Category Archives: Great Quotes

John Frame on the Relationship Between Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

Frame is so often an invaluable guide in navigating theological conundrums such as the following:

It often comes as an exciting discovery that doctrines that seem at first glance to be opposed are actually complementary, if not actually dependent one on another.

For Calvinists, for example, divine sovereignty and human freedom are examples of that sort of dependence and complementarity. Although at first glance those doctrines appear to be opposed to one another, a closer look shows that without divine sovereignty there would be no meaning in human life and therefore no meaningful form of freedom.

And if our concern for freedom is essentially a concern to maintain human ethical responsibility, we should observe that divine sovereignty is the source of human responsibility. Because the sovereign Lord is the cause of an authority over human responsibility, we can say that God’s sovereignty—His absolute lordship—establishes human responsibility.

Thus Scripture often places the two doctrines side by side, with no embarrassment or sense of impropriety whatsoever (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:27f.; Phil. 2:12f.). Human responsibility exists no “in spite of” but “because of” God’s sovereignty. Not only are the two compatible; they require each other.

—John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987), 268.

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In Defense of Church Liturgy

Too frequently we hear that the contemporary worship service is a wholly novel invention. Songs, sermon, and even Sunday worship were later man-made tradition. For folks who advocate this kind of thinking, the goal is to “move back to Bible,” to the kind of informal, liturgy-free gatherings of the first Christians. But there’s a problem with this thesis: It’s not grounded in real history. We we dig below the surface rhetoric, we realize that the basic structure of ancient worship service are fundamentally similar to what Christians experiences each Sunday morning. On this, Kevin DeYoung writes:

Moreover, an examination of early church documents like Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians (c. 95), Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (c. 112), The Didache (early second century), The First Apology of Justin Martyr (c. 155), and The Apostolic Traditions of Hippolytus (c. 200) show the existence of specific worship orders in the early church, including responsive readings, Communion instructions, liturgical responses, prayer formulas, blessing formulas, and various rules for teachers and preachers.35 Our worship does not need to be identical to that of the early church, especially when we move outside the New Testament to the testimony of the church fathers, but to argue for a completely spontaneous, structureless, antiliturgical, brand-new-every-week worship service in the first centuries of the church is an argument against the plain facts of history.

Think of what we find in the New Testament: a holy meal celebrated frequently (Lord’s Supper); an initiatory rite signifying those who belong to the Christian community (baptism); a day set apart (the “Lord’s Day” mentioned by John in Rev. 1:10, probably alluded to by Luke in Acts 20:7, and referenced by Pliny and Justin Martyr); the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:18-20); the probable recitation of other hymns or confessional poems (Phil 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Tim. 3:16 ); the teaching and reading of Old Testament Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13); contemporary epistles commanded to be read in the churches (1 Thess. 5:27). Add to this list numerous doxologies (e.g., Gal. 1:5) and benedictions (e.g., Gal. 6:18), liturgical “amens” (1 Cor. 14:16), holy kisses (Rom. 16:16), and the “maranatha” (quite possibly a set prayer for after Communion [1 Cor. 11:26; 16:22]), and even future liturgical formulas to be repeated and sung by the saints and angels in heaven (see examples in Revelation chapters 4-5, 7, 11, 15-16, 19, 22). We see evidence of patterns and structure all over the place.

-Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, 126-127.

For this we can be thankful. Though there have certainly been changes and adaptations in church liturgy over the millennia, by God’s grace much has remained faithful on essential matters.

The Van Tillian Flavor of Herman Bavinck

Of course, this post might more rightly be titled, the Bavinckian flavor of Cornelius Van Til. For those familiar with the thought of  Van Til, it’s well known that Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck was a huge influence on his thought. I myself knew this in principal, up until I started to read Bavinck myself. Though Van Til himself at times pointed out difference between them, there are numerous times in which readers can be downright confused as to what thinker they are reading. Many passages in Bavinck read so very Van Tillian. Here is a passage in which Bavinck explains the foundational convictions of the Christian apologist:

Apologetics cannot precede faith and does not attempt a priori to argue the truth of revelation. It assumes the truth and belief in the truth. It does not, as the introductory part or as the foundational science, precede theology and dogmatics. It is itself a theological science through and through, which presupposes the faith and dogmatics and now maintains and defends the dogma against the opposition to which it is exposed. Thus understood, apologetics is not only perfectly justified but a science that at all times, but especially in this century, deserves to be seriously practiced and can spread rich blessing all around.

