28 June 2009

On Vacation

Till July 6.

27 June 2009

The Value of Stagnation

C. S. Lewis' helpful essays 'The Poison of Subjectivism' is as relevant today as it was in the post WWII days when he wrote it, as well as being an example of the way Lewis helps us simply to think. Here's one passage in which he answers the charge that 'traditional morality' and an objective understanding of good and evil 'exclaims that to tie ourselves to an immutable moral code is to cut off all progress and acquiesce in "stagnation."' Lewis writes:

'Let us strip [this argument] of the illegitimate emotional power it derives from the word "stagnation" with its suggestion of puddles and mantled pools. If water stands too long it stinks. To infer thence that whatever stands long must be unwholesome is to be the victim of metaphor. Space does not stink because it has preserved its three dimensions from the beginning. The square on the hypotenuse has not gone moldy by continuing to equal the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Love is not dishonored by constancy, and when we wash our hands we are not seeking stagnation and "putting the clock back". . . . For the emotive term "stagnant" let us substitute the descriptive term "permanent." Does a permanent moral standard preclude progress? On the contrary, except on the supposition of a changeless standard, progress is impossible. If good is a fixed point, it is at least possible that we should get nearer and nearer to it; but if the terminus is as mobile as the train, how can the train progress towards it? . . . We can go on getting a sum more and more nearly right only if the one perfectly right answer is "stagnant."'

--Christian Reflections (Eerdmans 1967), 76

26 June 2009

Hebrews: A Sermon on Ps 110?

I've become convinced that Hebrews ought not to be called 'The Epistle to the Hebrews' so much as 'The Sermon to the Hebrews.' And Richard Bauckham has recently shown me the pervasive and fundamental significance of Ps 110 for Hebrews.

Is it possible that Hebrews is a sermon 'on' (in the first century sense) Ps 110?

For instance Heb 1 shows the divinity of Christ, climaxing with Ps 110:1 ('The Lord said to my Lord . . .'), whereas the rest of Hebrews goes on to show Christ's humanity, qualifying him to be our high priest, largely drawing on Ps 110:4 ('You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek').

25 June 2009

Christianity vs. Religion

'Christianity says that all worship of God outside of Christianity is idolatry. And idolatry consists in this, that men worship that divine image which their own religious consciousness has made. They neither know the living God nor do they come in touch with Him in their religions.

'In Christianity God comes down to sinful man. The religions are nothing but man's vain attempts to lift himself up to God.'

--O. Hallesby, Religious or Christian (trans. C. J. Carlsen; Augsburg 1939), 190-91

Taking Up the Cross

'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.' --Mark 8:34

All it takes is a good night's sleep for me to forget that. God is patient.

Here's what Joachim Jeremias says of this text:

'We generally think of one who, as the expression is, bears his cross, as one who patiently accepts whatever God sends; but there is no support here for this interpretation, nor does the phrase bear the meaning of readiness for martyrdom. It rather envisages a concrete situation, namely the moment when the man who has been condemned to crucifixion, with the cross-piece laid on his shoulders, has to run the gauntlet of the howling, yelling crowd, as it greets him with insults and curses. The bitterness lies in the realization of being an unpitied outcast from the community, and exposed defenceless to abuse and contempt. Anyone who follows me, says Jesus, must expect a life as hard as the via dolorosa of one who is on the way to the place of execution. But even in death they are in the hands of one without whose will not even a sparrow falls to the ground. And they may learn . . . how the bliss that awaits them will wipe out all memory of suffering. But however great their sacrifice and their success may be, the greatness of God's gift will keep them humble and guard them from pharisaic self-righteousness.

--Rediscovering the Parables (Scribner's, 1966), 171

24 June 2009

He Buys that Field

Is the kingdom of heaven a tool to be used or a destination to be enjoyed?

Gospel of Thomas: 'The kingdom is like a man who had a treasure, of which he knew nothing, hidden in his field. After he died he left it to his son. The son also knew nothing about it. He took that field and sold it. And the buyer went to plough and found the treasure. He began to lend money at interest to whomever he wished.' (109)

Rabbinic commentary on Song of Songs 4:12: 'It is like a man who inherited a place full of rubbish. The inheritor was lazy and sold it for a ridiculously small sum. The buyer dug it industriously and found a treasure in it. He built a great palace with it and passed through the bazaar with a train of slaves whom he had bought with that treasure.'

