants comfort, peace, and joy through the Holy Spirit. (4:257)

Far from that Melancholy

Only when the entire present condition is justified can there be individual good works. Inasmuch as not our particular activity but our whole existence is reprehensible in the sight of God, our works cannot justify us before God, but only he can justify us before God, who has made our whole existence right and pleasing to God, namely, Christ. By the fact that Christ rose--that is, that he did not at one time become a human and then ceased to be a human, that he is continually and eternally a human--by that fact we have received justification, the free gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17), and hence also our present condition of separation from God has become a condition accepted by God, a condition in which we can move peacefully, even joyfully, far from that melancholy, self-tormenting Christianity that can only impose on us a total denial of what Christ has done for us.

--F. W. J. Schelling, Ausgewaehlte Werke (4 vols; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftlichen Buchgesellschaft, 1968), 2:4; quoted in Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (4 vols; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003-08), 3:548

'Oh My Goodness'

Doesn't that everyday phrase capture the fundamentally mistaken mentality with which we all leave the womb, and which takes a lifetime's persistent reflection on the gospel to uproot and transform into 'Oh your goodness'?

13 August 2009

Crammed Full of the Gospel

Let your sermons be full of Christ, from beginning to end crammed full of the gospel. As for myself, brethren, I cannot preach anything else but Christ and His cross, for I know nothing else, and long ago, like the apostle Paul, I determined not to know anything else save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. . . . I have preached the gospel--not about the gospel, but the gospel--the full, free, glorious gospel of the living Christ who is the incarnation of the good news. Preach Jesus Christ, brethren, always and everywhere; and every time you preach be sure to have much of Jesus Christ in the sermon.

You remember the story of the old minister who heard a sermon by a young man, and when he was asked by the preacher what he thought of it he was rather slow to answer, but at last he said, If I must tell you, I did not like it at all; there was no Christ in your sermon.' 'No,' answered the young man, 'because I did not see that Christ was in the text.' 'Oh!' said the old minister, 'but do you not know that from every little town and village and tiny hamlet in England there is a road leading to London? Whenever I get hold of a text, I say to myself, 'There is a road from here to Jesus Christ, and I mean to keep on His track till I get to Him.'

--C. H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (Eerdmans 1963), 78

1 Peter 2:24

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, in order that . . .

. . . we might be forgiven?

. . . we would be pardoned forever?

. . . we would be reconciled to God?

All true theologically, but not what Peter says:

. . . having died to sins, we might live to righteousness.

He died to reverse the inveterate proclivity to (as Berkouwer put it) base our justification on our sanctification and instead base our sanctification on our justification.

The Most Delightful Entertainment

Those who have God with them have the surest and most constant friend in the world, and they have the richest and most powerful friend. He has enough for their desires, and he can do what he pleases. Those who have God with them have the most comfortable, pleasant companion in the world. How happy are they who partake with God in his riches and blessedness! There is no conversation so pleasant nor so profitable as the spiritual conversation of the saints with God. To converse with God is the most delightful entertainment in the world. . . . How unspeakable is the pleasure of those manifestations which God makes of his glorious beauty to those whom he is with, and how sweet are the discoveries of his love!

--Jonathan Edwards, 'To Go with God's People,' undated sermon on Zech 8, The Glory and Honor of God: Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards Vol 2, p. 159

12 August 2009

Machen: Justification and the Gentile Mission

I guess today is Machen day. I'm working on the part of my dissertation that deals with Gal 1:13-14, Paul's conversion and pre-conversion past, so I've been dipping into Machen's The Origin of St. Paul's Religion, a series of lectures he delivered in 1925 (as a 300-pg book I wonder how long he lectured for!). He has a gem toward the end. He is arguing against Wrede and an idea that has connections with the current New Perspective (Dunn and Watson e.g.)--the idea that justification by faith only truly came home to Paul, became meaningful and important, as the apostle dealt with gentile inclusion in the people of God. Machen writes:

Nothing could be more utterly unhistorical than the representation of Paul as a practical missionary, developing the doctrine of justification by faith in order to get rid of a doctrine of the Law which would be a hindrance in the way of his Gentile mission. Such a representation reverses the real state of the case. The real reason why Paul was devoted to the doctrine of justification by faith was not that it made possible the Gentile mission, but rather that it was true. Paul was not devoted to the doctrine of justification by faith because of the Gentile mission; he was devoted to the Gentile mission because of the doctrine of justification by faith. (Origin of Paul's Religion, 1978 Eerdmans, repr, 278-79)

That is exactly right.

Machen on Controversy

Machen responds to those who bemoan 'unseemly controversy' regarding the church's doctrine.

