31 May 2012

Vos on God's Love

Geerhardus Vos, in a 1902 address to Princeton Seminary as the school kicked off its 90th year, with words still relevant today:
No one will deny that in the Scriptural disclosure of truth the divine love is set forth as a most fundamental principle, nor that the embodiment of this principle in our human will and action forms a prime ingredient of that subjective religion which the Word of God requires of us.

But it is quite possible to overemphasize this one side of truth and duty as to bring into neglect other exceedingly important principles and demands of Christianity. The result will be that, while no positive error is taught, yet the equilibrium both in consciousness and life is disturbed and a condition created in which the power of resistance to the inroads of spiritual disease is greatly reduced. There can be little doubt that in this manner the one-sidedness and exclusiveness with which the love of God has been preached to the present generation is largely responsible for that universal weakening of the sense of sin, and the consequent decline of interest in the doctrines of atonement and justification, which even in orthodox and evangelical circles we all see and deplore.
--Geerhardus Vos, "The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God," in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (ed. Richard Gaffin; P&R, 1980), 426

Takeaway: To seek to exalt God's love without placing it against the full range of who God is and must be nets out as a diminishing, not exaltation, of that love.

30 May 2012

A Thank You From Lane Dennis


The Odious Inner Radio

In 1958 a woman named Mary Willis Shelburne (the "lady" in Letters to an American Lady) was burdened with a sense of moral guilt. She wrote Lewis, who replied--
Dear Mary Willis,

(1) Remember what St John said 'If our heart condemn us, God is stronger than our heart.' The feeling of being, or not being, forgiven & loved, is not what matters. One must come down to brass tacks. If there is a particular sin on your conscience, repent & confess it. If there isn't, tell the despondent devil not to be silly. You can't help hearing his voice (the odious inner radio) but you must treat it merely like a buzzing in your ear or any other irrational nuisance.

(2) Remember the story in the Imitation, how the Christ on the crucifix suddenly spoke to the monk who was so anxious about his salvation and said 'If you knew that all was well, what wd. you, today, do, or stop doing?' When you have found the answer, do it or stop doing it. You see, one must always get back to the practical and definite. What the devil loves is that vague cloud of unspecified guilt feeling or unspecified virtue by which he lures us into despair or presumption. 'Details, please' is the answer.
--The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 962

29 May 2012

How Jack Miller Came to Love Sonship

Jack Miller helped a generation recover the significance of what it means to be adopted into God's own family so that God is now our Father and we his sons and daughters. The curriculum that spun off of Jack's ministry in Philadelphia is itself entitled 'Sonship.'

In a 1982 letter to a wife of a pastor who had been asked to resign, Jack describes how the New Testament reality of sonship came home to him personally.
My life's whole strength lies in that God has kindly imparted a confident knowledge of His Fatherhood.
I may have a better knowledge of the Father than do other people. But would you believe that this knowledge really began with the death of my own father? He was killed in a hunting accident when I was two years old. A senseless hunting accident. A piece of foolishness. Yet I am not bitter, and am grateful to God for the perfection of the plan.

The emptiness, the dark nights when I was afraid as a small child to go to bed for fear I too might disappear, led me By God's grace to seek God as Father, to know what Fatherhood meant, to give up self-pity and self-awareness and walk in the confident knowledge of my heavenly Father's love. . . . I love my Father in heaven and trust one day to see my earthly father and to join him in praising God for the marvel of a plan that is sound beyond ordinary human understanding. 
--The Heart of a Servant-Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R, 2004), 276-77

A Double Misery

Scripture represents man as one who is not only bound, wretched, captive, sick, and dead, but in addition to his other miseries is afflicted, through the agency of Satan his prince, with this misery of blindness, so that he believes himself to be free, happy, unfettered, able, well, and alive. 
--Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, in LW 33:130

25 May 2012

How to Be Miserable

Jack Miller:
Human will-power always fails. It is a human attempt to do God's work with our own resources. But working out of self-dependence is guilt-inducing and exhausting. It impels the egoist to seek relief in pleasure and self-fulfillment, to use the good things of God as drugs to escape from reality. Self-fulfillment then takes over as the person's grand task in life leaving the person burdened with suppressed guilt and shame.

