Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Patristic Christmas

The letter to Diognetus, generally dated between 130 and 200, is by an unknown author to a recipient named Diognetus. Diogentus, who may or may not be a real person, has questions about Christianity that the author tackles in the letter. The questions are found in chapter 1 and can be summarized as:
  1. what God do Christians place their trust in?
  2. what practices do they observe?
  3. why do they reject worldly customs, Greek gods, and Jewish practices?
  4. why do Christians show such love/affection to others?
  5. why has the new religion Christianity entered the world now and not earlier?
In chapter 7 of the letter the author talks about the God we trust sending His Son:
For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts. He did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things—by whom He made the heavens ... This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness.
At Christmas time we celebrate the birth of our Savior. That special time in history when God chose to send His Son (the Word) from heaven to become flesh and dwell among us (John 1:1-2,14). That baby that we see lying in the manager of our nativity is 'the very Creator and Fashioner of all things' who commands the sun, moon, and stars.The Word through whom all things are made (John 1:3; Heb 1:2) and who embodies grace and truth and holiness.
As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?

For God has loved mankind, on whose account He made the world, to whom He rendered subject all the things that are in it, to whom He gave reason and understanding, to whom alone He imparted the privilege of looking upwards to Himself, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven, and will give it to those who have loved Him.
God so loved the world that He sent Jesus into the world to save and not to judge (John 3:16-17, 12:47), to offer grace and mercy and life to those who receive Him. He offers this gift but will not force it on anyone. However the warning is made that when he comes again it will be to judge. Who can stand (Malachi 3:2; Rev 6:17) when Christ is sent again? Only those who have accepted and placed their trust in the One whom God has sent.

The questions posed in this letter remind us that at Christmas - as the worldly customs of trees, Santa, and exchanging gifts swirl by - we need to stop and reflect on that most precious gift - that God loved us enough to send Jesus who is Creator, King, Son, and Savior. We need to stop and praise the God we trust and remember that - like the early Christians - He wants us to be known for the love we have for others because He first loved us (John 13:34-35; 1 John 4:19). God sent His best from heaven to dwell among men, may we with the angels proclaim - Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:14).

Note: Quotations are from ANF Volume 1. The first quote listed is from chapter 7, the second quote is from chapter 7 and chapter 10.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Holiness of God VII and VIII (Wrestling with God and Holiness)

In chapter 7 Sproul demonstrates how wrestling with God results in peace and access to God. 
Jacob, Job, and Habakkuk all declared war on God. They all stormed the battlements of heaven. They were all defeated, yet they all came away from the struggle with uplifted souls. They paid a price in pain. God allowed the debate, but the battle was fierce before peace was established.
Sproul reminds us that in order for "the transforming power of God to change our lives, we must wrestle with Him".

Chapter six answered the question - how can God be considered Holy given some of the harsh actions attributed to Him in the OT. In chapter 8, Sproul looks at an equally difficult question - 'how can the Bible possibly call us "holy ones"?'
The saints of Scripture were called saints not because they were already pure but because they were people who were set apart and called to purity. The word holy has the same two meanings when applied to people as it has when it is applied to God. We recall that when the word holy is used to describe God, it not only calls attention to that sense in which He is different or apart from us, but it also calls attention to His absolute purity.
I think we all can admit that we are not holy in the sense of absolute purity since we are still prone to sinning. Even if we convince ourselves that we are not committing sins in what we do, we would have trouble with our internal thoughts and motives:
The call of nonconformity is a call to a deeper level of righteousness that goes beyond externals. When piety is defined exclusively in terms of externals, the whole point of the apostle's teaching has been lost. Somehow we have failed to hear Jesus' words that it is not what goes into a person's mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of that mouth.
The only reason we can be called holy ones is because:
Christ's righteousness is really put in our account. God sees us as righteous because we have been covered and clothed by the righteousness  of Jesus.
While righteousness may be credited to our account upon our placing our trust in Christ, living a life of purity becomes a life long struggle.
There is no time lapse between our justification and the beginning of our sanctification. But there is a great time lapse between our justification and the completion of our sanctification.
Sanctification is a process by which we who are in Christ work with the Holy Spirit to become more like Christ because of the hope we have. And this process will require us to wrestle with God and our desires to conform to this world and remain in our sinful lifestyle.

These chapters called to mind the Apostle Peter who said it this way:
The therefore refers back to the opening of the letter where we are told that the mercy of God has "caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven". Because of this living hope and future inheritance that is ours because of the forgiveness we have in Christ we should act as follows:
prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." (1 Peter 1:13-16)
Here we are told we must prepare our minds. That will require effort - a teachable spirit, studying the Scriptures, seeking out good teaching, and changing our views to conform to the truth. But preparing our minds must not be to only acquire knowledge. It must be in preparation for us to apply what we learn so that we are self controlled (sober) and obedient to His commands rejecting our former way of life.  We are to live a life of nonconformity to this world and strive for purity. What a wrestling match we face each and every day.

Click here for more thoughts on chapter 7 and here for chapter 8.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Holiness of God VI (Far be it from You)

If the premise of chapter one - that we must understand Holiness if we are to understand God and Christianity - is correct then this chapter dives head first into the deep end to deal with why that is so by dealing with a difficult question. How do we deal with some of God's actions in the Bible and still declare Him as Good or Holy?
Whoever reads the Old Testament must struggle with the apparent brutality of God's judgment found there. For many people this is as far as they read. They stumble over the violent passages we call the "hard sayings." Some people see these sayings as sufficient reason to reject Christianity out of hand. ... In this chapter I want to stare the Old Testament God right in the eye. I want to look at the most difficult, most offensive passages we can find in the Old Testament and see if we can make any sense of them.
Sproul analyzes several examples that many would consider harsh and unjust actions of God. These include:
  1. Nadab and Abihu, Aaron's sons who are destroyed for offering "strange fire" in the tabernacle (Lev 10; Ex 30:9-10).
  2. Uzzah who is killed for touching the ark preventing it from falling off an ox cart (1 Chron 13; Num 4:4,15,17-20).
  3. The conquest of Canaan and the slaughter of men, women, and children (Deut 7:1-6, 9:4-6).
  4. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:20-33)
  5. The people killed in a collapsing tower (Luke 13:1-5)
As we examine these events we like Abraham before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah question God and ask "will the righteous be swept away with the wicked?" Like Abraham we must conclude - "far be it from You" because
[t]he justice of God is always and ever an expression of His holy character. ... What God does is always consistent with who God is.
The problem as Sproul points out is:
[t]here is a reason why we are offended, indeed angered, ...[w]e find these things difficult to stomach because we do not understand four vitally important biblical concepts: holiness, justice, sin, and grace
Sproul reminds us that all sin against God is a capital offense and only the grace of God prevents the deserved sentence from being carried out immediately. So when we question why God would allow the righteous to be judged with the wicked we are coming at it from the wrong point of view. There are no righteous people. We are all sinners deserving death. However because God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Ex 34:6-7) we have lost sight of holiness and think we are entitled to  grace.
God's usual course of action is one of grace. Grace no longer amazes us. We have grown used to it; we take it for granted.
We have come to expect God to be merciful. From there the next step is easy: We demand it. When it is not forthcoming, our first response is anger against God, coupled with the protest: "It isn't fair." We soon forget that with our first sin we have forfeited all rights to the gift of life. That I am drawing breath this morning is an act of divine mercy. God owes me nothing. I owe Him everything.
Justice is what we deserve and Sproul rightly reminds us "don't ever ask God for justice-you might get it." Rather than assume we deserve God's grace and will always benefit from it we must instead remember that God's delaying justice is to allow us time to repent, trust in Christ for salvation, and live worthy of our calling (Rom 2:3-5; 2 Pet 3:9,14-15).

