Saturday, December 30, 2006
One of the posts I'm looking forward to in January will be an interview with author and professor of Old Testament and Biblical hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Peter Enns (whose book I reviewed here and here as well as responding to criticisms of my review here) - so look for that.
The result of posting more frequently will probably be an increase in rabid raving about some topic or another. The new blogger allows for labels, so I've added them to all of my previous posts for easier access - so now I can finally be properly cited in magazines dedicated to interior decorating, budget haircare and preteen gossip. In any case, please accept my apologies, dear hypothetical readers, and expect your compensatory gift baskets to arrive soon. In the meantime, accept the offering of my slightly updated template.
And now, with the sole interest of drawing attention to myself via the magic of technorati, I will insidiously link the posts of various Christian blogs that I'd like to use in order to get myself mentioned or attract their readers:
Mike Bird has some interesting comments on Tom Wright's Simply Christian.
The illustrious internet monk, Michael Spencer diverges from many critics in his review of Apocalypto.
Phil Johnson charitably links someone who only mentions him in order to get linked. How shameful, yet shameless.
Regardless of the odd (as in occasional AND strange) post on postmodernism, Doug Wilson proves once again that his voice is worthy to be heard.
Ben Myers lists several outstanding moments in blogging from 2006.
Scot McKnight comments on a book called The End of Memory by a theologian named Miroslav Volf, who my brother has really enjoyed at Yale.
The Tall Skinny Kiwi discusses the merits of John Piper's book on depression, which after reading his post, I think I'll be picking up immediately.
John Frye breaks the pattern of dismal reactions I've heard about the Christmas release of The Nativity Story.
Alan Bandy, who was into the word Apocalypto before it was cool, had a fantastic Christmas post that I think you'll enjoy as much as I did.
Chris Tilling posted a fantastic series featuring Richard Bauckham - who actually went to the trouble to respond to some commenters. Go back and read parts 1 and 2 as well.
Ben Witherington enjoyed The Pursuit of Happyness, as did my wife and I when we saw it this last weekend.
Check out James K.A. Smith and Nancey Murphy at NPR's "Speaking of Faith" in a feature called Evangelicals Out of the Box.
Joel Garver has some typically insightful things to say about the emerging stuff.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Recently the Evangelical Theological Society has claimed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy as a non-negotiable necessity for existing members. This isn't really news, in one sense, since the society has always included inerrancy, along with Trinitarianism, in its spartan self-definition. The news comes in the intended effect of such a move; namely, the expulsion of all members holding to some version of open-theism.
If you're an evangelical, as I am, you might not be shocked that they would want to do such a thing - but if you were present for the recent tribunal of Clark Pinnock and John Sanders (some of the evangelical architects of the view), you might be surprised at the ensuing discussion. Several members, most who repudiate open theism, actually opposed the motion for their removal for the same reason that I oppose the aforementioned direction the society is heading. In short, the weight being placed on the doctrine of inerrancy is far too great, doing a disservice to both the doctrine of inerrancy and the Biblical authority which evangelicals have historically defended.
The society is trying to use inerrancy to guarantee certain interpretive results, which, in the end, mutilates the doctrine. If the reliability of Scripture is functionally equated to certain theological positions there is no principal reason that, for example, Arminians couldn't be accused of denying inerrancy (they don’t believe in deterministic election). But the real problem for the largely Calvinist society is that the opposite could just as easily be said if Arminians happened to hold a more powerful persuasion. There are, of course, Arminians who hold to inerrancy, and who also happen to believe that the Scriptures inerrantly teach a certain brand of human free-will! The point is that using inerrancy to defeat their position is smuggling interpretive decisions through the back door. It's lazy at best and an egregious abuse of power at worst (which is ironic, given evangelical mistrust of ecclesiastical hierarchy).
For a good many open theists the issue comes down to differing understandings of genre and metaphor - they’re not saying that certain passages are erroneous; rather, they think that passages about God changing His mind mean what they say, and that it would be a violation of the text (!) to interpret them otherwise. Their failure, in my view (I'm not an open theist) is an interpretive failure, not a necessary denigration of the nature of Scripture. Robert Chisholm, a conservative OT scholar from Dallas Theological Seminary (also not an open theist), has made this same observation, and in various OT presentations, has been a voice of reason about the issue. The end result of this logic is that every position can claim an opposing view to be a “denial of inerrancy”, since every position will putatively be put forward as "the clear teaching of Scripture".
But the issue extends beyond the treatment of certain passages into the interpretive framework by which they are being approached. Are those who subscribe to a certain species of speech-act theory as a general hermeneutic “denying inerrancy” just because they don’t think that all language is properly binary (true/false)? Their beliefs about the nature of language make the label of “inerrant” on the whole of Scripture a simple category mistake (i.e. how can a command be “free from error”? It can be reliable toward some end, but not “true” or “false”). At this point it's clear that the doctrine of inerrancy, if used this way, has become too bloated: not only does it seek to affirm the reliability of Scripture, but a theory of language and interpretive framework as well! So not only is it the case that inerrancy shouldn’t be given a position of hermeneutical arbitration, but it can’t function in that way. Inerrancy can guard against people who say that certain texts are “wrong” in their theological import - but it can’t guard against people who say that the Bible is, in fact, infallibly claiming one thing or another.