Unfortunately the person seeking self-fulfillment never finds happiness. Instead, his inner life shrivels and dries up. But let this person look away from self-interest, fight self-preoccupation, and set the affectional life on Christ and His cause. Christ is alive; He is the giant Son of God. He walks through the earth. Those who walk with Him know that Christ and the cause of the gospel really do introduce us to the deeply satisfying love of God. 
--Jack Miller, 'Recovering the Grand Cause,' a paper written in 1993 to set the vision for a missionary training center to be launched in London

23 May 2012

Covenant Seminary

Joe Novenson:

For a window into Dr. Calhoun and Jerram Barrs, mentioned by Joe above, below is the video from Covenant's Commencement service a week ago, at which Dr. Calhoun preached. Below that is an introduction to Jerram Barrs. Two men I love. Men of whom the world is not worthy.

22 May 2012

A Word from Crossway's President

I know Lane Dennis.

You can trust this man and this cause.

Genesis 22 and Christ

Anglo-Catholic Bible scholar Gabriel Hebert--
The command to offer up the son of the promise, with whom the whole future lies, seems the complete contradiction of the Purpose of God on which he has set his faith. Abraham in the story is called by God to make a supreme sacrifice, an act of complete and entire worship, trusting God in the dark, committing everything to him: 'not my will but thine be done'. While God did not in the end demand this sacrifice to be made, that which he did demand was the entire willingness to make the offering.

Such is the meaning of the story as the writer tells it; and because this and nothing less is the true and original meaning therefore we, in interpreting it, may and must look onward to the self-giving of our Lord, in which case no offering of a substitute was possible.

Hence we may and must find the final answer to Isaac's question 'Where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?', and Abraham's reply 'God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son' (Gen 22:7-8), in the words of John 1.29 'Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.'
Gabriel Hebert, The Old Testament from Within (Oxford University Press, 1962), 34

21 May 2012

A Noble Cause

Crossway President Lane Dennis:
I am writing, first, in grateful appreciation for your support of Crossway. As a not-for-profit ministry, the Crossway passion is to provide the Bible and gospel-centered literature as widely as possible, on a global basis. So I am deeply grateful to you for your help in doing this.

Secondly, I am writing because we have a significant opportunity and a corresponding need. We have been offered a matching grant in the amount of $270,000, if we are able to raise an additional $270,000 to match the grant.

The purpose of the grant is to provide the Bible and Bible learning resources free to 1 million people globally—free via the Internet, and free globally, anywhere and everywhere, on every major tablet and smart phone device—particularly to people in great need in China, India, and Africa.

The need is urgent: First, because the all-or-nothing goal needs to be reached by May 31, 2012—but more importantly because of the massive need worldwide for the Bible, and for essential tools to teach and understand the Bible.
More here


This is glory.

17 May 2012

The Weakest Believer

There is not the meanest, the weakest, the poorest believer on the earth, but Christ prizes him more than all the world besides. 
--John Owen, Communion with God (Christian Focus, 2007), 218

16 May 2012

Revelation 22

My first day in the new earth will look something like this.

15 May 2012

Not the Doing, But the Resting In

Should Christians be earnest about building into their lives the disciplines of prayer, giving, Bible meditation, church involvement, regular confession of sin, etc? Does such earnestness jeopardize one's grasp of the gospel?

I am increasingly convinced that healthy spiritual disciplines and healthy gospel-centeredness rise and fall together.

In Edward Fisher's The Marrow of Modern Divinity, the character Evangelista (= mature Christian) is explaining to Nomista (= legalist) that upholding the full and free gospel of grace does not undercut violent-if-need-be development of habitual spiritual exercise: 
Mistake me not, I pray, in imagining that I speak against the doing of these things [religious exercises], for I do them all myself, but against resting in the doing of them, the which I desire not to do. (p. 257)
Now there's a sentence for all of us who have given the current gospel-mega-surge any thought at all, whether of cynicism or of exultation.

