Monday, March 29, 2010

The Atonement: Theory or Doctrine?

Here is a post from the Against Heresies archives:

I'm currently reading through a short book on the atonement in the bible and church history. The author believes in penal substitution, and that it is one of many metaphors to explain the cross. The publishers' blurb on the back cover begins with this sentence:
The Penal Substitutionary theory of the atonement says that Jesus suffered the divine punishment for our sins at Calvary.
Early in the book Calvin is credited with being the first to give a "full-blown penal substitutionary account of the atonement" and "the first full statement of penal substitution," and again "the first complete statement of a penal substitutionary theory of the atonement" (emphasis mine).

In describing penal substitution the author at times designates it as a metaphor, at times as a doctrine, and at other times as a theory. Significantly, in commenting on Isaiah 53, the author says that this chapter "comes as close as anything in the Bible to teaching penal substitutionary atonement. Still, there is not a fully worked out theory here."

This line of thought culminates in the following statement at the conclusion of the chapter on the New Testament teaching on the cross:
...what of penal substitution? Is it taught in the New Testament? We need to be careful here. There is, as far as I can see, no clearly worked out doctrine of atonement in the New Testament. Instead there is only the raw material out of which we may and must attempt to construct such a doctrine. And this shouldn't surprise us: most of the central beliefs of Christianity are built on the foundations of the Scriptures, rather than read straight out of them.
There are two issues before us here:

1. The relationship between the "raw material" of Scripture and the doctrinal formulations that we construct out of that raw material.

2. The relationship between explicit statements and implicit, equally authoritative, teaching in Scripture

On the second of these points the author says that the language about the atonement in the New Testament "could be understood in penal substitutionary terms if we had good reason to do so, but equally could be understood in other terms." This caution safeguards us from attempting to read the whole doctrine out of every text. With that I am in some sympathy. If creedal statements are a concise synthesis of what the whole Bible teaches about a particular doctrine, the danger, if we begin with the creedal definition, is that we then read that back into every text.

A further danger is that we subtly expect Scripture to state the same truth for us in exactly the same way as a creed or confession does. We can surely say that the Bible teaches that "Jesus bore the penalty for our sins" without insisting that the Bible must set down that truth in exactly that form of words. If the Bible does not state the truth in precisely those words are we to allege that it clearly doesn't teach that truth? Or that it doesn't teach it clearly?

This brings us to point 1). Is our doctrine part of the "raw material"? And what does that mean? Is it present in Scripture so that it ought to be believed, confessed and taught? Or are the constituent parts present in such a way that the doctrine or theory can be assembled, but until it has been no one is obligated to receive it? Could the "raw material" be constructed into a different theory? Does the ascription of "raw material" apply to all biblical teaching on every doctrine? Is there an apostolic doctrine of the cross? Does this doctrine include penal substitution?

In light of Galatians 3:13 and Isaiah 53 I cannot avoid the conclusion that Christ's death was in the place of sinners, and that in their place he bore their punishment. In Packer's words:
The notion which the phrase ‘penal substitution’ expresses is that Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory. To affirm penal substitution is to say that believers are in debt to Christ specifically for this, and that this is the mainspring of all their joy, peace and praise both now and for eternity.
It seems to me that if we hold that Scripture contains only the raw material but that it is left to us to attempt to construct a doctrine out of it, we do the teaching of Scripture a great disservice, and perhaps even in seeking to uphold this truth we inevitably destabilize its status. Consider the following from Herman Bavinck:
All these different appraisals of the death of Christ are frequently labeled "theories" that have been constructed by human thought in an attempt to explain the facts. The picture presented is that Scripture does not contain a clear, authoritative, and decisive doctrine of the suffering and death of gives us the facts but not the theory, the matter of all Christian doctrine, but no finished doctrine or doctrines of the whole of Christianity. (Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 2, p. 382)
Packer's words in the conclusion to What did the cross achieve? The logic of penal substitution are also apropos:
...full weight must also be given to the fact that all who down the centuries have espoused this model of penal substitution have done so because they thought the Bible taught it, and scholars who for whatever reason take a different view repeatedly acknowledge that there are Bible passages which would most naturally be taken in a penal substitutionary sense. Such passages include Isaiah 53 (where Whale, as we saw, [n. 36] finds penal substitution mentioned twelve times), Galatians 3:13, 2 Corinthians 5:15, I Peter 3:18; and there are many analogous to these

There is a good reason why some people shouldn't cover Simon & Garfunkel songs...