Could I sign the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy? Absolutely. Should open theism be excluded from the society on those grounds? Emphatically not. The issue isn't whether God's foreknowledge is taught in Scripture (I believe it is), or whether its denial is theologically dangerous (it is) - the issue is the ground of such objections. The precedent of using inerrancy to combat the opposition is completely wrongheaded, and persisting in these tactics will be a course that members will live to regret.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
I keep wondering if I should just give up the ghost on this thing. It reminds me of my first few years of marriage, where I was making promises with every intent on fulfilling them, but never actually getting around to it. But I didn't pull the plug on THAT, now did I? So (look out, here comes another vain promise), I'll try to keep posting here more regularly (than never, that is). I've been thinking about posting a targum on Galatians 1, a commentary on the Haggard thing, an essay on video gaming, a reflection on Richard Dawkins, a diatribe about the Christian academy, a review of some of the books I mentioned in my last post, and a confession about my laziness.
One post down, six to go (not that any of them will be what I've mentioned here). Don't hold your breath.
Monday, October 09, 2006
The Drama of Scripture is among the first books I've recieved and it is the one I'm currently reading. In the tradition of Cornelius Plantinga's Engaging God's World it's intended as a primer for college students in which Bartholomew and Green give the basic framework for interpreting all of life's experiences. Taking its cues in part from N.T. Wright and Al Wolters, the concept of story guides this treatment of the Christian worldview in six (as opposed to Wright's five) acts. Though the authors are informed by such philosophical luminaries as Alasdair MacIntyre and Nicholas Wolterstorff technical discussion never ends up hogging the camera, as the Biblical story takes center stage. It's proving to be a highly recommended read already. If you're interested in the topic, check out their website, based on this book.
Being compared to C.S. Lewis in any light is high praise, and Wright's book has recieved plenty of it. With Lewis' Mere Christianity haunting every page, Wright gives compelling reasons for intelligent unbelievers to consider taking Christianity seriously. The primary differnce bewteen the old classic and Wright's likely candidate for future canonization is that the former attempted to reason from commonly held first principles to Christianity along a track of logical necessity whereas the latter simply (note the title) presents the essence of Christian belief with all its internal logical consistency. The result is something that may have been lacking by the end of Lewis' treatment, namely the aesthetics of Christianity. If Lewis addressed the issue of truth, Wright builds upon it an edifice of beauty.
Having read Francis Watson's impressive and astute Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith and being a huge fan of anything by Kevin Vanhoozer, I'm really looking forward to this little book. I've been interested in the topic of theological hermeneutics since I started reading the Scripture and Hermeneutics Series (I'm currently on volume six), and though I've seen others interact with him some, I've never read anything by Stephen Fowl. With the renewed interest in the topic (even recently spawning a new SBL study group) there's a torrent of literature available, which makes collections of essays one of the more efficient ways to keep up. Vanhoozer's recent book The Drama of Doctrine attempts to maintain propositional elements lost in postliberal approaches, and seeks to give standards for normative interpretation outside an often wayward Church without falling into the pitfalls of supposedly neutral "scientific" approaches. I'm interested in seeing his interaction with Fowl and Adam on the issue.
One of the recurrent themes in Joel Green's work, both exegetical and theological, is his attempt to bridge the gap between Biblical Studies and dogmatics. Historically at odds with one another, the divide is best seen by the distrust each discipline manifests toward the other. Commentaries repeatedly warn of the danger of importing one's theology into the text while theologians warn of the danger of atomizing the Biblical text, at the same time reminding us that without theology the Bible remains nothing more than an interesting archaeological artifact. In Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology, Green and Turner have collected several exciting essays both describing the problems and paving the way for possible solutions. Contributors include Stephen Fowl, Robert Wall, John Christopher Thomas, John Goldingay, Steve Motyer, Trevor Hart and N.T. Wright, as well as an introductory essay by the editors.
I pre-ordered this book by Norman Wirzba based on the title alone. I don't know anything about the author, and I wasn't really looking for something on the subject - but the idea of a Christian theology of enjoying life derived from Israel's Sabbath practices is just fascinating. Working with youth, I've encountered two sorts of kids, both of which see relaxation as a brief worldly respite from the rigors of Christian discipline. The difference is that one kind of kid is cool with the worldly nature of enjoying life (in moderation), while the other isn't. It's the classic divide between libertinism and legalism, and everyone I know (including myself) leans in one direction or the other. I'm hoping this book helps in filling out a third way to a very practical problem.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
We can’t just “be better” people, because being “better” doesn’t mean that we’re “right” – right with God, right with one another, or right with ourselves. In all of our thoughts and actions we have cast Him aside, we have turned from our Maker to the things He has made in order to get direction for our lives, and in doing that we have so violated our relationship with God, so offended Him with our sin – the effects of it, the willfulness of it, the betrayal in it – that we stand in a state of total guilt and total worthiness of His just retribution. We are responsible. We are to blame. There is nowhere else to point the finger - and we must pay.
But judgment isn’t our only problem with our sin. We haven’t just come to realize that we are worthy of judgment, we’ve come to realize that our sins are, in fact, killing us. They’re destroying us. Everything that God has made, in all its beauty: food, drink, sex, the glories of nature, the creativity of human expression, all varieties of human relationships – all of these things which God has given us to enlarge our souls, to increase the capacity to have intimacy with Him, to reflect His own beauty – they’re tainted by our sin. The good in these things haven’t been destroyed by our sin, but they’ve been distorted and we abuse these things to our own hurt, which has led to the shrinking and shriveling of our souls. So instead of liberating us, we become enslaved to them.
