Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sermon Series: Psalm 73, A God-Centric Life, Part 2

The Setting (vv. 1, 18-20, 24, 27)
The setting of a story is a container for the interaction of the plot and the characters. Generally speaking storytellers use a setting that is appropriate for the action of the story. A good example of this is the setting for the TV drama Lost, which, by the way, is in its final season and airs Feb 2. The setting for Lost is an Island in the Pacific Ocean. The events in the story are largely center on survival in a very hostile and mysterious environment. The interplay between characters and plot would be inconceivable in a setting, of say, downtown Manhattan. In other words, the actions of the characters and the sequence of the events fit comfortably in the setting of an island in the Pacific. Sometimes a storyteller will intentionally place the interaction of character and plot within a setting this is jarringly incongruent. This incongruence creates surprise, interest and conflict. Story like Hotel Rwanda represents just such a case. Here is a true story whose power is in the fact that in face of the perilous setting of civil war an individual showed extraordinary courage to save the lives of thousands of Tutsi refugees.

Our story in Psalm 73 will reveal a similarly jarring incongruity.

The setting of this story is laid out for us in verse 1. “Truly God is good to Israel”. The setting for the story is a theological idea. The world within which the plot and the characters interact is the world where God is good. There is a second theological idea that serves as the story’s setting, although it is more implicit. The setting of the story is a world where God is both good and also sovereign. God controls the affairs of human beings. Ultimately human beings will have to give account to God. Furthermore, while it can appear that God is absent from this world, the setting of this story presumes God’s orchestration actions and guidance in and through those actions.

What is so interesting when you reflect on the setting of this story is the theological setting is jarringly incongruent with the events of the story. In other words, the collision of the setting, that is the presumption that God is good and sovereign, with the actions of the story, namely the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous, create the tension within the story. The conflict seeking resolution is the result of the collision of the setting with the action of the characters in the story. There would be no story without this specific setting.

God is good; God is sovereign. If you believe this, if, like the songwriter, your worldview begins with the twin convictions that God is good and God is sovereign, you will invariably find yourself in the same story. No believer can avoid the “jarring incongruity”. What is so profound about this song to me is the brutal honesty with which the songwriter speaks. How rare it is to hear in the context of Christian community such honesty and vulnerability! But oh how refreshing! It is so encouraging to hear someone express authentically the reality of a life of faith. He does not attempt to soften the tension or ameliorate it. And the thing is, you can’t. You can’t believe that God is good and sovereign and not at times experience deep angst. If you don’t wrestle, not even occasionally, you’re not being real. Or worse, you don't really believe that God is good and God is sovereign. How could we not feel angst while watching the stories of Haiti’s 400,000 plus orphans just this past Friday night during the Hope for Haiti Now television program? Or, while not nearly as dramatic perhaps, how could my friend Julie not be experiencing profound angst?

Julie’s in her late thirties and has been a Christian all her life. She attended a Christian college and married a godly Christian man right after graduation. But after 20 years marriage and in the throws of parenting three children under the age of five, she’s deeply disappointed with her life and depressed. Some may call it a mid-life crisis. Whatever you called it, she is deeply frustrated, discontent and regretful. If she had her life to do all over again she would do it so much differently she’ll say. It’s not as if she isn’t trying to turn it around: she attends women’s small group, she has verses pasted on the refrig, she prays. She’s sought medical help and is taking medication for her depression. She regularly talks to her husband and close Christian friends about her feelings. Still, she feels trapped by her life; mothering is harder and more exhausting than she could have ever imagined and she regularly questions her suitability as a mother; she has to work for the family to make ends meet; and her husband’s prospects for earning a higher salary seem nonexistent given his career path. The future doesn’t look that bright from her perspective. “Yeah God is good and God is sovereign, but why did he give me this life?” she would say.

What I appreciate about Julie is that instead of settling for pat answers and Christian clichés, she’s expressing her struggle and trying to live an authentic relationship with God. She believes God is good and sovereign, and she’s struggling to correlate that belief with her raw experience. She’s continuing to depend on God in the midst of her angst.

I think the songwriter of the Psalm would say that Julie is experiencing a real relationship with God. This is our first characteristic:

Characteristic One: A real relationship with God is characterized by honest expression of spiritual struggle.

Having considered the setting let’s look at the characters in the story.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Vanhoozer on Evangelical Catholic or Catholic Evangelical

After shifts in my understanding of church and sacraments, I decided that I would henceforth describe myself as an "Evangelical Catholic" (I'd like to add the label "Reformed" as well, but I'll just assume that it's embedded in "Evangelical"). But the question that plagues me is which should be the adjective and which should be the main noun. Does "evangelical" modify "catholic" or should "catholic" modify "evangelical"? Towards that end, Kevin Vanhoozer writes:

"'Catholicity' signifies the church as the whole people of God, spread out over space, across cultures, and through time. 'We believe in one ... catholic church.' The evangelical unity of the church is compatible with a catholic diversity. To say that theology must be catholic, then, is to affirm the necessity of involving the whole church in the project of theology. No single denomination 'owns' catholicity: catholicity is no more the exclusive domain of the Roman Church than the gospel is the private domain of evangelicals. Catholic and Evangelical belong together. To be precise 'catholic' qualifies 'evangelical'. The gospel designated a determinate word; catholicity, the scope of its reception. 'Evangelical' is the central notion, but 'catholic' adds a crucial antireductionist qualifier that prohibits any one reception of the gospel from becoming paramount" (Drama of Doctrine, 27).

