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We continue to examine 1 Corinthians 11 with an eye on the role of women in the life of the church. We have previously ruled out patriarchy (again) and noted the covenant relationships which include a covenant head.

 

ESV NASB NIV
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

vv. 4-5

Loose translation: Every man who prays or prophesies w/a covered head disgraces their head (Christ)

But

Every woman/wife who prays and prophesies disgraces her head

For

She is one and the same as she who is shaved.

 

Disgraces (kataiscunw) to dishonor, disgrace, to put to shame

Uncovered (akatakalupto~) adj. not covered, unveiled

Shaved (curaw) to shear, shave, to get one’s self shaved

 

  • Both men and women (husbands and wives) can pray and prophesy in public worship (since he moves to problems with the Lord’s Supper later in the chapter, and continues thru chapter 14 on issues related to worship).
  • In Acts 2 as a fulfillment of Joel 2, the Spirit was poured on men and women who prophesied.
  • Philip’s 4 unmarried daughters prophesied (Acts 21:9).
  • This means prophesy here does not mean simply the teaching/preaching of God’s word as the Puritans thought. Unless you want women to preach….
  • Kevin DeYoung notes the covering was for when they prayed and prophesied. He is the only one I read who explicitly made this connection.

“Second, the covering was not for all of life or even all of corporate worship; it was only necessary for women when praying or prophesying. Because the covering is only required in specific occasions, hair, which goes with a woman everywhere, cannot be the covering.” Kevin DeYoung

  • Calvin rejects the idea that women can pray & prophesy in corporate worship. He is one only one of the commentators I read how advocated this position. This position just doesn’t make sense of the text to me. It ignores the parallelism of the text itself.

“It may seem, however, to be superfluous for Paul to forbid the woman to prophesy with her head covered, while elsewhere he wholly prohibits women from speaking in the Church. (1 Tim. 2:12) It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a head covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he argues here as to a covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in chapter 14.” John Calvin

  • The context of 1 Cor. 14 (which we’ll cover later) is the interpretation of prophecy. The woman were to be silent and ask questions at home while this judging process took place.
  • Prophecy here is not seen as authoritative. It is not “new revelation” for the whole church, but seems to connect to particular circumstances. For instance, the prophecy of a famine by Agabus, and the prophecy that Paul would be bound in Jerusalem. Paul judged it to be accurate, but their interpretation or application (don’t go to Jerusalem) to be erroneous. It was how Paul was going to get to Rome.

“Alongside the teaching offered by the presbyters and formal liturgical elements the proceedings also allowed free and extempore ministry of ‘prophesying’ and ‘praying’ by those ‘gifted’ to do so. … ‘Prophesying’ was the Spirit-inspired application of the gospel, the oral ‘tradition’ and the Scriptures to the life of the gathered people. Unlike the presbyter-teacher whose ministry was a matter of ‘office’ and regularity, those who prophesied did so on an occasional basis, as the perceived need arose.” Paul Barnett

“And (3) women may pray and prophesy in the church because those activities are expressly allowed in 1 Corinthians 11. I regard the third solution as the correct one. If that is correct, then it must be recognized that the apostle regards praying and prophesying on the one hand, and speaking that involves teaching on the other hand, as distinguishable and different activities. Praying publicly in the midst of others does not imply or involve any authority or headship over others. Likewise, prophesying, an activity in which the one prophesying is essentially a passive instrument through which God communicates, does not necessarily imply or involve an authority or headship of the one prophesying over others. What 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 forbid, then, is authoritative speaking, teaching, and ruling.” George Knight

“If 1 Corinthians 11 details instructions for corporate worship- and I think it does- then we can say without a doubt that women are allowed to speak in church. Paul assumed that women could pray and prophesy. Services at Corinth were probably less structured than ours tend to be and women as well as men were able to give a spontaneous prayer, a song, a tongue or a word of prophecy. In short, women could, and did, speak in the church. Churches today which prohibit women from singing (because songs can teach), or praying (because it might be exhortative), or even giving announcements (because it’s speaking period) pull in the boundaries for participation in worship closer than the Bible demands.” Kevin DeYoung

  • Your literal head will bring honor or dishonor to your (covenantal) head.
  • We see a shift here from Jewish practice.
  • Because the man is not under the authority of any creature, he needs no such sign.
  • Is this referring to all women, or to wives? The Greek is unclear as we noted in vv. 2-3 and is reflected in the differences in translation.
  • What does it mean to be “covered”? Hat/veil or “hair up”. Barnett believes this is about how her hair is arranged, not the wearing of hats or veils.
  • Women with “hair down” were viewed as “free from authority” and often out of control (Delphi priestesses)
  • Women with short hair in Greco-Roman culture were often lesbians (Lucian) or women posing as men to avoid abduction & rape during war.
  • Shaved heads may have indicated adultery or prostitution (Dio Chrysostom).
  • Paul seems to be preserving cultural distinctions among Christians. Not unnecessarily subversive.
  • These cultural distinctions reflect created order which distinguishes between the sexes.
  • We honor the created order (unchanging)! Cultures may or may not reflect it, or in this particular way.
  • Unchanging created order & covenant headship => expression w/in local context
  • Worship in the early church: The elders taught & led worship. There was a time for gifted members to pray & prophesy.
  • Paul isn’t prohibiting women is participate in praying and prophesying, but addressing displays of disrespect while doing so.

