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The descent of Christ is not a topic that receives much attention in evangelical circles. There have been some academic journals that have published articles on the topic. But it has been mostly an academic issue. That is not a good thing.

If you are thinking, what do you mean by “the descent of Christ” then this is an indication it isn’t a good thing. The descent addresses what happened to Jesus while He was dead. This is important and does matter.

He Descended to the Dead: An Evangelical Theology of Holy SaturdayRecently our Session addressed this question in terms of the phrase “He descended to hell” as part of the Apostles’ Creed. After we made a provisional decision on that question, a newer book by Matthew Emerson, “He Descended to the Dead”: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday came to my attention.

In preparation for Resurrection Day this year, I put it near the front of my queue as part of my Virus Crisis reading. It is published by IV Press Academic.

Emerson’s book is widely researched. He is a Baptist but his research includes the Church Fathers, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians as well as some Reformed theologians. He includes some less than conservative folks like Barth. There is less interaction with Confessions and Catechisms. There is no meaningful interaction with the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms until the final chapter. As a Reformed pastor, I viewed this a weakness. He discounts Calvin’s view (taken by the Heidelberg Catechism) which is a good move. But that is only one approach taken by Reformed theologians (the WCF differs). He addresses the Barthian take on Calvin far more in depth.

Emerson is a Baptist. He also holds to Progressive Covenantalism. This doesn’t seem to affect much, but when he discusses baptism it certainly does. There he displays a misunderstanding of the historic covenantal views of ecclesiology and sacraments.

“This approach to biblical theology argues that, while there is a foundational continuity between the old and new covenants, such that Jesus’ work fulfills all the hopes of OT Israel, there is also a progression from the Abrahamic covenant to the new covenant. This progression is effectively one from inclusion in the covenant people based on ethnicity to inclusion based on faith. This is why the sign of the covenant progresses from circumcision to baptism. The former is related to physical birth in the flesh, while the latter is related to new birth by the Spirit.” (pp. 212)

This denies and/or ignores the distinction Covenant Theology makes between the visible and invisible church. In the OT, we also see Gentiles entering the covenant of faith by profession of faith. Salvation was not by birth, but always by the new birth & faith. Emerson flattens Covenant Theology and thereby passes over the circumcision of the heart, of which physical circumcision was a sign. He also passes over Paul’s affirmation that we receive the promises of the Abrahamic covenant, rather than progressing beyond it (see Gal. 3). We are sons of Abraham because we’re united to Christ the Seed!

I’m just not sure how much this affects his work. I don’t say this to dismiss it, but if he can’t get Covenant Theology correct it makes me wonder at times what else might be misunderstood.

This does not mean I fundamentally disagree with him. Particularly with his criticism of evangelicalism’s neglect of creeds.

He begins there in the first chapter. He offers us a definition of evangelical so we know what he means by the term which is important in the current climate of slippery meanings.

“… I do not mean a particular political voting bloc in the United States but rather the Christian movement that (1) began in the late eighteenth century, (2) is most concentrated in North America, and (3) is characterized by David Bebbington’s quadrilateral of commitment to biblical authority (“Biblicism”), a focus on the cross as the center of Christ’s work (“crucicentrism”), the need for personal conversion (“conversionism”), and the importance of sharing one’s faith in evangelism and engagement with the public square (“activism”).” (pp. 3)

Into this he speaks of a near uniform view on the phrase “descended into hell” until Bucer and Calvin’s novel expression of this as a place of torment. More on this later. There was plenty of variations, but no one thought it referred to hell as a place of torment. This is why he calls his book “He descended to the dead” or Hades, which doesn’t have the baggage of saying ‘hell’.

Recent challenges, based on that interpretation of Calvin’s, are combined with a rejection of creedal formulations and authority. In this, Emerson is very critical of Wayne Grudem. He’s critical not only of Grudem’s conclusions but his methods. Grudem is focused on solely exegetical arguments, not theological arguments. This led him, in the past, to question the eternal generation of the Son on the basis of Proverbs 8:22-31. Emerson is right to affirm theological patterns in Scripture (though he doesn’t always recognize all of them). He notes biblical patterns like that of the Son of Man. We have to see each text within the context of the rest of Scripture.

Emerson wants us to understand the descent in light of the other passages dealing with Sheol, in light of the historical context or the views of the underworld by the nations and second temple Judaism. He also wants us to see the patterns across various doctrines. Like Lints he sees the fabric of theology, not simply the thread of a doctrine. You can’t change one without affecting other doctrines.

His focus on second temple Judaism is also of unknown concern. He seems to see second temple Judaism as uniform in views, much like N.T. Wright, Sanders and other proponents of New Perspective(s) on Paul.

The second chapter is A Biblical Defense of the Descent. He doesn’t want to depend on 1 Peter 3:18-22, for good reason, as the basis for the doctrine. This is a disputed text in terms of interpretation. I’ll lay my cards on the table: I think the text is about the Spirit’s ministry in the time of Noah which seems to fit the larger context in 1 Peter. Emerson’s brief exegesis makes some sense, until I think about the rest of 1 Peter. But you don’t need this text to affirm the doctrine of descent.

