Friday, July 31, 2009

Christ the Center on The Regulative Principle of Worship

During the PCA's General Assembly Nick Batzing and myself had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Derek Thomas to discuss the regulative principle of worship. Derek Thomas is the John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi. He is also the minister of teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. Dr. Thomas has authored numerous books including: What Is Providence?, Praying the Saviour's Way and Calvin's Teaching On Job. The audio of our interview can be found here. Hope you enjoy.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

How Not to Apologize

Our readers will surely know that I am not an advocate of the Federal Vision, but this video is ridiculous. This is a prime example of how not to engage in a theological debate.


The Reformed Comedy Hour Presents Dr. Dan Sweatt

I may be the first - or the three-hundredth - person to react to this sermon by Dr. Dan Sweatt of Berean Baptist Church which was preached back in April of this year. I'm always the last draw at the gunfight, it seems. Either way, please forgive the insensitive title and the excessive polemics. I rarely indulge myself like this. And besides; I'm almost certain Dr. Sweatt will never read this because he doesn't strike me as the kind of man who reads things from the people he rails against.

[Another disclaimer: I am well aware that this is all old hat. I've heard these things all my life. I started saying half of it when I first came out of my mother's womb, before I learned how to read the Bible. I've heard it from family, from teachers at school, and from people who don't understand what Calvinists believe. So why bother giving Sweatt any attention at all? Mainly, because I just want everyone who is interested to see that this sort of error still floats around out there, even after all these years and Time magazine cover stories and such, the people who hate us still refuse to hear us.]

I want to address in broad terms the real issue Sweatt is dealing with in this sermon. He's concerned, because he's just read the book Young, Restless, and Reformed and he thinks all the young fundamentalists are leaving their churches and becoming Piper-ites. He thinks that the colleges are all going to get closed down and the windows are going to be boarded up [13:37; 16:41]. He thinks that everyone's going to abandon inerrancy for a new church order with John Piper at the top as the protestant pope who interprets Scripture for all these poor Calvin-worshippers who don't know how to read the Bible for themselves [32:45] (then why didn't they just stay Arminians!? Ha ha ha!)

But as I was working today and listening to Sweatt's sermon, I was struck by a few horrifying things which I am literally unable to go without commenting on.
[32:00] What is the most familiar New Testament verse that every child in Sunday School learns? John 3:16...For God so loved the cosmos. [In a mimicking tone] 'Well it doesn't really mean that. You know, He only loves the elect. He doesn't love everybody.' That whosoever believeth... 'Well it doesn't really mean whosoever. You gotta understand. It doesn't really mean that.' We tell our people, "Read the Bible. Study the Bible. Trust the Bible." And then we tell them that it doesn't say what it means!
Other than the fact that that last sentence was nonsense... I'm sorry, Dr. Sweatt, but does part of being a fundamentalist mean that you don't actually listen to the people you decide to straw-man? For most of the fundamentalists I know, it does. Is there any Calvinist reading this blog who would interrupt someone reading the direct text of John 3:16 and say, "It doesn't really mean that!"? I mean, come on! John 3:16 literally reads, "God so loved the entire created order that the believing ones would not perish but have everlasting life." In the original text, the word "whosoever" is totally absent. I love this verse, and so do all the Calvinists I know. Not only for its simple truths, but because it teaches specifically Reformed things like particular redemption (notice that according to this verse the benefits of Christ's death accrue only to those who believe). Lets move on to even more outrageous caricatures.
[35:22] Who was Charles Spurgeon's successor at London Tabernacle? [A: Rev. Dr. Arthur T. Pierson] You don't know, do you? Who succeeded Calvin at Geneva? [A: Theodore Beza] Who succeeded John Knox in Scotland? [A: Lawson of Aberdeen]...Now let me show you something. Calvinism has never in the history of the world - the history of Christianity - survived the generation of charismatic leaders. It's never happened. When Spurgeon died...50 years after Spurgeon was dead, the Baptist movement in England was also dead...The point is, who succeeded Martin Luther!? [A: Johann the Constant] ... Every single time in history, these charismatic leaders come to the fore... and when they die, the movement dies. And here's the reason; this is important. The theology will not support church growth and evangelism. It will not do it. If you believe the doctrine, if you believe the theology, you will not win souls!...Find me in history any exception. It never has.
Either this man is a liar, or he is totally ignorant. Well, or he's bad at logic. Or all of the above. Or this is all one very long, sophisticated, and highly ironic piece of first-rate performance art. First of all, the very first protestant missionaries were Calvinists from Geneva! Second of all, Spurgeon left the Baptists due to the downgrade controversy. It was Spurgeon's belief that the compromises leading to the downgrade controversy are what were leading to Baptist declines in England. Thirdly, Calvin is a terrible example, because his successor, Beza was a highly influential theologian and is still read by many today. Simply because Dr. Sweatt doesn't know who Beza is (or doesn't think his audience knows) doesn't prove anything. The same follows with Sweatt's analysis of Knox and Luther. I just wanted to print Sweatt's ignorant and illogical statements so the world (or at least thinking Reformed people) could see the kind of butchered logic and ridiculous truth stretching this man has to use in order to argue against Calvinism.

The only time in this man's entire hour-long self-indulgent diatribe where he even uses the Bible to deal with Calvinism is when he quotes his trusty old friend, John 3:16. He talks about himself and how awesome it is to be him [22:30; 24:15] far more than he even bothers dealing with Calvinists in Scriptural terms.

Some more brilliant nuggets: "[10:45] Today, academic discussion is the reason to be. We gather in great groups to discuss theology. We used to gather in great groups to plan our strategy for reaching the lost." Since he's so obsessed with Piper after reading Hansen's book...click here to see all the resources at Piper's website dealing with evangelism.

"These young men...have run right past a Biblical position... and into the arms of John Piper." Again, the quotes just get better.

More could be said, but it's bedtime. Enjoy the sermon, everyone. You'll howl in pain and laughter; often at the same time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On Being One of those Young Reformed Guys

Collin Hansen has had an interesting and succinct series he's been running for awhile on The Reformed Resurgence which is both interesting and nostagic. In it, he bit by bit explores in cursory form the rise of Reformed theology (depending on your definition of Reformed) to public enemy #1 for the fundamentalists out there.

I enjoyed reading the series, if nothing more, than because I feel like I was one of those young, restless, and reformed college students who was drawn to people like Edwards and Spurgeon as well as their successors like Piper and Sproul who have now become so popular with young fellows like us. When Josh and I were going to college at GCU, we saw many students who saw the beauty and attractiveness of the doctrines of grace coming to the fuller understanding of the Gospel offered by Reformed theology. Even at the time I think that Josh and I both felt like there was something special going on. Like there was some sort of uprising going on.


How could so many students care about this kind of theology? I think its primary draw (other than being taught in the Bible!) is that it offers a way of thinking of man and of the world which strongly militates against modernity's way of understanding man and the world around him. When fundamentalists scream about how important they think free will is, this new batch of young guys just shake their heads and say, "Sounds like a public-school educated baby-boomer to me!"

It is 2004. I am still going to college at Grand Canyon University. I am working the overnight shift at Target. On my iPod is Doug Wilson's examination before his Presbytery. I think of myself as an odd one, as an outsider. Turns out, I am quite wrong. What a great feeling.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Possibility of Nonviolent Resistance in the 1st Century

A few years ago, as I recall, Stanley Hauerwas wrote an editorial/letter to First Things complaining that a recent article declared pacifists to be out of the loop in matters of politics because they opposed the use of violence. In response to this, Hauerwas retorted that the Christian has much to say about politics, even if he cannot use violence. He pointed to the same thing Yoder does in this very short (about four pages long) chapter, where he offers two examples from the first century to show that even though Christians may not take up the sword or use force, "effective nonviolent resistance was not at all unknown in recent Jewish experience.

