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Posts Tagged ‘Augustine’


So far we’ve looked at Jonathan Haidt’s Social Intuition Theory and in the second section his Moral Foundations theory. In that first section we learned that “intuition comes first, strategic reasoning second” with a central metaphor of an elephant (intuition) and a rider (reasoning). In that second section of The Righteous Mind his point is “there’s more to morality than harm and care” and his central metaphor is that the righteous mind is like a tongue with different taste receptors.

In the third and final section of his book, Haidt wants us to understand that “morality binds and blinds” with a central metaphor that we are “90% chimp and 10% bee.” What he’s getting at is that we are individuals but that being part of a group is important to most of us. Our religion and politics are not simply based on self-interest but also related to the groups to which we belong.

Groupish Are We

Haidt uses the term “groupish” sort of how Julian Edelman says he’s “Jew-ish”. We are not pack animals but we are social and groups begin to shape our thinking and acting. He communicates this beginning with 9/11 which triggered his patriotism in a way he never expected.

“Professors are liberal globetrotting universalists (globalists), reflexively wary of saying that their nation is better than other nations.”

He recognizes that unlike many liberals he’s painted a fairly negative picture of humanity. Influenced by Glaucon he sees us as more obsessed with how we look than with who we really are.

We are groupish, joining teams, clubs, leagues and frats. In addition to our individual identities, we also have group identities wherein we work with others for common goals. We often vote in light of that, not simply bare self-interest. We do promote our interests to our peers but also are good at promoting group interests. This is why I see baseball as the sport that most reflects real life. There are individual battles that occur for the benefit of the team, but there must also be teamwork. Individual stats are important, but the goal is to win and for that you need teammates to do their job too.

In this chapter there is far more evolutionary speculation and too few studies to back up his conclusions. While I don’t agree with how he gets there, I see merit to his conclusions.

Each successful group has to address the reality of “free riders”, people who don’t do the work but want the benefits. He also notes that chimps lack shared intentionality. They don’t work together (like each picking up one end of a log to move it). From his perspective, developing this capacity is a huge evolutionary jump.

One study had big issues. It involved the controlled breeding of foxes to show change doesn’t require a huge number of generations. Life isn’t controlled breeding, and their lifespan isn’t very long. It only shows us micro-evolution, change within a species rather than the development of a new species (macro-evolution).

The Hive Switch

He begins by talking about basic training when individuals are formed into a military unit through shared experiences. In successful units people “forget about themselves, trust each other, function as a unit, and then crush less cohesive groups.”

“We are like bees in being ultrasocial creatures whose minds were shaped by the relentless competition of groups with other groups.”

Haidt’s theory is that we are “conditional hive creatures”. We don’t always function this way, but have a switch (so to speak) that activates this function. He builds on Durkheim to show that we are “Homo duplex, a creature who exists at two levels.” Collective emotions can pull people together and are most commonly associated with the sacred. We can’t remain there indefinitely. In some religions hallucinogenics are used to gain an ecstatic state. In raves the music and often ecstasy are used to create a similar ecstatic group state.

“Oxytocin simply makes people love their in-group more. It makes them parochial altruists.”

One of the glues that bind people together is the hormone oxytocin which helps mothers bond with babies, and partners together.

“We are conditional hive creatures. We are more likely to mirror and then empathize with others when they have conformed to our moral matrix than when they have violated it.”

Good organizations build those bonds to create a hive thereby overcoming the self-interest that destroys organizations. Where there is buy-in people work harder and have more fun. They are less likely to change jobs or pursue legal action against their employer. If you want to develop a hive he recommends:

  • Increase similarity, not diversity. Therefore don’t point out differences in race or ethnicity. Focus on the similarities.
  • Exploit synchrony. Groups work together to prepare for battle.
  • Create healthy competition between groups, not individuals. Friendly group rivalries build group dynamics. But when an organization promotes individual competition (like bonuses) you erode “hivishness, trust, and morale.”

Political Hives

Great leaders build hives. They tap into the desire to be part of something greater than yourself. Some evil leaders use this groupishness to develop dangerous communities that aren’t simply less concerned with outsiders but destroy outsiders. They create a single hive as a nation rather than recognizing there will be interlocked hives.

“In fact, a nation that is full of hives is a nation of happy satisfied people. It’s not a very promising target for takeover by a demagogue offering people meaning in exchange for their souls.”

Religion Is a Team Sport

Durkheim saw that religious rites helped form communities in the way that tailgating, face painting, fight songs etc. build a hive with collective motions at sporting events. Haidt addresses the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism and how they misunderstand religion. While he’s an atheist, he’s not part of the New Atheism which is openly hostile to religion.

I yawn at the evolutionary explanation for religion whether the New Atheists or Scott Atran and Joe Henrich’s more reasonable proposal. They propose, in part, that it is religions that evolved, not us or our genes. Less effective religions faded in to obscurity.

“You don’t need a social scientist to tell you that people behave less ethically when they think nobody sees them. … Creating god who can see everything, and who hates cheaters and oath breakers, turns out to be a good way to reduce cheating and oath breaking.”

Haidt finds that religious communes last longer than secular communes. In secular communities requests for sacrifice are met with a cost-benefit analysis. But if sacrifice rests on the Sanctity foundation, religious people are more willing to make it. He then argues that religious groups bind people together better, suppressing selfishness.

Also differing from the New Atheist, Haidt believes that religious has produced some (much?) good, particularly for their communities through parochial altruism. Religious people are more generous, though much of that goes to their communities (is that really surprising?). Religious people are also more likely to give to charities that aren’t connected to their faith. Religion, then is “well suited to be the haidmaiden of groupishness, tribalism, and nationalism.” The danger is when the group demonizes the other group, and religions have been used by demagogues to further their sick agendas.

He compares religion to an exoskeleton. You become “enmeshed in a set of norms, relationships, and institutions that work primarily on the elephant to influence your behavior.” This is an important function for society.

“When societies lose their grip on individuals, allowing all to do as they please, the result is often a decrease in happiness and an increase in suicide, as Durkheim showed more than a hundred years ago.”

Defining Morality

Haidt at the end of the chapter on religion finally defines morality:

“Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.”

He admits this is a functionalist definition. Not much love there. He focuses on what it does, and I’m not sure he quite gets that either. In terms of ethical systems he doesn’t know what normative theory would be best for individuals. He seems to favor a Durkeimian utilitarianism which recognizes “that human flourishing requires social order and embeddedness.”

Can’t We All Disagree More Constructively?

Finally we are getting to the pay off as he brings it all together to address the driving question of the book. We don’t live in a world of philosopher-kings or panels of supposedly unbiased experts (insert maniacal laugh here). Since we don’t have a king we have parties pursuing our votes (and money). This quest for power inevitably includes tricks, lies and demagoguery.

In years past there seemed to be plenty of swing votes, including politicians who were moderate. In 2012 he notes that few people call themselves centrists or moderates. More people are calling themselves either conservative or liberal. Sadly he sees changes fostering new behavior in Congress. Friendships across party lines are discouraged and those weakened relationships make it easy to demonize the other side. As opposed to being in one club there are two.

“This is not a collegial body anymore. It is more like gang behavior. Members walk into the chamber full of hatred.” Congressman Jim Cooper (D) 2011

America’s problems are often the world’s problems due to the increase of globablism in practice. We have a “battle between a three-foundation morality and a six-foundation morality.” Here he wants to hammer “morality binds and blinds” to help us understand our situation.

He quotes a definition of ideology as: “A set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved.” This is what the fight is about. We don’t agree on the proper order of society and/or how to get there. There is one drive to preserve (conserve) the present order, and another to change it.

A twin study indicates that twins raised in different homes are more likely to be similar than unrelated children raised together. This includes political orientation. Genetics, it is believed, accounts for 1/3-1/2 of the variability in people’s political attitudes. Innate, in his view, is malleable. Our experiences shape and hold the attitudes already present. Not hard wired, but leanings.

The Power of Narrative

We process stories more than we are logical. The Bible is filled with stories, a big Story, rather than a series of logical propositions. Parents use stories to communicate morality to children. Stories begin to move the elephant. Perhaps this is why NPR’s news stories are often that: people and their stories that communicate embedded ideas. Movies and TV shows use narrative to shift us. Politicians tell stories or visions to sway us rather than present logical arguments. Democrats tend to tell stories about care, fairness and oppression while Republicans also tap into loyalty, authority (law & order), sanctity (particularly pro-life). As a result each side can’t really understand the other since the stories are so different and appeal to different moral foundations.

This is revealed when people were asked to pretend to be the other in studies he’s done.

“The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. … The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.”

This lack of understanding feeds dehumanization. Obviously the other side doesn’t have morals. Some pundits even wonder if the other side should live. He quotes theater critic Michael Feingold who believed Republicans don’t have imagination, just want to profit from disaster and should be exterminated. Haidt then notes the numerous ironies including that a theater critic can’t imagine Republicans have a moral matrix. This is an example of morality binding him to his party and blinding him to the morality of the other party.

“As a lifelong liberal, I had assumed that conservatism = orthodoxy = religion = faith = rejection of science.”

Sound familiar? Just the other night Bernie Sanders at the DNC Convention joined a number of Democrats in saying Republicans don’t believe in science (whatever that means).

He introduces orthodoxy as the “view that there exists a ‘transcendent moral order, to which we ought to try to conform the ways of society.'” Examples of “orthodoxy” would be the Moral Majority or Sharia law. As I function with a 2 kingdoms model like Augustine, Luther and Calvin I recognize that my faith won’t control the government. For me orthodoxy critiques both conservativism and liberalism but at different points because both are based on humanism. This is similar to Keller’s point that the Bible criticized every society and culture.

Moral Capital

Slowly Haidt began to agree with some conservative claims about the good society, and found they understood moral capital more than liberals did. He wants us to know he’s thinking of intellectuals, not the RNC. Social capital became a common concept with Bowling Alone. There are social ties that foster reciprocity and trustworthiness. He notes that these ties allow ultra-Orthodox Jews in the diamond trade to keep their costs lower. Moral vision requires social capital. Moral capital is not about trust but the web of relationships necessary to sustain a healthy society. Moral communities extend beyond kinship because of the environment in which relationships are embedded. He defines moral capital as “the resources that sustain a moral community.” It refers to:

“… the degree to which a community possesses interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that mesh well with evolved psychological mechanisms and thereby enable the community to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperation possible.”

It reflects his definition of morality. Moral communities are hard to build. They are easy to destroy. Moral capital can make a community efficiently, but some efficient communities can inflict harm on other communities. Haidt notes that liberal reforms often neglect the effects on moral capital and end up destroying moral communities.

This leads Haidt to conclude that liberalism isn’t a sufficient governing philosophy due to this overreach, but needs to work with conservativism to preserve moral capital. Conservatives often fail to recognize oppression and limit the powerful. In other words, they need each other like Batman and the Joker need each other in The Lego Batman Movie.

“A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.” John Stuart Mill

He provides a similar quote from Bertrand Russell. Our polarization means that the parties don’t work together (compromise in the good sense) for the good of the nation but “stick to their guns” for the approval of their base. In terms of bees we are not a healthy hive, but two sick hives.

The “third rail” for Liberals is caring for the oppressed. They tune out appeals to loyalty, authority and sanctity for the most part. He quotes Garrison Keillor who calls liberalism as “the politics of kindness.” The most popular definitions of liberals found on YourMorals.org is care for the vulnerable & oppressed, opposing hierarchy and “changing laws, traditions and institutions to solve social problems.” He argues that government should limit corporations that become superorganisms. They change legal and political systems. The only organism large enough to stand up to the Amazons of the world is the federal government. Corporations, if publicly held, are to maximize profits so costs are often passed on to others (like pollution). Haidt argues that when they operate out of the public eye they are unrestrained. There has to be a free press to hold them accountable (unfortunately some buy papers and stations)and governments to regulate them (unfortunately they hire lots of lobbyists and can make unlimited donations to political causes). He admits that liberals often go too far with regulation, hence the need to work together rather than for the nation to see-saw.

For Libertarians, the third rail is liberty and many of them are frustrated with Covid restrictions. They generally fear big government as a threat to liberty (and they have a point!). In most countries they are called classical liberals or right liberals, but here they are a small party called Libertarian. They’ve been called “liberals who love markets and lack bleeding hearts.” This liberty goes beyond economic choices to personal choices which is why many Christians don’t go full Libertarian. Many Libertarians have supported the Republican party since both see liberals as the biggest threat with big government and lots of intrusion.

Haidt recognizes that “markets are miraculous” in terms of resolving plenty of issues. He gives the example of health care, noting David Goldhill’s article “How American Health Care Killed My Father.” The problem is using insurance for routine matters instead of protection in catastrophic cases. We all want such insurance for some reason even though it drives up and obscures prices. Since you have to be “in network” there is no competition to lower prices and drive innovation. I used to joke that dealing with EOBs was CavWife’s part-time job. Because prices rise, care-motivated Liberals want to subsidize insurance for the poor or offer government healthcare for all. This means no competition and even less innovation so the situation worsens. Working markets produce supply to meet demand.

“Care and compassion sometimes motivate liberals to interfere in the working of markets, but the result can be extraordinary hard on a vast scale.”

Conservatives, having a broader moral matrix, are better able to detect threats to moral capital. They don’t resist all change, but change that will damage institutions and traditions tied to loyalty, authority or sanctity. One way Haidt puts it is “you can’t help the bees by destroying the hive.” Change that helps individuals but destroys society is not a good thing. You have to have groups even though they exclude some people. You need internal structure, and if you destroy them you destroy moral capital.

In a study, Putnam discovered that ethnic diversity didn’t bind people into networks of trust but actually dissolved trust. High immigration (don’t read that as immigration, the adjective matters)and diversity reduce social capital: both bridging capital (between groups and bonding capital (within a group).

“Diversity seems to trigger not in-group/out-group division, but anomie or social isolation. … people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’- that is, to pull in like a turtle.” Robert Putnam

I like diversity, but apparently there is a tipping point where it becomes a bad thing. Haidt, a liberal, notes that liberals “push for changes that weaken groups, traditions, institutions, and moral capital.” Their good intentions create havoc. In one of his counter-intuitive moves he says “emphasizing differences makes many people more racist, not less.” Conservative generally tend to the hive, while liberals to the bees. The hive is for the bees because without a hive you’ve got no bees.

More Civility

He argues that politics in America has become Manichaean. That is a form of Gnosticism with polarities. Your side is good and the other is evil. There is no common ground, no working together. This process began with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which moved many conservative Democrats into the Republican party in a massive realignment. Similar but smaller movements happened with the Reagan Democrats and Blue Dog Democrats. The moderates from both parties jumped ship leaving fewer swing votes and moderates. This was aggravated by Newt Gingrich encouraging incoming Republicans to keep their families at home so they spent more time in their districts. The unintended consequence was fewer friendships with people of the other party. With social capital disappearing, trust eroded and polarization increased.

If you want to understand “the other side” follow the sacredness: “figure out which one or two (moral foundations) are carrying the most weight in a controversy.” Friendly interactions can build trust and move the elephant. Like Neo, you need to enter the Matrix to defeat it. Try to enter their views to understand them and appeal to their moral foundations instead of demanding they embrace yours. Find those points of commonality, build that trust. It’s like evangelism, gaining the respect of outsiders so they become interested in your message.

“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”

 

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In 1980, Sinclair Ferguson published Add to Your Faith. In 1981 this was republished in the U.S. under the title Taking Your Faith Seriously. In his introduction to Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life, he calls it a “young man’s book.” As a result, Maturity is not simply an old book with a new title, but a re-working of the old book to reflect his greater understanding and wisdom 40 years later. Having not read the original version of this book, I am not qualified to compare the two volumes. I will, however, say this is a much-needed and excellent book.

Similar to Devoted to God, Ferguson notes that he prefers passages to proof-texts as his method. In Devotion, he used a passage that illustrates one of the illustrates an aspect of sanctification. This book is not structured that way, but as he approaches aspects of Christian maturity he looks a themes in books, focusing on a few passages instead of exegeting one passage. The 12 chapters are organized into 5 sections: Growing Up, Standing Firm, Facing Difficulties, Pressing On and Maturity.

In the first section, Growing Up, Ferguson tackles the topics of the Importance of Maturity, the Symptoms of Decay and Abiding in Christ. As indicated by the final chapter in this section, there is a strong emphasis on union & fellowship with Christ as essential to growing up in Christ. We are getting a bit ahead of ourselves in this matter. Maturity does take time and effort (an effort born of that mystical union with Christ, not an effort of the flesh). He begins with some of the hindrances of maturity including contemporary society, our personal history, “Christian” influences that don’t value maturity or communicate the process. Discipleship is not about quick returns, but delayed gratification. We are setting our hopes on God’s promises relating to the future which are often fulfilled when we see the Lord either thru death or His return. They are not all about the present or immediate future.

Ferguson points us to Jesus who also grew into maturity (Luke 2:42). He’s not simply our example, but the source of the resources necessary through the aforementioned union. As man, he was a real man who grew in wisdom and stature. He was a boy as a child, not a man in a boy’s body. Ferguson then surveys a number of epistles to show the importance and need of maturity. We see the great importance of love, and our need to hear the Word preached if we are to become mature.

“The disease diagnosed here is a failure in concentration, an inability to fix the heart and mind on Christ and to make him the chief object of devotion and attention.”

Decay is indicated by attention deficit, the inability to concentrate on spiritual matters. We become governed by our desires instead of the will of God. He also notes a poor appetite as a symptom of decay. This of course is about whether we are feasting on the Word or the world and its delights. One of these will shaping our thinking, desires/values and will/choices. When we are not chewing on Scripture, we begin to be conformed to the world instead of transformed by the renewing of our minds.

“Secret failure cannot remain hidden. If we do not deal with our indwelling sin, it will eventually catch up with us. We may disguise it for a while, but we will lack the perseverance to do so permanently; one day our spiritual failure will become clear.”

Another symptom is a lack of discernment, the inability to spot the problems in a teacher’s doctrine or practice. This doesn’t mean we should all be discernment bloggers, but that we do practice discernment: affirming what is good while rejecting what is bad. It is a rejection of man-made rules, and a dependence upon the grace of God. Weakness of worship is another sign of decay. We look for the pep rally instead of worshiping the exalted Christ who suffered for us, and calls us to suffering.

The third chapter in this section focuses on John 15 and the parable of the vine. We are branches that are grafted in, and this provides a picture of life-giving union with Jesus. The Father prunes us for greater fruitfulness thru providences and interventions. He begins to remove that which is unhelpful for our spiritual life and maturity, as well as shaping and molding us. Abiding with Christ is connected to having His Word dwell in you richly. He returns to the subject of feasting and chewing on the Scripture to gain nurturing truth.

“We need to learn to see our lives within his purposes and plans, not to think of him as fitting into ours!”