“To put is positively, the descensus is a thoroughly biblical doctrine, which teaches that Jesus experienced human death as all humans do- his body was buried, and his soul departed to the place of the dead- and, in so doing, by virtue of his divinity, he defeated death and the grace.” (pp. 24)

His argument is that second temple Judaism and early Christianity had a cosmography similar to the Greeks and Romans (I’d see the Gentiles’ view as a corruption of the biblical view, not an influence upon the faithful community). The underworld had two chambers: the abodes of the righteous dead and the unrighteous dead. In an OT & NT context the righteous were those who believed. We see this in the parable discussing “Abraham’s bosom” or “paradise”. The rich man could not pass over.

Jesus descends to the place of the righteous dead upon His death. He is not suffering there, but His victory is proclaimed and Sheol either transformed for the righteous or emptied of the righteous with Christ’s resurrection and ascension. I would go with the latter, not the former.

He traces the development of this doctrine in various Scriptures referring to Sheol, and Christ being raised “out of the dead” or the place of the dead. He interacts with Psalm 16 and its usage in Acts 2. Jonah 2 is also addressed before he goes on to Pauline statements, like Ephesians 4, Philippians 2 and Romans 10.

“At minimum, then, this text affirms that Jesus experienced human death as all humans experience human death, in body and soul.” (pp. 35)

The next chapter is about the historical defense or interpretations of the doctrine. Here he mentions that Grudem is following Philip Schaff in arguing that the phrase was inserted by Rufinus. Emerson ties its inclusion to the threat of Apollinarianism which believed that the Son did not assume a human soul, but only a body. He shows that many believe Abraham’s bosom was part of the underworld, the place of the dead, and not a heavenly region. It is not a place of torment. Jesus’ torment was finished upon the cross. Jesus entered the place of the dead to conquer death and Hades. Here he looks at a variety of Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Reformation theologians. He brings out some significant differences in views. Emerson looks at Calvin’s idiosyncratic view (not sure I’d use that term) as an over-correction based on a bit of misunderstanding of other views.

There is a large section on Balthasar’s view. He was a Roman Catholic theologian who attempted to combine what he thought was the best of Orthodox, Roman and Calvinist views. He ends up with a view that sees His descent including the torment of hell, particularly in the separation from the Father.

Part two of the book looks at the descent and Christian dogmatics. This is where he examines the fabric of theology. It can seem repetitive at points. He begins with how it affects and is affected by our theology of the Trinity. He gets into the doctrines of inseparable operations and appropriation. The first is that the Trinity acts inseparably. There is no Lone Ranger among the Trinity. They are working with one purpose. Appropriate refers to the fact that each has different roles in that one work, which pertains the distinctions in persons. This formulation seeks to preserve God’s oneness consistent with their mode of subsistence.

“The descent is only victorious because the Son descends as God, and it is only vicarious because he descends as a human being, as the human being.” (pp. 112)

Here he returns to Balthasar in critical fashion. He argues that Balthasar violates both of the doctrines (inseparable operations and appropriation).

The next chapter discusses its impact on our doctrine of creation. This includes cosmography and ANE beliefs. This is where he begins to argue for Christ transforming Hades from the place of the righteous dead awaiting Messiah to where the resurrected and ascended Messiah dwells with His people. This is an idea I’m not sure I’m ready to buy into, at least as how I understand it. The human nature is not ubiquitous and is at the right hand of the Father, meaning reigning and ruling in heaven. I’m thinking, at this point, that Paradise aka Abraham’s bosom has been emptied and heaven is being filled. This is not our “final destination” which is actually the renewed earth.

He then shifts to the incarnation and Christological anthropology. He delves into whether we are a body-soul union, just a body that ceases to exist or a hylemorphic dualism with soul equal to the form of the body. This section is heady and philosophic at points. Then he examines the doctrine of justification and the atonement, the resurrection of believers and ecclesiology.

Part three is one short chapter on the Christian life. He plays out some of the ways it should impact our lives now. Much of it seemed ‘ho-hum’. The key point for me is that Jesus knows not only what it is like to die but to be dead. He is able to comfort us in our grieving as One who tasted death, remained under its power and rose triumphant over the grave.

Overall this was a good book. It was mostly understandable, and does help you think through some of the issues. It is a worthwhile contribution to the discussion of this doctrine. He does not have me convinced of all of his views but I am better prepared to think about this, talk about this and perhaps even preach on this.

Q. 50: Wherein consisted Christ’s humiliation after his death?

A: Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which has been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell. (Westminster Larger Catechism)

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When you say the name “Pedro” many people think of Napoleon Dynamite and “Vote for Pedro”. For me there is really only one Pedro: Pedro Martinez.

Pedro Martinez tells his story, along with Boston Herald writer Michael Silverman, in the simply titled Pedro. This is a generally interesting book. As the Boston Globe noted on the cover, “Pedro the book is as smart, funny, and diva-esque as Pedro the pitcher.” This captures Pedro’s personality well.

