Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Evangelical Megashift: Twenty years on

It is almost twenty years since Christianity Today published the article "Evangelical Megashift: Why you may not have heard about wrath, sin, and hell recently" by the Canadian theologian Robert Brow (19th February 1990, to be exact).

Twenty years is a long time. After all in Febraury 1990, here in the UK Margaret Thatcher was still the Prime Minister, and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was still several months away.

Over the next two months I will make some occassional posts on the original article, and will offer some reflections on the trajectories of what Brow called "new model" thinking. Brow claimed that this was "dividing evangelicals on a deep level." Al Mohler referred to this article, back in 1996, as a "manifesto for evangelical revision."

Indeed it is worth recalling his comments on the subtle progressiveness of this paradigm shift from old to new model thinking:
But now, almost without our recognizing it, another model has appeared...A whole generation of young people have breathed this air, making their thinking very different from that of "old-model" evangelicalism, even where there is shared commitment to Jesus as Savior and the Bible as the authoritative Word of God.
This theological sea change, as has so often happened in church history, involved giving new meanings to the ever stable language of the Christian faith.

In particular Brow noted that the words hell, faith, judge, wrath, sin, church, and the title "Son of God" were all being assigned new meanings in line with "new model" thinking:
We have looked at seven key words that have radically changed focus among new-model evangelicals. When these words are encountered in the Bible, their meaning is articulated with a different accent.

Many readers of
Christianity Today will recognize that they have moved in some of these directions without being conscious of a model shift. And the old model can be modified and given qualifications for a time. But once three or four of the changes have occurred, our thinking is already organized around the new model.

We may still use old-model language and assume we believe as before, but our hearts are changing our minds.
Others have noted that this article was a precursor for the open theist project (although an essay by Clark Pinnock in 1986 heralded this neo-Socinian theology to the evangelical world), and a portent much of the emergent and post-evangelical theology that has influenced evangelicalism in the first decade of the 21st century.

Almost ten years ago Gary L. W. Johnson was right to say that these "new model" thinkers have not lacked "a platform to propagate their anti-Reformational views" (and that not least through the medium of Christianity Today).

Yet, back in 1990, who would have thought that we would see a suprising resurgence of the very "old model" Calvinistic thinking that the "new model" thinkers were to determined to steer evangelicals away from?

Furthermore, however you assess it, this resurgence of the New Calvinists has brought in its wake a bold proclamation and clear articulation of the very words that the evangelical megashift was busily reinterpreting.

More to come...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Exodus reloaded (3)

The Son that God calls out of Egypt (Matt. 2:13-15)

See part 1 and part 2 here.

Now we come to the significance of The Great Escape. This is a passage that has perplexed scholars. Let me explain. We often think of prophets as foretelling the future, predicting things that will happen. These predictions then either come true, confirming that the prophet is from God, or they fail to be fulfilled, and we know that we are dealing with a false prophet. However, when we look up this quotation in the book of Hosea (11:1-2), what we find is that it doesn’t appear to be a prophecy at all:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.

In the original context this is not an obvious prophecy that can be fulfilled. In fact it doesn’t look forward at all. Hosea is looking backwards to the events of the Exodus, the time back then when God called Israel out of Egypt. Has Matthew then got this wrong? Some OT scholars think so, but they are mistaken. In the OT God refers to the whole nation of Israel as if it were one person, His ‘son’. We see this in Exodus 4:22-23:

Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me”…’

Israel is God’s son. So what is Matthew doing here? How is he using Hosea’s words? He is saying that Jesus, God’s Son, is Israel, the true Israel. And that Jesus will retrace Israel’s steps. They went down to Egypt and so will He. They were tested in the wilderness and so will He be (Matt. 1:11). But where the nation of Israel failed, Jesus the true Israel, the obedient Son, will prevail. This is the biblical background to the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ.

Israel is God’s son. So what is Matthew doing here? How is he using Hosea’s words? He is saying that Jesus, God’s Son, is Israel, the true Israel. And that Jesus will retrace Israel’s steps. They went down to Egypt and so will He. They were tested in the wilderness and so will He be (Matt. 4:1-11). But where the nation of Israel failed, Jesus the true Israel, the obedient Son, will prevail.

This is the biblical background to the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ. He was born under the law to redeem those who were under the law. Whereas Adam and Israel were law-breakers, Christ was the true law-keeper and this not for His own sake but for ours. R. Scott Clark summarises this well in these words:

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.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Exodus reloaded (2)

The king who opposes God’s Son (Matt. 2:1-16)

When Matthew shows us what happened when the Magi met Herod we are witnessing a remake of the opening chapters of the book of Exodus.

The remake has some surprising reversals. For one thing the OT has consistently portrayed the magicians and wise men of the nations as the bad guys who always come second when they clash with God’s people. Witness the power encounter between the magicians of Pharaoh’s court and Moses and Aaron (Ex. 8:7,18). Fast forward to the time of Daniel and we see the same outcome (Dan. 2:1-16,25-28). Yet here in Matthew 2 the Magi have greater insight than the Jews. They are coming to worship the Christ. Herod, even with the knowledge he has of the Messiah’s birth, seeks to destroy him.

A further reversal of roles unfolds in Herod’s decree to slaughter all the male children in Bethlehem aged two and under (2:16). Whilst this may ring true to what we know of Herod’s character we are also meant to see in his attitude and actions an echo from the OT. Herod, king of the Jews, is playing the part of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. This takes us back to Exodus 1:15-22. Herod is doing what Pharaoh did in opposition to God and His people.

But there is more. Even though Matthew has five sections where the prophets, or the words of the OT are said to be fulfilled, these do not exhaust his OT references. Some of the connections are subtle. We have seen in the actions of Herod an echo of the actions of Pharaoh. We can also see a further reference behind the words in verses 19-20:

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead’. So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

Compare Matthew’s account with the words of Exodus 4:19-21:

Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, ‘Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead’. So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.

In the original it was Moses who had to flee Egypt and was later told to return. In the remake it is the land of Israel, not Egypt, that they have to flee from, and the land of Israel that they are eventually told to return to. Everything has been reversed. Israel has become Egypt, and Herod has become Pharaoh.