For this quote I am going to award big Kev the "Clever Little Bunny Award" (the flip side of my "Soggy Fish Award"). For writing a good book that is helping me prepare my lectures on Systematic Theology!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sermon Series: Psalm 73, A God-Centric Life, Part 1

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching at Todd Wilson's church Calvary Memorial in Oak Park, IL. While I don't do a great deal of preaching, it is truly one of my great passions. I love preaching God's word. I thought I would disseminate the manuscript of that message through a series of posts. I would present it in one, but the text is over 4000 words which would make for a very long post. So I'll sequentially excerpt portions from it. If you are interested in listening to the sermon you can find it on the Calvary's website. I preached the sermon three times and in each case it came out slightly differently. The manuscript provides a full text of what I intended, but the audio presentation provides the live text. I pray that you are edified by this message.

So let me begin with the introduction.

What do you think about Country Music? Do you like it? Growing up, my dad was a huge country and western music fan. This, mind you, was NJ, not exactly a region known for its Bluegrass. My dad was a cowboy trapped in the life of a rural NJ policeman. In fact after retiring from 25 years of service on the police force his inner cowboy finally came out: he purchased property out in east Texas and built a ranch. His love for country and western music and culture however did not rub off on me. I have purposefully avoided country music for most of my adult life. That is until recently. I started listening to it again. One thing that attracts me now to CM is that it is a storytelling genre.

While other kinds of music tell stories, I think of Pearl Jam’s song “Last Kiss”, CM at its heart is narratival. Often these stories are laments of the consequences of actions taken or not taken. As a genre, CM is rather melancholy. You’ve heard the joke about CM haven’t ya?

What do you get when you play CM backwards?
You get your dog back;
you get your truck back;
you get your money back;
you get your wife back.

But certainly not all of it is gloomy. A lot of it is just good fun. I mean what other genre of music can you have a song like Zach Brown’s Chicken Fried or Sic ‘em on a Chicken.

Chicken Fried, is a song about the “good life” which amounts to hangin out on a Friday night drinking a cold beer, listening to the radio and wearing a pair of good fitting blue jeans. The simple things in life!

Sic ‘Em On A Chicken, on the other hand, is about his old dog Pete who regularly fights with his chickens. Pete distinguishes himself because he’s mean and drinks Jim Bean and water from a broken mason jar. One of the lines of the chorus is

Sic ‘em on a chicken
Sic ‘em on a chicken
Sic ‘em on a chicken and watch them feathers fly

Sic ‘em on a chicken
Sic ‘em on a chicken
Sic ‘em on a chicken
Bring out the butter and the flour we’re ready to fry.

At a deeper level though, CM teaches life lessons through the sharing of life experience. Often these lessons are negative. But even these are offer wisdom. Zach Brown the writer of the previously mentioned songs also has a deeply moving song about the relationship between a Father and Son called Highway 20 Ride. Some of the lyrics of the song go like this:

I ride east every other Friday
But if I had it my way
A day would not be wasted on this drive
And I want so bad to hold you
Son, there’s things I haven't told you
Your mom and me couldn't get along

So I drive and I think about my life
And wonder why that I slowly die inside
Every time I turn that truck around
Right at the Georgia line
And I count the days
And the miles back home to you
On that Highway 20 ride

So when you drive
And the years go flying by
I hope you smile
If I ever cross your mind
It was the pleasure of my life
And I cherished every time
And my whole world
It begins and ends with you
On that Highway 20 ride....

You hear the regret; you feel the pain; you learn the lesson.

You know some of the Psalms are like CM in this way. Some, like Psalm 73, is a story of a believer’s relationship with God. It is an honest story that reveals the characteristics of a real relationship. A relationship that is free of pretence and pretend. It is raw and real and its presented by the inspired songwriter to be an example of what it looks like to walk closely with God. I want to expose the narrative substructure of the song so that we can learn what God, through this inspired songwriter, wishes to teach us.

This morning we’re going to think about this song through a narrative lens. Leland Ryken tells us that biblical narratives, like all stories, are made up of three elements: Setting, Character and Plot. A story is the interaction between the characters and the plot within a particular setting. By thinking through the song using the three elements of story we’ll discover three characteristics of a real relationship with God. So let’s begin with the story’s setting.

John Armstrong - Your Church is too Small

I've been keenly aware of John Armstrong's ministry for a long time. Armstrong is a minister in the Reformed Church of America who formerly was part of a very conservative Reformed camp and he led a ministry called "Reformation and Revival" (R&R). My former church in Brisbane was a conduit for much of R&R ministry including their journal (the contents of which are now available on-line thanks to Paul Bradshaw). However, I noticed that John went through a big paradigm shift at one point and this was seen, not the least in his engagement with the work of N.T. Wright, but also in his broader ecumenical approach to Christian ministry. Eventually his ministry evolved from "Reformation and Revival" to "Advancing the Christian Tradition in the Third Millennium" (ACT3) to reflect these changes. Armstrong lost a lot of friends in this process, but also gained many more.