Before I return to blogging about the atonement, theology proper, and various forms of heterodoxy, please indulge me as I post two more musical extracts.

Caution: Please do not watch the first video before carefully reading the text below

What follows is a cover version of Simon & Garfunkel's The Only Living Boy in New York by Everything But The Girl. Now, in their own way, I suppose EBTG are just fine. Granted, the vocal is a somewhat pale and insipid version of the original. The real crime in this video clip is to be found in the cringe worthy choreography. I'm sure that it really seemed like a good idea at the time. If only honest friends were on had to speak the truth.

I feel that I must warn you that the side effects of watching this video include dizziness, blurred vision, vomiting, a nagging sense of despair, possible bleeding from the ears, and acute, prolonged, mental pain.

Viewers are assured that the sight of weird looking people running down the street carrying guitars is not a hallucination but is in fact part of the original video. Those of you with good aesthetic taste may well slip into a deep nihilistic coma as a result of being exposed to this recording for more than fifty seconds. Genuine fans of Simon & Garfunkel should not watch this video as it may induce anaphylactic shock.

The guy with the beard, what exactly was he chewing?

Thankfully some of the detrimental effects that have accompanied your exposure to this song can be treated by listening to the original:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bridge Over Troubled Water: Downes vs. Benfold

My highly esteemed colleague Gary Benfold has lost his marbles. Foolishly he has claimed that the cover version of Bridge Over Troubled Water by Elvis Presley is greater than the original sung by Art Garfunkel.

"What nonsense!" I hear you cry, and believe me I share your disgust. I know that Elvis was the king, but Art's vocal is simply untouchable.

What can I say? As I have rolled these things over in my mind the suspicion has grown. After all, Gary is from Yorkshire, so what does he know about good music? Let him speak about flat caps, and whippets, and we will listen. I, on the other hand, am Welsh, from the Principality, the very land of song.

Will he respond? We wish to hear from him the sound of silence.

Once again, here is Art:

And here is Elvis:

We also have this wild card entry from Eva Cassidy:

Apologies to Adrian Reynolds of the Proclamation Trust who loves the Hear'Say version. YouTube say that "Embedding has been disabled by request" on that one. I'm not surprised.

Here's an odd clip of Simon & Garfunkel rehearsing the song in 1969:

He looks like a lamb but speaks like a dragon

Some words to ponder from the Puritan Thomas Brooks:
Julian, by his craft, drew more away from the faith than all his persecuting predecessors could do by their cruelty. So doth Satan more hurt in his sheep's skin than by roaring like a lion.
And on Revelation 2:24-25:

Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come.
Those poor souls called their opinions the depths of God, when indeed they were the depths of Satan. You call your opinions depths, and so they are, but they are such depths as Satan hath brought out of hell. They are the whisperings and hissings of that serpent, not the inspirations of God.
Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, p. 12

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a true minister of Christ

Later this year Reformation Heritage Books will be publishing A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a true minister of Christ by Rob Ventura and my friend Jeremy Walker. Jeremy blogs here. You can pre-order the book here.

This book looks like it will be a really helpful read.

Here's the blurb:
What does a true pastor look like, and what constitutes a faithful ministry? How can we identify the life and labors of one called by God to serve in the church of Jesus Christ? To address these questions, Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker examine how the apostle Paul describes his pastoral relation to the people of God in Colossians 1:24–2:5.

By discussing these essential attitudes, qualities, and characteristics of a faithful minister of Christ,
A Portrait of Paul provides gospel ministers an example of what they should be, and demonstrates for churches the kind of pastors they will seek if they desire men after God’s own heart.
Here are the chapter headings:
1. The Joy of Paul’s Ministry
2. The Focus of Paul’s Ministry

3. The Hardships of Paul’s Ministry

4. The Origin of Paul’s Ministry

5. The Essence of Paul’s Ministry

6. The Subject of Paul’s Ministry

7. The Goal of Paul’s Ministry

8. The Strength of Paul’s Ministry

9. The Conflict of Paul’s Ministry

10. The Warnings of Paul’s Ministry
The qualifications for pastoral ministry are so important for the life of the church and it is good to see that this book aims to help:
· Churches looking for a pastor will find guidance in what a faithful man of God will look like.

· Christians looking for a church will find a tool by which they can assess the pastors of the flock in the light of God’s Word, finding men to whom they can commit the care of their souls.