And so our sin doesn’t just cause us to perish in judgment, it is the reason we ARE PERISHING, even now. We must answer Our Maker for our sins, and in the meantime we are being dehumanized by them. We’re not just the perpetrators of sin, we’re victims of sin – even our own. We’re not only awaiting eternal death in judgment, we’re dying now. We’re slaves to sin and the fear of death. So, what will we do?
God’s answer to that question, of course, is "nothing". There’s nothing WE can do. So He did it. Because of God’s love for the people He made, He sent Jesus to die in our place and to rise on our behalf. Jesus’ life demonstrated the freedom and beauty of man without sin. He offered Himself to God on our behalf and died on our behalf, taking the judgment we deserve and rising again in order to give us new life, a life not dominated by evil. Jesus has dealt with our sin in his death and is now dealing with our sin in the power of His resurrection. He is the lamb of God who [PRESENT TENSE] takes away [IS EVEN NOW TAKING AWAY] the sin of the world. He cancelled its penalty once and for all and He’s conquering its dominion over us even now.
Christians need the Father’s mercy to continue forgiving us for our sin, His Son, Jesus Christ, to continue interceding on our behalf and you the Holy Spirit to continue washing and sanctifying us from sin. And that’s exactly what God is doing in the Church. The Church is the place where sin is being defeated, and God’s righteousness is gaining a foothold, a beachhead, in the world. And when I say righteousness, I don’t mean some “on your high-horse” fussy, finger-wagging perfection – I mean what the Bible means by that word. I mean “rightness”. Everyone, both Christian and non-Christian, knows that something is wrong with the world. It’s broken. It’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s not “right”. But in the Church God is making things right – He’s making right relationships, right living, right thinking, right loving, right hoping, right feeling, right sorrow, right pain, right suffering, right joy. That’s righteousness – not some weird abstract standard that’s meant to squash everyone – but the life-giving, relationship restoring “rightness” which reflects who the Creator is, and what every person and culture on earth desperately hungers for (and yet violently opposes) – it’s what Christians call “the kingdom of God” - God’s righteous rule. It’s a wonderful thing.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
"One thing I noticed about Evangelicals is that they do not read. They do not read the Bible, they do not read the great Christian thinkers, they have never heard of Aquinas. If they're Presbyterian, they've never read the founders of Presbyterianism. I do not understand that. As a Jew, that's confusing to me. The commandment of study is so deep in Judaism that we immerse ourselves in study. God gave us a brain, aren't we to use it in His service? When I walk into an Evangelical Christian's home and see a total of 30 books, most of them best-sellers, I do not understand. I have bookcases of Christian books, and I'm a Jew. Why do I have more Christian books than 98 percent of the Christians in America? This is so bizarre to me."
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
If you're interested in a lengthier evaluation, check out Broken Messenger for two excellent, insightful pieces.
But now for something a good deal more refreshing, I'd point you to the eminently likable and relatively controversy-free Adrian Warnock. Even in debate, he's always the model of charity, and he's recently posted a wonderful closer to a dispute about cessationism. In it he's quoted one of his heroes, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and it was such a good read that I just had to reproduce it here:
"What is being taught in Christendom today is this; that since we have got the New Testament canon, since we have got the Word now, we do not need these direct interventions, we do not need God to speak to us directly, as He spoke to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob and these patriarchs. We have got the Word now! Is this superior to the direct speech of God? I think we are mad! There is no other word for this. We are mad. We are meant to be in a superior position to every Old Testament saint because of what has happened in our blessed Lord and Saviour! But this teaching would have us believe that we do not need this direct contact with God now, and that all that has come to an end since the formation of the New Testament canon . . . . .remember that the great point of the whole teaching of the Bible, of all you can deduce from it, is to tell you that God is a God who acts. And our only hope this afternoon is that this is still true. He has not finished acting. He is going on . . . There is only one hope. That is that He is still the living and the acting God. Christ is at His right hand, and He is seated and waiting until His enemies should be made His footstool . . . ."
I have been defending the faith—- and people have praised me for doing it. Rubbish! What a miserable failure it has all been! From now on I am determined to do one thing only, and that is to give God no rest nor peace, until He does prove Himself and show Himself. I have expended so much energy in reasoning with the people about this faith. We have got to do that, it is part of preaching. But if we stop at that, it will avail us nothing. But what I now am concerned about and I am concentrating on is this — asking God to show Himself, to do something,to give this touch, this manifestation of power. Nothing else will even make people listen to us . . . . Nothing is going to call the attention of the masses of the people to the truth of this faith save a great phenomenon, such as the phenomenon of the day of Pentecost, the phenomenon of any one of the great revivals, the phenomenon of a single changed life. This is something that always arrests attention, maybe curiosity — what does it matter? The people come and listen . . . .