I am glad to say that Armstrong has a new book out with Zondervan called Your Church is Too Small: Why United in Christ's Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church. In a nutshell it is the call to make sure that evangelicals embrace the "catholicity" of the church. The opposite is what I would call "ecclesiastical solipsism" which is the view that the true church is "me" and those like me. In the beginning the early church was just like me, then around 100 AD we were plunged into 1500 years of Catholic darkness, when the Reformation came "me" reappeared and even now "me" and my homies are the only true heirs of the Jerusalem church and the Reformed church. You get the idea. Perhaps the most interesting chapter of the book is chapter 2, "My journey to catholicity begins" which narrates the story of how Armstrong came to finally believe the creed about "one holy catholic and apostolic church" and he came to genuinely believe in Jesus' high priestly prayer that "we may be one". In a nutshell, Armstrong wants Christians to recover the ancient roots of their faith and to engage in real fellowship with those who share that ancient faith.

A recurring theme is that unity is important for our mission and also the necessity of returning to our ancient roots. Armstrong's recipe for trying to achieve that is sevenfold: (1) Cultivating a commitment to restore the sacraments; (2) increasing our appetite to know more about the ancient church; (3) express love for the whole church and desire to see the church become one; (4) blend practices of worship, devotion, and prayer from all three streams of the Church (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant); (5) increase interest in integrating more liturgical depth and structure with spontaneity and freedom in the Holy Spirit; (6) provide greater involvement in signs and symbols of worship such as crosses, banners, and clerical vestments; and (7) continue a commitment to personal salvation, solid biblical teaching, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

This is a good book with an excellent mix of biography, Bible exposition, engagement with ancient sources, discussion of modern theologians (esp. Leslie Newbiggin), and it promotes the Ancient-Future Faith movement. I do have one or two remaining questions for Armstrong (hopefully he'll answer them as he is a friend on Facebook).

First, I rather liked Steve Harmon's book Towards Baptist Catholicity which addresses many similar issues. Harmon confronts the question at the end of the book: Why don't I become Catholic? His answer is: women's ordination. What I would like you to answer, therefore, is why not become Catholic? What is stopping you? Why not join the largest physical representation of the church on earth? Is there enough protest in your Protestantism to prevent you? If so, why?

Second, granted that spiritual unity should be expressed in physical unity, is there a case to be made that we can still have unity with diversity? What kind of diversity is legitimate for a vision of the church? You yourself hint at the fact that denominations might be a necessary but unfortunate tool. Indeed, if plurality in the church is, to some degree, normal (see John Francke's new book Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth), then in what legitimate ways can that diversity be expressed (thus without all of us needing to head over to Rome or Constantinople).

Third, where do the warnings about false teachings and heresy come in? For instance, would your vision for union with the Catholic church still be possible if the Vatican formerly made Mary co-redemptrix with Christ? That would be unacceptable to evangelicals and would seriously hamper chances of union or reconciliation. How do you deal with minor disagreements, serious differences, and unorthodox doctrines.

I have to confess that my favourite part of the book was a quote from that great dispensational theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer: "The very fact that I did not study a prescribed course in theology made it possible for me to approach the subject with an unprejudiced mind and to be concerned only with what the Bible actually teaches". Think, if Chafer had taken Theology 101 we might have been deprived of his magnificent theological tome - perish the thought (or perhaps rapture the thought)!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Septuagint Lexicons

So what is the best, gucciest, and most kosher Septuagint lexicon around? The one's I'm aware of are:

T. Muraoka, A Greek English Lexicon of the Septuagint (Peeters).

J. Lust et. al, A Greek English Lexicon of the Septuagint (Deutsch Bibelgesellschaft).

B. Taylor, The Analytic Lexicon to the Septuagint (Zondervan).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

D.A. Carson on NT Theology

It's been nearly 15 years since D.A. Carson published his article, "‘Contemporary Issues in Biblical Theology: A New Testament Perspective, BBR 5 (1995): 17-41, which is one of the best intro's to biblical and NT theology around. In a recent review of Udo Schnelle's Theology of the New Testament, Carson concludes his assessment of the work with these remarks:

Any NTT, let alone a NTT that will allow itself, whether on canonical or other grounds, to be part of a broader biblical theology, would be greatly enriched by close exegetical examination of how the different corpora of the NT cite and allude to the OT. The NT writers variously insist that Jesus’ body is the temple of God, that he is the lamb of God, the good shepherd, the true vine, the passover sacrificed for us, that he is the ultimate David, the ultimate (Melchizedekian) priest, that the church is the royal priesthood, that Jesus in some way recapitulates Israel’s history, that the exodus is in some ways paradigmatic, and so on and so on. What were their warrants for making these connections? Of course, one might side with Barnabas Lindars and conclude that this is nothing but irresponsible proof-texting that cannot and should not be replicated in Christian exegesis of the OT today. Yet I have come to the conclusion that many of the warrants taught or presupposed in the pages of the NT are subtle, careful, thoughtful, and in some cases distinguishable from Jewish appropriation techniques (e.g., the middoth of Hillel). One must ask what hermeneutical changes took place in Paul’s mind between the time he went to Damascus and when he returned—not just what theological conclusions changed in his mind (for they are largely obvious), but what hermeneutical approaches shifted in his thinking that enabled him to warrant, in his own biblical exegesis, his newfound Christian convictions, while he appealed to the same (OT) biblical texts he had appealed to before his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road. For instance, while the pre-conversion Paul would have elevated the Torah to the point of hermeneutical control in his reading of Tanakh, the Christian Paul displays deep interest in what might be called the salvation-historical sequence of events in the Old Testament (see, for instance, his arguments in Rom 4 and Gal 3). That salvation-historical interest is duplicated in Hebrews (Heb 3:7-4:13; 7:1-25) and elsewhere. New Testament writers point out in the strongest terms that these distinctions are there in the OT text. They do not think they are imposing extraneous or anachronistic material onto the text. Out of such observation and reflection springs the possibility of “eine ganz biblische Theologie [‘a truly biblical theology,’ ‘a whole-Bible biblical theology’].” Professor Schnelle’s inability to find Jesus in the OT was not shared by the NT writers whose theology he is trying to write up. Unpacking that line of thought is, of course, beyond the scope of these few reflections. And in any case it is far better to end by expressing my thanks to Professor Schnelle for his extraordinary achievement.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Justification and Justice