· Christians already in a church will be better equipped to pray for their pastors and will further understand what it really means to be shepherded by a man after God’s own heart.

· Ministerial students pursuing the work of the ministry will see a picture of a man they should seek to imitate.

· Pastors will be encouraged to persevere in the high calling of gospel ministry.
Finally the book has been commended by John MacArthur, Geoff Thomas and Sam Waldron:

"The apostle Paul has always been a hero whom I look to as a model for my ministry. His unrelenting faithfulness in the worst kinds of trials is a remarkable example to every pastor and missionary.

In the midst of suffering, hardship, and (in the end) the abandonment of his own friends and fellow workers, Paul remained steadfast, dynamic, and utterly devoted to Christ.

This invaluable study of Paul’s life from Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker is a wonderful, powerful, soul-stirring examination of Paul’s self-sacrifice and his unfaltering service to the church. It will both motivate and encourage you, especially if you’re facing trials, opposition, or discouragement in your service for Christ."

- John MacArthur

"For the first two decades of my life as a Christian, I had an abundance of role models who seemed to enflesh for me how a minister of God should live.

I realize now that I even took their presence and consistent example for granted. I looked forward to the future under the protection of their mature lives of patience, wisdom, and many kindnesses. The labors of most of those men have come to an end and today I face another situation.

There are now numbers of fine younger men in training and starting out on their own ministries. What grace and zeal they have, but there appears to be less role models than the company with which I was favored.

What Walker and Ventura have done in this splendid book is to return to the fountainhead of Christianity, to the apostle Paul with the authority the Lord Christ gave to him, his wisdom and compassion, and examine the apostle’s relationship with one congregation, how he advised and exhorted them concerning the demands of discipleship and their relationship with fellow believers.

Paul became Christ’s servant and mouthpiece to them and he has left us with a timeless inspired example. He exhorted his readers more than once to be followers of him as he followed God.

With a refreshing contemporary style, and with humble submission to the Scripture, these two ministers have given to us a role model for pastoral life. This is a very helpful book and a means of grace to me."

- Geoff Thomas

"What is A Portrait of Paul Identifying a True Minister of Christ? It is, first, the effort of two young pastors to teach themselves and their churches what it means to be a true minister of Christ.

It is, second, an exposition of Colossians 1:24–2:5 which attempts to understand how Paul's ministry gives them and their churches a paradigm of faithful ministry.

It is, third, biblical exposition of Scripture in the best historic and Reformed tradition with careful exegesis, sound doctrine, popular appeal and practical application. As such, it is a very challenging book to read as Rob and Jeremy lay before us, for instance, the selflessness and suffering true ministry requires. It is, however, a good, useful, and profitable book to read. It can, and I hope it will, do much good!"

- Sam Waldron
Rob Ventura is a pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church in Cumberland, Rhode Island.

Jeremy Walker is a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church in Crawley, England.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Work of the Pastor

Christian Focus are due to release a revised version of William Still's The Work of the Pastor this May.

Concerning this book Sinclair Ferguson writes:
A great little book by a remarkable missionary to whom I owe an immense personal debt. Every minister should read it once a year - at least!
More details here

Monday, March 22, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bridge Over Troubled Water (Live, 1969)

I discovered this song as a seventeen year old but have only just come across this live version from 1969 and recorded after the completion of the Bridge album. As a sixth former I think I found the combination of Paul Simon's thoughtful lyrics, Art's vocal, the whole folk rock thing, and the harmonies, captivating.

God was accused of blasphemy

Christ has come from the eternal heart of his Father to a region of sorrow and death;
that God should be manifested in the flesh, the Creator made a creature;
that he that was clothed with glory should be wrapped with rags of flesh;
he that filled heaven and earth with his glory should be cradled in a manger;
that the God of the law should be subject to the law;
the God of circumcision circumcised;
the God that made the heavens working as a carpenter for Joseph;
that he that binds the devils in chains should be tempted;
that he, who owns the world and everything in it should hunger and thirst;
that the God of strength should be weary;
the Judge of all flesh should be condemned;
the God of life put to death;
that he that is one with the Father should cry out of misery, 'My God, My God why have you forsaken me?';
that he that had the keys of death and hell should lie in another man's tomb;
that his head, before whom the angels cast their crowns, should be crowned with thorns;
that his eyes, purer than the sun, should be shut by the darkness of death;
those ears, which heard nothing but the hallelujahs of angels and saints, should hear the blasphemies of the crowd;
that mouth and tongue, that spoke as never any man spoke, should be accused of blasphemy;
those hands, that held the sceptre of heaven itself, should be nailed to the cross for human sin;
his every sense irritated,
with the spear and the nails,
the smell of death,
the taste of vinegar and gall,
the sound of curses,
the sight of his mother and disciples mourning for him;
the soul was without comfort and forsaken...

