Friday, June 27, 2014

predestined and happy with that

Daniel Hyde articulates why I don't mind being predestined ...

Christians must talk about predestination, and the Bible provides us with certain ground rules to do so. In addition, we’ve also considered how predestination relates to why some believe in Jesus Christ and some don’t.

But how often have you heard from pious and well-meaning brothers and sisters that predestination is like a cold shower on Christian enthusiasm? How many of you have heard that it is like a dry sponge that soaks up all spiritual zeal? It’s too intellectual, too lifeless, too philosophical, and too sterile of a “doctrine,” they say.

Predestination is a truth given to us in Scripture, therefore we are to adore God for it, be comforted by it, and inspired by it to pray for and desire the salvation of the lost. But what makes election so glorious? Let’s consider five characteristics from Paul’s words in Ephesians 1 that reveal the glory of the triune God in predestination.

1. It Is Unchangeable
What makes the doctrine of election so glorious? It is unchangeable. Nowhere in Ephesians 1 or any other biblical passage do we ever get the idea that what God has determined can be changed by us. Election is “the unchangeable purpose of God” (Canons of Dort 1.7). God’s eternal plans are always described as certain, fixed, and immovable: “the unchangeable character of [God’s] purpose” (Heb. 6:17–18).

But who would ever say that God changes what He planned? In the seventeenth century, the followers of James Arminius taught that there were various kinds of election. Listen to how the divines at the Synod of Dort (1618–19) described and rejected this:
That there are various kinds of election of God unto eternal life: the one general and indefinite, the other particular and definite; and that the latter in turn is either incomplete, revocable, non-decisive and conditional, or complete, irrevocable, decisive and absolute. Likewise: That there is one election unto faith and another unto salvation, so that election can be unto justifying faith, without being a decisive election unto salvation. (Canons of Dort 1. Rejection of Errors 2)
We need to be aware that it is easy for us to judge God on the basis of our personal experience. Dad would make promises and dad would break promises. God is a Father, therefore He, too, changes. We may see people in church and then not, and think that somehow they were genuinely saved but then lost their salvation.

Election is glorious because it is unchangeable.

2. It Is Eternal
What makes the doctrine of election so glorious? It is eternal. Predestination happened “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). We are used to going into the polling station or sending in an absentee ballot. We are used to having a say in things. Yet Scripture reveals to us that before anything was, there was only God. And before He actually made anything, He had a plan. Since He is eternal, so are His plans. His eternal plan for us was a gracious plan, saving us according to “his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9).

This is not only glorious but it should be inspiring. Have you come to realize that the eternal and glorious God had a plan for you in particular from all of eternity and for all of eternity?

3. It Is Gracious
What makes the doctrine of election so glorious? It is gracious. Paul says that at the heart of our praise to God the Father is His love for us. His love is an eternal love “as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). His love for us is the cause of His predestining us (Eph. 1:5). His eternal love for us was that we would know His love in time, as His predestining love was “for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5). And His love for us was rooted in His prior love for His Son, “the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). This is why the Canons of Dort say God elected us “out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will” (Canons of Dort 1.7).

This eternal grace was initiated, executed, and purposed in God himself, and not in us. “He chose us” (Eph. 1:4), “he predestined” us (Eph. 1:5) and this was “according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5). That word “purpose” (eudokian) can also be translated as “good pleasure” (NIV; NKJV) or “kind intention” (NASB). The cause of election is God’s love. It is not arbitrary or capricious, but rooted in a deep love for us. As Moses revealed to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7, it was not because they were more in number or greater than anyone else that He chose them, but it was merely because the Lord loved them.

So why did God choose one person and not another? More personally, why did God choose you and not another? He did not do so because there were prerequisites in you, such as “foreseen faith and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition” (Canons of Dort 1.9). As Ephesians 1:4 says, God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” And then we read why: “that we should be holy and blameless before him.” In other words, it was not because we were holy and blameless. Again, we read that “in love [the Father] predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:5–6). His predestining us made us sons; we were not predestined because He saw us becoming sons.

Have you ever heard a preacher use the illustration of a parade, where God, as it were, was in the broadcast booth watching the entire parade. From that vantage point He could see all humanity pass before Him, believing or not, and then He reacts to this with His choice. Ephesians 1 says otherwise, that it was according to the riches of grace in God before time began that He chose you, not because of your faith in time. So the graciousness of God’s electing work is particularly glorious when we realize that He chose “us” as sinners. And because He chose us of all people, we sing at the top of our lungs and from the bottom of our hearts, “O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be!”

4. It Is Definite
What makes the doctrine of election so glorious? It is definite. The doxology of Ephesians 1 is that “we” bless God because He has blessed “us” (Eph. 1:4). This is not an indefinite mass, but real people like you and me. Some believe that predestination is of an indefinite class of people, “those who would believe and would persevere in faith and in the obedience of faith” (Canons of Dort 1.Rejection of Errors 1). But note well that the definitiveness of predestination is personal. Why is this so important to debate over? If predestination were indefinite and impersonal we would ever be in doubt as to our participation in it. On the contrary, because it is definitely of particular persons, John Calvin said Paul’s intention in Ephesians 1 was “to rouse [our] hearts to gratitude, to set [us] all on flame, to fill [us] even to overflowing with this thought.”