A good point that Mark Seifrid makes in his various works on "righteousness" language in the OT/NT is that the biblical authors are not concerned with abstract ideas of right, righteousness, or justice, but with the actual enactment of justice. In other words, righteousness is not simply about declarations, states, and position, it must ultimately be tied to an execution of justice by the Lord. A good example that lines up with Seifrid's point is of course the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. A text that speaks to a similar idea is the Joseph Apocryphon in the DSS (4Q372) which in frag. 1 says: "He said, 'My Father and my God, do not abandon me to the hands of the nations. Execute judgement for me so that the humble and poor may not perish'." I don't know what the Hebrew word is here (sedaq or misphat), but the idea resonates precisely with what Seifrid is talking about; what is more executing judgement is bound up with the idea of salvation.

With God on our Side - Christian Zionism

My buddy Shane Becker has alerted me to this movie/doco called With God on our Side which is a critique of the Christian Zionist movements. It features Gary Burge (NT Prof at Wheaton College) which makes it kosher for me to watch! North American Christians need to realize that they owe more of their support to Arab Christians in Palestine than to non-Christian Jews who oppress them. I have heard an Arab Christian from the Galilee speak about the persecution that they've faced and you soon understand why the most preached text in Arab Churches is 1 Kings 21 about Nabaoth's vineyard! Either way, watch the clip and it will wet your appetite!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Covenant in Judaism

I've been reading through Mark Elliott's The Survivors of Israel (sadly Mark died a couple of years ago) about covenant in Judaism. In chapter six he points to two hypothetical extremes in Judaism in regard to covenant as either unconditional and inviolable, or as conditional, legal, and individualistic. The former views the covenant as static and nationalistic, while the latter is potentially dynamic and universalistic. There are a spectrum of possibilities between both and Elliott rejected E.P. Sanders' view of covenant as inviolable (esp. Sanders' appeal to m.Sanh 10.1). since in the literature surveyed (DSS, 1-2 Macc, Pseudepigrapha) "by far the dominant view of covenant among these groups was the conditional, individual, dynamic, and dualistic" variety. Elliott's work has not received the attention that it deserved!

What is happening to Intervarsity? A Rejoinder.

Over at 9Marks, J. Mack Stiles has written an article on "What's Happening to InterVarsity?" where he opines a slip into liberalism by both the university movement InterVarsity Fellowship (IVF) and the publishing house InterVarsity Publishing (IVP). I have several comments to make on this:

1. I wish to make a forthright affirmation of Stiles' remarks on the importance of knowing our mission and guarding the gospel. For instance, I agree that creation care is not our mission (though we are right to engage in it for the good of creation and the humanity that lives in it; and contra Stiles, Chris Wright provides a superb biblical theology of creation care in his book The Mission of God; Stiles doesn't seem to realize that only American evangelicals oppose measures to stem global warming which is due to a cultural bias rather than to a defensible theological position). Likewise, the gospel in every generation needs to be clearly stated, proclaimed, and allowed to permeate our theology. Similarly Stiles' exhortation about the fear of man and tendency towards pragmatism should be heeded. Like Stiles, I don't care much for those who try to caricature penal substitution as "divine child abuse" since that misrepresents the doctrine and ignores the Trinitarian nature of the atonement (still, I don't like Wayne Grudem's view of God getting "revenge" on Jesus and I wouldn't regard penal substitution as the interpretive centre of Christ's death [see Graham Cole's new book God the Peacmaker who makes the Christus Victor motif central, also by published by IVP). The importance of distinguishing between the gospel and its implications is also a valid point to be digested and practised less the gospel degenerate into social niceness!

2. I can relate to the experience of being in a religious studies department at a secular university. My evangelical beliefs were not always appreciated, but I was all the better for having to defend them in such a context and forced to think through my faith under a weight of criticism from all sectors. Though truth be told, it was the other postgrad students rather than my professors who were the most vociferous and irate antagonists. I did my honours and Ph.D in a department filled with people studying the religious significance of vampire legends in the middle age and Buddhist themes among the Beetniks. I know what it's like to be in a room with more fruit cakes than a Christmas party. Stiles also criticizes Schweitzer's book The Quest for the Historical Jesus as heretical. Now I did my Ph.D on the historical Jesus and let me tell you that there is a lot of great stuff in Schweitzer's book. He provided the most compelling and laudable criticism of liberal portraits of Jesus written in the last 200 years. He correctly puts eschatology at the forefront of studying Jesus. He regarded a lot more material in the Gospels as authentic than did many of his contemporaries like Harnack or Wrede. That said, his view of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet who got the time line for the end times wrong, I think, misunderstands Jesus' eschatology and the eschatology of Judaism as well for that matter. So is Schweitzer wrong? Definitely! But I'm not sure that heresy is best word here, since that word is ordinarily used for those who vitiated from the classic creeds of the church. I would point out that many commentators have said similar things about Mark 13:30 concerning "this generation" and Schweitzer was not the first nor the last to do that. Defending Schweitzer is not my point, it is when and where is it appropriate to use the language of "heresy". Most probably Schweitzer had other beliefs that would qualify as "heresy" in the proper sense, but his book on Jesus is more known for its critique of liberal heresies!

