Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Can an Advocate of the New Perspective be Reformed? 

With the advent of the New Perspective, the interpretation of Paul’s epistle to the Romans has been thrown into some confusion. Many have claimed that it is impossible to be an advocate of the New Perspective and still be Reformed. Many believe that the Reformed position depends upon a particular reading of Romans and Galatians and oppose the readings of such New Perspective advocates as N.T. Wright. They could not be more mistaken. Anyone acquainted with the source material of the Reformation will be aware that many different interpretations of the books of Romans and Galatians were flying around at the time. T.H.L. Parker has written a very helpful book, Commentaries on Romans 1532-1542, in which he compares a number of the different commentators on Romans, both Catholic and Protestant, in their reading of particular portions of the epistle. The reader is struck by the differences that existed within the Protestant camp in the understanding of key passages. Parker concludes by writing:—
Now that we have surveyed our authors and their books we must try to draw the separate studies together into something closer than an assembly of individuals. It is not possible to construct a single harmonious interpretation of the passages of Romans, or even two clearly opposed harmonious interpretations. In this respect, the best that can be done is to note agreements in general, agreements in intention and tendency. Nor would it be sensible to attempt to form doctrines out of expositions; this is always a hazardous undertaking, but with such short passages of commentary it would fail in almost every instance to do justice to the author.
I believe that many modern Reformed denominations can learn a lot from this. Many have made a particular reading of Romans 1:16-17 or 3:20-28 normative for the church. Ironically, they have established hoops that many leading Reformers would have been unable to jump through. The Reformed church is huge and encompasses many widely differing readings of Paul. It is hard to think of any exegetical shibboleths which can consistently identify Reformed Christians. The distinctives of the Reformation are primarily theological, not exegetical. Wright stands in the mainstream of the Reformed tradition when it comes to these theological distinctives over against Catholics. He affirms these distinctives in many places. His article, The Shape of Justification is one such place. Some claim that to be ‘Reformed’ is to refuse to have any dealings with Roman Catholics. This is false: Reformers such as Melancthon, Bucer and Calvin were ecumenical in their dealings, both within and beyond the Protestant churches. Has no one heard of the Diet of Regensburg? N.T. Wright’s ecumenism troubles me, but it is far closer to the position of the Reformers mentioned above than the narrow bigotry that masquerades as the Reformed faith in many circles. Wright’s Reformed credentials are far more apparent than those of many of his opponents, who believe that they have moved beyond the need for reformation. We should be shamed by the fact that ad fontes and semper reformanda (two forgotten watchwords of the Reformation) are better exemplified by such as Wright than by many of the theological traditions we find ourselves in. The Binding of GodThe Reformed tradition is big enough to permit considerable diversity, especially in readings of Paul. Calvin’s more redemptive historical reading of Galatians differs markedly from a more personal-experiential reading advocated by someone like Luther. However, they could both stand alongside each other against the Roman Catholics. Anyone who has read Peter Lillback’s The Binding of God (it is a ‘must read’ for anyone who hasn’t already read it!) will realize that there were significant differences of understanding between Calvin and Luther on questions of justification. Nevertheless, they could both sign the Augsburg Confession. Let’s not be narrow. Wright is not arguing that Luther’s argument against the Roman Catholics was wrong. On the contrary, he agrees with Luther against the Catholics. Wright is arguing against Luther’s reading of Paul. If we can grasp this our heads might be cool enough to understand Wright’s argument and interact with it. Many of the exegetical claims of Wright are not without Reformed precedent. There are traces of many of his claims in the writings of the Reformation. In this post I would like to make some brief comments on two basic issues, the understanding of the phrases dikaiosune theou (‘righteousness of God’) and ergon nomou (‘works of the law’). Anyone acquainted with the source material of the Reformation will be aware that the interpretation of these and other phrases were hotly disputed. There was by no means unanimity on the subject. Calvin interprets the term dikaiosune theou as follows in Romans 1:17:—

I take the righteousness of God to mean, that which is approved before his tribunal; as that, on the contrary, is usually called the righteousness of men, which is by men counted and supposed to be righteousness, though it be only vapor. Paul, however, I doubt not, alludes to the many prophecies in which the Spirit makes known everywhere the righteousness of God in the future kingdom of Christ.

Some explain it as the righteousness which is freely given us by God: and I indeed confess that the words will bear this sense; for God justifies us by the gospel, and thus saves us: yet the former view seems to me more suitable, though it is not what I make much of. Of greater moment is what some think, that this righteousness does not only consist in the free remission of sins, but also, in part, includes the grace of regeneration. But I consider, that we are restored to life because God freely reconciles us to himself, as we shall hereafter show in its proper place.

It should be noticed that Calvin is more bothered to demonstrate that the term does not imply the truth of Roman Catholic teaching than to dogmatize about what the term must mean. Regarding the interpretation of dikaiosune theou Parker writes (regarding Romans 3:21):—
Haresche [a Roman Catholic]: “‘The righteousness of God” is Christ made unto us justification’ — perhaps borrowing from Bucer’s reference to Origin’s interpretation of iustitia as Christ. Bucer refers also to Ambrose (who takes iustitia ‘for the mercy of God pardoning and forgiving sins’, and says that it is called iustitia because it has its origin from the promise: ‘For it is the righteousness of God because he bestows what has been promised’) and Augustine, that it is not ‘manifestata sine lege’, for it is ‘testificata per legem’, but it is manifested ‘sine legis iustitia’. While agreeing with Melanchthon that ‘The righteousness of God signifies the acceptance by which God accepts us’, Bucer wishes to include regeneration and sanctification in his definition of righteousness: ‘Philip Melanchthon takes the righteousness of God here for the acceptance by which God accepts us; this agrees with our own understanding of it as the incomparable goodness revealed in Christ by which he forgives sins and imputes righteousness and bestows eternal life; and he initiates it by inbreathing a new mind and a devotion to godliness’. Calvin is undecided whether iustitia is man’s righteousness or God’s: ‘It is doubtful why he calls the righteousness which we obtain by faith the righteousness of God. Either because it alone stands firm before God, or because it is that which the Lord in his mercy bestows on us. Either interpretation fits in well and we do not argue for the one side or the other’.
Bucer’s reading of dikaiosune theou would be taken for New Perspective theology in many circles! I think that it is doubtful whether Calvin’s opposition to an interpretation maintaining ‘that this righteousness does not only consist in the free remission of sins, but also, in part, includes the grace of regeneration’ was designed as an attack on his mentor Bucer’s interpretation. Bucer approaches the interpretation from a very different direction, taking dikaiosune theou as an action on God’s part, rather than as a more abstract quality by which (in some manner or other—imputation, impartation, etc.) we are made righteous. Regarding the interpretation of ergon nomou Parker writes:—
A major disagreement appears at once on the word lex. The larger number take it as a reference to the whole Law in all its parts; but now a few restrict it to the ceremonial Law alone. For the whole Law are Bullinger, Caietan, Calvin, Melanchthon, Pellicanus, and Sadoleto. Thus, … Calvin: ‘The phrase “the works of the law” is taken in two ways by the learned. Some extend it to the observance of the whole Law, others restrict it to ceremonies. The addition of the word “law” moved Chysostom, Origen, and Jerome to agree with the former [this should probably read ‘latter’—it does in some editions of Calvin’s works] view. They thought that the addition contained a particular connotation that the word should not be understood only of works in general. … And they argue from the Epistle to the Galatians, where, when Paul treats of the same subject, he writes only of ceremonies … But with good reason we contend that Paul is here treating of the whole Law’. … But Bucer: ‘He concludes from his premises that none can be justified by the ceremonies of the Law’; and again: ‘ceremonies, about which alone is the argument, are called in this place “the works of the law”’ … And in this place the Apostle thus calls the ceremonies of the Law (which are a part of the things commanded in the Law) by autonomasia or synecdoche’. The following passage suggests that Calvin’s reference to Galatians was perhaps directed against Bucer: ‘By “the works of the law” Paul meant the ceremonies of Moses. So that this was the whole question that he was disputing, both here and in the Epistle to the Galatians… The holy fathers think the same thing about the works of the law. Only Augustine contends that by the works of the law all the precepts of the Law, even the Decalogue, are to be understood… But we agree with the holy fathers that the Apostle meant here by “the works of the law” particularly to express ceremonies… De caeremoniis enim erat omnis quaestio’.
The New Perspective reading of Paul is not as much of a novelty as some might like us to believe. Whilst it is still properly called ‘new’, it has a strong claim to be a legitimate development of historical and, more particularly, Reformed readings of Paul. Its understanding of terms such as ergon nomou and dikaiosune theou are not without precedent in the Reformed tradition, a tradition that is broader than the minds of some of those who inhabit it.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Further to Mark Horne's comments on Acts 8, I think that it is worth commenting that Acts 8:36-37 was not given to us as a proof text for believer's baptism. The Ethiopian eunuch, as a eunuch, was separated from the people of God (Deuteronomy 23:1). However, the part of Scripture that he was reading would have given him great hope (e.g. Isaiah 56:3-5). Luke's message in Acts is all about God bringing in the outcasts, not about why only mature confessing believers can be baptized. Now that the Messiah had come, nothing prevented people such as the Ethiopian eunuch from becoming members of the people of God. The story of the eunuch comes at the start of a series of three stories focusing upon three individuals (the Ethiopian eunuch, Saul and Cornelius). As Warren Gage points out in a very thought-provoking message, these three people were sons of Ham, Shem and Japheth and serve as a picture of God bringing together the nations in Christ. Nothing prevented the eunuch from being baptized. I am sure that Philip explained the gospel to the eunuch in terms that would have been deeply relevant to his situation. He probably played on the themes of circumcision and emasculation, demonstrating that Christ's death is the true circumcision as He is cut off from the people (Isaiah 53:8; Daniel 9:26; cf. Colossians 2:11). Christ is left without a generation to declare so that the eunuch might gain an everlasting name that would not be cut off (Isaiah 56:5). Christ suffers the curse of those without circumcision (Genesis 17:14) so that the uncircumcised might be brought in.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