5. It Is Christ-centered
Finally, what makes the doctrine of election so glorious? It is Christ-centered. This is one of the areas we as Reformed believers need to grow in appreciation for. We can so often speak abstractly of “predestination,” forgetting that this doctrine is Christ-centered. In Ephesians 1, before he even says a word about predestination, in chapters 1–3 before he even says a word about our doctrine, in chapters 4–6 before he even says a word about how we are live, Paul roots everything in Jesus Christ. How so? We bless “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” who has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (v. 3). He continues, God “chose us in him,” that is, Jesus Christ (v. 4) and “blessed us in the Beloved” (v. 6).

The Canons of Dort summarize the above when it says,
God hath decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His Son” (Canons of Dort 1.7).
In practical terms, this means that Jesus Christ is like the mirror of our election. If the knowledge of God’s good pleasure and powerful love before the foundation of the world still leaves you in doubt, then the only remedy is to gaze upon Christ, as in a mirror. Look at Him and you will see reflected back yourself, being renewed in His image and chosen to be so.

What a glorious doctrine, for it reveals the glory of our wonderful God. As it does, it leads us to respond in praise and in holiness. When we mediate on His glory we burst forth in praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3) and “to the praise of his glorious grace!” (Eph. 1:6) When we meditate on His glory we respond in seeking to be holy. Out of the mass of sinners deserving punishment we were called forth “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). What a God, and what a life He has called us to.

scripture and the kingdom

NT Wright in Surprised by Scripture:

… the point about God’s authority is that the whole Bible is about God establishing his kingdom on earth as in heaven, completing (in other words) the project begun but aborted in Genesis 1– 3. This is the big story that we must learn how to tell. It isn’t just about how to get saved, with some cosmology bolted onto the side. This is an organic story about God and the world. God’s authority is exercised not to give his people lots of true information, not even true information about how they get saved (though that comes en route). God’s authority, vested in Jesus the Messiah, is about God reclaiming his proper lordship over all creation. And the way God planned to rule over his creation from the start was through obedient humanity. The Bible’s witness to Jesus declares that he, the obedient Man, has done this. But the Bible is then the God-given equipment through which the followers of Jesus are themselves equipped to be obedient stewards, the royal priesthood, bringing that saving rule of God in Christ to the world.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

5 phases of grace

Justin Taylor posts an interview with Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones, authors of PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace. Here is how the authors re-envision TULIP:

What do you see as the five phases of grace?

DANIEL: The five facets of grace described in PROOF are a biblical and theological re-framing and re-envisioning of TULIP. TULIP is a nifty mnemonic device but hasn’t proven to be the most helpful tool, in our estimation, in magnifying the glorious gospel of God’s grace:
  • Planned Grace re-envisions limited atonement and we begin here because the story of grace begins with a perfect plan in eternity past. Before time began, God mapped out the plan of salvation from first to last. It’s a loving plan made by the Father for a particular people. It’s a victorious plan achieved by the Son for a definite people. It’s an effective and guaranteed plan sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit. God planned to adopt a particular people as his own children; Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for these people’s sins and as a substitute who satisfied God’s righteous requirements in their place. When God makes a plan, he can always pay the price and he never lacks the power to make it happen.
  • Resurrecting Grace re-envisions total depravity. Everyone is born spiritually dead—we’re the walking dead. And spiritual zombies don’t choose life for the same reason prison escapees don’t show up voluntarily at police stations. Left to ourselves, we will never choose God’s way. God enables people to respond freely to his grace by giving them spiritual life through the power of Christ’s resurrection.
  • Outrageous Grace re-envisions unconditional election. God saves us not because we’ve earned it or deserve it, but because He freely chooses us at Christ’s expense. God chooses people to be saved on the basis of his own sovereign will. He doesn’t base his choice to give us grace on anything that we did or might do. God’s outrageous grace leaves us with nothing to prove because, in Christ, everything that needs to be proven has already been provided.
  • Overcoming Grace re-envisions irresistible grace. God works in the lives of his chosen people to transform their rebellion into surrender so that they freely repent and recognize Christ as the risen King. God changes his chosen people one by one so that they abandon rebellion, long for holiness, and freely surrender to Jesus. His plan all along was to call a diverse people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and then empower them as a community of overcomers.
  • Forever Grace re-envisions perseverance of the saints. God seals his people with his Holy Spirit so that they are preserved and persevere in faith until the final restoration of God’s kingdom on the earth. As long as we are in Christ, the Father cannot reject his covenant with us without rejecting his beloved Son.
This reframing puts God and his grace at the center. Good theology requires both defense and offense. In our estimation, TULIP is mostly defense, and the mission of grace is far bigger and more beautiful than that.

worship like a hedonist

Let me encourage you to take a very hedonistic approach to worship this weekend, and to every corporate worship gathering.

We Christians don’t believe that human pleasure in itself is the highest good, but we should believe that finding our pleasure in God is essential in our participating in the highest good — the glory of God. As we love to celebrate here at Desiring God, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Since the glory of God is the highest good, and the way in which we glorify him most is by being satisfied in him — enjoying him or maximizing our pleasure in him — then the most important approach for us to take together in our weekly worship gatherings is to seek him hedonistically. To aim together at maximizing our pleasure in him.