In very many cases, people who decry controversy have already lost, or are in the process of losing, their own hold upon the great verities of the faith. They may not be conscious of relinquishing a single doctrine or a single fact that the Bible records. But the trouble is that what is not consciously given up in their minds has been removed from their hearts; they live only on the periphery of the Christian religion, and the really great things are lost from view. By such persons, whether in the pulpit or in the pew, the gospel in not indeed denied. But what is almost a worse thing than that is done--the gospel is not denied, but is simply ignored.

That last sentence is worth rereading.

--J. Gresham Machen, 'What is the Gospel?' in in J. Gresham Machen: Selected Short Writings (ed. D. G. Hart; P&R 2004), 125

Machen: What is Christianity?

Christ died for our sins. --1 Cor 15:3

In his little essay 'What Is Christianity?' Machen responds to those who say Christianity is a life, not a doctrine.

Of 1 Cor 15:3, he says:

Is it not an account of facts? That is a setting forth of things that happened; it is not an exhortation but a rehearsal of events, a piece of news.

The facts that are rehearsed are not, indeed, bare facts, but facts with the meaning of the facts. 'Christ died' is a fact; but to know merely that never did any good to anyone. . . . Christ died for our sins. . . .

But when you say 'fact with the meaning of the fact,' you have said 'doctrine.' We have already arrived, then, at the answer to our question. Christianity at the beginning, we have discovered, was not a life as distinguished from a doctrine or a life that had doctrine as its changing intellectual expression, but--just the other way around--it was a life founded upon a doctrine.

--"What is Christianity?" in J. Gresham Machen: Selected Short Writings (ed. D. G. Hart; P&R 2004), 95

Aquinas: Galatians 3:10

As many as are of the works of the law are under a curse. --Gal 3:10

It should be noted that the Apostle does not say, 'As many as observe the works of the Law are under a curse,' because this is false when applied to the time of the Law. He says rather: as many as are of the works of the Law, i.e., whosoever trust in the works of the Law and believe that they are made just by them are under a curse. For it is one thing to be of the works of the Law and another to observe the Law. The latter consists in fulfilling the Law, so that one who fulfills it is not under a curse. But to be of the works of the Law is to trust in them and place one's hope in them.

--Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Saint Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (trans. F. R. Larcher; Albany, NY: Magi, 1966), 79; quoted in Moises Silva, Interpreting Galatians (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 235

We all know works of the law can't mitigate our falling short of the glory of God. But the question is deeper than that: what are you of? Not: what is your creed? What do you assent to doctrinally? But, at 7:30 p.m. in the living room with the family, what are you of? 'Do this and you will live' or 'the righteous will live by faith'? Which of those, when you or I get emotionally cut, bleeds out of us?

11 August 2009

Forthcoming BTNT

An upcoming series of volumes I'm looking forward to is the 'Biblical Theology of the New Testament' series edited by Andreas Koestenberger, who provides the first volume, pictured, due out this November. Doug Moo is doing the Pauline volume and Tom Schreiner the theology of Peter, James and Jude. Seven volumes in all. See more info on page one of this Zondervan catalog. Looks great.

Dunn: Eschartiology

That the kingdom of God, God fully exercising his rule on earth, was still to come was, and remained implicit in the prayer taught by Jesus, 'May your kingdom come.' But the really distinctive feature of Jesus' preaching . . . was his claim that the blessings of salvation hoped for in the age to come were already being realized in Jesus' mission. . . . Jesus spoke and lived as one who was enacting these blessings [of God's favor] already in his mission--the blind receiving their sight, the lame walking. . . . Probably most striking of all were the claims Jesus is recalled as making regarding his exorcisms, that they were evidence that the final defeat of Satan was already happening. . . .

Those who are familiar with these passages need to pause and attempt to hear them again as for the first time. The claim being made was indeed an astonishing one. Without other signs of renewed material prosperity, of liberation from Roman domination, or spiritual revival across the land, Jesus nevertheless proclaimed the realization of many of Israel's most cherished hopes. And without priestly, far less royal anointing or authorization, in his table-fellowship with the despised and irreligious, and in his pronouncing sins forgiven, Jesus was enacting the reality of God's hoped-for favor for his people. Eschatological salvation was now. (James Dunn, New Testament Theology: An Introduction [Abingdon 2009], 83; emphasis original).

In other words: eschartiology!

10 August 2009

Farish Interview on the Pastorate

I was helped and encouraged by this interview with Steve Farish at TEDS. Steve pastors Crossroads Church outside Chicago.

Doctrine : : Application

His doctrine was all application, and his application was all doctrine.

--Rabbi Duncan describing the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, quoted in J. P. Alexander, A Priest For Ever: A Study of the Epistle Entitled 'To the Hebrews' (London: James Clark, 1937), 178

I know exactly what he means.

