Monthly Archives: January 2008

God: Judge AND Savior

Rereading Packer’s Knowing God, and it’s so much better than I remembered it.

His chapter on God as Judge, chapter 14, really struck me.

He say,

It becomes clear that the Bible’s proclamation of God’s work as Judge is part of its witness to His character. It confirms … His moral perfection, His righteousness and justice, His wisdom, omniscience, and omnipotence. It shows us also that the heart of the justice which expresses God’s nature is retribution, the rendering to men what they have deserved; for this is the essence of the judge’s task. To reward good with good, and evil with evil, is natural to God. (page 129)

Later on he says, “the final proof that God is a perfect moral being, not indifferent to questions of right and wrong is the fact that he has committed Himself to judge the world.” (page 130)

Basically, God being the Judge is pinnacle of His complete perfection. He is a judge, and necessarily must be so, because of His excellence and all His other attributes. To not talk about, and exalt, God as judge is to literally diminish His greatness. And how often do I fall into to ignoring this profound and glorious reality.

God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). God is light (1 John 1:5). But God is also a consuming fire (Hebrew 12:29), as there will be a day of judgment (1 John 4:17). All three must be held together at all times. If not the glory of God is terribly undermined.

In the NT, “God’s action as Judge, far from being reduced, is actually intensified. The entire New Testament is overshadowed by the certainty of a coming day of universal judgment, and by the problem thence arising: how may we sinners get right with God while there is yet time?” (page 127)

God as Judge screams the necessity of the Gospel. If God is not a judge, then the Gospel is superfluous and the Cross of Jesus a cosmic overreaction.

Here is where balance is essential in the Christian life and one’s theology. I can feel myself wanting to just proclaim God as Judge to counteract all the time that I’ve neglect this truth in my own life. But God is not just a Judge but also a Savior, and truly making the Gospel Good News.

As Judge, He is the law, but as Saviour He is the gospel. Run from Him now, and you will meet Him as Judge then—and without hope. Seem Him now, and you will find Him (for ‘he that seeketh findeth’), and you will then discover that you are looking forward to that future meeting with joy, knowing that there is now ‘no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). (page 133)

 

God is not God without being the Judge. And there is no Gospel without God the Savior saving us from God the Judge.


The Necessity of Biblical Theology

Just finished The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen.

I the loved the authors’ call for Biblical theology, reading the Bible along its narrative as opposed to just Systematic Theology, proof texting, etc.

We must resist the temptation to read the Scriptures as if they were a religious flea market, with a basket of history and old doctrines here, a shelf full of pious stories there, promises and commands scattered from one end to the other. Some readers of the Bible turn it into little more than an anthology of proof texts assembled to support a system of theology. Others seek only ethical guidance, ransacking the Old Testament for stories of moral instruction. Still others look just for inspirational or devotional messages, for comforting promises and lessons for daily living. The result may be that we lose sight of the Bible’s essential unity and instead find only those theological, moral, devotional, or historical fragments we are looking for.

Instead,

The world of the Bible is our world, and its story of redemption is also our story. This story is waiting for an ending—in part because we ourselves have a role to play before all is concluded. We must therefore pay attention to the continuing biblical story of redemption. (page 196)

 

The first part of the book was amazing as the authors depicted the history of Israel in a concise and engaging manner. The end was disappointing as the authors mistakenly take the Gospel and impose it to include and encompass cosmic restoration, instead of cosmic restoration in Christ being the implication and trajectory of the Gospel. This deficient is likely attributed to the influence of NT Wright and the reconfiguration of Justification from soteriology to ecclesiology. Something I’ll blog on more when I get the chance.

Nevertheless I agree with their view of salvation, though it should be more carefully nuanced.

John’s vision in Revelation, indeed, in the whole New Testament, does not depict salvation as an escape from earth into a spiritualized heaven where human souls dwell forever. Instead, John is shown (and shows us in turn) that salvation is the restoration of God’s creation on a new earth. In this resorted world, the redeemed of God will live in resurrected bodies within a reviewed creation, from which sin and its effects have been expunged. This is the kingdom that Christ’s followers have already begun to enjoy in foretaste. (page 211)

 

Overall, it’s a very usefully and concise Biblical theology, as I heartedly recommend it despite disagreeing with some of it.

