29 November 2009

Goldsworthy: Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics

Yesterday got my first Graeme Goldsworthy book in the mail, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation. I've dipped into various books of his, always finding him helpful, but have yet to plow through a book of his cover to cover. So far I'm finding what I expected: he brings together the gospel, biblical theology, salvation history, unapologetic evangelical confessionalism, and christocentrism in fruitful cross-pollination that is, in a word, exciting, and fills out much of what I've learned from Greg Beale and others the past two years. Miles Van Pelt reviews/summarizes this book at Ref 21 here.

Here's a typically good statement on the hermeneutical priority of the gospel itself.

The Bible makes a very radical idea inescapable: not only is the gospel the interpretative norm for the whole Bible, but there is an important sense in which Jesus Christ is the mediator of the meaning of everything that exists. In other words, the gospel is the hermeneutical norm for the whole of reality. All reality was created by Christ, through Christ and for Christ (Col 1:15-16). God's plan is to sum up all things in Christ (Eph 1:9-10). In him are all the treasures of wisdom and understanding (Col 2:2-3). As a result, the ultimate significance of all non-biblical literature can be summed up in biblical-gospel terms. . . . The atoning work of Christ has redemptive ramifications for the whole universe. . . . [T]he ultimate interpretation of the meaning of everything is found only in Christ. (p. 63; emphasis original).

Leading as God Has Wired Us

Good stuff from Sean Lucas (a fellow INTJ) on a new book outlining how to serve and lead in the church as an introvert.

28 November 2009

Edwards: 'All This Vast Inheritance'

Today I reread one of the most powerful statements by one of my dearest friends, Jonathan Edwards (though it's a one-way friendship for now) that I've ever read, first discovered Dec 17, 2004. Have you ever thought of your union with Christ like this?

By virtue of the believer's union with Christ, he doth really possess all things. That we know plainly from Scripture. But it may be asked, how [doth] he possess all things? What is he the better for it? How is a true Christian so much richer than other men?

To answer this, I'll tell you what I mean by "possessing all things." I mean that God three in one, all that he is, and all that he has, and all that he does, all that he has made or done--the whole universe, bodies and spirits, earth and heaven, angels, men and devils, sun, moon and stars, land and sea, fish and fowls, all the silver and gold, kings and potentates as well as mean men--are as much the Christian's as the money in his pocket, the clothes he wears, the house he dwells in, or the victuals he eats; yea more properly his, more advantageously his, than if he could command all those things mentioned to be just in all respects as he pleased at any time, by virtue of the union with Christ; because Christ, who certainly doth thus possess all things, is entirely his: so that he possesses it all, more than a wife the share of the best and dearest husband, more than the hand possesses what the head doth; it is all his. . . .

Every atom in the universe is managed by Christ so as to be most to the advantage of the Christian, every particle of air or every ray of the sun; so that he in the other world, when he comes to see it, shall sit and enjoy all this vast inheritance with surprising, amazing joy.

--Jonathan Edwards, Miscellany ff., in Vol 13 of the Yale edition of JE's Works, p. 183

If you're united to Christ, not only is justification yours; Saturn is yours.

All things are yours. --1 Cor 3:21

27 November 2009

Psalm 116

Stacey and I have been reminding each other this weekend of the overwhelming mercies, of all sorts, washing into our lives in recent years, uninvited and undeserved. Too innumerable, and too un-capture-able with words, to speak of here. God is so good. Challenges deeper than what we've yet faced doubtless lie ahead; but even that can only speed us on our way to Christ more deeply. As the three points of a sermon Edwards preached in 1722 when he was 19 put it: in Christ, all your good can never be taken away from you; all your bad can only be turned for good; and the best is yet to come.

Hallelujah; praise the Lord.

Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. . . . What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?
--Psalm 116:7, 12

Him We Proclaim

Among other things Dennis Johnson's helpful book with this very title has brought home to me this past year the programmatic nature of these three words in Col 1:28 and the light they shed, along with other texts like Luke 24:25ff., on the way Christ himself illumines the whole Bible.

