Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Brainstorm on the Goal of Education....

I recently wrote these thoughts down regarding the goal of education. They are pretty preliminary, but I thought I would post them and hopefully begin a conversation with my readers. Feel free to comment and I will try to interact with your comment. Below are my thoughts:

Some Basic Thoughts on the Goal of Education…

In the past few years I have taken a couple of graduate school classes that have reminded me more of grade school than graduate school. Not because of the content of the class or the concepts being discussed but because of the assignments given. In two separate classes that I have had the majority of the assignments called for a simple regurgitation of facts and not a synthetic processing that would show understanding. The goal of education definitely includes the learning of facts, but learning facts in and of themselves should never be the ultimate aim. One is able to regurgitate facts without processing and this does little if anything to foster true learning. Learning does not truly begin to take place until the facts that are learned are integrated into a holistic system of thought. After these facts have been integrated they are then solidified as life presents opportunities to implement the knowledge gained.

How to Study History

The end goal of all of history is the displaying and praising of the glory of God. In light of this no serious study of history should be taken up for the mere gaining of facts. The study of history should be a means whereby a few things take place. The first and ultimate of which is that we gain a further understanding into God’s sovereign control over every event that has transpired in the world. As we see a fuller picture of God’s orchestration of history it should cause us to be moved to praise Him all the more as we see Him working to redeem a people in Christ from every tongue, tribe, language, and nation.

A second thing that should take place is that we process the events of history through a biblical worldview. Among other things this means emulating the example of those who have gone before us especially in areas where their lives were noble, wise, and praiseworthy. It also means learning from their failures and seeking to avoid similar mistakes.

A third thing that should take place in the study of history (which is related to the first two) is that critical thinking, spiritual, and moral assessment skills are challenged and hopefully strengthened. When a “seemingly” ambiguous historical event is studied the wise student should seek to press on all angles of the event in order to get to the root and assess the event from a God-centered lens.

How Learning Should Be Assessed?

Do these three things mean that an assessment of base-level facts is unimportant? No; however, any assessment of a students abilities that is based entirely on base level facts is at best pedagogically short-sighted and at worst pedagogically lazy. On top of this there is an institutional selfishness that pervades many schools. Let me explain.

The Minimization of Student Development

Often times when a student is only evaluated on a base level it is because the professor feels other things are more urgent. The professor has writing deadlines, the pressure to publish (or perish), other areas of research that demand their time, and a desire for vocational advancement. At other times a student is only evaluated on a base level because of sheer laziness on the part of the professor. Rather than creating and then grading an exam that calls for a synthesis of the material a professor will take the easy way out and create a base level assessment that can be graded in a few minutes. As you can see the students’ development can easily be brushed aside for both legitimate and illegitimate reasons.

Another reason why students’ development can be minimized is because of institutional selfishness. Rather, than seeing themselves as an organization that is in the process of educating students they begin to see themselves as a corporation that is in competition with other corporations. They then make their own renown and financial desires the predominating concerns of the “educational process.” In order to do this the pressure is placed upon the professors to write and research more. These demands then become the primary areas where the professors are evaluated. When the professor is not being evaluated on the development of the students there is a tendency to give less and less concern to their pedagogical practices. The academic institution has decided to evaluate and determine their own worth not in their ability to develop and educate, but in their ability to recruit and promote well-known scholars.

The Traditional Solution
The traditional solution to this problem is that some schools are research focused where as others are teaching focused. Is this solution acceptable for seminaries? I do not think so. The goal of most seminaries is to train those who will have teaching responsibilities in the context of local church, para-church, and seminaries. In light of this any professor who teaches at a seminary bears the responsibility to develop critical thinkers who know how to synthesize academic material. Thus it would seem appropriate that any evaluation of a student's abilities should be based on their ability to synthesize material and not just regurgitate facts.


The Love of God...

One of the most misunderstood doctrines in the entire Bible is the love of God. Several years ago D.A. Carson gave a few different lectures on the love of God. These lectures were later compiled and put into a book called The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. The following article is a helpful summation of that book:


Beloved, let us love one another,for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.Anyone who does not lovedoes not know God,because God is love.1st John 4:7-8At first thought, understanding the doctrine of the love of God seems simple compared to trying to fathom other doctrines like that of the Trinity or predestination. Especially since the overwhelming majority of those who believe in God view Him as a loving being.That is precisely what makes this doctrine so difficult. The only aspect of God's character the world still believes in is His love. His holiness, His sovereignty, His wrath are often rejected as being incompatible with a "loving" God. Because pop culture has so distorted and secularized God's love, many Christians have lost a biblical understanding of it and, in turn, lost a vital means to knowing who God is...
Why The Doctrine Of The Love Of GOD Must Be Judged Difficult
There are at least five reasons why the doctrine of the love of God must be judged difficult. If people believe in God at all today, the overwhelming majority hold that this God — however he, she, or it may be understood — is a loving being. But that is what makes the task of the Christian witness so daunting. For this widely disseminated belief in the love of God is set with increasing frequency in some matrix other than biblical theology. The result is when informed Christians talk about the love of God, they mean something very different from what is meant in the surrounding culture. Worse, neither side may perceive that that is the case.Consider some recent products of the film industry, that celluloid preserve that both reflects and shapes Western culture. For our purposes science-fiction films may be divided into two kinds. Perhaps the more popular ones are the slam-bang, shoot'em-up kind, such as Independence Day or the four-part Alien series, complete with loathsome evil. Obviously the aliens have to be nasty, or there would be no threat and therefore no targets and no fun. Rarely do these films set out to convey a cosmological message, still less a spiritual one.The other sort of film in this class, trying to convey a message even as it seeks to entertain, almost always portrays the ultimate power as benevolent. On the border between the two kinds of films is the Star Wars series, with its treatment of the morally ambiguous Force, but even this series tilts toward the assumption of a final victory for the "light" side of the Force. ET, as Roy Anker has put it, is "a glowing-heart incarnation tale that climaxes in resurrection and ascension." And now in Jodie Foster's Contact, the unexplained intelligence is suffused with love, wisely provident, gently awesome.Anker himself thinks this "indirection," as he calls it, is a great help to the Christian cause. Like the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, these films help people indirectly to appreciate the sheer goodness and love of God. I am not nearly so sanguine. Tolkien and Lewis still lived in a world shaped by the Judeo-Christian heritage. Their "indirection" was read by others in the culture who had also been shaped by that heritage, even though many of their readers were not Christians in any biblical sense.But the worldview of Contact is monistic, naturalistic, pluralistic (after all, the film was dedicated to Carl Sagan). It has far more connections with New Age, Pollyannaish optimism than anything substantive. Suddenly the Christian doctrine of the love of God becomes very difficult, for the entire framework in which it is set in Scripture has been replaced.To put this another way, we live in a culture in which many other and complementary truths about God are widely disbelieved. I do not think that what the Bible says about the love of God can long survive at the forefront of our thinking if it is abstracted from the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, the providence of God, or the personhood of God — to mention only a few nonnegotiable elements of basic Christianity.The result, of course, is that the love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable. The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized. This process has been going on for some time. My generation was taught to sing, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love," in which we robustly instruct the Almighty that we do not need another mountain (we have enough of them), but we could do with some more love. The hubris is staggering.It has not always been so. In generations when almost everyone believed in the justice of God, people sometimes found it difficult to believe in the love of God. The preaching of the love of God came as wonderful good news. Nowadays if you tell people that God loves them, they are unlikely to be surprised. Of course God loves me; he's like that, isn't he? Besides, why shouldn't he love me? I'm kind of cute, or at least as nice as the next person. I'm okay, you're okay, and God loves you and me.Even in the mid-1980s, according to Andrew Greeley, three-quarters of his respondents in an important poll reported that they preferred to think of God as "friend" than as "king." I wonder what the percentage would have been if the option had been "friend" or "judge." Today most people seem to have little difficulty believing in the love of God; they have far more difficulty believing in the justice of God, the wrath of God, and the noncontradictory truthfulness of an omniscient God. But is the biblical teaching on the love of God maintaining its shape when the meaning of "God" dissolves in mist?We must not think that Christians are immune from these influences. In an important book, Marsha Witten surveys what is being preached in the Protestant pulpit. Let us admit the limitations of her study. Her pool of sermons was drawn, on the one hand, from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), scarcely a bastion of confessional evangelicalism; and, on the other, from churches belonging to the Southern Baptist Convention. Strikingly, on many of the crucial issues, there was only marginal statistical difference between these two ecclesiastical heritages. A more significant limitation was that the sermons she studied all focused on the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15). That is bound to slant sermons in a certain direction.Nevertheless her book abounds in lengthy quotations from these sermons, and they are immensely troubling. There is a powerful tendency
to present God through characterizations of his inner states, with an emphasis on his emotions, which closely resemble those of human beings.... God is more likely to "feel" than to "act," to "think" than to "say."Or again:
The relatively weak notion of God's fearsome capabilities regarding judgment is underscored by an almost complete lack of discursive construction of anxiety around one's future state. As we have already seen, the sermons dramatize feelings of anxiety for listeners over many other (this-worldly) aspects of their removal from God, whether they are discussing in the vocabulary of sin or in other formulations. But even when directly referring to the unconverted, only two sermons press on fear of God's judgment by depicting anxiety over salvation, and each text does this only obliquely, as it makes the point indirectly on its way to other issues while buffering the audience from negative feelings.... The transcendent, majestic, awesome God of Luther and Calvin whose image informed early Protestant visions of the relationship between human beings and the divine has undergone a softening of demeanor through the American experience of Protestantism, with only minor exceptions.... Many of the sermons depict a God whose behavior is regular, patterned, and predictable; he is portrayed in terms of the consistency of his behavior, of the conformity of his actions to the single rule of "love."With such sentimentalizing of God multiplying in Protestant churches, it does not take much to see how difficult maintaining a biblical doctrine of the love of God can be. Some elements of the larger and still developing patterns of postmodernism play into the problem with which we are dealing. Because of remarkable shifts in the West's epistemology, more and more people believe that the only heresy left is the view that there is such a thing as heresy. They hold that all religions are fundamentally the same and that, therefore, it is not only rude but profoundly ignorant and old-fashioned to try to win someone to your beliefs since implicitly that is announcing that theirs are inferior.This stance, fueled in the West, now reaches into many parts of the world. For example, in a recent book Caleb Oluremi Oladipo outlines The Development of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the Yoruba (African) Indigenous Church Movement.' His concern is to show the interplay between Christian beliefs and Yoruba traditional religion on the indigenous church. After establishing "two distinct perspectives" that need not detain us here, Oladipo writes:
These two paradigmatic perspectives in the book are founded on a fundamental assertion that the nature of God is universal love. This assertion presupposes that while Western missionaries asserted that the nature of God is universal love, most missionaries have denied salvation to various portions of the world population, and in most cases they did so indiscriminately. The book points out the inconsistencies of such a view, and attempts to bring coherency between Christianity and other religions in general, and Yoruba Traditional Religion in particular.In short, the most energetic cultural tide, postmodernism, powerfully reinforces the most sentimental, syncretistic, and often pluralistic views of the love of God, with no other authority base than the postmodern epistemology itself. But that makes the articulation of a biblical doctrine of God and of a biblical doctrine of the love of God an extraordinarily difficult challenge.The first three difficulties stem from developments in the culture that make grasping and articulating the doctrine of the love of God a considerable challenge.This fourth element is in certain respects more fundamental. In the cultural rush toward a sentimentalized, sometimes even non-theistic vision of the love of God, we Christians have sometimes been swept along to the extent that we have forgotten that within Christian confessionalism the doctrine of the love of God poses its difficulties. This side of two world wars; genocide in Russia, China, Germany, and Africa; mass starvation; Hitler and Pol Pot; endless disgusting corruptions at home and abroad — all in this century — is the love of God such an obvious doctrine? Of course that is raising the difficulties from an experiential point of view. One may do the same thing from the perspective of systematic theology. Precisely how does one integrate what the Bible says about the love of God with what the Bible says about God's sovereignty, extending as it does even over the domain of evil? What does love mean in a Being whom at least some texts treat as impassible? How is God's love tied to God's justice?In other words, one of the most dangerous results of the impact of contemporary sentimentalized versions of love on the church is our widespread inability to think through the fundamental questions that alone enable us to maintain a doctrine of God in biblical proportion and balance. However glorious and privileged a task that may be, none of it is easy. We are dealing with God, and fatuous reductionisms are bound to be skewed and dangerous.Finally, the doctrine of the love of God is sometimes portrayed within Christian circles as much easier and more obvious than it really is, and this is achieved by overlooking some of the distinctions the Bible itself introduces when it depicts the love of God.This is so important that it becomes my next major point.Some Different Ways the BIBLE Speaks of the Love of GODI had better warn you that not all of the passages to which I refer actually use the word love. When I speak of the doctrine of the love of God, I include themes and texts that depict God's love without ever using the word, just as Jesus tells parables that depict grace without using that word.With that warning to the fore, I draw your attention to five distinguishable ways the Bible speaks of the love of God. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is heuristically useful.The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father.John's Gospel is especially rich in this theme. Twice we are told that the Father loves the Son, once with the verb  (John 3:35), and once with  (John 5:20). Yet the evangelist also insists that the world must learn that Jesus loves the Father (John 14:31). This intra-Trinitarian love of God not only marks off Christian monotheism from all other monotheisms, but is bound up in surprising ways with revelation and redemption. God's providential love over all that he has made. By and large the Bible veers away from using the word love in this connection, but the theme is not hard to find. God creates everything, and before there is a whiff of sin, he pronounces all that he has made to be "good" (Gen. 1). This is the product of a loving Creator. The Lord Jesus depicts a world in which God clothes the grass of the fields with the glory of wildflowers seen by no human being, perhaps, but seen by God. The lion roars and hauls down its prey, but it is God who feeds the animal. The birds of the air find food, but that is the result of God's loving providence, and not a sparrow falls from the sky apart from the sanction of the Almighty (Matt. 6). If this were not a benevolent providence, a loving providence, then the moral lesson that Jesus drives home, viz. that this God can be trusted to provide for his own people, would be incoherent.God's salvific stance toward his fallen world. God so loved the world that he gave his Son (John 3:16). I know that some try to take kosmos("world") here to refer to the elect. But that really will not do. All the evidence of the usage of the word in John's Gospel is against the suggestion. True, world in John does not so much refer to bigness as to badness. In John's vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God. In John 3:16 God's love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such wicked people. Nevertheless elsewhere John can speak of "the whole world" (1 John 2:2), thus bringing bigness and badness together. More importantly, in Johannine theology the disciples themselves once belonged to the world but were drawn out of it (e.g., John 15:19). On this axis, God's love for the world cannot be collapsed into his love for the elect.The same lesson is learned from many passages and themes in Scripture. However much God stands in judgment over the world, he also presents himself as the God who invites and commands all human beings to repent. He orders his people to carry the Gospel to the farthest corner of the world, proclaiming it to men and women everywhere. To rebels the sovereign Lord calls out,As surely as I live ... I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? Ezek. 33:11 God's particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect. The elect may be the entire nation of Israel or the church as a body or individuals. In each case, God sets his affection on his chosen ones in a way in which he does not set his affection on others. The people of Israel are told, The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh King of Egypt. Deut. 7:7-8; cf. 4:37 Again:To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. Deut. 10:14-15 The striking thing about these passages is that when Israel is contrasted with the universe or with other nations, the distinguishing feature has nothing of personal or national merit; it is nothing other than the love of God. In the very nature of the case, then, God's love is directed toward Israel in these passages in a way in which it is not directed toward other nations.Obviously, this way of speaking of the love of God is unlike the other three ways of speaking of God's love that we have looked at so far. This discriminating feature of God's love surfaces frequently. I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated. Mal. 1:2-3 God declares it. Allow all the room you like for the Semitic nature of this contrast, observing that the absolute form can be a way of articulating absolute preference; yet the fact is that God's love in such passages is peculiarly directed toward the elect.Similarly in the New Testament: Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). Repeatedly the New Testament texts tell us that the love of God or the love of Christ is directed toward those who constitute the church.Finally, God's love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way — conditioned, that is, on obedience. It is part of the relational structure of knowing God; it does not have to do with how we become true followers of the living God, but with our relationship with him once we do know him. Keep yourselves in God's love, Jude exhorts his readers (v. 21), leaving the unmistakable impression that someone might not keep himself or herself in the love of God. Clearly this is not God's providential love; it is pretty difficult to escape that. Nor is this God's yearning love, reflecting his salvific stance toward our fallen race. Nor is it his eternal, elective love. If words mean anything, one does not, as we shall see, walk away from that love either.Jude is not the only one who speaks in such terms. The Lord Jesus commands his disciples to remain in his love (John 15:9), and adds, If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. John 15:10 To draw a feeble analogy: Although there is a sense in which my love for my children is immutable, so help me God, regardless of what they do, there is another sense in which they know well enough that they must remain in my love. If for no good reason my teenagers do not get home by the time I have prescribed, the least they will experience is a bawling out, and they may come under some restrictive sanctions. There is no use reminding them that I am doing this because I love them. That is true, but the manifestation of my love for them when I ground them and when I take them out for a meal or attend one of their concerts or take my son fishing or my daughter on an excursion of some sort is rather different in the two cases. Only the latter will feel much more like remaining in my love than falling under my wrath.Nor is this a phenomenon of the new covenant alone. The Decalogue declares God to be the one who shows his love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments . . . . Exod. 20:6 And,the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Ps. 103:8 In this context, his love is set over against his wrath. Unlike some other texts we shall examine, his people live under his love or under his wrath, in function of their covenantal faithfulness:He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him....As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.... But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him . . . with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. Ps. 103:9-11, 13, 17-18 This is the language of relationship between God and the covenant community.Three Preliminary Observations On These Distinctive Ways Of Talking About The Love Of GODIt will be useful to draw some strands together.It is easy to see what will happen if any one of these five biblical ways of talking about the love of God is absolutized and made exclusive, or made the controlling grid by which the other ways of talking about the love of God are relativized.If we begin with the intra-Trinitarian love of God and use that as the model for all of God's loving relationships, we shall fail to observe the distinctions that must be maintained. The love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father are expressed in a relationship of perfection, untarnished by sin on either side. However much the intra-Trinitarian love serves, as we shall see, as a model of the love to be exchanged between Jesus and his followers, there is no sense in which the love of the Father redeems the Son, or the love of the Son is expressed in a relationship of forgiveness granted and received. As precious, indeed as properly awesome, as the intra-Trinitarian love of God is, an exclusive focus in this direction takes too little account of how God manifests himself toward his rebellious image-bearers in wrath, in love, in the cross.If the love of God is nothing more than his providential ordering of everything, we are not far from a beneficent if some what mysterious "force." It would be easy to integrate that kind of stance into pantheism or some other form of monism. Green ecology may thereby be strengthened but not the grand story line that takes us from creation to new creation to new heaven and new earth, by way of the cross and resurrection of our Master.If the love of God is exclusively portrayed as an inviting, yearning, sinner-seeking, rather lovesick passion, we may strengthen the hands of Arminians, semi-Pelagians, Pelagians, and those more interested in God's inner emotional life than in his justice and glory, but the cost will be massive. There is some truth in this picture of God, some glorious truth. Made absolute, however, it not only treats complementary texts as if they were not there, but it steals God's sovereignty from him and our security from us. It espouses a theology of grace rather different from Paul's theology of grace, and at its worst ends up with a God so insipid he can neither intervene to save us nor deploy his chastening rod against us. His love is too "unconditional" for that. This is a world far removed from the pages of Scripture.If the love of God refers exclusively to his love for the elect, it is easy to drift toward a simple and absolute bifurcation: God loves the elect and hates the reprobate. Rightly positioned, there is truth in this assertion; stripped of complementary biblical truths, that same assertion has engendered hyper-Calvinism. I use the term advisedly, referring to groups within the Reformed tradition that have forbidden the free offer of the Gospel. Spurgeon fought them in his day. Their number is not great in America today, but their echoes are found in young Reformed ministers who know it is right to offer the Gospel freely, but who have no idea how to do it without contravening some element in their conception of Reformed theology.If the love of God is construed entirely within the kind of discourse that ties God's love to our obedience (e.g., Keep yourselves in the love of God), the dangers threatening us change once again. True, in a church characterized rather more by personal preference and antinomianism than godly fear of the Lord, such passages surely have something to say to us. But divorced from complementary biblical utterances about the love of God, such texts may drive us backward toward merit theology, endless fretting about whether or not we have been good enough today to enjoy the love of God -to be free from all the paroxysms of guilt from which the cross alone may free us.In short, we need all of what Scripture says on this subject or the doctrinal and pastoral ramifications will prove disastrous.We must not view these ways of talking about the love of God as independent, compartmentalized, loves of God. It will not help to begin talking too often about God's providential love, his elective love, his intra-Trinitarian love, and so forth, as if each were hermetically sealed off from the other. Nor can we allow any one of these ways of talking about the love of God to be diminished by the others, even as we cannot, on scriptural evidence, allow any one of them to domesticate all the others. God is God, and he is one. Not only must we gratefully acknowledge that God in the perfection of his wisdom has thought it best to provide us with these various ways of talking of his love if we are to think of him aright, but we must hold these truths together and learn to integrate them in biblical proportion and balance. We must apply them to our lives and the lives of those to whom we minister with insight and sensitivity shaped by the way these truths function in Scripture.Within the framework established so far, we may well ask ourselves how well certain evangelical clichés stand up."God's love is unconditional." Doubtless that is true in the fourth sense, with respect to God's elective love. But it is certainly not true in the fifth sense: God's discipline of his children means that he may turn upon us with the divine equivalent of the "wrath" of a parent on a wayward teenager. Indeed, to cite the cliché "God's love is unconditional" to a Christian who is drifting toward sin may convey the wrong impression and do a lot of damage. Such Christians need to be told that they will remain in God's love only if they do what he says. Obviously, then, it is pastorally important to know what passages and themes to apply to, which people at any given time. "God loves everyone exactly the same way."That is certainly true in passages belonging to the second category, in the domain of providence. After all, God sends his sunshine and his rain upon the just and the unjust alike. But it is certainly not true in passages belonging to the fourth category, the domain of election.More needs to be said. But it is clear that what the Bible says about the love of God is more complex and nuanced than what is allowed by mere sloganeering.To sum up: Christian faithfulness entails our responsibility to grow in our grasp of what it means to confess that God is love — with the fullness of the Biblical revelation.Note: D.A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has authored numerous books, including The Gagging of God and Exegetical Fallacies. Excerpt may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of the publisher. This article is adapted from the book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, published by
Crossway Books. It is reproduced here by their expressed permission.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Relationship between Baptism and Circumcision...