A few years ago I read Mariano Rivera’s autobiography. That also captured his personality well. These two men, from similar backgrounds and similar dominance at their position at the same time had very different personalities.

Pedro contains more of his views and fewer of the details of his career. Mariano was a bit more factual in regard to the game, and didn’t focus as much on his views. Perhaps Pedro figured most of us had seen his career and wanted to know a bit more about what drove him. Pedro found ways to motivate himself. Every slight, real or imagined, was the catalyst to drive him harder and farther. He speaks much of how the Dodgers didn’t believe in him. Lesser accomplished pitchers with less talent were called up ahead of him. This was added to the chip that was growing on his shoulder. Contract negotiations would water that chip and help if grow. He’d imagine someone had kidnapped and threatened his mother to pitch better (this is a reality many Hispanic players have had to deal with).

This book is more earthy than Mariano’s. There are more cuss words (I don’t recall any in Mariano’s book), and colorful language as well as his greeting for new managers. Liking to be naked in the club house, he’s jump on a bench and “wiggle (his) johnson”. Yes, don’t believe what you heard, locker rooms are sometimes places with behavior that wouldn’t be acceptable elsewhere.

Pedro speaks a little about his faith but it is very vague. Mariano is more specific about his faith. I’m not exactly sure what to make of that, and I’m just making an observation. Mariano comes across more like you’d expect a professing Christian to sound. Pedro less so. Yet, as I preached this past Sunday, Christianity is about the heart and not man-made rules or traditions. I’d put the language in the file under man-made rules. But not knowing what he believes makes it harder to know. You know?

Pedro focuses on his family of origin, particularly his parents and his older brother Ramon. Pedro loved playing baseball but never thought of making a profession of it until Ramon got his signing bonus and bought the family their first refrigerator. Think about that. Pedro, like the big brother he idolized, wanted to provide for his family. We see glimpses of his providing for others, particularly under-privileged kids in the Dominican Republic and the US. This, I imagine, is part of how his faith influenced his life. We read very little about his romantic life aside from his first romance as a minor league player in Montana until he mentions his relationship with Carolina until they won the 2004 World Series. She and his kids figure far more prominently in the epilogue and afterward.

Riveria also talks about his life in poverty and his family of origin. His wife and child factor in his book more frequently, however. They factored, it seemed, into more of his decisions.

They are very different men. But what made them famous was their ability to throw a baseball. Pedro mentions the people along the way that helped him to pitch better. He didn’t learn to toe the rubber until spring training. During his first All-Star appearance while with the Expos he sat and talked with Maddox and Glavine and learned how to pitch, which helped when he lost his velocity. Unlike Schilling, who wrote it all down, Martinez kept hitters strengths & weakness, tendencies all in his head.

There are some unflattering stories about others. Most of them have to do with the racism he experienced. Or at least cultural insensitivity. Anglo coaches often didn’t realize what life had been like for many of these  young Hispanic men from other countries. In one case, while in the minors his first year, the players were told to hurry up and get on the bus. He and another player went straight to the bus, not wanting to disappoint the coach. They didn’t realize they were expected to shower first (the coach didn’t say that). The coach lit into them and called them dirty as in lacking good hygiene.

Pedro really didn’t like Joe Kerrigan. He was Martinez’ pitching coach in Montreal, then Boston and eventually his manager in Boston. From a distance Kerrigan seemed like a good pitching coach. When he took over for Jimy Williams it all went south from the outside. But Pedro’s relationship with him was burned in Montreal when Kerrigan tried to fit Pedro into his box instead of figuring out what worked well for Martinez. He wanted no stars, and his own way. From Pedro’s perspective Kerrigan tried to take credit for other people’s success. If you are the start pitcher and you watch the coach who really had nothing to do with your greatness get accolades, you understand. There were also rumors of how Kerrigan stabbed Williams in the back. Needless to say, Martinez was not disappointed with the new ownership group fired Joe and hired Grady Little which earned a wiggle of the johnson that Grady probably could have done without.

Pedro mentions a number of players, but very little about what happened behind the scenes. He criticized Mike Piazza at times for his play, but he avoids naming names when it came to steroids. He is no Jason Giambi.

I wish there was more about the 2003 & 2004 Red Sox. Every Sox fan wants to know more about the Idiots who broke the curse.

A few events stood out to me. Martinez talks about a series in NY against the Yankees in 2001. The first game was rained out and rescheduled in June. As a result, Pedro’s next 3 starts were against the Yankees. I had tickets to that rained out game with one of my best friends who lived in the area at the time, and the woman who would become CavWife. She and I ended up at the Cheesecake Factory after we’d driven all the way to the Bronx and parked in a garage before hearing the game was canceled.

My friend, Eddie, and I went into the city on Thursday for the travel day game that afternoon. We didn’t have tickets and the box office said they were sold out (lots of season ticket holders who didn’t show up). We finally found someone selling tickets on the street (remember, this is when there was not Stub Hub). We were in the nosebleeds but I think this was the only time I saw Pedro pitch live. He pitched well, but lost that day. Certainly better than when I went to Fenway (I haven’t been back since) and saw the wrong Martinez, Ramon, get rocked in another day game while I baked by the Pesky Pole.

