30 September 2007

Did Jonathan Edwards Tell Jokes?

"In the evening, after tea, he customarily sat in the parlour, with his family, for an hour, unbending from the severity of study, entering freely into the feelings and concerns of his children, and relaxing into cheerful and animated conversation, accompanied frequently with sprightly remarks, and sallies of wit and humour."

--Sereno Dwight, great-grandson of JE (Hickman ed. of Works, I:ccxxviii)

How I would love to have been there!

The Gospel of Ezekiel

Yahweh tells Ezekiel of his role as Israel's watchman, to turn the wicked from his way, since Yahweh has no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. Then he tells Ezekiel:

"And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered . . ."
--Ezekiel 33:12-13

It seems many of the Jews of Paul's day, with whom he was in dialogue and by whom he was flogged five times, extracted passages like Lev. 18:5 and some passages from Deuteronomy and left behind passages like this one.

29 September 2007

Isaiah 66:2

Here is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

I can't get over that.

26 September 2007

Philippians 3:1-11

A great sermon from Zack Eswine last year at Covenant Seminary, on Philippians 3, called "What Do You Most Want? Eternity Is Coming."

'But my God lives'

Just finished Edwards' letters. Some of the family correspondence leading up to and in the wake of his death is very moving. I love especially the short note--short because she was debilitated by a "great deal of pain in her neck" (according to one of her daughters)--Sarah wrote to her daughter Lucy after hearing the news of Jonathan's unexpected death.

My very dear Child,
What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a very dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.
Your ever affectionate mother,
Sarah Edwards

23 September 2007

Strength in Weakness

McCheyne had some of us in 2 Corinthians 12 today.

Therefore in order that I might not be puffed up, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan, in order that he might torment me, in order that I might not be puffed up.

It's quite irrelevant what the thorn actually was (physical infirmity, persecution, temptation, etc). I wonder if Paul was deliberately ambiguous so that we wouldn't be distracted and miss his real point: not the content of the thorn, but the intent. He says it twice (some translations only have it once): "in order that I might not be puffed up."

On behalf of this three times I exhorted the Lord in order that he might take it away from me. And he has said to me, "Sufficient for you is my grace, for my power is completed in weakness. All the more gladly, therefore, will I boast in my weaknesses [general heading, followed by increasingly difficult experiences?] in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in anguishes, on Christ's behalf; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

I'm prompted to post this passage just because every time I read it (unless I'm too sleepy and not concentrating) I find it extremely deconstructive of my heart. Strength is found not by avoiding, overcoming, or denying weakness, but in it. It is a truth that is so counterintuitive. You think you've grasped it only to find a week later you're right back living out of strength, frustrated at the weaknesses in your life which seem to be keeping you from your goals. And Paul says, "You're denying yourself joy by resisting the very thing that will bring it. Living out of your own strength in order to make a difference with your life is like stopping up your cavities with sugar. So stop drawing attention to your strengths. Exult rather in your weaknesses. And then the pipes of your heart will be cleaned of all the self-sufficiency that has been clogging them up and real power will be able to flow."

What a blow to my pride, but what a comfort too! Because it means anyone qualifies. There's no minimum standard to acquire God's power. All it takes is weakness. And everyone has that. The only thing that disqualifies you is thinking you (yourself) qualify. The only thing that qualifies you is knowing you don't. Think God can't use you? There you go: he can. Think God needs you and that you have a lot to offer him, as I often do? Your pipes are clogged. Power won't flow.

I spent the last year of my life trying to figure out this passage. It's still sinking in and has a long way to go. But let's agree not to forget it. The world washes us in the message that strength is in strength. But the cross definitively tells us the folly and misery and emptiness of such a pursuit, giving us the supreme example of strength in weakness (2 Cor 8:9).

We sinned and thorns came up from the ground (Gen 3). Jesus wore a crown of thorns so that Paul's thorn, and ours, could strangely yet wonderfully result in good and fruitfulness. Praise his name.

22 September 2007

Schlatter Again

Couldn't agree more with Alan Bandy's thoughts on Adolf Schlatter regarding Werner Neuer's short biography (translated by R. Yarbrough).