Standing Firm focuses on assurance and guidance. Moving toward maturity requires that we are assured of our salvation, and receive proper guidance from God. Otherwise we flounder wondering if we are saved and what we should do with our selves. He develops the idea, as he did in The Whole Christ, of faith as a direct activity and assurance as a reflex activity of faith. To we saved we must be sure that He saves those who believe, and believe. Assurance as a reflex activity has to do with whether or not Jesus has saved us because we believed, not simply whether there is salvation in Christ. Calvin focused on the objective assurance of faith as necessary. The reflex activity, which is reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith, not necessary, nor infallible (some sure they are saved are not because their certainty is based on something other than Jesus’ person and works). Ferguson spends time exploring Romans 8 to see the foundations of our assurance through the series of questions that Paul asks. If we are in Christ, no one can accuse us, condemn us or separate us from Christ. Opposition while seemingly great, is unable to thwart God and his purposes for us.

He then looks to some obstacles to assurance of salvation, also focusing on Romans 8 (Kevin DeYoung, for instance, goes to 1 John). He reflects the Westminster Confession, again. One is an inconsistent life as a Christian. He’s not talking about the presence of temptation, but the practice of unholiness. Forgetfulness of the indwelling Spirit is another obstacle for assurance. We can also be confused by suffering which often makes us think God does not love us.

Ferguson then looks at marks of assurance. They are laid out as:

  1. Satisfaction with God’s way of salvation.
  2. A new sense of security in Christ stimulates a new desire to serve him.
  3. Assurance fills our hearts with love for Christ.
  4. Boldness to live our lives for Christ.

“God does guide his people.” The question for the chapter is how God guides his people. We have to recognize that we won’t and can’t always understand what God is doing or up to in our lives. We can have guidance, but we won’t have comprehension. To illustrate the general views of guidance, Dr. Ferguson points us to the differences between Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. The point of using them is that neither was an extremist and is esteemed within the Reformed community most likely to read Ferguson’s book. Whitefield was prone to rely on “impressions”. Edwards focused on “the application of the precepts and principles of his word.” During an overnight stay in Northampton by Whitefield, the two talked about this. Edwards was concerned about the dependence on this sudden impulses. How do we know they are from God unless they are consistent with biblical commands or principles. The Spirit may bring these things to mind when we need them, but we should still stop to consider whether that impression or impulse is consistent with Scripture properly understood. But this reliance on impulses is highly subjective, and God doesn’t speak to which legitimate job I should take, which single Christian woman I should marry, which house I should buy, etc. God reveals those not by impressions but largely through circumstances (which offer is better for me and my family overall, which woman actually wants to marry me, or which house can my spouse and I agree upon).

The difficulties we face, which God works for our maturity, are largely things we have little to no control over. These are realities that can often dismay and discourage Christians. We need to begin to see them from a different angle as under the providence of God who uses them for our good, even if they themselves are not good. Those difficulties he covers are sin, temptation, spiritual warfare and suffering.

“Sin is the internal enemy of spiritual growth.”

The sin in question is our original corruption, the sinful nature, the remaining presence of sin as a power in our hearts. This corruption which produces temptations and transgressions is one of God’s means to keep us humble, and amazed at the glory of the gospel. This is something that gets lost in the SSA discussion for some. Some seem to grossly minimize the problem of pride, and the great means God uses to root it out of our hearts.

“There is a profound correlation in the Christian life between the consciousness of sin and the realization of the wonder and power of the gospel. … Until we realize how great the weight of sin is, we will not make much progress in pursuing holiness without which we will never see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).” … He sets up an ongoing cycle in our lives, convicting us of sin in order to deepen his work of sanctification in us.”

In this chapter, Ferguson keeps returning to Psalm 119. It is the Word that exposes sin and its power, the Word that holds out gospel promises, and the Word that the Spirit uses for our sanctification thru these means.

His chapter, Overcoming Temptation, is probably the best in the book. I read this just after reading the PCA Report’s section on temptation, and thought they would have benefited from talking with Dr. Ferguson. This, while only one chapter, is great stuff. As one friend would say, he puts the cookies on the counter when the kids can reach them. The cookies being John Owen’s penetrating but heady work on this topic. He defines temptation, and notes that as such it is not sin (by this I believe he means transgression based on the larger context of the chapter). He speaks of indwelling sin remaining and producing an inclination and disposition to sin (verb, to transgress, or actual sin). In temptation, however, the enemy speaks as if we are already condemned. Maturity begins to tune this out, not in a way that minimizes the real danger we are in, but in a way that we don’t fall into the trap that means we might as well go ahead and sin anyway, or that we are so vile we are beyond hope because we experience such temptations.

“So the distinction between temptation and sin is vital theologically and also pastorally.”

He then explores Owen’s distinction between temptation and “entering into temptation.” In that process he explores the process of temptation.

Internal desires ==> stimulated further by the world ==> weakness exposed & opportunity for the devil to stimulate further

But the key to “entering into temptation” is a sentence I missed somehow in Owen that ties it together well.

“Whilst it knocks at the door we are at liberty; but when any temptation comes in and parleys with the heart, reasons with the mind, entices and allures the affections, be it a longer or shorter time, do it thus insensibly and imperceptibly, or do the soul take notice of it, we ‘enter into temptation’.” John Owen, Works, VI, 97

We enter into temptation, or transgress (I think he uses them interchangeably if we recall that transgressions include thoughts). There is a parley or dialogue instead of immediately saying “no” to temptation. We begin to argue with our temptation, or entertain that temptation. At this point the temptation becomes transgression.

In this context, Ferguson goes to David’s temptations regarding Bathsheba and Uriah for illustration and explanation. Then he shifts to the complementary accounts of the census to discuss the doctrine of concurrence in the context of temptation.

“Here, taking the statements together, God, Satan, and David are all involved in one and the same action. We should not try to resolve the tension here…”

In terms of overcoming temptation, he advocates watchfulness, prayer and being armed against the enemy. He then writes about spiritual warfare. Spiritual conflict is another difficulty we must face. He brings us to Ephesians 6, like so many other books I’ve read recently. Our ordinary life is the context, the setting, for our spiritual conflict. Here the Enemy seeks to disrupt and discourage. The conflict reminds us that we are intended, and only successful as a result, to depend upon the Lord’s provision to us in Christ for this warfare. As in other chapters, we see references to Pilgrim’s Progress. There is also the influence of William Still, his pastor while a student. The following sounds like a paragraph in Still’s book Towards Spiritual Maturity:

“… sudden sinful and distasteful thoughts and temptations; moments of feeling overwhelmed by a sense of darkness; doubts that appear in our minds from nowhere.”

Suffering can, sadly, define us. I’ve seen men crippled by suffering. By this I mean all roads lead to their particular and personal suffering. They seemed unable to really move beyond it. Their fixation stunts their growth. Forgetting our suffering can also stunt growth. Ferguson brings us back to Psalm 119 to show us that God intends us to learn from our suffering but not be ensnared by that suffering. He breaks it down this way:

  1. Affliction brings our spiritual needs to the surface.
  2. Affliction teaches us the ways of God.
  3. Affliction shows us the faithfulness of God.

Ferguson then brings us to Paul and his thorn to help us understand these realities in the flesh. It was a sharp pain in his life. He was “‘cuffed’ by it, beaten black and blue as it were.” Our usefulness for the future necessitates our prior suffering. We need to be changed, and shaped by that suffering.

“Satan desperately tries to drive the holy man insane.” John Calvin

Ferguson then moves into the areas we have more control over in the section Pressing On: service and endurance. Serving moves us beyond ourselves and our needs to the needs of others. He interacts with 1 Corinthians and Hebrews. God gives us grace to serve just like He gives us pardoning and purifying grace. He covers some of the pitfalls and dangers if we don’t deal with our selfishness when seeking to serve.

Crossing the finish line at the London Marathon (Image: Reuters)

The reality is that Christians must keep going to become mature. They keep running that race, by grace. Ferguson again provides some hindrances like indwelling sin, sluggishness, discouragement and more. He then provides some encouragements focusing on Christ who has run the race before us.

The book concludes with a short chapter on living maturely. In many ways he reiterates much of what he has already said. Maturity doesn’t mean “retirement” but continuing the life you’ve been living to the glory of God by the grace of God. As a result, the repetition makes sense.

This is a book drenched in Scripture that continually encourages the reader to dig into and chew on Scripture as one of the primary means of grace for maturity. This book also bleeds Bunyan and John Owen. Ferguson loves the Puritans, but his loves are not narrow. There is plenty of Calvin, as well as Augustine and other church fathers. He also refers to some recent books which means that Ferguson is reading in “community” past and present as Richard Pratt encouraged us as students.

Sinclair Ferguson provides us with another great book in his “retirement”. This book could well serve as Sinclair Ferguson on the Christian Life, thinking of the Crossway series. It makes the theological practical and pastoral as Ferguson usually does. It’s a keeper.

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Bobster Foamerz Sunglasses (Black Frame, Anti-fog Amber Lens)How we view events is shaped, or colored, by the lenses we wear. Those lenses can help us to see more clearly, or distort what we see.

When I lived in NH I found a pair of amber sunglasses in a store. This was before they were “tech glasses” and part of the “only sold of TV” brands that are now also sold in Wal-Mart. But I digress. I loved them because I could wear them at night due to the glare of headlights. But everything looked yellow. They helped me to see more, but also colored how I saw things.

Most of us lack self-awareness. We don’t realize the lenses we wear when we examine events. But like those amber lenses, they filter and sometimes distort. These lenses are part of our worldview, but not simply our worldview. They can reflect our experiences, and our idols. They are not simply ideological but can include that.

RW Acrostics in Action

From the Relational Wisdom360 curriculum

I’ve written how the Covid-19 Controversy/Crisis reveals our idols. The crisis has produced controversy on a number of fronts connected to how to understand the disease, treat the disease and respond to the disease. Some people are aware of their lenses, and others …. not so much.

If we respond “You want people to die” (the new ‘you’re  Hitler’) it’s probably a good indication that we lack both self-awareness and other-awareness. We haven’t stopped to think what drives us, what is driving them, and particularly what God thinks about both.

I thought I’d lay my cards on the table. Here are the lenses I am looking through to understand this controversy/crisis.

Pastor:

I am vocationally a pastor which means I am theologically trained. I am also trained as a counselor meaning, in both cases, I see theology as something to applied to personal lives. This has a number of doctrines in view but I’ll focus on the providence of God and our creation in the image of God.

This crisis is not accidental, and not arbitrary. It happens within God’s plan and purpose for both humanity and individuals. While the prospect of death and the loss of others I love is not pleasant, I’m not scared. The fact that I can’t control it doesn’t mean it is out of control. Or that the virus is in control. It doesn’t “speak” to us, though we gain information through data compilation and analysis.

If we were to ask why God would ordain a pandemic we’d have to add the doctrine of sin into the mix. I’m not talking about personal sin but Adam’s sin and our condition as sinners in a fallen world. Adam’s disobedience as our covenant head (representative before God) brought all of us into the consequences of sin: what we call the curse while on earth, and death. Adam sinned and everybody dies.

So, I’m NOT saying the people who die are bigger sinners than those who do. We are all in the same boat. We just die differently. Therefore I see death as ordinary, though often unexpected and untimely. The process of death can be quite unpleasant.

As a pastor I’ve been with people who knew they  were dying (usually cancer), as well as with people as they die. I’ve heard death rattles, that final breath as people shed the mortal coil. I’ve had to face death up close and personal and therefore don’t live in a fairy tale land where people don’t die. They die every single day and nothing we do will stop that.

The providence of God doesn’t rule out what we call secondary means. We have responsibility to take reasonable means in the case of a pandemic. So, don’t interpret what I’m saying as “do nothing, God will take care of it.” However, someone who takes even the greatest of measures for protection can get sick.

We were made in the image of God. There are a number of aspects to this. Here are a few: we were made to live in community and we were made to both work and rest.

HSaint Augustine - Tomas Giner.JPGow do I get there? Well, in 1 John we read “God is love.” Augustine is one of the more famous theologians to use this profound statement as proof of the Trinity. The lover must have a beloved. The eternal love  must have an eternal subject and object. God has subsisted eternally as Trinity, a community of love and fellowship between Father, Son and Spirit.

Made in the likeness of this God, we were made to live in loving fellowship with God and other human beings- witnessed in the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, as well as God’s provision of marriage as a one flesh union. Made to love, I see our prolonged stay at home orders (like solitary confinement) to be contrary to our nature, devolving the image of God and therefore destructive to our mental health. As people with bodies as well as souls love includes both body and soul, and therefore this new norm of Zoom meetings is a sad, insufficient substitute. We criticize the younger generations as the text generation, but now we are becoming people who have to rely on it. We were made to hug, hold hands, shake hands etc., not withhold ourselves from each other assuming they have a deadly plague.

In Genesis 1-2 we see God working 6 days and resting on the 7th. God works, setting a pattern for us. That this is part of the image is clarified in the 10 Commandments (Ex. 20 & Deut. 5). We are to work 6 days (we forget this part) and rest one (many seem to resent this one). There can be reasons in God’s providence we don’t work (disability or unemployment). But for an otherwise healthy person to not work is difficult psychologically because we are made in God’s image.

I’ve been through periods of unemployment and the problem is far beyond the bank account. Men, in particular, struggle emotionally with not working outside the home. A man who does not work is more prone to drug abuse, depression and suicide. Families forced to stay at home, especially if one can’t work, is dangerous. We are already seeing increases in domestic violence, child abuse (sexual, physical and emotional) and suicides.

Sorry, Governor Cuomo, some of these are death, and some of these haunt people their whole lives. Look in the eyes of sexual abuse victim, Governor, and tell them if was for the greater good.(Yes, he ticks me off)

“You just want people to die!” minimizes the real suffering we are causing by our actions. Death is inevitable, sexual abuse, suicide, drug addiction & overdose are not.

Economist:

My undergraduate degree is in Economics. I went to Boston University long before AOC went there for her PhD in Economics. When I was there in the 80’s the professors frowned upon Keynesian economics (dependence upon government intervention instead of the self-correcting market). Von Mises and Hayak were never mentioned, but they pretty much could have been. Government intervention was seen as essentially “flattening the curve”: while making the correction less intense, it also prolonged the inevitable correction. Depressions and recessions became longer, not shorter. You don’t spend your way out, in part, because you create new problems.

Right now government expenditures are going through the roof and revenues are plummeting since many people are prohibited from working. This is unsustainable as some states are teetering on bankruptcy (due to decades of financial mismanagement brought to crisis point earlier than anticipated by the crisis) and looking to a federal government deeply in debt to bail them out. Other nations are in the same boat too! But money doesn’t grow on trees, it is earned. We are creating an unsupportable debt for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren so we can not work now.

Oh, you may say, we can just print more money. Well, that makes the money worth less and eventually worthless. During Carter’s presidency we had “stagflation”, high unemployment and high inflation. People weren’t working to make money and the value of what they made (or given to them by government) was diminishing so you could buy less and less with what little you had. Eventually you hit hyperinflation. Look at Venezuela, people!

Do we really want to do that to ourselves? To our children? Grandchildren? How many livelihoods is a life worth? In other words, how many lives do we have to trash to save a life? As a pastor, I care about and for those people. They aren’t just a statistic to me.

Am I heartless? No. I am a realist. People die, every day. We assume risk every day because we can’t afford to eliminate risk. People die in car accidents every day because we can’t afford to eliminate that possibility. This is but one example. But look at the other diseases people die from daily. We could potentially eliminate them but we can’t afford to. Even when we poor tons of money into research, decades don’t always produce the cure we want (cancer, Aids, Alzheimer’s etc.). We have to think of polio as the exception, not the rule. But plenty of people still die of leprosy, malaria and measles each year despite there being vaccines and treatments.

A Parent:

I love my kids. I want to be here for my kids, but I know that is not guaranteed. I learned that as a child. On one side of my house lived the Baileys. They had 2 kids younger than me. He died of cancer when they were about 7 and 5. On the other side was my friend Jason whose father died of a heart attack when we were about 8. I can’t control whether or not I’m around to see them graduate and get married. I want to be, and don’t take unnecessary risks.

I care about how my kids will live as adults. I don’t want them living on the dole. They are healthy and productive. They should be able to provide for themselves. But the choices we make as a nation now may rob them of that. Those choice may limit educational opportunities, vocational choices and their social/emotional health.

A Son (and Grandson):

I lost both of my grandfathers when I was 5. I’m thankful that my kids know their grandfathers. They have a gift I didn’t have. Not everyone gets that gift, and we’re not in control of that.

Earlier this year my mom died. She had Alzheimer’s. Her memory faded quickly, but her body didn’t. The insurance was going to run out this year. I hated what it was doing to my father, and could do to him financially. When she died from a stroke in January we grieved, and were relieved. Those things were not mutually exclusive. I know the sorrow of death, but I also know it is inevitable. And unpredictable. I don’t want people to die, but I accept that people do die.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with my take on the controversy. I don’t want everyone to die, but I acknowledge they will. There is nothing we can do about that. We may postpone it in some cases, but even that is under the providence of God. Our (American) God-wish is a fantasy. We do need to think about the living and what this does to them, not simply the sorrow but the life we are creating for them a few years down the road. We are left with difficult choices, and those require some compromises.

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A Christian's Pocket Guide to How We Got the Bible (Pocket Guides)Another free book I got at the RTS Alumni and Friends lunch was How We Got the Bible: Old and New Testament Canon and Text by Greg Lanier. It is part of the Christian’s Pocket Guide series by Christian Focus books.

As the title indicates this is a brief introductory study into understanding why the books in the Bible are in the Bible and whether we have an accurate text. Modern scholarship and the media have been busy to undermine our confidence in the Scriptures, and Islam has also been at work to distort people’s view of the Scriptures.

Lanier briefly summarizes the need for this information. He addresses these questions in 6 chapters, though the last is just a few pages as he offers concluding thoughts. He wanted to provide a brief, non-academic book so lay people can have answers they need when challenges to the canon or the texts arise, and they do.

Canon has to do with which books belong, and don’t belong in the Bible. Textual criticism has to do with understanding which texts are the best, or most accurately reflect the original manuscripts.

He begins with understanding the Bible as a Divine Deposit. There have been books that have been discovered that some argue should be in the Bible. Novelists like Dan Brown have had popular stories that argue that the Church has conspired to keep these books out of the Bible. How can we know that these “lost books of the Bible” aren’t really part of the Bible?

Muslims often argue that the Church has changed the Bible since the rise of Islam since they think Muhammad is one of God’s prophets. They want their understanding of the Bible to supplant historic Christianity’s understanding of the Bible.

He defines Scripture as:

“the inspired deposit of writings received as divinely authoritative for the covenant community.”

