31 May 2009

Our Own Fussy Attempts

In one of many letters to a woman who lived in Virginia (the "lady" of Letters to an American Lady), C. S. Lewis in 1958 answered some questions about prayer. At one point he says:

Joy tells me that once, years ago, she was haunted one morning by a feeling that God wanted something of her, a persistent pressure like the nag of a neglected duty. And till mid-morning she kept on wondering what it was. But the moment she stopped worrying, the answer came through as plain as a spoken voice. It was 'I don't want you to do anything. I want to give you something': and immediately her heart was full of peace and delight. St. Augustine says 'God gives where he finds empty hands.' A man whose hands are full of parcels can't receive a gift. Perhaps these parcels are not always sins or earthly cares, but sometimes our own fussy attempts to worship Him in our way.

--The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:930-31

29 May 2009

Again: Sanctification by Gospel

Rom 8:3 - God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh . . .

Rom 8:4 - . . . in order that (hina) the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

8:3 tells us what God has done for us, 8:4 what he does in us; 8:3 focuses on Christ, 8:4 on the Spirit; 8:3 on a point in time, 8:4 on a process; 8:3 then, 8:4 now; using the words in the most broadly theological sense, 8:3 on justification, 8:4 on sanctification. And the second of each pair is result (and perhaps purpose)--"in order that"--of the first.

Men of Strength

Jethro to Moses: "But you select for yourself from among all the people men of strength, who fear God, men of truth, who hate unjust gain . . ." (Exod 18:21)

Paul to Timothy: "What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also . . ." (2 Tim 2:2)

Get off the couch, men.

26 May 2009

Luther: Three Kinds of Obedience

A few years ago I mentioned my discovery of, and reproduced in large measure, C. S. Lewis' essay 'Three Kinds of Men,' found in his book Present Concerns. Perhaps the two most important pages I have read outside Scripture (see also here); at least, I can't think of anything that would rival it. Lewis says there are not two ways to live: living for oneself vs. living for God. Rather there are three: living for oneself, living for oneself by being good, and truly living for God by enjoying him. Since then I've found a similar way of thinking in Thomas Aquinas, F. B. Meyer, and Soren Kierkegaard. Jonathan Edwards gets at the same reality in his own way, though not with the clear threefold taxonomy as these others. I was delighted tonight to discover a similar way of understanding obedience (and a similar taxonomy) in Luther.

In 1521 the reformer preached a sermon called 'The Three Kinds of Good Life for the Instruction of Consciences,' found in vol. 44 of LW.

He says there are 'three kinds of conscience and three kinds of sin, as well as three kinds of the good life with three kinds of good works' (235). The first kind 'is concerned only with outward works' (235). 'As a result of this kind of teaching, people become hardened and blind' (236). '[T]heir holiness is circumscribed by their five senses and their bodily existence. And yet, this very holiness shines brighter in the eyes of the world than does real holiness' (238). This is the Pharisee, the person who does the right things but with a rotten heart.

The second kind of person has a well-developed conscience. It understands 'humility, meekness, gentleness, peace, fidelity, love, propriety, purity, and the like' (239). Such people, however, 'set about them in the wrong way' (240). They 'maintain a pious posture not out of their own desire, but because they fear disgrace, punishment, or hell. . . . And this false ground is so deep that no saint has ever fathomed its bottom.' Such people have a sensitive conscience, unlike the first kind, but they follow it not from godliness but self-love. Luther then prepares to transition into the third kind of person. 'God does not just want such works by themselves. He wants them to be performed gladly and willingly. And when there is no joy in doing them and the right will and motive are absent, then they are dead in God's eyes' (240). Luther explains that none of us can rise above this second kind of person of our own ability.

The third kind of person is different not in externals but is qualitatively different in the heart--this person wants to obey. They are characterized by two realities, says Luther: self-denial and the Holy Spirit. He then concludes: 'When the Spirit comes . . . look, he makes a pure, free, cheerful, glad, and loving heart, a heart which is simply gratuitously righteous, seeking no reward, fearing no punishment. Such a heart is holy for the sake of holiness . . . and does everything with joy' (241-42).

The helpfulness and profundity of all these thinkers is their articulation of that middle way, between all-out rebellion and glad gospel obedience, of (where we all live) begrudging obedience that obeys like paying a tax, hoping that afterward we'll have some money to spend on ourselves, and failing to see that such 'obedience' is just as much a rejection of the gospel as open rebellion.