“Hence, on the other hand, if the woman uncovers her head, she shakes off subjection- involving contempt of her husband.” John Calvin

“In a word, for a man to cover his head in the worship of Christ was to worship in the same way pagan men worshiped their gods. Imitating this practice mixed false religion into the worship of Christ, and therefore dishonored him. It is not possible that Paul intended this to be an absolute statement rather than a culturally specific statement because God himself commanded Aaron the high priest always to wear a turban when ministering. Moreover, throughout church history Christian men have covered their heads in worship for the sake of warmth and decoration. Paul’s teaching responded to the particular pagan influence in Corinth.” Richard Pratt

But .. why did he then move to creation? We’ll get there.

“Paul argues that our freedom in Christ does not allow us to overturn that order and the particular expression of it in Corinth and the apostolic age.” George Knight

“In the present context, 1 Corinthians 11 reads as an encouragement to retain divinely ordained gender roles (the current sign of which was head covering) even while women publicly exercised their spiritual gifts in a broad scope of ways.” Kathy Keller

“When she expresses her charismatic function within the church, she is to recognize that redemption does not release her from the order of creation.” R. Wayne House

“Women, on the other hand, could function in a prophetic role, but in order to preserve the social order given by the Creator, they must wear a sign of their subordination. Nothing concerning church leadership or teaching men is found in the verse.” R. Wayne House

vv. 6

For if a woman/wife does not (ou) cover/veil herself, she must also shear her hair, but if it is disgraceful for a woman to shear or to shave her hair, let her cover/veil herself.

Cover (katakaluptw) to cover up, to veil or cover one’s self

Cut off/shear (keirw) imperative; to sheer a sheep, to get or let be shorn, of shearing or cutting short the hair of the head

Disgraceful (aiscros) adj. filthy, baseness, dishonor (used in Gen. 2:25 [LXX])

Cover; present, middle, imperative

  • Sounds like Paul’s comment in Galatians about the circumcision party going all the way to emasculation- hyperbole.
  • Their false understanding of liberation, freedom from the created order, is disgraceful.

“Here Paul may have referred to the custom in the Mediterranean world of the first century that adulterous women were punished by having their heads shaved in disgrace.” Richard Pratt

“But Paul is saying that such thinking is over-realized eschatology. The present age continues and with it God’s ordering of husband-wife relationships. … Your femininity and your relationship with your husbands are inseparable. Do not deny the one or the other. Keep looking like a woman, a married woman.” Paul Barnett

“We thus have two things intertwined in this passage: the expression of the principle at stake in a particular practice, and the natural provision, long hair, that God has given and that expresses at all times the principle.” George Knight

“So let a woman feel no ‘shame’ at her husband by denying in the public meeting the cultural symbol of her ‘submission’ in marriage to him, her hair arranged ‘up’ and ‘covered’.” Paul Barnett

“Furthermore, we simply do not know what the practice was that they were abusing. Thus literal ‘obedience’ to the text is often merely symbolic. Unfortunately, the symbol that tends to be reinforced is the subordination of women, which is hardly Paul’s point.” Gordon Fee

Take Aways:

  • The nature of the covering is unclear: veil/burka, shawl/hood, hair put up.
  • This means we should be focused on how a woman responds to or treats her husband in the context of worship. She should honor her covenant head.
  • We should be charitable towards those who express this differently.
  • There may also be cultural expressions. In our culture we wear rings. If married she should look and act like she is married, not like she’s looking to be married.
  • We are uncertain how Paul would address the issue of adult single women who live away from home. In his day such women lived at home under the authority of their father or the pater familias. They were also married much younger than today.
  • Women are free to pray extemporaneously in the worship service, if the liturgy so permits.
  • If we were continuationists, we’d say that women were free to prophesy as well since this is not exerting authority.

I’ve been wanting to read some of John Perkin’s books for some time now. His new book, Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win, is a great place to start.

This book is a little bit of everything. Partially autobiographical you get insight into the events that have shaped John’s life and ministry. This also gives people like me a better grasp of the black experience in America.

He also provides some background to Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and summarizes the Three R’s (relocation, reconciliation and redistribution). He also allows himself to dream and invites us to share his dream.

So, there is a little bit of everything John is about in this book. Hopefully it will pique interest in his other books to develop areas on interest more deeply.

