28 November 2008

Godet: Galatians and Romans

F. Godet, in yet another dusty volume left to me from my grandfather's library that I cracked into last night, on a helpful distinction between Galatians and Romans:

So little is it the object of the Apostle in the Epistle to the Romans to emphasize the contrast between Judeo-Christian legalism and his Gospel, that he begins with a description of the corruption of the pagan world, which would be altogether irrelevant on such a supposition. It is not, as in the Epistle to the Galatians, the powerlessness of the law to save man, which is the prevailing thought in the Epistle to the Romans, though that comes in incidentally. It is the powerlessness of man, as such, to save himself, whether with or without the law, and the necessity of salvation by Christ, which is the great theme of the Epistle to the Romans.

--Studies on the Epistles of St. Paul (London: 1889), 137-38

27 November 2008

Latest 9Marks Interview

. . . is of D. A. Carson. Very helpful. Thanks Dr. Dever.

26 November 2008

C. S. Lewis: 'Hedonics'

Lewis' last paragraph in the essay "Hedonics" in the volume Present Concerns:

We have had enough, once and for all, of Hedonism - the gloomy philosophy which says that Pleasure is the only good. But we have hardly yet begun what may be called Hedonics, the science or philosophy of Pleasure. And I submit that the first step in Hedonics is to knock the Jailer down and keep the keys henceforward in our own possession. He has dominated our minds for thirty years or so, and specially in the field of literature and literary criticism. He is a sham realist. He accuses all myth and fantasy and romance of wishful thinking: the way to silence him is to be more realist than he - to lay our ears closer to the murmur of life as it actually flows through us at every moment and to discover there all that quivering and wonder and (in a sense) infinity which the literature that he calls realistic omits. For the story which gives us the experience most the experiences of living is not necessarily the story whose events are most like those in a biography or a newspaper.

--pp. 54-55

24 November 2008

Insignificant and Therefore Alive

One of the ETS talks this week brought to our attention the following advertisement on the back of a National Geopgraphic magazine. If you can't read the top, it says, "You've never felt more alive. You've never felt more insignificant." There's a man at the top of the peak with his arms outstretched.
A truth that taps into the core yearning of every heart - to be lost in something glorious. A yearning that is met only in Christ.

Back to the Dissertation

Back from ETS. A fun time, more fun than I expected. Got to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones too. My paper went well.

I return with new resolve to kill, with the gospel, the self-promoting instincts in my heart.

17 November 2008

Off to ETS . . .

. . . back this weekend.

15 November 2008

William Law: Happiness

Law's first rule for life:

To fix it deeply in my mind that I have but one business upon my hands, to seek for eternal happiness by doing the will of God.

--quoted in W. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, 96

Happiness through obedience. Not dutiful, stoic obedience. Not happiness via disobedience. But happiness through obedience. The only true obedience, the only true happiness.

Bleeding Out Our Pride

I was strengthened upon reading Paul Kooistra's most recent words in his MTW (Mission to the World, missions agency of the PCA) newsletter, in a short piece entitled "Strength through Weakness." From the little bits and pieces I have gathered of his life, I believe he learned what he says firsthand.

The foundational principle of grace is that God's kingdom priorities are completely inverted from those of the world. God's plan is to magnify His saving mercy and grace not through human strength, but rather through its weakness. . . . God must wound us so we bleed pride and self-sufficiency before we are any good for His service.

--Network, Fall 2008, back cover

I took a class with Dr. Kooistra in January 2004 called simply "Living in Grace." Kooistra is a past president of Covenant Seminary and now the head of MTW. You might expect a rigid, sure, solemn man. Au contraire. He is one of the most relaxed leaders I've ever observed. He shared in class and has shared numerous times when he speaks, and so I expect he wouldn't mind my sharing here, that he had a mid-life nervous breakdown. The cure? Rediscovering grace. It changed him permanently, and it is a joy to see someone in significant leadership who is not self-conscious, not worried about his image, relaxed, okay with himself. Praise the Lord of grace. He can do it for you and me too. May God get us there (without a nervous breakdown).

Stott: Blessed Mourning

I've always been a bit perplexed about the second beatitude ('Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted'), but John Stott's comments are illuminating.

One might almost translate this second beatitude 'Happy are the unhappy' in order to draw attention to the startling paradox which it contains. . . . [T]hose here promised comfort are not primarily those who mourn the loss of a loved one, but those who mourn the loss of their innocence, their righteousness, their self-esteem. It is not the sorrow of bereavement to which Christ refers, but the sorrow of repentance.