First of all, it has the immediate advantage of forcing Christian theology to take deliberate account of the grounds on which it is based, of the principles on which it is constructed, and of the content it has within itself. It brings Christian theology out of the shadows of the mysticism of the human heart into the full light of day. Apologetics, after all, was the first Christian science.

Secondly, it teaches that Christians, even though they cannot confer faith on anyone, need not hide from their opponents in embarrassed silence. With their faith they do not stand as isolated aliens in the midst of the world but find support for it in nature and history, in science and art, in society and state, in the heart and conscience of every human being. The Christian worldview alone is one that fits the reality of the world and of life.

And finally, if it seriously and scrupulously performs its task, it will very definitely succeed in impressing opponents with the truth of Christian revelation, refuting and silencing them. It cannot truly convert people to God. Not even the preaching of the gospel is able to do that; only God, by his Spirit, can accomplish that. But subject to this working of God and as a means in his hand, apologetics, like the ministry of the Word, can be a source of consummate blessing. For this fact the early centuries of Christianity offer abundant evidence.

-Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, 515.

Likewise, the Dutch Master writes, “The foundations of faith (principia fidei) are themselves articles of faith (articuli fidei), based not on human arguments and proofs but on divine authority. The recognition of revelation, of Scripture as the Word of God, is an act of faith as well as its fruit” (109). Compare complimentary statements from Van Til himself:

Incidentally we remark that our acceptance of the Scriptures does not depend upon our argument for the absolute God and our argument for the absolute God does not depend upon our acceptance of the Scriptures. We say that one does not depend upon the other because they are mutually involved in one another and quite inseparable. Our concept of God as absolute is a matter of fact taught nowhere but in Scripture. That is as we should expect, since Scripture itself is necessary because of man’s departure from the knowledge of God. Scripture is nothing but God’s self – testimony to the sinner as once God’s self – testimony came to man through man’s own consciousness and through God’s thought communication in paradise. Hence too it is only by his internal testimony in our hearts, that is, through the regeneration wrought by the Holy Spirit that we believe his own external testimony as it lies before us in scripture. (Cornelius Van Til, Psychology of Religion)

And,

It is true that no method of argument for Christianity will be acceptable to the natural man. Moreover, it is true that the more consistently Christian our methodology, the less acceptable it will be to the natural man. We find something similar in the field of theology. It is precisely the Reformed Faith which, among other things, teaches the total depravity of the natural man, which is most loathsome to that natural man. But this does not prove that the Reformed Faith is not true. A patient may like a doctor who tells him that his disease can be cured by means of external applications and dislike the doctor who tells him that he needs a major internal operation. Yet the latter doctor may be right in his diagnosis. …… It is upon the power of the Holy Spirit that the Reformed preacher relies when he tells men that they are lost in sin and in need of a Savior. The Reformed preacher does not tone down his message in order that it may find acceptance with the natural man. He does not say that his message is less certainly true because of its nonacceptance by the natural man. (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith)

Reading both authors is mutually beneficial to all, and equips us with navigating the contemporary hostility of our culture.

Our Call to Engaged Alienation

One thing I’ve long admired about Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) is his winsome example of what a Christ-centered, gospel-saturated Christian looks like when they enter the public square. In his latest book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, defining our calling to one of engaged alienated.

Our call is to an engaged alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, friends, and citizens.

This means our priority is a theological vision of what it means to be the church in the world, of what it means to be human in the cosmos. We must put priority where Jesus put it, on the kingdom of God. But while we are a citizens Kingdom First people, we are not a Kingdom Only people. Jesus told us to seek both the kingdom of God “and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). We pursue justice and mercy and well being for those around us, including the social and political arenas. This means that we will be considered “culture warriors.” Maybe so, but let’s be Christ-shaped culture warriors. Let’s be those who contend for culture, but not those who are at war with the culture. We will see ourselves in a much deeper, much more intractable, much more ancient war not against flesh and blood or even against cultural forces, but against unseen principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

We will recognize the necessity of engagement in social and political action, even as we see the limits of such action, this side of the New but Jerusalem. But we will engage not with the end goal of winning with the end goal of reconciliation. This means that morality and social justice, while good, are not enough. We witness to a gospel that seeks nor only to reconcile people to one another but to God, by doing away with the obstacle to such communion: our sin and our guilt. hat comes not by voter blocs or by policy papers but by a bloody cross and an empty tomb.