 


Personal Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

I found The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever to be a very good introduction to personal evangelism. It’s short and sweet.

Regarding what constitutes successful evangelism he says:

Evangelism is to “proclaim to [people] the good news of salvation in Christ, to call them to repentance, and to give God the glory for regeneration and conversions. We don’t fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel to someone who is not converted; we fail only if we don’t faithfully tell the gospel at all. Evangelism itself isn’t’ converting people; it’s telling them that they need to to be converted and telling them how they can be.”

He goes on to make several poignant comments about the necessity of God’s sovereignty and election in evangelism.

[Paul] didn’t see any inconsistently that a sovereign God is also a saving God. Somehow, Paul found the doctrine of God’s sovereignty an encouragement in his evangelism. Do we need to recover this confidence in a day of increasing opposition to the public preaching of the gospel? I think that we do. I fear that much of today’s evangelism will soon end. As evangelism becomes more and more unpopular, I fear that some Christians will simply dilute it, water it down, alter it, or even stop sharing the good news altogether. I think a better understanding of the Bible’s teaching on God’s election would help them. I think it would give them confidence and joy in their evangelism.

Dever goes even further with election claiming:

If you don’t believe that the gospel is the good news of God’s action–the Father electing, the Son dying, the Spirit drawing–that conversion sin only our response to God’s giving us the grace-gifts of repentance and faith, and that evangelism is our simple, faithful, prayerful telling of this good news, the you will actually damage the evangelistic mission of the church by making false converts. If you think that the gospel is all about what we can do, that the practice of it is optional, and that conversion is simply something that anyone can choose at any time, then I’m convinced that you’ll think of evangelism as nothing more than a sales job where the prospect is to be won over to sign on the dotted line by praying a prayer, followed by an assurance that he is the proud owner of salvation.

Some powerful words that I think are timely and true.

Some other books that I’ve found helpful on evangelism include:

 


I Hate Calvinism

There I said it!

If anyone has been following modern Evangelicalism, one of the surprising movements over this past decade is the resurgence of young Calvinists. For example, check out the Christianity Today article in September 2006: Young, Restless, Reformed; and the upcoming book with the same title.

If anyone knows me or just skims my blog, they know I’m a committed Calvinist and believe that this new wave of Calvinism is a good thing—for the most part.

Now as Calvinism and the infamous TULIP is “emerging” into the forefront of Evangelical minds, there are several reasons that I deplore aspects of Calvinism and many of its associations.

Let me explain briefly.

 

1. Historically Misleading Terminology

In the Christianity Today article, Young, Restless, Reformed, the author makes the claim of so many when dealing with and defining Calvinism, particular in terms of the infamous “Five Points”:

Calvinism as an identifiable theological school began with John Calvin (1509-1564). Also referred to as Reformed theology, Calvinism draws on pre-Reformation theologians like Augustine. It has taken a variety of forms over the centuries, but the acronym TULIP is still a handy summary of its distinguishing marks.

However, “Calvinism” did NOT begin with John Calvin. All “five points” were codified in the writing of Augustine, about a thousand years earlier than Calvin. If I wanted to be more accurate about a label (which I don’t) “Augustinian” would be more apropos. Additionally, all five points were pervasive throughout the early church (cf. Putting Amazing Back into Grace by Michael Horton, the appendix). Even Aquinas’ soteriology was monergistic.

Moreover, Calvin himself and “Calvinists” in general did not come up with the infamous “Five Points of Calvinism.” Rather, in Holland in 1610, Arminius just died and it was his followers who formulated the famous five main points. Until this point in history, the churches of Holland—with most other Protestant churches of Europe—subscribed to the Belgic and Heidelberg Confessions of Faith. The Arminians wanted to change this position and presented their five points in the form of a Remonstrance to the Dutch Parliament.

It was then that The Five Points of Arminianism were canonized and presented to the State. A National Synod of the church that was called to meet in Dort in 1618 to examine the teaching of Arminius in the light of Scripture. The Synod of Dort sat for over 150 sessions over a period of 7 months, but in the end found no ground on which to reconcile the Arminian viewpoint with the Bible. Obviously this was a witch-hunt. Reaffirming the position put forth at the Reformation the Synod formulated their Five Points in contradistinction to the Arminian system.