Evangelista goes on to explain why this distinction is important:
Man's poor soul is not only kept from rest in God by means of sensuality, but also by means of formality. If Satan cannot keep us from rest in God by feeding our senses with our mother Eve's apple, then he attempts to do it by blinding our eyes, and so hindering us from seeing the paths of the gospel. If he cannot keep us in Egypt by the flesh-pots of sensuality, then  will he make us wander in the wilderness of religious and rational formality. (ibid)

09 May 2012

The Scope of Redemption Is as Big as the Scope of Creation

Mike Williams, Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Seminary and author of the wonderful and needed book Far as the Curse Is Found:
Many of our students come to us having been carefully nurtured and discipled in the biblical story and have already begun to lay hold of the breadth of it. Many others, however, come only with the story of the larger culture or that of popular Christian culture or with stories that invite them to see the Christian faith as being about and relevant to only their private lives—a spiritual existence that is always to be distinguished from the life of the body, the material world, and the work-a-day world of human social existence. Students are often more than a bit surprised to hear an understanding of the gospel and the Christian life that embraces the entirety of their lives, indeed, the whole of God’s creation.

Putting the issue in the most explicit terms, the scope of God’s redemption in Christ is as big as the scope of God’s creative work. The God who sent his Son to die for me is the God who created all things in the first place, and His redemptive goal is nothing less than to push sin out of every inch and aspect of His creation. I have been redeemed in Christ for a purpose: to be a redemptive agent in the reclamation of “all things.” We should not miss what is at stake here. God is jealous for his works. He surrenders nothing to the forces of sin and death. If the Kingdom of God stands for the realization of God’s good will in the world (an affirmation and living out of the way things ought to be) then the loving grace of God lays claim to all things, destroying the Devil’s work and returning every bit of God’s world—every aspect, place, and thought—to its rightful Lord.

08 May 2012

The Main Reason Christians Grow So Slowly

Archibald Alexander (1772-1851), founder of Princeton Seminary:
It seems desirable to ascertain, as precisely as we can, the reasons why Christians commonly are of so diminutive a stature and of such feeble strength in their religion.

When persons are truly converted they always are sincerely desirous to make rapid progress in piety; and there are not wanting exceeding great and gracious promises of aid to encourage them to go forward with alacrity. Why then is so little advancement made? Are there not some practical mistakes very commonly entertained, which are the cause of this slowness of growth?

I think there are, and will endeavour to specify some of them.

And first, there is a defect in our belief of the freeness of divine grace.

To exercise unshaken confidence in the doctrine of gratuitous pardon is one of the most difficult things in the world; and to preach this doctrine fully without verging towards antinomianism is no easy task, and is therefore seldom done. But Christians cannot but be lean and feeble when deprived of the proper nutriment. It is by faith, that the spiritual life is made to grow; and the doctrine of free grace, without any mixture of human merit, is the only true object of faith.

Christians are too much inclined to depend on themselves, and not to derive their life entirely from Christ. There is a spurious legal religion, which may flourish without the practical belief in the absolute freeness of divine grace, but it possesses none of the characteristics of the Christian's life. . . . Even when the true doctrine is acknowledged, in theory, often it is not practically felt and acted on. The new convert lives upon his frames, rather than on Christ; and the older Christian still is found struggling in his own strength . . . and then he sinks into a gloomy despondency. . . .
Here, I am persuaded, is the root of the evil; and until religious teachers inculcate clearly, fully, and practically, the grace of God as manifested in the gospel, we shall have no vigorous growth of piety among professing Christians. 
--Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1844), 201-2

04 May 2012

This Intelligent Carelessness

Jack Miller:
Christ is for us in the gospel and freely justifies and adopts us as sons and gives us the Spirit of adoption.
But we must not stop here.
We must be for others with the same intensity that Christ was for us. We must get back our joy by having a holy disregard for personal safety. We reject the status of civilians and the mindset of the civilian. We are soldiers/sons of God.