Over the past century or so, the “culture wars” could be categorized as disputes over human dignity (the pro-life movement, for example), family stability (the sexual and marriage and child-rearing debates, for example) and religious liberty. The intuitions of American Christians on these fronts have often been right, I believe, even if too often unanchored from a larger gospel vision and from a larger framework of justice. We should learn from the best impulses of such engagement, and use our articulation of our views at these points as part of an even bigger argument. These should point us back to a vision of kingdom, of culture, and of mission, rooted in the gospel and in church, even as we work with those who disagree with us in the many ways toward an approximation of justice in the public arena. As we do this, we shouldn’t be ashamed of Jesus, and we shouldn’t be afraid to be out of step with America. We are marching onward, toward a different kind of reign.

In our present cultural moment, Moore’s presentation is exciting and needs to find a wide hearing.

The Crucified King: Kingdom-Through-Cross

In his wonderful book The Crucified King, Jeremy Treat sees the theme of kingdom-through-the-cross reoccurring  throughout the Bible. For example he sees the theme show up in the book of Isaiah. He highlights of themes of suffering and victory throughout the prophetic book (while acknowledging the appropriate distinctions in emphasis in chapters 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66). The depiction of royal figure of the first half of Isaiah is expanding and nuanced by the suffering figure of the latter half of the book. This figure establishes God’s kingdom reign by means of his atoning death.  When we bring together these twin themes in Isaiah we should see them as mutually reinforcing, not at odds. The kingdom of God is presented both in new creation (emphasizing the cosmic), and as new exodus (emphasizing liberation from enslavement).  Isa 52:13–53:12, according to Treat, serves as a vivid demonstration of how this is accomplished.

The paradoxical nature of the servant-king’s suffering and exaltation is at the heart of his glorious accomplishment. He who was “lifted up”…and exalted. (Isaiah 52:13) is the very one who “has born… our griefs” (53:4) and “bore… the sin of many” (53:12). In English, one simply misses the wordplay, but the irony could not be any greater. The one who is “lifted up” in exaltation is the one who has “lifted up” our sins onto himself in order that we may be reconciled to God and share in his victory. Although exaltation and humiliation seem to be extreme opposites, the servant is exalted through humiliation and victorious through suffering. Re-placing the song of the Suffering Servant in its canonical context provides a kingdom framework for the sin-bearing, sorrow-carrying, punishment-averting, guilt-offering, place-taking, atoning death of the servant-king. The significance could not be more crucial: the servant-king brings about a kingdom of servants through his atoning and victorious suffering (86).

But Mark’s Gospel, Treat argues, is also developed along these lines. As chapter 3 begins, Treat contrasts his understanding of the kingdom and cross relation in Mark with the following six positions: Kingdom despite the cross (Jesus’ life and resurrection, not death, bring the kingdom), cross despite kingdom (Jesus’ death is what really matters), kingdom and then cross (Jesus’ kingdom mission cut short by death), cross and then kingdom (Jesus’ death as precursor to the kingdom), kingdom qualifies Cross (theology of glory corrects theology of suffering), and cross qualifies kingdom (theology of suffering corrects theology of glory, 87-88). To this Treats responds, “I propose that the proper relationship is defined as ‘kingdom by ‘way’ of the cross”” (88).  He then outlines Mark’s Gospel as follows (89-110),

  • The kingdom in the shadow of the cross (1:1-8:26)
  • The kingdom redefined by the cross (8:27-10:52)
  • The kingdom established by the cross (11:1-16:8)

Treat contends that the cross is “the means of the Messiah’s mission to establish the kingdom” (75), and that “the messianic mission culminates at Golgotha, where the crucified king establishes his kingdom by way of the cross” (110). In his crucifixion, the messianic king is exalted, and through his suffering is victorious  (86).