This is a shock and a warning. This is a sign of judgement on Israel. This is also a sign of things to come. We see here the pattern of rejection for Jesus who will deliver His people. Indeed Moses the redeemer was rejected by Israel and welcomed by the nations (Ex. 2:1-22; Acts 7:35) foreshadowing what would happen when the true Redeemer would come. This is also a sign of hope. God is safeguarding the Saviour, just as he did with Moses.

For Fun: Welsh Miners Pot Noodle Advert

Monday, December 21, 2009

Polly Toynbee on the repugnancy of the atonement

The columnist Polly Toynbee wrote an article in The Guardian on 5th December 2005 with the rather acerbic title “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion.”

I will spare you the full extent of her invective against the Christian imagery found in C.S. Lewis' children's stories. But among her numerous thorny remarks the following stood out:

Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?

Perhaps the most obvious thing to say by way of explanation about her choice of adjective, is that it is indicative of a heart wedded to the wisdom of this passing age. It is as straightforward a statement of aversion and distaste at the very notion of a substitutionary atonement as one could wish to find. And yet, to those who hold to the presuppositions laid out by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:8, it hardly comes as much of a surprise.

It stands in marked contrast to the expression of the regenerate heart that sees in the cross both the wisdom and power of God. Of all the great confessions of faith perhaps it is the Belgic Confession (Q. 26) that best verbalizes the sentiments of the regenerate mind:

If, then, we should seek for another mediator who would be favorably inclined toward us, whom could we find who loved us more than He who laid down His life for us, even while we were His enemies? And if we seek for one who has power and majesty, who is there that has so much of both as He who sits at the right hand of God and to whom hath been given all authority in heaven and on earth?

And what should we make of her question? Of course we did not ask Christ to die for us. None of us wanted him to. This is a point underlined, as it were in thick marker pen, time and again on the pages of the Bible. From Isaiah's description of Christ as despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3) all the way to Paul's retrospective description of Christian believers as being ungodly and enemies toward God (Romans 5:6, 10).

This point came home to me yesterday. In the book of Judges there is the pattern of apostasy, oppression from enemies, and cries to God for relief from this misery. In his grace God raises up judges who save the people of God from the hands of their oppressors. Judges 13 seemingly opens with this same pattern. Israel has turned from God to their evil ways, and God has handed them over to the Philistines. But the pattern ends there. Just when we expect to hear a cry to God for relief and rescue there is nothing but silence.

When the Angel of the Lord announces the birth of Samson, who will begin to save Israel from the Philistines, it is therefore clear that this is an act of sheer grace on God's part. God sent them a Savior, even though they did not ask him to. The span of time between the book of Judges and that column in The Guardian may have spread over several millenia, but chronology cannot cover up the similarities that exist.

The very glory of the atonement is that Christ died for his enemies. We were not seeking after a Saviour from heaven, but running and hiding from the God who is really there. As Paul reminded the Colossians, it was for those who were hostile in their minds toward God that Christ hung on the cross. It was by that death that he made peace and effected reconciliation with God (Colossians 1:19-22). Like Polly Toynbee, I never asked him to do this. That he did it at all is all to the praise of his glorious grace.

Exodus reloaded (1)

You don’t usually need a TV guide to know what films are on over Christmas. Every year, without fail, there are some classic films that return to our screens. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, or It’s a Wonderful Life.

There are two seasonally shown films that strike a chord with the events recorded in the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel. They are The Great Escape and The Italian Job. The latter is that classic British movie with Michael Caine and Noel Coward, but starring three Mini Coopers. More recently another film with the same name, loosely based on the original, was released.

A remake rarely lives up to the original. That observation, however, does not hold true for Matthew chapter two. In fact we will miss Matthew’s point unless we see that the events surrounding the birth of Jesus are in fact a remake of Old Testament events that surpass the originals.

A lesson in history

The connections between the OT Matthew 1-2 are obvious if we take a bird’s eye view of these chapters. We start off with a lesson in history. Matthew shows us the fulfilment of a promise made to Abraham and the descent of the crown through the line of David (1:1-17). We need to know that Jesus is descended from this particular family, a royal family. Matthew tells us about the birth and infancy of Jesus in five sections. Each section has a passage from the OT that is being fulfilled. The sections are:

Matthew 1-2 OT passage
1:18-25 Isaiah 7:14
‘all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet’ (v22)
2:1-12 Micah 5:2 (2 Sam 5:2)
‘for this is what the prophet has written’ (v5)
2:13-15 Hosea 11:1
‘and so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet’ (v15)
2:16-18 Jeremiah 31:15
‘then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled’ (v17)
2:19-23 ‘So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene”.’ (v23)

With this overview in place we can focus in on some of the details.

Friday, December 18, 2009

We three kings

Matthew 1-2 tells the story of three kings.

These kings are not however the ones known in the West, from the eighth century on, as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. The visitors from the East were Magi, not kings. No, Matthew 1-2 tells the story of King David, King Herod and King Jesus. They are the three kings in the narrative.

King Herod may well be the king of Israel but he acts like Pharaoh king of Egypt. Joseph must flee Israel for Egypt, and later return there just as Moses did in Exodus 4. There is a great reversal theme in Matthew 2 as Israel and Egypt swap identities, and as we realise that Israel is a nation under judgment.

This reversal theme extends itself to the Magi. The wise men and magicians of the nations always come off badly in the Bible in comparison to God's people. Witness the court of Pharoah in Genesis 41 and the inability of the magicians to interpret his dream. It was God who gave Joseph the understanding of the dream. Fast forward to the contest between Moses, Aaron and the magicians, and the same story is told.

This unfavourable comparison continues with Daniel in Babylon. Again we see that God gives his people insight. The magicians, sorcerers and enchanters are unable to gain access to Nebuchadnezzar's undisclosed dream (Daniel 2:1-11). Daniel, however, seeks God and God, in his mercy, reveals the dream and the interpretation. No wonder that Daniel then confesses that to God belong wisdom and might, for:
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
What does this have to do with Matthew 2 and the Magi? The situation has now been reversed. The pattern established in Scripture has been turned on its head. We find Gentile magicians behaving like Israelites, and Israelites behaving like Gentiles. The Magi have more insight, more wisdom, and they come to worship Christ the King.