John has about a third grade education, and notes he had some help in the process of writing (we all need good editors). As a result the book is easy to understand and generally easy to read. It is not overly complex but not simplistic either. At times it does seem to change direction unexpectedly. There is a stream of consciousness feel to it as if you’re sitting down and listening to John over a cup of tea (you can have coffee if you’d like).

He begins with his story as part of the larger story of segregation in America. Things most of us take for granted were out of the realm of possibility for many/most black Americans. For instance, he noted not only blacks having different waiting rooms for the doctor, but not having appointments. They were for white people, and blacks got the left over time on a first come, first served basis. The medical clinic he founded in Mendenhall was intended to help blacks gain access to health care as if they were white people. And they didn’t exclude whites.

“Black citizens weren’t allowed to participate in the society they had spent centuries helping to build.”

He then shifts into the history of the CCDA. It is based on a biblical view of a new humanity in Christ living and working together for the common good. It is a vision of a “multiethnic, multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass” community based on the same elements in God’s kingdom.

Perkins returns to race relations more specifically in talking about poor whites. Often the only relationships in which they had an power was in their relationships with blacks. They were often damaged and gained some sense of power and worth by playing the oppressor toward the one group lower on the social scale then they were. This, in turn, damaged them even more (oppression damages both the oppressed and the oppressor).

“Wealthy whites also used the poor whites as tools of oppression, making them overseers or guards or sheriffs charged with taking care of the dirty work to keep black people in their place so they didn’t have to. In reality, though, this just fueled the resentment between blacks and poor whites.”

He moves toward his experience with non-violence in the face of oppression. The move away from this is one of the things that concerns him about the present and the future. He believes people have the power to win with love, but often think they don’t (or don’t have the time) and resort to violence and rioting that makes they no better than their oppressors.

“In the face of power, some resort to violence as a way to create chaos. That’s terrorism. That’s what people use when they don’t have the power to win. Nonviolence is a better way. It’s radical.”

“I quickly came to realize that nonviolence takes more strength than violence- and it takes more than just human strength. It takes God’s strength working in human beings to produce self-control, gentleness, and the other fruit of the Holy Spirit. God’s power comes in our weakness and brokenness.”

From here he moves into the 3 R’s mentioned above. To assist a community, he believes it is best to live there. This often means relocating into the community so you help from the inside, not the outside (and security of your gated community). While there you seek reconciliation between groups and individuals in conflict. This can be race, class, culture or other barriers used by sin to divide and impoverish. He speaks of the redistribution of opportunity, not free stuff. Not working robs people of dignity. He addresses stewardship- sharing our skills and opportunities (like networks) with people who don’t have those skills or opportunities. These new relationships give the poor new opportunities. In the Gospel we see Jesus “relocating” to planet Earth as a man, reconciling all creation to God through the cross and making Himself poor to enrich others. This notion of incarnation is addressed in the next chapter.

“Reconciliation is God bringing people into relationship with Himself and other people. Redistribution is caring for others’ needs as we care for our own.”

“I long to see the church give up its power and privilege the way Jesus did when he came to earth to give us the greatest of gifts.”

Perkins then talks about justice, and the differences between theology done by whites and blacks. He speaks in generalizations, obviously, but those differences affect how we view justice. White evangelical theology has focused on the personal side of redemption thanks to our commitment to individualism (among other things and despite some people’s commitment to covenant theology). Black theology, often written in response to white oppression sees redemption as communal as well as individual. Both are true and in tension with one another. But we tend to be polarized and talk past one another (on many topics unfortunately). He notes how both sides have sins in need of repentance and forgiveness.

After a very personal chapter about his son Spencer, he moves into human dignity, the final fight (love) and forgiveness. I’m not sure about the order there but all three are important if we are to discuss reconciliation and justice. He sees the church as the primary communicator of these truths. Sadly, we’ve allowed tribalism (Democrat vs. Republican, black vs. white, poor vs. rich etc.) to set in so we now disparage those who disagree with us (unAmerican, denier, homophobic etc.). He mentions immigration in particular (recognizing government’s role as possibly different from a Christian’s view) as a place we should be able to talk, and disagree, peaceably.

“So becoming a Christian is discovering God’s love for us, and being a Christian is learning to love God back- and then finding ways to show God’s overflowing love to the people around us.”

I certainly agree with him that the noise in our culture is too loud and we must move beyond it to think and act as responsible people instead of performing a series of knee jerk reactions that perpetuate the conflicts of our time.

“There is too much noise in our society right now, and that noise just keeps getting louder. We need quiet time for reflection. We need to be still and know that God is God.”

He briefly concludes with his dream which shouldn’t surprise us if we were paying attention throughout the book. It is the dream of a civil rights leader and Christian. It is a dream we should all share, one that is not simply about externals but about the heart. I leave John Perkins with the final word.

“I want to see a real community of love. Everyone wants to fight crime, fight violence, fight racism, and fight injustice, but love is still the final fight, and unless we have these communities of love, we will never see this dream realized.”