3. Stiles refers to an incident at George Washington University where the IVF chapter wished to allow a Catholic member to serve on their leadership team. See the CT write up by Colin Hansen and the response by Alec Hill. I believe in the Reformation and the only place you'll catch me saying "Hail Mary" is on the football field. But a categorical rejection of persons based on what building they walk into on Sunday strikes me as unfair. During my time in the Army I worked with Protestant and Catholic Chaplains. In some cases, the Protestant Chaplains did for the kingdom of God what Hannibal Lecter did for vegetarianism. While some of the Catholic Chaplains I worked with were very committed to daily Bible reading, prayer, worship, and even evangelism. I've also met Catholics who are very Protestant in their theology. I mean, go and read Jo Fitzmyer's Romans commentary on Rom 3:21-26 and you'll see what I mean. One of the best covenant theologians that I know, personally and from his work, is Scott Hahn. I know Priests who do not believe in papal infallibility. For me the big issue is not justification (though I categorically reject Trent, I believe that Augustine is a good place to try find some common ground), the problem is Pneumatology. The Roman Catholic Church has replaced the Holy Spirit with itself so that it is the ordained structures rather than the Spirit that mediates salvation. The IVF or UCCF doctrinal basis is sound enough as it is (it's broader and is more comprehensive than the ETS statement) and if someone can sign it in all honesty I don't see a problem. I would also point out that the IVF practice of being inclusive of mainline protestants and Catholics is similar to that used by the Billy Graham Association to this day. If someone can sign the IVF doctrinal statement and as long as they know what they are signing and what it means vis-a-vis their own denomination, I think that is fine. In some cases, particular constraints need to be observed, like not letting a person teach or propagate certain views at formal meetings if they are too controversial (e.g., assumption of Mary, theological support for Israel's destruction of Palestinian homes), although I would encourage open discussion in private or informal environments. Common sense should win through here. Ultimately, the Spirit blows where it wishes and it does not yield to human perspectives on which bits of real estate are worthy of worship at 11.00 a.m. on Sunday. What is at stake here is perhaps not theology, but sociology. Whether evangelicals are defined by what they are against and who they are separate from, or whether they are defined by what they are for, what experience they share together, and what doctrine that unites them. As John Wesley once said: "If your heart is the same as my heart, you can hold my hand!" Alas, the Holy Spirit might have a broader ecclesiology than many of us.

4. On IVP publishing, I think it is worth differentiating between IVP-USA and IVP-UK. They are partners, but they run their own operations, and their independence from each other should be recognized. I think Stiles is talking about IVP-USA, but let's not tarnish both with the same brush. I know the IVP teams on both sides of the Atlantic, I've published books with them and I plan to write more with them in the future. They are good Christian folks who love Jesus and the gospel as far as I can tell. Stiles objects to IVP publishing a book by N.T. Wright because it promotes a "quasi-Catholic view of justification". I cannot spare any more hair to pull out over this debate. I've currently writing an article for Five Views on Justification for (you guessed it) IVP where I contest Wright's reference to final justification "on the basis of a life lived" since it uses the wrong terminology to summarize the proper biblical teaching of justification according to works. That said, the official Catholic view of justification is based on a certain view of iustitia, a certain view of grace as a substance infused via the sacraments, a certain view of the human will, and a certain view the last judgment. N.T. Wright shares none of these things! The closest analogies to N.T. Wright's views on justification are Martin Bucer, Richard Baxter, and the Tetrapolitan confession - Reformed folk! The mention of the word "Catholic" activates feelings of Romophobia and its usage against N.T. Wright can only be rhetorical rather than factual. Both Guy Waters and Mark Seifrid recognize that Wright regards justification as forensic, and once you say "forensic" you cannot be Tridentine (round peg, square hole, it won't work)! Wright is only quasi-Catholic if by "quasi" you mean "non"! (Picture me banging my head against my desk at this point).

5. If complementarians are unwelcomed at IV(F/P) that is sad and disappointing, but I know a number of places where egalitarians aren't welcomed either. This shouldn't be an issue that divides para-church organizations, though churches may rightly feel the need to take a formal stand on the matter since it does effect the character of ordained ministry.

6. Stiles rejects the call from those within IV for "deeds not creeds". I agree it's awfully simplistic, prone to abuse, and promotes an anti-theological perspectives; but gosh, it does sound a heck of a lot like James 2!

7. On Bono speaking at Urbana, Stiles is probably right that we could get a heap of other people folk in to speak about AIDS, poverty, and creation care from a distinctive Christian perspective. I don't like Bono or celebrity do-gooders since they strike me as opportunistic. But God will reward every deed of righteousness at the final judgement, whether that's by Franklin Graham of Samaritan's Purse or by Bono and the UN. The inclusion of Bono at Urbana should perhaps be understood as an act of cultural engagement and not necessarily as pandering to pop star do-gooders who use causes to further their own publicity. Bono's appearing at Urbana is no worse than inviting a Republican Senator to a church to speak out against Obama's health care plan. Truth be told, I don't really care for either of them.