Note the fundamental difference in Matthew: 'The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.' (13:44)

In Matthew 13 the kingdom is not a means to generate interest or build a palace but is itself the treasure. Jesus Christ and his gospel is what satisfies. One application: prayer is not intended to provide a new resource (God) to ask for all the things we asked for before we were believers; prayer is a branch communing with the tree; it is life; it is not using but enjoying God.

22 June 2009

The Pedagogical Value of Love

in 1872 as a university student at Basle, Adolf Schlatter took a course in philosophy with F. Nietzsche. Schlatter wrote:

'The chief impression that I internalized from his lectures arose from his offensive haughtiness. He treated his listeners like despicable peons. He convinced me of the principle that to throw out love is to despoil the business of teaching--only genuine love can really educate.'

--Werner Neuer, Adolf Schlatter: A Biography of Germany's Premier Biblical Theologian (Baker 1995), 44

21 June 2009

Schlatter Enters the Pastorate

In 1875, 23-year-old Adolf Schlatter graduated from university and prepared to enter the pastorate. He would spend five years in three churches before a teaching career, the second church of which was a 16,000-member congregation pastored by a theological liberal and in which a theology prof regularly preached while drunk and a leader in the church boasted of his visits to the brothel. As he prepared to go to his first church on the shore of Lake Zurich (across which I swam in June 2006), contemplating giving up a life of academic study for the sake of the Church and sensing his inadequacy, he wrote:

High on a mountainside languished a church
Upwards to it stretched my way
Behind me lay just student days
Could I rise to the challenge ahead?
Burdensome pressure, grim load on my mind
Slowly I trudged--what would I find?

What is your goal, your intent, your desire?
Is preaching dry toil soon tasteless and drear?
Hark! Comes an answer: Jesus' own prayer
Bolt from above, flame flashing forth hope.
'Father in heaven, hallowed by Thy name'
Away with all fear! My strength be his fame

15 June 2009

The Superintelligent

Luther's 1520 treatise "To the Christian Nobility" is the Reformation's central document arguing for priesthood of all believers. Here's the first sentence:

The time for silence is past, and the time to speak has come.

On the next page Luther writes:

I beg you, give my apologies to those who are moderately intelligent, for I do not know how to earn the grace and favor of the superintelligent. I have often sought to do so with the greatest pains, but from now on I neither desire nor value their favor. God help us to seek not our own glory but his alone. Amen.

--Luther's Works, 44:123-24

14 June 2009

No Clouds of Darkness Can Remain

For most of us the idea of God's judgment is ominous. In a 1736 sermon on Psalm 7, Jonathan Edwards shows that for forgiven, conscience-cleansed sinners God's judgment is an unspeakable comfort, because the righteous, all-seeing, heart-discerning Creator will fully vindicate all wrongs and bring all hidden motives, both the good mistaken for bad and the bad mistaken for good, out into the open to be dealt with and either silenced or vindicated once and for all (1 Cor 4:5).

At one point Edwards exults in the mouth-stopping of all accusation that will take place for believers and says of them:

In that God is to be their judge, all difficulties in their own minds concerning their own integrity and uprightness will be effectually and eternally removed. There are many sincere persons who yet meet with many and great difficulties concerning their own sincerity. They are exercised with great fears about it, and sometimes very distressing fears and are by this means under exceeding darkness.

And Satan delights to afflict and torment them. He is perpetually accusing of them to their own conscience of God's vengeance on their souls. And he is trying to possess them with it--that they are hypocrites, that there is no sincerity in them, and that God takes no delight in them but hates them. That what they do is only out of self-love, that they have nothing but only common illumination and affections.

But in that God is to be their judge, the time will come when all the difficulties shall be forever removed; all darkness shall be forever banished away. Satan's accusations will be made void when God comes to acquit them and approve them. All doubts and fears will forever flee away. No clouds of darkness can remain after this.

--The Glory and Honor of God: Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, Vol 2, p. 60

. . . to all who have loved his appearing. --2 Tim 4:8

13 June 2009


In explaining what repentance is, the Westminster Confession makes the following astonishing claim, which is right at the heart of the glory of the gospel.

As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent. (15.4)

Our seemingly trivial self-indulgences and belittlings of God are far more evil than we know; and God's grace extends far deeper than we know, as the title of this blog reminds us.

11 June 2009

Warfield: Faith in the OT

In his article "Faith" in Vol 3 of his collected writings, Warfield reminds us of the centrality of faith in the lives of the patriarchs.