[I received a complementary copy from Baker Books for the purposes of review.]


We shift into the first of the NT texts to focus on what woman can or cannot do in the life of the church. This is a very difficult passage in a number of ways. But it is also one that challenges many people’s sensibilities.

“This passage proves to be a critical test case for biblical authority.” Paul Barnett

ESV NASB NIV
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

 

 

The church in Corinth struggled with an over-realized eschatology. The false teachers told them that redemption has overturned creation. For instance, marriage was to be avoided (as in the eternal state), sex was to be avoided etc. They struggled to identify/distinguish the “already” and the “not yet”. They were putting too much of the “not yet” into the “already”.

 

Pratt thinks Paul focus of this passage was the behavior of husbands and wives in worship.

 

Presuppositions and Critical Questions:

  • Is Paul speaking primarily of men & women, or of husbands and wives? Not the differences in the translations.
  • Does “head” refer to “primacy” or “source”? How does it reflect relational responsibility?

vv. 2

The traditions here are most likely the verbal instruction by the Apostles, in distinction to the written instruction. This is not to be confused with the use of tradition in either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. It is more authoritative then when we talk about the “Reformed tradition”.

Is Paul being sarcastic? Keep in mind, most of this letter is corrective.

vv. 3

understand/realize (eidw) to see, to perceive, notice, discern, discover

 

Christ is the head of every man/person (andros)

The man is the head of a woman

God is the head of Christ

 

Man (andros) a male, a husband, a betrothed or future husband; can be used generically of a group of men and women

Head (kephale) head, supreme, chief, prominent; it is used both literally & metaphorically in this passage; not used often in LXX for authority/chief

Woman (guna) woman, wife

 

So, we see that the words Paul used can mean either man or husband, and woman or wife depending on the context. The context doesn’t offer us many clues, but we have to utilize some other passages.

Authority or Source?

The Reformation Study Bible notes indicate it could be both. Because of “source” there is “authority.”

The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible also notes “the two ideas, however, should probably not be viewed as mutually exclusive.”

 

Summary of Wayne Grudem’s Survey on the meaning of kephale

Debating Source

We often use head as the source of something, like the head of the Mississippi River. But the fact that we do it in English and other modern languages doesn’t mean they use it that way in Koine Greek. Some argue it is synonymous with archa, beginning or ruler. Some think this refers to temporal priority. These arguments lack support in older lexicons. They are proposing a new meaning.

 

Bedale argues the ‘head’ does not normally mean ‘ruler’. But he provides no evidence. Bedale argues the ancient world didn’t think the head controlled the body. Correct they didn’t have the knowledge of anatomy we do. But they did understand the basics of wrestling and riding horses. If you control your opponent or horses head you control them. Bedale argues that the Septuagint shows it can mean ‘source’. The Hebrew word for ‘head’ was translated by both “head” and “ruler/beginning”. When the context literally referred to a head, they used kephale. When referring to the first or beginning of something, they used archa. When referring to a ruler or chief, it was translated with either. So, he argues, they are approximately the same therefore since the later can mean source so can the former. His error is that overlap in one area of semantic range does not mean overlap in all areas of semantic range. He provides no examples when it is actually used for “source” or “beginning”.

Bedale refers to 2 extra-biblical texts. In the Herodotus citation it is used in the plural for the head for the head of the Tearus River. However, in the singular it is used to refer to the “mouth of a river” (Callimachus). We see from this that when used of things it can refer to extremities.

In the Orphic Fragments 21: Zeus the head, Zeus the middle, Zeus from whom all things are perfected. Another copy of this same fragment uses archa instead of kephale. Doesn’t seem to mean “source” in the context. In his study, Grudem looked at 2,336 examples of kephale. Most uses were to actual or literal heads of people or animals. Ruler is the meaning 16% of the time it was used metaphorically. Source was the meaning 0% of the time.

 

Christ is in authority over every man

The man is in authority over a woman

God is in authority over Christ

 

Or

 

Christ is the source of every man

The man is the source of a woman

God is the source of Christ

 

Man being the source of woman only makes sense if we are talking about Adam and Eve. Paul does go their later. But this is about the structuring of life in the present church. So ….

I am not the source of my wife, but I have authority in that relationship.

Or these:

17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1

 

22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1

 

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Ephesians 5

 

Which makes more sense in the context?

Authority makes more sense consistently. In some cases, source has some application. Christ is the source of the Church, and has authority over it. When we talk about God as the source of Christ we can get onto thin ice in terms of the Trinity.

Paul addresses authority under the term “head”. These seem to be covenant relationships. This is would mean that Christ or Messiah is the head of humanity (or at least the redeemed). Every man/person is under the authority of Messiah, ultimately (Ps. 2). Likewise, the husband is the head of a wife. If we interpret it as man/woman we end up with patriarchy rather than complementarianism. This is the subjection of women to men, not the submission of a wife to her husband like we see in Ephesians 5.

