Friday, July 31, 2009

Wesley's pointed questions for small groups

To be used in small groups of two or three (but beneficial for personal reflection too). I'm grateful to Lewis Allen for drawing my attention to this. Be sure that you know to go to Calvary and not Mount Sinai when you are through with them:

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?

2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?

3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?

4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?

5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?

6. Did the Bible live in me today?

7. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?

8. Am I enjoying prayer?

9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?

10. Do I pray about the money I spend?

11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?

12. Do I disobey God in anything?

13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?

14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?

15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?

16. How do I spend my spare time?

17. Am I proud?

18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?

19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?

20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?

21. Is Christ real to me?

Pastoral wisdom

I found this, from Malcolm MacLean, very helpful:
"It was said of Henry Smith, a Puritan preacher, that he had the ability to reprove without insulting, to admonish without forcing, and to correct without debasing. I have discovered this description should be the goal of all preachers."

Mozart, Requiem

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Helm on Wright: Why covenant faithfulness is not (and cannot be) divine righteousness

Paul Helm's latest post on N. T. Wright's recent book on justification can be found here. And if you missed it his first post is here. You could even open it in a new window and listen to my previous, Barber's adagio for strings, at the same time (or perhaps Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries").

Here are some extracts:
For various reasons it is at present hugely fashionable to think of theology in narrative form: in terms of covenant (Horton), speech-act theory and ‘theodrama’ (Vanhoozer), and of history (N.T. Wright), for example. More generally, it is vogish to think predominantly in the category of history, redemptive history, biblical history, ‘biblical theology’, and to downplay or abandon the categories of systematic theology. In Wright’s case this way of thinking is habitual because he is first and foremost a historian, and so first and foremost he thinks in terms of historical sequences, of sequences of action, human and divine, and of their significance. He is much less interested in the ‘creedal’ statements in Scripture. He has little feel for the doctrinal debates in the history of the Church, and he sticks as closely as he can to the very words of Scripture and to the use of any analogies and metaphors that throw light on these.

Sure enough, God’s attitude to sin, his grace, the provision of forgiveness, the vindication of men and women by Christ – is part of what it means for God to be righteous. But this does not exhaust God’s righteousness, it (merely!) expresses it. God is faithful to the covenant of grace and redemption from sin that he has righteously established. It is for this reason that Piper thinks that Wright’s insistence that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness is a ‘belittling’ of it, as Wright puts it (74). Rather, it must be filled out, by understanding God’s righteousness as an essential feature of his character. If anyone ‘belittles’ it is Wright, who reduces the righteousness of God to a set of God’s actions. But God acts (and must act) consistently with his nature. So the fundamental question is, what character does the God who does all this have?
I would also encourage you to subscribe to Helm's Deep if you have not done so already.

Barber's Adagio

I haven't listened to this fully in fourteen years, not since my father's funeral.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gresham Machen's birthday

Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity--liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man's will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.

J. Gresham Machen

J. Gresham Machen was born 28th July 1881. Hat's off to Sean Lucas for the reminder. By the way it is "Gres-ham" rather than "Gresh-am."

Here are some book recommendations, and details of online articles and audio files:

D. G. Hart has written a wonderful biography of Machen, one of my favourites.

It is also great to see a new edition of his classic work Christianity & Liberalism with a foreword by Carl R. Trueman (which you can read here). Of the book Carl has said "Christianity and Liberalism is a masterpiece and without doubt the single most important book ever written by a Westminster professor." Carl writes in the foreword:

If the labyrinthine prose and complicated thought of Karl Barth is seen by some as still being of use to the church in the here and now, I would respond by saying how much more is that the case with the clear thinking and concise (albeit somewhat antiquated) prose of Machen. Love him or hate him, he had a gift possessed by too few theologians: plain speaking combined with straightforward comprehensibility, and that of a kind which, with its passion, forces the reader, even the hostile reader, to reflect upon his or her own convictions.

The whole text of Christianity & Liberalism is available here.

Monergism have fifty-two items mainly by, but some on, Machen available for download here.

You can listen to Robert Godfrey's address on Machen here.

John Piper's audio address on Machen's response to modernism is available here and the text version is available here.

There is a reference to Machen's experience of liberal theology in Germany in my article Liberalism: A warning from history

High up on my list of great reads is David Calhoun's stellar two volume work on Princeton Seminary Vol. 1: Faith and Learning 1812-1868 and Vol. 2: The Majestic Testimony 1869-1929. The second volume is where you will find Machen.