Whether it’s the singing, the preaching, the praying, the reciting, the giving, or the coming together at the Lord’s Table, the most important obedience to pursue may be this: to rejoice, to delight.

  • Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord”
  • Psalm 32:11: “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice”
  • Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”

In corporate worship, and in all of life, we’ll want to ask God to give us the heart of Psalm 63:1: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

If you want a spiritual sensation to seek maybe it’s quenching your thirst. The picture from Psalm 42 is a thirsty deer, aching for water — call it “the hart of worship.” “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2).

Perhaps your experience resonates with those of us who would say, in the words of John Piper, “the revolt against hedonism has killed the spirit of worship in many churches” (Desiring God, 98). Surprising as it may seem, we would encourage you this weekend to ban any thought of disinterestedness — because “worship is the most hedonistic affair of life and must not be ruined with the least thought of disinterestedness” (98).

We believe that “the hedonistic approach to God in worship is the only humble approach because it is the only approach that comes with empty hands” (95–96). It is good news that “the enemy of worship is not that our desire for pleasure is too strong, but too weak!” (99).

So, as you prepare your heart for, and enter into, corporate worship this weekend, don’t tone your desires down or put your heart aside. Don’t just go through the motions. Don’t let mere duty be the driver. Come to feast on God and his goodness to us in Jesus. Come to satisfy your deepest longings in the very one “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

We come not to meet any needs in God, but to have our greatest needs met in his grace.

Let’s worship like hedonists.

gay mirage

Doug Wilson has coined the phrase gay mirage. I like it. I cannot go along with fear-mongering, judgement, hate, etc. propagated by minority groups to intimidate the rest of us to re-define words in accordance with the broken perspective.

Here is NT Wright on the topic [posted by Matthew Schmitz]:

N. T. Wright—hailed by Time as “one of the most formidable figures in Christian thought”—first captured my imagination with the early volumes of his series Christian Origins and the Question of God. In them, he frames the Christian story precisely as a story, a grand narrative, the greatest epic, and all the greater for being true. As Wesley Hill noted in our most recent issue, there can be peril in such readings of Scripture, but also great promise. In a recent interview with J. John of the Philo Trust, Wright explains why he views the complementarity of the sexes as essential to that story, and to marriage itself. Below is an unedited transcript.

What do you think are the major challenges to the church and the Christian message in the light of the current legislation on the redefinition of marriage?

N. T. Wright: Obviously huge issues there, and there’s no way we can lay them all out tonight. I do want to say a word about a word. When anybody—pressure groups, governments, civilizations—suddenly change the meaning of key words, you really should watch out. If you go to a German dictionary and just open at random, you may well see several German words which have a little square bracket saying “N.S.,” meaning National Socialist or Nazi. The Nazis gave those words a certain meaning. In post-1917 Russia, there were whole categories of people who were called “former persons,” because by the Communist diktat they had ceased to be relevant for the state, and once you call them former persons it was extremely easy to ship them off somewhere and have them killed.

In the same way, there was a letter in the Times Literary Supplement just a few weeks ago saying that when we’re talking about assisted suicide, we shouldn’t actually use words like “suicide,” “killing,” and those sort of words because those imply that you shouldn’t do it. Whereas now our civilization is saying that maybe there are reasons for that. I find that sort of stuff chilling, the attempt to change an ideology within a culture by changing the language.

Now, the word “marriage,” for thousands of years and cross-culturally has meant man and woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman. Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man. There is polyandry as well as polygamy in some societies in some parts of history, but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness. I would say that without any particular Christian presuppositions at all, just cross-culturally, that’s so.

With Christian or Jewish presuppositions, or indeed Muslim, then if you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—that heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on and so on, and you end up with male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.

If you say that marriage now means something which would allow other such configurations, what you’re saying is actually that when we marry a man and a woman we’re not actually doing any of that stuff. This is just a convenient social arrangement and sexual arrangement and there it is . . . get on with it. It isn’t that that is the downgrading of marriage, it’s something that clearly has gone on for some time which is now poking it’s head above the parapet. If that’s what you thought marriage meant, then clearly we haven’t done a very good job in society as a whole and in the church in particular in teaching about just what a wonderful mystery marriage is supposed to be. Simply at that level, I think it’s a nonsense. It’s like a government voting that black should be white. Sorry, you can vote that if you like, you can pass it by a total majority, but it isn’t actually going to change the reality.

The other thing I find worrying is that I was struck this week—this is a memory, and you may not agree with the judgment that precedes it—but eleven years ago, no, actually ten years ago, almost right now, we were about to go to war against Iraq. I sat in my kitchen and I listened to Tony Blair making the great speech on how we should go and bomb Iraq (it was the day before they actually started). I thought at the time and I still think that that speech was absolutely full of holes. It was begging questions, it was missing points, it was slipping cogs in the logic. Yet all the papers were on board, almost everyone in Parliament was on board, with only a few grouchy people, and I remember thinking at the time: This is absolutely crazy. We should not be doing this and there’s all sorts of what-ifs which we haven’t thought through. I have to say, over the last ten years I have seen no reason to change that judgment at all.