‘…Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion.’

‘Ooh!’ said Susan, ‘I’d thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’

‘That you will, dearie, and no mistake,’ said Mrs Beaver; ‘if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.’

‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy.

‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Notes on Election I 

Over the last month or two I have been rethinking the doctrine of election. This has not been the result of any particular decision to sit down and study the subject. Rather it has been the result of some longstanding concerns I have about the common way of presenting the doctrine. The more I read Paul’s epistles, the more the general conception of election in Reformed circles seemed to be in conflict with the tenor of Paul’s writings. The disharmony between the two became so clear after a while that I knew that I would have to address it. However, many answers presented themselves in unexpected ways. I will try to briefly describe my position on the subject. This post is merely setting out some of the areas I hope to address in more depth in later posts. I realize that I may have opened myself up to misinterpretation on a number of issues. I would like to assure everyone of a few things before I begin:— I. I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. Man cannot thwart God. II. I do not believe that anything happens by chance. III. Salvation is from God’s free grace alone from start to finish. All of the reasons for God’s election are found in Himself alone. Perhaps some will be surprised to see that I share most of the concerns of the Reformed doctrine of election. However, I would be far more careful in my expression of the position. Problems with the common Reformed understanding of election The most immediately obvious problem with the general Reformed doctrine of election (hereafter, GRDE) is the amount of theological weight put upon it. Reading many systematic theologies you might be surprised that the Bible does not mention the doctrine of election in every second verse, such is the controlling influence that this doctrine is given. This problem is compounded when we realize that the exegetical support for much of the GRDE is slight. A few texts are being made to bear the whole weight of an all-conditioning doctrine. A further serious problem is the abstraction of the doctrine of election from its biblical context — the context of covenant, assurance, the church, redemptive history and, most significantly, Christ. Tensions have arisen where the Scriptures present sweet harmony. Reformed theologians have seen abstract discussions of individual election and predestination when the Bible is discussing the particular election of Israel (e.g. Romans 9:11-13). They have seen it when the Bible is discussing God’s purpose in redemptive history coming to its climax (e.g. Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1). They have seen this doctrine when Paul is addressing real people in history (e.g. Ephesians 1). Almost everywhere that Reformed theologians have seen this doctrine it seems to be utterly incongruous when you take the context into account. I hope to prove that none of these passages demand the GRDE interpretation and that there are far clearer and more consistent ways to understand them. Perhaps the greatest difficulties with the GRDE are seen in its identification of God’s saving purpose with God’s will to save particular individuals and in its failure to adequately relate Christology and election. Christ becomes merely the executor of the electing decree. The tension between God’s will revealed in Christ and God’s electing will is especially troubling. Other problems include the following:—1. The transition from wrath to grace is downplayed; 2. The significance of redemptive history is undermined as is history in the broader sense (if a distinction is permissible); 3. Individualism creeps in: corporate election for many (if it exists) is only secondary (or a means to an end); 4. The doctrine of reprobation (as generally framed) is deeply problematic (as I will attempt to demonstrate); 5. There is a very narrow understanding of God’s saving purpose; 6. There is a failure to account for the way that the Bible addresses people with the doctrine of election; 7. Theology becomes increasingly speculative; 8. The assurance of believers is severely compromised. One problem that has greatly troubled me is the distortion of the biblical doctrine of ‘union with Christ’ that the GRDE can result in. John Murray writes in Redemption—Accomplished and Applied:— Redemption—Accomplished and Applied

The Father elected from eternity, but he elected in Christ. We are not able to understand all that is involved, but the fact is plain enough that there was no election of the Father in eternity apart from Christ. And that means that those who will be saved were not even contemplated by the Father in the ultimate counsel of his predestinating love apart from union with Christ—they were chosen in Christ. As far back as we can go in tracing salvation to its fountain we find “union with Christ”; it is not something tacked on; it is there from the outset.

It is also because the people of God were in Christ when he gave his life a ransom and redeemed by his blood that salvation has been secured for them; they are represented as united to Christ in his death, resurrection, and exaltation to heaven (Rom. 6:2-11; Eph. 2:4-6; Col. 3:3,4). … Hence we must never think of the work of redemption wrought once for all by Christ apart from the union with his people which was effected in the election of the Father before the foundation of the world.

