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Posts Tagged ‘Biblical Theology’


In this, the Year of Newton, I’m trying to also read some shorter books. At the end of last year I bought a pair of books by Christian Focus. I’ve already reviewed the one on the ascension of Christ. Over the last week or so I’ve read the second- In Christ: In Him Together for the World by Steve Timmis and Christopher de la Hoyde.

In Christ: In Him Together for the WorldTimmis is generally known for his other work with Tim Chester, particularly Total Church and The Gospel-Centered Church. Those are both books I’ve benefited from in the past (here’s one blog post). He is an English pastor/church planter who is generally Reformed. I hadn’t heard of de la Hoyde before.

As the book indicates it is about union with Christ, which until recently was a greatly neglected theological subject. There are a number of newer titles looking at it from more academic and popular perspectives. This short book (90 pages) is an introduction in some ways. It doesn’t look at the subject exhaustively. What it does say is good and helpful, but keep in mind they aren’t trying to say everything.

The introduction prompts our thoughts in terms of what a church plant needs to learn and believe. This is not a surprise in light of Timmis’ role in Acts 29 Europe. They threw out a few options, like ecclesiology. They then bring up John Calvin, asserting that he was believe that a church plant needs to learn what it means to be united to Christ.

“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ … This union (with Christ) alone ensures that, as far as we are concerned, he has not unprofitably come with the name of Savior.” John Calvin

This book, beginning with this quote from the Institutes, is drenched in Calvin’s thought. They are also dependent on theologians like John Owen. The organizing principle in Paul’s thought on salvation is union with Christ, or being “in Christ”. Rather than simply define it, they address it in terms of its benefits.

The first chapter is Safe in Christ. United to Christ we are safe from God’s wrath, but outside of it we are subject to it. The opening illustration is a house in the storm: in the house is safety, warmth and nurture. Outside is rain, wind, lightening and danger.

They do bring us back to Genesis 2 and humanity’s first home, the Garden of Eden. It was full of provision and peace. Adam and Eve lacked for nothing, except clothes but they didn’t need those. But then came sin and their exile. The curse means that our work is not as fruitful. Yet God held out hope for a new city, a new land.

As the story line of redemption develops we see that to be in the land is seen as enjoying prosperity and protection. To be removed or excluded from the land is a picture is a picture of judgement. Between Malachi and Matthew there were 400 years of silence, something of a 2nd Egyptian captivity where they are in the land but under the thumb of the Greeks and then the Romans. They are “exiled in the land” as a conquered people.

In comes Jesus, entering the land from the Jordan to begin a new conquest of the land. Jesus as the head of the new covenant is our representative. He bore the curse for us, and obeyed for us. We are now safe if we are “in Him.”

They develop this idea of representation with the illustration of Olympic athletes and, more importantly, Romans 5. Adam was our initial representative. All human beings from “ordinary generation” (human parents) are born “in Adam”: guilty of his sin and corrupt so we are also guilty of our own sins. If, by faith, we are “in Christ” His obedience is our obedience, we died and rose with Him. In other words, sin has no hold on us. We have already suffered its penalty with Christ. We have been raised to newness of life with Jesus as well.

“The gospel is God’s command and invitation for us to come out of Adam: out of sin and judgment. The gospel is also God’s command and invitation for us to come into Christ. The good in Christ is so much better than the bad in Adam.”

Then they move to Connected in Christ. Our union with Christ is a relational union. They begin to delve into the work of the Spirit who unites us to Jesus, and to one another. The Spirit unites us directly to Jesus thru faith, not through ritual. It is mediated by the Spirit, not the Church as in medieval Roman theology.

Connected to Christ we are in the presence of God. As we see in Ephesians 2 we’ve been made alive with Christ AND raise and seated with Christ in the heavenly places. We therefore have unlimited access to God in Christ.