Calvinism did not begin with Calvin and the Five Points did start with those holding a Reformational theology. Consequently, the term “Calvinism” is misleading on multiple fronts and since I know it will not be abandoned, I wish that such clarifications would be made whenever this topic is broached.

 

2. The TULIP is Hopelessly Reductionistic

The TULIP is famous primarily because it’s an easy way to remember such a system in English (and only in English), despite being both historically and theologically misleading. It is redunctionistic and vague, yet in another sense very cumbersome.

All five points misname and mislead each doctrine and 3 of the 5 (LIP), I believe, misinform and are superfluous to the real issue of monergism and type of election.

For example, limited atonement assumes its opposite of unlimited atonement. But isn’t unlimited atonement just as limited in terms of accomplishment as opposed to scope as its counterpart? So the label is not helpful. Similarly, total depravity prima facie assumes that people are as deprived as they possible could be (what else could total mean?).

Sproul’s renaming of the TULIP might be helpful at this point (see What is Reformed Theology?). For him:

Total depravity becomes Humanity’s radical corruption

            Unconditional election becomes God’s sovereign choice

Limited atonement becomes Christ’s purposeful atonement

Irresistible grace becomes Spirit’s effective call

Perseverance of the saints becomes God’s preservation of the saints

But even still, I think by solely focusing on “The Five Point Calvinism” some of the main objections, questions, and most importantly, presumptions, are left untouched.

I’m convinced that the following questions must be discussed/answered even before addressing the TULIP (or whatever you want to call it). They are:

§ Can God hold man responsible for his actions if the he did not have a choice? (Or put more philosophically, is freewill define solely in terms of Libertarian freewill?)

§ Can God hold man to a standard that his does not have the ability to met or live up to?

§ Can God hold man responsible for another person’s sin?

And even more questions and topics need to be addressed, including the difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism (see here), and voluntaristic nomism, all while defining the parameters of God’s justice. And that’s just the beginning point.

Solely defining, defending, and addressing the TULIP just won’t do in this debate. I get very perturb whenever the TULIP is the sole and main focus in this issue.

 

3. Systematic Theology Eclipses Biblical Theology in this Debate

Calvinism is primarily a Systematic Theological debate. And as it is overly focused upon, Biblical theology is too often ignored in general.

I firmly believe that if Evangelicals focused more upon the entire Biblical narrative and overall sweep and direction of the Bible (Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration), then the significance (or lack thereof) of this debate would be put in its place.

Too often I fear that in debating this issue, it borders on neo-Platonism and Gnostic speculation and knowledge. It would do much better for Christ followers to focus on the overall story of Creation first and preeminently, and then indulge in guesswork that is not central to Christ reconciling all things to Himself.

 

 

4. More Important Issues to Debate

I think debating Calvinism is important; but not to the proportion that I see others and myself engaging in it. (If you don’t think this is now a big issue and will not be so in the future please check out: Christianity Today, Baptist Press and Calvinism Conference Presentations for the discussion and focus of in in the SBC.)

There are literally hundreds of more important topics to debate and converse. Some of the most vital topics that I think get passed in light of inexorbitant amount of energy put into this debate include:

§ How can Christians most potently influence culture?

§ How do we contextualize the Gospel?

§ How do we make better disciplines of Christ?

§ How is the Gospel to be applied to the believer in every facet of their lives?

§ How do we cultivate and diffuse a Christian Worldview?

§ What is the Kingdom of God?

§ What is the Church properly defined?

§ How do we best exalt Christ in the context of our local churches and personal lives?

§ Legalism, assurance, and antinominianism.

§ What is the Gospel? (sadly enough today)

It’s not that Calvinism overshadows these vital topics. Rather, I believe that we would rather, and do, put our energies in this debate first and then focus on more important subjects if we ever get to them

So if there are much more important topics to discuss and engage in, why is this issue/topic so frequent and ubiquitous?

 

 

5. Bluntly, this Issue seldom call Believers to Obedience and Action.

This is my most important point, and if everything else I said is wrong, I think writing this post will still have (some) merit.