The other memorable event was his final negotiations with the Red Sox. I read this as another Boston legend, Tom Brady, hit free agency. John Henry, Tom Warner and Larry Lucchiano all wanted to sign Pedro. Theo had his computer with all his graphs and projections that indicated that Pedro had about two good seasons left in him. Pedro wanted at least 3 years (he got 4 from the Mets which the Sox refused to match). I just thought of Bill doing the “math” in his head indicating Brady was declining and having to deal with an owner who likely would do anything to keep Tom. Like Theo, Belichick made the unpopular but hard call. Theo was right. Time will tell if Bill was. Brady may be the next Roger who really wasn’t in the twilight of his career after all.

You get a picture of a man whose greatest strength was also his weakness. This is true for most of us. The anger that drove him to get better caught the attention of the Dodgers and a reason for some of them to question his character. But it was a book that left me wanting more. You can certainly say worse things about a book. And a great player always leaves you wanting to see more. He left us memories of 3 Cy Young award reflecting incredible dominance in the steroid era, his incredible 1999 All-Star game performance, and that gutsy relief performance against Cleveland while hurt in the playoffs. Such greatness and glory is fleeting, so watch it while you can.

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Image result for pandemic gameA few years ago at a game night in my house we played Pandemic. We successfully squashed the pandemic. Today we have a pandemic ravaging parts of the U.S. and Europe. There are still cases in Asia but the hot zones are currently in the “Western world”.

Earlier in the year my greatest fear was the political season. A group of pastors gathered to talk about ministry in a season of great political division. It was very helpful in understanding why people are so polarized.

I think this helps understand the different perspective on the “data” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Imagine a graph (because I lack the skills to put one together. On the horizontal axis we see the tension between Left <=> Right. Down the center of that on the vertical axis we see the tension between Modern and Postmodern (top to bottom).

Image result for political graph

It is like this, but not this one I’m using for illustrative purposes.

Upper Left Quadrant (Left & Institutional/Modern): Progressives. They represent a creational mandate concern for improvement or change. Change can be an idol when you pursue it at the expense of the other 3 aspects of the creation mandate. The poster child for political progressives are the Clintons.

Upper Right Quadrant (Right & Modern): This focuses on personal responsibility and freedom. Liberty is a biblical good. When isolated it can be idolatrous. These calls people to put themselves up by their bootstraps (forgetting that some people don’t have bootstraps to pull). The poster children are Ronald Reagan and Captain America.

Lower Left Quadrant (Liberal & Postmodern/individualists): This is the focus on equality reflecting the fact we are all made in the image of God. The farther you get from center the farther you likely get from biblical equality with a focus on equal outcomes rather than opportunity, and equality for various non-traditional minority groups. The poster child is AOC with the Berne lurking around there somewhere.

Lower Right Quadrant (Right & Postmodern/individualists): They prize security. Part of the creation mandate was to subdue and rule, keeping the Garden. Again, this is a good thing but the more you pull away from the other biblical values the more dangerous it can become and more ideological. This seems to be what MAGA is about with Iron Man and Steve Bannon as recognizable representatives.

Personally, I’m not sure if the ones on the right should be swamped. Reagan was not about institutional power but the security people need institutional power to have … security.

You can probably see some of your idolatry as a reflection of your voting patterns. I value liberty. I am a Reagan and Captain America guy. Freedom comes with risk.

Into these polarizing ideologies and idolatries comes Covid-19. Responses to this crisis reflect your idols.

Progressives see this as an opportunity for change. This change is instituted by the government. Greater government power seems to be the solution to this and we see the Progressives in Congress pushing for plenty of change in the economic stimulus package.

The representatives of equality are largely critical of those who differ. They see this as an opportunity to being Green New Deal stuff.

Image result for captain america fighting iron manThose are more political and not really the person on the street at the moment. Most people are torn between liberty and security, and unlike Captain America and Iron Man, this fight is taking place largely in social media instead of an airport in Europe or Siberia.

Some, valuing liberty see the economic destruction our response is causing as worse than the disease we are fighting due to the length of recovery, the increase in income inequality, long term changes to the standard of living, and equally shared by the whole nation instead of just in hot zones.

Others, valuing security want the world to shut down because people will die. Stopping the spread of the virus is most important.

Own your idolatry! Admit that you are not balancing out change, liberty, equality and security but that you are putting one above the others. It’s okay, the vast majority of us are doing it.

In other words, get the log out of your eye before you deal with their speck. The reality of the matter is that no one knows what the right course of action is at this point. None of us have time machines or perfect predicatability. Honest scientists will admit that computer models aren’t perfect, and can’t account for unforeseen factors. There is that struggle between personal responsibility and government responsibility, between liberty and security.

You love one of those more than the other. You are willing to sacrifice on at the expense of the other. We’ve been here before. We were here after 9/11. The Patriot Act sacrifices liberty on the altar of security. At the time I was “okay, I’ve got nothing to hide.” I was wrong in that opinion. Whether I have anything to hide is irrelevant. It is also about how the government uses it, manipulates it or sees it in line with its own bias.