--The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (BST; InterVarsity, 12978), 40-41

14 November 2008

Westmont Damage

Pray for Westmost College, heavily damaged by a fire yesterday. The flames are now out. Pictures. News coverage here. College updates here.

HT: Laurie

Isaiah 66:2

I am reading through the Sermon on the Mount these days, bit by painful/demolishing/invigorating/ hopeful bit, with my Bible in one hand and John Stott's reflections in the other. In unearthing the first beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God," Mr. Stott pointed me to Isa 66, which opens--

Thus says the LORD: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word."

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

Anyone got that built into their life?

"He who is humble and contrite in spirit."

I don't. But I want to get there. At this point in my emotional and spiritual development, at this point in my marriage, at this stage in my studies, I'm increasingly aware that there is nothing more needful. Against every fallen impulse to self-promote, this passage, a sheer and unmitigated declaration from the mouth of God, confronts me and will have none of it.

But the result of such self-death is life. "This is the one to whom I will look." I would like God to look to me. And I am reminded today that the way to get that is by the very thing almost none of us are recognizing: he must increase, I must decrease. Which is exactly where the personal increase we all long for is found.

I needed that reminder today.

13 November 2008

Real Faith

Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? (James 2:20-21)

Cranfield with his typically illuminating helpfulness:

Had there been no works, Abraham would not have been justified; but that would have been because the absence of works would have meant that he had no real faith.

--C. E. B. Cranfield, "The Message of James," SJT (1965), 340, cited in Ralph Martin, James (WBC; Waco: Word, 1988), 95

Ignore the Law?

Nothing could be more counterintuitive for human beings after the fall into sin than to ignore the law with its demand that we take action.

--Robert Kolb and Charles Arand, explicating Luther, in The Genius of Luther's Theology (Baker 2008), 78

12 November 2008

Continuity and Discontinuity in Paul

A helpful statement by James Dunn in connection with the previous post.

Certainly we must be careful about defining Pauline Christianity simply as a kind of Judaism (continuity): but equally we must beware of falling into the old trap of thinking that Christianity can only define itself in opposition to Judaism (discontinuity).

--"How New Was Paul's Gospel? The Problem of Continuity and Discontinuity," in New Perspective on Paul (rev. ed., 2008), 262

Jewish Legalism?

In this week's reading on Paul I have again noticed the way many Paul scholars see the unfortunate caricature of "Jewish legalism" as that which generations of past ignorant scholars promulgated. This is then addressed by showing how "Jewish legalism" is a misportrayal because Judaism was not legalistic, but a religion of grace. That is, the second of the two terms is addressed.

In my opinion, resolution to the (largely appropriately diagnosed) caricature of "Jewish legalism" is not to tinker with the second term but the first. The problem is not "Jewish legalism." The problem is human legalism.

Judaism, simply because they were the one group given a law, wound up, for all their blessings, being the group most clearly manifesting the result of combining human sin with divine law. The problem is not racial. Any of us who had been born into Judaism would have been just as clear examples of what Paul critiqued.

It is humanity Paul critiqued, Judaism providing the clearest example of the problem. The solution to the caricature of Judaism as legalistic is not exonerating Judaism but co-indicting everyone. Instead of plucking Judaism out of the cooker, we should put the rest of us into it.

Paul's 'Conversion'

A growing trend among Paul scholars is to call Paul's Damascus Road experience a "call" or "commissioning" rather than a "conversion." This is helpful in that it reminds us that Paul did not move from Judaism to Christianity, but from Judaism in infancy to Judaism in full blossom ("grown-up" Judaism - the law was, after all, a pedagogue). But I am increasingly frustrated by the way this proposal often leaves behind that which is fundamental to Paul (how sinful people can be right with God, in light of both their failure to keep the law and their frequent pride whent hey do keep it) for the sake of that which is important but secondary (the horizontal concern of gentile inclusion).

So this morning I read an article on the topic by James Dunn and was thinking through the question again. He asks on the first page, "Given that the verb 'to convert' means 'to turn (round),' from what did Paul convert and to what did Paul convert?" (p. 348 of this volume)

Here's how, at this point in my development, I would answer.

FROM a Christ-less Judaism that tended (being composed, as it was, of humans) to view God's favor as that which must be earned by obedience and therefore, derivatively, to see that favor as available only to those to whom a guide to obedience had been given,
TO a Christ-climaxed gospel--Judaism brought to fruition--that realized both the failure to keep the whole law and the pride naturally engendered by those parts that were dutifully kept, and instead the utter gratuity of God's favor by virtue of the ultimate sacrifice, and therefore, derivatively, to see that favor as available to all.