31 October 2009

Like Lacking Bread

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

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

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

30 October 2009

Bavinck: Not a Second Creator

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

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

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

26 October 2009

Justification: An Attempt at Definition

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

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

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

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

UPDATE 2: one last shot.

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

The Transcendent Relevance of Paul's Letters

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

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

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

The Actual Beginning Has Dawned

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

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

24 October 2009

Powerless When the Heart Is Evil

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

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

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

--Ezekiel 36:26

Jungel: Faith and Works

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

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

22 October 2009

Oden: Self-Justification

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

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

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

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

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

The Wrong Question

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

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

The Gospel

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

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

20 October 2009

Eustace's Transformation

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

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

Warfield: Faith

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

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

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

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

19 October 2009

Lewis: Our Morbid Enjoyment

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

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

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

17 October 2009

Risk Time

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

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

16 October 2009

A Paradox

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

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

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

14 October 2009

The Indictment of Goodness

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

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

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

11 October 2009

Brief Hiatus

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

10 October 2009

Psalm 145 (Shane Barnard)

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

The Demon is in Too Deep

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

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

09 October 2009

Godly Leadership

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

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

Wonderfully helpful.

08 October 2009

Luther: The Strange Blessings Gathered by the Labors of Another

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

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

I was stunned by the next sentence.

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

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

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

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

The Path is not Long

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

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

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

07 October 2009

Luther: A Constant Guest

From someone who knows the human heart:

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

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

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

06 October 2009


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

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

05 October 2009

Edwards: All of It Comes from God

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

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

Bavinck: 'the Reformer'

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

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


Bavinck: Alien Salvation

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

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

--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:485

01 October 2009

Bavinck's Christocentrism

Get a load of this.

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

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

--Reformed Dogmatics, 4:661

The OT, not the NT, is the Interlude

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

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

Good Meat

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

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

Bavinck: Creation's Rebirth

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

--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:718

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

--the Apostle Paul