I echo the many who said that if only one chapter (at least out of the first six) was to be read, this one should be the one. Click here for other thoughts.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Faith to Faith

There is an interesting series of blog posts at the Bible Gateway called "Perspectives in Translation". Here is the assignment on translating Romans 1:17 and the summary of the responses.
If any Bible passage could be credited for igniting the Protestant Reformation, it’s Romans 1:17. Yet as Luther understood so well, this one verse could inspire a thousand scholarly monographs.
Michael Bird addresses four areas that need to be addressed in rendering a translation for this verse. These include translating dikaiosynē theou (righteousness of God) and ek piesteōs eis pistin (from faith to faith) as well as how to handle textual variants of Habakkuk 2:4. See the end of this post for his translation.

Robert Yarbrough gives five different issues that must be dealt with in translating this verse. He then asks the question which existing translation does the best job. He favors the WEB as the most accurate and defines the term accurate:
as “when the form and substance of the original is rendered as faithfully as possible into another language.”
Douglas J. Moo recommends readers check out his commentary for details on the issues regarding translating this verse. He suggests that "more literal renderings" may not be as easy for the average reader of Scriptures to understand. Translations should focus on communicating to this type of reader. He also questions the idea of "literal" renderings.
We know that there are, in fact, no “literal” equivalents: Perhaps never do the semantic ranges of our Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words exactly match the semantic range of English words. And the same pertains to syntactical features. ... But laypeople, in particular, are badly misled by our language of “literal,” as if “literal” = accurate. It just ain’t so.
Denny Burk prefers the NIV 2011 translation. He disagrees with Moo regarding "literal renderings" and offers this definition:
[a] literal equivalent is not simply substituting form for form—a noun for a noun, a verb for a verb, a participle for a participle, etc.—though sometimes literal includes such substitutions. A literal equivalent is also one that translates a donor form with a receptor form that has a semantic range with as much overlap as possible with the donor form.
I enjoyed reading through each of the replies, however - in my opinion - they were a bit too short (at least for me) to adequately understand and assess the translation issues for this verse. It did prompt me to do some more reading and I recommend checking out Moo's commentary as well as NET Bible study notes for this verse.

In terms of translation goals, I think Moo is right in noting that translations need to be understood by the average reader of the Bible, however I really like Burk's assessment of literal renderings - they should leave as much interpretation out of the translation as possible and allow for the variant interpretations that the original language allowed for. This question is dealt with more directly by various scholars here. Ray Van Neste says it this way:
The goal of a translation is not to decide the interpretive issue in each case. Rather it is to accurately communicate the original with its ambiguity as much as possible.
Here are a sampling of renderings from several major translations:

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."
For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
NIV 2011
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith.
For in it is revealed God’s righteousness from faith to faith. As it is written, ‘But the righteous shall live by faith.
Michael Bird
For in the gospel the saving righteousness of God is revealed, by faith and for faithfulness, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Holiness of God V (Insane Guilt)

If chapter four of the Holiness of God was about how God's holiness unsettles people, then this chapter explored that theme through the lens of Martin Luther's life. A few weeks earlier and this chapter would have lined up well with Reformation Day.

I enjoyed Sproul's retelling of key moments in the life of Martin Luther exploring the events and personality that shaped the man who sparked the Protestant Reformation. If you are looking for a good intro to Luther this chapter is excellent. I am a church history buff and have added a new book - Here I Stand - to my ever growing Wish List too. 

The thing that struck me (maybe because I can relate to some degree) was Luther's obsession with his guilt resulting in his compulsions to go to confessions daily often for hours to be cleansed. He seemed to struggle mightily with trying to figure out how to be right before a Holy God. What brought him to a point where he could barely function...
Luther examined the Great Commandment, " `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself"' (Luke 10:27). Then he asked himself, "What is the Great Transgression?" Some answer this question by saying that the great sin is murder, adultery, blasphemy, or unbelief. Luther disagreed. He concluded that if the Great Commandment was to love God with all the heart, then the Great Transgression was to fail to love God with all the heart. He saw a balance between great obligations and great sins.
Sproul describes most people when they realize the great demands of a Holy God:
The test is too great, too demanding; it is not fair. God will have to judge us all on a curve.  ... Lesser minds went merrily along their way, enjoying the bliss of ignorance. They were satisfied to think that God  compromise his own excellence and let them into heaven.
Luther didn't see it that way. He realized that if God graded on a curve, He would have to compromise His own holiness. To count on God doing so is supreme arrogance and supreme foolishness as well. God does not lower His own standards to accommodate us. He remains altogether holy, altogether righteous, and altogether just.
This chapter brought home the fact that we really have a poor idea of what holiness is whereas Luther really understood this concept and it impacted his life mentally, physically, and spiritually. 

Sproul quotes from Bainton's Here I Stand  the following passage where Luther describes the insane guilt and how the truth set him free:
I greatly longed to understand Paul's Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, "the justice of God," because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that "the just shall live by faith." Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the "justice of God" had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate of heaven....

I have seen this or portions of this quotation before and wondered from which of Luther's works was it taken. I figured a quick Internet search would clear this up and I could then read the quote in context along with the rest of the work. While I found many hits that includes portions of this quotation it took awhile before I finally found the work of Luther from which this was taken. It appears in the Preface to The Complete Edition of Luther's Latin Works, which was published in 1545. However even this link is only an excerpt from the preface.

Since Romans 1:17 was such a crucial passage in Luther's understanding the gospel and coming to Jesus I wanted to let readers know of a series that was done recently where scholars explore how to translate that passage.