'Pleasant, Bright, and Sweet'

In a lecture I was listening to today David Calhoun (my former church history professor at Covenant Seminary) pointed out that upon Jonathan Edwards' conversion, as he read 1 Tim 1:17, the doctrine of God's sovereignty (which before had been so repulsive to Edwards) suddenly "became exceedingly pleasant, bright, and sweet." Dr. Calhoun noted that so much of what Edwards came to write so movingly of the rest of his life is encapsulated in seed-form in that little statement. Pleasant, bright, and sweet--those three metaphors for spiritual reality are shot all through Edwards' writings. Christ and his gospel, to those born again, is pleasant (the source of real joy, the engine of authentic 'affections'), bright (illuminating, sun-like, clarifying, 'a divine and supernatural light'), and 'sweet' (to be enjoyed, 'the pleasantness of religion').

Crowder: Heaven Came Down (John 6:38-58)

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul
When at the cross my Savior made me whole
My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day
When heaven came down and glory filled my soul

O what a wonderful day
I will never forget
When I was wandering in darkness away
Jesus my Savior I met

O what a tender compassionate friend
He met the need of my heart
Shadows disspelling with joy I am telling
He made all the darkness depart

09 August 2009


'. . . and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together . . .' (Gen 3:7) 'So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything . . ."' (Matt 18:26; 'everything is an unpayable amount)

We sinned in the Garden, and immediately the impulse to self-save welled up. We know our nakedness, and we furiously yet subtlely strive to cover it. And we've been doing it ever since. We sense our sin and the impulse comes: 'Have patience, and I will pay you everything . . .' But the debt is unpayable. And to try to pay it is not to mitigate our debt but increase it.

Here's God's answer.

'Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.' (Ps 32:1) 'He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree . . .' (1 Pet 2:24)

08 August 2009

Crowder: O Praise Him

'Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings.' (Isa 51:7)

The Bible and History

The notion has to be avoided that the historical character of the Bible must somehow be overcome before we have the truth for today. It is no more the case that the Bible is true in spite of or apart from its historical qualification than it is the case that the death of Christ is efficacious in spite of its historicity. In fact, to remove the negatives and disjunctives from the preceding sentence will disclose the integral tie between truth and history from a biblical point of view: the Bible is true in view of its historical qualification, just as the death of Christ is efficacious in view of its historicity.

--Richard Gaffin, synthesizing Geerhardus Vos' treatment of the shortcomings of some systematic theology in Gaffin's introduction to Vos' Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (edited by Gaffin; P&R, 1980), xx-xxi; quoted in Mike Williams, 'Systematic Theology as a Biblical Discipline,' in All for Jesus, 176

Spears Shall Be Shaken

'Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called . . .' (1 Tim 6:12)

Two Kinds of Substitution

I discovered this gem today from John Stott while reading Phil Douglass' essay 'Grace-Centered Church Planting' in a book I've returned to repeatedly the past few years.

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. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.

--John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 160

Faith-full History, Historical Faith

In the customary distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, 'history' is taken to be synonymous with reality, whereas 'faith' is identified either with illusion or, at best, with an ungrounded non-rational conviction.

--Francis Watson, Text and Truth: Redefining Biblical Theology (1997), 38

[One must] refute the assumption . . . that faith prevents a properly historical perspective on Jesus.

--J. D. G. Dunn, New Testament Theology: An Introduction (2009), 28; emphasis original

07 August 2009

Genesis 1:24

And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds . . .'

HT: Andy Naselli, Randy Alcorn

Jeremias: Religion vs. Gospel

Though his view of the historical reliability of the Gospels is less than satisfactory, German Lutheran scholar Joachim Jeremias (1900-1979) penetrated to the distinction in the New Testament between true and false religion as deeply as anyone. Here's the type of thing you read all through his NT Theology.

For Jesus, the love of the Father was directed even towards the despised and lost children. That he called them and not the righteous (Mk 2:17), was apparently the dissolution of all ethics; it seemed as if moral conduct meant nothing in God's eyes. The world around Jesus based man's relationship with God on his moral conduct. Because the gospel did not do that, it shook religion to its foundations. . . . The message that God wanted to have dealings with the
ptochoi [the poor], the sinners, and that they were nearer to God than the righteous, provoked a passionate protest. . . .

In Jesus' view, nothing separates people so completely from God as a self-assured religiosity.
(pp. 119-20)

06 August 2009

The Tendency of All

After spending the afternoon listening to Jacob Neusner bemoan the unfortunate bad rap the Pharisees have received at the hands of Christian interpreters (in this book), it was refreshing, as it often is, to spend some time with Schreiner who puts things in the right perspective.