Thomas Brooks

Quoted in Steve Levy, Bible Overview, p. 40

You can buy Steve's book here

The Rage Against God

Peter Hitchens, brother of arch-atheist Christopher Hitchens, has a very interesting book just out, The Rage Against God: How atheism led me to faith. You can read some sample pages from the first chapter, 'The generation who were too clever to believe', here

The UK edition is already out and has a different subtitle. The book is being published by Zondervan in the States.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Death and resurrection in John's Gospel

My friend Nick Batzig has a helpful post on the death and resurrection of Jesus in John 10 & 11. You can read it here

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Time will end at 23:59 on 19th April 2010

Sorry, the title is not an attempt on my part to dabble with some eschatological predictions. It is a reference to the time limit on a special deal from Christian Focus. If you live in the UK you can get a 35% discount on Don Carson's new book Don Carson's book From the Resurrection to His Return: Living in the last days.

Christian Focus are offering a special deal on this book, in partnership with, of 35% off from 00:01 on the 18th March until 23:59 on the 19th March. You can order it by going here.

Here's a brief summary:
This short, accessible, book is designed for the whole church. Based on 2 Timothy 3 Carson gives wise counsel to the Church, imploring us to avoid false teachers and to seek good mentors.
I've read the pre-release pdf and was struck by the number of vital issues and principles for the life of the Church that Carson draws out of 2 Timothy 3. This is a short, challenging, book and one that clearly points out the things that matter as we wait for Christ's return.

Here's the blurb:
This is not another book on what view to hold about the reality of Jesus' return but it is about how to live in the light of his imminent return. Don Carson accurately determines that the Christian church has always lived in what the bible terms 'the last days'...the period between his ascension to his Father in heaven and his return on the clouds of heaven.

Based on Paul's teaching in 2 Timothy 3, Don Carson gives wise counsel to today's church to avoid false teaching and to seek good mentors, those who will lead us in truth.

He shows that to rely on worldly wisdom is folly, that the world is utterly sinful, but rather to cling to the Bible as the source of our counsel and guidance and help.
But more than that he shows us that it is in holding the Bible out to a needy world we take its message to where it is needed the most.

To live in the last days is not to hang on in quiet desperation but to boldly take the word of God and apply it to every situation knowing that it will meet every need just as it has throughout the two millennia since Jesus promised to return again. That is how to live in the last days!

Augustine and the Trinity: Lewis Ayres

This book looks very interesting. Shame that it is so expensive. I shall have to cancel the family holiday to buy it. I'm sure the kids will understand.

Here's the blurb:
Augustine of Hippo (354–430) strongly influenced western theology, but he has often been accused of over-emphasizing the unity of God to the detriment of the Trinity.

In this book Lewis Ayres demonstrates how Augustine’s writings actually offer one of the most sophisticated and persuasive of Nicene Trinitarian theologies. Culminating recent research by scholars in Europe and the US, Ayres argues that Augustine's earliest Trinitarian writings drew on a variety of earlier Latin traditions which stressed the irreducibility of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as well as on the Neo-Platonist philosopher Plotinus.

Ayres then demonstrates how Augustine's mature writings offer an elaborate and unexpected account of the Trinity as defined by the inter-personal life of Father, Son and Spirit. Ayres also shows that Augustine shaped an account of Christian ascent toward understanding of and participation in the divine life which begins in faith and models itself on Christ’s humility.

This new treatment of Augustine of Hippo’s theology of the Trinity defends one of the most influential figures in western religious thought against the long-held assumption that he over-emphasized the unity of God. Culminating recent research, Ayres argues that Augustine actually offered one of the most sophisticated early Trinitarian theologies.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The tragic regress of heresy

Here's a snippet from Don Carson taken from his new Christian Focus title From the Resurrection to His Return (35% discount available on UK orders from 18-19th March, details here).
The church is usually not too badly troubled by teachers who are, from the beginning outside the framework of confessional Christianity, teachers who are saying all kinds of things that Christians view as foolish, dangerous, or simply false – because they’re recognised as moving in another circle, they’re bringing another set of assumptions.