We have these differences about how best to address the pandemic because we have different idols. It is not because the other person is stupid, they just value things differently than you do. And the sooner we all see that the sooner we’ll stop throttling each other on the internet.

 

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Covid-19 has changed all our lives. For now it is changing the face of the church.

Live streaming used to be for big churches. With CDC recommendations and cities limiting gatherings, corporate worship has ceased in many places.

Many have opposed this on the basis of Hebrews 10:23-25. In the context of the letter, some were avoiding corporate worship due to persecution in their region. The stoppage of corporate worship due to a pandemic is different and should not be confused with disobedience. However, we still need to stir up on another to love and good works. Technology allows us to “meet” and worship, to hear the word of God preached by our own pastors who love us, rather than some celebrity pastor.

This week our congregation joins the time of the live stream worship service.

Photo by Joelle Smith

One question has arisen this week in the wake of “virtual” worship for the next unknown number of weeks. In our county we initially made the decision to track with the schools which were out of session for two weeks. Today I heard it would be another two. So we anticipate live streaming for the next month, minimum.

A number of the Facebook groups I am in have been grappling with this question. It is a pertinent one. People have taken some pretty hard stances (surprise!).

I want to briefly lay out how our Session has processed this question. This is not an indictment of those who disagree. It is simply the rationale we use for our decision for the time being. As time passes it is possible we may change our minds.

There is something about the corporeal. We are a body-soul union. As a result place matters to us. So do people.

then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2

We anticipate some level of awkwardness as we worship via live stream. We won’t see each other, put hands on shoulders or shake hands. More, we won’t hear each other sing. There is something about a singing congregation. Ours sings well, and as the pastor I find it encouraging. This will be missed, and missed greatly by many, particularly those in smaller churches where you know most of the congregation.

16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 1 Corinthians 10

There is much about communion that is corporal. We use bread and wine (scripturally and confessionally) with juice available as an accommodation for others. In 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 the instruction regarding communion assumes a corporate context. We see this in the misuse of the Table in drunkenness (11:21)). The one loaf represents the one body (10:17), our union with Him and one another. It is meant to be a participation in that union, from which we derive the term communion (brought over from koinonia).  One loaf and one cup representing not only one Savior but one body- a corporeal entity.

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. 1 Corinthians 11

Virtual communion, with the one body spread out seems to be a repudiation of our union and participation together (11:33). Yes, we still hold to the “communion of saints” and “one holy, catholic (universal) and apostolic church”. This is meant to be an affirmation our our universal union with Christ, not an excuse not to participate in local communion or congregation. Communion happened when the local congregation gathered together.

Photo by Joelle Smith

I suggest that many of our churches could do a better job of living in light of this reality. It is more than partaking of the elements at the same time, but not less than that. Our communion is not supposed to be just with Christ, but also with one another as alluded to in 1 Corinthians 10-11. Virtual communion, in my opinion, moves us even farther from that spiritual reality.

33 So then, my brothers,[when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. 1 Corinthians 11

During the Babylonian exile, the Jews began to worship in synagogues. Their worship changed. No longer did they have access to the temple. They longed for temple worship even as they gathered to hear Torah. Their communion with God was different. They sensed loss. And longing.

I think we are entering a season of longing. Deprivation is not a bad thing, or should I say delayed gratification is not a bad thing. Exile creates longing, a longing that was eventually satisfied.

This week I read through 1 Peter. One of the oft repeated phrases is that we are “strangers and aliens” or “exiles”, depending on the translation used. We are “elect exiles” (1:1) living in a time of exile (1:17), as well as sojourners and exiles called to abstain for evil desires (2:11). They didn’t have a sense of belonging to their culture anymore.

In many ways we have lost that. We fit in too much. It is as though we’ve entered a time of exile to learn how to be the church, just as Israel had to learn to be  the assembly of the Lord (assembly is translated in the Septuagint with ekklesia, the word we translate church). We are likely in this ‘exile’ to regain our identity, similar to how God called Israel into the wilderness to speak tenderly to her (Hosea 3).

Perhaps we are entering a time of deprivation because not only does He love Christians but loves His church. Just as the God often withdraws from individual Christians so they experience temptation and even sin (WCF 5:5) so He withdraws His countenance so we will begin to realize just how much we really need Him. That doesn’t happen when all things continue as they were.

5. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave, for a season, his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends. WCF, V

We do hold to a high view of communion. It is not merely a memorial, but a means of grace when received in faith. But it is also not magical. We should not separate our theology of communion from our practice of communion. If it is about our unity and fellowship with one another it should be practiced as a part of our unity and fellowship with each other- when we are together.

So, communion seems inappropriate to me when we are not together as a body to partake with each other. The absence of communion falls under the providence of God and may be a way to stir up our holy longings for a deeper understanding and experience of communion when we are able to celebrate together again. Let us not run from our discomforting experience, and a call to delay gratification but embrace it.

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When I bought this I thought it was a biography. I was wrong. That’s one of the weaknesses of online shopping.