This quote illustrates some of the results of the GRDE’s interpretation of Ephesians 1:4. I. ‘Union with Christ’ becomes at its root a decretal, federal union, rather than a living, mystical and personal union. Although Murray teaches that ‘we do not become actual partakers of Christ until redemption is effectually applied,’ the earlier sense of ‘union with Christ’ complicates matters considerably. This later sense of ‘union with Christ’—spiritual and mystical—becomes merely another ‘phase’ of the ‘union with Christ’ established in the decree and not the essential ‘union with Christ’ itself. [From my reading of Calvin, he would not express election as the establishment of a ‘union with Christ’ in the same way as Murray does. ‘For since it is into his body the Father has destined those to be engrafted whom he has willed from eternity to be his own…’ (III.xxiv.5) Calvin retains the focus upon historical union with Christ (see esp. III.i.1). Murray says that election is union with Christ (in a limited sense); Calvin’s emphasis seems to be that we are elected to be united with Christ historically.] II. One attendant problem of this view is a particular conception of the ordo salutis. Whilst Murray rightly holds that union with Christ underlies the whole process of redemption, his understanding of ‘union with Christ’ leads him to frame the process of redemption in a particular way. The focus is more upon a logical process, rather than upon aspects of redemption resulting from an organic and personal union. The GRDE lends itself to a mechanic rather than organic doctrine of union with Christ (it also downplays the reality of the historical transition from wrath to grace). III. The GRDE also limits ‘in Christ’ language in what I believe to be an unbiblical way (e.g. John 15:1-8). As the focus is upon eternal election rather than upon historical covenant the covenant in history is twisted to take the shape of election as only the eternally elected can be said to be ‘in Christ’. IV. The GRDE lends itself to misunderstandings of such doctrines as that of the atonement. Witness Murray. The sentence: ‘It is also because the people of God were in Christ when he gave his life a ransom and redeemed by his blood that salvation has been secured for them; they are represented as united to Christ in his death, resurrection, and exaltation to heaven’ is very telling in this respect. Murray has to posit a decretal union that exists between Christ and the elect at the time of His crucifixion for his doctrine of atonement to work out. This leads him to emphasize a salvation that is primarily forensic in character and not primarily based upon a personal, mystical union.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Reading Peter Leithart's recent comments on the subject of Barth and Berkhouwer's doctrines of election, I would like to add a couple of my own thoughts. Leithart talks about the doctrine of the decree focusing upon the content rather than the fact of election. This is one of the helpful emphases of Berkhouwer. The question that I would like to raise is that of how election is to be known. That election is revealed in Scripture is clear. However, we must ask how the truth of election is to be known. I would contend that election can only be known truly by an involved faith and cannot be truly know by detached reason. As N.T. Wright points out, love is the supreme manifestation of knowledge. The one who loves is inseparably involved with the one loved, but is distinct from the one loved. In a 'relational epistemology' the object to be known cannot be truly known in any detached way. Consequently, the sharp distinctions between objective and subjective should be abandoned. Election is revelation that is personal in character and it cannot be understood outside of a personal relationship. As Calvin points out, Christ is the mirror of our own election (Institutes III.xxiv.5). The message of election is a message delivered to the faithful people of God. As the faithful people of God believe this doctrine they find themselves drawn up into it. We cannot separate between the knowledge of election and the knowledge of our own election. Many theologians have failed to understand the intent of the Biblical teaching on election. The purpose of the teaching is to encourage believers in their faith and assure them of the great blessings which are theirs in Christ, not to give theologians a deterministic construct in terms of which they can systematize their theology. If the doctrine of election is detached from the moorings of covenant and assurance then it will function contrary to its original intent. It becomes a dark shadow over the gospel, rather than a message of joy. Election is to be expressed in doxology, not abstract theology. Election is not revealed as some isolated truth to be explored outside the context of the faith to which it is revealed. If election is removed from this context it will become grossly distorted. We should speak about election in the same way as we speak about a person loving us, because this is how it is revealed. We cannot truly speak about it in a detached fashion. Where we stand in relation to that person becomes highly significant. The Bible does not present us with much (anything?) about election as an abstract decree. As a result we should not treat it as such. When election is presented it is our election which is presented. It is, furthermore, always presented in the light of a relationship with God in Christ. Theologians have done the church a tremendous disservice by making election merely an article of abstract theology, rather than a joyful confession. Paul: An Outline of His TheologyRead Herman Ridderbos' Paul: An Outline of His Theology (section 57) for a helpful treatment of this subject, one substantially in agreement with the position of Berkhouwer. Ridderbos gives us a doctrine of election firmly rooted in Christ, election that cannot be known apart from Him. When approaching the doctrine of election, therefore, we approach a doctrine to be understood in Christ alone. How we stand in relation to Him is crucially important. To talk about our election without making any reference to Christ is to talk nonsense.
Something that has been bothering me... Is it 'the United States are' or 'the United States is'?

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

One of the country’s leading Old Testament scholars told 2,000 evangelicals yesterday that the liberal acceptance of homosexuals in the Anglican Church was merely ancient paganism in another guise.

Dr Gordon Wenham, Professor of Old Testament studies at Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education, said that evangelicals should not be intimidated by “the charge of being old-fashioned”.

“It is the so-called liberals who are really taking us back to the Dark Ages,” he said.

Read the rest
This made me laugh:—
A Paralleled Tale of Bridled Passion
It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party, I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate. I was furling my wieldy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, and she moved in a gainly way.
Read the rest

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Spell-checkers a thing of the past? 

I suebmltd ascors tihs intreinsetg arcltie taody. I tuoghht taht smoe of you mhigt fnid it animusg. Arnpelatpy, we can lvie wtohuit selpl cckeerhs. Our birans can mkae sesne of wodrs eevn wehn the lretets are jbmeuld up, the olny irotmanpt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat lreetts are in the rhgit palce. Erehiyvntg esle can be mexid up but we can sltil mkae good snese of it. Tihs is basuece we do not raed eevry lteter idnildaiulvy, but raed the wrod as a wolhe.


I have just started up a new blog — Sacramental-blog. On this blog I will be posting occasional sermons and other material on the subject of the sacraments. This last week I was asked to preach at my home church. I chose to speak on the subject of the Lord’s Supper and it was suggested that I speak on the subject as part of a longer series. I am very pleased to have this opportunity and I will be posting my sermons and other posts on subjects related to the sacraments on that blog. If I posted them on this blog, they could some flood the blog and any other material would get lost in between. I would particularly appreciate if people could comment on what I have written; I need criticism, constructive or otherwise!

Monday, September 22, 2003

Inconclusive Ramblings — ‘All Israel’ and the 7,000 

Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of PaulI have just been reading Richard Hays’ fantastic book, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. In one of his footnotes he mentions that Karl Barth draws attention to the fact that, in 1 Kings 20:15 we read:—
Then he numbered the young men of the princes of the provinces, and they were two hundred and thirty two: and after them he numbered all the people, even all the children of Israel, being seven thousand.
Barth believes that this verse, following, as it does, hard upon the heels of 1 Kings 19:18, should be given due attention. Hays quotes Barth:—
It is these seven thousand men, and not the unfaithful majority, who represent Israel as such. By ‘leaving them’ God holds fast to Israel as such, and it is decided that He has not rejected His people. When therefore … the solitary Elijah is consoled by reference to these seven thousand men, he does not stand alone, but as the holder of his commission he is invisibly surrounded by these seven thousand. … Even in his loneliness he stands effectively before God for the whole of Israel, for Israel as such. In just the same way Paul does not stand alone. … He can and must, therefore, appeal to his existence as a Jew and as a Gentile missionary as a valid proof that God has not rejected his people.
Could this be a clue to what Paul means by all Israel? Does Paul quote 1 Kings 19:18 in Romans 11 thinking of this wider context? Gill comments that Jewish commentators had connected the two 7,000s, though he questions it. Could Paul have chosen the verse aware of interpretative traditions in his own time that made this connection? It certainly is a tantalizing possibility. I personally doubt the connection, but I still wonder… It is rather too interesting to pass without note. Another interesting occurrence of the number 7,000 is in Revelation 11:13, which reads:—
And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
David Chilton takes this as an inversion of the remnant imagery of 1 Kings 19:18 and Romans 11:4. He claims that 7,000 was symbolic of the numerous nature of the remnant and its perfect completeness, but that it denoted a minority. He goes on to maintain that in the New Covenant the situation of the remnant is reversed. It is now the minority that is destroyed and the overwhelming majority that turns and is saved. I believe, like James Jordan, that many in apostate Israel were turned to the gospel just before the fall of Jerusalem in AD70. However, I would question whether we should see (or maybe ‘how’ we should see) here the ‘overwhelming majority’ that Chilton sees. I am not aware of any historical basis for saying that a sizeable proportion of the Jewish nation turned to Christ just before the fall of Jerusalem (I’m not sure that Chilton can be arguing this). The presence of Elijah earlier on in the chapter (vv.5-6) complicates matters. Somehow or other this 7,000 does suggest a link with the 1 Kings narrative. For it to suggest that symbolically the people of God are no longer the besieged minority but now constitute the conquering majority might strike people as a facile solution to a complex problem (does a symbolic but not actual majority really mean much? etc.), but it is the line that I am taking at the moment. Reading Chilton again, this could well be what he means, but it is not entirely clear to me. The wording of Revelation 11:13 is interesting. It speaks of ‘names of men’ not just ‘men’. This, in my mind at least, suggests that these men are significant men. I think that the apostle John may have 2 Kings 24:16 in the back of his mind here:—
And all the men of might, even seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths a thousand, all that were strong and apt for war, even them the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon.
Reading these two verses together leads me to believe that John is speaking about the strength of the city being broken. However, he is holding this imagery together with the imagery of the inverted remnant. I have also been pondering reasons why 7,000 should be a symbolic number for Israel, apart from the obvious 10^3 X 7 interpretation. Seventy was always an important number for Israel (Exodus 24:9; Numbers 11:16f.; Ezekiel 8:11; the number of the Sanhedrin, etc.), but there is less Biblical support (that I can find) for the significance of the symbolism of 100. The only suggestion that I could come up with is from the parable of the lost sheep: the full number of the flock is one hundred and Christ was seeking the lost sheep of the house of Israel. However, this is to my mind a rather tenuous argument and the two numbers combined would not make much symbolic sense. This seems to me to be a dead end (and perhaps a good time to end this post!).