What was new for me this morning was noticing the organic connection between Christ-proclamation and the rest of the verse--

. . . him we proclaim, instructing all men and teaching all men in all wisdom in order that we might present all men perfect/mature/complete [teleois] in Christ.

Progressive sanctification--bringing other people to spiritual maturity--took place, as Paul understood his ministry, by proclaiming Christ. Not only in our evangelizing unbelievers but also in our instructing and admonishing and teaching believers, it is Christ that we proclaim.

26 November 2009

Don't Move On

. . . but now he has reconciled you in the body of his flesh through death to present holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, if indeed you continue in the faith established and steadfast and not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard . . . (Col 1:23)

The ongoing relevance of the gospel for believers.

24 November 2009

Why Do We Like Movies?

Because we're made in God's image; because God, with whom we are indelibly stamped, believer and unbeliever alike, is a God of story. All of human history is structured with a beginning (creation), a problem (sin), a thickening of plot (salvation history and one failed human deliverer after another), a climax (Christ), and a resolution (the new earth). Movies, novels, having personal goals, making sense of our lives, having a sense of meaning that helps us hit the alarm and get out of bed one more day, all derive from this. Hollywood is big because of salvation history.

Vern Poythress has me thinking about these things. Tonight I read:

Redemption by Christ is a story. It is a story of something that really happened in history, in space and time. Because it is at the heart of God's purposes for the world, it is the one central story. So, in the end, all the other stories about working out human purposes derive their meaning from being related to this central story. We should not be surprised that the categories for stories in general analogically reflect the character of redemption, that is, the one central story. (Poythress, In the Beginning Was the Word: Language: A God-Centered Approach [Crossway 2009], 206)

This is not, by the way, story instead of propositions as a way of accessing truth. It's not Hodge and Henry or the Wright brothers (Chris and Tom). It's a both/and. Human bodies only function if they have fleshy, squishy parts and a rock-solid skeleton. Not an either/or. Both are very different, but equally needed.

Luther: A Mediator

Reflecting back on the first time he was called upon to officiate at mass as a young priest, Luther wrote:

When I stood there during the mass and began the canon, I was so frightened that I would have fled if I hadn't been admonished by the prior. For when I read the words, 'Thee, therefore, most merciful Father,' and thought I had to speak to God without a Mediator, I felt like fleeing from the world like Judas. Who can bear the majesty of God without Christ as Mediator? In short, as a monk I experienced such horrors; I had to experience them before I could fight them.

--Martin Luther, 'Table Talk,' in LW 54:234

Again: Wright on Justification

David Mathis of Desiring God helpfully weighs in on Wright's Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision in the latest Themelios. Thanks David.

23 November 2009

Justification by Union

Richard Gaffin nails it in one of his concluding statements to his book on the resurrection in Paul's soteriology.

Not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps most prominently) is the central motif of Paul's applied soteriology.

Gaffin footnotes Jonathan Edwards, who had written:

What is real in the union between Christ and his people, is the foundation of what is legal; that is, it is something that is really in them, and between them, uniting them, that is the ground of the suitableness of their being accounted as one by the judge.

--Richard Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul's Soteriology (2d ed.; P&R 1987), 132

Psalm 95

Yes, it's unsettling that all the Hillsong people are so uncannily good-looking. Yes, it's a bit showy, glamorous, Hollywoodish. Fine. Still wish I was there. And I just wonder: the Bible calls us to make loud noises with our voice boxes in light of what God has done for us. When was the last time we did that? When was the last time I did that? I would like to grow in this area. My affections are pathetically out of proportion to what has happened to me; God has launched us out of this present evil age and into the new creation, the new world in which all the desires and longings of this world will one day be consummated, forever, all sin having been eradicated by God's own initiative. The nightmare of this fallen world is fading; dawn is rising. Aslan has landed. The result: not all prayers are meant to be whispered. Stoicism is as unbiblical as blasphemy.

'Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!'
--Psalm 95:1-2

Warfield: Calvinism

He who believes in God without reserve, and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling, willing--in the entire compass of his life-activities, intellectual, moral, spiritual, throughout all his individual, social, religious relations--is, by the force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist.

--B. B. Warfield, "Calvinism," in Calvin and Calvinism, vol. 5 of The Works of B. B. Warfield (repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 354-56; quoted in Mark Noll's introduction to B. B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought (P&R 2007), p. 10

12 November 2009

Back on the 23rd

No posting till the other side of ETS/SBL in New Orleans next week. Till then, remember the gospel!

10 November 2009

Chalmers: The Treacherous Quicksand of Helping Out God's Opinion of Us

Thomas Chalmers is quoted in a footnote by the editor of Calvin's commentary on Romans, during the course of Calvin's discussion of Rom 3:21 ('But now apart from law . . .'), about which Calvin writes:

. . . the consciences of men will never be tranquilized until they recumb on the mercy of God alone. (p. 135)

Chalmers is then quoted (without reference) as saying:

The foundation of your trust before God must be either your own righteousness out and out, or the righteousness of Christ out and out. . . . If you are to lean upon your own merit, lean upon it wholly--if you are to lean upon Christ, lean upon him wholly. The two will not amalgamate together; and it is the attempt to do so, which keeps many a weary and heavy-laden inquirer at a distance from rest, and at a distance from the truth of the gospel. Maintain a clear and consistent posture. Stand not before God with one foot upon a rock and the other upon a treacherous quicksand. . . . We call upon you not to lean so much as the weight of one grain or scruple of your confidence upon your own doings--to leave the ground entirely, and to come over entirely to the ground of a Redeemer's blood and a Redeemer's righteousness. (135 n. 2)

Something I forget every day--and even the forgetfulness is forgiven.

09 November 2009

Calvin on Romans

Calvin opens his commentary on Romans with an 8-page or so explanation of the flow of the argument. Here's the first paragraph of that introduction.

With regard to the excellency of this epistle, I know not whether it would be well for me to dwell long on the subject; for I fear, lest through the recommendations falling far short of what they ought to be, I should do nothing but obscure its merits: besides, the epistle itself, at its very beginning, explains itself in a much better way than can be done by any words which I can use. It will then be better for me to pass on to the argument, or the contents of the epistle; and it will hence appear beyond all controversy, that besides other excellencies, and those remarkable, this can with truth be said of it, and it is what can never be sufficiently appreciated--that when any one gains a knowledge of this epistle, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture. (p. xxix)

06 November 2009

Bavinck: Regeneration

In reading stuff on the Great Awakening, the transatlantic revival of the early 1740s, two doctrines seem to have fueled that movement of God, emerging again and again in the writing and preaching of Edwards, Whitefield, the Wesleys, and the Tennents: justification and the new birth. Yet while justification is as front and center today as any other doctrine, regeneration is, it seems to me in my limited view from the nosebleeds, strangely neglected.

It is stabilizing and clarifying, therefore, to discover how our most reliable guides from the past understood the new birth. Bavinck is one who does it justice. It's difficult to imagine, for instance, how to improve on his concluding summary of the new birth as taught throughout the whole Bible. (I find especially intriguing Bavinck's correlation between Christ's resurrection and our new birth)

[I]n the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, while there is a difference between them in language and manner of presentation, there is essentially complete agreement. Whether rebirth is called 'the circumcision of the heart,' the giving of a new heart and a new spirit, 'efficacious calling,' a drawing by the Father, or birth from God, it is always in the strict sense a work of God by which a person is inwardly changed and renewed. It has its deepest cause in God's mercy; it is based on the resurrection of Christ and is brought about in communion with Christ, to whom the Word bears witness, and manifests itself in a holy life.