This is an important definition. We believe they are writings that have been inspired or breathed by God. They were received by the covenant community. This is a distinctively Protestant view. We do not think the Church formed the canon, but rather received it. Scripture is also a covenant document intended for God’s people to know who He is, who we are with respect to Him, what He does for us and also what He requires of us. The first chapter unpacks these ideas in a succinct and clear fashion. It provides the foundation for the next 4 chapters in which he addresses the canon and then text of the Old and then New Testaments or covenants.

The question of the Old Testament canon identifies differences not only regarding “lost books” but differences between Protestants, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox with regard to the Apocrypha. Protestants recognize the Jewish canon, those books recognized by Jews as divinely inspired covenant documents. He explains the three-fold shape of the Old Testament: Law, Prophets and Writings. Law, or Torah, came first and relates the giving of the Old Covenant. The Prophets apply the covenant to the people in later times, and hold out the promise of the new covenant. These cite the Law as divinely inspired. Many of the prophets will also affirm the message of earlier prophets as divinely inspired, as well as often claiming such inspiration for themselves in prophetic formula. The writings contain sections also found in the Law and Prophets.

In terms of the Apocrypha there is little evidence that those books, or additional chapters were understood by Jewish communities as divinely inspired. In the early church there was little agreement about them. This means a few people may have included some of them but most did not. Augustine, for instance, affirmed all found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Eastern Orthodox Church followed his lead. Jerome used them as helpful but did not admit them as authoritative. This view held in the Roman Church until the Council of Trent which declared they were part of Scripture.

The Protestant churches have followed Jerome in finding them (possibly) helpful but not authoritative for faith and life. Some, like Calvin, thought they could be helpful. Most Protestant Bibles don’t contain them, and they are not generally read by most Protestants.

Moving to the text themselves, Lanier discusses the kinds of manuscripts we have and how they compare with one another. Another factor is the translations of the Old Testament we have, which themselves are over 2,000 years old. Those would be Greek, Samaritan, Aramaic, Latin and others. As a result we have many manuscripts and fragments to compare and find the best to form the texts that serve as the basis for our modern translations. The God who inspired the Old Testament texts also preserved them sufficiently for us.

Lanier then moves on to the canon of the New Testament. Contrary to Dan Brown’s fictional assertions, there was no council to form the canon. The canon is those books that were used and recognized by the early church. In this he discusses the centrality of the gospel, or new covenant, eyewitnesses, oral and written records. Unlike the books we find in our Bibles, these “lost books” were not received and recognized by the early church. Those who affirmed them we recognized as heretics. There are some books that the early church did use, like the Didache, which they found helpful but never recognized as inspired and authoritative. We see this from how the church fathers write about them.

from NT Bad Arguments

We then move into the question of whether we have the right words. He brings up former Christian and current skeptic Bart Ehrman. He can’t thoroughly refute Ehrman’s arguments, but generally refutes them. He mentions the Muslim doctrine of tahrif al-nass which states that “Jews and Christians have intentionally corrupted the text. As a result the NT doesn’t mention Muhammad (let’s ignore that it was written 500+ years before Muhammad). The text that Muhammad affirmed in 600 is older than many of the manuscripts we have today. Their doctrine is an illogical red herring.

He begins with discussing where our English Bible comes from. This refers to the formation of the Greek texts used in the vast majority of translations. We return to the large number of manuscripts available to us that have been found in archeological digs and copies by scribes. The relative number of differences is small, and largely insignificant. He discusses scribal errors and corrections, as well as how the better copyists provided marginal notes which help us as well. We also have ancient Latin, Syriac and Coptic translations.

He does all of this efficiently. He doesn’t ignore issues or sweep them under the rug. He instead shows how we’ve worked to find the oldest and best manuscripts to get closest to the autographs using a variety of sources. Integrity is revealed in our footnotes where the most significant issues in our translations are there for all to see. Lanier handles the task well and understandably. You won’t be an expert after reading this, but you’ll have a good idea of how to address many of the most significant objections raised.

I will close with his closing thoughts.

  1. We should be clear on what Scripture is in the first place.
  2. We should have confidence that we do have the ‘right’ OT/NT books.
  3. We should have confidence that we have the ‘right’ words of the OT/NT.

“How did we get the Bible? The answer to this question driving this book is clear. ‘Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,’ and the written deposit has been transmitted in the covenant community with high integrity, by the providence of God, ever since. Through these Scriptures, we are all, now, witnesses of these things: Christ suffered and died and on the third day rose again, so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins may be proclaimed to all the nations.”

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IOut of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope. became familiar with Christopher Yuan’s story when my wife gave me a copy of Out of a Far Country written by Christopher and his mother Angela. It is the story of his coming out of the closet, dropping out of dental school and pursuing a gay lifestyle, his parents’ initial rejection, their conversion and subsequent pursuit of Christopher and his conversion after being imprisoned as a drug dealer.

In the course of that story he mentioned the concept he called ‘holy sexuality’. At the time, I hoped he’d develop that further. Over the years I was disappointed that he didn’t. His name would arise periodically as a wave of controversies regarding how the church is to interact with people experiencing same-sex attraction arose.

The Revoice controversy was perhaps the worst of the lot. In many ways it seemed to be an exercise in talking past one another. At least that was my experience of many of those discussions and debates. These controversies reveal that the Church still needs to talk about how to faithfully and effectively serve those who experience same-sex attractions.

Recently I discovered that he’d released Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story in the fall of 2018. I bought a copy for myself, and by faith one for the church library. It was my hope that this could be helpful in helping us work through these issues.

He tackles a number of the issues that lay at the heart of the various controversies. It is not a big book, so it sticks to the point and does not overwhelm with information. At times he interacts (briefly) with opposing views. That can be too brief at times, for instance his discussion of Matthew Vines on the issue of ‘bad fruit’.

He begins with the reality of God’s Story which is intended to help us to understand and shape our story. This refers to the history of redemption (creation ==> fall ==> redemption ==> consummation) found in Scripture intended to help us to understand life and the world. He moves into questions about identity, the image of God, and the reality of sin. He then introduces holy sexuality and dives into the issues of temptation, desire, orientation and then marriage and singleness. The book concludes with how to assist those who struggle with sexual sin in terms of sanctification, discipleship, and outreach. As you can see, the breadth of material covered is impressive.

TImage result for rosaria butterfieldhe book begins with a forward by his ‘big sister’ Rosaria Butterfield. There is some irony there. She was a lesbian professor/academic who became a Christian in the process of writing a book critical of the Religious Right due to the friendship that developed with a Presbyterian pastor and his wife. She left academia and ended up marrying a pastor. She regrets the work she did in laying the groundwork for the changes in our culture we’ve seen in the last 15 years regarding marriage and benefits.

He is a man who was gay, dropping out of dental school to basically live the party life. To support himself he became a drug dealer and ended up in prison. He saw a Bible in the trash and grabbed it because he was bored. He became a Christian and after getting out of prison went back to school and entered academia. He remains single, experiencing same-sex desires but seeking to live out a holy sexuality.

Rosaria’s forward covers some ground he will as well: union in Christ, the development of sexual orientation in the 19th century, that the real issue is not homosexuality but unbelief (which keeps us in Adam).

“The idol of our historical epoch is this: your sexual desires define you, determine you, and should always delight you.” Rosaria Butterfield

Yuan begins with discussing paradigms. Our identity shouldn’t be based on sinful practices, or what we can’t do (anymore). He expresses his frustration with the dynamics of the discussions, particularly the heterosexual-homosexual paradigm. I share his frustration. Between Christians as least, we should try to use biblical language. Too often I find people, both conservative and liberal, using cultural language for a very theological discussion.

He shares the story of Andy who was a classmate of his who was married. Eventually Andy left his wife because despite his prayers, God didn’t take those same-sex desires away. We’ve all known a guy like Andy. I know a few. Some left the faith without getting married. Others left their wives and their faith, leaving a trail of wreckage because they had to be “true to themselves”.

At some point people started to confuse their desires with their identity. Some conservatives further this despite their intentions in how they shape the gospel differently for people who practice homosexual sex. What many people with same-sex attractions hear is “If I am my desires, then who I am, not just my actions, are condemned. As I continue to feel these desires, I must still be condemned.” People like Andy are tempted to change their convictions because they confuse those desires with identity.

He notes that until the mid-1800’s, sexuality was about behavior, not orientation or identity. Carl Westphal was one of the earliest to use homosexuality to describe a person’s nature rather than behavior. Yuan does some philosophizing about the rise of identity through Romanticism and nihilism.

Sola experientia (‘experience alone’) won over sola Scripture (‘Scripture alone’).”

We do need to have a biblical anthropology, and speak consistently with that. I agree with Yuan and Butterfield that due to our union in Christ our identity is Christ. Where I ‘depart’ from them is in mandating that people speak the same way. Part of the Revoice controversy was about using the term “gay” or “homosexual Christian”. They were following Wesley Hill who says in his book Washed and Waiting that Christian refers to his identity and gay/homosexual his struggle (page 22). I don’t get bent out of shape when I understand that. Not the preferred terminology, but he’s often communicating with people who aren’t Christians and don’t typically speak about same-sex desire (they use the language of identity and orientation).

This is a practical difference, not a theological difference. In her book Openness Unhindered she has a chapter, Conflict: When Sisters Disagree, about this capacity to love people who speak differently. But her comments about the PCA and Revoice appear to have a very different approach. I’m a little frustrated with my sister. It’s okay- she’s still my sister!

YuImage result for christopher yuanan brings us back to Genesis for the imago dei and the reality of sin. These are foundational concepts that need to be addressed in these discussions. He speaks covenantally about our fall in Adam. We are guilty of our covenant head’s disobedience. We now have a fallen nature. This moves us into the reality of indwelling sin or a sinful nature. If we are off here, then the rest of the discussion will really miss the mark. If we make the wrong diagnosis, we’ll apply the wrong cure. This cuts both ways, for the culture war conservative and the progressive accommodationist.

To a sinner, sin feels natural and normal. This is because we have a darkened understanding and our thinking is futile (Rom. 1). ALL sinners have sinful distortions of our sexuality. We all want to live beyond the boundaries God has established for our sexual behavior in one way or another. Our problem is sin (the condition or state), not simply a particular sin. The person engaging in same-sex activity also sins in other ways. The issue is not simply same-sex desires and activity but sin (Adam’s and their own). Salvation is about sin, not simply sexuality. The goal is not heterosexuality but living in obedience to God through the grace of God.

Here is part of where things get murky in many debates I’ve had with people. I think Yuan is helpful. Here is some of what he says within this biblical framework:

“I’m not saying the capacity to have same-sex attractions or temptations is actual sin. However, the concept of original and indwelling sin fits every description of same-sex sexual orientation. Original sin is an unchosen condition, and indwelling sin is a persistent pattern of sinful desires or behaviors.”

He will later draw an important distinction between temptation and desire. Here is the distinction between a temptation to commit a sinful act and committing a sin. Some see the temptation itself as sin. Butterfield has a few confusing paragraphs in Openness Unhindered; confusing because they seem contradictory (first she says temptation isn’t sin but homosexual lust is- she could be using those terms to refer to temptation and inordinate desire respectively and then we’d be in agreement- see below). I wish Yuan spent time parsing John Owens seeming distinction between temptation and falling into temptation (which I think is that same distinction).

“Again: temptation is not a sin. But what you do with it may be.” Rosaria Butterfield, Openness Unhindered, pp. 83

“In addition, temptation is not a sin, but temptations to sin are never good. They are never from God. Therefore, patterns of temptation can never be sanctified.” Rosaria, pp. 123.

“Moving up the scale, homosexual or heterosexual lust is a sin- even the unintentional and persistent kind that springs up like a hiccup or a reflex.” Rosaria, pp. 123

This doesn’t make same-sex temptation okay or neutral. Nor is it ‘sanctifiable’. If acting upon such temptation is sin (it is!), then we should mortify those desires of the flesh as Paul tells us to do (Rom. 6 & 8). We are to make no provision for them because we’ve put on Christ (Rom. 13).

In some discussions I’ve brought up temptations to commit adultery or engage in pre-marital sex (heterosexual lust). Some who ardently oppose homosexuality, and are critical of organizations like Revoice say those temptations are ‘normal’, or ‘not contrary to nature’ as if one gets a pass because those are heterosexual sins. Such a view is quite unbiblical. Yuan confronts that common, faulty, view. Holy sexuality is not for homosexuals alone but for all Christians. We are to be chaste outside of marriage and faithful in marriage.

“Chastity is more than simply abstention from extra-marital sex; it conveys purity and holiness. Faithfulness is more than merely maintaining chastity and avoiding illicit sex; it conveys covenantal commitment.”

Yuan then focuses on temptation. This section could use some more work. For instance:

“As God, Jesus did not sin and in fact is incapable of sinning (this is call impeccability).”

He doesn’t address Jesus as man, who specifically obeyed as man in our place for our salvation. There is a huge mystery here that Yuan pretty much ignores. It was as man, additionally, that he may be made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10). Jesus resisted sin “all the way” while we often give up well before that. We don’t really know how powerful temptation is.

But Yuan correctly reminds us that as fallen humans (despite being united to Christ) we will experience temptation. This includes same-sex temptation (something some others I know seem to reject based on their understanding of regeneration). The issue is not whether you will be tempted, but what you do with it no matter what the temptation is. We are to be vigilant and put it to death!

He then moves from James 1 to James 4 to discuss desire, or inordinate desire. For many, the same-sex desires are not primarily erotic. It is about romance and being together. He notes that in many lesbian relationships romance drives the relationship, not sexual desire. This means that the problem isn’t just about sex, but the inordinate desire for a person of the same sex: friendship gone wild. Here he draws more upon Augustine than Owen. People can fall prey to “co-dependency, relational idolatry, sinful fantasies” and more.

“Nonsexual romantic desires are essentially yearning to become one with and be permanently and exclusively united to someone we hold dear.”

His discussion of marriage is short but helpful. Sadly some take “it is not good for man to be alone” out of context and make marriage about companionship. Marriage is about far more than companionship. It is about fulfilling the creation mandate together. Yuan gets that and explains that (citing Christopher Ash in the process). When we make marriage about companionship, the end of loneliness, we more quickly make marriage idolatrous (or disposable when this primary ‘goal’ isn’t met). Marriage becomes about me and my feelings, not about covenantal union to fulfill God’s mission. It isn’t less than companionship, but far more. Marriage is about someone who is the same but different. The same creature but the opposite gender. Like but not like.

Yuan also upholds the dignity and goodness of singleness. All people are single for much of their lives. They are not less than whole people. Jesus was not less of a person because he was single. At times in this chapter he seems to display some characteristics of New Covenant Theology rather than Covenant Theology. Yes, we must be born again but we still have the truth that “this promise is for you and your children” (Gen. 17 ==> Acts 2). God works through generations as well as in individuals. I also disagree with some of his implications about 1 Corinthians 7 while agreeing with his main point. Singleness is not a lesser state or a death sentence.

Singles should be able to have vibrant relationships with their spiritual family. Couples and families need to do better in caring for single adults and inviting them into the web of relationships. Singles (and the infertile) can have spiritual descendants through evangelism and discipleship. God provides plenty of meaning in life for those who are not married. Being single is a calling all have at some point (sometimes more than once), a calling we can walk faithfully in because of the indwelling Spirit.

He then moves back to holy sexuality and the process of sanctification. Justified and sanctified Christians experience temptations. Some still experience same-sex temptations. We are already new creatures in Christ, but not yet completely new. We are in process, in part because God is humbling us and one way to humble us is the presence of temptations.

“… because of our union with Christ, we can hate our sin without hating ourselves.”

He then deals with some bad theology by Matthew Vines. Vines interprets “bad fruit” to mean physical harm or emotional despair. Theology that produces hardship and distress is false doctrine, in his view. Therefore because so many homosexuals struggle with suicide, the teaching of the church must be wrong. Yuan takes him quickly to task. “Bad fruit” is sin or the lack of repentance. There is no true discipleship without denying oneself, which is painful. He also takes on Jen Hatmaker who blames so much suicidal ideation among gay youth for the church’s historic (biblical) stance on same-sex relationships. Yuan notes studies in secular countries, quite accepting of same-sex relationships, which also have similarly high rates of suicide among homosexuals. The problem is not the church’s teaching.

He moves into reminding us to be compassionate toward those experiencing same-sex desires, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. His parents rejected him before they were Christians and then loved and pursued him after they converted. He brings us to the parable of the Good Samaritan, reminding us that the original audience were to see themselves as the beaten man. We’ve received compassion from Jesus Christ, and compassion we should show.

He also provides some guidance for outreach. Often we need to listen and ask questions. They often believe we hate them. Like his parents, we may have to love them for a long time in tangible ways. He also provides some practical advice for when someone opens up to us.

Lastly he provides some basic instruction on discipleship. He pushes that you need a mentor, not simply a friend or counselor. This means that the local church, and ordinary means of grace, are central. Yes, we need peers but we also need older more Christians speaking into our lives, challenging us and calling us to deny ourselves and follow Jesus. We need to have the right goal in mind: holiness, not heterosexuality.

At the end of the book there is an 8-session study guide to work through the material. He wants this book to be helpful to people and churches. I think it will be helpful for the Church to sort through ministry to people with same-sex desires. I hope it will help us to sit and listen to one another, understand what people mean, identify the common ground (rather than assume it or the areas of disagreement) so we can move forward helpfully. Our desire should be to see people caught in this sin come to saving faith in Christ, and then to walk faithfully in holy sexuality for their good and His glory. This is a book worth reading.

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For those who have forgotten, my reading project this year is 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, a church history set by Nick Needham. Each quarter I’m reading one of the 4 volumes in the set. Due to vacation I started the 3rd volume a little late but finished it before the end of the quarter. A whole week to spare.

Volume 3 covers the Renaissance and Reformation. It covers quite a bit of material since the Reformation was not a uniform movement. By no means am I an expert on the history of the Reformation, but have read a fair amount. Needham provided plenty of nuance in his discussion, bringing in other factors that influenced people and events. There was plenty here I didn’t know and found beneficial particularly on interactions between groups seeking elusive unity. One issue that kept arising, and preventing union, was communion. Attention is paid to the different views and meetings over those views. Another distinctive mark of the series so far is present here as well. He addresses events in Eastern Orthodoxy during this time period in the final chapter. That he refuses to limit himself to Europe is one of the strengths of this set.

The first chapter covers the Renaissance, which in God’s providence give birth to the Reformation. The humanists were those who developed a great fondness and dependence on the “ancient books” that had in many places been forgotten. They began to read Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and fell under the spell of Greek and Hebrew. It was a revival of the knowledge of the past. There were pockets of the Renaissance in Italy, Germany, England, France and Spain. It was not a uniform movement with ideological goals. But many humanists, like Erasmus, begin to see and confront the problems they saw in the church. There were some theological critiques due to the renewed influence in Augustine, but largely they focused on moral issues.