By contrast, if you find someone who has been a public teacher of Christianity for some time and who then gradually moves away from the centre of the faith, it sometimes takes a while to discern the nature of the drift.

When the first people to notice begin to wave a red flag, others say, ‘Oh, come on, you’re being much too critical. After all, we trust this person; he’s been such a huge help to us.’ It might take a very long time before many people clearly see how serious this
drift is.

Such teachers, then, are traitors.

They have turned their backs on what they once taught and defended, and so they have become treacherous.

It is not uncommon for such people to become rash.

They become impetuous in the sense that they do not think through the long-term eff ects of the stances that they are now adopting.

They become conceited, far too impressed by their own new-found opinions and deeply persuaded that the people whom they have left behind are narrow-minded and bigoted.

With egos the size of small planets, they become unwilling to think through things out of a confessional heritage anymore; they are too busy telling everybody else how wrong
they are.

But where is God in such behaviour? It is tragic to find unambiguous examples of people who are ‘lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God’.

35% discount on Don Carson's new book

This special offer is for UK readers only. Christian Focus are about to release Don Carson's book From the Resurrection to His Return: Living in the last days.

Here's a brief summary:
This short, accessible, book is designed for the whole church. Based on 2 Timothy 3 Carson gives wise counsel to the Church, imploring us to avoid false teachers and to seek good mentors.
The book is due out on the 18th March and Christian Focus are offering a special deal, in partnership with, of 35% off from 00:01 on the 18th March until 23:59 on the 19th March. You can pre-order, or order, depending on when you are reading this, by going here.

Here's the blurb:
This is not another book on what view to hold about the reality of Jesus' return but it is about how to live in the light of his imminent return. Don Carson accurately determines that the Christian church has always lived in what the bible terms 'the last days'...the period between his ascension to his Father in heaven and his return on the clouds of heaven.

Based on Paul's teaching in 2 Timothy 3, Don Carson gives wise counsel to today's church to avoid false teaching and to seek good mentors, those who will lead us in truth.

He shows that to rely on worldly wisdom is folly, that the world is utterly sinful, but rather to cling to the Bible as the source of our counsel and guidance and help.
But more than that he shows us that it is in holding the Bible out to a needy world we take its message to where it is needed the most.

To live in the last days is not to hang on in quiet desperation but to boldly take the word of God and apply it to every situation knowing that it will meet every need just as it has throughout the two millennia since Jesus promised to return again. That is how to live in the last days!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Reformation and Deformation of the Church in Scotland: New titles from Christian Focus

Christian Focus have two new titles on the stories of gospel faithfulness and doctrinal decline among nineteenth century Scottish presbyterians.

Thanks to Iain D. Campbell for pointing out Sandy Finlayson's new book on the Free Church Fathers Unity & Diversity: The Founders of the Free Church of Scotland. Iain says of this volume "where there is a love for the gospel in Scotland, their story deserves to be told, and Sandy Finlayson has told it well. A highly commended volume."

Here's the blurb:
It has been many years since there has been a popular level book, which has looked at the life and ministry of some of the 'fathers' of the Free Church of Scotland. This book looks at the life and ministry of a number of the key figures in the Disruption era and late 19th Century Free Church.

Beginning with Thomas Chalmers, each chapter has a biographical sketch of a key figure with an emphasis on why these men mattered in their time and what they still have to say to us in the 21st century.

All of the men portrayed were committed to the advancement of the Gospel in Scotland and further afield. While they shared a commitment to the Confession of Faith and reformed theology, this was expressed in unique ways by each of these men. Hence both unity and diversity is on view in these fascinating pages.
Carl Trueman writes about the book:
"Sandy Finlayson's study of the nineteenth century leaders of the Free Church of Scotland is neither hagiography nor iconoclasm; rather, it is the thoughtful reflection of a committed presbyterian on the men who helped shape the Scottish church through their commitment to orthodoxy, evangelism, and social action.

The attractive churchmanship which these church leaders represented is all too rare today; and I hope this work will do something to restore it to its rightful place in the wider Christian landscape."
More details, sample pages and the contents page can be found here

Christian Focus are also due to release Ian Hamilton's book on The Erosion of Calvinist Orthodoxy: Drifting from the truth in Scottish confessional churches.

