31 January 2009

The Firstborn

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, "Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, 'Let my son go that he may serve me.' If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son." --Exodus 4:22-23

I had not noticed till this week that God not only threatens to destroy Egypt's firstborn; he does so, more fundamentally, because Egypt has enslaved Yahweh's own firstborn, Israel. God gave Pharaoh a choice: my firstborn or yours. Pharaoh chose to continue his enslavement of God's firstborn, which led to Pharaoh's losing both--God's firstborn, Israel, and Pharaoh's firstborn.

But Pharaoh is not below us. His idolatry has been mirrored in my life and yours in a thousand ways just in this past week. Pharaoh chose self rather than God; so do you and I.

But for me (and for you?), God has not destroyed my own firstborn. He has destroyed his own firstborn. My idolatry is no less rebellious and sinister than Pharaoh's. But for some reason God has substituted his son for my sin rather than my son for my sin. As a result, Jesus has become the firstborn among a whole new order of life, into which I have been initiated by the Great Sacrifice.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. --Col 1:15

. . . Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood . . . --Rev 1:5-6

30 January 2009

A Biblical Theology of Trees

1. God created mankind, giving us a tree of life and a tree of death (Gen 1-2)

2. We chose the tree of death, then as now (Gen 3; Eccl 8:8)

3. As the inevitable consequence of our rebellion, God declared that the ultimate curse would be on the one who hangs on a tree (Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13)

4. Jesus came, dying for us that cursed death on a tree (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; 1 Pet 2:24)

5. At the end of all things, because of Jesus' cursed death, the saints are invited to eat, once again, of the tree of life (Rev 21-22)

Hays: An Example of Intertextuality

Genesis 22:12 - "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not spared (ouk epheiso LXX) your son, your only son, from me."

Romans 8:32 - He who did not spare (ouk epheiso) his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Romans 11:21 - For if God did not spare (ouk epheiso) the natural branches, neither will he spare you.

Richard Hays comments:

The parallels between these three beloved ones "not spared" are too rich to be fortuitous. Abraham did not spare his son Isaac but bound him to the altar, only to receive him back through God's intervention. God did not spare his son Jesus but offered him up to death for the world, then vindicated him through the resurrection. God did not spare his people Israel but broke them off like branches for the sake of the Gentiles. . . . In each case, the rejection acceptance pattern plays itself out to the vicarious benefit of others.


--Richard B Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale University Press, 1989), 62

I had not read any Hays till this week, with the exception of his Rom 4:1 article for a ThM class. I'm finding this book extremely helpful, never prolix, written with a mastery of the English language that almost none of us share, at times overpressed, frequently frustrating (e.g. reading Paul's baseline hermeneutic as "ecclesiocentric" rather than "christocentric"); all in all, very profitable.

28 January 2009

Paul Washer: Life and Revival

See more at www.heartcrymissionary.com.

27 January 2009

The Fulfillment and the Fulfiller

I'm finding Greg Beale's edited volume of essays on the OT in the New very exciting and opening up a panoramic view of the Bible and redemptive history that I had begun to see in seminary but remained fuzzy to me even upon graduation. A representatively helpful essay is that by Francis Foulkes. At one point, toward the end of his contribution, he writes:

The Old Testament is an incomplete book; it is revelation developing towards a climax. There is the constant prediction of a 'day of the Lord,' a consummation, a unique revelation of the power and glory of God. . . . This hope is expressed in terms of the past, yet exceeds anything experienced in the past. There is to be a new David, but a greater than David; a new Moses but a greater than Moses; a new Elijah or Melchizedek, but one greater than those who stand out from the pages of the old records. There is to be a greater and more wonderful tabernacling of God, as his presence comes to dwell in a new temple. There is to be a new creation, a new Israel, redeemed, revived, a people made up of those to whom a new heart and a new spirit are given that they may love and obey their Lord.

Old Testament prophecy . . . needed only the coming of the One in whom all the prophecies of the Old Testament would be fulfilled, in whom all those themes of hope in the Old Testament would be gathered up and realized, the Fulfillment and the Fulfiller. . . .

In a word, Jesus.

Could the story of the Bible be put any better, in such short compass?

--Francis Foulkes, "The Acts of God," in Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? edited by Beale, 364-65

25 January 2009

Happy 30th Sweetheart

I love you more than ever. Thanks for making our home such a happy place to come home to.

Don't believe me? I have proof:

Promised Good

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures

--John Newton, "Amazing Grace"

Needed that this morning.

24 January 2009

The Antitype of the Entire OT

In biblical theology a "type" is a person, event, or institution that corresponds to a similar person, etc later in biblical history, its "antitype" (Jonah's three days in the whale is a type, Christ's "three days" between the cross and the empty tomb are it antitype; animal sacrifice and Christ's sacrifice; Passover, Lord's Supper etc).