8. My biggest objection to the piece was its generalizations and hearsay. Who said "Deeds not Creeds"? Who is it that is playing off Jesus versus Paul? Who is this one guy who doesn't like God killing his Son? And if it was only one guy, well, would ya hold that against the whole outfit? I mean, are there guys at CBMW or T4G who might have some whacky views on certain topics? Probably. Can you in all fairness impute the failings of one or two against the whole national and international ministry? I think not.

9. A further problem is who is IVP's constituency? Is it complementarian, ESV-only, amillennial, anti-charismatic, pro-gun, credo-baptist, home schooling only folks? Perhaps those whom IVP represents and thus caters for is broader than what Stiles himself thinks it should be and that is the problem. The issue I have with conservative evangelicalism is that they don't mind people more conservative than them (and even tolerate strange and obscene views like KJV-only or Landmark views of baptism), but don't tolerate anyone a smidge to the left. Tolerance should extend to the left and to the right, and I would zealously insist also that the limits of tolerance should also be observed to the left and to the right of the Church's Creeds and Confessions as well. My point is that you cannot assume that everyone the left of you is a Schleiermachian liberal. Don't put an evangelical egalitarian in the same category as Paul Tillich as that is unfair. Save the rhetoric against liberalism for the real liberals and not those a skip to the left of you on any issue.

Let me end my affirming the centre of gravity of Stiles. The gospel matters: its clarity, integrity, and propagation. We cannot afford to pander at the pool of popularity or to regard the gospel as about something other than what it actually is: the good news of salvation by faith in the Lord Jesus who was crucified for our sins and raised for our redemption. We need to be evangelicals in the sense of making the "evangel" the centre and boundary of our theology. But we also need a Catholic vision of the church in all its diversity and breadth and see our unity in one Lord, one faith, and one baptism as opposed to finding unity in a shared uneasiness about what a few select "other" folk in the church are doing.

"By the Hand of a Woman"

When I'm not bogged down in 1 Esdras (which feels like my own private exile at the moment), I'm doing some research on the soteriology of Judith. Thanks to Suzanne McCarthy I came across this portrait of Judith that is best described as Playboy meets Kill Bill (or Kill Holofernes!).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Biography of G.R. Beasley-Murray - Part 2

Continuing on with Fearless for the Truth, GBM once said to the students at Spurgeon's College at an address in 1999:

"My plea therefore to you this morning is that you hold together the two strands of the tension that is inherent in our vocation. Some evangelists, alas, have little knowledge of the New Testament, and consequently their teaching is often superficial. You, as I, may have listened to evangelistic sermons that have consisted of a string of illustrations followed by a prolonged appeal to come to Christ. On the other hand, some scholars have so consistently adhered to one line of research in theology that hardly know how to communicate the gospel. Believe me, I have known more than one professor of missions who was incapable of leading anyone to the Lord".

On study of the biblical languages, GBM urged students to be able to have enough Greek in order to use the basic tools of biblical study like TDNT and other technical commentaries like those of Lightfoot, Swete, and Charles. He wrote:

"Let me make clear that I have no desire to see honest preachers of the gospel transformed into second-rate scholars of ancient languages, and so ruined for any useful calling ... For this reason the attitude of the student who intends to throw away his Greek New Testament as soon as he has gained his degree in New Testament studies is as foolish as the decision of an instrumentalist who, after painfully acquired the mastery of an instrument, determined never to play it again."

Although a committed Baptist (he in fact believed that baptismal candidates should be catechised by the pastor before baptism), GBM urged generosity towards those who were of a different mind on baptism. He wrote in Baptism in the New Testament:

"In respect for the conscience of our fellow-Christians and the like charity, which we trust will be exercised towards us, could we not refrain from requesting the baptism of those baptised in infancy who wish to join our churches and administer baptism to such only where there is a strong plea from the applicant?"

Whereas evangelicals have tended to prefer "spiritual unity" over "physical unity", GBM once said that: "The spiritual unity of the Church is intended to be expressed 'bodily'; so long as it is 'bodily' denied, the Church contradicts its nature and calls into question its right to preach the reconciliation of all things in Christ."

On the subject of fermenting divisions, GBM was robust:

"I'm not ashamed of the Gospel, No. But I confess to being ashamed of some of its defenders. In particular I find myself at a loss to comprehend the tactics of some preachers in their relations with other preachers of the Gospel. There appears to be a competition among Evangelicals to see who can vilify most effectively the people of Christ who believe it is the will of God to end the hostilities within the church".

GBM's time in Louisville is reckoned as a golden time and it enabled him to at least start many of the projects that he had hoped to write, but which the duties of being principal had not afforded him. Interesting are the comments of Paul Beasley-Murray about the Southern Baptist Convention: "At times it may appear that salvation is only to be found in the Southern Baptist Church - as distinct from only in Christ ... Yet, for all the faults of the Southern Baptist Convention, one has to admit that evangelism is more to the fore than in many a Christian denomination elsewhere."

On his return to England, GBM continued writing and preaching, and completed the second edition of his WBC John commentary shortly before his death. The final words of the book contain an outline of GBM's testimony which ends with the words: "When God completes his purpose in his universe, I shall be there. For Christ my risen, almighty Lord will bring me. Be sure you have Him too".

Biography of G.R. Beasley-Murray - Part 1

I've just finished reading through the biography of George Beasley-Murray by Paul Beasley-Murray, Fearless for the Truth: A Personal Portrait of the the Life of George Beasley-Murray (Carlise, UK: Paternoster, 2002).

