Saturday, June 30, 2007
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
8.1 TO give effect to His eternal purpose God chose and ordained the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, in accordance with the covenant into which they had entered, to be the mediator between God and man; also to be prophet, priest, king, head and savior of His church; also to be the heir of all things and judge of the world. From all eternity God had given to His Son those who were to be His progeny, and the Son engaged in time (as distinct from eternity) to redeem, call, justify, sanctify, and glorify them. [Ps. 2:6; Isa. 42:1, 53:10; Luke 1:33; John 17:6; Acts 3:22, 17:31; Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:22-23; Heb. 1:2, 5:5-6; 1Pet. 1:19-20.]
8.2 The divine Person who made the world, and upholds and governs all things that He has made, is the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. He is true and eternal God, the 'brightness of the Father's glory', of the same substance (or essence) as the Father, and equal with Him. It is He who, at the appointed time, took upon Himself the nature of man, with all its essential characteristics and its common infirmities, sin excepted. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, a woman who belonged to the tribe of Judah, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her and the power of God most High overshadowing her. And so, as the Scripture tells us, He was made of a woman, a descendant of Abraham and David. In this way it came about that the two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the divine and the human, were inseparably joined together in one Person, without the conversion of the one nature into the other, and without the mixing, as it were, of one nature with the other; in other words, without confusion. Thus the Son of God is now both true God and true man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man. [Matt. 1:22,23; Luke 1:27,31,35; John 1:14; Rom. 8:3; 9:5; Gal. 4:4; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 2:14,16,17; 4:15.]
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Chapter 7—God’s Covenant
7.1 THE distance between God and His creature man is so great that, although men, endowed as they are with reason, owe obedience to Him as their creator, yet they could never have attained to life as their reward had not God, in an act of voluntary condescension, made this possible by the making of a covenant. [Job 35:7,8; Luke 17:10.]
7.2 Furthermore, since man, by reason of his fall into sin, had brought himself under the curse of God's law, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, in which He freely offers life and salvation by Jesus Christ to sinners. On their part He requires faith in Him that they may be saved, and promises to give His Holy Spirit to all those who are elected unto eternal life, in order that they may be made willing and able to believe. [Gen. 2:17; Ps. 110:3; Ezek. 36:26,27; Mark 16:15,16; John 3:16; 6:44,45; Rom. 3:20,21; 8:3; Gal. 3:10.]
7.3 God's covenant is revealed in the gospel; in the first place to Adam in the promise of salvation by 'the seed of the woman', and afterwards, step by step, until the full revelation of salvation was completed in the New Testament. The salvation of the elect is based upon a covenant of redemption that was transacted in eternity between the Father and the Son; and it is solely through the grace conveyed by this covenant that all the descendants of fallen Adam who have been saved have obtained life and a blessed immortality; for the terms of blessing which applied to Adam in his state of innocency have no application to his posterity to render them acceptable to God. [Gen. 3:15; John 8:56; Acts 4:12; Rom. 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2; Heb.1:1,2; 11:6,13.]
This section of the Confession reflects a viewpoint known as covenant theology. Covenant theology may be defined as "a system of interpreting the Scriptures on the basis of two covenants: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Some covenant theologians specify three covenants: works, redemption, and grace. Covenant theology teaches that God initially made a covenant of works with Adam, promising eternal life for obedience and death for disobedience. Adam failed, and death entered the human race. God, however, moved to resolve man's dilemma by entering into a covenant of grace through which the problem of sin and death would be overcome. Christ is the ultimate mediator of God's covenant grace" (Paul Enns, Moody Handbook of Theology, p. 503). Covenant theology in its developed form has been around since the seventeenth century, although its roots go back further. It is embodied in the Westminster Confession (1647) and the Second London Baptist Confession. It became the dominant theological system of reformed Christianity in Europe and America, although in the twentieth century it was eclipsed on a popular level by dispensationalism. Modern theologians that espouse it would include Wayne Grudem (Baptist) and Robert Reymond (Presbyterian).