One of the most important passages for understanding the debate between credobaptists (those who hold that baptism is for believers) and pedobaptists (those who hold that baptism is a sign of the covenant in the exact same way that circumcision was) is Romans 4. John Piper does an excellent job of addressing the relationship between baptism and cirumcision in the following sermon:

How Do Circumcision and Baptism Correspond?
By John Piper
Romans 4:9-12
Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, "FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.
I am going to talk today about the relationship between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism. One of the reasons we are called Baptists is that we believe that the New Testament teaches us to baptize believers, but not the infant children of believers.
Some Reasons Baptists Do not Baptize Infants
There are many reasons for this conviction. Let me mention five that I will pass over quickly so that I can come to the main issue in Romans 4:11, where some of those who believe in infant baptism build their case. I pass over these quickly because I have dealt with them before in the sermon series on baptism in the spring of 1997. You can get those sermons and read them or listen to them.
1. In every New Testament command and instance of baptism the requirement of faith precedes baptism. So infants incapable of faith are not to be baptized
2. There are no explicit instances of infant baptism in all the Bible. The three "household baptisms" mentioned (household of Lydia, Acts 16:15; household of the Philippian jailer, Acts 16:30-33; household of Stephanus, 1 Corinthians 1:16) no mention is made of infants, and in the case of the Philippian jailer, Luke says explicitly, "they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house" (Acts 16:32), implying that the household who were baptized could understand the Word.
3. Paul (in Colossians 2:12) explicitly defined baptism as an act done through faith: ". . . having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God." In baptism you were raised up with Christ through faith - your own faith, not your parents' faith. If it is not "through faith" - if it is not an outward expression of inward faith - it is not baptism.
4. The apostle Peter, in his first letter, defined baptism this way, ". . . not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism is "an appeal to God for a good conscience." It is an outward act and expression of inner confession and prayer to God for cleansing, that the one being baptized does, not his parents.
5. When the New Testament church debated in Acts 15 whether circumcision should still be required of believers as part of becoming a Christian, it is astonishing that not once in that entire debate did anyone say anything about baptism standing in the place of circumcision. If baptism is the simple replacement of circumcision as a sign of the new covenant, and thus valid for children as well as for adults, as circumcision was, surely this would have been the time to develop the argument and so show that circumcision was no longer necessary. But it is not even mentioned.
Those are some of the reasons why Baptists are hesitant to embrace the more elaborate theological arguments for infant baptism. But now here we are at Romans 4:11 and many of those who baptize infants see in this verse a linchpin for their position. Let me try to show you what they see and then why I am not persuaded.
Why Do Many in the Reformed Tradition Endorse Infant Baptism?
We are dealing here with a great Reformed tradition going back to John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli and other reformers. I do not despise this tradition. And for many years I have tried to be fair with the arguments, especially since most of my heroes are in this camp. The main reason that this great Reformed tradition endorses the baptism of infants of believers is that there appears to be in the New Testament a correspondence between circumcision and baptism. Just as circumcision was given as a sign to the "children of the covenant" in the Old Testament, so baptism - the new sign of the covenant - should be given to the "children of the covenant" today. For example, in Colossians 2:11-12 there seems to be a connection between circumcision and baptism: "In Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism . . ." So for the sake of the argument, let's grant that there is some correlation between circumcision and baptism.
What are we to make of this correlation? Well, for 400 years a fairly elaborate argument has been made that baptism replaces circumcision as the sign of the covenant and that it should be applied in the church the way it was applied in Israel, namely, to the children of the covenant members -Israelites then, Christians now. So for example the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God (from 350 years ago) says, "The seed and posterity of the faithful born within the church have by their birth an interest [a share] in the covenant and right to the seal of it and to the outward privileges of the church under the gospel, not less than the children of Abraham in the time of the Old Testament."*
In other words, the children of Christian believers today belong to the visible church by virtue of their birth and should then receive the sign and seal of the covenant just as the eight-day-old infants of Israelites did in the Old Testament. That is the main argument.
Why Is Romans 4:11 the "linchpin" for Many Who Baptize Infants?
Now what relevance does Romans 4:11 have here? Let me quote from a letter -a very good letter (in spirit and content) - that I received from a defender of infant baptism after I preached my messages on baptism in the spring of 1997. He lamented that I had not dealt with Romans 4:11. Here's why: "For me Romans 4:11 is the 'linchpin' in the doctrine of paedobaptism [infant baptism]. Pull it out, and the whole doctrine falls."
Now what is it that he and others see here that makes this verse so compelling in defense of infant baptism? I'll try to explain. Let's look at the text. In verse 9 Paul reminds us that "Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness." That is he was justified, and got right with God through faith alone. Then verse 10 points out that this happened before Abraham was circumcised. "How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised." The point is that Abraham's justification was not brought about through circumcision, which came later, but through faith alone.
Then comes the crucial verse 11 which functions as a kind of definition of circumcision: "He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised." So Abraham's circumcision is described here as "a sign . . . a seal of the righteousness of faith."
Now why is this important? It's important because it gives a spiritual meaning to circumcision that is like the meaning of baptism in the New Testament - "a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith." We say that baptism is an expression of genuine faith and the right standing with God that we have by faith before we get baptized. This seems to be what circumcision means too, according to Paul in Romans 4:11. Circumcision is a sign and seal of a faith that Abraham had before he was circumcised.
So you see what that means? If circumcision and baptism signify the same thing - namely genuine faith - then you can't use this meaning of baptism by itself as an argument against baptizing infants, because circumcision was given to infants. In other words, you can't simply say, "Baptism is an expression and sign of faith; infants can't have faith; therefore don't baptize infants. You can't simply say this, because Romans 4:11 says that circumcision means the same thing - a sign of faith - and it was given to infants.
This is why Romans 4:11 is considered by some as the linchpin of the defense of infant baptism. It defines circumcision in a way that gives it the same basic meaning as baptism, and yet we know from Genesis 17 that circumcision was appointed by God for the infants of all Jewish people.
This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. . . . (11) and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. (12) And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. (Genesis 17:10-12)
So, even though circumcision is described by Paul as a sign and seal of Abraham's righteousness of faith, it was to be given to his infant sons, and their sons, and even to their servants who were not Jews by birth.
So, if circumcision can be a sign of faith and righteousness, and still be given to all the male children of the Israelites (who don't yet have faith for themselves), then why should not baptism can be given to the children of Christians even though it is a sign of faith and righteousness (which they don't yet have)?
What Shall We Say to This?
The main problem with this argument is a wrong assumption about the similarity between the people of God in the Old Testament and the people of God today. It assumes that the way God gathered his covenant people, Israel, in the Old Testament and the way he is gathering his covenant people, the Church, today is so similar that the different signs of the covenant (baptism and circumcision) can be administered in the same way to both peoples. This is a mistaken assumption.
There are differences between the new covenant people called the Church and the old covenant people called Israel. And these differences explain why it was fitting to give the old covenant sign of circumcision to the infants of Israel, and why it is not fitting to give the new covenant sign of baptism to the infants of the Church. In other words, even though there is an overlap in meaning between baptism and circumcision (seen in Romans 4:11), circumcision and baptism don't have the same role to play in the covenant people of God because the way God constituted his people in the Old Testament and the way he is constituting the Church today are fundamentally different.
Paul makes this plain in several places. Let's look at two of them. Turn with me to Romans 9:6-8:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; (7) nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "through Isaac [not Ishmael] your descendants will be named." (8) That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
What's relevant in this text for our purpose is that there were two "Israels": a physical Israel and a spiritual Israel. Verse 6b: "They are not all Israel [i.e., true spiritual Israel] who are descended from Israel [i.e., physical, religious Israel]." Yet God ordained that the whole, larger, physical, religious, national people of Israel be known as his covenant people and receive the sign of the covenant and the outward blessings of the covenant - such as the promised land (Genesis 17:8).
The covenant people in the Old Testament were mixed. They were all physical Israelites who were circumcised, but within that national-ethnic group there was a remnant of the true Israel, the true children of God (verse 8). This is the way God designed it to be: he bound himself by covenant to an ethnic people and their descendants; he gave them all the sign of the covenant, circumcision, but he worked within that ethnic group to call out a true people for himself.
How Is the Church a Continuation of Israel?
Now the question for us is: is the New Testament Church - the Church today -a continuation of the larger mixed group of ethnic, religious, national Israel, or is the Church a continuation of the remnant of the true sons of Abraham who are children of God by faith in Christ? Are we a Spirit-born, new covenant community with the law of God written on our hearts and defined by faith? We don't need to guess at this.
Paul makes the answer clear in Galatians 4:22-28:
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman [Ishmael, born to Hagar] and one by the free woman [Isaac, born to Sarah]. (23) But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. . . . (28) And you brethren [the Church], like Isaac, are children of promise."
Now who is "you brethren"? They are the Church. The Church is not to be a mixed heritage like Abraham's seed. The Church is not to be like Israel - a physical multitude and in it a small remnant of true saints. The Church is the saints, by definition. The Church continues the remnant. As verse 28 says, the Church is "like Isaac, children of promise."
The people of the covenant in the Old Testament were made up of Israel according to the flesh - an ethnic, national, religious people containing "children of the flesh" and "children of God." Therefore it was fitting that circumcision was given to all the children of the flesh.
But the people of the new covenant, called the Church of Jesus Christ, is being built in a fundamentally different way. The church is not based on any ethnic, national distinctives but on the reality of faith alone, by grace alone in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Church is not a continuation of Israel as a whole; it is an continuation of the true Israel, the remnant -not the children of the flesh, but the children of promise.
Therefore, it is not fitting that the children born merely according to the flesh receive the sign of the covenant, baptism.
The church is the new covenant community - "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25) - we say when we take communion. The new covenant is the spiritual work of God to put his Spirit within us, write the law on our hearts and cause us to walk in his statutes. It is a spiritually authentic community. Unlike the old covenant community it is defined by true spiritual life and faith. Having these things is what it means to belong to the Church. Therefore to give the sign of the covenant, baptism, to those who are merely children of the flesh and who give no evidence of new birth or the presence of the Spirit or the law written on their heart or of vital faith in Christ is to contradict the meaning of the new covenant community and to go backwards in redemptive history.
The Church is not a replay of Israel. It is an advance on Israel. To administer the sign of the covenant as though this advance has not happened is a great mistake. We do not baptize our children according to the flesh, not because we don't love them, but because we want to preserve for them the purity and the power of the spiritual community that God ordained for the believing church of the living Christ.
I pray that you will be persuaded of these things, and that many who have been holding back will be baptized, not to comply with any church constitution, but by faith and obedience to glorify the great new covenant work of God in your life. Have you been washed by the blood of the Lamb? Are your sins forgiven? Have you died with Christ and risen by faith to walk in newness of life? Does the Spirit of Christ dwell in you? Is the law being written on your heart? Come, then, and signify this in baptism, and glorify God's great new covenant work in your life.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Spiritual Gifts throughout Church History...

Sam Storms has written a helpful article showing how there have been Christians throughout history who have believed in the more "miraculous" gifts of the Spirit. Below is an excerpt from the article:

Gifts in Church History by Sam Storms
The question is often raised: “If the so-called miracle or sign gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid for Christians beyond the death of the apostles, why were they absent from church history until their alleged reappearance in the twentieth century?” My answer follows:

1) They were not absent. They were possibly less prevalent, but to argue that all such gifts were utterly non-existent is to ignore a significant body of evidence. After studying the documentation for claims to the presence of these gifts, D. A. Carson’s conclusion is that “there is enough evidence that some form of ‘charismatic’ gifts continued sporadically across the centuries of church history that it is futile to insist on doctrinaire grounds that every report is spurious or the fruit of demonic activity or psychological aberration” (Showing the Spirit, p. 166).

Here are just a few examples (for more evidence, see Ronald Kydd’s book, Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church [Hendriksen Publishers]).

Justin Martyr (a.d. 100-165) boasted to the Jewish Trypho "that the prophetic gifts remain with us" (Dialogue with Trypho, 82).

Irenaeus (a.d. 120-200) also bears witness to the presence of the gifts of the Spirit. He writes:
"We have heard of many of the brethren who have foreknowledge of the future, visions, and prophetic utterances; others, by laying-on of hands, heal the sick and restore them to health" (Against Heresies, 2:32,4).