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

I've been a big fan of Red Mountain Music ever since a friend gave me The Gadsby Project a few years ago. You can listen to their version of "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus" here.

Thanks to JT (Jonathan Thomas) for drawing my attention to it. He got it from the other JT (Justin Taylor).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reformed Christians have the least to be proud about

So says Ian Hamilton:

Of all the dangers that can overtake a Reformed church, pride is surely the worst and most serious. There is, of course, a right kind of pride, a thankfulness to God for our history and heritage.

But the pride I am thinking of, is that ugly, self-righteous, self-preening brute that says with the Pharisees, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men" ("We are not like other churches"!).

Such self-regarding censoriousness, is particularly the preserve of the privileged and blessed. You see it often in the lives of the great and the good.

Sadly, tragically, such pride can also be seen in the very circles where it ought never to be seen, in the circle of Christ's disciples.

Of all people, Christians, and Reformed Christians in particular, have the least to be proud about. In rebuking some Christians in Corinth for their pride, Paul exclaimed, "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?"

What have we indeed to boast about? Were we not "dead in trespasses and sins" when God in his grace sent his Son to save us? Were we not guilty, hell-deserving sinners, God's very enemies, when he "commended his love towards us" and gave up the Lord Jesus Christ to die that sin-bearing, wrath-quenching death of the cross to deliver us from a ruined eternity and bring us ultimately to glory?

Total depravity and unconditional election are not merely doctrines to confess, they are truths to humble us to the dust. And yet, how easily, only too easily, can we allow our vast gospel privileges and blessings to turn us into self-regarding, narrow-hearted men and women.
You can read the whole thing here

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

All you need for Christmas is the Trinity

"When I say God I mean the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."
Gregory of Nazianzus

The centrepiece and glory of Christian doctrine and worship is the being, ways, works, and words of the Triune God.

If there is one area of where contemporary Christians need to grow in their grasp of the infinities and immensities of theology proper, it is in knowing and rejoicing in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is as if what matters most, is most often skirted around, and left unexplored. This is all to the detriment of the life and health of the Church.

Here are some extracts from Robert Letham's article on Developing a Trinitarian Mind (from The Ordained Servant, August-September 2008): do we go about seeking to redress it? There are no easy, slick solutions. This is not a matter to be resolved by a quick twelve-step program or in an adult Sunday school class.

It will take much thought, careful teaching, and a concerted plan to put right what has for so long been askew...What is needed is to instill in our congregations a mindset directed, as of second nature, to think of God as triune.

From there will come ripple effects on the way we think of the world around us, and of the people with whom we mix. What we need is to develop a thoroughly Christian view of God, the world, the church, ourselves, and others.

The first, and indispensable, steppingstone is ourselves as leaders of the church, and in particular those who are ministers of the Word. It is of the utmost importance that we saturate our minds with reflection and meditation on God, for we stand in the pulpit as no less than his representatives in speaking his Word.

It means our consistently contemplating God in Trinitarian terms. John Stott has been accustomed to begin each day with a threefold greeting to the Holy Trinity; how far are your own prayers and thoughts of God shaped in this way?

It takes disciplined thought and prayer, consistently day in, day out deliberately to think of God biblically, theologically, and ecclesially as triune. As leaders of the church you are called by God to do this. You cannot expect the congregation committed to your charge to follow suit unless you are leading the way.

It means your being shaped and driven not by some man-made purpose or by the concoctions of management gurus but by the truth of the triune God himself drawing and molding you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One for the Christmas list?

A friend drew my attention to this game. It has the following features:
  • The best seller by Joel Osteen is now an at-home experience like no other
  • Enables players to step beyond the one-on-one nature of the book and feel, touch and live Joel Osteen's 7 Steps of living life to your full potential with friends and family
  • The game is both entertaining and educational
  • Take inventory of yourself and accountability of your actions!
  • Each new plateau represents a challenge and a chance to open up and experience these steps first hand as you learn to live Your Best Life Now!
I also noticed that following on the same page:

CHOKING HAZARD -- Small parts. Not for children under 3 yrs.

They speak better than they know.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Defective preaching

Here is an extract from a letter on the ministry of the Gospel written by the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist preacher John Elias. The letter is dated 16th January 1840:
There is a great defect in the manner of many preachers. It can scarcely be said that the Gospel is preached by them. Their sermons are very confused; they contain many expressions which are not taught by the Holy Ghost; and subjects are so clothed with new words, that it is difficult to know what is meant.

Thought these preachers may not be accused of saying wht is false, yet, alas, they neglect stating weighty and necessary truths when opportunities offer. By omitting those important portions of truth in their natural connection, the Word is made subservient to subjects never intended.

The hearers are led to deny the truth that the preacher leaves out of his sermons. Omitting any truth intentionally in a sermon leads to the denial of it. Indeed, there are several deficiencies in many ministers; some acknowledge and lament them. There is room to suspect that those defects are intentional in others.
What do you think? Was Elias' assessment in the last paragraph right?

Iron Sharpens Iron: Interview with Tom Ascol

Dr. Tom Ascol was recently a guest on Iron Sharpens Iron where he discusses his chapter "The Good Shepherds" from Risking the Truth and the impact of contemporary theological errors in the Christian life. Dr. Ascol is the the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida.

You can listen to the interview here (the intro is in Spanish by the way, and you should skip the ads at the start...unless you like listening to that sort of thing)

Thomas Charles on The Angel of the Lord

The following is taken from Thomas Charles' Bible Dictionary (1805) and has been translated from the Welsh. Thomas Charles was one of the leading Calvinistic Methodist fathers in Wales. It forms part of that historic stream of interpretation that understand OT theophanies and appearances of the Lord as pre-incarnate appearances of the second person of the Trinity.

Douglas Kelly has observed that:

Before the rise of higher criticism, the Christian theological tradition, both east and west, Catholic and Protestant, generally understood the Old Testament theophanies to be pre- incarnate appearances of the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ himself.