19 September 2007

Althaus: Conversion

Found this wonderful statement from the German theologian Paul Althaus (1888-1966) while working on my German, from the first volume (1959) of Zeitschrift fur Systematische Theologie. It ties in to two projects I'm working on, one on motivation and one on Paul's understanding of zeal in Rom 10 and Phil 3. The title of the article is "Die Bekerung in reformatischer und pietischer Sicht" ("Conversion in the Reformational and Pietistic View"). Describing the Reformation's understanding of conversion, Althaus says:

Conversion is therefore much more than an ethical turning or reversion, for example the turning from ethical looseness or neglect to moral seriousness, from contempt of the commandments of God to obedience to them. Such an ethical conversion is also possible without Christ and the gospel and is not uncommon—for this one does not need Jesus Christ. Conversion in the Christian sense will also include concrete instances of ethical conversion, but certainly not in every case, as the example of the Apostle Paul demonstrates: conversion can also be for a "good man," a Pharisee, therefore an ethically superior person. Here too is it conversion of a sinner. But the sin is in this case not the lack of an ethic, but on the contrary the empty noise of morality, precisely in one’s height, the "erecting their own righteousness" (Rom. 10.3), and so the sin is against the first commandment. Conversion in this sense has a meta-ethical character, and so in this way it is a wholly "becoming new" of a man, a new birth. The man has now come out of unbelieving into believing, out of either unethical or ethical self-glory and security into the humble foundation of grace alone; out of reliance upon his own morality into the vibrant desire of God’s favor only in Christ. This means a transformation of life in the very depth of who he is. It is not to understand growth or development as simply a new step, not as simply a breakthrough into greater depth, stronger earnestness; it leaves its only mark as a break, as a total turning out of spiritual death into life.

16 September 2007

Bonhoeffer: Listening

And a good, pastoral encouragement to listen by Bonhoeffer (especially for one who is not naturally a good listener: just ask my wife!) from Disruptive Grace.

Barth Inscription

Fascinating post from Ben Myers' Faith and Theology site exhibiting (credit: Kurt Johanson) a great handwritten note Karl Barth jotted down on the inside cover of a book owned by Klaus Bockmuehl (father of Markus Bockmuehl, NT prof at Oxford, formerly St. Andrews, formerly Cambridge, and author of this excellent book).

13 September 2007

Samuel Hopkins: Regeneration

Discovered this today in the sermon "Regeneration and Conversion" on John 1:13 by Samuel Hopkins (1721-1803), disciple of Jonathan Edwards and New England pastor:

This regeneration of which I am speaking consists in a change of the will or heart. The truth of this observation appears from the foregoing, as it is a plain consequence from it. If the depravity and corruption of the heart is the only ground of the necessity of regeneration, then regeneration consists in removing this depravity, and introducing opposite principles, and so laying a foundation for holy exercises. But depravity or sin lies wholly in the heart, and not in the intellect or faculty of understanding, considered as distinct from the will, and not including that. So far as the will is renewed or set right, the whole mind is right; for sin and holiness lie wholly in this. If moral depravity does not lie in, or properly belong to, the faculty of the understanding or the intellect, as distinguished from the will, or heart, then that operation of the Spirit of God, by which this is in some measure removed and moral rectitude introduced, does not immediately respect the understanding, but the will or heart, and immediately produces a change in the latter, not in the former. It is allowed by all, I suppose, that regeneration does not produce any new natural capacity or faculty in the soul. These remain the same after regeneration that they were before, so far as they are natural. The change produced is a moral change, and, therefore, the will or heart must be the immediate subject of this change, and of the operation that effects it; for every thing of a moral nature belongs to the will or heart.

As depravity or sin began in the will, and consists wholly in the irregularity and corruption of that, so regeneration, or a recovery from sin in the renovation of the mind, must begin here, and wholly consists in the change and renewal of the will. There is not, nor can there be, any need of any other change, in order to the complete renovation of the depraved mind, and its recovery to perfect holiness. Therefore, I think I have good grounds to assert, that in regeneration the will or heart is the immediate subject of the divine operation, and so of the moral change that is effected hereby. The Spirit of God in regeneration gives a new heart, an honest and good heart. He begets a right and good taste, temper, or disposition, and so lays a foundation for holy exercises of heart.

--E. Hindson, ed., Introduction to Puritan Theology: A Reader (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 179-180.

10 September 2007

Paul and the Law

For some time I've felt dissatisfied with the tripartheid division of the law in which the ethical demands remain in full validity while the ceremonial and civil ones fall away under the New Covenant--as explained, for example, in Van Gemeren's contribution in this volume. It seems quite artificial to me. Yet there has also seemed to me to be something about the more moral injunctions of the Mosaic code which can be claimed to appeal to something beyond the Mosaic code itself--as if God's (preceptive) will, eternal, unchanging, fixed, utterly real and objective in itself, came down to earth 3500 years ago to a people called Israel, and while some of the laws laid out for this people were extremely tied to that particular culture and locale, others were much closer to that eternal divine will--and therefore can in no way be "abolished," despite all the radical changes that come with the dawning of the new day wrought by Jesus' death and resurrection. In fact, they are confirmed.