Lord's Supper Lectures 

I have been looking for these for quite a while now. I just found them again this morning. They are well worth listening to. 1995 Connecticut Valley Conference on Reformed Theology — The Lord's Supper

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Following on... 

Following on from the previous post... Doug Wilson has a far more balanced assessment of Wright to be found at http://www.credenda.org/issues/13-3anvil.php. Quite good actually! One thing that did catch my eye was his statement:—
Over in England, he probably feels like a theological right-wing fanatic, but when European theology becomes the implicit standard of measurement, good guys can still find themselves in a pretty weird Mirkwood.
I wonder what this makes me? :-)

Wilson vs. Wright 

I have been reading through sections of Doug Wilson's book "Reformed" is Not Enough again and I thought that I would make a couple of comments on the Appendix. I greatly enjoyed reading Wilson's book when I first read it, feeling that it gave a very clear description of his position, a position that I find myself in fundamental agreement with. However, after reading the body of the book I came to the appendix on the New Perspective, where I was sorely disappointed by Wilson's treatment. I expected to find a more nuanced and informed critique of the movement than that which Wilson presented. Wilson seems to be attacking the common perception of the NP movement, rather than the movement itself. Having read the appendix I felt that Wilson was more intent upon disassociating himself from the NP movement than upon distinguishing himself from the NP movement. I do not find this to be the most helpful approach to such a complicated movement as the NP. I certainly agree with Wilson in his protest that his position is not to be confused with that of the NP. Anyone who confuses the two betrays an ignorance of the source material. The position of Wilson et al is also, in my reading, to be distinguished from the position of Norman Shepherd, although they are in fundamental agreement they should not be identified. Again, Norman Shepherd should be clearly distinguished from the NP. Norman Shepherd does not hold to NP theology as the following quote from The Call of Grace demonstrates:—

Without Christ, the Mosaic covenant is transformed into a covenant of works. People who seek to live under this transformed covenant are seeking to establish their own righteousness (Phil. 3:9). They are seeking to achieve salvation by their own human effort (Gal. 3:3).

In the course of his refutation, Paul uses an ad hominem argument by quoting Scripture according to the sense in which his opponents understand it. Those who seek righteousness by means of the Mosaic covenant as a works/merit principle have not met the standard they set for themselves. "The man who does these things will live by them"—but they have not done these things.

Shepherd and the NP are agreed in seeing the law as a gracious thing, but they disagree when it comes to identifying the aims of Paul's opponents. I don't know of any NP author who reads Galatians as Shepherd does. There seems to be a very rough way of dividing the field on this question: 1. Those who hold that both Paul and his opponents viewed the law as given fundamentally as a means of earning salvation; 2. Those who hold that only Paul's opponents did so (Shepherd, Wilson(?), Ridderbos, etc.); 3. Those who hold that only Paul did so (and that he was trying to enlighten his opponents to this fact); 4. Those who hold that neither party did so (Wright and others). Returning to Wilson's critique... Wilson claims that 'those things which distinguish the school of thought [the NP] are erroneous' presents the 'basic tenets' of the NP:—
...first, that the Judaism of the first century was not a "works religion." Acceptance before God was not earned through a merit system of righteousness based on works. Secondly, it is held that justification by faith does not represent the center of Pauline theology. Rather, Paul argued for justification as a pragmatic tactic as he sought to advance his mission to the Gentiles.
My reading of New Perspective literature is quite limited (I have read a lot of Wright, but not a whole lot of any other NP authors). However, Wilson certainly classes Wright under the NP movement, so I feel justified in questioning Wilson's representation. Regarding the first claim, we must recognize that the essential NP claim is not that there were no legalistic forms of first-century Judaism. This would be, apart from anything else, impossible to prove! Most in the NP movement have made general statements regarding the character of second-temple Judaism. However, the movement, insofar as it is a new perspective on Paul, has to do with the character and aims of Paul's opponents in such places as Galatians, and how we should read Paul in relation to them. If people are willing to grant me this definition, we can see that a NP position can theoretically be reached from a reading of the text of Galatians (say) alone, without any prior knowledge of second-temple Judaism. This is how I arrived at my present position. It is also how N.T. Wright reached his position:—

The way that I came into this is a bit interesting. I grew up as a somewhat typical middle-Anglican with a strong dash of evangelicalism, or put the other way around, I grew up in a Lutheran evangelicalism which left me with a strong antithesis between law and grace. I found this all profoundly unsatisfying until I met Calvin and Calvinism. I began to think, "Whew...the law is a good thing. It is holy and just and good. It is right and it has been fulfilled, not abrogated, in Christ." All of that is right. So, if you are faced with a choice between Luther and Calvin, you simply have to choose Calvin. I think a lot of evangelical debates in North America, at the moment, are still right around that axis, although they don't come right out and actually say so. What I then found, and believe me I tried very hard to do this, was that I couldn't make the Calvinist reading of Galatians actually work. I was reading C.E.B. Cranfield on Romans and trying to see how it would work with Galatians, and it simply doesn't work. Interestingly, Cranfield hasn't done a commentary on Galatians. It's very difficult. But I found then, and this was the mid-seventies before E.P. Sanders was published, before there was such a thing as a "new perspective," that I came out with this reading of Romans 10:3 which is really the fulcrum for me around which everything else moved: "Being ignorant of the righteousness of God and seeking to establish their own."

In other words, what we have here is a covenant status which is for Jews and Jews only. I have a vivid memory of going home that night, sitting up in bed, reading Galatians through in Greek and thinking, "It works. It really works. This whole thing is going to fly." And then all sorts of things just followed on from that. I mean Sanders was a great boost but he didn't start this for me and he hasn't given direction to what I did or was doing. It was more like Sanders was saying, "Actually first-century Judaism never was like what Luther said it was."