Here is Thomas Charles' entry:

The Lord Jesus appeared in primeval times and manifested himself under the title ‘The Angel of the Lord’ or ‘The Angel of JEHOVAH’: the sent one of JEHOVAH, or the sent JEHOVAH; ‘the Angel of the Covenant’ or ‘the sent one of the Covenant’. JEHOVAH, in the Person of the Son, condescended voluntarily, in the plan of the covenant, to be sent and to come as the Mediator of the better covenant; to fulfil all the terms of the covenant; to ratify it by his blood; and to contribute all the promised blessings of the covenant to all those who believe in him.

His appearance was in human form, with some form of radiance accompanying it which gave it a glorious majesty (Judges 13:6). JEHOVAH, in the Person of the Son, was in him, and he was an appropriate representation of the divine presence, and he is therefore called ‘the Angel of his presence’, because he was the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person; the image of God; the glory of God; the face of God. (Heb. 1:3; 2 Cor. 4: 4-6; Exod. 33: 14-15; Is. 63: 9).

This illustrious Angel was well-known to the Church from primitive times. He appeared:

    to Abraham, and Abraham called him, ‘the Judge of all the earth’, Gen.18:22-25; 22:11;

    to Hagar, Gen.16:7-13. Who but the Angel JEHOVAH could have told her, ‘I will multiply thy seed exceedingly’?

    to Jacob, Gen.32:23-32. ‘Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed; he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us, even the Lord God of hosts,’ (Hosea 12:4-5);

    to Moses, in the bush, Exod 3:2-9; he who called himself, ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’

It was this same Angel who afterwards redeemed the Israelites from Egypt (Numbers 20:16) and who went before them in the cloud, and moved behind them, between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel (Exod 14:19-20). He carried within him the name of God, that is, the essence of God; therefore he carried within him the name of JEHOVAH, and he was to go before them in the wilderness, to keep them in the way, and to bring them to the promised land (Exod. 23:20).

He also it was whom Jacob in his old age acknowledged as the Angel who redeemed him from all evil and was the fount of all blessing for himself and his offspring (Gen.48:16). It was he also who prevented Balaam from cursing the Israelites (Numbers 22:32-35). He appeared of old to Manoah and his wife and gave to them the promise of a son (Judges 13). He later, in one night, put to death ‘a hundred and fourscore and five thousand’ of the camp of the Assyrians (Isaiah 37:36).

It is he who, in every age, is afflicted in all the affliction of his people, who in his love and in his pity redeemed them, he bare them and carried them all the days of old (Isaiah 63:9). All the infinite greatness of God is found in him, in his mercy, his love, his power, his holiness. He has compassion upon his people, and with divine affection he rebukes them, redeems them, and slays their enemies (2 Sam.24:16-17; 1 Chron.51:15-20; 2 Chron.32:21; Zech. 2:3-4 and 3:3; Judges 2: 1ff, 5:23 and 6:11-12; Ps. 35:5-6; Josh.5:13-15.

He is the Angel JEHOVAH, our fortress and the Apostle of our profession (Ps. 34:7; Heb. 3:1); ‘an interpreter, one among a thousand’ (Job 33:23) – in Hebrew: ‘the Angel of interpretation’ or ‘the Intercessor’, namely, the Son of God, the Apostle of our profession, the chiefest among ten thousand. The word denotes one who mediates between two parties in order to bring about reconciliation, either between God and man, or between man and man; one who interprets cases, and intercedes on behalf of an offender.

This is a very appropriate name for Jesus Christ, the Angel of the Covenant, who by very office has been sent as an interpreter to expound to sinners the great plan of the Covenant, and to present an atonement on their behalf, as the basis of his intercession for their release.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Reformation Theology Top Ten Books of 2009

I doth my cap to the gentlemen at Reformation Theology for including Risking the Truth in their top ten books for 2009. Good to see that there are three Christian Focus titles in that list. The Marrow of Modern Divinity is one of them, and it also gets a mention from Derek Thomas:
I was thrilled to see a brand new (and attractively produced) version of what I blurbed on the back as "one of the most important texts of all time" - The Marrow of Modern Divinity, confidently ascribed to Edward Fisher - the original simply had "E.F." (Christian Focus). To cite Luther, he who understands the relationship between law and gospel is a theologian, and reading the Marrow will help us all to become better theologians.
Monergism Books are selling The Marrow at an amazing price. And there's time to get it before Christmas.

[HT: Nick Batzig]

How a crisis in the Reformed churches was overcome

Scott Clark explains the problem and how it was addressed:

Everyone knows the acronym TULIP, but not everyone knows where this acronym comes from. The Canons of Dordt are among the most famous but unread deliverances of any Reformed Synod. The canons are more than five letters. The canons teach a pastoral doctrine of grace and provide a model for the stewardship of the Gospel.

The Canons (rules) of the Synod of Dordt were written after years of controversy within the Reformed churches in Europe and Britain. In the late sixteenth century the Reformed doctrines of sin, grace, faith, justification, atonement, perseverance, and assurance faced a growing resistance.
Read it all at the Ligonier site here

[NB: The Canons of Dordt are not to be placed in the same category as The Guns of Navarone]

The Father himself loves you

Two great quotations to ponder from Jim Day's blog Thought from the Day:
When we doubt God’s love for us because we think there is something about us that makes us unloveable in his sight, we do God a disservice. God does not love us because of what we’re like, he loves us in spite of what we’re like, and he gives us his Son as proof.

Charles Hodge

The greatest sorrow and burden you can lay on the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do to him is not to believe that he loves you.

John Owen
You can read more from Hodge, and get some reflections from Jim here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The impact of older writers

As I perused Tim Challies list of his favourite books from 2009 it made me realise that most of the books that have impacted me this year have been by older authors. Reading Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers, Turretin, Bavinck, John Owen, Stephen Charnock, George Smeaton, to name some of them, has been wonderfully enriching.