I sense something of the same mood this week. All the press is on-side, most of Parliament’s on-side, and people are saying—get this—that unless you support this, you’re on the wrong side of history. Excuse me. Did you see University Challenge last night? There was a nice question: Somebody said, who was it who said in 1956, “History is on our side and we will bury you”? One of the contestants got the answer right: It was Nikita Khrushchev. When people claim, “We’re going with the flow of history,” that’s just a rhetorical smokescreen. So, that’s where I am.

Monday, June 23, 2014

gospel feasting

Milton Vincent in A Gospel Primer for Christians:

On the most basic levels, I desire fullness, and fleshly lusts seduce me by attaching themselves to this basic desire. They exploit the empty spaces in me, and they promise that fulness will be mine if I give in to their demands. When my soul sits empty and is aching for something to fill it, such deceptive promises are extremely difficult to resist.

Consequently, the key to mortifying fleshly lusts is to eliminate the emptiness within me and replace it with fullness; and I accomplish this by feasting on the gospel. Indeed, it is in the gospel that I experience a God who glorifies Himself by filling me with His fullness. This is the God of the gospel, a God who is satisfied with nothing less than my experience of fullness in Him!

Indeed, as I perpetually feast on Christ and all His blessings found in the gospel, I find that my hunger for sin diminishes and the lies of lust simply lose their appeal. Hence, to the degree that I am full, I am free. Eyes do not rove, nor do fleshly lusts rule, when the heart is fat with the love of Jesus!

hope of glory

John Owen in The Glory of Christ:

To those to whom Christ is the hope of future glory, he is also the life of present grace. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

the demise of marriage but ...

The following interesting analysis is by Francis Beckwith:

Up until very recently, marriage had been universally thought of as consisting of three essential characteristics: conjugality, permanence, and exclusivity. This had been more or less reflected in our laws.

Conjugality refers to the way by which a marriage is consummated: coitus between the male and female spouses. Permanence means that the marriage cannot be dissolved (or annulled) unless certain specific conditions are met or one of the partners dies. Exclusivity refers to the sexual relationship and means that neither party in the marriage is free to engage in extra-marital intimacies.

Even polygamous unions may fulfill these criteria, for the husband is married to each wife while the women are not married to each other and thus do not have “wives.” For this reason, upon the husband’s death, each of the marriages in a polygamous cluster is immediately dissolved.

Conjugality is only a condition because of the nature of sexual intercourse: it is ordered toward bringing into existence offspring of the union of the two parties. This is why handshakes, hugs, kisses, or other forms of bodily touching, penetration, or intimacy can never count as conjugality.

But this is also why it is wrong to say that the latter are indistinguishable from conjugal acts that cannot bring forth offspring due to illness or age. For such conjugal acts, though sterile, do not cease to be conjugal acts, just as a man in a coma does not cease to be a rational animal simply because he is not able to exercise his rational faculties.

Just as the comatose man still possesses human dignity even though he is not able to exercise his unique human powers, the conjugal act between a husband and wife that is incapable of conceiving possesses no less dignity precisely because it actualizes the same profound and mysterious union that is by nature ordered toward bringing into existence a unique and irreplaceable person that literally embodies that union.

Given the sacred nature of conjugality, as it was once without controversy believed by virtually everybody, exclusivity and permanence make perfect sense, especially if one also believes that children are not only best raised, but by nature entitled to, a mother and a father who bind themselves to each other under the authority of a covenant whose contours they are not competent by mere consent to dissolve or change.

Of course, all of this – conjugality, permanence, and exclusivity – is not only no longer taken for granted, it seems literally incomprehensible to most citizens morally formed in a post-1960s culture.

The Pharisees Question Jesus by James J. Tissot, c. 1890

With the enactment of no-fault divorce laws beginning in the early 1970s, permanence began to dissipate. Exclusivity quickly followed. The sexual revolution brought with it not only the unraveling of the mores against fornication, but also the concepts of swinging, open “marriage,” and even polyamory. So, violations of exclusivity slowly became understood as not intrinsically wrong, but rather, only wrong insofar as the spouses do not grant their mutual consent.

Thus, not unexpectedly, came the proliferation of out of wedlock births, single parenthood (with children from a variety of male and female suitors), broken families, and blended families.

Consequently, nothing special in marriage remained. Every relationship in the familial tapestry can in principle be severed, reattached, or removed as long as all the adult agents consent. However, those without capacity (i.e., children) may be eliminated (by abortion, if not post-natal) or, along with any common property, “equitably” distributed to interested parties by the state in judicial proceedings firmly committed to enforcing the couple-relative contours of this new institution that is called “marriage.” 

Given this trajectory, why should conjugality remain? That is precisely what is implied in the public rhetoric of supporters of the legal recognition of same-sex unions. It makes perfect sense to many of our fellow citizens, in light of their personal experience of having grown up in a culture in which they were taught that “marriage” is virtually an artifact shaped by our disembodied wills rather than a sacred institution that we did not invent and under which our embodied wills are bound when we enter it.

But this brings us to one of the great ironies of our age. Recently, a baker in Colorado was told by the state that he may not refuse to make and decorate a wedding cake for a same-sex couple who had been “married” in Massachusetts, but had planned a reception in Colorado, which presently does not legally recognize such unions. The baker had refused because he could not in good conscience offer direct material support for a liturgical event that his theological beliefs affirm as gravely immoral.