Although covenant theology has an impressive pedigree of leading Christian theologians who subscribe to it, I believe it has less than solid biblical support. Before I describe these problems, I do want to mention some things that covenant theologians emphasize correctly. Covenant theology rightly emphasizes grace and faith in mankind's relationship with God. Salvation has always been by grace alone through faith alone. It also correctly discerns the federal or representative nature of Adam's relationship to his posterity in God's plan. Adam's sin was reckoned or imputed to all of his descendants because God had made him the representative of the human race (Rom 5:12-19). This is important because Christ maintains the same kind of relationship to all those who are in him. His righteousness is imputed to us. However, it is not necessary to believe in covenant theology in order to hold to these truths.
Covenant theology as a system posits a pre-fall covenant of works between God and Adam. Yet there is very little biblical support for the existence of such a covenant. The material in Genesis 1 and 2 does not reveal the presence of any covenant between God and man, for it lacks a signature component of all covenants - a formal ratification of the relationship with an oath.
The only other text in all of Scripture which could be construed as an explicit statement of a covenant of works is Hosea 6:7. It reads, "But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me" (ESV). The thought, according to covenant theologians, is that this text shows that the man Adam had a covenant which he transgressed. It is then presumed that this covenant must have been the hypothetical covenant of works. But there are a couple challenges to that interpretation. First, the translation of this text is hotly disputed, so it hardly makes for a good proof text for this position. Some interpreters believe it should be rendered "in/at Adam" rather than "like Adam." Others take the term "adam" generically to mean "a man" or "mankind." So we can see that this verse falls far short of an unambiguous statement in favor of a covenant of works. Second, even if the ESV translation is accepted, the context leads us to believe that "Adam" is a place name in this text (Josh 3:16), not the name of the first man. It was "there [at the place named Adam] they dealt faithlessly with me." This leaves the covenant theologian with no sure biblical support for a covenant of works, which in turn seriously damages the interpretive power of his theological system.
The covenant of grace proposed by covenant theology likewise faces the challenge of no explicit biblical support. It is a logical abstraction which tries to synthesize all of the biblical data relating to God's redemptive work. Now, I am not criticizing it for being a logical abstraction, per se. All theological thinking does this, and it is perfectly proper and right for it to do so. Yet all logical abstractions must ultimately touch down in the biblical text itself, or they fail to demonstrate that they are truly biblical. The text, both in its parts and in the whole, must ultimately constrain our theologizing. Therefore, any system of theology which cannot point to any explicit texts for support is going to face a tremendous burden of proof for its validity.
The proposed covenant of grace is defined as, "that gracious agreement between the offended God and the offending but elect sinner, in which God promises salvation through faith in Christ, and the sinner accepts this believingly, promising a life of faith and obedience" (Berkof). If "covenant of grace" was simply theological shorthand for the idea that God makes and keeps promises which the sinner accepts in faith and obedience, then I would not have any problem with it, per se. Even at this point, however, it would cause confusion, simply because the Bible does not use the idea of covenant to cover every single situation of a relationship of promise and trust. But the problem is that this covenant of grace becomes much more than merely theological shorthand. It becomes an interpretive grid spread over the entire history of redemption since the fall, and in this way it causes the interpreter to miss the real changes taking place in the progress of God's revelation. As an interpretation of history, the covenant of grace is simply absent from the pages of Scripture. There are many covenants between God and man in Scripture - the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New covenants - and these are important to our understanding of Scripture. The biblical authors themselves point to these covenants for their interpretation of the outworking of God's plan in history. But they never speak of or use a "covenant of grace." This means that covenant theologians must not only prove that it exists, they must also prove that it exists as a controlling factor in the interpretation of Scripture. I do not believe that this has ever been done satisfactorily. Therefore, the interpretive power of covenant theology is greatly weakened.
Rather than use a weakened interpretive grid, it is much better to use the categories that Scripture itself gives us for expressing our beliefs. This does not mean that we will not use theological terms and concepts (such as "Trinity"), but it does mean that we must work rigorously to deploy these terms and concepts within the field of meaning given by the Bible. At High Country Baptist Church, we greatly respect and appreciate the Second London Baptist Confession. However, we believe the confession introduces confusion at this point.
In his introduction to the new edition, Dr. Adams wrote:
Preaching will never be out of date. And there are seminary courses without number to prove the point. But where can one find a course about listening for laymen? If it exists, I am unaware of it! Good listening is at least half of the equation when communicating God’s truth. Yet, no one seems to care about it....