The humanists laid the groundwork for the Reformation by bringing the study of Greek and Hebrew, and Augustine (among others) back into vogue. Many began to realize the rich heritage of the Church and how it differed at points with parts of their contemporary church. The theology of Rome was not uniform either. The theological aspects of the Reformation would later produce more uniformity in Roman Catholic theology as a response.

There were “Reformers” before Luther, people who expressed “evangelical” theology and called for changes within the Church. They would influence communities, but not a nation like Luther did. Needham notes people like John of Wesel who held to an early form of sola scriptura, attacked indulgences, rejected transubstantiation and enforced celibacy of priests. He was deposed from his office and subjected to the Inquisition. 79 years old, the Inquisition was too much for him and he renounced his “heresies”. He was sentenced to imprisonment in an Augustinian convent where he died 2 years later. Wessel Gansfort was a teacher who made many of the same criticisms, though he accepted a form of transubstantiation. He managed to escape the Inquisition. Girolamo Savonarola led a moral reform in Florence in which people burned their pornography, cosmetics and gambling devices. In his preaching he also attacked the corruption of the papal court. He was a strong Augustinian, and therefore drew the ire of the Franciscans.

One of the ironies of the Renaissance is the rise of the witch hunt. In such a time of great learning, there was also a time of great superstition and fear regarding black magic. Over 300 years governments put thousands of men and women accused of black magic to death. Estimates range (widely from 100,000 to as much as 9 million). For instance, in Geneva while Calvin was alive 2-3 women a year were executed by the government for witchcraft. Most were hanged, not burned.

Martin Luther by Cranach-restoration.tifNeedham moves to Luther in whom all of this took root, and through whom all of this came to be a crisis that rocked Europe. While a monk and professor, Luther’s spiritual guide was Johannes von Staupitz. He was a professor of biblical studies at Wittenberg University, as well as a disciple of Augustine. He was highly influential on Luther. Luther would take over Staupitz’ duties in 1512.

The initial dispute was over indulgences. Eventually the dispute moved to the root of that dispute: justification. But this took a few years. Luther’s personal breakthrough on the issue of justification likely took place in 1518-19 (with Melanchthon’s help), after the 95 Theses sparked the controversy. Men like Spalatin, Carlstadt and Melanchthon joined Luther. Some for a time (Carlstadt) and others for a lifetime (Melanchthon).

As one considers the Reformation, you see the different tensions that emerge. There was the theological tension between Augustine and Aquinas (despite being greatly influenced by Augustine), nationalism and the Holy Roman Empire, informed faith and implicit faith. The Reformation was about salvation, worship and Church government as well as the Church’s relationship with government.

The 3rd chapter focuses on 1521-1531 as Luther’s views began to shake up and shape much of Germany. In Germany a state church developed under the authority of the magistrate. There were no more Church courts, thereby unrolling the reforms of Hilbebrand.

All was not fine and dandy however. It was the Peasant’s Revolt, which was a misunderstanding and misapplication of Christian liberty among other things. There was also the iconoclast vision of Carlstadt and Zwilling in Wittenberg. They were concerned with actions, not hearts and went far beyond where Luther was willing and disrupted the city.

This period includes the beginning of the Swiss Reformation under Zwingli. While there were many common points with Luther, the one big difference was the Lord’s Supper. While they tried to work it out, it seemed insurmountable. Luther would condemn the Swiss Reformed, not even counting them as brothers. The milder Melanchton would maintain his friendship with them and would end up counting John Calvin as one of his best friends.

Martin Bucer by German School.jpgNeedham then brings us to Calvin whose reformation when deeper than Luther’s on many points. It would have gone deeper still if not for the hindrances of the local magistrate which saw itself as controlling the church. Under this chapter he includes Bucer who would have a great influence on Calvin, as well as Peter Martyr. Martyr would work with Calvin to “finalize” the Reformed doctrine of communion as distinct from transubstantiation, Luther’s view and Zwingli’s memorial view. Emphasis was placed on our union with Christ, the nature of signs and the role of faith in receiving that which they symbolized by virtue of that union.

He then focuses on Calvin. One of Calvin’s contributions was his view of the Church in distinction to the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anabaptist views. Calvin is dependent on Bucer but was able to say it better, with more force and able to implement it far more than Bucer did. They distinguished between the visible and invisible church, argued that the church and state work together but that the church was not controlled by the state. The church must exercise church discipline lest the visible church become corrupt.

Needham spends a fair amount of space on the controversy with Servetus. This “tragic episode” should be seen in a larger context of Calvin’s controversy with the Libertines or Perrinists. The Libertines opposed Calvin in his desire to enforce moral discipline. They often had loose morals and many held hetrodox views: pantheism, denying the inspiration of the Scriptures etc.. The Libertines made life very difficult for Calvin: so difficult he often wished God would let him leave. At the time of the Servetus trial and execution, Ami Perrin was the chief magistrate.

Michael Servetus.jpgServetus was considered a heretic by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike for his denial of the Trinity. Over the years he had correspondence with Calvin in which Calvin tried to reason with him. Eventually Calvin decided to no longer offer pearls to swine. Servetus was arrested and condemned by the Inquisition, but escaped the prison before he could be executed. For reasons unknown he went to Geneva where he was arrested.

The trial was a contest not only between Servetus and Calvin (a primary witness against him) but also between Calvin and the Libertines (who controlled the city council). In one of histories great ironies, Servetus believed that the magistrate should put heretics to death. He just didn’t believe he was the heretic. The Libertines used this as an opportunity to harass Calvin, putting every conceivable obstacle in the way to justice according to Genevan law. They strung it out even as they knew they couldn’t acquit him with all the western world watching. The council condemned him to death by burning. Calvin argued for a quicker, less cruel manner of death. His old friend, Farel, called Calvin soft.

The Libertines had destroyed their credibility by how they conducted the trial. In the next elections they lost power. In response they staged a riot, for which the ringleaders including Perrin were arrested and convicted. Most were banished, but Perrin was sentenced to death. He was able to flee Geneva to Berne to avoid his sentence. But the Libertines troubled Geneva no more.

Calvin’s work as a pastor and theologian of the first order was not carried out in ease. “He was a constant martyr to arthritis, migraine headaches, bleeding from the stomach, bowel disorders, hemorrhoids, inflamed kidneys and kidney stones, fever, muscle cramps, and gout.” He endured all of these without the benefit of modern medicine.

The 5th chapter covers what is called the Radical Reformation. Needham views this time as one of Reformations, not a single Reformation with different branches. This is due to the complexity of this phenomenon regarding theology and the view of the state and worship.

Needham identifies three Radical tendencies. Any group may have more then one of these tendencies, but any one of them put them outside of the Lutheran and Magisterial Reformations. Those three tendencies were Anabaptism (rejection of infant baptism and baptizing people “again”), Spiritualist (rejecting the authority of the Word for the Spirit apart from the Word) and Rationalist (rejecting the authority of the Scriptures for the authority of one’s on reason).

Some groups majored on Anabaptism, thinking the Reformers at the time weren’t going far enough in their rejection of Rome. Many of them were peaceful groups wanting to live out their faith in an increasingly dangerous environment due to the political realities of the time. One of their distinctive views was that of a “pure church” comprised only of the truly committed. Today this is expressed in a “regenerate church” in which being in the covenant is conflated with salvation. This is the presupposition that drives credobaptism. Zwingli, for instance, believed the Swiss Brethren were asking too much of him- to abandon the existing church and form this new separatist religious communities. Early on, Anabaptists like Grebel did not seek to change the mode of baptism to immersion but that would come and become a shibboleth for “real baptism” among Baptists today. Zwingli saw their baptisms and celebration of the eucharist as anarchy since they were outside of the established church.

They also seemed to shun theology. The Schleitheim Confession is a case in point. It “dealt exclusively with matters of morality and Church order.” With regard to the latter it develops their understanding of the ban or shunning. They thought everything flowed out of lifestyle, and theology arose from their “ethical and communal concerns”, which is quite the opposite of the Magisterial Reformation and Luther. This led to a rejection of the Augustinian views of salvation found among the Reformers. They were semi-pelagian or even Pelagian in their understanding of salvation. They rejected the forensic doctrine of justification by faith alone, and maintained Rome’s conflation of justification and sanctification. Like Rome they feared it was a license to sin.

Since Zwingli was forced to engage them on baptism, his own position changed. Early on he wrote that infant baptism was “neither right nor wrong.” In 1523 he was committed to infant baptism. In his engagement with the Anabaptists he formalized a biblical defense of infant baptism rooted in the covenant and connected to circumcision. One of his key texts was Romans 4, which was one of the key texts in my transition to Reformed infant baptism.

Unfortunately, some Anabaptist groups began predicting the return of Christ. Perhaps this was a consequence of their pure, or true, Church focus. Now that the true Church had been established, Christ would/could return.

MennoSimons.gifMenno Simons was one of the more balanced Anabaptists. But one way he differed significantly from the Reformers was his formulation of sola Scriptura. He disallowed any appeal to tradition. It was not simply that Scripture alone is the final authority, but cleaved Scripture and the church from the past for help in understanding Scripture. That is a very dangerous place to be.

The more a group also drank from the Spiritualist well the more dangerous that group became. This thread subordinated all external authorities, including Scripture, to the “living voice of God speaking directly in in the individual’s heart.” It was about “inward personal experience.” Sebastian Franck went so far as to argue that God deliberately placed contradictions in the Bible to point us away from it to the Spirit. At its worst it also resulted in the Munster community which was filled with sexual license and violence before the armies came to lay siege.

The Rationalist Radicals subordinated all external authorities, including to Scripture, to human reason, often called “right reason”. As a result they rejected the doctrines which were revealed but not provable by reason: the Trinity and the Incarnation. The most famous of them was Socinus.

Needham moves to the topic of Europe divided. Here is where the politics of the time rises in prominence. There were power struggles galore as states sought independence from the Holy Roman Emperor and regional churches sought independence from Rome and the Pope. At times it stained the Protestants, including Luther, Melanchthon and Bucer, when they approved of the bigamy of Philip of Hesse. This was significant because Philip’s role in the Schmalkaldic League which united Lutheran states against the Emperor. When Luther died, Charles struck and defeated the League. He could defeat their armies, but not their faith.

The Reformation spread to the Scandinavian countries, first gaining a toe hold in Denmark. Luther’s death also saw the growth of the Reformed faith in Germany due to the work of people like Peter Martyr. France experienced stiff resistance to the Reformed faith with quite a few persecutions and eventually a war that split the nobility. The Catholic League formed an alliance with Spain to destroy the Huguenots. Philip Duplessis Mornay, a Huguenot, developed Calvin’s statements on the lesser magistrate into A Defense of Liberty against Tyrants, which would be a theological justification for the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the horrible excesses of the French Revolution.

In addition to the divisions on the European continent, divisions would come to the British Islands. The 7th chapter focuses on England and Scotland. Here as well politics and religion formed a dangerous combination at times with persecution breaking out periodically, particularly by Mary as she sought to restore Catholicism as England’s faith. It all began with a king’s idolatrous pursuit of an heir. His three children from three mothers led to a see saw effect. Edward embraced Protestantism, Mary Catholicism and Elisabeth was Protestant but more concerned with uniformity. Her Act of Supremacy reasserted the throne as the Head of the Church of England setting the stage for the rise of the Puritans and the English Civil War.

In Scotland there was no king like Henry VIII, but plenty of internal struggle between Catholic royalty and Protestant nobility. We see the rise of John Knox (who spent time in England and Geneva as well as a French slave galley to make for an interesting resume).

The Catholic Counter-Reformation was not quite uniform. Needham spends some time on the evangelical Catholics. They affirmed justification by faith alone but typically maintained allegiance to the Pope and the doctrine of transubstantiation. One of these was Luther’s old mentor, Staupitz. While a faithful Catholic, his books were placed on the index of forbidden books in 1563. Others included Albert Pighius, Jacob Sadoleto and Juan de Valdes.

One the other side of the spectrum was the rise of Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits. A former military man, he organized his order in similar fashion and acted like it was on, moving into “enemy territory” to reconvert the Protestants.

Rome also responded to the Reformation with the Council of Trent. Intended to be ecumenical, it was anything but that. The Pope(s) and Emperor struggled over the Council including its composition and location. They each had factions loyal to them. The Catholic Evangelicals were involved in early meetings but soon were pushed out. Roman Catholic theology had a greater breadth and variety leading up to the Reformation. Trent changed all that, bringing greater uniformity with its anathemas and affirmations. Needham notes that the anathemas were largely aimed at straw men. They consistently misinterpreted Protestants.

In the East, the Church fell on hard times to the spread of the Ottoman Empire. The courting of Rome for help didn’t work, and alienated much of the Orthodox masses who greatly resented the Pope and Roman Catholicism. The Russian Orthodox, among others, saw this compromise as close to apostasy. The Ottoman Empire defeated Constantinople and made Christians 2nd class citizens. They allowed the Patriarch of Constantinople to exist, but began to appoint men to the position. There was some correspondence with the Lutherans who wanted to remind Rome that there were churches tracing their roots to the early church that rejected Rome and the Pope’s authority. It didn’t get far due to stark theological differences.

The power vacuum created by the Ottoman conquest was filled by Moscow which was granted the position of Patriarch city. Oddly, the Russians didn’t seek to push the Ottomans out of Constantinople. While offended that Constantinople looked West instead of North, they did nothing about it. But the compromise of the South lead Russian Orthodoxy to believe they alone held to the true faith, a view which still exists today.

There is obviously much more in this volume. I’ve only touched on some highlights. As usual, this volume is engaging in its writing. Some history can be dreadfully dull as written. Needham’s isn’t. He hits on some points that other historians seem to overlook. He also rejects the temptation to neglect the Eastern Church after the Great Schism. This is good and informative reading that includes sections of original source material. Can’t beat that.

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Another quarter, and another volume of Nick Needham’s church history set, 2,000 Years of Church History. The second volume covers The Middle Ages. I mentioned the layout of the books in discussing volume 1. This volume is about 440 pages long. Reading about 10 pages per day, I was able to read a chapter a week and be done in 10 weeks. This makes for a very doable project, and you aren’t overwhelmed with all the information that is found in this thus far excellent series.

He  begins this volume with Islam and the Church. We’d join Paul in saying that even if an angel preaches another gospel to you, they are to be anathematized (Gal. 1). While Mohammad claims to have received a vision from an angel, his message is very different from Paul’s gospel and therefore to be rejected.

Islam did spread through military conquest. Some of the churches in conquered lands were treated fairly well, particularly the Arian and monophysite churches. He distinguishes between the Sunni and Shia muslims in addressing their first “civil war”. Most Christians were placed in segregated communities and treated as second-class citizens, often with a heavy tax. At times they benefited from the Christian community. Nestorian Christians in Persia translated the great Greek philosophers into Arabic. Generally “Christian governments” waged defensive wars against Islam. A few people like Francis of Assisi preached the gospel to them. Some of the crusades seem far less interested in protecting pilgrims and freeing conquered Christians than gaining fame, power and wealth.

Needham then discusses Charlemange and the Holy Roman Empire. The struggle between civil and religious authorities would take up much of the Middle Ages. This was not limited to the Pope, but we also see the Eastern Patriarchs, at times, seeking to bring the civil authority to heel. It was a back and forth. He also addresses developments in theology and worship in both the Eastern and Western Church.

This volume continues Needham’s broader than usual focus. This is not a Eurocentric approach to church history. For that I am thankful. For instance, much is said about the development of both Eastern and Western monasticism. We see the repeated influence of Augustine in controversies involving predestination and the Lord’s Supper. Communion controversies appear at least 3 times in this volume.

The third chapter focuses on the Byzantine Empire and brings us to the Great Schism. The iconoclastic controversy takes up a bit of space. It was a ruthless controversy with Emperors deposing Patriarchs; Patriarchs excommunicating Emperors, exiles and cruel punishments. Church history is not pretty! This should put to rest any mistaken notion about the consensus of the Patriarchs as preferable to “sola Scriptura”, but sadly it won’t. The filioque controversy regarding the Nicene Creed is discussed.

“Following the Cappadocian Fathers, the East tended to being with the persons of the Trinity, and saw their unity as lying in the person of God the Father. For Eastern theologians, the Father guarantees that the three persons are only one God, because the Father alone is the “fountain of deity”, the one source of the Son and the Spirit, … By contrast, the West began, not with the persons, but with the nature of God. Following Augustine of Hippo, Western theologians tended to think of God’s nature or essence before the three person of the Trinity, and to see the oneness of the Trinity as lying in the one common nature shared by Father, Son and Spirit”

In the east, you had some dissenting movements: the Manichees, Paulicians and Bogomils. All three were connected to Gnosticism. Paulicians often allied themselves with Muslim Arabs against Byzantium, whom they saw as oppressors. The Bogomils were in Bulgaria, which was a region over which the Eastern and Western Churches struggled. They would not survive the conquest by the Muslim Turks in the late 14th century.

Needham then moves back West for the Cluniac Revival, influence of Hildebrand and the Investiture Controversy. The Norsemen proved to be a problem for much of the Western church. But eventually they were converted to Christianity. Over the course of about 100 years the gospel spread from the lands the Norseman conquered to the lands they came from (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland). The gospel also made headway into eastern Europe as the Bohemians, Poles and Croats were converted. Alone with this was a reformation of Western monasticism aka the Cluniac Revival. They also sought purification in the leadership of the church. Hildebrand led the efforts to reform the papacy. He wanted it to be independent of the state in order to pursue its spiritual purposes. This would lead to the Pope investing kings with power. Popes, for a time, were king makers. One unfortunate side effect was that ecclesiastical officers were freed from prosecution from the state. Their crimes were considered sins and subject to the discipline of the church- a practice that helped produce the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the American Roman Catholic Church, particularly in Boston (don’t worry, I don’t deny that Protestants like to cover up a “good” scandal too).

The fifth chapter examines that less than period of time covering the Crusades. He looks at the causes and history of the Crusades. Not all crusades were created equal. Some were worse than others as the trade cities exerted their power.

Needham then moves into the manner in which the gospel came to the Rus, how they had their own patriarch and became an independent Eastern Church. The Mongols factor heavily in this. After the defeat and removal of Mongol control, many Russian Orthodox began to think of themselves as the “third Rome”. Because Byzantium had “sold its soul” in the Union of Florence (in order to receive military assistance against the Turks) Russia saw itself as the heir of orthodoxy.

Back to the West, the book then delves into the rise of the universities and scholasticism. Aristotle “came west” and exerted great influence on the theology of the Church at this time. Needham gives summaries of Anselm, Peter Abelard, Peter Lombard, Bonaventura and Aquinas among others.