I won't summarize the whole book, only a few highlights: George Beasley-Murray (henceforth GBM [1919-2000]) grew up in England and was converted as a teenager in a Baptist church, though he might as well ended up as a concert pianist had he not felt a calling to ministry. He studied for ministry at Spurgeon's College. He met his future wife Ruth West on a Christian holiday in Ilfracombe. Having spent a night in prayer, the next morning he told her that he felt that God would have him marry her (which he did). To his dying days he never doubted the Lord's guidance in his marriage to Ruth. He served in a number of Baptist churches upon which time he took a London BD and a Cambridge MA, his Ph.D was under R.V.G. Tasker at the University of London.

GBM was an interesting chap in terms of how conservative he was. He accepted a second century date for Daniel, he translated Bultmann's John commentary (even though he strongly rejected Bultmann's view of history in the Gospels), GBM's doctrine of Scripture looks rather Barthian, he was highly involved in the ecumenical movement and defended it against detractors, and GBM believed that Mark 13 was historically authentic but that the Lord was wrong about the date of his own parousia (though in his final book Jesus and the Future he changed his mind so that Mk 13.30 was about the destruction of Jerusalem not the parousia). What also comes out in the book is that GBM was a committed evangelist, he promoted the ministry of Billy Graham, he was intimately involved in baptist life and churches, and he spoke out strongly against a Baptist address by a certain Michael Taylor that denied the incarnation and the controversy nearly split the denomination.

GBM served as a tutor at Spurgeon's, lecturer at Ruschlikon in Switzerland , then Principal of Spurgeon's, before finally accepting a position at Southern Baptist Theology Seminary. At one time he was also offered the John Rylands Chair in Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at Manchester University but turned it down in order to focus on the work at Spurgeon's (in other words, GBM was first choice over F.F. Bruce for the position). GBM was awarded a DD by the University of London for his book on Baptism.

GBM listed as his biggest intellectual influencec: C.H. Dodd, B.F. Westcott, E.C. Hoskyns, Adolf Schlatter, Strack-Billerbeck, and R. Newton Flew. He learnt several languages including German, French, Danish, and Italian by reading "Teach Yourself" books whenever he took public transport. In addition to knowing Greek and Latin, he also studied Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac.

Paul and the Law in Redemptive-History

Over at Berith Road, Steven Coxhead has an interesting post on Justification by Works of Law in Pauline Perspective. I enjoyed teaching on this subject since I find that most undergraduate students have a default understanding of the law that is quasi-Marcionite. I often set an exam question, "According to Paul, is the law a bad thing that has been done away with, or a good thing that has been fulfilled?" I categorically reject the idea that the Mosaic law is a republication of a covenant of works and it has to be related positively to the Abrahamic covenant (as Coxhead notes). In my view, the purpose of the law was to be a temporary administration of God's grace to govern God's people until the promised seed of Abraham came, to cocoon God's promises around Israel and to protract Israel's capacity to worship God, to point out the reality of sin and the holiness of God, and to intimate the ministries of the Christ. Thus the law was guardian to lead God's people until Christ and to lead them to Christ. Still, Paul can also identify the law as part of an unholy triad comprising of law-sin-death. The law is also bound up with the old age that is passing away and is not the instrument that will ultimately realize the fulfllment of the Abrahamic promises.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

James Dunn on the Reason for Romans

In Beginning from Jerusalem (which is a goldmine of sober historical thinking about early Christianity), Jimmy Dunn returns to the subject of the purpose of Romans esp. in light of Paul's situation at Corinth:

"In these circumstances [finished his mission in the east], and given the relative calm of his few weeks in Corinth, Paul probably concluded that it was time to reflect on his mission to date, on its character, on the tensions and dissensions it had provoked, on what had proved carefully thought through and set down. No doubt the exercise was partly at least with a view to the apologia he might have to make in Jerusalem, and part at least to persuade the Roman believers of the scope and implications of the gospel. But Paul's primary objective, I suspect (with Dahl and Lohse), was to think through his gospel in light of the controversies which it had occasioned and to use the calm of Corinth to set out both his gospel itself and its ramifications in writing with a fullness of exposition which the previous trials and tribulations had made impossible and which would have been impossible to sustain in a single oral presentation."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pastor as Theologian

I am giving a lecture to a group of ministry leaders on the topic "The Pastor as Theologian". I'm interested to know what comes to your mind when you reflect on this idea?

I would also alert you to the recent and quite stimulating series of posts by Gerald Hiestand on the "Taxonomy of the Pastor-Theologian" over at SAET (The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology) website. I'll give my two cents on the subject in a future post.