The patriarchal religion is essentially a religion, not of law but of promise, and therefore not primarily of obedience but of trust; the holy walk is characteristics of God's servants, but it is characteristically described as a walk 'with God'; its peculiarity consisted precisely in the ordering of life by entire trust in God, and it expressed itself in conduct growing out of this trust. The righteousness of the patriarchal age was thus but the manifestation in life of an entire self-commitment to God, in unwavering trust in His promises.

--B. B. Warfield, "Faith," in Biblical and Theological Studies (ed. S. G. Craig; Philadelphia: P&R, 1952), 406-7

Some may be interested in hearing D. A. Carson's striking comments on Warfield in this June 2008 interview with Mark Dever.

Morality or Gospel?

That's the title of an essay written by Adolf Schlatter one hundred years ago, where he writes that in the gaze of God we can no longer play around with the moralistic questions.

--Adolf Schlatter, "Moral oder Evanglium?" in Gesunde Lehre: Reden und Aufsatze, 98

Here's how French psychiatrist Paul Tournier put it: The strange paradox on every page of the Gospels, and which we can verify any day, is that it is not guilt which is the obstacle to grace, as moralism supposes. On the contrary, it is the repression of guilt, self-justification, genuine self-righteousness and smugness which is the obstacle.

--Paul Tournier, Guilt and Grace, 136

10 June 2009


The Christian church was born into a world filled with competing religions which may have differed widely among themselves but all of which possessed one common characteristic--the struggle to reach a god or gods who remained essentially inaccessible. . . . The current ethical standards were superficial, despite the ideals and insights possessed by some philosophers, and when they discoursed on evil and on virtue, they had neither the remedy for the one nor the dynamic to produce the other.

--Merrill Tenney, New Testament Times (Eerdmans, 1965), 107

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God . . .

--The Apostle Peter, 1 Pet 3:18

Dunn and the Gospel

I would argue . . . it needs to be recognized that the Jew-Gentile controversy and tensions within earliest Christianity, occasioned particularly by Paul's mission, were not merely incidental to the emergence of the fundamental Christian doctrines regarding divine-human relationships but in substantial measure constitutive of them.

--James Dunn, "The Dialogue Progresses," in Lutherische und neue Perspektive: Beitraege zu einem Schluesselproblem der gegenwaertigen exegetischen Diskussion (ed. M. Bachmann; WUNT 182; Tuebingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2005), 394; emphasis original

Dunn gives us two options as to the relationship of the horizontal to the vertical in Paul: "incidental" (referring to the "old" or "Lutheran" perspective) and "constitutive."

I reject both. A better word, between these two, is "derivative." The critical application of Paul's gospel in the first century was ethnic unity, the welcoming of Gentiles; but to say that this is the gospel confuses content with implication, essence with ramification, the "constitutive" with the "derivative."

Later Dunn writes, commenting on Ephesians:

Christ died to break down the wall, the law with its commandments and ordinances, the wall that divided Jew from Gentile. . . . The surmounting of these ancient hostilities was not merely a by-product of the gospel, far less a distraction from the true meaning of the gospel, but the climactic achievement of the gospel. (411; emphasis original)

No; Christ died to break down the wall between humanity and God. The climactic achievement of the gospel was and is new creation, restoration of Eden, reinaugurated fellowship between a holy God and wicked people. What Dunn says is of course true; but by calling horizontal unity the heart of the gospel he effectively so imbalances things that the net result of his incomplete truth is untruth.

09 June 2009

Vos: Two Kinds of Obedience

In his fascinating 1903 article "The Alleged Legalism in Paul's Doctrine of Justification," Geerhardus Vos explains the fundamental shift that took place at Paul's conversion/calling on the Damascus Road.

[I]n his conversion the pivot of his religious consciousness had been suddenly wrenched from [seeking of righteousness for man's sake rather than for God's] to the diametrically opposite position of a God-centered desire for righteousness. . . . In external appearance, indeed, the two were much alike, but, if ever, then here the external appearance was deceptive. What the two had in common was nothing more than their formal structure; in essence they lay as widely apart as the cult of self and true disinterested religion.

Vos is not contrasting those who forsake righteousness with those who seek it; he is contrasting two kinds of "seeking of righteousness," those who seek it for their own sake and those who seek it for God's sake. On the outside, they are difficult to differentiate. Internally, they are worlds apart. All will be made plain on the last Day.

--G. Vos, "The Alleged Legalism in Paul's Doctrine of Justification," in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (ed. R. Gaffin; P&R, 1980), 396

08 June 2009

Theology Perverted

The new light which the Christian receives is a light of the knowledge of the glory of God. . . . To find God everywhere of necessity leads to conceiving of all religious knowledge as organically one. . . . Where it is not accepted, theology is apt to become even in the eyes of its friends a mere instrument for the salvation of man.