While it contains biographical information it is really a walk through the gospel from creation to consummation for those who have experienced abuse at the hands (and lips) of others.

The Creaking on the Stairs: Finding Faith in God Through Childhood Abuse (Biography)The book is The Creaking on the Stairs: Finding Faith in God Through Childhood Abuse by Mez McConnell. McConnell is now a pastor in Scotland, a true trophy of grace. He experienced profound abuse from his step-monster and her band of drunken friends. There was also sexual abuse from a baby sitter, and more.

Rosaria Butterfield was right when she wrote “The most disturbing book that I have ever read. I cannot recommend it enough.”

It is a very disturbing read. Through the first half of the book I was wondering, “Where’s his dad?”. In the forward Mez notes that his father was unaware of what was being done to him and his sister. I was wondering how this could possibly be so. He explains how in the second half, very briefly.

McConnell does not dwell on the abuse he suffered. That is probably a difficult thing to do. He does grapple before us with the process of becoming a Christian and then how to think about “her”. He’s honest about the wrong road of dealing with his abuse that led him into prison. It made him an angry and drug-seeking young man who destroyed others and himself in trying to make the pain stop. He glorifies none of this.

The biographical material usually comprises the shorter chapters. The larger chapters tend to be the more theological ones. But none of the chapters is long. They are meant to be read in a short sitting to give you time to think about them. I think he strikes a good balance between the events of his life, the theology to understand it and the existential struggle all this presents. His is not a faith that seeks to hide from the tough questions. It is all here.

He’s also honest about his target audience and goals.

“This book is for the silent sufferers within our churches (and without).”

“However, this book won’t answer all your questions.”

He begins with a definition of child abuse so people understand the breadth and depth of abuse in its various forms. He includes statistics before his conclusion filled with reality and hope. For instance:

“There’s the unexplained rage and frustrations at people around you- especially your loved ones.”

“I think there is real hope to be found, in the middle of our deepest traumas, in the good news about Jesus Christ. … I also think there is a place for us to find hope and community within the church.”

Initially his struggle was with “Doesn’t God see?” Soon he was agnostic, and then an atheist seeking to vent his rage and numb his pain.

This sets us up for brief meditations on Creation, focused on Eden, and then the Fall and Curse. He wants to explain theologically how we got in this mess of abuse. This leads to meditations about Satan and Adam as the prime actors in this sad drama. He answers some objections to the idea that we fell in Adam from Romans 5. This leads into the reign of death as the wages of sin.

“The truly scary thing is that instead of being a book, the Bible is, in fact, more like a mirror. Once we open it up, we begin to see our true nature reflected in it. We begin to realize that we, too, in deep, dark recesses of our souls, are more than capable of untold horrors against the rest of humanity.”

After a brief word about the world to come, he addresses where we live: in the time between the times. After this McConnell focuses on Jesus’ incarnation, compassion, and suffering. He wants victims of abuse to know Jesus experienced incredible betrayal, injustice and abuse. His is not the compassion of an observer, but a fellow sufferer. Jesus drinks the cup of God’s wrath that we deserved. In the midst of this McConnell defends the biblical view from the recent charges of “cosmic child abuse” in that while it was the will of God to do this, Jesus submitted willingly.

Seeing ourselves as sinners that deserve to drink that cup, but who have received grace can help us turn the corner from demanding justice to extending mercy. The mercy we received meant that Jesus received the justice we deserved. In speaking of justice he moves into a defense of the doctrine of hell. The fact is, as Mez notes, we aren’t just victims but also often victimisers.

With his conversion, McConnell not only learns about forgiveness but also about love. He states that he not only didn’t know how to love, but didn’t know now to process emotions. This is common among abuse victims. Love was a mystery to Mez because the people who were supposed to love him only brought him pain.

“The more I considered Jesus, the less I considered myself. The more I considered His pain, the more my own pain was put into perspective.”

He had to look to Jesus to understand love. He is not alone. Even if you haven’t been abused, you need to look to Jesus to understand what love is and does. And this leads to a discussion of grace: the good we don’t deserve.

He swings back to God’s sovereignty which is a bitter pill for people to swallow, even if they haven’t been abused. He brings us back to Jesus who suffered according to the will of God at the hand of sinners. We see this in Isaiah 53, Acts 2, Acts 4. More generally we see that God brings both good circumstances and catastrophic circumstances like the Covid-19 crisis we currently experience (Eccl. 7:14; Lam. 3:37-39).

“God may have ordained evil in our world, but He does not revel in it. He does not approve of it or take satisfaction in it.”

In answering the difficult question of how God can ordain child abuse, McConnell brings us to the life of Joseph in Genesis. Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers of all people. Well, they were going to kill him. Joseph who was imprisoned for sexual because the mistress he spurned lied. Years later when Joseph was one of the most powerful men in the world, and his guilty brothers before him he made one of the most profound statements in the Scriptures. “You intended this for evil, but God intended it for good to accomplish the saving of many lives.” Joseph could see the great good worked through the evil of his brothers. Mez sees, at least, that this pain was necessary for him to cry out to God. He doesn’t claim we’ll know all or any of the reasons we suffer. But he does claim that good can come out of our suffering and trauma.