Here's the blurb:
This revealing read will give you an opportunity to learn from history. How do strong confessional churches that seem to be doing all the right things drift inexorably from the truth?. What is clear from Ian Hamilton's fascinating study is that it doesn't happen over night but it is a gradual erosion of theological and doctrinal standards.

Nineteenth century Scotland was seen as a Christian nation composed of church-going people. Among its churches, Presbyterianism was strongest, and within Presbyterianism there were several large denominations. The future looked bright and optimism marked many of the church leaders and congregations. Yet the sad fact is that most of them were blind to the presence of the warning signs that ultimately caused the decline and not the continued growth of the church in Scotland.

To understand how this happened Ian Hamilton looks at the changes that took place within one of these large Presbyterian denominations - the United Presbyterian Church - and analyses the roots, developments and consequences of these changes, particularly the departure from the doctrines summarised in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

It is a salutary lesson to observe that the movements for church unions and increased evangelism of the nineteenth century were not signs of spiritual health; instead they were inadequate sticking plasters that hid dangerous spiritual disease. This book also includes discussion on the nature of subscription to the Confession at time of 1733 secession, the atonement controversy 1841-45, the Union controversy 1863-1873 and 1879 United Presbyterian Church Declaratory Act.
More details can be found here

Sunday, March 14, 2010

We are worthy of none of the things for which we pray

More from Luther. The following is taken from the Small Catechism:

"And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us."

What does this mean?


We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor deny such petitions on account of them; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but that He would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much, and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.

So will we verily, on our part, also heartily forgive and also readily do good to those who sin against us.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

If God does not forgive without ceasing, we are lost

Here is Luther on the Fifth Petition in the Lord's Prayer. It is taken from the Large Catechism. I hope that you find it edifying:
"And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us"

This part now relates to our poor miserable life, which, although we have and believe the Word of God, and do and submit to His will, and are supported by His gifts and blessings, is nevertheless not without sin. For we still stumble daily and transgress because we live in the world among men who do us much harm and give us cause for impatience, anger, revenge, etc.

Besides, we have Satan at our back, who sets upon us on every side, and fights (as we have heard) against all the foregoing petitions, so that it is not possible always to stand firm in such a persistent conflict.

Therefore there is here again great need to call upon God and to pray: Dear Father, forgive us our trespasses. Not as though He did not forgive sin without and even before our prayer (for He has given us the Gospel, in which is pure forgiveness before we prayed or ever thought about it). But this is to the intent that we may recognize and accept such forgiveness.

For since the flesh in which we daily live is of such a nature that it neither trusts nor believes God, and is ever active in evil lusts and devices, so that we sin daily in word and deed, by commission and omission, by which the conscience is thrown into unrest, so that it is afraid of the wrath and displeasure of God, and thus loses the comfort and confidence derived from the Gospel; therefore it is ceaselessly necessary that we run hither and obtain consolation to comfort the conscience again.

But this should serve God's purpose of breaking our pride and keeping us humble. For in case any one should boast of his godliness and despise others, God has reserved this prerogative to Himself, that the person is to consider himself and place this prayer before his eyes, and he will find that he is no better than others, and that in the presence of God all must lower their plumes, and be glad that they can attain forgiveness.

And let no one think that as long as we live here he can reach such a position that he will not need such forgiveness. In short, if God does not forgive without ceasing, we are lost.

It is therefore the intent of this petition that God would not regard our sins and hold up to us what we daily deserve, but would deal graciously with us, and forgive, as He has promised, and thus grant us a joyful and confident conscience to stand before Him in prayer.

For where the heart is not in right relation towards God, nor can take such confidence, it will nevermore venture to pray. But such a confident and joyful heart can spring from nothing else than the [certain] knowledge of the forgiveness of sin.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pride makes you susceptible to heresy

Something to ponder from Augustine (Confessions, Oxford World's Classics, p. 40) concerning the inner disposition of soul that opens one up to heresies.

Notice also that recurring theme of false meanings fixed to sound words. Heretics always use orthodox Biblical and creedal words but they ascribe to those words theological content alien to the teaching of Scripture:
My inflated conceit shunned the Bible's restraint, and my gaze never penetrated its inwardness.

Yet the Bible was composed in such a way that as beginners mature, its meaning grows with them. I disdained to be a little beginner.

Puffed up with pride, I considered myself a mature adult.

That explains why I fell in with men proud of their slick talk, very earthly minded and loquacious.

In their mouths were the devil's traps and a birdline compounded of a mixture of the mere syllables of your name, and that of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that of the Paraclete.