Oddly, with the demise of the conditions of exclusivity and permanence, and now conjugality, this ruling means that each partner in a legally recognized marriage (or civil union) literally has less of a legal obligation to each other than the baker has to the couple. Apparently, the state believes that preserving the relationship between baker and same-sex couple is of much greater importance for the cause of public justice than doing the same for the relationships it claims to be vindicating.

Or to put it another way: It is more difficult in Colorado for a baker to leave some customers than it is for the partners of a “married” couple in Massachusetts to leave each other.

Friday, June 20, 2014

defending marriage within the church

The below is a simple post by Amy Hall but chock full of helpful links. It's worth reading and following through the links.

We usually focus on secular reasons for maintaining the man/woman definition of marriage because there are plenty of publicly accessible reasons to give, and because until now, the people who have needed convincing about the definition of marriage weren’t those who would take the Bible into consideration.

But just because solid arguments can be drawn from natural revelation (i.e., by observing the world around us to discover what marriage is and the consequences of redefining it), that doesn’t mean there aren’t specifically Christian reasons for man/woman marriage that we ought to understand and appreciate as Christians. (See here and here, for example.)

And now that people like Matthew Vines are setting out to persuade Christians that God does not oppose same-sex marriage, it’s more important than ever that we think about how marriage fits into the bigger story of the Bible. It’s more than just a question of interpreting a few Greek terms and a handful of verses.

To that end, here are some thoughts from an interview with N.T. Wright:
With Christian or Jewish presuppositions, or indeed Muslim, then if you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—that heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on and so on, and you end up with male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth. 
If you say that marriage now means something which would allow other such configurations, what you’re saying is actually that when we marry a man and a woman we’re not actually doing any of that stuff. This is just a convenient social arrangement and sexual arrangement and there it is . . . get on with it. It isn’t that that is the downgrading of marriage, it’s something that clearly has gone on for some time which is now poking its head above the parapet. If that’s what you thought marriage meant, then clearly we haven’t done a very good job in society as a whole and in the church in particular in teaching about just what a wonderful mystery marriage is supposed to be.
Be prepared for this to become a challenge within the church, just as it has at this church near Biola (where one of my friends used to attend) that recently changed its position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Don’t be caught off guard by this; start thinking about it now. Michael Brown has just written Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding with Love and Truth to Questions about Homosexuality, and SBTS faculty produced an eBook Response to Matthew Vines. Those might be good places to start.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

views of tradition v. scripture

Great summary by Michael Patton on tradition's role in the christian life:

“If it ain’t in the Bible, I don’t believe it.” Have you ever heard said that? How about this one: “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” You might have that bumper sticker. Why not? Doesn’t this represent the glory of the Protestant Reformation’s elevation of Scripture to a position of the sole source of authority in the Christian’s life? Don’t these pithy statements represent the best of what it means to adhere to the doctrine of sola Scriptura?

No, they don’t. In fact they unfortunately represent a common misunderstanding of what sola Scriptura means.

Where does one go for authority? In whom do we place our trust? The Church? Tradition? Scripture? The Pope? These represent important questions that are normally not understood outside the perspective of individual traditions.

There are essentially five views that exist in the church today concerning the important issue of authority.

1. Dual-source theory

Belief that Tradition, represented by the magisterial authority of the Roman Catholic Church, is infallible and equal to Scripture as a basis for doctrine; the Church itself is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice since it must define and interpret Scripture and Tradition.

Adherents: Roman Catholics

Notice that there is one complete deposit of faith, given by Christ to the Apostles. This one deposit is transmitted by two sources, written tradition (Scripture) and unwritten tradition. Notice also the dotted line as Scripture moves from the “Age of the Apostles” to the “Age of the Church.” This represents that the Scriptures were not complete in canonized form (all the books were not decided upon) until the forth century. The Roman Catholic church believes itself responsible for the interpretation of both written and unwritten tradition. Because of their belief that the Holy Spirit protects the Roman Catholic church from error, they believe that they are the ultimate and final authority for the Christian. This is why this view is often referred to as sola ecclesia (”the church alone”).

2. Prima Scriptura

Belief that the Body of Christ has two separate sources of authority for faith and practice: 1) the Scriptures and 2) Tradition. Scripture is the primary source for authority, but by itself it is insufficient for all matters of faith and practice. Tradition also contains essential elements needed for the productive Christian life.

Adherents: Some Roman Catholics (an alternate view)

Like the previous, the prima Scriptura view has an abiding dual-source of authority. Notice how the dotted line representing Tradition continues on in this model. This is illustrative of Tradition’s continued subordinate influence within the Church. For the prima Scriptura model, Tradition must be continually “kept in check” by Scripture. If there is ever a conflict between Tradition and the Scriptures, the Scriptures are to correct and interpret Tradition. Scripture, according to this model, is the primary and final authority in all matters. According to this view, the Scriptures contain all that is necessary for salvation and is, therefore, “materially sufficient.” But it is not “formally sufficient,” since it must have an infallible interpreter, the Church.

3. Regula Fidei

Lit. “Rule of faith.” Belief that tradition is an infallible “summary” of Scripture passed on through apostolic succession. Ultimately, there is only one source of revelation, but two sources of authority. In other words, Tradition is Scripture.