The second element in the preaching context is the congregation. Even good preaching falling on untilled ground that is full of weeds will be choked out. Our Lord was quite clear about that. It is because of the condition of the ground itself that much —perhaps, most—preaching fails. It is time that something is done about this. In this book, the thoughtful Christian who wants to learn how to get the most out of preaching will find specific, concrete help. In one sense, the book is a call for change in the listening habits of God’s children. In another, it is a handbook for how to change for the better. I hope that the right blend of exhortation and direction may be found in it for most Christians. It is my experience, that, while examining my own patterns of listening to the preaching of God’s Word in the light of Scriptural injunctions, I have improved significantly, and I am convinced that any willing child of God can learn to listen better if he so desires. But that is the difficulty: so little has been said or written about the obligation to listen well, that the subject is virtually unknown and untouched. It is my earnest hope that this book will at least go some way toward making a difference. In the Scriptures, there is more instruction about listening than about preaching! Leave it to us sinners to reverse things, putting all of the stress on the latter at the expense of the former!
Now, ask yourself, "If I were asked to set forth principles of good listening and how to develop them, what would I say?" Perplexed? Rightly so. But, after reading this book, I trust you will be able to do so. And not only to articulate them, but be able to put them into practice....
I hope this whets your appetite!
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
I just came across an article, "Homeschooling and Christian Duty," which expounds this truth well. Read the article with discernment, but read it with an eye to its central message: homeschoolers have great potential to impact the world for Christ.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
In his chapter on evangelicals and the politics of morality, Hart listed what he believes were the constellation of ideas that informed the evangelical political outlook in the early twentieth century. I would like to use this list as a lens through which to view my own attitudes toward politics. Seeing our own attitudes and assumptions from a different perspective can often be a help toward developing a rigorously biblical viewpoint.
Hart writes: "This evangelical political outlook included the following constellation of ideas:
- The Bible is the infallible rule for faith and practice, including standards of social justice and public morality."
I agree. The Bible is the revealed norm or standard for all human knowledge and action, not just for social justice and public morality. The triune God speaks with absolute authority in the Scriptures, so all human ideas must conform to this revelation. I would add, however, a couple points. First, the Bible was not written primarily to give America a public philosophy. Therefore, it does not directly address many of the questions that we might have regarding social justice or public morality. Second, and related to the first point, evangelicals have sometimes tried to apply the Bible to social or public issues in simplistic, moralistic, or doctrinally shallow ways.
I believe we must be very careful as Christians not to allow political issues to overshadow the primary thrust of Scripture. Because we believe the Scriptures, we live as citizens of heaven, and our primary concern is for the place of our primary citizenship. We do not put our trust in the USA or any other nation as the kingdom of God on earth. Which leads me to the next point.
- "The United States possesses a special and unique role in the history of salvation, and so its conduct and affairs should conform to those reserved for the kingdom of God."
I disagree completely with the first part of this statement. Has the US been providentially directed by God? Without a doubt. Has God used this nation to further his purposes? Certainly. But there is no biblical rationale whatsoever for considering our nation to have a special and unique relationship with God. God has only chosen one nation in history, as a nation, to be in a special relationship with himself, and that nation was Israel. The United States has no covenant with God to be a kingdom of priests.
This nationalistic kind of thinking has always proved fatal to the spiritual well-being of churches in the past, whether it be in the Roman empire, the Third Reich, or wherever. I believe it has also skewed the judgment of American Christians in our nation's history, which is why we tend to be more American in our thinking than biblical.
Now, I do believe that America's conduct and affairs should conform to God's revelation. In fact, Jesus Christ is going to come to judge the nations precisely because they have not submitted to his Lordship.
- "The truths of Christianity, and especially the Protestant faith, provide the certain means for the spread of Western Civilization, both at home through the work of the churches and abroad through the efforts of missionaries."
I want to reply to this statement by defending against two opposite but equal errors. The first error is to reduce Christianity to a means of spreading Western civilization. This error strips the gospel of its core meaning and robs Christ of the glory that belongs to him alone. This has been a problem in the past.