"We hear of many members of the church who have prophetic gifts, and, by the Spirit speak with all kinds of tongues, and bring men's secret thoughts to light for their own good, and expound the mysteries of God" (Against Heresies, 5:6,1). (Click here to read the whole thing)

Interview with John Frame...

I recently posted a manuscript of a talk that John Frame gave to a graduating class of seminarians at Westminster West in Escondido, CA. At least one person commented that they did not know of John Frame. I first became aware of John Frame through a conference I attended in Wheaton, Illinois where he was one of the speakers. What struck me most about Dr. Frame was his apparent gentleness and warm heart that overflowed as he spoke. I later came to learn that Dr. Frame was one of the key influences in Wayne Grudem's theological development. If you want to learn a little bit more about John Frame you might be interested in reading the following interview he had with TWOTH.

Twoth: Born and raised

John Frame: Pittsburgh, PA

T: Currently living

JF: Oviedo, FL (north of Orlando)

T: Favorite book(s)

JF: The Bible, John Murray’s Lectures in Systematic Theology

T: Quote that stirs your heart most

JF: Changes from time to time. Today, 1 Cor. 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

T: Dead theologian influences

JF: Anselm, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Warfield, Van Til, John Murray, Edmund Clowney.

T: Living theologian/pastoral influences

JF: John Piper, James Packer, Dick Kaufmann (pastor of Harbor Presbyterian in San Diego), Tim Keller (Pastor of Redeemer PCA, NY), Vern Poythress, Richard Pratt.

T: What does a typical day or week look like for Dr. Frame?

JF: Teaching classes, writing, answering emails, playing the organ, being with the family. .

T: What does Dr. Frame do to keep the heart aflame?

JF: Mainly worship, and preparation for worship.

T: Do you read a lot?

JF: Not much for pleasure or edification, compared to other theologians. Is it important to be well read or know a few good books well? I’d say the latter, at least for me. People with other gifts may legitimately seek more breadth.

T: Do you make notes in your books?

JF: Sometimes. If I am preparing a review or some such thing, I take notes on paper outside the book.

T: Do you read daily?

JF: Yes. Probably more news and cultural stuff than theology.

T: What’s Dr. Frame currently reading?

JF: Dennis Johnson, Him We Proclaim, for an endorsement.

T: Can you reflect upon any moments you had being a student under Professor VanTil? Any crumbs you may offer to our readers? I’m sure any reflection will be worth something to our readers, especially me!

JF: I asked him once a question I thought to be very simple—thought he would answer it in fifteen seconds. He replied that “to answer that question, we must go back to Adam and Eve.” Well, we went back to Eden, went through the Bible at some length, then the history of philosophy from Thales to the present. I didn’t hear an answer to my question, but I suppose it didn’t matter. I’ve long forgotten what that question was.

T: You have had a steady publishing career with some very impressive works. What’s currently in the publishing pipe? Or what projects are you currently working on?

JF: Doctrine of the Christian Life is complete, in the hands of the publishers. I expect it to be released in a year or two. I’m currently trying to get time to write Doctrine of the Word of God.

T: If you had another 100 years on earth what project would you like to tackle?

JF: I’d like to study Christology and soteriology—and jazz.

T: What advice can you offer to people desiring to fill the shoes of today’s theologians? Let’s say I want to be the next Dr. John Frame…

JF: The work of theology is not just expositing past theologians, but rather seeking to solve theological problems. To do that, you must learn to think, not just to regurgitate facts. Too many Reformed theologians today think they’ve done their job when they have gathered some quotes from historic and/or contemporary figures and approved some and deplored others. What needs to be done is to give reasons for the positions we take. And ultimately, these reasons must come from the Bible. We also need to give thought, not only to the cogency of our reasoning, but also to the spiritual effect our words will have on others. Are they kind, gentle, loving, challenging, etc.?

T: Biblical Theology & Systematic Theology can these two disciplines walk hand in hand?

JF: They must. I think they are really two perspectives on the same content, not different contents.

T: You’ve contributed to various works on worship and I wanted to ask you a question regarding worship in our reformed circles. I often ask, “Why don’t we sing contemporary worship songs?” The usual response is, “Well they are lacking theological depth.” If that’s the case isn’t that a rebuke to most of the “reformed” community? If we pride ourselves in having excellent theology yet we don’t produce a new song what is that saying? So far the best responses I’ve heard are that we are no longer sending our young men and women off to be educated in music and maybe we should just sing the “inspired text” instead and the problem would go away. What do you say?

JF: I say we should try our best to set the Reformed faith to music that engages the hearts of people today. Eventually the best will rise to the top.

T: As you may or may not know when we interview someone we usually will ask a “Dinger” question; a question that is a little uncomfortable to ask, we call it “being twothed!” Dr. Frame here is your Dinger: A long time ago, we have heard it said that you said that you can “dance” a sermon. Is this true? If so do explain.

JF: I think what I said was that you can sing a sermon—since the Bible does not distinguish between what may be said and what may be sung in worship. As for dance, I have no biblical reason to prohibit it; Ps. 150 and other texts actually command dance in worship. Presumably such dance should be edifying. Whether we use the word “sermon” to describe edifying dance seems mainly a matter of terminology.

T: Last thoughts?

JF: Thanks for your interest. May God bless the ministry of twoth.

T: Thank you for taking the time to dialog with me for this interview. We look forward to being able to post your interview soon at http://www.twoth.com

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How Do You Know Honey is Sweet?

Recently I was reading through a sermon by Jonathan Edwards called "A Divine and Supernatural Light." I found the following quotes particularly helpful:

Quote 1

"A true sense of the divine and superlative excellency of the things of religion; a real sense of the excellency of God and Jesus Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the ways and works of God and Jesus Christ, and of the ways and works of God revealed in the gospel. There is a divine and superlative glory in these things; an excellency that is of a vastly higher kind, and more sublime nature than in other things; a glory greatly distinguishing them from all that is earthly and temporal. He that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. There is not only a rational belief that God is holy, and that holiness is a good thing, but there is a sense of the loveliness of God's holiness. There is not only a speculatively judging that God is gracious, but a sense of how amiable God is upon that account, or a sense of the beauty of this divine attribute."
Quote 2
"...there is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind. So there is a difference between believing that a person is beautiful, and having a sense of his beauty. The former may be obtained by hearsay, but the latter only by seeing the countenance...When the heart is sensible of the beauty and amiableness of a thing, it necessarily feels pleasure in the apprehension."
Quote 3
"Reason may determine that a countenance is beautiful to others, it may determine that honey is sweet to others; but it will never give me a perception of its sweetness."
Quote 4
"...the least glimpse of the glory of God in the face of Christ doth more exalt and ennoble the soul, than all the knowledge of those that have the greatest speculative understanding in divinity without grace."

J.I. Packer on God's Self-Existence...

J.I. Packer on the aseity of God:

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. PSALM 90:2 Children sometimes ask, “Who made God?” The clearest answer is that God never needed to be made, because he was always there. He exists in a different way from us: we, his creatures, exist in a dependent, derived, finite, fragile way, but our Maker exists in an eternal, self-sustaining, necessary way—necessary, that is, in the sense that God does not have it in him to go out of existence, just as we do not have it in us to live forever. We necessarily age and die, because it is our present nature to do that; God necessarily continues forever unchanged, because it is his eternal nature to do that. This is one of many contrasts between creature and Creator.

God’s self-existence is a basic truth. At the outset of his presentation of the unknown God to the Athenian idolaters, Paul explained that this God, the world’s Creator, “is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:23-25). Sacrifices offered to idols, in today’s tribal religions as in ancient Athens, are thought of as somehow keeping the god going, but the Creator needs no such support system. The word aseity, meaning that he has life in himself and draws his unending energy from himself (a se in Latin means “from himself”), was coined by theologians to express this truth, which the Bible makes clear (Pss. 90:1-4; 102:25-27; Isa. 40:28-31; John 5:26; Rev. 4:10).

"In theology, endless mistakes result from supposing that the conditions, bounds, and limits of our own finite existence apply to God. The doctrine of his aseity stands as a bulwark against such mistakes. In our life of faith, we easily impoverish ourselves by embracing an idea of God that is too limited and small, and again the doctrine of God’s aseity stands as a bulwark to stop this happening. It is vital for spiritual health to believe that God is great (cf. Ps. 95:1-7), and grasping the truth of his aseity is the first step on the road to doing this."