Adherents: Eastern Orthodox, some Protestants

Notice how the dotted line representing Tradition continues on in this model. Like the previous, this is illustrative of Tradition’s continued subordinate influence within the Church. For the regula fidei model, however, tradition equals Scripture in an infallible summary form (example: Nicene creed). The Church carries the correct interpretation of Scripture but does not add anything new to it (unlike the previous two). Therefore, all interpretation of Scripture must agree with the interpretation that has been consistently held within the Church—the regula fidei or ”rule of faith.”

4. Sola Scriptura

Belief that Scripture is the final and only infallible authority for the Christian in all matters of faith and practice. While there are other authorities, they are always fallible and the must always be tested by and submit to the Scriptures.

Adherents: Reformed Protestants/Evangelicals

Notice that the only difference between the sola Scriptura view and the regula fide view is that in the sola Scriptura view tradition is not infallible. It is very important to realize that advocates ofsola Scriptura would believe that there were two sources of authority for the first 300–400 years of the Church. Like the previous view, tradition would be understood as a summary of what was written in Scripture that had always been accepted by the universal Church. Unlike the previous view, this summary is not infallible.

At this time, Scripture was in the process of being recognized (canonized) and the teachings of the apostles which had been passed on through word of mouth (tradition) was only reliable for the first 100 years (or so) of Church history. The majority of Scripture (Gospels, Acts, and Pauline corpus which makes up at least 80 percent of the NT) was accepted as authoritative by A.D. 200, if not earlier. At the same time, the teachings of the apostles that were being passed on through word of mouth was becoming increasingly obscure and unreliable. Once the New Testament had been circulated throughout the Church, and once the canon had been recognized, the Church became totally reliant upon the Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments) for ultimate authority in all matters of faith and practice. Scripture is always to be interpreted according to the accepted, albeit fallible, regula fidei of the early church as represented in the early creeds and councils.

As an important and related sidenote, there has been much recent discussion among Protestants and Orthodox concerning the similarities in the two traditions’ view of authority. In fact, mutual consent has been attained and confessions of misunderstanding given from both sides. Notice here the agreed statement from The Dublin Agreed Statement 1984 involving Anglicans and Orthodox:
“Any disjunction between Scripture and Tradition such as would treat them as two separate ‘sources of revelation’ must be rejected. The two are correlative. We affirm (1) that Scripture is the main criterion whereby the church tests traditions to determine whether they are truly part of the Holy Tradition or not; (2) that Holy Tradition completes Holy Scriptures in the sense that it safeguards the integrity of the biblical message” (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985), 50–51.
As well, notice this agreement between Lutherans and Orthodox:
“Regarding the relation of Scripture and Tradition, for centuries there seemed to have been a deep difference between Orthodox and Lutheran teaching. Orthodox hear with satisfaction the affirmation of the Lutheran theologians that the formula sola Scriptura was always intended to point to God’s revelation, God’s saving act through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and therefore to the holy Tradition of the Church . . . against human traditions that darken the authentic teaching in the Church.” —Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue: The Agreed Statements 1985–1989. (Geneva: Lutheran World Federation, 1992), 11.
5. Solo Scriptura or Nuda Scriptura

Belief that Scripture is the sole basis and authority in the life of the Christian. Tradition is useless and misleading, and creeds and confessions are the result of man-made traditions.

Adherents: Radical Reformers, Fundamentalists, Restorationist Churches

This is not a formal position but a pejorative designation of a practical one. It represents the unfortunate position of many evangelical or fundamental Protestants who misunderstand sola Scriptura believing that it means that the ideal place for believers to find authority and interpret Scripture is to do so in a historical vacuum, disregarding any tradition that might influence and bind their thinking. Not only does this undermine the Holy Spirit’s role in the lives of believers of the past, but it is a position of arrogance, elevating individual reason to the position of final authority. It also disregards the fact that it is impossible to interpret in a vacuum.

Protestants have many authorities in their lives. Whether it be parents, government, the church, or traditions. The doctrine of sola Scriptura does not mean that we don’t have any other authorities or even sources of revelation, but that the Scripture alone is the final and only infallible source—it is the ultimate source.

Just for good measure so that I cannot be accused of not trying to get in trouble, here is how I would chart some traditions and denominations.

perfect righteousness

This is perfect righteousness, to hear nothing, to know nothing, to do nothing of the law of works; but only to know and believe that Jesus Christ is now gone to the Father, and sitteth at his right hand, not as a judge, but is made unto you of God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

5 questions

Not earth shattering but 5 decent questions by Kevin DeYoung for Christians who believe the Bible supports gay marriage:

So you’ve become convinced that the Bible supports gay marriage. You’ve studied the issue, read some books, looked at the relevant Bible passages and concluded that Scripture does not prohibit same-sex intercourse so long as it takes place in the context of a loving, monogamous, lifelong covenanted relationship. You still love Jesus. You still believe the Bible. In fact, you would argue that it’s because you love Jesus and because you believe the Bible that you now embrace gay marriage as a God-sanctioned good.

As far as you are concerned, you haven’t rejected your evangelical faith. You haven’t turned your back on God. You haven’t become a moral relativist. You’ve never suggested anything goes when it comes to sexual behavior. In most things, you tend to be quite conservative. You affirm the family, and you believe in the permanence of marriage. But now you’ve simply come to the conclusion that two men or two women should be able to enter into the institution of marriage–both as a legal right and as a biblically faithful expression of one’s sexuality.