--Geerhardus Vos, "The Theology of Paul," in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (ed. R. Gaffin; P&R, 1980), 357-58

Honor Such Men

As Stacey and I wrap up our second year in Wheaton, I'm finding myself thanking the Lord for the following people here: Jim Lane, for his brotherly conversations on the centrality of the gospel in everyday life; Greg Beale, for helping me put the Bible together in a macro way; Chris and Karen Hodge, our pastor and his wife, for their infectious love for other people; Doug Moo, for his continued friendship and expert supervision of my research; Ben Gladd, for his partnership in leading a small group that has been tons of fun; John Scheidt, for his resilient work ethic and love of the gospel; and Nate Conrad, for his willingness to take the gospel to every corner of his heart and mine.

Honor such men. --Phil 2:29

Christian Competition

With respect to honor, outdo one another. --Rom 12:10

I wonder how much self-absorbed misery would be eliminated, and self-forgetting joy would be ignited, if I woke up every day with that in mind.

04 June 2009

Clement: Justification by Faith

In reading 1 Clement for the first time today (written around AD 96 from Rome to Corinth), I was initially struck by the way in which the heroes of old, in both OT and NT, were lauded only for their humble obedience. I began wondering if Clement would say anything about what has been seen as so central to Paul since the Reformation--justification by faith alone. Then, after Clement rehearses the divine blessings that rested upon priests, Levites, and Davidic kings, he writes this:

Therefore they were all glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works [ergon] or the righteous actions [dikaiopragias] which they had produced, but through his will; and therefore we ourselves, who through his will have been called in Christ Jesus, are not justified [dikaioumetha] through ourselves, nor through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or the works [ergon] which we have produced in holiness of heart, but through faith [pisteos], through which the Almighty God has justified [edikaiosen] all people from the beginning of the world; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Clem 32:3-4; my trans.)

That's not Luther. That was written one generation after Paul. And it isn't in a letter moving in a different conceptual world than the NT--say, like 4 Maccabees or Wisdom of Solomon--but a letter chock-full of quotes from the OT as well as the Gospels, Hebrews, and Paul--including Romans. Let's give due weight to the first Christian theologians and pastors, and read Paul accordingly.

03 June 2009

The Search for Atonement

Paul Zahl, rector of All Saints in Maryland, in his penetrating 1983 book on the atonement:

Humanity's search for atonement is not restricted to explicit religious acts. In the world of religion, atonement is offered to satisfy the judgment of the gods. In the secular world, atonement is offered to satisfy the judgment of others: persons, communities, institutions, and ideologies to which we feel responsible. The guilt, the judgment for falling short, is in reference to different objects, but in both worlds it functions the same.

--Paul F. M. Zahl, Who Will Deliver Us? The Present Power of the Death of Christ (New York: Seabury, 1983), 34; emphasis original

01 June 2009

Christianity Is Not Renewed Exhortation

This is the God who is on the move. In the gospel of Christ (for Paul an event) God steps on the scene. Far from allowing the human agent to stand alone at the road fork, this invasive God powerfully meets both the incompetent, enslaved agent and the powers that enslave him in their own orb. God does that, however, not in a renewed word of exhortation, but rather in the logos tou staurou [word of the cross], the totally strange word-event that shatters 'the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning' . . . (1 Cor 1:18-19). And in that meeting the divine agent does something unheard of. . . . meeting the incompetent and enslaved human agent in the gospel of his Son, God creates the corporate, newly competent and newly addressable agent, forming this new human agent in the image of his crucified Son.

--J. Louis Martyn, "Epilogue: An Essay in Pauline Meta-Ethics," in Divine and Human Agency in Paul and His Cultural Environment (ed Barclay and Gathercole, 2006), 180; emphasis original

Westerholm: Romans 9-11

In rereading Stephen Westerholm's essay 'Paul and the Law in Romans 9-11,' first delivered orally at the Durham-Tubingen symposium of 1994, the papers of which have been published in a volume edited by James Dunn (Eerdmans 2001), it's confirmed to me that this is the best article- or chapter- length treatment of Rom 9-11 I've yet come across in my research of the past two years on a portion of Scripture that rivals any other for amount of 'scholarly' literature devoted to it.

I don't agree with everything--he reserves too much, I think, for ethnic Israel that is in fact taken up in true Israel (which includes with open arms any ethnic Israelite who simply believes!)--but it is clear, profound, God-besotted, persuasive, courageous. Simply magnificent.