I know in my walk due to my own temperament and the Christian groups I mingle with, there is always a high value on knowledge to the determent of fruit in my life. It is never explicit and would be outright denied; but it was very much alive.

As I began studying Systematic Theology, the polemical ethos of this debate drew me in immediately. It was a clear either/or issue and I was determined that I was going to be right.

What really pulled me into the debate is the reality that the implications of either view did not cause me to drastically change anything in my own life. I could go around and round with this issue, feeling “spiritual” because I was discussing and debating God, all together enjoying it more because it never called me to any true repentance.

So I’m convinced, not only of my own life, but other of people that I’ve interacted with and the authors I’ve read, that this issue is such a hot topic because it demands very little of our own obedience and worship to the Lord. All while self-righteously boosting our confidence and pride in our selves and position on this issue.

 

All in all, I think the debate is important and should be discussed among believers. Nevertheless, I would not hate Calvinism and the whole debate if: terms were more accurately defined; core issues and suppositions in this debate were focused upon more consistently; the propensity to ignore Biblical theology would be counteracted and this debate would be argued through a more Biblical Theological lens; more important issues would be brought up in its place; and most importantly, it would actually lead to true repentance and more enjoyment of God.


Jesus, the Word, and Contextualization

Reflecting on Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview by Albert M. Wolters and Michael W. Goheen, and wow! What a great read.

They make the following interesting point regarding contextualization in John’s Gospel.

John freely uses the language and thought forms of classical religion and culture that form the world of his hearers—light and darkness, heaven and earth, flesh and spirit, and more. These terms express the pagan worldview that underlies them. Yet John uses these terms and thought-forms in such a way as to confront his hearers with a fundamental question and indeed a contradiction. John begins with the announcement “In the beginning was the logos.” As he continues it becomes apparent that logos is not the impersonal law of rationality that permeates the universe giving it order, but rather the man Jesus Christ. The logos became sarx. John begins by identifying with the classical longing for the source of order expressed in the term logos, but subverts, challenges, and contradicts the idolatrous conception of rationality that had developed in the classical world. In this way John is both relevant and faithful: relevant because the uses familiar categories that express existential struggles, faithful because he challenges with the gospel the worldview that shapes those categories. (page 139)

Great point regarding not only the necessity of contextualization but the Biblical mandate for it regarding John’s understanding of Jesus, the Word made flesh.


The Future Present

Thought that these quotes from Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study by Gordon D. Fee were quite thought provoking.

The ultimate goal of salvation is not simply the saving of individuals and fitting them for heaven, as it were, but the creation of a people for God’s name, reconstituted by a new covenant. That is, although people in the new covenant are “saved” one by one, the goal of that salvation is to form a people who, as Israel of old, in their life together reflect the character of the God who saved them, whose character is borne by the incarnate Christ and re-created in God’s people by the Spirit.

The framework of God’s ‘salvation in Christ’ is thoroughly eschatological, meaning that Christ’s death and resurrection and the gift of the Spirit mark the turning of the ages, whereby God has set in motion the new creation, in which all things eventually will be made new at the eschatological concludes of the present age. (page 483)

Don’t hear that every Sunday.

 


Of Cosmic and Eternal Significance

As I was reading Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview by Albert M. Wolters and Michael W. Goheen, a theological problem that I’ve had for the last year was resolved.

Essentially, in thinking about the New Heavens and New Earth (or as NT Wright calls it, life after-after death), I’ve been captivated by the thought that cultural expressions, talents, and skills devolved in this life will carry on to the next. That as creation is restored to the place it was intended before the Fall, the Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:28) will not only continued to be fulfilled in the future age, but continuity will exist between what humans have done and created culturally before Christ’s Second Coming and with the new human culture developed in the new creation.

This idea has provided great encouragement in my chosen profession as one not called to be in full time ministry. Too often in the groups I’ve been apart the under-the-breath notion was that if a person was not going into ministry they were either “unspiritual” or disobedient, if not both.

But the reality that artists, teachers, musicians, engineers, authors, etc., will continue to be used in the new heavens and new earth enabled me to see the literal eternal significance of my profession literally. That I can see my work not just as a paycheck or a “ministry opportunity,” but as a way to glorify God now and forever with the talents, skills, and even work being kept and used for an eternity. It makes one’s vocation much more exciting and meaningful knowing the Lord has called you to begin cultivating the abilities that will be used for an eternity to glorify Him.