If you think that reading about the history of a seminary is only to be done if every other book in the world has been burned think again. Calhoun's work does for Princeton what George Marsden did for Fuller Seminary. He tells a compelling story about individuals, institutions and the wider movements of which they are a part. All three of these units are caught up in the ebb and flow of ideas that shaped and reshaped the religious, philosophical, political and cultural landscape of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Here are two Machen quotes:

...a large part of the New Testament is polemic; the enunciation of evangelical truth was occasioned by the errors which had arisen in the churches...At the present time, when the opponents of the gospel are almost in control of our churches, the slightest avoidance of the defense of the gospel is just sheer unfaithfulness to the Lord. There have been previous great crises in the history of the Church, crises almost comparable to this. One appeared in the second century, when the very life of Christendom was threatened by the Gnostics. Another came in the Middle Ages when the gospel of God's grace seemed forgotten. In such times of crisis, God has always saved the Church. But he has always saved it not by theological pacifists, but by sturdy contenders for the truth.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, p. 174

They (the liberal preachers) speak with disgust of those who believe 'that the blood of our Lord, shed in substitutionary death, placates an alienated deity and makes possible welcome for the returning sinner'. Against the doctrine of the cross they use every weapon of caricature and vilification. Thus they pour out their scorn upon a thing so holy and so precious that in the presence of it the Christian heart melts in gratitude too deep for words. It never seems to occur to modern liberals that in deriding the Christian doctrine of the cross, they are trampling on human hearts.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, p.120

According to Christian belief, Jesus is our Saviour, not by virtue of what he said, not even by virtue of what he was, but by what he did. He is our Saviour, not because he inspired us to live the same kind of life that he lived, but because he took upon himself the dreadful guilt of our sins and bore it instead of us on the cross. Such is the Christian conception of the Cross of Christ. It is ridiculed as being a "subtle theory of the atonement." In reality, it is the plain teaching of the word of God; we know absolutely nothing about an atonement that is not a vicarious atonement, for that is the only atonement of which the New Testament speaks. And this Bible doctrine is not intricate or subtle.

On the contrary, though it involves mysteries, it is itself so simple that a child can understand it. "We deserved eternal death, but the Lord Jesus, because he loved us, died instead of us on the cross"--surely there is nothing very intricate about that. It is not the Bible doctrine of the atonement which is difficult to understand--what are really incomprehensible are the elaborate modern efforts to get rid of the Bible doctrine in the interests of human pride.

Modern liberal preachers do indeed sometimes speak of the "atonement." But they speak of it just as seldom as they possibly can, and one can see plainly that their hearts are elsewhere than at the foot of the Cross. Indeed, at this point, as at many others, one has the feeling that traditional language is being strained to become the expression of totally alien ideas.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, p. 118-9

We can have the fact of the atonement, it is said, no matter what particular theory of it we hold, and indeed even without holding any particular theory of it at all. So this substitutionary view, it is said, is after all only one theory among many.

This objection is based upon a mistaken view of the distinction between fact and theory, and upon a somewhat ambiguous use of the word "theory." What is meant by a "theory"?

Undoubtedly the word often has rather an unfavourable sound; and the use of it in the present connection might seem to imply that the view of the atonement which is designated as a "theory" is a mere effort of man to explain in his own way what God has given.

But might not God have revealed the "theory" of a thing just as truly as the thing itself; might he not himself have given the explanation when he gave the thing?

In that case the explanation just as much as the thing itself comes to us with divine authority, and it is impossible to accept one without accepting the other.

We have not yet, however, quite penetrated to the heart of the matter. Men say that they will accept the fact of the atonement without accepting the substitutionary theory of it, and indeed without being sure of any theory of it at all.

The trouble with this attitude is that the moment we say "atonement" we have already overstepped the line that separates fact from theory; an "atonement," even in the most general and most indefinite sense that could conceivably be given to the word, cannot possibly be a mere fact, but is a fact as explained by its purpose and result...What we have really done is to designate the event with an explanation of its meaning.

It is impossible for us to obtain the slightest benefit from a mere contemplation of the death of Christ; all the benefit comes from from our knowledge of the meaning of that death, or in other words (if the term be used in a high sense) from our "theory" of it.

If, therefore, we speak of the bare "fact" of the atonement, as distinguished from the "theory" of it, we are indulging in a misleading use of of words; the bare fact is the death, and the moment we say "atonement" we have committed ourselves to a theory [MD: we are committed to a theory when we say death].

The important thing, then, is, since we must have some theory, that the particular theory that we hold shall be correct.

Gresham Machen, What is Faith?, p. 145-6

Cavalleria Rusticana

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Around the web

Here are some links to posts and articles, of varying lengths, that I hope will stimulate your thinking:

D. A. Carson's Themelios editorial on polemical theology

David Strain offers some great diagnostic questions about spiritual health

Are you a five point Calvinist? Are you familiar with the historic references to, and articulation of, those points by Calvinists? Ken Stewart's article "The Points of Calvinism: Retrospect and Prospect" (Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, 2008) will make you think.

Ever read J. I. Packer's What did the cross achieve? The logic of penal substitution? You must set aside time to do this.

Tearfund and Livability (formerly the Shaftesbury Society) have formed a partnership called Community Mission. They say that they "believe in faith in action and that a commitment to integral mission is at the heart of the gospel." Have a read of their documents What is the Gospel? and What does salvation mean for your local community? They leave you with the distinct impression that we do not really need a Saviour who is both God and man, nor is it clear as to exactly why we need his atoning work. Instead we have the Victorian liberal Jesus, the great example and exhorter, and a downplaying of the centrality of the atonement.

Albinoni's Adagio

Monday, July 27, 2009

Beyond the Bounds: some brief thoughts on reading polemical literature

Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity
(ed. John Piper, Justin Taylor and Paul Kjoss Helseth) is available for free online here.

The chapters by Ardel Caneday, Wayne Grudem and Mike Horton are a must read.