Lastly, at least for our purposes, he also the theme popping up in the book of Revelation:

These passages from Revelation enlighten the relationship between the kingdom of Christ and the blood of his cross in three ways. First, Christ atoning work on the cross results in the people of God being made a kingdom (Rev. 1:5B-6). Second, the Lion-like victory was achieved through a Lamb-like means (5:5–6). By the blood of Christ, people of all nations have been ransomed from sin and made to be kings and priests (5:9–10) in the pattern and fulfillment of the Exodus (Exod. 19:6). Third, the establishment of Gods kingdom entails the defeat of Satan by Christ and his followers (Rev.12:10–11). In what is primarily a legal battle, Christ, by shedding his blood, paid the penalty for sin and therefore defeated Satan by disarming him of his accusatory force. Though the final defeat is yet to come, Christians continue to conquer Satan, exposing his deception but witnessing to Christs obedient life and a true efficacy of his death (126-127) 

Treat’s point here is that Kingdom and cross presuppose one another and work in tandem. The proper view, the author persuasively argues, is exaltation in humiliation within a broader progression of exaltation through humiliation (156). As in Marks Gospel, the cross is where the messianic king rules. It is the scepter by which he exercises his dominion and defeats the enemy of the people of God. 

Covenantal Salvation

I apologize for the delay in getting to the next entry in our Theology Memeology series. So other responsibilities feel into my lap. I’ll be working to get some writing done this week. In the meant time, here is this golden nugget:

God’s cosmic purposes are also intensely personal and particular, seen in the way God has chosen to bring about these purposes through covenant promise and fulfillment, mediated through the line of Abraham. After demonstrating God’s creational origin of the whole universe and his salvation of all animal and human life through the Noahic flood, God builds a vision of the end of all things through covenant promises with a chosen people, beginning with Abraham. The Abrahamic covenant promised material land, a name of great renown, and a multitude of offspring (Gen 12:1–7; 17:1–14).

Thus, faith itself is defined as forward-looking and eschatological from the beginning—as Abraham offered up the promised son, knowing God could raise him from the dead (Gen 22:1–19; Heb 11:17–19) and as Joseph pleaded with his brothers to carry his bones into the promised land, knowing that his death could not annul God’s covenant purposes for Israel (Gen 50:25; Josh 24:32; Heb 11:22).

With the foundation of the Abrahamic promise, God further reveals the contours of biblical hope. Through the Mosaic covenant he outlines the blessings of an obedient nation and the curses of a disobedient people. In the Davidic covenant he promises a son to David who will build a dwelling place for God, defeat God’s enemies, and rule the people in the wisdom of the Spirit (2 Samuel 7; Psalms 2; 73; 89). In the prophesied new covenant God promises to unite the fractured nations of Israel and Judah into one people, a people who all know Yahweh, are forgiven of their sins, and are restored as a nation in the promised land (Jer 31:31–40).

The covenants look forward—past Israel’s then-present disobedience—to the day when the vine of God bears fruit (Ps 80:8–19; Isa 5:1–7; 27:6; Ezek 15:1–8; 17:1–24; 19:10–14; Hos 10:1–2), the harlot of God’s people is a faithful bride washed of all uncleanness (Isa 54:5–6; Jer 3:20; Ezek 16:1–63; Hos 2:1–23), the exiled refugees are returned to a secure homeland, and the flock of God is united under one Davidic shepherd who will feed them and divide them from the goats (Jer 3:15–19; 23:1–8; Ezek 34:1–31; Mic 5:2–4; 7:14–17). In this coming future Israel will be what she is called to be, the light of the world, a light that the darkness cannot overcome (Isa 60:1–3). In this future God’s favor on Israel is clear to the nations because he is present with his people. The repeated promise of the covenants is: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” As Joel prophesies: “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, that I am the Lord your God and there is none else” (Joel 2:27).