Westminster: The First Commandment

Several days ago I mentioned Luther's illuminating tying together of the first commandment with justification by faith, and the way the first commandment is the umbrella under which all other commandments are subsumed. Since then I've discovered Luther explaining this in three different places: a sermon series on the ten commandments, his Treatise on Good Works, and his Large Catechism. This alone indicates how critical this insight was to Luther's thinking, and it is turning on all sorts of lights for me.

Anyway, here's how the Westminster Larger Catechism explains the first commandment. Though it does not make the explicit link with justification by faith, it's still wonderful and stirring.

Question 104: What are the duties required in the first commandment?

Answer: The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honoring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of him; believing him; trusting, hoping, delighting, rejoicing in him; being zealous for him; calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man; being careful in all things to please him, and sorrowful when in anything he is offended; and walking humbly with him.

If we were to do that, would there be any need for any other commandment? Luther recognized--no.

25 May 2009

Packer: The Heart of the Gospel

We have all heard the gospel presented as God's triumphant answer to human problems--problems of our relation with ourselves and our fellow humans and our environment. Well, there is no doubt that the gospel does bring us solutions to these problems, but it does so by first solving a deeper problem--the deepest of all human problems, the problem of man's relation with his Maker. And unless we make it plain that the solution of these former problems depends on the settling of this latter one, we are misrepresenting the message and becoming false witnesses of God. . . . No reader of the New Testament can miss the fact that it knows all about our human problems--fear, moral cowardice, illness of body and mind, loneliness, insecurity, hopelessness, despair, cruelty, abuse of power, and the rest--but equally no reader of the New Testament can miss the fact that it resolves all these problems, one way or another, into the fundamental problem of sin against God.

By sin the New Testament means not social error or failure in the first instance, but rebellion against, defiance of, retreat from, and consequent guilt before God the Creator; and sin, says the New Testament, is the basic evil from which we need deliverance, and from which Christ died to save us.

--J. I. Packer, 'The Heart of the Gospel,' in Knowing God

I've said many times before on this blog how enriched I have been by reading those NT scholars with whom I often disagree on fundamentals. So I will simply say, as clearly as I can: Receptive, sober, prayerful, Bible-saturated, psychologically penetrating consideration of this statement, and the addition of 'disunity' and 'ethnic exclusivism' to Packer's list of horizontal problems, would go a long way toward enabling James Dunn, Don Garlington and N. T. Wright to rectify some of the imbalances they are propounding. (I use their names not out of animosity but because they have made their views so manifestly public, requiring public correction.) Theirs is neither 'another gospel' nor heretical teaching (i.e. error that damns); that kind of defensive, entrenched verbal grenade-launching clarifies nothing but the insecurity of those who toss them. Yet the respective explications of the gospel by Wright and others so fuzzy the truth that undiscerning pastors reading their commentaries may propagate a gospel that prevents their people from the absolute and sheer freeness that is theirs in Christ, detracting from the magnificence of God's inexhaustible grace along the way.

Lewis: Writing Tips

In a 1956 letter from C. S. Lewis to a woman named Joan Lancaster who had written Lewis soliciting advice regarding a piece she had written, Lewis lists five tips for 'what really matters' in effective writing (Collected Letters, 3:766). Great advice for us students.

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don't implement promises, keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean 'more people died' don't say 'mortality rose.'

4. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was 'terrible,' describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was 'delightful': make us say 'delightful' when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers 'Please will you do my job for me.'

5. Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very': otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

One of the joys of reading Lewis is that he follows his own advice.

24 May 2009

Present Acquittal

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life will set you free . . .

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free . . .

The first sentence is how we functionally live the gospel. The second is what Paul actually said.

In listening to my dad's sermon on this text from a few weeks ago I began to see the important connection between the first two verses of Rom 8. Taken by itself, v. 1, despite the 'now,' might be seen as referring to what will really only be true on the last day (It is now decided that you will, at the end, be acquitted). But verse two confirms that the 'now' means exactly what it sounds like it means, because v. 2 says we have been set free, not that we will be set free.

I conclude: the reality as well as the feelings of condemnation that assault us every day, sometimes out of the blue and sometimes resulting from quite concrete sin, have no part in the life of the Christian. But that isn't how we live. We intuitively live as if we've been set free from ultimate condemnation on the last day, but in the meantime a bit of healthy somberness and wincing over our moral failings is in order. 'Thanks, Lord, for freeing us from final condemnation--what wonderful mercy--now let me get back to the little acts of self-indictment that underscore how little I deserve that mercy.'