Obviously it is a polemical piece of writing and in clear and firm terms spells out an error that is to be firmly rejected. I have turned to it again and again and found it to be very profitable reading.

It is not the kind of book that takes a perverse delight in pointing out the theological errors of others, and neither, for that matter, should it be read that way. It is all too easy to read polemical literature in a way that shrivels up your own soul. But even when we can clearly see why a particular view is wrong it is essential that we should more firmly grasp, and rejoice in, and be shaped by, the corresponding biblical truth. Otherwise we are none the better for reading it. And all the more so on those weighty matters that concern the glory of God and the gospel of his free grace in Christ.

This is what Packer said about it:

Here is a weighty tract for the times, in which a dozen Reformed scholars survey the “open theism” of Pinnock, Sanders, Boyd, and colleagues, and find it a confused, confusing, and unedifying hypothesis that ought to be declared off limits. Some pages are heavy sledding, but the arguing is clear and strong, and the book is essential reading for all who are caught up in this discussion.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Where's Fesko?

I'm looking forward to reading John Fesko's new book The Rule of Love: Broken, Fulfilled, Applied. But an absolute prerequisite to doing that is being able to attain a copy. So far I have been unsuccessful. Are there any in the UK? If you have spotted a copy let me know.

Here's the blurb:

In The Rule of Love, J. V. Fesko gives an introductory exposition of the Ten Commandments. Beginning with the importance of the prologue, and then addressing each Commandment in turn, he sets forth a balanced and biblical approach that places the law in proper perspective.

Throughout the book, Fesko analyzes the historical context of God’s giving the law in order to help us accurately understand the moral demands God places upon humanity.
Yet, Fesko does not stop there; he also discusses the covenantal and redemptive context in which the law was given.

Thus, he shows that the law is not presented to us in order for us to present ourselves right before God. Rather, it demonstrates our failure to love God as we should and points us to Christ and His perfect obedience in all that God requires of us. Fesko also shows how Christ applies the commandments to His people by the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is an excellent survey of the Ten Commandments that promises to bring about a more accurate understanding of the proper uses of the law, as well as engender profound gratitude for all that God is for us in Christ.

There is a review by Anthony Selvaggio at Ref 21. And don't forget the Reformed Forum interview.

Friday, July 24, 2009

God's People in the Wilderness: The Church in Hebrews

God's People in the Wilderness: The Church in Hebrews
O. Palmer Robertson

This title from Christian Focus is due out in September 2009, at least it is in the UK. Looks like a worthwhile read. Find out more details here.

Here's the blurb:
What is the Church? If we want to minister to today’s broken world we need to understand what Scripture means by the Church. New Testament writes about the body of Christ and the Kingdom of God. For the writer to the Hebrews, the Church of today finds its most proper definition in terms of the historical experience of the old covenant people of God "in the wilderness" during the days of Moses.

For him, the Church is: God's people in the wilderness. His unifying perspective on this vital question of the Church's self-definition provides fresh insight into the nature of the Church--an insight that has the promise of reviving and redefining the life of Christ's people even today.

Rooted in the redemptive experience of the old covenant people of God, this life-shaping self-definition may provide much-needed aid to the confused state of churches in Christ for the 21st century. Palmer Robertson will help us consider the nature and mission of the people of God in today's world as defined by Hebrews.
Richard Gaffin writes:
"The appearance of this volume is most welcome. Its substance in an earlier form helped considerably in shaping my own overall understanding of Hebrews and appreciation of the centrality there of the church as the new covenant wilderness community. I commend it as a worthy addition to the libraries of pastors, teachers and other serious students of Scripture."

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Eureka! from Puritan Reformed on Vimeo.

The Scapegoat: the gospel according to Leviticus

A sermon on Leviticus 16 preached at Christ Church Deeside

My understanding of how to preach the text, as well as being shaped by the commentaries, has been significantly helped by Justin Mote.

The paining is by Holman Hunt and is exhibited in the Lady Lever Art Gallery (just thirty minutes from our home). Two texts are inscribed on the frame. They are:

'Surely he hath borne our Griefs, and carried our Sorrows. Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of GOD, and afflicted.' (Isaiah LIII, 4)

'And the Goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a Land not inhabited.' (Leviticus XVI, 22)

This inter-canonical connection would no doubt have pleased John Owen.

The following is from John Owen's Vindicae Evangelicae:

For a man to "bear his iniquity," is, constantly, for him to answer for the guilt and undergo the punishment due to it. (455)

He set us an example in his obedience but he was not punished for an example (442)

As the high priest confessed all the sins, iniquities, and transgressions of the people, and laid them on the head of the scape-goat, which he bare, undergoing the utmost punishment he was capable of, and that punishment which, in the general kind and nature, is the punishment due to sin,--an evil and violent death; so did God lay all the sins, all the punishment due to them, really upon one that was fit, able, and appointed to bear it, which he suffered under to the utmost that the justice of God required on that account.

He took a view of all our sins and iniquities. He knew what was past and what was to come, knowing all our thoughts afar off. Not the least error of our minds, darkness of our understandings, perverseness of our wills, carnality of our affections, sin of our natures or lives, escaped him. (447-8)

Christ looked on the church through the window of the promise and the lattice of the Levitical ceremonies. (450)

And the "surety" of the covenant is he also...such a surety as paid that which he never took, made satisfaction for those sins which he never did...being made liable to them, he was punished for them. (449)

Penal substitution in the dock (2): Dismantling the charge of "cosmic child abuse"

More from Garry Williams' 2005 EA Symposium paper.