Therefore we gladly renounce me-firstism, and then bend our ears to hear the voice of the ascended Commander-in-Chief.

The Son of God tells us that the kingdom always comes with overturning force, and requires a forceful response from us. He has declared war on the world and the devil. He aims to 'set the world on fire' and bring peace to the heart but war to the evil in ourselves and the world. For us this means that we must throw away our lives for Jesus as we take the gospel to the lost. This intelligent carelessness is our true security. Anything less is dangerous compromise. We who once were enemies have been justified by faith. We must not fall asleep in self-preoccupation and comfort zones. Instead, justification is meant to release us for the battle.

What is the battle?

To risk unpopularity by preaching the cross as a real cross on which a real Savior shed real blood for real sinners headed for a real hell.
The battle is giving up the pretence that we are all nice people.
The battle is to own nothing in order to own Christ.
--Jack Miller, 'Recovering the Grand Cause,' included as an appendix in The Heart of a Servant-Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R, 2004), 311

Reading the Gospels Wisely

Available here.

03 May 2012

Creation and Redemption

Gabriel Hebert, British Anglo-Catholic monk and Old Testament scholar: 
Redemption is the renewal and restoration of that which God created in the beginning.

It is not that by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ man is rescued from entanglement with the created order and with the body--as if man were thereby raised from preoccupation with the ordinary concerns of life into some region of Higher Thought where he can be initiated into a theosophical secret lore. It is that the Son of God in his Incarnation became true man, growing up in a family, working in a carpenter's shop, and at last facing death as we all must and so winning the victory for man.

St. John in his Epistle sees the key-point of the Christian faith in 'Jesus Christ come in the flesh'; every person speaking with authority and claiming inspiration ('every spirit') who confesses this is of God, and he who denies this is utterly and fatally wrong (1 John 4:1-3).

The world which God has redeemed is the world which he created. 
--Gabriel Hebert, The Old Testament from Within (Oxford University Press, 1962), 16-17

02 May 2012

01 May 2012

Goldsworthy's Latest

It's excellent. The full title is Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles.

The title/subtitle makes this one hard to distinguish from Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation. But while Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics is fundamentally about biblical interpretation, this newer book is focused on how the biblical storyline hangs together. The earlier book is how; this is what. With a bunch of overlap between the two.

Graeme Goldsworthy is a retired Australian Bible teacher who was trained on three continents before a long teaching career at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, during the decades when Moore was gaining an international reputation for its strength in biblical theology. You can sample some teaching of his here.

The basic point of the book is straightforward. Goldsworthy wants to propagate the macro-vision of the Bible that he inherited from his teacher, Donald Robinson, when Goldsworthy himself was a student at Moore. (Side note: the tone of affection and sober admiration with which Goldsworthy speaks of Robinson is an edifying example of 2 Tim 2:2, and I found it moving).

Robsinson's thesis is that the Bible can be read as having three basic movements:
1. from Abraham to David/Solomon;  (Gen 12-1 Kings 11)
2. from Solomon to Christ;  (1 Kings 11-Malachi)
3. from Christ to the end.  (NT)
Genesis 1-11 thus sets the stage for redemptive history, which amounts to a rise up up up to Edenic-like glory with the building of Solomon's temple (itself an architectural recapitulation of Eden), followed by a decline down down down through the divided kingdom and wicked kings leading to exile, including the prophetic hope of new creation/new Eden, which is inaugurated at Christ's first coming and will be completed at Christ's second coming. An important point to Robinson and Goldsworthy is that the first of these three movements gives us all the categories that Christ would ultimately fill out; the second movement is then the prophetic hope of these categories getting filled out; the third is Christ himself and the fulfillment of these hopes.

Lots to say. A few scattered reflections for the moment.