In my searches for the source of this quote I did find the 6 part lecture series on this book from Ligonier Ministries. Here is the link to the lecture for this chapter.

Click here for other thoughts.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Holiness of God IV (Unsettling Holiness)

Posting is late this week, just one of those that kept slipping away...

The Holiness of God has laid out the following major points so far:
    1. Understanding the concept of Holy is essential to understanding who God is.
    2. Understanding the Holiness of God is essential to understanding who we are. 
    3. Holy is defined as separated from common use for a special use in a pure way.
    4. Only God who is Holy can make someone or something holy.
    Point #2 is made clear in chapter 2:
    Isaiah explained it this way: "My eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty" (Isa. 6:5). He saw the holiness of God. For the first time in his life Isaiah really understood who God was. At the same instant, for the first time Isaiah really understood who Isaiah was.
    And again in this chapter's quote from John Calvin:
    Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.
    Using examples from Scripture, the Peter Principle, students who break the curve on a college test, golfing with Billy Graham, and Of Mice and Men, Sproul makes the main point that real Holiness unsettles people. 

    I came away from this chapter understanding that there are two different ways Holiness unsettles people. This first way is represented by the tax collector in the parable told in Luke 18:9-14. People that fall into this group realize that they are sinners and that they are ruined in the presence of the One who is Holy. The come to God in fear and tell Him, 'leave me for I am a sinner'. Sproul has described this first group using Isaiah (chapter 2),  horror movie watchers (chapter 3), and the disciples encounters with Jesus in Mark 4 and Luke 5 (chapter 4).

    The second way is represented by those who are like the Pharisee in the parable told in Luke 18:9-14. They are so filled with pride, so focused on the external behavior rather than the internal heart condition, and so enamored with the attention of men that they become hostile around One who is truly Holy. Sproul has described this group by looking in more detail at the Pharisees ("one who is separate") and the Sadducess ("righteous ones").

    Sproul points out that the Jews in Jesus' day revered the prophets but this was because they were safe dead heroes. But when Stephen reminded them that the Jews had killed them as well as the Righteous One they foretold they became enraged.
    People have an appreciation for moral excellence, as long as it is removed a safe distance from them. The Jews honored the prophets, from a distance. The world honors Christ, from a distance.

    This is a good warning for us. How are we reacting to the Holiness of God - like the tax collector or disciple who calls out for mercy and asks God to leave for I am sinner or like the Pharisee who is so blinded by his hypocritical holiness that he becomes hostile when faced with real Holiness and is fearful of being exposed as a hypocrite.

    Do we want to hold Jesus back so we can feel safe or do we want the real Jesus who is Holy and makes us quake at our sinfulness?
    So it was with Christ. The world could tolerate Jesus; they could love Him, but only at a distance. Christ is safe for us if securely bound by space and time.
    The irony is that only when we face the Holiness of Jesus and our own lack of holiness can we actually have eternal safety. Because only in accepting the holiness that is graciously given by the One who is truly Holy are we actually made holy and blameless and acceptable to God. It is only then that we can say - there is no condemnation in Christ.

    Click here for other thoughts.

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    Reformation Thoughts from around the Internet

    Halloween is over and the Colts look to be cruising to a win on MNF, so decided to see what others in the blog-o-sphere wrote regarding the Reformation.

    The iMonk has a good post on the Reformation and a lengthy quote from Martin Luther's Concerning Christian Liberty (1520).
    But you will ask:—“What is this word, and by what means is it to be used, since there are so many words of God?” I answer, the Apostle Paul (Rom. i.) explains what it is, namely, the Gospel of God, concerning His Son, incarnate, suffering, risen, and glorified through the Spirit, the sanctifier. To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching. For faith alone, and the efficacious use of the word of God, bring salvation.
    Chris Castaldo retells the story of Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521. He concludes with this quote from McGrath's Christianity's Dangerous Idea:
    At its heart, the emergence and growth of Protestantism concerned one of the most fundamental questions that can confront any religion: Who has the authority to define its faith? Institutions or individuals? Who has the right to interpret its foundational document, the Bible?
    While Tetzel's selling of indulgences were the primary problem dealt with in 1517 these posts capture the major issues of the Reformation - what is the Gospel and who has the authority to interpret Scripture? For more on the latter see this post.

    Update: Found another post on John Armstrong's blog. He examines Peter Kreeft’s book The God Who Loves You in light of the Reformation:
    His seventh big idea brought Dr. Kreeft back to the Protestant Reformation and made him think about its core message. On this day I find his insight powerful and unifying. His seventh “eureka” moment led him to write: “The gift of God’s love is ours for the taking.” He writes:

    I am a Roman Catholic. But the most liberating idea I have ever learned I heard first from Martin Luther. Pope John Paul II told the German Lutheran bishops that Luther was profoundly right about this idea. He said that Catholic teaching affirms it just as strongly and that there is no contradiction between Protestant and Catholic theology on this terribly important point, which was the central issue of the Protestant Reformation. I speak, of course, about “justification by faith” and its consequence, which Luther called “Christian liberty” or “the liberty of a Christian” in his little gem of fan essay by that name (The God Who Loves You, 23).
    The point, Kreeft reasons, is rather simple: heaven is free because God’s love is free! Salvation is a gift to be taken by faith and not by human performance in any sense.
    I have not read Kreeft's book (though I have examined some of his series on philosophy (Socrates meets...), but from these excerpts he certainly understood the important principle sola fide!

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Holiness of God III

    Two chapters in, we are given the definition of holy. It has three different uses - all of which are true of God:
    • Purity - free from stain, perfect
    • Separate - apart, cut
    • Transcendent  - above and beyond  
     The focus is on God being separate.
    When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. 
     I like the illustration of the various items that God separated apart from common use for special use to draw out the idea. One example was the Sabbath day - which we have looked at recently in Sunday school. The Sabbath was a special day set apart as holy, where no work was to be done. This is what made it different from the other 6 days of the week. It was also a day to remember our Creator (Ex 20:8-11) and Liberator (Deut 5:12-15). Sproul made sure to call to our attention the fact that nothing is holy unless God imparts holiness to it because nothing is Holy except God. 

    Since most people attribute purity with the word holy, Sproul pulls this together really well:
    Where does purity come in? We are so accustomed to equating holiness with purity or ethical perfection that we look for the idea when the word holy appears. When things are made holy, when they are consecrated, they are set apart unto purity. They are to be used in a pure way. They are to reflect purity as well as simple apartness. Purity is not excluded from the idea of the holy; it is contained within it. But the point we must remember is that the idea of the holy is never exhausted by the idea of purity. It includes purity but is much more than that.