Many evangelicals have the conception that we should be very careful about resting our theology on hypotheses about first century Judaism. I couldn't agree more! However, what they often fail to realize is that they have the biggest stake in the question. If Luther's hypothesis about first century Judaism is generally wrong, Lutheran (and much of Reformed) Pauline theology becomes increasingly implausible. If Sanders is generally wrong, I don't see that it follows that a NP reading of Galatians needs to be rejected, there are many reasons to follow it (I feel that it could even exist under position 2 above). In effect, the NP, to the degree that it affects our reading of Paul, does not demand any great presumptions about the nature of first-century Judaism. The exegetical case for the NP is the strongest weapon in its armory. The reasons for accepting a NP reading of Paul are manifold, the principal reason being that Paul starts to make sense! As Tim Gallant points out, there are plenty of reasons to question the Reformation’s reading of Galatians from a simple examination of Paul’s argument. If Paul is really arguing against what many think he is arguing against, he is saying all the wrong things! Wilson goes on to point out the constant human problem of self-righteousness as ‘evidence’ against the NP position. This is a flimsy argument if ever I saw one! Does this mean that Paul has to be arguing against it in Galatians (which is, of course, much of what this is about)? Besides, NP theologians are not generally arguing that Martin Luther was wrong in his opposition to the Roman Catholic church (many would stand beside him). Wright, for one, makes very clear that he (and the Bible in his reading) is irreconcilably opposed to any concept of ‘earning’ God’s favour. Nor does he believe that we are saved by grace and stay in by our own merit (he makes this clear in commenting on such verses as Philippians 2:12). NP theology is about our reading of Paul, not about how we relate to the Roman Catholics. It must further be observed that we often equivocate in our use of the term ‘legalism’. Wright is quite happy to observe:—
My teacher George Caird said when I read the mishnah that is what I mean by legalism. You know people are often not satisfied with one definition. They will say, "Is it a this or is it a that?" And when you have given them that, they then say, "But what happens on the Sabbath?" This results in more and more and more endless definitions that have to be learned and applied. That produces a rulebook mentality. Even if you say the whole thing comes under the rubric of grace, by the time you get nineteen stages down the development of the casuistry you just have to wonder how much of this really is grace.
To accept a general NP position you do not even need to deny that the Judaism of Paul’s day had deep legalistic tendencies. Anyone who has heard Steve Schlissel at AAPC 2003, will have heard plenty of examples of deep-rooted legalism in Judaism! Legalism can destroy what should be gracious, but it should not immediately be identified with merit theology — although closely related, they are not the same thing. Legalism can make the law of God like a treadmill without claiming that you obey it to ‘earn your salvation’. Nor does legalism necessitate perfect obedience to the law. It should be remembered that, in Galatians, Paul’s opponents are ‘Christian’ Jews, not Pharisees. If we take seriously how Paul introduces the subject of circumcision and justification (the dispute with Peter over table fellowship) the traditional Reformed reading becomes increasingly implausible. What Paul says in places such as Galatians can certainly be used to inform any attack upon legalism or merit religion, but neither of these things is really being directly addressed by Paul (Christ, of course, has a lot to say about the former in places such as Matthew 23 as does Paul on other occasions). Wilson also misunderstands NP theology by his treatment of the ‘getting in / staying in’ distinction regarding the role of works. He pretty much treats this as a distinction without a difference (in which I think he is severely mistaken). He neglects to notice the difference between works in the context of grace and works outside of this context. The works are built upon the foundation of grace and only stand on this foundation, they have no autonomous strength. I sometimes wonder whether he wishes to exaggerate the difference between covenantal nomism and the position held by himself and Norman Shepherd on the role of works (rightly understood) in justification. I do not believe that the position of Norman Shepherd is legalistic (I am fundamentally in agreement with it). However, if misunderstood it can easily collapse into legalism. Wilson then goes on to criticize Sanders for his pastoral naïveté in teaching covenantal nomism. He fails to notice that Sanders did not believe that covenantal nomism was the way to describe Paul’s theology (see Daniel Kirk’s New Perspective on Reformed Tradition: A Response to Kelly). Moving on to the next point. Wilson argues that ‘it is held that justification by faith does not represent the center of Pauline theology. Rather, Paul argued for justification as a pragmatic tactic as he sought to advance his mission to the Gentiles.’ I seriously doubt if N.T. Wright would use the words ‘pragmatic tactic’ to describe Paul’s doctrine of justification! Wilson’s quote from J. Gresham Machen (to the effect that Paul was committed to the Gentile mission, because he was devoted to justification by faith and not vice versa) muddies the waters even more. Part of our problem here, again, is that we are dealing with such a broad movement. I am informed Sanders reads justification as ‘entry language’; Wright does not. This complicates matters. I’m with Wright on this, and I think that Wilson would have made things a whole lot easier had he been clearer in defining what he and his chosen opponents really mean when they use the word ‘justification’. Equivocation will not help an already muddied argument. Wilson goes on to state:—
They want to maintain that Paul was actually addressing a particular problem at a particular time (which problem was that of getting Jews and Gentiles together), and that his gospel does not address the universal human dilemma—at least not in the way that we have readily assumed.
Having listened to the AAPC 2003 talks (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I am sure that Schlissel gets caught in the crossfire here! The way that Wilson makes this point distorts the issues considerably. Paul is certainly addressing a universal human dilemma in his epistles. However, the redemptive historical background should alert us to the fact that this dilemma is not the one that Wilson is thinking of. It seems strange to me that Wilson should speak of the problem of getting Jews and Gentiles together as a ‘particular problem at a particular time,’ with little or no bearing upon the ‘universal human dilemma’! It seems to me that if Wilson and others of like mind are right, the eschatological significance of the coming of Christ is markedly downplayed. The gospel might merely become an abstract atonement religion to oppose an abstract merit religion. Revisiting Paul's doctrine of JustificationIn conclusion, I would suggest that Wilson’s critique of the NP has been hastily thrown together after a reading of Stuhlmacher’s book, Revisiting Paul’s Doctrine of Justification: A Challenge to the New Perspective. All of his references in this chapter (apart from one from Rich Lusk) can be obtained from Stuhlmacher’s book (including the details of the Stendahl book and the J. Gresham Machen quote). With research that appears to be this limited, I am not surprised with the conclusions he reaches. I am also concerned that, if we see the gospels and epistles as an attack upon an ‘earn your own salvation’ religion we can, ironically, make their attacks on legalism less relevant for our own time. Legalism thrives in evangelical churches. Legalism will flourish especially well in any merit-orientated religious system, whether or not the system claims that we earn our own salvation. That much of Protestantism holds to such a system is reflected in its doctrines of the Law, Covenant of Works, atonement of Christ, etc. Once you accept the system in principle it will soon infect the practice. Some of the problems in this area are highlighted in Mark Horne’s insightful article — Whose Legalism? Which Works-Righeousness?. Many people have merely replaced a legalistic view of works with a legalistic view of faith. However, the Gospel’s attack upon legalism extends to both. Finally, Wilson gives us the perception that NP theology presents us with the false dilemma between corporate or individual justification. I do not think that such a criticism can stand. I am pretty sure that Wilson would not write the same critique today. More exposure to the writings of the NP movement (and Wright in particular) would lead a more nuanced critique of this varied movement. I respect Wilson as a theologian and like to believe that this is atypical of him. Nevertheless, I do feel the need to express some of my concerns about his approach. If Wilson wants his theological opponents to represent him fairly (which they have not done) then he should extend the same courtesy to Wright. I would be interested to know if anyone can direct me to any document that would outline where Wilson stands in relation to the NP now.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Peter Leithart has a Blog! 

View From Peniel BTW, you might have trouble keeping up, this man writes like a machine!

My Latest... 