They then talk about Growing in Christ. Christians, and congregations, become more like Christ. They grow through their union with Christ. Calvin notes that in Christ we receive the ‘double grace’ of justification and sanctification. We are accepted and righteous in Christ. His righteousness is imputed to us. But it is also imparted to us in sanctification.

While our union does not change, it is a dynamic union through which Jesus changes us. This brings them into discussions of progressive and definitive sanctification. It is important to remember that we don’t become more or less acceptable to God even though we can be more or less conformed to the likeness of Christ.

In Christ we are dead to sin, and need to think of ourselves as so. They bring us to Romans 6 to unpack this. But we are not only united to Christ in His death, but also in His resurrection. We’ve been raised to newness of life, and need to think of ourselves that way. We grow into our identity in Christ. Sin is not inevitable for us. We are not indebted to sin. We are indebted to Jesus.

In Romans 6, their credobaptist colors show a bit. This is one of the few points of disagreement I have with them. What we see in Roman 6 is what baptism signifies as a sign and seal of God’s promise. They take this as necessarily signifying what we have already received. Our disagreement is more about sacramental theology than union with Christ. But while our union with Christ is mediated by the Spirit, baptism is a sign & seal of our ingrafting to Christ. Paul speaks of them receiving this in baptism because as fruit of missionary work they believed, coming out of paganism, and were baptized.

They begin to unpack our mutual union in Together in Christ, bringing us to Ephesians 4 and 2 “for we are members of one another.” A great reunification has taken place because Jesus has removed the wall of hostility. But that does not mean that church life is easy.

“Church life is messy. It’s tough, it’s long and it’s often ugly. That’s why we need to help each other to regain God’s own view of His church: we are a people reconciled in Christ to display His wisdom  to the universe.”

They return to Ephesians 4 to address the practices that help and hinder membership in the one body. Not only do Christians grow in godliness, but churches are to as well. We are a light in the darkness.

They shift to Mission in Christ. Joined to Jesus we share in His mission. God’s mission becomes our mission because we are united to Christ. They discuss identity (who I am), purpose (why I am) and function (what I am). Then they have a few case studies to explore these concepts.

The final chapter is Everyday in Christ. They admit “the Christian life can be frustrating.” Our temptation, in frustration and boredom, as they note is to look outside of Christ for help. They bring us to Colossians to look at some of the things we look to in addition to Christ. They call us back to the gospel.

“We need more of Christ, not more than Christ.”

Christ, who lived for us, defines how we should live. This is not intended to be an abstract doctrine. For Paul, it was a doctrine that shaped our daily lives. They direct us to a few areas: prayer and marriage. There could have been more, and I wish there were more (at the least singleness).

This makes a great introduction to the subject. They take a biblical theology approach, viewing union from the perspective of the history of redemption (creation, fall, redemption & glorification) rather than a systematic approach. They also try to bring out the connections to church planting and other practical aspects. For this they are to be commended. Just as they aren’t saying all they could theologically, they aren’t saying all they could practically or in terms of implications/applications. They want this to be short and sweet. In light of this they also avoid lots of technical terms so ordinary people can understand what they are saying.

All this to say it was a good little book that I wish was a little longer.

 

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You might think it a challenge to review a book it took 3 years to read. You would be right. In this case it took 3 years to read a relatively short book. This was no John Frame tome. The problem was not the book, but my life. Other projects and books seemed of greater importance. This speaks not to the quality of this book but of the choices we all have to make.

The book of which I speak is Name Above All Names by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson. Though these two friends of Scottish descent and upbringing share a common love for Christ, they do have some differences in theology. These differences are not apparent here, nor should they be. It would be interesting if they wrote a book discussing their views of the Church and sacraments. But they wrote about Jesus Himself in this book.

You cannot really tell that two men wrote this book. Sometimes such books make references to this. For instance, sharing personal stories attributed to one of them. I don’t recall any of that (if it is there, it would be in the early chapters I read 2-3 years ago).

I would describe this book as a popular-level biblical theology focus on Christology developing 7 important titles or names of Christ in the Scripture.