The first example Yoder offers comes from Josephus, who wrote that at one point, Pontius Pilate decided to abolish the Jewish law. He set up idols of Caesar around Jerusalem, and when the Jews found out, they argued with him for days to remove the idols. On the 6th day, Pilate had the soldiers hide, and when the Jews came, the army appeared, surrounding them. Pilate told the people that unless they stopped disturbing him and went home, they would be immediately killed. Rather than acquiesce, they laid on the ground and declared that they would willingly die rather than allow their law to be broken. At this event, Pilate was deeply moved by their desire to uphold their law and he commanded the idols be removed from Jerusalem.

The second first-century example which Yoder points to (he calls it Ghandi-like) is when Caligula demanded formal worship of himself and became apoplectic when the Jews refused to do this. He ordered a Roman commander to put one of his statues in the temple at Jerusalem. The response by the Jews was a general strike. Fields were left untilled and tens of thousands of Jews petitioned the Roman commander to remove the statue. The Jews insisted that they didn't want war with Caesar but were prepared to give their lives and those of their wives and children to prevent the threatened sacrilege. The Roman commander finally went back to Caesar Caligula and argued on the Jews' behalf.
Thus collective nonviolent resistance by the Jewry of Palestine was successful against the Roman forces twice within a decade...[this] does suffice nonetheless to negate the sweeping assumption that in rejection the Zealot option Jesus' only other conceivable alternative would have been the end of the world or a retreat to the desert; in other words, to reject the responsible sword is to withdraw from history. (Pg. 92)

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Abiding Presence of Christ

The Ligonier blog has a new post up by R.C. Sproul titled, "The Presence of Christ." This short post is a helpful reminder that Christ is always with his bride even though he is at the right hand of God the father. The articles opening paragraph (below) has a useful way of explain this.
"The Heidelberg Catechism states, in the answer to Question 47, "Christ is true man and true God. With respect to His human nature He is no longer on earth, but with respect to His divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit He is never absent from us." This statement tried to do justice to Jesus' own teaching before He left this planet. On the one hand, Jesus said, "I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me" (John 7:33). On the other hand, He said, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20b). Jesus announced a real departure and also a real abiding. Therefore, historic Reformed theology says Jesus has departed in His human nature. His human nature is at the right hand of God in heaven, and we won't see that human nature again until He returns or until we go there. But in respect to His divine nature, Christ is still present with us."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Type of Christ Alert! Gran Torino

It may seem pretty obvious to anyone who's seen Gran Torino that Walt (played by Clint Eastwood) is a type of Christ (*spoiler alert*), what with his personal sacrifice and laying down his life so that his neighbors could live. But Josh Walker just pointed out to me the other day something a little more insightful.

According to Josh, not only is Walt a type of Christ, but Walt's prized 1972 Gran Torino Sport is a type of salvation. Consider that early in the film Thao tries to steal the car by his own effort. By his own work, he wants to bypass Walt and take the car for himself. But he can't. The only way for Thao to really receive the car without getting simple charity is for Walt to die. Even then Thao receives the car as a gift; not because he deserved it (indeed, he tried to steal it!), but because Walt was pleased to leave the car to him.

Another point which Walker made me aware of was that Walt left behind a "comforter" of sorts by leaving his dog to remain friends with Thao and remind him of his presence. At the end of the film we see Thao driving off in this car, with his new comforter, Daisy the dog, in the passenger seat.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

God Will Fight for Us: Is the Old Testament Pacifist?

In chapter four of his book The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder recognizes that many perceive a great roadblock to his pacifist interpretation of the ethical import of Jesus in the “holy wars” of the Old Testament, particularly in Exodus, Judges, and Joshua, as the Hebrews were occupying and subduing the land which was promised to them. He says:
We ask, "Can a Christian who rejects all war reconcile his position with the Old Testament story?" If the generalization that “war is always contrary to the will of God” can be juxtaposed with the wars of the Old Testament, which are reported as having been according to the will of God, the generalization is destroyed (76).
Yoder says that the approach mentioned above seems to hide the fact that “for the believing Israelite the Scriptures would not have been read with this kind of question in mind.” Yoder apparently desires to maintain the above stated “generalization,” by viewing the Old Testament narrative in the way that the people of Israel (for example, in Jesus’ times) would have viewed that narrative.

By Yoder’s reasoning, one dominant characteristic of the OT story is that Yahweh is seen “as the God who saves his people without their needing to act.” He argues that the modern reader looks in the story for moral judgments of the rightness or wrongness of the “holy wars,” but that the Israelites would not have said, “judging from this text, it was good for us to go to war.” Instead, he says that they would have seen God, their savior, “where Israel was saved by the mighty deeds of God on their behalf” (76). By the rules of hermeneutics, Yoder proposes that we read the narrative as those who received it would have read it.

The Exodus Era
Yoder quotes as support for his thesis here from each of Israel’s different eras, and he begins with the Exodus, where we read:
Fear not, stand firm,
And see the salvation of the LORD,
Which he will work for you today;
For the Egyptians whom you see today,
You shall never see again.
The LORD will fight for you,
And you have only to be still.
(Ex. 14:13)
In Exodus 17, Yoder is careful to note that Moses and Joshua decide to go to war against the Amalekites without a recorded command of God.
It is a general rule of proper textual interpretation that a text should be read for what its author meant to say and what its first readers or hearers would have heard it say. Whether the taking of human life is morally permissible or forbidden under all circumstances was not a culturally conceivable question in the age of Abraham or that of Joshua. It is therefore illegitimate to read the story of the planned sacrifice of Isaac or of the Joshuanic wars as documents on the issue of the morality of killing. Although the narrative of the conquest of Canaan is full of bloodshed, what the pious reader will have been most struck by in later centuries was the general promise according to which, if Israel would believe and obey, the occupants of the land would be driven out little by little (Exod. 23:29-30) by “the angel” (23:23) or the “terror” (v. 27) or the “hornets” (v. 28) of God, or the most striking victories of Joshua over Jericho (Josh. 6), or Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites (Judg. 7) after most of the volunteers had been sent home and the remaining few armed with torches in order (7:2) not to let israel think military strength or numbers had brought the victory: To “believe” meant, most specifically and concretely in the cultural context of Israel’s birth as a nation, to trust God for their survival as a people.
The Kingdom Era
Other Scripture accounts of God’s salvation:
O LORD, there is none like thee to help
Between the mighty and the weak.
Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on thee,
And in thy name we have come against this multitude.
(2 Chronicles 14:11)
Yoder sees 2 Chronicles 16 as a one chapter commentary on the wrongness of taking things into one’s own hands, rather than relying on the salvation that God will bring. Consider God’s chastisement of Asa for forming an alliance with the Northern Kingdom.

You need not fight in this battle ;
Take your position, stand still,
And see the victory of the LORD on your behalf,
O Judah and Jerusalem.
Fear not, and be not dismayed;
Tomorrow go out against them,
And the LORD will be with you.
(2 Chronicles 20:17)

And the fear of God came on all the kingdoms of the countries, when they heard that the LORD had fought against the enemies of Israel (20:29).

Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is one greater with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our god, to help us and to fight our battles (32:8).
Post-Exile Era
Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava,
That we might humble ourselves before our God,
To seek from him a straight way…
For I was ashamed to ask the king for men,
Soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way;
Since we had told the king,
“The hand of our God is for good upon all that seek him,
And the power of his wrath is against all that forsake him.”
So we fasted and besought our God for this,
And he listened to our entreaty.
(Ezra 8:21ff)
For Yoder, this text is important, because it supports the thesis of this chapter, namely that those who read the accounts would, looking back, not be making moral judgments upon the texts, but instead would be reflecting upon the salvation that God brings. “It had thus become a part of the standard devotional ritual of Israel to look over the nation’s history as one of miraculous preservation” (83).
The LORD will cause your enemies
Who rise against you
To be defeated before you;
They shall come out against you one way,
And flee before you seven ways.
(Deuteronomy 28:7)

He will guard the feet of his faithful ones;
For not by might does one prevail.
(1 Samuel 2:9)

Not by might, nor by power,
But by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.
(Zechariah 4:6)
Implications
Given this background “legend” which the Israelites would have studied and known extensively, Yoder suggests two serious implications for the meaning of the “Kingdom Inaugural” sermons of Jesus:
(a) The modern reader is struck by the improbability…of any such saving event as a generalized jubilee or an adversary leaving. Since he or she assumes Jesus could hardly have meant this, the reader’s mind is sent to meander down the sidetracks of paradoxical or symbolic interpretations. For Jesus’ listeners, on the other hand, as believing Jews, the question of possibility was not allowed to get in the way of hearing the promise. They therefore did not prejudice their sense of what might happen by knowing ahead of time what Jesus could not mean.