The Papacy reached its height in the time of Innocent III. There were a number of theological developments (transubstantiation was made dogma), new monastic orders (Franciscans and Dominicans) and humbling of kings. There was also the crusades against dissenters like the Albigensians and Waldensians.

Back to the Eastern Church he develops the fall of Constantinople. The battles with the Muslims, particular the Turks, continued to take their toll. There were also controversies like the hesychastic controversy involving Gregory Palamas. He relates the various attempts to heal the Great Schism, all of what came to nothing since they were mostly about receiving military aid than uniting the Church.

The decline of the Eastern Church was matched in the West by the decline of the Papacy, particularly in the Avignonese Captivity (the Papacy was controlled by French nobility and seated in France). At times there were two or three Popes. Proto-Reformers like Wycliffe and Hus arose. The church East and West was in sad shape at the end of the Middle Ages.

This is another insightful and interesting volume. It has good balance between East and West. It deserves a reading by all interested in church history.

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Who wouldn’t want to read John Calvin on The Secret Providence of God? Well, it depends what kind of book you are looking to read.

The subject is certainly an interesting one. The caveat is that the book is polemical in nature. He’s not simply asserting what he believes on this subject so you and I can be edified. He’s responding to “charges” made by a former student/associate of his, Sebastian Castellio. The editor’s (Paul Helm) indicates some of their prior relationship. But in the final pages of the  book Calvin gives us more information about their relationship. This book reeks of betrayal. Polemics and betrayal make for some bombastic language at times. It may also explain why this book is not as clear as I’d hoped at times (but perhaps this was me having been online too much, rotting my brain, or too focused on the good cigars I’d often smoke while reading this). I read this book intermittently over the course of a few months. Far too long for a book of its size (122 pages), but I’ve been busy with other matters.

All this to say, I’d be careful to whom I recommend this book. I would recommend this for more mature Christians who have an interest in Calvin because they’ve already read his more popular works. It would be of interest to students of the Reformation and theological methods. I would not recommend this to someone struggling with the doctrine of providence or unfamiliar with how to do theology.

Helm’s introduction informs us that this was, in fact, Calvin’s third response to his fellow Frenchman on the subject. I suspect his frustrating was mounting as would mine. They met in Strasbourg. Castellio’s strength seemed to be languages, and Calvin appears to have taken a liking to the man. For a time Castellio was rector of the College of Geneva. It didn’t last long. First, Castellio denied the canonicity of the Song of Songs, calling it a lewd book. Then Calvin worked with him on a translation of the Bible into French. They differed greatly, and argued, about their approaches to translation. As the relationship soured, Castellio resigned from the college. He seems to have accepted at least some of Servetus’ writings, for later in this volume Calvin calls Servetus his master (this could be figuratively since Calvin did consider him a heretic in the body of his response). But the execution of Servetus by the Genevan authorities led to Castellio’s personal campaign against them, and Calvin. He was not open about this, often using a pen name instead of his own.

“The work provides us with a small window onto the boisterous, argumentative years of the Reformation, not in this case to the main conflicts but to the skirmishes initiated by some of its lesser characters, such as Pighius and Servetus and, of course, Castellio.” (pp. 18)

Helm notes that Calvin was generally gentle and accommodating to those he considered open or friendly to his views. “But he is pitiless and unflattering toward those such as Castellio who openly crossed him.” Castellio, on the other hand, seems less concerned with clear theological thinking as to ridicule and misrepresent Calvin. His goal seems to be to repeatedly jab his finger in Calvin’s eye. If they lived next to each other in Bowling Green, one thinks he’s blindside Calvin and stomp him when Calvin got off his lawn mower.

“To Calvin’s intense irritation, here is a man, once a friend and follower, who is not impatient of the carefully crafted subtleties that Calvin sometimes uses to advance his position, and above all contemptuous of the God whose interests Calvin sought to advance. Even their Protestantism provides them with little common ground.” (pp. 19-20)

Helm then moves into some theological analysis of the book. He critiques Castellio’s method. The antagonist blurs theological distinctions so that he accuses Calvin of equal ultimacy regarding God’s decrees of salvation and sin/reprobation. Calvin follows a typical medieval view of the two wills of God: his secret will (decrees) and his revealed will (declarations & commands). Calvin depends heavily on Augustine in this volume, the only other author he quotes. Castellio’s method also relies heavily on reason while Calvin’s on revelation. Castellio sets reason above revelation. While Calvin obviously uses reason, he understands it to be bound to revelation. There are limits to the powers of reason as well as things not revealed to us. He invokes Deut. 29:29 (as any student of Calvin’s would guess). His introduction is helpful in understanding how each participant will engage in this disputation. Helm also notes, at the end, how Arminius’ own formulations are dependent upon Castellio’s. He built, as Muller calls it, a theology of creation, far more popular than Castellio’s. But both rejected Calvin’s theology of grace.

The book proper begins with a series of Articles, 14, Castellio generates (better, fabricates) from Calvin’s writings. He presents as series of strawmen arguments since they bear little to no resemblance to what Calvin actually wrote. He misrepresents Calvin. What is unclear is how much of this he actually believed and how much he purposely twisted just to tick Calvin off. As he explains these articles you do find instances of confusing logic, conflation of ideas, failure to make distinctions and more really bad theological method. Here are some example of him tying himself in knots (as I noted in the margins of my copy):

“If God wills sin, then the Devil does not will sin. That is to say, the idea that the Devil is God is a complete contradiction. If God wills sin, he loves sin’ and if he loves sin, he hates righteousness.” (pp. 45)

“… if the (secret) will of God often contends with his command, how can it be known when he wills or when he does not will what he commands? … For instance, if God commands me not to commit adultery and yet wills that I commit adultery, and yet I ought not to commit adultery, then I ought to do what is contrary to his will.” (pp. 45)

“Your false God is slow to mercy and quick to wrath. He created the largest part of the world for perdition.” (pp. 52)

“But the God of Calvin is the father of lies who evidently governs sometimes by what he says and at other times by his secret promptings.” (pp. 53)

He’s trying to make Calvin’s understanding of God appear to be a moral monster, and the Christian life not practicable because he can’t make simple distinctions. How you think matters. And this is some seriously stinking thinking. He also appears to operate from a denial of depravity. This is an unstated presupposition of his that seems to infect his reasoning leading to a number of faulty conclusions.

“… if God prompts perverse affections and then he flies into a rage, he hates the same people before the perverse affections arise, for to prompt perverse affections is the work of hatred. Therefore, he hates the innocent. For men are innocent before the perverse affections arise.” (pp. 50)

Castellio also attacks Calvin’s “students” as contentious and sinful. He puts all his arguments into the mouths of Calvin’s opponents while affirming them as personally unanswerable. There is one more claim that his “disciples” depend more upon Calvin “than upon reason.” Here he affirms his view of reason over and above Scripture, and denies that Calvin’s doctrines arise from Scripture.

The main body of the book is Calvin’s point by point response to Castellio. He works through the articles. This divides the book into readable chunks for busy people. Much of Calvin’s argument is that his doctrines are in fact derived for Scripture. He places Scripture above (not against) reason. Castellio argues for common sense, common sense, common sense => theology from below, subject to our judgment. Man is the arbiter of truth.

“But if you allow no other form of reasoning except what an earthly man recognizes, then by such arrogance and disdain you deny yourself access to the very doctrine of knowledge of which is only possible to someone with a reverential spirit. … Everything loses its authority and grace if it does not satisfy your reason.” (pp. 61)

Calvin also notes that he has already answered these objections three or four times thus far. He notes that these articles falsely represent his views. He notes his dependence on Augustine who also faced similar stubborn objections. Castellio frequently didn’t cite Calvin’s works. When he quotes Calvin, he takes him out of context. Some of the accusations he makes are similar to those that Paul faced and answered in places like Romans 9-11. Calvin’s point? “You aren’t arguing against me, but the Scriptures when we examine the tensions in Scripture” is what he’d say. In terms of those tensions and distinctions Calvin asks:

“Truly God invites all men to repentance; therefore, all might return to the road where he offers pardon. Now, what we must here consider is whether the conversion that God requires is according to man’s free choice or is a truly unique gift from God. Therefore, insofar as all men are exhorted to repent, the prophet rightly denies that God wills the death of the sinner. Why does God not convert everyone to himself equally? The reason is in the hands of God’s secret will.” (pp. 71)

He notes that Castellio also has to answer these great questions.

“This knot is also for you to untie. Since no one comes near to God unless the secret influence of the Spirit draws him, why are not all men without discrimination drawn, if God wills all to salvation? For from his discrimination it certainly is to be concluded that God has a particular secret way in which many are excluded from salvation.” (pp .73)

Calvin also unearths some of his other presuppositions: “Nor will you accept that the causes of wrath are in man himself” (pp. 74). Castellio rejects the depravity of men as the root of God’s judgment and man’s temptation to sin. He espouses a weak view of foreknowledge, separating God’s “power and his prescience” (pp. 75). He is judging God by feeble sense, to quote Cowper’s hymn on the subject. Calvin warns Castellio of dualism.  He reminds him that God uses primary and secondary causes (pp. 191). He schools him in the doctrine of concurrence- two or more persons willing the same action but for different reasons (God’s being good and Satan’s and men’s being evil).

There are moments you have to stop and think (especially if you’ve been distracted by your children) to sort out the argument. He will trace out Castellio’s argument at times so keeping the train of thought is essential.

He responds to the questioning of Calvin and disciples’ character with observations about Castellio’s.

“When I fed you in my home, no man had ever appeared to be more proud and more deceitful or more destitute than yo. Whoever does not perceive you to be an imposter and a cynic devoted to shamelessness, and a buffoon barking against piety, they are absolutely without judgment.” (pp. 118)

“But it must certainly be that you were too dull, because you were not able to understand what I have taught you, both in the familiarity of my own home and also what you heard when I so often preached in the public assembly.” (pp. 119)

“… you boast among your followers that study is empty and frivolous (the same study that is employed in philosophy, logic, and even theology) in order that you might gain more disciples for yourself. … You, on the other hand, request that untutored men who despise all learning and are inflated only with the breath of arrogance appear in public so that they may audaciously make judgments concerning the mysteries of heaven.” (pp. 120-121)

You see here the sense of betrayal that drives his harsh words. Still, these words are mild by some of today’s standards. We see a picture of Castellio as something of a fundamentalist Arminian. He was anti-intellectual; anti-scholarship in addition to exalting human reason. He was also, in Calvin’s estimation, a heretic. He didn’t just disagree, but held to views that Calvin put him outside the bounds of the Church. And so he ends:

“May God restrain you, Satan. Amen.” (pp. 122)

There is much here that is important to learn in terms of doing theology. There is some here that we should likely avoid in terms of doing polemics. We should continue to speak the truth in love. Lay out presuppositions to the light of day for evaluation. Clearly make proper distinctions. Reconcile the tensions found in Scripture instead of just proof-texting. Bur resist the temptation to denigrate the other person. Truth in the face of lies (even half-truths), and love in the face of animosity. I believe Calvin did the former but at times failed in the latter. May God have mercy on us all.

 

 

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Another vacation means reading another volume in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series of books. So far I’ve read the volumes on Newton, Luther, Bavink and Edwards. I enjoy these books tremendously as they interact not just with their theology but also their practice.

This summer I chose Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever written by Michael Horton. I had some hesitancy about this volume. I haven’t read any Horton in years having grown weary of polemical theology, and not finding his expressions of two-kingdom theology all that helpful. I always seemed to be left saying “And?” when he talked about it.

This book was a pleasant surprise. It was a little more weighted toward theology than some of the others, but that theology was a necessary background to understanding how Calvin viewed life in Christ. There was a good progression of thought throughout the book. There were no exceedingly long chapters. There were plenty of quotes from Calvin and others who have produced volumes on his life and thought to make Horton’s points. I found it to be an edifying and encouraging volume in this series.

As he notes, Calvin’s was a very different time. The Reformation had been spreading throughout Europe and nation-states were gaining some measure of independence from the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor. Like today there were many political and religious refugees in Europe, and many of them made their way to Geneva. In the religious reforms they were still in the process of sorting out how to implement what they believed. Calvin was one of the people working to bring the Protestants together as some differences seemed to be driving them apart.

Church was a central part of life with daily services part of many people’s routine or rhythm of life. It was a less distracted time, even if sin still found its way to manifest itself abundantly. As a result of this, some of how Calvin viewed the Christian life is anachronistic, or at least seems to be to us with personal devices, long commutes, mass media and more. Christian living, while personal, was far more public than we see today.

As one of the great figures in the Reformation we tend to think he was a parochial as we can be. There was no “Reformed tradition” or heritage for Calvin to draw upon. He drew upon the larger tradition of the Church, eastern and western. He was influenced, not only by Augustine, but also by Chrysostom, Cyprian, Irenaeus, and Bernard of Clairvoux among others. He interacted with Luther and Melanchthon to find common ground. He was not impressed with Zwingli. He spent time during his exile with Bucer and found that a great benefit. He influenced many of the next generation of leaders, like John Knox. Calvin was not an innovator but a man who lived as part of a theological community that exceeded his geography and time.

Horton begins where the Institutes begins: the knowledge of God and self. We were made to be in relationship with God and to reflect or reveal His glory as His image. So, to know God is to know ourselves in greater measure even if we see what we are not. Calvin was no fan of speculative theology. We cannot know God in the abstract, but know Him in Christ who came in the flesh to exegete the Father. We know God through His works, and so we recognize the divine drama or great Story of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Glorification. All of Scripture reveals this larger Story. We see some differences between how the Reformers and Roman Catholicism viewed general revelation and common grace. He saw our depravity going deeper so that no one was neutral when examining our world and/or doing theology. The pursuit of truth is distorted by our depravity. General revelation is not simply a “dimmer light but a different light than special revelation” because it does not speak of redemption.

Like Luther, Calvin was a theologian of the cross rather than a theologian of glory. God is known through Christ, and Him crucified. We do not seek to climb “ladders of speculation, merit and mystical experience” to gain union with God. Rather we are united to Christ crucified and resurrected for us to gain knowledge of God.

In this great drama there are actors and a plot. Here Horton explains that for Calvin the solas of the Reformation were a fabic, not independent statements. Similar to TULIP which was formulated long after Calvin’s death, they stand or fall together. Scripture is our final authority because it is God speaking to us about the Son through the inspiration and illumination of the Spirit. The great actor is the Triune God, not merely dogma but “the heart of reality in which we live and move and have our being.” The Incarnation of the Son reminds us that matter is good, not evil. That there is nothing inherently sinful about humanity itself despite its weakness and limitations. Our sinfulness is tied to being “in Adam” not simply being human. So Calvin did not hold to a Spirit-matter dualism as did medieval Rome and early Anabaptists. Rather, God made matter and uses it to His good purposes. One application of this is that the Spirit works thru the Word, contrary to the views of the Anabaptists and other fanatics.

The other actors in this are people, and so Horton moves quickly through Calvin’s anthropology. He is always contrasting this with the views of Rome expressed through the medieval church. This brings us to providence and grace as God works to redeem fallen humanity. Horton contrasts providence with the Stoic notion of fatalism. We see a God at work to redeem us, not a people who seek to redeem themselves. We see people who are lifted up by a Redeemer, not who lift themselves up by their bootstraps. We see people who are sought (and found) by God though they hide in the bushes, not people who seek after a God who hides. When we grasp both providence and grace, our circumstances are not punishment from a Judge but instruction from a Father who seeks to mold and shape us.

“Properly speaking, God is not angry with his elect, whose diseases he cures by afflictions as it were by medicines.”

From here, Horton proceeds to Christ the Mediator who came to us and for us. He uses a phrase that will be used often within the book, here with reference to His two natures: “distinction without separation”. This is a difficult formula to maintain but it was the heart of the Chalcedonian formula which made its way through Calvin’s theology. This formula, and how it is understood, was a key in the disagreements about the Lord’s Table that separated the Protestants. Horton’s comments on this are quite helpful.

As the Mediator, Jesus does not merely provide assistance to us but saves us to the uttermost. Yet, we live in the gap between inauguration and consummation, the already and not yet tension is at the heart of Calvin’s spirituality. Our salvation is received in union with Christ. We don’t receive His benefits so much as Christ Himself. He brings all those benefits with Him. They are distinct but without separation because we don’t have a divided Christ. Horton distinguishes these benefits in another chapter. They include effectual calling, justification, sanctification, and adoption. He always distinguishes the Protestant view from the Roman view, particularly as expressed in the Council of Trent.

With this heavier theology out of the way, Horton moves into life in the Body of Christ. Our Christian living is not a private thing, but one that is lived in the context of the Christian community. This is important for our individualistic society to hear so we can be freed from the shackles of a privatized faith. For Calvin it was corporate worship (Word, sacrament & prayer) that fed our personal worship (Word & prayer), and not the other way around. Corporate worship is where we learn how to read the Word and pray. We apply that in our personal and family worship. Community has precedence over individual. This is a radical statement today. Yet at we look at love and the fruit of the Spirit we see they all require others. The Trinity is an eternal community or fellowship of love. We have been made in God’s image to be a community or fellowship of love, not simply a periodic gathering of saved individuals.

This plays out in seeking grace in public worship, not medieval spirituality. We do not ascend to God, but Christ descended to us. We do not seek seclusion like the monks and nuns, but live in Christ in the midst of the world. Horton speaks of Calvin’s views of the preached Word, baptism, confession of sin (a good thing in worship!) and the Lord’s Table.

“The only way to serve God well is to serve our fellow believers. Since our good deeds cannot reach God anyway, he gives us instead other believers unto whom we can do good deeds. The one who wants to love God can do so by loving the believers.”

Horton continues with worship, discussing visual representations and music. These are some of Calvin’s more controversial views regarding worship today. While I want to keep the images of Christ out of our worship, I don’t want to keep the instruments out. I don’t see how they are part of the shadows and ceremonies. I see instruments in the heavenly visions of Revelation. If they are symbolic, what do they symbolize (it notes the singing, so….)? Music seems circumstantial to me. We don’t have any “authorized” tunes. So we waste our time, energy and breath arguing over such things. I’m sure God is more concerned with whether I strummed my guitar for him or myself, or if you listened to the instruments for his glory or simply your pleasure, than whether or not the corporate worship used instruments or not. But I digress.

Horton then brings us to Calvin’s view of prayer as the chief exercise of faith. Horton notes “true worship consists not in outward rights but in casting ourselves on the Father’s gracious care in Christ and by his Spirit.” He interacts with God’s providence and prayer so that prayer is one of the instrumental means of God’s providence. For Calvin prayer was “to the Father, in the Son and by the Spirit.” Our union with Christ also means that we do not pray alone but that Christ is praying not just for us, but with us. Our prayers are an echo of His prayers for us, we are following His lead because of the work of the Spirit in us resulting from our union.