We must not be content until we have had some manifestation of the activity of God. We must concentrate on this. This is my plea, that we concentrate on this, because it is the great message of the Bible Let us put it like this: Do we really believe that God can still act? That is the question; that is the ultimate challenge. Or have we, for theological or some other reasons, excluded the very possibility? Here is the crucial matter. Do we individually and personally really believe that God still acts, can act and will act — in individuals, in groups of individuals, in churches, localities, perhaps even in countries? Do we believe that He is as capable of doing that today as He was in ancient times — the Old Testament, the New Testament times, the book of Acts, Protestant Reformation, Puritans, Methodist Awakening, 1859, 1904-5? Do we really believe that He can still do it? You see, it is ultimately what you believe about God. If He is the great Jehovah — I am that I am, I am that I shall be, unchanged, unchanging, unchangeable, the everlasting and eternal God — well, He can still do it.”
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Though I’ve mentioned my appreciation for him before, I didn’t really realize that I was a Vanhoozer fanboy until today, so I haven’t given much thought as to why that is – but here’s a Rorschach-shaped reactionary first guess:
- He’s a both a scholar AND self-consciously Christian: In every book and lecture it’s abundantly clear that Vanhoozer’s interests aren’t just academic – he sees theology as fundamentally a task for the Church to be done by the Church. While many claim to be interested in a theology which refuses to divorce knowledge from practice Vanhoozer actually makes the Church’s practice a fundamental factor in theorizing about doctrine. But beyond this, all of his scholarship begins with rigorous Christian foundations, making use of Christian resources to answer hermeneutical and theological problems. For all of his kind and critical engagement, he never pretends that Christianity is a peer among equals in the marketplace of ideas. Scripture has always taken an unapologetically central role in his work (a fact not easily recognized if all you’re doing is looking for references in an index). Moreover, his scholarship is actually an astonishing testimony of the Spirit’s work, as it intentionally aims at love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and humility – a rare commodity in this level of scholarship (and an even rarer commodity in the robustly Reformed circles Vanhoozer resides).
- He engages postmodernism both critically AND thoughtfully: Though Vanhoozer has, in his words, “cooled to speech-act theory” as a solution for every problem presented by postmodern criticism, his book Is There a Meaning in This Text? is near universally acclaimed as one of the most impressive and even-handed criticisms of postmodernism by someone arguing for authorial intention. His most recent offering in DoD does for postliberal theology what Is There a Meaning? did for postmodern literary theory, harvesting the wheat and leaving the chaff. His disposition of “disputation” (for an explanation, see another wonderful contribution of Vanhoozer’s in Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views) in regard to contemporary offerings is able to mine the gems without collecting rocks.
- He’s thought-provoking AND funny: Much like N.T. Wright, there’s a subtle wit about Vanhoozer’s presentation that is fun to read and even more fun to hear. Puns, double-entendre, and other wry humor is littered through every article, book and lecture in a way my brother finds annoying, but I rather enjoy. Glance through his response to Paul Helm at Reformation 21 and the corner of your mouth is bound to curl a few times.
- He’s theologically creative AND traditional: One of the most encouraging things about Vanhoozer’s work is that it pushes in new directions without being detached from the various anchors of faithfully Biblical scholarship. Beyond affirming all of the vanilla creeds, Vanhoozer’s commitment to Scripture’s perfection, authority and necessary guidance for the Church stands out from other scholars of his caliber. Like so few constructive theologians, Vanhoozer is able to employ new metaphors, develop new frameworks and offer critical evaluation of older models without pulling at the fundamental roots of Christian belief and practice - and maybe more significantly, without ever losing his distinctively evangelical commitment. Even when I find myself in something less than enthusiastic agreement with him (which, of course, I sometimes do – I’m a fanboy, not a cult member), his proposals never raise my hackles as pushing the limits too far.
- He’s profound AND prolific: The challenging and thought-provoking material isn’t only daunting in its quality, but in its quantity. As with N.T. Wright, there’s never fear that you’ll be left wanting more – there’s too much already. There are at least five books he’s edited or written which I’d still like to read, given enough time - including his Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, Biblical Narrative in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur: A Study in Hermeneutics and Theology and The Trinity in a Pluralistic Age: Theological Essays on Culture and Religion.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Speaking of virtue, he says:
The virtues therefore are to be understood as those dispositions which will not only sustain practices and enable us to achieve the goods internal to practices, but which will also sustain us in the relevant kind of quest for the good, by enabling us to overcome the harms, dangers, temptations and distractions which we encounter, and which will furnish us with increasing self-knowledge and increasing knowledge of the good. The catalogue of the virtues will therefore include the virtues required to sustain the kind of households and the kind of political communities in which men and women can seek for the good together and the virtues necessary for philosophical enquiry about the character of the good. We have then arrived at a provisional conclusion about the good life for man: the good life for man is the life spent in seeking for the good life for man, and the virtues necessary for the seeking are those which will enable us to understand what more and what else the good life for man is.Any account of ethics, then, that seeks to avoid descending into Nietzsche's nihilism must provide both an account of a unified human telos (which provides aribration for our actions and avoids seeing life as a series of unrelated moral dilemmas) and the appropriate social context in which human virtue can be exemplified (analagous to the polis). This suggestion is made over against modernism's unscucessful attempts to ground morality without a defensible telos, and that in a context of act-centered (rather than agent-centered) liberal individualism. The question, for me at least, is how MacIntyre's project may prove helpful for a distinctively Christian ethics.