“Standing in various pulpits in our native land of Scotland we have often seen words visible to the preacher but hidden from the congregation: ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’ (John 12:21).” from the Preface indicating their purpose.

It is popular-level because you don’t need to be an academic, professional or theology nerd to understand this book. As pastors, their pastoral hearts and minds are on display as they put the cookies where the average Joe and Jane can reach them. This does not mean the book is superficial, it certainly is not. But it is in “plain English” so ordinary people can understand and benefit from the book.

It is a biblical theology because it traces each of these themes through the Scriptures. Systematic Theology summarizes a doctrine. This means it can flatten out nuance, but it keeps you from heresy. Biblical Theology, when done well, shows the development through the progress of revelation and its importance to the history of redemption. It is the basis for the summary, such that they are meant to go hand in hand. This is not mere proof-texting but developing your theology from the texts in question. This book is an example of Biblical Theology done well.

It deals with 7 titles of Christ to develop our understanding of Christ, 7 being the number of completion so (okay, I’m kidding about this last part). I wish there were more chapter. One of the reasons I started the book was due to an Advent series that addressed some of these, particularly the Seed of the Woman. Over the last few years a quote or two from this book would pop up in a sermon. In addition to Seed of the Woman, they cover Jesus as True Prophet, Great High Priest, Conquering King, the Son of Man, the Suffering Servant and the Lamb on the Throne.

Each of these has great redemptive significance and they do a great job of fleshing that out for us in the book’s 180ish pages. That means the chapters are a tad long for our microwave, ADD generation. But the pages aren’t big, or writing dense so you can do it. Really!

They start with the protoevangelium, the Seed of the Woman. In other words they start in Genesis, in the Garden. In doing so they instruct the reader on why we have a Christ-centered approach to understanding the Old Testament from the words of Jesus to 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus. As Ferguson notes in another book, From the Mouth of God, the OT is a development of this theme from Genesis 3:15. How is the coming of the Seed of the Woman to crush the head of the serpent developed, and resisted. This conflict initiated and sustained by Satan, that old dragon, marks all of history. Tucked into this chapter they talk about Jesus as the Second Adam so it is a 2 for 1 deal. The Seed of the Woman crushes the head of the serpent by doing what the First Adam failed to do.

Over the next 3 chapters they delve into one of my favorite subjects, the three-fold office of Christ: Prophet, Priest and King. Jesus reveals to us the way of salvation as our Prophet, is the way as our Priest who sacrifices Himself for us and continues to intercedes for us, and applies that salvation to us by subduing our hearts and then protecting & expanding His kingdom in this world. In many ways this reveals the on-going ministry of congregations and pastors (a book for another time).

In the chapter covering the Son of Man, they spend a great deal of time in Daniel 7 before they get to the Son of Man sayings in the New Testament. The focus is not on a man but on Jesus’ role as “man as he was created to be”, an eschatalogical figure who ushers in the kingdom of God.

The road to the Son of Man coming before the Ancient of Days runs through the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. His is a representative suffering. He suffers not for His own sin but for the sins of others. He suffers not to deliver Himself but to deliver others. Before the crown comes the cross. This theme is developed in each of the last 4 chapters. They want us to grasp the theology of the cross and reject a theology of glory. Just as Jesus suffered here, we will too. But just as He was exalted, we are exalted in union with Him. But our life here is marked with suffering just as His was.

The final chapter focuses on the final book of the Bible, Revelation, to develop the title of the Lamb upon the Throne. Revelation is all about this Lamb who reigns for the comfort of His Church in conflict with the counterfeit trinity and church.

They help us to see Jesus more clearly through their examination of these 7 names. The reader will better understand the nature of Christ’s work for us. They will better understand how the Bible fits together. Begg & Ferguson have produced a book well worth reading. Tolle lege!

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As I noted in part 1, I started this because a number of Christians seem to be responding to the recent shootings with questioning the 2nd Amendment and the place of guns among Christians.