Read the whole paper here.

But what, lastly, about the dark side of this criticism, its accusation that penal substitution, is, as Chalke says, tantamount to a form of child abuse?33 The claim is that any infliction of pain on a child by a parent is unjust, and that penal substitution mandates such infliction. There is an immediate problem here with the criticism, namely that the Lord Jesus Christ when he died was a child in the sense that he was a son, but not in the sense that he was a minor. As an adult, he had a mature will which could choose to co-operate or not with the will of his Father. So we are in fact looking at a father and an adult son who will together for the father to inflict suffering on the son, as we have seen in our Trinitarian exploration.

But there is a major problem here for the critics of penal substitution. While they have used the feminist critique of the cross as a critique of penal substitution, it is in its original form a critique not of penal substitution but of the Christian doctrine of redemption generally. It attacks the general idea that the Father willed the suffering of the Son, not the specific idea that he willed the penal substitutionary suffering of the Son. Let me give you the criticism, as found in the work of Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker:

The central image of Christ on the cross as the savior of the world communicates the message that suffering is redemptive. […] The message is complicated further by the theology that says Christ suffered in obedience to his Father’s will. Divine child abuse is paraded as salvific and the child who suffers “without even raising a voice” is lauded as the hope of the world.34

Furthermore, it is evident that Brown and Parker attack not just the idea that Jesus was a passive sufferer, but even the idea that he was the active Subject of the cross, an idea Green endorses. If Jesus was active in accepting his suffering, then we have a model of the victim of suffering being responsible for it. Such a model will mandate blaming victims.35

For many feminists their criticism results in the rejection of Christianity because it undeniably involves the idea that God purposed the sufferings of Christ. Others try to rescue a re-invented theology, but I have to say I am with the rejectionists. If purposed redemptive suffering is an insurmountable problem, then Christianity must go. The child abuse problem in their minds remains with any model of the atonement which maintains divine sovereignty, even in a limited form. Unless we remove the suffering of the Son from the realm of events over which God rules, then God wills it.36

Hence there is a trajectory from unease with penal substitution to a denial of the rule of God over the cross, and thence, we may presume, the world. In the more frank writers, this trajectory emerges clearly. J. Denny Weaver, for example, in arguing for a non-violent view of the atonement which he terms ‘narrative Christus Victor’, sees that to succeed he must remove the cross from the plan and purpose of God. He explains that Jesus was not sent to die, that his death was not the will of God, that it was not needed or aimed at by God.37

Yet in terms of the metaphysics of the divine relation to creation, even this view is unsustainable. So long as God sustains the world in which the Son suffers, then in a strong sense he wills the suffering of the Son. If he does not stop history as the first blow is struck, then he wills that the Son suffer.

There is something which prevents him intervening to rescue his beloved Son, some purpose he intends to achieve through the suffering, and therefore a strong sense in which even such a diminished god as Weaver’s wills the suffering. If someone else had wrested from God his work in sustaining the world, if we lived and moved and had our being elsewhere, then perhaps we could say that God did not will the suffering of the Son. But my hope is that none of the participants in this debate think that.

Which means that any view where God maintains control, even at arm’s length, succumbs to the feminist criticism. Their target is not just penal substitution. We therefore need to ask about that criticism itself. Are they right? They are evidently not so with regard to penal substitution itself. According to penal substitution, the cross does not have the character simply of suffering, but of necessary penal suffering for a good end. It is in this sense ‘violent’, but not reducible to the category ofviolence’. Can we conceive of scenarios in which an adult son and father rightly together will the suffering of the son? Indeed we can, we can imagine endless such scenarios, such as a father who directs teams of Médecins Sans Frontières, sending a son into an area where he knows the son may suffer greatly. He wills it, the son wills to go. There is no injustice here, because the purpose is good. The same applies in the case of penal substitution.

In fact the feminist criticism really only applies when we deny penal substitution, because it is then that we are in danger of denying the necessity of the suffering of the Son. According to penal substitution the necessity of punishment arises from God’s own nature and his divine government.38 He is bound only by who he is, by faithfulness to himself. On the other hand, if we opt for some kind of voluntarist account wherein the suffering of the Son is not a necessity arising from divine justice, then we are left with a very difficult question, with the feminists’ question at its most acute. If God can freely remit sins, we must ask, why did the Father send the Son purposing his death, as Acts 2:23 says? The more deeply we grasp the Trinity, the love of the Father for the Son, the more we will ask why a loving Father would lay the burden of suffering on his eternally beloved Son.

Penal substitution preserves a necessity, which alone explains why this needed to happen as part of God’s saving plan. Remove the necessity, deny penal substitution, and then you are left with the unjustifiable suffering of the Son. Then you feel the full force of the feminists criticism, because you have the Father willing the suffering of the Son for no necessary reason. For instance, Christus Victor by itself without penal substitution does not explain why Christ needed to suffer like this. Deny penal substitution and you ham-stringing Christus Victor. Hence it is that in Colossians 2:13-15 the victory over the rulers and authorities is accomplished by forensic means, by the cancellation of the legal bond (Colossians, 2:14).