1. Simply fascinating. Goldsworthy writes clearly and sensibly. He does not try to mask confusion on his part by intimidating the reader with erudite-sounding language, nor does he press the evidence beyond what it can bear. At the same time he has a soaring vision of what the Bible is and the history it recounts--soaring because he sees Christ as the very point of both the Bible and history; indeed, of all reality. Really, it's more than a Christocentric hermeneutic; it's a Christocentric metaphysic, a Christocentric cosmology.

2. The significance of David to the NT writers has, I think, been not fully appreciated in biblical theology and NT theology. I have been wondering this for the past few years and this book underscores that suspicion. I wonder how we can give David his due prominence in NT theology. Goldsworthy was necessarily selective in which texts he brought forth (texts about David), but I don't think it was unfair representation.

3. The way Robinson and Goldsworthy use this broad storyline to argue for a future for ethnic Israel (without sliding into any form of Dispensationalism) is, to me, unconvincing. This view of Israel is partly due, in my opinion, to not seeing fully all that has dawned with Christ's first coming. Goldsworthy speaks at one point, for example, of the future Day of the Lord in which the ingathering of the nations anticipated in the OT would take place. In my view the Day of the Lord has decisively taken place (as Peter indicates in Acts 2), with only public manifestation and vindication still to come (as in e.g. 2 Tim 1:12). The ingathering of the nations has taken place too--though not with the nations streaming to Zion (Isa 2; Mic 4) but those in Zion streaming out to the nations. The attractional centripetalismn of the OT has become the missional centrifugalism of the NT, and ethnic Israel is itself now an object of missional preaching of the gospel. Goldsworthy seems better at this point in Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, so perhaps I did not understand him rightly in this most recent book. 

4. I think the significance of Noah and the Noahic covenant is (can be?) unduly sidelined in this schema. Pages 290-95 of Waltke's OT theology and Warren Gage's The Gospel of Genesis convinced me of the pivotal significance of Noah for redemptive history.

5. Helpful interaction with other biblical theologians along the way: Greidanus, Hasel, Vos, Clowney, Dumbrell, and Scobie, and more briefly D. Johnson and VanGemeren. Yet many are overlooked; understandably, perhaps, lest the book swell to unmanageable proportions. But how would the Robinson/Goldsworthy schema fit with what we find in Ladd, or Beale, or N. T. Wright, or Stuhlmacher, or Kline, or Chris Wright--to say nothing of Calvin or other significant pre-critical thinkers with a grasp of the whole Bible?

6. Goldsworthy sets the Robinson schema up against what he identifies as the Vos/Clowney "epoch" approach--seeing the Bible as a progressively unfolding history that is distinguished by epochs, such as from creation to Noah, Noah to Abraham, Abraham to Moses, and so on. The key difference Goldsworthy brings out time and again is the role of the Mosaic era in his approach versus that of Vos/Clowney. He believes the Mosaic era is given undue prominence in the Vos/Clowney/Westminster tradition. Here's perhaps the clearest expression of it:
I believe it is more natural to the biblical accounts to understand the watershed in revelation to be David and Solomon, not Moses. Vos's and Clowney's epochs, as valid as they are, properly belong within a more basic and useful framework of narrative from creation and Fall, through a new beginning with Abraham, to the climax in David and his son's building of the temple. An epoch from Moses to Christ tends to overshadow this redemptive zenith. (p. 132)
I'm still digesting this proposal and its significance for how we put the Bible together but I find it very intriguing. My initial sense upon an unhurried reading of Goldsworthy's book is that he hitting on something that has not been sufficiently brought out in American and British biblical theology. At the same time I found myself thinking--"This 'epoch' description is faithful to Vos, but I'm not sure it is really fair to Clowney, especially since Clowney never wrote a definitive biblical theology."

7. Bottom line: fascinating thesis. Lots here to chew on. Wondering if the Robinson/Goldsworthy framework is as mutually exclusive with the more traditional Reformed reading as Goldsworthy implies throughout. He does acknowledge some overlap, but is there more?

8. If you want to know the heart of the book, read pp. 19-26, 79-80, 184-89, and 191-92.

9. Praise to God for wise, courteous, sober-minded, Christ-enthralled Bible teachers.