    When something is holy it is being separated from other somethings and from its common use so that it can be used in a special and pure way. This working definition of holy fits well for the temple implements and even the Sabbath day but I am struggling with tying that back to understanding the Holiness of God. Perhaps I need to keep in mind that nothing is Holy in and of itself except God.

    When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us.

    Check in here for other thoughts.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Happy Reformation Day (Three Walls)

    On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther (1483–1546) posted the 95 Theses protesting among many things the sale of indulgences.
    #27 There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.
    His goal was to reform the Roman Catholic Church. The result was the Protestant Reformation.

    95 Theses

    As we celebrate this important day in history we turn to another of Luther's writings, the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate, which was written in 1520 after determining that reform of the RCC was not likely. Here he addressed the issues that prevented reform from occurring. 
    The Romanists have, with great adroitness, drawn three walls round themselves, with which they have hitherto protected themselves, so that no one could reform them, whereby all Christendom has fallen terribly.
    • Firstly, if pressed by the temporal power, they have affirmed and maintained that the temporal power has no jurisdiction over them, but on the contrary that the spiritual power is above the temporal.
    • Secondly, if it were proposed to admonish them with the Scriptures, they objected that no one may interpret the Scriptures but the Pope.
    • Thirdly, if they are threatened with a Council, they pretend that no one may call a Council but the Pope.
    ... Now may God help us, and give us one of those trumpets, that overthrew the walls of Jericho, so that we may blow down these walls of straw and paper, and that we may set free our Christian rods, for the chastisement of sin, and expose the craft and deceit of the devil, so that we may amend ourselves by punishment and again obtain God’s favour.
    The rest of this part of the work is dedicated to dismantling these walls. On the first wall the temporal and spiritual powers mentioned are the false divisions setup between clergy (Spiritual Estate) and laity (Temporal Estate). Luther correctly argues that no such division exists because a person is not more spiritual than another because of the office they hold. Each person that is in Christ is both a priest and a member of the body of Christ. Therefore those holding offices in the church are not exempt from being rebuked and corrected by those who do not hold offices within the church.
    It has been devised, that the Pope, bishops, priests and monks are called the Spiritual Estate; Princes, lords, artificers and peasants, are the Temporal Estate; which is a very fine, hypocritical device. But let no one be made afraid by it; and that for this reason: That all Christians are truly of the Spiritual Estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. As St. Paul says (1 Cor. xii.), we are all one body, though each member does its own work, to serve the others. This is because we have one baptism, one gospel, one faith, and are all Christians alike; for baptism, gospel and faith, these alone make Spiritual and Christian people. ... Thus we are all consecrated as priests by baptism, as St. Peter says: “Ye are a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter ii. 9); and in the book of Revelations: “and hast made us unto our God, kings and priests.” (Rev. v. 10.)
    From this Luther will argue that all Christians have the liberty to interpret the Scriptures.
    Therefore it is a wickedly devised fable, and they cannot quote a single letter to confirm it, that it is for the Pope alone to interpret the Scriptures or to confirm the interpretation of them: they have assumed the authority of their own selves. ... Besides that, we are all priests, as I have said, and have all one faith, one gospel, one sacrament; how then should we not have the power of discerning and judging what is right or wrong in matters of faith? What becomes of St. Paul’s words: “But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man” (1 Cor. ii. 15); and also, “we having the same spirit of faith.” (2 Cor. iv. 13.) Why then should we not perceive as well as an unbelieving Pope, what agrees, or disagrees with our faith? ... Therefore it behooves every Christian to aid the faith by understanding and defending it, and by condemning all errors.
    Luther than concludes that
    [t]he third wall falls of itself, as soon as the first two have fallen; for if the Pope acts contrary to the Scriptures, we are bound to stand by the Scriptures, to punish and to constrain him, according to Christ’s commandment; ... But as for their boasts of their authority, that no one must oppose it, this is idle talk. No one in Christendom has any authority to do harm, or to forbid others to prevent harm being done.

    Luther wisely pointed out three walls that prevented reform in the RCC. However we should not just read these in recognition of the Reformation and ignore the fact that these walls need to be seen as warnings for us today as well. We should all take the spirit of the Reformation to heart and guard against them in our ministry.

    Those who hold positions of leadership in the church should be careful to avoid building these walls as the serve those they lead thus falling into the error of the Pope and bishops.
    • The first wall we must guard against is thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought (Rom 12:3; Phil 2:3) or believing that we are more spiritual than others (Luke 18:9-14). We are all sinners in need of grace and we are all members of the body of Christ through faith with different gifts (1 Cor 12:11-12).  
    • The second  wall we must guard against is having both the courage to contend earnestly for the faith while also being humble in our approach to the Scriptures being willing to listen and engage in honest discussion over our differences in interpretations.
    • The third wall  we must guard against is the pride and stubbornness that refuses correction when we sin or go astray (Prov 13:18). We must be willing to grow from the often difficult process of being sharpened by others (Prov 27:17).
    Members of the body of Christ who do not hold an office of leadership are also prone to all these temptations and must be on guard against them in their own lives as well. We must recognize that we are to obey our leaders who are in authority (Heb 13:17) but we also must be willing to be reformers making sure we have good accountability for our local church leaders, we are acting as good Bereans studying the Scriptures (Acts 17:11), and are willing to confront error and sin as needed in a Biblical manner (1 Tim 5:19; Matt 18:15-17).

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    RCT: Holiness of God (II)

    Chapter 2 of Sproul's Holiness of God dives into Isaiah 6 and with powerful writing invites the reader to experience the prophet's initial encounter with God. He moves through the familiar passage describing the terror of being before a Holy, Holy, Holy God as a sinner and moving to the conclusion where we find a man who has been cleansed and is ready and willing to go forth and serve His God.

    As I read through this chapter I was struck by the two concepts that have been introduced in the book which are incomprehensible - the first was nothing. In chapter 1 Sproul explains that we cannot comprehend what nothing is - what it was like before the universe, time, space, energy, and matter all came into existence - because as created beings we exist in something. The second is holiness. Specifically the holiness of God. How can we? We cannot fathom what holiness is because we are not!

    The Israelites trembled when they experienced God at Mt. Sinai and stood at a distance. They could not stand to be in the very presence of God. Like Isaiah they knew they were ruined, unclean and that they deserved to die. In this experience Moses tells us that we are not to be afraid but to have an awe of God's Holiness (Ex 20:18-20). Moses however was willing to go back up the mountain on behalf of the people and talk with God and be in His presence. But as amazing as this must have been...
    [Moses] craved the ultimate spiritual experience. He inquired of the Lord on the mountain, "Let me see your face. Show me your glory." The request was denied
    Denied because no one can behold the face of God and live. But we will not always be denied this request - when Jesus comes again we will actually see God as He is. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face (1 Cor 13:12). Revelation describes that encounter this way (Rev 22:3-4): 
    No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
    Can we imagine what that will be like when there is nothing around us that is cursed and His name - which is Holy - will be written upon us? Nothing can be in the face to face presence of God unless it is holy. And we can only be holy when we have been cleansed like Isaiah (but more so). Jesus has made us holy and blameless so that we can look forward to that day with hope and anticipation rather than dread it (Heb 9:28).