I'm not a philosopher - and though reasonably intelligent, I'm not very well-informed on topics such as these. At best, I'm a curious fellow with too much time on his hands, so any criticism has to be taken with a grain of salt and without the expectation that Alasdair MacIntyre will fall upon his pen upon reading my critique - but I do have at least one major misgiving with his conception of ethics, as I've understood it (or, more likely, as I've failed to understand it). What seems to be lacking is the role that Truth (capital 'T') might play in moral discourse. I can't see how what MacIntyre is doing in this book isn't just a kind of pragmatism which, at best, can provide intelligibility for ethics, but is ulimately very little help in actual moral discourse. The lack of some kind of standard or rule by which both community and telos can be measured makes appropriating this sort of thing kind of difficult.
I'm interested to see how the subject of ethics comes up in Vanhoozer's The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology. Where postliberals have inserted the role of community and culture in formulating the doctrine which gives sense to ethics, postconservatives like Vanhoozer have replaced it with the canon of Scripture. Similarly, Vanhoozer seems to Vanhoozer seems to give the place narrative plays in MacIntyre and Hauerwas to a much larger framework (drama), of which narrative is only one component. As interesting as I've found After Virtue, I'm looking forward to the more self-consciously Christian conception in DoD.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Doug Wilson just posted a tantalizing review of J.K.A. Smith's book, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? I've been wanting to pick this one up since it was commended to me by Sir Bryan Lee, my good friend and Captain of the Intelligently Postmodern Brigade. I have to say, at first glance, I have a feeling I'd probably be more sympathetic to Wilson's take.
I'll be posting a bit more about Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue shortly, but Wilson's comments give voice to nagging concerns even as I've enjoyed the book thus far - namely the fear that once MacIntyre has destroyed the blighted secularism which has given birth to the current moral crises of our day, his sociological analysis will be powerless to commend a truly Christian alternative. The questions raised by Wilson are all the same ones I've come up against in reading Lindbeck and Hauerwas - they are so robustly and self-confidently Christian it's positively exhilerating - until the issue of engagement comes to the fore. For all the pitfalls of "cognitive-propositional" models of doctrine, and all the benefits of a narrative approach, how does a particular person's narrative climb out of the spongy morass of pluralism to assert itself without falling prey to the same criticisms as Enlightenment positivism? How can the Gospel be proclaimed without the Sitz im Leben of one hors'dourve being offered from a tray of several equally tasty choices?
I think Reformed resources provide the the only theologically viable raw material for a Biblically sustainable alternative - Plantinga's modest foundationalism, Vanhoozer's chastised version of intentionality, and Wright's critical realism are a good start (yeah, I said N.T. Wright: there's a lot more Reformed people should appreciate about the guy, Piper's latest sermon notwithstanding). The more I listen to someone like Tim Keller, the more I'm convinced of Reformed theology's potential value in navigating the postmodern world.
However necessary and beautiful the call to community formation, these authors inevitably blunt the imperial force of the Gospel, which is wrapped up in Jesus' lordship - or do they? Joel Hunter, the resident postmodern poster-boy at the Boar's Head Tavern, if you're reading this - help!
Friday, July 28, 2006
A. What we are trying to do here is own up to the teaching of Romans 5:1, for example, that teaches that we are already justified before God. God does not wait to the end of our lives in order to declare us righteous. In fact, we would not be able to have the assurance and freedom in order to live out the radical demands of Christ unless we could be confident that because of our faith we already stand righteous before him.
Nevertheless, we must also own up to the fact that our final salvation is made contingent upon the subsequent obedience which comes from faith. The way these two truths fit together is that we are justified on the basis of our first act of faith because God sees in it (like he can see the tree in an acorn) the embryo of a life of faith. This is why those who do not lead a life of faith with its inevitable obedience simply bear witness to the fact that their first act of faith was not genuine.
The textual support for this is that Romans 4:3 cites Genesis 15:6 as the point where Abraham was justified by God. This is a reference to an act of faith early in Abraham's career. Romans 4:l9-22, however, refers to an experience of Abraham many years later (when he was 100 years old, see Genesis 2l:5,l2) and says that because of the faith of this experience Abraham was reckoned righteous. In other words, it seems that the faith which justified Abraham is not merely his first act of faith but the faith which gave rise to acts of obedience later in his life. (The same thing could be shown from James 2:2l-24 in its reference to a still later act in Abraham's life, namely, the offering of his son, Isaac, in Genesis 22.) The way we put together these crucial threads of Biblical truth is by saying that we are indeed justified on the basis of our first act of faith but not without reference to all the subsequent acts of faith which give rise to the obedience that God demands.
B. When we stand before Christ as Judge we will be judged according to our deeds in this life. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Co. 5:10)." This is not an isolated teaching in the New Testament. Jesus said in Matthew 16:27, "The Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every person according to his deeds." And in the very last chapter of the Bible Jesus said, "Behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to render to every person according to what he has done" (Rev. 22:12). In other words the way you live is not unimportant.
Now the more difficult question: why is it important? Why are the deeds done in the body the evidence in this courtroom? Is the aim of this judgment to declare who is lost and who is saved, according to the works done in the body? Or is the aim of this judgment to declare the measure of your reward in the age to come according to the works done in the body? I think the answer of the New Testament is both. Our deeds will reveal who enters the age to come, and our deeds will reveal the measure of our reward in the age to come . . .