I am now a property owner! My three younger brothers and I put our savings together and purchased a small house here in Stoke-on-Trent (voted the worst place to live in Britain a year or two ago). My brother Jonathan (21) is moving out today and will be staying there for the foreseeable future. Hopefully I will also see from rent from him! This means that I get my room back to myself. My books will soon fill the void left by my sibling. My brother Mark is at present helping out at some orphanages in Albania and having a great time. He is due back sometime next week. In all likelihood he will spend much of the next year working there. Myself? Well, I am at present doing part time work at a Sunday school materials company. I am also doing occasional (very) work for my father's business. God-willing this next week I will be starting my second year of my college diploma course. I hope to work harder at the Greek and Hebrew this year, but I don't hold out too much hope! More distant future? Plans have changed lately and I think I will probably end up getting a job locally (Stoke-on-Trent) for the next few years. I would love to be involved in some form of ministry in the future, but my theological views, my health and my finances all limit my options considerably. I would appreciate prayer as I seek our Lord's guidance.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

N.T. Wright on Communion 

The Meal Jesus Gave UsI have just finished reading The Meal Jesus Gave Us: Understanding Holy Communion by Tom (N.T.) Wright. It is a brilliantly written book. How I wish that I had the ability to convey Biblical truth in such compelling language! His illustrations are scintillating and engaging. The book is hard to put down; I didn't — I read it in one sitting! This is the sort of book to be recommended to the new Christian and to the seminary student alike. It is also a book to recommend to the hoary theology professor: this is how to make theology relevant and readable. Wright begins by establishing the power of symbolic action (though you would only notice if you were looking out for it!) using the example of a Martian at a birthday party. After this, we are invited to a Passover, 200BC, in which we learn the significance of that meal. Having already experienced one Passover meal we think we know what to expect when we are invited to another. But no! All of our expectations are overturned as we sit among the disciples as Jesus says and does the totally unexpected. We suddenly realize that we have been present at an epoch-making event and a shiver runs down our spine. After this we find ourselves in Colosse AD56, where we are invited into a new family, a new story and a new life, all embodied in a special meal, in which we discover a new identity. This is part 1 of the book. In part 2, Wright begins to unpack the story of the first part of the book. He discusses why Holy Communion has become so controversial and gives a very cursory account of its history. Wright then offers us a particular way of understanding the sacraments — and Holy Communion in particular. We are like on a train on tracks, having come from the past and heading to the future.

As we are travelling the line that leads from the Upper Room to the great feast in God's new world, from the victory of Calvary and Easter to the final victory over death itself (1 Corinthians 15:26), we find at every station — in other words, at every celebration of the Jesus meal — that God's past catches up with us again, and God's future comes to meet us once more.

All of this is summed up in a brilliant little sentence in 1 Corinthians 11:26. "Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup," says Paul, "you announce the Lord's death until he comes." This present moment ('whenever') somehow holds together the one-off past event ('the Lord's death') and the great future when God's world will be remade under Jesus' loving rule ('until he comes'). Past and future come rushing together into the present, pouring an ocean of meaning into the little bottle of 'now'.

Wright then uses this to explain his position on the 'sacrifice of the Mass' question, concluding that we don't offer Christ afresh but that every celebration of Holy Communion is a feast on the one, single sacrifice. Wright combines the illustration of the railway station with the illustration of the grapes of Eschol (Numbers 13). The Lord's Supper is a foretaste of the fruits of the promised land (the renewed earth, not some Gnostic heaven). Wright's attention then turns to the question of the presence of Jesus in the Supper. He says that he finds Calvin's view (that Christ is not brought down to the table, but we are taken up to heaven) to be helpful, but that he prefers to think of it "in terms of time rather than space".
...we may conclude that within the whole action of the Holy Communion, the Eucharist — the story, the drama, the actions, and above all the prayer and the love — this food, through the Spirit's mysterious work, is a true anticipation in the present of the food that will sustain us in the age to come. And the name of that food is: Jesus.
The next chapters describe the actual celebration of the Supper. Wright invites us to look at it in terms of a drama, rather than a visible sermon (to be accompanied by an explicating audible sermon!). He emphasizes the manner in which we are sent out from the Supper as "rejuvenated, nourished Christians, 'to live and work to God's praise and glory'." In the final chapter Wright seeks to address some of the practical questions surrounding the celebration of Holy Communion: Why do we celebrate? When do we celebrate? What do we celebrate? Where do we celebrate? How do we celebrate? Who celebrates? Wright concludes by pleading for two things. Firstly, that all baptized individuals, including children should be admitted to the Supper. Secondly, Communion should be shared between Christians of different denominations (Wright is clearly thinking principally of Protestants and Catholics), as a means by which a unity can be achieved (not merely the goal of 'unity negotiations'). The Lord's Supper provides the context in which we can come to understand and respect each other more. All things considered, I think that Wright has painted an appealing picture of how to view the Lord's Supper. In the process of his treatment he breaks a number of well-established evangelical paradigms. Firstly, he presents a doctrine of the Supper that emphasizes doing over meditating. The elements are not there to be stared at, but to be eaten and drunk. Secondly, Wright is no 'Zwinglian'. The Supper is characterized by the Messiah's presence not His absence. Consequently, there is no need to conjure up His presence by intellectual meditation. Thirdly, Wright describes the Supper in such a manner that the individualistic emphasis on the 'what does it mean for me' question is avoided. The Supper is all about 'us' and we as individuals finding our significance within the context of this 'us'. Finally, the Supper for Wright is a feast, not a funeral. We are not remembering a dead Saviour; we are proclaiming the event in which He defeated the prince of this world. This is triumph, not tragedy! He has given us the privilege of partaking in that which He risked and gave His life to obtain (John 6:53-58; cf. 1 Chronicles 11:18-19). What does all of this mean in practice? Firstly, we should concentrate less on the mechanics of our Saviour's presence and more on the meaning of his presence. Secondly, we should take a wide angle lens view of the Supper (as Peter Leithart argues). We must focus, not just upon the elements, but upon the meal. As Leithart points out, if a Martian were to read the medieval scholastics' theologies of the Supper he wouldn't have the slightest idea that he was reading about a meal! This can often apply to our theologies also. My 13 year-old brother made the perceptive remark today that, in our treatment of subjects such as the Lord's Supper, we have the tendency to focus so much upon taking them apart to analyze each element that we seldom get around to putting them back together again. Wright, however, does not take such an approach to his study of Communion. Thirdly, an individualistic approach is out. It is to be questioned whether we should all close our eyes and silently pray individually after receiving the elements if the Supper really is what Wright says it is. Fourthly, the Supper is not the place for some long discourse about what it means (or does not mean as so often is the case). Fifthly, Christ is present, we receive Him by faith. We do not have to bring Him near by fevered mental activity (if we were consistent with such a view of the sacraments we would be Pelagians). Sixthly, it is high time we recognize that the Christian faith is a life, not merely a collection of doctrines! Wright's view of the Supper shields us from such a Gnostic tendency. Seventhly, we must seek to have broader table fellowship. I do not feel easy about Wright's ecumenism. However, he has got some very important points to make in this area. It is imperative that we work towards a principled ecumenism. Finally, we must be willing to carefully examine the question of paedocommunion. If Wright is right in the basic contours of his Eucharistic theology, paedocommunion is quite natural. The burden of proof is clearly upon those who would deny the Supper to children. I would recommend Peter Leithart's book Blessed Are The Hungry as a good place to start for anyone who wishes to read further on this issue.

Robbins Contra Mundum 

I stumbled across this yesterday.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Radical Orthodoxy Conference 

I would have loved to have been there! Read Joel Garver's latest blog entry for an outline of some of what was said.