In part 1 I focused on the inappropriate uses and purposes of guns in light of Scripture. This time I want to focus on the appropriate uses of guns in light of Scripture.

The gospel of Jesus presupposes the fallen character of the world and sinfulness of humanity. That has not changed since the Flood (see Genesis 6 in which humanity was prone toward increasing violence). We see this in John 3, which in addition to teaching about the love of God which resulted in sending the Son to save His people also teaches us that “the world” already stands condemned and rejects the Light because it loves darkness to cover its evil deeds.

This means we live surrounded by evil people. This has many applications that require wisdom for godly men and women. Let’s look at a few things.

In Genesis we see that Abraham’s nephew Lot was captured when some kings put down a rebellion that included the city in which Lot lived, Sodom (see Genesis 14). Did Abram (his name had not been changed yet) say “This must be the will of God, I hope Lot does well in his new life.”? Did Abram go and ask kindly for the kings to let him go?

No, Abram gathered his servants, and friends, and went to rescue Lot from the kings. This required weapons. Weapons can be used to defend the defenseless and rescue those victimized by evil men. This was righteous Abram who believed God, and tithed to God from the plunder he gained. Abram was acting in faith, not in unbelief in so doing. Abram was not a magistrate (ruler), policeman, soldier etc.

In Judges we see a pattern of Apostasy, Battering, Confession and Deliverance in the life of Israel after entering the Promised Land. The problems were caused by everyone “doing what was right in their own eyes”. And yet God delivered them by raising up men (and a woman) to deliver them.

Ehud and Eglon

Enter Ehud, for instance. Portions of Israel were under the control of Moab. They paid tribute to the king of Moab. Ehud assassinated Eglon when he delivered the tribute. Weapons may be used to overthrow an oppressive ruler (which is why oppressive governments have historically prohibited citizens to own weapons). This was the justification used (in light of Calvin’s doctrine of the lower magistrate) in the American Revolution. It was not simply citizens, but the Continental Congress as the lesser magistrate had a right to rebel against a corrupt king. It required an armed populace to do so. This is why the 2nd Amendment was added, precisely because the founding father’s feared that one day the government they found could become oppressive. They were rooted in their Judeo-Christian heritage, expressed by the actions of Ehud and Calvin’s doctrine, in formulating it. Guns can be used to overthrow an unjust government, not simply by crazed independent militia, but by a lesser magistrate (state, county or city government) that has the right and responsibilities to protect its citizens from the unjust ruler. Those citizens would need to participate in that process since that magistrate has fewer citizens than the whole country.

This may be why David did not actively work to overthrow Saul. David was not a lower magistrate and had no right to overthrow Saul. He waited for God to fulfill His promise that David would be king. David and his men did defend themselves, which required weapons. Surely Saul was frustrated that David and his men had weapons.

Samson Defeating the Philistines

Samson Defeating the Philistines

Later in Judges, we see Samson whom God used to provoke the Philistines and eventually bring judgment upon them. Samson did not lead an army, but was endowed with supernatural strength. On one occasion he used the jaw bone of an ass as a weapon to slay 1,000 men. That sounds like a mass shooting, but it was against wicked men. He had the right to defend himself against wicked men. And so do we. This would mean, I believe, that Christians can own guns for self-defense. This would be implied in Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in Luke 22 to buy a sword. This would be akin to Jesus telling his disciples today to buy a gun. There is no non-violent use of a sword. This is also behind the rationale of the 2nd Amendment which makes it consistent with Scripture.

In fact, in Exodus 22 we see that if someone enters your home by night he or she may be slain without guilt and consequence. By day as another matter. At night there is no one to help you. If caught during the day, the thief is required to pay restitution. By night, the use of a weapon would be permissible. People should be able to defend their families from intruders, particularly at night, with guns.

If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. Exodus 22

These are historical accounts from which I am drawing inferences. Some may question those inferences. To support my inferences, let’s talk about sanctification. The gospel includes the reality that we are being conformed to the likeness (morally) of Christ. He wants to make us more like He is. He is restoring His image in us.