According to Rom 8:1-2, that is not helping the gospel but denying it. There is no condemnation now because we have been set free. If that's true, then we're not only freed from having our sins articulated against us then, but also now. Sometimes it's others who articulate our sins against us; usually it's our own conscience. But conscience-condemnation is still condemnation, and all condemnation has been eliminated.

In light of the gospel--'Christ died for our sins'--sin is not the biggest problem in our life. There's an answer for sin shockingly readily available: Christ, atonement. Our fierce resistance to embrace the sheer freeness of that atonement is the biggest problem. That embrace is what the New Testament calls 'faith.' And it results in no condemnation--not only then, but also now. Not only doctrinally, but also emotionally.

21 May 2009

Lewis: Vocation

I find another bit of Lewis correspondence very helpful just a few letters after the one below on heaven - here he talks about vocation, with some penetrating wisdom for Stacey and me as we find ourselves constantly thinking about our imminent post-studies future.

Do you think one's vocation which looks so cryptic as a whole, is usually fairly clear from day to day and moment to moment? One usually has an idea of what to do next. Need one know any more? It would be a pity if when He came He found me thinking about my vocation at a moment when I would have been better employed writing a letter, making a bed, entertaining a bore - or something quite dull and obvious.

--Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:781

Weak and Foolish

Graham Tomlin's fascinating dissertation written at Oxford was published in 1999 with the title: The Power of the Cross: Theology and the Death of Christ in Paul, Luther and Pascal. Intriguing conjunction of thinkers. Concluding his comments on Paul, which focuses on the Corinthian correspondence, he writes:

Paul claims that God's action in the cross is paradigmatic for his action in the present, in that just as God chose the weak suffering Christ, so also he chooses socially inferior people, and a weak suffering apostle. The cross therefore has theological significance for Paul, in that it reveals the way God works now, not just the way he achieved salvation in the past. Paul insists that the God who 'chose' the crucified Messiah also 'chose' the poorer Christians and a weak apostle. . . . Paul's language in [1 Corinthians] implies a new understanding of God, rooted in OT perspectives, of a God who always achieves his purposes through things which in the eyes of the world are weak and foolish. (pp. 100-1)

Hope for me!

Relatedly, the definitive work on crucifixion in the ancient world and how it was understood by Jews and then reworked by Christians is by David Chapman (Covenant Seminary) and was published last year.

Our Habit

[H]uman nature is radically twisted into an instinctive yet deliberate and ineradicable habit of God-defying or God-denying self-service.

--J. I. Packer, In My Place Condemned He Stood, 23

19 May 2009

The First Commandment and Justification

In 1520 Luther sought to put to rest the charges of antinomianism that were flying at him left and right, writing the 100-page booklet A Treatise on Good Works. The following paragraph from that work captures the heart of what Luther has been teaching me this year. It comes in the course of a discussion in which Luther is arguing that faith necessarily produces works, and that, conversely, no work is good unless it is founded on faith.

This is the work of the first commandment, which enjoins, 'Thou shalt have no other gods.' This means, 'Since I alone am God, thou shalt place all thy confidence, trust, and faith in me alone and in no one else.' For you do not have a god if you just call him God outwardly with your lips, or worship him with the knees or bodily gestures; but only if you trust him with your heart and look to him for all good, grace, and favor. . . . [T]his faith, this trust, this confidence from the heart's core is the true fulfilling of the first commandment. Without such faith no work at all can satisfy this command. And because this commandment is the very first of all commandments and the highest and the best, the one from which all others proceed, in which they exist and by which they are judged and assessed, so its work (that is, the faith or confidence that God is gracious at all times) is the very first, highest, and best from which all others must proceed, in which they must exist and abide, and by which they must be judged and assessed. (LW, 44:30)

Two critical insights emerge from this densely packed paragraph.

(1) What is the first commandment, with its prohibition of idolatry? A call to justification by faith. The only alternative to justification by faith alone is idolatry--justification by an idol. The OT says 'You shall have no other gods before me'; the NT says 'We hold that one is justified by faith.' It boils down to the same dynamic of the heart.

(2) Any breach of commandments 2-10 is necessarily at the same time a breach of commandment number one. To commit adultery, e.g., is not simply to break a rule; it is to have another god (sex) before Yahweh. It is justification by sex. The first commandment is the umbrella under which the others subsequently fall.