Setting aside the issue of biblical interpretation for the moment, let me ask five questions.

1. On what basis do you still insist that marriage must be monogamous?

Presumably, you do not see any normative significance in God creating the first human pair male and female (Gen. 2:23-25; Matt. 19:4-6). Paul’s language about each man having his own wife and each woman her own husband cannot be taken too literally without falling back into the exclusivity of heterosexual marriage (1 Cor. 7:2). The two coming together as one so they might produce godly offspring doesn’t work with gay marriage either (Mal. 2:15). So why monogamy? Jesus never spoke explicitly against polygamy. The New Testament writers only knew of exploitative polygamy, the kind tied to conquest, greed, and subjugation. If they had known of voluntary, committed, loving polyamorous relationships, who’s to think they wouldn’t have approved?

These aren’t merely rhetorical questions. The issue is legitimate: if 3 or 13 or 30 people really love each other, why shouldn’t they have a right to be married? And for that matter, why not a brother and a sister, or two sisters, or a mother and son, or father and son, or any other combination of two or more persons who love each other. Once we’ve accepted the logic that for love to be validated it must be expressed sexually and that those engaged in consensual sexual activity cannot be denied the “right” of marriage, we have opened a Pandora’s box of marital permutations that cannot be shut.

2. Will you maintain the same biblical sexual ethic in the church now that you think the church should solemnize gay marriages?

After assailing the conservative church for ignoring the issue of divorce, will you exercise church discipline when gay marriages fall apart? Will you preach abstinence before marriage for all single persons, no matter their orientation? If nothing has really changed except that you now understand the Bible to be approving of same-sex intercourse in committed lifelong relationships,we should expect loud voices in the near future denouncing the infidelity rampant in homosexual relationships. Surely, those who support gay marriage out of “evangelical” principles, will be quick to find fault with the notion that the male-male marriages most likely to survive are those with a flexible understanding that other partners may come and go. According to one study researched and written by two homosexual authors, of 156 homosexual couples studied, only seven had maintained sexual fidelity, and of the hundred that had been together for more than five years, none had remained faithful (cited by Satinover, 55). In the rush to support committed, lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships, it’s worth asking whether those supporters–especially the Christians among them–will, in fact, insist on a lifelong, monogamous commitment.

3. Are you prepared to say moms and dads are interchangeable?

It is a safe assumption that those in favor of gay marriage are likely to support gay and lesbian couples adopting children or giving birth to children through artificial insemination. What is sanctioned, therefore, is a family unit where children grow up de facto without one birth parent. This means not simply that some children, through the unfortunate circumstances of life, may grow up with a mom and dad, but that the church will positively bless and encourage the family type that will deprive children of either a mother or a father. So are mothers indispensable? Is another dad the same as a mom? No matter how many decent, capable homosexual couples we may know, are we confident that as a general rule there is nothing significant to be gained by growing up with a mother and a father?

4. What will you say about anal intercourse?

The answer is probably “nothing.” But if you feel strongly about the dangers of tobacco or fuss over the negative affects of carbs, cholesterol, gmo’s, sugar, gluten, trans fats, and hydrogenated soybean oil may have on your health, how can you not speak out about the serious risks associated with male-male intercourse. How is it loving to celebrate what we know to be a singularly unhealthy lifestyle? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the risk of anal cancer increases 4000 percent among those who engage in anal intercourse. Anal sex increases the risk of a long list of health problems, including “rectal prolapse, perforation that can go septic, chlamydia, cyrptosporidosis, giardiasis, genital herpes, genital warts, isosporiasis, microsporidiosis, gonorrhea, viral hepatitis B and C, and syphilis” (quoted in Reilly, 55). And this is to say nothing of the higher rates of HIV and other health concerns with disproportionate affects on the homosexual community.

5. How have all Christians at all times and in all places interpreted the Bible so wrongly for so long?

Christians misread their Bibles all the time. The church must always be reformed according to the word of God. Sometimes biblical truth rests with a small minority. Sometimes the truth is buried in relative obscurity for generations. But when we must believe that the Bible has been misunderstood by virtually every Christian in every part of the world for the last two thousand years, it ought to give us pause. From the Jewish world in the Old and New Testaments to the early church to the Middle Ages to the Reformation and into the 20th century, the church has understood the Bible to teach that engaging in homosexuality activity was among the worst sins a person could commit. As the late Louis Crompton, a gay man and pioneer in queer studies, explained:

Some interpreters, seeking to mitigate Paul’s harshness, have read the passage [in Romans 1] as condemning not homosexuals generally but only heterosexual men and women who experimented with homosexuality. According to this interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstances. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any Jew or early Christian. (Homosexuality and Civilization, 114).

The church has been of one mind on this issue for nearly two millennia. Are you prepared to jeopardize the catholicity of the church and convince yourself that everyone misunderstood the Bible until the 1960s? On such a critical matter, it’s important we think through the implications of our position, especially if it means consigning to the bin of bigotry almost every Christian who has ever lived.