In the covenant of redemption, God is the head of Messiah. The Eternal Submission of the Son (ESV Study Bible, Grudem, Ware) treats this text as if Paul said Son so this submission is seen as eternal. Paul’s choice of “Messiah” ties it into the covenant relationship for our salvation. This is recognized by Calvin.

 

“In asmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. … this is spoken of Christ as mediator.” John Calvin

 

“In this passage, the headships of Christ, husbands, and God had one thing in common to which he drew attention: each head should be honored.” Richard Pratt

 

Covenant Headship (Roles)

God => Christ => man/husband => woman/wife

 

If we stop here, we get patriarchy, or Gothardism. In this perversion of the Scriptures women are under the authority of men. A woman approaches Christ through her husband, not directly. We have to hold this in tension with Galatians 3:28.

 

In terms of Being or Essence

God => Christ => man and woman.

Both are made in the image of God

Both have equal access thru Christ

 

Men and women are equal before God, and have equal access to God through Christ Jesus. But we are also in some covenant relationships that shape our roles and responsibilities. The text continues to explore those further. We’ll explore that soon.


Sometimes “life” just gets in the way of all good intentions.

A few years ago I read Antinomianism by Mark Jones and when discussing the doctrine of assurance he mentioned Anthony Burgess (the Puritan, not the author of A Clockwork Orange). While reading The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson the subject and Burgess came up again in the footnotes. So I bought a copy of recently released version of Faith Seeking Assurance (FSA) by Burgess in the Puritan Treasures for Today.

While I finished reading the book in December, I went on vacation and returned to a crazy schedule that included preparing for a church trial, and presbytery meeting. I came down with “the” cold (I’m still coughing 4 weeks later), experienced a pastoral crisis or two, helped interview a church planter and we hosted a financial seminar. I think I am returning to normalcy and this review is still waiting for me.

That is how my brain works. I need to clear this out so I can move on to the next review of a book I just finished.

The doctrine of assurance is one of those neglected doctrines these days. Recently we’ve seen a spat of books about the Trinity and union with Christ which had been neglected for a long time. Maybe this doctrine will experience a literary resurgence. But until then … we pretty much have this book. Thankfully it is a very good book, but since I just worked thru this subject in the Westminster Standards for a SS class- there is more to be said.

FSA is a typically Puritan book in its style and structure. If you aren’t familiar with the Puritans, one way to describe them would be a dog with a bone, chewing, chewing, chewing. I’d say a cow chewing its cud, but that sounds too “gentle”. Perhaps another way of putting it is drilling down deep into a doctrine, looking at it from a variety of angles.

“… ecclesiastical discipline being to the church what the sword is to the Commonwealth.”

The assurance of which we speak is assurance as a reflex action- the assurance that we are saved by knowing we have believed and depend upon the merit of Christ. As a direct action, faith believes that God actually saves sinners. In this way, following Calvin, assurance is an element of faith.

“In his reflex acts of faith, the confidence that a believer has of the truth of grace wrought in him comes more from God’s Spirit removing his slavish fears and disposition and supporting the soul than it does from the excellence and beauty of grace within him.”

He begins with the necessity of assurance by bringing us to Corinth and Paul’s letters to them. Professing Christians can be quite content in their lusts. Paul advised them to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith rather than continue to exhibit presumption. In this way we differ from Roman Catholicism in which only those who receive a secret revelation can have such knowledge (think the saints, not ordinary Christians). But Scripture indicates we can know, and God generally wants His children to know that they are in fact saved.

Its advantage is likened to the man who has actually tasted honey and knows its sweetness experientially instead of simply theoretically. It provides a security in affliction, rather than a false security in our guilt. It also helps us to enjoy the sweetness of the sacraments, ceasing from useless arguments with others and focusing on your own heart (warning: we can be overly introspective however, and we are supposed to be looking outward to Christ who is our salvation), focusing on obedience and service. What gets in the way? He notes self-love, carnal confidence and the temptation to unbelief. We can also use false standards to determine whether or not we are saved.

“… some Christians rest in knowing the doctrine of the gospel and in the outward use of ordinances without ever feeling the weight of sin.”

From these introductory matters he spends time addressing the reality of hypocrites. Some have an historical faith: “They have the kind of historical faith that the devils possess. It is no real faith at all, but, at most, only a human assent.” There is intellectual agreement of a sort, but no resting in Christ. There are also those, like in the parable of the sower, who are temporary believers. They are part of the visible church, seem to be filled with joy, but eventually return to their sin and unbelief.

True Christians: “These Christians are incorporated into Christ’s body and so receive a vivifying influence from Him as a living branch in the vine or a living member in the body.”

One of the more interesting obstacles to gaining assurance that Burgess mentions is that we can resist the ministry of the Spirit to provide it. The basic notion is that the flesh resists all motions toward holiness, and all reception of spiritual blessings. Other obstacles are guilt over sins committed, temptations experienced and the Evil One who wants to destroy the joy of our salvation since he can’t actually destroy our salvation.