With this in view, the covenants picture their fulfillment not just in terms of inheritance blessings but also in terms of a restoration of Eden (Ezek 36:33–36; 37:22–23), the building of a glorious temple (2 Sam 7:13; Ezek 40:1–47:12), the return of a remnant from exile (Isa 11:12–16), and the construction of a holy city of Zion in which Yahweh dwells with his people in splendor (Pss 48:1–14; 74:2; Isa 18:7; Lam 5:17–22; Ezek 48:30–35).3 The covenants will come to their goal when Israel is judged for sin, raised from the dead, and anointed with the Spirit of Yahweh—a public act in the face of the hostile nations (Ezek 20:21, 35–49; 37:11–27). These eschatological covenant promises are then inherently eschatological and messianic—a truth seen in the fact that the patriarchs themselves died and rotted away without seeing the realization of the promises (Heb 11:13–16). – Russell D. Moore, A Theology for the Church

What is Holiness?

One of the most important thing you need to know about the Christian God is that he is holy. But for many this is a fuzzy and loosely-defined concept. What does Scripture mean when it says that God is holy? Here is the full discussion found in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology:

“God’s holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor. This definition contains both a relational quality (separation from) and a moral quality (the separation is from sin or evil, and the devotion is to the good of God’s own honor or glory). The idea of holiness as including both separation from evil and devotion to God’s own glory is found in a number of Old Testament passages. The word holy is used to describe both parts of the tabernacle, for example. The tabernacle itself was a place separate from the evil and sin of the world, and the first room in it was called the “holy place.” It was dedicated to God’s service. But then God commanded that there be a veil, “and the veil shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy” (Ex. 26:33). The most holy place, where the ark of the covenant was kept, was the place most separated from evil and sin and most fully devoted to God’s service.

The place where God himself dwelt was itself holy: “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Ps. 24:3). The element of dedication to God’s service is seen in the holiness of the sabbath day: “the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (or “hallowed it”; the verb is a Piel form of H7727, and means “to make holy”) (Ex. 20:11; cf. Gen. 2:3). The sabbath day , ָק ַדשׁ

was made holy because it was set apart from the ordinary activities of the world and dedicated to God’s service. In the same way the tabernacle and the altar, as well as Aaron and his sons, were to be “made holy” (Ex. 29:44), that is, set apart from ordinary tasks and from the evil and sin of the world and dedicated to God’s service (cf. Ex. 30:25–33).

God himself is the Most Holy One. He is called the “Holy One of Israel” (Pss. 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa. 1:4; 5:19, 24; et al.). The seraphim around God’s throne cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3). “The LORD our God is holy!” exclaims the psalmist (Ps. 99:9; cf. 99:3, 5; 22:3).

God’s holiness provides the pattern for his people to imitate. He commands them, “You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2; cf. 11:44–45; 20:26; 1 Peter 1:16). When God called his people out of Egypt and brought them to himself and commanded them to obey his voice, then he said, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:4–6). In this case the idea of separation from evil and sin (which here included in a very striking way separation from life in Egypt) and the idea of devotion to God (in serving him and in obeying his statutes) are both seen in the example of a “holy nation.”

New covenant believers are also to “strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14) and to know that God’s discipline is given to us “that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12:10). Paul encourages Christians to be separate from the dominating influence that comes from close association with unbelievers (2

Cor. 6:14–18) and then encourages them, “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1; cf. Rom. 12:1). The church itself is intended by God to grow “into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21), and Christ’s present work for the church is “that he might sanctify her…that he might present the church to himself in splendor…that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26–27). Not only individuals but also the church itself must grow in holiness!

Zechariah prophesies a day when everything on earth will be “holy to the LORD.” He says:

And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar; and every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the LORD of hosts. (Zech. 14:20–21) At that time, everything on earth will be separated from evil, purified from sin, and devoted to the service of God in true moral purity.”

The Security of Our Resurrection from the Dead

In his book, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die, John Piper asks us to reflects of the following 3 passages of Scripture:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his,
we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Romans 6:5

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11

If we have died with him, we will also live with him. 2 Timothy 2:11

The way he ties it all together is a wonderful Easter reflection:

“The keys of death were hung on the inside of Christ’s tomb. From the outside, Christ could do many wonderful works, including raising a twelve-year-old girl and two men from the dead—only to die again (Mark 5:41-42; Luke 7:14-15; John 11:43-44). If any were to be raised from the dead, never to die again, Christ would have to die for them, enter the tomb, take the keys, and unlock the door of death from the inside.