The Will's Inherent Bondage

It is because we do not really know God that we must . . . construct a theology that enables us basically to place our trust in ourselves. The point of Luther's writing On the Bondage of the Will is that as sinners we are bound by our own will to do this. The bondage of the will does not stem from the fact that because God is almighty we are therefore forced to do some things 'against our will'. . . . No, the bondage of the will Luther was talking about was much more actual. It is something of our own making. We will not accept an almighty God and so are bound by our own will to construct a theology based on our own freedom. We are the problem, not God.

--Gerhard Forde, Where God Meets Man: Luther's Down-to-Earth Approach to the Gospel (Augsburg 1972), 24; emphasis original

But God . . . (Eph 2:4)

Colossians: Christ!

Read through one of my favorite portions of Scripture today, Colossians. I'm often struck by how helpful it is to read the smaller books of the Bible in one sitting. I'm a bit slow here, but I learned today that this letter is about Christ. Wow, you're thinking, you really are slow Dane. Anyway, in a way I have never seen by my typical chunk-by-chunk reading of the Bible, Colossians pervasively brings the focus back to Christ. It is saturated with Jesus Christ.

We are familiar of course with the great Christ-hymn of 1:15-20. But every discussion comes back to Christ and his preeminence and sufficiency. "Him we proclaim." "God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures . . ." "the circumcision of Christ." "These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." "Your life is hid with Christ." "When Christ who is your life . . ." "Christ is all, and in all." "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." "Whatever you do, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus."


Again: Santification by Gospel

. . . not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard . . . (Col 1:23)

The gospel is not the diploma we're given when we graduate into Christianity, but the soil in which we flourish the rest of our lives.

Stewardship, not Advantages

You have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself . . . (Rom 2:1)

Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. (Rom 2:27).

Paul mentions condemning (katakrino) twice in Rom 2. The first tells the moral man/Jew not to judge others, since he does the same things; the second goes even further, declaring that the outsider/gentile will be the very one who does the condemning. The point: God's pleasure over our lives, founded ultimately on Christ, rests not in the advantages we are given at birth but in what we do with whatever God does give us. In fact, inherited social and religious advantages can be positively blinding (2:17-23).

18 May 2009

Luther: Intellectual Self-Love

Good words for a pride-prone phd student.

Nothing pleases a man so much as self-love, when he has a passion for his own wisdom. The cupidity of a greedy man is as nothing compared with a man's hearty pleasure in his own ideas. (sermon preached Jan 17, 1546, in LW 51:377)

The devil so rides these people [the "wise" of Matt 11:28] that all they want from the Holy Scriptures and God's Word is a big name and their own praise and honor, and they want to be more than other people. But here we ought to say: Dear heavenly Father, speak thou, I am willing to be a fool and a child and be silent; for if I were to rule with my own understanding, wisdom, and reason, the cart would long since have been stuck in the mire and the ship would long since have been wrecked. (sermon preached Feb 15, 1546, the last sermon he ever preached; in LW 51:388).

I find myself rebuked.

Luther: Table Talk

I've been going through the last volume of the American edition of Luther's Works, Table Talk. It's a fascinating collection of brief vignettes recorded by various people who were exposed to Luther over the course of his life. Here are two quotes on joy.

Feb 19, 1533 - I advise you young fellows: Beware of melancholy, for it is forbidden by God because it's so destructive to the body. Our Lord God has commanded us to be cheerful.

Spring, 1533, Luther giving advice on how to help a depressed young man - He ought to think about Christ. You should say to him, 'Christ lives. You have been baptized. God is not a God of sadness, death, etc., but the devil is. Christ is a God of joy, and so the Scriptures often say that we should rejoice, be glad, etc. This is Christ.'

A Christian should and must be a cheerful person. If he isn't, the devil is tempting him. I have sometimes been grievously tempted while bathing in my garden, and then I have sung the hymn, 'Let us now praise Christ.' Otherwise I would have been lost then an there. Accordingly, when you notice that you have some such thoughts, say, 'This isn't Christ.' . . . This is a command of God: 'Rejoice!' I now preach this, and I also write it, but I haven't as yet learned it.

--Table Talk, in LW, 54:75, 96

He Knew We Were Sinners

Since it has pleased God
to give us his Son as our Intercessor,
let us not leave him for another--
or rather seek, without ever finding.
For when God gave him to us
he knew well that we were sinners.

--Belgic Confession, Article 26

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)

17 May 2009

Luther, Wright, Wilson, Blomberg

Very interesting response by Doug Wilson to Craig Blomberg's glowing review of Wright's new justification book. (HT: JT)

I'm immersed in Luther at the moment and, among other things, have been struck with Luther's awareness of (1) Jew-gentile issues in the NT; (2) the relevance of the gospel not only "to get me to heaven" but for this life now; and (3) most importantly regarding the above reviews, the way in which the gospel, for Luther, was constantly bringing him to interact with social and political issues of the day--the very opposite of the portrait Wright paints of Luther in his latest.