This means a believer may actually be saved, but not have assurance. They may have doubts and fears. But gaining assurance gives us greater peace and joy in our salvation.

Thomas Goodwin spoke of a father and son walking on the road. The father picks up the son, holds him and kisses him. The son was just as much his son when he was standing by the father, or even running from him. But his experience of being a son was better, more nurturing when the father held and kissed him. Assurance is like being held and kissed, our experience of salvation is sweeter. But we may still be saved even when we don’t experience this.

Burgess provides remedies for carnal confidence and directions for those who lack assurance. While God generally wants us to have assurance, it is not all He wants for us. He also wants us holy and humble. If assurance will make you proud or slothful at a given point in time, God may choose to withhold assurance for this greater good.

“We should not so gaze upon ourselves to find graces in our hearts that we forget those acts of faith whereby we immediately close with Christ and rely upon Him only for our justification.”

Assurance starts with the simple question, do you believe in Christ? If you don’t you have no ground for assurance. In seeing if you truly believe or have a counterfeit faith (see Edwards’ Charity and Its Fruits), you look to sanctification and whether common graces are at work in you. You aren’t looking for perfection, but progress. And in this someone else may help for often we see the sin, not the progress. In terms of common graces, is there a desire for worship, prayer, Bible reading, fellowship etc. These are faith at work. The desire for them is a work of the Spirit. The one who has never and doesn’t currently desire them has no grounds for assurance. There can be dry spells, and during them we generally don’t have assurance.

This is not a perfect book. It is a good and worthwhile book. For those who are not familiar with the Puritans, there is a learning curve. There is much to discover here, but I did find myself wanting more when I was done. Sadly, I can’t recall exactly what that more was. At this time, this and the chapters in The Whole Christ are the primary works on this important and often misunderstood subject.

 

Considering Good and Angry


We all struggle with anger. It is part of the human experience. Some of us struggle more than others. And our struggle may be different. Some people struggle to show anger. Others are always a road rage incident waiting to happen. Books about anger are varied in their approach and their quality.

Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness by David Powlison is a new book about anger. It is one of the better books on the subject of anger.

He begins by identifying our problem with anger. It isn’t simply the guy with the red face, huffing and puffing while he yells at everyone. Anger is more nuanced than that. It is also expressed in irritation, frustration, complaining and arguing. When we have a more appropriate, more encompassing definition we see that we all have anger issues. He describes the various relationships we have with anger, and the lies we can believe about our anger. He spends time explaining that this book really is about you, and everyone else.

He then explains anger as a function of love. If you never get angry you really don’t love anything or anyone. This is why God gets angry: He loves. He loves His people. He also loves all that is good and holy. Anything that harms His people or violates His goodness is subject to His anger. He responds with anger. Because He is righteous, His anger is always in the proper measure and about the proper things. Ours? A mixed bag. Sometimes we are angry because our “rules” are broken, our kingdom threatened; not God’s. Or our anger is too much or too little for the sin in question.

This means that anger is “natural”, a part of being in the image of God. But like that image, it is now distorted because of our sinfulness.

Powlison moves into the constructive displeasure of mercy. It “holds out promises of forgiveness, inviting wrongdoers to new life.” Anger can motivate to destroy sin. But it can also motivate us in constructive directions like patience and forgiveness. Anger isn’t always given the final word, sometimes that word is forgiveness.

“God is love, and God is slow to anger. He intends to make us like himself. To be slow to anger means you are willing to work with wrong over time.”

He distinguishes, quite helpfully, between attitudinal forgiveness and transacted forgiveness. The first is about you. It does not require the other person to ask for forgiveness. It is about letting them off the hook, absorbing the loss so you no longer want to destroy them. This enables you to approach them to reconcile which is the essence of transacted forgiveness: reconciliation. You can forgive without being reconciled (with an abuser for instance). Remembering that it requires two to be reconciled, you can forgive even though the other person doesn’t want to be reconciled or admit they’ve done anything wrong.

“The attitudinal forgiveness means you can always deal with things that poison your own heart. Transacted forgiveness and actual reconciliation are desirable fruits, but not always attainable.”

He then moves into two other aspects of constructive displeasure: charity and constructive conflict. Charity is, in some ways, hard love or love in hard times. You continue to seek what is best for the other person. Constructive conflict moves toward the person to do that hard work of not simply reconciling, but addressing the sin that sabotages the relationship.

The chapter entitled Good and Angry? focuses on God and His anger. His anger fills the Bible because the Bible is filled with humanity’s rebellion. Our anger does not need to be suppressed, but remade, redeemed. He then moves to James 4 to help us explain why we get angry. We are looking out for ourselves and our kingdoms. I noted in my margin that “we are all Frank Underwood building our own house of cards.” He then moves us to the reality that God gives more grace and what change looks like.