And so I think Stephen Westerholm expresses my mind best on the subject, from what I have found so far. Toward the end of his most central piece on Paul, Perspectives on Paul Old and New, he writes:

The traditional interpretation that sees believers free from the "ceremonial" but not the "moral" demands of the law is not quite Pauline, but at the same time it is not without a point. Paul himself never makes such a distinction; his declarations of freedom from the law include all its demands without further specification; they mean, not simply that believers are delivered from the obligation to observe particular (ceremonial) statutes, but that they serve God in a new way, not "by the letter" but "by the Spirit." On the other hand, the distinction between ceremonial and moral is not without a point, since Paul does think the (moral, patently not the ceremonial) commands of the Mosaic law embody the expectations of goodness inherent in the human condition. And Christians, too, are to do the "good." Their doing so, however, should be very different from a formal compliance with requirements externally imposed; rather, it should represent an expression of their submission and devotion to God and of the fruit his Spirit bears in their lives. (p. 437)

Richard Gaffin provides an equally helpful statement on the topic in his wonderful little By Faith, Not by Sight:

It is undoubtedly true that almost always when Paul refers to "law" or "the law," he has in view the body of legislation given by God through Moses to Israel at Sinai, that legislation marking out the period of covenant history until Christ. He is also clear that, as a specific codification belonging to that era, the law has been terminated in its entirety by Christ in his coming (e.g. Rom. 6:14; 7:6; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:6-11; Gal. 3:17-25). At the same time, however, it seems difficult to deny that in a statement like Romans 7:12 . . . or in Romans 13:9, where several of the ten commandments function as exhortation incumbent on the church . . . Paul recognizes that at its moral core, the "Torah in the Torah" as it could be put, the Mosaic law specifies imperatives that transcend the Mosaic economy. Included within that law are imperatives that are bound up with the indicative of the creator-creature relationship from the beginning and, so, are enduring because of who God is. In its central commands the law given at Sinai, notably the Decalogue, reveals God's will, inherent in his person and so incumbent on his image-bearing creature as such, regardless of time and place, on non-Jew as well as Jew. (31-32)


09 September 2007

Wheaton Fall Special Services

Dr. Piper's messages from this week here at Wheaton are up.

Biblical vs. Systematic Theology

Michael Bird has a second great post in a row. It echoes some of the exact same things I've been thinking about current discussions in the PCA--e.g. the distinction between one's authority being Scripture as understood by confession and one's authority being Scripture alone and confessions only secondarily and derivatively. And even where I don't always agree with Bird (even in this distinction: is it so neat and simple to say we can come up with our own theology and then see which confessions are really true to it? Or can confessions help us, in the first instance, make sense of Scripture?) at least he consistently makes me laugh!

08 September 2007

Bird: Gathercole & Wright

Interesting post from Michael Bird on Simon Gathercole's similarities with N. T. Wright on (1) final judgment vis-a-vis works and (2) imputation.

07 September 2007

Paul: Apostle of Liberty

Just finished Richard Longenecker's 1964 Pauline theology text. It is, I think, the best book on Paul I've (yet) read. (And no, I don't think Sanders is fair to it on pp. 56-57 of Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Longenecker was remarkably balanced in his groundwork on Early Judaism, especially in light of the fact that he wrote pre-New Perspective, and did not succomb to the imbalanced view of Weber/Boussett/Billerbeck, as Sanders asserts.)

He writes in a very clear and balanced way; his explanation of Romans 7 is very convincing (I think he may have converted me from post-conversion bio to neither pre- nor post-conversion but an argument for human inability in a post-fall, law-existent world); his understanding of continuity/discontinuity in OT/NT is very helpful; his sections on "in Christ" and "the law of Christ" are extremely illumining; and I think he gets the balance between law and freedom in the life of the Christian just right.

I don't agree with everything; and he's a bit too Lutheran for me at times. But it is just excellent. So many light bulbs went on for me as I read.

03 September 2007

Gospels & Greco-Roman Bio's

A good summary of the distinctions between the Gospels and one proposal for their literary basis--Greco-Roman biography (Plutarch's Lives or Suetonius' 12 Caesars)--from Raymond Brown, a Roman Catholic NT scholar:

In fact, considerable differences exist between Greco-Roman biographies and the Gospels, specifically in the latter's anonymity, their clear theological emphasis and missionary goal, their anticipated ecclesiology, their composition from community tradition [though see Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses!], and their being read in community worship.

R. E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, 103