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8

20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4

On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Colossians 3

Sanctification, a work of God’s free grace, involves a putting off and a putting on. This is called mortification and vivification. We turn away from worldly attitudes and sin such as malice, rage, bitterness etc. which result in the sinful use of guns I mentioned in part 1.

We are also to put on godly mindsets, and actions. If we study the character of God we see that He is the defender of the defenseless. For instance, He cares for widows and orphans. He also delivers the oppressed and exploited. We are also are supposed to care for widows and orphans. In fact, we are often His means to care for them rather than dropping money from the sky. Similarly we are to deliver the oppressed and exploited. There are times when we can use the legal process to do so. But there are other times when we may need to act immediately.

For instance, imagine you are near a gun-free zone and hear gunshots. Yes, you should call 911. But until the police arrive the gunman may be able to shoot dozens of people. Should a godly person just shrug their shoulders (and pray), or could one act to defend those at the mercy of an evil person brandishing a weapon? It is not contrary to the gospel to use a weapon to stop such an evil person. Godliness is not to sit idly by while your wife is raped, or children threatened. The use of force, including guns, would be permitted. As we see in Scripture, God often defended His helpless people through the use of force (see the Exodus, the slaughter of the Assyrian army and more). It is not ungodly, but rather godly, to use force to protect those under your care, and innocent bystanders, from wicked people seeking to commit “death-sentence” sins like murder and rape. The exception I would mention is persecution- when people are trying to kill you for being a Christian. That opens another can of worms I will not address here.

So, I think we find that “turn the other cheek” is only part of the answer to the question of guns and the gospel. There are other biblical ideas we need to incorporate to get a fuller answer to the question. Christians are free to decide for themselves if they want to own a gun or not. If they do own a gun they are bound by the limitations we’ve discussed. It can not be used for sinful reasons, or to further our own sin. It can be used to defend yourself, and your loved ones, and the defenseless from evil doers. Guns can also be used in a legitimate revolution or to stop an oppressive and evil magistrate in certain situations.

As a result of a biblical theology and historical theology, I would say that the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is consistent with the rights of godly people in the Scriptures. It is, in no way, contrary to the gospel. It would be sinful uses of weapons that would be contrary to the gospel.

Just for fun read about the Harvard Study that shows are negative correlation between guns and violence.

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Addiction is a horrible master.  It doesn’t matter what your particular addiction- food, sex, alcohol, shopping etc. There are nearly as many “methods” for freeing someone from addiction as there are addictions.  As Christians, we recognize that addiction is a form of idolatry. We are not just seeking freedom from a behavior, but freedom from a false god. Most of the methods for freedom just don’t work. Often they just transfer your devotion from one false god to another. Many AA meetings are filled with chain smokers, and all of them are filled with bad tasting coffee to satisfy a caffeine addiction.

This is a really cool cover

Christians have often adapted other treatment plans and sprinkled in some Bible verses.  On the other hand, some have looked to Exodus for a pattern.  Gerald May, in Addiction and Grace, adds the wilderness motiff to psychotherapy. An old friend of mine should have his book, The New Exodus, published soon.

A few years ago, Mars Hill Church in Seattle noticed they had a buffet of small group options for addictions.  They decided to use one curriculum to address all the various addictions people struggled with.  Mike Wilkerson put one together that walks people through Exodus.  The result is Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols we Worship and the Wounds we Carry.  Not only is Mike trying to apply biblical counseling, he’s using some exegetical, narrative theology.

This is one of the strengths of the book.  He is utilizing the pattern of redemption found in Exodus (which is used elsewhere in Scripture like Ezekiel and Revelation, and Jesus refers to the “new Exodus”).  He is applying it to both our idols and our wounds.  This is significant.  The Israelites not only worshiped false gods, but they were the victims of unspeakable evil.  God does not see us a merely victims or merely victimizers.  He knows the degree to which we are both wicked and wounded.  Because of our sinfulness, our woundedness results in one form of wickedness or another.  Bad counseling focuses on only one.  Good, biblical, counseling focuses on both.