Penal substitution is central in terms of its explanatory power with regard to the justice of the other models, and that claim affirms rather than denies the existence of other models. Without penal substitution, the rejectionist feminists are right that the Father has no sufficient reason to inflict suffering on the Son. A cross without penal substitution therefore would indeed mandate the unjustified infliction of suffering on children, because it would have no basis in justice.


33 ‘Cross Purposes’, p. 47.

34 Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker, ‘For God So Loved the World?’, in Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse, ed. Joannne Carlson Brown and Carole R. Bohn (New York: Pilgrim, 1989), pp. 1-30 (p. 2).

35 Here is how they criticise Jurgen Moltman’s statement that Jesus suffered actively: ‘Jesus is responsible for his death on the cross, just as a woman who walks alone at night on a deserted street is to blame when she is raped’, ‘For God So Loved’, p. 18.

36 Here I agree with Hans Boersma in Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2004), p. 41: ‘Only by radically limiting Christ’s redemptive role to his life (so that his life becomes an example to us) or by absolutely dissociating God from any role in the cross (turning the crucifixion into a solely human act) can we somehow avoid dealing with the difficulty of divine violence.’ Cf. p. 117.

37 The Nonviolent Atonement (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2001), p. 132: ‘In narrative Christus Victor, Jesus’ mission is certainly not about tricking the devil. Neither did the Father send him for the specific purpose of dying, nor was his mission about death […]. And since Jesus’ mission was to make the reign of God visible, his death was not the will of God as it would be if it is a debt payment owed to God. In narrative Christus Victor, the death of Jesus is clearly the responsibility of the forces of evil, and it is not needed by or aimed at God.’

38 Contra Joel Green: ‘Within a penal substitution model, God’s ability to love and relate to humans is circumscribed by something outside of God—that is, an abstract concept of justice instructs God as to how God must behave.’ (Recovering, p. 147).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?"

The arrest of Jesus in the Garden, as recorded by John, is one of the most deeply moving passages in the gospel. Here we see the sovereign power, the shepherd's heart, and the sacrificial obedience of the Son of God.

What an awesome privilege it was to preach from that text. Here, including the reading, is the sermon from John 18:1-11 that I preached at Christ Church Deeside last Sunday.

Penal substitution in the dock (1): Why doesn't God turn the other cheek if he expects us to?

As a follow up to Guy Davies' interview with Garry Williams it is well worth reading Garry's paper, "Justice, Law and Guilt," given at the Evangelical Alliance Symposium on Penal Substitution (July 2005). The paper is a very fine defense of specific criticisms levelled against penal substitution. It repays careful reading.

You can download it here.

I will be posting some extracts from the paper.
  1. Faustus Socinus, Steve Chalke and the Example of Jesus

A key argument which is used against retributive punishment by theological opponents of penal substitution is that it is ruled out by Jesus’s own teaching on how we should relate to one another. A form of this argument was used as far back as Faustus Socinus in 1578.4

A more recent form is found in the work of Walter Wink. He cites the Babylonian Enuma Elish myth as an ancient instance of the view that violence is ‘the central dynamic of existence’ which ‘possesses ontological priority over good’.5 In this ancient ‘myth of redemptive violence’, the spiral of heavenly violence triggers the creation itself and then continues through history: ‘Heavenly events are mirrored by earthly events, and what happens above happens below.’6 As in heaven, so on earth.

Now the opponents of penal substitution want to endorse this principle: the way you describe God is the way you will behave. Steve Chalke tells us that this kind of mirroring is contradicted by penal substitution in an unthinkable fashion when it says that we should not mirror God: ‘If the cross has anything to do with penal substitution then Jesus’ teaching becomes a divine case of “do as I say, not as I do”. I, for one, believe that God practices what he preaches!’7 In short, Jesus says ‘turn the other cheek’, so how could God punish in a way that exacts satisfaction for sin? If God denies retribution to us, he must eschew it himself.

In reply to this Socinian argument there is a clear counter-case which suggests a quite different construal of the relation between divine and human justice. The Apostle Paul distinguishes sharply the different spheres of justice which operate within creation and between God and creation. At the end of Romans 12 he follows Jesus in teaching that we must not take revenge. Here, then, is his ideal opportunity to point out that we must not because God does not. But the striking thing is that Paul does the opposite. He explains that individuals must not take revenge precisely because God is going to do so: ‘Do not take revenge my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord’ (12:19, quoting Deut. 32:35). From here Paul moves to argue in 13:1-7 that God has given a limited remit to the state to implement this final justice in the present time by the power of the sword.

Paul could therefore deny vengeance in the sphere of human personal conduct, and at the same time ascribe retribution to God, shared in limited part with the ruling authorities. Where Chalke would have us infer that God would never do what he tells us not to do, Paul argues exactly the opposite. God would have us not do what he does precisely because he does it. God says 'do as I say, not as I do,' and justly so, since he is God and we are not.