A few things stand out about these authors and their books. Their age speaks to us of their proven worth. In so many cases they give a testimony to us today about what really matters. They served the church in their own day and by God's grace served the generations that followed. None of the authors mentioned above ministered in days marked by an abeyance of error. They believed that truth mattered and was worth contending for.

C.S. Lewis wrote the following wise words in his introduction to Athanasius' work On the Incarnation:
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books...Now this seems to me topsy-turvy.

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old.

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.
Who knows what contemporary books will continue to be in print fifty, a hundred, or four hundred years from now?

The Muppets sing Bohemian Rhapsody

You understand of course that this is a very, very serious theological blog. But for four minutes and forty seven seconds we will suspend that serious tone. Enjoy.

Sinclair Ferguson on imputed righteousness (video)

And here are some extracts from Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry:
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 CJPM, 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 CJPM, p. 321
Only a fraction of the present body of confessing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many have so light an apprehension of God's holiness and of the extent and guilt for their sin that consciously they see little need for justification, although below the surface they are deeply guilt ridden and insecure.

Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day to day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience.

Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand on Luther's platform; you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in the quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.
Richard Lovelace, cited in CJPM, p. 310-11

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

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Great Escape: Matthew 2 as the remake of a classic story

The following article of mine was recently published in The Evangelical Magazine.

Here's the intro...
You don’t usually need a TV guide to know what films are on over Christmas. Every year, without fail, there are some classic films that return to our screens. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, or It’s a Wonderful Life.

There are two seasonally shown films that strike a chord with the events recorded in the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel. They are The Great Escape and The Italian Job. The latter is that classic British movie with Michael Caine and Noel Coward, but starring three Mini Coopers. More recently another film with the same name, loosely based on the original, was released.

But a remake rarely lives up to the original. That observation, however, does not hold true for Matthew chapter two. In fact we will miss Matthew’s point unless we see that the events surrounding the birth of Jesus are in fact a remake of Old Testament events that surpass the originals.
Read the rest here

(Thanks to Scott Clark for the link, I had no idea it was online)

You may also be interested in reading David Robertson's article The impact of On the Origin of Species

David Robertson is the author of The Dawkins Letters

Friday, December 04, 2009

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks

I have always found Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor to be a deeply convicting read, the kind of book that not only gets under the skin, but in sentence after sentence stabs the conscience wide awake.

One thing that Baxter does well is to underline the need for integrity in pastoral ministry. He does so by asking a series of probing questions along the following lines:

  • What good is it to warn of the danger of sins from the pulpit if we then indulge in and tolerate sins in our thinking, affections, and behaviour when out of the pulpit?
  • What are we really telling people when we cut the throat of a sermon with the use of careless words during the week?
Do we not have good reason to feel ashamed when we reflect on these matters? Are we not tempted men who at times have caved in to the pressure of temptation? Are there not words that we regret using?

One latter day Reformed pastor (in Baxter's and the confessional sense of the word) has made the following helpful comments about our speech:
How we use our tongues provides clear evidence of where we are spiritually...What comes out of our mouths is usually an accurate index of the health of our hearts.

Teachers should be conscious of the weight and potential influence of what they say because words lie at the heart of the teaching ministry. To have an unreliable tongue is likely to provide a destructive model for those who are taught. The potential for multiplication of influence requires a canon of judgment that takes the measure of both responsibility and opportunity into account.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Interview with Dr. Guy Waters

Dr. Guy Waters (associate professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi) was recently interviewed on the Iron Sharpens Iron radio program. The program's host Chris Arnzen discusses Dr. Waters' chapter in Risking the Truth and his books on the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision. You can download the interview here (the notices and ads are fairly long so you may want to skip them).

Sinclair Ferguson on substitution and sanctification

In his work, On the Incarnation, Athanasius wrote:
"It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die."
How then could man be saved from death, the penalty justly imposed by God for disobedience, except by the death in his place of the sinless Saviour? Without penal substitution the truthfulness of God, his fidelity to his word, is left in tatters. Was God not bound by his own nature to fulfill his word? It was His life for ours.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Q. What is the most important doctrine in the Christian Faith?

A. The blessed doctrine of the Holy Trinity

Packer's advice to new pastors...

"You have three priorities: teach, teach, and teach. Evangelical churches are weaker than we realize because we don't teach the confessions and doctrine. Set new standards in teaching. Understand the word catechesis, and practice that art."

You can read the recent World Magazine article on Packer here

Lutheran advent calendar

(HT: Kim Riddlebarger)

Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible

This looks interesting. Contributors include Joel Beeke, Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, James White, R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Derek Thomas, and Ray Lanning.

Here's the blurb:
Sola Scriptura, the formal principle of the Protestant Reformation, is essential to genuine Christianity. Yet this doctrine is under assault today as never before, both from outside and and inside the church. In manifold ways, the idea is put forth that the Bible is inadequate for the needs of modern man. Such suggestions represent an attack on the very foundations of the Christian faith.

In this book, several leading Reformed pastors and scholars unpack the meaning of the doctrine of sola Scriptura ("Scripture alone"). They also explain where the attacks on the Bible are coming from and show how those who accept the Bible as God's inspired Word should respond. In building a new case for the Bible as divine revelation, they show what a treasure the Scriptures are and call believers to a new commitment to the reading and studying of its contents.
More details here

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Heretics: 3. They pander to our sinful desires

Here's the next installment from an old series of posts:

Heresies would not get very far without being plausible and attractive. There must be some advantage in embracing heresy, something appealing to the mind, the heart, the will, that makes them worth believing.

I suspect that each particular form of heresy and false teaching contains elements that supply the motives for embracing them and rejecting orthodoxy. It is part of our pastoral and theological task to figure out what these elements are in each particular case. Sometimes the appeal is crass, as in the health and wealth gospel, at other times it is more sophisticated.