The Extent of the Atonement and the Visible Church 

An interesting treatment of Calvin's doctrine of the atonement in its relationship to the visible and invisible church is available here. Volume 1: The Claims of TruthWithin this article, John Murray's denial of the visible/invisible church distinction is compared with the position of Calvin. Whilst some of the criticisms of Murray are, in my estimation, a trifle harsh, I believe that they provide an interesting avenue into a profitable discussion. I find that I have sympathies on both sides of the debate. On the one side, I must admit that I substantially agree with Murray's case against the visible/invisible church distinction. On the other side, the content of what I believe approximates more closely to the position of Calvin. Murray's position, as I understand it, is as follows. The church 'visible' cannot be seen as an entity distinct from the church 'invisible'. This is clear from a reading of Chapter 31 of the first volume of his Collected Writings. The church has two aspects 'visible' and 'invisible', but there are not two churches — one 'visible' and the other 'invisible'. There are, however, different ways of formulating a doctrine of the church once you have denied the visible/invisible distinction. Most seem to forget this. Murray's understanding becomes more apparent from a reading of his book, Christian Baptism.Christian Baptism Murray writes:—
But the instructive feature of this epistle [1 Corinthians] is that when Paul addressed the church and conceived of it he did not construe the church at Corinth in such terms as would allow for the inclusion, in what he defines as the church, of those persons who might have borne the Christian name and been admitted to the communion of the saints but who were not sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints.
It is true that hypocrites may secure admission to the church. As we have seen, the very administration which Christ has instituted for the admission of members allows for that. There are disciples who are not truly disciples, and there are branches in the vine which are not vitally and abidingly in the vine. But while we fully recognise this fact we must at the same time distinguish between the constitutive principle in terms of which the church is defined, on the one hand, and the de facto situation arising from the way in which Christ has chosen to administer the affairs of his church in the world, on the other.
Murray's denial of the visible/invisible church distinction certainly goes in a different direction to that of Doug Wilson at the 2002 Auburn Avenue Conference. The position of Doug Wilson is expressed in Credenda Agenda 15/1 in an article entitled The Objectivity of the Covenant (for a fuller treatment of the question, read chapter 8 of “Reformed” is Not Enough:—
This means, as it has been said, that we are to view election through the lens of the covenant rather than the other way around. Stated another way, it means that there is a difference between decretal election and covenantal election. Decretal election is concerned with the end or telos of the Church—the eschatological Church. Covenantal election includes the Church now, the Church in history. We do not have two elections here; rather, we have election in history with a predestined outcome. When we consider the outcome, we must take into account the decree that settled it. When we consider the process in history, we must take into account the way that God interacts with man in history—which is by means of a covenant.
Wilson continues,
The church is therefore a covenanted body, organically connected to Christ. As a covenant body in history, it contains organic members who are faithful and organic members who are not. The faithful members persevere to the end only because God has decreed it and given it to them. The unfaithful members are cut out because of unbelief. While they experienced grace, they were not given persevering grace.
This must mean that there is an historic covenant connection to Christ which is genuine and real, and yet not salvific at the Last Day. The fruitless branches had sap flowing through them—the same gracious sap that the fruitful branches received. They tasted the heavenly gift—and in their unbelief they spit it out.
He concludes,
Such individuals who fall are covenantally elect because they are true members of the elect Body. But they are not what historic Reformed theology calls (and what I call) “the elect” because God has not foreordained that they will be standing before Him in His grace on the Last Day.

Instead of thinking in terms of the categories of the invisible Church and the visible Church, perhaps we can make better sense of all this if we think of the historical Church and the eschatological Church. The covenant breakers who fall away will never be members of the eschatological Church at the Last Day. The bride that day is without spot or blemish. But what do these covenant breakers fall away from? They fall away from the historical Church, of which they are true members.

What is meant by this phrase true members? Are they true members in every sense? Not at all—if they were, then they would persevere by faith. Think of an unfaithful husband, cheating on his wife. Is he a true husband? Yes and no. He is an untrue husband in that he is breaking his covenant vows. He is false in this sense. But he is a true husband in the sense that he is really married. He is a true husband—he is as truly married as his faithful counterpart. If we were to say that his adultery meant that he was a husband in no sense of the word, then this means he is not really committing adultery.

Now we who are baptized are covenantally members of Christ. What should we do—by faith? We should make our calling and election sure. We should persevere to the end. We should resist sin to the shedding of blood. We should labor to enter that rest. We should keep in memory what was preached, unless we have indeed believed in vain. And all this should be done by faith, in faith, through faith, and unto faith.

This certainly differs in its emphasis from the position maintained by Murray. Murray, in his denial of the visible/invisible distinction shifts the weight of the doctrine in the ‘invisible’ and ‘subjective’ direction, whilst Wilson moves the doctrine in to the more ‘visible’ and ‘objective’ direction. There are many factors that contribute to these respective tendencies. I would argue that, in Murray’s theology, eternal election exerts a more controlling influence, whilst Wilson’s theology emphasizes the temporal covenant as the starting point. A further factor could be underlying philosophical tendencies (Wilson’s thought moves in a more realistic direction, Murray’s in a more conceptualist direction). The doctrines of union with the Messiah and imputation can be seen as the ‘shibboleths’, by which we can establish where someone stands in relation to many of these issues (read Mark Horne’s fantastic article, Real Union or Legal Fiction?). Murray’s view can be seen in his discussion of the efficacy of baptism in Christian Baptism:—
It is apparent that as a sign or seal it should not be identified with that with which is signified and sealed. That which signifies is not the thing signified and that which seals is not the thing sealed. The sign or seal presupposes the existence of that which is signified or sealed. Hence baptism is the sign and seal of a spiritual reality which is conceived of as existing. Where that reality is absent the sign or seal has no efficacy.

Equally pertinent is the observation that the sign or seal does not bring into existence that which is signified or sealed. It does not effect union with Christ. In other words, baptism does not convey or confer the grace which it signifies…

In Murray’s theology, contrary to the theology of some paedobaptists, baptism is the sign and seal of nothing less than the covenant of grace, and not of mere ‘external’ blessings. However, the recipient of baptism may only be in an ‘external’ covenant relationship. Murray is shying away from the idea that an unbelieving person can in any sense be a member of the covenant of grace. Wilson’s position differs sharply from Murray’s. Wilson agrees with Murray in claiming that baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. However, Wilson differs in asserting that there is an objective efficacy to baptism (using the analogy of marriage). In some sense baptism does work ex opere operato (though it is probably not helpful to use such terminology). Baptism really does accomplish something. Murray has distanced the sign and the thing signified. Wilson, holding what I believe to be a more Calvinistic position, marries the two, whilst maintaining important distinctions. In the Lord’s Supper all — believer and unbeliever alike — are truly offered the real body of Christ, exhibited in the elements. However, those who lack faith are like men without mouths. The grace is real, and the grace is really given to them, but they do not profit from it as we can only partake by faith. Likewise in baptism: all baptized individuals are, in that act, brought into a real covenant relationship with Jesus the Messiah (here I go further than Calvin). Nevertheless, if they are to benefit from this gracious relationship, they must abide in the relationship by faith. So what do I make of Calvin’s use of the visible/invisible distinction? I think that the terminology is unhelpful, whilst the truth it is used to maintain is essential — an indisciplined guard for a precious treasure, as it were. The bifurcation that this terminology can result in is not apparent in Calvin himself. Calvin’s doctrine of the church has been one of the most formative influences in the development of my own thinking on the subject. Any doctrine of the church is correlative to a doctrine of the sacraments. Calvin’s doctrine of the objectivity of the sacraments provides a way for us to understand the related doctrine of the church (and many other doctrines, including the relationship between the limited atonement and the free offer of the gospel). Calvin’s belief in the objectivity of the church is nowhere more clearly expressed than in his Strasbourg catechism:—
Teacher: My child, are you a Christian in fact as well as in name? Child: Yes, my father. Teacher: How is this known to you? Child: Because I am baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Against Christianity! 