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s gift and proof that his death was completely successful in blotting out the sins of his people and removing the wrath of God. You can see this in the word “therefore.” Christ was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:8 -9). From the cross the Son of God cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). And by means of the resurrection, God the Father cries, “It was finished indeed!” The great work of paying for our sin and providing our righteousness and satisfying God’s justice was finished in the death of Jesus.

Then, in the grave, he had the right and the power to take the keys of death and open the door for all who come to him by faith. If sin is paid for, and righteousness is provided, and justice is satisfied, nothing can keep Christ or his people in the grave. That’s why Jesus shouts, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18).

The Bible rings with the truth that belonging to Jesus means we will be raised from the dead with him. “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Corinthians 6:14).

Here’s the connection between Christ’s death and our resurrection: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). Which means, we have all sinned, and the law sentences sinners to everlasting death. But the text continues, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 57). In other words, the demand of the law is met by Jesus’ life and death. Therefore, sins are forgiven. Therefore, the sting of sin is removed. Therefore, those who believe in Christ will not be sentenced to everlasting death, but will “be raised imperishable . . . then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:52, 54). Be astonished, and come to Christ. He invites you: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). ”

-John Piper, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die, 100-101

What John Piper has to say to Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg, the three-time New York City mayor, is starting a gun advocacy group with a jump-start of $50 million dollars of his own money.  His hope is that his investment will make the US a safer place, getting guns out of the hands of the ‘wrong’ people. What’s most telling is this well-reported comment he made about the merits of his contribution:

I am telling you, if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.

Seems like full-on Pelagianism is still alive and well. What would John Piper say to the former New York City mayor? I think this extended quote tells us exactly the approach he would take:

“What a folly it is to think that our good deeds may one day outweigh our bad deeds. It is folly for two reasons.

First, it is not true. Even our good deeds are defective, because we don’t honor God in the way we do them. Do we do our good deeds in joyful dependence on God with a view to making known his supreme worth? Do we fulfill the overarching command to serve people “by the strength that God supplies— in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11)?

What then shall we say in response to God’s word, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23)? I think we shall say nothing. “Whatever the law says it speaks . . . so that every mouth may be stopped” (Romans 3:19). We will say nothing. It is folly to think that our good deeds will outweigh our bad deeds before God.

Without Christ-exalting faith, our deeds will signify nothing but rebellion.

The second reason it is folly to hope in good deeds is that this is not the way God saves. If we are saved from the consequences of our bad deeds, it will not be because they weighed less than our good deeds. It will be because the “record of [our] debt” in heaven has been nailed to the cross of Christ. God has a totally different way of saving sinners than by weighing their deeds. There is no hope in our deeds. There is only hope in the suffering and death of Christ.

There is no salvation by balancing the records. There is only salvation by canceling records. The record of our bad deeds (including our defective good deeds), along with the just penalties that each deserves, must be blotted out—not balanced. This is what Christ suffered and died to accomplish.

The cancellation happened when the record of our deeds was “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:13). How was this damning record nailed to the cross? Parchment was not nailed to the cross. Christ was. So Christ became my damning record of bad (and good) deeds. He endured my damnation. He put my salvation on a totally different footing. He is my only hope. And faith in him is my only way to God.”

-John Piper, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, 52-53

From Torah to Telos: Proclaiming Christ from the Ten Commandments

In his massive Doctrine of the Christian Life, John M. Frame helpfully highlights a number of ways the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) points us to the Jesus Christ as “the end of the law” (Cf. Rom. 10:4). This is something certainly worth reading meditatively.

***************************

If all Scripture testifies of Christ (Luke 24:27; John 5:39), then the law of God surely cannot be an exception. As we study the law, then, we should examine its witness to Christ. I assume that some readers of this book are preparing for Christian ministry. They especially need to know how to use the Decalogue in their preaching and teaching. But all of us need to learn how to see Christ in the law.

The law bears witness to Christ in a number of ways, some of which I shall discuss in the following points.

1. The Decalogue presents the righteousness of Christ. Jesus perfectly obeyed God’s law. That is why he was the perfect lamb of God, why God imputes his active righteousness to us, and why he is the perfect example for the Christian life. He never put any god before his Father. He never worshiped idols or took God’s name in vain. Despite what the Pharisees said, he never violated the Sabbath command. So the Decalogue tells us what Jesus was like. It shows us his perfect character.