You can’t talk exhaustively about Christian living without touching upon the Law of God. Horton brings in Calvin’s views in the tenth chapter. Like Luther, Calvin utilized a law and gospel distinction. “Calvin also appropriated Melanchton’s threefold use of the law.” The Law drives us to Jesus as He is presented to us in the Gospel. As justified people, the law shows us the pattern of holiness the Son wants to create in us by the Spirit. Law and gospel are distinct but not separate. Christians hear the law as the words of a Father, not a Judge; wisdom and guidance, not condemnation; and cry out to the same Father to help them walk in this way that pleases Him. Horton then summarizes Calvin’s view of these “house rules” expressed in the Ten Commandments.

Horton then addresses this new society, the church, as a theater of God’s fatherly care. Christian living includes finding a faithful church and making disciples. In church we are fed and guided by pastors and elders. We receive God’s hospitality from the deacons. Horton explains Calvin’s view of elements and circumstances regarding worship and how legalism turns circumstances into binding elements. License turns elements into circumstances. “Thus, the Reformer could see even among elements a ranking order, prizing unity over polity. Here we see a man of principle, to be sure, but among the principles was love. While wanting to obey everything that Christ commanded, he realized that not everything was equally clear or equally important.” And so my comments on music.

“Even when the church lies in ruins, we still love the heap of ruins.”

This new society exists, just as our original parents did, for a mission. For the creation mandate to be fulfilled, the Great Commission must be fulfilled. The church exists to make Christ as He is presented to us in the Gospel known, and to teach people to obey Him. The circumstances of the day meant that the Roman Catholic nations controlled the seas. But Geneva sent missionaries throughout Europe, many of whom died in France. The church brings Christ to the world.

We not only live in the church, but we live in the world. Here Horton explores Calvin’s view of the relationship of church and state, and Calvin’s understanding of the two kingdoms. There is discussion of moral law and its reflection in natural law. Christians don’t retreat from the world, nor do they think they can save the world (or creation) through “social justice”. This doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t seek justice within our spheres of influence, but we have realistic expectations, goals and agendas. It also makes no sense to focus on race relations in society unless we are addressing them in the church. We don’t focus on sins in one kingdom while ignoring them in God’s kingdom. (My thoughts there)

We offer our gifts and abilities to the world, and the church, in terms of our vocation. The sacred-secular distinction has minimized the value of a layperson’s work in the world. Work that helps others survive or flourish is valuable work, not merely legitimate work. Jobs have value not simply as opportunities for evangelism, but for loving others by providing goods that enrich life. This is a big part of Christian living.

Lastly Horton ends with contemplation of glorification. We are not escaping the material world, but longing for freedom from sin; ours and others against us. We live in the not yet with regard to sin. This is intended to shape our lives in the already.

Horton lays before us a very thorough look at Calvin’s understanding of the Christian life. We exist for God, and to enjoy God. This means we live before the face of God at home, at work and at church. We live before the face of God and experience His grace because of Christ our Mediator in whom we experience all God’s blessings. Christian living is not about trying to attain God’s grace, but receiving it so we can glorify & enjoy Him. This was a great addition to the series.

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Tim Keller says “This is the best book for laypeople on this subject.” This book is Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. I think he is right.

Union with Christ is one of the more neglected doctrines in the contemporary church. This neglect has been addressed with a few releases in the past few years like the books by J. Todd Billings and Robert Letham. These tend toward the more academic or pastoral in nature. Wilbourne’s book is written for the lay person and is easy to understand, though the topic can still stretch our minds. He provides a number of good illustrations to help us understand this rather nebulous concept. Or perhaps enchanted, for in his introduction he relates this to our disenchanted (materialistic) culture, and to understand union we need our imaginations again.

“Coming to see your union with Christ is like finally putting on a pair of desperately needed glasses- Wow!”

He begins with reality of a gap between what the Bible says and our experience of that reality. We can often feel exhausted by our efforts and discouraged by a lack of “progress”. The gap is real and must be acknowledged. But God’s answer to all this is union with Christ.

“First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us. Therefore … he had to become ours and to dwell within us.” John Calvin

Calvin, particularly his Institutes of the Christian Religion, is very present in this volume. United to Christ we have all the blessings of God (Eph. 1). Christ also dwells in us by the Spirit so we are empowered by Him to enjoy these many blessings. While this was understood by many in history (he quotes from Edwards and Goodwin, for instance) such talk is like a foreign language to many/most western Christians.

“If it ‘s true that nothing is more central or basic than union with Christ, and this book aims to show that it is, then it is fair to ask this: Why is union with Christ neither central nor basic to so many of us? Why, rather, is union with Christ, if it is talked about at all, reduced to some vague or optional aspect of Christian living…”

The only way we partake of the gospel promises is …. union with Christ. When we neglect this, the work of Christ for us is separated from the person of Christ in us and the gap between beliefs and experience begins to increasingly widen.

He moves on to what it actually is. One aspect of union is imputation: what happened to Him happened to us; what He earned we receive; and what we earned He paid the price for. Paul frequently uses the term “in Christ” to talk about how we live before God. Christ represents us so His death is our death to guilt & sin (Rom. 6; Gal. 2:20). His resurrection is our newness of life (Rom. 6; Eph. 2; Gal. 2:20). His obedience becomes our obedience. We have even been seated with Him at the Father’s right hand (Eph. 2).

“Faith is how union with Christ becomes operative and powerful in your life. Faith is a God-given gift that allows you to take hold of God’s having taken hold of you. … Your life, your story, becomes enfolded by another story- Another’s story.”

As Paul says in Colossians our life is hidden with Christ in God. United to Christ, Calvin says, we receive the double grace of justification and sanctification. Though distinct they are a package deal given simultaneously. We partake of His redemption because we are united to Christ, covenantally and spiritually. We enjoy our salvation as He works in us to transform us. Our faith is not simply in Christ’s work for us, but also that Christ continues to work in us and through us. He became like us to make us like Him so we look to Him to accomplish these things that are so beyond our doing.

Union with Christ also holds together some of the tensions that tend to tear God’s people apart. For instance, he mentions extravagant grace and radical discipleship. We see them both in Calvin’s double grace, but our tendency is to separate them. Apart from discipleship extravagant grace lapses into Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace. Apart from extravagant grace discipleship degenerates into legalism. This conflict that has periodically emerged in the church is resolved in union with Christ. These two songs, as he terms them, meet in harmony in Christ. They cannot be separated because Christ cannot be separated (Ferguson makes the same argument in The Whole Christ). Wilbourne then explains and applies the “double grace”.

“Because we are relentless in trying to justify our lives, because we will use anything, even our virtue, to keep God at a distance, we can’t hear this song of grace too loudly or too often. … That hit home because that’s exactly what I had been doing- using grace as an excuse not to follow Jesus. … Undiluted grace and uncompromising obedience meet in the person of Jesus. He is always full of both.”

Rankin then spends a chapter showing us where all this is in the Scripture, a chapter on where it pops up in Church History (Augustine, Athanasius, Irenaeus, Bernard of Clairvaux, Luther, Owen and Lewis) and then what happened that we have fallen to this low estate. As mentioned, there is the disenchanted or materialistic worldview, the increase in self-centeredness (due to the eclipse of the gospel), our poor pneumatology, sound-bite culture, and pragmatism.

“Paul is saying union with Christ not only gives you a new identity; it gives you a new mindset, a new grid through which to filter everything that happens to you. For it’s not so much what happens that defines you, as how you interpret what happens to you.”

From there he delves into the problems union with Christ solves. We have a new identity, new destiny, new purpose and new hope. So many of the stories we love focus on people seeking to discover their identity. We think we have to establish our identity so we are insecure and exhausted. Many famous musicians (interviews with Madonna and John Mayer come to mind) feel the need to re-establish themselves, prove themselves. In Christ, we receive an identity we neither win or can lose. We don’t have to prove ourselves. This identity also shapes how we live, providing appropriate boundaries for us. We have a new destination too- not simply to decompose in the ground or simply cease to exist. Our destiny is to be what Adam and Eve once were, the image of God. Jesus, in His humanity, the perfect image of God restores God’s distorted image of us. We don’t lose our sense of self (just as in a healthy marriage we are one flesh but don’t lose your sense of self). You become more fully you with the unique gifts and experiences but without the sin and weakness.

“The purpose of the gospel [is] to make us sooner or later like God; indeed it is, so to speak, a kind of deification.” John Calvin

“Because love was central in the life of Christ, love is at the heart of the image of God. Your win is learning how to love. And your greatest losses are your failures to love.”

We are here for holiness, which for many of us, as he notes, is like broccoli. Good for us but …. (personally I like broccoli). Holiness is good, beautiful and attractive. It is something we only pursue properly in union with Christ (see Walter Marshall’s The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification).  We are positionally holy due to our union with Christ, and dwelling in us He works to make us personally holy. These two tensions are brought together in harmony in Christ. The more holy we become the more we enjoy communion with God, in part because we now find His holiness more attractive and a greater source of joy.

“God wants us to grow in holiness, not as some sort of test or punishment, not even just as preparation for the future, but because he wants us to enjoy life with him more. The more we grow in holiness, the more we can enjoy his presence. He wants us not simply to press on but to soar. He wants holiness for us, for our joy.”

Our hope is life in the presence of God where Jesus currently is. This is unattainable for us apart from our union with Christ. He is there now, seated and interceding for us (Heb. 7:25). This means that our continuing sin does not separate us from God. We don’t have to look to our circumstances to gauge if God is pleased with us, we look to Jesus and know He is. Union with Christ holds the facts that God with for us and with us together.

“John Calvin said, ‘Let us therefore labor more to feel Christ living in us.’ John Owen added, ‘Labor, therefore, to fill your hearts with the cross of Christ.’ And Jonathan Edwards exhorted, ‘We should labor to be continually growing in divine love.'”

Wilbourne then moves into our daily life as people united to Christ. He begins with abiding. He brings up the illustration of sailing. Sailing depends on the wind, but you still need skills to get where you want to go in the power of the wind. This is communion with Christ, the subjective or experiential aspect of our union with Christ. We cannot be more or less united to Christ. But our sense of communion with Christ grows or diminishes. Faith always precedes our sense of communion for faith lays ahold of Christ. He warns us of our tendency to drift (pride, complacency etc.). If we are not manning the sail and the tiller we will not go where we long to go. He moves into the means of abiding, or the means of grace. Our sense of communion is tied to prayer, meditation on Scripture, and worship including the sacraments (signs of our union). This does not mean all will be exciting. There will be doldrums, just like in sailing. There will be times when all seems stagnant, and no progress is made.

“Jesus lived a perfect life and terrible things still happened to him. Jesus was the only one who ever trusted and obeyed God perfectly, yet he nevertheless was made to walk the way of suffering unto death…”

We are united to the Christ who suffered. As a result we should expect to suffer (Rom. 8; Phil. 1 & 3; 1 Peter 2-4). Because He suffered, He is able to comfort us in our suffering. He also provided an example for us in suffering, to continue to do good and entrust ourselves to our Creator. Will our suffering drive us from God, or deeper into God?

He then moves into the fact that each of us is united not only to Christ individually but also to one another. In Christ we are the people of God. Here, in a footnote, he surmises, that the tension revealed by the New Perspective of Paul finds reconciliation. In Christ we are justified by the imputation of His righteousness AND we are part of the community of God; soteriology and ecclesiology are united in Christ. Another tension that tends to tear the church apart is also reconciled in Christ: we declare and demonstrate the love of God to the nations. Many conservatives so fear the social gospel that they deny the social aspects of the gospel (and throw accusations at any who do). This is because Jesus not just declared God’s love but demonstrated it (see 1 John 3-4) and calls us to do the same (see also 1 Peter 2).

I found this to be a very encouraging book. He had a number of helpful ways to explain our union and its implications. I heartily recommend it to pastors, elders and ordinary people who want to grow in grace. He makes a difficult subject understandable, interesting and practical.

 

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Let’s go back to creation to understand women as God designed them.

Genesis 1:26-27

ESV NASB NIV
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

 

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

 

 

We notice a few things cosmetically. The NIV adds “wild animals”. Not pertinent to our point. Both the ESV and NIV have vs. 26 as prose and vs. 27 as poetry (due to the parallelism within the verse). The NASB has it all as prose.

 

One issue involving Genesis 1 is how much of it is poetry. Parallelism can be used to structure larger passages without it being poetry. I think this is what happens in much of Genesis 1. We see the repetition of phrases for regularity. But in verse 27 we seem to see poetry as the same idea is turned over and repeated for emphasis in creative ways.

 

Image (6754/1923a) image, images, likeness (resemblance) TWOT: basically refers to a representation, a likeness. In addition to referring to humanity, it refers to an idol. Selem in particular refers to the image as representation of deity.

Likeness (1823/437a) likeness, similitude, in the likeness of

TWOT: This is the only place these two words are in parallel. Here are the 4 main interpretations:

  1. Roman Catholic (and some Eastern Orthodox) theology pointed to image as our “structural likeness to God” which survives the fall. Likeness refers to Adam’s moral image which is destroyed in the fall (and renewed by grace).
  2. Image is the more important word but likeness is added lest we think man is a precise copy. It is less specific and more abstract.
  3. There is no distinction.
  4. Likeness amplifies and specifies the meaning of image. We are not simply representative but representational, the visible representative of the invisible God.

What the image of God is has been controversial and confusing: relational (God is love, and we see both man & woman), dominion (immediate context), intellectual/rational, spiritual nature, external representation/representative, dominion (the NIV clarifies with a logical connector). Meredith Kline sees it as prophet, priest and king in Images of the Spirit.

That we are in the image of God means that we can communicate with God. We maintain the Creator-creature distinction. But God created us with the capacity for advanced communication (language).

OPC Report

The Genesis account ascribes to woman an exalted standing. It spends most of its time on complementarity instead of the topic at hand. We’ll return to this topic later.

Pratt, Designed for Dignity

“They were finite, physical representations of their Creator. As astounding as this description may be, we must not miss how it discloses our humility. We are images of God, but that’s all we are- images.” (pp. 4) IOW, we aren’t gods.

This is, in part, a polemic, against the nations who believe that their leaders were gods. But everyone else was clearly not. There was no equality.

“We are images, but we are images of God. God did not make Adam and Eve to resemble rocks, trees, or animals. Nothing so common was in his design for us. Instead, God carefully shaped the first man and woman so that they were in his likeness. He determined to make us creatures of incomparable dignity.” (pp. 8-9)

 

Kidner, Genesis (TOTC)

“The words image and likeness reinforce one another: there is no ‘and’ between the phrases, and Scripture does not use them as technically distinct expressions, as some theologians have done, whereby the ‘image’ is man’s indelible constitution as a rational and morally responsible being, and the ‘likeness’ is that spiritual accord with the will of God which was lost at the Fall. … As long as we are human we are, by definition, in the image of God. … Manward, it requires us to take all human beings infinitely seriously. And our Lord implies, further, that God’s stamp on us constitutes a declaration of ownership.” (pp. 50-51)

For instance, homeless people (or any category of person people diminish) have more dignity and value than expensive show animals! They are still made in the image of God and the animals are not.

 

Calvin, Commentary Upon the Book of Genesis

“As for myself, before I define the image of God, I would deny that it differs from his likeness. For when Moses afterwards repeats the same thing, he passes over the likeness, and contents himself with mentioning the image.” (pp. 93-94)

 

Ross, Creation and Blessing

“After bringing order and fullness to the creation, God created human life to enjoy and rule the now habitable world. … God continually makes boundaries and sets limits for the self-perpetuating creation, boundaries that the law will employ in teaching the principles of holiness and cleanness. … The text shows that human life was set apart in relation to God by the divine plan (“let us make man”), by the divine pattern (“as our image”), and by the divine purpose (“let him have dominion”). … It does not signify a physical representation of corporeality, for God is a spirit. The term must therefore figuratively describe human life as a reflection of God’s spiritual nature; that is, human life has the communicated attributes that came with the inbreathing. Consequently, humans have spiritual life, ethical and moral sensitivities, conscience, and the capacity to represent God. The significance of the word “image” should be connected to the divine purpose for human life. Von Rad has made the analogy that, just as kings set up statues of themselves throughout the border of their land to show their sovereign domain, so God established his representatives on earth.” (pp. 112-113)

 

Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary

“First, the term image refers to a statue in the round, suggestion that a human being is a psychosomatic unity. Second, an image functions to express, not to depict; thus humanity is a faithful and adequate representation, though not a facsimile. It is often said that the Bible represents God anthropomorphically. More accurately, a human being is theomorphic, made like God so that God can communicate himself to people. … Third, an image possesses the life of the one represented. Fourth, an image represents the presence of the one represented. Fifth, inseparable from the notion of serving as a representative, the image functions as ruler in the place of the deity.” (pp. 65-66)

 

“In ancient Near Eastern texts only the king is in the image of God. But in the Hebrew perspective this is democratized to all humanity.” (pp. 66)

 

“The important addition of “likeness” underscores that humanity is only a facsimile of God and hence distinct from him.” (pp. 66)

 

Waltke repeats the ideas that we are like God to represent God, and to communicate with Him.

 

Leopold, Exposition of Genesis

“This feature in man’s being is a second mode of setting forth prominently the singular dignity of man: Man is not only made after the deliberate plan and purpose of God but is also very definitely patterned after Him.” (Vol. 1, pp. 88)

“So we shall have to regard the second phrase, “according to our likeness,” as merely supplementary to or explanatory of the first.” (Vol. 1, pp. 89)

He notes the repetition (3x) of create to get the point across. Man (male and female) was CREATED. Humanity is not an accident.

 

Morris, The Genesis Record

“He was not speaking to the angels, because man was not going to be made in the likeness of angels but in the likeness of God.” (pp. 72)

“And yet man was to be more than simply a very complex and highly organized animal. There was to be something in man which was not only quantitative greater, but qualitatively distinctive, something not possessed in any degree by the animals.” (pp. 73)

 

IOW: man is not simply another animal as secular humanism insists.

 

Summary:

It is easy to get lost in the potential meanings of “image of God”. This is important, but not necessarily to our current study. We will not that as made in the image we are rational, relational, spiritual, moral and volitional beings intended to reproduce, subdue and rule the rest of creation as a result of His command.

What we must affirm is that both men and women have been created in the image of God. They have an equality before God in creation. While they may have different roles in the church and home, they are equal. There is no essential hierarchy as in patriarchy. There is a complementary relationship between the sexes.

While Augustine seems to argue that Adam only needed help in procreation, we should recognize he needed help in all aspects of the vocation given to him. Women can work alongside men to subdue and rule, to till the garden. For instance, in an early date with my now-wife, we worked in my flower beds so I could see how we worked together. Women are not limited to having & raising children, but are valuable in fulfilling all aspects of the creation mandate. Therefore we should expect women to have a variety of gifts from God for the fulfillment of His calling to humanity.