The opposite error is more prevalent today. This error tries to deny any connection between Christianity and Western Civilization. It assumes that all cultures are basically neutral and that Christianity can come into these civilizations without any features of Western Civilization showing up. But this is false. Ideas do have consequences, and the ideas that come with Christianity will change any civilization, just like they changed Western Civilization.
- "The Roman Catholic Church is a menace to democracy and the welfare of the United States because it is based upon ignorance, bigotry, and superstition."
As with the previous statement, this idea is no longer true of American evangelicalism in general. Many evangelicals welcome Roman Catholics as co-belligerents in the culture wars because evangelicals and Catholics have some similar patterns of moral concerns. Some self-professed evangelicals have gone even farther and have given Catholics the "right hand of fellowship" as co-laborers for Christ. This has led some to speculate that the Reformation is, practically speaking, over.
I, for one, vigorously disagree. I am not particularly concerned about the influence of Roman Catholicism on the US, per se. I would much rather have a Catholic society than a Muslim one. But I still maintain, as my Protestant forefathers did, that Catholicism irreparably damages the biblical teaching on the authority of the Scriptures and on justification, to name just the two most prominent Catholic errors.
The Catholic church did become more democratized after Vatican II, although it is still an essentially hierarchical organization. But it did not become more biblical, and it refuses to repent of its gross errors. It was not without reason that earlier generations of American evangelicals considered Roman Catholicism to be full of ignorance, bigotry, and superstition.
So, am I an evangelical when it comes to politics? In the end, it doesn't really matter, for historically being an "evangelical" was all about the gospel, not about a political stance. It does help us to see how in our national history evangelicals have tended toward certain political programs or positions. This might alert us to blind spots we have in our own thinking, or it might reinforce our convictions in certain areas. But whatever the case might be, I am an historic evangelical in the sense that I want to be relentlessly biblical.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Chapter 6 - The Fall of Man: Sin and Its Punishment
6.3 The family of man is rooted in the first human pair. As Adam and Eve stood in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of their sin was reckoned by God's appointment to the account of all their posterity, who also from birth derived from them a polluted nature. Conceived in sin and by nature children subject to God's anger, the servants of sin and the subjects of death, all men are now given up to unspeakable miseries, spiritual, temporal and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus Christ sets them free. [Job 14:4; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12-19; Rom. 6:20; 1Cor. 15:21-22, 15:45, 15:49; Eph. 2:3; 1Thess. 1:10; Heb. 2:14-15.]
6.4 The actual sins that men commit are the fruit of the corrupt nature transmitted to them by our first parents. By reason of this corruption, all men become wholly inclined to all evil; sin disables them. They are utterly indisposed to, and, indeed, rendered opposite to, all that is good. [Matt. 15:19; Rom. 8:7; Col. 1:21; Jas. 1:14.]
6.5 During this earthly life corrupt nature remains in those who are born of God, that is to say, regenerated. Through Christ it is pardoned and mortified, yet both the corruption itself, and all that issues from it, are truly and properly sin. [Eccles. 7:20; Rom. 7:18,23-25; Gal. 5:17; 1 John 1:8.]
This relates to the central confusion in Stackhouse's version of the inclusivist position.
"All I am arguing for here is that we do not confine salvation to this normal mode, shutting off any other possibilities and therefore implying, if we don't say so outright, that millions of people have been lost forever simply because they lived in Asia, or Europe, or Africa, or the Americas, or anywhere else before gospel preaching got there."
But nobody is lost because of where they live. People are lost because they are evil -- you know, wicked. Sinful. Now it is possible to say that in a secondary sense someone might be lost because of where they live. An analogy might be death from a particular disease. When someone has a treatable form of cancer, but they live out in the bush where nobody has ever heard of this form of cancer, still less the treatments for it, why does that person die? Does he die because of where he lives? In a trivial secondary sense, yes. But the thing that kills him is the cancer.
The analogy must be pressed, because one of the central features of our sinful nature is its capacity for blame-shifting. If someone who has never heard of Jesus lives his entire life as a grasping, petty, censorious, lustful, greedy fool, what is the basis of his condemnation? At the judgment, he will not be asked, "Why didn't you ever hear about Jesus?" His condemnation is on the basis of his evil works, and he knew all about those.