John Bright in The Kingdom of God:
The gospel according to Mark begins the story of Jesus' ministry with these significant words: "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel" (1:14-15). Mark thus makes it plain that the burden of Jesus' preaching was to announce the Kingdom of God; that was the central thing with which he was concerned. A reading of the teachings of Jesus as they are found in the gospels only serves to bear this statement out. Everywhere the Kingdom of God was on his lips, and it is always a matter of desperate importance.
Preaching - it is foundational. My only addition to the excellent words of Timothy George (below) is to remember not only was Jesus sent to proclaim the Kingdom of God (as George mentions in Lk 4.43-44a) but that's also what He spoke of during His 40 days here after the resurrection (Acts 1.3).

At the heart of the Christian faith is a Savior who was a preacher. “And Jesus came preaching” (Mark 1:14). This stands in contrast to the gods of Olympus or the deities of the Roman pantheon whose interaction with mortals, when it happened at all, was transient, ephemeral, detached, like a circle touching a tangent. Zeus thundered, but he did not preach. Nor did the dying and rising savior gods of the mystery religions. There were ablutions and incantations and the babbling utterances of the Sibylline Oracles but nothing that could rightly be called a sermon.

But when the divine Logos was made flesh (egeneto sarx, John 1:14), he embraced the full range of human pathos and human discourse: Jesus wept, and Jesus preached. Jesus declared that the very purpose of his mission on earth was to preach: “‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching. . . .” (Luke 4:43-44a).

The old liberal construal of this text was to say that Jesus came preaching the kingdom and what we got was the church. But that way of putting it is to deny the coinherence of the kingdom and the King, a title ascribed to Jesus Christ at several places in the New Testament (see John 12:15, 18:37; 1 Tim. 6:13-16; Rev. 17:14, 19:16).

In the Gospels, Jesus not only proclaimed the kingdom—he was the bearer and the inaugurator of it. This was seen both in what he said—his claim of a unique filial relationship with the heavenly Father (Matt. 11:25-30; John 10:30, 14:11)—and in what he did. He despoiled the reign of Satan through the exorcising of demons, he offered forgiveness to sinners and celebrated the eschatological banquet with them, and he asserted divine moral authority in many ways including the striking “but I say unto you” sayings of the Sermon on the Mount. Thus from the beginning, the content of early Christian preaching was neither a new philosophical worldview nor a code of ethics to improve human behavior, but rather Jesus Christ himself: Jesus remembered in his words and deeds, Jesus crucified, buried, and risen from the dead, and Jesus yet to come again in glory—all of which is included in that earliest of Christian confessions, “Jesus is Lord!”

Next to Jesus, the two greatest exemplars of preaching in the New Testament are John the Baptist and St. Paul. John the Baptist is a liminal prophet who stands at the threshold of the two testaments. In the imagination of the church, John is the one who is always pointing toward Jesus Christ: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

This is how Matthias Grünewald presented John in his famous painting of the Isenheim Altarpiece (a copy of which hung above the desk of Karl Barth in his study in Basel). John is standing on one side of the cross with an open book in one hand while he points with the long, bony finger of his other hand at the torturous visage of Jesus on the cross. Of course, we know that John the Baptist had long been dead by the time of Jesus’s crucifixion, beheaded by Herod Antipas. But in the sanctified imagination of Grünewald, he is called back from the dead to make one last appearance in salvation history with the same message he had once delivered during his life on earth. It was a message of negation.

Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

And he answered, “No.” (John 1:19-21)

In Grünewald’s painting, in faded red letters in the background, are these words from John 3:30, “He must become greater; I must become less.” From first to last, John the Baptist has a referential ministry and thus serves as a controlling model for Christian proclamation in the early church.

Though Paul became an apostle through his encounter with the risen Christ, we might well reach into the future and drag him back to stand with John the Baptist under the cross, for his own preaching is no less Christologically ordered than that of John. To the Corinthians he wrote, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor. 5:5). Although we know Paul primarily from his letters in the New Testament, he was not called to be a letter writer but rather a preacher of the Gospel, especially to the Gentiles.

I recall Krister Stendahl, one of my former New Testament professors, saying to us that the apostle Paul would have been quite surprised to discover that a few postcards he had dashed off during his missionary travels had made it into the New Testament! Well, Romans is hardly a postcard, and we should not forget that the reading aloud of Paul’s letters in the early Christian communities was itself a form of preaching. But Stendahl’s point still stands: Paul was not a litterateur. He was a preacher who proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ with what the New Testament calls parrhesia, unusual boldness, fearlessness. Paul knew that God had chosen to use the “folly” of preaching to save those who believed, and so, as he wrote to the Corinthians, he was determined “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

With Paul’s words ringing in their ears, early Christian proclaimers fanned out across the Roman Empire to engage in what Ephrem the Syrian called “the sweet preaching of the cross.” In doing so, preachers of the early church were not merely expressing their personal opinions or providing entertainment to their listeners. No, they were in the vanguard of the militia Christi, the army of Jesus that sheds no blood. Their preaching propelled redemptive history forward toward the consummation of all things. This is certainly how Matthew 24:14 has been understood, from the age of the apostles right through the dawn of the modern ecumenical movement: “And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

The promise still stands and the task yet remains, for God ever renews his church through new forms of preaching—the martyrs, the monks, the mendicants, the missionaries, the reformers, the awakeners, the pastors and the teachers. Where such proclamation is faithful to the living and written Word of God and enlivened by the Spirit, it is an effective means of grace and a sure sign of the true church.