(b) In correlation with our sense of impossibility we tend to think of “apocalyptic” promises as pointing “off the map” of human experience, off the scale of time, in that they announce an end to history….Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom was unacceptable to most of his listeners not because they thought it could not happen but because they feared it might, and that it would bring down judgment on them (85).
Yoder believes that if we as modern readers learn to see Jesus’ statements in light of the Jewish peoples’ background history and “legend” (in the social sense, not the “inaccurate” sense), then we will see that there is much greater political import to what he said. In addition, he says, we will stop scouring the OT texts for moral judgments on the rightness or wrongness of the “holy wars.”

"And when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword...in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes" (Deuteronomy 20:13,16). The entire chapter of Deuteronomy 20 leaves me scratching my head. If the entire Old Testament is a testament to the fact that God fights for his people, then why would God command in his law for every single inhabitant to be put to the sword? It might be responded that Deut. 20 is not spoken directly by God, but I wonder what such a response might mean for our understanding of any of the Old Testament texts which do not consist of God's own actual words.

I have combed the Old Testament over quite vigorously (as Yoder says we should not, now, have to do; Oops!), and while I am left with a lot of unanswered exegetical questions, I can find no overt or direct commands from God (but I'm open to some help from others with this, since OT history isn't my strong suit) for the Israelites to go to war which do not, as Yoder points out, also promise that it is God who will do the fighting. In my preparation for a response to Yoder, I believed a case in opposition to Yoder's arguments would be very easy to assemble. What I discovered, however, is that Yoder's reading of the Old Testament (if you grant that he is right that that israelites would not have read the Old Testament like we do, looking for moral judgments and such) is far closer, in my opinion, to the teaching of the text than I ever could have guessed. With the exception of a few challenging verses in the Old Testament, I am half tempted to agree with Yoder that the dominant theme of war in the Old Testament is one where God consistently promises to fight Israel's wars on her behalf, if she will only let him.

I look forward to some outside input on this matter. Maybe someone else can make the case against Yoder's OT reading for me.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Chist the Center on The Importance of the Original Languages

A few weeks back we had the privilege of interviewing my boss Dr. Miles Van Pelt. Dr. Van Pelt is the Associate Professor of Old Testament and the Academic Dean at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS. In this interview we talked about the importance of the original languages of Greek and Hebrew for biblical study.Dr. Van Pelt has helped produce several popular books and resources for original language study including Basics of Biblical Hebrew and Vocabulary Guide to Biblical Hebrew. The audio of this interview can be found here. Enjoy the conversation!

You might also consider adding Christ the Center to your podcast feed. You can do this by going here and clicking on the the itunes button or the podcast button (depending on which one you use) under the heading "Subscribe to All Programs" on the right side of the page. This will have all the podcasts that the Reformed Forum does sent directly to you every time a new episode is posted.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reformed Media Review: Galileo Against the Church & Nichols on Luther

Last night the Reformed Forum recorded a new Reformed Media Review. The audio for this latest episode can be obtained here. In this episode, we responded to part of the video below. A lot more could and should be said about it, but time was running out. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yoder and the Implications of the Jubilee

The Jubilee year included four prescriptions:

1. Leaving the soil unplanted
2. Cancellation of debts
3. Freeing Slaves
4. Each family gets back its original property.

When I was reading Calvin's commentary on Luke, I was a little surprised to see that he has no problem with the idea that Jesus was reinstituting the Jubilee during his reading of Isaiah 61 where he declared "the good year of our Lord." In this chapter, Yoder does the footwork to show where and how Jesus reinstituted the jubilee and what that meant/means for Christians.

1. The Fallow Soil: Yoder is honest that there is no explicit command to leave the soil unplanted, but he does point to Leviticus 25:20-21 to show that following the Jubilee meant trusting in God.
'If you say: "what will we eat the seventh year, since we will not sow nor harvest?" - I will give you my blessing on the sixth year and it will produce enough for three years.

According to Yoder, this is similar to Jesus' call for the fishermen to leave their boats in Luke 12:29-31:
‘So don’t be upset, always concerned about what you will eat and drink. (For the pagans of this world are always concerned about all these things.) Your Father knows that you need these things. Instead, be concerned with his Kingdom, and he will provide you with these things.’
Personally, I find this to be a bit of a stretch, but we'll continue, nevertheless.

2 & 3. Cancelling Debt & Freeing Slaves: Christians today do not, for the most part, plant fields, but Yoder says that these next two characteristics are quite relevant to understanding Jesus' thinking. He points to the Lord's Prayer where Jesus says we should pray, "remit us our debts as we ourselves have also remitted them to our debtors." He justifies this more monetary-sounding translation by citing the greek word opheilema. Since I don't know much about greek, I have to take Yoder's word for it, but he says that this word "of the Greek text signifies precisely a monetary debt, in the most material sense of the term" (62). Yoder says very plainly, what this means for Christians:
"Jesus is not simply recommending vaguely that we might pardon those who have bothered us or made us trouble, but tells us purely and simply to erase the debts of those who owe us money; that is to say, to practice the jubilee."
Yoder also points to the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:23-25 as another example of Jesus desire for Christians to consistently practice the debt forgiveness called for by the Jubilee.

4. Redistribution of Capital: According to Yoder, Jesus states very clearly that we should redistribute capital. "Sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor" (Luke 12:33). My first immediate thought on this is that this was an individual command to a man whose materialism Jesus wished to challenge, but I will again digress and give the floor to Yoder. Yoder is critical of those who argue as I have suggested, but it could likewise be turned back on Yoder, because even Yoder does not believe that Christians should sell all their belongings as a wooden reading of this verse demands. So even here, Yoder still ends up watering down Jesus' command; something he is critical of when done by others.

Let there be no misunderstanding here; Yoder does not believe that Jesus was commanding Christian communism. When he said "sell what you possess and practice compassion," he wasn’t creating a constitution for a communist (*cough* or socialist *cough*) state. Yoder believes (and I agree with him) that giving to the poor should be voluntary and done from a joyful heart, not begrudgingly. Those who [in supposed obedience to Jesus] wish to take from people by the forceful arm of government (again, at the point of the sword since that's what you face if you disobey the state) and give that money to whom it sees fit (some needy, and some not-so) are robbing Christians of the joy of obeying Jesus' command to love others, to help the poor and the widow, and to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. These things are to be done with a willing heart and not by bureaucrats at the point of the sword (or gun). Most of all, this robs the church of much of its witness to the world.

According to Yoder, the Jubilee is supposed to be a permanent defining trait of the church. According to Yoder in his epilogue to this chapter, a permanent state of jubilee also fits well with what we read about the life of the early church in Acts (2:42-47; 4:32-36; 11:29-30).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

DeYoung, Missions, Wright and Flying Monkeys

Kevin DeYoung has two interesting, and unrelated, posts that I wanted to point out.

The first post has "Questions for Your Missions Budget." In this post DeYoung puts forth four helpful questions to think about when giving money for missions.

The second post is DeYoung's concluding post in a series of questions to N.T. Wright titled, "Flying Monkeys and the New Perspective." His third question gets to the heart of the whole New Perspective controversy, "On what basis are we declared to be in the right before God?"