This is not a book that is afraid to say the hard things. He says them clearly and effectively.

This books also has a series of appendices. The first is an interview with a child abuser who became a Christian after turning himself in and going to prison. He was a victim who became an abuser. He talks about how difficult it was to find a church willing to let him worship there. He gets into some of the conditions placed on him. He wrestles with bringing his sexuality back within God’s boundaries. In some ways this has happened, and in others there is still internal struggle. He doesn’t completely trust himself. He is unable to contact his victims, and cannot confess his sin to them and ask their forgiveness. One of the lies the told himself though was that the boys liked it so everything was okay. He doesn’t believe this anymore.

One thing I disagree with him is this: “I think we should teach a child exclusively that it’s their body and their private parts. There is no such thing as good touch bad touch. It is all bad touch (excluding medical professionals).” The recent scandals involving Michigan State and the University of Michigan’s team doctors reveal that bad touch happens too often by medical professionals. Not all touch is bad. Sexual touching of children is, however.

Then there is an interview with the pastor of a child abuser. It focused on how the situation developed and how it is going.

The third appendix is a list of FAQS by child abuse sufferers answered by a panel of 3 pastors who suffered, including the author. There is much wisdom here.

“Do not get married without telling your spouse your history. Otherwise, when and if issues come up, it will prove difficult, although not impossible, to move forward together as a couple. … We want to avoid cases of frustration and anger on the part of the non-abused spouse, which can be misinterpreted by abuse sufferers.”

“People who commit these kinds of offenses are master liars and manipulators. … Often people will confess things to me to mask other, more serious sins going on in the background which they want to keep secret.”

They address the problem of forgiving someone who never asks for forgiveness or is dead. Also addressed is the reality of a tight-knit community that has abuse victims in it and their struggle to accept an abuser as a member.

The book concludes with a response from an abuse sufferer. This person found the book very helpful. They addressed their own struggle to forgive; “I feel that if I forgive, they will have won.” In that way and others the book brought their own sin to the surface. We see this again “I feel by saving abusers, God is hitting me with one last sucker punch. Yet, the gospel is real and changing lives. It changed mine.”

And that is McConnell’s goal, to see the gospel change the lives of those who have suffered childhood abuse.

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An old friend recently put up a link about expectations for when you grieve the loss of a parent.

Many people do gain a greater appreciation for family. You can see the holes that exist that you were blind to in the past. I’m not really expecting this to happen for me, but perhaps I’ll grieve the lack of meaningful relationship more. As I’ve said before, I know she loved me but it felt very much on the surface. I want something more with my kids. I just feel like I really didn’t know her.

I am easily distracted right now. I’m like a dog easily distracted by some tree-dwelling rodent. In SS I was an ordinary participant. I struggled to pay attention. I’m finding multi-tasking difficult. I’m not distraught, not devastated. Distracted.

There is a sense of brokenness and aloneness. My wife and kids feel for me, but they can’t quite experience this the way I do. I’m not devastated by this loss. It has been a long time coming. After the initial tears and hugs with the kids, I felt relief. My father’s suffering was alleviated. Since I’ve come back I’m like a raw nerve. I’m quick to anger, and quicker to cry. CavWife thinks this is a positive (the crying, not the anger). She’ll say “I see that”. I don’t want to be seen! A man experiences this differently. It is not a badge of honor- “Look at me, I cried!” We are like cats, we want to go hide behind the sofa when it happens. Hug me maybe, but don’t rejoice in my tears- weep with me.

It is mentioned that you will get sick. I am getting sick. But it has to do with the lower immune system (despite dosing with Vitamin C), not wanting to be comforted by my mother. That wasn’t really her thing. At least not that I remember.

I don’t expect any changes for the holidays because we don’t really spend them with my parents. There was no place for us to stay, so it was much easier to visit CavWife’s family.

I’m sure there will be secrets. I learned a few while she was still alive. I shared one, but I won’t share the other. Not my story to tell. I may learn more, who knows, but my family doesn’t really talk about the past. If I learn something it will be from an uncle or aunt.

Well … bronchitis put me down for the count. As usual, I stayed home as little as possible. I was trying to work despite my fever and exhaustion. I’m not a good patient. I’m restless.

I generally got perfect attendance awards, but one year I got the flu, or something. I don’t know I was young and missed a week of school. She took care of me, but it was certainly not like Beverly Goldberg. She was not generally affectionate with us. The thought of missing school and staying home and watching TV didn’t appeal to me after that really long week. It still doesn’t.

And so the next month zoomed by as I continued to cough, my plantar fasciitis continues to flare up and my relationship with my father shifts. I am in uncharted territory for me. And that makes me anxious, and angry.

 

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The previous decade was not a great one for Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Much of it seemed to be taken up with controversies over a few professors and their  theology of Scripture and hermeneutics beginning in 2006. Some may have considered it a tempest in a teapot but this is one of the elite Reformed seminaries that provides pastors for the PCA, OPC, ARP and far more.