Friday, July 13, 2007

God is Good and God is Sovereign



What would it be like if God were only good but not sovereign? If God were not sovereign then His desire to express goodness would only be mere sentimentality. There would be many times when God wanted to express His goodness but he would be unable to do so because He lacked the ability to do it. What if God were only sovereign and not good? If God were only sovereign and not good then it would be like having a tyrant rule over you who gives no thought or desire for your well being. Thankfully, God is both sovereign and good. These truths are part of the foundation for understanding who God is. Recently as I was reading through the opening chapters of Genesis I was reminded of how clear these truths are expressed. From the very first chapter of the Bible it is assumed that God is and that He has no rivals: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." It is also clear that God is good. This is the point of the continued refrain in chapter 1 of the phrase "And God saw that it was good." If an artist praises his work what is he really doing? Ultimately he is praising himself because he is the one who has created the artwork. This is what is taking place in Genesis 1. Each of the refrains "and God saw that is was good" should be understood to be emphasizing the goodness of God.

So what do these two truths have to do with the above picture? Well, about three weeks ago I had my car stolen. It was eventually found but not until the thieves had managed to completely ruin the car. In addition to losing the car my wallet was in the glove compartment. The thieves used the credit card to purchase several hundred dollars worth of goods. Needless to say this has been a small trial in my life. In the midst of this trial two of the most encouraging things to me have been the twin truths that God is both completely sovereign and completely good. This is what the wonderful promise in Romans 8:28 is all about. There is absolutely nothing that is beyond God's control. There is absolutely nothing that comes into my life that is beyond God's plan. God causes all things to work together for good for those who love him and are called according to His purpose.
Who is it who is control of all things? God. What does He do with every event for a believer? He works them together for good. Nothing that comes into my life is anything except a gracious gift from the hand of my Father! Because my Father is sovereign over all things I need never worry that something is happening to me merely because of an evil decision of man. God is sovereign even over the evil choices of people. God is sovereign over stolen cars and stolen wallets. Because God is good and because God is sovereign I can take great comfort in the midst of this small trial.

Frame on Polygamy...

John Frame offers some intriguing thoughts on dealing with the issue of polygamy. While polygamy is not a very big issue at all in the United States these thoughts could be particularly helpful for those considering missions in a Muslim context.

Polygamy
by John M. Frame

Polygamy is not a great problem in the western countries, mainly because of the influence of Christianity. (Polygamy in the west tends to be serial, not simultaneous!) But in other parts of the world, young churches find this to be one of the major ethical issues. When a society has a tradition of polygamy, how should the church treat those polygamists who become Christians?

Some churches have taken the position that polygamists professing faith should not be admitted to the sacraments; yet they do seek to give pastoral care to such people, even though those people cannot be recognized as official members of the churches. By this policy, they seek to defend the biblical view of the family and to give a clear witness to their culture of their faith in Christ.

While admiring the motivations of this policy, I must say that in my view it is unscriptural. The New Testament was written in a polygamous culture, and its own stance, I believe, is clear. Polygamists were denied church office (I Tim. 3:2); but there is no evidence that they were denied church membership or sacraments. The Old Testament, of course, is rather tolerant of polygamy, and many of the great Old Testament saints had more than one wife. Jesus makes plain that God's original intention for marriage was one man and one woman (Matt. 19:1-12); thus we may infer that the Old Testament tolerance of polygamy, like its tolerance for divorce, was because of the "hardness of heart" of the people. But though Scripture upholds monogamy as God's pattern, it does not reject polygamists from the kingdom of grace.

The reason is obvious. Polygamy is not like other sins. A thief can stop being a thief immediately upon his conversion; and if he does not stop after a reasonable period of pastoral attention, he can and should be removed from the church. But a polygamist cannot simply stop being a polygamist. He has incurred obligations to his wives, and he cannot simply cast them off. A sinful divorce does not remedy the sin of polygamy.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

An Exhortation by John Frame to Seminary Students...

Some years ago John Frame addressed the graduating class at Westminster West Seminary in Escondido, California. Frame's address is full of biblical wisdom mingled with much practical advice. The entire manuscript is available below:

Covering Ourselves
Matt. 25:14-30

A Charge to Graduating Seminary Students
by John M. Frame

This is a very special time of the year, for professors as well as graduating students There you all sit, bright and scrubbed, full of all the knowledge we've been able to cram into you over the last few years, eager, idealistic, full of great ambitions, most of them wholesome. Yes, most of you, all of you I would say, are anxious for the battle, excited about spreading the wonderful Word of God's grace, casting down imaginations, bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. We professors observe your great ambitions, and your great faith, and we expect wonderful things from God and you. Often those expectations are marvelously fulfilled. Our graduates start new churches, help churches to grow in spirit and in numbers, write books, preach the Word to people in cultures hungry for the gospel. Often they come back and tell us what God has been doing through their labors, so that we praise God.

But it doesn't always happen that way. Sometimes our graduates have had unhappy ministries. Indeed, it has happened so often that we professors, like fathers and mothers watching their sons go off to war, may come to graduation with mixed emotions, mingling our joy with prayers for your perseverance, indeed for your survival, in the Lord's work.

Why are there so many unhappy ministries in Reformed churches today? Why are there so many congregations that are divided by strife over doctrinal and practical matters? Why are there so many churches which begin with fifty members and thirty years later are still struggling along with fifty members- or forty, or thirty-five? Why are there so many Reformed churches where visitors come to services for a few weeks and then leave, believing that no one cares about them? Why are our churches so powerless in their attempts to reach young people, the poor, the black, the Hispanic, the uneducated? Why is Reformed scholarship, the pride and joy of our movement, now making so little impact upon our culture? Why is the Reformed world-and-life view having so little influence on national institutions, at a time when other Christians are in the forefront of the American dialogue?

Well, if I could answer all those questions, I might have to charge the graduates every year. That would never do. And of course these questions are complex. There are many reasons for unhappy ministries. And sometimes, let me quickly remind you, these reasons are not at all the fault of the minister. You may be called to a church, told that that church has six faithful families. Two weeks after you arrive, three of those families inform you that they're moving away; one, you discover, is in the midst of a divorce; in another family, the husband is tired of shouldering his church tasks and wants to resign from the session and from his Sunday school teaching; the last of the six families, you discover, hasn't been to church in six months, and no one really knows why. Exaggerated? Not too much. That kind of thing really happens. That's not your fault; that's the working of Satan and his human servants; that's just the way it is, sometimes, in a fallen world. When that happens, you just have to make the best of it and pray a lot.

But sometimes it is our fault. And sometimes when things work out well, it is to our credit, though ultimately the praise belongs to God alone. One very happy experience I've had since moving to California, after many years of unhappy ministries, has been my association with New Life Presbyterian Church of Escondido. I've asked myself many times why this church has been doing so well, while other churches I've known, other churches I've loved, have experienced such unhappiness. Has it simply been a sovereign decision of God, where God has mysteriously, even arbitrarily, determined to bless this church and to withhold blessing from others? Well, God's decisions indeed are often mysterious to us. But he also often tells us in his word what he is doing and why he is doing it; and when he does, we need to pay attention.

O.K., here's the heart of it: I think that in many, though certainly not all, unhappy ministries, there is a common syndrome, and that syndrome is distressingly similar to the attitude of the wicked servant in Jesus' parable of the talents. It begins, as our problems often do, with a false picture of God. "Master," the servant says in verse 24, "I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed." Now what's wrong with that? God is hard sometimes, is he not? His judgments are terrible. He visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of them that hate him. He takes the wealth of the wicked by his mighty power and therefore, in one relevant sense, harvests where he did not sow. Like other lies of Satan, this one contains truth. In fact, like other lies of Satan, this one exhibits theological cleverness. But you can see how wrong it is, can't you? This servant has no understanding of the master's love and grace. This master doesn't hate his servants. The two faithful servants found that out. The master commended them, gave them great responsibilities, invited them to share his own happiness.

Dear brothers and sisters, we know about God's love and grace, don't we? We know that in Christ, God has given his very lifeblood for us. And he is still ready, eager to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. There is no way we can begin to measure the length, the breadth, the height, the depth of the love of Christ. And yet with all of that, do we sometimes forget? Do we lose what Jack Miller calls the "grace perspective" on our ministries? Or, worst of all, are there some of us who do not believe in a God of love, the God of the Bible? How easy it is, despite our theology of grace, to get into the habit of thinking of God as a harsh, mean taskmaster and nothing more. And what a terrible toll such thinking takes- upon our frame of mind, upon our decisions, upon our ministries.

In short, the result is that we begin making decisions out of fear, rather than in faith. We believe that God doesn't really want to bless our ministries, and so we seek only to cover our losses. Sometimes, using all the theological cleverness we've picked up at seminary, it comes out sounding like this: "God isn't interested in results, but only in faithfulness." Another ingenious half truth! God wants faithfulness above all, of course. But he also wants results. He is the God of results. He speaks and things happen. And he wants his people to care about results. The apostle Paul became all things to all men that he might by all means save some. You can't be faithful unless you are seeking results! The two faithful servants in our parable invested their master's money in ways calculated to bring a good return. Of course, in the world of investment, nothing is certain. But faithfulness involves trying, seeking the best results possible. The wicked servant didn't try. He did not seek success, only an excuse for failure. He did not look for winnings, only ways of covering his losses.