C. And we now discover that this declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit – that is, it occurs on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense. And, near the heart of Paul’s theology, it occurs in the present as an anticipation of that future verdict, when someone, responding in believing obedience to the ‘call’ of the gospel, believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. This is the point about justification by faith – to revert to the familiar terminology: it is the anticipation in the present of the verdict which will be reaffirmed in the future. Justification is not ‘how someone becomes a Christian’. It is God’s declaration about the person who has just become a Christian. And, just as the final declaration will consist, not of words so much as of an event, namely, the resurrection of the person concerned into a glorious body like that of the risen Jesus, so the present declaration consists, not so much of words, though words there may be, but of an event, the event in which one dies with the Messiah and rises to new life with him, anticipating that final resurrection.
D. [Justification] is similar to the case of a sick man who believes the doctor who promises him a sure recovery and in the meantime obeys the doctor's order in the hope of the promised recovery [from his sinful tendencies] and abstains from those things which have been forbidden him [by the doctor], so that he may in no way hinder the promised return to health or increase his sickness until the doctor can fulfill his promise to him. Now is this sick man well' The fact is that he is both sick and well. He is sick in fact but he is well [regarded as righteous] because of the sure promise of the doctor, whom he trusts and who has reckoned him as already cured, because he is sure that he will cure him . . . . In the same way Christ, our Samaritan, has brought His half-dead man into the inn to be cared for, and He has begun to heal him, having promised him the most complete cure unto eternal life, and He does not impute his sins, that is, his wicked desires, unto death, but in the meantime in the hope of the promised recovery He prohibits him from doing or omitting things by which his cure might be impeded . . . . Now is he perfectly righteous' No, for he is at the same time both a sinner and a righteous man; a sinner in fact, but a righteous man by the sure imputation and promise of God that He will continue to deliver him from sin until he has completely cured him. And he is entirely healthy in hope [in spe], but in fact [in rei] still a sinner . . . . But now if this sick man should like his sickness and refuse every cure for his disease, will he not die' Certainly, for thus it is with those who follow their lusts in this world.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
A barren waste when, so t'was fated,
a winged serapy 'fore me stood:
Where crossed the desert roads he waited.
Upon my orbs of sightless clay
His fingers lightly he did lay,
And like a startled eagle round me
I gazed and saw the earth surrounded,
Hemmed by sky . . . He touched my ear,
Then t'other, and most marked and clear,
There came to me the gentle flutter
Of angel's wings, I heard the vine
push through the earth and skyward climb,
the deep-sea monsters in the water,
like tiny fishes glide. . . . And o'er
Me calm he bent and out he tore
my sinful tongue . . . not once withdrawing
His gaze from mine, he pushed, unseen
a serpent's deadly sting between
my ice-cold lips . . . Then swiftly drawing
His shining sword, he clove my breast,
Plucked out my quivering heart, and sombre
And grim of aspect, cooly thrust
Into the gaping hole an ember
That ran with flame . . . I lay there, dead
And God, God, spake, and this He said:
"Arise O sage, and my call hearing,
Do as I bid, be naught deterred.
Stride o'er the earth a prophet searing,
The hearts of men with rightoues word."
(translated by Irina Zheleznova)
Friday, July 21, 2006
One of the most common criticisms about Christian morality in the public square is that it is fundamentally sectrian. The accusation of tribalism is probably the most frequently cited evidence of religion's failure to provide ethical norms which can lead humanity out of the intractable moral debates and political tensions in which we find ourselves. Public reason, it is said, must necessarily exclude private religious conviction if there is to be any hope for positive political solutions to issues such as abortion, sexual and racial exclusion, millitary agression, economic imperialism, and the like.
In the first few chapters of MacIntyre's After Virtue it becomes clear that what he calls the "shrill" tone of contemporary moral debate is due to just this kind of tribalism, even after religion has been excluded from the public square. Observing the nature of moral debate easily demonstrates this, as opposing proponents each defend their positions with equally valid arguments based on differing values. Once the arguments are forced back to the expression of these values, such as in the case of abortion which pits "individual freedom" against "protection of the innocent" or "the principle of unviersalizability" (you do not wish that your mother should have had an abortion, therefore you cannnot allow this in the case of others), one has no rational criteria to choose one over the other. This, in turn, results in the fundamentally non-rational, arbitrary choice of personal conviction which is ultimately commended as public policy. Thus the secular landscape is no more plagued with tribalism than religious spheres of moral debate, and the facade of moral reasoning covers what amounts to personal preference.
MacIntyre gives historical reasons for this situation in recounting Kant's refutation of Hume's grounding of morality in desires rather than in reason. Kierkegaard then went beyond both Hume and Kant in rejecting both reason and passion as the ground for morality, opting instead for radical, criterionless choice. The respective failures of each view resulted in the marginalization of philosophical ethics and rational justification in the public square, hence the environment of moral relativism which dominates our culture.
This discussion is leading up to MacIntyre's account of the failure of the Enlightenment and the modern project to provide rational grounds for moral justification - but even at this point the implications of his argument are startling. It extends a problem which is typically characterized as a religious one - namely, how should believers participate in making public policy for those who don't share their beliefs - to the secular kingdoms of this world. On what grounds can anyone justify their public policy recommendations? If it can't be "reason" or "rationality", what's left of secular resources to answer the question?