4 Faustus Socinus, De Iesu Christo Servatore, iii. 2, in Opera Omnia, Vols 1-2 of Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum Quos Unitarios Vocant, 8 Vols (Irenopoli: post 1656), 2:115-246: Paulus itidem, ut alibi vidimus, monet nos, ut imitators Dei sumus: et quemadmodum is per Christum peccata nobis condonavit, sic nos invicem condonemus. Quod si Deus ita per Christum nobis peccata condonavit, ut interim ab ipso Christo eorum poenas repetierit, quid vetat, quo minus eos, ex Pauli praescripto, Deum imitate, pro offensis proximi nostri non quidem ab ipso, se dab alio quopiam, ut modo dicebamus, nobis satisfieri curemus? = ‘As we saw elsewhere, Paul likewise instructs us to be imitators of God: just as he forgave our sins through Christ, so we should forgive each other. But if God so forgave our sins through Christ, that he yet demanded the punishments of them from Christ himself, what prevents us, on the basis of Paul’s command, as imitators of God, from seeking satisfaction for ourselves for the offences of our neighbour not from the man himself, but from anyone else, as we were just saying?’ (GW translation).

5 Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), p. 14.

6 Engaging, p. 15.

7 ‘Cross Purposes’, p. 47.

Guy Davies interviews Garry Williams

Over the Exiled Preacher. Garry Williams is the new director of the John Owen Centre at London Theological Seminary.

Guy didn't ask about Garry's Welsh connections. Personally, I think he's slipping.

Here's a taster:
GD: You have written on the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. Why do you think that this teaching is so important?

GW: For so many reasons. Key of course is that the Bible teaches it and so we must too if we are to honour the Lord Jesus and rightly proclaim his saving work. Spiritually, clarity on the atonement grounds our assurance of the Lord’s forgiveness and favour – without it we are left with the burden of sin, which we know is intolerable. Theologically, it goes with the doctrine of God’s justice – if we redefine the atonement we are usually redefining the nature of God.

GD: Why do you think that the doctrine has become so unpopular in some supposedly evangelical circles?

GW: What we see often with a denial of penal substitution is a wholesale rewriting of a series of the more (humanly speaking) uncomfortable doctrines. Penal substitution is a glorious description of the love and mercy of God, but it also entails a belief in the retributive wrath of God, and that is always hard for people to accept. This is where the link to the doctrine of God is so important: the pressure often arises to redefine the atonement because a different god is wanted. This is obviously not the case for every critic of the doctrine, but many critics themselves rightly make the connection to the doctrine of God.

Encountering false teachers: Appearances can be deceptive

Heresy is attractive, deeply attractive. It is the truth we all want in the way we all want it. Heresy appears to allow us to have God, Jesus, and a gospel to tell that is really good news. Inevitably heresy comes loaded with gifts, benefits and selling points, and without costs, drawbacks, or small print. People who teach heresy don't present it as anything other than gospel truth.

There are two obvious points of application from this:

1. We should never be satisfied with the sound of well known words and phrases. We need to be satisfied that the meaning of those words are filled with biblical content and established historic (confessional) use. It is all well and good hearing that someone believes in the substitutionary nature of the atonement and justification by faith, but history is littered with examples of teachers who meant by those terms quite different ideas. Orthodox words are the passports of heretics that enable them to move freely, and without suspicion, among churches.

2. We should never be so naive as to think that false teachers wear disguises as authentic as a Groucho Marx "spectacles-nose-moustache" combo. False teaching never seeks to pass itself off as false teaching but as orthodox, sound, biblical, authentic, gospel truth. It is amazing that preachers can change their theology quite radically and yet in the same breath say that they have always believed the gospel. The less convincing the disguise the more likely it will be that a reaction will be caused, a controversy flare up, and maybe the progress of error will start to slow down.

Here are some of the key New Testament passages that deal with the deceptive appearance and words of false teachers.

Matthew 7:15-16 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
You will recognize them by their fruits."

Matthew 24:4-5 "See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray."

Romans 16:17-18 "
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive."

2 Corinthians 11:3-4 "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough."

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness."

Galatians 1:6-7 "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ."

Ephesians 4:14 "so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."

Colossians 2:4 "I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments."

Colossians 2:8 "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."

2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 "Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way."

2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 "The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness."

1 Timothy 4:1-2 "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared."

1 Timothy 6:20-21 "O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith."

2 Timothy 3:5 "having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power."

2 Timothy 3:12-13 "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."

2 Peter 2:1-3 "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words."

2 Peter 2:13 "They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you."

1 John 4:1 "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world"

2 John 7 "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist."

Revelation 2:2 "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false."

Revelation 13:11 "
Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some stuff about the summer

Here are some of the things that I have been, or will be, doing this summer. Naturally, there are five points.

Summer speaking:

I'm doing two parts of a four part Bible overview at the Extratime sessions (for 16s-25s) at the EMW Aberystwyth Conference (despite rumours the picture above is not a recent one of a family attending the conference). I'm speaking on Adam and Moses, tracing their significance across the OT and NT. The other two sessions will be given by Mark Barnes. Jonathan Thomas is also speaking at the conference, and the main addresses will be given by Joel Beeke. The usual suspects (see here and here) should be there too.

Summer listening:

Those good old boys at the Reformed Forum/Christ the Center recorded an interview with me yesterday about Risking the Truth. It should appear mid to late August. You can have a listen to their latest interview with John Fesko here.