Jesus often castigated the sins of the religious leaders, particularly the Pharisees. Such strong indictments have raised the issue of anti-Semitism, especially when we consider the history of Christian mistreatment of the Jews. NT writers, however, never intended these indictments to provide a platform for the maltreatment of others. The religious leaders represented the tendency of all human beings when they rise to the top of a religious or social structure. Hence, what Jesus said to the religious leaders serves as an indictment of all who fail to repent and reveals what is naturally in the heart of every human being, Jew or Gentile.

--Tom Schreiner, NT Theology (Baker 2008), 511

Desert Song

Quibble with the theology and individualism if you want. There is a layer of trust and submission that some of us, for all our doctrinal rightness, never taste.

Song starts at 4:35.

'Behond, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD God is my strength and my song.' (Isa 12:2)

05 August 2009

J. L. Martyn: A Human Enterprise

Religion . . . is the various communal, cultic means . . . by which human beings seek to know and to be happily related to the gods or God. In the sense in which I employ the word here, religion is a human enterprise. Thus, in Paul's view, religion is the polar opposite of God's apocalyptic act in Christ. . . . Religion, therefore, provides the human being 'with his most thorough-going possibility of confusing an illusion with God.'

This was what Paul came to see as he traveled to Damascus (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:6).

--J. Louis Martyn, Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul (T&T Clark, 1997), 79; quoting Ernst Kaesemann

Whose Activity?

Every major faith system: Our activity instigating God's activity. Gospel: God's activity instigating our activity.

04 August 2009

'Do Not Fear Those Who Kill the Body...'

I would rather have the wrath of the world upon me than the wrath of God. The world can do no more to me than take my life.

--Martin Luther, last page of To the Christian Nobility, LW 44:217

03 August 2009

Made Up of Individuals

Gerald Bray on N. T. Wright's latest justification project:

As Mr. Piper points out, . . . [Wright's] grand picture does not do justice to the New Testament, where the use of the word ‘justification’ and its many cognates cannot bear the meaning of ‘covenant faithfulness’ that Bishop Wright attaches to it. Whatever God’s ultimate purpose for the transformation of the world may be (and Mr. Piper does not deny that), the fact remains that the body of Christ on earth is made up of individuals, each one of whom needs the righteousness of the Saviour pleading for him if he is to enter the kingdom of heaven. Imputation is not a transfer of God’s righteousness to us, as Bishop Wright seems to think, but a reckoning of that righteousness, which is not and can never be ours, to us.

Read the whole thing

HT: Mike Bird

Proverbs 16:18

'Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.' How many times this has been me!

Lloyd-Jones: Addition vs. Creation

How do you become a Christian? You become a Christian first by becoming a blank. How do you become a Christian? You become a Christian by becoming a fool. How do you become a Christian? You become a Christian by becoming nothing.

You come to the doorsteps of the church with bags in your hands, your religion or your anti-religion, and the gospel tells you: Leave them all outside. They're of no value here. They're a hindrance, they're an obstacle, they're a nuisance. Why? Because the great message [of Christianity] is 'a new creation.'

What's that? A new creation is not an addition to what you have already--that's not a creation, that's an addition. Creation means making something out of nothing. That's how God made the world. It isn't creation if there was anything there. Creation is producing something out of nothing, nothing at all. And the New Testament way of describing the Christian is that he is a new creation.

--Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "What Is Christianity? Part 2" (podcast available at oneplace.com)

02 August 2009

Edwards: Three Kinds of Praise

In an undated sermon on Ps 147:1, Edwards says there are three kinds of praise: praise with our behavior, praise with our lips, and praise with the heart. He cites Scripture in support of each.

But then he says that the first two only have worth if they include the last one. He explains why by describing exactly what praise in the heart is.

Praise in the heart is an inward expression of love, joy, and admiration toward God under a sense of his excellency and grace. . . .

There may be admiration where there is no praise. The devils doubtless wonder at many things which God does. 'Tis probably they were surprised and amazed at the incarnation, death, and sufferings of the Son of God. Such a manner of expression of grace was what they did not in the least expect when man fell . . . but yet they don't praise but blaspheme. There may likewise be joy because of God's goodness when there is no praise because their joy does not arise from, nor is accompanied with, love. Wicked men rejoice in many things that are fruits of God's goodness to them, but they don't praise him because the foundation of joy is not anything that they see in God but only the good they receive in themselves.

Therefore then only is God praised when the heart is lifted up to God with love, joy, and wonder for what it sees in him and receives from him with a desire of expressing it to him.

--Jonathan Edwards, "It's a Very Decent and Comely Thing That Praise Should Be Given to God," in The Glory and Honor of God: Vol. 2 of the Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, 124

01 August 2009

Repent Nashville

Check it out. Thanks for doing this Heath and Joseph.