But I'm learning these days that every type, ultimately, finds its climax and deepest meaning in Christ himself. Leonard Goppelt puts it this way:

In his own person Christ takes the place of temple and sacrifice and every other OT means of salvation. He is not simply the mediator of God's New Covenant; he is the incarnation of it. His place in typology becomes clear only when we realize there is no typology that by-passes Christ; he is the antitype of the entire OT.

--Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New, 116

23 January 2009

Goppelt: The Focal Point

With the following two sentences Leonard Goppelt jolted me out of the increasingly hypnotic slumber into which his 1939 doctoral dissertation on typology had been sending me.

If Jesus of Nazareth is 'the one who was to come,' if he is the goal of all biblical history, then he is the focal point that gathers all the rays of light that issue from Scripture. Now they do not shine miraculously here and there, but give a clear, unambiguous picture that is consistent with the salvation that Christ brings.

I would only change, under the influence of Jonathan Edwards' History of the Work of Redemption and typological writings in the second half of vol. 11 of the Yale Works, "biblical history" to "human history."

Leonard Goppelt, Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New, 58

Henry: Pleasure and Duty Reunited

Here's another fascinating section of Carl Henry's study of Christian ethics. He explains that pleasure and duty ought not to be seen as in antithesis, as in secular ethics, which tends to either place pleasure at the top and neglect duty, or duty at the top (Kant's categorical imperative) and neglect pleasure. Henry writes that Christian ethics

overcomes the tension introduced into the moral life when pleasure and duty are set in opposition. Secular ethics has issued on the one hand in an ethics of duty at the expense of personal pleasure, and on the other hand in an ethics of pleasure which threatens to negate duty. The failure to exhibit the organic relation of pleasure and duty is the deficiency which allows for such miscarriage in moral theory. . . . Actual Christian ethics shows the path of duty to be also the path of genuine happiness, and true happiness as the service of God and man. It reconciles the two - and here proves itself again to be superior to secular ethics.

--Christian Personal Ethics, 171

Sanctification by Faith

I'm trying to figure out these days the precise nature of the relationship between the gospel and growth, or justification and sanctification, or status and progress, in the Christian life. In listening to a DMin class taught by Edmund Clowney and Tim Keller (available in full for free at iTunes) I've been alerted to Berkouwer's statements that sanctification is not graduating from but leaning into our justification.

I have been very helped by this and I think it is right. We grow not by moving on from the gospel of grace but by ever deeper reflection on it, on that same good news that got us in. When confronting Peter's racism, Paul did not tell him to have longer quiet times but that his conduct was "not in step with the truth of the gospel" (Gal 2:14).

What is not mentioned in the DMin class is that Berkouwer, along with other strands of continental Reformed thought, neglected (some say denied) the new ethical impulse implanted in the soul in regeneration. See Berkouwer's Faith and Sanctification (Eerdmans, 1952) for his full exploration of these things.

All this is to say that I've found Carl Henry's treatment of the relation between justification and sanctification very helpful. In Personal Christian Ethics (Eerdmans, 1957), he interacts with Berkouwer but sides rather with Charles Hodge and John Murray, who emphasize that while sanctification must assuredly be by faith (no less than justification is by faith), nevertheless in sanctification there is implanted a new impulse so that, though sin is not eradicated in this life, it will not reign in the life of a true believer (pp. 467-71; see also 370-77). I have found this in Edwards too.

So I continue to think about how the gospel is not just the ticket in, to be torn up once we're in, but the very air we are to breathe after we're in.

22 January 2009

Warfield: Theological Training

A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly. . . . In your case there can be no ‘either-or’ here--either a student or a man of God. You must be both.

--B. B. Warfield

HT: Redeemer Seminary

21 January 2009

A New Moral Contagion

Paul Tournier, Swiss Christian and psychologist, ends his little book on marriage this way:

Psychology may reveal problems and suggest wise measures to be taken. But the real solution of problems demands a more profound change, one of spiritual nature. It is this change in spirit which the Bible calls 'metanoia,' or 'repentance' . . . .

In view of the proportions which marriage conflicts have taken, we have multiplied courses on marriage preparation and the whole field of marriage counseling has developed. All this is to the good. Yet, it is quite clear that neither courses nor counseling will ever suffice in the face of our present widespread breakdown of marriage. We need more than good counsel. We need a new moral contagion, one which brings about a change in deep-seated attitudes.