    My kids are so excited about going to Disney World that they are counting down the days and ask about going every day. I thought of that as I read this passage and reflected on the things I eagerly wait for. I can only pray that God will help me hallow His name and fill me with eager anticipation of seeing Him face to face.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    RCT: Holiness of God (chapter 1)

    Tim Challies has a program he calls Reading the Classics Together (RCT). Here is how it works - every week read a chapter and post a comment on the blog on Thursday and join the discussion. This go round the classic is the Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. This will be my initial foray into joining the program. I will be reading along with the Kindle edition.

    Here is how Tim Challies described the book:

    I am convinced that this is destined to be a classic in its own right—one that will be read 50 and 100 years from now. James Montgomery Boice agreed saying, “It may be a bit early to call R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God one of the classic theological works of our time. But if it does not have that status yet, it is well on the way to achieving it.”

    Since I am a week behind I will be posting today on chapter 1, and tomorrow (hopefully) on chapter 2.

    Sproul lays out his case that the key to a proper understanding of God is the concept of "Holiness". This is foundational (says Sproul) to understanding the God who creates out of nothing, issues decrees we find shocking, and allows a world filled with evil to continue.

    The one concept, the central idea I kept meeting in Scripture, was the idea that God is holy. The word was foreign to me. I wasn't sure what it meant. I made the question a matter of diligent and persistent search.  ... It is basic to our whole understanding of God and of Christianity.

    An interesting insight from this chapter was made regarding the Lord's Prayer. In Matthew 6:9 (KJV) it reads "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name". Sproul points out that we often take "hallowed be thy name" as a statement of fact. As in Holy is your name. This is true (Luke 1:49) but it is not how the verb "hallow" should be read. It is in the imperative mood (a command) and passive voice therefore God's name is acted upon and is to be set apart and honored.

    But that is not how Jesus said it. He uttered it as a petition, as the first petition. We should be praying that God's name be hallowed, that God be regarded as holy.
    The NIV, NASB, and ESV all translate the verse similar to the KJV, but the NET Bible translation actually makes this more clear with the following:

    Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored
    Do I set apart God' name and honor it? Do I pray that I and others will do this? What does that even mean? Thought provoking questions that leave me convicted that I do not pray for, meditate on or grapple with God's Holiness nearly enough.

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    What's in a word: Social Justice

    Roger Olson in his blog recently asked - why is the term social justice now considered a bad phrase. He then urges Christians to save the phrase and reject any attempt by others to give the term negative connotations.
    My fear is that this good term “social justice” will be demonized like so many other good terms to the point that it will be virtually impossible to reinvest with its original valuable meaning.  Christians of all political persuasions should stand up and say a loud and resounding “No!” to those who use it pejoratively.
    The problem is how does one define social justice? Not that I want to step into this argument, but clearly Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis are having trouble agreeing on a definition. What does the term social justice mean to people today? How the word is defined is going to determine the reaction you get.

    Olson offers these definitions (one in the blog and one in a comment):
    “social justice” is any concept of improving the social order for the good of all people.

    “social justice” is simply a term to cover any concern for the poor and oppressed and goes beyond charity.
    If social justice is a phrase that means "concern for the poor" then it is certainly open to discussion how to best help the poor. It should also be open to discussion what "good of all means" and who gets to determine what that is and how it should be achieved.

    Definitions matter. Words change. Take the word "liberal". It used to be a philosophy that encouraged individual liberty, private property, and limited government. But today that word has a whole new meaning and generally is associated with Keynesian economics and government entitlement programs. What is interesting is Olson demonstrates in this own post why many have a negative association to the phrase "social justice". Olson admits that the phrase has been used by the progressive movement to promote their policies. Therein lies the problem. It is not concern for the poor that is the problem but how those needs are to be met and what philosophies lie behind the solutions.

    Rather than confront the progressive co-opting of the phrase he seeks to defend, Olson cites progressive movements working for the "common good against rabid individualism" (emphasis added). He then goes on to argue that  rejecting social justice means you want “social injustice” and then concludes that those against social justice probably reject the civil rights movement. This should not endear anyone to the cause Olson tries to start. Certainly we can support giving all people regardless of race or gender the right to vote without having to support unsustainable entitlement spending.

    Unfortunately Olson does not mention the progressive movements "rabid" spending for entitlements that do more harm than good to the nation as it consumes more and more resources while piling up debt for our children.This is not fiscally sustainable.  Where does the Bible advocate spending more than you have to "improve the social order for the good of all people"?

    While we as Christians should support helping the needy, providing equal opportunity to people so that they can work and sustain themselves, providing equal treatment under the law and making sure businesses use "fair scales" we need not rush to support the progressive policies that often undermine other Biblical principles (work ethic, marriage, and debt/spending). Nor should we rush to help Olson until he better defines the phrase "social justice" and seeks to reclaim it from the progressive movement.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Social Justice and the Grasshopper

    You probably know the fable about the ant and the grasshopper. The ant goes out and works all summer preparing for the future winter while the grasshopper enjoys being "fun-employed" and goes about playing all day.  When winter comes the grasshopper finds himself poor and starving.
    Source: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

    So what should the ant do to help the grasshopper?

    How about the church the ant attends, what should they do? Should the national government where the ant lives do anything?

    The answer to these questions depend on how you define social justice? Verses like Deut 15:7-8 and Isaiah 58:6-7 are used to teach us to help the poor. Rightly so but sometimes solving social needs is given greater emphasis than sharing the gospel and even leads to some Christians advocating government re-distribution of resources to provide "justice and fairness". But does the Bible require all people to have the same resources in order for there to be social justice?  Many think that this is so, but I am not sure what they should do with passages like the parable of the talents where we see that each is given according to ability (Matt 25:15) and is rewarded according to how they used what they were given (Luke 19:16-19). Even God distributes resources differently.

    So what should the ant do?

