Thursday, 22 January 2009
Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volume Set)
By John Calvin
see relatedThis new book is now available at a special intro price of 65% off! Hey, take two!
I haven't read it yet, but it comes from the ever helpful and practical folks at Shepherd Press. If you have teens and are struggling with leading them in godliness, this may be a good choice to start out with.
Monday, 19 January 2009
Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth
By Bruce L., McCormack
see related"Ah, yes, good eats tonight," he said unknowingly.
His wife, far more philosophically up-to-date than her hapless husband, stirred the sauce while turning to correct him. "Of what 'eats' do you speak? Do you not know that there are no such things as 'eats' in themselves. That, my dear, is an abstraction."
Puzzled, her husband sat down at the kitchen table and asked, "what do you mean? I was referring to the delicious smelling dinner you are preparing! It seems to me tonight we will enjoy some good eats!"
Ever patient, Carol, Jack's wife of fifteen years, sat across from the table to explain. "Honey, don't you know that 'eats' are in their 'eating'? That sauce and those hot Italian sausages do not have some independent, self-contained existence. There are no 'eats', no food, apart from or prior to their being eaten."
Jack, having dabbled in a little philosophy in college, seemed to have a light go on upstairs. "Oh, you mean their existence must precede their essence?"
Carol was encouraging, "exactly!"
"So, what am I smelling," Jack asked with a smirk.
Carol paused, made a thoughtful facial expression, and replied, "that is simply the imposition of the categories of your mind on the data of the phenomenal realm. But the food won't be actualized until you begin the eating process."
By this time the sauce was bubbling over the pan on the stove. Carol leaped to her feet and lowered the temperature on the stove.
"You see," she explained, "food by its very nature is meant to act, to produce energy in the process of eating. Food which is not eaten is not actualized and thus does not exist as food. To say otherwise is an abstraction. The food becomes a mere abstract concept part from and prior to the act of consumption."
Now Jack was going to have some fun. "OK, what I smell does not exist, then. Boy, I have to say, that smells great for a non-existent entity! Can you make that non-stuff every night? I've gotta tell ya, if that non-being tastes as good as it smells, then just call me 'nothingness'!"
Carol, rolling her eyes, turned from the stove to shoot off one more salvo, "well, that is what I would expect from an old fashioned, unsophisticated, believer in a traditional metaphysic! You and your Greek-dualistic ontology can sleep on the couch tonight!"
Jack let out a roar of a laugh as he sat down at the table ready to eat his eats. Carol, fighting back a cracking smile, lit the candles as the two enjoyed a fine dinner over less philosophical conversation.
Saturday, 17 January 2009
Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth
By Bruce L., McCormack
see relatedThe New Perspective on Paul continues its movement in an incredible way. It goes to show that this is not some fly by night scholarly trend that will be here today and gone tomorrow. In fact, it is quite revolutionary. It has, in many ways, overturned the way we think as theologians and Bible scholars.
But I am still not convinced that the emperor is in fact wearing any clothes. What is frustrating in reading NPP advocates is trying to figure out exactly what they're against. They are protesters. They are doing more than simply setting forth a positive new and fresh exegesis of Paul's writings. They are reacting. They are reacting against what is perceived to be many faults and shortcomings of Western Protestant Christianity.
They are against individualism, pietism, and liberal Lutheran biblical scholarship. OK, good, so am I. But are you getting the sense with me that they are - pardon the hackneyed expression - throwing the Calvinistic baby out with the Lutheran bath water?
Yeah, I am against crass individualism, but that doesn't mean that Paul does not address the issue of what it means to be "saved" or "justified" personally before a holy and righteous God. In fact, he does. And he also speaks about the corporate life of what it means to be the body of Christ as well. Seems to me both are true - why jettison one of them for the other? Also, it seems that Paul is concerned with what happens when individuals die and how the saints go to heaven (how about the two letters of Thessalonians and the two to the Corinthians?). But, yes, Paul is also concerned with the new creation and the eschatological reality in which God's people are "declared to be in the right" where he will "set things to rights." Why the false dichotomoy?!
Its a shame that many Reformed Christians have bought into this movement hook and line (and I speak as one who was almost swept away with it myself). In their (right) zeal to see the importance of the corporate life of the church rescued from the crass individualism of American pietism, they have (wrongly) rejected those areas upon which both Reformed and Lutheran have historically agreed. And that is a recipe for a mass deception of God's covenant people.
Friday, 02 January 2009
The Lost Soul of American Protestantism
By D. G. Hart
see relatedThis volume according to several fine articles and reviews in the recent Mid-America Journal of Theology is a very helpful and well balanced work on the application of salvation. Bavinck was caught up in the midst of a hot denominational debate over issues of justification and the covenant. Here Bavinck shows himself to be a careful and judicious theologian giving proper biblical attention to both objective and subjective aspects of salvation. Had this volume been available (and read!) in the English speaking church 3 decades ago, so much error against which we struggle today may have been avoided!