Back in 1998 I read The Cruelty of Heresy by Fitzsimons Allison. Strangely enough it was in the reduced section of a health and wealth bookstore, glinting away like a jewel in a dung heap. It has been by far the most stimulating book that I have read on the subject. Here's what he has to say:
We are susceptible to heretical teachings because, in one form or another, they nurture and reflect the way we would have it be rather then the way God has provided...heresies pander to the most unworthy tendencies of the human heart. It is astonishing how little attention has been given to these two aspects of heresy: its cruelty and its pandering to sin. (p. 17)
Fitzsimons Allison applies this insight to adoptionism and docetism. Adoptionism imagines a Christ who is like us, only much more successful. This "Jesus" is top of the class and graduates to become the Son of God. This of course panders to our self-righteousness, to our thirst to achieve our own salvation. It reduces Jesus to the level of what can be reached by our guided efforts. Either that or, if we have some sense and measure of our own sinfulness, this "Jesus" crushes us by his unattainable achievements.

The docetic Christ, on the other hand, was not truly a man but only appeared to be. This is theological escapism at its worst. This version of Jesus corresponds our desire to flee from the trappings, reality, earthiness, and nitty gritty of life. Our humanity is simply too sinful for this spiritual Christ to partake of. Not only is this a bogus Christology, it is also a damning verdict on the very goodness of creation.
This insight can help us understand why heresies spread.

There is a saying that "heresies are the unpaid debts of the church." In other words, the explanation for the existence of heresies should be laid at the door of the church. The church has failed to do its job properly. Perhaps some significant aspect of the whole counsel of God was omitted, or there was a perceived harshness and lovelessness on the part of the orthodox that has driven people into the arms of error.

In some cases this may have a measure of truth to it. But it does not work when, for example, we consider the rapid defection of the Galatian churches to another gospel, even though before their eyes Jesus had been clearly portrayed as crucified (Gal. 1:6-7; 3:1). It was not due to a defect in Paul's proclamation that error made inroads in Galatia. Perhaps in some cases the "unpaid debts" theory holds true as a contributing factor. However, as a sole or total explanation it should be discarded.

There is no logical reason why a reaction against a narrow or harsh orthodoxy automatically leads to the embracing of heterodox views (just as there is no justification for ungodly reactions if we are treated in ungodly ways). This is a false move.

Heresies give us what we want. The attraction of the psuedo-spirituality of the Colossian heretics and the legalism of the Judaizers in Galatia were not to be laid at Paul's feet as if his preaching (or that of Epaphras) was to blame. In Colosse the heady brew of legalism and mysticism that offered genuine fullness had "an appearance of wisdom" but was of "no value" (Col. 2:23).

Mystical and ascetic channels to communion with God fitted better with the aspirations of the fallen human heart. Paul offered union with Christ and his finshed work instead. The Judaizers offered the road to self-righteousness and the escape route from persecution (Gal. 6:11).

After all, what is Pelagianism (full fat or semi-skimmed) if not an outward theological justification for an inner spiritual drive?

Review some major theological errors and see if this explanation holds true.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The preaching of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Over at the Church Matters blog there is a helpful summary of what Lady Catherwood recently said about her father's preaching:
1. The man deeply felt his conversion. Dr. Lloyd-Jones never got over the Lord’s mercy to him in saving him and this was clear in his preaching.

2. The underlining issue behind his preaching was the glory of God. Behind all of his preaching the main point and main issue was always that God be glorified and exalted. He never treated the Lord casually.

3. He had the presence of a man who dwelt with the Lord in prayer. When he preached, he sincerely preached as a man that had consistently lingered truly humbly before the Lord and had dwelt on the Truth of God in Scripture. He brought those meditations and that posture to the people.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Heretics: 2. They use the right words but give them a new sense

An old series from the Against Heresies archives:

The strange thing about heresy is that it attempts to pass itself off as orthodoxy, even as good news. And often as thoroughly biblical good news. The key text here is 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. 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.
Or in other words, he who has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Serpent is saying to the churches, and that with great discernment.

The language is right (Jesus, Spirit and Gospel) but each term is qualified by Paul. This is "another" Jesus, and a "different" gospel. If you put your trust in this "Jesus" it will do you no good. He is not the authentic Son of God but a fake. Notice that the goal of the false teachers is to break the relationship that the Corinthian believers have with Christ (they are "betrothed to him" according to verse 1). Instead they will be brought into a new relationship with another "Jesus."

Would this be obvious to them? Of course not. It is achieved through deceit and cunning. This is the Garden of Eden all over again. The goal of the heretic is a broken engagement to Christ. It is that vital, loving relationship that they seek to end. Never think that switching from one doctrine to another is a purely intellectual matter.

The preservation of orthodox words with substitute meanings has been a constant feature of heresy throughout church history. In Against Heresies Irenaeus wrote that “their language resembles ours while their sentiments are very different.”

Augustine made the same observation in his work A Treatise on Faith and the Creed:
It is underneath these few words, therefore, which are thus set in order in the Creed, that most heretics have endeavored to conceal their poisons. (Chapter 1)
Vincent of Lerins also noted this behaviour:
But that they may with more successful guile steal upon the unsuspecting sheep, retaining the ferocity of the wolf, they put off his appearance, and wrap themselves, so to say, in the language of the Divine Law, as in a fleece, so that one, having felt the softness of wool, may have no dread of the wolf's fangs. (Commonitorium chapter XXV)
More recently Francis Schaeffer wrote that "liberal theology is only humanism in theological terms." And again, that:
The new theology is simply modern thought using religious words...Historic Christianity and either the old or the new liberal theology are two separate religions with nothing in common except certain terms which they use with totally different meanings.
Rather than going quietly and opposing the truth clearl,y heretics have gone about their work with different interpretations of biblical words and confessional terms. By doing so they loudly proclaim that they are the orthodox ones, they have the right interpretations, and it is their opponents who are the heretics.

Alister McGrath has made this point in his recent book on heresy:
Every major heresy within the Christian faith has presented itself as offering a legitimate interpretation of the Bible and has criticized its orthodox opponents as deficient in the art of biblical hermeneutics.
I have previously compared this to the movie The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The host humans appear to be the same friends and neighbours that we have always known, but in reality they have been taken over. In large measure this explains why it is difficult to detect and expose heretics. Their camoflage is authentic Christian vocabulary.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Heretics: 1. Deliberately choosing heresy is an immoral ungodly act

This is a re-post from a series in the Against Heresies archive:

The New Testament connects truth with godliness, and error with immorality.