Nevertheless, this picture could never get passed 2 Peter 3:10: But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (KJV)

It seemed that anything man does on Earth is thrown to the fire to be consumed if it isn’t “spiritual.”

In fact, a few months ago I even told someone very dear to me that her picking out knobs for her dresser was all in vain because like all things it has just going to burn.

 

But, as I alluded to Albert Wolters has helped me to better understand this text in light of its context and the Biblical narrative.

In reference to 2 Peter 3:10, he states “all but one of the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts do not have the final words ‘will be burned up’ but instead have ‘will be found,’ which makes quite a difference.” (page 47) In response, the ESV translates it as “and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”

As a result, “the text therefore teaches that in spite of the passing way of the heavens and the dissolving of the elements ‘the earth and the works that are upon it’ will survive. And as for the passing way and the dissolving, this certainly does not refer to annihilation or complete destruction. A few verses earlier Peter had written that the world ‘was destroyed’ in former times (v. 6), referring to the catastrophic destruction wreaked by the fold, and he is drawing a parallel between that judgment and the one to come.” (page 47)

He concludes, “the day of the Lord will bring the fires of judgment and a cataclysmic convulsion of all creation, but what emerges from the crucible will be ‘a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness’ (v. 13), and it is presumably there that the earth and the works that are upon it will be found,’ now purified from the filth and pervious of sin.” (pages 47-48)

Revelation 21 fleshes the reality out even more explicitly:

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

As it says in verses 24 and 26: By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it…. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

Wolters contends this more than likely refers “to the cultural treasures of mankind which will be purified by passing through the fires of judgment, like gold in a crucible.” (page 47)

 

Implications

The implications for the reality that the “glory and the honor of the nations” will be brought into the new heavens and new earth are legion, and more deserving of my quick analysis here. But let me try. Please suggest any books on this topic for me to research and understand more comprehensively.

First, people need to be taught that their vocations and professions do have eternal consequences in and of themselves. Their work if done well, and not tainted excessively by sin, could possibly be brought into the new creation to glorify God. What a glorious thought!

The reality that one could possibly continue their work begun here on Earth to fulfill the Cultural Mandate now and forevermore should infusion meaning and joy in all one’s work. Even called “menial job” actually have eternal weight and meaning.

Imagine all Christians working for the glory of God. Thus, reflecting His image in their vocation, knowing that their work might one day be worthy of being brought into the new creation and that they will continue to use the new creation to glorify God by making culture in similar ways in continuity to their profession on Earth now.

As a math and science teacher, what I’m teaching my students is laying a foundation for understanding not just this world, but also the new heavens and new earth. The science might be different, but the notions of investigation and understanding will continue forevermore.

 

Second, it destroys the Gnostic error too often in Christianity diving all of creation into two realms of secular or sacred.

Consequently, “it implies that here is no ‘worldliness’ in the church, for example, and that no holiness is possible in politics, say, or journalism. … This approach has led many Christians to abandon the ‘secular’ realm to the trends and forces of secularism. Indeed, because of their two-realm theory, to a large degree, Christians have themselves to blame for the rapid seculariziaon of the West. If political, industrial, artistic, and journalistic life, to mention only these areas, are branded as essentially ‘worldly,’ ‘secular,’ ‘profane,’ and part of the ‘natural domain of creaturely life,’ then is it surprising that Christians have not more effectively stemmed the tide of humanism in our culture?” (page 65)

Or put more succinctly, “Christians tend to withdraw form all participation in societal renewal. Under the guise of keeping itself from the ‘world’, the body of Christ then in effect allows the powers of secularization and distortion to dominate the greater part of its life. This is no so much an avoidance of evil as a neglect of duty.” (page 94-94)

In direct response, Christians captured by this eschatology would most certainly be engaged more fervently for the restoration of earth in this present because all our efforts are continuous forevermore. We would fight for justice and restoration in all areas of life: family, political, educational, societal, global, etc, knowing that the Fall was cosmic in scope and Christ’s death and resurrection are just as broad.

 

Much more time, energy, and better prose is deserving of this truly awesome reality.