Summer writing:

My chapter "Heresy Never Dies: Socinians and Open Theists on the denial of God's foreknowledge" which will be part of a collection of essays "in honor of..." (not sure that his identity is public knowledge yet) is being written up over the next two weeks.

Summer reading:

Marsden's bio of Jonathan Edwards, a stack of commentaries on Galatians, and who knows what else (see summer writing for a theological angle on that). And if I can get hold of it I'll be reading John Fesko's The Rule of Love: Broken, Fulfilled, Applied (which, as you can probably tell, is an exposition of the ten commandments).

Summer relaxation:

The Downes' family are looking forward to getting away from it all.

Monday, July 20, 2009

May Christ have my best affections

[Picture from Tony Reinke]

From Jonathan Edwards:

If we ought ever to exercise our affections at all, and if the Creator has not unwisely constituted the human nature in making these principles a part of it, when they are vain and useless; then they ought to be exercised about those objects which are most worthy of them.

But is there anything which Christians can find in heaven or earth, so worthy to be the objects of their admiration and love, their earnest and longing desires, their hope, and their rejoicing, and their fervent zeal, as those things that are held forth to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ? In which not only are things declared most worthy to affect us, but they are exhibited in the most affecting manner.

The glory and beauty of the blessed Jehovah, which is most worthy in itself, to be the object of our admiration and love, is there exhibited in the most affecting manner that can he conceived of, as it appears, shining in all its luster, in the face of an incarnate, infinitely loving, meek, compassionate, dying Redeemer.

All the virtues of the Lamb of God, his humility, patience, meekness, submission, obedience, love and compassion, are exhibited to our view, in a manner the most tending to move our affections, of any that can be imagined; as they all had their greatest trial, and their highest exercise, and so their brightest manifestation, when he was in the most affecting circumstances; even when he was under his last sufferings, those unutterable and unparalleled sufferings he endured, from his tender love and pity to us.

There also the hateful nature of our sins is manifested in the most affecting manner possible: as we see the dreadful effects of them, in that our Redeemer, who undertook to answer for us, suffered for them. And there we have the most affecting manifestation of God's hatred of sin, and his wrath and justice in punishing it; as we see his justice in the strictness and inflexibleness of it; and his wrath in its terribleness, in so dreadfully punishing our sins, in one who was infinitely dear to him, and loving to us.

So has God disposed things, in the affair of our redemption, and in his glorious dispensations, revealed to us in the gospel, as though everything were purposely contrived in such a manner, as to have the greatest possible tendency to reach our hearts in the most tender part, and move our affections most sensibly and strongly. How great cause have we therefore to be humbled to the dust, that we are no more affected!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Let's swap bank accounts

I posted this illustration back in July. Several people have linked to it, but if you missed it the first time here it is again. I hope that it encourages you.
Two brothers were talking one day. One of them had made a great success of his business career and had amassed a fortune. The other brother had made one bad decision after another and in the end racked up debts that he had no way of paying for.

One day, as they are talking together, the brother with the debts tells the other of his folly and shame.

The millionaire brother takes out his cheque book and asks "How much do you owe?" He then writes out a cheque and hands it to his brother and says "all your debts are cleared."

Taking hold of the cheque, with a lump in his throat, the other brother says "how can I ever find words to express how much your kindness means to me."
And yet, as wonderful as this would be, it is not enough to adequately illustrate the gospel.

Revisit the scene:
One day, as they are talking together, the brother with the debts tells the other of his folly and shame. The millionaire brother...paused...and said "let's swap bank accounts. I will take your debts and you may have all my riches."
That is the gospel.

Here are some statements that express the truth in clear terms:
The gospel is not just that we are forgiven, but that believers are reckoned as law keepers for the sake of Christ's law keeping credited to them (Rom. 4:3; 2 Cor 5:19-21; Gal 3:6). Whoever trusts in Jesus and rests in his finished work alone is righteous before God. It is as if the Christian has performed all that the law requires.

R. Scott Clark, "Do This and Live," in
Covenant Justification and Pastoral Ministry, p. 265

By becoming incarnate, the Son of God became the representative and substitute for sinners, in his life keeping the law of God in all its demands and in his death bearing the full punishment that sin merits in the estimate of God. This provision of righteousness coram deo [before God] is the supreme expression of the grace of God--not just something undeserved but the opposite of what is deserved.

Hywel R. Jones, "Preaching Sola Fide Better," in
Covenant Justification and Pastoral Ministry, p. 321
And in the statements of the Heidelberg Catechism:
60. How are you righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ:1 that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them,2 and am still prone always to all evil;3 yet God, without any merit of mine,4 of mere grace,5 grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction,6 righteousness, and holiness of Christ,7 as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me;8 if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.9

1 Rom 3:21-28; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Php 3:8-11; 2 Rom 3:9-10; 3 Rom 7:23; 4 Dt 9:6; Ezek 36:22; Tit 3:4-5; 5 Rom 3:24; Eph 2:8; 6 1 Jn 2:2; 7 Rom 4:3-5; 2 Cor 5:17-19; 1 Jn 2:1; 8 Rom 4:24-25; 2 Cor 5:21; 9 Jn 3:18; Acts 16:30-31; Rom 3:22, 28, 10:10

61. Why do you say that you are righteous by faith only?

Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God;1 and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only.2

1 1 Cor 1:30-31, 2:2; 2 Isa 53:5; Rom 4:16, 10:10; Gal 3:22; 1 Jn 5:10-12

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Heresy: A catechism question

The following answer is by Mike Horton. I thought that it was helpful to put it into the form of a catechism question:
Q. What is heresy?