--To Understand Each Other, 56

20 January 2009

Dialogues of the Deaf

Listen to all the conversations of our world, those between nations as well as those between couples. They are for the most part dialogues of the deaf. Each one speaks primarily in order to set forth his own ideas, in order to justify himself and to accuse others. Exceedingly few exchanges of viewpoints manifest a real desire to understand the other person.

--Paul Tournier, To Understand the Other (trans. J. S. Gilmour; Richmond: John Knox, 1969), 8-9

18 January 2009

We Shall Be Made

Chicago, Illinois, where I live, is known for its cold and windy winters. But it also has beautiful springs and hot summers. To focus on one without the other is not so much wrong as horribly incomplete. In fact, the cold brings the heat into clearer focus. Jonathan Edwards is known for 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,' but he also has beautiful sermons on the love of God. To focus on one without the other is not so much wrong as horribly incomplete. And God's wrath brings his love into clearer focus.

Today I discovered the most beautiful description of God's love I've yet read in Edwards, on Rom 5:8 - 'But God shows his love for us in this . . . .' One of many quotable portions explains that loving Christ does not add to our existence; it is our existence.

Christ loved us when he could receive no addition by us if we are added to him. He is not the greater or the better, for he is infinite and all-sufficient and can't be added to, though he is graciously pleased, having set his love upon us not to look upon himself complete. But if we love Jesus Christ, it will be on the contrary exceedingly. If we love him and he be ours, we shall not only be added to, but we shall be made. We shall come out of nothing into being. It will be a far greater exaltation than if we were from beggars turned to potent monarchs.

--"The Dying Love of Christ," in The Blessing of God: Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 291

17 January 2009

Sorrow no Longer the Islands but the Sea

Today I read Nicholas Wolterstorff's moving Lament for a Son. His son Eric died at age 25 in a mountain climbing accident in Austria.

I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see. (26)

Sometimes I think that happiness is over for me. I look at photos of the past and immediately comes the thought: that's when we were still happy. But I can still laugh, so I guess that isn't quite it. Perhaps what's over is happiness as the fundamental tone of my existence. Now sorrow is that. Sorrow is no longer the islands but the sea. (47)

I find myself chastened. And more alive. And more grateful for Christ's great Reversal. The completion of a dissertation has moved one step closer in my heart to where it should be.

16 January 2009

Kierkegaard: Three Ways to Live

I have heard both my brothers mention their appreciation of Soren Kierkegaard, but I have never read much of him myself until dipping into him a bit this week. I was fascinated to discover (in research sparked by a commenter) that C. S. Lewis and F. B. Meyer were not the only ones to talk about three ways of living rather than just two (good and bad, obedient and disobedient, moral and immoral). Kierkegaard, too, spoke in similar categorization:

- the aesthetic: living selfishly for one's own pleasure
- the ethical: living begrudgingly in accord with some external moral norm
- the religious: living in the glad abandon of faith in God

Kierkegaard uses the word "religious" in precisely the opposite way others use it (Schlatter, Tournier, Lloyd-Jones, Keller), but conceptually he seems to have been putting his finger on the same insight into authentic gospel living.

I found Clare Carlisle's Kierkegaard: A Guide for the Perplexed (the title of which immediately indicated it was for me) helpful in laying these three ways out, especially pp. 77-83.

14 January 2009

Religion or Revival?

In his book on the theology of Jonathan Edwards, Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson makes a fascinating side comment.

"It is a fundamental and forgotten fact about America's Christian heritage: revival was not in its founding a means to promote religion; it was the surprising result of a critique of religion."

(Jenson had earlier defined "religion" as "that self-assertion which presumes to be justified otherwise than by faith.")

--Robert W. Jenson, America's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 63; emphasis original.

13 January 2009

True Spiritual Power

True spiritual power of the Christian order is a kind of possessedness. It arises in and flows through a life hid with Christ in God. Its source is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . True spiritual power is the child of two parents: the truth as it is revealed in Jesus and our own experience resulting upon our acceptance of Him and His truth. The objective factor is that the whole set of facts and truths, of historic events, and of interpretation of them, which is held by the church and set forth in the Bible. The subjective factor is what happens in the crucible of your life and mine. . . . We then have a two-edged witness.

We witness to the truth as it is in Jesus, and we witness to the Christian experience as this transforms our own lives. If you take only the truth, and leave out the experience, you will probably become dogmatic and hard. If you take only the experience and leave out the truth, you will probably become woolly and amorphous and sentimental. But when you take both, and both are watered by the streams of grace, you have authentic spiritual power. . . .

The truth without power is a factory for hypocrites.

--Sam Shoemaker, Extraordinary Living for Ordinary People (Zondervan, 1967), 122-23, 125

Good words on the need for a strawberry-rhubarb theology!