Addendum: I was remiss not to include the  lecture sponsored by the Carl Henry Center this past spring: “The Pastor as Scholar, and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry with John Piper and D.A. Carson”. John Piper's lecture in the form of an autobiography made  a deep impression.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The "Tangible Presence" of God: Questions and Musings

Here’s a question that I have been mulling over for a couple of days:
How much of the modern charismatic movement’s stress on the "tangible presence" of God in the form of signs, wonders and individual manifestations is the result of a non-sacramental theology?
For some context for this question let me tell you a brief story. A couple of weeks ago I was hanging out with a twenty-something friend of mine who I’ve known since he was a sweaky 5th grader. My friend is on a spiritual pilgrimage. He grew up in a traditional evangelical environment that while not closed to the more sensational gifts of the spirit, did not promote or facilitate them. After graduating from an evangelical college he has decided to spend a year on the west coast attending a supernatural boot camp of sorts. He was on a couple week break visiting his folks and we caught up at a coffee shop. In the course of the conversation I queried what his motivation was for studying at this institution and what about the expression of Christian faith so appealed to him. He said some interesting things (these are my report of what he said so there is certainly an interpretive layer to the quotations): “I long for intimacy”. “You don’t have much of a relationship with out intimacy”. “I have longed desired the tangible presence of God in my life”. "My Christian discipleship was focused on doing and not on being or experience". I asked him about this “tangible presence”. He said “it can manifest in different forms, but it is often a warm pressure in the middle of my hand or a pain in my leg, or something like that”. What it seemed he was saying was that this "tangible presence" of God is God’s way of being physically present to him.

I really enjoyed the conversation we had together and I was moved by the conversation and found myself reflecting since then on a couple of elements. One of them was the question  with which I opened this post and to which I’ll return shortly. Before I do, the conversation caused me to think about my lack of desire for intimacy with God. When he explained what he meant by "tangible presence" I thought to myself: "I have no desire for that". I don't even think about that. This however was not always the case. When I was in my late teens and early twenties I remember this was a essential pursuit in my spiritual life. I desired and tried to maintain intimate contact with God. However, in my late thirties this pursuit is foreign to me. I don’t seek intimacy with God and I don’t feel compelled to. It’s not that I don’t want relationship with God certainly or that I don’t have what I think is a good relationship (although of course it can always be improving); it’s more that intimacy is not a central element of the relationship nor is it a central desire. Is this possible? Is it possible to have a very deep and sturdy relationship without a lot of intimacy? It must be. Generally speaking I’m not a very “touchy-feely” kind of person. I express my commitment in relationship, say in my marriage, through faithfulness and service not by gushing with emotion—I’m sort of an emotional rock. (I'm sure there is a psychological reason that years of counseling could surface). This is who I've become. So is it so surprising that that is how my relationship with God is characterized. But is this OK? Is it best? Or do I need to repent and pursue such? I'm not really angling for a reponse these are just my musings. Contact with God is essential, I'm convinced, but what that looks like is diverse as my opening question I think reveals.

Back to the question: how much of the modern charismatic movement’s stress on the tangible presence of God in the form of signs, wonders and individual manifestations is the result of a non-sacramental theology? When I was talking with my friend I thought about the manner of contact that he was describing and that of the great traditions of the church like the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican traditions that are highly sacramental. The tangible presence of God exists in the sacraments and the liturgy of the church -- not in individualistic forms as with the Charismatic movement, but in the communal experiences of liturgy and sacrament. What strikes me is that though so different, the sacramental theology and the theology of signs and wonders (or however one labels it) are after the same thing: God’s tangible presence.

Two sources I’ve been reading recently bring this home. One is the recent and excellent book Worshiping With the Church Fathers (IVP, 2009) by Christopher Hall. The purpose of the book is to introduce an evangelical audience to the worship life of the Church Fathers. It deals with the Sacraments, Prayer and spiritual disciplines. I think this is an important book. Hall states,
The church fathers view life sacramentally, while many evangelicals have found and worshiped Christ in a nonsacramental tradition. Hence, the idea that God uses tangible, earthly means such as wine, bread and water to communicate blessing and nourish fellowship will strike some readers as farfetched, implausible, superstitious and a misreading of Scripture that has warped the church’s tradition (13). 
The other source is Scott Hahn’s recent book on Pope Benedict’s biblical theology Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (Brazos, 2009). In discussing the central place of the Word in the church, Hahn describes Benedict’s perspective on the role of the priesthood. He writes,
But the apostolic Word abides in power through the priestly ministry established by the apostles. The priestly ministry . . . is central to Benedict’s understanding of the Church and its role in salvation history . . .Through the priestly ministry, the revealed Word becomes sacrament, bringing forth the kingdom proclaimed by Christ and bringing the world into communion with the divine (50).
One last thought: Is there some biblical diversity in the New Testament witness about how contact or intimacy with God is characterized? For example, John's Gospel is no doubt a favorite for those seeking tangible intimacy for both sacramental and nonsacramental approaches. John presents an intimate Jesus. This can be contrasted with Matthew's presentation. Jesus is much more intellectual and one's relationship with Jesus while no less devoted is much more dutiful. These are generalizations, but it is no wonder why my favorite Gospel is Matthew!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Around the Blogs

As the blogosphere enters a new year, please note:

James Crossley looks on the decade that was and what might be in the future. Excerpts from D.A. Carson's excellent devotional For the Love of God are being posted daily at the Gospel Coalition Website. Norman Jeune draws attention to this quote from Bavinck:

"[W]e must remind ourselves that the Catholic righteousness by good works is vastly preferable to a protestant righteousness by good doctrine. At least righteousness by good works benefits one’s neighbor, whereas righteousness by good doctrine only produces lovelessness and pride. Furthermore, we must not blind ourselves to the tremendous faith, genuine repentence, complete surrender and the fervent love for God and neighbor evident in the lives and work of many Catholic Christians. The Christian life is so rich that it develops its full glory not just in a single form or within the walls of one church."

I am glad to see that Steven Coxhead has launched his own blog called Berith Road which is well worth checking out! Finally, Daniel Doleys notices that Michael Bird's new line of fleece pullovers are now available at the WTS Store.