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This post will look at the third and last position discussed in Baptism: Three Views.  First, Dr. Bruce Ware used a (truncated) systematic theological approach to defend believers’ baptism.  Then Dr. Sinclair Ferguson used a biblical theological approach to defend infant baptism.  Now Dr. Anthony Lane will use a historical theology approach to defend what he called the dual practice approach.

Here is not what he means- most Reformed paedobaptist churches do not bind the consciences of credobaptist members.  They do not exercise church discipline for not practicing the doctrine of the church.  Most often such members are not eligible for office, however.  Some baptist churches also recognize the infant baptism of members, refusing to bind their consciences.  Those members often are not permitted to hold office due to their divergent views.  This is not “dual practice” per se, but extending grace to those who differ on a non-essential.

Dual Practice occurs in denominations, or congregations, that have no official practice but allow freedom to parents on the issue of whether or not to baptize or dedicate their children.  When I was between pastoral calls, I was open to considering the Evangelical Free Church since they were considering removing pre-milennialism from their statement of faith.  But they eventually decided to keep that, ruling me out.  Congregations there are free to practice each according to the theology of the pastor & lay leaders.  In the Evangelical Covenant, mentioned by Ware, they officially practice both based on the desire/convictions of the parents.  Ware was opposed to this, seeing it as binding his conscience.  As a good Southern Baptist, he has no problem binding the conscience of others forcing them to be baptized if they want to become members.  My mother-in-law was forced to do this to join an independent Baptist church. So his comments come across to me as hypocritical.

Back to Lane’s views.  He states that Marcel’s defense of infant baptism (which was very helpful to me) led him into believers’ baptism.  And then Beasley-Murray’s book led him into dual practice despite the author’s intention.  He sounds to me to be a contrarian.  The NT texts, he says, teach a converts’ baptism.  Baptism, in his view, is part of the conversion process and that there is not true conversion without it.  He believes the NT is silent on the issue of infants, and believes that this could be part of a biblical practice of converts’ baptism.  He thinks that some household baptisms involved infants, but this is not conclusive.

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We pick up my dialogue with Keith Mathison about his book Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope.

Cavman: I guess this is where my defensiveness arises, to a degree.  I see spiritual change as real change.  If someone is really regenerate then they are being sanctified and having a positive influence in their family and community.  As the church in a region or nation grows, there are material benefits that overflow into the region and nation.  Many of these things may be common grace benefits, but are still an outflowing of the work of Christ.
For instance, where Christianity has become the dominant religion, there is usually an increase in material prosperity, health care, technological development and moral standards.  There also seems to be a decrease in things like political corruption.  As I ponder the influence of Islam on cultures, I see very advanced cultures being suffocated, increases in poverty etc.  It was Christians, for instance that put an end to slavery in the Western world.  Hopefully Christians will put an end to it in other parts of the world.

I don’t see this as making me postmillennialist.  Like Gary DeMarr, I suspect we think things are worse now because we know more about other parts of the world.  Worse things happened before, but people didn’t know about them and most things didn’t make the history books.

I get the impression that there is a similarity in the hermeneutics of premillennialism and postmillennialism toward literalism.  Many of the prophecies are in poetic sections of the prophets.  I don’t think I’m trying to spiritualize the texts away, but understand them properly rather then think they must be fulfilled in a particular way like the Pharisees did, thereby missing Messiah, and some premillennialists do.  “All the nations” for instance.  I believe all nations will be represented among the elect (thinking temporally), but I don’t think this means there has to be a worldwide revival so that all the nations are coming at the same time.  I’d love to see a worldwide revival, and the conversion of most Jews- but I don’t see Scripture necessitating that.