This happens so often in unhappy ministries. Let's say the exodus of members begins, and the elders don't understand what is happening. One family hasn't attended for six months. Well, the minister reminds us, he did visit that family seven months ago in the annual elder visitation. He has no idea what the problem is, but after all, the delinquent family really ought to come and see their pastor, shouldn't they? He has done, he thinks, what he is obligated to do; he has been faithful, he thinks. Beyond that, the results are in God's hands. Thus the minister covers his losses with clever theological rationalization, while his church is going to Hell. He defends his own fear and, yes, his laziness- that's what Jesus calls it in our passage- while God's sheep wander away.

The legalistic mind is so theologically clever. The Pharisees could justify nearly any kind of conduct. The legalist likes best to reduce his obligations to a neat list: this is what I must do; that is what I must not do; for the rest, I do what I like. As long as I see every family once a year and preach biblical sermons, no one can fault me. And so the wicked servant in our parable hid his talent in the ground, having persuaded himself that that was his minimum obligation, that no one could find fault with him if he returned the talent intact. Burying the talent didn't accomplish anything, but the servant thought it would at least cover his tracks. We all know how hospitals, when discharging patients, insist that they ride out in wheelchairs, even when they are perfectly able to walk. That is a worthless and silly use for a good wheelchair. It doesn't help anybody. But it helps the hospital to cover its tracks if a legal problem develops. I wonder how often our decisions in our ministries are like that- decisions not seriously intended to accomplish anything for God, but merely to cover ourselves, if we come under attack.

How easy it is for a kind of "minimalism" to creep into our thinking- the idea of doing the minimum we think we can get away with, rather than what will honor Christ and build up his people. The same temptation faces me often in the academic field. In the press of a heavy schedule, I'm often tempted to think of some other scholar of whose work I have a very low opinion. I note to myself that this other scholar often does things I consider shoddy and gets away with them. Why, then, I wonder, shouldn't I save some time and energy by cutting corners the way he does? Cutting corners isn't always wrong. Sometimes footnotes, for instance, are a necessity, sometimes an encumbrance; you have to decide what's best in each situation. But cutting corners is wrong when it impoverishes thought and inhibits communication. And thus the minimalistic mentality can become deadly. It asks, not "how can I serve others?" but "how much can I get away with, so as better to serve myself?" It focuses, not on the example of divine love, but on the example of the least competent people we know: "He gets away with it; why shouldn't I?"

How different from the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ! He left his comfortable campground with the ninety-nine sheep and searched through the menacing desert until he found the sheep that was lost. He gave his life for the sheep. Jesus did not seek some clever theological rationale for maintaining his own comfort; Satan offered him several, and he turned them all down. He didn't emulate the least competent of God's servants to determine the minimum he could get away with; no, he went beyond Samson, Moses, David, Abraham, to achieve nothing less than his father's own perfection. He did always those things which pleased his father. Jesus didn't seek some legal principle to cover his tracks in case of challenge; no, quite to the contrary: he took upon himself all the guilt and suffering which we deserved. Jesus did not seek to reduce his responsibilities to a neat job description consisting of a few simple obligations. He loved his own, and indeed loved them "unto the end."

That's the kind of attitude God seeks in each of his ministers- nothing less than the unconditional love of Jesus Christ for his people. We can therefore see why James advises us not to become teachers, knowing that we will receive more severe judgment. God expects much of us, much indeed. But don't get too preoccupied with God's demands. That could lead you back into legalism again. Think about God as the father of Jesus Christ, who gave his son for us. Think of him as the one who loves us with a love unmeasurable. Think of him as the one who wants to bless us far more than we want to receive his blessing. Think of him as the one who indeed sometimes withholds his blessings for mysterious reasons, as he did with Job, but who even in the valley of the shadow of death is leading you inexorably toward the eternal glory. That kind of love will motivate you out of sheer gratitude to begin a good shepherd ministry- a ministry where you forget about covering your tracks and lay your life on the line for God's people. It does happen. I believe that is the secret of New Life, and of all those churches which God is blessing today. May God give you the joy of such a ministry, and may you all hear, on the last day, the master's word, "Well done, good and faithful servant... Come and share your master's happiness."

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Parenting and the Gospel...

Recently I visited a church (not WABC) where the message was on parenting. The content of the message was full of practical advice and many people no doubt benefited from the pastor's own experiences as a parent. However, the sermon mentioned only one thing about Jesus and that was in passing. Any Muslim, Jew, or Hindu could have given full assent to basically everything the pastor said. The message left me with the feeling that the way we change is by "pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps." This way of thinking is not in-line with the Scriptural witness. The only way we will change is by seeing and beholding more of Jesus Christ. The good news of the sending, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the means that God will use to bring us to final salvation. This is the means that God will also use to empower us to be more godly parents. Wisdom from the experience of godly people is no doubt a means of blessing to God's people, but it must be shown to flow out of the message of the gospel. The following quote by Jay Adams is particularly penetrating regarding this issue:

"If you preach a sermon that would be acceptable to the member of a Jewish synagogue or to a Unitarian congregation, there is something radically wrong with it. Preaching, when truly Christian, is distinctive. And what makes it distinctive is the all-pervading presence of a saving and sanctifying Christ. Jesus Christ must be at the heart of every sermon you preach."--Jay Adams


(HT for the quote: Justin Buzzard)

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

5 Must Haves for an Urban Church Plant

Tim Keller offers the following advice for those who are sensing a call to plant an urban church:

PLANTING A CHURCH IN THE CITY
By Tim Keller, Senior Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church

Nearly all books and lectures on this subject outline how to plant a particular kind of church – either a particular denominational model or some other kind of model that works in a specific environment. But what are the principles for any church plant?

Here are 5 elements I think you've got to have!

1. Locating
You need to live in or very, very close to the community of people you are trying to reach. Some of the most heart-breaking church plant failures involved folks who simply would not follow this incarnational principle. Jesus didn't commute from heaven every day, he moved in! If you do not live in the community, you will tend to talk to issues the people do not have; and you will miss issues they do have. You won't really know them. If you do not live in the community you lose lots of time commuting! If you do not live in the community, there will be fewer natural connects for evangelism.

2. Learning
You must learn the community's needs; you must understand the people in order to communicate and relate well to them. This means knowing their strengths, weaknesses, and prejudices. Contextual-life profile: What people groups live in your community? Which ones are declining and which ones are growing? Discern: material/economic groupings; social structures and power-relations between groupings; educational/psychological groupings. Use: 1) Demographics 2) See Craig Ellison's, “Addressing Felt Needs of Urban Dwellers" in Harvie Conn, ed., Planting and Growing Urban Churches, 1997.
Interior-life profile: What are their greatest hopes? aspirations? pleasures? What are their greatest fears? problems? What are their greatest strengths? What are their weaknesses, prejudices? Use: 1) Personal interviews 2) Periodicals, sociological research. 3) Literature/arts. World-view profile: 'Philosophy of life'. What aspects of truth do they have some grasp of (through common grace)? What aspects do they deny or miss? What symbols/myths function deeply? Where are there tensions/pressure points in view? What is the people's 'story'? Who do they see themselves to be — where are they from, where are they going? Religious/institution profile: How are the religious bodies and churches within this people group doing? How are they organized? What ministry models seem to be effective? Two basic ways to learn these things: Informal — living there and spending time there; Formal — studying statistics, census, demographics, also fiction!

3. Linking
You must create a contextualized ministry model that links: a) the needs and capacities of the community, b) the gifts and calling of yourself and your leaders, with c) the resources of the gospel.

Everything — worship, leadership, fellowship, and evangelism — must be 'contextualized' to 'fit' these three things — the needs of the community/culture, the gifts and talents of you and your Christian leaders, and the Word of the gospel.
Combat the tendency to simply copy the preaching and ministry programs you like and are familiar with. Instead developing ministry truly linked in and that fits the community you are trying to reach with the gospel.
Linking the gospel to the heart. How will you incorporate Christ's story into the people's story? What communication modes will you use (how will you get the word out?) Linking the church to the community. What would build up the common good of the neighborhood? What would make people in your neighborhood say: 'Wow! I'm not part of that church — but they are doing a lot of good here!' If you link resources to the perceived needs of community, you will be far more able to preach the gospel persuasively.

4. Loving
You must have the gospel firmly in your heart so that you are not ministering out of a need to convince yourself of your competence or worth — but out of love.

Religion is "I obey and minister, therefore I am accepted." The gospel is "I am accepted, therefore I obey and minister." If you are operating out of the former matrix (i.e. basing your justification on your sanctification instead of the other way around) then: In your own personal ministry you will tend to over work, deal poorly with criticism, worry too much about attendance, giving, and signs of success, and be less than a good and gracious model of a gospel-changed life.
In your preaching and teaching you will be creating a lot of 'elder brothers' (cf. Luke 15) — people who are very good and committed to serving God as way of procuring his blessing. This makes people (like the elder brother) very grumpy, condescending to 'sinners', and unforgiving. In other words, you will create a church that can't win people to Christ.