Paul speaks in Titus 1:1 about the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3), and in 2 Timothy 2:16 about irreverent babble that leads people into more and more ungodliness (cf. 1 Timothy 6:4-5).

Although we should never be glad about it, the truth is that we are not surprised when a false teacher is further compromised by immoral behaviour. As G. K. Chesterton once said "
heresy always affects morality, if it's heretical enough."

Heresy, however, not only leads to sin, it is sin. Believing in heresy is wrong not only mentally but also morally. Choosing to believe it is an act of the mind, heart and will that is against God and his Word. Of course there will always be some who believe error that have never been exposed to the biblical gospel. For others there will have been a choice exercised, rejecting one thing and embracing another. I have addressed some of the principle reasons why people embrace errors here.

Paul's reminder to the Corinthians about the gospel that he had preached to them, which they had believed, and on which they had taken their stand, also included the admonition to hold fast to the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-2). This ongoing act was a vital and necessary part of Christian obedience. It was orthopraxy in action. Not to hold fast would be an act of disobedience. In the movie Master and Commander one of the weather beaten old sailors has the letters H-O-L-D F-A-S-T tattoed across his knuckles. A great motto for a sailor, but an even better one for a Christian.

In the pastoral epistles Paul warns of those who have swerved from love, a pure heart and a good conscience and have wandered away into vain discussion (1 Tim. 1:5-6). Hymenaeus and Alexander have rejected and not held to faith and a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:19).

Deacons must hold the mystery of the faith with a good conscience (1 Tim. 3:9), knowing that the Spirit has forewarned that some will depart from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-2). Paul's closing admonition is that Timothy must "guard the deposit entrusted to him" and avoid what is falsely called knowledge. By professing this some have swerved from the faith (1 Tim. 6:20-21).

2 Timothy carries similar reminders about those who have "swerved from the truth" and now preach a different interpretation of the resurrection (2 Tim. 2:18). All these examples show an unwillingness on the part of heretics to continue in the faith, an aversion to the truth, and a preference for closely worded alternatives.

If we realise that the deliberate choice of heresy is itself an immoral act perhaps we will be less impressed by the apparent godliness of heretics. Heresy can come with all the trappings of spirituality, self-denial, humility, tolerance, and self-discipline. All these, however, can gloss over the presence of a carnal pride that refuses to submit to the truth, and the arrogance of an autonomous spirit that deliberately dismisses biblical doctrine.

Reflecting on the early Christian centuries Jaroslav Pelikan summarized this position well
Heresy was treated by the early church as the concern not only of doctrinal theology, but also of moral theology, of canon law, and finally of civil law as well.

This was not only because of the stock accusation that false doctrine led to "all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure us that 'they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God,' " but because of the claim that the invention and especially the propagation of false doctrine were due to "a vainglory that has preoccupied their mind (Irenaeus)."
The antidote to all this was well expressed by the great Puritan theologian John Owen. Writing about the rise of Socinianism, Owen remarked:
This I am compelled to say, that unless the Lord, in his infinite mercy, lay an awe upon the hearts of men, to keep them in some captivity to the simplicity and mystery of the gospel who now strive every day to exceed one another in novel opinions and philosophical apprehensions of the things of God, I cannot but fear that this soul-destroying abomination will one day break in as a flood upon us.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Heresy of Orthodoxy, Kostenberger and Kruger

This looks important. The release date is 30th June 2010. The book weighs in at 224 pages. Details can be found here.

Here's the blurb:

Evaluating historical evidence, this book defends early Christian orthodoxy from the legacy of New Testament criticism: the modern "orthodoxy of diversity."

Beginning with Walter Bauer in 1934, the denial of clear orthodoxy in early Christianity has shaped and largely defined modern New Testament criticism, recently given new life through the work of spokesmen like Bart Ehrman. Spreading from academia into mainstream media, the suggestion that diversity of doctrine in the early church led to many competing orthodoxies is indicative of today's postmodern relativism. Authors Köstenberger and Kruger engage Ehrman and others in this polemic against a dogged adherence to popular ideals of diversity.

Köstenberger and Kruger's accessible and careful scholarship not only counters the "Bauer Thesis" using its own terms, but also engages overlooked evidence from the New Testament. Their conclusions are drawn from analysis of the evidence of unity in the New Testament, the formation and closing of the canon, and the methodology and integrity of the recording and distribution of religious texts within the early church.

Andreas J. Köstenberger is director of PhD Studies and professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is a prolific author, distinguished evangelical scholar, and Editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Dr. Köstenberger and his wife have four children.

Michael J. Kruger (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is associate professor of New Testament and academic dean at Reformed Theological Seminary, and the author of a number of articles and books on early Christianity.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Heretics

The following is from the Against Heresies archive and was taken from a paper I gave at a ministerial conference:

A word about the title of this series of posts. It is of course a twist on best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Given that heretics twist things I can't see any problem with my spin on the title.

We recognise that there are different types of error

Not all errors fall into the same category of seriousness, and they are not equal in the damage that they can do. For example, John Wesley's views on holiness (and of course the offshoots in the various forms of Higher Life teaching) were wrong, and because they were wrong they were pastorally damaging.

This defective version of holiness created false expectations about the nature of the Christian life. These expectations were of course never realised. However, even though this is an error it is not heresy. On account of this error, and we might add a few others, we would not regard Wesley as a heretic.

What then is heresy?

Michael Horton helpfully describes it as "any teaching that directly contradicts the clear and direct witness of the Scriptures on a point of salvific importance." The late Harold O. J. Brown said that heresy:
Designated either a doctrine or the party holding the doctrine, a doctrine that was sufficiently intolerable to destroy the unity of the Christian church. In the early church, heresy did not refer to simply any doctrinal disagreement, but to something that seemed to undercut the very basis for Christian existence. (Heresies, p. 2)
Heresy is the kind of doctrinal error that is so serious that it redefines the very nature of the Christian faith.

We also recognise that there are different types of people who fall into, or who embrace and propagate error.