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Jared Wilson’s new book is a bit of a departure for him. He has written mostly for the church and its relationship to the gospel. With Unparalleled he seeks to talk to the world about the gospel. The subtitle is How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling. That is Wilson’s goal in this book, to reveal this compelling uniqueness.

This is not an evidentialist kind of book like Evidence that Demands a Verdict. It is more in the tradition of Mere Christianity and The Reason for God. Wilson covers the territory in different ways but it winsome rather than confrontational. He adds some humor. He removes some of the philosophical sophistication of Lewis and Keller’s books. But he is speaking to a similar skeptical world to the ones they did.

He begins with how the God of Christianity is different and cycles through the following: the Trinity, Human Dignity as the Image of God, Human Depravity as Fallen in Adam, Jesus is God, His Substitutionary, His Resurrection, Salvation, Mission and Eschatology. So he treats the major doctrines of Christianity, in a good logical order, He does this with an eye toward showing not simply the reasonableness of Christianity but how it is profoundly different (and better) than any other faith tradition.

This is really the important thing- that profound difference in what we teach about God, man and salvation. As he does this, he often brings us into conversations with cab drivers like Omar and (the midnight) Tokar. There are dying church members, high school friendships and a boss. The questions and comments of skeptics and atheists often move the discussion forward.

“The deepest, most profound evil I will ever face is that which is found in me.”

This is a book I would commend. It isn’t perfect, obviously. Perhaps because I was studying the Trinity shortly before reading the chapter I found it took abit too long to get to the crux (as least for Augustine and Michael Reeves); God is love. This is what makes the God of Christianity profoundly different from the god of Islam or any other faith. He gets there near the end of the chapter, but dabbles in some unsatisfying material first. The incomprehensible nature of the Trinity isn’t really what matters, though it is true. That people want a God of love is important. Not just loving, but love as central to His essence and character.

“Think about it: A solitary god cannot be love. He may learn to love. He may yearn for love. But he cannot in himself be love, because love requires an object.”

The Christian understanding of mission is very different. It is not a self-salvation project. It is a response to grace received. It is also about offering grace instead of demanding change. Christianity thrives as a minority faith, and one that serves the ones deemed unworthy by society. While he notes the great things Christians do he also notes we don’t have cameras following us to show the world. This is why the new atheists can get traction with the claims of religion causing so much harm. They ignore the damage done by atheistic regimes, but more importantly the many hospitals, schools, poverty agencies etc. founded by Christians.

His chapter on eschatology isn’t what many might think. Like many, he heard about “heaven”. I’m guess he also heard about the rapture and great tribulation. But the focus here is not on these, but on the new heavens and earth. There is a physical, as well as spiritual, hope for Christians. While the world seems to be running down, these groans are birth pains for the renewed or restored creation in which all God’s people will spend eternity. We don’t have a faith that hates this world, but one that hates sin and misery while longing for the removal of the curse from creation.

“All of our attempts at orchestrating community cannot keep our self-interest at bay. The vast injustice of the world- in everything from slavery to racism- is the result of our failure at community. Sin messes up our souls; sin messes up our societies.”

As you read you do find a comprehensive world and life view that makes sense, and better sense of the world than any other. The tension between the dignity and depravity of man helps us understand why we see glory and why we experience evil. The gospel of grace is fundamentally different than the salvation offered by other faiths. Grace and glorification leave the others in the dust. It is a faith for real people, real sinners, as I listen to Johnny Cash’s American VI which was largely about his hope in Christ.

This book if for the real people in your life. The ones who would find C.S. Lewis dry or Tim Keller a little intellectual. It is for the skeptics in your life. The power to change their hearts and minds lies not in Wilson’s words. Like Tokar they may just shrug. But God may use it to see and delight in Christ for their salvation as a result.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.]

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If our wills are in bondage to our desires, which are corrupt, if there any hope for us?

This is the question we resume with from Calvin’s Institutes, the Essentials Edition. There is no hope in ourselves. Our hope has to be with God. The remedy is grace.

“Thus the Lord begins his work in us, inspiring in our hearts a love, desire and eagerness for what is good and righteous- or, more properly, inclining, training and directing our hearts to righteousness; he completes his work by giving us strength to persevere.”

This is not the same as a general removal of our depravity that leaves us in a state of neutrality that we find in some forms of Arminianism. This is the fulfillment of the promise of the new covenant (Ez. 36:26-27). This must precede faith, or we wouldn’t believe. The “human will must be wholly remade and renewed.” He aligns himself with Augustine that ‘grace precedes every good work.’ Grace is not a response to our will, but our will works in response to grace.

Calvin shifts back to Scripture, noting Jer. 32:39-40; Ez. 11:19; 1 Kings 8:58. These all address the stubbornness of our hearts, and the grace that overcomes that stubbornness. In other words, this is no ‘philosophical’ matter but one of life & death; salvation. This is not an Old Testament idea, but we see Paul also teaching this. We see this in Phil. 2:13 and 1 Cor. 12:6; 15:10. Jesus affirms this in passages like John 6:45.

“We must indeed teach that God’s kindness is open to all, without exception, who seek it. But because no one begins to seek it until he is inspired from heaven, nothing here should be allowed to diminish God’s grace in any way.”

He goes back to Augustine. “In yet another place he states that grace does not destroy the will, but changes it from bad to good, and that once it has been made good it receives help. By this he means only that God does not push man by outward force, unfeeling, as if he were a stone, but that he is impelled in such a way that he willingly obeys.” And again, “the human will does not obtain grace through its own freedom, but that it obtains freedom through God’s grace.”

Calvin shifts to the problem of continuing sin in the believer. Calvin, following Paul (Peter, John, James …), notes that our deliverance “is never so complete that no part of us remains under sin’s yoke”. Regeneration does not end conflict in our hearts, but initiates it (Rom. 7 & Gal. 5). There is a new principle moving us toward love and righteousness, and a retention of the natural inclination toward apathy and unrighteousness.

“This produces a conflict which sorely tries the believer throughout his life, because he is raised high by the Spirit but brought low by the flesh. In the Spirit he yearns fervently for immorality; in the flesh he turns aside into the path of death. In the Spirit he purposes to live uprightly; in the flesh he is goaded to do evil. In the Spirit he is led to God; in the flesh he is beaten back. In the Spirit he despises the world; in the flesh he longs for worldly pleasures.”

Our heart and will become a battle ground. The regenerate person mourns their sin, which pains him or her. They affirm and delight in God’s law as we see in Psalm 119.

Even in his day, there were people claiming a form of Christian perfectionism. Some of the Anabaptists advocated this position. They think that regeneration is complete, and we have no more fleshly appetites.

He returns to the idea of man as sinner in bondage to Satan. He mentions Augustine’s analogy (also utilized by Luther in Bondage of the Will)of the will as a horse subject to the rider’s control. Calvin finds it sufficient in the  absence of a better analogy. “What is meant is that the will, being deceived by the devil’s tricks, must of necessity submit to his good pleasure, although it does so without compulsion.”

He then discusses the doctrine of concurrence with reference to the story of Job. In concurrence, more than one person wills the same action but for different reasons or goals. God, Satan and the Chaldeans all willed the theft of Job’s herds, but for very different reasons. We see this as well in the story of Joseph. God’s intention was very different from his brothers’ even though both willed Joseph’s servitude in Egypt.

“Accordingly, it is not improper to attribute the same deed to God, the devil and man. But the disparity in both intention and means ensures that God’s righteousness always appears blameless, while the wickedness of the devil and of man is revealed in all its shame.”

The bottom line for Calvin is fidelity to Scripture, for the Scriptures reveal the sovereignty of God over events big and small. He brings up a number of passages to illustrate his point. Satan, much like Assyria and Babylon in the prophets, is His agent to unwittingly accomplish His purpose. They serve His righteous purposes, even as they pursue their unrighteous purposes. Calvin notes God’s sovereignty over the “mundane acts of life.” He held to a meticulous providence, as God brings about “whatever he knows is needful, but also to bend men’s wills toward that same end.”

Calvin then addresses a series of common objections. First, necessary sin is no longer sin. While they “necessarily” have to do it, since God ordained it, it is still voluntarily chosen by them. He does not force them to sin, but they want to commit that particular sin at that particular time. Second, reward and punishment no longer apply. God is so kind that he rewards the graces which he bestows on people. The voluntary nature of sin makes punishment just. Third, good and bad are no longer distinguishable. If this were so, it would be so for God who does good “by necessity” or in keeping with his immutable nature. Fourth, exhortation and reproof become superfluous. They are, rather, the means God uses to help shape our choices. He not only ordains what will happen, but how and why.

“God is active in us in two way: within, by his Spirit, and without, by his word. With his Spirit enlightening the mind and training the heart to love righteousness and innocence, he makes man a new creature by regeneration. Through his word he moves and encourages man to desire and to look for this renewal.”

Calvin then notes a variety of Scriptural evidences including, the law and its commands, the command to repent, God’s promises & reproofs, his punishments and more. In many ways Calvin rightfully goes back to Philippians 2:13- For God works in us to will and work according to His righteous purpose. We are to believe that we are dependent upon God, but also that being gracious and powerful he consistently works in us to accomplish his purposes, which are good. This is an important doctrine which humbles us, and grants us confidence.

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One of the things I appreciate about Sinclair Ferguson is how he combines astute theological thinking with pastoral wisdom. This characteristic is what makes his latest book, The Whole Christ so good, so timely and helpful.

It is also what makes reviewing this book so difficult. I started to review it, describing many of the great insights, distinctions, historical issues etc. that are in this book that the review was becoming a tome. It would be easy to have a short review that just doesn’t do the book justice, that doesn’t really give you a clear idea as to why you should read it. And you should!

The story of the book began decades ago when Ferguson delivered a number of messages on pastoral reflections of the Marrow Controversy at a conference. Over the years people have asked if he would put them in book form (I hadn’t seen him since I heard the lectures, so I just hoped and prayed). As he noted, and I have also discovered firsthand, it is much harder to adapt messages than to just write a book. The last person to ask him was Tim Keller. Ferguson’s retirement provided the opportunity. Having heard the lectures, I am thankful that it has come to pass. Having read the book, I am even gladder he did.

Ferguson brings us back to the Marrow Controversy that troubled the Church of Scotland in the 1700s. It was a controversy prompted, in part, by The Marrow of Modern Divinity by E.F. But it was really a disagreement about legalism, antinominanism and assurance in the Church of Scotland.

He necessarily interacts with the book, written years earlier but discovered by Thomas Boston, and how the controversy played out in the Church. He brings The Westminster Confession of Faith, various Puritans and John Calvin into the fray. Most importantly, Ferguson also writes about the human heart since these are not simply abstract theological ideas, but issues that plague us.

For instance, he resolves an alleged conflict between Calvin and the Westminster Divines on the subject of faith and assurance. Calvin wrote of assurance being essential to faith which is contrary to the Confession. But Ferguson shows that Calvin meant we must believe that Christ is able to save. This differs from assurance of salvation, meaning that Christ as saved a particular sinner. In other words, they were discussing two different kinds of assurance. This is a very helpful distinction, with pastoral implications. The first is an issue of one’s justification, the other is an issue of their subjective confidence before God. You have to identify the proper problem so you give them the proper instruction, otherwise you can do spiritual damage.

This book is rife with such pastoral implications whether for our preaching or our counseling. This is what makes the book so excellent, and a must-read. He gets to the heart of legalism and antinomianism, and presents us Christ and the gospel as the resolution for both (and the issue of assurance as well).

Ferguson asserts that both legalism and antinomianism severe the law from the character of the law Giver. They do it in different way, but come from the same root. He brings us to Eve and the original temptation. Satan got her to doubt God’s goodness and love. She developed a legalistic spirit, which hardened her heart towards God, which resulted in her antinomianism, or rejection of God’s law to the original couple.

He unpacks how both legalism and antinomian manifest themselves. They also appear in how we think of assurance. They also affect how we preach, and how we hear the gospel, or shall I say mishear.

Much of what Ferguson does is bring us back to the gospel and the character of God. Law then finds its appropriate place, and assurance seen aright.

What started this mess that divided the Church of Scotland, and many Christians today. The controversy started over a Presbytery creed that rejected “preparationism”, a form of hyper-Calvinism that taught that the gospel only for those who showed signs of grace, who have repented (yeah, confusing). One thing that becomes evident is that theses Scots wrote questions in a very convoluted fashion. One man had his license to preach the gospel removed by not affirming the creed. The General Assembly reversed the decision and condemned the creed. One frustrated member of the Assembly sat next to Thomas Boston who recommended The Marrow of Modern Divinity.

Some have taken issue with the book. The controversy over the book is not the issue so much as the views of the Marrow Men. The controversy spiraled out of control, and wider.

The first issue was the free offer of the gospel, contra preparationism. The Marrow Men held to limited atonement. They also believed that the gospel was to be freely offered to all sinners. There are no qualifications that must be met before the offer of Christ, and pardon in Him, is made to sinners.

“The fallacy here? The subtle movement from seeing forsaking sin as a fruit of grace that is rooted in election, to making the forsaking of sin the necessary precursor for experiencing that grace. Repentance, which is the fruit of grace, thus becomes a qualification for grace.”

The Marrow Men rejected the notion of separating Christ from His benefits. We receive all of them in Christ, not in isolation from Him. They upheld a robust theology of union with Christ. “This, to use an Augustinian term, is totus Christus, the whole Christ, the person in whom incarnation has been accomplished and in whom atonement, resurrection, ascension, and heavenly reign are now realized.”

In the midst of this, Ferguson sneaks in an application regarding the New Perspectives on Paul. Yes, he says, the Pharisees believed in grace. It was a conditional grace, however. This was the error of preparationism. It is similar to a conversation I had with some Mormons. We obey, and grace covers what lacks. Ferguson brings us back to the nature of God as good, gracious, and loving. This is what the Enemy seeks to keep from us via a legalistic spirit.

From here he discusses the various forms of legalism which essentially sees God as “He-whose-favor-has-to-be-earned.” Just as in preparationism, where repentance is separated from Christ, in legalism the law is separated from God, from “his loving and generous person”, and “not as the wisdom of a heavenly Father.” The solution is not in rejecting the Law, but embracing God as our delight (see WSC #1). He brings John Colquhoun in to remind us of “what the heart hears”. We can mis-hear solid gospel teaching because of our legalistic hearts. “But it is also all too possible to have an evangelical head and a legalistic heart.” This is important to remember in pastoral counseling. But it means that some hear the offer of free grace as antinomianism.

From there Ferguson moves into the “order of grace”. He touched briefly on the ordo saludis before, but now spends more time there. Faith is the instrument of justification. Repentance does not occur before faith (preparationism), nor after faith, but “within the context of faith’s grasp of God’s grace in Christ.” Further, “while we cannot divide faith and repentance, we do distinguish them carefully”. He also moves to the implications of free grace, a life seeking joyful obedience. Grace produces obedience, and not the other way around. The Mosaic Covenant is to be seen this way, not as a republication of the covenant of works that undoes the Abrahamic covenant. Many preachers, sadly, focus on the law’s exposure of our sin to drive us to Christ with a stark law-gospel distinction. For those justified, it shapes our salvation. It provides direction …

Do you see what I mean?

How we think about law and gospel matters. The default of our hearts matters in terms of how we hear discussions of law and gospel. Where we look for our assurance matters. Why we want to obey matters.

This is a book that can have a profound effect on how a pastor, elder or ministry leader goes about ministry. This is why I find this a book that should be in the hands of pastors, elders and ministry leaders. I want them to bring gospel wisdom to the people they serve: not legalism, not cheap grace. But to do so they have to embrace, and preach, the whole Christ.

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In Calvin’s Institutes, the Essentials Edition, we’ve seen how the knowledge of God gives us a truer knowledge of ourselves. While made in His image, we have fallen into sin and unrighteousness. Instead of glorifying Him, we seek to glorify ourselves (make a name for ourselves) which typically means taking advantage of others and bringing shame to ourselves.

Knowledge of ourselves should humble us. We are not what we were intended to be, but a rather tawdry sham instead. We over-estimate our abilities and good deeds, while we minimize our faults, weakness and wrong-doing.

“However, the person who carefully measures himself by God’s standard finds nothing to give him inner confidence, and the more closely he studies himself, the more dejected he becomes until, bereft of hope, he has nothing to help him lead a well-ordered life.”

We have fallen so far from our created glory as the imago dei. The great endowments of Adam and Eve testified to the “Creator’s extraordinary generosity.” They had done nothing to receive these great gifts from His hand. Their disobedience stripped them of much this glory. “The heavenly image he bore was therefore erased; being estranged from God by sin he was likewise deprived of his share in the blessings which can only be had in him.”

This brings us to total, or radical, depravity. From the womb we are prone to sin. We are not born innocent and then personally fall when we sin for the first time. Calvin argues against Pelagianism briefly. We are not “basically good” and only in need of a good example but better ourselves. Calvin affirms original sin, “a hereditary corruption and perversion of our nature which in the first place renders us guilty of God’s wrath, and in the second produces in us those works which Scripture calls ‘works of the flesh’.”

I wish Calvin added “covenantal” to the hereditary. Adam was not just our father, but our covenant head. In this sense, we are also held accountable for his disobedience.

From here, Calvin moves into his discussion of the freedom of the will. Definitions matter greatly in this discussion, and often they are not laid out appropriately. Calvin notes two dangers: indifference and excessive boldness. When we stress our depravity, people can lapse into indifference or fatalism. They see themselves as unrecoverable, even by the God of grace. When we stress the imago dei, people can have a view of themselves that is unreasonably high, a sense of entitlement.

“To avoid both of these pitfalls, we will follow a middle course. Man must learn that there is no good in him, and that misery and want are all around him. But he must also understand how he may aim at the goodness he lacks and at the freedom which is denied him.”

He then moves to some philosophic theories of the mind and will. “The role of the will is to choose and follow whatever our mind judges to be good, and conversely to reject and shun what it reproves.” So, the will works with the mind, not independently of the mind. “All we need to know, without entangling ourselves in superfluous issues, is that the mind is like the helmsman and captain of the soul, and that the will depends on its good pleasure…”

In fallen man, the mind is not fully functioning and flooded with divine light. Romans 1 shows us that the mind is darkened and futile because it has exchanged the truth for the lie. It is no longer able to distinguish between good and evil, the very thing Eve wanted when she disobeyed.

Calvin notes that the Church Fathers are uncertain guides in this matter. He saw them as capitulating to philosophy on this matter at times. Chrysostom, for instance, notes,”The wicked man can become good, if he chooses, and the good man may change into a wicked one.” Calvin sums up, “We see from these statement that the Fathers credited man with greater power than was proper…”

He interacts with the 3 A’s: Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas. He finds Aquinas’ definition sound: “Free will is an elective power which, intermediate intellect and will, inclines, however more toward will.” So, how free is the will?