2. The Decalogue shows our need of Christ. God’s law convicts us of sin and drives us to Jesus. It shows us who we are, apart from Christ. We are idolaters, blasphemers, Sabbath breakers, and so on.

3. The Decalogue shows the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. In him we are holy. God sees us in Christ, as law keepers.

4. The Decalogue shows us how God wants us to give thanks for Christ. In the Decalogue, as we shall see below, obedience follows redemption. God tells his people that he has brought them out of Egypt. The law is not something they must keep to merit redemption. God has redeemed them. Keeping the law is the way they thank God for salvation freely given. So the Heidelberg Confession expounds the law under the category of gratefulness.

5. Christ is the substance of the law. This point is related to the first, but it is not quite the same. Here I wish to say that Jesus is not only a perfect law keeper, according to his humanity, but also the one we honor and worship, according to his deity, when we keep the law.

(a) The first commandment teaches us to worship Jesus as the one and only Lord, Savior, and mediator (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5).

(b) In the second commandment, Jesus is the one perfect image of God (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). Our devotion to him precludes worship of any other image.

(c) In the third commandment, Jesus is the name of God, that name to which every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:10–11; cf. Isa. 45:23).

(d) In the fourth commandment, Jesus is our Sabbath rest. In his presence, we cease our daily duties and hear his voice (Luke 10:38–42). He is Lord of the Sabbath as well (Matt. 12:8), who makes the Sabbath his own Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10).

(e) In the fifth commandment, we honor Jesus, who restores us to the divine family as he submits himself entirely to the will of the Father (John 5:19–24).

(f) In the sixth commandment, we honor him as our life (John 10:10; 14:6; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:4), the Lord of life (Acts 3:15), the one who gave his life that we might live (Mark 10:45).

(g) In the seventh commandment, we honor him as our bridegroom, who gave himself to cleanse us, to make us his pure, spotless bride (Eph. 5:22–33). We love him as no other.

(h) In the eighth commandment, we honor Jesus as the source of our inheritance (Eph. 1:11), as the one who provides everything that his people need in this world and beyond.

(i) In the ninth commandment, we honor him as God’s truth (John 1:17; 14:6), in whom all the promises of God are Yes and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20).

(j) In the tenth commandment, we honor him as our complete sufficiency (2 Cor. 3:5; 12:9) to meet both our external needs and the renewed desires of our hearts. In him we can be content with what we have, thankful for his present and future gifts.

For other helpful works expounding a Christ-centered reading of the Ten Commandments, see:

 

Evidences and Apologetics

One of the most helpful works in Christian apologetics on the market is Nathan Busenitz’s Reasons We Believe: 50 Lines of Evidence That Confirm the Christian Faith. In this work he tackles reasons to believe in God, the Bible, and Jesus. The strength of his work is its brevity, or as John Frame puts it in his endorsement, it is both “comprehensive and concise.” Busenitz demonstrates that we can present a compelling case for Christianity without have to present technical, and highly philosophical, arguments (though, of course, I certainly believe there’s a place for that).

Early on in the book Busenitz spells out his approach to presenting evidence for the faith within the Bible’s own framework of thought. I think he’s right on the money. In his introduction he says:

Once we have developed each reason from Scripture, we can then show how extra- Biblical evidence corresponds with, and thereby attests to, what the Bible claims. To be clear, this external evidence does not establish the truthfulness of the Christian faith. If Christianity is true, it is because there really is a God, and He has revealed Himself to us through His Son and in His Word. Nonetheless, external evidence does corroborate the claims of Christianity. Because the God of the Bible is also the God of creation, time, and truth (cf. Psalm 19:1–6; Acts 17:26–28; John 17:17)—the facts of science, history, and logic will necessarily correspond to what the Bible reveals.

Here Busenitz adds the helpful footnote:

This is not to say that science, history, or human reason should be considered of greater or equal authority to the Scriptures. Rather, we are noting that when the Bible is rightly interpreted, and when the facts of science, history, or logic are fully known, the two will not be in contradiction to each other. Rather, the general revelation of the world around us testifies to the truthfulness of the special revelation found in Scripture (cf. Psalm 19:1–11).