Monday, July 20, 2009

Counting Heads

It is often argued that since so many Christian throughout the history of the Church have disagreed on the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, then five point Calvinism and full Arminianism must both be wrong. This sentiment has recently been set forth by noted New Testament scholar Dr. Craig Blomberg in his article titled "Why I'm a 'Calminian'," on the Zondervan Blog, in these following words.
"If either pure five-point Calvinism or its consistent repudiation in pure Arminianism were completely faithful to Scripture, it is doubtful that so many Bible-believing, godly evangelical Christians would have wound up on each side. The former wants to preserve the Scriptural emphasis on divine sovereignty; the latter, on human freedom and responsibility. Both are right in what they want and correct to observe in Scripture the theme that they stress."

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it fails to take into account that Christians can be and often are wrong about their theology. A notable example of this is the controversy over the deity of Christ in the early part of the Church. Athanasius stood for the biblical teaching of the deity of Christ, even in the face of great resistance. Athanasius Contra Mundum, Athanasius against the world was his take on his situation. If Athanasius used the above line of reasoning he would have said, "Well, so many godly men believe that Christ is not divine, so I must be wrong." But he did not use this reasoning and neither do we on the issue of the deity of Christ.

Even in our own day there are many who are far more pious than I who believe that Jesus is a created being or who hold that Jesus was adopted as the son of God. But we do not do theology by counting heads. Rather, we do theology by rigorous and thorough exegesis. I am sure that Dr. Blomberg would agree with this point even though he begins his article with this less than persuasive line of reasoning. The issue over Calvinism and Arminianism is fought on the pages of the sacred Bible and not in the halls of higher thinking.

Only One Book

Dr. Derek Thomas has a great article posted here. In this article he maintains the importance and centrality of the Bible, while showing that the Bible itself teaches that we need teachers. He begins his article with these words:
"Only one book is absolutely essential to save us, to equip us to obey God’s will, and to glorify Him in whatever we do. Only one book gives us undiluted truth — the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Only one book serves as our ultimate and final authority in all that it affirms. That book, of course, is the Bible, God’s Holy Word. No wonder John Wesley once exclaimed, “Let me be homo unius libri” — a man of one book!"
He then goes on to state:
"And yet the irony is that if we use only this book [the Bible], we may in fact be in disobedience to it. We should count good teaching about the Bible — whether through commentaries, books, sermons, study Bibles, and so on — to be a gift from God for the good of His church (see Eph. 4:11; James 1:17). So what may look pious on the outside (“Just me and my Bible!”) can actually mask pride on the inside."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Politics of Jesus Chapter 2: The Kingdom Coming (Part 2)

The Platform: Luke 4:14ff
Yoder is careful to note that both John the Baptist and Jesus use the phrase, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” There is no getting around that fact that the average reader sees “gospel” and “kingdom” and that they understand the meaning of “kingdom” even more than they do “the gospel.” The idea of a kingdom of God is decidedly a political concept (35).
He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor;
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives;
And recovering of sight to the blind;
To set at liberty those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the acceptable year of Yahweh.

This passage from Isaiah 61 was read by Jesus in the synagogue and then turned upon himself. Yoder argues that this verse (particularly the last sentence) is a proclamation of the start of a new Jubilee year by Jesus. This is a reading of the text which I certainly have no issues with.
If anyone does not hate father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters,
Yea, and even his own life,
He cannot be my disciple.

The Christian is called to a lifestyle, whereby the cross is the culmination.
The kings of this earth lord it over their subjects;
But it shall not be so among you…
For I am among you as one who serves.

Yoder notes that, “In none of the accounts where this word is reported does Jesus reprimand his disciples for expecting him to establish some new social order, as he would have had to do if the thesis of the only-spiritual kingdom were to prevail. He rather reprimands them for having misunderstood the character of that new social order which does intend to set up (46).

Characteristics of the disciples conducive to social change (46-7):
-A visible structured fellowship
-Sober decision guaranteeing that the costs of commitment to the fellowship have been consciously accepted
-A clearly defined lifestyle distinct from that of the crowd
-Commitment to an exceptionally normal quality of humanness. This distinctness is not a cultic or ritual separation, but rather a nonconformed quality of (“secular”) involvement in the life of the world.

Other evidence of the political import of what Jesus was doing:
1. The formation of the inner-team comprising former Zealots and former publicans
2. The symbolic number twelve
3. The first mission of the twelve (which was Herod’s first perplexity about Jesus (47).

Basically, Jesus wasn't just a moralist whose teachings were of some political import. Nor was he mainly a spiritual teacher whose teachings were unfortunately seen in a political light. He was not simply a sacrificial lamb biding time to his sacrifice.

Could this be Yoder's greatest weakness? It seems that the Bible is more than a book about just being saved, but likewise it seems that those who follow Yoder fall into the opposite tendency of being primarily political and known for what they hate (war, injustice, poverty, etc.) than for what they love. In other words, those who spiritualize everything are wrong, but those who politicize everything are mistaken, as well.

Kingdom life is lived out by people who are dual citizens - citizens of heaven and citizens of earth. This means that we must find a way of living as Christians, but it doesn't necessarily mean changing the world around us through legislative means (and by implication through the sword, since those who are disobedient are threatened by the sword of the state), but rather by persuasion. This, as I understand it, is a sentiment shared both by Yoder and those who are of the two kingdoms persuasion.

Yoder accuses those of the two-kingdom persuasion of having an under-realized eschatology (of course, as an amillenialist I think it's important to remember that we are not yet in the "age to come," so in a sense, my eschatology cannot be realized until Christ comes in judgment on this world). But one might likewise accuse Yoder of the opposite error.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Your Calling is Now

As many of our readers know, I am a full time seminary student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS. As such, I often hear conversations about "calling." This "calling" is usually used to refer to what someone wants, or is called, to do after seminary. People will say, "I am called to the ministry," or "I am called to preach the word of God in the pulpit." Rarely, if ever, have I heard anyone say, "I am called to be a good father," or "I am called to be a faithful and loving husband." Are not these callings as well? Further more, if you are called by God to full time gospel ministry, why is it that seminary is looked at as a hurdle to jump or a necessary evil that must be done to get to what God is really calling you to? If God is calling you to full time ministery, then by necessity, God is calling you to be equipped for that task. In other words, if you are in seminary training for pulpit ministry, then you are, right now, called to be a good, diligent and faithful seminary student. Seminary is your calling. Seminary is not just preparing you for your calling, it is part of it. I hear people say things like, "I want to get done with seminary so I can start my calling," or "I am thinking about leaving seminary early so I can get into the ministry." Seminary should be viewed as your ministry. It is in seminary that the foundation for the rest of your life in God's service is laid. If the foundation is bad or abandon, then the whole building (your "real" calling) will be off. So, take heart those in school training for the pulpit. You are right where God wants you. You have already begun to fulfill your calling now!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Codex Sinaiticus Online

The famous Greek New Testament manuscript, Codex Sinaiticus, is now available online, completely digital and searchable.


The Politics of Jesus Chapter 2: The Kingdom Coming (Part 1)

In his book The Politics of Jesus, Yoder argues that John the Baptist was wrong about the nature of the fulfillment that Jesus brought, because John the Baptist expected Jesus to be a figure who would break the bondage of his people in some sort of literal or political sense. Yoder cautions, however, that he was not completely wrong to assume that Jesus brought a socio-political change. “If the difference had been of that character, Luke would have had to begin his story differently. There would have been some hint in these first three chapters to warn us of the impropriety of the hopes of Mary and Zechariah as well as John.”

Evidence that Jesus’ relation to John the Baptist was of political import:
-“John’s ministry had a pronounced political character, and to some extent, Jesus took up his succession” (29). He appeals to “the time linkage in Matt. 3:12.
-John’s instruction to his hearers for “an immediate community of consumption (Luke 3:11)” (29).
-The only “categories of listeners indicated by Luke in addition to the ‘multitudes’ (Matthew names Pharisees and Sadducees) are the socio-politically slanted publicans (3:12) and soldiers (3:14)” (29).
-According to Josephus (Antiquities xviii.5.2), “John’s imprisonment was connected with Herod Antipas’ fear that he might foment an insurrection” (29).
-The report of Jesus’ ministry “leads Herod to see him as a possible successor to John (9:7ff). He sets in juxtaposition his fate and that of John (16:16 and par)” (29).