Calvin wants to generally avoid the term “free will”. The Schoolmen note that “man cannot be said to have free will because he is free to choose both good and evil, but because he does what he does voluntarily and not out of compulsion.” He argues that this term has been wrenched from this definition as a “justification for self-pride.” In other words, people use it not for the voluntariness of our our decisions, but to freely choose between good and evil.

Augustine is presented as a trustworthy guide. He affirmed the enslavement of the will. It is grace, and grace alone, that frees it from bondage to our appetites. Augustine moves us toward humility by seeing our natural powers as “impaired, demolished, scattered, destroyed.”

“For the human mind, because of its ignorance, cannot follow a sure path in its search for truth, but blunders into various errors. Just as a blind man stumbles about in the darkness until he quite loses his way; so the mind, pursuing the truth, shows how ill-suited and ill-equipped it is to seek and find it…”

Calvin then differentiates between stuff of earth and stuff of heaven. The bondage of the will, the depravity of the mind does not mean we are stupid intellectually, but stupid morally. We are able to structure societies reasonably well (though the current state of American politics may indicate otherwise), and most citizens are reasonably law-abiding. People are able to master mechanical and liberal arts. We do have a capacity for rational perception. This would be an example of common grace. God gives us the ability to improve our earthly state. This is undeserved, and therefore gracious.

Calvin notes that these natural endowments are gifts of the Spirit, “who distributes them as he pleases, for the common good of humankind.” Our corrupt minds are not as corrupt as they possibly could be. Although the Spirit only dwells in Christians, He is infinite and “does not fail to fill, move and quicken by the power of that same Spirit all creatures, according to the nature with which he endowed each of them at creation.”

Heavenly things (knowing God, his will and living accordingly) are a different story. We are spiritually blind apart from grace. Part of people’s blindness is their inability or unwillingness to accept this. People fall for all kinds of superstitions and foolishness (including deviations from Christianity). This blindness is taught in Jeremiah 24, John, Ephesians, 1 Cor. 2 and Colossians as well as Romans 1.

Calvin affirms the reality of natural law, arguing that its purpose is to make us without excuse. He points us to Romans 2 for this purpose. He defines natural law as: “an operation of conscience by which it is able to tell good from bad, with sufficient clarity that man cannot plead ignorance as an excuse, being rebuked by his own testimony.” For instance, as a teenager I had the capacity to recognize certain things as wrong. But I did them anyway.

Our moral reasoning and judgments are often (always?) clouded by our self-interest and passions/desires. We can talk ourselves into almost anything. We fail to grasp how evil our appetites often are.

After about 30 pages (and there are 40 more) he gets to Paul, who is obviously more authoritative than the schoolmen. It is also very different. We see the inner conflict of Christians in Romans 7 and Galatians 5. We have the Spirit by regeneration, how much worse the condition of those outside of Christ. Believers do strive after good, but don’t do it as often as desired due to this inner struggle. It is the Spirit that leads us toward righteousness. Apart from the Spirit, apart from Christ, people do not seek good (Rom. 3). They do not experience such inner conflict (though there is often the outer conflict of consequences- fear of man).

“Now we are all sinners by nature, so it follows that we are under sin’s yoke. Furthermore, if everyone is held fast by slavery to sin, the will, which is the chief agency of sin, must be tightly restrained and shackled by sin’s bonds.”

As we see in Romans 8, the unregenerate mind is hostile to God and His law. This indicates the bondage of the will to sin. It is in bondage to its inclinations. What people want to do is wrong, but that is what they do.

Thankfully, God, in His grace, limits our capacity for evil. He restrains our sin. While our corruption is changed, and ultimately cured, in the elect, it is merely curbed in the non-elect and non-converted. People are not as bad as they could be. But people sin because they want to, not because God makes them sin. They live within the bondage to sin, so there is an element of necessity. But it is also a joyful necessity. The sinner has not been “stripped of his will but of the soundness of will.” Calvin also brings us back to the character of God, to understand freedom and necessity.

“So if nothing stops God’s will from being free when he does good, even though he does good of necessity, and if the devil always sins voluntarily, even though evil is all he can do, who will argue that man does not sin voluntarily simply because he is subject to the necessity of sinning?”

Here is how Calvin sums it up: “This, then, is the distinction we must observe: man, corrupted by his fall, sins willingly, not despite himself or by compulsion. He sins, I say again, through inclination and not because he is forcibly constrained; he sins because he is prompted by his own appetites, not by external force.”

I’ll resume Calvin’s discussion of this matter in the near future.

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Thanks to Augustine hope and despair have been on my mind. In the wake of the recent events in Ferguson, I’ve had many thoughts about all if it. Like most people I’ve read lots of musings on the situation, some of them good and some not so good. I find that most commentators hit one aspect of the situation. That is okay as long as we don’t expect them to speak exhaustively. As I’ve turned this over in my mind I see so many angles to it.

On Sunday I used Isaiah 9:1-7 for my sermon text. I’d already planned on that text well over a month ago. It proved very appropriate in the wake of a week like last week.

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The Light arrives in the midst of darkness. Here we see the darkness of injustice and oppression. The Son of David would come to end injustice and oppression. His reign is one of justice and righteousness. We who are Christians affirm the NT teaching that this child is Jesus the Light of the World and the Son of David who sits on his eternal throne now.

Scripture and history point us to an already/not yet understanding of this text. Jesus has already come to redeem His people. Jesus already sits upon the throne. Jesus has not yet removed all injustice and unrighteousness. That awaits His second advent. The kingdom has been inaugurated, continues and awaits consummation or completion.

This means we live in the time between times. We, as Christians, have the capacity to treat others with justice and righteousness. But we live in a society that is marked by injustice and unrighteousness. This should not surprise us. We see this in Hebrews 2:

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

Nothing, it says, is outside His control even though it may not look like it. There is still rebellion within His realm. Remember, we were numbered among the rebels. It was His role as the Lamb of God that removed the guilt of our rebellion. We, too, deserved the just wrath of God for our part in the unrighteous and injustice of the world. Those who suffer injustice often respond with injustice and unrighteousness as well. There is a dark, vicious spiral involved. It requires the grace of God to break it. First He breaks it in individuals. Those individuals can work to break it in society by seeking just laws or enforcing just laws. Those who have been oppressed need to share in the power, not to bring an opposite form of oppression but pursue righteousness and justice.

Christ holds off His return, as I mentioned Sunday, to apply the redemption purchased to the elect. This is what is going on behind 2 Peter 3:

9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

We see that God is working out a number of purposes, seemingly in conflict with one another. He is bringing grace to some of the oppressed and oppressors. He is showing justice to some of the oppressed and oppressors. He is working out judgment and salvation, as well as guiding His people into righteousness all in the midst of the darkness of this world.

“Often times the poor man is the oppressor by unjust clamors. We should labor to give the best interpretation to the actions of governors that the nature of actions will possibly bear.” Richard Sibbes

Many of us see this and are tempted to despair. We see these eruptions of injustice and violence and fear that we’ve made no process. Despair can kill us. We can give up and just let the situation continue unabated. We can give up in a deeper sense and either forsake the truth or fight the monster and become the monster in the process.

There is some cause for despair, in a good and not giving up sense. While we have been justified, Christians are not fully sanctified.This means we still sin. We still have blind spots (race issues can be one of them!). The gospel has already begun to transform us into the image of Christ but has not yet finished its work.

Note what Calvin says about us:

Let each of us go on, then, as our limited powers allow, without departing from the path we have begun to tread. However haltingly we may travel, each day will see us gaining a little ground. So let us aim to make diligent progress in the way of the Lord, and let us not lose heart if we have only a little to show for it. For although our success might be less than we would wish, all is not lost when today surpasses yesterday. Only let us fix our gaze clearly and directly on the goal, trying hard to reach our objective, not fooling ourselves with vain illusions or excusing our own vices.

This sentiment found its way into the Heidelberg Catechism.

114. Q. But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with earnest purpose they do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God.

If we cannot act with perfect righteousness and justice how can we expect an unbelieving world to do so. So, we should despair or give up hope in human governments accomplishing this. As Isaiah 9 notes, only the zeal of the Lord will accomplish all this. Hope, as Red noted in The Shawshank Redemption, is a dangerous thing. If our hope is in earthly perfect apart from the return of Christ, we will experience the bad form of despair that resorts to resignation or violence.

“A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope.” Richard Sibbes

Let us set our hope on God’s promises to be fully accomplished upon the return of Christ. This hope can sustain us in the midst of the continuing darkness. It also helps us to rejoice over the modest gains as we see people exhibiting righteousness and justice. We need to remember that God works on the behalf of those who wait for Him. Such waiting is not passive. For instance, William Wilberforce longed to see England free of slavery. He worked for years, first to end the slave trade and then to end slavery. It took decades, and many setbacks, but he saw God bring this about. Yet there was still much work to be done in the human heart which is “naturally” filled with evil and inclined toward unrighteousness.

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him. Isaiah 30

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him. Lamentations 3

Righteousness and justice do not come easily or quickly. It times waiting for them feels like we are dying. We want everything to change now. A rightly understood hope enables us to wait. And suffer while we wait if need be.

16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4

Peter, who watched Jesus suffer unjustly, suffered unjustly. We do well to receive his counsel to the early Church. If we suffer we should entrust ourselves to our Faithful Creator and Redeemer. Instead of a useless rage or foolish resignation, we trust. As we trust, we continue to do good.

Doing good can have many faces. It includes forgiving those who acted with injustice. This prevents bitterness from growing and corrupting your response to injustice. It includes helping those who have been harmed by injustice. You can help them pick up the pieces of their lives. It can mean running for office or seeking a promotion that enables change.

Let us remember that there is a despair and a hope that can kill us. There is also a form of despair and hope that can grant life as we lean upon Christ.

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“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

Some people don’t need to enter anywhere to abandon hope. Some people can’t seem to abandon hope no matter how bad the circumstances.

I was listening to an interview with a former career Navy Seal. Part of the unspoken agenda of “Hell Week” is to bring the candidates to the point of despair, the point of giving up or thinking they are going to die. For him it was the pool. When you face death and lose your fear of death you build a wise soldier (not a reckless soldier). This builds the attitude of hope, so to speak, the idea that any problem or situation can be solved when we work together. Even if it means you or your team mate may die in the process.

There is something there to help us understand what is should mean to be a Christian. We have faced death & condemnation and been delivered by Christ. We should no longer fear death and live in hope thru the living Christ who has overcome the world.

But … just as not everyone is wired to be a Seal, not every Christian is wired to, or called to be, a martyr.

Augustine hits on this. Sort of.

In Homily 33 on the Gospel of John he said this:

“The Lord is gentle, the Lord is longsuffering, the Lord is tender-hearted; but the Lord is also just, the Lord is also true. You are being granted time for correction; you, though, love putting it off more than putting it right.”

We all tend to fixate on one or two attributes of God, the ones that fit our general temperment. This puts us at risk. Augustine posits this in the fact that God is more than the attributes we fixate on. He is longsuffering AND just; tender-hearted AND just. The true God shocks us at times. He’s not what we want Him to be. He isn’t less, but more than we want Him to be (to steal a Kellerism).  When God revealed Himself to Moses (Ex. 33-34) He revealed both His abundant mercy and His persistent justice.

“Because God is tender-hearted, God is good, God is gentle. These people are endangered by hope.”

Those fixated on God’s gentleness are often endangered by hope. They forget God’s justice and holiness and think they have forever and a day to repent.

“Endangered by despair, however, are those who have fallen into grave sins, thinking that they can no longer be forgiven, even if they repent, and see themselves as certainly destined for damnation. They thus say to themselves,’We are already going to be damned; why not do whatever we want?'”

They are fixated on the justice and holiness of God and do not see His mercy, goodness, compassion and patience. They veer into despair when they sin as if they have exhausted God’s mercy.

“Despair kills these, the others are killed by hope. The mind, the spirit, fluctuates between hope and despair. Be on the watch lest hope kill you and, while pinning your hopes on mercy, you come under judgment; be on the watch as well lest despair kill you, and, while assuming you cannot be forgiven for the grave sins you have committed, you refuse to repent and run into the judgment of Wisdom, who say, I too will laugh at you ruin (Prov. 1:26).”

While we must embrace hope, we should beware of of any hope that says I don’t need to repent. At times we must despair, but beware of any despair that says “there is no grace left for me.”

Each of us have a tendency toward hope or despair. This is not absolute. Hopeful people can experience despair and despairing people can experience hope. But you will have a tendency toward one that poses a danger to you as you face your sin. As a result you will have to spend more time meditating on the opposite attributes of God. Those who despair need to consciously fixate on God’s mercy and patience. Those who “indulge” in excessive hope (one that puts off repentance presuming on mercy) need to fixate on God’s justice (not to the exclusion of mercy).

Perhaps this is part of the current debate over law and gospel with regard to sanctification in Reformed circles. Perhaps some are fixating on mercy. Perhaps others, fixated on justice, emphasize the role of the Law. Some are abounding in hope, and others while not despairing, warn against a superficial view of grace that forgets God’s justice as also revealed in the Gospel.  Just a thought.

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The other day a congregant asked me a question about tongues since someone was encouraging them to “use their gifts.” Today I was turning to Augustine’s Homilies on the Gospel of John for my sermon. I neglected to read it last week and decided to play catch up instead of skipping over it since it was a great text.

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7

In the course of Homily 32, Augustine moves in a direction I did not anticipate: tongues. He went there because he clarified that the Spirit was given at Pentecost. The point was should we expect a similar experience as they had. This is a question that continues 1,600+ years later.

Just because nowadays those who are being baptized in Christ and who believe in Christ do not speak in the languages of all nations, is it to be assumed that they have not received the Holy Spirit? No such lack of faith should tempt our heart. We are certain that everyone receives him; but whatever size vessel of faith you bring to the fountain is filled up.

First, let us note that “speaking in tongues” was not common in Augustine’s day. He understood the languages which they spoke to be human languages the speaker did not know. These were not “heavenly languages” as some seem to teach. Speaking in tongues, he says, is not the or a sign that someone has received the Holy Spirit.

Early Pentecostals, believing that the tongues in Acts 2 were earthly languages, believed they would receive this gift while on the mission field. It didn’t happen. Now Pentecostals and Charismatics typically believe they speak in a heavenly language taking Paul’s hypothetical in 1 Corinthians 13 as reality.

“Well, since then he is received nowadays too,” somebody may say, “why is no one speaking in the languages of all nations?” Because now the Church speaks in the languages of all peoples. Previously the Church was to be found in one people, when it was speaking in the languages of all. By speaking with the languages of all it was signifying what was going to happen, that by growing among peoples, it would speak everyone’s language.

His argument was that only one people at the time, Israel, had the Gospel. The Church was comprised on one nation, Israel. The Gospel was about to go to the nations, and they could come into the Church (grafted in and joining, not replacing!). At that time the Church needed the gift of tongues, Augustine is arguing, to speak to the nations represented in the crowd there. With the Gospel and therefore the Church spreading to the known world in Augustine’s time, it now spoke all those languages. God no longer needed to give the gift of tongues.

The Church spread throughout the nations is speaking with all tongues; the Church is the body of Christ, you are a member in this body; so then, since you are a member in his body, which is speaking with all tongues, confidently believe that you are speaking with all languages.

Since you are united to the body, he argues, you therefore speak in all languages.

There is much to like about his overall argument. But it is not perfect.

The main weakness is that there are many unreached groups that we have since learned about. No one in the Church speaks their language. One would think that the gift would be “revived” in order to reach these groups. Many a linguistic missionary wishes it was that easy. But we have not seen this happen. We cannot anticipate how Augustine would answer this development after his death. It is an interesting view held by one of the great theologians and during the early centuries of the Church.

Other books of interest on this matter would include Gaffin’s Perspectives on Pentecost and Stott’s Baptism and Fullness. On my shelf is a copy of Anthony Hoekema’s What About Speaking in Tongues? that I’ve been meaning to get to for years. Maybe soon.

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The Church in America has struggled with the notion of Christian activism over the years. Usually such activism is associated with the “Religious Right” but there are groups that would not consider themselves part of that “Religious Right” that engage in activism as well. Is the Church to be involved with activism? Are Christians to be involved in activism? This is the subject of Appendix E in The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame.

Frame begins with mentioning the book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe. There they remind people of the great influence of Christians on Western culture. Christians have been instrumental in education (founding many of our colleges), health care (founding many of our hospitals), political freedom, literacy (the original reason for Sunday School) as well as the arts and more.

“Without Jesus, without the gospel, without the influence of his people, all these areas of culture would be vastly different and very much worse.”

The efforts and influence of Christians have not lead to a perfect society. They have lead to a clearly better society in many instances (note I didn’t say all). Here in America, as a result of the Fundamentalist movement, large portions of the Church retreated from social action. Ironically, it was often the more liberal branches of Christianity that lobbied for things like Prohibition which would typically be associated with Fundamentalists today.

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Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian FaithIn this barren wasteland of books on the Trinity there are only a few oases out there. If you believe Michael Reeves, and I suspect you should, this is thanks to Schleiermacher who basically treated the Trinity as extraneous to Christianity. In Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith he treats the Trinity as the hub upon which all of Christianity turns. That is part of what makes this particular volume on the Trinity unique. He explicitly states and develops this as a steady drumbeat in the book.

“For God is triune, and it is as triune that he is so good and desireable.”

In part, the book is an apologetic for Christianity in general and the Trinity in particular. He spends some time examining what happens if you don’t have a Trinity, what does that mean about God. To put it simply, God is not love. He is wanting a creation, if he wants a creation that serves him. But if God is love, and there are more than 3 persons in this eternal community of love we understand creation (and redemption) as an overflow of the love they have for one another. This sets Christianity into a different light, a greater light.

“Before he ever created, before he ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving his Son.”

For instance, love is the motive for the mission of God. I am currently reading a book on that subject and the author of this otherwise good book seems to neglect this as the reason. He’s not seeing the mission as the Father sending the Son to adopt more children, but more a Creator wanting to be obeyed. This focus on God as loving community helps to clear the air of many misconceptions and present a more winsome Christianity.

“He creates as a Father and he rules as a Father; and that means the way he rules over creation is most unlike the way any other God would rule over creation.”

For instance, in the last chapter he explores how this focus influences how we view various attributes of God. God’s holiness, for instance, is that he is separate from us in that he loves. In Leviticus 19, he reminds us, that the call to be holy, or perfect, as he is is surrounded by the command to love your neighbor as yourself and explanations of what that looks like (caring for the poor, for instance). So our holiness is not to be mere obedience. Our holiness is to be a love that reaches out to others as God has reached out to us in order to meet the needs of others. Oh, there is obedience but as Jesus said in John’s Gospel this is because love Him who first loved us.

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