So the presentation of evidences “corroborate,” “confirm” and “testify” to the truth already provided in Scripture. They do not act as an independent source of authority. Returning to his line of thought:

Such evidence therefore provides wonderful confirmation for believers, because it bears witness to both the reliability of Scripture and the authenticity of Jesus Christ.

We’ll end with Busenitz’s comments on the relationship of evidence and the role of the Holy Spirit in providing  the certainty of Christian conviction.

… Nonetheless, it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately makes the truth of Christianity certain in the hearts of believers (1 Corinthians 2:10–15). He gives us absolute confidence in both God’s Word and God’s Son—assuring us of our salvation and our heavenly hope (Romans 8:14–17)… But when a person becomes a Christian, the ‘assurance’ or ‘certainty’ becomes a reality. Christianity from a ‘morally certain’ standpoint becomes as undeniable as one’s own existence.” For Christians, then, the reasons surveyed in this book only confirm what they already know to be true.

With this approach to evidences, couching them in the Bible’s own “philosophy of fact” (to use Van Til’s term), I would encourage all who are interested in apologetics to pick up this book.

TEDS Lecture Series: D.A. Carson on the Book of Hebrews

Well, this is exciting. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School has released 4 video lectures by D. A. Carson on the book of Hebrews. I’ve only made it through the first and have greatly benefited.

Thoughts on Systematic Theology by John Frame

Recently a friend from P&R publishing asked me what I thought of John M. Frame’s new Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Here are my thoughts:

“Frame’s ST is a cleansing breath of fresh theological air! I’ve shared this with John before, but I’m always impressed at how much better he gets at streamlining and sharpening his theological ideas to a fine point each time he repeats them. This struck me when DCL was first released. In the opening chapters of the book there’s a decent amount of review of concepts from DKG (written in the mid 1980s) but they were clearer and as a result more cogent and powerfully presented. Well, in ST Frame has done it again! I’m also glad that there are so many more visuals in ST. As both a former student and TA of John’s I can testify to the great help that comes from charts and visual summaries. As John himself would have us recognize, each ST comes from its own perspective. Sometimes these perspectives can hide truths that ought to be seen, but many times they enable the theologian to shed light on the truth they’re writing about. John’s theological acumen, philosophical subtly, and apologetic concerns allow his ST to see things that others miss.”

If you can only pick up  a single systematic theology and are looking for clarity, cogency, and profundity this is the book for you!

Interview with N. T. Wright on Paul and the Faithfulness of God

Here’s a 24 minute video interview between Michael Bird and N. T.  Wright. They discuss Wright’s upcoming 2 volume work Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

Calvinism and Robots

It’s not uncommon to hear that the view of God’s sovereignty manintained by Calvinists reduces human beings to the role of a mere robot. Here John Frame thinks through this objection:

Scripture is concerned, above all, to glorify God. Sometimes glorifying God humbles man, and those who believe Scripture must be willing to accept that consequence. We covet for ourselves ever more dignity, honor, and status, and we resist accepting a lower place. But Scripture assaults our pride and honors the humble. Scripture compares us, after all, not to sophisticated robots, but to simple potter’s clay.

What if it turns out that we are robots, after all—clay fashioned into marvelous robots, rather than being left as mere clay? Should we complain to God about that? Or should we rather feel honored that our bodies and minds are fashioned so completely to fulfill our assigned roles in God’s great drama? Some creatures are born as rabbits, some as cockroaches, and some as bacteria. By comparison, would it not be a privilege to be born as an intelligent robot?

Indeed, what remarkable robots we would be—capable of love and intimacy with God, and assigned to rule over all the creatures. Is it not a wonderful blessing of grace that, when we sinned in Adam, God did not simply discard us, as a potter might very well do with his clay, and as a robot operator might well do with his malfunctioning machine, but sent his only Son to die for us? Risen with him to new life, believers enjoy unimaginably wonderful fellowship with him forever.

As we meditate upon these dignities and blessings, the image of the robot becomes less and less appropriate, not because God’s control over us appears less complete, but because one doesn’t treat robots with such love and honor.

-John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God