The Temptations of Jesus: Luke 3:21-4:14
1. Yoder sees Jesus’ first temptation to turn the stones into bread as a temptation to become king by feeding his many followers and thus establish himself as their earthly leader. Jesus would not have been satisfied by crusty bread, Yoder argues, but by establishing an earthly kingdom (which was a temptation throughout his ministry). “That this is no idle imagination, the later story was to demonstrate. Feed the crowds and you shall be king” (31).

Yoder's interpretation of the first temptation differs quite dramatically from that of many traditional commentators. One example of this is Calvin, who argued that this was not a temptation to physical food - for himself or for others - but rather a temptation to disbelieve the Scriptures. Calvin concludes this from the verse which Jesus quotes to defeat the Tempter: "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." I can't help but feel that Yoder's interpretation of the first temptation attempts to place political temptation where the text makes no such indication.

2. The next temptation is possibly the most socio-politically obvious of all the temptations. The promised reward: “All the kingdoms of the world;…all this authority and their glory.” For Yoder, the question is, what would “bow the knee to me” have meant? “Are we to imagine some sort of satanic cult? Or does it not yield a much more concrete meaning if we conceive of Jesus as discerning in such terms the idolatrous character of political power hunger and nationalism?” (32).

Once again, we see the contrast between Yoder's reading of this temptation and a more traditional interpretation. Where Yoder sees temptation to political ambition, Calvin sees a temptation that "Christ should seek, in another manner than from God, the inheritance which he has promised to his children." To rob God "of the government of the world," and claim it for himself. It is up to the reader to discern which interpretation (amongst the many other possible interpretations) is warranted by the text itself.

3. The third temptation of Christ is equally socio-political for Yoder, and he appeals to Niels Hyldahl for his answer to this third temptation. “Being thrown down from the tower in the temple wall…into the Kidron valley, followed by stoning, if necessary, to bring death, was the prescribed penalty for blasphemy. The testing would then mean that Jesus was tempted to see himself as taking on himself the penalty for his claims to divine authority, yet being miraculously saved from the consequences.” Hyldahl sees this as part of a recurring temptation for Jesus, to escape from the consequences of his claims.
For example:
a. Peter’s plea is directly attributed to Satan (Mark 8;31ff)
b. The temptation for a possible angelic deliverance in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:53)
c. The mocking call to come down from the cross (Luke 23:35 and par.).

Yoder also thinks that this interpretation of the third temptation makes the most sense, since – if Jesus’ temptation was to receive marvel and accreditation as a miracle worker – “would not an unexpected apparition from above have been the most self-evident way for the messenger of the covenant, in the words of Malachi (3:14), to come ‘suddenly to his temple to purify the sons of Levi’?”

Once again, as a form of contrast, we see that in Calvin's view, this temptation was a temptation for Christ
"to exalt himself unduly, and to rise, in a daring manner, against God...Now [the tempter] exorts him to indulge a foolish and vain confidence, - to neglect the means which are in his power, - to throw himself, without necessity, into manifest danger, - and, as we might say, to overleap all bounds...The design of Satan...was to induce Christ to make trial of his divinity and to rise up, in foolish and wicked rashness, against God."

To Yoder's credit in his understanding of this temptation, he seems to take into account the significance of the location where the temptation is taking place. Of all Yoder's interpretations of the temptations of Christ, I certainly find this to be the most plausible and least forced. I do, however, have trouble seeing his understanding of this temptation as being so overtly political.

One thing to keep in mind is that Yoder is attempting to draw an overall picture of Christ as a political figure; to be sure, Christ did many things of political import, and it would be a mistake to discard all of them; to disagree with Yoder's conclusions does not force one to contend with each and every assertion. The mistake which I find in Yoder is when he seems to dig for political meaning when the natural reading of the text does not permit such interpretation; but I digress.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Milton: Adam & Eve Cast Out of the Garden



Th' Archangel stood, and from the other Hill
To thir fixt Station, all in bright array
The Cherubim descended; on the ground
Gliding meteorous, as Ev'ning Mist
Ris'n from a River o're the marish glides,
And gathers ground fast at the Labourers heel
Homeward returning. High in Front advanc't,
The brandisht Sword of God before them blaz'd
Fierce as a Comet; which with torrid heat,
And vapour as the LIBYAN Air adust,
Began to parch that temperate Clime; whereat
In either hand the hastning Angel caught
Our lingring Parents, and to th' Eastern Gate
Let them direct, and down the Cliff as fast
To the subjected Plaine; then disappeer'd.
They looking back, all th' Eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late thir happie seat,
Wav'd over by that flaming Brand, the Gate
With dreadful Faces throng'd and fierie Armes:
Som natural tears they drop'd, but wip'd them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through EDEN took thir solitarie way.


John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book X

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Politics of Jesus Chapter One: The Possibility of a Messianic Ethic

The thesis of Yoder's entire book:
This study makes the claim…not only that Jesus is, according to the biblical witness, a model of radical political action, but that this issue is now generally visible throughout New Testament studies, even though the biblical scholars have not stated it in such a way that the ethicists across the way have had to notice it” (Pg. 12).
Yoder is very insistent that his perspective considers Jesus' own ethics to be normative for all Christians. For Yoder, two questions deserve our attention:

1. What is the authority of these hermeneutic assumptions, which say that Jesus’ ethic is only to be seen as normative for Jesus? “What then has come of the concept of revelation at all? Is there a such thing as a Christian ethic at all?” (21-22).

2. “What becomes of the meaning of the incarnation if Jesus is not normative man? If he is a man but not normative, is this not the ancient ebionitic heresy? If he be somehow authoritative but not in his humanness, is this not a new gnosticism?” (22).

From this point in the book, Yoder says that he proposes “to read the Gospel narrative with the constant present question, ‘Is there here a social ethic?’” (22).

Yoder will address this study with two “quite discrete tasks”:
1. “I will attempt to sketch an understanding of Jesus and his ministry of which it might be said that such a Jesus would be of direct significance for social ethics.”
2. “I will secondly state the case for considering Jesus when thus understood, to be not only relevant but also normative for a contemporary Christian social ethic” (23).

In this book, Yoder says he will concentrate mostly on the Gospel of Luke, because “Luke’s story line provides us with a simple outline, and his editorial stance is often taken to have been a concern to deny that the Christian movement was any threat to Mediterranean society or Roman rule” (23).
"The case I am seeking to make has to do not narrowly with the New Testament text but with the modern ethicists who have assumed that the only way to get from the gospel story to ethics, from Bethlehem to Rome or to Washington or Saigon, was to leave the story behind. I shall be looking more at the events than at the teachings, more at the outlines than at the substance. The next pages present soundings rather than a thorough survey" (25).

My own thoughts regarding what Yoder is doing here is that I am friendly towards the idea that Jesus' ethics ought to be normative for all Christians. The question which I suppose deserves to be asked is, shouldn't there be some nuance to this idea? A reasonable person might ask, for example, "Aren't there things that Jesus did that weren't the direct result of his ethical system, but rather were the result of direct or special commands from the Father? It would seem that even while Jesus' ethics are normative, his acts - in and of themselves - are not.

John 10:18 seems to be an example of this. Here, Jesus is talking about how he is the Good Shepherd who lays his life down for the sheep. He does not do this because it is a part of Christian ethics to be self-sacrificial; rather, he says in verse 18 that "this charge I have received from my Father." Jesus is operating under special command from no less than his Father. There is, in my opinion, some significance here, though like I said, Yoder is not entirely off-base, in my opinion.