10 January 2009

The Omnipotence of Grace

I've just discovered the most fascinating book, called The Waiting Father, by twentieth century German theologian Helmut Thielicke. Another one left to me by my grandfather. It's a series of sermons preached in Hamburg on Jesus' parables. Up to three thousand came to hear him at a point of extreme spiritual poverty in the city. I want to put up some of the best bits in the days ahead.

For now, here's a statement from the last of over 400 written works by Adolf Schlatter, a series of biblical-theologically rich devotionals called Do We Know Jesus?, written in the 1930s in part to deconstruct Nazi sympathies among his fellow Germans (though he was raised in Switzerland). It's on Jesus' statement in Matt 19 that it is impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom.

Jesus could not get through to people, not only because a caesar who demanded divine worship for himself got in the way, and the Pharisees blocked people's way to God, and the teachers of the Law by their scholarship choked out life. [note to self: scholarship plus my fallen heart minus fierce clinging to the gospel equals choking out life] No, his word also appears unbelievable and his offer without value if nature comes to man's aid and his natural cravings take their proper course, so that he calls a large piece of property his own and accumulates worldly goods and takes full control of his life.

But the final note is:

Above the impossibilities of our own making stands the omnipotence of grace, and there is no "impossible" that precludes its saving work.

--Do We Know Jesus? pp. 192, 193

09 January 2009

Nouwen: The Prodigal Son

Henri Nouwen on the older son of Luke 15:

The more I reflect on the elder son in me, the more I realize how deeply rooted this form of lostness really is and how hard it is to return home from there. Returning home from a lustful escapade seems so much easier than returning home from a cold anger that has rooted itself in the deepest corners of my being. My resentment is not something that can be easily distinguished and dealt with rationally. It is far more pernicious: something that has attached itself to the underside of my virtue.

--The Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 75

Edwards in Scotland

Speaking of Edwards, would love to be here.


08 January 2009

Edwards: Sleeping Parishioners

I couldn't help but smile and wonder and yet be saddened and chastened by the close of an Edwards' sermon called "When the Spirit of God Has Been Remarkably Poured Out on a People, a Thorough Reformation of Those Things that Before Were Amiss Ought to Be the Effect of It." He notes the problem of "sleeping at meeting" and concludes:

Let me therefore entreat that this practice may be thoroughly reformed amongst us. I would desire that persons would avoid laying down their bodies in their seats in the midst of public worship. 'Tis a very indecent practice. . . . Let neighbors show kindness to one another as to wake each other when asleep. (The Blessing of God, p. 270).

This was 1736--a year after true revival came to Northampton, and a few years before the Great Awakening. Jonathan Edwards' concluding exhortation is neither "pray for two hours a day" nor "violently enter the kingdom" nor "labor that God might fall upon us" nor "spend 13 hours a day studying" nor "resolve to give all you are to God as if he were returning within the hour" but: stay awake. Edwards looked out and preached to a recently revived but fast declining people, seeing them sleeping during his sermons and actually having to exhort them to stay awake and wake each other up if need be. How discouraged he must have been to see this and have to address it from the pulpit.

Yet I find a strange encouragement. For is this not the way of God? That those who seem to themselves so inconsequential are the ones God most loves using? I doubt many people are sleeping through our smiling preachers who speak to thousands from converted athletic stadiums about how to feel good about ourselves--but we won't be reading their sermons in 300 years.

Things are not as they seem. God's value system is upside down from the world's--no, from mine. I find encouragement.

07 January 2009

How to Win a Game Down by 1, 0.6 seconds left

The Whole Law

Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. --James 2:10

I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. --Gal 5:3

Whoever gives nomism a finger must give it the whole hand. When applied in this way, especially with regard to the ritual prescriptions of the Law, there is in fact something alarming about this Jewish principle. Indeed, Paul intends to alarm his readers with it and to deter them from any pact with the Law. --Martin Dibelius, Commentary on James, 146

In my gospel-forgetfulness I tend to think that at least partial lawkeeping is better than no lawkeeping. At least I'll do something to be good. At least, say, the manageable parts of the law, the ritual parts. But between these two options of partial lawkeeping or no lawkeeping, God would rather have me be blatantly immoral. At then then I would know I'm resisting grace.

05 January 2009

Mighty God

Thank you, Lord, for Zack Eswine's message from Dec 7, on the phrase "Mighty God" in Isaiah 9, through which you are helping me to see the way forward in my walk with you.

I encourage my blog readers to listen and consider.

02 January 2009

'The Great Disturbance'

That's Barth's heading for Rom 12-15 in his Romans commentary, describing the kind of ethical life introduced into society by those for whom Rom 1-11 has been made real.

HT: Ray Ortlund, Dec 18 sermon