Powlison than proposes 8 questions to take your anger apart so you can be put back together. These questions are attempts to apply what he’d been talking about from James 4.

He then has a series of chapters on tough cases: forgiving unspeakable sins, the everyday angers, being angry with yourself and angry with God. This was, in my opinion, some of the best material in the book. He addressed topics that aren’t often addressed, at least helpfully.

While this is a very good book, I thought the real strength was in the second half of the book. He uses questions at the end of each chapter to help you process and apply the material. I need to go back over those questions. Since anger is such a common problem this would be a helpful book for pastors, elders, parents and just about everyone. It is accessible, easy to understand and helpful. It is a helpful addition for your library.

Considering War Room


The divisional round of the NFL playoffs are over. In many ways the legacy of Bill Belichick was on display. The Patriots, led by Belichick took their division and won a bye week yet again, for a long streak of dominance among a division filled with the futility of other teams leading to frequent turnover. Once again the Patriots are in the AFC championship game. Either they are the Steelers will go to a record 9th Super Bowl.

The team the Patriots beat, the Texans, has a coaching staff stacked with former Patriots’ coaches and players (O’Brien, Crennel, Larry Izzo, and Mike Vrabel). The team the Steelers beat, the Chiefs, had former Patriots’ Director of Player Personnel Scott Pioli as their GM for 4 years. While the Chiefs struggled during his tenure, many of the key players for this team were acquired by Pioli.

Pioli is currently the assistant GM for the Atlanta Falcons who also won their division, got a bye week and defeated the Seahawks to advance to the NFC conference championship against the Packers. The Falcons’ GM is Pioli’s old friend from the Browns and Patriots (both under Belichick), Tom Dimitroff.

Half of the teams in the divisional round came from the same organizational roots!

This organization is the subject of Michael Holley’s book War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team. Holley spent a year with the team researching his earlier book, Patriot Reign. He wanted that book to be about Belichick. It has paid off for a growing number of books. Contrary to common opinion, Belichick isn’t self-absorbed and keeps wanting Holley to write not about him but about the organization.

In this book, Holley focuses on Belichick, Pioli and Dimitroff. He provides some biographical information, particularly as he introduces Piolo and Dimitroff, and traces their relationships, how they achieved great success together, and how they’ve been building teams since (when this was written, Pioli was still with the Chiefs).

There is plenty of interesting information about football as Holley retells how some key seasons unfolded. It covers some key drafts as well, bringing you into the process to better understand it. It isn’t just about successes. You see that in drafting disappointments Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson, Belichick tuned out the scouts who were raising red flags. You discover Belichick is not the man you see or typically hear about, but that is rather is “stage personae”. Behind the scenes and to his friends he is seen as having a great sense of humor and caring about the people he works with, often providing them with advice.

Reading this book you get a better sense of why so many organizations flounder, or lack consistency. Their organizational games of musical chairs, approach to scouting, focus on the short-term instead of the long -term too, are here to see.

I think this book extends beyond football. There are some principles to appropriate for other organizations. While it is about football, it is about more than football. Success begins with people, identifying people with both skills and character. This is not simply players but the whole organization. Belichick, for instance, hired Pioli to a low level position and watched. He saw a guy driven to know more, do more. Pioli quickly rose as Belichick tested him and he passed those tests. Belichick largely develops staff from within instead of importing people from elsewhere. This way you know if they can actually do the job, not just interview well (a problem not just in football but in most organizations). Evaluating players is not just about skill, but character (the flaw in the Maroney and Jackson picks for instance). Players are not evaluated in the abstract, but in comparison to current members of the team. The idea is whether or not they make the team better in both the short-term and long-term.  The focus is not on “stars” but depth, spending your money so you can survive the attrition of an NFL season instead of floundering because a few key guys are hurt.

I don’t want to give it all away. I want you to read the book. It is interesting as well as informative. There is more here than just the “inside story” on some draft picks (though that is interesting too). There is organizational wisdom for those with ears to hear.


So far I’ve really enjoyed Crossway’s series “On the Christian Life” having read the volumes on Newton, Bavink and Edwards. I’ve been working my way through the series on vacation/study leave. That all changed when I read Luther.

Oh, I’m kidding. Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman is a very good addition to the series. One of the things that Trueman appreciates about Luther was his humor, which is much better than my pathetic little joke there.

One of the strengths of this volume is that Trueman does not try to paint Luther as an “evangelical”. He notes our tendency to repaint our heroes in our own image. He resists this temptation and presents us with the Luther that we both love and don’t quite understand.

Luther’s understanding of the Christian life is very different from that found in “popular” evangelicalism and even in Reformed circles at times. Trueman isn’t here to criticize Luther, but is more to critique us in a round about way.