I suppose the question which we must all ask ourselves is the question: if Jesus is the perfect man who lived in perfect obedience, and if the life is normative for all Christians, does this then, necessarily lead one to adopt a lifestyle of non-violence, such as Yoder seems to be suggesting?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Redeemer Blends Race and Cultures

The church I am a member at, Redeemer Church, PCA, was featured in a recent news paper article, which can be found here. The interesting thing about the article is that the reporter seemed to understand what Redeemer is trying to do as a multi-ethnic church, namely, be the church. As our pastor, Mike Campbell stated,
“We are a Bible-believing, Christ-centered church committed to living out the reality and diversity of the kingdom of God in our community and city. We believe the gospel of Jesus Christ reconciles us to God, but also to one another and because of this our goal is to embrace in Christ all who would believe in him regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic level.”

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Walking Through The Politics of Jesus: Introduction

Several years ago, I considered myself an absolute pacifist. To make a long story short, I spent years defending a pacifist reading of the Old and New Testament to my Reformed peers. Unfortunately, I lacked a theological framework that would help me to make sense of the overall Scriptural narrative. Particularly, I had a hard time understanding how I could believe that it is always wrong to do violence, while at the same time believing that God had commanded extreme acts of violence in the Old Testament times without resorting to a dispensational hermeneutic.

I was introduced to The Politics of Jesus via the writings of Duke University professor, Stanley Hauerwas. I turned to Hauerwas because he was a prominent opponents of the Iraq war following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and most importantly to me, he opposed it as a Christian. Living in the Bible-belt and being surrounded by warmongers was starting to get to me, so his non-Americocentric perspective felt (and still does) like a breath of fresh air. Hauerwas seemed to believe that the writings of John Howard Yoder were profoundly important for understanding how a Christian could love and adhere to the complete testimony of the Scriptures while at the same time holding to a strictly pacifist ethic.

As such, I bought my own copy of The Politics of Jesus and began reading ardently through the book in hopes of filling in the missing pieces of my puzzle. I made pretty thorough notes as I read through the book, summarizing what I was reading in hopes of someday sharing my findings with others. The end of my journey (so far) was a little less dramatic than I had hoped. I ended up basically rejecting Yoder's views because I felt it required too much of a theological shift for my own comfort. Where Yoder saw politics in the New Testament, I saw personal salvation. In fact, Yoder seemed to attack people like me who favored a reading of the New Testament which understood the narrative as being more about salvation than about politics.

One of my favorite points which Yoder makes is that wars between nations prevent unity in the body of Christ since Christians from each nation end up subconsciously being nationalists instead of Christians, favoring their own country almost by default. Such biases are difficult to overcome when it comes to matters of war. Pacifism certainly seems to prevent such errors, but as we will see in my study of Yoder, I believe this to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Given my current brief conversation with Jared S. in my Unprofessional Music Review of Derek Webb's new album, I have something of a renewed spark of interest in Yoder and have decided to share what I found when reading through The Politics of Jesus. Also, it seems more and more that I am detecting Yoder's influence in theological conversations, so perhaps my timing on this "series" will be apropos.

In addition, the more I think about it, it becomes obvious to me that Yoder's views stands as a direct contrast to the Two Kingdoms model, and as such I think we all may derive a great deal of benefit from reading Yoder even if we end up disagreeing with him.

Please note that if you are a Yoder fan expecting a glowing summary, you should look elsewhere; I plan mostly to summarize Yoder's work, but I will not restrain myself from pointing out where disagreements (and agreements) occur when I cannot help myself.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Christ the Center with Gamble

Once again, I have the privilege to be on Christ the Center. We interview Dr. Richard C. Gamble on his new book, volume one, of his theology book, The Whole Counsel of God v.1: God’s Mighty Acts in the Old Testament. We discussed the influences and aims of this substantial new volume. This book is a great attempt at a theology text that blends the best of biblical theology with systematic theology. I would highly recommend it. You can find the audio for the interview here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Friendly Atheist on Edwardsian Freedom:
Part 4

In our final analysis of Rowe's arguments against Edwards' understanding of freedom, Rowe deals directly with the subject of divine freedom. Rowe first states that the libertarian conception of freedom can't apply to God because it is never possible for God to do less than the best thing at all times.
"God cannot do otherwise than what he sees to be best. Yet we praise him and thank him for so doing. Moreover, the Arminian holds that it is right and proper to thank God and praise him for doing the best, even though he cannot fail to do so. Well then, why insist that a human being must have been able not to do the good act if he is to be praiseworthy for doing that good act?"

The inability, according to Rowe, of Arminian theologians to provide for libertarian freedom with respect to God's always doing what is best is a "serious defect." Rowe goes on to demonstrate what he believes to be the biggest problem with Edwardsian divine freedom; a criticism which he seems to know that the Edwardsian thinker would not find troublesome:
"But given that God sees that bringing about some state of affairs is the best thing (all things considered) for him to do, God necessarily causes that state of affairs to be actual. Indeed, if it were in his power not to cause that state of affairs to be actual, it would be in his power to do less good than he can. But it cannot be in God’s power to do less good than he can. For if it were, it would be in his power to cease to be perfectly good. And, being necessarily perfect, it cannot be in God’s power to cease to be perfectly good" (Pg. 73).

He then makes this interesting and revealing anaysis:
"Of course, none of the considerations just described would deter Edwards from ascribing freedom to God. For Edwards does not require a power to do otherwise as essential to freedom. If a being is free to do as he wills, then, according to Edwards that being is free in doing what he wills. It doesn’t matter that the being in question is unable to will and do otherwise" (Pg. 73).

Could God do evil? According to Rowe, (without citation of Edwards) Edwards claims that God could do evil. Surely what Edwards meant by this was that God has the power to do evil if he wills it. However, given that God's nature is such that he always does what is best, it would be a contradiction for God to do less than what is best at any given moment. Therefore it is possible, according to God's power, for him to do evil, but not according to his moral ability. Rowe finds this to be completely unsatisfactory. His final sentence on Edwards reveals his frustration.
"Never mind that it is impossible for God to will to do evil. It is only in some such Pickwickian sense that Edwards can say that God has power to do other than what he sees to be best."

So Rowe clearly finds compatiblistic freedom to be compelling, and effective for dealing with libertarian freedom. But like a man who has just used his tommy gun to dispatch a roomful of enemies, Rowe throws the gun at his feet and grumbles that it's too lightweight.

He seems, himself, unable to account for libertarian freedom in God (he doesn't have to since he doesn't believe in him), and yet in the end he won't be satisfied with the compatiblistic account of God's freedom unless God is able to act in contradiction to his nature. By calling this idea of freedom Pickwickian, he is saying that it is simple. This is less an argument than a preference; again, Rowe seems to arbitrarily relegate simplicity to the realm of forbidden attributes, but without much real justification.

My take on Rowe's conclusion is that there is frustration that he cannot seal the deal in his criticism of Edwards. Rowe knows that any reader who believes compatiblistic freedom is coherent with respect both to God as well as man will see no issue with his concluding analysis. Those who want God to be able to do evil will go with Rowe, but the man has hardly placed a scratch, in my opinion, on Edwards' position, and I believe that Rowe is aware of it.

Trueman's Second Law

In a recent article on Reformation 21 by Carl Trueman, titled Is Hurt Mail the New Hate Mail, he lays out a principle that I, for one, know is true from personal experience. He calls this principle "Trueman's Second Law," which "would be formulated something like this: in any exchange of views, sooner or later one or more of the participants will describe themselves as hurt or in pain as a result of somebody else's comment; and at that point it is clear that they have lost the real debate."

He then goes on to expound his views on "pain" and "hurt."
I confess that I have a serious problem with all this alleged pain and suffering because these terms and associated words are, by and large, being used in vacuous and trivial ways. What, for example, should I do when I receive a note from someone who claims to be "hurt" by something I have written which she described as a "personal attack," despite the fact that I have never heard of her and was completely unaware of her existence until she chose to contact me? Now, I am no philosopher, but it would seem to be logically necessary for me to know of the actual existence of somebody before I can launch a personal attack upon them. Thus, to respond as this person did would seem to point to one of two possible explanations: she was a narcissist and thus incapable of understanding that articles written by another could possibly not be aimed at her; or (and frankly, more likely), she was clueless about controversial discourse and unable to separate critique of a particular viewpoint from a malicious attack on any person who might hold to said viewpoint.