On (2), e.g., I just read this today in Gerhard Forde's Where God Meets Man: Luther's Down-to-Earth Approach to the Gospel: "The gospel is the joyful message that in Christ this new creation has already and actually broken in on us, and the promise that it will be carried to its completion" (16). That doesn't sound like abstract theologizing to me. Sounds like Wright himself. Sounds like the NT.

11 May 2009

Carson Interview

D. A. Carson answers questions in a humorous Q + A at the recent New Word Alive conference in Wales. The first two questions have to do with the New Perspective and Wright's new justification book. Helpful.

HT: Andy Naselli

10 May 2009

The Human Face

In Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, a dying pastor in Iowa writes his memoirs to his son. At one point he says:

Now, in my present situation, now that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face. . . . It has something to do with incarnation. You feel your obligation to a child when you have seen it and held it. Any human face is a claim on you, because you can't help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it. But this is truest of the face of an infant. I consider that to be one kind of vision, as mystical as any. (p. 66)

And later:

It has been my experience that guilt can burst through the smallest breach and cover the landscape, and abide in it in pools and danknesses, just as native as water. (p. 82)

08 May 2009

Barrett: Paul and Faith

Our brother Nick Nowalk recently made me aware of the following penetrating statement from Barrett on what Paul's gospel repudiates.

It has frequently been asked why Paul speaks often of faith, seldom of repentance. It cannot be said that he did not know the meaning of repentance. . . . But for Paul faith is not essentially a matter of turning away from a bad way of life; it is equally, and at a deeper level, a turning away from a good life in which one depends on one's own achievement, one's own works done in obedience to the moral law. . . . In order to believe man repudiates not only his bad morals but his good morals. Repentance is a term that would not adequately cover this.

--C. K. Barrett, Paul: An Introduction to His Thought (Westminster John Knox 1994), 102

07 May 2009

Chalmers: Sanctification by Gospel

Dan Orr draws our attention to the way Thomas Chalmers explains gospel-fueled sanctification.

Passion 2010

Would love to be there. We'll see.

06 May 2009

C. S. Lewis' Discovery of Forgiveness

On April 25, 1951, as a 53-year-old who had 12 years of life left,
C. S. Lewis discovered forgiveness.

In December of that year, he wrote to his priest (in Latin):

. . . during the past year a great joy has befallen me. Difficult though it is, I shall try to explain this in words. It is astonishing that sometimes we believe that we believe what, really, in our heart, we do not believe.

For a long time I believed that I believed in the forgiveness of sins. But suddenly (on St. Mark's Day) this truth appeared in my mind in so clear a light that I perceived that never before (and that after many confessions and absolutions) had I believed it with my whole heart. . . . Jesus has cancelled the handwriting that was against us. Lift up our hearts! (Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:151-52)

Five years later, in another letter, Lewis related the experience more fully to a woman who had freshly discovered the awe-full reality of Christ's incarnation.

Almost exactly the same thing that happened to you about the Incarnation happened to me a few years ago about the Forgiveness of Sins. Like you, I had assented to the doctrine years earlier and would have said I believed it. Then, one blessed day, it suddenly became real to me and made what I had previously called 'belief' look absolutely unreal. It is a wonderful thing. But not, on inferior matters, so very uncommon. We all in one sense 'believe' we are mortal: but until one's forties does one really believe one is going to die? On the edge of a cliff can't one believe, and yet not really believe, that there's no danger? But certainly this real belief in the truths of our religion is a great gift from God. When in Hebrews 'faith' is defined as 'the substance of things hoped for,' I would translate 'substance' as 'substantialness' or 'solidity' or (almost) 'palpableness.' (ibid., 751)

04 May 2009

The Deafening Historic Event

When God raised Jesus from the dead, he said in the deafening language of actual historic event what he had said in the strange descent of the dove at Jesus' baptism: 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' In other words: this is the faithful Messiah, in whom my purpose for, and my call to, Israel is fulfilled.

--N. T. Wright, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision (InterVarsity 2009), 215

Eswine: The Question for Preachers

Could I now reach who I once was?