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
Christmas Images of the Spirit
The Hallmark channel is filled with them! You know the sentimental scenes of which I speak. There is a reunion, a proposal, and a reconciliation between estranged sisters. And, as if essential to the scene, the climax of the story always seem to take place on a snowy Christmas Eve in a great cathedral. The voice of the minister fades and the conversation in the pew comes to the fore. Through nicely designed sound engineering, the reading and preaching of the Word is inconspicuously replaced with the words of humans. The inspired Word is replace with inspirational words!
The message of Hallmark is clear. Christmas is not about Christ, church, or conviction of sin. Its about you. Its about me. Its about living a better life, being a better person, experiencing your best life now or becoming a better you. In short, Christmas is man-centered, for it is about moral transformation.
Now that is something of which all people can get on board. It is inherently non-offensive.
II. The Text
In contrast to this pull yourself up, find yourself, works righteousness Hallmark religion, our text is filled with Grace. It is filled with God's sovereign, non-merited initiative. This passage teaches no religion of glory by which man ascends to heaven to bring Christ down. No! The Word is near. The Word draws near not as it proceeds from earth to heaven but rather from heaven to earth.
God sends forth his Word through his divinely appointed messenger, the angel Gabriel. This heavenly cherub brings words of peace and good tidings to a woman in a fairly unknown town called Nazareth (v. 28). And looks at what he says to her: “Greetings!” Or, it can be translated joyfully, “Rejoice!” or “Be glad!” If we were looking at the Greek text here we would see that the word has a root within it which literally means “grace.” It’s as if Gabriel is saying to Mary, “Grace to you!”
But – as they say on the infomercials – that's not all! The very next words out of the angelic being's mouth is, “O favored one!” And again, here we find the same Greek root for grace. It is as if he were addressing Mary as “O graced one!” Grace to you, O graced one, the Lord is with you. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, indeed!
Now, in v. 29, Mary is understandably troubled at this. What kind of greeting is this? The Lord is with me? I am the favored one?
But Gabriel does not leave her long in suspense! In v. 30 he comforts her: “you have found favor with God.” Yet again, we see that Greek word for grace. Literally translated, we might say it reads: “you have found grace with God.”
Why is Mary chosen to bear the Son of God? We, for one thing, it was not because of what she did. Otherwise it wouldn't be of grace. The reception of grace presupposes what? Sin! Mary bears the Son of God not because of what she did, did not do, or what she is. Her virginity is not the reason. It’s not because of her moral rectitude. Rather, it is because of God’s pure, unconditional, sovereign grace shown to woman who was a sinner redeemed by God's mercy.
Now, in v. 31 we hear the official announcement: “You will conceive!” Yes, Mary, you will conceive and bear a Son and his name shall be Jesus. It is important to be reminded at this point of what the name means. It means: “Jehovah is Salvation”. Now, elsewhere in your Bibles that name appears. Joshua also translates “Jehovah is Salvation.” So what is the difference? Joshua only served as a living monument. He pointed to the reality of which his name served as a sign. However, in the case of Mary's Son, the name and the reality are one and the same. Jesus is literally Jehovah who is salvation.
Things only get more exciting at this point. In vv. 32-33 we see a description of this new Joshua. We are told that he will be great and the Son of the most high! He will reestablish and sit upon the throne of David, reigning over the house of Jacob! And what is more, his kingdom will be no temporary, thousand year reign. Rather, we are told that it will have no end!
Again, we are reminded, are we not, of another portion of our Old Testament Bibles. Indeed, we are reminded of the Davidic covenant. In 2 Samuel 7:12-16 God makes the following promises to David:
12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.'"
And, of course, that covenant promises is renewed through the prophet Isaiah when he writes in 9:7:
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Now, in v. 34 Mary asks the obvious question! How can this be? I have never known a man! How can I have a child? That's physically impossible! Indeed, it is. But what is impossible with man is possible with God.
And that, in short, is the angel's answer. Look at v. 35. How can you conceive and have a child though you are virgin? Well, simply, the Holy Spirit will come upon you! What does that mean, exactly? The angel explains that the power of the Most High will overshadow her. And immediately we are drawn ahead in the story to the Transfiguration (list reference?). The same Greek word used here for overshadow is used there to describe what the cloud does to the disciples. You see, Gabriel has in mind the idea of the Holy Spirit overshadowing her like a cloud.
Does this mean there is some weird, pagan, divine-human intercourse which will produce Mary's Son? No. Rather, it is a Holy hovering. What makes this virgin so holy is not her virginity. Being a virgin doesn't make one holy. Nor is it her moral rectitude. We explained already that if she was so in need of God's grace, that she must be a sinner – like the rest of us..