After further discussion on the nature of "pain" and "hurt," he closes his article this this paragraph.
Expressions of hurt are too often really something else: cowardly attempts by representatives of a cosseted and self-obsessed culture to make themselves uniquely important or, worse still, to bully and cajole somebody they dislike to stop saying things they don't want to hear or which they find distasteful. My advice to such is akin to that of the counselor in the Bob Newhart sketch: Stop it! If somebody's writing or speaking hurts you, ask yourself "Why?", don't whine about the discomfort. Get a grip, get yourself some trousers, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and please, please, please, don't hide behind the aesthetic pietisms of the tiresome and clichéd `feel my pain while I process my hurt' posse. Have the backbone, have the decency - nay, have the honesty - to take your licks and move on, either to addressing the substance of the argument or to some area of endeavour that is, well, perhaps less painful and hurtful for you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Unprofessional Music Review: Derek Webb's Stockholm Syndrome

Apparently the long fight between Derek Webb and his record label, INO Records, has reached a conclusion. No sooner had I decided his album would never be released than I got an email from Webb stating that his new album Stockholm Syndrome was available for pre-order and immediate download (even though the album doesn't officially hit until Sept. 1). Being the loyal Webb fan that I am, I grabbed it up and want to share what I've heard with all of you.

First, for those unfamiliar with the controversy, here is what I have been able to ascertain about the album's controversial release. I should initially mention that Webb is no stranger to controversy. When his first solo album came out, some retailers refused to carry it because of the song "Wedding Dress," where he introspects: "I am a whore I do confess / I put you on just like a wedding dress" in reference to being covered by Christ. Some people apparently think "whore" is an inappropriate word.

Anyway, it has been a few years, but on May 12th, Webb sent the following to those of us on his email list:
"It seems I've finally found the line beyond which my label can support me, and apparently I've crossed it...At this point we're not sure when the record will come out and in what form. The majority of the controversy is surrounding one song, which I consider to be among the most important songs on the record …. Because of various legal/publishing issues we're having to be rather careful with how we do what we're going to do next."

The rumor was that Webb had written a song about the christian church's treatment and ostracization of homosexuals, and in the context of the song had used the truly forbidden "s-word" (all of this turned out to be absolutely true). Considering it too much for the label to handle, they refused to release the album without its being censored and Webb refused to release the album without the language, since he deemed it necessary for his artistic vision. Both Webb and INO were at an impasse, it seemed, until today when the news that the album was available for pre-purchase and download. Apparently, the album is now available in two versions: Webb's original uncensored version, and INO's cleaned-up retail version.

So how is the album? In my opinion, it is his finest work. Being a rock-n-roll man myself, I was a bit put off by the clearly experimental and electronic direction Webb has employed for this album. I'd almost call it a purely pop album if it didn't have so many splashes of Radiohead/Wilco-esque experimentalism to it. It took a complete listen through the album for me to be comfortable with this directional shift, and now I like it. Alot. Interestingly, the album veers between two seemingly distinct sounds - the digital and the analog - and marries them together very coherently.

A good example of this is the song "What You Give Up To Get It," where the digital drums initially launch the song into its full-blown beat before the hard-hitting bass guitar hits the mix. The production on the bass is such that you can almost hear the fingers snapping the bass strings, reminding you that this something beyond electronica. From time to time during the song you will be in the nitty-gritty drum-beat and then suddenly the song is awash in shimmering synths without sounding like a retro 80s throwback sound. Meanwhile, some of the songs struck me as being more hip-hop sounding. For example; track two is a song called "Black Eye," and I could swear the production sounded like it was done by famed DJ, Madlib.

So the album is experimental, in terms of Webb's back-catalog. But what are we in for lyrically? Well, thematically speaking, Derek is still a protest songwriter. By my own estimation, 10 out of the 14 songs on the album are protest numbers. The themes that he tackles are varied.

In "Freddie Please," Derek sings as a deceased homosexual watching a certain hateful reverend from Topeka protest at his funeral, lamenting, "Freddie Please/Why do you tell me you love me/When you hate me/Freddie Please." The same topic is up for discussion in "What Matters More" when Derek condemns the modern evangelical obsession with homosexuality: "You say you always treat others like you wanted to be/You must love being hated for your sexuality." This is the same song where Derek utters the terrifying "s-word," which was the source of so much controversy for his label. I'm not really interested in dialoguing on the whole question of whether profanity is ever acceptable in art, because I've already tread that ground several times before. However, if you're interested in someone's opinion that I happen to agree with, you can read someone else's post on Jeff Wright Jr.'s blog.

Webb also tackles the issue of the Christian and the state on the song "The State," where he laments the evangelical agenda attempting to marry church and state in an unholy matrimony. Webb seems to be saying in the song that people used to appeal to their neighbor's sense of morality and persuade them on the level of conscience, but now people try to pass laws enforcing goodness and morality. "There were no eyes/Up in the skies/Looking down into my bed/There was no government/Without our consent/That was the day before/I married my conscience to the state."

On "The Spirit vs. The Kick Drum," Derek deals with a cavalcade of contemporary problems in the church. On "false fire" in the church service:
I don't want the Spirit/I want the kick drum/I know how it works, so I'm not dumb/Like sex without love/Like peace without the dumb/I don't want the Spirit/You know I want a kick drum"

On contemporary hopes that God does, in fact, grade on the curve:
I don't want the Son/I want a jury of peers/Like lies without the truth/Like wine without the fruit/Like a skydive without the chute/I don't want the Son/You know I want a jury of peers"

On the love of God's benefits over the love of God himself:
I don't want the Father/I want a vending machine/Like heaven without gates/Like hell without flames/Like life without pain/I don't want the Father/You know I want a vending machine"

My opinion is that Derek Webb's songwriting has never been wiser or more tightly focused. I know that many in the church will be offended by what Webb has to say and by the way that he often says it, but he is dealing with a very conservative and very stuffy bunch of people who take a lot of shaking for them to wake up.

On the personal side of things, I am simply excited to have a theologically Reformed, politically libertarian singer/songwriter out there with whom I can consistently agree in nearly every controversial area and be entertained by. I hope there is a lot of interaction in the church because of Derek's album, and my hope is it will create more light than heat.

You can get the album from Derek's website.

Justification without Christ

I found this video clip interesting because N.T. Wright discusses justification, but he makes no indication of Christ! How one can talk for any length of time about justification and not mention the work of Christ is beyond me. Take a look for yourself.





(HT: Burk Parsons)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Deals Abound!

This week the great folks at Ligonier Ministries are ofering daily specials in honor of Calvin's 500th birthday. Today only the special offer is a black leather Reformation Study Bible for a donation of any amount. That is right, a leather Study Bible for a gift of any amount. That is almost insane, almost! To find out all the details on this amazing offer head to their website.

Monday, July 6, 2009

How the Benefits of the Gospel relate to Christ in Calvin’s Theology: Part Two

A couple of remarks are in order before the post:

1. This is the second part of my Senior paper at the Moody Bible Institute. Part one can be found here.

2. Note how Calvin is not afraid to sum up the gospel as "repentance" (sanctification) and "forgiveness of sins" (sustification). This is the duplex gratia; but it was never intended to exclude other graces such as adoption, glorification, or any other ordo salutis category. For Calvin, all of these other benefits could be subsumed under the two chief benefits, one being regenerative and the other forensic. Thus, for Calvin, there is no need to remind people of the other benefits of the Gospel, for when we say justification or forgiveness of sins, we mean to include adoption. And when we talk about the grace of regeneration or sanctification, we mean to include glorification. I, for one, find this extremely helpful both pastorally and theologically. It really does take into account the interpenetration of the different benefits of Christ's person and work as well as the inseparability of the the forensic and regenerative categories taught in Scripture.