By 2014 Peter Enns and Douglas Green were gone. Men like Iain Duguid and Gregory Beale would step in to help restore confidence in the seminary.

ISeeing Christ in All of Scripture: Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminaryn 2016 they produced a collection of essays by 4 of their professors in an additional attempt to restore confidence and help those of us on the outside to better understand some of the theological tensions. Retired professor Richard Gaffin, long-term professor Vern Poythress and the new additions Duguid and Beale were tabbed to write articles that were gathered into a little book called Seeing Christ in All of Scripture: Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary.

For such a small book, it sure has a ton of endorsements. There are blurbs by Packer, Robert Yarbrough, Wayne Grudem, Philip Ryken, David Wells, Kevin Vanhoozer, Cornelis Venema, Benyamin Intan, John Frame, Mark Jones, Liam Goligher, Richard Pratt, J.V. Fesko, Harry Reeder, and Julius Kim. There are more as well. They represent various nooks and crannies of the Reformed community here and abroad.

It begins with an introduction by WTS President Peter Lillback which discusses the history of hermeneutics at the seminary. He wants this book to show us a consistency of biblical interpretation at Westminster today. He quotes liberally from the 4 articles in question.

He admits that the previous few years had seen a struggle between a Christ-centric hermeneutic and a Christotelic hermeneutic. Is Christ the center and goal of the Old Testament or simply the goal of the Old Testament? This sounds kind of heady for some folks. Lillback doesn’t rely on his professors, but also draws on the Westminster Confession of Faith to explain why we hold to a Christ-centric method of interpreting the Bible.

Poythress, who teaches a hermeneutics course, begins the process. He brings in Cornelius Van Til to talk about presuppositions, our basic commitments, and how they shape our method of interpretation, not just our interpretation. We have to examine those basic commitments and compare them to Scripture’s commitments.

“There is no way to form sound hermeneutical principles in a vacuum, apart from religious commitments.” Vern Poythress

Poythress delves into the dual authorship of Scripture and its implications. He briefly looks at the progress of revelation and the nature of Scripture as the Word of God not simply containing the words of God. He then lays out a few principles that help us have biblical commitments for our interpretational method. That includes how the Spirit who gave us the Scripture brings Christ to us. Scripture speaks of Christ, and brings Christ to us because of the Spirit’s work.

Then OT professor Iain Duguid writes about … Old Testament Hermeneutics. Keeping things succinct, he goes right to the heart of the matter. The center of the Old Testament is Jesus. We aren’t looking for Jesus as if he’s Waldo. In a variety of ways Jesus is the thrust of each passage. Each passage (not individual verses but stories and sections)point us to our need for Jesus, the work of Jesus and the character of Jesus. The OT text had a message for the original audience, and it has such a message for us. While the human authors understood much of what they wrote, they didn’t understand all they wrote. We see Daniel and Zechariah struggling to understand their visions. They had true, real knowledge but not complete or comprehensive knowledge.

New Testament Hermeneutics is handled by Gregory Beale. He begins with the goal of exegesis- understanding the text and therefore God’s message through the human author using “genre, textual criticism, grammar, flow of ideas, historical background, word meaning, figures of speech, and relationship with other biblical passages through direct quotation or allusion.” The rest of the chapter is breaking that down. He makes a number of points about the way the NT uses the OT.

The next discipline is systematic theology and is handled by Richard Gaffin. Because systematic theology is founded on Scripture, you have to rightly interpret the Scripture in question. The hermeneutic used for both systematic and biblical theology is the same. It should not have an idiosyncratic method of interpretation. He addresses the Bible as God’s Word, the unity of the Bible, the meaning of sola scriptura, redemptive-historical unity, and the relationship between systematic and biblical theology.

The book also has a number of appendices. The first is J. Gresham Machen’s address at the founding of the seminary. He discusses the need for a seminary to replace Princeton which had recently fallen prey to liberalism. Westminster was to be a confessional seminary rooted in the Scripture. They would not avoid history but also not be bound by history.

The second appendix is a series of Affirmations and Denials Regarding Recent Issues by the board of trustees. They are affirming and clarifying the implication of the seminaries continued subscription to the Westminster Standards. In some ways this is helpful in briefly laying out commitments and what they reject.

The third and final appendix is an article by Richard Gaffin in response to some comments by D. Clair Davis on the retirement of Douglas Green. Davis worried that this indicated that Westminster was shifting its commitments. Gaffin argues that Westminster stands in the tradition of Vos. He then interacts with the Christotelic approach which the seminary has rejected. This part of the book is probably the clearest explanation of the differences.

I gave a few copies of this book away when it came out, hoping it would help them understand how to see Christ in all of Scripture. I finally got around to reading it myself. I’m not sure it helped the other people. There is some level of knowledge that is presupposed. This is not an introductory volume. I understand what is going on, but they probably didn’t. I didn’t realize the background of the book when I initially bought it.

So, if you are interested in the struggles of Westminster this is a helpful little volume to understand where they are on these issues now. If you are looking for a volume that teaches a Christ-centered hermeneutic, this probably isn’t it. Invest in Goldsworthy. It will stretch you but it is helpful.

 

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