--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:52

Schreiner on Jewett's Romans

I continue to consult and profit from Robert Jewett's 2007 Romans commentary (Hermeneia), which is especially illuminating in its interaction with Greco-Roman sources contemporary to Paul (though 'illuminating' easily becomes 'controlling'). But my sense is that Tom Schreiner's recent BBR review of Jewett hits the nail right on the head. Dr. Schreiner calls Jewett's work 'a stunning achievement' for various reasons, but concludes:

Jewett's microscopic reconstruction of the Roman situation fails to convince. It seems to betray an almost modernist confidence in determining the historical circumstances of the letter, and he fails to heed cautions that have been raised about reconstructing the situation in NT epistles. Jewett's commentary is full of insight and helpful discussions of individual verses. Still, it is doubtful that the fundamental contribution of the commentary will be considered to be anything other than a period piece, reflecting a particular kind of historical-critical scholarship at this juncture in history.

--BBR 19 (2009): 448

03 November 2009

Edwards: The New Earth

Listen to Robert Jenson's synthesis of Edwards' vision of the new earth, in Jenson's 1988 America's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards. Jenson is drawing out how earthy a vision of the new earth Edwards had, how physical, yet how inexpressibly glorious and happy it would be. Both--the sheer corporeality of heaven and the unspeakable joys of heaven--seem to be hazy concepts in evangelicalism today. Jenson focuses on Edwards' understanding of vision in the new earth. Fascinating--take just our eyes, our sight: what will it be like to have real, actual, physical eyes in the new earth, yet transformed eyes--'the perishable will take on imperishable' includes our eyes! Quotes are of Edwards, drawn from the Miscellanies (ellipses are all Jenson's).

This 'end is obtained by Christ's Incarnation, viz., that the saints may see God with their bodily eyes.' And this seeing also is among all mutually: 'in all probability . . . there shall be external beauties . . . altogether of another kind from what we perceive here, and probably these beauties will appear chiefly as the bodies of the man Christ Jesus and of the saints.' The very medium of heaven 'will be the light of the brightness of Christ's glorious body . . . , ravishingly sweet to . . . the external perception or sense' which the elect will indeed have. (181)

Obviously, Edwards here must struggle for language and concepts. What is to be posited is that, as bodies, 'in heaven the glorified bodies of the saints will be . . . most flexible, moveable and agile, most easily susceptible of mutation, both from the acts of the indwelling soul and also from the influence of Christ'; and that, as they are consciousnesses apprehending these bodies, both 'the medium' of sight and hearing 'be infinitely fine and more adapted to a distinct and exact representation,' and the 'organ . . . be immensely more exquisitely perceptive.' Edwards once speculated: the saints 'will be able to see from one side of the universe to the other' because they will see not 'by such slow rays of light that are several years traveling . . . from the fixed stars to the earth,' but by the light 'emitted from the glorified body of Christ.' (181-82)

What Is Romans About?

Leon Morris' conclusion to his essay 'The Theme of Romans' in the F. F. Bruce festschrift:

[T]hroughout the Epistle there is a tremendous concentration on God. . . . Paul's treatment of themes like justification or sanctification or predestination have so caught the imagination of scholars and others that they have tended to concentrate on them and to overlook the dominance of the God-theme. Partly, too, this has been helped by the fact that of necessity God is prominent throughout the NT. The whole Bible is a book about God. We tend to think that Romans in this respect is just like any book in Scripture.

The point I have been concerned to make in this essay is that it is not. God comes more prominently before us in Romans than in any other part of the NT (with the possible exception of 1 John). Elsewhere Paul dwells on Christ and what Christ has done for men. This theme is not absent from Romans; but as long as we concentrate on it to the overlooking of the stress on God, we do not quite get what Paul is saying to us. Romans is a book about God and we must bear the fact in mind in all our interpretation of what it says. Otherwise we shall miss some of the wonderful things it says. (p. 263)