These names were never absent from their lips; but it was no more than sound and noise with their tongue. Otherwise their heart was empty of truth.

They used to say 'Truth, truth', and they had a lot to tell me about it; but there was never any truth in them. They uttered false statements not only about you who really are the Truth, but also about the elements of the world, your creation.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Teach me, that I may teach others also

So prayed Charles Hodge. This is exactly what pastors, teachers and theologians should pray.

I also like the way that Hilary of Poitiers prayed along these lines. In fact, the following demands careful, thoughtful, reading and reflection. I think he got it right:

I know, O Lord God Almighty, that I owe Thee, as the chief duty of my life, the devotion of all my words and thoughts to Thyself.

The gift of speech which Thou hast bestowed can bring me no higher reward than the opportunity of service in preaching Thee and displaying Thee as Thou art, as Father and Father of God the Only-begotten, to the world in its blindness and the heretic in his rebellion.

But this is the mere expression of my own desire; I must pray also for the gift of Thy help and compassion, that the breath of Thy Spirit may fill the sails of faith and confession which I have spread, and a favouring wind be sent to forward me on my voyage of instruction.

We can trust the promise of Him Who said, Ask, and it shall be given you, seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you; and we in our want shall pray for the things we need.

We shall bring an untiring energy to the study of Thy Prophets and Apostles, and we shall knock for entrance at every gate of hidden knowledge, but it is Thine to answer the prayer, to grant the thing we seek, to open the door on which we beat.

Our minds are born with dull and clouded vision, our feeble intellect is penned within the barriers of an impassable ignorance concerning things Divine; but the study of Thy revelation elevates our soul to the comprehension of sacred truth, and submission to the faith is the path to a certainty beyond the reach of unassisted reason.

And therefore we look to Thy support for the first trembling steps of this undertaking, to Thy aid that it may gain strength and prosper.

We look to Thee to give us the fellowship of that Spirit Who guided the Prophets and the Apostles, that we may take their words in the sense in which they spoke and assign its right shade of meaning to every utterance.

For we shall speak of things which they preached in a mystery; of Thee, O God Eternal, Father of the Eternal and Only-begotten God, Who alone art without birth, and of the One Lord Jesus Christ, born of Thee from everlasting.

We may not sever Him from Thee, or make Him one of a plurality of Gods, on any plea of difference of nature. We may not say that He is not begotten of Thee, because Thou art One.

We must not fail to confess Him as true God, seeing that He is born of Thee, true God, His Father. Grant us, therefore, precision of language, soundness of argument, grace of style, loyalty to truth.

Enable us to utter the things that we believe, that so we may confess, as Prophets and Apostles have taught us, Thee, One God our Father, and One Lord Jesus Christ, and put to silence the gainsaying of heretics, proclaiming Thee as God, yet not solitary, and Him as God, in no unreal sense.

House of Lords vote to allow Civil Partnerships to take place in church

The following was sent to me by the North West Partnership:

Last night (2nd March 2010) the House of Lords voted to change the law on Civil Partnerships, allowing them to be performed in Churches and/or with religious language.

The amendment, which was introduced by Lord Alli, an openly homosexual
Peer, and backed by a number of liberal Bishops, effectively removes one of the final distinctions between Marriage and Civil Partnerships—introduced just five years ago as being purely secular in nature.

The amendment was voted through at 11pm, by 95 votes to 21—an
extraordinarily low number for such an important matter—and was hailed as a breakthrough by homosexual activists.

In January 2010, the Government had resisted Lord Alli’s amendment,
reassuring the public that it was ‘not a workable solution to this issue’. However, in an unexpected move, the government suddenly allowed its Peers a free vote on the issue. The Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats also gave its Peers a free vote.

Ironically, the amendment was advanced as an issue of religious freedom,
with some religious organisations voicing their desire to hold Civil Partnership ceremonies.

However, homosexual activists have previously made it clear that any
change in the law would only be a step towards forcing churches to perform civil partnerships.

For example, Ben Summerskill, Head of
Stonewall, recently said: “Right now, faiths shouldn’t be forced to hold civil partnerships, although in ten or 20 years, that may change.”

Andrea Williams, Director of CCFON, said:

“What took place last night is nothing short of outrageous and all who
care about democracy should be alarmed at the proceedings. At the end of January, Baroness Royall for the Government stated that: ‘Any change can therefore be brought */only/* after proper and careful consideration of these issues.’