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Some form of the word " judgment" appears 4 times in these three verses (although the word really has more of the idea of investigation than the final banging of a gavel – that’s why the NAS translates it "examine”), which highlights the activity of skeptical, destructive criticism. Another way of reading it might be “It’s a very small thing to me to be cross-examined by you.” I think these verses are particularly noteworthy in the blogosphere, if for no other reason than for just how bold a response it is to those who are acting as judge. It's hard to imagine recommending that someone respond to another believer’s criticisms by saying, “Honestly, your opinion means very little to me – in fact, they mean next to nothing. So anyway . . . thanks!”
Yet that's effectively what Paul did.
In doing that, he was NOT saying: 1) that he doesn’t care about how what he does affects other people. This is the same Paul who wrote those famous words about love (13:1-13) in the same letter he wrote this.2) that Christians can never judge anything about one another. Again, in the very same letter he wrote about people engaging in open, obvious sin, saying “Do you not judge those who are within the church? The implied answer is “yes, you should!” He goes on to rebuke them for not having judges to judge between fellow believers in ch. 6.3) that he has a “the Lord told me” get out of jail free card which exalts his behavior above accountability.
But what he was up against wasn't loving believers holding one another accountable for their sin - it was the same kind of overbearing, finger-pointing, camel-swallowing, gnat-straining, foaming-at-the-mouth, fault-finding false judgment that Jesus rebuked in the Pharisees. Those who have been blogging for long know what this is like, those who don't even know what a blog is should probably just take a moment to thank Jesus right now. If you're unsure about what this looks like, and have a stomach that's a bit too sensitive for checking out some of the fire-and-blogstone for yourself, just take a peek at Matthew 23:1-13. Jesus illustrates the the problem well with those in His own day who were "sitting in the seat of Moses", "tying up heavy loads" to lay upon people without "lifting a finger" to help, and in all other ways barring people from the kingdom of heaven.
However the Corinthians were evaluating Paul, we know that their determinations of the value of his ministry (and their arrogant assumptions about God's evaluation of it) didn't mean much to him because, as 1 Co. 4:1-2 said, he's Christ's slave, not theirs. It’s only on the “day of the Lord” that these things will be made known, and the Corinthians will be standing next to him, not over him.
But Paul wasn’t just saying that the Corinthians had no right to judge these things – look again at verse 3: he said that even he HIMSELF had no right to judge. That’s a profound thing to think about. God is judge not just because it’s His sovereign right and not yours (even though that’s true), but because He’s the only One wise enough to do it. So it’s not just that you shouldn’t judge other slaves of Christ, you should realize that you CAN’T really judge them – you can’t even judge yourself!
In 1734, during Jonathan Edwards' pastorate in Northampton, somewhere close to 300 people came to Christ – men, women and even children. Edwards said that “some came some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbors.” In writing about what he experienced in his ministry, leading these people and discipling them, he said this:
I know there is a great aptness in men who suppose they have had some experience of the power of religion, to think themselves sufficient to discern and determine the state of others by a little conversation with them; and experience has taught me that this is an error. I once did not imagine that the heart of man had been so unsearchable as it is. I am less charitable, and less uncharitable than once I was. I find more doings in wicked men that may counterfeit, and make a fair show of piety; and more ways that the remaining corruption of the godly may make them appear like carnal men, formalists, and dead hypocrites, than once I knew of. The longer I live, the less I wonder that God challenges it as his prerogative to try the hearts of the children of men, and directs that this business should be let alone till harvest. I desire to adore the wisdom of God, and his goodness to me and my fellow–creatures that he has not committed this great business into the hands of such a poor, weak, and dimsighted creature; one of so much blindness, pride, partiality, prejudice, and deceitfulness of heart; but has committed it into the hands of one infinitely fitter for it, and has made it his prerogative.Those who others regard as "mature, godly and discerning” are often the ones who turn out to be hypocrites. And those who appear “weak, immature and gullible” are often the ones who grow in grace beyond everyone’s expectations. Edwards came to learn that “victorious Christian living” really is ultimately all about keeping your eyes on your own work, being faithful in your own service, with the earnest desire that it will please your Lord, to whom you will give an account when He returns. And that means you shouldn't necessarily care for the "authoritative" praises or condemnations of other insignificant slaves, even if they have dressed themselves up as popes, and they certainly aren’t out to get their master’s job as Lord and Judge. God help us to be faithful slaves.
Friday, June 30, 2006
Christian culture encourages us to actively hide our foolishness because we’re the ones that are supposed to have all the answers. It makes us experts at covering up our own weaknesses so that other Christians will think we’re strong and unbelievers will know that we’re not sinners, like they are. And that, my friends, is an affront to the cross. When we do everything possible to convince both ourselves and others that we’re really decent, prudent, mature Christians who’ve basically got it all together, the inevitable result is that we not only not only reject God's Holy Spirit, but we deny our ongoing need as sinners for atonement, forgiveness and mediation. When our attempts to be thought strong, wise and noble become habitual, and we've successfully convinced ourselves of our maturity, the eventual result is a marginalizing and ostracizing those who are actually openly weak among us. We create a culture of fear so that openly admitting our weaknesses and foolishness becomes the scariest thing imaginable and appearing impenetrable is a desirable standard of holiness. And maybe our motives are good – we want unbelievers to see that Jesus really has changed us and we want other Christians to know that we really are saved and that we really do know God. But God is brutally honest about the fruit of wanting to be considered wise, strong and noble by others; and that fruit is precisely the mess we read about in stories like the one linked above. May He have mercy on us while we struggle to come to terms with the depth of our sin and the lying standards of perfection which so often nullify God's grace in Jesus.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
UPDATE (6/18): Steve has since posted a few new comments which both persist in missing my point and ironically label me as "angry" - I'd be happy to respond in more detail to anyone who's interested - just post a comment here; but judging from the level of vitriol gushing from his responses, and an apparent preference for "sniping" rather than talking, responding any further seems pointless. iMonk has posted some reactions to the venom which, in Steve's zeal, splashed onto him from the response to me.