5. Launching
You must use wisdom in how you practically meet people and begin your work. Two very broad categories:

"Top down" - Begin with a bang. Begin with a worship-service celebration. This especially works well for 'daughter' plant where you have a substantial group from a mother church. This works best with a church planter with good 'up front' speaking gifts. (Problems with this model: There is a great temptation to skip Learning, Linking, even Locating. There is a tendency to simply reproduce the mother church.)
"Bottom up" – The church planter lives in community and does evangelism and ministry, sees some conversions — organizes them into a small group, and develops leaders. After growing into several small groups the planter begins a Sunday worship service. Works best with church planters with good 'one on one' and evangelistic gifts. (Problems with this model: Can be hard to attract people who want to see 'something happening.' Often the church planter feels money-pressure because the congregation is not producing much income.) Other approaches: a) Churches in your own building reaching a different language group/or people group b) Churches in two locations with the same pastor/leader — until one group calls its own pastor.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What J.I. Packer Wants People to Know as He Grows Old

Penal Substitution Revisited

J. I. Packer

Throughout my 63 years as an evangelical believer, the penal substitutionary understanding of the cross of Christ has been a flashpoint of controversy and division among Protestants. It was so before my time, in the bitter parting of ways between conservative and liberal evangelicals in the Church of England, and between the Inter-Varsity Fellowship (now UCCF) and SCM in the student world. It remains so, as liberalism keeps reinventing itself and luring evangelicals away from their heritage. Since one’s belief about the atonement is bound up with one’s belief about the character of God, the terms of the gospel and the Christian’s inner life, the intensity of the debate is understandable. If one view is right, others are more or less wrong, and the definition of Christianity itself comes to be at stake.

An evangelical theologian, dying, cabled a colleague: ‘I am so thankful for the active obedience (righteousness) of Christ. No hope without it.’ As I grow old, I want to tell everyone who will listen: ‘I am so thankful for the penal substitutionary death of Christ. No hope without it.’ That is where I come from now as I attempt this brief vindication of the best part of the best news that the world has ever heard.

It is impossible to focus the atonement properly until the biblical mode of Trinitarian and incarnational thought about Jesus Christ is embraced. The Trinitarian principle is that the three distinct persons within the divine unity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always work inseparably together, as in creation, so in providence and in every aspect of the work of redemption. The incarnational principle is that when the Son took to himself all the powers and capacities for experience that belong to human nature, and began to live through his human body, mind and identity, his sense of being the Father’s Son was unaffected, and he knew and did his Father’s will, aided by the Spirit, at all times. It was with his own will and his own love mirroring the Father’s, therefore, that he took the place of human sinners exposed to divine judgment and laid down his life as a sacrifice for them, entering fully into the state and experience of death that was due to them. Then he rose from death to reign by the Father’s appointment in the kingdom of God. From his throne he sent the Spirit to induce faith in himself and in the saving work he had done, to communicate forgiveness and pardon, justification and adoption, to the penitent, and to unite all believers to himself to share his risen life in foretaste of the full life of heaven that is to come. Since all this was planned by the holy Three in their eternal solidarity of mutual love, and since the Father’s central purpose in it all was and is to glorify and exalt the Son as Saviour and Head of a new humanity, smartypants notions like ‘divine child abuse’, as a comment on the cross, are supremely silly, and as irrelevant and wrong as they could possibly be.

As in all the Creator’s interacting with the created order, there is here an element of transcendent mystery, comparable to fog in the distance hanging around a landscape, which the rising sun has effectively cleared for our view. What is stated above is clearly revealed in God’s own witness to himself in the Bible, and so must be given the status of non-negotiable fact.

Again, the atonement cannot be focused properly where the biblical view of God’s justice as one facet of his holiness, and of human willfulness as the root of our racial, communal and personal sinfulness and guilt, is not grasped. Justice, as Aristotle said long ago, is essentially giving everyone their due, and whatever more God’s justice (righteousness) means in the Bible, it certainly starts here, with retribution for wrongdoing. We see this as early as Genesis 3, and as late as Revelation 22:18-19, and consistently in between. God’s mercy to guilty sinners is framed by his holy hostility (wrath) against their sins.

Human nature is radically twisted into an instinctive yet deliberate and ineradicable habit of God-defying or God-denying self-service, so that God’s requirement of perfect love to himself and others is permanently beyond our reach, and falling short of God’s standard marks our lives every day. What is due to us from God is condemnation and rejection.

The built-in function of the human mind that we call conscience tells everyone, uncomfortably, that when we have misbehaved we ought to suffer for it, and to that extent conscience is truly the voice of God.

Both Testaments, then, confirm that judicial retribution from God awaits those whose sins are not covered by a substitutionary sacrifice: in the Old Testament, the sacrifice of an animal; in the New Testament, the sacrifice of Christ. He, the holy Son of God in sinless human flesh, has endured what Calvin called ‘the pains of a condemned and lost person’ so that we, trusting him as our Saviour and Lord, might receive pardon for the past and a new life in him and with him for the present and future. Tellingly, Paul, having announced ‘the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (i.e. wrath-quencher) by his blood, to be received by faith’, goes on to say: ‘This was…to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ (Romans 3:2-26, my emphasis). Just justification- justified justification - through the doing of justice in penal substitution, is integral to the message of the gospel.

Penal substitution, therefore, will not be focused properly till it is recognized that God’s redemptive love must not be conceived - misconceived, rather - as somehow triumphing and displacing God’s retributive justice, as if the Creator-Judge simply decided to let bygones be bygones. The measure of God’s holy love for us is that ‘while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ and that ‘he…did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all’ (Romans 5:8, 8:32). Evidently there was no alternative to paying that price if we were to be saved, so the Son, at the Father’s behest ‘through the eternal Spirit’ (Hebrews 9:14), paid it. Thus God ‘set aside…the record of debt that stood against us…nailing it to the cross’ (Colossians 2:14). Had we been among the watchers at Calvary, we should have seen, nailed to the cross, Pilate’s notice of Jesus’ alleged crime. But if, by faith, we look back to Calvary from where we now are, what we see is the list of our own unpaid debts of obedience to God, for which Christ paid the penalty in our place. Paul, having himself learned to do this, testified: ‘the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).

This text starts to show us how faith in Christ our penal substitute should be shaping our lives today; which will be my final point for reflection. Thirty years ago I wrote an analysis of insights basic to personal religion that faith in Christ as one’s penal substitute yields. Since I cannot improve on it, I cite it as it stands.

(1) God, in Denney’s phrase, ‘condones nothing’, but judges all sin as it deserves, which Scripture affirms, and my conscience confirms, to be right.

(2) My sins merit ultimate penal suffering and rejection from God’s presence (conscience also affirms this), and nothing I do can blot them out.

(3) The penalty due to me for my sins, whatever it was, was paid for me by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in his death on the cross.

(4) Because this is so, I through faith in him am made ‘the righteousness of God in him’, i.e. I am justified; pardon, acceptance and sonship (to God) become mine.

(5) Christ’s death for me is my sole ground of hope before God. ‘If he fulfilled not justice, I must; if he underwent not wrath, I must to eternity’ (John Owen).

(6) My faith in Christ is God’s own gift to me, given in virtue of Christ’s death for me: i.e. the cross procured it.

(7) Christ’s death for me guarantees my preservation to glory.

(8) Christ’s death for me is the measure and pledge of the love of the Father and Son to me.

(9) Christ’s death for me calls and constrains me to trust, to worship, to love and to serve.

(Cited from Tyndale Bulletin 25. 1974, pp42-43)

A lawyer, having completed his argument, may declare that here he rests his case. I, having surveyed the penal substitutionary sacrifice of Christ afresh, now reaffirm that here I rest my hope. So, I believe, will all truly faithful believers.

In recent years, great strides in biblical theology and contemporary canonical exegesis have brought new precision to our grasp of the Bible’s overall story of how God’s plan to bless Israel, and through Israel the world, came to its climax in and through Christ. But I do not see how it can be denied that each New Testament book, whatever other job it may be doing, has in view, one way or another, Luther’s primary question: ‘How may a weak, perverse and guilty sinner find a gracious God?’; nor can it be denied that real Christianity only really starts when that discovery is made. And to the extent that modern developments, by filling our horizon with the great meta-narrative, distract us from pursuing Luther’s question in personal terms, they hinder as well as help in our appreciation of the gospel.

The Church is and will always be at its healthiest when every Christian can line up with every other Christian to sing P. P. Bliss’s simple words, which really say it all:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with his blood-
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

(HT: Reformation 21 via Justin Taylor)