Ironically, this is why the inclusivist position requires us to start minimizing (in our own imaginations) how screwed up the world actually is. If we believe that millions of Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists are groping their way to God in the dark, then we have to look out at the world as though it were jammed full of good intentions. And the problem is that it isn't.
So we don't proclaim Jesus because we are fixing the problem of "not having heard about Jesus." We proclaim Jesus because we are addressing the problem of death, genocide, hatred, murder, rape, slave prostitution, senseless war, snarling greed, and as they say on television, much, much more. The problem with the inclusivist position is not that it is eager for the people to be included -- every Christian wants that. The problem is that when we define the standard downward like this, at the end of the day we find that we have included much more than the people -- we have opened the door to great wickedness as well. This may sound outlandish, but there it is. Tender-hearted accommodation leads to great hardness of heart. And a hardline conservatism at this point, ironically, is tender-hearted.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
These wise words were written in 1939 by T. S. Eliot in England, although they could be said with equal verity about today.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Bill Galston, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, said:
"...there is a kind of symmetry or congruence or fit between the nature of the American legal system, on the one hand, and the structure of American religion on the other. And here, three points.
From the very beginning, American individualism at the level of culture has manifested itself in an affinity for the language of conscience in discussions of religion. This goes back hundreds of years; it comes into very high relief in the famous memorial and remonstrance of James Madison, which is – among other things – an extended meditation on conscience and its rights as the basis of religion.
Reflecting this individualism – and this is my second point – American religion is characterized by many of the features of American society and even the American economy. It is highly competitive, innovative and characterized by a high degree of individual choice. There are probably more new religious denominations invented in an average decade in the United States than in an average millennium on the European continent. I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing; but it is a fact.
Finally, the 10th and final point that I would make in characterizing what I am calling the American way is the prominence of the Protestant template in determining the structure and function of all religions in the United States. There is this very strong tendency toward congregationalism, lay participation, separationism. If you don't believe me, just look at the very interesting history of Catholicism in the United States, which – without becoming Protestant – has taken on aspects of Protestantism in its structure and operation. I don't think it was any accident that it was American Catholicism that produced John Courtney Murray, a man who has – along with the late John Paul II – had such a profound effect on world Catholicism."
On May 22 the Pew Forum hosted a discussion on church-state relations in Europe and in the United States. One of the speakers was Johan Van der Vyver, Professor of International Law and Human Rights at Emory University School of Law. In his opening statement, Professor Van der Vyver made these remarks:
"I often wondered why all this confusion and why this unending bickering to find solid ground for free exercise in establishment interpretations. Do not the principle of legality and the concomitant demands of legal certainty require that fundamental concepts of constitutional propriety become relatively fixed and comprehensible? The very core of constitutionalism and the rule of law are, after all, at stake here. At least part of the problem is that the notion of separation is based on a false premise, the perception that church and state and religion and law can be separated in watertight compartments. Even justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have said so. Chief Justice Warren Burger, on one occasion, pointed out that – and I quote – the metaphor of a wall between church and state is not a wholly accurate description of the practical aspects of this relationship that in fact exists between church and state."
My point precisely.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
6.1 MAN, as he came from the hand of God, his creator, was upright and perfect. The righteous law which God gave him spoke of life as conditional upon his obedience, and threatened death upon his disobedience. Adam's obedience was short-lived. Satan used the subtle serpent to draw Eve into sin. Thereupon she seduced Adam who, without any compulsion from without, willfully broke the law under which they had been created, and also God's command not to eat of the forbidden fruit. To fulfill His own wise and holy purposes God permitted this to happen, for He was directing all to His own glory. [Gen. 2:16,17; Gen. 3:12,13; 2 Cor.11:3.]
6.2 By this sin our first parents lost their former righteousness, and their happy communion with God was severed. Their sin involved us all, and by it death appertained to all. All men became dead in sin, and totally polluted in all parts and faculties of both soul and body. [Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:10-19,23; 5:12-21; Titus 1:15.]
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Friday, June 01, 2007
Here is a good quote: "Logical sequence is not necessarily temporal sequence. Temporal sequence is not necessarily causal sequence. Systematic Theology cannot be Biblical Theology. It cannot be theodrama either."