“Was this statement deliberately deceitful, or do the Government believe
that last night’s debate constituted the ‘proper and careful consideration’ of the issues? The amendment was debated for less than an hour and was voted through literally at the eleventh hour, taking everybody by surprise. To have such a significant change in the law—a change to another piece of legislation no less—take place at the end of the Equality Bill’s passing, without any real debate or consultation, and at such an hour that most Peers were not even in the House, is a disgrace and a clear manipulation of the system.

“We will be calling on the Government to resist these changes, for the
good of our democracy as well as for the protection of marriage.”

It is not the first time that constitutional irregularities have been
used to force through law that significantly favours homosexual activists.

In 2006 Lord Alli introduced amendments to the Equality Bill
2005/6 at the very last moment, which led to the creation of the Sexual Orientation Regulations 2007.

These highly controversial regulations
were passed through on a take it or leave it basis, with no debate at all in the House of Commons and amongst other things have led to the closing of Catholic adoption agencies.

Remythologizing Theology: Kevin Vanhoozer interviewed by Guy Davies

My old pal Guy Davies recently interviewed Kevin Vanhoozer about his new book Remythologizing Theology. My mother's maiden name was McAndrew and I don't mind telling you that when I saw the price of the book my Scottish blood yelped.

Here's a taster:
GD: What is your main aim in this book?

KV: For years I’ve felt that the doctrine of God was a relatively weak spot in evangelical theology. Then open theism happened and my suspicions were confirmed.

One major aim, then, is to provide a retooling of classical theism that takes into account the concerns of open theists – in particular, the integrity of God’s loving relationship to the world – while simultaneously maintaining what I take to be the correct Reformed emphasis on divine sovereignty.

Another aim is to scrutinize the oft-heard claim in contemporary theology that God’s love entails divine suffering.

GD: What do you mean by "remythologizing theology"?’

KV: I don’t mean “mythologizing again”! “Remythologizing” pertains first and foremost not to myth but “mythos,” Aristotle’s term for dramatic plot.

I’m using “remythologizing” as a contrast term to Bultmann’s demythologizing. Where Bultmann fails to take seriously either the Bible’s depictions of God’s acts or the Bible as the product of God’s authorship, remythologizing starts: with God as one who speaks and acts, the latter often by way of speaking.

Remythologizing is a proposal for “first theology,” a way of thinking God and Scripture together. Specifically, it views God’s being on the basis of God’s acts, especially his communicative acts. God is as God does, and God does as God says.

Remythologizing theology is all about speaking well of God on the basis of God’s own speech. To remythologize theology is to set forth the ontology of the one who speaks in Scripture, the one whom Scripture is also about.

GD: What do the words of the subtitle, Divine Action, Passion and Authorship, say about your attitude towards the impassibility of God? Isn't he a being "without body, parts or passions"?

KV: The sub-title alone does not make a statement but announces a theme. The question of God’s suffering – that is, his ability to be affected by human creatures – is a red thread that runs throughout the book. If Nicholas Wolterstorff is right in comparing classical theism to a seamless garment where one loose thread spells the unraveling of the whole, then divine impassibility makes for an excellent case study.

Remytholgizing Theology is a minority opposition report on the “new orthodoxy” of divine suffering. While I want to take the biblical depictions of God’s dialogical interaction with human beings seriously, I don’t want to pull God down to the creaturely level.

The challenge, then, is to specify to what the biblical descriptions of God’s emotions actually refer. There is not much on the meaning of divine emotions in the history of theology. Classical theists tend to take this language as anthropomorphic; open theists tend to take it literally.

I had to resist the temptation simply to choose one side rather than the other. The prior question is: what is a divine emotion? I do provide an answer, but the water in that pool is a bit too deep to dive into here.

You can read the whole thing here

I'm working my way through, at the second attempt, Vanhoozer's The Drama of Doctrine. Maybe the first time the extended imagery failed to make a vivid impression on me, then again haven't you found that a book you just couldn't get in to proved to be rewarding a few months or years later?

Here is a sentence from the Introduction that made me rub my eyes a few times:
With regard to the overarching theatrical model, the theologian is best associated not with the director (this role is best reserved for the Holy Spirit and for those ministers the Spirit gifts and equips to be assistants) but with the dramaturge, the person responsible for advising the director on how best to understand and perform the script (chap. 8).
I know what he means, but it sounds a lot like "Kevin Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology and Special Advisor to God the Holy Spirit."