Every preacher needs to ask this question. Every preacher is a human being who once was a child needing to grow up, whose stories are mistures of tragedies and triumphs. Every preacher is a human being who has given wrong answers, prayed incorrecly, misquoted the Bible, daydreamed, and longed for things that now embarrass or have hurt other people. And it was there as such a person in such environments that God came and found us. Anything good we ever preach has been made possible by a prior testimony of God's mercy. We've dreamt of making a difference. But what if differences are made by remembering where we'd be without God and then ministering to others out of that knowledge? What if preaching requires something prior to homiletics?

. . . Until we remember that God drew us to himself and nourished us before we even knew where to find the book of Exodus in the Bible or that such things as Arminianism and Calvinism even existed, we will withhold from others the same mercy that was required for us to learn what we now know.

--Zack Eswine, Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons that Connect with Our Culture (Baker 2008), 11

Zack's own messages are invariably helpful, softening, humble, real, Christian. He pastors Riverside Church in St. Louis. Listen here.

Thank you Dr. Poythress

Vern Poythress dedicated his 1991 book The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses to the Jewish people. The book then opens like this:

To Jews who read my book I would like to give a special message: I love you. Through your ancestors and through your people I received the most beautiful book in the world, the Bible. Through that book I came to know the true God, the God of your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I am one of those people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah who was promised in the Torah and the Prophets. Through Jesus I have come to know about that Torah that God gave to Moses and to submit to it. I am deeply sorry for the harm that has come to your people through Christians who thought that they were serving Jesus. I am convinced that they were doing the very opposite of what He commanded. (p. xi)

A model for us all.

03 May 2009

Christ in the OT

Many OT passages are quite clearly taken up in the NT as preparing for or pointing to Christ. What about those sections of the OT that seem totally unrelated to Christ? What about the proverbs, or the destruction of pagan nations, or long genealogies? I've been wrestling with this recently.

Dennis Johnson provides a paragraph that is extremely helpful here as he concludes his discussion of typology in his 2007 Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures, the fruit of 30 years of teaching NT and homiletics at Westminster (west).

The performance of every covenantal mediator and participant--patriarch, prophet, priest, judge, king, husband, father, son, parents, children, servant--ultimately is to be interpreted in light of the ways it reflects (or falls short of reflecting) the perfect covenant obedience to be offered by Jesus as the Servant of God and the rescue to be accomplished by Jesus as the Lord of his people--in sum, the consummate mediation that would be achieved by Jesus the Son of God and brother of his people. Judges' failings and kings' injustices demonstrated to Israel the need for a coming king who would render justice with absolute equity and divine omniscience (Isa 11:1-5). Priests' pollution and mortality showed Israel the need for a coming priest who would represent the people before the presence of God in unblemished moral purity and permanence. Prophets' sufferings in bringing the message of God reflected for Israel the sufferings of the faithful eschatological Word, but even the prophets on occasion display misgivings and a faltering of faith in the message entrusted to them by God. Thus the mixed behavior of covenantal leaders makes each, by virtue of his office, in one way or another, typological of the Coming Deliverer, in whom the roles of prophet, priest and king would be perfectly fulfilled. (p. 216)

02 May 2009

Game 7 Tonight

Our Primary Goal

I don't want to be obnoxious about this (and if this is old hat to you thanks for your patience--though if it feels old hat, that itself is probably indicative of your need for the very truth I'm mentioning here), but I'm going to keep mentioning things that are currently helping me, and right now I'm working through this question of the intersection of the startling freeness of the gospel and Christian holiness.

How would you fill in the blank? "It ought to be the primary goal of every Christian to ________________."

Pursue personal holiness? Lead others to Christ? Serve others in love? Cultivate the spiritual disciplines?

Here's Luther's answer: "It ought to be the primary goal of every Christian to put aside confidence in works and grow stronger in the belief that we are saved by faith alone" (The Freedom of a Christian [trans. M. Tranvik; Fortress 2008], 55). The primary goal of every Christian.

01 May 2009

Luther: Tell Me Something New, Devil

When I awoke last night, the Devil came and wanted to debate with me; he rebuked me and reproached me, arguing that I was a sinner. To this replied: Tell me something new, Devil! I already know that perfectly well; I have committed many a solid and real sin. Indeed there must be good honest sins--not fabricated and invented ones--for God to forgive his beloved Son's sake, who took all my sins upon Him so that now the sins I have committed are no longer mine but belong to Christ. This wonderful gift of God I am not prepared to deny (in my response to the Devil), but want to acknowledge and confess.

--Martin Luther, as quoted in Mark Tranvik's new translation of Luther's classic, The Freedom of a Christian, which I read for the first time today and rejoiced in