    Some thoughts from Paul:
    Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thess 4:9-12 ESV)
    In teaching the Thessalonians about brotherly love Paul urges them to continue to show this love adding among other things the need to work with your own hands and to be dependent on no one. The point seems to be that able bodied people should work so that they can care for themselves and not be dependent on others.  Paul made the same point to the Ephesians:
    Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Eph 4:28 ESV)
    The point seems to be that able bodied people should work so that they can care for themselves and the needy.  
    So who are the needy? Let's let Paul answer that one too.
    Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.  (2 Thess 3:6-12)
    Here the idle (and able) are commanded to "get to work". If they are unwilling to work then they should not eat. Those who can work and do not are called a burden. Having nothing better to do they become gossips. Paul - who argues that as a minister of the gospel had a right to be cared for - surrendered this right to make this point. Able bodied people should work so that they can care for themselves and the needy. 

    So who are the needy?  
    The orphans and widows (James 1:27) which are those who are truly in need and can not care for themselves. Paul gives guidelines for those who are truly widows in 1 Tim 5:3-16. From the context the true widows are not just those who have lost a spouse but those who have no resources and no one else to care for them.

    Who should help the needy?
    Apparently from God's point of view the resources used to help the needy should come from family first (1 Tim 5:8) and should not be given out of compulsion but rather as each has chosen (2 Cor 9:7). 

    So what should the ant do to help the grasshopper?

    That is up to the "ant" to decide. Living in the age of grace we should aim to be generous in our giving for we have a great Savior who has freely offered us salvation. In fact Paul tells us in 2 Cor 9:11 that we should be generous in every way so that God will get the thanks, having quoted Psalm 112 in verse 9:
    It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
       who conducts his affairs with justice.
    He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
       his righteousness endures forever;
       his horn is exalted in honor.
    (Psalm 112:5,9)
    We are certainly not supposed to be selfish and hoard what God has allowed us to earn, but to live quiet, sensible lives making sure that we are able to care for the needy and wisely discern who they are. 

    For more ideas on how to answer the dilemma that the ant faces read all of Psalm 112, 1 Tim 6:17-19 and check out Kevin DeYoung's series on social justice that include posts on Luke 4:16-21, Micah 6:8; Amos 5; Matthew 25:31-46; Jeremiah 22; Isaiah 58; and Isaiah 1.

    Sunday, June 6, 2010

    Thursday, May 20, 2010

    The Trinity, Sin, and Jesus

    The recent postings (#5) on the Trinity debate are available - Bowman on the Trinity and Burke on the Trinity. There has also been a recent set of rebuttals by Rob Bowman on round 3 that can be read starting here and here.

    In this posting I am going to look at one aspect of the debate focusing on the humanity of Jesus in relation to his sinlessness and ability to be a sacrifice for all mankind. I started thinking through this issue as presented by Burke (representing the Biblical Unitarian view) and wondered how this view dealt with how the mortal man Jesus who was in no way divine could have taken on the sins of all mankind. As I read and thought through this issue I realized that there are many fundamental theological differences besides the Trinity that exist. It would seem that some particulars regarding the consequences of the Fall, the understanding of the atonement, and necessity for a holy and blameless sacrifice for sins before much progress can be made in debating who Jesus is.
    I want to start with letting Burke define the Biblical Unitarian Jesus:
    In posting #3, the Christology of Unitarians is summarized as follows:

    The Biblical Unitarian Jesus was genuinely born to the virgin Mary following her miraculous conception by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20) and was therefore the literal Son of God (Luke 1:35). He grew up just like any other human child (Luke 2:52), was tempted like any normal man (Matthew 4:1-11) yet resisted sin (Hebrews 4:15) through the strength of his superior will (Matthew 16:23) and his close association with the Father, upon whom he depends for his existence (John 6:57), just as we do. Despite being capable of sin, he lived a sinless life (1 Peter 2:21-22), died on the cross as a perfect sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 7:26-27) and was raised to immortality by the Father (Acts 2:22-24, Galatians 1:1). (emphasis added)
    In posting #5 another summary of the Christology of Unitarians  is given:
    The Bible describes Jesus’ humanity in a way that leaves no room for deity and totally precludes the “God-man” hypothesis. Born as a mortal man and made like his brethren in every way (Hebrews 2:17), he was subject to the Law of Moses (Galatians 4:4) and capable of sin (Luke 4:1; cf. James 1:13-14). His sinless life was made possible by his superior mental and intellectual qualities (Luke 2:46-47), his close relationship with the Father (John 1:18, 10:30, 38), and the angelic assistance he received whenever necessary (Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43).
    We know that he struggled with the awful burden of his task (Matthew 26:39-42; Luke 22:42) and suffered when he was tempted (Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15), but completely resisted sin. As a mortal man, he required release from the pains of death (Acts 2:24) and recognised this need through his prayers and supplications to God, who was able to save him from death (Hebrews 5:7). Submitting obediently to his sacrificial death on the cross (Philippians 2:8; Colossians 1:20) he was raised to life by the Father (Galatians 1:1) and now sits at His right hand in an exalted, glorified form (Mark 16:19; Acts 5:31; Philippians 3:21), exercising divine power, authority and judgement while he awaits his Second Advent (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 21:27; John 5:27; Acts 1:11; Ephesians 1:20-22). (emphasis added)
    The belief that Jesus as a man was under the curse of the Fall is stated clearly in a site that describes Christadelphian beliefs:
    Because he had our nature, Christ had to die. He was a descendant of Adam through Mary, and all of Adam's children have to die (1 Cor. 15:22). All Adam's descendants had to die because of his sin, regardless of their personal righteousness: "Death reigned...through the offence of one (Adam) many be dead...the judgment was (on account of) one (Adam) to condemnation (to death) one man's disobedience many were made sinners", and therefore had to die (Rom. 5:14-19 cp. 6:23). (emphasis added)
    The site goes on to say that:
    The Jewish high priest had to make an offering firstly for his own sins, and then for those of the people (Heb. 5:1-3). Christ's sacrifice had this same two-fold structure. Although he did not have any sins personally, Jesus was still of human nature, and needed salvation from death. This salvation was provided by God on account of Christ's own sacrifice; thus Jesus died both to gain his own salvation, and also to make ours possible. (emphasis added)
    From these excerpts here is a summary of the Biblical Unitarian view:
    • Jesus did not exist prior to the miraculous conception.
    • Jesus is a mortal man, who is like us in every way.
    • Jesus resisted sin through his superior will and intellect.
    • Jesus deserved to die because he was under the penalty of Adam.
    • Jesus lived a sinless life, therefore God raised him from the dead and sat him at His right hand.
    • Jesus was sinless, therefore his death pays the penalty for all our sins.
    One thing that stands out is the theological assertion that Jesus deserved to die because of the sin of Adam. The basis for this is solid and based on the theological notion of imputed sin, which I agree with. Man shares the guilt and consequences of Adam’s sin regardless of whether or not they committed a personal sin (Rom 5:12-18). The Unitarian then makes the logical next step that if Jesus is a mortal man that he too has had Adam's sin imputed to him. This would mean that Jesus shares the guilt and consequences of Adam's sin. However if this is true then Jesus deserved death - physical death (returning to dust (Gen 3:19)) and spiritual death (separated from relationship with God and the wrath and condemnation due to lack of holiness) just as Adam does. How could he have been our substitute and taste death for all of us (Heb 2:9) or have all of our sins imputed upon him (Isa 53:6,12; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 9:28) if it was deserved?