That's one of the noises one makes when gurgling in his own blood, which was a metaphorical posture I took while reading Steve Hays eviscerate a few of my last posts. Steve kindly refers to me as talented, for which I'm genuinely flattered. It gets a bit ugly from there, though, as I'm subsequently referred to as cocky, juvenile and immature (which, of course, I am from time to time). Most of what motivates the (dare I say) overly harsh critique, it seems, were my comments about Don Carson (which, at second glance did come off as far snootier than I had intended). In any case, it clearly pricked a nerve, and I'm sorry.
But I hadn't intended anything like what Steve fears I meant - namely that Carson is somehow "out of touch". The point I was making, in fact, depends very much on the opposite evaluation. That point, again, is that many students within conservative evangelical circles have been nurtured on the very over-simplifications, glib harmonizations and anachronisms that Enns is addressing. Carson may take much of what Enns says as "obvious" and "unnecessary" and "less than ground-breaking", pointing to nuances that many scholars commonly accept when it comes to issues like ANE parallels and cultural situatedness in Scripture - but this book wasn't written for them. That's why the bibliographies offered by Steve in his vigorous response to my comments are helpful, but completely irrelevant.
The helpfulness of the book is its honest presentation of the challenges presented by the Old Testament - a presentation that may linger irritatingly for OT scholars to whom the issues are old hat (and to a more educated audience like Steve, who are anxious to rush to their preferred answers to long-known questions). But for new students who are newly coming to grips with these glaringly terrestrial marks of Scripture, it is an exceedingly wise introduction because it takes their context seriously - namely that of the raging Bible wars between liberals and conservatives, marked by a posture of defense in conservative evangelical churches. The "doceticism" described by Enns in relation to the Bible is, in my judgment, a wise strategy for acknowledging the popular emphasis on Scripture's heavenly origin over against marks of its human composition. That - not an attempt to present a comprehensive theological (or hermeneutical) model for understanding Scripture - is the goal of this book. That's also why Carson's desire for a more detailed exposition of the incarnation analogy misses the point. Again, my criticism wasn't that Carson is an idiot - it's the opposite. He's an impressively credentialed biblical scholar. But this book wasn't written to whet his academic appetite, it was written to deal with what can be a crisis for students who have consistently heard only one side of the story.
It's important to point out that this was really my main criticism of both Carson and Helm. You'll see that at the end of my comments I noted that I felt both of their criticisms, cautions and suggestions weren't inappropriate. Neither my review, nor the book, implies that there haven't been real attempts to solve the kind of universally acknowledged theological and hermeneutical difficulties which Enns discusses, that Enns is somehow dealing with issues no one has ever dealt with before, or that conservatives have somehow "locked away evidence". You'll not find any of those sentiments in my review, and Steve's recitation of well-known books and authors don't refute claims that I never made. Neither did I claim that these men were oblivious to the various debates and difficulties in the OT, or that Enns was particularly ground-breaking in his approach to the difficulties. What I did say, and am still saying, is that Enns is to be commended for knowing his audience - he's not a Tubingen liberal speaking to an academic audience. He's a Reformed, conservative evangelical speaking to conservative evangelical students. He realizes (in a way that I think Carson didn't take into account) that he's not talking to "Arians", but to many who have been gorged to excess on apologetic discourses on the timeless, enduring, and heavenly qualities of the Bible and, when confronted with its cultural moorings, are coming to a point of crisis. Characterizing such a demographic as "angry young men" both illustrates and exacerbates the problem Enns is trying to address.
There's more to say, especially about Steve's suggestions about apostolic exegesis (and perhaps about Enns repeated assertions that demonstrate his unwillingness to admit of "errors"), and perhaps I'll do that later. But I should probably end my explanation with a reminder about the mode of communication being utilized here. Blogs, for me, anyway, are somewhere in between an email and an essay, both in their manner of expression and their content. Like an email they are often informal codifications of a person's thoughts, and aren't meant to be taken with the precision of a serious publication. So while they bear certain marks of an essay, with argumentation, critical reflection and even a certain polemical edge, they shouldn't be taken as final pronouncements as much as an invitation for discussion. More importantly, like email, they're not very good reflections of what a person is really like. Steve seems to take me for an unfortunate blend of talent and egomania. I fear that this appraisal may come from taking me even more seriously than he's convinced I take myself. His apparent distaste for my presence at the Boar's Head Tavern, for instance, seems to assume that its very much like a denominational association of some kind rather than an attempt to meet new people, make new friends, and talk about areas of interest. After feeling thoroughly clobbered by his comments it did me some good to remember the potential for distortion refracted by what bloggers write during a few minutes of distraction from the rest of their busy lives.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
|You scored as Karl Barth. The daddy of 20th Century theology. You perceive liberal theology to be a disaster and so you insist that the revelation of Christ, not human experience, should be the starting point for all theology.|
Which theologian are you?
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