A. Heresy is any teaching that directly contradicts the clear and direct witness of the Scriptures on a point of salvific importance.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

John Owen on John Bunyan

I love this anecdote:
"...the most learned of the Puritans hung for hours, that seemed like moments, upon the lips of this untutored genius.

The king is reported to have asked Owen, on one occasion, how a learned man like him could go "to hear a tinker prate;" to which the great theologian answered, "May it please your majesty, could I possess the tinker's abilities for preaching, I would willingly relinquish all my learning."
But it was good for us that this never happened. And good that the writings of both men, so different in style, and yet so full and fragrant of Christ, influence us still today.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy 500th: John Calvin (audio links)

Here are some audio links on John Calvin.

John Piper

John Calvin: The Divine Majesty of the Word

Robert Godfrey (President, Westminster Seminary California)

Heroes of the Faith: John Calvin
John Calvin and the Pentateuch

David Calhoun (Professor Emeritus of Church History, Covenant Seminary)

Knowing God and Ourselves: The Institutes of John Calvin

Calvin's Institutes (This course consists of 27 audio lectures plus lecture transcripts and study guides available as pdf documents)

Michael Haykin (Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at SBTS and Director of the Andrew Fuller Center)

Early Years, 1509-1536
Ministry Years, 1536-1564

These links are available at Sermon, Covenant Seminary's Worldwide-Classroom and Monergism.

D. A. Carson sermon series on John

Originally preached at the 1992 EMW Aberystwyth Conference.

John 3:1-16

John 6:1-71

John 1:1-51

John 11:1-57

If you download the sermons you are allowed to make one copy for your personal use. Please don’t redistribute copies of these sermons without first asking permission.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

D. A. Carson sermon series on Revelation

From the 1995 EMW Aberystwyth Conference.

Studies in Revelation (1)

Studies in Revelation (2)

Studies in Revelation (3)

Studies in Revelation (4)

If you download the sermons you are allowed to make one copy for your personal use. Please don’t redistribute copies of these sermons without first asking permission.

Out now: The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century: Volume 3

Christian Focus have now made this third volume available.

Here's the blurb:
This important collection of essays seeks to place the work of the Westminster Assembly in its historical, theological, political and social setting and challenge inaccurate historical assertions that have since become commonplace. It places Westminster in its relation to earlier and later Reformed theology and provides a fresh evaluation of its contribution to the Calvinist tradition. It commends it to us as a faithful expression of clear-headed Christian thinking.

Topics include: The Thirty Nine Articles at the Confession; Karl Barth and the Westminster Confession of Faith; The New Perspective, Paul, Luther & Judaism; Objections to the Covenant Theology of the Confession; The Nature of the Lord’s Supper according to Calvin and the Westminster Assembly.

You can take a look at the contents page and the introduction by the editor Ligon Duncan here.

Al Mohler writes:
“We live in a day of wholesale historical amnesia and theological confusion. The antidote for this crisis is clear - we need a recovery of what has been lost. That is what makes The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century so important and timely.

The Westminster Assembly represents one of the most decisive moments in church history, and this collection of essays brings new light to our understanding of the Westminster divines and their work.

Here we find scholarship matched to a deep love for the church. This book is a worthy successor to the first two volumes in this series. I celebrate its publication and commend it to all who love the church.”

Joel Beeke on Assurance (audio)

This message was given at the EMW Aberystwyth Conference in 2000.

Joel Beeke, Assurance

If you download this message you are allowed to make one copy for your personal use. Please don’t redistribute copies of these sermons without first asking permission.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Doug Kelly sermons on the Trinity

These sermons were preached at the EMW Aberystwyth Conference in 1991.

The Importance of Knowing the Triune God

Who is the King of Glory? Father/Son relationship

My Father works and I work

Access in One Spirit

If you download the sermons you are allowed to make one copy for your personal use. Please don’t redistribute copies of these sermons without first asking permission.

Remembering Calvin's God

In his exposition of 2 Kings 2 ("Seismic Shift in the Kingdom of God") Dale Ralph Davis underlines the point that not only is God's power not tied to a particular era, it is also not tied to a particular instrument.

He then relates the details of John Calvin's funeral as described by Emanuel Stickelberger:
Calvin had given definite instructions for his funeral. Nothing must distinguish it from that of any other citizen. His body was to be sewed into a white shroud and laid in a simple pine coffin. At the grave there were to be neither words nor song.

The wishes of the deceased were scrupulously carried out. But although in accordance with his will all pomp was avoided, an unnumbered multitude followed the coffin to the cemetery Plainpalais with deep respect and silent grief.
He who was averse to all ambition did not even want a tombstone.

Just a few months later when foreign students desired to visit the place where the Reformer's earthly remains rest, the place could no longer be pointed out among the fresh mounds.

2 Kings: The Power and the Fury, p. 33
As Dale Ralph Davis vividly expresses it "Why do we need a Calvin grotto when we have the God he served?"