Thursday, August 30, 2007

Interview update

Professor John Frame wrote to me to say that he had previously retracted his remarks about the "stupidity" of Norman Shepherd's critics.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The proximate cause of all error and heresy

An extract from William Cunningham's Historical Theology (you can buy it at an excellent price here):

We have seen, in considering Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, that even in the second century there was, besides much very inaccurate interpretation of particular passages of Scripture, some tendency manifested to deviate from the simplicity of scriptural doctrine as taught by the apostles, though not yet carried out to any considerable extent.

Since there is as much of this tendency manifested by Irenaeus, who was no philosopher, as by Justin, who was well acquainted with the literature and philosophy of paganism, we cannot trace the incipient corruption of doctrine wholly at least to the influence of philosophical speculation, or indeed to any one specific cause, except what is in some sense the proximate cause of all error and heresy,--viz., the want of due subjection to the authority of God's word, and of due diligence and impartiality in the use of the right means of attaining to a correct knowledge of its meaning.

William Cunningham, Historical Theology vol. I, p. 146-7

Friday, August 24, 2007

Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Some helpful words:

Christ's death involves placating God's wrath that was directed against us. Christ himself endured it in our place. In one sense penal substitution includes the ideas of both expiation (the removal of the guilt of sin) and propitiation (appeasing God's wrath).

Because Christ took our place in obeying the Father and in suffering for our sins and because he appeased the wrath of God that stood against us, so he removed all barriers to a restored friendship with him. We are now in harmony with God through the atoning work of Christ.

Robert Letham, The Work of Christ, p. 140, 144

My contention is that "substitution" is not a further "theory" or "image" to be set alongside the others, but rather the foundation of them all, without which each lacks cogency. If God in Christ did not die in our place, there could be neither propitiation, nor redemption, nor justification, nor reconciliation.

John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 156

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Evangelism and outreach euphemisms for apostasy?

Can the church be trusted with the gospel? Will its preachers be faithful men? This is more than just a question of sound doctrine, it is also very much a question of sound practice. Where does our confidence really lie? Will we risk our all on God's word that he has promised will not return to him void but will accomplish all that he desires?

I cannot help but observe the similarity between the practical denial of the sufficiency of Scripture (the grand narrative proclaimed by the gospel) in our day and in the medieval church. "But may not images be permitted in the churches as teaching aids for the unlearned?" the Heidelberg Catechism asks. "No, we should not try to be wiser than God. He wants his people instructed by the living preaching of his word" (Q. 98).

Contrast this "swim against the tide" attitude with the following thoroughly unheroic fatalism from another pastor: "Evangelical churches have thrived on careful exposition of the Scriptures, and lengthy sermons. But we are approaching the place where there is no intellectual content left in the sermon. So we will be driven to the power of liturgy and the communication of the gospel through the arts."

Why answer a dearth of intellectual content in the sermons by turning to golden calves? Is this really an inexorable, ineluctable destiny? Why not answer the problem of shallow sermons by suggesting substantive ones? Is this all we can expect from today's preachers, so we had just better find a different medium?

The power of liturgy is itself none other than the power of the word as it cascades from the pulpit into everything else, from the call to worship to the benediction. If liturgy possesses its own independent power and the arts may now be our only hope in reaching an idolatrous culture, one wonders whether evangelism and outreach have become euphemisms for apostasy.

Michael Horton, "Challenges and Opportunities for Ministry Today" in Ryken, Thomas and Duncan (eds.) Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, p. 440

Monday, August 20, 2007

Back to work

After the summer break I'm now back at work and preparing four sermons on the cross (sacrifice, propitiation, redemption and justification).

Normal service here will now resume...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Watershed

A final post before I disappear for a week to Aberystwyth...

Liberalism, old and new, has features that bear more than a passing similarity to Socinianism and Pelagianism. This is noticeable in the movement away from the person and work of Christ in the gospel message, and toward the ethical demands of his teaching. To put it crudely it is the replacement of "the gospel about Jesus" with the message of Jesus. The former, of course, includes Christ's redemptive work and his teaching (he is after all Saviour and Lord, Prophet, Priest and King). The latter, however, has no real place for Christ's redemptive significance beyond the moral influence he exerts. In any this case this has become the thing of first importance in the message. Even when redemptive language is retained it has become largely redundant, ill-fitting Scriptural phrases draped over another Jesus.

Machen said it well in his classic work Christianity & Liberalism:

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, Christianity & Liberalism, p. 47