    While accepting imputed sin, the Unitarian rejects the notion of a sin nature. The sin nature can best be described as the affect of the Fall on man that damaged his will and gave him a propensity to sin such that we start off as helpless, sinners, and enemies (Rom 5:6,8,10) who by nature are under God’s wrath (Psalm 51:1-5; Ps 58:3; Eph 2:3). It has been said that we "sin because we are sinners, we are not sinners because we sin". Our imputed sin and sin nature allows Paul to safely write that "none are righteous" (Rom 3:10) and "all have sinned and fall short" (Rom 3:23).
    Burke writes the following in posting #5:

    A common evangelical objection to the Biblical Unitarian atonement is that Jesus could not have been morally sinless unless he was God, because all humans are considered sinners from the moment of their birth as a result of “original sin” (or “total depravity”, as the Calvinists call it). But Biblical Unitarians do not believe in “original sin” or “total depravity.” We believe that human nature is capable of sin and prone to sin, but humans are not regarded as sinners until they sin. Thus Jesus’ human nature did not preclude the potential for sinlessness.
    The Unitarian view in rejecting a sin nature altogether does not require condemnation and wrath to fall upon the man Jesus. He was able to escape these penalties because he did not commit personal sin. This would make there view of the affect of the Fall on mankind similar to that expressed by Pelagius who believed that man by nature is capable of choosing to sin or not to sin and that only committing personal sin is punishable by God.
    From various comments on forums and Bible Basics it is my understanding that in addition to rejecting the notion of sin nature/total depravity, the Unitarian also rejects the idea of spiritual death as a concept different from physical death. Because in this view there is simply physical death. Man has no soul and is unconscious or annihilated after the body dies. Only those that are in Christ are rewarded with a resurrection and immortality. This limits the wrath and condemnation of God to physical death with no hope of eternal life, eliminating any concept of eternal contempt (Dan 12:2; Matt 25:46). However, I have not seen Burke discuss these views so I am not if he accepts them or would describe them. But this seem to be an attempt to further remove problems with a mortal man paying the penalties of all mankind.
    Burke goes on asking:

    This presents yet another weakness for Trinitarianism: the question of Jesus’ nature. As an evangelical, Rob surely believes in some form of “original sin”; but how does he view it in relation to Jesus? If Rob’s Jesus does not have original sin, how can he be truly human and “made like his brothers in every way”? If he does have it, how can he be sinless?
    The Unitarian view as noted above takes exception to the fact that in many ways the Trintarian view of Jesus is not like us in “every way” (Heb 2:17) if he did not have imputed sin or a sin nature.  Unitarians skip this problem reject sin nature despite Scripture that teaches that  man does have a sin nature from birth (Psalm 51:5) and is under condemnation and wrath (John 3:36; Rom 1:18; Rom 5:9,16; Eph 2:3, 5:6). However I do not agree with the assertion that Adam’s sin was imputed to Jesus or that Jesus had a sin nature. Scripture elsewhere describes Jesus as being sent in  the “likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3) and “being made in the likeness of man” (Phil 2:7). These verses coupled with the miraculous conception certainly allows for the conclusion that Jesus was made incarnate and born as a man without imputed sin and a sin nature. Therefore Jesus was not under wrath and condemnation like the rest of us. This state of humanity that Jesus did posses may have been like Adam before the Fall (this is conjecture on my part). Adam would not have had imputed sin or a sin nature at this point, yet had the ability to be tempted and the potential to sin or not to sin. This would make Jesus no less human than Adam would have been before the Fall.
    Bible Basics goes on to say:

    As a descendant of Adam, Christ was 'made' a 'sinner' and therefore had to die, as all Adam's descendants were classified as sinners worthy of death due to his sin. God did not change this principle, He let it affect Christ too. God "made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21).
    Apart from Jesus, all of Adam's descendants deserve this punishment, for we have all sinned personally. Jesus had to die because he was of our nature, sharing in the curse which came upon Adam's descendants. Yet, because he personally had done nothing worthy of death "God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him" (Acts 2:24 N.I.V.). Christ was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4). Thus it was due to Christ's perfect character, his "spirit of holiness", that he was gloriously resurrected. 
    The Unitarian view states (or at least seems to) that Jesus deserved to die because of Adam’s guilt (imputed sin) but did not deserve to die because he was sinless (personal sin). How could a mortal man who by superior intellect and a close relationship with God lived a sinless life die for all the rest of mankind’s sin and taste death for us all when he had to pay the penalty he deserved (having Adam’s imputed sin)? Could someone with imputed sin and guilt be holy and perfect even if he was sinless? How could a man separated from God (by virtue of the guilt of Adam) have the relationship that Jesus had with the Father or have the ability to reconcile us to God? Doesn't this require more than any man is capable of? Does it not require a divine nature with inherent holiness, undeserving of death, wrath, and condemnation?

    Because Jesus did not have imputed sin or a sin nature he could be the substitutionary sacrifice we needed because he did not deserve death, condemnation, and wrath. Because Jesus is human - having the likeness of sinful flesh he could taste death for all, and because He possesses the fullness of divinity He could live a holy life, be righteous, and be the perfect sacrifice that was required to pay the penalty for all mankind's sin.


    On two various discussion boards with Christadelphians I have been corrected in my interpretation of the Bible Basics description of Rom 5:12-20. I took this to be describing imputed sin and meant that the Unitarian position held this doctrine. This seemed like a fair reading both from the description in the book as well as the usage of a passage that evangelicals would interpret as describing imputed sin (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 494). However, the Unitarian position is that Adam's sin and guilt were not imputed to Jesus and there were no other punishments that Jesus deserved by virtue of being human other than physical death. The position holds that Jesus suffered the effects of the Fall as all men do in that he was mortal and would suffer physical death much like we all live in a corrupted creation where growing food is more difficult. 
    Interestingly enough this misunderstanding on my part demonstrates the main point that I was trying to make in this blog post - that there are a lot of theological presuppositions that each camp brings to the table and there are built in definitions to words (like nature) and passages (like Rom 5) that do not carry over the same meaning in the other person's theological vocabulary. 

    Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    Wednesday with Wesley: On the Trinity

    I have been trying to keep up with the Trinity debate over at the Parchment and Pen. The recent postings on the Holy Spirit are available.
    This week Dave and Rob will be posting on their overall theology regarding the Trinity. Since it is Wednesday and it has been awhile, I decided to post excerpts from John Wesley's sermon #55 regarding the Trinity along with some of my commentary.

    It should be noted up front that there are points that Wesley raises that can be disputed in this sermon, for example his arguing for the authenticity of the Comma Johanneum. That will not be dealt with in this post, but you can read more about it here. In addition I will be ignoring his  "rants" against Romanists (aka Catholics) and Calvinists. 

    Wesley starts off acknowledging that even religious men hold opinions on religious matters some of which are wrong though that would not make them any less a Christian. However, he also holds that some issues are vital to get right - among them is the Trinity:
    But there are some truths more important than others. It seems there are some which are of deep importance. I do not term them fundamental truths; because that is an ambiguous word: And hence there have been so many warm disputes about the number of fundamentals. But surely there are some which it nearly concerns us to know, as having a close connexion with vital religion. And doubtless we may rank among these that contained in the words above cited: There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: And these three are one.
    While it is highly improbable that the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7) is part of the original inspired letter by John, it does capture the essence of the Trinitarian belief quite well: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: And these three are one. I believe that one examines the Scriptures one would find the following facts (see debate entries for lots more details, it is not my intention to defend these facts here):
    1. There is One God (Deut 6:4)
    2. The Father is God (Matt 6:9)
    3. The Son, Jesus Christ, is God (Heb 1:8)
    4. The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3,4)
    However far more complicated is understanding how these facts can be described into a coherent theological definition. Wesley argues that
    ...all who endeavored to explain it at all, have utterly lost their way; have, above all other persons hurt the cause which they intended to promote; having only, as Job speaks, "darkened counsel by words without knowledge." It was in an evil hour that these explainers began their fruitless work I insist upon no explication at all; no, not even on the best I ever saw; I mean, that which is given us in the creed commonly ascribed to Athanasius.
    Wesley has a point. The Trinity is an implicit doctrine, that is built precept upon precept. Having searched the Scriptures and discovered the facts as laid out above, one will certainly find that the Scriptures do not reveal how these facts all work together.
    I dare not insist upon any one’s using the word Trinity, or Person. I use them myself without any scruple, because I know of none better: But if any man has any scruple concerning them, who shall constrain him to use them? I cannot: Much less would I burn a man alive, and that with moist, green wood, for saying, Though I believe the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; yet I scruple using the words Trinity and Persons, because I do not find those terms in the Bible.”
    Nor will one find the term substance. In fact there seemed to have been debate during the Council of Nicea regarding using terms that were not found in the Scriptures when composing the creed. (See Schaff for some details and Athanasius' De Decretis chapter 5 for his defense in use of the term "homousios"). However even if we don't understand the manner in which the Trinity is true, Wesley warns that:
    Still I insist, the fact you believe, you cannot deny; but the manner you cannot comprehend.
    To apply this to the case before us: There are three that bear record in heaven: And these three are One. I believe this fact also, (if I may use the expression,) that God is Three and One. But the manner how I do not comprehend and I do not believe it. Now in this, in the manner, lies the mystery; and so it may; I have no concern with it: It is no object of my faith: I believe just so much as God has revealed, and no more. But this, the manner, he has not revealed; therefore, I believe nothing about it. But would it not be absurd in me to deny the fact, because I do not understand the manner? That is, to reject what God has revealed, because I do not comprehend what he has not revealed.
    Fair assessment - even if strongly worded. While I hold that the Nicene/Athanasian definitions are the best (and accepted as orthodox) attempt by man to describe and explain what the Scriptures present as fact, this may not be exactly right. These are man's attempt to explain the data but the Bible does not explain how the Trinity works. However as Athanasius explained using terms not found in the Scriptures (like Trinity, person, and substance) are useful in separating and explaining a position and contrasting that with other non-orthodox explanations including Arianism, Modalism, and Adoptionalism. Since these are man's best attempts to explain Biblical data (see the Trinity is like 3 in 1 shampoo), I don't see a Nicene understanding of the Trinity as required for salvation. I do think that the accepting what the Bible teaches regarding God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are essential. Rob Bowman said the same thing here
    ...what does the Bible tell us we need to know about the Trinity? Obviously, it does not tell us that we need to use words like Trinity or formulas like three persons in one God. These do not appear in the Bible. On the other hand, we are expected to make a faith commitment to the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as is evident from the injunction to make disciples by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19)
    That leaves us with the following points to think through:
    1. trying to describe the Trinity is difficult and often filled with lack of understanding
    2. words used to describe the Trinity are not in the Bible. 
      • Trinity, Person, Substance
    3. belief in the facts not the illustrations is what is important
    Wesley concluded with this:
    I know not how any one can be a Christian believer till he “hath,” as St. John speaks, “the witness in himself;” till “the Spirit of God witnesses with his spirit, that he is a child of God;” that is, in effect, till God the holy Ghost witnesses that God the Father has accepted him through the merits of God the Son: And, having this witness, he honours the Son, and the blessed Spirit, “even as he honours the Father.”

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    The Trinity Debate

    The Parchment and Pen is hosting a 6 week debate on the Trinity between Dave Burke a Christadelphian and Rob Bowman who will defend the Trinity.

    The Rules for the debate

    Defining the Trinity (Bowman)

    Bowman's position is stated as:
    This doctrine of the Trinity is a conceptual framework or system for affirming the following six core propositions drawn from the Bible:

    1. There is one (true, living) God, identified as the Creator.
    2. This one God is the one divine being called YHWH (or Jehovah, the LORD) in the Old Testament.
    3. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is God, the LORD.
    4. The Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is God, the LORD.
    5. The Holy Spirit is God, the LORD.
    6. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each someone other than the other two.

    In this debate, I will be seeking to defend the doctrine of the Trinity by showing that each of these six propositions is taught in the Bible.

    Unitarian Position (Burke)

    Burke's position is stated as:
    • The Bible is the inspired Word of God and the sole authoritative source of Christian doctrine and practice
    • The Father alone is God
    • Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but not God himself
    • The Holy Spirit is the power of God, but not God himself
    • Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised to immortality by the Father
    • At an appointed time (concealed from humanity) Jesus will return to Earth, judge the living and the dead, restore the nation of Israel to her former glory and reign over a kingdom that will last for 1,000 years

    Who is Jesus? (Burke)

    Who is Jesus? (Bowman)

    Who is Jesus Part 2 (Burke)

    Who is Jesus Part 2 (Bowman)

    Join the discussion:
    Debating the debate at Theologica