Rather, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit with Mary – his hovering, his overshadowing - which makes her holy. This is how she conceives. This is what makes her child holy. It is this Glory of the Lord, this Shekinah Glory, which denotes God's presence with her as her shade by day and her light by night.
Are we not reminded of that great prototype of God's redemption, the Exodus event? There God made his presence known to his people by overshadowing them with his glory-Spirit cloud. Which itself would hearken back to Genesis 1.
In Genesis 1 we see the Spirit of the Lord active in creation. And once again, he is doing what he does best – hovering, overshadowing. And there we see in v.2 a virgin earth: a planet without form and completely void of life. There was darkness there. But also, dispelling the darkness and giving light by night and shade by day, there was the Spirit of God. He hovered, he overshadowed the face of the waters. And what came next? The Word of God. God spoke. He commanded. And by perfect divine fiat, light – created light – is brought into existence.
Back to Mary. She is a virgin, she has known no man; her womb is void and without form or life. In this way she reminds us of the great women of the past. Abraham's Sarah was not a virgin, but she was barren and she was old. Her womb too was void and without form or life. We are reminded too of godly Hannah. She was without child, yet when she prayed to the Lord, God gave her a son, Samuel. And you'll remember Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving in response – “My heart exults in the Lord!” – words echoed in Mary's Magnificant.
Mary is overshadowed by the Glory-Spirit-Cloud of the Lord. As God created out of nothing in Genesis 1, so God here sovereignly creates a human life out of virgin: Mary conceives, and the child will be called holy. He will be called “the Son of God.”
Now, interestingly, Luke uses that expression here in a special way. The very next time we see the expression used is in chapter 3, the genealogy of Jesus. And the last man mentioned is “Adam, the son of God.” Again, Luke draws another purposeful analogy to Genesis. As God had directly begotten Adam without earthly father, so here God has begotten Jesus. As the Breath-Spirit of the Lord gave the first Adam a living soul, likewise here with the second and last Adam.
Now to be sure, this Son of Mary will be in the human line of Adam. He will be fully human. He will have a God-given, God-breathed, God-Spirited soul. But when we see the overshadowing of the Glory-Cloud again in Luke's gospel, at the Transfiguration, we see God give us further explanation as to what it means that this Jesus is the Son of God. In Luke 9, where Peter and John have just seen Jesus transformed into a figure of Glory, a voice comes out of the cloud and says, “This is my Son, my Chosen one, listen to him”. Geerhardus Vos explains the meaning of this declaration from heaven as “This is my beloved Son, and because of that, I have chosen him to be your Messiah.” In other words, Jesus' fully human sonship as Messiah can only be because Jesus is first of all eternally begotten of the Father! Jesus is, by nature, both fully human AND fully God! Again, Vos is helpful:
“The passage belongs in a small group of statements which give us a glimpse of the relation existing between our Lord's Deity and His redemptive function in the incarnate state. It is the name Son of God which holds these two aspects in His life, the eternal aspect and the temporal aspect, together in a common designation.” (Self-Disclosure, 187).
There is no sentimentalism here. There is no man-centered religion with its Hallmark of self-help, self-improvement-ism. No, there is no help of self here. All the help proceeds from above. It is sovereignly initiated and enacted.
No, this is no Hallmark Christmas. This is serious business. This is the business of the utter, complete, and unconditional Grace of God. This is the story of Jesus, Jehovah-is-salvation.
You see, Christmas is not about you. And it is not about me. It is not about turning over a new moral leaf. It is not about family. It is not about the snow. It is not about a turkey dinner, garland, candles, stables, or nativity scenes. That's not to say all those things are wrong. Family is good! Snow is nice, I like snow. I love turkey! But it is to say that when Jesus comes, his coming is of cosmic significance. Yes, it is all about him. He is the center of it all. Christ is the center. He is the fulfillment of it all. All of the images of the Spirit of God throughout the OT were there to direct the attention of the people of God to this moment. And it has arrived. Christ has arrived.
Of course, you know, Jesus could not remain a baby. He would have to grow up. He would have to increase in knowledge and stature. He would have to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He would be tempted by Satan for 40 days. And he would go to the cross. He would rise again for the justification of sinners, and he would ascend to heaven above where he ever intercedes for God's people.
This Christmas season you are called to reflect. Take time from the business of it all and ask yourself, “Is Jehovah my salvation?” Do you know this savior, this Son of God? Or have you been living apart from him for Christmas after Christmas after Christmas? All your decorations, shopping, traditions, food, and family will not change your life and redeem you from all of your sins. Only Jesus, Son of God, can do that. This Christmas season you are called not just to reflect on Jesus Christ as Jehovah-is-salvation, but to receive him as your Jehovah-is-salvation. Won't you come to him by faith tonight? Come, believe in him, and receive new life.
I am a pastor and ordained minister in the OPC. I enjoy reading, gaming, fishing, and fine tobacco and ale.