The Duplex Gratia and its Relationship to the Unio Mystica

For Calvin, the gospel benefits can be boiled down to one two-fold grace, justification and sanctification. Calvin expressly sets this down when in Book Three of the Institutes, following his discussion of the way the believer receives the grace of Christ, begins to discuss the grace we actually receive from Christ. Calvin writes,

Even though we have taught in part how to possess Christ, and how through it we enjoy his benefits, this would still remain obscure if we did not add an explanation of the effects we feel. With good reason, the sum of the gospel is held to consist in repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31). Any discussion of faith, therefore, that omitted these two topics would be barren and mutilated and well–nigh useless. Now, both repentance and forgiveness of sins—that is, newness of life and free reconciliation—are conferred on us by Christ, and both are attained by us through faith.[1]

Again, Calvin sums up the benefits of the Gospel later in book three,

I believe I have also explained what faith itself is, and those benefits of God which it confers upon man, and the fruits it brings forth in him. Let us sum these up. Christ was given to us by God's generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace [duplicem gratiam]: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ's blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ's Spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.[2]

Thus, it is not a stretch to affirm that for Calvin the benefits of the Gospel are principally justification and sanctification. Justification is “that being reconciled to God through Christ's blamelessness” and sanctification is being “sanctified by Christ's Spirit [that] we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.” The point must not be missed—for Calvin, the Christian life and the Gospel, for the Christian, consists in nothing more than receiving Christ and thus the two benefits of the duplex gratia. To put it more theologically, there is an aspect of the believer’s redemption which is forensic (justification) and that which is regenerative or transformative (sanctification).

A second point must be taken into account, namely, the bond of this duplex gratia. The bond by which the Christian receives the duplex gratia is union with Christ. In fact, this is precisely what we would expect after determining the nature and function of the unio mystica. It would be nonsensical to expect Calvin to speak any differently, because it is only though participating in Christ’s death and resurrection by faith resulting in union with Christ can the Christian receive the duplex gratia. Thus, Calvin scholar Mark Garcia suitably writes, “it appears both the formal and the functional importance of Calvin’s union idea within his soteriology is better reflected if his framework is referred to as an unio Christi-duplex gratia rather than simply a duplex gratia framework.”[3] The duplex gratia, or for that matter any Gospel benefit, ought not to be spoken of in Calvin’s theology without relating it to both the unio mystica and the historia salutis connected to it! For Calvin, no Christ means no justification or sanctification.

There are other implications one might expect the duplex gratia to have in its relationship to the unio mystica at this point. That is, if the Christian receives Christ by faith at the initial ingrafting into Christ (intermediate mystical union), then doesn’t the Christian receive all the benefits of redemption simultaneously? In other words, if Christ, not the benefits, is what the Christian is united to, then would not all the grace that Christ was and is for us in his death and resurrection becomes ours? Of course, Calvin notes the distinctiveness of both justification and sanctification, but are they simultaneous and inseparable as one would expect?

First, note that for Calvin, that the two-fold grace of justification and sanctification is exactly that, “a grace.” In the Latin the phrase duplex gratia is singular because both justification and sanctification find their ground in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The inseparability of both graces can be seen not only in the very grammar that Calvin uses but also in his various comments found in his commentaries. In his commentary on Jeremiah 24:7 Calvin writes, “But these two things, the reconciliation of God with men and repentance, are necessarily connected together, yet repentance ought not to be deemed as the cause of pardon or of reconciliation, as many falsely think who imagine that men deserve pardon because they repent.”[4] Although Calvin is quick to point out that repentance is not the cause of our justification, he is not afraid to speak of the inseparability of both justification and sanctification.[5] Calvin will “never separate” them “as some inconsiderately do.”[6] The inseparability of both benefits of redemption is emphasized again and again in Calvin’s writings.[7] Although they are inseparable benefits, for Calvin, it is a chief concern not to mix the two benefits. Thus in his commentary on 1 Cor 1:30 he writes,

“Those, however, that slander us, as if by preaching a free justification through faith we called men off from good works, are amply refuted from this passage, which intimates that faith apprehends in Christ regeneration equally with forgiveness of sins. Observe, on the other hand, that these two offices of Christ are conjoined in such a manner as to be, notwithstanding, distinguished from each other. What, therefore, Paul here expressly distinguishes, it is not allowable mistakenly to confound.”[8]

Justification and sanctification, although tied together by the bond of union must be kept distinct because, according to Calvin, Paul himself distinguishes the two benefits in the passage commented on.

Not only are these benefits inseparable, but they are simultaneousness as well. Calvin argues this simultaneity of the reception of the duplex gratia in his commentary on 2 Corinthians 7:10 noting,

“God accomplishes in us at one and the same time (simul) two things: being renewed by repentance, we are delivered from the bondage of our sins; and, being justified by faith, we are delivered also from the curse of our sins. They are, therefore, inseparable fruits of grace, and, in consequence of their invariable connection, repentance may with fitness and propriety be represented as an introduction to salvation, but in this way of speaking of it, it is represented as an effect rather than as a cause.”[9]

Calvin, in this comment particularly emphasizes the simultaneousness of being delivered from the bondage (transformative/sanctification) and the curse (legal/justification) of sin. At this point, it may be helpful to remind the reader that Calvin does not see these benefits as unrelated to Jesus himself.

In various places Calvin argues that to separate one of the benefits from the other is to tear Christ asunder. This phrase of “tearing Christ to pieces” has rich heritage in Reformation theology among both Protestants and Catholics.[10] Calvin uses the phrase quite often, especially when discussing the inability of separating justification and sanctification.[11] In response to the Lutheran Andreas Osiander (1498-1552), Calvin’s apparent antinomianism leads him to retort against Osiander saying,

“To prove the first point—viz. that God justifies not only by pardoning but by regenerating, he asks, whether he leaves those whom he justifies as they were by nature, making no change upon their vices? The answer is very easy: as Christ cannot be divided into parts [, so the two things, justification and sanctification, which we perceive to be united together in him, are inseparable. Whomsoever, therefore, God receives into his favor, he presents with the Spirit of adoption, whose agency forms them anew into his image.”[12]

The use of this metaphor points to the larger theological picture, namely, the fact that Christ is both our justification and sanctification. This is why, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:30, Calvin speaks of justification and sanctification as the “two offices of Christ” corresponding with the offices of Priest and King, respectively. Thus, those who argue that a Christian can be justified without sanctification inevitably dethrone Christ who cannot be torn apart! In more contemporary language, “You can’t have Christ as Savior without him being your Lord.”[13]

To summarize thus far, then, according to Calvin, the benefits of the Gospel are chiefly justification and sanctification. Both the forensic aspect of salvation (justification) and the transformative aspect (sanctification) are intimately bound in an indissoluble tie which cannot be broken because Christ himself would have to be torn apart. This two-fold grace is thus only received when the believer is first engrafted into Christ.



[1] Calvin, Institutes, 3.3.1.

[2] Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.1.

[3] Garcia, Life in Christ, 3.

[4] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations Volume Third trans. John Owen, in Calvin’s Commentaries Vol. X (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 231.

[5] E.g. Calvin, Institutes, 3.16.1

[6] Ibid., 336.

[7] Cf. Calvin, Commentary on Romans, 277.

[8] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians trans. John Pringle, in Calvin’s Commentaries Vol. XX (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 93-94.

[9] John Calvin, Commentary on Corinthians, 275.

[10] Gracia, Life in Christ, 228-241.

[11] Cf. Calvin, Commentary on Romans, 217; 290; 294.

[12] Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.6.

[13] Of course, Calvin would not have been dealing with the same “Lordship” debate that raged in the 80’s and 90’s between John Macarthur, Charles Ryrie, and Zane Hodges, but surely there is application in what he says for the debate.