Against ChristianityThe Bible never mentions Christianity. It does not preach Christianity, nor does it encourage us to preach Christianity. Paul did not preach Christianity, nor did any of the other apostles. During centuries when the Chruch was strong and vibrant, she did not preach Christianity either. Christianity, like Judaism and "Yahwism," is an invention of biblical scholars, theologians, and politicians, and one of its chief effects is to keep Christians and the Church in their proper marginal place. The Bible speaks of Christians and of the Church, but Christianity is gnostic, and the Church firmly rejected gnosticism from her earliest days.
I can only hope that this has whetted your appetite for the rest of this fantastic book! I am sure I will be quoting from it frequently in the coming weeks and months. I bought a copy of the book a couple of weeks ago. The day after receiving the book I had finished reading it. If you want a very small taster, read Peter Leithart's original article, Against "Christianity": For the Church.

Red Sea Crossing Part 1 — Hebrews 13:20 

At the moment I am seeking to explore the development of the Red Sea Crossing theme in Scripture. I am due to write a brief dissertation on the subject for college this next semester. I thought that my blog would provide an ideal place to gradually formulate my thoughts over the coming months. I would greatly appreciate any interaction and feedback that people could give. From time to time I intend to take a random verse and study its relation to this overarching theme. I am sure that, as my study of this topic progresses, I will find myself returning to verses I have already examined.
Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant… —Hebrews 13:20
This verse has a number of Old Testament echoes worth noting (including Ezekiel 34:23-25; 37:24-26; Zechariah 9:11). [On the subject of Scriptural echoes, read Hays]. However, I wish to concentrate primarily on the echo of Isaiah 63:11-12:—
Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him? That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name?
References to the resurrection are almost wholly indirect in the body of the epistle to the Hebrews. Only in the concluding benediction is the resurrection, which has maintained an implied presence throughout the letter, brought into central focus. When it is finally placed in the foreground, it gains a deeper resonance from the form in which it is expressed — an ingenious pastiche of Old Testament allusions. Reading Hebrews 13:20 in dialogue with the passages to which it alludes can prove fruitful for our exegesis. The writer of the book of Hebrews has already explicitly paralleled Jesus and Moses in 3:1-7. However, in Hebrews 13:20 he brings the two characters together again, this time by use of a Scripture echo. Moses, the subject of Isaiah 63:11-12, is compared with Christ, the subject of Hebrews 13:20. In Isaiah 63:11-12 the prophet recounts God’s dealings with Israel in the Exodus, with especial reference to the Red Sea crossing, something he has already done earlier on in the book — 51:9-10. The verses describe the Red Sea crossing, with an emphasis upon the role of Moses. The passage speaks of ‘Moses and his people’, accenting the solidarity between Moses and the children of Israel. This is a recurring theme in Scripture. We can see it expressed with particular power in Exodus 32:7f. (this passage is doubtless in Isaiah’s mind; there are a number of interesting parallels) where Moses pleads with God for the children of Israel. God says to Moses:—
Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves
It is interesting to observe that God speaks of a clear sense in which the people of Israel are Moses’ people. This should not surprise us: the New Testament witnesses to the fact that it was the Red Sea crossing itself that established a solidarity between Moses and the Israelites (1 Corinthians 10:2 — baptized into Moses). [A side point on the issue of the solidarity established between Moses and his people: Should we see a deeper significance to the dispute over the ‘body of Moses’ in Jude 9? Could the ‘body of Moses’ bear an incorporative interpretation in addition to the obvious meaning (like ‘body of Christ’)?] The prophet here gives voice to this truth. The people were ‘brought up out of the sea’. I am sure that we should sense an echo between this and the prior experience of Moses himself (Exodus 2:10). What is the symbolic import of the ‘sea’? I would argue that the sea symbolizes the forces of chaos out of which God brought the land. The sea is the restless power. God’s might is seen in His dominance over this power. The Bible does not depict the forces of chaos as equal and opposite to God. God symbolically destroys these forces by bringing His people out of the sea. It is interesting to observe verse 12, where we see the close relationship between the work of Moses and the work of God. This is again seen in the Exodus 14 account, which concludes with the fact that the people believed both the LORD and His servant Moses. The parallels between this passage and Hebrews 13 are striking. Just as God brought Moses — ‘the shepherd of His flock’ —up out of the sea, so He brought Jesus — ‘that great shepherd of the sheep’ — again from the dead. In both events we see the victory of the covenant God over the forces of death and chaos (this is a theme I will explore in more depth in future posts, God-willing). In both accounts the reality of the solidarity between the ‘shepherd’ and ‘flock’ is immediately apparent. In Hebrews the Person who is the object of God’s work is described both in His relation to us (‘our’ Lord Jesus) and in His office (‘that great shepherd of the sheep’), which again underlines the solidarity. This should by no means surprise us. If the Red Sea crossing is seen as the event in which the solidarity between Moses and his people was most clearly established and manifested (1 Corinthians 10:2), then none can dispute a clear relationship between this and the death of the Messiah (Romans 6:3-6). As N.T. Wright observes in The Resurrection of the Son of God:—
Moses ‘was “led forth”, not as an isolated individual, but as the shepherd of the flock’; this is true of Jesus as well, the first to rise, anticipating the resurrection of all at the end…
The doctrine of union with the Messiah underlies a lot of the book of Hebrews. The import of this can easily be missed by evangelicals who often have a vaguely docetic view of Jesus. Jesus, as Hebrews 2 proves, was ‘one of us’ in every sense. Any position that undermines the humanity of the Messiah will undermine the reality of our union. As I might seek to prove at some later date, recapitulation of the experience of the Messiah can be seen to be a central theme in Hebrews 12 and other chapters. On the presupposition of union with the Messiah Hebrews 13:20 can become a source of deep encouragement to the Christian. We are assured of future resurrection because the ‘captain of our salvation’ has already achieved it and we are united with Him (Romans 6:5). To finish this study, I would like to give some brief comments on the meaning of the phrase ‘through the blood of the everlasting covenant’. Some have taken this to refer to an eternal covenant of redemption. Personally, I have not found such a position persuasive. The covenant, rather is established as an eternal (in the sense that it will never be destroyed or rendered obsolete) covenant in history by the blood of the Messiah (Matthew 26:28). We are, I believe, to read Hebrews 13:20 in parallel with Zechariah 9:11, where ‘the blood of the covenant’ probably refers to the blood of the sacrifices (so Calvin). In Hebrews 13:20, the blood is the blood of Jesus’ own death and the covenant is the New Covenant established by that death. If we read the ‘everlasting covenant’ as a reference to the covenant of redemption I fear that we may end up atemporalizing the death of our Lord.

Justifying a Medium... 

Neil Postman, in discussing the invention of the telegraph, writes as follows:—
[It] erased state lines, collapsed regions, and, by wrapping the continent in an information grid, created the possibility of a unified American discourse.

But at a considerable cost. For telegraphy did something that Morse did not foresee when he prophesied that telegraphy would make "one neighbourhood of the whole country". It destroyed the prevailing definition of information, and in doing so gave a new meaning to public discourse. Among the few who understood this consequence was Henry David Thoreau, who remarked in Walden that "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.... We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough."

Thoreau, as it turned out, was precisely correct. He grasped that the telegraph would create its own definition of discourse; that it would not only permit but insist upon a conversation between Maine and Texas; and that it would require the content of that conversation to be different from what Typographic Man was accustomed to.

I am presently experiencing that exact problem. I now feel an impelling urge to blog, whether or not I have anything worthwhile to say (sorry guys!). Nature abhors a vacuum and if there is an available medium, we will feel the need to express ourselves in it, on it or through it.

Monday, September 15, 2003

A Beginning 

Greetings world! This is the nascent scream of a newcomer in blogland... I beg for understanding as I take my first faltering steps. All is strange at the moment, but I trust that I will accustom myself to my new environs presently.

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