One of the struggles for a book like this is the sheer volume of material produced by Luther, as well as the development of his thought over time as a pioneer of sorts who came to a greater awareness of the implications, consequences and complications of this ideas over time. Yet, as Trueman notes, evangelicals tend to pull their quotes (sound bytes) from the early Luther.

Trueman begins with a brief biography of Luther so readers can get a lay of the land, so to speak. His life and theology were in near constant interaction. I noticed this tendency in studying some the major psychological theorists, and it is often true for theologians as well. Their theology is an attempt to work out their stuff with God. Unlike one author I read years ago, Luther’s goal was not sexual liberation but rather spiritual liberation.

Luther lived in a time when most people could not read. This greatly impacts his understanding of the Christian life. It is structured around daily worship services to hear the Word of God and to partake of the sacraments. While better literacy rates are a good thing, they have facilitated the individualistic view of the Christian life that actually robs us of maturity. We are meant to live in community, and not just for a few hours on Sunday.

We can’t turn back the clock (this includes rejecting the industrial revolution, modern travel etc. that shapes our lives/lifestyles). But perhaps we can made some different decisions in our own cultural context.

Luther has a strong emphasis on the Word, and Trueman spends time unpacking this. It is tied up on Luther’s understanding of the Word as both God’s revelation and God’s creative power. God’s Word is meant to shape how we think about life and reality. Luther was also concerned about how we approached the Word, and therefore God. We tend to be theologians of glory rather than theologians of the cross. The theologian of the cross sees God and comes to God thru Christ and Him crucified. The incarnation and sacrifice of the Son points to our weakness, sinfulness, neediness and how God is gracious, tender and merciful This shapes a very different life than one focused on God’s power and glory which tends to either drive us to despair (since we are sinners) or puffs us up (due to our pride and self-righteousness). This carries over to Luther’s law and gospel distinction. This is a much misunderstood concept, as if the OT is law and the NT is gospel. As Clapton sang, “It’s in the way that you use it.” The same texts can be used to expose sin, and reveal grace. First comes law to destroy our self-righteousness, and then comes grace.

So we encounter the Word in preaching, singing, meditating, prayer and if possible reading. Luther encourages us to be people of the Word so God will work in us to accomplish His good purposes.

The Christian life is not easy but we struggle with self-righteousness as well as sin. We also deal with anfechtungen, which is difficult to translate into English but could be considered similar to the dark night of the soul. We experience despair and frustration at the trials of life material and immaterial. We are not to look in, but to look out at Christ in the midst of all of this. Faith is looking to the Christ revealed in the Scriptures in dealing with our guilt, self-righteousness, and afflictions. Luther was not an introspective mystic, but one who calls us out of our introspection to look to Christ who is the only One who can help us.

One of the most important chapters is “Luther and Christian Righteousness.” It is written to address some misunderstandings of Luther regarding sanctification. These misunderstandings are found in the books and sermons by Tullian Tchavidjian and Trueman makes a few allusions to Tullian in the chapter. While the Reformation was going swimmingly in its early days, Luther discovered it was not necessarily bearing the fruit it should as he began to visit other areas. He saw that many people calling themselves Christians were ignorant of basic doctrines and lived like pigs.

He made a distinction between alien righteousness and proper righteousness. The former is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us in justification. It is our positional holiness. The latter is righteousness imparted to us by Christ in sanctification. It is our personal holiness. They are distinct but related. The same Christ who justifies us also sanctifies us. First He justifies and then He sanctifies. This order is key to Reformation or Protestant Theology. Luther discovered there was little to no personal holiness, and put forth the need to preach not just alien righteousness but also personal righteousness. This emphasis is seen in The Visitation Articles as well as his catechisms. While Melanchthon is credited with originating the idea of the “third use of the Law” (showing us how to live as Christians) it is actually present in Luther’s writings as well. The Law directs us as justified persons, but it is always grace that empowers us.

Additionally there was the Antinomian Crisis involving Agricola’s deviant theology. Luther notes we are a battlefield between the flesh and Spirit. Preaching only alien righteousness leads to immorality and false assurance of salvation.  So we find the need for pastors to also preach the law for instruction in righteousness.

The Christian life is played out in our vocations of citizen, work and home. Luther rightfully sees the Christian engaged in those spheres. He does not see a secular-sacred divide like the Roman Catholicism of his day (being a priest, nun or monk was seen as a more holy vocation than a cobbler), and some forms of fundamentalism today.

This is one of the shorter volumes in the series, just over 200 pages. There is some theological background that has to go into explaining many of the concepts central to Luther and his theology. Trueman handles that well and in understandable form. In the discussion of sacraments, he doesn’t delve into Luther’s understanding of the Chalcedonian Definition/Formula with respect to how the human nature of Christ is present in a ubiquitous fashion. There also aren’t many Scripture references which is interesting since Scripture was so important to Luther.

It is a worthwhile addition to the series that seems to focus on Reformed pastors/theologians. The fact he isn’t an “evangelical” provides a good corrective to many of us. This book is well worth reading.