In an unpublished paper given at a B.E.C. conference the late Rev. Robert Sheehan helpfully talked about how in the New Testament there are five kinds of people who are in error, and five different responses to those errors by the apostles. They are:

1. The sincerely ignorant
2. The sincere misinterpreter
3. The temporarily inconsistent
4. The deceived
5. The deceivers

There are those who are sincerely ignorant, as Apollos was in Acts 18:24-28. He was eloquent, competent in the Scriptures, and instructed in the way of the Lord. Luke says that he taught accurately the things concerning Jesus. But there was something missing, and when Priscilla and Aquila heard him they explained to him the way of God more accurately. Apollos was in error but not denounced for it. He was teachable and led into further usefulness in ministry.

Others sincerely misinterpret things. They don't want to be in error but they have misunderstood the teaching of the Bible on a particular point (we will come back to this later). Sheehan cites 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 as an example of this.

Then there are the temporarily inconsistent. This is Peter at Antioch whom Paul had to oppose. Peter was not regarded as unregenerate, but his conduct (not his teaching) was not in step with the truth of the gospel (Galatians 2:11-14).
So we recognise that there are different kinds of error, different people who are involved in them, and different ways of handling those errors and people.

What about handling truth and error in our ministries?

Since we are committed to the exposition of God's Word we will be dealing with teaching on error as it arises in the text. If we are preaching through Colossians we will explain the features of the type of error troubling the church there, and how to respond to it. This commitment to exposition should prevent the pulpit from being preoccupied with error, or to shy away from confronting it. As Gresham Machen noted, the New Testament books are filled with conflicts with error and the need for churches to go on holding to the truth.

We will also need to deal with error when it becomes a clear and present danger to our churches. At times we will need the courage to name and shame heretics, as Paul did in 2 Timothy 2:17, and not be content with general descriptions of their errors. Calvin said that ministers have two voices, one for the sheep and one for the wolves. We need to wisely discern how to do this in pastoral ministry today.

Having said all this by way of introduction, in these posts I want to deal with the highly effective habits of heretics. There are plenty of books, ancient and modern, that deal with heresies in an A-Z fashion. I want to look at the practices, the behaviour, the habits of heretics.

What are they doing in relation to the truth? How do they behave in and among churches? Think of the way that Paul describes them as swerving from the truth (2 Tim. 2:18), and of wandering into vain discussion (1 Tim. 1:6). Peter describes false teachers secretly, as opposed to openly, introducing destructive heresies. In Galatians the false teachers fawn over the believers. Paul says "They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them" (Gal. 4:17).

As we go through the seven habits (and there could be many more) please excuse me if I do not state the obvious. Of course heretics will be manipulative and authoritarian. I want to press beyond the general description of that manipulation and look at some specific habits where this is

Sunday, November 22, 2009

He has always been the Father

One of the blasphemies of fourth century Arianism, and every theology that has mimicked it ever since, involved the denial of the eternal existence of the person of the Son. They regarded him as the greatest of creatures, but finite, and therefore liable to change and to sin.

As a super exalted creature the Son's knowledge of the Father is greater than ours, but it is not the knowledge of an infinite Father known and rejoiced in by an infinite Son. The Father remained ineffable to the Son. The maxim that "the finite cannot comprehend the infinite" is true not only for ourselves, for the saints in heaven, and for angels and archangels, but also for the Son.

On the Arian view the Son of God was made, and not self-existent as God. "There was when he was not" was a differentiating article that separated Arian heresy from Christian orthodoxy. Of the eternal existence of the Son the Nicene Creed affirmed that the Son was "begotten, not made."

Indeed the Nicene Creed set out the following statement on the errors to be rejected and the consequence of holding to them:
But as for those who say, There was when he was not, and, Before being born he was not, and that he came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is from a different hypostasis or substance, or is created, or is subject to alteration or change--these the Catholic Church anathematizes.
If the Arian view held true then not only would the deity of the Son be a mistaken idea but the very Fatherhood of God would also disappear. That is the logical consequence of denying the eternal Sonship of the Son. When did the Father become the Father? When he had a Son.

When the Arians pulled back the curtain and peered into eternity they wanted to say that God was a Father, but their claim wouldn't hold true when you peered all the way back into the very deepest recesses of eternity. When you looked that far back there was no ultimate personalism about God, no eternal Fatherhood, for there was no eternal Son.

Was there love and relationship at the very heart of the universe? Not at all. For the Arians there was an impersonal God, all dressed up in attributes, but with no one to love. When he created a Son, he then became the Father, but this was not the deepest truth about him. The personal nature of God needed an act of creation in order to flourish. Before there was a Son, what can be said of the personal nature of God is so thin and diminished as to be of no real worth.

Arianism was not only found wanting as an inadequate explanation of the being of God, a failure to explain the truth as it is in Scripture, it was also found to be chilling as a faith to live by.

Hilary of Poitiers set this out as follows (I will also include his prefatory remarks that touch on matters raised in the previous post):

But the errors of heretics and blasphemers force us to deal with unlawful matters, to scale perilous heights, to speak unutterable words, to trespass on forbidden ground. Faith ought in silence to fulfil the commandments, worshipping the Father, reverencing with Him the Son, abounding in the Holy Ghost, but we must strain the poor resources of our language to express thoughts too great for words. The error of others compels us to err in daring to embody in human terms truths which ought to be hidden in the silent veneration of the heart.

For there have risen many who have given to the plain words of Holy Writ some arbitrary interpretation of their own, instead of its true and only sense, and this in defiance of the clear meaning of words. Heresy lies in the sense assigned, not in the word written; the guilt is that of the expositor, not of the text.

Is not truth indestructible? When we hear the name Father, is not sonship involved in that Name? The Holy Ghost is mentioned by name; must He not exist? We can no more separate fatherhood from the Father or sonship from the Son than we can deny the existence in the Holy Ghost of that gift which we receive.

Yet men of distorted mind plunge the whole matter in doubt and difficulty, fatuously reversing the clear meaning of words, and depriving the Father of His fatherhood because they wish to strip the Son of His sonship. They take away the fatherhood by asserting that the Son is not a Son by nature.

On the Trinity, Book 2, sections 2-3