I’d better think of a question, huh?  Sorry about the digressions.  You mentioned theonomy.  Perhaps some are uncomfortable with postmillennialism due to its connection with theonomy.  Not all postmillennialists are theonomists, but all theonomists are postmillennialists.  You’ve spent more time studying this than me, and have more relationships with theonomists than I do.  What is the bridge from your understanding of postmillennialism and yours?

KM: I don’t think there’s any need for defensiveness since I’m not arguing against what seems to be your main point here.  I heartily agree that spiritual change is real change.  The contrast I am drawing is not between spiritual and real.  That’s a false contrast that assumes or implies that the spiritual is not real.  Instead, I’m drawing a contrast between visible and invisible.  As I mentioned in the previous response: “What I object to is the idea that the growth of Christ’s kingdom is entirely invisible and confined to the spiritual dimension of existence and will have no visible manifestations in history.”  The words “entirely” and “confined” and “no” are key.  There are aspects to the growth of Christ’s kingdom that are invisible, that occur in the spiritual dimension of existence.  These are very real.  Regeneration is invisible but very real.  My point is that the effects of the growth of Christ’s kingdom should not be confined to only the invisible spiritual dimension of reality.  The effects of sin, of Satan’s kingdom, are not thus confined, and neither are the effects of redemption and the growth of Christ’s kingdom.

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D.A. Carson re-enters the discussion of Christianity’s relationship with culture in Christ and Culture Revisited.  I say re-enters because he hits some similar issues in The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism and his more recent Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.  This time he evaluates the classic, influential work of H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture.  He arrives at the same essential point that I did while in seminary, just in a far more thoughtful and thorough way.  Due to my circumstances, it may have taken me as long to read it as it did for him to write it.

Here is a quick summery of Carson’s conclusions for you:

“Niebuhr’s typology offers his five types as slightly idealized competing options.  Yet this emphasis on choosing from among the options does not square with the canonical function of Scripture.  … Christians do not have the right to choose one of the options in the fivefold typology as if it were the whole.  The name of that game is reductionism.”

What Carson does is rightly is say that no one paradigm fits every situation.  Scripture reveals very different responses to different circumstances as people sought to live life under the gaze of God.  We are to utilize wisdom, always checking our hearts with Scripture lest we deceive ourselves, to chart the best course.

In developing this, Carson digs into some good biblical theology.  This is so we live in light of the main turning points of redemptive history (creation, fall, redemption, restoration), and in light of the already/not yet realities of our salvation.  When we focus on only one or two turning points of redemptive history we fall into reductionism and hover in one (often knee-jerk) response to what is happening around us.

Inevitably Christians find themselves squeezed between the claims and obligations of the broader culture and their allegiance to Christ.  The tensions between Christ and culture are both diverse and complex, but from a Christian perspective they find their origins in the stubborn refusal of human beings, made in God’s image, to acknowledge their creaturely dependence on their Maker. … Although there are better and worse examples of how these tensions might play out, there is no ideal stable paradigm that can be transported to other times and places: every culture is perpetually in flux, ensuring that no political structure is a permanent “solution” to the tension.

It may sound to some as relativism, but it really isn’t.  We apply unchanging standards to changing circumstances.  So at times we will adopt cultural practices, at times abandon them, at times adapt them etc.

It is when Carson begins to examine the various uses of the term ‘culture’ that this book gets a bit heady and philosophical.  It is at moments like that when I realize how average a thinker and how poorly read I am.  But my calling is different from his.  He wisely says you can jump to the next chapter.

He focuses a great deal of attention of the relationship between church and state (and how those terms are variously used).  In our quest for one ideal arraingment, we err.  He traces the development of various views in the West (notably the U.S. and France).  We should learn to tread lightly when wanting to criticize Christians in other cultures.  We often don’t have the frame of reference, and circumstances, they do.  And we often flounder in our own circumstances.  I gather we should take the log out of our eyes.

Overall it was a good read, but not an easy read.  But pastors and elders should labor through that they might shepherd their people through this potential quagmire.  I’m glad Carson revisited some old ground and gave us a better lay of the land.

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